Wednesday, 07 April 2010

31 March 2010 News Digest

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By Alima Bissenova (4/7/2010 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Kazakh oil company leaders meet with striking workers 17 March Regional government officials and KazMunaiGaz oil and gas company managers are holding talks today with striking oil workers in the southwestern town of Zhanaozen, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports. KazMunaiGaz President Qayirgeldy Qabyldin visited the town on March 16 and held talks with the strikers. The two sides agreed to set up a conciliation commission to discuss the strikers' demands.

Kazakh oil company leaders meet with striking workers 17 March Regional government officials and KazMunaiGaz oil and gas company managers are holding talks today with striking oil workers in the southwestern town of Zhanaozen, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports. KazMunaiGaz President Qayirgeldy Qabyldin visited the town on March 16 and held talks with the strikers. The two sides agreed to set up a conciliation commission to discuss the strikers' demands. Union leader and striker Tabyn Ergenov told RFE/RL that the strikers elected 12 delegates to take part in the conciliation commission, which has begun its work. Several thousand workers at OzenMunaiGaz, a KazMunaiGaz affiliate, have been on strike since March 4. They are demanding the replacement of the official trade union leader; the annuling of the decision to change the workers wage scale, which they say reduced their wages; cuts in their annual work output; and the resignation of OzenMunaiGaz's director. The last demand was met on March 16 when OzenMunaiGaz head Baqytqali Biseken was fired. Union leader Ergenov says the strike will continue during the talks within the framework of the conciliation commission. (RFE/RL)

 

Tajik, Turkmen Presidents Discuss Afghanistan, Water Resources 18 March Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has held talks in Dushanbe with visiting Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports. Rahmon told a joint press conference that the talks focused on the use of water resources, including for hydroelectric power. He stressed that the international community knows that Tajikistan suffers from a deficit of electricity during winter. "Tajikistan's firm position in the area [of energy] is not only to meet the legitimate and logical need to use its natural resources, including water, to provide the country's economy and population with vital energy, but also to take into account our common regional interests," Rahmon said. Rahmon said that the positions of his country and Turkmenistan on Afghanistan, as well as on the fight against terrorism and drug-trafficking, coincide. He added that two countries have invited Afghanistan to cooperate in projects involving communications, roads, and gas pipelines and power lines linking Tajikistan and Turkmenistan via Afghanistan. Six bilateral economic and cultural agreements were signed. According to Rahmon, they cover cooperation in transport, air communications between the two countries, hydropower, natural gas, labor, and migration. Berdymukhammedov also indirectly rejected criticism from other countries in the region of the construction under way of a massive reservoir in the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan. Tajik Foreign Ministry spokesman Davlat Nazriev told RFE/RL that Berdimuhammedov will travel tomorrow to Rahmon's native town of Danghara in southern Tajikistan to celebrate the Norouz spring holiday there. (RFE/RL)

 

Nabucco set for 2011, spokesman says 18 March Shareholders in the Nabucco natural gas pipeline for Europe are determined to launch construction on the project in 2011, a spokesman said in Azerbaijan. European lawmakers this month allocated $270 million for the Nabucco gas pipeline. The 2,000-mile pipeline is meant to break Russia's grip on the regional energy sector by moving 1.1 trillion cubic feet of Middle Eastern and Central Asian gas to Europe each year. Christian Dolezal, the spokesman for the Nabucco gas pipeline consortium, told the Azeri news agency News.Az that Nabucco partners were optimistic about construction objectives. "Nabucco construction will start at the end of 2011," he said. "Shareholders and the Nabucco company are determined to achieve this target."The project struggles to secure firm commitments from potential suppliers in the Middle East and Central Asia, however. Dolezal said a 2009 agreement between transit nations gives Nabucco an edge over the South Stream gas pipeline, a Russian rival. Italian energy giant ENI suggested its South Stream could link to Nabucco though Dolezal dismissed the suggestion. "The Nabucco project is highly competitive -- commercially and technically," he said. "We are fully focusing on the successful realization of the project according to the feasibility study and there is no need to change the concept." (UPI)

 

Kazakh oil workers end strike 19 March Oil workers in the southwestern Kazakh town of Zhanaozen have ended a strike they began two weeks ago, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports. Several thousand employees of the OzenMunaiGaz Company had been on strike since March 4. They had demanded the annulling of a change in the workers' pay scale, which they say reduced their wages; cuts in the annual production target; and the resignation of OzenMunaiGaz's director. That last demand was met on March 16, when OzenMunaiGaz head Baqytqali Biseken was fired. Kazakhstan's KazMunaiGaz energy giant, of which OzenMunaiGaz is a subsidiary, announced today that the conciliation commission that was set up earlier this week has reached an agreement acceptable to all parties. On March 18, one of the strikers died of high blood pressure and a second was hospitalized. (RFE/RL)

 

Thousands are evacuated in flooded Eastern Kazakhstan 22 March Kazakh officials continue to evacuate towns and villages in eastern Kazakhstan due to flooding caused by a massive thaw after a blizzard, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports. Officials reported four bridges were washed away and a total of more than 160 homes, 200 nonresidential buildings, and nine livestock farms have been completely destroyed by floods in the past week in East Kazakhstan Oblast. Another 1,600 structures and 20 other livestock farms were damaged and an estimated 30,000 sheep, 4,000 cows, and more than 1,500 horses were reportedly killed by the flood waters. Local authorities started evacuating the population in the Tarbaghatai and Ulan districts of East Kazakhstan Oblast last week. More than 7,000 local citizens have been evacuated so far. The East Kazakhstan Oblast's Emergency Situations Ministry reported no casualties from the recent floods. On March 13, at least 41 people died when flood waters burst two dams in southeastern Kazakhstan. (RFE/RL)

 

Iran, Iraq needed for Nabucco, Baku says 22 March Natural gas from Iraq and Iran is needed for the Nabucco natural gas pipeline to Europe if the project is to get off the ground, officials in Azerbaijan said. Europe is pushing for the Nabucco gas pipeline to break the Russian grip on the regional energy sector. The European government recently allocated millions of dollars in funding for the project, though supplier nations are slow to commit formally. Resource-rich Azerbaijan is seen as a likely supplier to the 2,000-mile pipeline. Azeri Energy Minister Natiq Aliyev, however, said Iran and Iraq could emerge as possible suppliers for Nabucco in the coming years, London's Independent newspaper reports from Baku. "In a few years, when the Iran and Iraq situation is more stable politically, we will be able to implement the Nabucco project speedily," he said. Natural gas from the Kurdish north of Iraq is mentioned as a possible source for Nabucco given the close proximity to the planned route through Turkey. Iran sits on some of the largest natural gas deposits in the world, though Western officials have rejected any possibility for an Iranian role in Nabucco. Austrian energy giant OMV, a partner in the Nabucco consortium, said the project might not see the light of day without adequate supplies. Christian Dolezal, the spokesman for the Nabucco gas pipeline consortium, told the Azeri news agency News.Az last week, however, that Nabucco "construction will start at the end of 2011." (UPI)

 

U.S. plays down hopes for Afghan reconciliation 24 March U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today the timing was still not right for reconciliation with senior Afghan Taliban leaders, acknowledging military pressure had yet to weaken the group enough. "The shift of momentum is not yet strong enough to convince the Taliban leaders that they are in fact going to lose," Gates told lawmakers during a congressional hearing. "And it's when they begin to have doubts whether they can be successful that they may be willing to make a deal. I don't think we're there yet," he added. Gates's comments, upholding Washington's long-standing concerns, came the same day a negotiator for one of Afghanistan's main insurgent groups, Hezb-e Islami, Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. and act as a "bridge" to the Taliban, if Washington fulfills plans to start pulling out troops next year. Hezb-e Islami negotiator Mohammad Daoud Abedi told Reuters the decision to present a peace plan was taken as a direct response to a speech by U.S. President Barack Obama in December. Obama announced plans to deploy an extra 30,000 U.S. soldiers but set a mid-2011 target to begin a withdrawal. "There is a formula: 'No enemy is an enemy forever, no friend is a friend forever,'" Abedi said. "If that's what the international community with the leadership of the United States of America is planning -- to leave -- we better make the situation honorable enough for them to leave with honor." U.S. officials have repeatedly said a U.S. withdrawal will be gradual, at a speed that will depend on conditions on the ground and depend on Afghanistan's ability to provide for its own security. Admiral Mike Mullen, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the top U.S. military officer, cautioned against over-optimism created by reconciliation talk in congressional testimony today. He said the U.S. war effort was not "going to end rapidly." "I worry about the sort of hope that gets created immediately when you see a little light here that this is going to end rapidly," Mullen told lawmakers. "I just don't see that. This is a tough, very tough part of the process." (Reuters)

 

Baku, Ankara close to gas deal 24 March Turkey and Azerbaijan are expected to reach a settlement on gas prices in the near future, the Turkish energy minister said in Ankara.Baku charges Ankara considerably less for natural gas than it charges other customers. Baku wants to raise the price for Turkey, though both sides have bickered over the terms. Taner Yildiz, the Turkish energy and natural resources minister, said it has been more than one month since both sides have sat down at the negotiating table, Turkey's English-language daily newspaper Today's Zaman reports. He said this was normal, however, as both sides were preoccupied with their diplomatic affairs. Despite the delays, he said, Ankara was upbeat on the possibility of reaching a new pricing deal that was dictated by market conditions. "I believe we will reach an agreement with our neighbors soon," he said. Turkey and Azerbaijan are positioning themselves as major players in the regional energy sector. Azerbaijan sits on some of the largest natural gas deposits in the world, with roughly 30 trillion cubic feet of reserves on hand. Turkey, meanwhile, is set to host Russia's South Stream gas pipeline and Europe's Nabucco pipeline, which could rely on Azeri gas. (UPI) Kyrgyz politician “attacks newspaper office, destroys computers” 25 March An independent Kyrgyz newspaper today said the leader of a progovernment party came to its offices and damaged some equipment, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports. Aslanbek Sartbaev, the chief editor of the newspaper "Uchur," told RFE/RL that Nurlan Motuev -- the controversial leader of the Joomart (Generous) movement -- forced his way into the newspaper's offices in Bishkek and smashed four computers. Motuev confirmed to RFE/RL that he was in the newspaper's offices, but claimed he destroyed only two computers. He said he destroyed the computers because the newspaper has been insulting and libeling him for a long time. "I do not believe in the local courts, they never make a right and fair decision, and so I decided to stop the lies about me in this way," Motuev said. He added that one newspaper libeled him in the past but the court needlessly prolonged the hearings and ultimately dropped the case. Bishkek police have launched an investigation into the incident. (RFE/RL)

 

US NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR HAS NO OBJECTION TO MISTRAL SALE

26 March

In an Interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, US National Security Advisor General James Jones stated that the U.S. had “noted” the negotiations between France and Russia over the sale of Mistral-class amphibious warship to Russia. However, he added, “these negotiations are not the subject of any discord between the U.S. and France – we are ourselves engaged in an active warming of our relations with Russia. Therefore, I do not think this deal is an issue of particular concern to us. I have never raised the issue with my French counterpart and to my knowledge, neither has the President.” (Le Figaro)

 

Turkmenistan holds conference on creating desert lake 26 March A two-day international conference on the creation of a lake in Turkmenistan's Karakum Desert was held in the western port city of Turkmenbashi, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports. Participating scientists and specialists at the conference assessed the anticipated impact of the lake on the region's ecosystem. Kyrgyz water resources expert Kayrat Moldashev told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service that he welcomes the Turkmen government's initiative in solving its water problems. At the same time, Moldashev warned of the possible negative impact on the entire region of collecting water in a natural basin. "It is necessary to make ecological testing of the impact of the lake with the participation of international experts," Moldashev said. The project to create the 2,000-square-kilometer Altyn Asyr Lake was first announced in 2000 by then-Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. Niyazov died in December 2006. Turkmenistan believes the multibillion project will facilitate irrigation and ensure the effective management of water resources, thus contributing to the development of the country's agricultural output. The Karakum Desert makes up some 70 percent of the area of Turkmenistan. (RFE/RL)

 

Russia will only support “clever sanctions” against Iran – Lavrov 27 March So far Russia is not satisfied with any of the sanctions currently drafted by the West against Iran, with Moscow ruling out its support for a military strike against Iran, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. "Today the scenario whereby Russia would support a military strike against Iran is ruled out," Lavrov said in an interview with the Postscriptum program on the TV-Center television channel on Saturday. "Moreover, now when our Western partners are saying that it is time to start discussing sanctions, we are saying that we do not rule out that this time will come, although efforts to go back to negotiations still continue and the chances of them bringing some result remain. But if this issue has to be addressed again in the Security Council, we will only be ready to discuss "clever sanctions," as our president put it," the minister added. Such sanctions will mean those "aimed at encouraging cooperation between Iranian agencies in charge of the nuclear program and not detrimental to the country's population," he said. "So far what we are hearing does not indicate 'clever sanctions' at all," Lavrov said. (Interfax)

 

Tajikistan considers railroad link to bypass Uzbekistan 29 March The Tajik government has suggested building a railroad link through Afghanistan to avoid the delays in rail cargo bound for Tajikistan via Uzbekistan, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports. Tajik Transportation Minister Olim Boboev told RFE/RL that Tajikistan could build a 250-kilometer rail link connecting Tajikistan with Turkmenistan via northern Afghanistan, a route that would avoid Uzbekistan. Tajikistan accused Uzbekistan last week of deliberately delaying the passage of more than 1,000 railroad cars laden with fuel, construction materials, and other goods bound for Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Uzbek Ambassador to Tajikistan Shoqosim Shoislamov rejected that accusation, saying the delays are "technical." Over the past several days, some 150 freight cars were allowed across the border from Uzbekistan into Tajikistan. But Tajik officials say that some 984 other wagons with materiel are still being held up in Uzbekistan. Shodi Shabdolov, the head of Tajikistan's Communist Party and a member of the lower house of parliament, said a railroad linking Tajikistan and Turkmenistan via Afghanistan is feasible and could be completed within a few months. But Tajik economist Hojimuhammad Umarov said that freight transit via Uzbekistan will remain crucial even if alternative links via Afghanistan or China are built. He pointed out that Tajikistan cannot afford to build such a railroad in the next five or six years. Umarov says Tajikistan should seek a compromise with Uzbekistan. Relations between Dushanbe and Tashkent deteriorated after Tajikistan decided to raise funds within the country to complete the construction of a hydroelectric power plant in the town of Roghun. Uzbekistan objects to that project, claiming that the planned 335-meter high dam will exacerbate the existing water shortages in the region in general, and for its own country in particular. (RFE/RL)

 

Terrorism cannot be eradicated with persuasion, criminals must be killed – Kadyrov 29 March The masterminds and perpetrators of the terror attacks in the Moscow metro were aimed at causing chaos and throwing Russia into the abyss of fear, distrust and jeopardizing its economy, said Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. "This evil does not choose its victims based on ethnicity, religion or race. What matters to terrorists is blood shed, to keep people under pressure, to paralyze the state machine," the Chechen president said in a statement."On this hard day for Russia we state under total responsibility that we will be fighting against terrorists until they are totally destroyed. Evil cannot be eradicated with persuasion. This is why for the sake of saving civilian lives, terrorists must be isolated from society and, should they disobey, callously destroyed," Kadyrov said. (Interfax)

 

Turkey makes case against sanctions on Iran 29 March Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said he doesn't favor imposing economic sanctions to pressure Iran. Erdogan said the sanctions are "not a healthy path and...the best route is diplomacy." The Turkish prime minister discussed the problem with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has worked closely with the veto-wielding permament members of the UN Security Council in efforts to encourage greater nuclear cooperation from Tehran. Merkel urged Turkey to be ready to support the imposition of sanctions through the United Nations unless Iran shows transparency to assure the international community that it has no ambitions for nuclear weapons. Turkey is a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council and Erdogan said it had not yet reached a firm decision on how it would vote on a U.S.-backed sanctions resolution. (Reuters)

 

Top U.S. military officer hears Afghans’ requests 30 March The top U.S. military commander, Admiral Mike Mullen, today visited Marjah, the focus of a massive U.S.-led military operation in southern Afghanistan. During his visit, Mullen attended a "shura," or tribal meeting where elders made requests such as paved roads, schools, and a hospital. Mullen came to Marjah to see for himself what the Pentagon cautiously views as the first successful test of President Barack Obama's strategy for reversing Taliban momentum after more than eight years of war. Forty days after U.S. Marines moved in to oust the Taliban from Marjah, U.S. and Afghan commanders told Mullen they controlled the area and were making progress standing up a functioning Afghan local government and providing basic services. But as the shura showed, while security may have improved, expectations in the town are high, and it is unclear how long residents will be willing to wait for the Americans and their Afghan allies to improve their living conditions. Though the insurgents took heavy casualties, U.S. and Afghan officials acknowledge the Taliban still have a presence, mainly at night, and reporters were asked not to identify Afghan villagers at the shura with Mullen because of concern they could be targeted later. Mullen said he was encouraged by what he heard, despite what officials described as serious problems training a local police force. Locals don't trust them, Mullen was told."Please cooperate with us," an Afghan man told Mullen. "The budget that we need, please provide that. We're looking forward to seeing the results." In addition to paved roads, schools, a hospital and cold-storage facilities to preserve local tomatoes, some villagers complained about Afghan plans to halt the cultivation of opium poppies. They said they feared losing income." I don't have other means," one tribal elder said. "People here are poor," another added. "Next year nobody should cultivate poppy. If anybody tries to plant and cultivate poppy, that means he is a criminal and he will face judgment and he will go to jail," Helmand Province governor Gulab Mangal told the gathering. Mangal said eliminating poppies would open the door to development in the impoverished province. (Reuters)

 

Direct investments in Azerbaijan’s economy fell by over $1bn in 2009 to $2.899bn 31 March The fall came in the oil and gas sector, where direct investments last year were $2.146bn, 35.7% down on 2008. They accounted for 38.1% of all direct investments. Most funds were spent by BP Exploration (Shah Deniz) and the Azerbaijan International Operating Company. The picture was brighter in the non-oil sector where direct investments grew 17.1% to $752.8 million in 2009.  Investment in the non-oil sector accounted for 13.4% of all direct investments last year. Direct investments in Azerbaijan were $3.982bn in 2008, of which $3.339bn was invested in the oil and gas sector. (news.az)

 

Russia should help Western forces in Afghanistan in exchange for anti-drugs fight 31 March Russia should assist the Western contingent deployed in Afghanistan in exchange for its readiness to combat heroin production in the country, Russia's envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said. "This should become a deal: a favor in exchange for a favor," Rogozin told Russian News Service radio on Wednesday. "Russia needs to provide assistance for NATO's forces in Afghanistan depending on the scope of their measures intended to prevent the 'heroin aggression' against Russia," he said. "If they do nothing to counter [the flow of] Afghan heroin to Russia, we, for our part, should treat their new requests regarding Afghanistan more reservedly," he added. Russia is interested in the Western coalition's presence in the territory of Afghanistan, he said. "If they [Western forces] leave, all these guys - bombers and terrorists - will go you know where - closer to our territory. Let them continue fighting there. But the problem is that NATO troops refuse to perform an additional duty to destroy poppy fields and opiates," the Russian official said. Explanations that if peasants lose opium poppy fields they will join the Taliban are inappropriate, he said. "Americans have been destroying coca fields in Colombia without seeking anyone's consent, including that of the Colombian authorities," Rogozin said. Drugs entering Russia from Afghanistan via Central Asia has become a growing problem for the Russian authorities, who have said NATO forces are not doing enough to counter the spread of Afghan drugs. (Interfax)

 

RUSSIAN nsc SECRETARY SPECULATES ON GEORGIAN LINK IN MOSCOW BLASTS

31 March Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s National Security Council, said investigators into Moscow metro bombings were working on all the possible versions, including on possible Georgia’s involvement. In an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, Patrushev was asked by the journalist: “There is an opinion that terrorist acts in Moscow could have been organized from abroad. Do you believe that?” “All the versions need to be checked,” Patrushev responded. “For example, there is Georgia and its leader Saakashvili, whose actions are unpredictable.” “Unfortunately, number of countries provide him assistance, including military one. We state that it is unacceptable. He has once already waged the war. It is not ruled out that he will do that again.” “We had information that individual agents of Georgian special services were keeping contacts with terrorist organizations in the Russian North Caucasus. We need to check this version too in respect of the Moscow terrorist acts,” Patrushev added.

 

Twin bombings kill 12 in Dagestan as Moscow mourns blast victims 31 March At least 12 people have been killed by twin bombs in Russia's North Caucasus republic of Daghestan, including a top police official. Nine police officers, including a local police chief, are among the dead in the blasts that rocked the town of Kizlyar early today, just two days after suicide bombings on the Moscow metro killed 39 people. Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said the first attacker detonated a car bomb early today in Kizlyar after being pulled over by traffic police near the city's Interior Ministry building. "The driver violated the rules and, without stopping, began heading toward the city center," Nurgaliyev said. "Traffic police officers chased the car and had almost caught up with it when the explosion went off. Where was this fatal load headed? There is a school nearby; the city's Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service are also located there." The blast killed two police officers. Nurgaliyev said the second blast took place shortly afterwards at the same site, when a suicide bomber dressed in a police uniform blew himself up as investigators and onlookers gathered at the scene. The city's police chief was killed in the blast, among others. "The terrorists' goal is to destabilize the situation in the country, destroy civil society, sow fear and panic among the population," said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. "We will not allow that." Rebel attacks in recent years have been largely limited to the North Caucasus region, including the republic of Daghestan, which neighbors war-battered Chechnya. The March 29 bombings in Moscow have highlighted the Kremlin's failure to quell rebel activity in the restive region and fueled fears of a broader campaign of attacks. (RFE/RL)
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