President Nazarbayev has ruled Kazakhstan since 1989, when it was still part of the Soviet Union and is a widely popular leader. In December 2005, he was re-elected with 91% of the vote. However, in the past few years, the president has harassed the independent media, arrested opposition leaders, and passed a law making it virtually impossible for new political parties to form.
As democracy declines so Kazakhstan’s economic expands. This country has the potential for becoming one of central Asia's richest countries because of its huge mineral and oil resources and its liberalized economy, which encourages Western investment.
Oil discovered in the Caspian Sea
In 2000, oil was discovered in Kazakhstan's portion of the Caspian Sea, one of the largest finds in the last 30 years. A year later, the opening of the Caspian Consortium pipeline from the Tengiz oilfield to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk., substantially raised export capacity. In 2004, Kazakhstan signed a deal allowing China to build an oil pipeline to the Chinese border and the first part of this was completed in 2006.
Lakshmi N Mittal buys into Kazakh oil firm
Kazakhstan’s expanding economy is attracting interest from outside. According to The Times of India at the end of April, 2007, one of the world’s richest men, Lakshmi N Mittal recently acquired Russian oil firm Lukoil’s 50% stake in a Kazakhstan oil firm for $980 million.
World Bank loans used to rescue Aral Sea
Kazakhstan seems to have prevented an environmental catastrophe by using a $68m loan from the World Bank to build a dam that split the Aral Sea into two parts. This 13km dam has allowed the Syr Darya river to feed the Northern Aral Sea for the first time in decades. As a result, 40% per cent of the water has returned and taken back the desert. Fishermen are back in their boats, the rain has returned, and many people in the area see hope in their future. In 2007, with a further $126m from the World Bank, Kazakhstan plans to build another dam, which they hope will bring the water back to the deserted port of Aralsk. The water was once 100 kilometres away.
Baikonur – where space travel started
Famous places in Kazakhstan include the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the Central Asian equivalent of Cape Canaveral, where on 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin, became the world’s first astronaut.
Astana – new capital for a new country
Astana was made Kazakhstan’s new capital in 1997, as its location was thought to be more accessible to the Russian Federation and less earthquake-prone than Almaty (the former capital), where foreign embassies and consulates are still based. Near Almaty is the Medeu ice rink where the speed-skaters of the Soviet Union used to train.
Tien Shan Mountains and the Silk Road
The Tien Shan Mountains in the southeast of Kazakhstan stretch for more than 1500km (932 miles). The highest peaks are Pobeda Peak (7439m/24,406ft) and Khan-Tengri Peak (7010m/23,000ft). Aksu-Jabagli is a UNESCO biosphere reserve, situated 1000 to 4000m (3280 to 3120ft) above sea level, and home to 238 species of birds, 42 species of animals and 1300 species of plants. The Great Silk Road passed through this area and ancient sights abound including those in Golovachovka, where the ruins include the 11th-century Babadzi-Khatun Mausoleum and the 12th-century Mausoleum Aisha Bibi.
Lake Balkhash – Half saline, half fresh water
Central Kazakhstan has one of the largest lakes in the world, Lake Balkhash, which is half saline, half fresh water. In Western Kazakhstan, the Karagie Depression, 132m (433ft) below sea level, is the lowest point in the world after the Dead Sea in Israel.
Tags: Kazakhstan , Space Travel , Astana , MIttal
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