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World News

FACTBOX: Key facts about Kazakh capital Astana

(Reuters) - Kazakhstan is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its capital Astana -- a city seen as a symbol of the resource-rich nation’s ambition to become a modern and developed state.

Below are some key facts about Astana:

* HISTORY: The city was founded in the 1830s as a Cossack military outpost on a key trade route between Central Asia and Western Siberia.

-- Its original name was Akmolinsk, a word which derives from the Kazakh word “Akmola” which means “holy place”, but translates literally as “white tombstone”.

-- Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev renamed the city Tselinograd in 1961 to celebrate the completion of the “Virgin Lands” campaign that turned Kazakhstan into Central Asia’s largest grain producer, but caused massive environmental damage.

-- After gaining independence in 1991, Kazakhstan renamed the city Akmola and in 1994 President Nursultan Nazarbayev decided to move the capital from the southeastern city of Almaty to Akmola which is closer to Kazakhstan’s geographical centre.

-- In 1998, Akmola became the capital of Kazakhstan and next year Nazarbayev renamed it Astana to avoid media comparisons with the literal translation of “white tombstone”.

-- Astana means “capital city” in Kazakh.

* GEOGRAPHY: Located in the windswept steppe on the Ishim river, Astana has an extreme continental climate with temperatures ranging from minus 40 degrees Celsius (-40 F) in winter to plus 40 (104 F) in summer. Local time is GMT +6

* POPULATION: Over 600,000.

* ARCHITECTURE: Astana is known for its futuristic buildings, including a pyramid-shaped Palace of Peace and Accord designed by British architect Norman Foster and a residential complex named “Astana’s Triumph”.

-- But official names do not always stick. One of Kazakhstan’s tallest buildings, an administrative building called Transport Tower, is widely known as “cigarette lighter” due to its peculiar shape. The building lived up to its image in 2006 when it caught fire.

A massive building nearby is dubbed “ashtray”.

-- City authorities plan to build a huge bullet-shaped tower that will become Central Asia’s tallest at 1,300 feet.

Writing by Olzhas Auyezov

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