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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Daughter Annoys Nazarbayev

APDariga Nazarbayeva listening to her father speak to reporters in December.
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- The Kazakh president's eldest daughter has an arsenal any politician would envy: a political party, a seat in parliament and control over the country's biggest media group.

What Dariga Nazarbayeva no longer has is her father's political blessing. Analysts say Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev is moving to cut down his 43-year-old daughter's growing clout.

It's a Byzantine family feud with high stakes. Some analysts see the daughter as the main challenger to her father's rule and say the outcome could decide whether oil-rich Kazakhstan emerges from decades of iron-fisted politics.

Petr Svoik of the opposition alliance For a Fair Kazakhstan says the daughter recognizes the need for political liberalization, while Nazarbayev wants to maintain an authoritarian system.

"Dariga is objectively the main claimant to the throne," he said. "For Nazarbayev, anyone who is trying to take his place is an enemy, even if it's his own daughter."

Clouds began to gather over Nazarbayeva when the Information Ministry announced in May that it planned to take over her media group's powerful Khabar television channel and threatened to strip the license from its other popular channel, KTK.

It followed a bitter propaganda war between rival groups triggered by the Feb. 11 killing of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbayev.

The crisis highlighted Nazarbayeva's hold on major media and, more importantly, showed that her interests did not always coincide with her father's.

She demanded the resignation of one of the president's closest associates, Senate Speaker Nurtai Abykayev, after one of his subordinates was named the main suspect in the slaying.

Media under her control reported major developments in the case before they were officially announced, including the arrest of five security officers suspected of kidnapping Sarsenbayev, along with his driver and bodyguard, and handing them over to the killers.

Nazarbayeva was apparently trying to undermine her rivals in the president's inner circle, such as Abykayev -- who as speaker is constitutionally next in line for the presidency -- and intelligence chief Nartai Dutbayev. The uproar led to Dutbayev's resignation but Abykayev, a key figure in the president's power structure, stayed on.

Nazarbayeva also wanted to dispel speculation in the opposition press that her husband, Rakhat Aliyev, a deputy foreign minister, was behind Sarsenbayev's killing. The victim was believed to be behind allegations five years ago that Aliyev was plotting to depose Nazarbayev. Aliyev denies any involvement in the killing.

The opposition, which sides with neither president nor daughter, has demanded that Nazarbayeva and her husband be questioned.

Sarsenbayev's slaying showed that the president was losing control over politics and that his daughter's media might threatened the balance of power he had cultivated over his 17-year rule, said Dosym Satpayev, head of the Risk Assessment Group think tank.

"He doesn't like it when the family's dirty linen is washed in public," Satpayev said. "When articles and statements began to appear, pointing the finger at his close associates, he got irritated. He is now trying to restore the state's -- that is, his own -- control over media."

In a sign that Nazarbayeva is now on the defensive, she called on pro-government political forces in late June to unite into one party "and give real support to our leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev."

Nazarbayeva spent a decade building Khabar from a poorly equipped state channel into Kazakhstan's richest and most popular. Her Asar party emerged in 2003, and a year later she became a lawmaker.

In defending the move against her television station, Information Minister Ermukhamet Ertysbayev said Kazakhstan had to have stricter control over information about the state. He insisted in an interview that regaining command of the media was "absolutely not" aimed against Nazarbayeva herself. "Officially, she does not own Khabar," he said.

Half of the station is owned by the state and half by two anonymous shareholders, so it is unclear exactly how much control Nazarbayeva and her husband exercise. But that also may help explain why the government is having trouble dislodging them. Two attempts to unveil Nazarbayeva's exact role, one by the late Sarsenbayev and another by the U.S.-based Internews media advocacy group, ended with successful slander lawsuits against them. "She got all those [media] resources for free. ... Now the situation is changing for her," said Oleg Katsiyev, Internews' regional director.