Oil, murder and a Formula 1 race track?

There are reports from Malaysia that the government of Kazakhstan is planning to build an international standard racing circuit near the Astana International Airport. The airport is currently undergoing a major renovation project as part of the country's drive to improve its infrastructure with the aim of creating a hub for cargo and passenger transport between Europe and Asia. The project has been funded one-third by the government and two-thirds by the Japanese International Development Bank. The work has been carried out by an international consortium including Siemens AG and the UK construction firm John Laing PLC.

Astana is the capital of oil-rich Kazakhstan, the second largest of the former Soviet republics in terms of territory (behind Russia). The country has boomed in recent years following the opening of a pipeline to the Black Sea in 2001 and is hoping to develop pipelines to the east to help to supply China as well. At the same time the government is pushing for a policy of diversification away from dependence on the oil sector and its seems that the government thinks that there is potential for tourism and sees a race track as a way to give the country a stronger international identity. The country's Transport and Communications Minister Askar Mamin visited the Sepang circuit and is discussing using Malaysian expertise to organise the circuit and run races.

"We are currently in discussion with Malaysia Airports to engage their services to manage the Astana International Airport and we also hope to have a racing circuit near the airport," Mamin said in a statement. "I am very impressed with the facilities here and very impressed with what they are doing at the circuit."

Astana has been designated a Special Economic Zone by the Khazakhstan government offering investors special privileges including exemption from taxes, duties and tariffs for up to 10 years. This new status has accelerated the economic development of the area. However the country has some serious problems to overcome as well. In recent days there has been scandal following the killing of Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly, a leading opposition politician. This was followed by the resignation of Nartay Dutbayev, the head of the country's national security service, when it was discovered that five of his men had been involved. The country is run by President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The opposition alleges that the government has links to organised crime and does not respect basic human rights.

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