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Voices from Kyrgyzstan.Year 2006. Afterthoughts
Written by , Sunday, 31 Dec, 2006 – 16:57 | 2 Comments

Picture by Blandm.Flickr.comKyrgyzstan is celebrating the end of 2006. The year that brought more shocks and upheavals and proved that once being shaken the country can hardly gain stability overnight.

Kyrgyz bloggers and bloggers writing about Kyrgyzstan in the last 2 weeks have been sharing their views about 2006 and were looking ahead into 2007.

Edil Baysalov says that 2006 can be characterized as a year of compromises. He writes:

“The main result of 2006 is the development of our political culture. We are witnessing the turn of Kyrgyz people into a mature and free democratic nation. In 2006 we have reached lots of amazing results and it’s important to proceed with this practice in the future. 2006 was a win-win year. No losers, only triumphants. ”

Mirsulzhan Namazaliev on Russian neweurasia emphasizes that the crisis of 2005 was continued in 2006. He is less optimistic and is slightly ironical about the prospects of 2007 which, according to the Chinese zodiac, will be a year ruled by … a Pig. In his post Mirsulzhan points out :

“We can face another political crisis in 2007 if the president and the government of the country don’t choose to be proactive in terms of defining the future of Kyrgyzstan. Though we can also expect some breakthroughs and positive developments in case new political strategy is implemented.”

Kyrgyzstan has been recently shaken not only literally but figuratively as well. The recent earthquake has triggered the discussion about the connection of political turmoil and instability with natural disasters. Kyrgyz bloggers were also discussing the fact that Kyrgyzstan turns to be absolutely unprepared and unprotected in the face of nature outraging. Tolkun Umaraliev writes on that:

“It is strange that during the last two month this is the fourth sizable earthquake. Epicenters of all four were in northern Kyrgyzstan. They occurred mainly in Yssyk Kul oblast. It should be noted that in all four cases, Kyrgyzstani seismologists neither forecast them, nor carried out prevention activities, like informing people of the possible places where the earthquake could occur. The only thing they did was to record and state the intensity of the quake on the Richter scale in each case. I consider this a serious problem, as if there another serious earthquake occurs, especially in northern Kyrgyzstan, the loss would be catastrophic for Kyrgyzstan.”

Inga, who was awaken by the earthquake at 2 o clock at night, launched her own investigation, trying to find out whether anything at all can be done to get protected. She asked one of the chief seismologists in the country about the probability of destructive earthquakes on the territory of Kyrgyzstan. The reply she got was really discouraging. According to Kanat Abdrahmatov, the most dangerous seismic zones were mapped in Kyrgyzstan. The most troubling ones among them are the areas in Alay district in Osh oblast. The capital city Bishkek is located in the so called waiting zone where the probability of strong earthquakes is also rather high. Inga states that specialists have confirmed the fact that a strong earthquake in Kyrgyzstan will happen sooner or later. The most troubling thing is the fact that no one can really predict anything.

Nathan talking about the very same issue points out at the fact that neighboring Kazakhstan has expressed its readiness to help Kyrgyzstan in handling the consequences. He also emphasizes the political component of this agreement stating:”

Agreements between the two countries aside, this is a smart move for a country that aspires to lead Central Asia. It is not as if Kazakhstan has loads of extra cash to throw around for disaster relief in the region, but playing a prominent role in disaster relief in the region cannot but help it build goodwill in the region while also giving it ammunition to back up its case to the West that it deserves to be treated as “part of the club.”

Except for political and natural “shakes” bloggers in Kyrgyzstan at the end of 2006 were also discussing such issues as the fate of the long suffering Kyrgyz Constitution. It became quite symbolical that in the last 2 days of 2006 after massive brainstorming in parliament Kyrgyz Constitution was amended once again. This new Constitution emerged from the draft that was the forth one for the last 2 months since memorable opposition rallies in Bishkek in November.

Naryn Ayip in his livejournal reflects on the record breaking amount of emerging constitutions. He writes:

“ So many attempts has been done to reduce the power of the president. But after two months of unrest and uncertainty all power branches agreed on the fact that the president of Kyrgyzstan can not be curbed in terms of exercising his duties. ”

Moscow Calling Ashgabat
Written by , Saturday, 30 Dec, 2006 – 19:26 | 13 Comments

Unsurprisingly, Russia is the first international actor to shift its gears into engaging with the new Turkmen elite. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday conveyed the interim President Kurbanguly Berdymuhammedov his best wishes for the New Year.
According to a Kremlin press release, Putin noted that:

“Russia has always been and will always be friend to your country.”

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“We note with satisfaction that in these days, the people of Turkmenistan are going through this difficult phase with great dignity. The passing of a president who has led his country for so long is a challenging moment for any country.”

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“The merit for this lies undoubtedly with the current leadership of Turkmenistan.”

This fulsome praise will come as welcome relief to the Berdymuhammedov government, which has now come out fighting against the rash of speculative news reports coming out of Russia. In a statement from the Turkmen Foreign Ministry:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan has issued a statement for mass media. It says that “slanderous statements and reports about the so-called military coup in Turkmenistan and on the illegitimate transference of power in the country, contributed by the so-called “political experts”, have appeared in the Russian media.
These insinuations are in fact aimed at drawing a false picture for the world community on the true situation and events in Turkmenistan.

As on other occasions when the international community and media have come out against dubious developments in the former Soviet space, Russia is apparently determined to back a dubious regime. Wanting to adopt a sympathetic line, one could argue that Putin is unwilling to countenance a source of political instability in a country on its Caspian border. While the United States can urge commitment to democratic values to its heart content, it knows it is not position to either set the agenda or make demands. Meanwhile, Turkmenistan and Russia genuinely have shared short- to mid-term interests, which is why Putin’s statements cannot help but come as a relief to Berdymuhammedov’s already discredited government.
More importantly, for those reading the runes on Turkmenistan’s future, Putin’s comments indicate a specific commitment to the current direction taking form in Ashgabat, a nominal continuation of Saparmurat Niyazov’s policies.
These could mean any number of things when it comes to domestic policy, a scene that will become clear in the months to come, but in the diplomatic sphere this inference is more understandable. Engagement with the outside world has been manifested primarily through energy dialogue, which has recently favoured Ashgabat’s intransigent line over gas price discussions. Crucially for Russia, for the medium-term Turkmenistan is content to perform its duty as Gazprom’s reserve fund. The only serious long-term alternative on the cards is supply to China, a plan that requires overwhelming any number of logistical and diplomatic stumbling blocks, as Moscow well knows. In essence, this arrangement is the standard deal that Russia’s vassal states concede to in exchange for political patronage. In Turkmenistan’s case, this has involved turning a blind eye to the Niyazov order’s rampant corruption and despotism.
Yet, looking at the history of Russian-Turkmen relations over the post-independence period raises more questions about what Putin could possibly mean by his ingratiating remarks. The relationship between the two partners has been far from smooth over the last decade and a half. Aside from the ungracious and well-publicised tussle over gas prices, which incidentally have served to undermine Moscow in its threat to cut off Ukraine’s supplies, there was the overtly anti-Russian presidential decree banning dual citizenship in 2003, which effectively forced thousands of Russians to leave the country. The minute ethnic Russian population left behind remains hopeful that a resurgent Kremlin may some day come through in protecting their status. Berdymuhammedov’s need for Moscow’s support may provide some breathing space for the country’s Russian minorities in the near future.
Another concern for the West, which will be concerned to see more of the Central Asia space from its potential sphere of interest, is that Turkmenistan’s much-vaunted neutrality will shift into a anti-Western Eurasian mode. The next year will tell more definitively, as a pro-Kremlin south Central Asian area may coalesce, leaving the West’s presence in Afghanistan more geographically stranded than it has ever been to date. In this distressing scenario, Turkmenistan would profit from becoming a genuinely isolated state, further exacerbating a dynamic initiated by Niyazov. The West’s only way into Turkmenistan, not to speak of Central Asia in general, would thus lie with Turkey, which is learning to cope with being spurned with Europe.
On a less negative note, dialogue in the energy will presumably become more, not less, arbitrary and irrational from this moment forwards. Wherever genuine authority now lies (and there is not shortage of theories on this front), the wild card of Niyazov’s own mercurial character has been removed from the equation. To do full justice to this implication, however, one should put forth some considerations on the possible channels of decision in the past and the future.
The most obvious, but simplistic, explanation for how policy has been formed unequivocally puts Niyazov at the apex of a pyramid of power, in which his word was the be all and end all. A variation of this theme has numerous grey cardinals at his ears; most credibly, head of the presidential guard Akmurad Redjepov and Turkish businessman Ahmet Çalik.
Just to give some idea about the latter figure, who features prominently in the Turkmen section Martha Brill Oclott’s most recent regional study, his company became the second company to take part in the development of the allegedly gigantic Iolotan fields. Meanwhile, the Turkish business community unconvincingly professed serenity about the death of a leader whose country they have plough $10 billion worth of investment into, covering the textiles, energy, food, retail, fertiliser, paper and construction industries.
In one sense, this reading leaves the observer open to the interpretation that Niyazov was really a weak puppet of a corrupt alliance of business and military strength. And if that was ever the case, the future will hold more of the same in the view of RIA-Novosti analyst Andrei Grozin:

“Local power ministers will play a very important role during interregnum. They are backed by real power. There are three power centers – a 60 year-old Defense Minister Agageldy Mamedgeldyyev (the oldest from Niyazov’s entourage, and, hence most likely to head the Halk Maslahaty), who was previously the director of a military health resort, and deputy defence minister for logistics support. Judging by all, the defence minister is acting together with the number one security official – Akhmurad Redjepov, the head of the Presidential Guards.
The Minister of the Interior and Niyazov’s confidant Akmamed Rakhmanov heads the second group, while Security Minister Geldy Ashirmukhamedov is in charge of the third one. The latter is a seasoned security veteran with a Soviet training. He is well connected in the Turkmen army – for several years he was the commander of the ground forces before he was appointed to his current position.
Power ministers have the strongest positions in the Turkmen elites. Civilian politicians can only claim compromise, rubber-stamp positions. Acting President and Deputy Prime Minister in charge of healthcare Kurbangeldy Berdymuhammedov, or Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov may well become the formal leaders of the country, but will not have any real levers of power.
The same is true of the Halk Malakhaty nominees. One of them is deputy head of the Turkmengeologiya State Corporation, and Minister of the Oil and Gas Industry and Mineral Resources Ishankuli Nuryyev.”

This is as detailed an attempt of reading the power struggle as has appeared in English to date. This is not to say it is reliable, as so much Russian commentary (as helpfully suggested by the Turkmen Ministry of Foreign Affairs) tends to sensationalism over actual substance. Indeed, the basic premise here is that Berdymuhammedov is a helplessly unqualified civilian out of his depth among military authorities. However, he has an edge over his potential in a marginally greater international visibility. Even the United States would prefer to see a Niyazov stooge come to power than an unknown and militarily inclined quantity, which, on top of Kremlin support, may tell in the long-term.
And while in the bogus political science realm of Turkmenology, there is also the respectable possibility, as the government itself is at pains to stress, that there is some kind of consensus governance operating in the post-Niyazov scenario. Reports of Niyazov-style Cabinet sessions do not make this particularly likely, but it could explain why the oft-predicted power struggle bloodbath has failed to materialise.

Niyazov on Film
Written by , Saturday, 30 Dec, 2006 – 17:06 | 2 Comments

Now slightly out of date, but nonethless worth the watch for the fascinating footage if nothing else. This Russian-language report (in two separate videos) on Niyazov is from Gazprom-owned television station NTV:

Nature abhors a vacuum.
Written by , Friday, 29 Dec, 2006 – 16:56 | 3 Comments

Having evicted U.S. troops last year, Uzbekistan is going to have a substitute. Russia has secured permission for its military aircraft to use an air base in Uzbekistan, as part of Moscow’s efforts to extend its presence in Central Asia. The first step in achieving that goal was making Uzbekistan rejoin Collective Security Agreement Organization. Uzbek government has not rushed to make that important decision, but pressure from Moscow finally made them give up.

Lt. Gen. Aitech Bizhev, a deputy chief of the Russian air force, as saying that the two nations agreed last month that Russian military aircraft could use the Navoi air base in central Uzbekistan in emergencies. In exchange, Russia will equip the air base in the ex-Soviet nation with modern navigation systems and air defense weapons, reports The Associated Press.

While falling short of a permanent military presence, the deal offers Russia an opportunity to quickly deploy its forces to the region.

It is obvious that Uzbekistan is not pleased by having permanent Russian military base. May be that is why military man Bizhev is using a diplomatic approach while discussing the issue of Russian aircrafts in Uzbekistan, saying that the airfield in question was only to be used in emergencies.

Interesting that the news was reported on the day when all newspapers were discussing the sudden death of Turkmen President. Demise of the Central Asian dictator predictably pushed the issue of regional security into the foreground.

Ferghana.Ru news agency approached Colonel (in retirement) Vladimir Mukhin, Nezavisimaya Gazeta military observer and analyst, for comments.

That the news was broken today is probably a coincidence, but that the news is important is beyond doubt. From the standpoint of understanding the situation in the region itself, that is. The CIS United Antiaircraft Defense System is finally expanding into Uzbekistan. That’s great. It was on the territory of Uzbekistan that vital command posts of the antiaircraft defense were once located. It is reasonable for Russia to be trying to form or rather reinstitute these structures in Uzbekistan now. It is reanimation – to some extent of course – of what existed in the Soviet Union.

Besides, Mukhin points out that Moscow’s interests in Uzbekistan extend to uranium production and enrichment. It is the Navoi Mining and Smelting that is doing it. Needless to say, Russia and Uzbekistan would want this object protected from air attacks – or from international terrorism for that matter. “We all know after all that even the Talibs had their own aircraft and combat pilotsâ€?, – speculated Mukhin.

Personally I doubt that Talibs are likely to use their “aircrafts� against Uzbekistan, at least for the time being. It seems like Talibs and “potentially dangerous� situation in Afghanistan became general excuse for deploying troops in Central Asia, particularly in Uzbekistan. But who knows, what will happen when Uzbek foreign policy changes once again. Probably Tashkent will consider Afghanistan as the safest place in the world, like it was with withdrawal of American troops some years ago.

Voices from Kazakhstan Speak about Future
Written by , Thursday, 28 Dec, 2006 – 14:57 | 3 Comments

Joining the English-language carnival of posts on Central Asia in 15 years, 5 authors on Russian-language neweurasia Kazakhstan came up with their visions – creative, fantastic or serious – of Kazakhstan in the future. Read on for the summary of the posts by Adam, Marat , Ksenia, Slavoraya, and Vitaly.

Almaty Mariott, to be completed in 2007

Adam Kesher. 2021: An Eternal Land of Hopes.

“2021. I am a free citizen of a free country, looking back at my homeland and seeing that nothing had changed. It is still a land of hopes. When I was a Soviet child, it was a country of virgin lands and a cosmodrome – and had everything in front of it. In the 1990s, it was a new state, where everyone was looking forward to future because the present could not have been worse. In the beginning of the 21 century, the aspirations split, mainly due to financial differences – those in the middle were waiting for democracy and money, poor were waiting for money and democracy, and oil-riches – for money, without democracy”. Read the full story »

Controversial opinions
Written by , Wednesday, 27 Dec, 2006 – 20:40 | One Comment

While I was surfing the internet desperately trying to find more information about the intolerant sanctions of the new governor Akhmadjan Usmanoiv in Andijan province of Uzbekistan, I came across with two controversial articles.

The first one is on Fergana.ru and illustrates the reaction of Andijani dwellers to the sanctions of the new governor. Here is one of them given in the article:

“I always pray five times a day,” an elderly woman said. “Abandoning the namaz [prayer] because of my work, that’ll certainly be a sin. If I keep praying, however, it may cost me my job. To tell you the truth, I curse the new hokim [uzb. “governorâ€?] every day. That’s about all I can do…”

The other info that I found is at Press-uz.info. The statement criticizes the author of the first article, at Fergana.ru. It says that a “clever� journalist would never put his/her signature under such nonsense.

“Even a journalist with least convolutions of the brain would not dare to write such a statement. Citizens of Andijan differ from others by being rigid keepers of their customs. Is it possible in Andijan, where people stick firmly to their traditions, to give the authorization to sell alcohol beverages in the places of public catering? Nonsense! … The way of thinking of the time-worker of Fergana.ru is roughly like this: “Everyone is talking about Andijan. One can make up anything taking advantage of it. Anyway, the main thing is a honorariumâ€?.

Furtherer, it compares the author from Fergana.ru with the main character of the novel “The Twelve chairs� by Ilf and Petrov, Gavriil Trubetskoi, who ended up badly for dispersing wrong information.

Press-uz.info is known as a pro-governmental site, and from its article it is obvious that the government of Uzbekistan is doing its best to keep most things in secret, which are actually not secret any more. A journalist, who is blaming the other journalist for not being professional, seems to forget the main rule of the media: you can never hide the truth when it is obvious. However, you can read them by yourselves and make your own conclusions. Unfortunately, the second article that is on press-uz.info is in Russian.

Weak Constitution
Written by , Wednesday, 27 Dec, 2006 – 19:37 | 5 Comments

The final flickers of hope for anybody expecting that Kurbanguly Berdymuhammedov’s interim succession would signal a shift to openness and democracy will be concerned by his latest efforts to install himself in late Saparmurat Niyazov’s place.
David Holley in the Los Angeles Times reports on the amendments the interim has effected already to ensure that he becomes leader:

The country’s supreme legislative body, the 2,507-member People’s Council, or Khalk Maslahty, revised the constitution to allow acting President Kurbanguly Berdymuhammedov to run in the presidential election. Before it was amended, the constitution barred the acting president from being a candidate.

At the same time, other modifications have been made to the constitution. In a change to article 60, if the president is unable to perform his duties, responsibilities will pass to the deputy chairman of the Cabinet, a task performed by Berdymuhammedov until recently. Presidential elections can be held no later than sixty days after the president has relinquished power.
For formality’s sake, six candidates have been named as contenders for the elections, slated for Feb. 11. These include Berdymuhammedov, the deputy Minister for Oil and Gas and Mineral Resources Ishankuly Nuriyev; Abadan mayor Orazmurat Karajayev; Turkmenbashi mayor Ashirniyaz Pommanov; first deputy Governor of Dashoguz province Amanniyaz Atajikov; and the Governor of the Karabekaul district in Lebap province Mukhammednazar Gurbanov.

From left to right: Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov, President Kurbanguly Berdymuhammedov, Democratic Party of Turkmenistan chairman Onjik Musayev.

It is worth noting that among these nondescript phantom candidates, none of whom was approved unanimously like Berdymuhammedov, there are no regional leaders from the Mary province, where some observers of Turkmen power dynamics have anticipated potential dissent could come from. There is little available information on these characters, and neither can it be expected that they will gain much exposure in the national media. Berdymuhammedov has de facto identified with the nation’s future leadership in the crucial early period.
For all it is worth, the exiled opposition have also advanced a candidate, former former deputy prime minister and Central Bank chairman Khudaiberdy Orazov. However, not only has Orazov not gained approval from the Khalk Maslahaty, but he is also barred by a rule that requires any prospective president to have lived in Turkmenistan for ten years before standing for president. Orazov lives in Sweden, where he leads the Watan opposition movement.
The United Democratic Opposition of Turkmenistan (UDOT) also advanced a candidate, Nurberdy Nurmuhammedov, chairman of the Agzybirlik democratic movement. UDOT leader Advy Kuliyev told RIA-Novosti that he considers Nurmuhammedov the most credible alternative from the opposition’s ranks.
Meanwhile, there has been the expected speculation about the behind-the-scene struggle for ascendancy, but the facts about this still remain unclear. In a report on Monday, Russian newspaper Vremya Novostei said that a swathe of arrests of around 140 mostly mid- and low-ranking civil servants had taken place. The most senior figure also alleged to have been detained was also Defense Minister Gen. Agageldy Mammetgeldiyev, who had earlier been tipped to head the nominally important Khalk Maslhaty. Either his arrest or his transfer to the Khalk Maslahaty would be significant events in themselves, as they would indicate an effort to neutralise rivals to power from within the so-called power ministries.
However, a televised joint session of the State Security Council and Cabinet on Tuesday, showed Mammetgeldiyev sitting at Berdymuhammedov’s right-hand side, thus putting lie to rumours about his arrest.
Current reporting in the Russian-language press currently points to the conclusion that any power struggle that was to take place is already over. Kommersant writes about a letter appearing in Monday’s edition of Neutralniy Turkmenistan (which can be downloaded here for Russian speakers), written by an admiring correspondent urging Berdymuhammedov to pursue Niyazov’s legacy. That such fulsome praise is already appearing in the official press is surely a sign that the trimmings of power have been quick to install themselves.
Some more instances of craven toadying came courtesy of the chairman of the Central Elections Committee in Ashgabat, Murat Kariyev, who remarked that the polls have been as good as held to all intents and purposes. He also added that the elections would be open to scrutiny by international electoral observers. Given that the winning candidate will probably have only been able to run by perverting the constitution that any respectable monitoring organisation. Countries sponsoring less scrupulous monitors, possibly including Russia, may seize upon this opportunity to provide their moral support to this yet illegitimate government. Kariyev’s remarks may be read as a signal to the international community, Eastern and Western, about the kind of basis dialogue will be based. Either way, nobody should question the abilities of Turkmen electoral monitors Kariyev says:

“Our national observers are far better than international observers, because they work from the heart and they don’t go looking for imperfections.”

Not wanting to be any less in the enthusiasm stakes, the chairman of the state-sponsored successor to the Communist Party, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, Ondjik Musayev suggested that the Khalk Maslahaty should elect Berdymuhammedov as president with immediate effect:

“[Berdymuhammedov] has shown himself to be a worthy successor to Niyazov; an experienced politician that was handed the most challenging tasks of government. Lately, Niyazov has considered him his top subordinate.”


“Berdymuhammedov has extensive experience in government. In the past, he also worked as a teacher, heading the dentistry faculty. He has exercised the most humane profession of medicine.”

The electoral legitimisation of Berdymuhammedov’s grasp on power, sponsored by the chief of the presidential guard Akmurad Rejepov, will come closer than previously anticipated. According to some speculation, Niyazov’s birth date, Feb. 19, was slated initially, but that option was overlooked for an even earlier date. This leaves little more than five weeks of preparation for the polls, which should safely exclude the likelihood of external interference.
Welcome to the new era of democracy, Turkmenistan-style.

UPDATE: Newsinfo.ru reports (via gazeta.ru) that opposition candidate for the presidency, mentioned above, Nurberdy Nurmuhammedov has gone missing in Ashgabat. According to an ODOT statement, Nurmuhammedov has not been seen since Dec. 23. Nurmuhammedov gave an interview to Radio Free Europe shortly before being reported missing.

New governor, new rules in Andijan
Written by , Tuesday, 26 Dec, 2006 – 23:51 | 5 Comments

Recently I came across the news that the Uzbek authorities have introduced new restrictions on Islamic practices in Andijan province. This is sad news because the restrictions will definitely fuel anti-government sentiment among believers. Despite this, few believers are ready to protest against the new rules.

Ahmadjan Usmanov, the newly appointed governor of Andijan province, has introduced a number of decrees restricting Islamic practices in the province. All Andijan restaurants and cafes are now required to serve alcohol, while traditional Islamic calls to prayer will be banned in mosques throughout Andijan province. In addition, theologians and Islamic clerics are forbidden to preach at wedding ceremonies, and mosques are not allowed to admit children and teenagers for public prayers. Employers are forbidden to allow their employees to pray at work. Offenders must pay a fine of more than $400 if they breach any of these rules.

A long-time Karimov loyalist, Usmanov was appointed by President Islam Karimov on 13 October to replace Saidullo Begaliev, who Karimov dismissed on grounds of abuse of power and nepotism. Prior to his appointment, Usmanov served as chief of police in Namangan province. Usmonov’s police background and his previous experience in cracking down on Islamists in Namangan played a major role in his appointment.

The rules aim to counter a growing religious trend in the region, where many restaurants and cafes owned by devout Muslims have stopped serving alcohol. Wedding ceremonies involving Islamic clerics and sermons have become widely popular. Most workplaces have provided for prayer-rooms to their employees, and Friday prayers have attracted a large number of children and teenagers.

The new rules imposed by Usmanov are also designed to weaken Islamic religious associations, which have emerged as a potent force in Andijan. These groups control many businesses in Andijan, including cafes and taxi companies. The new restrictions come after the authorities imposed strict regulation over entrepreneurial activity. Under a decree effective since 1 July, all persons involved in taxi operations are required to join a state-controlled enterprise that has the power to issue and revoke licenses, collect revenues, and impose fines.

Many Andijani residents are quietly complaining about the new regulations and are accusing the new governor of religious intolerance and discrimination. They point out that many Muslims in other provinces are not affected by similar rules. But few believers and entrepreneurs in Andijan will object to the rules openly for fear of inviting arrest. Memories are still fresh of the 2005 Andijan crackdown, which began when 23 local businessmen were jailed for “religious extremism.�

On their part, the authorities deny accusations of religious intolerance, and the Uzbek Foreign Ministry dismissed recent condemnation by the US Department of State as “meddling in domestic affairs of a sovereign state.�

Earthquake in Kyrgyzstan
Written by , Tuesday, 26 Dec, 2006 – 21:31 | 7 Comments

Today, early in the morning at about 2:00, I was suddenly awakened by the noise of falling CD cases from the shelf. My bed shook, the roof and windows were clattering. It lasted only for couple of seconds. It was over so fast that I couldn’t realize what was happening and went on sleeping. Only in the morning did I found that it was a 4.0 by Richter’s scale earthquake.

As Akipress.kg reports,

The earthquake’s epicenter was in Tersekei – Ala Too mountains close to the border of Yssyk Kul and Naryn oblasts, in 140 km away to the south-west from Bishkek. The force of vibration in the epicenter was 7.0 on Richter’s scales. Bishkek experienced only 4.5.

Fortunately, there was no property damage and loss of life.

It is strange that during the last two month this is the fourth sizable earthquake. Epicenters of all four were in northern Kyrgyzstan. They occurred mainly in Yssyk Kul oblast. It should be noted that in all four cases, Kyrgyzstani seismologists neither forecast them, nor carried out prevention activities, like informing people of the possible places where the earthquake could occur. The only thing they did was to record and state the intensity of the quake on the Richter scale in each case. I consider this a serious problem, as if there another serious earthquake occurs, especially in northern Kyrgyzstan, the loss would be catastrophic for Kyrgyzstan. With a shaky economy like ours, we never will be able to recover by ourselves. It means new credit from foreign donors, new debts, and a greater need for Kyrgyzstan to join the very controversial Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. There is a formula: Earthquake equals Economic Crisis.

Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do to fix the problem. The only thing that I can is to put my CD folders in drawers rather than on the shelf, so that next time it will not disturb me as much. Life is full of problems, so no time to worry about earthquakes…

Splitter Wing of Tajikistan
Written by , Tuesday, 26 Dec, 2006 – 7:37 | 3 Comments

Presidium of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan (DPT) dismissed Chairman Masud Sobirov on December 24 and appointed his deputy Saidjafar Ismonov as acting head.

Speaking to journalists yesterday, Mr. Ismonov said Masud Sobirov was dismissed because of his intention to reunite with another wing of the party, led by Rahmatullo Valiev.

“He [Masud Sobirov] was not authorized to make such a decision without the approval of the party presidium,” said Mr. Ismonov. “Such issues should be discussed by all members of the party”.

Members of the presidium were also disappointed with Masud Sobirov’s inefficient leadership. They told journalists that Mr. Sobirov was not attending party meetings and was responsible for the party’s failure to establish a permanent office and launch party newspaper.

“During the presidium meeting on December 24, Masud Sobirov left the meeting shortly after it started,” said Mr. Ismonov. “This indicates that Sobirov ignores the party and disrespects members of the presidium”.

Mr. Ismonov also said the extraordinary congress of DPT on January 14 will appoint the new chairman and give an evaluation of Mr. Sobirov’s leadership of the party.

Masud Sobirov’s dismissal came only a week after the two rival factions of DPT announced they were ready to discuss possible reunion and bring an end to the conflict that divided and weakened the once-powerful Democratic Party.

Mr. Sobirov was behind what many politicians and experts viewed as government-led efforts to divide and marginalize DPT. In April 2006, Masud Sobirov established the faction “Vatan” within DPT that aimed to “rebuild the party’s influence”. The faction soon organized an “extraordinary congress” of a limited number of party members and dismissed DPT’s jailed leader Mahmadruzi Iskandarov appointing Masud Sobirov as the new chairman. DPT’s “old guard” led by Rahmatullo Valiev prompted at the government’s involvement with “Vatan”’s schismatic efforts but did not take it very seriously as Mr. Sobirov was not recognized by most political parties and authorities. However, on September 29, 2006, the Ministry of Justice registered Masud Sobirov as chairman of the Democratic Party in a move that many experts and opposition parties described as a revenge for DPT’s boycott of the presidential election [For background see my post of October 5].

Mr. Sobirov’s dismissal makes the prospects of the reunion of rival factions of DPT dimmer than before.