New Kazakh president: Astana should be renamed to 'Nursultan'

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev proposes renaming capital Astana to 'Nursultan' in honour of ex-leader Nursultan Nazarbayev.

    Tokayev, left, can serve the remainder of Nazarbayev's term ahead of scheduled elections next year [Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik]
    Tokayev, left, can serve the remainder of Nazarbayev's term ahead of scheduled elections next year [Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik]

    Kazakhstan's newly sworn-in President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has proposed renaming the country's capital in honour of former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, a day after the longtime ruler's shock resignation.

    "I propose ... naming the country's capital Astana in honour of the first president," Tokayev said on Wednesday, suggesting the new name be "Nursultan".

    "The opinion of [Nazarbayev] will be of special, one can say priority, importance in the development and adoption of strategic decisions," the new leader added.

    Tokayev, a career diplomat who had been senate speaker, can serve the remainder of Nazarbayev's term ahead of scheduled elections next year.

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    Nazarbayev surprised many by announcing in a televised address on Tuesday that he would step down after nearly 30 years, making Tokayev only the second president in the country's independent history.

    Nazarbayev attended Tokayev's inauguration on Wednesday, entering to lengthy applause from assembled dignitaries before taking a seat on a podium above and behind the lectern where Tokayev gave an address.

    Nazarbayev, whom Tokayev praised as "an outstanding reformer", will remain influential as chairman of the Security Council and head of the ruling party.

    Astana replaced Almaty as the capital in 1997 and boomed from a minor provincial steppe town into a futuristic city.

    The name Astana literally means "capital" in Kazakh and there has long been speculation it could, at some point, be renamed after the leader who shaped it.

    Nazarbayev's decades at the helm transformed Kazakhstan into an energy powerhouse but he governed with little tolerance for opposition.

    Nazarbayev's resignation is not expected to fundamentally alter Kazakhstan's authoritarian system, which rights groups say leaves little space for political competition, civil society, and free media.

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    SOURCE: News agencies