- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 23, 2009

ASTANA, Kazakhstan (Reuters) | Freezing weather may have brought misery to Europe, but for Kazakhstan it is a selling point.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev, in an annual speech Tuesday, said more diplomats should move to his country’s icy capital, Astana, to enjoy its extreme weather.

“Well today it’s only [-22 Fahrenheit]. It only strengthens our spirit,” Mr. Nazarbayev, in power for 20 years, told diplomats at his lavish marble-and-turquoise presidential palace.

“This city is so sterile. Even germs can’t survive in this weather. So we can enjoy living long lives here. Well, maybe not as long as those of mammoths, but still quite long.”

Mr. Nazarbayev moved the capital to Astana, tucked away in a steppe known for its particularly inhospitable winters, in 1997 and used billions of oil dollars to turn it into a futuristic extravaganza of gold-tinted skyscrapers.

Diplomats and Kazakh government officials alike have been reluctant to move to Astana, now the world’s second-coldest capital, from the old capital Almaty, a leafy city on the foothills of the Tien Shan mountains. Mongolian capital Ulan Bator is believed to be the coldest.

For Mr. Nazarbayev, Astana is now a symbol of Kazakhstan’s independence from Soviet rule and transformation from a sleepy Soviet backwater into an oil-fueled economy bustling with commercial activity and trade.

Designed in line with a plan laid out by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, it also stands as a monument to Mr. Nazarbayev’s two-decade rule during which he has consolidated his power and eliminated political dissent.

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