Kazakhstan renames its capital as Nursultan

Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev ratifies draft to change name of Astana, promts nation-wide protests

Kazakhstan's current President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev

Kazakhstan renamed today the country's capital to Nursultan, or "Sultan of Light" in Kazakh, to honour its ex-President Nursultan Nazarbayev. This happened after Kazakhstan's new President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev ratified the proposal to change the name of the country's capital from Astana to Nursultan and the change was announced in a statement from the president's official website.

This is not the first time the city changes it name. Astana was known as Akmolinsk until 1961, when it was renamed Tselinograd. It then became Akmola, which means "white grave", after Kazakhstan gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. After Nazarbayev moved the capital there from the southeastern city of Almaty, Akmola was once again renamed. Its current name, Astana, means simply "capital".

Yet, this time the name change was not welcomed by citizens and prompted almost week-long protests in Astana and former capital and the country's largest city Almaty. As a result Dozens of anti-government protesters were detained. Kazakhs have also been showing their opposition at the name change online. One online petition against the name change had gathered close over 36,000 signatures as of Wednesday despite the petition website appearing to be blocked in Kazakhstan.

Nursultan Nazarbayev, 78, who has ruled the country since its independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, stepped down in February, becoming the first Central Asian leader of the post-Soviet era to willingly leave office. He dismissed the country's government, citing a lack of economic growth, and pledging new reforms to improve people's quality of life. A day after the leader officially resigned this Tuesday, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev was sworn in as Kazakhstan's new president. Tokayev will now serve out the rest of Nazarbayev's mandate until elections due next year, though the former president retains significant powers. As an example, Kazakhstan's senate appointed his eldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva as speaker, setting her up as a potential contender to succeed her father.

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