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ICRC ready to cooperate with SCO member states, top official says

Sat, 2017-06-17 01:06

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is ready to cooperate with Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) member states with the recent monumental signing of joint memoranda of understanding. ICRC Vice President Christine Beerli related her many years of personal insight into the direction the Red Cross Movement is moving and what lies ahead.

Christine Beerli

“In Kazakhstan, one of the common themes that we have and are working on together is an ultimate path to a nuclear ban treaty. But also in Kazakhstan we have a healthy partnership with the Ministry of Defence in the field of training,” she said in an exclusive interview with The Astana Times.

In partnership with the Ministry of Defence, the ICRC conducts joint drills alongside local soldiers to prepare them for peacekeeping operations in hot spots around the world under the direction of NATO.

“We also have a Red Crescent within Kazakhstan and we work together on numerous projects in various fields of need. We have a steady line of communication that goes back and forth that adheres to the needs of Kazakhstan citizens,” she said.

Beerli spoke about her mission in regards to the SCO meeting held in the capital, Kazakhstan and the overall significance of the signing the memorandum of understanding.

“It is quite vital to have a good dialogue and close exchanges between quite a lot of entities, as well as regional organisations. The SCO is a very influential organisation and India and Pakistan will soon join as full members, which will cover about 43 percent of the population of the world. It is a win-win situation for all of us, because it will open a dialogue for us to reach out to these countries more than ever before and that in turn allows us to respect and adhere to international humanitarian law, which is the main basis of our work,” she said speaking on the eve of the June 9 SCO summit where India and Pakistan did join as full members.

Beerli is convinced if the law was respected and upheld in all internal or international conflicts, the resulting situation would be much less difficult and traumatic for the civilian population caught in the crossfire. When one has the opportunity for a platform to sign an agreement of this stature and bring such knowledge to the world, one must do everything in his or her power to make it happen.

“It is my fourth time here so far, because we were and still are active representatives of the nuclear ban treaty meetings. This has been a topic of interest between us and Kazakhstan, but also in regards to the ICRC as well as for the whole worldwide Red Cross movement,” she said.

She added the organisation has high hopes the United Nations General Assembly will discuss the treaty and that it will be signed in July.

“Our doctors have witnessed the devastating effects of these weapons, because our doctors were on site in 1945 and since then we have worked toward a nuclear ban treaty,” she said referring to the U.S. nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Beerli noted the organisation is active in many parts of the world, with medical stations for injured civilians with on-call surgeons as the central areas of operation.

“If we look a bit around the world, we see quite a lot of hot points at the moment. The ICRC is working in all of the big conflict zones around the world. Our biggest operation last year and the next two years will be both in Iraq and Syria and we are operating together with our Syrian Red Cross partners for inside help as well as our Iraqi Red Cross partners to give us the additional intel we need,” she said.

She added ICRC’s second biggest operation is in South Sudan along with the horn of Africa. The area is on the edge of famine not just because of internal conflict, but also because of natural disasters that have brought critical devastation.

“One operation that I have to mention that is very close to my heart would be Yemen. It is such a brutal situation for the civilian population to endure. The medical facilities in a certain sense are crumbling down. Unfortunately, only 35 percent are in working mode at the moment. Cholera is one of the main infections that is affecting the population and children are more susceptible,” she added.

Beerli also went into detail about the way technology plays a vital role in aiding the civilian population to get the help it needs as quickly as possible through a simple app that can be downloaded onto smart phones.

“We are very convinced that we have to be ahead of the technological curve, because it helps us to bring the best and most up to date information we can without physically being at the site of the devastation,” she said.

“For example, Aleppo, Syria is a great example in a certain sense, because we used an old traditional outlet of helping citizens to find clean water with the use of a modern tech tool. We geotagged all of the fountains that you can find throughout the city and then afterward we made an application that gives civilians assistance to locate their exact GPS coordinates,” she added.

Beerli emphasised the importance of the technology due to more and more war-torn areas that are quickly seeping into urban regions, which in turn brings power outages and stagnates once fully-operational water pipes. With the app, residents are able to find the closest clean water fountain within their vicinity.

“We are currently working with a corporate partner on smart grids; imagine this smart grid is connected to a big battery via solar panels. The electricity is stored in the solar panels, which in turn flows to the smart grid. Its benefits are that we are able to distribute the power evenly. It is only working in pilot mode for now, but the whole idea behind it is that in the future, we want to be able to have our surgical team work in remote areas which would not have been possible before,” she said.

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Daytrip from Astana: Borovoye summer highlights

Sat, 2017-06-17 01:02

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANAThe period of EXPO 2017 coincides with peak holiday season in Kazakhstan. In Astana, for most of the population, that will mean trips to Borovoye.

Borovoye, a village built around a lake of the same name, is Astana’s closest getaway destination and probably its most visited. The area is a lovely getaway both for those who like to simply relax and look at great views on their vacations and for people who need to burn off energy swimming, hiking or otherwise actively engaged in their surroundings.

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“Tour operators have developed seven tourist packages that cover more than 30 routes in the Shchuchinsk-Borovoye resort zone and the Korgalzhyn nature reserve,” said head of the Tourism Department of Akmola region Shynarbek Batyrkhanov.

Tour packages include an excursion to the best sites in Borovoye, including historical sites like Abylai Khan meadow with its famous granite throne. Kazakhstan’s strangely delicious national fermented milk product, kumis, is sold at the tour stops for 600 tenge ($2), as are other dishes like baursaks (fried doughnuts), as well as souvenirs.

Another historical site nearby is Zhailau ethnographical village. Zhailau recreates the life of nomadic peoples who lived in yurts (nomadic mobile felt houses) and raised stock. The open-air tour offers one-hour horse rides far from the city bustle.

Lake Borovoye is only one of several lakes close to the village, but it is considered the most beautiful and distinguished by its size. Located 70 kilometres from the city of Kokshetau, the blue waters of the lake are extremely popular among locals and foreign tourists.

Burabai National Park, the zone of mountains that surrounds Lake Borovoye, is perhaps Borovoye’s major destination. The mountains that ring the lakes offer fun for hikers and climbers.

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A stunning panorama of Borovoye and Big Chebachie Lakes, Zhumbaktas Rock and Okzhetpes Mountain opens from Bolekau Mountain at a height of 147 metres. Those who travel by car can park their vehicles in specially designated parking lots. Climbing Okzhetpes Mountain, with a height of more than 300 metres, requires special equipment. The highest mountain in Borovoye, 947-metre Kokshetau Mountain, however, is walkable. It takes about four to five hours to go to the top and back.

Summer in Borovoye is not as hot as in other places in the country because of the nearby water and the mountains that provide shade and protection from the wind.

The lakeside offers a variety of accommodations with numerous hotels in all price ranges, spas and rest houses. The soft mountain climate, clean air and curative mud make relaxing here not only pleasant but also beneficial for one’s health, locals believe. There are also hostels and houses and apartments for rent. One-day accommodation cost starts from 10,000 tenge (US$31), but usually not higher than 35,000 tenge (US$110) for two people, according to

Guides advise staying at the Kokshetau, Zhekebatyr or Dostyk hotels, all of which have modern rooms, saunas, swimming pools, bars and cafes, cosy restaurants and parking facilities.

Borovoye is also the one of the country’s main gaming area. Cash Ville Casino is located in Borovoye’s Rixos Hotel. Cash Ville is one of the biggest and most luxurious casinos in Central Asia, according to, promising to provide European-level service. It has 50 gaming tables, where visitors can play American roulette, black jack, baccarat and the most popular forms of poker. The hotel provides discounts for casino visitors.

You can get to Borovoye by car, bus or minibus and electric train. The journey takes three or four hours. Buses and route taxis leave from the Saparzhai-Astana bus station.

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UN Under Secretary-General: EXPO invites creative thinking and a search for new ideas

Sat, 2017-06-17 00:57

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – EXPO 2017 is bringing people from all around the world to Astana, connecting them through dialogue while focusing the world’s attention on the enormous opportunities in moving to sustainable energy.

The international event highlights the reality that this is a global effort and countries must work together to share ideas and solve these challenges, United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP) Dr. Shamshad Akhtar said in a recent interview with The Astana Times.

Shamshad Akhtar

“For the last few years Kazakhstan has done intensive preparatory work which has now culminated in the successful hosting of the expo,” Akhtar said. “The beautiful buildings at the expo site showcase incredible architecture. The spherical Kazakhstan pavilion at the centre of the expo is breath-taking. The expo space, through its architecture, provides the perfect environment to start thinking about the energy of the future. It invites creative thinking and a search for new ideas.”

“It is encouraging to see so many countries and international organisations sharing innovative solutions to promoting sustainable energy, offering a futuristic vision of energy at the expo. There is a strong sense of positive energy from the participants, be they leaders in government, from the private sector or international organisations. The many innovative technologies and projects presented here on future energy remind us that we can change the future for the better by continuing to innovate and supporting these technologies with the right policies,” she explained.

The ESCAP booth at the UN Pavilion presents information on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) on sustainable energy and work in support of its implementation being carried out across the Asia-Pacific. Part of this booth is an interactive presentation of the Asia Pacific Energy Portal. This is a web-based information platform designed to increase the accessibility and use of ESCAP’s regional energy information. It supports research and analysis and informs decision-making and policy actions. It is a unique analytical tool, which allows rapid access to the three main areas: data, policy and infrastructure, Akhtar explained.

Akhtar arrived in Astana to participate in the June 11 Meeting the Challenge of Sustainable Energy Ministerial Conference and drew attention to some outcomes of the event.

“Following the Ministerial Statement, there are number of areas where the Regional Commissions could develop joint projects. These include sharing good practices on the development of national sustainable energy strategies and action plans to align with future energy needs and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, along with dialogues on technology, policy and lessons learned from different countries and regions,” Akhtar told the paper.

“One of the outcomes of the Ministerial Conference on Sustainable Energy convened at the expo was to establish a Green Technology and Investment Centre in Kazakhstan. The centre offers good prospects for joint activities among member countries and international organisations. ESCAP has a sub-regional office for North and Central Asia located in Almaty, which is well placed to coordinate ESCAP-Kazakhstan cooperation on areas related to sustainable energy development,” she added.

ESCAP is the regional development arm of the United Nations for the Asia-Pacific region. ESCAP provides a forum for its member states to promote regional cooperation to achieve inclusive and sustainable economic and social development.

Sustainable energy is a very important component of this. ESCAP is promoting collective action on energy access, energy efficiency, renewable energy and trans-boundary energy connectivity, Akhtar said.

“We are also working to deepen regional economic cooperation and integration by improving transport, energy and ICT [information and communications technologies] connectivity while addressing barriers to trade and financial cooperation. This process can contribute enormously to the sustainable development agenda,” Akhtar said, adding that ESCAP provides a very effective platform to bring countries together to work collectively on the challenge of sustainable energy.

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Astana Opera ballet artists stand out in international competition in New York

Sat, 2017-06-17 00:52

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Astana Opera theatre artists gained a double victory at the June 5-10 Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition (VKIBC) in New York, according to the theatre’s press service.

Principal Dancer of the Astana Opera ballet Bakhtiyar Adamzhan became the first winner of the Grand Prix in the Classical Dance category in the history of the competition. Another soloist of Astana Opera ballet Serik Nakyspekov won a bronze medal.

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Honourary chairperson of the authoritative jury was choreographer Mikko Nissinen (Finland) and chairperson of the judges was ballet master and People’s Artist of Russia Andris Liepa.

“It was a very tough competition. There were serious competitors from Korea, Japan, the U.S., Brazil, France and Canada. I presented four classical variations and one modern dance. For my final performance, I presented a brilliant Diana and Actaeon variation from the Esmeralda ballet by C. Pugni. I would like to express my gratitude for the support to our state, including the Ministry of Culture and Sports and the Foundation of the First President of Kazakhstan. Having the opportunity to represent our art abroad, we are implementing the tasks that the President has set for us: to promote modern Kazakh culture in the world,” Adamzhan said.

Following the competition, the artist was invited to participate in gala concerts at prestigious world stages.

Nakyspekov presented a modern dance in his own production, which was praised by the jury members.

“I was a little nervous before the first round, but it passed as soon as I went onstage. This was not my first visit to New York, it is a city of great opportunities, but, being there, I really missed Astana and my native theatre. In addition to the modern dance, I presented James’ variation from the La Sylphide ballet, a variation from the Le Corsaire ballet and debuted with the variation from the Talisman ballet,” Nakispekov said.

Now, Adamzhan and Nakyspekov have started preparing for the challenging contest featuring 200 participants in Moscow. The International Ballet Competition and Contest of Choreographers is one of the most prestigious ballet shows in the world. This major event will mark the 90th anniversary of outstanding contemporary choreographer, artistic director of competition Yuri Grigorovich. The international competition precedes the Year of Russian ballet and the 200th birth anniversary of great ballet master Marius Petipa.

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Civil Service Affairs and Anti-Corruption Agency seek to fight quasi-public sector procurement corruption

Sat, 2017-06-17 00:48

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – The imperfection of the legislative base contributes to the growth of corruption in quasi-public sector procurement, said Civil Service Affairs and Anti-Corruption Agency Deputy Chairperson Alik Shpekbayev at a June 12 roundtable on legislative regulation of quasi-public sector procurement.

Alik Shpekbayev. Photo credit

The number of corruption offenses in public procurement in quasi-public sector companies has increased 1.5 times this year in comparison to the previous year. One hundred and thirty seven offences were registered in 2016 and 51 offences have been recorded since the beginning of this year, reported

The main problem is that only individuals performing administrative functions are subject to corruption offenses, according to the criminal code and the law on combating corruption.

A number of measures to eliminate corruption in quasi-public sector procurement were announced at the meeting.

“There is a proposal to revise the approach to procurement in the quasi-public sector, to develop a separate law and to introduce modern electronic procurement mechanisms to exclude corruption risks in this area. There is a need to take into consideration the introduction of a centralised procurement system in the quasi-public sector ensuring transparency in decision-making according to world experience. This experience is widespread in Denmark, South Korea, the U.S. and the U.K.,” said Shpekbayev.

A need also exists to introduce appropriate changes in criminal and administrative legislation in terms of expanding the range of subjects of corruption offenses. The norms of the legislative acts should be disseminated adequately in terms of discussion, approval, registration, introduction and publication of internal documents. Anti-corruption expertise should also be conducted.

“This directly influences the public’s attitude. Citizens must know what documents and normative acts are adopted in the joint stock companies,” he said.

It is important to audit all internal documents of national holdings and companies that regulate the expenditure of public funds and allocations and to create a special working group consisting of representatives of interested state bodies. The institution of public control at all stages of managing the activities of companies in the quasi-public sector should also be introduced.

“We propose rotating employees every two years, taking into account the fact that the procurement sector has high corruption risks. This is also an international practice,” he said.

Taking measures to conduct an external analysis of corruption risks, as provided by the law on anti-corruption in the companies in the quasi-public sector, is also necessary.

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Kazakhstan’s economy grows 4.1% in five months, economy minister says

Thu, 2017-06-15 08:47

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Kazakh GDP grew 4.1 percent in January-May compared to the same period in 2016, said Minister of National Economy Timur Suleimenov during a June 13 government meeting.

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Over the same period, inflation was 3.3 percent. Inflation in annual terms dropped to 7.5 percent compared to 16.7 percent in May 2016. Monthly inflation in May this year was 0.5 percent.

According to Suleimenov, the volume of investments in fixed assets increased 5.2 percent, with 5.5 percent growth in January-April and 3.1 percent growth in January-March. The growth is explained by the implementation of industrial, innovative and infrastructure projects within the Nurly Zhol (Bright Path) state programme and the State Programme of Accelerated Industrial and Innovative Development (SPAIID).

In January-April 2017, significant growth in investments was observed in agriculture  up 26.3 percent up to 47.2 billion tenge (US$150 million) and real estate transactions up  13.5 percent up to 251.8 billion tenge (US$796 million).

Average nominal income of the population in January-April 2017 was 308,400 tenge ($975) and increased 8.2 percent in nominal terms compared to the corresponding period  in 2016, a real increase of 0.5 percent.

Unemployment rate reached 4.9 percent in April 2017.

Suleimenov said that in January-May, there was a positive dynamic in industry (growth of 7.8 percent), construction (5.1 percent), transport (3.7 percent), agriculture (2.7 percent) and trade (2.6 percent).

Industrial production volume in January-May 2017 increased 7.8 percent. The growth was significantly affected by the extraction of coal and lignite, oil, metal ore, refined petroleum production and the metallurgical industry.

In mining and quarrying, production increased 9.2 percent due to an increase in coal and lignite production of 18.4 percent, natural gas of 10.2 percent, non-ferrous metals of 11.7 percent, oil of 9.5percent and iron ore of 8.6 percent.

In manufacturing, the increase was 6.8 percent due to growth in pharmaceutical production by 36.8 percent, textile production by 29.2 percent, food products by 8.3 percent, refining by 7.2 percent and metallurgy by eight percent. Furniture production grew by eight percent, paper and paper products by 5.6 percent, and non-metallic mineral products by 4.5 percent.

In the regions, industrial production growth was observed in 13 regions; a decrease took place in three regions. The highest industry growth rates were indicated in oil-rich Atyrau (18.6 percent) and West Kazakhstan (14.9 percent) regions. The largest decline was recorded in the Kyzylorda oblast (2.9 percent).

Gross agricultural output growth reached 2.7 percent due to an increase in livestock production of 2.8 percent.

The volume of construction work increased 5.1 percent.

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Human muscle power generates energy in Austrian pavilion at EXPO 2017

Thu, 2017-06-15 08:45

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – EXPO 2017 guests are welcome to test their muscle power as a source of energy at the Austrian pavilion, according to the exhibition press service. The nation has prepared an amusing programme where visitors can explore its path to clean energy.

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The Austrian power machine is the soul of the pavilion, where various technologies and mechanisms allow guests to use their muscles to generate energy through all forms of activity. Whatever they choose to do will supply the pavilion with energy – mind, soul and muscular power combine to make the pavilion breathe. The concept is that people will make a step closer to forming a conscious attitude towards energy.

“The economic sun now rises in the East; this is what the numbers show. Austria has managed to increase exports to Asian and Central Asian regions by 200 percent from 2000-2015. We hope to represent our country with dignity at the exhibition in Astana and showcase all of its strengths. Our participation is aimed at the future and we want to be noticed,” said Austrian Minister for Science, Research and Economy Harald Mahrer, according to a press release.

The pavilion was officially opened June 14 by Austrian Vice-Minister Science, Research and Economy Bernadette Gierlinger and Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vassilenko during a festive ceremony complete with a live performance of the world famous St. Florian Boys Choir.

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With an area of 870 square metres, the pavilion is hard not to notice. A team of architects from BWM Architekten divided the venue into several creative and unique zones, each representing a particular renewable energy source.

“There is no doubt that EXPO 2017 in Astana is the most important event of the year in the field of renewable energy, its effective use and best green technologies and environmental sustainability,” stated the press service.

One of main goals is also to turn Austria into the European hub for a modern-day Silk Way, noted Mahrer.

“Besides, the international exhibition is a chance for Austria to project itself as a strong economy and trade partner in the framework of the Chinese project aimed at reviving the ancient Silk Way,” said Austrian Federal Economic Chamber Vice President and national expo commissioner Richard Schenz.

Austria is among the recognised world leaders in renewable energy. Nearly one in 20 workplaces is related to green energy, which significantly helps reduce energy, water and raw material consumption and minimise pollution and the amount of waste.

Schenz also believes in Austria’s leading role in renewable energy.

“The expo must become a platform for a bright demonstration of Austrian capabilities in the future energy theme and give an opportunity to new players to get familiar with Astana and Kazakhstan,” he added.

Austrian companies also took part in the construction of expo venues. The sphere, the main pavilion for the event, was built using 380 solar panels produced by Amstetten-based solar energy equipment producer Ertex Solar. Evolute, a high tech company based in Vienna, completed the calculations for the geometric complex facades, while Tiroler Rohre supplied 1.5 kilometres of high-strength iron pipes to provide the water supply system for Expo City.

During the opening, Gierlinger, Vassilenko, Schenz and the rest of the group were able to ride bycicles together to produce energy in a common effort.

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New Kazakh-Russian manned rocket to be launched earlier than scheduled

Thu, 2017-06-15 08:42

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – ­­Kazakhstan and Russia have agreed to accelerate implementing the Baiterek project and reschedule the new manned rocket’s launch from 2025 to 2022. The announcement was made June 13 at the fifth session of the Kazakh-Russian Intergovernmental Commission for the Baikonur complex.

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Kazakh First Deputy Prime Minister Askar Mamin and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin chaired the event to discuss the concept of further cooperation at the complex and the protocol on amendments to the interstate agreement on the status of Baikonur city. Both documents were signed during Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s working visit to Russia in December 2016.

“These are strategic documents and they define our intentions in the long term to jointly develop and use the cosmodrome, to implement new space projects that will be beneficial for both countries and to develop the city of Baikonur,” said Mamin.

The concept provides the solution to the main functioning issues of the complex and implementing joint projects, in particular the creation of the Baiterek space rocket complex.

“We support the proposal of the Russian side to accelerate the implementation of the Baiterek project and reschedule the launch of the new rocket from 2025 to 2022,”he said.

“The concept also includes a set of measures to develop Baikonur city’s infrastructure, create a favourable social and economic environment and new jobs, provide housing, develop tourism, etc.,” he added.

The session also included discussions about withdrawing from the renting process and writing off and recycling unused facilities at the complex. A decision was reached Dec. 20, 2016 for a pilot project to dispose of the unused Russian facilities.

The draft of Baikonur city’s joint development programme for 2017-2025 was also discussed.

“We attach great importance to the development and adoption of this programme. Its implementation will allow the city to function steadily by developing engineering and social infrastructure and creating new social, cultural and production facilities,” said Mamin, stressing the need to ensure the high quality of the document and its execution.

In the third quarter of the year, the sides are planning to sign a bilateral document on medical care for residents of Baikonur city and the villages of Akai and Toretam.

Issues related to city development financing by the Kazakh side were addressed. Particular attention was paid to items of environmental safety at the cosmodrome.

“We have a common task to continue and deepen cooperation between Kazakhstan and Russia in the space industry,” said Rogozin during the talks.

“Joint work on organising Baikonur’s effective functioning is aimed at developing the space industries of the two countries and preserving Baikonur as a modern cosmodrome that is competitive in the global space services market,” noted Mamin.

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Surgicorps conduct free life-changing surgeries in Kazakhstan

Thu, 2017-06-15 08:35

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Doctors from the U.S.-based Surgicorps International conducted 72 free reconstructive surgeries during its May 19-25 mission in Astana.

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American plastic surgeons together with local surgeons from the Maternity and Childhood Care National Centre treated children with severe congenital facial malformations, such as cleft lip and palate and burn scars.

Students from Nazarbayev University School of Medicine (NUSOM) headed by Massimo Pignatelli took part in the operations as volunteers. They also served as interpreters between Surgicorps team and local doctors.

“I believe that this is a unique chance to be in a surgery room with one of the best surgeons and professionals and watch how their knowledge, skills and passion to work changes the lives of people,” NUSOM student Dias Argandykov said.

Sophomore medical student Yekaterina Khamzina also shared her interest in this programme. “To work with Surgicorps International is an excellent opportunity to learn from some of the most committed doctors in the U.S. An opportunity to observe surgeries and assist the team in the surgery room makes it a valuable experience. It is also a great chance to help and apply my knowledge in practice,” she added.

The main mission was Surgicorps’ third trip to Kazakhstan after their two introductory trips in October 2016 and March 2017, during which they identified significant demand in reconstructive surgeries and compiled the list of children scheduled for the operations.

Headed by Surgicorps founder Jack Demos, 12 doctors served the needs of Kazakh patients including Tara Burns, Melinda Handler, Betty Hearne, David Kim, Guy Leone, Aamir Siddiqui, James Terman and Anna Wooten. The group included surgeons, anesthesiologists, therapists, paramedics, nurses, surgical assistants, physiotherapists and pathologists.

This unique project initiated by the Asyl Bala Foundation with the help of the International Assistance Group and Surgicorps team seeks to exchange experience and knowledge between local surgeons and U.S. colleagues as well as decrease the disability rate among children in Kazakhstan.

Surgicorps International is a non-profit organisation founded by Jack Demos in 1994. The idea to establish medical missions came to him during his first medical mission trip to the Philippines. The team strives to provide free reconstructive surgeries to people in need in developing countries who are unable to access treatment due to either poor medical conditions in a country or financial obstacles.

Each mission gathers 15-35 doctors as well as non-medical volunteers, young people who plan to become doctors. They assist the team in coordinating schedule, helping patients in pre- and post-operation periods as well as recording the entire trip in form of photos or blogs. Teams normally change, because needs in various specialties and medical equipment vary across destinations.

The mission is supported by various donations, yet doctors who volunteered are fully responsible for their expenses. Each trip costs $40,000 – $90,000, depending on the amount of equipment required for each country.

Surgicorps surgeons have conducted more than 5,000 life-changing surgeries in 20 countries since 1994. This year they have been to Bhutan, Kazakhstan and plan to visit Guatemala, Zambia and Vietnam.

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Nomad Way international festival shares nomadic culture through live music

Thu, 2017-06-15 08:29

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – The June 11-15 first international Festival of Nomadic Peoples at the recently launched Ethno Aul near the city’s hippodrome has helped share elements of nomadic culture, reports.

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Kazakh bands Tigrahaud, Hapanasasa and singer NAsia, as well as the Abbos band from Uzbekistan and the Argymak band from Bashkortostan performed ethnic folk-rock to introduce the audience to the freedom-loving culture of nomads.

Vice Minister of Culture and Sport Aktoty Raimkulova believes that Nomad Way will become a favourite festival of local people.

“The festival brings together most amazing bands of different directions – ethno, rock, jazz, etc. We are very pleased to welcome guests from different countries of our commonwealth, from the (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) countries, as well as from European countries. … With a great pleasure, we will present our national (musicians) who are the brightest representatives of ethnic music today. I think this festival will become a favourite holiday destination for Astana residents and guests. I believe they will receive a lot of positive impressions and emotions from visiting Nomad Way,” she noted before the event.

“The Nomad Way Festival is one of the brands of the Spirit of Tengri project. Nomad Way was born thanks to cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Sport. I would like to express gratitude to Minister Arystanbek Muhamediyuly. … The legacy of nomadic culture, especially the musical heritage, is one of the undisclosed terra incognita for the whole planet. Our task is to make this richness of folklore creativity the property of the whole planet,” Alash Media Group Chief Executive Officer and the chief organiser of the event Batyr Kazybayev said.

“These bands are very popular; they are recognisable in their countries. Therefore, there will be literally a burst of stunning musical art. Live sound, live performance and energy. You will plunge into a rich world of stunning sounds, amazing philosophy, which is the legacy of our great steppe,” Kazybayev added.

Nomad Way gathers artists and bands from different countries of the Silk Road. DJ Nariman Isenov, Tigrahaud, Aldaspan and Magic of Nomads bands, as well as duet of Yedil Khusainov and Satzhan Project represented Kazakhstan. Argymak and Zaman bands performed at the festival site from Bashkortostan. Namgar and Shono teams represented Russia’s Buryatia region. In addition, the festival featured Nordic Namgar team. Hungarian Tilla Torok’s Band also performed at the event.

Gulzada team took part in the festival from Kyrgyzstan, Abbos band represented Uzbekistan, Avesto group came from Tajikistan. Turkey was represented by Baba Zula. The Turkic peoples of Russia represented five regions at once: Talgat Khasenov performed from Tatarstan, Chyltys Tannagasheva represented Gornaya Shoria, Bolot Bairyshev and Alexey Chichakov were from Altai, Ayarkhaan was from Yakutia, and Radik Tyulush and Chalama performed on behalf of Tuva.

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Kazakhstan conducts first stage of nuclear fusion reactor physical launch

Thu, 2017-06-15 08:25

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – National Nuclear Centre of Kazakhstan completed June 9 the first stage of physical launch of Kazakh Tokamak for Material Testing (KTM), a nuclear fusion reactor developed jointly with Russia and at the instruction of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

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“One of the main issues important for building future thermonuclear reactors has been the creation and testing of structural materials. This problem will be solved with the launch of Kazakh Tokamak for Material Testing,” said General Secretary of the National Nuclear Centre of Kazakhstan Erlan Batyrbekov.

The event took place in Kurchatov in eastern Kazakhstan, the same place where in the 1950s a group of Soviet scientists produced the first tokamaks.

“The Kazakh-made Tokamak will serve as a platform for material testing at heat equal to 20 megawatts per a square metre, which meets the parametres of energy load for future thermonuclear reactors,” Batyrbekov added.

Unlike nuclear fission reactors widespread across the world, nuclear fusion reactors produce energy by fusing atoms. However, it has long been a difficult task for scientists to achieve the generation of energy through nuclear fusion, the same mechanism going on in the Sun, yet hard to achieve at earth conditions.

In accordance with the adopted programme of physical launch of the KTM, the goal of the physical launch phase is to debug and check the working capacity of KTM systems. This stage entails adjustment of the initial phase of the plasma discharge scenario – formation of necessary conditions inside a vacuum camera of KTM with following break-down.

The work involved experts from the National Nuclear Centre of Kazakhstan, thermonuclear research unit of the National Research Centre’s Kurchatov Institute and State Research Centre of the Russian Federation Troitsk Institute for Innovation and Fusion Research. Following the launch, the National Nuclear Centre of Kazakhstan and Kurchatov Institute signed a protocol stating that the main goals of the first stage of physical launch of KTM were achieved.

In the meantime, the work is underway, and KTM is scheduled to be commissioned by the end of 2017.

According to Batyrbekov, the research potential of KTM will address numerous engineering and scientific issues. Indeed, in the next two years, the facility will turn into a platform for joint research under the programme of cooperation of Commonwealth of Independent States countries in the peaceful use of atomic energy until 2020 called Cooperation Atom-CIS.

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How to Use Astana’s Rental Bikes

Thu, 2017-06-15 08:08

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Warmer weather has finally returned, and bikes are once again available for rent at stations around the capital. Here’s how to access them.

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At the moment there are two ways to rent bikes: by card and by SMS.

To rent a bike using a card, first visit and register. The subscription fee for the season is 10,000 tenge (US$32). Students, pensioners and people with limited abilities pay a much reduced fee of 5,000 tenge (US$16).

The plastic card you will need to access the bike costs 1,000 tenge (US$3), and you’re required to keep a minimum balance of 500 tenge (US$1.50).

After registration, you’ll have to visit one of Velobike’s sales departments, located on the second floor of the Keruen City Shopping centre or the third floor of the 7th Continent Business Centre, to pay the fee and pick up your card. Residents will need to present identity cards and non-residents will have to show their passports.

Once you have a user card, you can use any bicycle station. The first half hour of your rental is free; from 31 minutes to one hour the fee is 100 tenge (US$0.30), from one hour to two hours it is 250 tenge (US$0.75), and from two to three hours it’s 500 tenge (US$1.50). After three hours, every hour is charged at 1,000 tenge (US$3). The wheels of the bike are blocked after 24 hours.

More detail and information about fines is available on

To use the system via SMS, clients should register on the website, then enter their banking card number and pay the chosen rate. The subscription fee is 500 tenge (US$1.50) for one day, 800 tenge (US$2.50) for two days, 1,000 tenge (US$3) for three days and 1,500 tenge (US$5) for seven days. The deposit is 37,500 tenge (US$120), but deposits will be returned after the balance or rental period is finished. Rental prices are the same as for the card.

After your payment is received, a message is sent to your mobile phone that will allow you to rent a bike.

With the first half hour free, users who take bikes from one station to another in fewer than thirty minutes can ride without paying anything.

Smartphone applications that show bicycle station locations and the number of bikes there are available.

Last year, the number of bicycle stations was increased to 150 with more than 1,800 bicycles in use.  Most stations are located within 300-500 metres from each other.

Astana Bike is a project that was implemented by the Samruk Kazyna Sovereign Wealth Fund with the support of the Astana city administration. The project is part of the city’s effort to provide affordable and environmentally friendly transportation.

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US, Kazakh business circles gather in Astana for US-Kazakh business forum

Thu, 2017-06-15 08:04

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Twenty-five U.S. companies and representatives of Kazakh state bodies, national companies and local business representatives gathered in Astana June 14 for the U.S. – Kazakhstan business forum.

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The event aimed to attract U.S. companies to priority sectors, including car assembly industry, health, construction, agriculture and light industry.

About 500 companies in various sectors of the economy with the U.S. participation operate in Kazakhstan, Minister for Investments and Development of Kazakhstan Zhenis Kassymbek told the gathering.

Peter Tichansky, President of the New York-based Business Council for International Understanding (BCIU) noted that the objective of the event was to bring together business leaders from Kazakhstan, multinational corporations and members of the government to identify ways companies can intensify their engagement with the government.

“In some cases, companies are looking for permits, advice on how to interpret regulation. It’s essential for business-government dialogue to continue. And this is our first roundtable here in Astana. The Kazakh embassy in Washington very well presented the role their country’s playing as an elected member of the UN Security Council, which reminds us of the mature, very serious role that the government is playing on the global stage,” Tichansky told The Astana Times.

The BCIU is a non-profit made up of 200 companies that encourages dialogue between business and political leaders in different countries.

“The most important thing we can do is to get companies to come to Kazakhstan. There were no announcements made about new investment. By their presence, the companies here are looking for the next step. The country had a strong representation today by the government, particularly during such a busy time in Astana. We are honoured that the government showed such an interest,” he said.

Favourable conditions for attracting investments are created in the country, said Kassymbek. There are 10 special economic zones (SEZs) and about 20 industrial zones each with a different sectoral focus. SEZ participants are also provided with a package of benefits and simplification of licensing procedures.

“Kazakhstan is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union. This is a single market without customs borders with a capacity of more than 180 million people and a foreign trade turnover of about $1 trillion. We are located in close proximity to China, the world’s biggest economy,” he added.

Three state programmes are being implemented: the Nurly Zhol to develop transport, logistics, industrial and energy infrastructure, the Nurly Zher Housing Construction initiative and the Industrial and Innovative Development Programme 2020 to produce export-oriented products. State support measures are provided, including subsidising the interest rate on loans, providing services, investment and tax preferences.

Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC) Governor Kairat Kelimbetov called on the U.S. business community to participate in the upcoming initial public offering of the largest Kazakhstan’s companies on the AIFC stock exchange (AIX). The Shanghai Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq Stock Market are already listed as AIFC partners.

“We are currently negotiating with one of the largest European national exchanges to be our partner. This is the first stage of partnership of the international exchange centre. Invitation of global investment banks and global funds are the next stage. We will announce the first results by the end of the year,” he said.

Since Kazakhstan gained its independence, the U.S., as one of the main investors, has invested about $27 billion in the economy. Trade turnover with the U.S. was $1.88 billion last year.

The American Chamber of Commerce contributes to the business and investment climate in Kazakhstan. The Ministry of Investments and Development holds meetings with the chamber to discuss a wide range of issues on labour and tax legislation every two months.

It was also planned to hold bilateral negotiations between business representatives of the two countries as part of the forum.

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Kazakh-Georgian Presidents Discuss Bilateral Cooperation

Wed, 2017-06-14 03:15

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili discussed bilateral cooperation during the Georgian leader’s official visit to Kazakhstan June 13.

Greeting Margvelashvili at the Akorda presidential residence, Nazarbayev noted that Margvelashvili’s visit marked the 25th anniversary of relations and opening of EXPO 2017 in Astana.

“We are grateful for your visit and Georgia’s participation in the exhibition. Our relations have always been good. Since the first years of independence, our countries provided comprehensive assistance to each other. Kazakhstan is one of the main investors in the Georgian economy. I do not see any obstacles to further improving bilateral relations. In this regard, your visit is very important,” Nazarbayev said.

Margvelashvili said he had wished to visit Kazakhstan for a long time, noting the interesting dynamics of the country’s development.

“Now I personally see the results of your and Kazakhs’ efforts during these very difficult years. The people of Georgia appreciate the support provided by Kazakhstan and you personally. I think Georgia’s participation in EXPO 2017 is very important. It gives us an opportunity to demonstrate our achievements in economy and support our traditional good-neighborly relations,” Margvelashvili said.

He also stressed that Georgia participates in economic cooperation and dialogue between nations.

“I know that you are doing a great job in this direction. This is the way our countries developed from the moment of gaining independence,” Margvelashvili said.

Margvelashvili thanked Nazarbayev for many years of support, as well as stressed that he has a pleasant impression from staying in Astana.

Speaking to media representatives after the meeting, Nazarbayev noted stable relations between Kazakhstan and Georgia and that Margvelashvili’s visit is connected to opening of EXPO 2017 and the ceremony of opening the Georgian pavilion.

The leaders discussed a wide range of issues, including cooperation on the Chinese One Belt, One Road initiative.

“There is an opportunity to make Georgia a transit state like Kazakhstan, as well as provide access to Europe through the Black Sea. In addition, there are transport corridors of gas and oil that also pass through Georgia. In this regard, we talked about the capabilities of the Batumi oil terminal and port, which belong to Kazakh companies,” Nazarbayev said.

He noted that this path would be beneficial for all interested countries and would increase the transit potential of Kazakhstan. Nazarbayev also stressed the need for trade cooperation.

The Kazakh President also mentioned humanitarian and educational cooperation.

“Our cultural and humanitarian relations have always been at a high level. We need to continue this trend. We discussed the possibility of exchanging students between our universities so that young people would continue the traditions and develop our relations in the future. I believe that the visit of President Margvelashvili to Kazakhstan will give impetus to the two governments’ cooperation in solving important issues of bilateral relations,” Nazarbayev said.

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Wizz Air launches direct Budapest-Astana flights

Wed, 2017-06-14 03:10

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Wizz Air, the largest low-cost airline in Central and Eastern Europe, has launched a new route between Budapest and Astana, according to the press service of Kazakh Ministry for Investments and Development.

The flights are carried out two times per week on Thursdays and Sundays by an Airbus A320. The first flight on June 8 brought a Hungarian delegation headed by the country’s Minister of National Economy Mihaly Varga.

The opening of the new route is significant, particularly within EXPO 2017, which will contribute to strengthening international cooperation, diplomatic and business relations between Kazakhstan and Hungary, according to the statement.

Last November, following the results of negotiations between aviation authorities, both countries received the right to carry out up to seven flights per week along the Astana-Budapest route. One-way tickets start at 40 euros, including a carry-on bag. Additional baggage is extra.

Officially the launch of the route was announced in early April.

“This became real thanks to many years of painstaking work by the governments of the two countries and it is timed to the 25th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between Kazakhstan and Hungary,” Nurbakh Rustemov, ambassador of Kazakhstan to Hungary said at an April 3 press conference.

The new route is Wizz Air’s latest destination network expansion, according to Tamara Vallois, head of Communications at Wizz Air Hungary Ltd.

“The low cost of the airline’s tickets on the Astana-Budapest route establish a potential to encourage trade, business and tourism between the two countries. Budapest is also a natural connection point for Kazakhstan passengers who wish to explore alternative destinations with a very low rate,” Vallois said at a briefing in the Central Communications Service in Astana on April 3.

She believes the opening of the Astana-Budapest route is significant for Wizz Air.

“This is a debut of our airline company in Kazakhstan. This route also ensures the first low-cost service with the European Union for Kazakhstan by offering a total of 62 destinations from Budapest, which makes available more than four million passenger seats in 2017,” she said.

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Kazakh boxers win President’s Cup in Astana

Wed, 2017-06-14 03:04

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – The Kazakh national boxing team won the June 5-10 Fifth International Boxing Tournament for the President’s Cup of Kazakhstan in Astana. The event included teams from 10 countries, consisting of 31 women and 82 men. In the women’s 51kg category, first place went to the two-time world champion Nazym Kyzaibay. Olympic medallist Dariga Shakimova in the 75kg took a win over strong opponent from Russia Darima Sandakova.

The strongest boxer in the men’s 49kg was Filipino Paalam Carlo. The champions’ titles in all other weight categories went to Kazakh boxers. Among all the finals, fans and pundits alike noted the intensity of the bout in the 69kg category between Sadriddin Akhmedov and Uzbek Bobo-Usmon Baturov, which was narrowly claimed by the host boxer.

Rio Olympics’ silver medallist Vasily Levit defeated his opponent from India Chauhan Gaurav. At the final awards ceremony, Team Kazakhstan handed the President’s Cup they won to Levit as recognition of his status as the national team’s informal leader.

“I had a good opponent in the finals. I changed my tactics a bit in the first round. The coaches made some adjustments in the second round. Everything turned out well. The main objective at this tournament for me was to gain practical experience. Now we will be training for the World Championship,” said Levit.

The AIBA World Boxing Championships are scheduled to take place Aug. 25 to Sept. 3 in Hamburg, Germany.

“This tournament is important, first of all, for our boxers, who will be travelling to Germany. This is another opportunity to test their strength before the [bigger] tournament, pay attention to their mistakes and try to correct them. This will also help gain some competitive practical experience. This year several European countries could not take part in the President’s Cup, but those teams that came put up a good competition too. We saw representatives of various boxing schools such as the Philippines, Iran, and Uzbekistan, so all bouts were tense,” said Myrzagali Aitzhanov, head coach of Kazakhstan’s national boxing team.

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Young man overcomes tragedy, gets inspired to help people with disabilities

Wed, 2017-06-14 02:48

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – A car accident left 19-year-old Yeldos Bayalyshbayev disabled years ago. He had a neck bone fracture, paralysis of limbs and a bedridden life. At least that was what doctors told him. But persistence, family support and care not only got Bayalyshbayev up on his feet again but also inspired others like him to do the same at a rehabilitation centre he built and has been successfully running.

Yeldos Bayalyshbayev. Photo credit:

“Motivation happens when you make your ideas come to life and it helps people, makes their life easier. When I see happy looks on their faces, this is the strongest motivation for me and I want to work even more,” Bayalyshbayev said in an interview for this story.

After years of daily trainings, he was able to sit down, then crawl on all fours and finally get up and walk small distances with help. Bayalyshbayev held strong and optimistic in spite of difficult and traumatic moments.

“When Yeldos sat down in a wheelchair, we believed we had a real chance he will be able to walk. We were convinced that exercises give efficient results. We took all seating furniture out of the living room and placed parallel bars and bolsters. We started teaching him to crawl but this wasn’t easy. Two and half hours went to make it from one side of a room to another. He would start over and go on until late night,” Bayalyshbayev’s parents said in an interview on

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Bayalyshbayev decided he wants to help others get up on their feet and opened a sports rehabilitation centre for people with disabilities. Back then Akim (Mayor) of Taldykorgan Yermek Alpysov supported this idea and allotted more than 300 square metres of premises for this purpose.

“I took part in the Business Road Map 2020 programme and won a three million tenge (US$9,582) grant. We produced rehabilitation exercise equipment, but they are copies of Swedish rehab training equipment. All training devices were handmade,” Bayalyshbayev said.

“At our Asar Centre for people with special needs, we try to make everybody get up on their feet and become independent. Thanks to special training equipment that we made in three years, more than 280 people from the entire Kazakhstan have gone through rehabilitation at our centre,” he noted.

Colossal results took place within this period of time, according to Bayalyshbayev. Fifty-five attendees stood up and began walking with the help of a walking frame, 50 learned crawling, 60 to 70 people were able to work with training machines on their own.

Apart from improving their health, many were developing their creative skills too.

“We began arranging performances. While during trainings, we had our own team formed and we began performing on concerts. Turned out, our centre had many talents, someone can sing well, another person composes poems and some can dance. We even have our own KVN [comedy and game show] team and they had already placed high on a regional level and are at a national level now,” Bayalyshbayev states.

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He has been involved with swimming from early childhood. Bayalyshbayev was travelling to Lake Alakol every year after his trauma as he believes the lake and its famous curative mud have health benefits; salty waters are good for joints and musculoskeletal system recovery and water rich with minerals has a whole Mendeleev periodic table in it.

“Having visited the lake I noticed one can rarely meet people with disabilities resting on the shore and I fell to thinking ‘what is the matter?’ The issue was that there wasn’t an access to the shore. Platforms are needed for people on wheelchairs to get around with ease. Many boarding houses for tourists are available there but not one of them fits people with disabilities,” Bayalyshbayev said.

He had an idea at that moment to make it more accessible and have a specialised boarding house. To make that happen, Bayalyshbayev prepared a business plan and applied for the Startup Bolashak contest. He landed 2nd place after beating thousands of other contestants and made his plan come to life.

“Not just people with disabilities used this platform but also retired people. All were thankful,” the young man mentioned.

One of the biggest wins was a grant contract for $82,818 at an international contest in 2017. The money went to purchasing advanced training equipment for rehabilitation from Italy, Poland, Germany, the U.S. and China. This, according to the entrepreneur, moved the rehabilitation process up to a new level and quality.

“My motto is one does not need to wait when someone will do it but take matters in own hands, solve this problem and help the government to contribute to society! Many opportunities are available now to realise your idea. There are grants, contests and so on. Only don’t sit still at one place or take pot luck especially at a young age but work on your goals!” Bayalyshbayev added.

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Stress on education to help success of Kazakhstan’s Third Modernisation

Wed, 2017-06-14 02:36

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

The bold proposals shared by President Nursultan Nazarbayev to consolidate and strengthen Kazakhstan’s place on the world stage are timely and consistent with his articulated vision on the “Third Modernisation of Kazakhstan.” Further, the President’s focus, beyond knowledge and skills, on attitudes of the Kazakh people cements from his deep understanding of what is required for the fundamental shifts Kazakhstan has to make to ensure continued success.

The emphasis on transformations needed in education signals the President’s earnest desire that every Kazakh has an agile mind that is able to overcome future challenges. He has wisely directed that the agility of the mind can be partly achieved through an effective trilingual education policy. Education research has shown that people competent in more than one language become experts at selecting relevant information and ignoring information that can distract from a task, thus enabling them to solve problems better. A trilingual Kazakhstan would not just be economically competitive but also be culturally more confident, enabling it to be more open to diverse perspectives and truly enhancing its economic and cultural gravitas in the global arena.

The President’s declaration that education would be a priority underscores his intention to fundamentally evolve the psyche of Kazakhstan’s youth who would become cognisant of the need for lifelong learning and be able to constantly adapt to new and changing environment, including the workplace. More than half of the future jobs, in 10 to 15 years time, have not been created yet. Just like today, where jobs in app development, social media, cloud computing and Uber driving were not around 10 to 15 years ago.

President Nazarbayev’s hope and vision are to ensure Kazakhs have strong roots and strong winds – being patriotic while maintaining global perspectives; being culturally entrenched while embracing modernity; and being ideologically rooted in rich Kazakh values while understanding need for pragmatism.

If Kazakhstan is able to implement with fidelity the vision of President Nazarbayev, it will become a cultural, political and economic pillar in the modern world.

The key to achieving the vision is education, including lifelong learning. It has often been professed that a quality education system requires quality teachers and school leaders. The modernisation journey requires continued investment in and upskilling of teachers and school leaders in order to build their capacity and the capability to educate youth for continued success of Kazakhstan.

The author is President of Singapore Teachers’ Union, President of Educare International Consultancy.

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Sustainable energy: the world is no longer in the dark

Tue, 2017-06-13 04:09

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

There can be no development without energy. Energy allows hospitals to function, helps children study at night, irrigates cropland and powers the global internet.

Energy is vital and essential to realising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the 17 internationally-agreed goals to eliminate poverty, protect the planet and leave no one behind by 2030.

Yet around the world, 1.3 billion people lack access to energy. The places where power is lacking are immediately visible on night-time satellite images. These include 300 million people in India, more than 600 million in Sub-Saharan Africa. These include places such as Tajikistan where the cover is much higher but power cuts are all too frequent.

And the energy we use is from far too many sources that contribute to climate change, like coal, gas and oil. Last year was, again, the hottest year on record. Thus, tackling climate change and boosting energy access are inextricably linked.

But high costs, lack of knowledge and unfavourable business environments have stymied efforts to build up renewables such as solar, wind, small hydro, geothermal, and biomass, and achieve a broader shift towards energy efficiency. In order to boost those kinds of energy, countries and businesses face important upfront investments.

That has been changing rapidly. Last year, solar power across the world grew 50 per cent, with China and the United States in the lead, while in India solar is now cheaper than coal.

Not only have 195 countries signed up to the Paris Agreement, it is also encouraging to see that local actors are leading the global shift to sustainable energy. In 2016, cities came together and founded the Global Compact of Mayors. 650 cities, representing 487 million people worldwide, are now pushing aggressively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through cleaner energy and transport.

Major oil producers are also seeing the future and diversifying their economies. One of the world’s largest coal, oil and gas producers, Kazakhstan, the host of the EXPO 2017, themed “Future Energy”, says it will aim to meet 50 percent of its energy needs from alternative and renewable sources by the middle of the century.

If right now, Kazakhstan decided to create a 10MW installation in the South, which might cost something like US$2million in upstart investment, it could recover these costs within 5 years. Meanwhile, energy efficiency upgrades, in residential and public buildings, have consistently delivered huge social, environmental and economic benefits. They have bolstered energy security, created jobs and reduced poverty, but also improved health and reduced emissions dramatically.

In cooperation with the UN, Kazakhstan has already achieved a 45 percent annual reduction in energy consumption for heating pilot municipal buildings over the past five years.

So what will it take to achieve universal access to sustainable energy by 2030? How can the world needs to triple its investment in sustainable energy infrastructure per year, from around $400 billion now to $1.25 trillion by 2030, be met?

For one, business environments need to become much more conducive to achieving the transition. As a recent study shows, investing in “de-risking measures” and bringing down the financing costs of renewable energy will only be cost-effective when measured against paying direct financial incentives to compensate investors for higher risks.

Gradually eliminating fossil fuel subsidies will also play a major role in the transition. That will increase the market cost of fossil fuels and encourage producers and consumers to move away from carbon-intensive energy.

Finally, we must prioritise clean energy for the poor and make sure energy access becomes part of every development plan. It is the only way we will achieve SDG7 and the rest of the goals. Combining access to clean energy services with measures that generate cash incomes and improve living conditions, is a surefire way to accelerate achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in general.

At the EXPO, I have not only seen cutting-edge technology – such as solar atlases, installations that show how to power and irrigate oases, and smart grid systems – what I see above all is a tremendous amount of determination to make access to clean energy for everyone on this planet a reality.

The author is UN Commissioner-General at the Expo 2017 in Astana.

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AIFC well on track for successful launch, says governor

Tue, 2017-06-13 03:59

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – One of the issues always facing organisers of major international events such as the Olympics or EXPOs is the use of new and large-scale purposefully built facilities afterwards. It is an issue Kazakhstan has been well aware of in the run-up to EXPO 2017, resulting in President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s proposals to establish not one, not two, but three new institutions on expo premises. One is the Future Energy international centre for the development of green technology and investment projects to be supported by the United Nations, another one is the international hub of IT start-ups. Last but not least, there’s the proposal, arguably the most ambitious out of the three, to turn Astana into a major financial hub in the heart of Eurasia by establishing the Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC).

In an exclusive interview with this newspaper, AIFC Governor Kairat Kelimbetov, spoke about the preparations for the launch of the centre in the near future, its main principles and priorities.

What are the main goals of establishing a new financial centre in Astana. Will it cover any specific areas and how will it be different from the rest of the local financial market?

There are several aspects of this project. First of all, AIFC is an important part of country-wide economic and institutional reforms. In fact, AIFC is the part of the “100 Concrete Steps” programme aimed at delivering five institutional reforms for the country. We are establishing brand new institutions to strengthen further the rule of law and governance.

Secondly, the idea is to give momentum to the non-banking financial sector and create new instruments to finance the economy. This will complement the existing banking financial sector, which is also going through reforms.

At the same time, Kazakhstan now has a rare opportunity to become a significant regional player. I firmly believe that the timing for this new ambitious project is just right: China is expanding westward, the Russian economy is still recovering from recent slowdown, global markets are experiencing low and even negative interest rates, while Kazakhstan itself is abandoning its old model and launching new reforms. This is why we have such an aggressive timeline.

We are at the final stage of establishing the main AIFC bodies only two years after the idea of financial centre was first proposed by the President Nazarbayev. By Jan. 1, 2018 we will have a fully functional financial centre with world-class exchange infrastructure, independent financial court and arbitration centre, regulator and other key bodies. The court and arbitration centre are very important features of Astana IFC: we will be working in an independent legal framework based on the principles of English common law.

So, our formal objectives include promotion in attracting investment into the state’s economy through enabling environment in the field of the financial services; development of stock and bond market in Kazakhstan with further integration into international capital market; improvement of the insurance market, banking services and Islamic finance in the country.

We have, however, identified five strategic directions of development or pillars based on the importance for the advancement of the financial sector and the specific demand for these services on our market: development of capital markets, asset management, private banking, Islamic finance and promotion of financial technologies or fintech. For each of them, we are targeting specific anchor projects, which will drive them forward.

For example, the Astana International Exchange (AIX) will serve as a platform for the large privatisation programme of the state-owned companies. We are talking about largest companies in the Samruk Kazyna Sovereign Wealth Fund: starting with Kazakhstan’s national oil and gas company, railways operator, postal operation, air carrier, power producer, mining company and uranium producer, the world’s largest, by the way.

Global asset managers will be competing for access to local sovereign funds. We see the increasing demand for Islamic financial instruments. The local market – both Kazakh and that of Russia and other neighbouring countries, – has a significant number of wealthy individuals who need to manage their portfolio. With the tightening of international regulations, there is a demand for a local private banking services centre. Last, but certainly not the least, there is a great demand for new tech solutions, which calls for the support of this industry: we are already working with a number of institutions on creating the right fintech ecosystem.

AIFC will also serve as the gateway to the whole region, in particular, the Eurasian Economic Union, and will serve as a delivery unit for the One Belt, One Road programme supported by the Chinese government and financial institutions. It has already attracted new infrastructure investments in the country and now, with the establishment of the AIFC, investment will be facilitated. This project needs a local finance office, and Astana fits this role perfectly. This is why the importance of local capital market is highlighted.

You’ve just mentioned English common law. It’s fairly new to the region. Why do you think it is important for Astana?

Our financial centre must become a part of the global financial system. There are many risks that foreign investors, especially Western, associate with the post-Soviet institutions. This is largely due to the lack of familiarity and also non-accurate perception of Kazakhstan. I don’t think that this is the question of what system is better, however, investors are used to certain “game rules” and most major financial centres operate under the principles of common law. And we see support and appraisal for our efforts wherever we go.

In short, we pay more attention to shareholders and investors’ rights, we provide flexible regulation for new tech solutions, and we even are inviting globally recognised judges to avoid any misperceptions.

On another hand, this also gives us a unique opportunity; as you see, there is no other place in the vast region of Central Asia and Eastern Europe with such legal and regulatory framework – we also count it as an advantage.

You said the centre will be launched officially in January 2018; how prepared are you and what important milestones have you achieved already?

Let me first give you some historical background. The idea of creating AIFC was first proposed by the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan in May 2015. In December 2015, the President signed the Constitutional Law on establishment of the AIFC which will be based on the English Law with preferential tax treatment and independent financial court. We’ve established the highest collegial body of the AIFC – the Management Council, – which is headed by the President of Kazakhstan and comprises key government officials and renowned global experts. One of the most important milestones is the amendments to the Constitution, which now mentions the Astana International Financial Centre in the opening chapters.

Today, we have already defined the structure of the key bodies and are working on the establishment. Just a few days ago, we signed a shareholders’ agreement with Shanghai Stock Exchange, which will acquire a quarter of the new Astana International Exchange. We signed an agreement with Nasdaq, which will provide its matching engine, and looking forward to finalising the deals with our post-trade partner.

The AIFC Court and Arbitration centre will be ready by January; we work closely with the Dubai IFC Court and with leading British lawyers, including the former Chief Justice of England and Wales Lord Woolf. We have established the Astana Financial Services Authority, which will register and regulate AIFC participants. Earlier this year we launched our own training facility: the Bureau for Continuous Development Programmes which partners with international certification and academic institutions and has already completed its first training programme. To provide best services for foreign experts we started to work on the special visa centre, which we decided to enhance and expand to a more functional Expat Centre – it will also be ready in January.

So, I firmly believe that we are on the right path and will be 100 percent ready on the opening day. This doesn’t mean, however, that we are not open to new initiatives and projects; my team is always coming up with interesting ideas, which will support the AIFC.

You’ve mentioned the stock exchange several times. How do you plan to develop the local capital market?

I sincerely believe it is vital for the economy to put significant effort to develop its capital markets, as they provide a healthy alternative to borrowing from banks. When it comes to national companies, we need not only to attract capital, but also good governance, and what Samruk Kazyna is doing is one of the most important reforms currently in our country. The privatisation programme of Samruk Kazyna companies will become the key driver behind the development of the local capital market. Why is it important? Having a local trading platform will decrease the costs for both issuers and buyers and, most importantly, develop the market so that other companies, state-owned, private Kazakh or even companies from neighbouring countries, will have access to such instruments.

We are also planning on launching bond instruments, which are becoming increasingly important with the development of the One Belt, One Road infrastructure projects. We are working with multilateral institutions to issue first green bonds and Islamic finance instruments. We will soon be ready to support traded funds and depositary receipts. In the future, our goal is to enhance the toolset and provide other instruments like derivatives and commodities.

You have clearly defined plans. It seems you’ve done quite a comprehensive analysis before launching new initiative. What kind of models did you find useful? Do you benchmark Astana against other global financial centres?

I think it is very naïve to think that we can ever compete with London or New York or Hong Kong. Our idea was not to try to replicate New York and London of 1970s or Dubai of the 2000s. Having said that, we have studied the examples of London, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai and many other financial centres. A good institutional framework as provided by the Dubai IFC: we also followed their model in creating and independent legal and regulatory framework. The Dubai IFC is our key partner and their teams are helping us setting up our institutions, while the top management shared very useful recommendations.

So, in our case, as I mentioned earlier, we cover a large region and the geographical location provides unique opportunities. We are connecting East and West, just as in the example of our stock exchange: we brought together two global stock exchanges from the U.S. and China. There aren’t many examples like this anywhere else. Furthermore, with regards to the development of new instruments, so-called, fintech, we follow the recent advances in London, Singapore, Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi, but also less developed countries, which have made recent breakthrough, such as Kenya or Myanmar.

But why Astana and not Almaty, which has already established itself a local financial centre?

From the very beginning, the idea of AIFC was to introduce new financial instruments and develop a non-banking financial sector, which to this day is underdeveloped and rather dominated by strong commercial banks. The expertise and historical concentration of financial services in Almaty also come with the legacy of the banking industry, which now also requires improvement and reforms. As we build new services and want to provide best investment and business climate for foreign partners, current legacy and regulation don’t prove to be beneficial. Indeed, what makes the Astana financial centre different from previous attempts is its strong institutional framework. Unprecedented in our regional case with an independent jurisdiction based on the principles of common law, flexible regulation, tax incentives, even English as the main working language – we needed a new platform to implement all of these. Astana seemed perfect as it is a new city and rising regional leader with big ambitions. The financial centre is an organic part of the young capital.

Will you rely on foreign experts or on local talent? The issues you’ve raised require a lot of expertise and good skills; how ready are you in these terms?

Undoubtedly, foreign expertise will play an important role. There are certain aspects, which just cannot be covered by local expertise. Take for example our legal system – we need judges and lawyers who have experience in working in an Anglo-Saxon jurisdiction. We also expect international participants in our financial market which will bring their expertise and transfer their know-how to the local pool. At the same time, I regard our talent pool as one of the advantages of the AIFC. We have thousands of well-educated multilingual professionals, who would relish an opportunity to work with these global firms and experts. I believe that AIFC is the natural partner for the Bolashak programme and Nazarbayev University, while our Bureau for Continuous Development Programmes will train thousands of people using EduTech facilities and our own mentors. The bureau has already launched a number of programmes, they coach young professionals seeking certification like CFA or CIMA, and they work with local HR companies to create a sophisticated database with online courses. The work is already in progress.

Astana is hosting the international exhibition EXPO 2017 and the anniversary 10th Astana Economic Forum as well as launching financial centre next year. Don’t you feel overwhelmed with all the different events happening at the same time?

Not at all, I think large international events are a part of the establishment of Astana as a truly global city and the Astana International Financial Centre is the key driver of this process. EXPO 2017 gives us an opportunity to offer our platform to foreign visitors and potential participants. The theme of EXPO – Future Energy – complements our efforts on promoting green finance and sustainable development. Even the physical infrastructure, which was built for the EXPO will then find its purpose as the core of financial centre. We will establish our offices at the EXPO site and provide this modern infrastructure to the future participants of the centre. So, I would suggest to the participants of the Astana Economic Forum and EXPO to literally, not figuratively, drop a coin here to return next year!

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