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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kazakhstan's Capital Gets New Name

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Kazakhstan's president announced Wednesday that he was changing the capital's name from Akmola to Astana to stop people from calling it "white tomb."

"Even though I have more than once explained the scientific meaning of the town of Akmola, on a day-to-day level, in the mass media they continue to explain its meaning negatively. That does not serve the creation of a normal image for the new capital of our new independent state," President Nursultan Nazarbayev said on television. "Today, I signed a decree renaming the town of Akmola the town of Astana."

Astana means "capital" in Kazakh, a name Nazarbayev described as both beautiful and appropriate to the town, which he said had undergone a complete transformation since it was declared Kazakhstan's new capital in December.

While unimaginative, the new name avoids the ambiguity of Akmola, which can be translated either as "white plenty" or "white tomb," an interpretation favored by critics of the move.

"I think it will be understood correctly by the whole population and will remove all questions, all tensions around our new capital," Nazarbayev said.

Last week, Komsomolskaya Pravda, a Russian newspaper that is widely read in Kazakhstan, derided the relocation from Almaty, at the foot of the Tien Shan mountains, to what it called the "white tomb" 1,200 kilometers further north.

Nazarbayev, who has shifted the government and parliament to Akmola during the past few months but has failed to attract diplomats and businessmen, plans to invite foreign leaders to an official presentation of the new capital June 10.

"Nothing remains of the provincial Akmola of the past," he said, adding that he wanted more people to recognize the city.

Nazarbayev sees the new capital, situated closer to Russia than Almaty, which is near the Chinese border, as the strategic and economic center of the huge, oil-rich republic of 16 million people.