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Friday, 25 January 2008

23 January 2008 News Digest

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By Alima Bissenova (1/25/2008 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Georgian prosecutors indict Patarkatsishvili for conspiracy, terrorism10 JanuaryThe Georgian Prosecutor General's Office has indicted businessman Arkady (Badri) Patarkatsishvili for a number of serious crimes, including conspiracy to overthrow the government, preparations for an attack on a political figure, and preparations for a terrorist attack, the Prosecutor General's Office told Interfax.  As Patarkatsishvili is outside Georgia at the present time, a summons to the Prosecutor General's Office for questioning will be delivered to his family, it said. (Interfax) 

KAZAKH MINISTER REPORTS ON FATAL MINE EXPLOSION13 JanuaryAt a press conference in the town of Abai in Karaganda Oblast, Kazakh Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Bozhko said on January 13 that the January 11 methane explosion at a local coal mine will result in the suspension of mining operations there "for many months.

Georgian prosecutors indict Patarkatsishvili for conspiracy, terrorism10 JanuaryThe Georgian Prosecutor General's Office has indicted businessman Arkady (Badri) Patarkatsishvili for a number of serious crimes, including conspiracy to overthrow the government, preparations for an attack on a political figure, and preparations for a terrorist attack, the Prosecutor General's Office told Interfax.  As Patarkatsishvili is outside Georgia at the present time, a summons to the Prosecutor General's Office for questioning will be delivered to his family, it said. (Interfax) 

KAZAKH MINISTER REPORTS ON FATAL MINE EXPLOSION13 JanuaryAt a press conference in the town of Abai in Karaganda Oblast, Kazakh Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Bozhko said on January 13 that the January 11 methane explosion at a local coal mine will result in the suspension of mining operations there "for many months." Bozhko added that the temporary closure of the mine will leave some 1,500 local residents without work, but explained that the mine is being filled with water while explosive methane is being removed. At least 30 miners died in the methane explosion and ensuing fire at the Abai coal mine. Murat Perzadaev, the director of Arcelor-Mittal Temirtau, which owns and operates the mine, announced on January 13 that the company will provide compensation to the families of the miners killed in the explosion and cover all funeral expenses. A similar explosion at another Mittal-owned coal mine in Kazakhstan killed some 41 people in 2006. President Nursultan Nazarbaev expressed his condolences on January 11 to the families of the victims, and announced the creation of a special government commission to investigate the accident. (Interfax-Kazakhstan) 

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION ASSESSES ELECTION AFTERMATH14 JanuaryAt a January 14 session in Bishkek of the opposition movement For Justice!, former Foreign Minister RozaOtunbaeva characterized the December parliamentary elections in which the Ak Jol Eldik (Best Path Popular) Party of President Kurmanbek Bakiev won 71 of the 90 mandates as "a serious retreat from democracy" that served only to intensify the north-south divide within Kyrgyzstan. Oppositionist Cholpon Jakupova for her part concluded that all legitimate means of opposing the ruling authorities, including mass protests, have proven futile. Former Security Council Secretary Miroslav Niyazov compared the present political situation with a boxing ring in which the authorities and population are preparing for a fight. He denounced the new parliament as not legitimate and incapable of representing the interests of the population, and he urged voters to lobby for the decentralization of power. (24.kg) 

DOZENS KILLED IN COAL-MINE EXPLOSION IN KAZAKHSTAN14 JanuaryAt least 30 miners died on January 11 in a methane explosion and ensuing fire at the Abai coal mine inKaraganda Oblast, and 14 more were injured. Rescue operations were suspended on January 13 as water began seeping into the shaft where the explosion occurred. Prime Minister Karim Masimov expressed condolences to the families of those killed; he will head a government commission to investigate the cause of the blast. Murat Perzadaev, director of Arcelor-Mittal Temirtau, which owns the mine, told journalists that eyewitnesses believe the blast was a natural disaster and not the result of negligence. (Kazakhstan Today) 

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION, AUTHORITIES BEGIN TALKS14 JanuaryActing President Burjanadze on January 14 invited the opposition to abandon street protests and move to the negotiating table, civil.ge reported. She said that the authorities are prepared to "respect" the opinion of the opposition, but that the latter should abandon its attempts at "destabilization," given that mass protests such as that by tens of thousands of people in Tbilisi the previous day are unlikely to change the election outcome. (Caucasus Press) 

Saakashvili’s goals: eradication of poverty and Georgia’s unity14 JanuaryPresident-elect Mikhail Saakashvili has indicated the main goals of his second term of office: eradication of poverty and unification of Georgia. “The Georgian people have given me a mandate to rid the country of poverty and to reunify Georgia by peaceful means. I am absolutely sure that we all together will be able to cope with those key tasks of my second and final term of presidency,” he told reporters here on Monday, publicly commenting for the first time on the elections after the Georgian Central Electoral Commission had officially confirmed his victory. Saakashvili claimed that the January 5 elections were “the freest ever and the most competitive ones in the entire history of Georgia”. “The electoral victory is not only my personal victory, but also a victory of the majority of the population, who had backed me, and also of the minority, who had cast their ballots for other candidates”. “This is a victory of the parties that had backed me and also of the opposition because, I hope, marginal opposition will decrease as democracy develops in our country, the political dialogue will become broader and all the political groups will take more active part in the country’s development,” he stated. The Central Electoral Commission of Georgia published on Sunday the final figures of the elections, showing that Saakashvili had polled 53.47 per cent of the votes. Chairman of the Central Electoral Commission Levan Tarkhnishvili officially announced Saakashvili’s victory on Sunday evening. In the meantime, the National Council of the opposition (NC), which is a union of nine parties, as well as the majority of other opposition organisations, are refusing to recognise Saakashvili’s victory and regard him as “an illegitimate president”. They claim that the authorities and the Central Electoral Commission had “falsified the results of the voting” and that Saakashvili had polled no more than 40-41 per cent of the votes. Therefore, they are demanding a second round of voting. The NC leadership has announced that it would “continue the peaceful protest actions and would hold them also on January 20, the Saakashvili inauguration day. (Itar-Tass) 

KAZAKH COURT SENTENCES FUGITIVE FORMER SON-IN-LAW OF PRESIDENT15 JanuaryA Kazakh district court in Almaty on January 15 sentenced Rakhat Aliev, the former son-in-law of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, in absentia to a 20-year prison sentence on charges of kidnapping, corruption, and extortion. The court's presiding judge, Nurdilla Seitov, also ordered the seizure of all of Aliev's property and assets in Kazakhstan, and stripped him of all state awards and official titles, including his positions as major general in both the National Security Committee and the Financial Police. The trial of Aliev and some 20 co-defendants opened on November 20. Along with the corruption, money-laundering, and extortion charges, the defendants were convicted of forming an organized criminal group and abducting two employees of a leading Kazakh bank in an attempt to coerce them to turn over sizable property holdings. The 45-year-old Aliev, a former Kazakh ambassador to Austria, remains in self-imposed exile in Austria after an Austrian court rejected a Kazakh extradition request. (Interfax-Kazakhstan) 

KAZAKHSTAN, AGIP REACH AGREEMENT ON KASHAGAN15 JanuaryKazakhstan's KazMunaiGaz reached agreement late on January 13 with the Italian-led Agip international consortium formed to exploit the vast Kashagan oil field. Under that agreement, the various Western consortium members will cede some of their shares in the consortium to double KazMunaiGaz's stake to 16.81 percent. They will also pay between $2.5 billion-$4.5 billion in compensation for the delay in the start of operations, initially scheduled for 2008, until late 2010. (RFE/RL) 

ARMENIAN PREMIER UNVEILS ELECTION PROGRAM15 JanuarySerzh Sarkisian posted on January 14 on his campaign website his 10-page program for the February 19 presidential ballot, in which he is considered the frontrunner among nine candidates, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. promises to turn Armenia into a "strong democratic state" where all citizens are equal before law and live in an "atmosphere of mutual respect, love, and indulgence." The highly conceptual document contains no target figures, specific government policies or envisaged legislative measures, but it does set ambitious goals such as complete elimination of poverty and Armenia's transformation into a regional financial center. It further calls for a "meaningful and consistent fight against corruption" and a crackdown on widespread tax evasion. Sarkisian says formal settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict must uphold the Karabakh Armenians' "right to self-determination" and ensure that Armenia continues to have a "common border" with the disputed territory. At same time, he makes it clear that he would not make unilateral concessions on Karabakh and the Armenian genocide issue in order to satisfy Turkey's preconditions for normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations. The foreign-policy section of his manifesto is otherwise vague; it says only that Armenian foreign policy must become "more active" and ensure Armenia's "influential participation in international and especially regional processes."(RFE/RL) 

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY ENDORSES FINAL GEORGIAN ELECTION RESULTS15 JanuaryThe U.S. State Department and the head of the European Commission delegation in Tbilisi, Per Eklund, issued separate statements on January 14 commenting on the announcement the previous day by the Georgian Central Election Commission of the final vote tally for the January 5 preterm presidential ballot, according to which incumbent Mikheil Saakashvili polled over 53 percent of the vote. EU Special Envoy for the South Caucasus Peter Semneby called on all political forces to respect the outcome of the January 5 vote and embark on a dialogue, Caucasus Press reported on January 15. Noting "significant challenges," the State Department nonetheless endorsed the election outcome; Eklund said the figures show there is "no need" to hold a second round of voting. U.S. Ambassador John Tefft similarly told journalists on January 14 after talks with parliament speaker and acting President Nino Burjanadze that no "mass violations" were registered during the voting and consequently a second round is not necessary. But former Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili, who backed the presidential bid of Saakashvili's closest challenger, businessman Levan Gachechiladze, told journalists in Tbilisi on January 14 that the nine-party opposition National Council has formally asked the CEC to conduct a recount because the data is "statistically very strange," RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. She said if the recount demonstrates that Saakashvili's victory is genuine, the opposition will accept it. Meanwhile, the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA) on January 14 accused the CEC of violating the law by rejecting outright all complaints the GYLA submitted about perceived violations of voting procedure, Prime News reported. (RFE/RL) 

Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan agree on mutual settlements17 JanuaryTurkmenistan and Azerbaijan settled on Thursday a long-standing problem of mutual settlements and agreed to intensify partnership in the sphere of trade, energy, transport and communications, as well as environmental protection, the press service of the Turkmen government reported after the first session of the bilateral commission for economic cooperation. For the first time the two former Soviet republics “have found on the basis of mutual concessions and compromises a mutually acceptable solution to a thorny problem of the settlement of the Azerbaijani Republic’ debt to Turkmenistan for supplies of Turkmen natural gas in 1993-1995 as well as inter-bank settlements over the period of 1992-1993,” the press service said. The two neighbouring states “have removed a long-standing problem, which impeded progress in their relations,” the press service stressed without giving the sum of the debts. Relations between the two states under the former president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, were controversial. There were no mutual trips by leaders of the two countries for about a decade, and the Embassy of Turkmenistan was closed in Baku. Tensions were to a great extent fuelled by an unsettled dispute on the belonging of the oil field Kapaz-Serdar, situated between the Azerbaijani and Turkmen sectors of the Caspian Sea, as well as by the problem of mutual settlements. A dialogue of the presidents almost froze in 1999. It was resumed only after the change of power in Turkmenistan, which the prime minister and the foreign minister of Azerbaijan visited last year. The two countries are now discussing mutual trips by the heads of state. (Itar-Tass)  

RUSSIA TAKES OVER MANAGEMENT OF ARMENIAN RAIL NETWORK17 JanuaryRussian Railways (RZhD) head Vladimir Yakunin and Armenian Transport and Communications MinisterAndranik Manukian signed an agreement in Yerevan on January 16 under which RZhD acquired the rights to manage the Armenian national rail network for a 30-year period, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In addition to an immediate $5.5 million payment to the Armenian government, RZhD will invest a minimum of $570 million into the obsolete Armenian rail network, $220 million of it over the next five years, and pay Armenia 2 percent of its annual revenues. Manukian explained that the deal is the only way to save Armenia's rail network from total collapse. Yakunin for his part said RZhD will not raise cargo tariffs, but will seek to increase cargo turnover. (RFE/RL) 

RUSSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP TO PROBE CHECHNYA TORTURE ALLEGATIONS17 JanuaryOleg Orlov, who heads the Moscow-based human rights group Memorial, told journalists in Moscow on January 15 that his organization has no information that would confirm recent claims of the use of torture in the Chernokozovo prison in Chechnya, and has itself received no complaints of such abuse, but will investigate the situation there. International Committee for Problems of the North Caucasus head Ruslan Kutayev said last week he has received a letter signed by 124 Chernokozovo inmates complaining of beatings, torture, and ill-treatment, but an aide to pro-Moscow Chechen Republic human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhadjiyev said that several of Nukhadjiyev's staff visited Chernokozovo and talked to prisoners, none of whom complained about conditions. Orlov added that Chechens serving prison terms elsewhere in the Russian Federation frequently turn to Memorial with complaints of appalling ill-treatment and request the organization's assistance in securing their transfer to prisons in Chechnya. (RFE/RL) 

TAJIKISTAN INAUGURATES NEW RUSSIAN-BUILT POWER PLANT20 JanuaryIn a ceremony in the Tajik city of Sangtuda, President Emomali Rahmon on January 20 presided over the opening of the first unit of the new Russian-built Sangtuda-1 hydroelectric power plant. The ceremony was attended by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin and the head of Russia's Unified Energy Systems, Anatoly Chubais. The Sangtuda-1 plant was hailed as a first step in alleviating Tajikistan's mounting energy crisis, but the facility's daily production capacity of just 2.4 million kilowatt-hours of electricity is not enough to make any immediate impact, as the capital Dushanbe alone already consumes a minimum of 10 million kilowatt-hours a day. Once the additional three units of the Sangtuda-1 plant, located 200 kilometers to the south of Dushanbe, are operational in late 2008, Tajikistan plans to both meet its rising domestic demand for energy and to export it to neighboring countries, including Afghanistan. (Asia-Plus) 

Kazakhstan bank assets grow 32 percent in 200721 JanuaryKazakh banks' aggregate asset growth slowed to 31.7 percent in 2007 from almost 100 percent in 2006 due to the global liquidity squeeze, the country's financial regulator said on Monday. The global credit crunch hit Kazakh banks hard, following years of aggressive borrowing by local banks, and caused concerns about their asset quality and ability to repay debt. Data published by the Financial Supervision Agency showed Kazakh banks' assets reached $97 billion as of Jan.1 2008. Their outstanding foreign debt remained flat in the second half of 2007 at about $45.5 billion or 48.8 percent of Kazakhstan's total external debt. "The volume of foreign liabilities to be repaid in 2008 is estimated at $12 billion," the regulator said in a statement published on its Web site www.afn.kz. "Aggregate liquid assets of the banking system stood at $13 billion as of Dec.1 2007 which shows the solvency of the system," it said. The regulator also said it planned to tighten limits on banks' foreign borrowing starting from July 2009. The new rules will cut the limit on each bank's foreign debt to four times its regulatory capital from five. (Reuters) 

Uzbeks suffer severe gas shortage21 JanuaryThere are severe shortages of gas and heating in parts of Uzbekistan, as the region experiences some of the coldest winter weather in years, reports say. The state-controlled gas supply has not been meeting demand in many areas - including the second city, Samarkand. Central heating in many apartment buildings - which is also controlled by the state - has been turned down. Much of Central Asia has been experiencing gas shortages as the cold weather has increased consumption. Uzbek fire officials have been warning of the dangers of using electric hotplates for domestic heating, as they say it is a common cause of household fires. For some weeks, nightly temperatures have dropped regularly to below -20C. Samarkand and regions including Jizzakh, Kashkadarya and Surkhandarya have been particularly badly hit. (BBC)

Uzbek pastor jailed and deserted but still faithful21 JanuaryA Christian pastor in Uzbekistan has been describing how he was arrested and jailed for eight years just for conducting Bible studies and having Christian books in his home – freedoms most people take for granted.The police have come for him three times, his congregation has deserted him, his youngest daughter almost starved to death, yet still Pastor Salavat Serikbayev remains faithful to the Lord, reports Christian persecution watchdog Release International. Pastor Serikbayev leads an unregistered Pentecostal church in the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan. He tells his story on video in the latest edition of World Update on the Persecuted Church, the award-winning webcast from Release International. Under Karakalpakstan’s repressive religious policy only Muslim communities and a single Russian Orthodox parish are allowed to operate. All other religious activity is illegal. Pastor Serikbayev, a former Muslim, was jailed in 1999 for conducting Bible studies, performing baptisms and having dozens of Bibles and Christian books in his home. But jail and several other brushes with the law have not stopped him from serving Jesus. "I had a family including two children at that time," he says. "Still I was happy to suffer for Christ; this was something I could do for Jesus." Undeterred he continued to lead a church. Then in February 2006, he was arrested again for his religious activities in Karakalpakstan. He was sentenced to two years of correctional labour, reduced to one year, and was made to cultivate plants in the desert. He was in trouble again the following year when the police raided his church. Says Pastor Serikbayev: "I was at a monthly pastor’s meeting at this apartment. After half an hour, 15 of 16 policemen raided the meeting and said, why are you here? Many had no passports, so everyone was arrested and taken to the police station. "I was charged with illegally teaching in an illegal meeting," he told Release International’s partners, The Voice of the Martyrs, Canada. Pastor Serikbayev' wife Aitgul was confined to her home by authorities after her husband’s arrest. (christiantoday.com)

Tajik President, U.S. Commander discuss Afghanistan22 JanuaryThe Unites States is grateful to Tajikistan for supporting coalition troops in Afghanistan and hopes for further fruitful cooperation, Commander of the U.S. Central Command William J. Fallon told journalists after meeting with the country's president Emomali Rakhmon.  I have expressed our gratefulness to the president and the people of Tajikistan for supporting the U.S. in its efforts in Afghanistan, Fallon said. The French Air Force contingent, which is part of the anti-terrorist coalition, has been deployed at the air base in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, since 2001. We discussed issues concerning the improvement of security at the border with Afghanistan, the Commander said. Tajikistan has agreed to train several Afghan citizens at the cadet officer school in Dushanbe, he said. I believe this training course for young Afghan servicemen, starting this month, is a very good initiative that will help the Afghan people improve security in their country, Fallon said. The U.S. is the main donor of humanitarian aid to Tajikistan. In 2007, it provided 63.6% of all the humanitarian assistance received by Tajikistan. Total amount of aid received by the country in 2007 is $56.9 million. (Interfax) 

German journalist injured in attack in Kazakhstan22 JanuaryA German journalist, Marcus Bensmann, 38, has been seriously injured in an attack in the Kazakhstan capital Astana, his relations said Tuesday as he was being flown to Germany for treatment. Bensmann is based in Central Asia and reports on conflicts in the former Soviet republics. He was one of the few journalists to witness the May 2005 massacre of hundreds of demonstrators in Andijan, Uzbekistan by police and soldiers. Kazakh media said Tuesday that the attackers, who got away, beat him up, robbed him and and dumped him lifeless next to a highway with the temperature 35 degrees below zero Celsius on Saturday or Sunday. German public broadcaster WDR in Cologne said he suffered fractures, head injuries and exposure. The Moscow-based news agency said Kazakh police believed he was the victim of a common mugging and was not attacked because of his profession, but central Asian news agencies suggested the Uzbek secret service may have wanted to settle scores with him. (earthtime.org)

Iran ready to pipe gas to the EU23 JanuaryForeign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki has announced that Iran is ready to supply gas for a major European Union pipeline scheme, but added that it is up to the bloc to decide whether it wanted it or not, Reuters reported. "What happens in Europe and what choice Europe will make depends only on Europe," Mottaki told a news conference in Bulgaria on Tuesday. "As far as we know, the European Union emphasizes the need to diversify gas supplies… One of the areas where Iran can have energy cooperation with Europe is Nabucco," Mottaki said. The shareholders in the 5-billion-euro Nabucco, which aims to bring Caspian and Middle Eastern gas to Europe, have so far secured supplies from Azerbaijan. Nabucco is the key to EU efforts to diversify gas supplies away from Russia after a political dispute between Moscow and Kiev cut exports in 2006. Russia supplies a quarter of the EU's gas. Majlis Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel has also said Iran is interested in supplying gas to the European Union. In a meeting with Bulgarian Parliament Foreign Policy Committee Chairman Solomon Pasi in Tehran on Tuesday, Haddad-Adel said, "Iran is determined to implement the project of transferring gas to Europe." (Mehr News Agency)

Russia not to urge independence of Abkhazia, South Ossetia - Lavrov23 JanuaryRussia has never said that it would demand the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the recognition of the independence of Serbia’s province of Kosovo, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday. If Kosovos' independence is recognized, "it will set precedent for about 200 areas in different states of the world," he added. "If somebody allows anything to anybody, very many will count on the same attitude towards them," Llavrov said. He called "absolutely false the opinion that is taking root in some minds that Russia is firmly opposed to Kosovo's independence and is waiting to begin to recognizing all around it after the granting of it". (Itar-Tass) 

Abkhazia says opened fire on Georgian ships, Georgia denies23 JanuaryAbkhazia opened fire on two Georgian naval vessels that entered the unrecognized republic's territorial waters, the spokesman for Abkhazia's president said Wednesday, but Georgia denied the incident. Kristian Bzhania said the ships were detected 4 miles from the Gagida settlement in the Gali District. "In line with orders received, Abkhazia's coastal services opened fire on the vessels after which the Georgian ships left Abkhazia's territorial waters," he said. Georgia's Navy mainly consists of patrol vessels and landing craft. Georgia's border police denied the incident. "The information from Abkhazia that Georgian naval vessels were near the unrecognized Abkhazian coast is untrue," spokeswoman Lela Mchedlidze said. Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia following a bloody conflict that left hundreds dead in 1991-1992, and the CIS peacekeeping forces entered the conflict area in June 1994 under a ceasefire agreement signed in Moscow on May 14, 1994. More than 100 Russian peacekeepers have been killed in the conflict zone since the ceasefire entered force. There have been frequent and mutual accusations of ceasefire violations from both Abkhazia and Georgia. Peace talks broke off when Tbilisi sent troops into Kodori Gorge in July last year and established an alternative Abkhaz administration there. (RIA Novosti)

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