Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev today sacked his powerful son-in-law Timur Kulibayev from a top state post in the wake of deadly riots over wage demands.
"I am dismissing Timur Kulibayev, who heads Samruk-Kazyna," Nazarbayev said in televised comments from the crisis-hit region of Mangistau.
The massive state holding company Samruk-Kazyna is considered one of the most powerful structures in the resource-rich nation and has been headed by Kulibayev -- seen as the veteran president's likely successor -- since April.
The unexpected move comes after two days of violent clashes in the oil-producing heart of Kazakhstan that killed 16 people and badly scarred the central asian republic's image as a safe haven for foreign investment.
Officials had earlier announced the dismissal of the chief executives of two subsidiaries of Samruk-Kazyna's Kazmunaigaz state energy giant that resisted workers' demands for higher wages for seven months.
Kulibayev's sacking threatens to further unsettle a succession plan to the 70-year-old Nazarbayev that only began to come into focus after he payed a snap visit to a European clinic for undisclosed treatment this summer.
A top presidential advisor said in July that Kulibayev --who is married to Nazarbayev's middle daughter Dinara -- would take over if the president suddenly left power.
"It is Kulibayev who would be able to continue the president's strategic course, in the case of an extraordinary situation connected with the sudden departure of the head of state," aide Yermukhamet Yertysbayev said.
Early speculation that Kulibayev was being groomed for the top had gathered steam with his Samruk-Kazyna appointment. The company holds some USD 80 billion in assets and generates 53 percent of Kazakhstan's gross domestic product.
US cables published by Wikileaks described Kulibayev as the "ultimate controller of 90 percent" of the economy in Kazakhstan and a man so important for access to the president's inner circle he is known as "the hyphen".
Kulibayev himself had said little about becoming Kazakh president and had dismissed the presidential adviser's July comments as premature.
Kulibayev dismissal followed a snap visit by Nazarbayev to a region that is vital to Kazakhstan's energy future and was the scene of a months long strike by oil workers.
Nazarbayev had initially blamed the violence on "hooligans" -- a comment that appeared to set him on a collision course with US expressions of serious concern over the unrest and use of force.