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Kazakhstan changes interior minister after deadly clashes

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NURSULTAN: Kazakhstan has replaced the interior minister after deadly clashes last month that was quelled with the help of foreign troops. Former anti-corruption chief Marat Akhmetzhanov was appointed as new Interior Minister on Friday.

Yerlan Turgumbayev, who was appointed interior minister in 2019 before the former head of state Nursultan Nazarbayev stepped down, was dismissed on Friday, according to an order published on the presidential website.

More than 200 people died after peaceful protests against a rise in gas prices descended into violence, leading President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to call in more than 2,000 Russia-led troops to re-establish control. 

The crisis claimed the scalps of a powerful national security chief allied to Nazarbayev as well as the defence minister, both of whom were arrested after their dismissals. 

Kazakhstan has advanced a terror narrative for the January violence. 

The crisis drew the curtain on the influence of veteran leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, who catapulted his protege Tokayev to power but pulled the strings prior to the rare nationwide protests. 

Nazarbayev, 81, appeared in public nearly two weeks after the violence peaked, to deny a rift with Tokayev. 

Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter has relinquished her parliament seat, election authorities confirmed Friday. 

Earlier, Kazakhstan has detained former defence minister Murat Bektanov after prosecutors launched a probe against him for failing to fulfil his duties during violent unrest last month.

The country’s prosecutor general’s office announced his arrest on Monday.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has described the deadliest unrest in the oil-rich Central Asian’s post-Soviet history as an attempted coup, and another senior security official, a former head of the national security committee, has been arrested on charges of treason and abuse of office.

Tokayev sacked Bektanov as minister last month, saying he had shown no initiative during the unrest.

Bektanov is reportedly in pretrial detention in Nur-Sultan, the capital of the post-Soviet Central Asian republic of around 19 million people.

The authorities say they are still investigating the January events; they have named no culprits aside from the former security boss and a few of his deputies.

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 country’s largest city, Almaty, and elsewhere.

After announcing his resignation in March 2019, the former Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbaev left Tokayev in his stead.

Nazarbaev, however, retained large political influence in the oil-rich country with almost limitless powers.

Much of the public anger during the unrest appeared to be directed to former president Nazarbaev.

The crisis prompted Toqaev to seek help from troops from the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to quell the unrest.

Toqaev’s moves since then appear aimed at ousting Nazarbaev’s relatives and allies.

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