President: Kazakhstan's capital will again be called Astana

Pope Francis attends with Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev the welcome ceremony at the Presidential Palace Ak Orda, in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022. Pope Francis begins a 3-days visit to the majority-Muslim former Soviet republic to minister to its tiny Catholic community and participate in a Kazakh-sponsored conference of world religious leaders. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

MOSCOW (AP) — Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has agreed to restore the former name of the country's capital just three years after he renamed it in honor of his predecessor, his spokesperson said Tuesday.

One of Tokayev's first moves upon taking office in 2019 after President Nursultan Nazarbayev stepped down was to call for Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, to be dubbed Nur-Sultan instead.

Nazarbayev, who led the country for three decades under the Soviet Union and after it gained independence in 1991, relocated the capital from Almaty to Astana in 1997. The move was widely questioned because of the city's relative isolation in the northern steppes and notoriously frigid winters in which temperatures plunge as low as 51 degrees Celsius below zero (minus-60 F).

He made the city into a showplace of gaudy architecture, including an observation tower where visitors can place their hands in a print of Nazarbayev's.

After he stepped down, Nazarbayev 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.

Tokayev's spokesman, Ruslan Zheliban, said the president agreed to the name change after an initiative by a group of parliament members.