In a surprise, Kazakhstan gets new prime minister

MOSCOW (AP) — The prime minister of Kazakhstan unexpectedly announced his resignation Wednesday and was swiftly replaced by his influential predecessor.

All three parties in the oil-rich Central Asian nation's parliament voted to approve Karim Masimov, 49, as the new head of government.

Just a few hours earlier, Prime Minister Serik Akhmetov told his Cabinet he was stepping down and said his resignation had been accepted by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who holds the power in Kazakhstan.

Masimov's reappointment may be designed to calm nerves, including among foreign investors, over concerns that Kazakhstan may be entering a period of economic uncertainty.

Kazakhstan has for over two decades been ruled with a firm hand by Nazarbayev, a 73-year-old former Communist party boss who has given no clear indication about his plans for a successor.

Kazakhstan has experienced robust economic growth for most of the last decade amid demand for its oil and mineral exports, but in February it devalued its national currency 20 percent, citing a worsening balance of payments.

Authorities have sought to temper any consequent social discontent by taking measures to prevent price increases.

Masimov stepped down as Kazakhstan's prime minister in 2012 after occupying the position for five years, during which he shepherded the country's economy through the global financial crisis. He was the longest-serving head of government in the former Soviet nation's history and was widely respected in the international investor community. He had been seen as an influential and competent steward of economic affairs.

Nazarbayev told lawmakers Wednesday that Masimov was the most effective candidate to take over as prime minister.

"He will get to it straightaway, he doesn't have to learn the ropes," Nazarbayev said in a speech to parliament.