June 21, 2016 / 10:25 AM / 3 years ago

Kazakh leader reshuffles top officials after protests, violence

ASTANA (Reuters) - Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev promoted political veteran Adilbek Zhaksybekov to the powerful position of presidential chief of staff and reshuffled a number of other senior officials on Tuesday.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev attends a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2016 (SPIEF 2016) in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Artyom Korotayev/TASS/Host Photo Agency/Pool

The reshuffle follows a sharp economic slowdown that triggered a wave of public protests in the former Soviet republic which Nazarbayev has run since 1989, tolerating little dissent.

It also comes as regional analysts are trying to guess what plan Nazarbayev, 75, has with regards to succession.

Zhaksybekov, 61, has already run Nazarbayev’s office, the strategic decision-making center in the oil-rich Central Asian nation, in 2004-2008 and served most recently as the mayor of the Kazakh capital, Astana.

His predecessor Nurlan Nigmatulin became a member of the lower house of parliament, the Central Election Commission said, replacing a deputy from Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan party.

Nigmatulin looked set to become the lower house speaker as previous speaker Baktykozha Izmukhambetov left the parliament earlier on Tuesday.

Investment and development minister Aset Isekeshev, in turn, was appointed Astana mayor while his deputy Zhenis Kasymbek became minister.

“I think, this is the president’s reaction to all those events that happened over the last few months and seriously damaged Kazakhstan’s reputation, I mean the May 21 protests and the Aktobe attacks,” said political analyst Dosym Satpayev.

Thousands of Kazakhs took to the streets in April and May to protests against a planned land reform and express their general discontent with the government after the Kazakh tenge lost nearly half of its value against the dollar.

In another hit to Kazakhstan’s image as a stable and safe nation, about two dozen men described by the authorities as sympathizers of the Islamic State militant group, attacked gun stores and a national guard facility in the city of Aktobe this month, killing seven people.

Reshuffles like the one announced on Tuesday have long been part of Nazarbayev’s leadership style, but Satpayev said their effectiveness was questionable.

“People can be reshuffled all the time, but the system remains intact and this is a big problem,” Satpayev said.

“The current system, as all the (recent) events show, is not very efficient or productive.”

Reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov Editing by Jeremy Gaunt

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