Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev writes during a televised address to inform of his resignation in Astana, Kazakhstan March 19, 2019.

Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev on Tuesday unexpectedly resigned after three decades in power, saying his oil-rich Central Asian nation now needed “a new generation of leaders”.

Nursultan Nazarbayev is a Kazakh politician, who served as the first President of Kazakhstan, in office from April 24, 1990 until his resignation on March 19.

Nazarbayev, 78, the last Soviet-era leader still in charge of his country, said he would retain key Security Council and party leader positions, while handing over the presidency to a loyal ally for the rest of his term, which ends in April 2020.

“I have taken a decision, which was not easy for me, to resign as president.

“As the founder of the independent Kazakh state, I see my task now in facilitating the rise of a new generation of leaders who will continue the reforms that are under way in the country,”

Nazarbayev said in a televised address before signing a decree terminating his powers from March 20.

His decision hit the price of Kazakh bonds and even appeared to weigh on the Russian rouble.

Moscow is Kazakhstan’s main trade partner and Nazarbayev has enjoyed close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Valentina Matvienko, the speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament and a close Putin ally, said Nazarbayev’s resignation was unexpected and very serious said, RIA news agency reported.

“Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, speaker of the upper house of parliament, will take over as Kazakhstan’s acting president for the remainder of his term in line with the constitution,” Nazarbayev said.

Tokayev, 65, is a Moscow-educated career diplomat fluent in Kazakh, Russian, English and Chinese who has previously served as Kazakhstan’s foreign minister and prime minister.

Nazarbayev said that he would continue to chair the Security Council and remain leader of the Nur Otan party which dominates parliament.

The former Communist Party boss steered his nation of 18 million people to independence from Moscow in 1991.

He won 97.7 per cent of the vote in the last presidential election in 2015 and has no apparent long-term successor.

Kazakhstan is scheduled to hold both presidential and parliamentary elections in 2020.

Nazarbayev’s government pushed through a number of popular policies in recent months, including raising public-sector salaries, forcing utilities to cut, freeze tariffs and stoking speculation that he was preparing for a re-election bid.

A senior Russian lawmaker noted that Kazakh leader’s resignation was unexpected.

“Valentina Matvienko, the speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament, said that the resignation of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, was unexpected and very serious,” the RIA news agency reported.

Nazarbayev added that he was resigning as the oil-rich Central Asian nation’s leader after three decades in power.

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