* Appointment shows importance of loyalty to president
* "Forced sacrifice" last year, ex-governor shines again
ALMATY, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Kazakh President Nursultan
Nazarbayev on Wednesday gave a top government job to the former
governor of a region where a workers' strike erupted into
bloodshed in December, a sign that loyalty to the leader comes
first in the oil-producing nation.
Nazarbayev, 72, who has ruled the Central Asian state for
more than two decades, appointed Krymbek Kusherbayev as deputy
prime minister, the presidential press service said. It was not
immediately clear what his duties would be.
Kusherbayev, 57, has worked as presidential spokesman,
health minister and ambassador to Russia. He was fired as head
of the western Mangistau region after police used firearms to
disperse protesters in the oil town of Zhanaozen and a nearby
village, killing at least 15 people last December.
The bloodshed, which followed a months-long strike by oil
workers, was the worst in Kazakhstan's post-Soviet history.
The shooting shattered Kazakhstan's image of stability and
drew fierce criticism from the country's small but vocal
opposition, amid repeated international calls on the authorities
to hold a transparent investigation.
Analysts said Kusherbayev's appointment was a signal that
personal loyalty remains decisive for Nazarbayev, the only
person permitted by the constitution to run for president an
unlimited number of times.
"Krymbek Kusherbayev had long been a true member of the
president's team. For far too long he had been inside this
system, which he faithfully served, and the president generously
appreciated this," said Kazakh political analyst Dosym Satpayev.
As strong criticism of the December violence started to
subside at home and abroad, Kusherbayev first emerged from the
shadows in July, when Nazarbayev appointed him as his adviser.
"His sacking after what happened in Zhanaozen was a forced
sacrifice made by Nazarbayev to defuse tension," Satpayev said.
"But by choosing Kusherbayev as his adviser, Nazarbayev showed
he was part of his team and he would keep him by his side."
Arkady Dubnov, a Moscow-based Central Asia expert, said: "I
believe that deputy prime minister will not be his last job."
Kusherbayev's appointment followed the resignation of Prime
Minister Karim Masimov on Monday, who was reappointed to the
powerful post of chief of Nazarbayev's staff.
Masimov was replaced by his first deputy, Serik Akhmetov.
The economy and labour ministers are the only other changes in
the cabinet to date, with most ministers having retained their
posts. The position of foreign minister remains vacant.
Analysts have said the latest government reshuffle merely
affirmed Nazarbayev's grip on power.
"Governments in Kazakhstan are not formed after
parliamentary elections ... but according to their personal
devotion to 'The Leader of the Nation'," Dubnov said.
(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Stephen Powell)