The speaker of Kazakhstan’s parliament has been sworn in as interim president a day after long-time leader Nursultan Nazarbayev abruptly resigned.
Mr Nazarbayev surprised many by announcing in a televised address that he would step down after nearly 30 years in office that has included the whole of Kazakhstan’s time as an independent nation.
The 78-year-old attended Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s inauguration on Wednesday, entering to lengthy applause from assembled dignitaries before taking a seat on a podium behind the lectern where Mr Tokayev gave an address.
Minutes after he was sworn in, Mr Tokayev suggested the capital Astana be renamed Nursultan to honour the outgoing president and the parliament voted for the change.
He praised Mr Nazarbayev as “an outstanding reformer” who is widely expected to continue to wield influence as chairman of the security council and head of the ruling party.
Rumours about Mr Nazarbayev’s resignation and a possible plan for succession have been swirling for years.
Some speculated that he might be grooming his daughter, who has served as deputy prime minister and is a legislator, for succession, but he has not indicated he has a successor in mind.
He took the helm in Kazakhstan as its Communist Party chief of the republic in 1989 when it was part of the Soviet Union, and he was first elected its president weeks before the 1991 Soviet collapse gave the country its independence.
He has been widely praised for maintaining stability and ethnic peace in Kazakhstan, a large, oil-rich nation south of Russia and west of China.
He has been criticised for marginalising the political opposition and creating what is effectively a one-party state, but the political regime he has built is more liberal than those in the de-facto dictatorships in neighbouring Central Asian countries.