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Wednesday, 23 December 2009

23 December 2009 News Digest

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By Alima Bissenova (12/23/2009 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Dashnaks Plan More Protests Against Turkish-Armenian Protocols 14 December A leading member of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) has said the party will launch street protests in early January aimed at scuttling implementation of the Turkish-Armenian protocols signed two months ago, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The Armenian Constitutional Court is scheduled to start assessing the accords on January 12. Vahan Hovannisian said today the party has received numerous calls to hold "serious actions of protest" on the eve of the announcement of the Constitutional Court decision.

Dashnaks Plan More Protests Against Turkish-Armenian Protocols 14 December A leading member of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) has said the party will launch street protests in early January aimed at scuttling implementation of the Turkish-Armenian protocols signed two months ago, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The Armenian Constitutional Court is scheduled to start assessing the accords on January 12. Vahan Hovannisian said today the party has received numerous calls to hold "serious actions of protest" on the eve of the announcement of the Constitutional Court decision. He said that "seeing that a popular wave [of protest] is again rising, we can state for certain that there will be no calm in Armenia during those days." Dashnaktsutyun quit the four-party coalition government in April to protest President Serzh Sarkisian's policy of rapprochement with Turkey. The party staged protests against the Turkish-Armenian protocols signed in Zurich on October 10, which it considers a sellout. The party is particularly unhappy with Yerevan's formal recognition of the existing Turkish-Armenian border and its acceptance of a Turkish proposal to set up a joint commission of historians that would research the mass killings of Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire. (RFE/RL)

Georgia refuses to take part in exchange of prisoners 15 December Georgia has refused to take part in a meeting dedicated to the exchange of prisoners with South Ossetia. The meeting with the participation of Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Charalampos Christopoulos was planned for December 17, South Ossetian Presidential Representative for the Post-Conflict Settlement Boris Chochiyev told Itar-Tass on Tuesday. “Representatives of the OSCE Secretariat told me by phone that Georgia would not take part in the meeting until the release of the Georgian citizens seized in South Ossetia on November 4,” he said. (Itar-Tass)

USA refuses to recognize Abkhaz presidential election - Department of State spokesman Ian Kelly 15 December The United States does not recognize the presidential election in Abkhazia, Department of State spokesman Ian Kelly said in a brief statement posted on Monday. “The United States regrets the decision to hold “elections” in the Abkhazia region of Georgia on December 12 and recognizes neither the legality nor the results. The United States reiterates its support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders,” the statement runs. (Itar-Tass)

Medvedev Congratulates Nazarbayev on Kazakh Independence Day 16 December Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has forwarded greetings to his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev whose country is marking Independence Day, the Kremlin press service said."Over the years of its sovereign development, Kazakhstan has scored considerable successes in strengthening its statehood and economy. Under your leadership, the republic has established itself as a responsible and authoritative member of the international community. I am convinced that Kazakhstan's upcoming chairmanship of the OSCE in 2010 will make a solid contribution to efforts aimed at maintaining international stability and security," Medvedev said."The Russian-Kazakh strategic partnership has been developing confidently. It is based on the cultural and spiritual commonness of our countries' people. What is important is that the traditions of friendship and good neighborliness have been both carefully preserved and consistently multiplied," the Russian president said."Political dialogue at various levels has been playing a special role in Russian-Kazakh ties," he said."I highly appreciate our trustful and constructive personal relations. I recall our meetings held this year with warmth. And I hope to continue our fruitful dialogue in a few days - during our upcoming meetings in hospitable Almaty," Medvedev said."Russia and Kazakhstan share a common vision on crucial global processes in the international arena, as well as their commitment to finding the most optimal solutions to key present-day problems. Our countries have been vigorously cooperating within a wide variety of important multilateral organizations and formats, including the CIS, the EurAsEC (Eurasian Economic Community), the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization)," he said. (Interfax)

U.S. ambassador says Iranians still helping Taliban militants 17 December Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan today that he continues to receive intelligence reports about "Iran or elements within Iran" providing weapons and training to Taliban militants who are fighting in Afghanistan. Eikenberry described the support as "low level" and "periodic cooperation." He also confirmed that General David Petraeus, the head of the U.S. military's Central Command, has reviewed the intelligence reports. "General Petraeus has said that the scope of that support is nothing on the level of the support that was given previously, at one time, by Iran to various terrorist elements in Iraq," Eikenberry said. "Still, the reports that continue to be received about this kind of low-level support and periodic cooperation between elements in Iran and militant extremist Taliban are disturbing and do not show good faith by [Afghanistan's] neighbor to the west." Eikenberry also said there will be "very significant increases" in U.S. developmental assistance to Afghanistan during the next two years as part of President Barack Obama's new strategy there. Eikenberry made the remarks from RFE/RL's bureau in Kabul during a live phone-in program that gave ordinary Afghans a chance to ask him questions. (RFE/RL)

U.S. spends $ 23 billion on Afghan contracts 18 December The United States has spent over $23 billion on reconstruction and development contracts in Afghanistan since 2002, and auditors say about $1 billion of this is waste, a U.S. senator says. The contract spending is expected to rise with President Barack Obama's planned surge of 30,000 U.S. forces into Afghanistan in the coming months, Senator Claire McCaskill said at a subcommitee hearing December 17. "Currently there is a great deal we do not know about contracting in Afghanistan. We do know, however, that the president's new strategy in Afghanistan will bring a massive increase in the number and value of contracts and contractors in Afghanistan," the Democratic senator said. The money has gone to projects ranging from road-building and power generation to agricultural and urban development and water sanitation, McCaskill's staff said in a memorandum prepared for the hearing of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, which she chairs. The panel is part of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The $23 billion contract spending estimate was made by the Federal Procurement Data System, a central depository of information on U.S. government contracting, the subcommittee memorandum said. McCaskill said the waste identified by auditors amounted to nearly one in six dollars spent on Afghan contracts so far. She worried that the waste and fraud that had been seen in some contracting in Iraq would be repeated in Afghanistan. Jeffrey Parsons, director of the Army Contracting Command, testified before the subcommittee that the Army is training contracting officers being sent to Afghanistan so they can better identify bad business practices. Over 100,000 contractors are working for the U.S. government in Afghanistan, and that number could reach 160,000 next year, McCaskill said, citing estimates by the Congressional Research Service. Some two-thirds of the current contractors are Afghans, she said. The Congressional Research Service recently said the United States has spent nearly $230 billion on the war in Afghanistan. That amount will jump to $300 billion once Congress has approved a military spending bill for fiscal 2010. The House has approved it and the Senate is expected to act on the bill this week. (Reuters)

Tajikistan opens border so that Afghan shepherds can go home 18 December A Tajik border official has said 25 Afghan shepherds and thousands of sheep stranded for nine days by a snowstorm crossed through the Vakhon Mountains to return to Afghanistan, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports. Border official Firdavs Davlatov told RFE/RL that the shepherds and some 3,500 sheep crossed into Afghanistan's Khargushi region on December 16 after being trapped in the Langhar region. Davlatov said the decision to open the border for the shepherds and their flocks was made following a request by the Afghan Consulate in Khorugh, the administrative center of Badakhshan Province.  He said the shepherds had to travel some 80 kilometers on Tajik territory.  Zabehullah Naseeri, the second secretary of the Afghan Consulate in Badakhshan, told RFE/RL that crossing through Tajikistan was the only safe path for the shepherds and expressed his gratitude to Tajik officials for their understanding. Davlatov said the shepherds were provided with medical and veterinary assistance when they entered Tajikistan. Tajikistan shares a 1,400 kilometer border with Afghanistan. (RFE/RL)

Ankara considers Nabucco pipeline 18 December Financing for the $11.3 billion Nabucco gas pipeline is a challenge, though ties with Azerbaijan could benefit the project, Turkish lawmakers said. Ankara hosted the signing of a milestone intergovernmental agreement by representatives of Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Turkey on the construction of the Nabucco natural gas pipeline in July. A report from the Turkish Foreign Affairs Committee passed its recommendations on Nabucco to lawmakers this week, warning of financial challenges for the project, Turkey's leading English-language daily Today's Zaman reports. The report warned about "uncertainties" in the financial support for the gas pipeline, which the committee felt posed "a serious risk." Taner Yildiz, the Turkish energy minister, expressed optimism about the prospects for Nabucco, however, pointing to gas deals with Azerbaijan as a sign of progress. Ties between Baku and Ankara are strained over regional disputes, though both sides have made progress on the diplomatic front. Nevertheless, the committee noted that for Nabucco, Baku could play a "key role." Europe aims to diversify its energy sector with Nabucco, bringing gas from Central Asia and the Middle East along a Turkish route. Ankara is slated to host a section of Russia's South Stream as well. (UPI)

Russia backs launch of Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan-China gas pipeline – Shuvalov 19 December Russia approves and supports the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan-China gas pipeline launched earlier this week, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said. "A more diverse and better infrastructure in the Customs Union and the CIS means our greater contribution to global energy security," Shuvalov told journalists. "We support these projects," he said. "Russia is working on its own and together with other partners to expand the infrastructure for energy supplies," he said. (Interfax)

Kazakhstan avows innocence of arrested Kazakh crew members in Thailand 21 December Kazakhstan firmly declared that the Kazakh crew members of the IL-76 cargo plane arrested in Thailand are innocent, the spokesperson of Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry said on Monday during a briefing. "The aircraft crew are innocent and are not responsible for reliability of the cargo and its content, according to the relative regulation and usual practice of international freight transportation," spokesperson Yerzhan Ashikbayev said. "We have been cooperating with the authorities of Thailand to at least make the conditions of our citizens in prison easier, and try to release them on bail before the next trial," Ashikbayev said. Ashikbayev said so far, the crew members have already received legal assistance and gotten in touch with their families. The IL-76 cargo plane was detained on Dec. 12 by local police after it landed for refueling at Bangkok's Don Muang airport. It was carrying 40 tons of arms including rocket-propelled grenades and surface-to-air missile launchers. Five crew members were arrested, a captain from Belarus and four Kazakh nationals. The chairman of Kazakhstan's Civil Aviation committee said on Dec. 14 that the IL-76 had been registered in Kazakhstan, but was later sold to Air West Georgia. (Xinhua)

Georgia reportedly detains Russian border guard 21 December The Russian border guard service's branch in South Ossetia said it was checking a report that a Russian border guard was arrested on Georgian territory early on Monday. "According to information from the Georgian side, Vitaly Viktorovich Khripun, a warrant officer of the Border Guard Department of the Russian Federal Security Service in the Republic of South Ossetia, was detained in the vicinity of the village of Perevi in the republic's Dzhava district," the department said. "The Georgian side was ready to hand over the detainee but then postponed the handover for an indefinite time," it said. The department confirmed that Khripun was "in the vicinity of the village of Perevi as a member of a border guard detail" early on Monday. It said Khripun, 25, had joined the department this month. (Interfax)

Georgian opposition protests against demolition of war memorial in Kutaisi 21 December The leaders and activists of several opposition Georgian parties held a peaceful protest in Kutaisi on Monday against the demolition of a war memorial in this city on December 19 that resulted in the death of two people. About 2,000 people and the leaders of several parties attended the event, including Zurab Nogaideli (former prime minister and the head of the movement For a Just Georgia), Salome Zourabichvili (former foreign minister and the leader of the Georgia’s Way party), Temur Shashiashviil (former Imereti governor, presidential ex-candidate and leader of the Tetrebi party), Gubaz Sanikidze (leader of the opposition National Forum), and others. They criticised the authorities for their policy and said “the fight against monuments is unacceptable and criminal”. The speakers said they would insist on the dynamited war memorial be restored in the same place and an Orthodox church be built nearby in memory of those who died during the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War and the woman and her eight-year-old daughter killed during the demolition last Saturday.  Nogaideli said earlier that the government’s policy with regard to monuments was “cynical”. “The decision to dismantle the war memorial in Kutaisi was made by the authorities without taking into account the opinion of the public and without any need,” he said. He blamed authorities for the death of two people who were killed during the blasting work at the construction site. Georgia’s Main Prosecutor’s Office confirmed the death of two people during the demolition of the war memorial. Chief prosecutor Murtas Zodelava told journalists, “Two persons died during the dismantling of a part of the memorial that was carried out by a private company under a contract with the Kutaisi municipal authorities.” “According to preliminary information, the tragedy occurred because occupational safety rules were not fully compiled with during the operation,” he said. “All persons responsible for incident will be brought to justice,” the prosecutor said. Chunks of concrete killed a woman and her eight-year-old daughter who were standing several dozen metres from the war memorial. The site is fenced off, but obviously too close to the place of the work. Another two local residents received injuries and were hospitalised, local mass media and law enforcement reported. The investigation of the incident is underway. President Mikhail Saakashvili has cut short his visit to Copenhagen, where he attended the U.N. Climate Change Summit, and flew back home. In the evening, Saakashvili held “an urgent meeting with law enforcement leaders, members of the government and the heads of regional administrations and received a comprehensive report on the tragedy”, presidential spokeswoman Manana Mandzhgaladze said. “The president of Georgia hopes that the investigation started by the Main Prosecutor's Office will determine the details of the tragedy and those responsible,” she said a press briefing. “The president has been shocked by the tragedy and expressed condolences to the families of those killed. According to Saakashvili's decision, the state will provide financial aid and moral support to the families of those killed and injured,” the spokeswoman said. (Itar-Tass)

NATO says no deadline for Afghan troop withdrawal 22 December The head of NATO has said there will be no deadline for the exit of allied troops from Afghanistan, as fears grow among Afghans that foreign forces will leave before their own troops are able to guarantee security. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was visiting Afghanistan for the first time since U.S. President Barack Obama announced plans this month to send 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan to try and tame mounting violence. NATO allies have also promised to send around 7,000 more. But Washington's plan also calls for U.S. troop levels to be scaled down from 2011 as Afghan security forces gradually take over responsibility, sparking concerns among Afghan civilians. Unrest has reached its worst levels in the eight-year war, and many fear that bombings and attacks may rise if their police and troops have not been well-enough prepared for their new responsibilities. There are currently around 110,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including 68,000 Americans. "My first message is to the Afghan people: I know that some are wondering how long international forces will stay, more specifically, they are worried we will leave too soon," Rasmussen told reporters alongside the Afghan president in Kabul. "Let there be no doubt, the international community will stand with you, will protect you, and help rebuild your country until you are ready to stand on your own," he said. Rasmussen said there would be a "new momentum" in 2010 as NATO ramped up its mission in Afghanistan but that its main focus would be to protect the population and train more Afghan forces. Afghan police and soldiers would begin to take over security from foreign forces next year, he said, but stressed the change would only come when the Afghans were ready. "They will start to take the lead when and where they are ready. This transition will be conditions based, not calendar driven. We will stay the course," he said. He added that NATO was now in a "phase of increasing, not decreasing." But despite the headline figure of 7,000 extra forces, figures from NATO sources showed pledges for only 5,500 troops, with 1,500 more to be confirmed later. Of the 5,500, at least 1,500 are already in the country and will not now be withdrawn as planned, NATO sources have said. The additional numbers also do not account for some 4,900 Dutch and Canadian troops due to leave Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. (Reuters)

RSF urges Kazakhstan to investigate killing of Kyrgyz opposition journalist 22 December The international press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders (RWB) has expressed its outrage over the killing of opposition Kyrgyz journalist Gennady Pavlyuk in Almaty, Kazakhstan. "Ten days ahead of taking over the presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Kazakh authorities cannot allow a murder like this to go unpunished and the Kyrgyz side must cooperate in resolving this case," the organization said in a statement. "The attack, this time in a neighboring country, is the third in a week launched against Kyrgyzstan journalists of Russian origin," RWB said. "Political analyst Alexander Knyazev was attacked in the capital Bishkek on 9 December and the correspondent for Russian news agency BaltInfo, Alexander Evgrafov, was struck and threatened by uniformed police on 15 December," it said. "It is impossible at the moment to establish a direct link between this murder attempt against Gennady Pavlyuk and the two previous assaults, even if a vocal minority has wanted to give the impression that it was a concerted plan. But in any event, the exploitation of these attacks in the interests of a strategy of nationalist and political tension is unacceptable," it said."Journalists cannot go on being taken hostage by the extreme polarization of Kyrgyzstan political life," it said. Unidentified individuals apparently threw Pavlyuk out of a window in a multistory building in Almaty on December 16. He died in the hospital without regaining consciousness on Tuesday. (Interfax)

Turkmenistan to supply up to 30 bcm of gas to Russia per year 22 December Russia and Turkmenistan have agreed that Turkmen gas supply totaling up to 30 billion cubic meters per year will resume in the period January 1-10. An amendment to the gas trade agreement of April 10, 2003 was signed in the presence of the Russian and Turkmen presidents. Gazprom (RTS: GAZP) Deputy Chief Executive Alexander Medvedev told reporters that the documents "set down all the terms for resuming supplies, their volume and prices and status." "For the first time in Russian-Turkmen gas relations, gas supplies will be based on a formula that corresponds fully to the terms of the European gas market," Medvedev said. (Interfax)

Afghan Lawmaker Dies In Police Ambush 23 December Afghan officials say a member of parliament was killed when his vehicle drove through a police ambush set for Taliban militants. The Interior Ministry said Mohammad Yunos Shirnagha, a member of Afghanistan's upper house of parliament, failed to stop at a police checkpoint set up as part of the planned ambush. The ministry said Shirnagha and his driver were killed when police opened fire. The incident took place in northern Baghlan province. (RFE/RL)

LG launches $9.8 mln refrigerator production in Uzbekistan 23 December LG Electronics of South Korea has begun producing refrigerators in Uzbekistan at a plant into which it has put $9.8 million, the association Uzeltekhprom told Interfax. Production was organized at OJSC Sino (Samarkand), an Uzbek monopoly producer of refrigerator and freezer equipment, under a mid-2009 deal signed by Uzeltekhprom and LG, the Uzeltekhprom administration source said. The first phase of the project, running until the end of next year, will be production of 50,000 LG brand refrigerators built on modern assembly lines LG has set up at the Samarkand plant. The second phase, in 2011, envisions upgrading the plant's production capacity to where it can produce up to 100,000 new kinds of refrigerators and freezers per year. Total investment in the project will be roughly $15 million. Sino, with production capacity of 250,000 units per year, was launched in 1973. It was declared bankrupt in 2003 and plant management was turned over to a consortium of Uzbek companies. Its equipped capacity is currently only 15%. Uzeltekhprom, which comprises Uzbek electro-technical sector companies, plans in 2009-2013 to direct $93 million to modernizing and developing production at the plant, including $48.7 million for the production of household appliances. Over a five-year period, plans call for upgrading existing and building new production facilities for making up to 200,000 televisions, 350,000 refrigerators, 90,000 washing machines, 75, 000 air conditioners, 35,000 compact disc players, and 50,000 regular telephones. Appliances will carry the LG and Samsung brand names (South Korea), Candy (Italy), Haier (China), and also the local brand Roison. (Interfax)

Armenian Activist Says Officials Provoked Deadly Clashes 23 December An Armenian opposition leader and newspaper editor on trial over postelection unrest says officials provoked deadly unrest in Yerevan last year by rigging the presidential election and persecuting opposition supporters, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.  Nikol Pashinian presented detailed allegations on December 21 during his trial on charges of provoking clashes between security forces and supporters of opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian following the February 2008 presidential election. Ten people died and more than 200 others were injured in the violence. Pashinian described what he said were officials' plans to provoke and disperse thousands of opposition protesters who barricaded themselves in central Yerevan on March 1, 2008. "If the authorities really wanted to prevent clashes between police and people, they should not have attacked [the people] in the first place," he said during nearly three hours of testimony. Pashinian, 34, was a leader of the antigovernment protests sparked by the disputed election, and he went into hiding after authorities declared a state of emergency and began mass arrests of opposition members. The editor of the newspaper "Haykakan Zhamanak," Pashinian also defended opposition activists who clashed with riot police during an October 2007 incident. The confrontation took place in Yerevan between police and a small crowd promoting Ter-Petrosian's first rally in the capital since his return to politics. Pashinian and several other opposition figures were detained during the incident. Pashinian alleged that from that day until the February 2008 election Armenian police regularly intimidated and arrested Ter-Petrosian supporters on the orders of high-ranking government officials. (RFE/RL)

 

 

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