PRESIDENT ILHAM ALIYEV ATTENDS GROUNDBREAKING CEREMONY OF TURKISH STRETCH OF BTK RAILWAY
Presidents Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, Abdullah Gul of Turkey and Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia as well as officials from the European Union, USA and other countries attended Thursday the groundbreaking ceremony of the Turkish section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway in Kars. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars, also called Iron Silk Road, will link China with Europe. The ceremony started with opening remarks of Turkish Transport Minister Binali Yildirim who called the 76-km railroad a landmark event. According to him, this project will make Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia even closer. Construction of the railway began on November 21 at the Marabda station in Georgia and is set to be completed in 2011. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili described BTK railway as the one of the major projects of the century. He pointed out BTK railway would allow boosting export potential of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia. Saakashvili noted this project could have never been realized without President Ilham Aliyev`s persistence. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev characterized the groundbreaking ceremony of the BTK railway as the landmark in the cooperation among the three countries. He described the BTK railway project as the example of effective cooperation. Thanks to the political will of the three countries, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum projects are being implemented, and BTK project is another success of this cooperation. Turkish President Gul described BTK railway project as the revival of the Silk Road. According to him, this project will link not only Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia but also Europe and Asia. By early estimation, this railway will be carrying 1.5 million passengers and 6 million tons of cargo in 2010 and 3.5 million people and 16.5 million tons in 2034. Kazakhstan signed the protocol to link up to the line. (Azertag)
SCO foreign ministerial meeting kicks off in Tajikistan
Foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states gathered for a meeting at a Tajik government countryside residence on Friday, a RIA Novosti correspondent reported. The ministers are to focus on a joint declaration to reflect the bloc's role in the world, and in particular Central Asia. The meeting will also adopt a joint statement to assess the SCO's performance in 2007 and to establish new tasks for expanding cooperation. International problems as well as efforts to enhance security and stability in the region will also be discussed. The SCO, comprising Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, has maintained a moratorium on new members for two years now. Iran and Pakistan, observer states at the SCO since 2005, have sought full membership in the regional bloc, widely seen as a counterweight to NATO's influence in Eurasia. Today's meeting will also decide on whether to admit new members or set up mechanisms for a partnership dialogue for other countries to join. The group primarily addresses security issues, but has recently moved to embrace various economic and energy projects. Russia and China have been cautious over admitting Iran, embroiled in a long-running dispute with the West and Israel over its nuclear program and alleged support for radical groups in Lebanon and other countries. However, both China and Russia have major commercial interests in Iran. China wants Iranian oil and gas, and to sell weapons and other goods to the country, while Moscow hopes to sell more weapons and nuclear energy technology to Tehran. (RIA Novosti)
Human Rights Watch says Uzbeks bar representative
Uzbekistan has barred a representative of Human Rights Watch from the country despite an EU condition for the lifting of sanctions on the Central Asian state, the rights group said on Friday. Human Rights Watch said its Tashkent representative Igor Vorontsov had been denied work accreditation and then told by the Uzbek authorities while he was abroad that he would not be allowed to return to the country. It said this was despite the fact that the European Union had made accreditation of a Human Rights Watch representative one of the criteria for a formal ending of sanctions against Uzbekistan. "The Uzbek government is mocking the EU, and Brussels should respond forcefully to make clear it won't accept this kind of behaviour," Veronika Szente Goldston, Europe and Central Asia advocate at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "This is a real test of the Uzbek government's commitment to human rights and of the EU's resolve to insist on real reform." The rights group called on EU ambassadors due to meet the Uzbek authorities on July 28-29 to discuss rights abuses and to insist that EU rights criteria are met. "Tashkent has not only failed to make meaningful progress toward meeting the EU's calls for rights improvements, it has actually backtracked in a number of respects," it said, highlighting the arrest of a journalist and a rights activist in recent weeks. The statement said Uzbek authorities had said they would consider an alternative candidate for the Human Rights Watch post, but that this candidate should not be Russian. It called this discriminatory and inappropriate interference. The rights group said Uzbekistan continued to detain at least 11 other rights activists and journalists for politically motivated reasons.
It had also failed to address impunity for torture or to provide justice for the May 2005 massacre in the town of Andijan, where witnesses said troops killed hundreds of people, including women and children, when firing on unarmed protesters. Rights groups have been upset by a gradual easing of EU sanctions on Uzbekistan despite a lack of progress on rights. The EU imposed visa bans on senior Uzbek officials in response to Andijan, but these have since been suspended and are due to expire in October, largely due to pressure by Germany, which is keen to protect its interests in Uzbekistan. These include a military base used to supply its troops stationed in Afghanistan as part of a NATO mission there. (Reuters)
Gazprom says agrees price model with Turkmenistan
Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom said on Friday it has reached an agreement with Turkmenistan on key pricing principles for the company's gas imports from the Central Asian country, but gave no figure. Gazprom, the world's largest gas producer, which supplies a quarter of Europe's gas needs, imports gas from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to meet growing demand at home and abroad. Gazpom said earlier this month that its import bill for purchases from Central Asia may more than double next year and that it could raise its export price to Ukraine to more than $400 per 1,000 cubic metres from $179.5 now. Europe is carefully watching pricing talks between Ukraine and Russia after a previous dispute led to supply disruptions to Europe, which imports much of its gas via Ukraine. Turkmenistan has raised its price for gas supplies to Gazprom to $130 per tcm in the first half of this year and $150 in the second half, up from $100 last year. (Reuters)
Tajikistan President suggests founding regional SCO antinarcoticS center in Dushanbe
The President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, suggests founding SCO regional antinarcotic center in Dushanbe. The President informed during the meeting with Foreign Ministers of SCO member states on Friday,the agency reports referring to news agency Asia Plus. "E. Rahmon suggested creating in Dushanbe SCO regional center on struggle against manufacture and illegal circulation of drugs. In his opinion, to strengthen regional security we need to involve Afghanistan in cooperation and to render it target address help," the press service of the President of Tajikistan informs.
According to the press service, during the meeting the questions of preparation for the next summit of SCO member states and the agenda of the summit, which will take place in August in Dushanbe, have been considered. Much attention has been given to cooperation in the field of security and various areas of economy. E. Rahmon named "very important prompt creation of Development Fund and SCO energy club along with the interbank community and Council of businessmen." "The parties exchanged opinions on expansion of regional transport cooperation and effective use of hydro-energy resources of Central Asia, activization of cultural cooperation and communications with other international organizations, the press service of Tajikistan President informed. (Kazakhstan Today)
U.S. criticizes Kyrgyzstan in hotel fence row
The United States criticized Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday for destroying part of a fence surrounding a Western luxury hotel, saying its actions undermined investor confidence in the Central Asian state. U.S.-Kyrgyz ties have been sour since 2006 when a U.S. airman shot dead a Kyrgyz man at a U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan used by Washington for operations in Afghanistan. Tensions rose last year when Washington criticized Kyrgyzstan for failing to meet international standards during an October referendum that strengthened President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's hold on power.
Last week officials tore down part of the fence around the glass-and-steel Hyatt hotel in Bishkek to allow public access to the statue of a Kyrgyz ballerina located on its premises. The U.S. embassy in Bishkek reacted angrily, sending a formal note of complaint to the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry. "Two fundamental principles govern foreign investment: rule of law and contract sanctity," Lee Litzenberger, the embassy's charge d'affaires, told Reuters. "The actions of the Mayor's Office are inconsistent with both these principles, and will undermine investor confidence in Kyrgyzstan."
The eight-storey Hyatt Regency -- the only five-star hotel in Kyrgyzstan -- is seen as a symbol of Western-style wealth in the impoverished nation of 5 million where the monthly average wage is $137. Room rates start at about $250, according to its Web site. Last Thursday, the mayor's office sent bulldozers to flatten part of its fence and open a public passage to the monument of Bubusara Beishenaliyeva, a ballerina revered in Kyrgyzstan. The hotel, part of the U.S. Global Hyatt Corporation's network, said they were in talks with the city authorities. "Our company has had two meetings with the mayor himself and we will have more meetings in the next few days," Puneet Tandon, the general manager of Hyatt Regency Bishkek, told Reuters. "We are hopeful that there will be a mutually acceptable solution to this current issue." The Mayor's Office has defended its actions, saying in a statement on Tuesday the hotel had ignored state orders to provide free access to the monument. Washington established its military air base in Kyrgyzstan in 2001 to support operations in Afghanistan. The former Soviet republic also hosts a Russian military air base. Activists have held a number of anti-U.S. rallies in Bishkek calling on Washington to withdraw troops. So far the government has rejected opposition calls to evict U.S. troops. (Reuters)
Georgia does not plan to leave Kodori Gorge – minister
Georgia is not going to withdraw its police forces from the Kodori Gorge, Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Affairs Temur Iakobashvili told journalists on Wednesday. He was commenting on the statement by Russia's envoy to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin, who said after the UN Security Council meeting on the Abkhaz issue that talks between Sukhumi and Tbilisi cannot resume unless Georgia withdraws its forces from the Kodori Gorge and signs a non-aggression agreement. "The issue as to whether Georgian police forces should enter or withdraw from the Kodori Gorge is not within Churkin's remit. This issue is up to Georgia, and Georgia is not planning to leave," Iakobashvili said. (Interfax)
Presidential elections campaign began in Azerbaijan
Presidential elections campaign began in Azerbaijan on Wednesday, the agency reports. The planned schedule of Central Electoral Committee of Azerbaijan of the main activities and measures on preparation and elections of the president of the country was published in official press on July 29. October 15, 2008 has been declared the day of presidential elections. According to the procedure, the documents for registration of the candidates will be received from August 11 till September 5. Within 10 days from the date of submission to the Central Electoral Committee of the necessary documents and subscription lists the Central Electoral Commission should inform applicants of the status of their registration or refusal in registration of candidates for the president. The final list of candidates will be published till September 20, 2008, and election campaign will begin on September 17 and will be finished by the end of October 14. On October 15, the day of elections, polling districts will open at 8.00 and will be closed at 19.00. (Kazakhstan Today)
Iran-Uzbekistan hold joint economic commission
Iran and Uzbekistan 9th joint economic, commercial commission was held in Tashkent on Wednesday. Iran's Commerce Minister Masoud Mir-Kazemi, who headed Iran's delegation, said, "Considering historical, cultural and religious commonalities we ask for expansion of ties in all fields with our brotherly country Uzbekistan." Existing potentials in different fields of oil and gas industry, agriculture, mine, petrochemicals and other industrial sectors can promote commercial and economic cooperation between Iran and Uzbekistan, Mir-Kazemi added. He continued, "We are both trying to increase commercial exchange level to one billion dollars, annually." Nasiruddin Najimev, deputy minister of foreign economic and commercial relations, said " According to the existing statistics, commercial exchange level has increased five fold from year 2000 to 2007. Commercial exchange between the two countries reached to 385 million dollars in the first six months of the year 2008, while it was 565 million dollars for the whole last year. He continued, "Currently some 117 Iranian investing companies are active in Uzbekistan." The two sides are to consider and discuss the latest situation of bilateral cooperation in the fields of transportation, commerce, banking, energy, tourism and standard and ways to promote and develop them. It was said that documents on expansion of economic and commercial cooperation are to be signed at the end of the meeting. (IRNA)
Six Georgian policemen wounded in Tskhinvali district
Six Georgian policemen were wounded in a terrorist attack in the Georgian-South-Ossetian conflict zone in the early hours of Friday, a police source in the Shida Kartli region told Interfax. According to Georgian police, two remote-control bombs were exploded under a car carrying Georgian policemen on a by-pass road near Tskhinvali. The Georgian policemen, five of who are in serious condition, were admitted to hospital in Gori, the source said. However, mixed Peacekeeping Forces in the conflict zone spokesman Capt. Vladimir Ivanov said that two policemen were wounded in the mine blast. "A group of military observers of the Mixed Peacekeeping Forces from the three parties and representative of the OSCE [Organization for Secut\rity and Cooperation in Europe] mission are working at the scene," he said. An engineer unit of peacekeepers is checking the territory adjacent to the scene of the blast, he added. (Interfax)
Kazakhstan, China sign accord on gas pipeline construction
The Kazakh gas company KazMunayGas and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) have signed an agreement on the basic principles of the construction and use of the Kazakhstan-China gas pipeline, the press office of KazMunayGas said today. The document, which was signed in Astana on Wednesday, stipulates the principles guiding the project's funding, the setting of tariffs, ship-or-pay provisions, and includes the issue of the project's profitability.
The China-Kazakhstan oil pipeline is part of the Turkmenistan-China backbone pipeline. The pipeline's capacity is expected to reach 10bn cubic meters of gas per year in 2009 and 30bn cubic meters in 2012. (RBC)
Azerbaijan president to seek second term
Azerbaijan's ruling party on Saturday nominated President Ilham Aliyev to stand for a second term at October elections in this strategic oil-rich state, the party said. The elections were immediately denounced as fraudulent by the opposition, which vowed to boycott the vote. The Yeni Azerbaijan (New Azerbaijan) party unanimously approved the nomination of Aliyev, who exerts a tight grip in this Western-backed, mainly Muslim country. "In case of my election I will defend Azerbaijan's national interests and work to strengthen the state," Aliyev told the party congress, quoted in a statement by the party. Aliyev, 46, has ruled this Caspian Sea state since October 2003, when he took the place of his deceased father Heydar in a vote marred by police breaking up mass protests and arresting hundreds. Azerbaijan is central to Western efforts to develop new sources of oil and gas in the Caspian region independent of its Soviet-era master Moscow. The country hosts strategic East-West oil and gas pipelines. Two leading opposition parties, Musavat and the Democratic Party, announced Saturday they would boycott the October 15 election, leaving few challengers to Aliyev. The Azadlig bloc, another opposition group, had already announced its own boycott. Musavat leader Isa Gambar told a party gathering Saturday that restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly made it impossible for the opposition to contest the vote fairly. "The majority of the party supports boycotting the elections and I support it as well," Gambar said.
He told AFP earlier he had no doubt the election would be falsified. "Unfortunately, we have no basis to believe that the upcoming election will be free and fair, according to international standards," he said. "We have not seen any election since 1993 that was democratic. They have always been falsified. This year I think the situation will be even worse."
Critics have accused Azerbaijani authorities of persecuting the opposition and cracking down on independent media. Media-rights groups have frequently criticised authorities for harassing and jailing journalists critical of the government.
Reporters were barred from covering the party congress and Aliyev's acceptance speech. Western groups, including the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, have called on Azerbaijan to ensure a free and fair vote after giving negative assessments of previous elections. (AFP)
South Ossetia evacuates children
The breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia says it is evacuating children to neighbouring Russia, amid renewed violence. The authorities said they had started to put children on buses to take them out of the conflict zone, but it is not clear how many children have left. Georgia said the decision was worrying, as it could be a sign the separatists were preparing for more violence. Six people died on Friday when South Ossetia's capital came under fire. The Russian-backed separatists and the Georgian authorities blamed each other for starting the fighting. Tensions have risen in South Ossetia and Georgia's other breakaway region, Abkhazia, after Russia announced it would establish official links with the separatists. Georgia's government says Russia is supporting and inciting the separatists to create instability as part of its attempts to stop Georgia joining Nato, says the BBC's Matthew Collin in Tbilisi. It also accuses Russia of acting to maintain the Kremlin's influence in this former Soviet region, our correspondent says. 'Full-scale war' The separatists said three of their militiamen were killed by Georgian sniper fire and three civilians died when the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali was shelled on Friday night. South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity accused Georgia of "attempting to spark a full-scale war", and said he was ready to mobilise volunteer fighters if the situation deteriorated further. The Georgian interior ministry told the BBC that the separatists had provoked the violence by opening fire first, and troops had responded. It said snipers were not involved and that populated areas were not shelled. Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili also said that South Ossetian forces had blown up a Georgian police car with a mine earlier on Friday, injuring six policemen. Friday's overnight fighting was the worst violence in South Ossetia for several years. Skirmishes have erupted frequently along the border, with the two sides accusing each other of starting them. South Ossetia fought a war to break away from Georgia during the collapse of the USSR at the beginning of the 1990s.
It has remained de facto independent, backed by Russia which has about 1,000 peacekeeping troops stationed there. Georgia has been seeking to restore its control over both South Ossetia and Abkhazia. (BBC)
GEORGIA, SOUTH OSSETIA TALK WAR AFTER 6 DIE IN CLASH
Stoking fears of war in the volatile Caucasus, separatist president Eduard Kokoity said he was ready to mobilize his region's men and take volunteers from the Russian republic of North Ossetia and other Caucasus republics to fight Georgia. South Ossetia said on its website, cominf.org, that the death toll had risen overnight from three to six people and armed clashes continued through the night on the outskirts of the separatist capital, Tskhinvali. The commander of Georgia's peacekeeping force in the region, Mamuka Kurashvili, was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying South Ossetian peacekeepers shot at a Georgian village and suspected Russian peacekeepers of taking part. Georgian peacekeepers and police officers returned fire and repelled the attack, he said. Georgia's Interior Ministry said nine civilians in the Georgian villages in South Ossetia were injured, while Tskhinvali said up to 15 were injured on its side, up from seven reported on Friday. Kokoity put the number of injured at 13. "This is another attempt by the separatist side to involve Georgia in a military conflict," Georgia's state minister in charge of re-integration, Temur Iakobashvili, told reporters in Tbilisi before leaving to visit the shootout area. (Reuters)
Kyrgyz medics jailed in HIV cases
A court in Kyrgyzstan has convicted nine medical workers for infecting 24 children with HIV - the virus that causes Aids - local media have said. The doctors and nurses, all from one hospital, were sentenced to between three and five years for causing the infections through negligence. They have also been ordered to pay compensation to the victims' families. The medics said poor hygiene and equipment at the hospital were to blame for the infections. Another four medical workers were found not guilty and charges against another were dropped. More than 70 children have been infected with HIV in the region since last year, with four deaths reported. The outbreak has shocked the Central Asian republic and deepened public concern over conditions in hospitals and the quality of health workers. The former Soviet republic has struggled to fund its healthcare system since the break-up of the USSR. There have been similar cases in neighbouring countries. Last year, 21 medical workers in Kazakhstan were sentenced to prison terms for infecting 150 children with HIV. (BBC)
Gas flow discovered at Gutlyayak section in the Karakum desert
A production gas and gas condensate flow with a potential daily yield of over 200,000 cubic meters has been discovered with test exploration at well N1 at the Southern Gutlyayak section in the Central Karakum desert, the Turkmen State Information Agency said. The agency said that the deposits productive horizon is at depth of 4040-4060 meters. The Gutlyayak section is the leading gas condensate field in the Prikopetdag lowlands according to geophysical research conducted by Turkmengeologiya in the oil and gas producing Kyrk-Gozli region. Research is a continuing in the region, which will allow for a more exact geological survey of the field's reserves, which, in turn, will determine the course of future exploration. It was earlier reported that over 150 fields have been discovered in Turkmenistan. However, production has commenced at only 50 of these fields. (Interfax)
Pakistan and Afghanistan will import 1,300 megawatts electricity from two Central Asian states Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan under an agreement signed in Islamabad on Monday
Under the Central Asia-South Asia (CASA-1000) agreement Pakistan will import 1,000 MW and Afghanistan 300 MW.
The transmission line will be 477 km long from Kyrgyz Republic to Tajikistan and 750 km between Tajikistan and Pakistan via Kabul. The agreement was signed on conclusion of two-day Inter-Governmental Council (IGC) meeting of Central Asia/South Asia Regional Electricity Market (CASAREM). The agreement was signed by energy ministers from the four countries in the presence of representatives of the international financial institutions including the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and Islamic Development Bank. Pakistan's Minister for Water and Power Raja Pervez Ashraf told a news conference that CASA 1000 Project is expected to be commissioned by year 2013. "The project would go a long way in overcoming power shortages in Pakistan, as well Afghanistan". The IGC Secretariat will be set up at Kabul and would become operational with immediate effect. Qazi Naeemuddin of Pakistan has been appointed first Executive Director of IGC Secretariat. "The project is a landmark as it fosters regional electricity market and brings together countries of Central and South Asia and also opens new vistas of trade and energy among energy rich and energy deficit countries," Ashraf said. Minister of Energy and Water of Afghanistan Alhaj Mohammad Ismail Khan said that the agreement will play a vital role in the strengthening of relations between members' states. He added it will certainly be a great milestone for the economic development of the members' states. (IRNA)
Four policemen killed in Afghanistan
Taliban militants stormed a police post in central Afghanistan overnight, killing a police commander and three of his officers, a government spokesman said Monday. Some of the dozens of Taliban who conducted the raid in the central province of Ghazni were also killed in an ensuing battle that lasted about an hour, provincial government spokesman Ismail Jahangir told AFP. The Zana Khan district police chief was one of the policemen who died, he said. "A big number of Taliban have also been killed but we don't know exactly how many," the spokesman said. A spokesman for the insurgency Taliban movement, Zabihullah Mujahed, confirmed that fighters with his group had carried out the attack but claimed they had not suffered casualties. Police are among the main targets of extremist insurgents linked to the Taliban, who are trying to take back power after being driven from government in a US-led invasion in late 2001.
Also in Ghazni, four people were killed in an air strike by international military forces but it was not confirmed if they were Taliban or civilians, Jahangir said. "Four people, all men, were killed when coalition forces bombed a house in Waghaz district. An investigation has been launched to find out whether they were Taliban or civilians," he told AFP.
It was not possible to independently confirm the reports due to the remoteness of the area. In more fighting, the US military said "several" militants were killed Sunday in the northern province of Baghlan in an operation to capture a militant leader responsible for bomb attacks on troops, the force said. The militant was captured, it said in a statement.
Unrest linked to the insurgency has increased every year since the Taliban were forced out. This year about 800 Afghan security force personnel and around 150 international troops have lost their lives in insurgency-linked unrest as have hundreds of civilians, according to various official estimates. The are no official figures for the number of rebels killed (AFP)
President of Kazakhstan to visit China on August 7-10
The President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, will visit the Chinese National Republic on August 7-10. The official representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, Yerzhan Ashikbayev, informed at today's briefing, the agency reports. "During the visit the leader of the state will take part in the opening ceremony of XXIX Olympic Games and will visit a number of sports competitions with participation of Kazakhstan Olympians," Y. Ashikbayev said. N. Nazarbayev will meet the chairman of the Peoples Republic of China Hu Jintao (Kazakhstan Today)
NATO "NOT AWARE" OF ANY GEORGIA BUILDUP, URGES CALM
NATO said on Tuesday it was not aware of any troop buildup by its ally Georgia in or near the country's breakaway South Ossetia region and called on all parties to reduce tensions. Russia said on Tuesday it would not remain indifferent if violence escalated in South Ossetia, given the presence of Russian citizens there, Interfax news agency reported, quoting a Russian diplomat. NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said the alliance was closely following the situation. "NATO has seen the reports of the violent confrontations in the Georgian region of South Ossetia in the last few days, which caused a significant number of casualties," she said. "We call on all parties to de-escalate the tensions." Russian has accused Georgia of using excessive force in South Ossetia, but Romero said NATO was "not aware of any troop concentrations by Georgia in or near South Ossetia". The breakaway region is at the centre of a row between Russia and Georgia, which NATO says will one day join the alliance. The West fears tensions could trigger conflict. Moscow's accusations followed a weekend of clashes in South Ossetia, a mountainous region bordering Russia that broke away from Georgia after a war in the early 1990s. Interfax quoted Russian special ambassador Yuri Popov as saying that, if events continued to develop according to a "worst-case violence scenario", Russia would not remain indifferent, given that Russian citizens lived in South Ossetia, especially in the conflict zone. (Reuters)
Marines ordered to stay longer in Afghanistan
The Pentagon has ordered roughly 1,250 Marines serving as trainers for the Afghan security forces to stay on the warfront almost a month longer to continue a mission that military leaders say is a top priority, according to a senior military official. In addition, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has authorized the deployment of up to 200 other troops to Afghanistan to support the Marines. That includes eight helicopter crews that could be shifted from Iraq if commanders decide. The senior military official spoke to The Associated Press on Monday on condition of anonymity because the formal announcement has not yet been made. The decision to extend the tour of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment in Afghanistan comes just a month after defense officials told the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit that it would stay an extra month in Afghanistan. According to the official, the decision to hold the battalion there longer is part of an effort to capitalize on the gains the Marines have made in the training mission. The extension means that the battalion would return home in late November. Asked about Gates' decision, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the secretary was responding to a request from the commanders. Gates "is always pained to have to extend tours. He understands the effect that has on the families of our forces, but he also appreciates our commanders' need to make additional progress while the weather is still good in Afghanistan," Morrell said. Gates' decision to send the other support forces comes after weeks of discussions by top military leaders who scrambled to find needed troops. He authorized Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who is temporarily in charge of U.S. Central Command, to shift up to eight helicopters and their crews from Iraq to Afghanistan — four Cobra attack aircraft and four MH-53 heavy lift helicopters. The remainder of the support forces being deployed are smaller units, including engineers, route clearance troops and explosive ordnance disposal teams. It was not clear Monday whether those support forces also would return home in late November, or if they would stay longer in Afghanistan. The Pentagon announced in January that the Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., was being ordered to Afghanistan, largely because efforts to press other NATO nations to increase their troop levels at the time had failed. The MEU has been fighting Taliban militants in the volatile south.
At the same time, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, which is based at Twentynine Palms, Calif., was ordered to deploy also. Gates has said he would not replace the Marines with other U.S. troops when they left later this year. But commanders have said they need three more combat brigades — or as many as 10,000 troops — to bolster the fight in Afghanistan. And U.S. officials have indicated they would like to send extra brigades there next year. Military leaders, however, have made it clear they need to free units from Iraq deployments in order to send more troops to Afghanistan. As security in Iraq continues to improve, officials have suggested that units initially headed for Iraq late this year or early next year could be sent to Afghanistan instead. (AP)
GEORGIAN SEPARATISTS "DESTROY GOVT VEHICLES": REPORT
Georgian separatists in the breakaway region of South Ossetia have destroyed two government vehicles during a clash on Wednesday, Russia's Interfax news agency reported, quoting a separatist official. "At present, a fight is ongoing near the village of Nul, where South Ossetian forces are trying to push out Georgian special forces," Irina Gagloyeva, official representative of the South Ossetian authorities, told Interfax. "We have information that two Georgian military vehicles have been blown up," she was quoted as saying. (Reuters)
GEORGIAN REBEL REGION REJECTS DIRECT TALKS
The leader of Georgia's rebel region of South Ossetia on Wednesday rejected plans for direct talks with Tbilisi this week as violence continued to flare in the mountain province. "There will be no bilateral meeting on Thursday," South Ossetia's de facto president, Eduard Kokoity, told Russia's Interfax news agency. "We are ready to carry on negotiations in (the rebel capital) Tskhinvali, but only in the four-party format," he said. Georgian and Russian officials previously announced that the first bilateral talks in a decade would take place in Tskhinvali on Thursday. Georgian officials continued to insist that the meeting would take place, despite denials from South Ossetia. "The meeting will be held," Marina Salukvadze, a spokeswoman for Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobashvili, told AFP on Wednesday. Tbilisi has rejected talks under the established four-party format, which consists of negotiators from Georgia, Russia, South Ossetia and Russia's North Ossetia region. Georgia says the format is biased in favour of the rebels. Both sides, meanwhile, accused the other of opening fire on local villages with automatic rifles and heavy weapons. The rebel government said in statements on its website that four Ossetian villages had come under heavy fire throughout the day. It also reported that Georgian special forces had attempted to seize high ground over a strategic road, but been repulsed by rebel militia. It said it had destroyed a Georgian armoured personnel carrier during the battle, but Tbilisi denied the claim. Georgian Interior Ministry Spokesman Shota Utiashvili told AFP that Georgian forces had only returned fire after Ossetian positions began shelling Georgian-controlled villages. (AFP)
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT OFFERS SOUTH OSSETIA CEASEFIRE
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said on Thursday he was offering South Ossetian separatists an immediate ceasefire following days of heavy fighting. He said he had ordered Georgian forces not to return fire. "I offer you an immediate ceasefire and the immediate beginning of talks," Saakashvili said in a televised address. He repeated an offer of "full autonomy" for the breakaway region. (Reuters)
EU AND U.S. BACK GEORGIA'S CALL FOR TRUCE
Russia accused Georgia on Saturday of seeking bloody adventures by trying to retake its breakaway region of South Ossetia and defended its own military campaign to stop it. Pro-western Georgia earlier called for a ceasefire after Moscow's bombers widened an offensive to force Tbilisi's troops back out of the region in the Caucasus mountains. "Russia's actions in South Ossetia are totally legitimate," Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said, visiting an adjacent region of Russia to which thousands of refugees have fled. U.S. President George W. Bush urged Moscow to stop bombing immediately, saying it marked a dangerous escalation. Russia said it had seized the rebel capital Tskhinvali but Georgia denied this. The Moscow-backed rebels contradicted each other, one leader saying Georgians had been beaten back, but another that "The city has been lost. We have been betrayed."Current European Union president France urged Russia to accept Georgia's truce offer. (Reuters)
Russian ships sank Georgian missile boat attempting to attack – Defense Ministry 10 August Georgian missile boats made two attempts to attack Russian war ships on Sunday, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman has told Interfax. "Russian Navy ships opened reply fire and as a result one of the attacking Georgian vessels sank," the spokesman said. (Interfax)
Azerbaijan eases transit for foreigners leaving Georgia 11 August Azerbaijan has facilitated transit formalities for foreign citizens leaving Georgia, the Azeri Foreign Ministry's official spokesman Hazar Ibragim told a briefing on Monday. "The case in point is several hundred people wishing to leave Georgia. The time needed to examine the corresponding permission has been reduced from five days to one or two days," the spokesman said. The Azeri embassy in Georgia is working in its full-day schedule, he said. "The embassy is closely watching the developments in Georgia. We cannot remain indifferent to the destiny of our citizens. We provide help to all our citizens who want to leave Georgia," the diplomat said. He added that some Azeris had already left Georgia but did not specify how many. (Interfax)
BTC oil pipeline fire extinguished 11 August A fire on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline in Turkey was extinguished on Monday, a senior source at BP, a major shareholder in the pipeline, told Reuters. The pipeline carrying Azeri crude, which passes through Georgia, was hit by an explosion on Turkish territory in the week before conflict began over the South Ossetia region. Repairs may not be finished for one to two weeks or longer, according to sources at Turkey's state-owned pipeline company Botas. World oil prices rose last week after the announcement of the blaze, and estimates that it could take up to two weeks to get the pipeline on stream again. “Today we put the fire out, and immediately after that we started trying to cool down the pipeline. As soon as the cooling process ends, we will begin assessing the damage and start repairs,” he said. The pipeline normally carries Azeri oil which is high quality and commands a premium. The $4 billion BTC pipeline can pump up to a million barrels per day, the equivalent of more than 1 percent of world supply, from fields in the Azeri sector of the Caspian Sea to Ceyhan on the Turkish Mediterranean coast. The biggest hindrance to firefighting efforts was oil that settled in the pipeline since the flow was stopped last Tuesday. Technical teams sent to the site of the fire will assess the damage and the BTC consortium will decide how to proceed. One repair method put forth by the teams could take two weeks or longer, pushing back original estimates for a date to get the pipeline back on line. Kurdish separatists claimed responsibility for the explosion and said they would carry out more attacks on economic targets inside Turkey. Military and local official sources said the fire was due to a technical error and was not due to sabotage. (Reuters)
Russia won't leave S. Ossetia residents unaided after fighting ends -Putin
Russia is prepared to provide all necessary resources to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in South Ossetia, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Monday. "Decisions will be made today to provide funding to assist the victims of the humanitarian disaster - 500 million rubles," Putin said. Russia will not leave South Ossetia's residents unaided after the fighting ends, he added. "We will help restore the housing, schools, hospitals and infrastructure. I have said already that we are prepared to consider applications as they arrive, and provide a sizeable sum - about 10 billion rubles," the Russian prime minister said. Twenty-one electric power plants, 23 water purification systems and two mobile hospitals have now been taken to South Ossetia. An additional 2,700 beds have been made available at hospitals in southern Russia, which are ready to receive injured people, he said. Some 136 tonnes of food, 90.5 tonnes of drinking water and 39 tonnes of medicines and medical equipment have been brought to the region to assist he refugees, Putin said. (Interfax)
Georgia clashes won't stop BTC oil flow
12 August Fighting in Georgia will not stop oil flow on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline and exports will resume when the pipeline is repaired, a source at Turkish state pipeline company Botas said on Tuesday. The pipeline carrying Azeri crude, which passes through Georgia, was hit by an explosion claimed by Kurdish separatist guerrillas on Turkish territory two days before conflict began over the South Ossetia region between Russia and Georgia. "We are not linking the fighting between Russia and Georgia with the oil pipeline at the moment. We are focused on repairing the pipeline," the source, who declined to be named, said. "Oil exports will begin when the pipeline is repaired, the fighting is not an obstacle for exports," the source said. Another Botas source said on Monday repairs may not be finished for one to two weeks or longer. No oil is currently flowing through the pipeline. World oil prices rose last week after the announcement of the blaze, and estimates that it could take up to two weeks to get the pipeline on stream again. The pipeline normally carries Azeri oil which is high quality and commands a premium. The $4 billion BTC pipeline can pump up to a million barrels per day, the equivalent of more than 1 percent of world supply, from fields in the Azeri sector of the Caspian Sea to Ceyhan on the Turkish Mediterranean coast. Britain's BP Plc owns 30.1 percent of BTC, while Azeri state oil company Socar holds 25 percent. Other shareholders include U.S. companies Chevron and ConocoPhillips, Norway's StatoilHydro , Italy's ENI and France's Total. Kurdish separatists claimed responsibility for the explosion and said they would carry out more attacks on economic targets inside Turkey. (Reuters)
RUSSIA TRYING TO CRUSH DEMOCRACY, GEORGIA LEADER SAYS
Russia is attacking Georgia to achieve "regime change" and crush Georgia's pro-Western democracy, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Monday. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili says Russia wants to extend its control over former Soviet republics.
Bishkek summit makes energy key area of CIS cooperation in 200910 OctoberCIS presidents have accepted an initiative put forth by Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to recognize cooperation in the energy sector as a key area of cooperation between CIS member-nations in 2009. At their summit in Bishkek on Friday, CIS leaders also approved some 20 documents aimed at advancing joint efforts of CIS member- countries in the economy, security and the social sector. They declared 2009 the CIS' Year of the Youth, adopted a statement calling for more vigorous cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking, and approved a 2009-2011 program intended to help crack down on illegal immigration. CIS presidents also confirmed an action plan designed to help prepare events as part of celebrations for the 65th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi troops. The plan includes a military parade in Moscow involving World War II veterans from the CIS, the Baltic nations and countries of the anti-Hitler coalition. The document also puts focus on fulfilling international treaties offering benefits and guarantees for WWII veterans, civilian workers and the families of killed soldiers. CIS member-countries agreed to consider setting the size of pensions paid to WWII veterans and people related to them at no lower than the subsistence level. They also promised to take measures to provide them with apartments. (Interfax)
Two people injured in explosion of army truck in Ingushetia10 OctoberTwo Interior Troops' soldiers were injured after an explosive device went off near an Ural truck carrying them on a road in Malgobek, Ingushetia at 12.30 p.m. Moscow time on Friday, the press service of the Ingush investigative Committee told Interfax. "Two soldiers of the Interior Troops were injured in an explosion of an unidentified explosive device on a roadside as the Ural truck was passing by," the press service said. The soldiers were hospitalized, and but are not in a critical condition, the press service said. Investigators are working on the scene. A criminal case on charges of an attempt on the life of a law enforcement officer (Article 317 of the Russian Criminal Code) and illegal acquisition, storage and transportation of arms (Article 222 of the Russian Criminal Code) was opened. (Interfax)
‘Buffer Zones’ Removed, but Occupation Continues – Saakashvili 10 October Russia has mostly removed its “buffer zones”, but Russian forces still remain in the Akhalgori district and the occupation of Georgia’s conflict regions still continues, President Saakashvili said on October 10. Saakashvili was speaking at a joint press conference after talks with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Batumi. “We have not returned to the August 7 status quo and we plan to work over this issue with the French and other partners at the Geneva talks,” he said. Speaking at the press conference, Kouchner said that the Russians had left most areas, but “I know that the Akhalgori district still remains occupied.” He acknowledged that the Sarkozy-Medvedev agreement did not directly mention the Akhalgori district, merely “the adjacent areas.” “It remains a problem and we should return to this issue at the Geneva talks,” Kouchner added. President Saakashvili said his ultimate objective was to see the Russian occupation in all areas of Georgia come to an end. “Georgia will never yield to occupation or aggression,” he said. “The struggle of the Georgian people for freedom and de-occupation will continue until the last Russian solder leaves the territory of Georgia.” He stressed that Georgia still faced Russian aggression. He thanked European partners because “they did not leave Georgia alone in front of this aggression.” (Civil Georgia)
Saakashvili Asks EU to Probe Ethnic Cleansing 10 October President Saakashvili said on October 10 that Georgia had urged the European Union to send a special mission to assess alleged ethnic cleansing resulting from Russian aggression. Saakashvili was speaking at a joint press conference after talks with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Batumi. The Georgian president welcomed “the most important part” of the resolution adopted by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on October 2, which deals with alleged ethnic cleansing. “The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly was the first international parliamentary body to underline the ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories of Georgia,” Saakashvili said at the joint press conference. (Civil Georgia)
Deadly quake strikes Chechnya 11 October A strong earthquake hit Chechnya and other parts of Russia's North Caucasus Saturday, killing at least 12 people and damaging scores of hospitals, schools and other buildings, emergency officials said. The quake hit around 1 p.m. (0900 GMT) and was centered northeast of the Chechen capital, Grozny, Russian emergency officials said. The U.S. Geological Survey said the temblor had a magnitude of 5.3. At least 12 people were killed in the quake and a series of aftershocks, which were felt throughout the North Caucasus and which rattled Grozny for more than 30 seconds, the regional Emergency Situations Ministry office said. The toll was expected to rise as officials got information from outlying districts. Most victims were killed by falling debris or furniture in homes and apartment buildings, said Oleg Grekov, a regional emergency official. More than 60 people sought medical help in the hardest hit Chechen towns, which included Grozny and Gudermes, he said. Russia's Caucasus Mountain region only sees occasional earthquakes. Most buildings are not reinforced against severe structural shocks and even small quakes can cause serious damage. Emergency officials said buildings in some districts saw serious structural damage, including hospitals in two Chechen districts. Chechnya is one of Russia's poorest regions, having suffered through two devastating wars in the past 15 years. Many people in the region are unemployed, and sporadic fighting between separatist rebels and federal and regional forces erupts regularly. (AP)
NATO-Georgia Commission Meets in Budapest 11 October The NATO-Georgia Commission (NGC) met on October 10 for the first time at ministerial level to discuss the alliance’s assistance to Georgia in recovering from the recent conflict. NATO defense ministers discussed with their Georgian counterpart, Davit Kezerashvili, the coordination of assistance in areas such as defence and security cooperation, security sector reform and airspace management, NATO said in a press-release. The NGC was established in September 2008 during a visit of the North Atlantic Council to Tbilisi. Georgian Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili said after the meeting that he hoped MAP would be granted to Georgia. "We believe that this issue will be solved in favour of Georgia and we will receive MAP," he told reporters. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in St. Petersburg on October that it was “too soon” for NATO to provide MAP to Georgia and Ukraine. (Civil Georgia)
Slain Taliban leader was Pakistan officer
12 October A Taliban commander killed by British forces in Afghanistan last year was actually a Pakistani military officer, Afghan sources say. The Taliban commander was one of six killed in the past year in Helmand province by British special forces, who allegedly discovered a Pakistani military ID on the body, The Sunday Times of London reported. The newspaper said its sources confirmed that British officials have covered up what was the first physical evidence of covert Pakistani military operations against British forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan claims it is a close ally of the West in its war against terror. The Times said Britain's refusal to acknowledge the incident led to an argument with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who allegedly claims London mistakenly views his country through the filter of Pakistani military intelligence. Many believe elements of the Pakistan service have been helping the Taliban. (UPI)
Momentum builds for Taliban negotiations 13 October Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. and British officials have concluded there can be no military victory over Taliban insurgents, Time Magazine says. All are privately, and to a greater degree publicly, advocating negotiation of a political deal with the Islamist militants as military force has proved largely ineffective at eliminating their insurgency, the magazine reported Monday. Karzai last week appealed to Taliban leader Mullah Omar for peace and offered to talk, it said. The overture came after last month's Ramadan meeting of government representatives, former Taliban leaders and Saudi King Abdullah in Mecca. Brig. Mark Carleton-Smith, Britain's top military officer in Afghanistan, told a British newspaper, "We're not going to win this war," and that at best NATO troops could only hope for is to reduce it "to a manageable level of insurgency that's not a strategic threat." British Ambassador Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles reportedly said in a leaked diplomatic briefing the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan "is doomed to fail." U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates this month said the Bush administration now believes the only way to win the Afghan war is "through political means." (UPI)
EU lifts sanctions on Uzbekistan, keeps arms embargo
13 October The European Union has dropped its remaining sanctions against Uzbekistan, except for an arms embargo, a source in the French Foreign Ministry said Monday. The decision follows the release earlier this year of several human rights activists. The sanctions, including travel bans for top Uzbek state and government officials, were imposed in 2005, following the shooting of demonstrators in the city of Andizhan. France currently holds the EU's six-month rotating presidency. In May 2007, foreign ministers of 27 European Union nations extended sanctions on Uzbekistan, introduced over the violent suppression of an uprising in the country that came to be known as the Andizhan massacre. The sanctions were triggered by the Uzbek authorities' refusal to allow an international investigation into the events in the eastern city. Rights activists alleged that troops opened fire on thousands of protesters. Official statistics said 187 people were killed but rights groups said the death toll was far higher. The EU previously said it might review the sanctions if Uzbekistan agreed to continue negotiations on civil rights and freedoms in the Central Asian republic. (RIA Novosti)
Senior Afghan provincial official slain 14 October A senior provincial official was killed by gunmen in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and five Taliban militants were slain in Ghanzi province Tuesday, officials said. Dost Mohammad Arghistani, head of the Kandahar province's Department of Martyrs and Disabled, was shot dead by armed motorcyclists Tuesday morning, a spokesman for Gov. Zalmay Ayubi told KUNA, the Kuwait news agency. Arghistani's driver was also injured in the attack. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, U.S.-led coalition troops said they had killed five militants during in an operation in Ghazni province, including a Taliban commander. A coalition statement said the armed militants fired on coalition troops as they approached. Coalition forces Sunday said they killed five Taliban militants in the same province, KUNA reported. In central Afghanistan's Uruzgan province, a remote-controlled mine struck a bus, killing nine civilians including three boys, provincial officials told CNN. They said most of the victims were on their way to the town of Deh Rawod. Six others were reported wounded in the blast. (UPI)
NATO 'ignores' Russia's offer to help fight Afghan drug trade 14 October NATO has ignored numerous Russian proposals for cooperation via the Collective Security Treaty Organization in the fight against drugs and terrorism in Afghanistan, Russia's UN envoy said on Tuesday. "The alliance has still not responded, although objectively speaking, such interaction would raise the efficiency of efforts of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan," Vitaly Churkin said at a Security Council session on Afghanistan. The Collective Security Treaty Organization is a security grouping comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Churkin said Russia is concerned over increasingly frequent Afghan civilian deaths during operations carried out by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, and urges for measures to be taken to stop the killings. He also said Russia is ready to continue providing economic aid to Afghanistan. He stressed that Russia is taking part in a number of projects to restore the country's energy and transport infrastructure. The envoy also said Russia has made a significant contribution to the country's economic stabilization by writing off last August around 90% of Afghanistan's Soviet-era debt, to a total of $11.1 billion. (RIA Novosti)
Kazakhstan to supply BTC 14 October Oil from the Tengiz field in Kazakhstan will travel via rail to tankers on the Caspian Sea to move through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, officials said. BP Azerbaijan, the operator of the 1,099-mile BTC pipeline, said Chevron-Texaco, which runs Tengiz, will move oil along several land and sea routes to BTC by the second half of October, Trend Capital News reported Tuesday. Chevron-Texaco said it has plans to improve oil production significantly by the end of the year and is looking to expand transportation capacity to Azerbaijan and to Black Sea ports near Georgia. Chevron-Texaco owns nearly a 9 percent stake in BTC along with its operations at Tengiz. Oil reserves for the field in western Kazakhstan total 8.43 billion barrels. Operations through BTC were interrupted by the August conflict between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia, as well as a fire at a pumping station in Turkey, also in August. (UPI)
Democratization of Turkmenistan has become irreversible – Berdimuhamedow14 OctoberThe activity of international observers at the upcoming parliamentary election in Turkmenistan should not be restricted, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow said signing into law a bill on the Turkmen parliamentary election. "We should show and prove to the world that the further democratization of Turkmen society has become irreversible after the adoption of the new Constitution. This is a guarantee of building a just and human state which protects people's interests," Berdimuhamedow said. "No one should stand away from the organization of the Turkmen parliamentary election, the result of which will be the election of decent people and high professionals who people respect in the parliament," the president said. In line with the new edition of the Constitution, adopted on September 26, 2008, the People's Council was abolished, and its powers and functions were distributed between the president and the parliament. (Interfax)
Georgia Says Russian Aircraft Violate its Airspace 14 October Five Russian aircraft violated Georgian airspace on October 13, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday. It said that two aircraft entered Georgian airspace over the Kazbegi region at 9:57am local time, flying over the Java area in breakaway South Ossetia, and returned to Russia at 10:01am. At 10:29am and 12:27pm local time three military aircraft flew into Georgian territory, flying over the Oni area in the Racha region, Sachkhere in the Imereti region, Java, Tskhinvali, and returned to Russia through Kazbegi, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.“Yet another incursion of Russian military aircraft into Georgia’s sovereign airspace indicates that Russia is continuing its aggression against Georgia,” an MoFA statement reads. The Ministry urged the international community to take urgent measures “to prevent Russian aggression.” (Civil Georgia)Exit polls show Aliyev sweeping Azerbaijan presidential vote 15 October Incumbent Ilham Aliyev swept to victory in Azerbaijan's presidential election Wednesday, exit polls showed, maintaining his grip on power in the strategic oil-rich former Soviet republic. Aliyev won the election with 80.5 percent of the vote, an exit poll conducted by the local Rey ("Opinion") polling firm said. Opposition candidate Gulamhussein Alibayli came a distant second with only 5.4 percent of the vote, the head of the firm, Rizvan Abbasov, told reporters. A second exit poll, by the local ELS Independent Research Centre, gave Aliyev 82.6 percent of the vote, the centre's head Irada Yagubova said in televised remarks. She said results for other candidates would be released Thursday. Polling stations closed at 7:00 pm (1400 GMT) after 11 hours of voting. The Central Elections Commission was due to begin releasing preliminary results later Wednesday. Leading opponents boycotted the vote, accusing Azerbaijani authorities of persecuting the opposition, muzzling the media and fixing previous polls. The names of six other candidates appeared alongside Aliyev's on the ballot, but all were loyal to the authorities and some had not even bothered to campaign. Analysts had said the only question was by how wide a margin the 46-year-old Aliyev, son of previous president Heydar Aliyev, would surpass the other contenders. Heydar Aliyev dominated political life here for more than 30 years. By 5:00 pm (1200 GMT), turnout had reached 64.7 percent, the elections commission reported. (AFP)