Kazakhstan is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its capital Astana, a city seen as a symbol of the resource-rich nation’s ambition to be considered a modern, thriving state. The anniversary coincides with the 68th birthday of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, in power since 1989.
Russain President Dimitry Medvedev was among those invited to the party. Situated in the empty heartland of Eurasia, Astana was little more than a windswept provincial town a decade ago when Nazarbayev declared it the capital of his oil-rich state.
Now the city stands as a monument to Nazabayev’s 20-year rule, with gold-tinted tower blocks, oddly shaped skyscrapers and a giant pyramid with an opera house in the basement. It was built at a cost of eight billion euros.
Five times the size of France but populated by only 16 million people, the state has grown rich on oil since the 1970s. Astana is now at the heart of global oil diplomacy as Europe courts it as an alternative to Russian energy supplies.
Nazabayev has his detractors at home and abroad. International rights groups have accused the president of cracking down on dissent and backsliding on democracy.