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It's Official: Kazakh Capital Now Called Nur-Sultan

Downtown Astana with the landmark Baiterek Tower seen in the background. The Kazakh capital will now be known as Nur-Sultan after former President Nursultan Nazarbaev. (file photo)

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 a presidential election in April 2020, 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.

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.

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).

And now it is known as Nur-Sultan.

With reporting by Interfax
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