Thursday, 13 May 2010

12 May 2010 News Digest

Published in News Digest

By Alima Bissenova (5/13/2010 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Georgian opposition, activists hold protests in Tbilisi 1 May Georgian human rights activists and opposition members blocked a major street in central Tbilisi to demand the immediate release of political prisoners, RFE/RL's Echo of the Caucasus reports. The demonstrators first gathered on April 30 in front of the parliament building before blocking Rustaveli Avenue. The action was initiated by the nongovernmental organization Solidarity with Illegal Inmates.

Georgian opposition, activists hold protests in Tbilisi 1 May Georgian human rights activists and opposition members blocked a major street in central Tbilisi to demand the immediate release of political prisoners, RFE/RL's Echo of the Caucasus reports. The demonstrators first gathered on April 30 in front of the parliament building before blocking Rustaveli Avenue. The action was initiated by the nongovernmental organization Solidarity with Illegal Inmates.  Leading political opposition leaders attended the protest, as did Manana Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia, the widow of late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. She considers her son, Tsotne Gamsakhurdia, to be a political prisoner. He was recently sentenced to prison for attempted murder. Opposition leader Levan Gachechiladze said there were at least 50 people in prison that the opposition considers to be political prisoners. (RFE/RL)

Afghans demonstrate against Iranian executions 2 May Hundreds of Afghans have staged a protest in front of the Iranian Embassy in Kabul, during which they set ablaze an effigy of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. The chanting protesters were condemning last month's executions of Afghan prisoners in Iran, and also what they termed as Iran's mistreatment of  Afghan refugees living in that country. One of the organizers of the protest, Abdul Mobin, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that their aim is to highlight the importance of Afghan lives. The demonstrators called on the Afghan government to take strong  action against the executions. According to recent reports, Iran has executed a number of Afghan prisoners for crimes such as drug smuggling. Radio Free Afghanistan says a spokesman from the Afghan Foreign Ministry, Abdul Zahir Faqiri, confirmed the executions, however, he could not give an exact number of those executed. (RFE/RL)

Militant video shows kidnapped Afghan envoy 3 May A previously unknown militant group has released a video apparently showing an Afghan envoy kidnapped in Pakistan a year and a half ago. Abdul Khaliq Farahi was kidnapped in Peshawar in September 2008 before he was due to take up his post as ambassador to Pakistan. In the video, broadcast on local Pakistani TV, Farahi says he has been held captive for 18 months and appeals to Afghan authorities and the international community to save his life. He does not say what his captors are demanding but says they have accused him of working with the "U.S.-sponsored government of Afghanistan," which he says is punishable by death. It was the first such video to have appeared since the envoy's abduction. A previously unknown militant group, Kateeba Salahuddin Ayubi, claimed responsibility for Farahi's kidnapping. A Peshawar-based journalist with "The News International," which was among media outlets to receive the video, told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal the group claimed to be from Afghanistan and have links with the Afghan Taliban. "Before this, we had no information about this group. This is a new name, and they say they have links with the Taliban in Afghanistan," says Mushtaq Yousufzai, who reports from the tribal areas along the countries' shared border. "But in my view, whenever such things happen, or such a high-profile person is kidnapped, groups which we had not known about before claim responsibility." (RFE/RL)

Attack disrupts communication between Dagestan gas distribution facilities 3 May Unidentified assailants attacked and damaged the dispatcher office controlling some of Dagestan's gas distribution facilities early on Monday. "A criminal group of at least ten assailants attacked the dispatcher office near the village of Kakashura in the Karabadakhken district at 5:30 a.m., Moscow time. The assailants ordered the operator, his wife and child at gunpoint to walk out. The equipment was removed from the building and some of it was damaged with shots, or blown up. The operator's home was burnt," a source in Dagestan's law enforcement services told Interfax. In a separate incident, shots were fired at a mobile phone tower near the gas operator's office, the source said. The attack left the equipment damaged and communication disrupted with eight gas distribution stations in Buinaksk, Karabadakhkent, Dzhingutai and other parts of Dagestan, he said. Police have arrived at the scene. Gas experts are working to restore communication with gas distribution facilities. (Interfax)

U.S. pledges support to new Kyrgyz regime 4 May The United States remains positive on the immediate plans to be implemented by Kyrgyzstan's interim government following the violent uprising last month that forced former Kyrgyz President Kurmanbev Bakiyev to flee the country, U.S. presidential advisor for Russia and Eurasia Michael McFaul told interim leader Roza Otunbayeva on Tuesday, according to the Kyrgyz government's press service. McFaul also pledged U.S. aid to Kyrgyzstan to tackle existing problems. The talks between Otunbayeva and McFaul dealt with ways to stabilize the socio-political and socio-economic situation in the country. Otunbayeva briefed McFaul on measures the interim government is taking and about plans to carry out constitutional reform and hold elections, the press service said. Otunbayeva said that a roadmap for the country's democratic restoration is being drawn up, which takes all aspects of state development into account. The interim leader said that various drafts of a new constitution are being studied. (Interfax) Kyrgyz  leader Bakiyev stripped of immunity 4 May The interim government in Kyrgyzstan said Tuesday it was stripping immunity from Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the ousted president with a $100,000 bounty for his arrest. The Kyrgyz government of Kurmanbek Bakiyev was overthrown when supporters of an opposition movement clashed with riot police in early April. The interim government charged Bakiyev with murder and abuse of power April 27. Opposition leader and interim Prime Minister Roza Otunbayeva in a decree stated that Bakiyev had allowed civilians to be killed during the April riots and "and thus deprived himself of the status of ex-president and of immunity," Russia's state-run news agency RIA Novosti reports. Kyrgyzstan gained independence in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Kyrgyzstan's official news agency Kabar said Monday that the interim government was offering a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to the arrest of Bakiyev and other top government officials. Bakiyev is taking shelter in Belarus and has refused to resign. The interim government said it would have a constitutional referendum June 27 and parliamentary elections Oct. 10. (UPI)

Report: Uzbekistan persecuting Andijans 4 May Uzbekistan’s government is harassing relatives of people suspected of participating in anti-government protests in Andijan, human rights advocates allege. Government forces killed hundreds of mostly unarmed people during the protests in May 2005, Human Rights Watch said in a release Tuesday. Since then, the government has continued to persecute the relatives of Andijan survivors seeking to leave the country, said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "There is a climate of fear in Andijan that is still palpable five years after the atrocities," she said, noting school officials humiliate the children of refugees while adults suspected of witnessing the massacre are being beaten, threatened and detained. The European Union and the United States should use the fifth anniversary of the protests to urge the Uzbek government to punish those responsible for the killings and to compensate victims, Cartner said. (UPI)

Jailed son of former Georgian president on Hunger strike 4 May The jailed son of late Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia has begun a hunger strike to demand his release from jail, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reports. It is the second hunger strike by Tsotne Gamsakhurdia since his arrest in October for allegedly shooting and injuring his neighbor with a pistol. He was recently sentenced to nine years in jail for attempted murder in that case. But he and his mother, Manana Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia, say the incident was staged by the secret services. In February, Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia and her supporters tried to dig up the remains of her husband to protest the charges against her son. Supporters of Zviad Gamsakhurdia and his family have been staging regular protests in front of the parliament building calling for Tsotne's release. But Georgian officials say his verdict can only be changed by a court decision. Zviad Gamsakhurdia became the first democratically elected president of Georgia in 1991. He died under mysterious circumstances on December 31, 1993, at the age of 54 in the Zugdidi region during an unsuccessful attempt to reestablish control over the country. (RFE/RL)

Kazakh opposition slams proposal to give president “national leader” status 5 May The opposition in Kazakhstan has slammed a proposal by lawmakers to give President Nursultan Nazarbayev the status of national leader. "This is an absolutely wrong idea. Nazarbayev and his entourage are demonstrating that they lack confidence (ahead of the elections). And they want to protect themselves with such a funny law," the co-chairman of the Azat (Freedom) Party, Bulat Abilov told Interfax on Wednesday. Abilov also said he would be monitoring the situation. "Naturally our reaction will follow," he said. Vladimir Kozlov, the leader of the unregistered opposition party Alga (Forward) said a law, giving Nazarbayev the status of national leader, would be too much. "One should not defend the innocent so zealously. This has no sense and should be stopped. As long as the lawmakers keep demanding so insistently that he become immune, they keep confirming the opposite time and time again, don't they," Kozlov told Interfax. Deputies of the lower house of parliament on Wednesday proposed passing two bills, granting Nazarbayev the status of national leader. The debates are expected to be held on June 25. Nazarbayev was first elected president on April 24 1990, when Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union. He was then re-elected in direct elections in 1991, 1999 and 2005. His powers as president were extended in a national referendum in 1995. (Interfax)

Kazakhstan ups gold, forex reserves 16% in 4 months 5 May Kazakhstan's gold and foreign-exchange reserves, including the National Bank's gross reserves and National Fund's resources, grew 5.2% in April and 16% during the first four months of 2010 to $55.2 billion, the National Bank said. The National Bank's net reserves rose 8.4% in April and 27.2% in the four months to $28.8 billion. The National Fund held $25.8 billion of the total reserves. The National Bank said currency purchases in the domestic market and funds entered on government accounts with the National Bank were offset by a reduction in commercial bank correspondent accounts in foreign currency with the National Bank and by operations to service the government's foreign debt. Net forex reserves grew 8.6% in April, and assets in gold rose 5.9% due to higher prices for the metal. (Interfax)

Georgian opposition calls forthcoming police parade “provocation” 5 May Alliance For Georgia, an opposition political organization led by former Georgian ambassador to the United Nations Irakli Alasaniya, has called the parade of the Interior Ministry forces due to be held in Tbilisi on May 6 "a provocation." On Wednesday the Alliance issued a statement condemning a provocation by the authorities on the day when Orthodox Christians celebrate St. George's Day. Also, conducting a parade on the anniversary of the crackdown on a peaceful opposition demonstration is "an irresponsible and defying step," the statement said. "The authorities must remain calm ahead of the elections. The May 6 parade is a clear attempt to intimidate voters," the Alliance said. For her part, Nino Burdzhanadze, the leader of the Democratic Movement - United Georgia opposition party, called on police on Wednesday not to take part in the parade."The attempt by authorities to thwart St. George's Day with a police parade is obvious. I am calling on policemen not to take part in the tomorrow parade," she told journalists. Meanwhile, the parliamentary majority saw "Moscow's hand" behind the opposition statements. "It is obvious whose interests include riots and provocations, as part of the opposition openly cooperates with the enemy - with Russia," one of the parliamentary majority leaders Giorgi Gabashvili told journalists. Hopefully, everything will go quietly tomorrow, he said. (Interfax)

Kyrgyzstan demands toppled leader’s extradition 7 May Prosecutors said Friday they have asked Belarus to extradite deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to Kyrgyzstan to face charges of complicity in murder and abuse of office. The request for Bakiyev's return came as Kyrgyzstan's interim government stepped up efforts to arrest of several of his relatives and former high-ranking officials. Belarus has signed an international extradition accord, so it is obliged to hand over Bakiyev, Kyrgyz General Prosecutor Azimbek Beknazarov said. But extradition appeared unlikely since Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has personally guaranteed Bakiyev refuge. Bakiyev fled Kyrgyzstan last month, more than a week after he was toppled from power amid violent clashes between government forces and demonstrators in which at least 85 people died. On Thursday, the international police agency Interpol placed one of Bakiyev's sons, Maksim, on its wanted list at the request of a Kyrgyz court. He is currently believed to be in the Baltic state of Latvia. Kyrgyz prosecutors said that companies owned by Maksim Bakiyev avoided almost $80 million in taxes on aviation fuel sold to suppliers to a U.S. air base in the country, a key refueling point for warplanes flying over Afghanistan and a major hub for combat troop movement. The alleged tax evasion dates back to 2005, the year Kurmanbek Bakiyev came to power, prosecutors said. U.S. presidential adviser Michael McFaul visited Kyrgyzstan this week and proposed supplying fuel to the Manas base through Kyrgyz state companies to avoid accusations of financial impropriety. Other senior figures sought by the Kyrgyz authorities include Bakiyev's brother, Zhanybek, who is accused of issuing the order to fire at protesters in the capital, Bishkek, during street clashes April 7. The interim government is offering cash rewards for information leading to the arrest of several of Bakiyev's fugitive colleagues, including former Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov. The rewards of $20,000 to $100,000 are colossal in a country where the average monthly salary is $130. Bakiyev swept to power in 2005 on a wave of street protests, but his public standing collapsed amid corruption allegations, worsening living conditions and repression. (AP)

Azerbaijan commits gas to Nabucco 7 May Despite growing Russian interest in Azeri gas, Baku is ready to deliver half of its natural gas reserves to the Nabucco pipeline for Europe, officials said. Azerbaijan is a gas supplier to Russia, Iran, Turkey and Georgia. Its total recoverable natural gas reserves pass 70 trillion cubic feet. Russian energy giant Gazprom starting in 2010 agreed to buy 35 billion cubic feet of gas from Azerbaijan and around 70 billion cubic feet of gas in 2011, Russia's state news agency RIA Novosti reports. Ali Gazanov, the head of social and political developments for the Azeri government, added that his country was slated to deliver gas to Nabucco. "Azerbaijan attaches great importance to Nabucco," he said. "We are ready to supply 50 percent of Azerbaijani gas via the pipeline. The $10.5 billion Nabucco pipeline aims to move gas from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and possible Middle East suppliers to Europe. Supplier nations, however, have been slow to commit to the 2,000-mile pipeline. German energy company and Nabucco consortium member RWE said there were delays in agreements for Nabucco with potential supplier nation Turkmenistan. Nevertheless, construction is to start in 2011 with first gas flowing by 2014. (UPI)

Baku, Ankara discuss gas prices 10 May Officials from Azerbaijan and Turkey met in Baku to discuss terms of Turkish gas purchases from the Shah Deniz gas field, energy executives said Monday. Rovnag Abdullayev, the head of the State Oil Co. of Azerbaijan Republic, said officials from SOCAR met with a delegation from Turkish pipeline company BOTAS to discuss gas price terms. Both sides met to discuss the details of gas prices from the first and second stages of the Shah Deniz gas field. The price for transit of Azeri gas through Turkey was also discussed, the Trend news agency reports. Gas prices are under review as of April 15. Turkey pays $120 per 1,000 cubic meters of Azeri gas, though consumers pay $300 per 1,000 cubic meters. Azerbaijan lacks a direct gas pipeline to Europe. Negotiations with Turkey on transit terms led Baku to blame Ankara for transit delays because of price wrangling. Europe aims to bring gas from supplier nations like Azerbaijan through the planned 2,000-mile Nabucco pipeline. Nabucco would pass through Turkish territory once construction starts in 2011. Baku announced last week that it was ready to deliver half of its natural gas reserves to the Nabucco pipeline. (UPI)

Tajik national sentenced for drug possession 12 May The Frunzensky district court in St. Petersburg has sentenced Akbar Muborov, a Tajik national, to eight-and-a-half years in a maximum security prison for storing 127 kilograms of heroin, the regional office of the Federal Drug Control Service said in a statement. Muborov was detained on December 17, 2008. "Around 127 kilograms of heroin was found and seized during a search at his rented apartment at 48 Budapeshtskaya Street within the framework of a criminal case. Drugs packed in 78 plastic bags were stored on the balcony in several holdalls," the statement said. Investigators believe the seized heroin was to be distributed not only in St. Petersburg but also across other Russian regions. The seized heroin has a street value of several million U.S. dollars. (Interfax)

Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania sign protocol on gas exports 12 May The energy ministers of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Romania signed a protocol in Tbilisi today on forming a joint venture to export liquified natural gas (LNG) to Europe, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports. Georgian Energy Minister Aleksandre Khetaguri told reporters the project could prove very profitable. Azerbaijani Energy Minister Natiq Aliyev said the protocol envisages the construction of new Black Sea coast terminals in Romania and Georgia that will be linked to pipelines. "It is a new corridor for Azerbaijan," Aliyev said. "This corridor will enable us to independently deliver our gas to Romania, also to Ukraine and Bulgaria. At the same time, we can cross to the Mediterranean Sea." Aliyev said a feasibility study will be done that will take one year, after which financial issues will be discussed and funding sought. "Companies or participating countries can finance the project," Aliyev said. "European Union organizations can also contribute to financing." (RFE/RL)

Police, allies kill 18 militants in South Afghanistan 11 May Afghan police, troops and intelligence agents backed by NATO forces killed 18 militants in a joint operation in Afghanistan's restive southern province of Helmand, the Interior Ministry said Tuesday. Six militants also were arrested during the operation in Helmand's Sangin district, the ministry said. It was one of a string of operations Monday that officials said left at least 30 insurgents dead in southern and eastern Afghanistan. NATO did not provide immediate comment. In the Shah Wali Kot district neighboring Kandahar province, one Afghan man was killed and a woman wounded after insurgents attacked a house Monday evening, deputy provincial police chief Fazel Ahmad Sherzad said. Sherzad said the man was targeted because of dealings with Afghan government officials, and that three insurgents were killed in fighting that occurred after the house was attacked. Thousands of U.S., NATO and Afghan forces are ramping up pressure on Kandahar — the birthplace of the former Taliban regime, whose insurgents have been trying to destabilize the government of President Hamid Karzai. Also Monday, in the Yayakhil district of southeastern Paktika province, allied forces killed three militants, the Interior Ministry said. Mohklis Afghan, a spokesman for Paktika's regional governor, said six Taliban fighters were killed and three others arrested in the Yusuf Khil district. Meanwhile, in the Qarabagh district of eastern Ghazni province, coalition and Afghan forces killed three Taliban fighters and detained four others, said deputy provincial police chief Abdul Ghani. (AP)

U.S. baking terrorists, Larijani says 11 May There is evidence that U.S. agencies are supporting the activities of the Pakistani militant group Jundallah, Iranian officials said in Turkey. Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, told delegates at the meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Istanbul that U.S. agencies were supporting terrorism in the region. He said Iran was ready to supply Pakistan with such information if necessary. Larijani said Iranian investigators uncovered the evidence following an examination of the February arrest of Jundallah leader Abdolmalek Rigi, Iranian state-funded broadcaster Press TV reports. The Iranians claimed Rigi was captured when Iranian fighter jets forced his flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan to land in Iran. Baluchi Kamal Narui, a spokesman for Jundallah, told London's pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat that Rigi was arrested in Kandahar with the help of Israeli spies. Tehran claims the ringleader spoke with Western officials before his arrest, adding he was carrying an Afghan passport when he was arrested. Larijani said that Washington had double standards in the region regarding its alleged support for terrorist groups. Washington doesn't list Jundallah on its national terrorism database. (UPI)

Bakiyev’s supporters rally in Bishkek 12 May Kyrgyzstan's interim government faced its first large public protest Wednesday as supporters of deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev rallied in Bishkek to protest the dissolution of the parliament. Hundreds of supporters of Bakiyev's Ak Zhol party and the Communist party allied with it gathered in front of the parliament building, along with hundreds of other people who went there to mourn those killed in the April clashes."Some of the protesters demanded that the parliament's power is restored," said human rights activist Toktoaim Umetaliyeva. The protest followed a brief detention of Communist leader Iskhak Masaliyev, who was questioned by prosecutors over the April events. (Reuters)

Russia seals deal for Turkey’s first nuclear power plant 12 May Russia on Wednesday signed a 20-billion-dollar (15.8-billion-euro) deal to build Turkey's first nuclear power plant as President Dmitry Medvedev hailed expanding ties with the NATO member. "This agreement opens a new page in our cooperation... Our talks today showed that Turkey and Russia are strategic partners not only in words but in deeds," Medvedev told a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The deal to build and operate the plant at Akkuyu, on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, was one of some 20 agreements signed by the two countries which Medvedev said would generate about 25 billion dollars of investment. Erdogan said construction of the plant would begin after both parliaments ratify the accord, and take seven years to complete. Russia has long looked to build Turkey's first nuclear power plant, but a Turkish court last year scrapped a tender won by a Russian-led consortium to build four reactors with a total capacity of 4,800-megawatts at Akkuyu. Wednesday's deal "is a very big contract," Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Russian nuclear corporation Rosatom, told reporters. "An approximate price of such a project is around 18-20 billion dollars." Kiriyenko said Russia would own the plant -- the first Russian-owned plant outside the country -- holding "no less than a controlling stake". As the two countries expressed a desire to triple trade volume to 100 billion dollars over the next five years, Medvedev said their national currencies -- the rouble and the lira -- should be used in bilateral trade. "We need to think how to dramatically expand the use of national currencies," he told a business forum, reiterating that both economies were too dependent on global reserve currencies, primarily the US dollar. The idea was floated in a confidential new foreign policy strategy prepared for Medvedev and published by Newsweek Russia this week. The two countries also signed a deal mutually lifting visas for stays of up to 30 days, a major boost to investors and millions of Russians holidaying at Turkey's Mediterranean coast each year. Despite sometimes shaky political ties, economic exchanges between the two countries have boomed since the fall of communism. In 2009, their trade volume stood at 22.9 billion dollars, making Russia one of Turkey's top commercial partners. Russia's military intervention in Georgia in 2008 briefly strained relations with Turkey, which has close ties with the former Soviet republic, its northeastern neighbour. Russia is Turkey's main gas supplier, providing about 60 percent of the country's gas imports. (AFP)

Obama: withdrawal from Afghanistan on track 12 May President Barack Obama says the U.S. is still on track to begin bringing troops home from Afghanistan in July of next year. Obama says there have been steady signs of progress since he increased the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan late last year. But he said progress takes time and cautioned that the U.S. must commit to a long-term partnership with Afghanistan. Speaking during a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai(HAH'-mihd KAR'-zeye), Obama said he is in constant discussions with his commanders in Afghanistan about how to execute the troop withdrawal. Karzai is in Washington for a series of meetings this week. (AP)




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