DUSHANBE, December 23, 2011, Asia-Plus — Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said on Thursday he would fire his son-in-law from the top job at the sovereign wealth fund, accusing its oil and gas unit of mishandling a strike that erupted into deadly clashes, international media outlets report.
Reuters reports Kazakh leader’s surprise arrival in the western oil-producing region of Mangistau coincided with growing international pressure to investigate the violence on December 16-17, which killed at least 16 people and wounded 110.
Kazakh state television showed President Nazarbayev in the regional capital Aktau saying he had replaced the heads of state oil and gas firm KazMunaiGas and its London-listed subsidiary KazMunaiGas Exploration Production.
He said the management of KazMunaiGas had failed to implement his order to resolve a labor dispute that has been simmering since thousands of oil workers downed tools in May.
“The workers’ demands were in general justified,” he told a gathering of local officials and members of the public in Aktau. “The employer should not have forgotten that these are our citizens. They have not fallen from the Moon. They should have listened to them and, as much as it is possible, supported them. To my regret, this was not done.”
The Kazakh president announced that Timur Kulibayev had lost his job at Samruk Kazyna, Kazakhstan’s $80bn sovereign wealth fund. “I am dismissing Timur Kulibayev who heads Samruk-Kazyna,” he said in remarks broadcast on state TV.
Experts note that Timur Kulibayev, who is married to Nazarbayev’s middle daughter Dinara, is seen as one of the closest people to Nazarbayev.
Billionaire Kulibayev, one of the country’s most influential people, runs the sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna, which owns KazMunaiGas.
Reuters says that a shrewd businessman who rarely speaks in public, Kulibayev is ranked Kazakhstan’s third-richest man by Forbes magazine, with a fortune of $1.3 billion. He has played down the idea of political ambitions, saying he is more concerned with business.
He is also chairman of the board of KazMunaiGas and a board member at Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom.
In a major reshuffle of oil sector management, Nazarbayev replaced the chief executive of KazMunaiGas – Bolat Akchulakov, a Kulibayev appointee in the job for less than three months – and installed Deputy Oil and Gas Minister Lyazzat Kiinov.
KazMunaiGas EP also said its chief executive, Askar Balzhanov, had resigned and been replaced by Alik Aidarbayev, managing director of KazMunaiGas and board chairman at KMG EP.
Meanwhile, the BBC reported on Thursday that Kazakhstan has asked the UN to help investigate violence that left 16 dead in an oil town last week.
Clashes between striking workers and police in the western town of Zhanaozen last Friday led the government to declare a state of emergency.
The authorities promise a transparent inquiry into the worst violence in the Central Asian country’s recent history.
The governor of the region and the local boss of the state oil firm have reportedly been sacked.
Eyewitnesses say police fired on unarmed protesters, who have been protesting for months, in the town of 90,000.
But police say they were forced to defend themselves. A 20-day curfew is in effect until January 5.
The invitation to the UN came after Kazakhstan’s prosecutor general Askhat Daulbayev met the UN human rights envoy for Central Asia, Armen Harutyunyan, on Wednesday in the capital Astana.
Human rights groups have expressed concern over the treatment of protesters. New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the authorities to investigate immediately allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees following the violence in Zhanaozen and to hold those responsible accountable. It condemned the death of a 50-year-old man in Zhanaozen from injuries it said were sustained in police custody.