Kazakhstan renames capital after outgoing president

Kazakhstan renames capital after outgoing president

Kazakhstan has officially renamed its capital Nursultan, or “Sultan of Light” in Kazakh, to honour outgoing president Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The acting president Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev ratified the change from Astana (pictured) to Nursultan.

Tokayev was sworn in as Kazakhstan’s president last Wednesday and is due to hold the role until the April 2020 presidential election.

Nazarbayev’s France-based opponent, Mukhtar Ablyazov, had called for protests. Around 30 people were reportedly arrested in Almaty.

Ablyazov’s Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement was designated as an extremist organisation by a Kazakh court last year in a move seen as a stepping up of an official crackdown on the regime’s opponents.

The outgoing authoritarian president was a former steelworker and Communist party loyalist. He appeared alongside Tokayev at several events last week and the pair spoke together to their ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin by telephone.

Nazarbayev, 78, is the first Central Asian leader of the post-Soviet era to willingly leave office although he will remain deeply influential as he retains vital government positions.

He continues as chair of the country’s key security council and is still the leader of the Nur Otan party, which he founded. Its members dominate parliament.

His retirement was held up as a model for Putin to follow at the end of his presidential term.

In late February, Nazarbayev sacked his government, citing a lack of economic growth amid erratic oil prices and pledging reforms to improve the quality of life.

Nazarbayev was elected for a fifth five-year term in 2015 by taking 97 per cent of the vote.

The name change sparked rare protests in Astana and former capital and largest city Almaty.

In 1997, Nazarbayev moved the capital from Almaty, turning a provincial town associated with severe winters into a showcase of outsized architecture, including an observation tower where visitors are invited to touch Nazarbayev’s handprint.

The windswept renamed city of 1 million has temperatures of -40°C in the winter and more than 40°C during the summer. It was previously called Akmolinsk, Tselinograd and Akmola before becoming Astana, meaning “capital”, after Nazarbayev opted for it over Almaty in 1997.

The newly renamed Nursultan. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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