Wednesday, 03 June 2009

3 June 2009 News Digest

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By Alima Bissenova (6/3/2009 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Baku ratified deal with Total 22 May The Azeri Parliament ratified on Friday an exploration and development contract for the offshore Absheron field in the Caspian Sea with French company Total.

Baku ratified deal with Total 22 May The Azeri Parliament ratified on Friday an exploration and development contract for the offshore Absheron field in the Caspian Sea with French company Total. Total takes a 60 percent stake in a joint venture with the State Oil Co. of Azerbaijan Republic from a contract signed between both parties in February. Estimated gas reserves at Absheron are believed to be on par with the massive Shah Deniz field, which holds estimated potential recoverable resources of roughly 15 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Total reserves the option to sell its shares to Gaz de France Suez in the future while financing SOCAR's shares during the exploratory period at the Absheron field, the Trend news agency reports. Total and SOCAR will drill three wells at the site within the next three years.Azerbaijan boasts some of the largest gas fields in the world, with Baku expecting to produce as much as 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas by 2011. (UPI)

Afghan Floods Kill 94, Make Thousands Homeless 25 May Heavy flooding and landslides have killed 94 people and left thousands of families homeless in northern Afghanistan since May 20, the United Nations has said. Some 8,000 houses in 207 villages have been totally or partially destroyed after heavy rain across five provinces, affecting 13,689 families, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement. The flooding damaged more than 100 bridges and around 600 kilometers of roads. Around 30 people were also killed by flooding in northern areas of the country earlier this month. The mud-built homes that house most Afghans in rural areas are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters in a country at risk from earthquakes, floods, and landslides. (Reuters)

Tajik Uranium Plant Officials arrested as Uzbek spies 25 May Three top officials at Tajikistan's major uranium-processing facility in the northern city of Khujand have been arrested for allegedly spying for Uzbekistan, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports. Sources at Tajikistan's security service told RFE/RL that Vostokredmet's chief engineer, Aleksandr Botov; the facility's internal security chief, Matin Ziyoev; and an unnamed plant official were arrested and face espionage charges. VostokRedMet also used to reprocess spent uranium but those activities ended with the demise of the Soviet Union. During the Cold War years, the facility also produced yellowcake for the Soviet nuclear power and defense industries. Several people in Tajikistan have in recent years been charged with spying for Uzbekistan. (RFE/RL)

Azerbaijani students protest decision to close mosque 25 May Student activists in Baku prayed on May 22 in a mosque at Baku State University to express solidarity with the imam of the mosque, which faces closure by authorities, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports. The mosque's imam was warned on May 19 by Baku police that the mosque should end its activities by May 22. Azerbaijani authorities have demolished two mosques and closed down one other in the past several weeks. Azerbaijani officials say there are some 1,750 mosques in Azerbaijan, of which 500 have been officially registered. Yagut Aliyeva, spokeswoman for the State Religious Affairs Committee, told RFE/RL that the mosque should register with officials if it wants to avoid being shut down. She said all unregistered mosques in the country face closure. (RFE/RL)

Kyrgyz Presidential Candidate Says Extremism Sentences 'Cruel' 26 May An opposition Kyrgyz presidential candidate says the recent sentencing of 32 people for religious extremism is an act of "lawlessness and despotism," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports. In a statement, Almazbek Atambaev said that the citizens of the town of Nookat had an absolute right to demand that local officials allow them to mark the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr in October. They were later accused of religious extremism and organizing an unsanctioned mass gathering. On November 27, the Osh Regional Court sentenced the defendants to prison terms ranging from nine to 20 years. The Kyrgyz Supreme Court last week upheld the verdicts but reduced the sentences to between five and 17 years. The defendants complained that they were severely beaten and tortured while in detention. Atambaev especially criticized the prosecutor in the case, who said at the trial that the phrase "Allah Akbar!" (God is great!) is criminal and unconstitutional. Atambaev says every Muslim starts his/her prayers and ends it with these words. He said such "senseless accusations and cruel verdicts demonstrate the willingness of the current Kyrgyz government to establish a police state in the country." (RFE/RL)

Uzbek town of Khanabad attacked by extremists – sources 26 May

Around 20 people attacked the Uzbek law enforcement  building  in  the  town of Khanabad (in Andizhan region, on the border with Kyrgyzstan), according to Internet websites. Armed  men  attacked  the  building  housing  the  local  branch of Uzbekistan's  National Security Service and the town's Police Department

in Khanabad last night, websites said. Some sources said an explosive device was used, according to others

-a grenade launcher, the Internet media said. The  national security building suffered the greatest damage. Early reports  suggest  that several law enforcement officers were killed, the reports said. The  authorities  in  Tashkent  did  not  comment on these reports. However, Uzbekistan closed the border with Kyrgyzstan.

According  to unofficial sources, the attack on Khanabad was staged by religious extremists. Meanwhile,  the  Kyrgyz  border guard authority says that initially Uzbek authorities  unilaterally  closed the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border the area between  Khanabad  in  Andizhan  region  and  the Dzhalal-Abad region in southern  Kyrgyzstan.  There  is  a  border  checkpoint  between the two countries at Khanabad. But  now  the 1,375-kilometer-long border between the two countries has been  closed  unilaterally along its whole length, the Kyrgyz border authorities said. "There  were  no  skirmishes  in  Kyrgyzstan, the situation remains

quiet in the south," he said. Meanwhile,  a  Kyrgyz law enforcement source told Interfax that the explosives  attack  in  the early hours of May 26 was made on the police building  in  the  Uzbek  town  of  Khanabad  in Andizhan region, though earlier  reports  said  that  the  attack  was made against the Khanabad customs office on the Uzbek side. (Interfax)

Baku wary of Nabucco optimism 26 May Implementing the Nabucco gas pipeline to Europe requires overcoming "a range of difficult challenges," the energy minister of Azerbaijan said. "Azerbaijan agrees that the project is important and interesting, but indicates that the project participants are going to tackle a range of difficult challenges," said Natig Aliyev. Aliyev made his comments following a meeting with the European Union's special envoy for the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby. Europe is pushing aggressively for the $10.7 billion project as a means to move away from Russian energy dependence. Planners hope Nabucco would bring gas from Caspian and Middle Eastern suppliers through Turkey and north to European markets. Aliyev said European partners in the project should resolve matters concerning gas supplies and transit agreements before the pipeline is considered ready to go, the Azerbaijan Business Center reports. (UPI)

Georgian Church Leader: Give Up Categorical Thinking 26 May An influential head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II intervened in political standoff by hinting that the opposition should put aside demanding the President’s resignation.“Part of our population is demanding President’s resignation. I want to say that this issue is so complicated and generally, it has to some extent become a rule in our country, where the first president [Zviad Gamsakhurdia], the second president [Eduard Shevardnadze] was forced to resign. You know what these resignations have brought to us,” Patriarch Ilia II said in his sermon in the Holy Trinity Cathedral.“Maybe, it would be more correct - it is simply my personal opinion- if we listen to each other; we should be capable to listen to everyone; we should listen to each other and accept that good idea,” he said.“Each person has his own opinion, but it does not mean that one should definitely carry out and fulfill that opinion. A person should listen to others and not only to one person and implement one, which is the best opinion,” he continued. “A wise man was asked what was most dangerous and he responded: categorical thinking. Categorical thinking means that a person can not listen to others and he thinks that the truth is only in him and that this idea should be implemented. Very often we think that our decisions, our will are enough to implement this or that opinion. Today I want to bless the Georgian nation. It is frequent, when we regard a person with different opinions as a stranger. We should all remember that we all are brothers; there should be unanimity among us. Different opinions should exist, but it does not mean that they should definitely be implemented.”“We are arrogant. Arrogance is characteristic to us. Arrogance is a terrible sin. Arrogance has ruined the angel and turned it into the devil. Only the Holly Trinity can cure it. We are now standing in the Holly Trinity and asking it to save us from this sin,” Ilia II said. As the Patriarch was speaking thousands of protesters were gathered in a  huge yard of the Holy Trinity Cathedral, where they arrived from the national stadium where the rally was held earlier on May 26. (Civil Georgia)

Power Outage Silences Presidential Rival 27 May A blackout struck the opposition stronghold of Talas in Kyrgyzstan during the planned live broadcast of the Kyrgyz language test of opposition leader and presidential candidate Almazbek Atambaev on May 26, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The language test has been routine in the wake of Kyrgyzstan's independence with the breakup of the Soviet Union, and offered Atambaev an opportunity to speak directly to a national audience ahead of the July 23 presidential election. Atambaev supporters in Talas called RFE/RL to report the electricity outage, which they alleged was deliberate by authorities. But a representative of the regional electric company blamed the power cut on technical difficulties. Atambaev used the 15-minute speech -- one of three official portions of the test -- to pledge that he would present an alternative to "family management" in Kyrgyzstan, a reference to the governing style of his incumbent rival, President Kurmanbek Bakiev. Atambaev said the country's "biggest problem is not the global economic crisis, it's our own thieves who occupy our government." He added that his goal is to "fight against these thieves." (RFE/RL)

Sarkisian Offers Possibility Of Amnesty For Opposition Members 28 May President Serzh Sarkisian has said he will declare an amnesty for dozens of imprisoned opposition members if Armenia’s leading political groups prove there is strong public support for such a move, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports. Sarkisian's remarks come amid speculation over the possible release of some 55 supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian who were arrested and jailed following last year's controversial presidential election. An amnesty can be initiated only by the president and needs to be approved by the National Assembly. Speaking at the Sardarapat war memorial 40 kilometers west of Yerevan, Sarkisian called on public figures and political groups to submit proposals on the necessity and conditions of the amnesty. He said if a "desire" emerges as a result of their efforts, he will seek an amnesty. Aram Sarkisian, a top representative of Ter-Petrosian's Armenian National Congress (HAK), told RFE/RL that "It's very bad that Serzh Sarkisian doesn't know his people's feelings and desires and is thus unable to assess the situation in the country." "We have no need to appeal for anything. We ourselves will free our comrades," Aram Sarkisian added. The HAK regards the jailed oppositionists as political prisoners, while the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) believes that at least some of them were prosecuted on "seemingly artificial or politically motivated charges." PACE, which has threatened to impose sanctions against Yerevan if the detainees are not freed, is expected to discuss the issue in June. (RFE/RL)

Russia must not economize on embassies in CIS countries - Medvedev

28 May President Dmitry Medvedev said the Russian embassies in countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States must be fully staffed. "The  government  is not active enough in dealing with CIS affairs. It's a long  overdue  problem,"  Medvedev told activists of the Liberal-Democratic  Party at a meeting on Thursday, during which the chairman of the State  Duma's  Committee  for  CIS Affairs and Ties with Compatriots

Alexei Ostrovsky delivered a report. Medvedev said he had recently set up an agency for CIS affairs, but he did not comment on its work, as it was only recently formed. "I think working  at embassies in CIS countries must be a matter of both prestige and benefit," he said. "These embassies must be fully staffed. Judging by the embassies of our partners  in  the  world  community, they are staffed by hundreds of diplomats. Our diplomatic contingents are very economical sometimes," he said. "One  can't economize on that. Russia must be represented here at a befitting level," Medvedev said. (Interfax)

Much Of Kyrgyz-Uzbek Border Still Shut In Wake Of Attacks 29 May All but a single Kyrgyz-Uzbek border crossing remain closed four days after two deadly attacks in Uzbekistan, including a shootout between police and unknown assailants near a border checkpoint, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports. The border was closed after shootouts in the eastern Uzbek cities of Khanabad and Andijon near the Kyrgyz border on May 25. The region has proven a trouble spot in the past, with a high density of inhabitants and persistent social and economic woes. Cholponbek Turusbekov, the deputy chief of Kyrgyzstan's border guards, told RFE/RL that Uzbek citizens in Kyrgyzstan are being urged to return to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyz citizens to return to Kyrgyzstan. Turusbekov said authorities are thoroughly checking the documents of all those passing through the only open border checkpoint. He said the attackers have not yet been detained. Uzbek authorities also provided Kyrgyz border guards with composite pictures of the alleged assailants based on eyewitness accounts. (RFE/RL)

Georgian Opposition to Remove “cells” from Freedom Square 29 May Koba Davitashvili, leader of Party of People, which is among organizers of the ongoing street protests, said the opposition planned to remove improvised cells from Freedom Square by June 2. The opposition installed mocked-up prison cells on the Freedom Square as part of campaign of ‘town of cells’ on April 21 blocking the city’s main square and nearby streets. Activists from the National Forum party have camped ‘cells’ up to now. The party, however, withdrew their activists few days ago after it had decided to proceed further with its individual action plan with making focus on campaigning in the provinces. Koba Davitashvili, who has criticized National Forum for withdrawing from the rallies in Tbilisi, said in Rustavi 2 TV’s weekly talk show, Position, that the opposition would move ‘cells’ from Freedom Square closer to the Parliament, which, he said, planned to hold a session on June 2. The parliamentary session has not been held since the launch of protests on April 9. ‘Cells’ are also installed on the Rustaveli Avenue at the Parliament, outside the presidential residence in Avlabari district and outside the government’s office, close to the Parliament. (Civil Georgia)

Russia agrees to new lease for Kyrgyz base 29 May Russia and the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan have negotiated a new 49-year lease for the Russian airbase in Kant. The agreement allows for automatic 25-year extensions, the Novosti news agency reported. The base, 25 miles from Bishkek, the country's capital, was established in 2003. About 400 Russian soldiers are stationed there with 20 aircraft. Russia pays $4.5 million annually to lease the base. The previous lease agreement was for 15 years with five-year extensions. Kyrgyzstan and Russia are both members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, along with the former Soviet republics of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev ordered the closing of the U.S. base at Manas this year and banned troops from a long list of U.S. allies from deploying there. The base had been a major staging area for coalition forces in Afghanistan. (UPI)

  Russia lobbies for energy ties with Baku 29 May Parallel work in the energy sectors in Russia and Azerbaijan is important not only for southern Russian but for the region, the Russian energy minister said. Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko spoke at a regular electrical power meeting in Baku on the importance of bilateral cooperation in the energy sector, the Trend news agency reports. "We believe there are good opportunities for parallel operation of our energy resources," the Russian minister said. Shmatko said complimentary technologies in the region created an environment for increased energy production and power networks between the two countries. He noted at the meeting Friday that he would discuss with energy partners in Baku the possibility of constructing power networks between Azerbaijan and Dagestan, the southeastern most federal subject in Russia. Additional plans include the construction of hydroelectric dams. Azeri Energy Minister Natik Aliyev, for his part, said movement in the electrical sector in a regional project linking Russia, Azeri and Iranian networks could move Azerbaijan from an electrical importer to an exporter. (UPI)

Afghans Protest Against Civilian Deaths In Firefight 1 June Dozens of people in northwestern Afghanistan have protested against  civilian deaths, but local authorities say some elders in the area were to blame for helping a Taliban ambush. Residents of Bala Murghab district of Badghis Province say six civilians, including women and children, were killed during firefight between Afghan and Taliban forces. The deputy governor said only two civilians died, but added that local collusion with the insurgents made it hard for security forces to avoid innocent deaths during firefights. "We know that two people including a woman were killed," said deputy governor Abdul Ghani Saberi. "We ask the people not to shelter the Taliban." Saberi said that in a typical example of deceit earlier this week, local elders invited the government to attend peace talks but when a team arrived, they were led into an ambush that ended with the death of nine soldiers and some 30 insurgents. Local residents say they are not colluding with the Taliban for ideological reasons, just trapped between two sides and trying to survive in a war zone. "The government arrest and beat shopkeepers for selling groceries to the Taliban, but we are victimized by both sides," shopkeeper Haji Mohammad Shah told Reuters by phone. He said shops were shuttered, and locals protesting, because six people including a shopkeeper and his wife were killed during fighting between Taliban and government forces. The rising civilian death toll from operations to fight the Taliban insurgency has become an inflammatory issue, and is eroding support for the government of President Hamid Karzai and his foreign backers. Around 2,000 civilians were killed last year in insurgency-related violence, UN and aid agencies say, and public anger rose again last month when U.S. air strikes hit homes full of women and children. Karzai said 140 civilians died. (Reuters)

 

Six Afghan Civilians Killed In Suicide Bombing 2 June Six Afghan civilians, including two women and two children, were killed in a suicide bomb attack near the main base for U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan, the Interior Ministry said. With violence surging in Afghanistan despite rising numbers of foreign troops, a police spokesman in western Farah Province also said at least 10 Afghan guards working for a U.S. security firm were killed by Taliban fighters June 1. The suicide attack was near Bagram airfield, about 60 kilometers north of the capital Kabul, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemaray Bashary said. The civilians were travelling in a car on a road in the Sayad area about 5 kilometers north of Bagram, Bashary said. There were no details about the intended target or if the bomber was on foot or had used a car. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but roadside bombs and suicide attacks are common tactics used by the Taliban. Two Americans, including a soldier, were killed in an attack on a U.S. military convoy on a road leading to Bagram on May 20. The Taliban have spread their attacks in recent months out of traditional strongholds in the south and the east into previously more secure areas in the west and north and even to the outskirts of Kabul. The insurgency has grown even as the number of foreign troops has increased to almost 80,000 this year, with the period from late 2007 the worst since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban's Islamist government from power in late 2001. In southern Helmand Province, one of the most dangerous in Afghanistan, British forces said they had killed a senior Taliban commander believed to be responsible for a series of suicide attacks against British and Afghan troops in the region. They said the commander, identified as Mullah Mansur, was killed in a strike by Apache helicopters early on June 1 near the provincial capital Lashkar Gar. One soldier from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was killed and two were wounded in an attack in eastern Afghanistan on June 2, ISAF said. No other details were released. Four ISAF soldiers were killed in two separate roadside bomb attacks in the east on June 1. In western Farah, provincial police spokesman Abdul Rahoof Ahmadi said the Afghan guards were ambushed by Taliban fighters in Bala Boluk district. The guards were providing security for supply trucks for foreign troops, he said. Four of the guards' vehicles were also set ablaze. (Reuters)

Washington Lauds Azeri energy potential 2 June Washington is ready to assist Azerbaijan in bringing its energy resources to the international market, the U.S. special envoy for Eurasian energy said. Richard Morningstar is in Baku to attend an international energy conference sponsored by the Azeri Energy Ministry and the State Oil Co. of Azerbaijan. "We believe that Azerbaijan, as well as its neighbors, will maximize their oil and gas production, including through the development of new sources," said Morningstar. "We are ready to assist Azerbaijan in the delivery of hydrocarbons to the markets." The Western-backed Nabucco pipeline relies in part on gas supplies from Azerbaijan. Europe sees the $10.7 billion project as a means to move away from a dependent relationship on Russia in the energy sector. Morningstar said the role of Azerbaijan in European energy security matters would establish a strong partnership with Washington and its allies, the Trend news agency reports. U.S. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, weighed in on the matter, expressing his support for Azerbaijan in the regional energy market. "Your country has emerged as an important and reliable supplier of energy to world markets," he said in a letter to Baku. "Azerbaijan is an example of how developing energy resources with the involvement of international companies can result in rapid progress and access to the best technology." (UPI)

Azerbaijani Minister Has Low Expectations For Next Karabakh Meeting 3 June Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that he does not expect much progress at the next meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents in St. Petersburg on June 4 to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Mammadyarov told RFE/RL that progress depends on how constructive the Armenian policy will be. Mammadyarov also said he will deliver a report to the Azerbaijani parliament in case there is progress, as requested by parliamentarians. In advance of the meeting in St. Petersburg, OSCE Minsk Group cochairs are claiming to have worked out concrete proposals for a resolution. They say the only thing standing in the way of an agreement on a final document is the will of the two countries' presidents. Matthew Bryza, U.S. cochair of the OSCE Minsk Group, told RFE/RL that he hopes the two presidents "will find a common language" at this "very serious moment" of the talks. Bryza added that the confidence between the two presidents has increased. (RFE/RL)
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