Fired Kazakh Premier Named Adviser

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has named Akezhan Kazhegeldin, the reformist prime minister he sacked last October, as his economic adviser, Kazhegeldin said Thursday.

"Today we agreed that I would be his economic adviser. It's not state service, it's a service to the state," the 45-year-old former businessman told reporters after being presented with an award by Nazarbayev for public service.

Among his first comments in his new position, Kazhegeldin spoke out in favor of speeding up the development of the local stock market to attract investment for small business.

Kazhegeldin's surprise replacement by the more conservative Nurlan Balgimbayev after three years of rapid market reform was greeted with some unease by foreign investors who have bought up large parts of Kazakh industry and oil and mineral resources.

Nazarbayev, who has assured foreign investors of his desire to defend their interests despite a number of public rows between companies and officials, also reappointed several senior figures who left during Kazhegeldin's premiership.

But when Kazhegeldin returned last week to Almaty after five months abroad for medical treatment, he dismissed rumors that he might challenge Nazarbayev for the presidency as premature speculation.

On Thursday, he said opposition to Nazarbayev was pointless. The president, who was previously Kazakhstan's Soviet communist party boss, has extensive powers and brooks little criticism in the tightly controlled national media. Kazhegeldin said Kazakhstan needs to press ahead with plans for a more liquid stock market -- plans which appear to have stalled since the new government took over -- and said he had Nazarbayev's backing for the idea.

"We need to give our stock market a boost, because portfolio investors seem to have stopped on the road to Kazakhstan," he said. "It's hard for us to find small investors for small business. We need the passive investor on the stock market.

"Nursultan Abishevich [Nazarbayev] just told me that things are about to get going with the blue chips," Kazhegeldin said, referring to long-standing plans to float state-owned shares in 13 major companies on the fledgling stock market.

Up to now, most privatization sales have involved individual groups or companies buying stakes from the state. Kazhegeldin declined to set a date for the first public flotations.