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Nazarbaev Denies Conflict With President After Deadly Kazakh Unrest


Then-interim President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (left) and former President Nursultan Nazarbaev attend the Astana Economic Forum in Nur-Sultan in May 2019.

Kazakh ex-President Nursultan Nazarbaev has denied any conflict with his successor after deadly anti-government protests in the oil-rich Central Asian state earlier this month triggered allegations of a power struggle.

"I handed all presidential powers to Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev in 2019 and since then have been a pensioner," the 81-year-old Nazarbaev said in a heavily edited video statement released on January 18.

"I am now a retired person in the capital and never left the country," he said in his first public statement since unprecedented protests in early January that erupted into violence.

The first president of independent Kazakhstan called on his fellow citizens to support Toqaev, insisting that there is "no conflict or confrontation between elites."

It is unclear where and when the video was recorded.

Protests in the remote town of Zhanaozen in early January over a sudden fuel-price hike quickly spread across Kazakhstan and led to violent clashes in the country's largest city, Almaty, and elsewhere.

Much of the protesters' anger appeared directed at Nazarbaev, who had ruled Kazakhstan since 1989 before handing over power. However, he was widely believed to remain in control behind the scenes.

Without providing any details, Nazarbaev called the unrest "an attempt by extremist groups to violate our nation's unity."

He also said that Toqaev will very soon be elected chairman of the ruling Nur-Otan party.

The Kazakh president has claimed that "20,000 foreign terrorists" attacked Almaty, using that claim to justify his decision to invite troops to Kazakhstan from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization.

The troops started leaving Kazakhstan last week after spending less than a week there.

Last week, Toqaev for the first time publicly criticized Nazarbaev, saying that under his leadership many lucrative businesses and extremely rich people appeared in Kazakhstan, adding that the time had come for the people to receive what they deserved.

Meanwhile, a growing number of Nazarbaev's close relatives have lost their official posts, suggesting that the government was moving to purge or squeeze members of the ex-president's extended family.

Nazarbaev's eldest daughter, Darigha, who is a lawmaker, has skipped all sessions of parliament for two weeks, with her spokeswoman saying she would be on sick leave until the end of the month.

Kazakh authorities say that 225 people were killed during the unrest, including 19 law enforcement officers, and 12,000 others were detained.

Human rights groups say the number may be much higher, and that scores of people remain missing.

In an interview to RFE/RL on January 17, Hugh Williamson, Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) Europe and Central Asia director, expressed deep concerns about the situation in Kazakhstan, including regarding Toqaev’s order to shoot to kill announced in the wake of violence in Almaty.

"We have not heard that the shoot-to-kill-without-warning policy has been lifted, so we continue to call for that policy to be formally cancelled,” Williamson said.

He also called on the authorities to uphold the rights of those in detention.

Toqaev's "anti-civil-society and anti-free-media rhetoric" creates "a climate in which it is more likely that, unfortunately, there may be more torture in prison or there may be trials which are not fair," he said.

Human rights groups have criticized Kazakh authorities for years for stifling dissent and persecuting independent journalists.

With reporting by AFP
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    RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

    RFE/RL's Kazakh Service offers informed and accurate reporting in the Kazakh and Russian languages about issues that matter in Kazakhstan, while providing a dynamic platform for audience engagement and the free exchange of news and ideas.