NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has fired another relative of his predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbaev, in the wake of deadly protests that engulfed the country earlier this month.
The presidential press service said on January 25 that the chief of the Central Election Commission, Berik Imashev, had been replaced by Nurlan Abdirov.
The 61-year-old Imashev had run the Central Election Commission since September 2016. His daughter, Aida Imasheva, is married to Nazarbaev's grandson, Nurali Aliev.
Also on January 25, Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund, called Samruk-Kazyna, announced that seven of its top managers left their posts following a presidential decree ordering staff cuts at the fund.
The Kazakhstan Development Bank (QDB) also announced that its chief, Abai Sarkulov, had left his post, a day after Toqaev said the bank "had turned into a private bank for a narrow group of individuals representing financial, industrial, and construction groups."
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 Central Asian country's largest city, Almaty, and elsewhere.
The protesters’ economic discontent was quickly followed by broader popular calls against corruption, political stagnation, and widespread injustice.
Much of their anger appeared directed at Nazarbaev, who had ruled Kazakhstan since 1989 before handing over power in 2019. However, he was widely believed to remain in control behind the scenes.
In his first-ever public criticism of Nazarbaev, Toqaev said that under his predecessor's leadership, many lucrative businesses and extremely rich people had appeared in Kazakhstan and that it was now time for ordinary people to receive what they deserved.
Soon afterward, Nazarbaev's two sons-in-law, Qairat Sharipbaev and Dimash Dosanov, were pushed out of top jobs at two major state companies, QazaqGaz and KazTransOil, respectively.
Last week, the National Chamber of Entrepreneurs, Atameken, announced the resignation of its chairman, Timur Kulibaev, who is also Nazarbaev's son-in-law.
Those announcements came just days after Toqaev publicly criticized a lucrative car-recycling company that is owned by Nazarbaev's youngest daughter, Alia Nazarbaeva, indicating that the authorities were moving to take control of it.
Earlier, one of Nazarbaev's closest associates, KNB Chairman Karim Masimov, and his two deputies were arrested on high treason charges.
Without giving any details, Toqaev has claimed that thousands of "foreign terrorists" attacked Almaty and used that claim to justify his order to shoot to kill and his decision to invite the troops of Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization military alliance to the country.
The troops left Kazakhstan last week.
Kazakh officials said 227 people, including 19 law enforcement officers, were killed during the unrest across the country.
Human rights groups insist that the number may be much bigger as scores of people remain missing, presenting proves that many peaceful demonstrators and persons who had nothing to do with the protesters were killed by police and military personnel following Toqaev's "shoot-to-kill-without-warning" order.
On January 25, Amnesty International said the crisis in Kazakhstan was the result of “many years of ongoing and persistent governmental restrictions, the undermining of fundamental human rights and freedoms, and persecution of those who tried to exercise their rights. This must stop!”
The only way out of the crisis is “through full respect for all human rights for all people in the country,” the London-based watchdog said in a statement.
“And right now freedom of expression is paramount: everyone...particularly the people of Kazakhstan, has the right to know precisely what occurred in the past few weeks and what precisely will come next,” it added.