Kazakh leader arrives in new capital

Dec 10, 1997 01:00 AM

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has arrived in the little-known northern town of Akmola, which will become the former Soviet state's new capital.
"Akmola is the city through which Kazakhstan will become known to the whole world," Nazarbayev told reporters on arrival at the airport. "I would like the city to become a symbol of unity for all Kazakh citizens."
Nazarbayev will preside over a joint session of the government and parliament to formally inaugurate Akmola's new status.
Most government ministries are already working in Akmola, which is located 1,200 km (750 miles) north of the old capital Almaty. Members of parliament arrived in Akmola by train, the last group of officials to make the move.
Nazarbayev, who has ruled his Central Asian state of 16.7 million people with a firm hand since Soviet times, decided to move the capital in 1995.
Officials give different reasons for the choice of Akmola, a windswept town on a barren steppe which was founded in 1832 and wasknown as Tselinograd (Virgin Lands City) in Soviet times.
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 this town of 1.5 mm people in the foothills of the geologically young Tien Shan mountains is earthquake-prone.
Privately, officials say the idea is also intended to secure the Central Asian state's north, populated mostly by Slavs, some of whom would prefer closer ties to Russia.
Yet the new capital, though clad in shiny white plastic and red bricks, remains a strikingly Soviet place.
The town of around 300,000 residents was hastily built in the 1950's and 60's with faceless low-rise tenements during an ultimately disastrous campaign to boost grain output by developing Kazakhstan's marginal steppelands.
The illuminations could not hide the problem of frequent cuts in electricity and natural gas supplies, while thick steam clouded in sub-zero temperatures over cracks in the heating pipes of many houses.
A lack of modern amenities, even as basic as a telephone line, is another topical issue.

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