Nazarbayev Turns Birthday Into Holiday

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Kazakhstan's president has approved a bill to create a new holiday on his birthday to honor the nation's capital, Astana, local media reported Thursday.

The parliament, which is composed solely of members of the pro-presidential Nur Otan party, put forward and approved the bill decreeing the holiday on President Nursultan Nazarbayev's July 6 birthday, Kazakh media said.

Nazarbayev has faced virtually no challenge to his rule since coming to power shortly before the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

He transferred the capital in 1997 to Akmola, in the nation's barren northern steppes, from the larger southern city of Almaty, which officials said was overcrowded, too close to the Chinese border and prone to earthquakes.

Observers at the time, however, said the relocation was likely an effort to counter separatist tendencies in the northern regions, where the bulk of the population is ethnic Russian.