Kazakhstan president fires defence minister for lack of leadership during protests


Almaty (Reuters) – Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev fired his defence minister on Wednesday, accusing him of failing to show leadership and initiative when the Central Asian country was rocked by its worst unrest in 30 years of independence.

The removal of Murat Bektanov marked the latest stage in Tokayev’s purge of the security establishment as he consolidates power after violent protests shook the former Soviet republic in the first week of January.

“During the January events the armed forces, due to the fact that their leadership was highly uncertain and lacking in initiative, were unable to worthily fulfil the tasks assigned to them,” Tokayev said in a damning rebuke, accusing the minister of failing to show “commanding qualities”.

Tokayev was forced to call in troops from a Russian-led alliance of former Soviet states to quell the unrest, which damaged the image of stability and control that Kazakhstan has used to attract hundreds of billions of dollars of Western investment in its oil and mining industries.

The prosecutor general’s office has said at least 225 people were killed.

Tokayev replaced Bektanov with Ruslan Zhaksylykov, previously deputy interior minister and head of the national guard. He said the armed forces needed thorough modernisation and better military intelligence “to provide the leadership of the country with timely and reliable information about external and internal threats”.

Tokayev became president in 2019 but his predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev had continued to wield significant power as head of the influential Security Council.

During the unrest, he stripped Nazarbayev of that post and removed his nephew as deputy head of intelligence. Three sons-in-law of Nazarbayev have resigned from senior positions at state companies and a business lobby group.

Nazarbayev, 81, appeared on television on Tuesday to deny any rift in the ruling elite, saying he had retired from public life and Tokayev was fully in charge of the country.

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