Thursday, 10 December 2009

9 December 2009 News Digest

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By Alima Bissenova (12/10/2009 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Eight bombs defused on border between Dagestan and Chechnya 29 November Law enforcers discovered and neutralized eight booby traps during preventive efforts conducted on the administrative border between the republics of Dagestan and Chechnya on November 27-29, the press service of the Dagestani Interior Ministry told Interfax on Sunday. The press service said the efforts were conducted by the Dagestani police together with operatives and Interior Troops.

Eight bombs defused on border between Dagestan and Chechnya 29 November Law enforcers discovered and neutralized eight booby traps during preventive efforts conducted on the administrative border between the republics of Dagestan and Chechnya on November 27-29, the press service of the Dagestani Interior Ministry told Interfax on Sunday. The press service said the efforts were conducted by the Dagestani police together with operatives and Interior Troops. "During the operation eight booby traps planted in the routes of operative and search teams were discovered and defused. One serviceman was slightly wounded in the process," a ministry spokesman said. (Interfax)

Uzbekistan withdrawing from regional power grid 1 December Uzbekistan today is expected to officially leave the Soviet-era regional power grid that unites the country with its three Central Asian neighbors. The move could leave Uzbekistan’s impoverished neighbors, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, facing severe electricity shortages during the winter months. Khusrav Ghoibov, a top official at the Tajik Foreign Ministry, criticized Uzbekistan’s decision as an effort to put pressure on neighbors. "We view the move as a political step by our neighboring country,” Ghoibov said. “Needless to say, each sovereign country has the right to participate in intergovernmental treaties or stop its participation. However, international norms in modern days would not support it if such political decisions harm another country’s interests." Uzbekistan’s geographic location has made it one of the most important members of the unified system, as many regions in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are supplied with electricity through power lines crossing Uzbek territory. Kyrgyzstan depends on lines traversing Uzbekistan to supply electricity from its Jalalabad Province to its Osh and Batkent regions. Both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan import Uzbek electricity during the winter. To ease crippling energy shortages during winter, Tajikistan depends on 1.2 billion kilowatt hours of Turkmen electricity delivered through Uzbekistan. Tajikistan does not share a common border with Turkmenistan, and Tashkent’s withdrawal from the regional grid will cut off the cash-strapped country from its vital electricity supplier. Uzbek officials have criticized the regional grid as an “outdated and unreliable" union that caused problems and disagreements among its members. Esso Sadullaev, a high-ranking official at the state-owned electricity company, Uzbekenergo, has told news agencies that the unified power system “is becoming a source of conflict among member countries." Last month, Kazakhstan accused Tajikistan of stealing electricity from the unified system and threatened to leave the regional grid. Officials in Dushanbe deny the accusation. Uzbek officials say Tashkent’s participation in the regional system endangers the flow of electricity to its domestic consumers. In recent years, Tashkent has invested over $1 billion to update its power supply system and end its dependency on neighbors to deliver electricity to Uzbekistan’s southern areas. Uzbekistan’s Husar-Surkhan power line, which transfers electricity to Surkhandarya Province, was due to be launched today. The Uzbek province has so far relied on the Tajik branch of the regional power grid for power.  (RFE/RL)

Georgian citizen detained in S. Ossetia handed over to Georgia 1 December Georgian citizen Ramaz Makasarashvili, who has recently been detained by Russian Federal Security Service officials in South Ossetia, has been handed over to Georgia. "Ramaz Makasarashvili has been handed over to Georgian officials today, on December 1," the South Ossetian State Security Committee reported. Makasarashvili, 46, was detained in the village of Perevi, Dzhav region of South Ossetia, on November 29, 2009 for failing to obey an order by border guards to stop. The Georgian media reported earlier, citing Nodar Abdzhandadze, the head of the administration of the Sachkhersky district, that Makasarashvili works as a bus driver and has driven buses between the villages of Dzhoria and Perevi over the past year. (Interfax)

Turkey to allow gas transit to Europe from any country 3 December Turkey will allow gas transit to Europe from any country, including Iran, Turkish Minister of Energy Taner Yildiz said here on Thursday, the CNN Turk TV channel reports. “The main direction of our policy consisting in the diversification of energy sources and transit routes will be put into effect along the same line,” Yildiz said. He replied in this way to Richard Morningstar, U.S. special representative for energy problems in Eurasia, who said that in the current situation Iran could not take part in the implementation of new energy projects. Washington stated before that the United States was against the transportation of Iranian gas to Europe across the Turkish territory until U.S. relations with Teheran were normalized and until the problem of the Iranian nuclear programme was settled. “It is Iran that makes decisions on gas transportation from Iran, while Turkey makes decisions connected with gas transportation by its territory. We shall permit the transit of any gas,” Yildiz said. He made it clear that he regarded Iranian gas as an important energy source for a number of energy projects, including for the Nabucco gas pipeline. Previously the United States expressed concern on many occasions over close relations between Iran and Turkey, which, aside from other things, is the key partner of the United States in that region within the framework of NATO. According to official statements, however, Ankara rules out a possibility of giving up its strategic cooperation with Iran in favour of supporting American interests. (Itar-Tass)

Karzai says to fight corruption, urges patience 6 December Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for patience if his government could not meet a 2011 deadline for assuming responsibility for Afghan security while pledging to meet demands to fight corruption in Kabul. U.S. President Barack Obama announced last week he would send another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan but would begin bringing them home in 18 months and start handing off responsibilities to Afghan forces. "Afghanistan welcomes this new strategy, and Afghanistan will do all it can to be a good partner in it," Karzai told CNN, according to a transcript released by the network. Karzai said the Afghans would try their best to take over security of the country within the U.S. timetable. "But the international community must have also the patience with us and the realization of the realities in Afghanistan. If it takes longer, then they must be with us," he said. Karzai said he hoped Afghans would be able to lead security operations in many areas of the country within two years. "By the end of five years term of -- of the current government, we plan to lead operations for the security of the Afghan people in all of Afghanistan, in the whole country. That is our objective," he said. Obama, who faces criticism from his fellow Democrats and opposition Republicans about the troop decision, put pressure on Karzai to root out corruption in his administration. The U.S. president said in a televised speech on December 1 that the day of providing a "blank check" to Kabul were over. Karzai said he was addressing the problem, but accused some allies, which he did not name, of overemphasizing the issue. "The issue of corruption has been politically overplayed by some of our partners in the international community," he said. "If and when at any time there is an occasion where we need to act on corruption with ministers, with officials, with anybody, we will do that," he said. Asked whether he planned to fire corrupt officials, Karzai said, "I have fired people, and I will be firing people, yes."(Reuters)

Armenia agrees on Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity 6 December The Armenian National Congress blamed Yerevan for recognizing Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. Referring to previously adopted declarations by OSCE foreign ministers on the issue, the National Congress said that Karabakh conflict could only be resolved through the principles of territorial integrity, non-use of force and the right of nations for self-determination. In a statement, the Congress said that principles of self-determination and territorial integrity could be realized only within the framework of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, which means that Armenia for the first time gives official consent for dispute resolution on the basis of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.  (Turkishpress.com)

Turkey says no more troops for Afghanistan 6 December Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who left for the United States today to meet President Barack Obama, said Turkey would not contribute additional troops to Afghanistan. Erdogan's trip comes at a time when Turkey's deepening ties with fellow Muslim countries has fed perceptions that the NATO member is turning away from its traditional western allies. Obama last week announced he was sending 30,000 more U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan, and Washington wants others to follow suit. "Turkey has already done what it can do by boosting its contingent of soldiers there to 1,750 from around 700 without being asked," said Erdogan before his departure in Istanbul. Turkey's soldiers are not engaged in combat operations and Ankara has long resisted pressure from Washington to offer more combat troops. Erdogan said Turkey would continue its training of Afghan security forces. The prime minister also said he would discuss other regional issues such as Iraq and the Middle East with the U.S. president. Last month, Erdogan visited Tehran to sign gas and trade deals and hosted Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad at a summit of Islamic countries in Istanbul. Turkey has also boosted ties with Syria with plans for joint military exercises. (Reuters)

 

NATO denies civilians killed in Afghan attack 6 December The NATO-led force has denied it had killed any civilians in an operation in eastern Afghanistan, but a provincial official said 12 people, probably civilians, had been killed in the attack. A statement from the NATO-led force said a joint Afghan-NATO force killed seven militants and detained four in Laghman Province, northeast of Kabul, while pursuing a Taliban militant responsible for suicide attacks in the area. "We are aware of civilian casualty allegations, however there are no operational reports to substantiate those claims of harming civilians, including women and children during this operation," spokeswoman navy Captain Jane Campbell said. The statement said the joint force came under "hostile fire from multiple positions and returned fire" in Armul village, in Mehtar Lam district. "The joint force searched the compound without further incident and recovered multiple AK-47 rifles." The spokesman for Laghman's governor, Sayed Ahmad Safi, said 12 people in four houses were killed during the operation. "We have launched an investigation to find out how many of them were civilians and how many were Taliban," he said. "It looks like all of them may have been civilians, including women." Civilian casualties caused by Western forces have stoked anger towards foreign troops, which NATO commander U.S. General Stanley McChrystal says undermines his mission. The issue has been a major source of friction between President Hamid Karzai and foreign troops. Since taking over command in June, McChrystal issued new orders designed to reduce civilian deaths by placing limits on the use of air power. Some Afghans are concerned that the influx of 30,000 more U.S. troops ordered by U.S. President Barack Obama last week will result in more attacks and higher civilian casualties. A NATO air strike in September, ordered by German forces near the northern Afghan city of Konduz, killed 30 civilians as well as insurgents, according to the Afghan government. Germany's defense minister at the time of the attack was forced to resign from the cabinet last month over accusations he covered up the civilian toll of the controversial strike. The head of Germany's armed forces also quit over the incident. (Reuters)

 

Kabul Mayor convicted of corruption 7 December Afghan officials say the mayor of Kabul has been convicted of corruption and sentenced to four years in jail. Deputy Attorney-General Fazal Ahmad Faqiryar told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that Mir Abdul Ahad Sahebi, who was not in court for today's verdict, was fired from his position and a warrant has been issued for his arrest. It's the first such high-profile conviction since President Hamid Karzai promised to crack down on corruption as he began a new term in office last month. The United States and other countries with forces in Afghanistan have urged Karzai to end corruption, which is seen as fueling the Taliban insurgency. Locals say corruption is a fact of everyday life, from bribes demanded by police and minor officials to multimillion-dollar kickbacks siphoned from international aid. Faqiryar said today's verdict was the result of a two-month-old corruption case, in which Sahebi was accused of breaking the law while granting a contract. The mayor of Kabul is considered a very powerful and lucrative post because of his powers to grant big contracts and prime property in the capital. In an interview with the "Christian Science Monitor" newspaper last month, Sahebi argued that the magnitude of corruption in Afghanistan was overblown. "I am searching around to find one person [working for the city] who is taking a bribe, but I don't see it," he said. "This latest propaganda about corruption, I personally believe not 2 percent of it is actual facts or figures." Deputy Attorney-General Faqiryar said he hoped the conviction would underscore the authorities' resolve to fight graft. "There is no doubt that this constitutes the serious steps we are taking. It shows that it has effective and positive affects on the society," Faqiryar said. "It also shows the effectiveness of our struggle." (RFE/RL)

 

Kazakh Companies to Shift From U.K., Governor Says, FT Reports 7 December Kazakh companies plan to move part of their fundraising away from London because U.K. investors failed to stand by Kazakhstan during the financial crisis, the country’s central bank governor Grigory Marchenko said, the Financial Times reported.  Companies from Kazakhstan would now look to the Middle East and Hong Kong as well as London when raising money, meaning London’s share of future fundraisings will fall from about 90 percent before the crisis to perhaps 50 percent, Marchenko said in an interview, according to the newspaper. Kazakhstan will avoid registering a recession for 2009 due to a recovery in commodity prices and the government’s $19 billion support package for 2008-9, Marchenko also said, the FT reported. (Bloomberg)

Kabul mayor, convicted of Graft, gives presser despite order for arrest 8 December Kabul's mayor has given a press conference at his office -- despite an order being issued for his arrest following his conviction for corruption, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reports. On December 7, judicial officials said a court in the Afghan capital sentenced Mir Abdul Ahad Sahebi to four years in prison for corruption in connection with contracts on city projects, and fired him from his position. But Sahebi told journalists at his office today he was innocent and that he had been the victim of a conspiracy by his rivals."I demand that a just review of my whole case be done by those who know the laws and regulations of this country," Sahebi said. "They should reassess my file. I can say that no one in my office has committed any crime." Unconfirmed reports said Sahebi was briefly detained on the night of December 7 but released just a short while later. It's unclear if the arrest order is still out on Sahebi or whether he has been reinstated in his position. Deputy Attorney General Enayat Kamal told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan today it was his understanding Sahebi was no longer mayor. "After the decision of the court, he is not mayor of Kabul and he should be arrested and put in prison," Kamal said. Asked why Sahebi was not, as of today, in prison, Kamal declined to elaborate. Sahebi's sentencing was the first such high-profile conviction since President Hamid Karzai promised to crack down on corruption as he began a new term in office last month. The United States and other countries with forces in Afghanistan have urged Karzai to end corruption, which is seen as fueling the Taliban insurgency. (RFE/RL)

 

Kyrgyzstan’s largest hydropower station hit by shutdown 8 December Mechanical problems at Kyrgyzstan's Toktogul hydropower station early today caused two of its four major power generators to shut down, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports. No casualties or significant damage to the station were reported. Maintenance crews are working to restore the downed generators. The Kyrgyz Energy Ministry said the shutdown of the generators will not affect the electricity supply in the country and that the problem should be fixed by December 9 at the latest. The Toktogul hydropower station -- which is Kyrgyzstan's largest -- was built in 1975 and supplies about 40 percent of Kyrgyzstan's electricity. Meanwhile, Bazarbay Mambetov, a Kyrgyz energy expert, told RFE/RL that the Toktogul station could have similar problems to Russia's Sayano-Shushenskaya hydropower station, at which an August accident killed at least 74 workers. Mambetov said the equipment and construction at the Toktogul and Sayano-Shushenskaya stations took place in the same time period and were made by the same Soviet firms. He said repairs at Toktogul are urgently needed, as no upgrades have been made at either of the two hydropower stations since they began operating in the 1970s. (RFE/RL)

 

Georgian MPs see no ground for thaw in relations with Moscow 8 December Relations between Georgia and Russia could be restored only if Russia cancels its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, Georgian MPs said. "Normalizing relations with Russia meets the interests of Georgia's leadership. However, it could happen only after the de-occupation of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali district," a leader of Georgia's parliamentary majority, Giorgi Gabashvili, told journalists on Wednesday. "As long as the Kremlin continues to recognize Georgian regions - Abkhazia and South Ossetia - as independent states, any thaw in relations between Georgia and Russia is out of the question," Gabashvili said. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said earlier today he saw no obstacles to resuming direct air links between Moscow and Tbilisi. (Interax)

Erdogan expresses Nabucco optimism 8 December Discussions with regional energy giants and major gas supplier nations are reason for optimism for the Nabucco pipeline, the Turkish premier said in Washington. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Washington this week to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama to discuss a broad range of issues, from the Afghan war to European energy security. Turkey aims to position itself as a major energy hub, offering up its territory for a series of oil and gas pipelines. Russian holds a strong grip on the European energy sector. Europe wants to ease that dependency through the Nabucco pipeline using Middle Eastern and Central Asian suppliers, notably Azerbaijan. Erdogan during his meetings with the U.S. president said talks with Baku and a July intergovernmental agreement on Nabucco were cause for optimism. "We continue to talk with Azerbaijan," he said. "I do believe that positive progress will be made in this area." Nabucco is designed to have the capacity to move 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas each year to European customers from Caspian and Middle Eastern suppliers. The pipeline would run from the Caspian region through Turkey to Austria along a route through Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. (UPI)

Turkmenistan bans import of older cars 9 December The Turkmen government is banning the import of cars and trucks made before 2000, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports. A government decree issued this week states that as of January 1 any vehicles produced before 2000 will not be allowed into the country for sale. No restrictions will be imposed on cars that were made in 1999 or earlier if they were imported before January 1. Turkmenistan imports large numbers of cars from several countries, notably Germany and the United Arab Emirates. Brands such as Toyota, Opel, Volkswagen, and BMW are among the most popular in Turkmenistan. Most Turkmen citizens don't have enough money to buy newer cars, and the ban on older models will prevent many people from owning a car. (RFE/RL)

Baku should give EU gas 'without delay' 9 December Baku would benefit substantially from a decision to allow European consumers access to its vast natural gas reserves, a European envoy to Azerbaijan said. Europe through a network of pipelines called the Southern Corridor aims to diversify its regional energy sector by bringing natural resources from Caspian suppliers, easing the Russian dominance over energy reserves. Roland Kobia, the head of the EU delegation in Azerbaijan, said in an interview with the Trend news agency that Baku has a major role to play in the diversification strategy. "The European Union sees Azerbaijan as a country that can help Europe to diversify its energy supplies," he said. Europe includes the Nabucco natural gas pipeline in its Southern Corridor of energy networks. The major players in the project are expected to ratify a major intergovernmental agreement on the project as early as this month. Natural gas supplies, however, are not secured for the project despite the strong political backing for the gas pipeline. Azerbaijan, meanwhile, is viewed as a major market in terms of oil and gas. "Europe should have access to these energy supplies, and Azerbaijan should be able to sell them without delay," said Kobia. (UPI)
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