Fri, 26 Apr 2019

Interim Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has signed a decree to rename the capital Astana after former President Nursultan Nazarbaev who stepped down abruptly earlier in the week.

The signed decree to rename the city Nur-Sultan was published on the official Kazakh presidential website on March 23.

Toqaev, who will serve as interim president until presidential elections on April 20, proposed the name change on March 20, one day after the 78-year-old Nazarbaev announced on March 19 he was stepping down as president after ruling the energy-rich Central Asian country for nearly 30 years.

He still, however, remains chairman for life of the Kazakh Security Council and chairman of the ruling Nur-Otan party.

SEE ALSO: Kazakh President Nazarbaev Abruptly Resigns, But Will Retain Key Roles

Parliament quickly approved the change, but members of the public oppose it.

Dozens were detained in the Kazakh capital during rallies against the change on March 21 and 22.

SEE ALSO: Kazakh Police Detain Protesters In Several Cities During Norouz Celebrations

Rights activists and critics say Nazarbaev persistently suppressed dissent, prolonged his time in office through undemocratic votes or referendums, and used the levers of power to neutralize potential opponents.

The city is no stranger to changing its name.

It was known as Akmolinsk up till 1961 when it was renamed Tselinograd (meaning 'Virgin Lands City' in Russian). It became Aqmola ('White Grave' in Kazakh) after Kazakhstan became independent following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

After the capital was moved from Almaty in southeastern Kazakhstan to Aqmola in 1997, the city was once again renamed, this time to Astana ('Capital' in Kazakh).

Now it will be known as Nur-Sultan.

With reporting by Interfax RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

RFE/RL's Radio Azattyq has been an important source of information for people in Kazakhstan for decades. Radio Azattyq reports on compelling stories in both Kazakh and Russian and provides a platform for audience engagement and the free exchange of ideas.'

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Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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