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Friday, 19 June 2009

17 June 2009 News Digest

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By Alima Bissenova (6/19/2009 issue of the CACI Analyst)

New Wave of arrests reported in Kazakhstan 3 June More officials and company heads have been arrested in Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports. Financial Police spokesman Murat Zhumanbai has said that police on June 2 detained KIIK company executives Serik Turzhanov and Aleksandr Nisanov, as well as Statistics Committee Chairman Birlik Mendybaev. Last week, the chief of the Environment Department in Astana, Abdinur Bataev, and Statistics Agency Deputy Chairman Nurman Bayanov were arrested.

New Wave of arrests reported in Kazakhstan 3 June More officials and company heads have been arrested in Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports. Financial Police spokesman Murat Zhumanbai has said that police on June 2 detained KIIK company executives Serik Turzhanov and Aleksandr Nisanov, as well as Statistics Committee Chairman Birlik Mendybaev. Last week, the chief of the Environment Department in Astana, Abdinur Bataev, and Statistics Agency Deputy Chairman Nurman Bayanov were arrested. An investigation of ex-Environment Minister Nurlan Iskakov and his former deputies, Zeynulla Sarsembaev and Alzhan Braliev, were announced and the three have been brought to court for hearings. An international search warrant was also issued for Environment Ministry department director Tatyana Savitskaya and Mercury Plus company director Viktor Lais. All of those arrested face charges of corruption and financial crimes. Early last month, leaders of Kazakhstan's main uranium producer, Kazatomprom, were detained and accused of financial crimes. Prominent banker and politician Mukhtar Ablyazov left Kazakhstan with his associates earlier this year after the authorities took over his BTA bank and launched an investigation into his business activities. Relatives of some of those detained say the charges are baseless and opposition leaders and activists insist the wave of arrests is politically motivated. (RFE/RL)

No Iran for Nabucco, Washington says 8 June Washington opposes Iranian involvement in the Nabucco gas pipeline to Europe based on the provisions of economic sanctions on Tehran, officials say. Richard Morningstar, the top U.S. official on Eurasian energy affairs, said Iranian involvement in the Nabucco pipeline violated the terms of the Iran Sanctions Act. "We don't want to change our policy unless Iran changes its policy," he said. He also ruled out including Syria in the project, despite Damascus signing recent energy agreements with Iraq and Iran on energy transit. Iran and Iraq have been mentioned as possible Nabucco suppliers amid concerns over meeting the project's gas requirements. Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz discounted claims Ankara had dropped plans to purchase 15 percent of the Nabucco gas at a discounted price, saying negotiations were still under way, Turkish daily Today's Zaman reports. Nabucco would travel from Central Asia to markets in Europe through a predominately Turkish route. Parties to the project in May signed declarations of support, though several outstanding diplomatic issues remain, notably Turkey's bid to join the European Union. Meanwhile, Morningstar called on Turkey to reach bilateral agreements for Nabucco with Azerbaijan with the goal of signing formal declarations June 25. (UPI)

FM: ‘Tbilisi Waits for Moscow’s Response on Larsi Border Crossing’ 8 June Georgia is ready to immediately launch talks on reopening the Zemo Larsi border crossing point with Russia, Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze said on June 8. He said that the Georgian side had already offered the venue of possible talks - “neutral zone between Kazbegi and Larsi, but neither the Swiss Embassy nor the Ministry have received any response so far.” “After the Russian Federation notified us through the Swiss Embassy about its readiness to launch talks and got a positive response from the Georgian side, we are expecting further development of events, but nothing happens so far,” Vashadze said. Switzerland represents Russia’s diplomatic interests in Georgia, as well as Georgia’s diplomatic interests in Russia amid cut diplomatic ties between the two countries after the August war. Land traffic between the two countries was closed with the closure of Zemo Larsi border crossing point by Russia in July, 2006; two others are located in breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia cited reconstruction of the border crossing infrastructure in Zemo Larsi as a reason behind its closure. Grigol Vashadze was speaking on the matter at a joint news conference with his Armenian counterpart in Tbilisi. With two other border crossing points in breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia regarded as illegal by Tbilisi, Zemo Larsi border crossing point is the only closest land route through which Armenia can reach Russia. The Georgian Foreign Ministry said on May 26 that it had been notified by Swiss embassy that the Russian side completed reconstruction works and was ready for holding talks on “technical issues” of its reopening. (Civil Georgia)

Islamic Corporation for Development loans three Uzbek banks $42 mln 10 June The Islamic Corporation for the Development  of  the  Private  Sector,  which  is  part  of  the Islamic Development  Bank,  has  opened  credit  facilities  for  a total of $42 million  to  three  banks  in  Uzbekistan  for  the financing of private business activities, a source in the Uzbek government told Interfax. The  National  Foreign  Economic  Activity Bank and Asaka Bank will each be  given  $15 million in funds, while Uzpromstroibank will receive $15 million. Representatives  of  the  three  banks  and ICD officials signed an agreement on the loan in Tashkent on Tuesday. The  loans are being issued for up to six years under guarantees of the banks  themselves.  The  funds  will  be  spent  on  setting  up new production  facilities  as  well  as the development of farms, transport infrastructure  and  information  technologies. The agreement stipulates that the  maximum  size  of  a  loan  for  one  project cannot exceed $2 million. Other terms of the agreement were not disclosed. The  National  Foreign Economic Activity Bank ranked 56th by assets among CIS  banks  and first among 29 Uzbek banks at the end of the first half of  2008 in the Interfax-1000: CIS Banks ranking. Asaka Bank ranked 152nd and   second,  while  Uzpromstroibank  ranked  176th  and  fourth, respectively. (Interfax)

 

Ingushetia president: 26 militants killed in security operation 10 June Twenty-six militants have been killed in  a  security  operation  along  the  border  between  Russia's

republics of Ingushetia and Chechnya that began last month, Ingushetia's president said on Wednesday.
"Twenty-six  militants  have  been liquidated in the course of this special  operation  since  May  16.  This operation will go on until the entire republic  has been cleared of terrorism," Yunus-Bek Yevkurov told
a roundtable  in  Magas  that  brought  together  security officials and religious figures among others.
Additional police and Interior Forces posts are being set up in the villages  of  Datykh,  Arshty and Alkun in Ingushetia's Sunzha district, which are  the  principal  sites  of the operation, Yevkurov said. These
posts will  be  on permanent alert for possible attacks by militants, he said. The  operation is a joint effort by the Ingush and Chechen interior ministries. (Interfax)

 

Blasts near Georgian-Abkhaz Border Halt Rail Traffic 11 June Explosions in the western Georgian city of Zugdidi overnight have halted trains on the Zugdidi-Tbilisi railway, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reports. Three explosions occurred early on June 11 at the local railway station and near a police department over a three-hour period. One person was reportedly injured. Zugdidi is 4 kilometers from the Inguri River, which is Georgia's de facto border with the breakaway region of Abkhazia. Explosives experts and sappers are currently searching for other possible mines and bombs in the area. Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said the blasts were the work of "forces that do not want stability in the region," Reuters reported. He said they appeared to have been caused by around 8 kilograms of TNT. Officials initially said no one had been hurt, but the Interior Ministry later announced a railway worker had suffered "serious injuries" and was hospitalized. Officials say that the explosions must have been intentionally set off by unknown individuals, but that the exact types of devices used are still unknown. (RFE/RL)

Ankara delays Nabucco signing to July 11 June Signing of intergovernmental agreements on the Nabucco natural gas pipeline to Europe could be pushed back to July on domestic supply concerns, Ankara says. Suppliers, hosts and other parties to the Nabucco gas pipeline emerged from a May summit on the project with declarations of support, calling for a signing on intergovernmental meetings by June. European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs told reporters Monday during a meeting in Romania that "we are close" to agreements on the pipeline, but pushed the date into "early July." Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz backed the July date, saying his country had not seen provisions related to demands of discounted prices for 15 percent of the gas transiting through the 2,050-mile pipeline, Turkish daily Hurriyet reports. Europe sees the $10.7 billion project as the answer to its push away from Russian energy dependency. Nabucco would travel across Turkish territory before turning north to European markets. The project faces criticism over the lack of secure commitments from major Caspian suppliers. Only Azerbaijan committed to final documents on the project during the May summit. The Western-backed Nabucco is at the center of diplomatic rows in the regional energy sector. With Europe pushing hard for energy diversity, Russia is lobbying potential hosts for its Nord Stream gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea to Germany and its South Stream project for southeast Europe. (UPI)

Ex-Soviet Republic Georgia quits CIS 12 June The Georgian parliament unanimously ended the former Soviet republic's membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States Friday. Georgia had informed the CIS of its desire to quit the Russian-dominated organization on August 18, 2008, after a five-day war with Russia over the Georgian breakaway republic of South Ossetia, RIA-Novosti reported. The CIS currently comprises Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Moldova, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.Ukraine is a founding and participating country but technically not a member state. Turkmenistan holds associate status. (UPI)

U.S. to fund reconstruction of Tajik border guard training academy 13 June The United States will donate $2.5 million  for  reconstructing  Tajikistan's  only  border  guard training academy, the U.S. embassy in Dushanbe said. "The total budget for the project is $2.5 million, which will cover the demolition  of old buildings, construction of a new dining facility, gym, heating system, toilets, garages, a new ID checkpoint, and the full refurbishment  of  an  existing dormitory for the cadets studying at the Academy," it said. The  U.S.  intensified  humanitarian assistance to Tajikistan after Dushanbe  agreed  to  provide  air  corridors  to  aircraft  involved in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001. The  U.S.  assistance  to  Tajikistan  amounted to $33.7 million in 2008, which  makes  about  one third of all aid Tajikistan received from abroad in that period. (Interfax)

Kazakhstan Suspends WTO Talks, Seeks Joint Membership 13 June Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev says his country has suspended talks on membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports. Speaking at a session of the Foreign Investors' Council in the Kazakh city of Qostanay, Nazarbayev said the talks were suspended because of Kazakhstan’s decision to seek WTO membership together with Russia and Belarus as a single Customs Union. The prime ministers of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia reached the decision on June 9 to seek joint membership of the WTO. (RFE/RL)

U.S. condemns assaults against parliamentarians 14 June The United States has condemned “the attacks by protesters on members of Parliament, including the Speaker” in an incident that took place outside the Parliament on June 12. The statement released by the embassy in Tbilisi says that the United States “regrets the decision of some protest leaders to endorse these assaults on both people and property.” “These actions undermine the protest leaders’ prior statements calling for non-violent action.  These attacks both interfered with official activities and crossed a line from free expression of opinion to criminal activity.  We ask all those who support a wider political dialogue and responsible governance to condemn these attacks and urge the leaders of the protest actions to stop these attacks immediately.   The United States calls on both the Government and the leaders of the non-parliamentary opposition to reengage in constructive talks and dialogue without delay,” the statement reads. (Civil Georgia)

Iran courts Turkmenistan for pipelines 15 June Turkmenistan should consider Iranian pipeline operators for exporting natural gas to Iraq, officials say. Reza Almasi, the managing director at the Iran Natural Gas Transmission Co., said alternative options to deliver gas to Gulf nations are too expensive, Iran's Petroenergy Information Network reports. "The required investment for pipeline construction under the sea is three times more than the land," he said. "Not to transit its natural gas through Iran, Turkmenistan has to sign a contract with Azerbaijan, Turkey and Armenia." Almasi noted pipeline transits were among the safest and most reliable ways to transfer natural gas, adding Iran would work to develop its gas pipeline grid to entice future developments. The Iranian company currently exports natural gas to Turkey and Armenia and imports gas from Turkmenistan.Iran has lobbied for a role in regional energy security, pushing for participation in the planned European Nabucco gas pipeline. Iran and Syria, meanwhile, had signed a memorandum of understanding in April for the construction of the Persian Pipeline. Iranian, Syrian and Turkish officials also signed a trilateral package of deals that included the development of upstream activities, drilling and exploration. (UPI)

Taliban say they do not hide among civilians 16 June Afghanistan's Taliban has denied that its fighters hide among civilians while they fight foreign troops, and dismissed claims that the majority of its fighters were foreign. On June 14 a district Taliban commander from western Farah Province said there was some truth in the allegation that Taliban fighters retreat to homes where their families live in villages where they operate. But a spokesman for the Taliban denied the militants hide among civilians during battles with foreign troops."We have never put civilian lives in danger, but instead we are fighting for their protection, dignity and independence," Qari Yosuf Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Taliban, said by telephone from an undisclosed location. According to Afghan officials, a U.S. air strike in Farah Province in early May killed 140 civilians. The U.S. military says 20-35 civilians were killed along with about 60 people it believes were Taliban fighters. U.S. officials say the Taliban had deliberately hidden among local villagers to put them in harm's way, but Ahmadi said fighters were no longer in the area by the time of the strikes. "On that day the Taliban killed some foreign troops who then retaliated by killing civilians. We should have asked them why they killed the civilians. During the bombings not even one Talib was present," Ahmadi said. Ahmadi also dismissed reports that most of the Taliban in Afghanistan were foreigners from countries such as Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. "It's illogical to say 60 percent of Taliban are foreign fighters, that is propaganda from the West," Ahmadi said. "Those who fight among us in the front line are Afghans." (Reuters)

Taliban attacks musicians at Afghan wedding 16 June Taliban fighters beat musicians, shaved their heads, and left them tied to trees overnight because they performed at an Afghan wedding, a village tribal chief has said, a sign of the militants' growing influence. While in power from 1996-2001, the Taliban banned music as un-Islamic. The militants have returned to areas in the east and south of the country, where violence has sharply spiked in recent years. They attack government officials, Afghan police, foreign troops, and schools that teach girls, another practice they forbid. "A party was going on when a group of Taliban grabbed five musicians and started beating them and smashing their musical instruments," said Rahmatullah Khan, a head of Merke Khel village in the east of the country. "The musicians were tied up with rope to trees last night and villagers found them in the morning when going out for prayers," Khan said. Khan said Taliban fighters shaved the heads of the musicians and made them take oaths in the presence of villagers that they would not sing or play music at weddings again. Afghan weddings and engagement parties in rural areas are traditionally celebrated with hundreds of guests, music, and singing that often continues until late at night. (Reuters)

Iran Cancels foreign media accreditation 16 June Iran has banned foreign media journalists from leaving their offices to cover protests on the streets of Tehran following the country's disputed presidential elections. The Culture Ministry said journalists could continue to work from their offices but that it was cancelling press accreditation for all foreign media. "No journalist has permission to report or film or take pictures in the city," a Culture Ministry official told Reuters. The announcement came after three days of streets protests against Iran's election results, during which at least seven people were reported to have been killed. The demonstrations have riveted world attention on the world's fifth-biggest oil exporter, which is locked in a nuclear dispute with the West. Presidential candidate Mir Hossein Musavi cancelled a planned rally on June 16 in a move he said aimed to protect his supporters' lives. Backers of hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad planned a counter-rally at the same site. (Reuters)

 

SCO finance ministries, central banks to work on idea of supranationalcurrency

16 June The leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation  Organization  member states have instructed experts to work on the idea of introducing a SCO supranational currency. "This  is not a ready decision, the idea needs to be worked at, and now it is  not  clear  how it will function, but the idea itself is very interesting,"  Russian  presidential  aide Arkady Dvorkovich said in the wake of the SCO summit. "The     leaders    instructed   deputy   finance   ministers   and representatives of central banks to tackle this," he said. As  soon  as  the  experts prepare something we will discuss it, he added. (Interfax)

Uzbekistan curbs gas delivery to Tajikistan by half 17 June Uzbekistan has decreased its flow of natural-gas supplies to neighboring Tajikistan by 50 percent over a debt dispute, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports. The deputy head of TajikTransGaz, Shavkat Shoimov, told RFE/RL that Uzbek authorities cut supplies after the Tajik gas distributor failed to pay a reported $17 million debt by June 15. Shoimov said the current volume of gas delivered from Uzbekistan is barely enough to sustain the operations of Tajik aluminum-producer Talco. Many other industrial facilities have reportedly had to suspend their operations. Tajikistan's major cement-producing plant has sent all its workers on an unpaid holiday. (RFE/RL)

Georgian Parliament Speaker appologizes to journalists 17 June Georgian Parliament Speaker David Bakradze has publicly apologized to journalists who were beaten by police on June 15, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reports. Several journalists were beaten when plainclothes police destroyed several mock jail cells that had been set up by opposition activists in front of Georgia's State Chancellery as part of a months-long protest against President Mikheil Saakashvili. Bakrazde also urged the two opposition TV channels -- Maestro and Kavkasia -- to resume their broadcasts. The two stations had suspended their operations in protest of the beatings. The stations partially resumed their operations on June 16 after Bakradze's apology. The Georgian parliament is dominated by Saakashvili supporters. (RFE/RL)

Opposition alliance reports arrests of its activists 17 June An opposition Alliance for Georgia said on June 17, that ten of its activists had been arrested in last few days in various parts of Georgia mainly with charges related to illegal possession of firearms and one with drug-related crime. The Alliance, which unites New Rights Party, Republican Party and a political team of Irakli Alasania, said that apart of Tbilisi, arrests were conducted in Gori, Lanchkuti, Chokhatauri, Chiatura, Tkibuli and Adigeni. According to the Republican Party most of the arrested persons are its activists.“Lots of people are behind these [arrested] persons – their families, friends and supporters and the authorities should stop challenging the people; otherwise they will receive an adequate response. I declare it with full responsibility,” Tina Khidasheli of the Republican Party said on June 17.“Saakashvili should choose – how he will go [from his post]: whether he will go like his teacher [ex-president Eduard] Shevardnadze, or like dictators in some European countries did,” she added. In a written statement on June 17, Irakli Alasania, leader of Alliance for Georgia, who currently visits the U.S., said that the June 15 “violent crackdown” on the peaceful protesters and beating of Zurab Abashidze, his close ally, outside the Tbilisi police headquarters “has to be assessed as the terror attack on politicians having different points of view.” He said that the trend “indicates that the authorities have chosen violent 7 November 2007 path for resolving of the acute political crisis.” “This is the road to inevitable civil confrontation, the responsibility for which has to be fully borne personally by Mikheil Saakashvili,” Alasania said. “We consider the numerous violent acts by the authorities as their response to our multiple calls to urgently start the dialogue to resolve the current political crisis.” (Civil Georgia)

Tehran University amid crackdown 17 June Iran said Wednesday it is investigating reports of violence at a Tehran University dormitory in the wake of rallies sparked by last week's disputed election. Tehran University students told a CNN iReporter that government forces staged a massive crackdown early Monday at the university's dorm. Some students were detained in the raid. Students jumped out of windows to escape the Iranian police forces who threw tear gas and beat students, according to the iReporter, a former Tehran University student who now lives outside Iran. He did not want to be identified for security reasons. CNN has been unable to confirm the account because of restrictions on international media in Tehran. Parliament speaker Ali Larijani on Wednesday called for an "unbiased report" by the team of lawmakers appointed to look into the "unfortunate incidents" at the university dorm, according to Iran's government-funded Press TV. "There has been news of unfortunate incidents taking place in parts of the city such as the Tehran University dormitory, and it appears that hidden hands are at work to feed foreign media outlets with propaganda," Larijani said. The investigating lawmakers have spoken to Tehran University students and other officials and are demanding the release of the detained students, Press TV reported. The lawmakers are also calling for the arrest and punishment of those who perpetrated the violence and for students to be compensated for their loss, according to Press TV. (CNN)

 

 

 

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