Kazakhstan renames capital 'Nursultan' after ex-president

Kazakhstan renames capital 'Nursultan' after ex-president

Kazakhstan renames capital Nursultan after ex-president

Kazakhstan's parliament on March 20 voted to rename the country's capital in honor of long-time ex-ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev, a day after he resigned as president.

"Astana is now officially renamed Nursultan," the state-owned Kazinform news agency said after a parliamentary vote.

Kazakhstan's president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev proposed renaming the capital after he was sworn in following Nazarbayev's shock resignation on March 19.

In his first official act, Tokayev asked that Astana- the gleaming new capital Nazarbayev erected in the country's vast steppes- be renamed "Nursultan,” which means "Sultan of Light" in Kazakh and other Turkic languages.

Astana, the government's showpiece project on the Ishim River in northern Kazakhstan, took over as the capital more than 20 years ago.

It replaced Kazakhstan's largest city Almaty as the capital in 1997 and was transformed from a minor provincial town into a futuristic city.

Its name meant "capital" in Kazakh and there had long been speculation it could at some point be renamed after the leader who shaped it.            

It was not the first name change for the city, now home to around one million people. Astana was previously known as Akmolinsk, Tselinograd and Akmola.

The Central Asian nation’s Senate also appointed ex-leader Nursultan Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter Dariga as speaker, setting her up as a potential contender to succeed her father.

The previous senate chief, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, took office as president in a pomp-filled ceremony in the capital Astana less than 24 hours after Nazarbayev, the only leader an independent Kazakhstan had ever known, suddenly announced he was stepping down.

Nazarbayev, 78, ruled Kazakhstan since before it gained independence with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.