ASTANA — Kazakhstan on Friday unveiled a new mosque in its capital Astana, the biggest in Central Asia, as part of festivities marking long-serving President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s 72nd birthday.
The gleaming white structure with Kazakh national ornaments will have a capacity to accommodate 5,000 worshippers. It took less than two years to build. “This celebration is a celebration for all Kazakh people. I congratulate you on opening Kazakhstan’s biggest mosque,” Nazarbayev said.
“We are a multinational country... We are a tolerant nation.”
The mosque, called “Khazret Sultan”, stands on some 11 hectares (27 acres) of land in central Astana.
In January it was dramatically engulfed in flames after the wooden scaffolding in its tall cupola caught on fire, setting off an ominous plume of smoke above the city.
Nazarbayev, who some accuse of encouraging a personality cult, turns 72 Friday. While he traditionally dismisses birthday celebrations in his name, the date has been made a holiday called “Capital Day”, marking the official move of Kazakhstan’s capital in 1998 from Almaty to Astana, then a dusty steppe town.
Since then Astana has acquired its share of gigantic monuments and shiny towers and seen its population rise exponentially.
The Kazakh leader frequently ties his birthday to grandiose city events, notably opening a giant indoor park Khan Shatyr to coincide with his turning 70 in 2010, where world-famous singers performed at a gala.
A similar event in 2011 was marred however by Sting’s cancellation of a concert, over concerns with the human rights situation in the authoritarian country. — AFP