Kazakh president meets farmland protests with reshuffle

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, shown here Sunday at Day of Unity celebrations in Astana, announced a cabinet shuffle Friday in response to rare public protests against farmland ownership reforms. (Akorda.kz)

Astana | Reuters — Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, facing opposition calls for a demonstration in the business centre Almaty, completed a government reshuffle initiated this week in response to street protests against farmland privatisation plans.

Economy minister Yerbolat Dosayev and agriculture minister Asylzhan Mamytbekov, whose ministries were behind the planned land reform, both resigned after Nazarbayev who has run the Central Asian nation since 1989 reprimanded them for failing to adequately explain it to the public.

The 75-year-old president, accused by rights groups of intolerance of dissent, on Thursday delayed the reform which involved farmland auctions and would have allowed foreigners to lease farmland for up to 25 years, against 10 years under current regulations.

On Friday, Nazarbayev named their replacements.

Kuandyk Bishimbayev, 36, was named economy minister. He has previously run Baiterek, a state holding company which controls financial institutions such as the Development Bank of Kazakhstan and the Kazakhstan Mortgage Company.

Askar Myrzakhmetov, 53, took over the agriculture ministry, a position he has already held in 2005-2006. Until Friday, Myrzakhmetov served as first deputy chairman of Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan party which controls the parliament.

Nazarbayev also put his spokesman and adviser Dauren Abayev at the helm of the newly established ministry of information and communications which Nazarbayev has tasked, among other things, with monitoring social networks widely used by activists behind the recent wave of protests.

Hundreds of Kazakhs have taken to the streets over the last two weeks to protest against the land reform, saying they fear it would allow foreigners to take over farmland.

As he delayed the legal overhaul this week, Nazarbayev warned his opponents against further challenging his authority and said attempts to destabilise the former Soviet republic would meet a tough response.

But some activists, emboldened by the success, have called for more rallies, the first of which is planned in Almaty, the biggest city and a business hub, on Saturday.

Reporting for Reuters by Raushan Nurshayeva; writing by Olzhas Auyezov.



Stories from our other publications