Kazakhstan Inaugurates New Capital

AKMOLA, Kazakhstan -- The little-known town of Akmola in northern Kazakhstan was officially inaugurated as the former Soviet republic's new capital Wednesday.

"We, the branches of the supreme state power, solemnly declare today that from Dec. 10 Akmola becomes the capital of our state," Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev told a joint meeting of the government and parliament.

Nazarbayev predicted a great future for the new capital of the Central Asian state.

"Akmola is one of the geographical centers of the Eurasian mainland," he said. "Economic, technological and information streams of the developing Eurasian mainland will come across our new capital in the 21st century."

Officials give different reasons for the move. Some say the capital should be relocated to the north to move power away from the Chinese border. Others point to Almaty's pollution and note that it is in the foothills of the Tien Shan Mountains, an earthquake zone.

Privately, officials say the idea is also intended to secure the vast country's north, populated mostly by Slavs rather than ethnic Kazakhs. Some Slavs would prefer closer ties with Russia.

In front of the presidential palace in central Akmola, local residents shared different views on the new role for their once obscure town.

"I do not think this will change my life greatly," said ethnic Russian Vasily, 44, a street photographer and father of four. "I have not started earning more."

"I am happy. This opens great opportunities for our children and grandchildren," said Nurlanu, 72, a Kazakh woman pensioner.