Kazakhstan considers reinstating capital’s old name Astana

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Authorities in Kazakhstan on Tuesday supported a proposal to restore the capital’s previous name Astana, in a new sign of a break with the legacy of the country’s ex-president.

The skyscraper-filled capital of the Central Asian country was renamed Nur-sultan in March 2019, in honor of outgoing president Nursultan Nazarbayev.

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Authoritarian leader Nazarbayev ruled the ex-Soviet republic from 1991, building a personality cult around himself, before a surprise resignation in 2019 when loyalist Kassym-Jomart Tokayev took over.

Tokayev gradually distanced himself from his mentor by launching reforms and sidelining the former president’s influential clan.

Presidential spokesman Ruslan Zheldibay said Tuesday that an amendment to reinstate the capital’s previous name was included in a draft law by lawmakers “with the president’s approval.”

“At the same time, the president sees Nursultan Nazarbayev’s decisive role in strengthening the modern statehood of Kazakhstan and the establishment of the capital as a historical fact,” Zheldibay wrote on Facebook.

“Therefore, other landmarks named after the first president will keep their names,” he said.

The break between Nazarbayev and Tokayev has become more stark since deadly riots in January.

After the unrest, Nazarbayev was stripped of his title of “Elbasy,” or “Leader of the Nation” – a role that afforded him influence over policymaking regardless of his formal position.

Some members of his close circle were removed from high positions and one of his nephews was arrested for embezzlement.

Tokayev also publicly criticized his predecessor after the violence in January, saying Nazarbayev’s rule had created “a layer of wealthy people” – though he also continued praising him.

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