Friday, 22 February 2008

20 February 2008 News Digest

Published in News Digest

By Alima Bissenova (2/22/2008 issue of the CACI Analyst)

U.S. AMBASSADOR CRITICIZES KYRGYZ CONSTITUTION AS 'STEP BACKWARD'8 FebruaryIn a statement in Bishkek, U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Marie Yovanovitch onFebruary 8 criticized the Kyrgyz Constitution as "a step backwards" in contributing to a "policy of decentralization of power." Speaking during a conference on local self-government, Yovanovitch explained that "the new Kyrgyz Constitution is a step backwards in this area," adding that "instead of directly electing" local leaders, the new constitution will allow the president to freely appoint and dismiss district-level officials, which "undermines the notion of local governance itself." She went on to add that "experience shows that without an effective control on the part of the public, the vertical chain of power increases the likelihood of making bad decisions." Instead, the ambassador affirmed that the United States hopes that draft laws on self-government, and administrative and territorial arrangements will address this problem and "clearly divide the functions of the local and central authorities." ( ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE COMPLAINS TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT8 FebruaryFormer President and opposition presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian wrote on February 7 to Armenia's Constitutional Court complaining of "insurmountable obstacles" created by the authorities to his campaign for the February 19 presidential ballot,  RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on February 8. He mentioned specifically the negative coverage he has received over the past three months from Armenian State Television. Ter-Petrossian formally asked the court to remove those obstacles. The election law stipulates that the existence of such obstacles necessitates postponement of the ballot by two weeks. If after that time the obstacles have still not been removed, new elections must be scheduled after a 40-day interval. (RFE/RL) LONG LINES REPORTED IN TURKMENISTAN IN PREPARATION FOR GASOLINE PRICE HIKE9 FebruaryFor the first time in a decade, drivers in Turkmenistan on February 9 waited in long lines at gas stations in an attempt to stock up on gasoline prior to a planned price increase set to be introduced on February 11. According to the terms of a presidential decree introduced on February 8, gasoline prices are to increase by some eight times, from the current level of about 400 manats ($.02) per liter to 3,100 manats ($.15), although drivers will also be provided with a monthly coupon-based allowance of 120 free liters of gas. The monthly ration system also provides 200 liters of free gas to drivers of trucks and buses, and 40 liters for motorcycle owners. (Itar-Tass) TAJIK PRESIDENT CONCLUDES STATE VISIT TO IRAN10 FebruaryAfter meeting with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,President Emomali Rahmon on February 10 concluded a two-day state visit to Iran. Speaking to reporters at a press conference in Tehran following his meeting with the senior leadership, Rahmon said that Ahmadinejad proposed to construct a new hydroelectric power station in southern Tajikistan. He added that his talks with the Iranians focused on expanding bilateral cooperation in the areas of "transport, energy, joint investment, and culture." The Tajik delegation also reportedly reiterated the need for the "speeding up" of the Iranian construction of the Sangtuda-2 hydroelectric power station, warning of a recent energy crisis involving a serious decline in the availability of electricity in Tajikistan. (Asia-Plus) AZERBAIJAN TO RAISE PRICE FOR NATURAL GAS11 FebruaryAzerbaijan has no choice but to raise the price it charges for natural gas to bring it into line with world prices, Industry and Energy Minister Natiq Aliyev told journalists in Baku on February 11. Aliyev noted that Azerbaijan currently charges $120 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, but plans to raise the price to between $180-$200. He said the price Georgia will be charged for gas supplies in 2008 is currently under discussion; Georgia receives approximately 1.3 million cubic meters of gas per day from the offshore Shah Deniz field. Similar talks will also be started with Turkey. Russia's Gazprom last month registered an interest in buying gas from Shah Deniz, but those purchases would begin only when the second stage of exploitation gets under way, which is unlikely before 2012. ( ARMENIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CALLS FOR ACTION ON ELECTION OBSTACLES12 FebruaryArmenia's nine Constitutional Court judges convened on February 11 to discuss the formal complaint lodged four days earlier by former President and opposition presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Ter-Petrossian alleged insurmountable obstacles to normal election campaigning, specifically the overwhelmingly negative coverage of his political activities by state-controlled Armenian Public Television. In the event that such obstacles are not removed, election legislation requires the postponement of the election by two weeks. The court ruled after four hours of discussions that while Ter-Petrossian's complaints were "legitimate" and require action by the regulatory National Commission on Television and Radio and by the Central Election Commission, the actions he cited do not constitute an insurmountable obstacle to his campaign, and there are therefore no grounds to postpone the election, which is scheduled for February 19. (RFE/RL) Russia police say four killed in clash with rebels12 FebruaryThree insurgents and a security officer died in a shootout in Russia's volatile province of Dagestan on Tuesday, Russian media quoted police as saying. The incident took place at dawn in the Babayurt district in central Dagestan after police and Federal Security Service (FSB) agents blockaded a group of rebels inside a private house. Police suggested to the rebels they give themselves up, RIA news agency quoted a Dagestani police statement as saying. "But in return, the bandits threw grenades at the law enforcement officers, after which they opened fire," the statement said. A local FSB chief was killed and three policemen were wounded, it said. Three rebels were killed after security agents returned fire, the news agency reported. (Reuters) FOREIGN MINISTER PLAYS DOWN IRANIAN MISSILE THREAT13 FebruaryForeign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Geneva on February 12 that Iranian missiles do not pose a serious threat to Europe. He argued that "[our] position is based on facts, and the facts are that Iran, which [Washington calls] the main source of threat to Europe and the United States, simply does not have and will not have missiles from which one has to protect itself in the long term." Lavrov added that "even if the Iranian authorities have such plans [to build long-range missiles], they will not be able to implement them within 10 years, let's say. That's why we think it is excessive to adopt such measures that have been planned by the United States to ward off nonexistent threats." (RFE/RL) CONTROVERSIAL GEORGIAN BUSINESSMAN DIES IN ENGLAND13 FebruaryWealthy Georgian-born businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili died suddenly at his home in Surrey, southwest of London, late on February 12 at the age of 52, Georgian media reported the following day. Initial reports attributed Patarkatsishvili's death to heart failure, but his family have requested an autopsy and exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky was quoted on February 13 as saying that British police have opened an investigation. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili last fall accused Patarkatsishvili, who is wanted in Russia on criminal charges, of conspiring with Russian intelligence and Georgian opposition parties in a bid to overthrow the Georgian leadership; the Georgian Prosecutor-General's office later brought formal charges against him of plotting a coup and a political assassination. Patarkatsishvili registered in absentia as a candidate in the January 5 preterm Georgian presidential election and placed third with some 7 percent of the vote. (RFE/RL) Georgian govt ready to fulfil number of opposition’s demands14 FebruaryGeorgian government is ready to fulfil a number of demands set forth by the country’s political opposition, parliament speaker Nino Burzhanadze said Thursday. “The authorities have drafted a memorandum that takes account of almost all the questions raised by the opposition,” she said. Burdzhanadze claimed that the government has made some drastic steps to reach agreement with the oppositionists. “I hope the opposition forces will respond to the memorandum adequately and this will make it possible to have a normal pre-election process /meaning the parliamentary election/,” she said. Burdzhanadze promised that the government will release from jail all the people arrested in the wake of mass disturbances that rocked the capital Tbilisi November 7 last year. “If we do reach agreement, the election system will be changed and the opposition will have guaranteed presence on the electoral commissions of all levels to control the election procedures,” she said. “We propose setting up a special agency for the solution of electoral disputes and to staff it on the grounds of parity between the government and the opposition,” Burdzhanadze said. She also promised that a contest for forming the board of trustees at Georgia’s Public Television will be over by February 21 and “this board will elect the channel’s director general shortly after that.” At the time of reporting, it was still unknown how the opposition leaders had reacted to Burdzhanadze’s statement. “If the authorities fail to meet the opposition’s demands, permanent peaceful actions will begin in Tbilisi February 15 and they will end with a change of state power,” a spokesman for the opposition said. “If the demands are heeded, we will hold the meeting February 15 but it will end the same day,” he said. (Itar-Tass) KAZAKH SPACE AGENCY CHIEF REITERATES DEMAND FOR REDUCED RUSSIAN ROCKET LAUNCHES16 FebruaryTalgat Musabaev, the head of the Kazakh national aerospace agency, Kazkosmos, announced on February 16 that Kazakhstan is ready to consider Russian proposals on the number of Proton rocket launches from the Soviet-era Baikonur Cosmodrome that Moscow leases from Kazakhstan for some of its space launches. Musabaev said that he expects the Russian proposal to introduce a "gradual reduction" in the number of planned launches of rockets utilizing the toxic heptyl rocket fuel. He also reiterated Kazakhstan's "principled position" of demanding "at least some reduction in the number of launches" by the second half of 2008. In December, Anatoly Perminov, the head of the Russian Space Agency, promised that Russia would reduce the number of Proton rocket launches. The Kazakh demand for fewer launches of the rockets stems from the September 2007 crash of a Russian rocket, which caused considerable environmental damage from falling debris and subsequent contamination from the Proton's fuel. Two other Proton rockets crashed at Baikonur in 1999, leading to the imposition of a suspension on all launches at that time.  (Interfax-Kazakhstan) Georgia gives ”note protest” to Russian ambassador over RF FM statement16 FebruaryRussian Ambassador to Georgia Vyacheslav Kovalenko was summoned to the Georgian Foreign Ministry on Saturday to receive “a note of protest” in connection with the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement made on Friday. Earlier, Foreign Minister David Bakradze told journalists, “The Foreign Ministry of Georgia will demand official explanations from the ambassador of the Russian Federation regarding the February 15 statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry.” “We are continuing to take steps to build good-neighbourly relations with Russia, but these relations will not be built at the expense of the territorial integrity of Georgia.” “This is not a statement of a political or a political group. This is a statement made on behalf of the Russian executive authorities. We would like to express our profound concern over the statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry,” Bakradze said earlier, commenting on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement. “Georgia wishes to have neighbourly relations with Russia and is taking many steps to improve these relations,” the minister said. “However, everyone should know that speculations over Kosovo or any other subjects, as well as any steps in violation of the Georgian territorial integrity will lead the Georgian-Russian relations to a very serious and deep political deadlock.” The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday that Moscow would have to bear in mind a possible proclamation of Kosovo’s independence in its policy with regard to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The statement was made after a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Abkhazian and South Ossetian leaders. “The proclamation and recognition of independent Kosovo will certainly have to be considered in connection with the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. At the same time, Russia reaffirms its invariable commitment to assist in the peaceful settlement of the Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts within the existing formats and opposes any attempts to resolve the problems by force,” the ministry said. (Itar-Tass) Saakashvili cals for settling relations with Russia16 FebruaryGeorgian President Mikhail Saakashvili called for “settling Georgian-Russian relations”. Speaking at a meeting with governors in Tbilisi on Saturday, Saakashvili said, “We want all issues of bilateral Georgian-Russian relations to be solved in a civilised and friendly manner, but we won’t allow anyone to call the territorial integrity of Georgia into question.” According to Georgian laws, “All people living in the Abkhazian and Tskhinvali districts are citizens of Georgia, and we have constitutional rights and obligations to take care of them and protect their rights,” Saakashvili said. He stressed, “The people and authorities of Georgia will never allow any part of the country to be separated.” (Itar-Tass) Saakashvili displeased by Lavrov’s meeting with Abkhazian, SOssetian leaders16 FebruaryGeorgian President Mikhail Saakashvili expressed displeasure with a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Moscow. Commenting on the meeting, Saakashvili said “the granting of Russian citizenship to residents of the Abkhazian and Tskhinvali regions on a mass scale was unlawful”. In his words, “No country, including Russia, may legalise the citizenship of residents of any part of our country without the consent of Georgian authorities”. “Under Georgian laws, all people living in the Abkhazian and Tskhinvali districts are citizens of Georgia, and this is why we have constitutional rights and obligations to take care of them and protect their rights,” Saakashvili said. He stressed, “The people and authorities of Georgia will never allow any part of the country to be separated.” Saakashvili called for “settling Georgian-Russian relations”. “We want all issues of bilateral Georgian-Russian relations to be solved in a civilised and friendly manner, but we won’t allow anyone to call the territorial integrity of Georgia into question,” the president said. (Itar-Tass) KYRGYZ OFFICIALS EXPRESS CONCERN OVER HATE CRIMES TARGETING KYRGYZ NATIONALS IN RUSSIA18 FebruaryFollowing the slaying of a Kyrgyz citizen in Moscow on February 16, Kyrgyz National Security Council Secretary Tokon Mamytov expressed concern on February 18 over recent hate crimes targeting Kyrgyz nationals living in Russia. In a telephone conversation between Mamytov and his Russian counterpart, acting Russian National Security Council Secretary Valentin Sobolev, Sobolev promised that Russian authorities are ready to ensure the security of Kyrgyz nationals and noted that the Russian law enforcement agencies are actively investigating the recent killings of Kyrgyz citizens in Russia. Adding that the Russian authorities are undertaking "all necessary measures" to prevent such incidents in the future, Sobolev further stated that such hate crimes also "damage the interests of Russia's national policy" and pledged "to provide all possible support to Kyrgyz nationals who work and live in Russia." In a subsequent telephone conversation with Mamytov later that day, Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev said that he is assuming "direct personal control" of the investigation into the recent killings. During the last month alone, five Kyrgyz nationals were slain in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The leader of the Kyrgyz nongovernmental organization Demo Lux, Kanybek Abdykadyrov, also announced on February 18 plans to stage a public rally outside of the Russian Embassy in Bishkek in the coming days to protest the killings of Kyrgyz nationals in Russia. Abdykadyrov explained that the planned rally seeks to "draw Russia's attention to murders of our nationals in Russia." ( Iran imports gas from Azerbaijan to meet shortage18 FebruaryIran has begun importing 1 million cubic metres of natural gas per day from Azerbaijan, an Iranian news agency said on Monday, in an apparent move to help compensate for shortages caused by a cut in Turkmen deliveries. The supplies will be in addition to a daily 1.1 million cubic metres of Azeri gas deliveries for transit through Iran to another part of Azerbaijan, said Ebadollah Ghanbari, a spokesman for the National Iranian Gas Company. He told ISNA the new gas imports from Azerbaijan started 20 days ago and were being used to meet a shortage in parts of northwestern Iran, while the country would pay the same price as that paid to Turkmenistan. But Ghanbari said the supplies from Azerbaijan were not intended to replace deliveries from Turkmenistan, which stopped its daily exports of 23 million cubic metres to Iran in December at the height of the cold season, citing technical problems. Iranian officials have suggested Turkmenistan’s real aim was to raise the price of its gas and voiced anger at the cut, which led to criticism of the government in the north of Iran where supply shortages were felt. Ghanbari said Turkmenistan had not as yet resumed its deliveries but that the NIGC was reviewing the Central Asian republic’s new price proposals. Despite having the world’s second largest gas reserves after Russia, Iran has been unable to fully meet domestic demand and depends on imports to do so. Analysts blame the sector’s slow development on politics, sanctions and construction delays. (Reuters) Gryzlov, Bagapsh, Kokoity discuss Kosovo’s independence18 FebruaryState Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov met the presidents of breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoity, on Monday for talks on possible consequences of the proclamation of Kosovo’s independence. The meeting was held on the initiative of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the State Duma department for public relations and interaction with mass media reported. Gryzlov told the presidents about the Russian parliament’s statement on the consequences of the self-proclamation of Kosovo’s independence. “The recognition of Kosovo as an independent state will create prerequisites for building up a new format of relations between Russia and the self-proclaimed states in the area of Russia’s interests, primarily on the post-Soviet space,” Gryzlov said. Bagapsh and Kokoity stressed, “The peoples of Abkhazia and South Ossetia highly appreciate Russia’s weighty approach and its contribution to ensuring peace in the conflict areas.” (Itar-Tass) WHO OFFICIAL TO ISSUE URGENT APPEAL FOR AID FOR TAJIKISTAN19 FebruaryMarc Danzon, a regional director of the World Health Organization (WHO), arrived on February 18 in Dushanbe to conduct a tour of the country in preparation for an appeal for urgent aid to help alleviate the effects of its severe energy crisis. Briefing Danzon, the local WHO representative in Tajikistan, SantinoSeveroni, warned that roughly 50 percent of medical facilities in the country are currently experiencing serious shortages of water and electricity. Deputy Health Minister Sohib Rahmonov also noted that the shortage of electricity has contributed to "a tendency towards an increase in acute respiratory diseases among children." The local representative of the UN's World Food Program, Zlatan Milisic, also highlighted the fact that about 50 percent of the Tajik population is now suffering from malnutrition, with "over half of their earnings" being spent on food as prices continue to soar. (Asia-Plus)GE, Kazakhstan in joint locomotive project19 FebruaryGeneral Electric Co. will start production of new diesel-powered locomotives in the Central Asian state of Kazakhstan before the end of the year, its local partner said on Tuesday. GE and Kazakh state railway company Temir Zholy will finish construction of a $125 million plant by mid-2009 to produce Evolution Series models this year, and invest more than $600 million in production equipment, the Kazakh firm said. The plant will help Kazakhstan, a rapidly growing oil economy and a country that is the size of Western Europe, upgrade its Soviet-era railway vehicles as it aspires to become a major transportation hub linking Asia and Europe. (Reuters)ARMENIAN, KARABAKH, AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS REACT TO KOSOVA INDEPENDENCE19 FebruaryThe Armenian Foreign Ministry said on February 18 that it is monitoring international response to the previous day's declaration by Kosova of its independence from Serbia, and will not comment for the time being, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Speaking in Yerevan on February 16, Karabakh-born Armenian Prime Minister Sarkisian, widely regarded as the likely winner of the February 19 Armenian presidential election, said international recognition of Kosova's independence would create "a rather favorable position for us" insofar as if other countries recognize the independence of Kosovo but then fail to recognize that of Nagorno-Karabakh, "we'll think of double standards," Reuters reported. In Stepanakert, capital of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, parliament speaker Ashot Ghulian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that what is currently happening in Kosova parallels developments inKarabakh in September 1991, when the Karabakh parliament adopted a declaration of its independence from Azerbaijan in accordance with the provisions of the USSR Constitution; the Karabakh population then voted three months later overwhelmingly to support that independence declaration. Ghulian said international recognition of Kosova "could create some kind of precedent." Asked whether the NKR will formally recognize Kosova, Ghulian said that "nothing should be ruled out. But I think the discussions going on in international organizations right now will allow us to make the right decision." In Baku,Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Xazar Ibragim branded Kosova's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia illegal and a violation of international legal norms, reported on February 18. He further argued that there are numerous differences between the conflicts in Kosova and Nagorno-Karabakh, the former being an internal Serbian conflict and the latter an international one. (RFE/RL) Russia’s Gasprom gets Kyrgyz gas field LicenSes20 FebruaryIt produces about 70,000 tonnes of oil and 30 to 40 million cubic metres of gas a year, but the government says there are sizeable unexplored hydrocarbon reserves. Kyrgyzstan awarded Gazprom exploration licenses on Wednesday for two oil and natural gas fields and invited the Russian gas monopoly to buy stakes in its state-owned companies. Gazprom said it would invest up to $300 million to develop the Central Asian nation's fields within the next four years."We were given exploration licenses today," Gazprom Chief Executive Alexei Miller told reporters after meeting Kyrgyz Prime Miniester Igor Chudinov in the capital Bishkek. "During the second stage Gazprom will invest about $300 million into Kyrgyzstan." Chudinov said the government had also invited Gazprom to take part in the planned privatisation of two state-owned oil and gas companies -- Kyrgyzgaz and Kyrgyzneftegaz. Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished ex-Soviet nation, depends on gas supplies from neighboring Uzbekistan. Miller said the country might be able to meet domestic demand with its own output in several years with Gazprom's help. Kyrgyzstan, more known for its metals reserves, remains a small player on the Central Asian energy market dominated by oil-rich Kazakhstan and major gas exporter Turkmenistan. It produces about 70,000 tonnes of oil and 30 to 40 million cubic metres of gas a year, but the government says there are sizeable unexplored hydrocarbon reserves. (Reuters)Russian contractor wins tender for portion of Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline20 FebruaryTurkmenistan has awarded Russian contractor OAO Stroytransgaz the contract for building the local section of a major natural gas pipeline to China, the official newspaper Neitralny Turkmenistan reported Tuesday. The report did not state the value of the contract for the 188-kilometer (117-mile) section leading from the Malai gas filed in the east of the country to the border with Uzbekistan.The entire 1,820-kilometer (1,130-mile) pipeline is to cross Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan before connecting with another pipeline in northwest China. The pipeline, with a planned annual capacity of 30 billion cubic meters (39 billion cubic yards), is a major move by Turkmenistan to expand and diversify its gas business. Currently, most Turkmen gas exports through pipelines crossing Russia, mostly in transit to other countries including many in Western Europe. Turkmenistan also exports gas to Iran. Turkmenistan has the second-largest natural gas reserves in the former Soviet Union after Russia, estimated at some 2 trillion cubic meters (2.6 trillion cubic yards) at least. (AP)Sergey Sarkisyan elected president of Armenia20 FebruaryPrime Minister Serge Sarkisyan has been elected new president of Armenia, said Garegin Azaryan, head of the Central Electoral Commission of Armenia, after processing 100 per cent of ballot papers. Sarkisyan got 52.86 per cent of votes. (Itar-Tass) Thousands Protest over Armenian Elections20 FebruaryThousands of protesters gathered in Armenia's capital on Wednesday claiming a presidential election was rigged to hand victory to Prime Minister Serzh Sarksyan, but Western observers called it broadly fair. Sarksyan has promised to continue the policies of outgoing President Robert Kocharyan, his close ally. The new leader's biggest challenges will be a simmering territorial conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan and frozen ties with Turkey. Sarksyan took 52.86 percent of the votes, the Central Election Committee said, giving him enough to win outright in the first round. Nearest rival Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Armenia's first president after independence from the Soviet Union, had 21.5 percent. "Yesterday's presidential election in Armenia was conducted mostly in line with the country's international commitments," observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said in a statement. "Further improvements are necessary to address remaining challenges," it added. Earlier, Kocharyan congratulated 53-year-old Sarksyan on his victory in what he called free and fair elections. Ter-Petrosyan's supporters though refused to recognize the result and said they would protest until Sarksyan's victory was overturned. They said Tuesday's vote was marred by ballot-stuffing and intimidation of the opposition. Between 15,000 and 20,000 protesters gathered at a rally in central Yerevan, chanting "Levon! Levon!" and "Serzh: leave!," a Reuters reporter said. They were preparing to march towards the Central Election Commission building. Police kept their distance from the protesters. "Once again we have had our usual shameful election," Ter-Petrosyan told the crowd. "Once again crude force has committed an act of violence against the will of the people." "We will proceed calmly and with restraint, and with no doubt about our ultimate victory," he said. (Reuters)  
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