Thursday, 26 March 2009

25 March 2009 News Digest

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By Alima Bissenova (3/26/2009 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Putin will visit Armenia IN May 2009

12 March

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will visit Armenia on May, 2009, informed ArmInfo news agency with reference to reliable source, close to government circles. According to the source, Russian Premier Minister will visit the number of enterprises with the Russian capital along with official meeting with Armenian authorities and participation in a business-forum.

Putin will visit Armenia IN May 2009

12 March

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will visit Armenia on May, 2009, informed ArmInfo news agency with reference to reliable source, close to government circles. According to the source, Russian Premier Minister will visit the number of enterprises with the Russian capital along with official meeting with Armenian authorities and participation in a business-forum. In particular, is expected the visit of Armenal aluminum foil factory by Putin.  As informed REGNUM earlier Russian Premier got an invitation to visit Armenia form Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan during his recent working visit to Moscow. (Regnum)

 

AZERBAIJANI SPEAKER MEETS MEMBERS OF AD HOC COMMITTEE TO OBSERVE THE REFERENDUM ON THE CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS

16 March

Speaker of Azerbaijan Parliament (Milli Majlis) Ogtay Asadov met Monday with members of the Ad hoc Committee to observe the referendum on the constitutional reforms headed by representative of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Paul Wille. Asadov briefed them on ongoing reforms in the country to bring the Milli Majlis-adopted laws into line with European standards.  According to him, the decision of the Milli Majlis to make amendments and supplements to the constitution aims to promote democratic values even more in the country. Asadov underlined that all necessary conditions were created in the country to conduct the referendum in a democratic and transparent atmosphere. The Speaker described the level of relations between Azerbaijan and the Council of Europe as “high.” He also stressed the importance of the fact that the Committee will observe the upcoming referendum. Paul Wille, in turn, said the CoE attaches special importance to relations with Azerbaijan. He expressed hope the proposed amendments and supplements to the constitution would contribute to protecting the rights of the country`s citizens. They also exchanged views on other issues of mutual interest. (AzerTAc)

 

Russia Pledges USD 149 mln Aid for Abkhazia, S.Ossetia 17 March Russia will sign on March 17 agreements with Tskhinvali and Sokhumi on providing financial assistance to the two breakaway regions with a total amount of 5.16 billion rubles (about USD 149 million) in 2009. “Despite the cuts that have affected federal budget spending, the volume of financial assistance for the republics for 2009 has remained at the same level as initially planned,” the Russian Finance Ministry said in a statement on March 16. It said that Abkhazia would receive 2.36 billion rubles and South Ossetia – 2.8 billion rubles. The financial aid will be used for salaries of public sector employees; allowances for children; pensions; medicines and food, according to the Russian Finance Ministry. In a separate aid package, the Finance Ministry said, Tskhinvali would receive additional 8.5 billion rubles as part of 10 billion ruble assistance for recovery needs from the August war results. 1.5 billion rubles has already been allocated to reconstruction needs as part of this package late last year, the Russian Finance Ministry said in the statement. Meanwhile, officials in breakaway South Ossetia complain that delay in aid funds has stalled reconstruction works in the region. “People spent the winter here and they were buoyed up by optimism that in March the active phase of the reconstruction will start, but there is nothing so far” Irina Gagloeva, a spokeswoman for the breakaway region’s government, told Reuters. The financial crisis is having a serious effect on a lot of financing of projects… There are only two or three buildings that have been completely restored. About 10% has been partially restored. Everything else is in the same condition as it was after the Georgian aggression.” The Russian daily Kommersant reported earlier in March that Russia’s intention to directly control financial aid to Tskhinvali without involvement of the breakaway region’s authorities has become a source of disagreement between Moscow and Tskhinvali, which has also resulted into delays of aid funds. (Civil Georgia)

 

Georgian Ambassador considers withdrawal from CIS based on emotions

18 March

The Ambassador of Georgia to the CIS, Zurab Honelidze, considers that withdrawal of Georgia from the CIS has been based on emotions, instead of real interests. The Ambassador said in the interview to the newspaper Vremya Novostey, the agency reports. According to Z. Honelidze, Georgia has hastened with leaving the CIS, being based on emotions, instead of on real interests. "Sooner or later the CIS will cease to exist. But, in my opinion, it was not the time for Georgia to leave the Commonwealth. Now Georgia does not have any other dialogue format with Russia after breakup of the diplomatic relations," he said. (Kazakhstan Today)

 

Presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan to take place in autumn

19 March

The presidential elections of Kyrgyzstan will take place in the autumn of 2009. The chairman the Constitutional Court of Kyrgyzstan, Svetlana Sydykova, informed about the decision of the Constitutional Court today, the agency reports. According to the decision of the Constitutional Court, the next president will assume the post till October, 25th, 2009 and the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan will define the exact date of the elections. The decision has been accepted by the Constitutional Court on the basis of the Constitution of 2003. (Kazakhstan today)

 

Azerbaijan President Hails Scrapping Of Two-term Limit

20 March

Azerbaijan Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said Friday that amending the constitution to allow him to serve more than two terms would help promote democratic reforms in the oil-rich former Soviet republic. "I thank Azerbaijan's people for supporting the constitutional amendments," Aliyev told a crowd in Baku gathered for the Nowruz holiday, two days after the amendments were approved in a referendum. "The people supported the government and gave us an opportunity to pursue democratic, political, economic and social reforms," he said. Opposition groups have promised a court challenge against the results of the referendum, which they say will pave the way for Aliyev to become president-for- life.

Aliyev, 47, won a second five-year term by a landslide last October, having taken over from his father Heydar, a former top-ranking Soviet official and KGB officer, in 2003.Supporters of the changes insisted they are aimed at making Azerbaijan more democratic by allowing voters to choose whoever they wish to be president. But government critics, who have long accused Aliyev and his late father of having ruthlessly held on to power, said the vote was aimed at consolidating the grip of the first family. (AFP)

 

Dagestan clash leaves some police, militants dead

21 March

Three days of intense fighting between police and insurgents in a wooded area of Dagestan ended Saturday with five officers and about a dozen militants left dead, Russian officials said. Clashes are frequent in Dagestan, but the fighting in an area near the border with Georgia and Azerbaijan was some of the most intense in recent months. Helicopter gunships fired on the militant positions. Regional Interior Ministry spokesman Mark Tolchinsky said 14 insurgents were killed, but the Interfax news agency cited the Federal Security Service as saying 12 died. Dagestan's militants are seen as having been inspired by separatists in neighboring Chechnya, where two wars have been fought with Russian forces in the past 15 years.

The police action, which began Wednesday, came after officials in the regions complained to regional authorities about the presence of the gunmen. Underscoring the seriousness of the fighting, state-run TV also prominently showed a meeting Friday between Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Dagestan's leader, Mukhu Aliev. In the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala, police fatally shot four men Friday who failed to stop their car at a checkpoint and began shooting at officers, city police spokesman Shamil Guseinov said. The fighting is the latest round of violence to plague the North Caucasus, pitting criminal gangs, Islamic militants or feuding clans against one another or against government and police forces. Islamic-inspired rebels sparked two wars in Chechnya over the past 15 years, but any large-scale insurgency ended years ago. Still, Chechnya still sees occasional hit-and-run attacks on government troops and the violence has spilled over into neighboring regions such as Dagestan or Kabardino-Balkaria. A three-hour shoot-out Thursday north of the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria left four gunmen killed. (AP)

 

Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Iran agree to boost relations

21 March

The governments of Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Iran agreed on Saturday to further boost cooperation among the three neighboring states. The agreement was reached during a meeting of Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta with his Tajik and Iranian counterparts Hamra Khan Zarifi and Manuchehr Mutaki in Afghan northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, a statement of the Afghan Foreign Ministry released here said. This is the third meeting of the foreign ministers of the three neighbors, which took place at the first day of the Afghan New Year on March 21. A joint communiqué, released at the end of the meeting, stressed for the establishment of a joint television channel, linking the trio neighbors by railway, the formation of a common investment body and setting up of vocational training centers. It also stressed for enhancing trade and economic cooperation, transport, energy, tourism, education as well as the war on terror and illicit drug trafficking. According to communiqué, a joint commission would be established to follow the decisions for the enhancement of relations among the three neighboring countries. (People’s Daily Online)

 

Taliban ambush leaves 10 policemen, district chief dead in N Afghanistan

21 March

Ten policemen and a district chief were killed in an ambush by a group of Taliban insurgents Friday morning in Jawzjan province of northern Afghanistan, officials said. Afghan Interior ministry spokesman Zamarai Bashari has confirmed the incident and said the attack occurred at Khosh Tapa district, along the border of Turkmenistan. "Provincial police chief has been sent to the site for investigation," Bashari said.

Meanwhile, provincial police chief Khalilullah Amin told Xinhua that Taliban militants ambushed the district chief on his way to a party at 11 a.m. (0630GMT) and the heavy fighting left 11 people dead, including the district chief and police chief of Khosh Tapa. "Nine other policemen were killed and four more were injured in the clash," he said.  Amin added that four Taliban rebels involved in the ambush have been arrested. Afghanistan has seen an escalating Taliban assassinations targeting government officials during the past week as Dad Mohammad Khan, a member of Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga or Lower House of parliament was killed in a roadside bombing in Helmand province on Thursday. (People’s Daily Online)

 

Twenty detained in Kazakhstan bank probe 21 March A partner of the former head of Kazakhstan's BTA bank, Mukhtar Ablyazov, says Kazakh authorities have arrested 20 of Ablyazov's associates in the last 24 hours. Speaking to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, the source, who asked not be identified, said that five businessmen were detained on March 19 and 15 the following day. Ablyazov was sacked from his position as the head of BTA, one of Kazakhstan’s largest and most stable banks, after the government bought the majority of the bank's shares in February. He and several associates had to leave Kazakhstan after investigations were officially launched into their alleged financial misdeeds. (RFE/RL)

 

Central Asia now nuclear-weapon-free zone

23 March

Central Asia became the fifth nuclear-weapon-free zone in the world Saturday, drawing praise from the head of the United Nations. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan all ratified the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, which establishes a region-wide prohibition on research, testing or possession of nuclear weapons.  U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the ratification and entry into force of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty Saturday as a step forward for the region's compliance with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, the United Nations reported.

Establishing the Central Asian nuclear-weapon-free zone is a dramatic shift from the region's history with nuclear weapons, including more than "400 atomic blasts at the Semipalatinsk testing ground" in Kazakhstan, according to a U.N. news release. "Central Asia joins the four other nuclear-weapon-free zones: Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and Africa," the release said. (UPI)

 

TRT AVAZ CHANNEL LAUNCHED

23 March

The joint Turkic channel TRT AVAZ started working Saturday. The ceremony of launching the channel was attended by Turkish President Abdullah Gul and high-level delegations from Turkic states. The Azerbaijan delegation included head of the Presidential Administration`s department on socio-political affairs Ali Hasanov, head of Azerbaijan Television closed joint-stock company Arif Alyshanov, chairman of the Public Television and Radio Broadcasting Company Ismayil Omarov, MP Ganira Pashayeva and others Programs will be broadcasted in Azerbaijani, Kazakh, Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Turkmen languages in 27 countries. The channel will televise documentaries, musical programs as well as films made by Turkic states. (AzerTAc)

 

Tribe Seeks Recognition in Census

24 March

As a nationwide census gets under way in Kyrgyzstan, one group in the south of the country is seeking to register as a hitherto unrecognised nation. Most observers regard the Kypchaks as just one of the many tribal divisions and subdivisions that make up the Kyrgyz nation, but Kamchybek Samatov, a retired teacher from the village of Bujum in Batken region, thinks otherwise.  In the latest round in a two-decade struggle for formal recognition of a distinct ethnicity, Samatov and his supporters plan to give their identity – and their language too – as “Kypchak” when the census-takers come round.  Other villagers in Bujum interviewed by reporter Ulukbu Amirova appeared less certain about whether they need separate status, or whether their southern dialect is really a different language. Census officials say they will write down exactly what people tell them, although that does not mean the responses will form the basis for recording the presence of a Kypchak nation. (Institute for War and Peace Reporting)

 

Kazakhstan puts fugitive banker on wanted list

24 March

Kazakhstan's authorities accused a senior banker of money laundering and theft on Tuesday after he criticised the government for nationalising his bank and fled the Central Asian country. The deepening financial crisis, which has led to a string of high-profile nationalisations in the Kazakh banking sector, has exposed tensions among Kazakhstan's ruling elite as the oil-rich Caspian nation faces its worst economic recession in a decade. Roman Solodchenko, who was deputy head of the biggest Kazakh bank BTA, fled Kazakhstan with his family last week and accused the government of "destroying" BTA by taking it over last month. The Prosecutor General's office said on Tuesday it had put Solodchenko, 43, on its wanted list on suspicion of theft and money laundering as part of a broader probe into BTA activities. "On March 21, due to his participation in theft being established, Solodchenko has also been declared wanted," the Prosecutor General's office said in a statement. Solodchenko could not be reached for comment. He has told local media he feared being turned into a scapegoat by the government as BTA, with total assets of $31 billion, struggles to survive the crisis. The financial crisis has crippled Kazakhstan's once-booming economy. Growing public unease with the government's handling of the crisis has created fresh challenges to the rule of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, in power since 1989. By fleeing Kazakhstan, Solodchenko joined a handful of Kazakh politicians and industry players who have fallen out with the government and moved to Europe. Former BTA chairman Mukhtar Ablyazov left Kazakhstan this year and is also wanted as part of the same probe. He has described accusations again him as politically motivated. The government invested about $2 billion in BTA as part of its takeover, saying the bank would have otherwise collapsed. The government says BTA might have to restructure some of its $12 billion foreign debt, raising concern about the broader health of Kazakhstan's once buoyant banking sector. As the crisis takes its toll on the economy, officials expect gross domestic product to grow one percent this year after the economy expanded at an average rate of about 10 percent in 2000-2007. (Reuters)

 

Coalition forces in Afghanistan should fight drug trafficking - Russiandrug service head 24 March The issue of the continued deployment of coalition  forces in Afghanistan should be contingent on their duties and competence  in  destroying drug crops and drug laboratories, Russian Federal  Drug Control Service Chairman Viktor Ivanov said at the meeting of the heads  of  anti-drug  agencies  of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) countries in Moscow on Tuesday. "Raw opium production has increased more than forty times since the introduction of the U.S and NATO troops" in Afghanistan, said Ivanov.  Over the past  7-8  years,  Afghanistan has turned into a country where "93% of the world's opium poppy crops are located," he said. The growth  of  drugs trafficking and tension is connected to "the increasing concentration of foreign troops" in the country, he said. "We  predict  an  aggravation of the drug situation in the northern provinces  of  Afghanistan  due to the plans to integrate the Taliban in

the Afghan authorities," said Ivanov.  The  efforts  the  international  community  has made to fight drug

trafficking in Afghanistan "have been a fiasco," Ivanov said. "The  half-measures  taken  by the international community will not yield results in 100 years, and the hardest hit will be Central Asia and

Russia," Ivanov said. Ivanov  also proposed to reconsider the procedures for giving donor assistance  to  the  Afghan  authorities.  There  is a need to create an international observer council to monitor the assistance provided by the international community to Afghanistan, he said. (Interfax)

 

Bomb kills 7 civilians in eastern Afghanistan

25 March

A roadside bomb ripped through a van carrying civilians in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing seven people and wounding nine others, while three Australian soldiers were wounded in another blast in the south, officials said. The attacks are a reminder of the dangers facing Afghan and foreign troops as thousands of new U.S. troops roll into the country to try to reverse the Taliban gains of the last three years.

They also came a few days before President Barack Obama unveils his plan to tackle the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, which is battling an Islamic insurgency of its own.

The explosion that killed the civilians happened in Sabari district of the eastern Khost province while the van was on a road also used by foreign and Afghan troops, said Police Chief Abdul Qajum Bakizoy. He blamed Taliban militants for planting the bomb. The Taliban and other insurgent groups regularly use roadside bombs in their attacks against Afghan and foreign troops, but the majority of the victims in such attacks have been civilian. The number of such incidents rose by 30 percent in 2008, according to NATO.

Sabari district is known for militant activity and clashes between U.S. coalition troops and insurgents.

In the southern Uruzgan province, a blast wounded three Australian soldiers and their interpreter, Australia's Defense Department said in a statement Wednesday. The Australians were attacked by the Taliban while patrolling alongside Afghan soldiers, the statement said. "The wounded soldiers and interpreter were given combat first aid by the patrol and moved by helicopter to the Dutch hospital at Tarin Kowt, when the tactical situation allowed," the statement said. Southern Afghanistan is the center of the Taliban-led insurgency, and the majority of the incoming troops will be heading there. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until being ousted from power in the U.S. invasion in late 2001. After the U.S. diverted its troops and resources to fight the Iraq war, the Taliban made a violent comeback. Now they lead a bloody-insurgency that threatens President Hamid Karzai's rule and the entire Western project of normalizing this country, which has been embroiled in wars for the last three decades (AP)

 

Kazakh State Company Says Ready to Sell Tbilisi Gas Grid 25 March Kazakh state oil and gas company, KazMunaiGas, said it would sell gas distribution company in Tbilisi, KazTransGaz-Tbilisi, if investments carried out in the network “is compensated.” “We announced last autumn about our readiness to sell Tbilgazi,” Kazakh official news agency reported quoting Kairgeldy Kabyldin, the head of KazMunaiGas, as saying at a news conference in Astana on March 25. “Everything that can be purchased can also be sold – only price matters. We are ready to sell under the condition that our investments, debt financing and financial assistance that we have been providing KazTransGas-Tbilisi are compensated.” According to this report KazMunaiGas through its daughter company has invested about USD 100 million in Tbilisi’s gas distribution network after taking over the company in 2006. Georgian National Electricity Regulatory Commission (GNERC) said on March 16 it had appointed “a special administrator,” which will manage the Kazakh-owned gas distributor company temporarily. GNERC said that the move became required as KazTransGaz-Tbilisi owes GEL 80 million in debt, including GEL 68 million to Georgian Oil and Gas Corporation, from which KazTransGaz-Tbilisi, had purchased gas. “A special administrator will remain in the company before the improvement of financial condition and before repaying cost of supplied gas,” Guram Chalagashvili, the head GNERC, said on March 16. “The special administrator, Temur Kopaliani, will be managing the company only temporarily and the assets will remain under the company’s ownership.” (Civil Georgia)

 

Kazakh Government May Drop BTA Support Over Debt Repayment 25 March Kazakhstan's government may drop its support for the biggest domestic bank, BTA, if any of its creditors ask for early debt repayment, the bank's chairman said on March 24. BTA, hit hard by the global financial crisis, has been at the centre of much scrutiny from foreign investors since the state took it over last month to prevent it from collapsing. Two of its senior managers have fled the oil-rich Central Asian country since, blaming the government for mishandling its rescue efforts. "If any of the creditors ask for early debt repayment, Samruk-Kazyna [state fund] may review its attitude towards supporting BTA group," BTA Chairman Arman Dunayev told reporters. The government invested about $2 billion in BTA, with assets of $31 billion, through Samruk-Kazyna as part of its takeover, saying it would have otherwise collapsed due to a deepening financial crisis that has hammered Kazakhstan's economy. The government says BTA might have to restructure some of its $12 billion foreign debt, sparking concern about the broader health of Kazakhstan's once buoyant banking sector. (Reuters)

 

Russian, Turkmen leaders plan to sign gas pipeline deal at next meeting 25 March The Russian and Turkmen presidents plan to  sign  an  agreement  to build the East-West gas pipeline during their next  meeting,  the  Russian  leader's  aid  Sergei Prikhodko told journalists after Russian-Turkmen talks in the Kremlin on Wednesday. "This  agreement  is  increasingly  important  to  the prospects of cooperation  between  Russia  and  Turkmenistan.  Work on the agreement continued during  today's visit. The parties made considerable progress in their preparations of its text," Prikhodko said. Russian  Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko is to visit Turkmenistan in the near future to fine-tune the document, he said. "The  two  presidents agreed to sign it at their next meeting," the official  said,  adding that the project carries a price tag of least $1 billion. Russian  President  Dmitry  Medvedev  and  his  Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly  Berdimuhammedow  can  meet  "either  at  the  St. Petersburg economic  forum, which is scheduled to take place in June, or during the traditional  Russian  President's  Cup  Horse  Races in July," a Kremlin source told Interfax. The  two  nations  plan to build a 600-kilometer-long trans-Turkmen gas pipeline,  which  will link natural gas deposits in Turkmenistan and the trans-Caspian  gas  pipeline  and provide additional resources to be pumped using  this  pipeline system. Tentative estimates put the cost of the project at $1.2 billion-$1.5 billion. Russia,  Kazakhstan  and  Turkmenistan  signed  an agreement on the trans-Caspian  gas  pipeline  in  December  2007.  Its construction  is expected to begin this year. (Interfax)
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