Thursday, 15 October 2009

14 October 2009 News Digest

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By Alima Bissenova (10/15/2009 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Foes say Saakashvili distorted war report 1 October Georgia's opposition rounded on President Mikheil Saakashvili after a damning report on last year's war with Russia, and one former ally accused him of distorting its findings to deceive the Georgian people. The Georgian government and the country's main television broadcasters said the independent report, commissioned by the European Union and released on September 30, pinned the blame for the five-day war on Russia. Opposition leader and former Saakashvili ally Nino Burjanadze said the government was concealing the report's key finding -- that Georgia began full-scale hostilities with an unjustifiable assault on the pro-Russian breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Foes say Saakashvili distorted war report 1 October Georgia's opposition rounded on President Mikheil Saakashvili after a damning report on last year's war with Russia, and one former ally accused him of distorting its findings to deceive the Georgian people. The Georgian government and the country's main television broadcasters said the independent report, commissioned by the European Union and released on September 30, pinned the blame for the five-day war on Russia. Opposition leader and former Saakashvili ally Nino Burjanadze said the government was concealing the report's key finding -- that Georgia began full-scale hostilities with an unjustifiable assault on the pro-Russian breakaway region of South Ossetia. The report said the assault was the culmination of a long period of increasing tensions, provocations and incidents, and added that Russia's military response went beyond reasonable limits and violated international law. But it said the five-day conflict began with Saakashvili's order to unleash heavy artillery on South Ossetia on August 7, which was followed by a devastating Russian counter-strike.  "Again, the Georgian authorities have tried through their controlled media to hide the truth from their people," Burjanadze told a news briefing in the capital, Tbilisi. "The hiding and mutilation of the facts in the report is also a crime." Saakashvili himself has so far been silent on the report. He survived months of opposition protests earlier this year against his record on democracy and last year's war.  Analysts forecast renewed pressure after the report's publication, but say another leadership challenge from a weak opposition appears unlikely. Another defector from Saakashvili's camp, former UN ambassador Irakly Alasania, said in an interview with Reuters that the 41-year-old president had damaged Georgia's international standing with his "irresponsible" actions. "It was his decision that really triggered full escalation," he said, speaking in English. "But there were the whole set of preconditions and provocations that we can also blame the Russian Federation for." The opposition has been careful to balance criticism of Saakashvili's conduct with contempt for Russia's military action, for fear of being labeled traitors by the authorities. The Georgian government insists the war was the result of Russian aggression after years of intensifying Russian political and military support for separatists in South Ossetia and Georgia's other rebel region, Abkhazia. (Reuters) China buying Kazakh energy assets 2 October China is continuing its purchases of Kazakh energy assets. Xinhua news agency reported Thursday that the China Investment Corp., the country's sovereign wealth fund, Wednesday announced it had paid $939 million for a stake in Kazakhstan's JSC KazMunaiGas Exploration Production oil and gas company. The CIC is China's sovereign wealth fund, with a capitalization estimated at $300 billion. According to a statement on the CIC Web site, the corporation purchased about 11 percent of KMG EP's Global Depository Receipts through its Fullbloom Investment Corp. subsidiary, which is wholly owned by CIC. KMG EP's stock is listed on the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange and its GDRs are traded on the London Stock Exchange. Following the CIC announcement of its purchase KMG's GDRs rose 9.95 percent to $22.10 in London trading. In April China National Petroleum Corp. agreed with Kazakhstan's state oil firm KazMunaiGas to jointly buy oil producer MangistauMunaiGas for $3.3 billion. (UPI)

Diplomat Says UN Muzzled Criticism Of Afghan Vote 4 October A U.S. diplomat fired in Afghanistan has said that the United Nations not only ignored massive fraud in the August election but also told him to keep quiet, then dissembled about his firing. Peter Galbraith, former deputy to U.N. special envoy Kai Eide, wrote in the Washington Post on October 4 that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's final instruction before firing him last week was "Do not talk to the press." He agreed, then received assurances from an immediate supervisor that his dismissal statement would cite a dispute over how the U.N. mission was handling Afghan electoral fraud. Instead, he said, U.N. officials announced his firing was in the "best interests of the mission" and leaked that there was personality clash with Eide, his longtime friend. "I might have tolerated even this last act of dishonesty in a dispute dating back many months if the stakes were not so high," wrote Galbraith, an ally of Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. point man for Afghanistan and Pakistan. "But in my view, the fraud was a fact that the United Nations had to acknowledge or risk losing its credibility with the many Afghans who did not support President Hamid Karzai," wrote Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia. Galbraith, son of the late Canadian-American economist John Kenneth Galbraith, chronicled U.N. efforts to ignore fraud allegations for fear of raising tensions in the country. He said he was told to stop talking about 1,500 polling stations so insecure they could not open on Election Day. "Eide ordered me not to discuss the ghost polling centers any further," he wrote. "On Election Day, these sites produced hundreds of thousands of phony Karzai votes. "At other critical stages in the election process, I was similarly ordered not to pursue the issue of fraud." Those included evidence collected by his staff on hundreds of individual cases of fraud as well as information on southern provinces were more votes were reported than cast, he said. Galbraith called the elections, which he said were managed by a pro-Karzai election council "a foreseeable train wreck". He said the fraud "handed the Taliban its greatest strategic victory in eight years of fighting the United States and its Afghan partners." (Reuters)

Nazarbaev Says Presidency-For-Life Defined By Kazakh Constitution 6 October Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has said that the issue of him being granted the presidency-for-life has already been determined by Kazakhstan's Constitution, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.  Nazarbaev told journalists after talks with visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the Kazakh capital on October 6 that according to the constitution the first president of Kazakhstan has the right to be elected president an unlimited number of times, making it unnecessary for him to be granted the lifetime post because he could presumably continue winning elections. The idea of making Nazarbaev president for life has been discussed extensively in Kazakhstan in recent weeks after it was reportedly suggested to him by a professor while on a trip in western Kazakhstan. Nazarbaev has been president of Kazakhstan since the country gained independence in 1991. He was last reelected to a seven-year term on December 4, 2005 in an election that was deemed by international observers to be neither free nor fair. Kazakhstan will assume the chairmanship of the Organization for Cooperation and Security (OSCE) in Europe on January 1. (UPI) Baku preparing for another round of talks between Azeri, Armenian presidents 6 October Baku is preparing for another round of negotiations between Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan  on  settling  the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh to take place in  Chisinau  on  October  8,  Azeri  Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov said at a news briefing on Tuesday. "The  subject  of  the upcoming negotiations is well known, some of the issues  will  be  discussed  more  thoroughly and will be given more attention,  and  some others will perhaps be left to be discussed at the next stages,"  Azimov said, adding that the situation in the negotiating process is quite difficult. The  settlement  of  the conflict envisions a number of consecutive steps, i.e., the abandoning of all occupied areas by Armenia, the return of Azeri  refugees  there, normal co-existence of the Azeri and Armenian communities  in  Nagorno-Karabakh,  and  then  the  determination of the region's status, he said "This  logic  cannot  and  must not be changed or reversed," Azimov said, adding   that  such  attempts  by  Armenia  causes  perplexity  in Azerbaijan. The settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is very significant in regional terms, Azimov said. "The fact that the conflict has not been resolved  is  causing  great  damage  to  the  development of the entire region, but, despite this, Azerbaijan has made great achievements in its economic  development.  Thus, in my view, the Armenian leadership should take all  these  factors  into  consideration  and analyze them," Azimov said. (Interfax)

France enters Kazakh energy market 7 October The French and Kazakh presidents have agreed that France will participate in building a Caspian pipeline to Azerbaijan and Europe. Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency reported Tuesday that following their discussions, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy held a joint news conference in which Nazarbayev told journalists, "An agreement has been reached on the French side's participation in the project to construct the main export oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Baku and Europe. This is an exceptionally important project which forms the base of the arteries of the transport system for Kazakh gas and oil to Europe." Nazarbayev added that Kazakhstan and France have also agreed to cooperate in prospecting and developing Kazakh oil and natural gas deposits. The total value of agreements reached by the two presidents is more than $6 billion and position France as a key investor in the Kazakhstan's resource-rich energy sector. (UPI)

750 rebels slain or captured in Caucasus 7 October Russian police and interior ministry troops have killed or arrested 750 militants in the North Caucasus so far this year, officials said. A spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry said Wednesday that the actions in the region, which include Chechnya, have been instrumental in reducing terrorism there, RIA Novosti reported. "This year we have prevented 64 terrorist attacks on the territory of the Southern Federal District," the unnamed spokesman said. "At least 289 militants were killed, including 25 leaders of armed groups and 11 foreign mercenaries. Some 457 militants were also detained, including three leaders of armed groups." The Interior Ministry took charge of anti-terrorism efforts in the North Caucasus in June 2003, and on Oct. 1 those responsibilities were handed off to the Russian Federal Security Service. The Interior Ministry remains in charge of the Russian joint force in the North Caucasus, the news service said. (UPI)

17 Dead In Blast Outside Indian Embassy In Kabul 8 October A large bomb has exploded outside the Indian Embassy in central Kabul, killing 17 people and wounding 76 in the latest of a series of militant attacks on diplomatic and government buildings in the capital. The blast tore through a market building across the street from the heavily fortified embassy compound, leaving rubble and debris strewn across the road, where the Afghan Interior Ministry is also located. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Violence has reached its worst levels of the eight-year war with Taliban insurgents spreading their attacks to previously secure areas. Since the start of last year, militants in the capital have targeted the German Embassy, the headquarters for the NATO-led force, the Information Ministry and the Justice Ministry buildings, the airport and a luxury hotel near the presidential palace. India said its embassy had been the target of the October 8 attack but that all its staff were safe. In July 2008, the same embassy was the scene of the war's deadliest attack on the capital. Then a Taliban suicide car bomber killed 58 people, including two senior Indian diplomats, and wounded a further 141. "I believe the suicide bomb was directed against the embassy because the suicide bomber came up to the outside perimeter wall of the embassy with a car loaded with explosives obviously with the aim of targeting the embassy," Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao told reporters in India. Rao said the blast was similar in size to the 2008 attack but that measures taken since then to secure the embassy had worked effectively in protecting its embassy staff. The road, which is also home to the Interior Ministry and the Indonesian Embassy, had been closed to traffic since the 2008 attack and was only reopened in the last few weeks. A large concrete blast barrier was erected down the center of the road. Indian authorities blamed the Pakistani intelligence service for last year's blast. Eleven civilians and one policeman were killed in the October 8 blast. (Reuters)

Iran wants equal Caspian division of waters, seabed 9 October Iran reiterated its position that any final disposition of the Caspian's offshore waters will require unanimity among the nations sharing its shoreline. Two agreements dealing with the issue were signed in 1921 and 1940 between Iran and the Soviet Union. Maritime legal specialists have since speculated that the Caspian might be divided under terms of the 1982 U.N. Convention on Law of the Sea. The Islamic Republic News Agency report Thursday that Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, addressing a seminar on the Caspian in the capital Tehran, remarked, "Issues pertaining to the Caspian Sea, as the largest and unique lake in the world, are undoubtedly of the most sophisticated and technical nature. The 1982 Convention on Rights of Seas is not applicable to Caspian Sea because firstly it is a lake and secondly, Iran, Azerbaijan Republic, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have not joined it. Tehran believes that the concepts such as energy and economy should cause the littoral states to neglect issues of security concern." Iran's position since 1991 has been that all five Caspian states receive a 20 percent share of the Caspian's waters and seabed, while Russia has maintained that each state should receive territory proportional to the length of its coastline. (UPI)

Kazakhstan bans smoking in public places 10 October A law has come into force in Kazakhstan banning smoking in public places, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports. According to the legislation adopted last month, smoking is now officially banned in schools, hospitals, clinics, cinemas, theaters, circuses, concerts, exhibition halls, sports arenas, stadiums, and other covered places used for public entertainment and recreation, including night clubs.  People will also be restricted from smoking inside airports and railway and bus stations.  Tobacco items will also not be available in shops selling goods for children. Cigarettes can also not be sold to individuals under the age of 18. Violators of the new law can be fined up to $500. (RFE/RL)

Kazakh space flight on Soyuz postponed indefinitely – Roscosmos 11 October The flight by a professional  Kazakh cosmonaut on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft scheduled for 2010  is  not  envisaged  in  the  near future, Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) deputy director Vitaly Davydov told journalists on Sunday. "We  do  not have such plans for the nearest future," said Davydov, when asked when the Kazakh cosmonaut will fly to space on Soyuz. Roscosmos does not rule out such an opportunity, Davydov said. "But there are no such plans for the upcoming missions," Davydov said. Roscosmos  officials  stated earlier that Kazakhstan could send its cosmonaut  in  2009.  According  to  unofficial reports, the project was postponed  because  of  unsettled financial issues between Roscosmos and the Kazakh Space Agency. (Interfax)

Taliban Kidnap 16 People In Afghanistan's North 13 October Taliban insurgents have abducted 16 people in two separate incidents in northern Afghanistan, a region that has been long seen as relatively safe, officials said. Ousted from power in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001 but still strong in southern and eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban have become increasingly active in the once-peaceful north as they continue to battle coalition forces in the country. In one incident, Taliban fighters stormed a clinic in the rugged Sar-i-Pul Province, seizing eight health workers including women, said Bilal Nairam, a senior provincial police officer. He said a search was under way to find those kidnapped in the province which has so far escaped the spread of the Taliban insurgency. He said he did not know the motive behind the abduction. In the second kidnapping which also occurred overnight in the neighboring Faryab Province, Taliban fighters staged an attack on a police post and took away eight police officers, the provincial police chief, Khalil Andarabi, said. The Taliban could not be reached for comment. Taliban fighters often stage kidnappings as part of their campaign against coalition forces but abductions have also become a lucrative business for criminal gangs and rival tribes in recent years. This year has seen a dramatic rise of violence in Afghanistan where 100,000 Western troops, two-thirds of them American, are fighting to contain an increasingly fierce insurgency. (Reuters)

Turkmenistan gets ready for post-crisis energy consumption growth 13 October Turkmenistan looks forward with confidence and is already now getting ready for a post-crisis growth in the consumption of energy resources, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov told on Monday a session with heads of state concerns and enterprises of the oil and gas sector. “During the crisis, when consumption of oil and gas declines, there is no point in listening to those who urge to reduce production,” the Turkmen leader stressed. “The crisis develops according to its own laws, but recession gives way to recovery, and then big amounts of energy resources will be necessary. Those states that will be ready for this recovery will be the winners,” Berdymukhamedov told the session. The president expressed confidence that the strategic program for the development of the oil and gas sector up to the year 2030 will be implemented. In accordance with that document, this year the country plans to bring the production of natural gas to 250 billion cubic meters, while the production of oil is expected to grow to 100 million tons. (Itar-Tass)

Erdogan: No politics during Turkey-Armenia soccer game 13 October Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has urged soccer fans to keep politics away when Turkey and Armenia face each other on the pitch in a World Cup qualifier, as the two neighbors aim to restore diplomatic ties. Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has confirmed his attendance at a World Cup qualifier in Turkey on October 14, which will take place days after Ankara and Yerevan signed an accord to end a century of hostility. Turkish leader Abdullah Gul went last year to Yerevan to the first leg of what has been called "soccer diplomacy" between the two countries, whose ties are traumatized by the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I. "The Armenian president and the Armenian national team will see what Turkish hospitality is," Erdogan told deputies of his ruling AK Party ahead of the game in the city of Bursa. "I know our soccer fans in Bursa and in the rest of the country will behave like respectable fans. I believe our country and the citizens of Bursa will not bow their heads to politics and to the aims of those who want to use the game to achieve something else," Erdogan said. Turkish media said authorities will undertake tight security measures to avoid possible provocations during the game. "Aksam" newspaper said fans would not be allowed to buy tickets for the match, instead authorities would control ticket distribution. The governor of Bursa has said Azeri flags will not be allowed into the stadium for the match, media reports said, but Turkish nationalists have made some 10,000 of the flags and are distributing them in the northwestern town. (Reuters) Kazakh Opposition Parties announce merger 14 October The leaders of two major opposition parties in Kazakhstan have announced a merger between their parties, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports. Azat party leader Bolat Abilov and Social Democratic Party chairman Zharmakhan Tuyaqbay said at press conference in Almaty that the new united opposition party will be called the All-National Social Democratic Azat Party. They said the founding congress of the new party will be held in Almaty on October 24. The two parties merged in 2007 but decided to split later the same year after they failed to win seats in parliament. (RFE/RL)

Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan plan to sign customs code treaty on November 27 – official 14 October The  leaders of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are expected to sign a treaty on a customs code for the three nations'  Customs  Union  in Minsk on November 27, said Belarusian First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Petrishenko. "Work  is underway to prepare a package of documents that should be signed by  the  Customs  Union  heads of state in Minsk on November 27," Petrishenko said at a Wednesday session of the permanent commissions for customs  regulation  and  border policy, which form part of the Eurasian Economic Community's (EurAsEC) Inter-Parliamentary Assembly. The three countries' leaders plan to sign a customs code treaty and to confirm common customs tariffs and lists of commodities, the import or export of which can be either banned or restricted within the Customs Union, he said. "We  also  plan  to sign documents to transfer all sorts of control from the   Russian-Belarusian   border   and   to   cancel  the  customs registration  of  commodities  transported  within  the  territories  of Belarus and Russia," Petrishenko said. The Customs Union's code is expected to come into force before July 1, 2010, he added. (Interfax)
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