(Almaty) The Kazakh president attacked his powerful predecessor on Tuesday, for the first time after bloody riots in the country and announced the imminent withdrawal of foreign troops led by Russia, who came to the rescue of the regime in place .
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has also appointed a new prime minister, as the vast Central Asian country was rocked last week by violence never seen since its independence in 1991. It left dozens dead and hundreds injured , and led to the arrest of some 10,000 people.
Affirming his authority, Mr. Tokayev accused his mentor and predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, of having favored the emergence of a “rich caste” dominating this state teeming with hydrocarbons, an unprecedented criticism of the one who holds the honorary title of “Head of the Nation” and until now enjoyed a cult of personality.
During the unrest, protesters chanted their anger at the 81-year-old former leader. Since then, rumors about Mr. Nazarbayev’s flight abroad have multiplied, but the Kazakh authorities have not given any information on his whereabouts.
Since Nursultan Nazarbayev’s retirement from the presidency in 2019, power has been de facto shared between him and Mr. Tokayev, his designated successor. The former head of state’s clan still controls entire sections of the economy and power. Sign of its importance, the capital bears his first name: Nur-Sultan.
“Pay a tribute”
If the riots are qualified as a foreign “terrorist” aggression by the authorities, the violence erupted after demonstrations against the rise in fuel prices, against a background of deteriorating living standards and endemic corruption in this former Soviet republic.
The Kazakh president said Monday that the attackers had exploited the discontent of the population.
In this context, Mr. Tokayev launched a frontal attack on his mentor, Mr. Nazarbayev, who had taken the head of Soviet Kazakhstan in 1989 and then ruled it from independence in 1991 to 2019.
“Because of the first president, the Elbasy (Head of the Nation, Editor’s note), a caste of very profitable companies, of very rich people, has appeared in the country. I think the time has come to pay a tribute to the people, ”Tokayev said.
He therefore wants the elites who “in the shadows” have “huge funds” as well as the big companies to supply a fund which will benefit the population.
One of Mr. Nazarbayev’s allies, Karim Massimov, was arrested on Saturday for high treason after being sacked from the head of the secret service.
Russian military withdrawal
The riots had led Tokayev to call in to the rescue some 2,000 men from a Russian-led military force. According to him, their mission being accomplished, their withdrawal can begin this week.
“The main mission of peacekeeping forces […] ended successfully, “said Tokayev,” the gradual withdrawal of the unified CSTO contingent will begin in two days. This process will not take more than ten days ”.
These mainly Russian soldiers were deployed as part of a military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSC), an alliance of former Soviet republics under the leadership of Moscow.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Choïgou said on Tuesday that the departure would take place once the situation “completely stabilized” and “on decision” by the Kazakh authorities.
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the troops were there “for a limited period”.
In Almaty, many residents welcomed this contingent with relief. “I welcome the cooperation with Russia,” Roza Mataïeva, a 45-year-old professor, told AFP. “I think there is no threat to our sovereignty. ”
The most serious violence took place in this city, the economic capital, where many public buildings were ransacked and businesses looted, while rioters and Kazakh forces clashed in armed clashes.
Kazakh lawmakers also confirmed on Tuesday the appointment of a new prime minister, Alikhan Smailov, after the government resigned last week in an attempt to calm protesters.
Mr. Smaïlov, 49, former Minister of Finance, was also a collaborator of Mr. Nazarbayev.