Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev steps down - or did he?

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Kazakhstan's first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, unexpectedly announced his resignation in a televised addressed almost 30 years since taking office.

"I have made a hard decision - to resign as president of the Republic of Kazakhstan", Nazarbayev said in a televised address to the nation.

He became first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, making him the leader of the second biggest republic within the Soviet Union, in 1989.

The gleaming futuristic new capital Astana, built in the years since independence, symbolised Mr Nazarbayev's drive to put the country on the map.

Speaker of Parliament and close Nazarbayev ally, Kassym Jomart Tokayev will take over as Acting President for the rest of his term.

"As the founder of the independent state of Kazakhstan, I see my future task in ensuring the ascent to power of a new generation of leaders, who will continue reforms", he said.

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The question of succession has dogged Nazarbayev for years as his political opponents ended up in exile, political oblivion, jail or a graveyard.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan attends a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House January 16, 2018, in Washington, DC.

He said, the Chairman of the Kazakh Senate would take over.

The last Soviet-era president to leave office, Nazarbaev noted during his announcement that he was also granted the lifetime status of "Elbasy", or "leader of the nation", by parliament in 2010.

Professor Migranyan pointed out that "it would be against Kazakhstan's economic interests to spoil relations with Russia" as the trade turnover between the two nations reached $17,6 billion a year ago.

He recalled that Tokayev, who graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, has a doctorate degree and is fluent in English and Chinese. Before announcing it officially, he called Russian president Vladimir Putin, his closest foreign ally, to deliver the news.

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The Kremlin said Nazarbayev and Putin had spoken by phone on Tuesday, but gave no details of their conversation.

Aliev, a top security official and husband of Nazarbayev's eldest daughter Dariga, was widely seen as his successor.

Nazarbaev, 78, will continue to head Kazakhstan's powerful Security Council, the ruling Nur Otan political party that he founded, and the country's Constitutional Council.

Nazarbayev won 97.7 percent of the vote in the last presidential election in 2015.

"The relations between Russian Federation and Kazakhstan won't deteriorate because of this move".

In those days, Kazakhstan was a backwater region best known for prisons, nuclear testing sites and being the home of the launch facility of the Soviet space program, the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The votes were internationally criticised and he was accused of tolerating little opposition to his rule.

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