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Friday, 05 March 2010

3 March 2010 News Digest

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By Alima Bissenova (3/5/2010 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Kazakh oil transit more economical via Poland than Ukraine – company chief 18 March Diverting Kazakh oil supplies towards Poland turned out to be more cost-effective, head of national gas company KazMunayGas Kairgeldy Kabyldin told a press conference in Astana on Thursday. "We asked for help from our Russian colleagues, who suggested sending supplies towards [Poland], which turned out to be economically more effective than towards Odesa," he said, adding that 3.

Kazakh oil transit more economical via Poland than Ukraine – company chief 18 March Diverting Kazakh oil supplies towards Poland turned out to be more cost-effective, head of national gas company KazMunayGas Kairgeldy Kabyldin told a press conference in Astana on Thursday. "We asked for help from our Russian colleagues, who suggested sending supplies towards [Poland], which turned out to be economically more effective than towards Odesa," he said, adding that 3.5 million tonnes of Kazakh oil had been diverted towards Gdansk. In late 2009, Ukrainian monopolist Ukrtransnafta notified KazTransOil in writing about the unilateral termination of the contract on Kazakh oil transit via Ukraine as of January 26, 2010. At the same time, the Kazakh-Ukrainian intergovernmental cooperation agreement on the supply and transit of Kazakh oil to and via Ukraine, signed on June 1, 2004, remains valid. The February supplies of Kazakh oil will be shipped towards Poland (Gdansk). Ukratransnafta will be seeking to increase the oil transit fee for Kazakhstan, said Yuriy Prodan, Ukraine's Fuel and Energy Minister. "Commercial talks are under way about the price of transportation. If the parties are satisfied with the price and quantities, a relevant agreement will be signed," he said. (Interfax)

 

Russia categorically against 'paralyzing sanctions' against Iran – deputy foreign minister 18 March Russia is categorically against so-called paralyzing sanctions against Iran and believes that sanctions, if imposed on that country, should be aimed exclusively at strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said. "Certainly, we absolutely dismiss the term 'paralyzing sanctions'. Sanctions should be aimed at strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime," Ryabkov told Interfax on Friday. "We certainly cannot talk about sanctions that could be interpreted as punishment of the whole country and its people for some actions or inaction," Ryabkov said. "We will not look at these issues from this viewpoint," he said. In commenting on Israel's position that exports of Iranian oil should be restricted as part of possible sanctions, Ryabkov said, "Only sanctions having to do with the strengthening of the nuclear non-proliferation regime can be viewed in terms of Russia's position."Asked which of the other five world powers negotiating with Iran to alleviate international concerns about its nuclear program, i.e. China, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the U.S., have positions closer to Russia's regarding possible sanctions against Iran, Ryabkov said, "Let our partners in this sextet themselves judge whose position is closer to Russia's." "There is nothing more consistent than our position on Iran," Ryabkov said. "We have always favored the resolution of the problems arising in connection with the Iranian nuclear program through dialogue and, if possible, interaction with Iran," Ryabkov said."Tactics could be different at different stages of this work," Ryabkov said. "At one point we could emphasize initiatives not directly related to the six powers' activities, and at another, make the sanctions issue more relevant," he said. However, "regardless of these tactical maneuvers, a focus on negotiations, on a diplomatic way of looking for solutions, and on Iran's involvement in this joint work has always been the core of Russia's position," he said. Ryabkov refrained from answering when the UN Security Council could discuss a resolution on imposing sanctions on Iran. "The UN Security Council discusses issues related to the Iranian nuclear program on a permanent basis, and there is nothing sensational or unusual in this. Let's wait and see what is going to be next," he said. (Interfax)

 

Iran should not be isolated on intl arena – Lavrov 19 February Iran should not be isolated on the international arena, because it has quite a strong influence on many processes in the Middle East, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov."Wherever you look, be it Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, or probably even a broader territory - Iran has its leverage of influence. The goal is to make this influence part of the common efforts in looking for constructive peaceful solutions to the crisis situation, in which this very explosive region has found itself," Lavrov said on Echo Moskvy radio on Friday. "The attempts to isolate those who can make their contribution on whatever pretext might be justified by an opportunistic desire not to waive some principles, but they are obviously not farsighted," he said.

When the George W. Bush administration attacked Iraq and the coalition invaded the country, the Baath party, which had been the foundation of Saddam Hussein's regime and which included mainly Sunnis, was disbanded, Lavrov said. "The Sunnis were simply stripped of all rights. They were banished from the army, from the security services, and from all government institutions, and the Americans staked on the Shiites," Lavrov said. "This alone immediately provided Iran, where the Shiite opposition was always supported during Saddam Hussein's rule, with another important lever of influence in the region," he said. After Hamas won elections in Palestine in 2006, this group was isolated in Gaza, which increased "Iran's influence on this situation as well," he said. "There are also well-known facts like Iran's support of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran's cooperation with Syria, which someone tried to isolate as well. Therefore, wherever you look at in the Middle East, Iran's positions have always been quite substantial there," he said. (Interfax)

 

Kazakh journalists urge end to newspaper’s harassment 20 February Dozens of Kazakh journalists and human rights activists have urged senior government officials to allow unimpeded publication of the opposition weekly "Respublika," RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports. In an open letter to Prime Minister Karim Masimov, Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabaev, and Prosecutor-General Kayrat Mami, the journalists requested an official government statement that publishing houses in Kazakhstan may print "Respublika." Among those signing the letter were Seitqazy Mataev, chairman of the Journalists Union; Tamara Kaleeva, president of the media-monitoring NGO Adil Soz (Just Word); and Adil Dzhalilov, chairman of the Almaty-based NGO Media Alliance of Kazakhstan. In recent months, the weekly's editors have been constrained to print issues of the newspaper in their offices under modified titles such as "Golos respubliki" (Voice of the Republic) and "Moya respublika" (My Republic), because no publishing house in Kazakhstan would print the weekly. The editors of "Respublika" believe printing houses have been ordered not to publish the paper. Kazakhstan is currently the chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a 56-member regional security organization that works to promote a range of issues, from democratization to free media, fair elections to minority rights. (RFE/RL)

 

At least seven dead in Afghanistan’s Helmand blast 23 March A remote-controlled bomb has killed at least seven Afghan civilians and wounded 14 in front of a government building in southern Afghanistan, a government official said. The blast was in Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand, Afghanistan's most violent province. NATO-led troops are in the 10th day of an operation to flush the Taliban out of nearby Marjah district, where the militants had set up their last big stronghold in Helmand."The blast was caused by explosives attached to a bicycle and was controlled remotely," said Dawud Ahmadi, spokesman for Helmand's provincial government. He said later all the casualties were civilians. "The latest information we have says that seven people have been killed and 14 wounded," Ahmadi said. He said he did not know who the target of the blast was. Violence across Afghanistan last year hit its highest levels since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001. The Islamist militants have made a comeback and are resisting efforts by President Hamid Karzai's U.S.-backed government to impose control. In Zabul Province, also in the south, a roadside bomb hit a convoy of Romanian soldiers serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) today, said Mohammad Jan Rasoulyar, a spokesman for the provincial governor. Five casualties were evacuated from the site, Rasoulyar said, but it was not clear if anyone had been killed. (Reuters)

 

Kazakhs allow trucks into Kyrgyzstan after weeks of delay 23 February Kazakh officials have allowed a group of trucks to enter Kyrgyzstan after holding many of them at the border for weeks, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports. Kyrgyz businessmen had been complaining that dozens of trucks bound for Kyrgyzstan were stopped without explanation by Kazakh customs officials at the Konusbaev checkpoint on the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border and at the Hargos checkpoint on the Kazakh-Chinese border. Most of the trucks were coming from China, Turkey, and Iran. Many had been kept at the border since February 1. Some businessmen were told that the delay was connected to Kazakhstan's membership in the customs union with Russia and Belarus, which came into force on January 1 and created changes in customs procedures. (RFE/RL)

 

Kyrgyz protest electricity price hike 25 February Some 600 people in the central Kyrgyz city of Naryn have protested against a price increase for electricity, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports. The demonstration was held on February 24 in Naryn's central park. Participants held placards with such slogans as "We can't pay the new prices for electricity" and "Government, listen to us!" The demonstrators adopted an appeal to the government and the parliament demanding a lower price for electricity in this mountainous region. They gave the Kyrgyz authorities 10 days to meet their demand. Naryn Mayor Almaz Kulmatov left his office to meet with the protesters. He promised to convey their demands to officials in Bishkek. Police surrounded the protesters but did not intervene. The government announced late last year that utility prices would be increased in stages beginning in January. (RFE/RL)

 

Armenian, Georgian Presidents Pledge Closer Cooperation 1 March Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian pledged closer cooperation between their respective countries, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports. Sarkisian arrived in Batumi on Georgia's Black Sea coast on February 27 on a private visit. The two men spent that day and the next talking and taking walks around the city, which has become a popular destination for Armenian vacationers in recent years. "We agreed that the integration of our countries' economies should further intensify," Saakashvili told journalists on February 28. "We need more communication and more work to bring our peoples together, though they already are close to each other. Such meetings will take place much more frequently and this will benefit everyone." He described relations between the two countries as "cloudless." He also said he is sure 2010 will prove to be "a turning point in our relations, even if those relations have always been very good and are very good now, too." The two men also discussed the Upper Lars border crossing between Russia and Georgia, which reopened today. Its closure in 2006 hurt Armenian exports to Russia of agricultural produce and other goods.  The Georgian and Russian governments announced in late December that they would allow renewed commercial and passenger traffic through the mountain pass as of today. The agreement was reportedly reached under Swiss and Armenian mediation. (RFE/RL)

 

Gas price split from Nabucco, envoy says 1 March Ankara backs the Nabucco gas pipeline for Europe, though the government hasn't connected that project to gas talks with Baku, officials said. Europe aims to diversify its energy sector through the Nabucco gas pipeline. The project would transport non-Russian gas along a route through Turkey and southern Europe. European energy security was upended in 2009 when Russian energy giant Gazprom cut gas supplies to Ukraine because of a dispute over debts and contracts. That row left Europe in the cold for weeks as 80 percent of its Russian gas passes through Soviet-era pipelines in Ukraine. Nabucco enjoys widespread political support, though supplier nations are slow to make firm commitments to the project. Developers eye gas from Azerbaijan, though Turkish ties with Baku overshadow some of the optimism. Hulusi Kilic, the Turkish envoy to Baku, said in an interview with the Azeri Press Agency that it was important not to "confuse commercial issues with the political issues." Both sides have shifted on their energy relationship tied to pricing agreements for gas from the giant offshore Shah Deniz project. Kilic noted there was no agreement on the price for gas from Shah Deniz but stressed there were no links between those talks and Nabucco. "Turkey supports Nabucco," he said. "But there is no official connection between Turkey-Azerbaijan natural gas discussions and Nabucco, the sides are not discussing the issues related to Nabucco project." (UPI)

 

Son of Late Georgian Leader Ends Hunger Strike 1 March A son of former Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia has ended his hunger strike at the request of the patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, RFE/RL's Echo of the Caucasus reports. Tsotne Gamsakhurdia's lawyer, Keti Bekauri, said her client has been on a hunger strike since November, drinking only fluids during this time. Bekauri said he had been hospitalized during this time because of bad health. His lawyer added that her client decided to end the strike today only after being asked to do so by Patriarch Ilia II. Tsotne Gamsakhurdia was arrested on October 27 and accused of shooting and wounding his neighbor, David Bazhelidze. He was also charged in late January with cooperating with Russia secret services. Meanwhile, the Tbilisi city court today resumed hearings in Tsotne Gamsakhurdia's case. He and his supporters say the charges against him are politically motivated. Zviad Gamsakhurdia was the first democratically elected president of Georgia in 1991. He died in mysterious circumstances on December 31, 1993, at the age of 54. Tsotne Gamsakhurdia is the half-brother of Tavisupleba (Liberty) party leader Konstantine Gamsakhurdia. (RFE/RL)

 

Afghanistan may ease ban on news coverage of attacks 2 March Afghanistan today said it would clarify newly announced restrictions on media coverage of insurgent attacks. The Afghan National Directorate of Security intelligence agency on March 1 summoned journalists to its headquarters and threatened to arrest anyone filming while attacks are under way. A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, Wahid Omar, then said today that the new guidelines had not yet been drawn up, and promised they would not amount to "censorship." Omar said the goal would be to prevent insurgents from using live media reports to get tactical information, and to keep journalists themselves out of danger at the scene of violence. Taliban fighters have recently staged several major attacks, including one on February 26 in which suicide bombers struck hotels and battled police in downtown Kabul. Sixteen people were killed. Afghan Journalists Association director Rahimullha Samandar, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan in Kabul today that Afghan journalists oppose the new measure. "Our reaction to this [decision] is that according to Afghan laws, the government can never directly censor news coverage," Samandar said. "All of us are against this direct censorship by the government. This decision shows nothing but the inability of the government." U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Washington was monitoring the issue and would raise it with Kabul. "The United States supports freedom of the press and we will discuss this issue with the government of Afghanistan," Hayden said. (RFE/RL)

 

Mullahs help promote birth control in afghanistan 2 March Some mullahs in Afghanistan are distributing condoms. Others are quoting the Quran to encourage longer breaks between births. Health experts say contraception is starting to catch on in a country where one in eight women dies during pregnancy. Afghanistan has one of the world's highest fertility rates, averaging more than six babies per woman despite years of war and a severe lack of medical care. Awareness of, and access to, contraceptives remains low among many couples, with UNICEF estimating 10 percent of women using some form of birth control. But use of the pill, condoms and injected forms of birth control rose to 27 percent over eight months in three rural areas -- up to half the woman in one area -- once the benefits were explained one-on-one by health workers, according to the report published Monday in Bulletin, the World Health Organization's journal. Afghanistan's maternal death rate of 1,800 per 100,000 live births is topped only by Sierra Leone worldwide, according to UNICEF. The U.S. rate is 11 per 100,000 births. Quotes were used from the Quran to promote breast-feeding for two years, while local religious leaders, or mullahs, joined community and health leaders to explain the importance of spacing out births to give moms and babies the best chance at good health. In total, 37 mullahs endorsed using contraceptives as a way to increase the time between births, some delivering the message during Friday prayers. The mullahs' major concerns centered on safety and infertility, the report said. Islam, unlike Catholicism, does not fundamentally oppose birth control. Everything from vasectomies to abortions are supported in various parts of the Muslim world. Many Afghan mullahs are very open about promoting family planning, said Farhad Javid, program director of Marie Stopes International, a British-based family planning organization in Kabul. He was not involved in the study, but said his organization has trained 3,500 religious leaders nationwide on the issue since 2003. It distributed more than 2 million condoms last year. "In a couple of districts, mullahs were taking our condom stocks and selling them during (night) prayers because the clinics were not open after 4 o'clock," Javid said. During the study from 2005-2006 -- which involved 3,700 families in three rural areas with different ethnic groups, including both Sunni and Shia Muslims -- the Health Ministry collaborated with nonprofit organizations to spread the word that using birth control was 300 times safer than giving birth in Afghanistan. They also involved husbands in the project and sought to dispel beliefs that contraceptives have negative side effects, such as infertility. (AP) U.S. warship conducts joint training with Georgia 2 March U.S. naval forces started exercises with Georgia's coast guard today along the Black Sea coast, in a sign of Washington's support for the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili. The start of the two-day exercises came as Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said it had finished setting up a coast guard division in the breakaway region of Abkhazia. Black Sea tensions have eased since a row last year over the seizure by the Georgian coastguard of ships trying to trade with Abkhazia, recognized by Russia as an independent state after a brief war with Georgia in 2008. Moscow's military crushed an assault by Georgia's U.S.-trained military on the breakaway pro-Russian territory of South Ossetia in a five-day war in August 2008. In the weeks after the 2008 war, several U.S. navy ships, including the guided-missile destroyer "McFaul," docked off Georgia's Black Sea coast, angering Moscow which accused Washington of sending weapons. "We'll be doing damage control training today...fighting a fire on board a ship, a hazard materials spill," Commander Derek Lavan told Reuters on board the guided-missile frigate "USS John L. Hall." "We'll show the Georgian team how the warship is made and what kind of equipment we use," he said, as a group of Georgian coast guards sprinted around the deck wearing gas masks. The training will include law enforcement and ship-boarding drills. (Reuters)

 

Tajik election winner threatened with polygamy charges 3 March The winner of a local election in southern Tajikistan is being told to renounce his victory or face polygamy charges, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports. Usmon Majidov, the head of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) branch in the Vakhsh district of Khatlon Province, told RFE/RL that IRP candidate Qimatulloh Murodov -- who was elected to a town council on February 28 -- was summoned to the local prosecutor's office on March 2. Qalandar Sadriddinzodal, the IRP's leader in Khatlon Province, told RFE/RL that local prosecutors promised not to file polygamy charges against Murodov if he agrees to renounce his election to the council. Varqa Zainiddinov, the regional prosecutor's office spokesman, said that since polygamy is illegal anyone with more than one wife "should and would be brought to trial." The IRP officially won 7.7 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections and received two seats in the parliament's lower chamber. It finished a distant second to the ruling People's Democratic Party. IRP leader Muhiddin Kabiri called the elections "repressive." International election-monitoring organizations said the vote was neither fair nor free and did not meet international standards. (RFE/RL) Astana seeks oil transit options 3 March Kazakhstan needs new oil transit routes to handle the expected increase in production from the giant offshore Kashagan field, the Kazak president said. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said during talks with his Romanian counterpart, Traian Basescu, that Kazakh oil could move through a new pipeline though Azerbaijan and Georgia. Romania could then carry the oil by tankers across the Black Sea. Astana needs additional transit options to handle increased oil production from the Kashagan field in the Caspian Sea, which starts up in 2012, the Financial Times reports.Kazakh oil stopped moving through Georgian terminals on the Black Sea during the August 2008 conflict between Tbilisi and Moscow. In February, meanwhile, executives at Tengizshevroil, the Chevron division in Kazakhstan, said an increase in oil tariffs by Baku was a reason to halt exports through a key oil pipeline.The new route would give Astana the opportunity to expand its transit options beyond Russian pipelines. Kazakhstan in 2009 produced 1.5 million barrels of day. That should double when the Kashagan field enters production. (RFE/RL) Ankara watching over U.S. measure on Armenia 3 March Turkish leaders said they hope U.S. lawmakers will use common sense when considering a resolution on atrocities committed against Armenians. U.S. Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., is backing a resolution on its way to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs that would classify atrocities committed against the Armenia population under Ottoman rule in 1915 as genocide. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped Washington wouldn't undermine regional relations and pass the measure, Turkey's English-language daily newspaper Hurriyet reports. "I trust the leadership and common sense of (U.S. President Barack) Obama, who is closely following the ongoing normalization efforts with Armenia," he said. Ankara says Armenia is illegally occupying the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is also claimed by Azerbaijan. Turkey closed its border to Armenia because of a 1993 invasion of the territory. Ankara expressed hope the U.S. congressional resolution wouldn't pass, fearing pressure over normalization protocols with Yerevan under consideration in the Turkish Parliament, Hurriyet added. Erdogan said, "I'd like to say it would be more accurate to research genocide claims not at the House of Representatives but at universities and archives," he said. (UPI)
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