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Astana Police Detain Protesters Who Oppose Renaming City After Nazarbaev


Scuffles And Arrests In Kazakhstan Over Capital Name Change
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WATCH: Scuffles And Arrests In Kazakhstan Over Capital Name Change

ASTANA -- Police in Astana have detained about 20 people who protested against renaming Kazakhstan's capital after former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who stepped down from the post earlier this week.

The protesters, who staged their March 21 protest in front of the Astana mayor's office, were confronted by dozens of people who support the renaming of the city before police took them away.

It was not immediately clear if charges have been filed against the demonstrators.

Nazarbaev abruptly announced his resignation on March 19 after ruling the country for nearly 30 years.

However, he remains chairman for life of Kazakhstan's Security Council and chairman of the ruling Nur Otan party.

The outgoing upper house chairman, Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, was sworn in as interim president of the Central Asian country on March 20. He is to remain in office until an election that is due to be held in April 2020.

During the ceremony at a joint session of the parliament's chambers, Toqaev proposed that Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, be renamed Nursultan -- a request that was swiftly approved by parliament.

As the procedure has yet to be finalized, nearly 40,000 people have signed an online petition against renaming the city for a fourth time in less than 60 years.

Astana was known as Akmolinsk until 1961, when it was renamed Tselinograd (Virgin Lands City in Russian language). 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 Astana (Capital in Kazakh).

Toqaev also called for major streets in all towns and cities across Kazakhstan to be named after the 78-year-old Nazarbaev.

In a separate development, the U.S. State Department said that Washington "deeply values" Nazarbaev's contributions in "establishing and promoting enduring, dynamic relations between the United States and Kazakhstan."

"At this historic moment in Kazakhstan, we salute [Nazarbaev’s] role as the father of today’s modern, sovereign, and prosperous Kazakhstan, and acknowledge the example he sets for responsible regional and global leadership," spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement on March 21.

With reporting by Reuters
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