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Kazakhstan moves to extend presidential term, rename capital

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MOSCOW (AP) — Kazakhstan’s parliament on Friday voted unanimously to support constitutional amendments that would extend the presidential term to seven years and rename the country’s capital.

The changes are part of an array of political and economic reforms President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has called for after violent protests rocked the country in January, killing more than 200 people. The unrest was sparked by a sharp rise in fuel prices, but also reflected widespread dismay with the country’s politics, which for over 30 years had been dominated by Nursultan Nazarbayev and his party.

The amendments passed in two readings by the Kazakh parliament on Friday extend the presidential term to seven years from the current five, but also bar any president from running for a second term in office. They also move to rename the country’s capital, Nur-Sultan, back to Astana.

Astana became the capital of Kazakhstan in 1997 when Nazarbayev, who led the country for three decades under the Soviet Union and after it gained independence in 1991, moved it there from Almaty. After he stepped down in 2019, his successor Tokayev moved to name it Nur-Sultan — in honor of Nazarbayev, who retained enormous influence as head of the county’s ruling party and security council.

But Tokayev removed him from those posts after deadly unrest in January that hinged partly on dissatisfaction with the power that Nazarbayev still wielded, and announced sweeping reforms.

Earlier this month, he called for snap presidential elections and announced the move to bring back the old name of the country’s capital.

Tokayev has previously said that he would run in the election. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the new amendments would allow him to, but similar constitutional reforms in Russia and Belarus allowed incumbent leaders to run again under the new constitution.

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