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Kazakhstan shifts PM to security chief

Karim Massimov Karim Massimov

Kazakhstan's ageing President Nursultan Nazarbayev shifted longtime ally Karim Massimov from prime minister to security chief, amid speculation over the leader's eventual successor, AFP reports.

Deputy Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev has temporarily assumed Massimov's role, until a new government is formed in the Central Asian nation, a presidential decree said.

The reshuffle may offer some clues as to who is being lined up to eventually succeed 76-year-old Nazarbayev, who has dominated energy-rich Kazakhstansince before its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.  

The move comes as neighbouring Uzbekistan has been plunged into uncertainty after the sudden death of strongman leader Islam Karimov, without a clear successor designated. 

Massimov's position had been the subject of much speculation as the country's economy continues to suffer on the back of a crisis in neighbouring Russia and low oil prices.

But his new role in charge of the powerful KNB security body in place of Vladimir Zhumakanov appears to suggest that he will remain a key powerbroker after Kazakhstan saw a rare spate of violence blamed on radical Islamists this summer.

In June, four civilians and three soldiers were killed in the western city of Aktobe when assailants attacked gun shops and tried to storm a military base in a bus they had hijacked.

Security forces killed 18 people suspected of involvement in the Aktobe incidents.

The following month, attacks by a gunman left at least eight people dead, mostly policemen, in the country's largest city Almaty.

The two bloody events marked the biggest indications of a threat of homegrown radicalism in Kazakhstan's 25-year history. 

Technocrat Massimov assumed the prime minister role in 2014 for the second time, having been premier for five years between 2007 and 2012. 

Between his two stints at the helm of the cabinet he served as head of Nazarbayev's administration.  

Some analysts view Nazarbayev's 53-year-old daughter Dariga, as a potential heir to her father's throne after a rise up the ranks.

But Nazarbayeva has never held an office higher than the deputy prime minister spot she currently occupies.

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