UPDATE 1-Kazakhstan central bank approves $1.2 bln assistance for four banks

(Adds central bank statement, background)

ALMATY, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Kazakhstan's central bank, which launched a support programme for the banking sector last month, has approved an assistance package worth 410 billion tenge ($1.229 billion) for four local banks, the regulator said in a statement on Wednesday.

These four banks are mid-sized lenders ATF Bank, Eurasian Bank, Tsesna Bank and Bank CenterCredit, it said, adding that the funds to assist the lenders had been approved by the central bank's board in September and October.

The total state support programme for Kazakhstan's banking sector, as announced previously by the central bank, is to amount to around $2 billion.

This year the central bank started conducting stress tests of the Central Asian nation's banking sector, which consists of 33 banks. As of mid-2017, bad loans comprised 11 percent of the loan portfolio of the banking sector, central bank data show.

The four banks named in the central bank's statement on Wednesday have a high level of non-performing loans, and the regulator outlined the urgent steps that need to be taken.

"The above-mentioned banks and their large shareholders have provided plans of actions aimed to increase financial stability, improve the quality of assets and reduce the share of non-performing loans, as well as written obligations to conduct additional capitalisation of the banks," the central bank said. (Reporting by Mariya Gordeyeva; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Polina Devitt and Alison Williams)