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Kazakhstan's Nazarbayev names new PM in reshuffle of top posts

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev attends the opening ceremony of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, September 4, 2016. REUTERS/Nicolas Asfonri/Pool

ASTANA (Reuters) - Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev appointed former businessman Bakytzhan Sagintaev as prime minister on Friday, completing a reshuffle of top government and security officials.

Sagintayev, 52, replaced Karim Masimov who was named the head of the KNB security service on Thursday after leading the cabinet for two-and-a-half years. Sagintayev previously served as Masimov’s first deputy.

A former economics teacher and businessman, Sagintayev joined the public service in 1998 and quickly rose through its ranks, serving as the head of the antitrust agency, a regional governor and economy minister.

He takes over at the time when Kazakhstan’s oil-dominated economy is struggling with the effects of the energy price crash which forced the authorities to abandon the pegged exchange rate policy a year ago and let the local tenge currency lose nearly half of its value against the dollar.

The government targets gross domestic product growth of 0.5 percent this year, down from 1.2 percent a year earlier and 4.3 percent in 2014.

The job of a prime minister is largely technical in Kazakhstan as Nazarbayev, 76, enjoys sweeping powers and his office acts as the centre of strategic planning.

However, the prime minister, under the constitution, is one of the officials who may take over in the event of the president dying or becoming unfit to continue running the country. The cabinet head, though, is preceded by the speakers of the two houses of parliament in this regard.

In neighbouring Uzbekistan, Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev emerged this week as the most likely successor to President Islam Karimov who died last week, aged 78.

In a separate order, Nazarbayev named Askar Mamin, previously the chief executive of the state railways company, first deputy prime minister.

Reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov