Several held in protest at capital name change

Almaty, Kazakhstan: Police arrested several people in Kazakhstan’s capital on Thursday protesting a decision to rename the city in honour of Nursultan Nazarbayev who stepped down as president after three decades in office. Career diplomat and political loyalist Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was sworn into office on Wednesday less than 24 hours after Nursultan Nazarbayev, the only leader an independent Kazakhstan had ever known, suddenly announced he was stepping down.
Tokayev immediately proposed changing the name of the Central Asian nation’s capital from Astana to Nursultan, or “Sultan of Light” in Kazakh, and parliament approved the change within hours. On Thursday at least a dozen demonstrators protesting the name change close to the capital’s mayoral office were arrested by police, one of the protesters said. They were subsequently released.
“There were around a dozen of us,” Askhat Akhmedyarov, who is an artist, said. “They put us in a police van and took us to the police station where they checked our phones. They wanted to know if we had any ties to (the opposition),” he said.
“I am at home now,” he confirmed, adding that he had not been fined by police. Public gatherings in Kazakhstan are illegal unless they receive permission from local authorities.
Kazakhs have also been showing their opposition at the name change online. One online petition against the name change had gathered close over 36,000 signatures as of Wednesday despite the petition website appearing to be blocked in Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan’s senate on Wednesday also appointed Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva as speaker, setting her up as a potential contender to succeed her father.