Wednesday, 06 May 2009

6 MAy 2009 News Digest

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By Alima Bissenova (5/6/2009 issue of the CACI Analyst)

AZERBAIJAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS TURKEY

24 April

AZERBAIJAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS TURKEY

24 April

Azerbaijan`s Defense Minister, colonel-general Safar Abiyev has arrived in Turkey for an official visit at the invitation of Turkish Chief of General Staff Ilker Basbug. They will discuss security issues in the region and prospects for military and technical cooperation between the two countries. The Azeri Defense Minister also will have meetings with President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, chairman of Turkish parliament Koksal Toptan, Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul and undersecretary for Defense Industries Murad Bayar. (AzerTAc)

 

Central Asian Leaders Fail To Overcome Differences At Water Summit 28 May A rare Central Asia summit of the five founding members of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea revealed some common ground on that issue -- but nevertheless ended in bitter disagreement. Meeting in the southeastern Kazakh city of Almaty for a one-day summit, the presidents of all five Central Asian states failed to overcome differences over water use. Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev exposed the real bone of contention among the states during his address -- energy shortages, the construction of new hydropower stations, and concerns by downstream states as to how their water supplies will be affected. "The strategic issue that requires resolution is the coordination of our timetables of water release for irrigation and energy needs and compensatory fuel supplies [to Kyrgyzstan], and this is what should be the subject of international cooperation among parties interested in using water-saving technologies," Bakiev said. The comments by Bakiev, whose "upstream" country is looking at hydropower as an answer to its energy needs, triggered an angry reaction from a "downstream" counterpart, Uzbek President Islam Karimov. "It was agreed that the only issue to be discussed at the current summit and the expanded summit would be the activities of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea and its main tasks in the future," Karimov said. Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, representing another country keen on taking advantage of its ample water resources to produce electricity, also refused to introduce the water issue into the talks and was apparently angered by other leaders' assertions that water-supplying countries were responsible for water shortages. "I thought we agreed not to discuss hydroenergy issues," Rahmon said. "I proposed it and you and the other colleagues agreed. And now there's a whole discussion being started. I also have something to say about it." The summit's host, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, later produced a statement focusing only on the decline of the Aral Sea. The document was signed by all five Central Asian leaders, including Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov of Turkmenistan. (RFE/RL)

 

 

Banned religious organization exposed in Dagestan

28 April

Law-enforcement bodies in Dagestan have exposed the Nurdzhular religious organization, whose activities in the Russian Federation were banned by the resolution of the Russian Supreme Court dated April 10, 2008. The group was exposed in a joint operation by the Interior Ministry and the regional department of the Federal Security Service (UFSB)," an UFSB spokesman told Itar-Tass on Tuesday. "Police have zeroed in on an address in the town of Izberbash, at which members of this religious organizations held meetings."

"The group included nine Russian citizens, seven Azerbaijanis and Nurdzhular coordinator Erdemir Ali Ishan, a Turkish citizen. "The Turk, during his stay in Russia in 2009, called meetings of activists of this organization in Moscow, St.Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Kostroma, Yaroslavl, Kazan and Krasnoyarsk.

"During the meetings, the activists were studying extremist literature and discussed further plans for the operation of the organization in Russia. "In the course of the inspection of personal effects of Nurdzhular members, police found financial documents stating the spending of 72,000 dollars on propaganda in Dagestan. In addition, a large amount of literature, including certain publications have been retrieved, recognized as extremist by the ruling of Moscow' Kopevo district court dated May 21, 2007. "The identities of all the members of the religious organization have been ascertained. They have been questioned. A t present, the Azerbaijani citizens and the Turk remain in custody. The others have been set free," the UFSB said. (Itar-Tass)

 

Ashgabat agrees on TAPI gas supplies

29 April

Ashgabat awarded gas-reserves certification from its Yasrak gas field to Islamabad for exports through the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. Asim Hussain, a top energy negotiator from Pakistan, led a delegation to Ashgabat to discuss the TAPI project. Turkmen officials said they would offer gas from the Yasrak field instead of the Dovletabad field for the route, Pakistan's daily The News International reports. The Yasrak gas field boats reserves of more than 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Pakistan had expressed reservations over the security of the planned route through Afghanistan, however, proposing a new route that passes through less Afghan territory. Hussain led talks last week, meanwhile, to discuss gas from the Dovletabad field for re-export through the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline.

Hussain told The News that if there were no major breakthroughs on the TAPI pipeline, Turkmenistan could ship its gas through IPI. In the latest developments, Ashgabat said the talks on the IPI re-exports had not yet reached formal status. (UPI)

 

National School of Public Policy to be created in Kazakhstan

29 April

National School of Public Policy for preparation of political public servants will be created in Kazakhstan. The rector of Government Academy at the President of Kazakhstan, Bahyt Esekin, said at the international scientifically-practical conference 'Struggle against Corruption Strategy: Problems and Priorities', the agency reports. "The school is being created along with our colleagues from Singapore, most non-corrupt civil servants in the world according to the index of non-corrupt civil servants," B. Esekin informed. According to the rector, the school will begin its work on the basis of the Academy in 2009 - 2010. 19 Master's students of the Academy are having internship in School of Public Policy in Singapore University. (Kazakhstan Today)

 

GUN ATTACK OCCURRED AT STATE OIL ACADEMY OF AZERBAIJAN

30 April

Today the shooting has taken place at the second building of the Azerbaijan`s State Oil Academy in the center of Baku. The gun attack occurred shortly after morning classes began at the Academy. A gunman burst in the building of the Academy opening fire on people inside. Reportedly several students including foreigners as well as the teachers of the Academy were killed and injured as a result of the crime. According to the Azerbaijan Ministry of Health, thirteen people have been killed and ten wounded in shooting. Police and heads of the Azerbaijan law-enforcement agencies remained at the scene of the shooting and all roads leading to the Academy were blocked.  (AzerTAc)

 

Iranian News agency opens bureau in Tajikistan 1 May he Iranian Fars News Agency has opened a news bureau in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports. The Dushanbe staff is made up only of Tajik journalists. Fars Managing Director Hamid Reza Moghaddam-Far told RFE/RL that the agency plans to organize workshops for Tajik journalists in Tajikistan and Iran. Fars is planning more offices in other Central Asian countries as well as in Afghanistan and southeastern Asia. Fars is a privately owned news agency, but is considered close to the Iranian judiciary. Founded in 2002, it produces news in Persian, English, Turkish, and Arabic. (RFE/RL)

 

World Bank assigns $2 billion for Kazakhstan’s road project

1 May

The World Bank has decided to issue a $2.12 billion loan to Kazakhstan for modernizing the trade route connecting Russia and Western Europe to China and other Asian states. The project will build up competitiveness of Kazakhstan and bring substantial benefits to that country and its neighbors, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the World Bank said. The loan will create about 35,000 jobs, which is vital amidst the crisis. It is planned to build anew and renovate over 1,000 kilometers of roads between Chimkent and Aktyubinsk. That is part of Kazakhstan’s program of the modernization of the 2,800-kilometer way from the Russian to Chinese border. Also, the World Bank continues to support the development of Tajikistan’s health care system. Another grant of $5 million was approved on Thursday. (Itar-Tass)

 

IMF forecasts 'severe shock' for Tajikistan

1 May

Tajikistan faces "a severe external shock" because the global economic crisis will cut remittances and depress exports this year, the International Monetary Fund said. Most of Tajikistan's hard currency earnings come from aluminium and cotton exports as well as remittances. It said transfers from Tajiks working abroad, mostly in Russia, are projected to decline by 30 percent this year, "threatening the livelihoods of many poor households that depend on remittances for basic income". Economic growth is set to slow to 2 percent this year from 7.9 percent in 2008. The value of exports is seen shrinking 7 percent to $756 million. The fund urged reforms in the agricultural sector and at state-run companies. "...Tajikistan is facing a severe external shock from the global economic crisis, the effects of which are compounded by domestic rigidities," the IMF said in a statement. "Continued heavy state influence over markets and poor energy infrastructure put prospects for faster growth at risk," the IMF said. "Poverty remains widespread, and could increase as the economic outlook deteriorates." Some analysts have expressed concerns over the social stability in the former Soviet republic bordering Afghanistan. The United States plans to transit non-military supplies for its Afghan troops through the impoverished Central Asian state. "(IMF directors) stressed the need to push forward with agricultural sector reforms to remove rigidities and secure macroeconomic stability and growth," it said. "Efforts will also be needed to enhance transparency and accountability in state-owned enterprises." (Reuters)

 

At least 26 dead in bus crash

2 May

A bus crashed in southern Uzbekistan Saturday, killing at least 26 people and injuring another 20, government officials said. The Mercedes passenger bus, with 50 people aboard, smashed into a tractor parked on the side of the Guzor-Chim-Kukdala highway, a spokesman from the Interior Ministry told RIA Novosti. (UPI)

 

NATO games in Georgia draw fire from Russia

3 May

NATO begins military exercises in Georgia on Wednesday in a gesture of solidarity condemned by Russia as "muscle-flexing" coming nine months after war between the former Soviet neighbors. Around 1,000 soldiers from over a dozen NATO member states and partners will practice "crisis response" at a Georgian army base east of Tbilisi, around 70 kilometers (44 miles) from the nearest Russian troop positions in breakaway South Ossetia. Last year's five-day war, when Moscow crushed a Georgian assault on pro-Russia South Ossetia, slammed the brakes on Georgia's bid for membership of NATO, which the Kremlin fiercely opposes as an encroachment on its ex-Soviet backyard. The month-long exercises at a former Russian air force base in Vaziani are seen as a signal from the 28-member alliance that, despite doubts over the promise of eventual membership, Georgia has not been forgotten. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accused NATO of "muscle-flexing" and said the decision to go ahead with the exercises was wrong and dangerous. Relations had been on the mend. NATO and Russia last week resumed formal contacts suspended over the war, when the West accused Moscow of a "disproportionate" response to Georgia's assault on separatists in South Ossetia. But the exercises, coupled with the expulsion last week of two Russian diplomats from NATO over a spying scandal and a Russian decision to take control of South Ossetia's borders, have put the relationship under renewed pressure. "Anything involving NATO and Georgia is very sensitive for Moscow," said Maria Lipman of the Moscow Carnegie Center. "The idea of NATO exercises in Georgia of all places was sure to provoke angry statements from the Russian establishment." (Reuters)

 

Kadyrov vows to improve Chechnya

3 May

Chechen Republic President Ramzan Kadyrov said Sunday he will make Chechnya prosperous within a decade and then resign his post. Kadyrov was quoted by the Austrian newspaper Die Presse as saying he is fully prepared to move on with his life once "everything comes to normal" in Russia's North Caucasus republic, RIA Novosti reported. "I still need to solve several tasks before everything comes to normal and then I'll engage in something else ... . I am still young, I want to live, see the world and devote time to myself and my family," Kadyrov reportedly said. Kadyrov, 32, was appointed leader of the Chechen Republic by Russia in 2007 following the assassination of his father, then-Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov. RIA Novosti said in the wake of the assassination by forces loyal to the late militant leader Shamil Basayev, Kadyrov has helped decrease militant activity in Chechnya while facing allegations of human rights abuses. (UPI)

 

 

Afghan President to Run for Reelection

4 May

President Hamid Karzai registered as a candidate for Afghanistan's August presidential election Monday, a vote he appears in a strong position to win given the lack of high-profile opponents he is likely to face. But Karzai's selection of Mohammed Fahim -- a powerful warlord accused of human rights violations -- as his senior vice presidential running mate drew immediate criticism. Human Rights Watch said that Fahim has the blood of Afghans on his hands from the 1990s civil war era and that Karzai was "insulting the country" with the choice. "To see Fahim back in the heart of government would be a terrible step backwards for Afghanistan," said Brad Adams, the group's Asia director. "He is widely believed by many Afghans to be still involved in many illegal activities, including running armed militias, as well as giving cover to criminal gangs and drug traffickers." Fahim served as Karzai's vice president in the interim government put in place after the ouster of the Taliban in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. In the 2004 election, Karzai dropped Fahim from his ticket in favor of Ahmed Zia Massoud -- the brother of resistance hero Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by al-Qaeda two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Massoud has publicly criticized Karzai in recent months for staying on as president after May 21, the date the Afghan constitution says Karzai's term ends. The U.S. Embassy here declined to discuss the choice of Fahim, saying it was not helpful for the United States to comment on individual candidates. A U.S. statement, however, said, "We believe the election is an opportunity for Afghanistan to move forward with leaders who will strengthen national unity." Immediately after registering, Karzai left for Washington for meetings Wednesday with President Obama and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. In a reminder of the country's perilous security, a suicide bombing, a roadside bomb and an insurgent attack killed 24 people Monday in three separate incidents. The bomber attacked a mayor in Laghman province, killing six people, including the mayor and his nephew, officials said. In Zabol province, a roadside bomb struck a family on a tractor, killing 12 people, and insurgents later attacked a convoy and killed six security guards. (AP)

 

AZERBAIJAN`S WTO MEMBERSHIP BEING DISCUSSED IN GENEVA

4 May

Baku, 4 May The issue on Azerbaijan`s WTO accession is being discussed in an event organized by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Geneva. Azerbaijan`s Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmud Mammadguliyev and his accompanying delegation attend the event.

During the event, the Azerbaijani delegation will put forward new proposals for goods and services and conduct talks with Japan, Ecuador, Sri-Lanka, India, Norway, Switzerland and other countries on WTO membership. (AzerTAc)

 

Kabul discounts reports of U.S. soldiers distributing bibles 5 May The U.S. military says it confiscated and destroyed a shipment of Christian Bibles sent to a U.S. soldier at a base in Afghanistan about a year ago to ensure that troops did not breach regulations against proselytizing. The Bibles -- published in the Pashto and Dari languages -- are the cause of controversy in Afghanistan after Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television recently broadcast a report about the shipment. That report suggested that some U.S. soldiers had, on their own accord, been trying to distribute Bibles to Afghans. The report also questioned whether U.S. soldiers violated the laws of both Afghanistan and the U.S. military by doing so. Siamak Heravi, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, downplayed the significance of the report. Heravi told RFE/RL that Kabul would not tolerate policies by foreign forces that allow the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials aimed at converting Afghan Muslims. "We read this report. First of all, we strongly deny it. No power that is based in Afghanistan would be allowed to [do this]," Heravi said. "We are discussing this issue. But according to preliminary reports we got from U.S. authorities, this report is false and hypocritical and baseless." Under Afghanistan's internationally backed constitution, it is a crime in the country to try to convert a Muslim to another religious faith. Afghan Muslims who do convert to another religion face a possible death sentence under Afghan law. Wary of the sensitivities of the issue, U.S. Central Command has issued General Order No. 1, which forbids troops on active duty from trying to convert people to another religion. That rule applies to all U.S. soldiers based in Afghanistan and Iraq. (RFE/RL)

MoD Says Military Unit Mutinies

5 May Davit Sikharulidze, the Georgian defense minister, said a tank battalion based in Mukhrovani, close to Tbilisi, staged mutiny on Tuesday morning. “Some civilians, who have nothing to do with the battalion, are also there,” Sikharulidze told Rustavi 2 TV in a phone interview. “They have not put forth any concrete demand,” he added. The Georgian Interior Ministry said earlier that “a full-scale” military mutiny was planned in the Georgian army by some former military officials, who were “in coordination with Russia.” “As it seems this mutiny was coordinated with Russia and aimed at minimum thwarting NATO military exercises and maximum organizing full-scale military mutiny in the country,” Shota Utiashvili, head of the information and analytical department of the Interior Ministry, said on May 5.  He said that Gia Gvaladze, who was commander of the Defense Ministry’s special task force in 1990s, was arrested in connection with plotting of the mutiny. Defense Minister Sikharulidze also said that apart of thwarting the planned NATO exercises, which are scheduled to start on May 6, the mutiny possibly also aimed at overthrowing the government. The Interior Ministry has also released a video footage, recorded apparently with a body-worn covert camera and showing a man, purportedly Gia Gvaladze, talking to several persons. There were at least three persons, apart of Gvaladze - faces of two men were blurred in order not to identify them and the third one to whom the body-worn camera was attached. When speaking about the planned mutiny Gvaladze mentions names of former senior military and security officials, including of Davit Tevzadze, a former defense minister; Jemal Gakhokidze, a former security minister; Koba Kobaladze, a former commander of national guard and Gia Karkarashvili, a commander of the Georgian army during the Abkhaz war in early 90s. Karkarashvili is now affiliated with Irakli Alasania’s political team, part of opposition Alliance for Georgia. Gvaladze says that these people would be supporting the planned mutiny. He also says in the footage that murder of some senior officials and President Saakashvili’s close allies were also planned, including Giga Bokeria, deputy foreign minister; Vano Merabishvili, the interior minister and Gigi Ugulava, the Tbilisi mayor. The man also says in the footage that 5,000-strong Russian troops would move in and take positions at key east-west highway close to Tbilisi. Road leading to the Mukhrovani base has been sealed off by the law enforcement agencies. The Georgian army battle tanks were seen heading towards the Mukhrovani base. (Civil Georgia)

 

Armenia may pull out of NATO-led drills in Georgia

5 May

Armenia will not take part in the upcoming NATO-led Cooperative Longbow /Cooperative Lancer 2009 military exercises in Georgia, an Armenian newspaper said on Tuesday, citing unnamed sources. The Aravot newspaper said the decision was made after a meeting last Wednesday in Brussels between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at which the NATO chief supported the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Relations have been tense for more than two decades between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorny Karabakh, a region in Azerbaijan with a largely Armenian population. The region declared its independence in a 1991 after a referendum boycotted by local Azerbaijanis. The ensuing conflict claimed some 35,000 lives before a ceasefire was signed in 1994. The area technically remains part of Azerbaijan, but has its own de facto government. However, Armenian authorities have not yet officially confirmed the country's withdrawal from the NATO exercises. Armenian Foreign Ministry told RIA Novosti on Tuesday that the situation "was still unclear." The Cooperative Longbow/Cooperative Lancer 2009 command-and-staff exercise, which Russia has criticized as unhelpful in the wake of last summer's armed conflict between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, is scheduled for May 6-June 1. According to NATO, the drills are aimed at improving interoperability between NATO and partner countries, within the framework of Partnership for Peace, Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative programs, and will not involve any light or heavy weaponry. Over 1,300 troops from 19 NATO member or ally states were originally scheduled to participate, but Kazakhstan, Latvia, Estonia, Moldova and Serbia have already withdrawn. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan confirmed on May 1 its participation in the NATO-led exercises, and stressed the country's commitment to relations with NATO and its active participation in the Individual Partnership Action Plan. (RIA Novosti)

 

Ex-Afghan Foreign Minister To Run Against Karzai 6 May A former Afghan foreign minister has registered to run for president, but other opposition figures had yet to make clear if they would unite to give one candidate the best chance of ousting Hamid Karzai. Candidates have until May 8 to register for the August 20 election. Karzai registered on May 4 hours before flying to the United States for his first meeting with Barack Obama since he was elected U.S. president. So far, the opposition has had little success in uniting behind a single candidate with a broad enough base of support to challenge Karzai, who has led the country since U.S.-backed Afghan forces ousted the Taliban government in 2001. Abdullah Abdullah, who was one of the senior figures in the anti-Taliban alliance before 2001 and then served as Karzai's foreign minister until 2006, registered to stand on May 6 and told reporters he would give more power to the regions. He would push to reduce the president's authority, create a post of prime minister responsible to parliament, and hold direct elections for governors and mayors. "Decentralizing the system is one of the difficulties that Afghanistan is facing," he said. "All major decisions are (now) taken under particular circumstances by a particular team, and Afghanistan's people have a lesser participation." The call for regional autonomy could help him win support among provincial bosses who bristle at central authority under Karzai, who now has the power to appoint and fire governors. Abdullah is half-Tajik and half-Pashtun, with shared heritage from the two largest ethnic groups in the country. But he is mainly linked to Tajiks due to a long-standing association with the late Tajik guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Mas'ud. He named a former royalist Pashtun and a member of the Hazara minority as his two running mates. But he could face difficulty winning support from the Pashtuns who form Afghanistan's biggest ethnic bloc. Karzai and most other leading opposition candidates are Pashtuns. Several of the Pashtun rivals have been in talks to field a single candidate to run against Karzai, but have yet to reveal their plans with just two days left to register. One of the main Pashtun candidates, regional Governor Gul Agha Sherzai, pulled out of the race abruptly on May 2, apparently to back Karzai. Another opposition leader, former Tajik guerrilla chief Mohammad Qasim Fahim, quit Abdullah's National Front opposition group to run as one of Karzai's running mates. (Reuters)

 

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION, POLICE CLASH IN TBILISI 6 May Dozens of opposition supporters in Georgia have clashed with police at the main police station in the capital, Tbilisi.Television pictures showed police and protesters striking each other with batons and sticks across a metal gate dividing them. An Interior Ministry spokesman said protesters had tried to enter the police compound. Tbilisi had been braced for possible confrontation between police and protesters who have been blocking streets since April 9, demanding the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili over his record on democracy and last year's disastrous war with giant neighbor Russia. The opposition said protest leader Giorgi Gachechiladze had been detained and several other opposition leaders had been beaten. The police said the protesters had been throwing stones and sticks at them. Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili denied Gachechiladze had been arrested, but said he had climbed over the gate into the police compound and was still there. The protesters marched to the police station, demanding the release of three activists arrested on May 6 over the alleged beating of a journalist at the public broadcaster in Tbilisi. "We know that they were trying to enter the police compound and wanted to release their activists from the cells," Utiashvili said. (Reuters)
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