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Nazarbaev Replaces Longtime Interior Minister, Keeps Him Close

Qalmukhanbet Qasymov was appointed interior minister in April 2011.
Qalmukhanbet Qasymov was appointed interior minister in April 2011.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has dismissed long-serving Interior Minister Qalmukhanbet Qasymov, who has faced criticism for years over the use of force by police, but handed him two potentially influential positions in his administration.

In tweets on February 12, Nazarbaev's press service said that Qasymov's former deputy, Erlan Turghumbaev, has been appointed as interior minister while Qasymov has become a presidential aide and the secretary of Nazarbaev's Security Council.

Appointed in April 2011, Qasymov was the longest-serving interior minister in Kazakhstan since it gained independence in the Soviet breakup in 1991. The authoritarian Nazarbaev has been in power since before the Soviet Union collapsed.

Qasymov and his ministry were condemned after police opened fire at protesting oil workers in the southwestern city of Zhanaozen, killing at least 16 people, in December 2011.

Amid criticism at the time, Qasymov shocked many Kazakhs by saying in a televised statement that police would fire on those who "incite disorder" in the future.

Rights activists had repeatedly called for his resignation, saying that the police stepped up the disproportionate use of force and violence in frequent dispersals of demonstrations in the Central Asian country.

Criticism spiked in July 2018 in the wake of an attack in which two men fatally stabbed Olympic-medal-winning figure skater Denis Ten in the center of Almaty, the country's biggest city, in broad daylight.

The post of Security Council secretary keeps Qasymov close to Nazarbaev, who became advisory body's chairman for life in July. At the same, the council's status was changed from consultative to constitutional, increasing its authority.

Many in Kazakhstan saw the move as a sign that Nazarbaev, 78, is seeking to ensure that he will maintain his grip on power if he steps down as president.

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