Kazakh president reshuffles gov't after pro-democracy protests

Hirings and firings followed opposition rallies in Almaty and Nur-Sultan.

    Opposition supporters rallied on Monday in Almaty [Pavel Mikheyev/Reuters]
    Opposition supporters rallied on Monday in Almaty [Pavel Mikheyev/Reuters]

    Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the president of Kazakhstan, on Wednesday named Kanat Bozumbayev as a presidential aide, moving him from the key position of energy minister in a reshuffle which comes days after large protests calling for greater democracy.

    Tokayev did not immediately name a new energy minister for the oil-and-gas exporting Central Asian nation.

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    He also appointed Madina Abylkasymova, until now a deputy central bank governor, as the head of a newly established financial supervision agency.

    Tokayev also removed political heavyweight Imangali Tasmagambetov from the position of Kazakhstan's ambassador to Russia, saying the 63-year-old was reaching retirement age. Tokayev himself is 66.

    The Kazakh president also sacked his deputy chief of staff, Darkhan Kaletayev, without stating a reason, and replaced him with Maulen Ashimbayev, previously an aide.

    China's Muslim minority seek sanctuary in Kazakhstan [2:34]

    The hirings and firings followed pro-democracy demonstrations in the country's largest city, Almaty, and capital, Nur-Sultan, on Monday.

    Protesters had called for the removal of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who critics believe still pulls the strings in the ex-Soviet country, despite officially retiring from office in March.

    Protesters arrested

    At least 40 protesters were taken into custody in Almaty and Nur-Sultan following the protests, according to local media. Activists said it was a new police tactic in a country frequently criticised for its human rights abuses, with previous arrests usually taking place during demonstrations.

    There were no immediate official statements from the police or the government about the detentions.

    "We don't have real democracy," Zhanbolat Mamay, the leader of an unregistered opposition movement named the Democratic Party, told Al Jazeera.

    "The elections this year were not fair, and we need reforms in the political system. We are trying to register a political party, but our workers and sympathisers are being detained. It's simpler even in Moscow to register a democratic political party. In addition to the internal issues, Kazakhstan's government needs to stand up for ethnic Kazakhs everywhere in the world. If Jews were being persecuted en masse for their religion or ethnicity would Israel stay silent?"

    The majority of those detained are believed to have participated in the rally called by Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK), a group designated as an "extremist" movement by a court last year, according to the AFP news agency.

    Some who attended the DCK rally also spoke out against Chinese investment and what they called Beijing's persecution of ethnic Kazakhs in its western Xinjiang region. 

    More than 20 activists were also sentenced to detentions of up to 15 days in the buildup to the protest, according to the Qaharman rights movement.

    Osama Javaid contributed additional reporting for this article.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies