Kazakhstan president fires defence minister following protests

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Municipal workers cover the burned city hall for repairs in Almaty.
Municipal workers cover the burned city hall for repairs in Almaty.   -  Copyright  AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File

Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has dismissed the country's defense minister in the wake of unprecedented demonstrations.

Murat Bektanov was criticised by Tokayev for a lack of “leadership qualities" during the unrest and was fired on Wednesday.

"We were unable to use [our army's] potential in a critical situation and were forced to resort to outside help," the president said.

A Russian-led alliance of 2,000 soldiers had been deployed in Kazakhstan earlier this month to support the authorities amid the protests.

Russia's defense ministry said on Wednesday that all the troops had now withdrawn, with the last four military planes landing outside Moscow on Wednesday.

President Tokayev had asked the alliance for assistance after protests over fuel prices spread into a general protest against the authoritarian government and turned into violent riots that killed over 220.

A week after the forces arrived, Tokayev declared their mission accomplished and announced a gradual withdrawal.

On Wednesday, Kazakhstan’s parliament also backed Tokayev’s decision to replace his influential predecessor, Nurstultan Nazarbayev, as head of the National Security Council.

The move is widely seen as an attempt to mollify anti-government voices and simultaneously end Nazarbayev’s patronage.

The 81-year-old former president ran Kazakhstan for 29 years after it gained independence and kept the influential post at the helm of the National Security Council after stepping down as president in 2019.

Nazarbayev released a video on Tuesday in which he denied tensions among Kazakhstan’s ruling elites and referred to himself as “a retiree, currently enjoying retirement in the capital".