AFP / Nur-Sultan
The influential former leader of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev denied any conflict with his successor yesterday, in his first appearance since unprecedented violence in the Central Asian country sparked rumours of a power struggle.
“President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has full power,” Nazarbayev said in a video address, naming his hand-picked successor, and adding that there is “no conflict or confrontation between elites”.
Nazarbayev said that since 2019 — when he transferred power in the ex-Soviet country to career diplomat Tokayev — he has been a simple “pensioner”. Nazarbayev’s family has extensive business interests in Kazakhstan and media reports say they have an impressive portfolio of wildly expensive luxury properties abroad.
“I am now on a well-deserved break in the capital of Kazakhstan and didn’t go anywhere,” Nazarbayev said, sitting at a large desk with four Kazakh flags behind him.
Nazarbayev, 81, was the first president of an independent Kazakhstan and had not made any public appearances since protests earlier this month that erupted into unprecedented violence.
“This tragedy has become a lesson for all of us. It is important to find out who organised all these pogroms and murders,” Nazarbayev said.
After stepping down, Nazarbayev maintained an influential role in the country’s politics, giving himself the title of “Leader of the Nation” (Elbasy) — a constitutional status that affords him immunity from prosecution and policymaking privileges.
He also remained the head of the Security Council after stepping down, but Tokayev took over the post following the outbreak of unrest in January.
Nazarbayev said yesterday that Tokayev will soon be elected president of the ruling Nur Otan party, which counts close to a million members.
The protests erupted over a hike in fuel prices, but escalated into violence between security forces and government opponents that left dozens dead.
Much of the anger appeared directed at Nazarbayev, who had ruled Kazakhstan since 1989 before handing over power. Many protesters shouted “Old Man Out!” referring to Nazarbayev, and a statue of him was torn down in the southern city of Taldykorgan.
Several relatives of Nazarbayev have left influential posts in the aftermath and his ally Karim Masimov — who headed the secret services — was imprisoned.
In a first, Tokayev last week criticised Nazarbayev, saying he had failed to share the energy-rich country’s vast wealth with ordinary Kazakhs.
Tokayev has framed the riots as a coup attempt assisted by foreign “terrorists”, but has provided little supporting evidence. According to authorities, the violence left 225 dead and led to the arrest of some 10,000 people.
Over 2,000 troops from the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation, sent in at Tokayev’s request to help quell the unrest, began to withdraw from Kazakhstan on Thursday.
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