Thursday, 17 September 2009

16 September 2009 News Digest

Published in News Digest

By Alima Bissenova (9/17/2009 issue of the CACI Analyst)


3 September

The Senate of Parliament of Uzbekistan on Saturday passed the law on ratification of the agreement on the order of organization and carrying out of joint antiterrorist exercises of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states in Dushanbe on August 28, 2008, the agency reports citing News Agency REGNUM. "The document is directed at strengthening of cooperation of the SCO member countries in struggle against terrorism and extremism and defines the order of participation of the parties for the exercises." "During the ceremony of signing of the agreement, the Uzbek party informed that Uzbekistan will take part in the joint antiterrorist exercises of the SCO member countries as an observer," a source in the government of Uzbekistan informed.


3 September

The Senate of Parliament of Uzbekistan on Saturday passed the law on ratification of the agreement on the order of organization and carrying out of joint antiterrorist exercises of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states in Dushanbe on August 28, 2008, the agency reports citing News Agency REGNUM. "The document is directed at strengthening of cooperation of the SCO member countries in struggle against terrorism and extremism and defines the order of participation of the parties for the exercises." "During the ceremony of signing of the agreement, the Uzbek party informed that Uzbekistan will take part in the joint antiterrorist exercises of the SCO member countries as an observer," a source in the government of Uzbekistan informed. According to the local experts, this decision has been made according to the legislation of Uzbekistan that states that the country does not send its military contingents to the territories of other states. (Kazakhstan Today)



7 September

The President of Venezuela, Ugo Chaves, arrived for the first official visit in Turkmenistan on September 6, the agency reports citing NEWSru. He was met at the International airport of Ashkhabad by Vice Prime Minister of Turkmenistan, Baymurad Hodzhamuhammedov. According to ITAR-TASS, the visit in Ashkhabad of the head of Venezuela is considered as the beginning of constructive interstate dialogue and the act of mutual desire and readiness of two friendly countries for development of multilateral cooperation. The official meeting of the Presidents of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov, and Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, is planned for Monday, September 7, the press service of the Turkmen government informed. "The leaders of the states are expected to discuss a number of questions and will designate priorities of the long-term mutually beneficial partnership having big prospects taking into account the economic potential of two countries." (Kazakhstan Today)



7 September

Final decision on detained Turkish captain of a cargo vessel seized by the Georgian coast guard last month, will be made on September 8 after visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu meets with President Saakashvili, Georgian Foreign Minister, Grigol Vashadze, said. “I and my colleague discussed this issue and I think we have found the solution, which would satisfy everyone. We will be ready to give more details after [the Turkish Foreign Minister] meets with the Georgian President,” Vashadze said at a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart in Tbilisi. “We have very useful conversation on the matter and it will be also discussed when I meet with President Saakashvili tomorrow,” Foreign Minister Davutoglu said. He also said that the two countries should cooperate to prevent reoccurrence of similar situation. The Turkish Foreign Minister pays official visit to Georgia on September 7-8. Before arriving in Tbilisi, Davutoglu said, according to the Reuters report, that Georgia agreed to release the captain of the Turkish vessel in exchange of USD 18,000 fine. The Georgian court found the captain, Mehmet Coskun Öztürk, guilty of smuggling and unauthorized economic activity in breakaway Abkhazia and sentenced him to 24 years in prison. Other 16 crew members of the vessel, which was denied while transporting fuel to Abkhazia, were fined and released. Twelve of them are Turkish citizens and four from Azerbaijan. (Civil Georgia)



8 September

A captain of a Turkish-operated cargo vessel, seized last month after trying to deliver fuel to breakaway Abkhazia, was released, the Georgian court said on September 8. The Supreme Court said that Turkish citizen, Mehmet Coskun Öztürk was released after he pled guilty that was followed by plea bargaining. As a result, the captain was given a three-year conditional sentence, plus GEL 30,000 fine (about USD 17,500). The move comes hours after visiting Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, met with President Saakashvili on September 8.  “As far as I know at a meeting the President [Saakashvili] has decided that the captain will be released,” Vashadze told Civil.Ge in brief remarks when asked about the matter earlier on September 8. The Georgian court found Öztürk, guilty of smuggling and violation of Georgia’s law on occupied territories, banning economic activity in breakaway Abkhazia without Georgia’s consent, and sentenced him to 24 years in prison on August 31. (Civil Georgia)



9 September

A European human rights watchdog has praised Uzbekistan's progress in human rights and said it would step up cooperation with the Central Asian state, long criticzed for rights abuses. Rights groups say the former Soviet republic bordering Afghanistan has jailed thousands of dissidents and political foes of President Islam Karimov, a charge the government denies. But this year Tashkent has taken several steps to mend its strained ties with the West, raising hopes for dialogue on human rights and democracy.  Janez Lenarcic, the Director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), visited Tashkent on September 8 and met Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov and other officials, the OSCE said. "We are encouraged by the progress made recently in implementing some of the commitments Uzbekistan has adopted as a participating State of the OSCE, including efforts to improve detention conditions, the release of some human rights defenders, and the abolition of the death penalty," it quoted Lenarcic as saying.  "Our talks here have shown clearly that there is a willingness on both sides to work together more closely in the future to strengthen Uzbekistan's compliance with its international commitments." Lenarcic said the OSCE was ready to send a mission to assess requirements in Tashkent in the near future "to determine the format of a possible ODIHR involvement" in observing parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan scheduled for December. Uzbek officials could not be reached for comment. Uzbekistan expelled a U.S. air base and severed nearly all contacts with the West in 2005 following strong criticism over its handling of a riot in the town of Andijon where, according to witnesses, government troops killed hundreds of protesters. But it allowed the transit of nonmilitary supplies for U.S. troops in Afghanistan this year, praised U.S. President Barack Obama's address to Muslims and intensified diplomatic contacts with Western nations. (Reuters)



9 September

The Medeu district court in Almaty has ruled that Kazakhstan's "Respublika" weekly should pay a huge fine to BTA Bank, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports. The court ordered the newspaper to print an apology to the bank and pay 60 million tenges (almost $400,000) to BTA as "compensation for moral damage." The court ruled that a story run by "Respublika" caused a run on deposits that lost the bank 6.8 billion tenges ($45 million) in deposits, lawyer Sergei Utkin told Reuters. Utkin said "Respublika" was unable to pay the money and would challenge the ruling. Directors of the BTA Bank filed the lawsuit against the weekly, accusing it of giving "false information about the bank's activities" in the article printed on March 6. The newspaper's deputy editor in chief, Oksana Makushina, says the case is politically motivated, and that the verdict will means the newspaper's closure. Last month, the newspaper's editors told journalists that they could move their operation to the Internet if they lost the case.  Earlier this summer, the opposition newspaper "Taszharghan" (The Stonebreaker) had to stop publication after it lost a similar libel case. (RFE/RL)



9 September

Azerbaijan might open its border with Armenia in exchange for the handover of five disputed regions near the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, officials say. Elkhan Polukhov, a spokesman for the Azeri Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Turkish daily Today's Zaman that opening the border was a matter for consideration. "It has been said in earlier statements from Azerbaijani officials that Azerbaijan is ready to open borders and restore dialogue with Armenia if the first stage of a plan to resolve the conflict is implemented," he said. The spokesman said those early provisions on restoring bilateral relations with Armenia included the return of five regions near the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory and the return of internally displaced persons. Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in support of Azerbaijan, which was engaged in a military conflict over the disputed territory. Yerevan claims ethnic Armenians are deprived of their basic rights in the territory, while Baku argues those solutions lie in annexing Nagorno-Karabakh. Ankara said it would open its borders with Armenia in time for a World Cup qualifying match in October. Polukhov said it was too early to make any formal announcements on border plans. (UPI)



10 September

A rally has been held in Almaty in support of Kazakhstan's leading human rights activist, who was recently jailed, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports. Last week, Yevgenyy Zhovtis, the director of the Kazakh nongovernmental organization Bureau on Human Rights, was sentenced to four years in jail for his role in a fatal traffic accident. Kazakh rights activist Viktor Kovtunovsky appeared on Almaty's central square and unfolded a sign saying, "Today -- Zhovtis, Tomorrow -- You!" A representative of the Almaty City Prosecutor's Office told Kovtunovsky that his protest was violating Kazakh laws on public gatherings. Kovtunovsky continued his action. Several other activists then joined Kovtunovsky in his picket. International human rights groups say the case against Zhovtis was an effort to silence him for his professional activities. Zhovtis had made a presentation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna that was critical of the human rights situation in Kazakhstan shortly before the traffic accident. (RFE/RL)



10 September

Chechnya’s pro-Russian government must solve the murder of human rights worker Natalya Estemirova, engage with non-governmental organizations and ensure counter- terrorism operations don’t harm civilians, Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg said. Chechnya, with neighbors Ingushetia and Dagestan, has been swept by a wave of terrorist attacks this summer. At the same time, human rights activists critical of the authorities have been murdered, including Estemirova, a colleague of slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya. “It’s essential to address the lack of discipline within the security forces,” Hammarberg told reporters in Moscow today after a fact-finding mission to the North Caucasus region. “Indiscriminate actions by the security forces do create bitterness among the population and worsen the situation.” Hammarberg, on his fourth such mission in as many years, met government officials including Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Ingush President Yusus-Bek Yevkurov, a survivor of a June suicide bombing. The Council of Europe, which monitors and rules on human rights abuses in its 47 member states, will issue a report on the North Caucasus later this year. Estemirova’s unsolved July murder had a chilling effect on the work of other human rights workers in Chechnya, Hammarberg said. Local authorities should enter a dialog with non- governmental organizations instead of criticizing them, he said. Graves containing the remains of more than 3,000 missing persons should be opened and the bodies identified, he said.  “I’m not sure it’s understood in Moscow how deeply sensitive this issue is in Chechen society,” Hammarberg said. “Very many families are affected and it has created very deep bitterness.” Hammarberg said he saw “positive signs” in neighboring Ingushetia, where Yevkurov has engaged human rights groups and recognized the socio-economical roots of extremist activity. “His approach to non-governmental organizations is a model,” Hammarberg said about Yevkurov, who has returned to work after an attempt on his life. Operations aimed at rooting out terrorists must not harm innocent bystanders, Hammarberg said. “I hope the start of that approach in Ingushetia will continue and also be a model for Chechnya,” he said. (Bloomberg)



11 September

Five Armenian soldiers have been killed in Azerbaijan's Nagorno Karabakh region in an apparent cease-fire violation, Azeri media reported. The BBC said Friday while three Azeri news agencies reported deadly fighting in the disputed region, the conflict and reported Armenian deaths had not been confirmed by Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan and Armenia remained divided over control of the Nagorno Karabakh region of the South Caucasus since fighting over the region erupted in the 1990s. Since that violence ended in 1994 with a cease-fire, the region has been the site of multiple shootings. An anonymous official confirmed to the BBC that gunfire had occurred in the region resulting in casualties. Specifics regarding the violence were not reported. Meanwhile, Karabakh Defence Ministry spokesman Senor Hasratian denied the Azeri news reports of fatalities, but did confirm gunfire took place in the region overnight. The BBC said negotiations for a solidified cease-fire agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan are ongoing. (UPI)



12 September

Roadside bombs killed 20 civilians in southern Afghanistan and fighters killed 11 policemen and six private guards in attacks, officials said as the country awaited results from last month's disputed election. Violence in Afghanistan has reached its worst levels of the eight-year-old war despite record levels of U.S. and NATO troops being sent to fight the Taliban. The country remains mired in a drawn-out dispute over election fraud that could test the patience of U.S. President Barack Obama and other Western leaders contemplating whether more troops are needed to defend its government. Election authorities were due to give near-complete preliminary results from the August 20 presidential election later in the day, although a final outcome will still await the results of a fraud investigation that could take months. Results so far show incumbent Hamid Karzai headed for a single round victory, which could be challenged by a UN-backed watchdog that says it has found proof of fraud and has begun voiding ballots from areas where Karzai won overwhelming support. In the worst incident reported on September 12, the Interior Ministry said a roadside bomb in Oruzgan Province in the south had struck two passenger cars, killing 14 civilians. Provincial police chief Juma Gul Hemat put the death toll at 12. He said: "The Taliban obviously planted the roadside bomb to target Afghan and foreign troops, but unfortunately it struck civilians." Another roadside bomb in Kandahar province killed six civilians, the Interior Ministry and provincial governor said. In Konduz Province in the north, fighters attacked a police post, killing seven policemen including the commander at the checkpoint in a battle that ran from the middle of the night into morning, provincial governor Mohammad Omar said. He said two other policemen were missing and feared captured by the fighters. Fighters killed four policemen in an attack on a patrol in Nangarhar Province in the east of the country on September 12, provincial government spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzai said. Six guards from a local security firm were killed when fighters attacked their office in eastern Kunar Province, provincial Governor Fazlullah Wahidi said. (Reuters)



12 September

An emergency official says a suicide bomber has wounded three police officers in the capital of Russia's war-scarred Chechnya province. Southern Russia Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Marat Prokopenkov said Saturday that the bomber set off his explosives close to a police patrol near a school in Grozny. He said three officers were hospitalized, two of whom were severely wounded. Police at the scene initially said it appeared three police were killed. Separately, the Interior Ministry in neighboring Dagestan province said security forces besieged a home and killed four alleged militants Saturday. Chechnya and nearby provinces in southern Russia's restive, heavily Muslim Caucasus region have experienced an upsurge in violence in recent months. (AP)



12 September

The Aktau meeting of the Presidents of Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan is of great importance in terms of future cooperation of the Caspian countries, believe the members of the Azerbaijani Parliament."The Aktau meeting of the Presidents of Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan is important for the future cooperation between the Caspian countries," Member of the Political Council of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (NAP) and Azerbaijani Parliamentarian, Aydin Mirzazade said. On Sept. 11, Aktau hosted an informal meeting amongst the Presidents of Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. During the meeting the heads of state discussed bilateral and multilateral cooperation. Mirzazade said at the summit, mainly, focused on the future cooperation of the Caspian littoral countries of the CIS."The discussions include joint projects, and the development of relations in the trade and economic spheres. The Presidents said the meeting did not discuss the issue, regarding the status of the Caspian Sea. Perhaps, this will be the topic of discussion at meetings to be held with the participation of all littoral states. Azerbaijan, Russia and Kazakhstan have come to a common decision on the status of the Caspian Sea and signed this contract. By taking this step, the states set an example to other countries," said the parliamentarian. The Presidents' meeting will enable to reach a consensus on outstanding issues, Parliamentarian, Zahid Oruj said to Trend News."The current problem regarding the sharing of the Caspian Sea has represented a kind of risk for the region. This meeting shows that the Caspian states are seeking ways to solve this problem. I believe that the adoption of the model, chosen by Azerbaijan in the Caspian Sea, is very important for peace and security of the Caspian Sea. Without Azerbaijan's policy, the Caspian could become the second of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem," he said. (Trend News)



13 September

Uzbekistan will auction more than 150 mineral-resource deposits to attract foreign investment to the central Asian state, RIA Novosti reported. The deposits contain minerals such as walfram, lithium and strontium, the state news agency said, citing an unidentified spokesman at Uzbekistan’s state committee on geology and mineral resources.Uzbekistan will also auction ore and chemical deposits and those with construction materials, according to RIA Novosti. (Bloomberg)



13 September

At least 38 people were killed in a afire that broke out in a drug abuse clinic in southern Kazakhstan, the Central Asian republic's emergencies ministry said on Sunday.The fire started early on Sunday at the narcological dispensary in the town of Taldykorgan, the administrative center of the Almaty province. The blaze engulfed an area of 650 square meters, the ministry said. "According to preliminary data, 38 died at the scene of the fire while 40 people were evacuated," the ministry said. The fire was localized an hour after it broke out, the ministry said. Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov has ordered to establish a special commission to investigate the causes of the fire. (RIA Novosti)



14 September

At the suggestion of Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party, education officials are meeting with parents to discuss a ban on the wearing of the hijab, or Islamic headscarf, in schools in northwest Sughd Province, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports. Saidmukhtor Jalolov of the Education Ministry recently introduced a new school uniform that allows national scarves but forbids students from wearing the hijab. Officials told RFE/RL on September 11 that the Education Ministry has received 10 complaints from parents who want their daughters to have their head covered while attending school. High school student Nilufar Zohidova said she kept wearing her veil to school despite the ban and was expelled after four days. Tajik newspapers last week quoted anonymous education officials who said that the rule against the hijab will also soon be enforced on teachers. Several university students were expelled from school last year as well. (RFE/RL)



14 September

Officials in Uzbekistan continue to keep the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border closed, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports. Akylbek Nyshanov, the deputy chairman of the border guard service in southern Kyrgyzstan, told RFE/RL that Uzbekistan explains the current closure of the border by saying that there is foot-and-mouth disease in the region, which affects various kinds of livestock. It is not clear when the border checkpoints will reopen. At the end of August, Uzbekistan officially closed its border with its neighbors until September 10, explaining the action by citing the celebrations of Uzbekistan's independence day and the 2,200th anniversary of Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. (RFE/RL)



14 September

The opening ceremonies for nearly two weeks of military exercises involving Kazakh, U.S., and British personnel have taken place in Kazakhstan's Ili region, near Almaty, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports. The maneuvers, called "Steppe Eagle 2009," are being held under the auspices of NATO. Kazakh Defense Minister Adilbek Dzhaksybekov took part in the opening ceremony along with British Ambassador Paul Barmmel and U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan Richard Hoagland. NATO representatives from Brussels also attended. More than 1,300 troops and 100 military vehicles and airplanes are participating in the exercises, which are scheduled to last until September 26. The main goal of the maneuvers is to train the military personnel in operating a peacekeeping mission in a conflict zone.  The first "Steppe Eagle" exercises were held in Kazakhstan in 2003. British forces joined the maneuvers the following year.  (RFE/RL)



14 September

U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan Richard Hoagland  has  offered  to  Kazakhstan  to take part in the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. In  his  speech  given  at  the  opening  ceremony  of the military training Steppe Eagle-2009 on the Ilisky testing ground in Kazakhstan on Monday,   Hoagland   said  Kazakhstan  may  again  become  part  of  the international NATO peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.    Among  the  participants in the Steppe Eagle-2009 training are over 1,300 servicemen from Kazakhstan, the UK, and the U.S. The training also involved over  100  units  of combat and special equipment and military transport aircraft. This  training  is  conducted  in  accordance  with  earlier signed documents  and  treaties  on  various  aspects of military and military-technical cooperation, the Kazakh Defense Ministry reported. The purpose of the training is to check the coordination of Kazbrigunits and  the  NATO  forces  in  peacekeeping  operations  and  to hone commanders'  practical  skills in managing units, organizing interaction between  them  during  peacekeeping operations, the ministry said in its report. (Interfax)



14 September

As of Monday, Sept. 14, 2009, at least 752 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to the Defense Department. The department last updated its figures Monday at 10 a.m. EDT. Of those, the military reports 575 were killed by hostile action. Outside the Afghan region, the Defense Department reports 69 more members of the U.S. military died in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Of those, three were the result of hostile action. The military lists these other locations as Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba; Djibouti; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Jordan; Kenya; Kyrgyzstan; Philippines; Seychelles; Sudan; Tajikistan; Turkey; and Yemen. There were also four CIA officer deaths and one military civilian death. (AP)



14 September

During a special operation conducted by the Federal Security Service and the Interior Ministry, three militants were destroyed in Dagestan’s Derbent region on Sunday night. As ITAR-TASS learnt at the press service of the Interior Ministry for Dagestan, “at about 21.00 Moscow time, police officers tried to stop a car with three militants to check their documents.” According to the press service, “the car driver didn’t obey the demand to spot. During a chase, the militants opened fire and were destroyed in return fire.” Two submachine-guns, several grenades and ammunition were found in the car. The incident occurred in the federal highway Kavkaz not far from the village of Gedzhukh of the Derbent region. The identity of two militants was established. They were members of a gang operating on the territory of Southern Dagestan. The gang was led by certain Validzhanov. (Itar-Tass)



15 September

Turkmenistan and Ukraine plan more talks on natural gas supply after the presidents of the two ex-Soviet countries met on Tuesday, five months after a pipeline blast cut off supplies of Turkmen gas to Russia and beyond. Russia, which sells Turkmen gas on to Ukraine, stopped buying gas from Central Asia's largest producer in April following a pipeline explosion that Turkmen officials at the time blamed on Moscow. Supplies have yet to be restored.  Neither Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko nor his Turkmen counterpart, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, gave details about their talks in Ashgabat. After the meeting, Yushchenko said: "We will continue talks on cooperation in energy, in the gas sector." Ukraine has said it is interested in buying gas directly from Turkmenistan and paying Russia only a transit fee, a system used in the 1990s with which Russian state gas export monopoly Gazprom may not now agree. Turkmenistan is moving out of Moscow's shadow by offering gas, drawn from the world's fourth-largest reserves, to eager buyers in Europe. It has, in particular, expressed willingness to supply the European Union-backed Nabucco pipeline, a project in which Ukraine wants to take part. The pipeline would reduce the EU's reliance on imports of gas from or through Russia. But with construction yet to begin on pipeline projects to bypass Russia, Turkmenistan needs the support of its Soviet-era master more than Moscow needs its gas to serve a European market where demand has dropped significantly this year. Turkmenistan is in talks with Gazprom to renew supplies to Russia, but the two sides have not yet struck a deal. Analysts say a prolonged disruption of supplies to Russia would put pressure on Turkmenistan's economy, which is bleeding up to $1 billion in monthly export revenues due to the row. Gas exports to Russia, which used to amount to about 50 billion cubic metres a year, were one of the key sources of foreign currency for Turkmenistan. (Reuters)



15 September

Settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem must be a part of the talks to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia, said deputy director of Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations Didier Billion in his interview with Turkey`s Cihan News Agency. He noted the process of normalization of relations and efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute should run in parallel. Billion quoted Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying “we will not open the border unless the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is resolved”, adding he hopes the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia will be resolved through dynamic activities of Turkish diplomacy and efforts by the OSCE Minsk Group. Billion also underlined Turkey must be included into the conflict settlement process along with the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries - the United States, France and Russia. The Nagorno-Karabakh problem must not be forgotten while discussing the normalization of relations, he added. (AzerTAc).



15 September

Russia has signed a deal to protect Georgia’s rebel regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia for nearly 50 years.  The accord with the two breakaway republics allows the Kremlin to establish bases with up to 1,700 soldiers in each. Only Nicaragua and Venezuela have followed Moscow in recognising the regions’ independence. Tbilisi denounced Tuesday’s agreement describing it as a ‘barbaric occupation’.  Georgia’s navy is blockading ships en route to Abkhazia and Russia also threatened to seize any vessel it finds in Abkhaz waters, further ratcheting up tensions in the Black Sea. Both rebel regions threw off Tbilisi’s rule after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, but are wholly dependant on Moscow to survive. In August last year, the Kremlin crushed a Georgian attempt to regain South Ossetia in a short but bitter war. (EuroNews)



16 September

As many as one-third of votes cast for Afghan incumbent Hamid Karzai in last month's presidential election are suspect and must be checked for fraud, the head of a European Union election observer mission has said. The announcement by the largest foreign observer team in Afghanistan suggesting fraud on a massive scale came hours before authorities were due to issue a preliminary final tally expected to show Karzai with enough votes to win in a single round. The fraud accusations have come at a particularly difficult time for U.S. President Barack Obama, who has already ordered thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan and is expected to make a decision in coming weeks about whether to send more. The war is already becoming increasingly unpopular at home, and Obama may find it more difficult to persuade Americans to send soldiers to die to defend a government whose legitimacy could be called into question. The preliminary final result can still be overturned by a separate body, the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission, which has already ordered a recount of 10 percent of polling stations after finding "clear and convincing evidence of fraud." Phillippe Morillon, head of the EU observer team, told Reuters his team believed 1.5 million votes were suspicious, including 1.1 million cast for Karzai and 300,000 cast for his main rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. In near-complete figures issued last week, Karzai had slightly more than 3 million votes, or 54.3 percent of the 5.54 million valid votes counted.  Were all the votes described by Morillon as "suspicious" to be removed from that preliminary tally, Karzai would fall just short of the 50 percent needed to win in a single round, and would instead face a runoff against Abdullah. Morillon said fraud had been carried out by "unscrupulous, overzealous supporters...from every camp," and that fraudulent ballots needed to be removed from the count before any result could be considered final. "Any claim for any count or of victory will be premature and not credible," he said. Four weeks after the election, Afghanistan remains mired in political limbo, with results trickling out as fraud accusations mounted, undermining faith in the vote both in Afghanistan and among Western nations with troops fighting there. The UN-backed ECC must sign off on any final result, and its fraud probe could potentially force a second round if it invalidates enough ballots to put Karzai below the 50 percent threshold needed to win in a single round and avoid a runoff. The recount process has only just begun and could take weeks or even months. (Reuters)



16 September

Foreign direct investments (FDI) in Georgia fell to USD 226.1 million in the first half of 2009, down from USD 1.143 billion in the same period of 2008, according to the Georgian Statistics Department. 2009 second quarter FDI was also down to USD 92.18 million, against USD 133.9 million in the first quarter of this year. (Initial figures for Q1 FDI released by the Statistic Department in June showed USD 124.7 million, instead of now released figure - USD 133.9 mln). The bulk of the second quarter FDI – USD 73.6 million – came from the United Arab Emirates. Like in the first quarter, transport and communications suffered most with outflows of USD 16.4 million in the second quarter of the year; followed by the energy and agriculture sectors – USD 4.8 million and USD 4.4 million, respectively. Real estate saw the most foreign investment, at USD 57.7 in the second quarter, reaching total of USD 81.3 million in the first half of 2009. Construction sector attracted USD 3.6 million in the second quarter, down from USD 4.3 million in the first quarter of 2009. (Civil Georgia)
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