Kazakh president fires rare criticism at predecessor after unrest

Kazakh president fires rare criticism at predecessor after unrest

Dozens died in the unrest and 10,000 people have been arrested.
Dozens died in the unrest and 10,000 people have been arrested.

ALMATY (KAZAKHSTAN): Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued rare criticism of his long-ruling predecessor Tuesday, and said he expected Russian-led forces to leave the troubled Central Asian country in the next 10 days.

The oil-rich country's descent into chaos has laid bare infighting at the very top of a government once utterly dominated by Tokayev's mentor, 81-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev, who retains the constitutional status of "Leader of the Nation" despite stepping down from the presidency in 2019.

Addressing the government and parliament in a videoconference call broadcast live, the 68-year-old Tokayev fired an eyebrow-raising broadside at Nazarbayev as the post-Soviet country reels from unprecedented violence that began with peaceful protests over an energy price hike.

Tokayev said Nazarbayev's rule had created "a layer of wealthy people, even by international standards".

"I believe that the time has come to pay tribute to the people of Kazakhstan and help them on a systematic and regular basis," Tokayev added, noting that "very profitable companies" would be asked to pay money into a state fund.

Both Kazakhstan and Russia have framed last week's unrest that left dozens dead and has seen almost 10,000 people arrested as a coup attempt assisted by foreign "terrorists", but have provided little evidence to support the claim.

- Main CSTO mission 'completed' -

Following a request from Tokayev, the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) deployed troops to bring about order and buttress the authorities.

On Tuesday, Tokayev announced that "a phased withdrawal" would begin in two days and take "no more than 10 days."

"The main mission of the CSTO peacekeeping forces has been successfully completed," he said.

The CSTO mission of more than 2,000 troops was despatched at the peak of the crisis last week, after armed clashes between government opponents and security forces and a looting spree rendered parts of the largest city Almaty almost unrecognisable.

The decision was a first for the CSTO, often touted by Moscow as a NATO equivalent but previously reluctant to interfere in unrest in Central Asia, a region with long historical ties to Russia.

Concern has mounted that Moscow could leverage the mission to shore up its influence in Kazakhstan.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned last week that "once Russians are in your house, it's sometimes very difficult to get them to leave".

Tokayev appeared to further bolster his position by backing acting prime minister Alikhan Smailov to take on the job permanently on Tuesday -- a nomination that won the unanimous support of lawmakers.

Former national security committee chief Karim Masimov -- a key Nazarbayev ally viewed by many as perpetuating the retired president's influence over the government -- was arrested on treason charges Saturday in connection with the unrest.

In another significant move, Tokayev announced on Tuesday plans to bring an end to a widely criticised private recycling monopoly linked to the former president's youngest daughter, Aliya Nazarbayeva, 41.

"This should be done by a state organisation, as is the case in foreign countries," he said.

- 'A bad peace' -

Many residents of Almaty credited the CSTO as a stabilising force that had helped Tokayev gain control over the situation after spending several days inside as gunfire echoed around the city.

Roza Matayeva, a 45-year-old English teacher, got used to tuning into her radio during the five-day internet blackout in Kazakhstan's financial hub that ended briefly Monday morning before the city of 1.8 million went offline again at lunchtime.

News that the Moscow-led bloc had agreed to Tokayev's request to send a detachment "brought relief and hope that the situation will be decided for the best in the near future," she told AFP.

"I welcome cooperation with Russia. I think there is no threat to our sovereignty."

But Adil Kuandykov, a wedding photographer who lives close to the presidential residence that saw some of the worst fighting in the former capital, said he no longer had trust in soldiers of any sort, after seeing corpses on the road near his house early on Thursday morning.

"There will be peace," said Kuandykov, 54, who burst into tears during the interview.

"But it will be a bad peace."

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