Kazakh president fires rare criticism at predecessor after unrest

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. 

Tokayev said Nazarbayev’s rule had created “a layer of wealthy people, even by international standards”.

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. 

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

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

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.

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”.

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.

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

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. 

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.

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. 

“But it will be a bad peace.”

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