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Western Press Review: Kazakhstan Inaugurates New Capital

Prague, 11 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Kazakhstan, seldom in the news in the Western press, excites a flurry of commentary with the opening yesterday of its new capital, Astana.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Astana is the center of the region where Kazakh tribes fought a fateful war

The Financial Times, London, carries a news analysis today by Charles Clover. He writes: "Amid maidens on prancing horses, sword-wielding folk dancers, fireworks, pop bands and dull congratulatory speeches by 20 heads of state and government representatives, Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan, opened his country's new capital city of Astana."

The writer says: "Astana is the center of the region where Kazakh tribes fought a fateful war with the rival Jungar people in the 18th century. (It) so weakened the Kazakhs that they were forced to seek a treaty with Russia for protection. This was the beginning of the end of Kazakhstan's independence for the next two centuries."

Clover writes: "The northern region was repopulated in the 1960s under the Soviet virgin lands program, meant to reenergize agriculture in the USSR by farming the vast stepped of Central Asia. Millions of ethnic Russians immigrated to Kazakhstan under this program. Many Kazakh officials fear that those ethnic Russians could be a destabilizing influence on the country as a whole if Russia were to attempt to stir up the region to expand its influence."

DIE WELT: Nazarbayev's act of relocating his capital is intended to combat separatist tendencies

Commentator Manfred Quiring writes today in the German newspaper Die Welt: "In 1995 Nazarbayev decided that the former capital city of Almaty, with around one million inhabitants in the south of the republic close to the Chinese border, should surrender its role as capital to the small town 1,300 km further north. Astana used to be called Akmola, but that meant "white grave" and obviously needed changing before the move.

"Neither diplomats nor the foreign business community are overjoyed by the move into the steppes. Temperatures vary between 40 degrees centigrade in summer and minus 40 in winter. However, Nazarbayev's wishes are law in Kazakhstan. Through the move he has tightened his grasp on a country riddled with clans and almost eight times the size of Germany. "The president wants to solve the ethnic problem he has with the Russians. They make up 50 per cent of the population and live mainly in the north of the country, which is rich in natural reserves. The Cossacks living there would like to rejoin Russia. Nazarbayev's act of relocating his capital further north is intended to combat separatist tendencies. He is also keen to protect close political and economic relations with Russia. For this reason Nazarbayev honored two Russian delegates with seats on his top table: Yeltsin's personal representative to the CIS countries, Ivan Rybkin, and Moscow's eminence grise Boris Berezovsky, secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Astana is a monument to President Nazarbayev's ego

Critics say that Astana is a monument to President Nazarbayev's ego, says corespondent Peter Green in an International Herald Tribune news analysis. Green writes: "Mr. Nazarbayev is vague on his reasons for moving the capital but he insists the final thousand-million-dollar price tag is not beyond Kazakhstan's reach even though the petrodollars have yet to flow in and the country is living on oil-lease downpayments, privatization receipts and what diplomats say is a mass of money from smuggling drugs westward and weapons eastward."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Uzbekistan has chosen to keep its distance from Moscow

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung carries a commentary by Gerold Buchner on another Central Asian nation, Uzbekistan. Buchner says the Uzbek government is trying to walk a wobbly tightrope between Islam and the West. He writes: "Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan have opted for close military and economic ties with Russia, whereas Uzbekistan has chosen to keep its distance from Moscow. President (Islam) Karimov has thus sought to reconcile opposites: close ties with both the West and with Islam. He would dearly like to see Uzbekistan as the West's preferred partner in Central Asia, a region that is viewed with keen interest by the industrialized countries on account of its plentiful oil and gas reserves.

"On this ground alone the Uzbek leaders would prefer not to maintain the closest of ties with the Islamic states, and that is why Karimov supports the U.S. policy of containment toward Iran. Conversely, Washington has seen Uzbekistan since 1996 as its preferred geopolitical partner in Central Asia, says Uwe Halbach of Germany's Federal Institute of Eastern Studies in Cologne. That said, by setting his country apart from Muslim regimes Karimov is running a domestic policy risk. Islam is the most important link for the emerging nation."

WASHINGTON POST: Violence in Kosova has ignited nationalism in neighboring Albania

Moving to the Balkans, The Washington Post says, in a news analysis by Christine Spolar, that conflict in Kosova is kindling war spirit in neighboring Albania. She writes: "The upsurge of violence against ethnic Albanians in neighboring Kosova has ignited nationalism here and stoked war passions, making it difficult for the country's weak government to advocate a peaceful resolution of the conflict. In the past week, opposition groups, national newspapers and popular entertainers have been calling for all-out war to wrest an independent Kosova from Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic.

"Kosova, home to 1.8 million ethnic Albanians, has become a battlefield between Serbian security forces and separatist guerrillas who have been waging hit-and-run attacks against Serbian targets in a campaign to win independence."

Spolar says: "Although Kosova has agitated for independence since being stripped of its political autonomy in 1989, Albanians have remained largely aloof from the demands and travails of their ethnic brethren. But as thousands of those brethren pour over the mountains into isolated northern Albania, carrying accounts of Serbian destruction, they are arousing the sympathy -- and support -- of this country's 3.2 million people."

INDEPENDENT: A bizarre showdown is deepening Belarus's reputation as the troublemaker of Eastern Europe

And in Belarus, a diplomatic power play has turned into a bit of theater of the absurd, Phil Reeves writes from Moscow in The Independent, London. As Reeves analyzes a diplomatic squabble in Belarus: "An escalating conflict between Belarus and the West entered round two yesterday when the republic's president gave a group of ambassadors one more week to clear out of their residences in the capital, Minsk. Alyaksandr Lukashenka's decision to extend the deadline deferred -- but did not defuse -- a bizarre showdown that is deepening his small nation's reputation as the troublemaker of Eastern Europe."