Wednesday, 05 September 2007

5 September 2007 News Digest

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By Alima Bissenova (9/5/2007 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Sukhumi warns Tbilisi on Abkhaz airspace violation 23 August Abkhazia claims that a Georgian aircraft violated its airspace on Wednesday and vowed an adequate response. "Abkhazia has drawn the attention of international mediators and participants of the negotiating process to the violation of Abkhaz airspace and thinks it necessary to warn Georgia that such provocations will be adequately assessed and will be followed by appropriate actions from Abkhazia," the Abkhaz foreign ministry says in a statement published on Thursday. "While Georgia attempts to accuse Russia of violating Georgian airspace, provocative actions are committed and such actions can lead to open confrontation between the sides," it says.

Sukhumi warns Tbilisi on Abkhaz airspace violation 23 August Abkhazia claims that a Georgian aircraft violated its airspace on Wednesday and vowed an adequate response. "Abkhazia has drawn the attention of international mediators and participants of the negotiating process to the violation of Abkhaz airspace and thinks it necessary to warn Georgia that such provocations will be adequately assessed and will be followed by appropriate actions from Abkhazia," the Abkhaz foreign ministry says in a statement published on Thursday. "While Georgia attempts to accuse Russia of violating Georgian airspace, provocative actions are committed and such actions can lead to open confrontation between the sides," it says. On Wednesday, at 9:35 p.m. Moscow time, an aircraft entered Abkhaz air space from Georgia and "circled territory in the Gali district [bordering on Georgia]. About the same time a similar airspace violation was registered in the Kodori Gorge," it says. (Interfax)

OMON convoy attacked in Dagestan; 2 killed, 7 wounded - police 23 August Two police officers were killed and seven others wounded in an assault on a police convoy in the Buinaksk district of Dagestan, a duty officer of the Buinaksk district police department told Interfax. "Unknown gunmen opened fire on a OMON convoy returning from the Untsukul district. Two OMON officers were killed and seven others wounded. Five of them are in serious condition. The wounded were taken to the Buinaksk district hospital. Additional police units have arrived on the scene. They are combing the area looking for the attackers," the office said. The incident happened at about 3.30 p.m. Moscow time near the Gimri tunnel, which connects the mountainous and lowland districts of Dagestan, the officer said. (Interfax)

 

Russian air force denies Russian plane shot down in Georgia 24 August The Russian air force branded as "one more provocative piece of information" a Georgian media report that a Russian warplane was shot down on Friday over the Kodori Gorge in Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region.  "It is one more provocative piece of information directed against us," air force spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky told Interfax. "I state once again that no aircraft of the air force of the Russian Federation has violated the border with Georgia. All air force aircraft are currently on airfields, and the pilots are having a rest," he said.  "If one analyzes all Georgian statements about air space invasions, all of them are launched at night, strange as it is," Drobyshevsky added. (Interfax)

 

TAJIK PRESIDENT INAUGURATES NEW BRIDGE TO AFGHANISTAN

27 August

President Rahmon participated on August 26 in a ceremony with Afghan President Hamid Karzai marking the establishment of a new bridge linking Tajikistan and Afghanistan, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Rahmon hailed the 700-meter bridge, which spans the Pyanj River and was largely financed by the United States, as a "bridge of friendship," but stressed that the Tajik and Afghan authorities must "prevent all kinds of inadmissible activities such as human, drug, and weapons trafficking" over the bridge. Tajikistan and Afghanistan have also agreed to create "free economic zones" on both sides of the bridge and have pledged to ease customs and visa regimes to promote greater bilateral trade. The ceremony was also attended by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, who noted that the bridge will serve as the "widest connection" between Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and the rest of the world. He added that the bridge "will be open 24 hours a day with customs and border facilities on both sides, and the capacity to handle 1,000 vehicles every day." The completion of the new $37 million bridge replaces the intermittent ferry service that was the only previous link over the river. (RFE/RL)

 

KAZAKHSTAN HALTS OPERATIONS AT MAJOR OFFSHORE OIL FIELD 27 August Kazakh Environmental Protection Minister Nurlan Iskakov announced on August 27 that the Kazakh government has shut down operations at the offshore Kashagan oil field for three months due to alleged violations of environmental-protection laws committed by the project operator. Iskakov said the move was necessitated by concerns that continued operations at the Kashagan field may cause "irreparable environmental damage." The project is headed by the Italian energy group Eni, a subsidiary of Italy's Agip. The head of the Kazakh Finance Ministry's Customs Control Committee, Serzhan Duysebaev, reported on

August 27 that a criminal case has been initiated over alleged evasion of customs tariffs and levies by several unnamed senior Eni executives. The Italian company has been coming under increasing pressure from the Kazakh authorities over mounting problems, most recently when operators shifted the target date for the start of production from 2008 to late 2010 and raised cost projections from $57 billion to $136 billion. The rights to develop the Kashagan oil field were first granted in early 2004 to an international consortium led by Agip that included British Gas, ExxonMobil, Shell, Total, ConocoPhillips, and Inpeks. The Kashagan field holds between 7 billion and 9 billion tons of proven reserves, making it the single largest oil field discovered in the last three decades and the fourth- or fifth-largest in the world. (Itar-Tass)

 

KYRGYZ SPEAKER EXPELLED FROM UNIVERSITY

28 August

Kyrgyz parliament speaker Marat Sultanov has been expelled from the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavonic University for missing too many classes. Sultanov, who was enrolled as a law student in the university's 2 1/2- year distance-learning program, appealed on August 28 to be reinstated as a first-year law student, citing his job as speaker as the reason for his absences. (24.kg)

 

KYRGYZSTAN TEMPORARILY CUTS ELECTRICITY FOR RUSSIAN BASE

28 August

An unnamed official of the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry confirmed on August 28 that electricity for the Russian military base outside of Bishkek was cut off by the Severelektro state electricity-distribution company for three days due to "outstanding bills" amounting to 501,000 soms (about $10,000). The official added that senior officers at the airbase had been notified of the arrears more than once. He said that electricity was cut off only to base residences and not to the airfield's operational facilities. Electricity for a Kyrgyz Defense Ministry depot, which is also located at the Kant air base, was also cut off for the same reason. This is the first time that electricity has been cut off for military units because of unpaid bills, and seems related to a disagreement over the past practice of utilities for the Russian base being paid by the Kyrgyz authorities. Under a larger agreement, Kyrgyzstan pays for all telecommunications, water, and utility expenses for the Russian base. Russia recently announced plans to expand its presence at the Kant base, adding that the number of Russian personnel will be enlarged. Kyrgyzstan also recently confirmed that it expects to receive military equipment worth $2.5 million from Russia this year, compared to $2 million in 2006. The donations are intended as compensation for the use of the Kant base. As of June, 250 Russian Air Force officers and 150 personnel were stationed at the base, which is home to five Su-25 attack aircraft and two Mi-8 helicopters. (akipress.org)

 

KAZAKHSTAN STRIPS TWELVE OF CITIZENSHIP

28 August

An unnamed official of the Kazakh National Security Committee (KNB) announced on August 28 that 12 residents of Kazakhstan's Zhambyl and South Kazakhstan regions have been stripped of their citizenship for their "involvement in illegal armed gangs in the Middle East." The Kazakh nationals reportedly had ties to the People's Congress of Kurdistan (Kongra-Gel), an outlawed group labeled by the Kazakh authorities as a separatist terrorist organization since 2004. The KNB official further said that some 40 Kazakh nationals "from various ethnic groups left for mountainous regions of southeastern Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq" to join the Kurdish group between 1995 and 1999. (Kazakhstan Today)

 

KAZAKH INTERIOR MINISTRY ANNOUNCES SEIZURE OF WEAPONS AT FORMER MINISTER'S HOME

28 August

Kazakh Interior Ministry spokesman Bagdat Kozhakhmetov announced on August 27 the seizure of "a variety of illegal weapons" discovered by police during a search of the home of Mukhtar Aliev, a prominent former minister. Aliyev, a former health minister, is the father of Rakhat Aliev, a former son-in-law of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev who faces criminal charges ranging from kidnapping and murder to corruption and money laundering. Police investigators are reportedly testing the weapons to see if they were used in the alleged abduction of and assault on two senior officials of Nurbank, which the younger Aliev controlled until the authorities recently seized it, along with several of his other business interests. The younger Aliev remains in self-imposed exile in Vienna, where he once served as the Kazakh ambassador. (RFE/RL)

 

KAZAKH STATE-OWNED ENERGY FIRM TAKES CONTROL OF ROMANIAN ENERGY COMPANY 28 August Dinu Patriciu, the chairman of Romania's Rompetrol energy company, announced on August 27 the sale of a majority of its shares to Kazakhstan's state-owned KazMunaiGaz firm, according to RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service. The deal, which involves the sale of a 75-percent share of the Romanian firm for $3.6 billion, is the latest in a series of moves by Kazakhstan's state-owned energy groups to increase their role as major energy producers beyond the Central Asian region. If the sale is approved by the European Commission, it will effectively double KazMunaiGaz's refining capacity and provide access to some 630 petrol stations held by Rompetrol across seven European countries. Rompetrol is the second-largest petroleum company in Romania. (RFE/RL)

 

Tajikistan cancels contract with Russia’s Rusal 29 August Tajikistan has canceled a contract with the Russian company OAO Rusal for completion of a giant hydroelectricity project seen as a substantial boon to the impoverished Central Asian country, the government said Wednesday. Rusal, however, said it was unaware of any changes. Tajikistan and Rusal signed a US$1 billion contract in 2004 for completion of the Rogun project that is to include the world’s highest dam. The project was begun when Tajikistan was part of the Soviet Union, but stalled in the economic chaos that followed the Soviet collapse. But the contract became mired in disputes between Tajikistan and Rusal, including over the size of the dam, the materials used in it and how much of the electricity generated by the project would be sold to Rusal’s energy-hungry aluminum plants. The office of President Emomali Rakhmon, which announced the cancellation of the contract, said the government has decided to create an open-stock company to undertake completion of the project. A Rusal representative in Tajikistan, Konstantin Zagrebelny, said he had not been informed of the decision and could not comment. In a statement, Rusal said it was unaware of any changes in its participation in the project. It said it was contracted by the Russian government, which is an equal partner in the project under an agreement with Tajikistan, and that the work it has done ⌠was in full compliance with the provisions set forth in the agreement. Tajikistan’s fast-flowing mountain rivers have a potential hydropower capacity of 527 billion kilowatt hours a year, among the largest in the world. (AP)

 

ALL CHARGES DROPPED AGAINST SUSPECTS IN KAZAKH KIDNAPPING CASE

29 September

Marat Murzin, a defense attorney for one of five suspects arrested in connection with the attempted kidnapping of two Kazakh bank executives, announced on August 29 that prosecutors have dropped all criminal charges against the men. Murzin represents Abilmazhen Gilimov, the former chairman of the board of directors of the Nurbank, who was charged along with several unnamed police officers in connection with an "attack" on the Nurbank offices, a bank controlled by Rakhat Aliyev, the former son-in-law of President Nazarbaev. The two Nurbank officials, Zholdas Timraliev and Aibar Khasenov, are still missing and are believed to have been killed. The "attack" on the bank and related kidnapping was reportedly intended to force the executives to sell their interests in a building in Almaty. Aliev, until recently the Kazakh ambassador to Austria, remains in Austria after a Kazakh extradition request was rejected by an Austrian court on the grounds that Aliev cannot expect to receive a fair trial in Kazakhstan. The criminal case has recently expanded even wider, with the recent issuing of an international arrest warrant for General Alnur Musaev, a former chairman of the National Security Committee, and by new links to the murder of a television reporter, Anastasiya Novikova. (Interfax-Kazakhstan)

 

KAZAKH PRESIDENT REMOVES SON-IN-LAW FROM STATE POST

29 August

President Nursultan Nazarbaev on August 28 ordered the dismissal of his son-in-law, Timur Kulibaev,

from a senior position at a major state-asset management firm, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service. The 40-year-old Kulibaev, who is married to the president's middle daughter, Dinara, has served as the deputy chairman of Samruk, a state agency that oversees government shares in the energy and other key sectors, since its formation in January 2006. He previously held top posts with the KazMunaiGaz and KazTransOil state energy companies. No explanation was given for the dismissal, which follows the recent appointment of the head of Samruk, Sauat Mynbaev, as the new energy and mineral resources minister. (RFE/RL)

 

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT CONGRATULATES NEWLY ELECTED TURKISH COUNTERPART

30 August

Robert Kocharian has written to former Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul to congratulate him on his election as president, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on August 29. The text of the message was not made public. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, who has met on several occasions in recent years with Gul, sent a similar message. Analysts in Yerevan do not anticipate any fundamental change in Turkish foreign policy as a result of Gul's election since, as Giro Manoyan of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun pointed out, foreign policy is the prerogative of Turkey's government, not of the president. (RFE/RL)

 

ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES PENSION INCREASE

31 August

Vazgen Khachikian, the director of the Armenian state pension fund, announced on August 30 that the Armenian government approved a 60 percent increase surge in pensions, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. The increase, to become effective on January 1, will raise the monthly pension payments for hundreds of thousands of elderly citizens to an average of about 20,000 drams ($60) per month. The move was widely expected after its inclusion in the five-year government program that was approved by parliament in June. Khachikian also said that the increase was part of a longer-term effort to bolster the country's weak social safety net, noting that the government plans to gradually raise the average pension to at least 36,000 drams ($105) by the year 2012. (RFE/RL)

 

ARMENIAN SCHOOL BUILDING EVACUATED AFTER BOMB WARNING

31 August

A public school building in central Yerevan was evacuated on August 30 after a school administrator received a telephone call warning that "an explosive device was planted in the school," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Police and emergency responders searched the area but were unable to locate any explosives at the secondary school. Several dozen teachers and administrators were evacuated from the school, which is not due to open until the resumption of classes on September 3. A previous bomb threat led to the evacuation of a building housing a government office in Yerevan, although no bomb was found in that incident, which was later traced to an elderly man with a history of mental illness. (RFE/RL)

 

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS ANNOUNCE ARRESTS IN FATAL BUILDING COLLAPSE

31 August

In a joint statement issued in Baku, officials from the Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General's Office, the Interior Ministry, and the Emergency Situations Ministry announced on August 29 that the head of a local construction company and three others have been arrested on charges of criminal negligence in the collapse of a 16-story apartment building in Baku's Yasamal district, according to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service. Commenting on the arrests, Prosecutor-General Zakir Qaralov further warned on August 30 that unnamed "top officials who issued illegal permission for the construction work might be arrested during the investigation." The multistory apartment building, which was undergoing unsanctioned construction, collapsed on August 28, killing at least eight people and injuring several more, in what state building inspectors said were gross violations of relevant safety codes. Police reported on August 30 that between 15 and 50 people remain trapped under the rubble of the collapsed building. As rescue workers continued to search for survivors, however, the death toll was raised on August 30 to 13 dead. (RFE/RL)

Blast kills 4 police in Russia's Ingushetia 31 August A "terrorist" blast killed four police and injured one on Friday in Nazran, the capital of Russia's southern province of Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya, Ingushi officials said. "It was a terrorist act," a duty officer at the regional prosecutors' office told Reuters by telephone. The officer said a police patrol was dispatched in a jeep to check reports a Russian-made Lada car packed with explosives was parked next to the cultural centre in the town's centre. "When police approached the Lada, it blew up," he said. "There was virtually nothing left of the Lada car. "Three policemen were killed and two were injured." Russian news agencies later said one of the injured died in hospital. The interior ministry initially said the blast was the result of a traffic accident. But it later called the explosion a "terrorist act." "Information collected by investigators show there was an explosive device equivalent to 2 kg (5 lb) of TNT," Interfax news agency quoted a police spokesman as saying. A series of recent attacks against officials and police, blamed on Islamist rebels, has heightened security fears in Ingushetia. Earlier this month 2,500 troops were sent to the region to support local security forces. Security was especially tight ahead of the start of the school year in Russia on September 1. A big school is located next to the scene of the blast. (Reuters)

Iran, Armenia to cut trade tariffs

4 September

The head of Iran-Armenia Joint Chamber of Commerce announced here on Tuesday that the sides' trade tariffs will decrease to help grow bilateral economic cooperation. Levon Aharonian told MNA that the tariffs of some products will slump to zero. Despite the sides' high economic potentials, the trade volume, valued at about $200 million, is not desirable and has to reach one billion dollars per annum.  He referred to construction of Aras 170MW hydroelectric power plant, establishment of railway linking the two states, and transmission of power to Armenia and Georgia, predicting a rising trade volume for the countries.

The sides made the decisions in the seventh session of the Iran-Armenia Joint Economic Cooperation Commission in Yerevan.  The commission was chaired by Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki and Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisyan.  The commission discussed cooperation in the areas of trade, energy, health, transportation, science, and culture. (Mehr News Agency)

 

Gabala radar theme of trilateral expert consultations 3 September The Russian-US-Azerbaijani consultations on the Gabala radar due on September 15 will be held at expert level, Hazar lbragim, the head of the press centre of Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, told a briefing in Baku on Monday. “The discussions will be held at the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, and then experts will go to Gabala to see the radar station,” the head of the press centre said.  This is the first time that the date of the trilateral consultations, September 15, was announced last Friday in Baku where Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryushkin is on a working visit. “The work of the group of experts will largely show how the situation regarding the problem of the joint use of the radar and the problem of anti-missile defences develops on the whole,” the Russian deputy premier said. Azerbaijan Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin discussed questions connected with the upcoming consultations in Baku past Friday. (Itar-Tass)

 

Turkmen president offers Bouygues to design seaport, airport 4 September Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has offered the French company Bouygues to design a seaport and an airport of the Turkmenbashi city and draft a project of the reconstruction of the Ashgabat international airport, the presidential press service said. Bouygues is the general contractor of the modern administrative and cultural center of the Turkmen capital city. The cost of Bouygues projects in that city, including the presidential palace, banks, ministries, theatres and museums, exceeds $1.5 billion. The company has joined the Avaza tourist zone project in the Caspian Sea area and presented a plan of a future hotel, which will incorporate a yacht club, oceanographic and exhibition centers and an amusement park. Berdymukhammedov also wants the company to design an artificial river, which will connect Turkmenbashi and Avaza for navigation and recreation purposes.  (Itar-Tass)

 

CTC Media buying 60% of Kazakhstan's Channel 31 for $65 mln 4 September CTC Media, Russia's leading independent television  broadcaster,  announced  today  that  it  has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire a majority financial interest in Channel 31 group,   one   of   the   leading  broadcasters  in  Kazakhstan,  for approximately $65 million in cash, and registered a broadcasting company in Uzbekistan, CTC Media said in a press release. "In  Kazakhstan, following the closing of the transaction, which is expected to take several months, CTC Media will hold a 20% participation interest  in  Channel  31  and majority ownership positions in affiliate companies   that   will  provide  the  advertising  sales  function  and programming content for Channel 31," the release says. "These interests will provide CTC Media with a right to 60% of the economic  interest  of  the  Channel  31  group  and  will  enable it to consolidate  the financial statements of Channel 31 group with its own," the release cites Alexander Rodnyansky, CEO of CTC Media, as saying. "We are excited about the opportunity the Kazakhstan market presents.  This is a country with a population of more than 15 million people and a fast-growing economy. It has significant potential for further growth in the television advertising market which industry experts estimated at approximately $200 million in 2006 and is the third largest among the countries of the former Soviet Union behind Russia and Ukraine," Rodnyansky said. CTC Media  controls  Russia's  CTC  and  Domashny TV channels. The largest CTC  shareholders are Sweden's Modern Times Group (39.6%), Alfa Group (26.1%),  Access Industries (6.1%) Fidelity Investments (5.6%) and company head Alexander Rodnyansky (4.4%). A total of 16.4% of CTC shares circulate on the NASDAQ. (Interfax)

 

One policeman killed, four wounded in Chechnya 4 September One policeman was killed and four others were wounded in the settlement of Glukhoi in Chechnya’s Itum-Kali region late on Monday, a spokesman for the Chechen Interior Ministry told Itar-Tass on Tuesday. According to Magomed Deniyev, “at about 11 pm, Moscow time, on Monday, a group of 12 to 15 gunmen shelled and set on fire the house of the head of the Glukhoi administration, Shamsudi Dadayev, as well as shelled a school”. “A policemen was killed and four other policemen received wounds as a result,’” the ministry press secretary said. An investigation group is working at the site. (Itar-Tass)

Two NATO soldiers, 50 rebels said killed in Afghanistan 5 September Days of intense fighting continued in Afghanistan Wednesday with two NATO soldiers killed and 75 more rebels reported dead, including in new battles in an area where Taliban seized a group of South Koreans. The new tolls take the number of rebels killed in just over a week to more than 300, according to an AFP count based on reports. The two international soldiers were killed while on patrol in the volatile south of the country, the NATO military force said, without giving the nationalities of the casualties or details of the incident. Another soldier and an Afghan interpreter were wounded. Most of the 158 foreign soldiers to die in Afghanistan this year were killed in action, with the steadily mounting toll causing some alarm in countries sending troops to Afghanistan as part of the US-led "war on terror." There was meanwhile a second night of fighting in the central province of Ghazni, where the Taliban freed last week 19 South Korean Christian aid workers they had captured six weeks earlier. The US military said several militants were killed. Ghazni province police chief Alishah Ahamdzai said around 30 Taliban fighters had died in fighting in two districts of the restive province. There was no way to independently verify the death toll. A Taliban spokesman, Yousuf Ahmadi, confirmed the clashes but said all the dead were civilians. The Taliban often falsely report civilian casualties. The rebels were themselves responsible for killing about 260 civilians this year in bomb blasts and other attacks, security officials said in Kabul Wednesday. The hardliners shot dead two of their 23 Korean hostages in July and released two in mid-August before freeing the remainder after striking a deal with Seoul. About 16 rebels, including a commander involved in the kidnappings, were killed in a first night of clashes in Ghazni on Tuesday, police said. Police and the coalition told AFP the latest operations in Ghazni were routine and not in retaliation for the kidnappings. (AFP)

Iran hangs 17 drug smugglers 5 September Iran has hanged 17 men on Wednesday in the latest round of group executions over the past few months, state media reported. "After legal procedures, 17 individuals were hanged on the charges of drug smuggling in Khorasan Razavi province this morning," state television reported.The province borders Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, a major source of the world's heroine, some 1,000km east of the capital Tehran. Over July and August, Iran hanged 21 other people on charges of rape, robbery and kidnapping, which along with drug trafficking, are all capital offences in Iran. (AP)

Azerbaijan says Armenia violated truce 5 September A skirmish near the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh killed two Azerbaijani soldiers and three Armenian troops, Azerbaijani officials said Wednesday. Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh denied the claim. Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman Ilgar Verdiyev said the incident occurred Tuesday when Armenian forces fired on Azerbaijani positions in the Agdam and Fizuli regions near the boundary of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian military spokesman Senor Asratian in Nagorno-Karabakh denied there had been any fighting. The incident underscored mounting tension in the disputed territory, which is officially in Azerbaijan but has been controlled — along with some surrounding areas — by local and Armenian forces since 1994. Nagorno-Karabakh has been governed by a shaky cease-fire agreement that ended a six-year separatist war in 1994. Some 30,000 people were killed and about 1 million driven from their homes during the fighting. Ethnic Armenians now account for virtually the entire population of the territory. (AP)
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