Kazakhstan renames capital Nur-Sultan in honor of veteran leader

The Akorda (C), official residence of the Kazakhstan president, is seen amidst the city skyline in Astana September 8, 2013. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

ALMATY (Reuters) - Kazakhstan renamed its capital Astana as Nur-Sultan on Saturday in honor of veteran leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, who unexpectedly resigned this week after almost 30 years in power.

It is the fourth time the city’s name has been changed within six decades, and some residents and opposition figures have protested against the latest renaming, which was made official on Saturday in a decree signed by interim President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

The windswept city of one million people, where temperatures range from -40 degrees Celsius in winter to more than 40C during the summer, was previously called Akmolinsk, Tselinograd and Akmola before becoming Astana, meaning “capital”, after Nazarbayev moved the nation’s capital there from Almaty in 1997.

Authorities have said the many public buildings, events and companies with Astana in their titles will retain their names.

Saying a new generation of leaders was needed, Nazarbayev stepped down abruptly on Tuesday in what appeared to be the first step in a choreographed political transition that will see him retain considerable sway.

The 78-year-old former steel worker and Communist party apparatchik appeared alongside Tokayev at several events this week and the two spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin by telephone together.

Nazarbayev, who had ruled the vast oil and gas-rich Central Asian nation since 1989, when it was still part of the Soviet Union, remains the head of the security council and the ruling Nur Otan party.

Nazarbayev’s foe, fugitive banker and opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov, has accused him of planning a dynastic succession that would see his daughter succeed him.

Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Helen Popper