Kazakhstan: Astana police detain protesters who oppose renaming city after Nazarbayev

ASTANA (TCA) — Police in Astana have detained about 20 people who protested against renaming Kazakhstan’s capital after former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who stepped down from the post earlier this week, RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service reported.

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.

Nazarbayev 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 Nazarbayev.

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Times of Central Asia