Protest in Kazakhstan over decision to rename capital Asthana after ex-president

The government wants to rechristen Asthana as 'Nursultan', in honour of Nursultan Nazarbayev who stepped down as president after three decades in office.

Published: 21st March 2019 06:28 PM  |   Last Updated: 21st March 2019 06:31 PM   |  A+A-

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. (File | AFP)

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. (File | AFP)

By Online Desk

ALMATY (Kazakhstan): Scores of people took on to the street in the capital city of Astana on Thursday protesting the rechristening of the city as 'Nursultan', in honour of Nursultan Nazarbayev who stepped down as president after three decades in office.

Police arrested several people who were protesting the name change close to the capital's mayoral office. They were later released. 

Career diplomat and political loyalist Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who was sworn into office less than 24 hours on Wednesday, proposed changing the name of the Central Asian nation's capital from Astana to Nursultan, or "Sultan of Light" in Kazakh, and parliament approved the change within hours.

ALSO READ | Kazakhstan renames capital 'Nursultan' after ex-president

"There were around a dozen of us," Askhat Akhmedyarov, who is an artist, said. "They put us in a police van and took us to the police station where they checked our phones. They wanted to know if we had any ties to (the opposition)," he said. 

"I am at home now," he confirmed, adding that he had not been fined by police. The interior ministry did not comment on the arrests.  

One online petition against the name change gathered close over 36,000 signatures as of Wednesday despite the petition website appearing to be blocked in Kazakhstan. 

Public gatherings in Kazakhstan are illegal unless they receive permission from local authorities, which is almost never provided in the case of political demonstrations.

Akhmedyarov said he was protesting a name change that "showed Nazarbayev's insecurity." "This is a person who has looted the country and left millions in poverty. Now he has named the capital after himself and put a puppet president in charge. Next he will probably try to put his daughter (in the presidency)," Akhmedyarov said. 

(With AFP inputs)

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