Saturday, 24 July 2010

21 July 2010 News Digest

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By Alima Bissenova (7/24/2010 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Tajik court reopens case against Jehovah’s witnesses8 July A Tajik justice official says a criminal case has been reopened against 17 Jehovah's Witnesses for fomenting religious hatred, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports. Jamhur Jiyanov, an aide to the prosecutor in the northern Sughd Province, told RFE/RL on July 7 that investigators from the State Security Committee had launched a preliminary investigation under Article 189 of the Criminal Code on "promoting religious or ethnic hatred."  If found guilty, the suspects could face prison terms of between five and 12 years.
Tajik court reopens case against Jehovah’s witnesses8 July A Tajik justice official says a criminal case has been reopened against 17 Jehovah's Witnesses for fomenting religious hatred, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports. Jamhur Jiyanov, an aide to the prosecutor in the northern Sughd Province, told RFE/RL on July 7 that investigators from the State Security Committee had launched a preliminary investigation under Article 189 of the Criminal Code on "promoting religious or ethnic hatred."  If found guilty, the suspects could face prison terms of between five and 12 years. Zafar Rahimov, a member of the Christian group, told RFE/RL that neither he nor any of his fellow Jehovah's Witnesses had so far been detained. However, he said they had received letters from a local court notifying them that a criminal case against them has been reopened.The 17 were detained last year during a gathering at the home of a Jehovah's Witness and they were subsequently accused of illegal activities.  They explained they had only gathered in order to read religious books and had done nothing against the state. Early this year, the state prosecutor's office ruled that the sect's activities in Sughd were not criminal and it suspended the case.  Jehovah's Witnesses were legally registered in Tajikistan in 1994. But the Culture Ministry banned the religious group's activities in October 2007 because the group's literature attacks other religions, since its members actively proselytize and have prayer meetings in their homes rather than in designated buildings. The ministry also accused Jehovah's Witnesses of antistate propaganda because of their efforts to discourage young men from performing military service. The religious group filed an appeal with the Tajik Supreme Court on the government's ban on the sect's activities in Tajikistan. (RFE/RL) Damage caused by disorders in south of Kyrgyzstan assessed9 JulyAccording to the preliminary data, total sum of the damage caused to Kyrgyzstan, as a result of disorders in the Osh and Dzhalal-Abad areas, amounted to 3 billion 265 million soms. Vice Emergency Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic, Mukambet Kasymaliev, informed at the press conference in Osh, the agency reports. M. Kasymaliev informed on the course of the work carried out by the Ministry of Emergency directed at address delivery of humanitarian help to the victims of June events and assessment of financial damage. "The amount of damage in Osh amounted to 2 billion 200 million soms, in the Osh area - 351 million 156 thousand soms, and in Dzhalal-Abad - 714 million 220 thousand soms," Vice Minister of the Emergency Ministry informed. (Kazakhstan Today) Tajik air flights delayed over fuel-debt dispute9 JulyFlights by the state airline Tajik Air from Dushanbe to various domestic and Russian destinations were delayed for more than 10 hours on July 8 because the company that provides gas refused to refuel Tajik Air's planes, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports. Dushanbe International Airport spokesman Mahmadyusuf Shodiev told RFE/RL the delay was due to Tajik Air's debt to the fuel provider, and that flights were resumed after talks were held on the problem.But Tajik Air spokeswoman Lola Kenjaeva said the refusal to refuel was a deliberate attempt to hurt the image of Tajik Air by competing  companies that were, until recently, part of Tajik Air. Kenjaeva confirmed that Tajik Air has a fuel debt, but she said Tajik Air and the fuel provider had agreed on a timetable for the repayment, and Tajik Air had made all payments on time. Kenjaeva added that the French military officers who have a transit air base in the Dushanbe airport offered to provide fuel for the Tajik Air planes, but the  airport's main fuel provider did not allow them to do so. The Tajik Air planes were eventually refueled only after the intervention of the head of the fuel company. Until 2008, Tajik Air had an absolute monopoly on all aspects of air transport in Tajikistan. It owned all planes, airports, and airport and flight services, and was reluctant to allow competition, whether from domestic or foreign companies. The eventual demonopolization of Tajik Air began at the suggestion of international finance organizations, and Tajik Air was finally split up into separate companies.  In February 2008, the first Tajik private air company, Somonair, received its license and soon became a rival to Tajik Air.  Some analysts have suggested that Somonair and its supporters at the highest level of the Tajik government are the main players behind Tajik Air's problems. Somonair, according to unconfirmed reports, is partially owned by a financial group headed by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon's brother-in-law, Hasan  Asadullozoda. (RFE/RL)Abkhaz MPs condemn airing Georgian documentary on local TV9 JulyLawmakers in breakaway Abkhazia passed on July 9 a statement condemning broadcasting of a Georgian documentary film on the conflict by the Abkhaz television station. Authors of “Absence of Will”, documentary produced by Tbilisi-based Studio Re, try to take a critical view of Georgian policies towards Abkhazia and South Ossetian not only in run up to the August war, but also in late 80s and early 90s of last century. (The film is available on this link with English subtitles). The 50-minute long film was broadcasted by the Sokhumi-based “Abkhaz State TV and Radio Company” on June 23, followed by discussions in the TV studio. The move by the TV station angered many politicians and public figures in Abkhazia, culminating with the statement of the breakaway region’s legislative body. The statement was passed after the film was screened separately for the lawmakers. “Broadcast of this film has triggered negative reaction from the significant part of the [Abkhaz] society,” Abkhaz news agency, Apsnipress, quoted the statement by the breakaway region’s parliament. The statement says that although the film is countering “some of the opinions about the launch of Georgian-Abkhaz war” in early 1990s, by pointing finger at the Georgian leaders “as a source of aggression,” it is not a reason to consider the film as “liberal towards Abkhazia, or anti-Georgian, as some [Abkhaz figures] try to portray it.” “The film criticizes not the essence of [the Georgian] politics, but only methods of resolving the problem of so called territorial integrity of Georgia.” “[The film] is ideological bait directed against the Abkhaz people, the Abkhaz statehood and against the Abkhaz-Russian relations,” the statement says, adding that the broadcast of such film through the state television station was “a mistake.” (Civil Georgia) Turkmenistan plans to allow privately owned media10 JulyPeople in Turkmenistan -- where all media is state-controlled -- may soon be reading privately-owned newspapers and magazines. In televised remarks during a cabinet meeting, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov announced plans to allow the creation of private newspapers in the country.  "Proposals for the founding of private newspapers and magazines can be prepared and work on this matter can be accelerated," Reuters quotes Berdymukhammedov as saying. Berdymukhammedov also said the country's union of industrialists and entrepreneurs should also launch its own publication focusing on business success stories. "Likewise, if there are those who want to create new parties, we will support them too," the president said, although he also noted that the establishment of political parties should not be rushed, AFP reports. Turkmenistan is the only post-Soviet country without privately-owned media. The country’s five television channels, 25 newspapers, 15 magazines and one news agency are all state-owned. (RFE/RL) President of Kyrgyzstan confirmed government structure13 JulyThe President of the Kyrgyz Republic, Roza Otunbaeva, signed the decree on the government structure of the Kyrgyz Republic and its administrative departments, the agency reports citing provisional government's press service. According to the decree, the government will consist of prime minister, first vice-prime minister, vice-prime ministers, ministers and chairmen of the state committees. 17 ministries: foreign affairs; finance; justice; defense; internal affairs; emergency; energy; economic regulation; agriculture; natural resources; transport and communications; state property; public health service; science and education; work, employment and migration; youth affairs; culture and information, and the State Committee for Water Management and Land Improvement will be in the government's structure. There will be seven state agencies and seven services as a part of the government. (Kazakhstan Today) Two killed in shoot-out on Kazakh-Kyrgyz border14 JulyTwo Kyrgyz shepherds were killed and a Kazakh border guard wounded in a shoot-out on the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border, RFE/RL's Kazakh and Kyrgyz services report. Kazakh Border Guard Service deputy head Amangeldy Abylkanov told journalists in Astana that the incident took place near the Saty checkpoint on July 13. Abylkanov said Kazakh border guards stopped a group of Kyrgyz shepherds moving a herd of horses from Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan along a high mountain path. When the border guards asked the shepherds to show their identification documents, he said they opened fire and severely wounded a border guard. "The border guards had to fight back and two of the shepherds, who turned out to be Kyrgyz nationals, were killed in the shoot-out," Abylkanov said. Another man with the shepherds was detained, and Abylkanov said he confessed that he and his associates were trying to smuggle the horses into Kyrgyzstan. The border guards confiscated three guns and 20 horses from the group. Meanwhile, another group of five people was detained by border guards on the same stretch of the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border later on July 13. The group was moving some 400 goats and sheep from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan. Two of the five are Kazakh citizens, but the nationality of the other three is unknown. Two guns were confiscated from them. Kyrgyz Border Guard Service Deputy Chairman Ilyaz Subankulov confirmed the incidents to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry told RFE/RL an investigation is under way. (RFE/RL)  AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA MAKE PROGRESS IN BORDER TALKS14 JulyAzerbaijan’s deputy foreign minister, chief of the State Commission on Delimitation and Demarcation of the Azerbaijani-Georgian border, Khalaf Khalafov and his Georgian counterpart David Jalagania held Wednesday consultations. The discussions focused on issues concerning the disputed areas of the Azerbaijani-Georgian state border and results of the relevant expert meetings. The sides achieved progress in the talks for coordination of the border line and agreed to hold the next meeting of the state commissions in September in Azerbaijan. (AzerTAC) Kazakh government delegation visits damaged Kyrgyz city15 JulyA government delegation from neighboring Kazakhstan has visited the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh on to see firsthand the destruction left by ethnic violence last month, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports. The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry told RFE/RL that Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiev and local officials accompanied the Kazakh delegation, which was led by Deputy Prime Minister Omirzaq Shukeyev. It said the group toured different districts and viewed buildings in Osh that were damaged or destroyed during the deadly clashes between ethnic Uzbek and Kyrgyz residents from June 10-15. The Kazakh delegation met with Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbaeva on July 14 to discuss Kazakhstan's offer of economic and financial assistance to help rebuild Osh. Kyrgyz officials have estimated that some 2,500 homes, more than 100 commercial buildings, and 10 government buildings were destroyed or suffered major damage during the unrest in the Osh and Jalal-Abad regions. They said an initial assessment estimates some $71 million worth of damage. (RFE/RL) Saakashvili thanks France for backing Georgia's EU integration 15 JulyGeorgian President Mikheil Saakashvili expressed on Thursday his gratitude to France over its efforts to strengthen Georgia's cooperation with the European Union and NATO. The first official round of talks on the Georgia-EU Association Agreement, which would allow further political and economic integration between Tbilisi and the union, took place in Georgia's Black Sea city of Batumi on Thursday. The document will replace the existing Partnership and Cooperation deal. "We are very grateful to France for its efforts aimed at [Georgia's] integration with the European Union, very grateful for the constructive position regarding issues related to NATO, we are grateful over the issues related to bilateral economic cooperation, security structures in Europe, the Geneva talks [on security in the South Caucasus], and other issues," Saakashvili said after talks in Tbilisi with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. The Georgian president said at a joint news conference that France's support was "based on genuine European values." He praised the role that France played in the region, particularly, in relation to Georgia, and his own friendly, long-term relations with Kouchner and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Kouchner also talked of long-standing friendship between Georgia and France. He said France would always support the South Caucasus state's integration with the EU and pledged to back the Association Agreement. "Despite opposition, we must reach the final conclusion. Russia does not decide who should become a member of the European Union," Kouchner said. "We want to have friendly relations with all countries. After the Cold War, everybody should choose peace," he added. France mediated the ceasefire that ended the five-day war between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia in August 2008. The war began when Georgia attacked the republic in an attempt to bring it back under central control and resulted in Russia recognizing South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian republic, Abkhazia, as independent. Kouchner's talks in Tbilisi come after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit on July 5 and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton arrived on Thursday for her first trip to Georgia. Speaking in Batumi at the start of a two-day trip, Ashton said the union would continue to support Georgia's territorial integrity. (RIA Novosti)  TURKISH PRESIDENT OKS DEAL ON COOPERATION COUNCIL OF TURKISH-SPEAKING COUNTRIES15 JulyTurkey has become the third country after Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to complete a procedure of endorsing Nakhchivan agreement on establishment of Cooperation Council of Turkish-Speaking countries. Secretary General of Turkey`s Presidential Administration Mustafa Isen said President Gul has signed Turkish Cabinet`s decision on approval of the document. The new international organization called the “UN” of the Turkish world will start operating within a month. Kyrgyzstan remains the only country, which has not endorsed the document yet. The country will do it after “restoration” of stability there. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev signed the law on endorsement of the agreement on November 26, 2009. (AzerTAc) Kazakhstan to render $ 10 million in aid to Kyrgyzstan17 JulyKazakhstan will give Kyrgyzstan $10 million towards building materials and power plant fuel, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said during the opening of an informal meeting of OSCE foreign ministers in the Kazakh city of Almaty. "Construction materials are needed today to restore the destroyed housing; fuel is needed for power plants. We will provide $10 million in emergency assistance," Nazarbaev said. He said two international conferences would be held to discuss the provision of financial aid to Kyrgyzstan: one in July in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, and the other in Almaty in August. Nazarbayev said the overall budget deficit and shortage of funds for rebuilding damaged infrastructure in Kyrgyzstan is estimated at around $1 billion. Violent clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan broke out in the city of Osh on June 11 and then spread to the neighboring Jalalabad region. Unofficial estimates put the death toll at around 2,000 people, while half a million may have been made homeless by the violent pogroms, which saw thousands of homes burned. The Kyrgyz authorities have estimated the damage at around $71 million. (RIA Novosti)OSCE stalls on police mission to Kyrgyzstan17 JulyMinisters of OSCE member countries have voiced support for sending an international police mission to Kyrgyzstan following last month's deadly ethnic clashes, but have failed to make solid plans for the deployment. Diplomats of the 56-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe today wrapped up a second day of bilateral meetings at the Ak-Bulak resort near Almaty, Kazakhstan, without reaching a conclusion on the police mission.They discussed sending international police forces to help restore stability in southern Kyrgyzstan, responding to a request from Kyrgyz leader Roza Otunbayeva, but did not name a date. Earlier today, Kazakh State Secretary and Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabaev said the OSCE expected to formally approve the decision before the gathering ended. “The difficult situation in Kyrgyzstan can have strong destabilizing effects not only on the Central Asian region but also far beyond its borders," he said. Top officials from the United States, Germany, France, and many other countries have joined Kazakhstan, which chairs the OSCE, in supporting the planned mission. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told reporters at the OSCE meeting that an international police mission "will help restore order, especially on the eve of elections, and will promote a swift reconciliation between the two sides in southern Kyrgyzstan." The OSCE on July 16 said it had agreed with the Kyrgyz government on the principles for an unarmed 52-member police advisory group to train and assist Kyrgyz security agencies for four months. Ahead of the OSCE meeting, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner visited Kyrgyzstan's second-largest city of Osh to assess the damage. Kyrgyz officials estimate that some 2,500 homes, more than 100 commercial buildings, and 10 government buildings were destroyed or badly damaged during the unrest. Westerwelle told reporters in Almaty that bringing stability to Kyrgyzstan was a strategic priority. He said the majority of participants at the OSCE gathering backed the proposal to send an international police force to the country's volatile south. (RFE/RL)Kazakhstan to invest $ 50 million in Afghan education project17 JulyKazakhstan is to designate $50 million for an education program that will provide more than 1,000 Afghans with higher education between 2010 and 2018, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said on Saturday. "In our view, what Afghanistan really needs is highly skilled personnel for various industries," Nazarbayev said during an informal meeting in the Kazakh city of Almaty of foreign ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) countries. "We have therefore designated $50 million for the implementation of educational programs for training Afghan citizens at our country's universities," he added. Nazarbayev said the initiative would help to implement a gradual transfer of security responsibilities to local authorities. "We believe, that by giving the youth of Afghanistan the opportunity to receive quality education, we are making a valuable contribution to the rehabilitation process in the country, and reducing the spread of extremist ideology and terrorism," he said. The president also called on the OSCE to develop a new strategy on Afghanistan since "40 OSCE countries are involved in the country." (RIA Novosti) Merkel completes Asia tour in Kazakhstan18 JulyGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel capped an intensive week of deal-signing across Asia with an official visit to oil-rich Kazakhstan, sealing business agreements worth more than 2 million euros ($2.6 billion). Germany has climbed out of a period of economic downturn into modest growth in the past few months on the back of its exports. The most notable deal agreed on Sunday was a line of credit worth 100 million euros ($129 million ) provided by Deutsche Bank to small- and medium-sized Kazakh businesses. Representatives from more than 100 German companies _ including German engineering company Siemens AG, Deutsche Bank and retail giant Metro AG _ attended a Kazakh-German business forum. International retailers are competing to take advantage of Kazakhstan's burgeoning hunger for high-quality goods, which is likely to soar as an expected oil boom spurs demand. Dusseldorf-based Metro, which last year opened its first wholesale supermarket in the Kazakh capital, Astana, plans to open 10 new outlets in other cities across Kazakhstan, investing more than 200 million euros ($258 million).Officials also said energy company Roth & Rau plans to build Kazakhstan's first solar power plant. German primarily exports machinery, electrical appliances, automobiles and pharmaceuticals to Kazakhstan and imports mostly raw materials such as hydrocarbons and metals. (AP) PRESIDENT ILHAM ALIYEV COMPLETES HIS WORKING VISIT TO GEORGIA18 JulyPresident of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has today wrapped up his working visit to Georgia. A guard of honor was lined up for the Azerbaijani President at the Batumi Airport decorated with the national flags of Azerbaijan and Georgia. President Ilham Aliyev and his spouse Mehriban Aliyeva were seen off at the Batumi airport by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his spouse Sandra Elizabeth Roelofs. (AzerTAC) Kazakhstan reluctant over Nabucco19 JulyKazakh natural gas could feed the planned Nabucco pipeline for Europe if European leaders did more to advance the project, the Kazakh president said. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said during a weekend meeting in Astana with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that there were caveats to his country's participation in the project, Russia's state-run news agency RIA Novosti reports. "Kazakhstan has never been against Nabucco, the issue is that in Europe there is a lot of talk about Nabucco ... but in practice little is being done," he was quoted as saying. Nazarbayev said Nabucco planners would have to include a pipeline under the Caspian Sea to connect to Central Asian gas giants or plan for increased infrastructure on the coast. Europe aims to break the Russian grip on the regional energy sector by moving natural gas from Middle East and Central Asian suppliers through the Nabucco pipeline. Moscow, for its part, is moving ahead with its South Stream and Nord Stream options to diversify its own transit options. Nord Stream is under construction in the Baltic Sea and made landfall in Germany recently. Despite political backing for Nabucco, the consortium managing the project is lacking firm commitments from potential supplier nations. "The European Union could work more actively on this," Nazarbayev said. (UPI) Georgian Railway issues USD 250 mln eurobonds19 JulyGeorgian state-owned railway company issued eurobonds worth of USD 250 million with five year maturity, Nikoloz Mchedlishvili, Georgian PM’s spokesman, said on July 19. He said issuance of eurobonds was managed by Bank of America Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan. Mchedlishvili said raised funds will be used for Tbilisi by-pass railway project and for “other modernization projects”. EBRD provides EUR 100 million loan to co-finance a new double track railway route 10 km north of Tbilisi, which will divert rail traffic around the center of Tbilisi. This section of railway is part of main route for freight on the east-west transport corridor in Georgia. (Civil Georgia) UN Rights Chief: Kyrgyz Security may have used torture20 JulyThe UN's human rights chief says she has information that Kyrgyz security forces committed abuses such as torture and arbitrary detention in southern Kyrgyzstan, the scene of deadly ethnic violence in June. In a statement today, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said, "Large numbers of people -- most of them young men, and virtually all of them Uzbek -- have been arbitrarily detained in ways that not only demonstrate flagrant ethnic bias, but also break many of the fundamental tenets of both Kyrgyz and international law." Pillay added that her staff in Kyrgyzstan have received information from a range of sources suggesting that "local authorities are routinely turning a blind eye to illegal arrests, torture, and ill-treatment of detainees leading to forced confessions."  Pillay's office was in close touch with authorities in Osh, who say they have received very few complaints of torture and mistreatment, which makes it hard for them to take action, spokesman Rupert Colville said. "But we believe that's precisely because the victims and their families are afraid of reprisals," he told reporters. Clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan's Osh and Jalal-Abad regions last month left more than 300 dead and displaced another 400,000. (RFE/RL) HRW slams Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan for impeding asylum seekers20 JulyHuman Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan of preventing ethnic Uzbek refugees from seeking asylum from arrests and alleged torture at the hands of Kyrgyz police. HRW's Gerry Simpson said the many asylum seekers told the rights group they would seek shelter in Uzbekistan if the border was open. Simpson was speaking from the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, where deadly ethnic clashes erupted last month. HRW said Uzbek and Kyrgyz officials had used "fearmongering tactics" to force the refugees' swift return and were now impeding people from fleeing renewed violence. It said Kyrgyz official had threatened to strip refugees of their property and citizenship if they failed to return and vote in a national referendum on June 27. Earlier today, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said she had information that Kyrgyz security forces committed abuses such as torture and arbitrary detention in southern Kyrgyzstan. (RFE/RL) Afghanistan conference labeled a milestone21 JulyAfghanistan's president Hamid Karzai has reaffirmed his commitment for Afghan police and soldiers to take charge of security nationwide by 2014. Mr Karzai spoke at a one-day international conference on Afghanistan's future in Kabul attended by 70 delegates from around the world. "I committed to having the ability by 2014....to reach a level of strength and ability and capacity in our forces to provide for our own security, for the population, for the country, for the world," he said. The Afghan leader also said his government "continued earnestly and with the full dedication, the pursuit of the peace process," with the Taliban which has been endorsed by the international community. At a joint media conference UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon praised Mr Karzai for his positive hopes and expectations for Afghanistan. "Never before have we had a more concrete vision of Afghanistan's future. Moreover this vision was created by the Afghan people and government," he said. Calling for transparency in upcoming parliamentary elections, Mr Ban promised that the international community would provide the necessary support, both in development and militarily, but would play "a supporting role." "This conference marks the beginning of a crucially important transition. Afghanistan will now take the lead in shaping the country's future. Afghans will set the priorities and decide which path to follow," he said. Meanwhile, NATO says two American civilians and two Afghan soldiers have been killed in a shooting at a weapons training area in northern Afghanistan. The international military coalition said in a statement the shooting was in Mazar-e-Sharif and by an Afghan army soldier who was a trainer at the base, Camp Shaheen. (ABC) NATO Chief Says Troops Will Not Leave Afghanistan Prematurely21 JulyA day after an international donor conference on Afghanistan agreed on a road-map for Afghan forces to take the lead in securing the nation by 2014, NATO chief said the presence of the coalition troops would be "driven not by the calendar, but by commitment." The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will not leave Afghanistan prematurely as it has a long-term commitment to establishing peace and stability there, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a joint press conference with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in capital Islamabad on Wednesday. Rasmussen addressed the media after discussing the Afghan situation with Qureshi. Qureshi dismissed U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's claims that al-Qaeda leaders are present in Pakistan as "mere speculations."  Stressing the cooperation of Pakistan as a key player in the regional security and stability in south-west Asia, Rasmussen said a hasty military pullout from Afghanistan would provide a conducive atmosphere for the Taliban to take over the country and pose a great risk to international security. During his one-day stay in Pakistan, the NATO chief is scheduled to discuss with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani defense cooperation between the two entities. Earlier in the day, British Prime Minister David Cameron said withdrawal of its soldiers from Afghanistan could begin as soon as 2011. Britain has the second largest foreign military contingent in Afghanistan. The south-western province of Helmand still remains a Taliban stronghold, where most of the 9,500 British soldiers are fighting the militants as 'Task Force Helmand.' (RTTNews)
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