Friday, 07 October 2011

5 October 2011 News Digest

Published in News Digest

By Alima Bissenova (10/7/2011 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Tears as 'Mohammed relic' brought to Chechnya

22 September

Tears as 'Mohammed relic' brought to Chechnya

22 September

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov broke into floods of tears as he unveiled a purported relic of the Prophet Mohammed in a bizarre ceremony involving a Rolls Royce motorcade, reports said Thursday. The government of the majority Muslim Russian Northern Caucasus region, recovering after two separatist wars and still battling Islamic insurgents, boasted that the cup was 1,400 years old and had belonged to the Prophet. The cup had earlier been flown into the Chechen capital Grozny from London where it was kept by unnamed descendants of Mohammed's cousin Ali. Kadyrov, clad in a bright purple shirt and trousers and a black Muslim skullcap, triumphantly carried the boxed relic straight off the plane at the airport at the ceremony on Wednesday.

He then sped through Grozny in a Rolls-Royce cabriolet surrounded by a motorcade of dozens of luxury cars, the first Russian television pictures of the event showed Thursday. The flag-waving delegation then arrived to Grozny's central mosque greeted by a crowd of singing and clapping people. The Chechen leader proceeded to take the jade-coloured bowl out of bubble wrapping, and broke down in uncontrollable tears after kissing the object, covering his reddening face and shaking violently. Chechen television aired a 18-minute long special on the event posted on the website that shows Kadyrov's car covered in traditional rugs gliding along a major street in slow motion to the sounds of a Chechen song with English-language lyrics "You came to me... when I was so lost."

Footage showed a crowd of several hundred assembled near the mosque to listen to impassioned speeches in Chechen and shout "Allahu Akbar!" before the cup was shown to the public. Several took a sip from the cup and prayed. The Chechen government said in a statement on its website that "the cup was used by Prophet Mohammed, passing to his cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib the fourth Caliph." Further details on its authenticity were not immediately available. Anyone will be able to drink water from it on the day of Mohammed's birthday, the Chechen government said. "Nobody can say anything else about the origin of the cup," a Chechen government spokesman told AFP. "The negotiations were led by the famous businessman Ruslan Baisarov and it was announced by Ramzan Kadyrov," he said. Baisarov owns major stakes in Russia's top copper and coal companies and has promised to finance the development of a ski resort in Chechnya planned by the Chechen President. Kadyrov, who has ruled the war-torn region since 2007 and was reappointed in the post earlier this year, has overseen several grandiose projects and events in Grozny aimed at boosting his political clout. He has also encouraged the revival of Islam in the region, inaugurating in 2008 the "Heart of Chechnya" mosque, said to be the biggest in Europe. But rights groups have long accused him of presiding over a personal militia that they say has carried out serial rights violations, torture and even murder. (AFP)


Twenty candidates to vie for Kyrgyz presidency

26 September

Kyrgyzstan will choose its next president from a list of 20 candidates in an election next month that could expose divisions between the north and south of the volatile Central Asian state. Official campaigning began on Monday after the Central Election Commission named its final list of candidates for president of the strategic country of 5.5 million people, which hosts both U.S. and Russian military air bases. The October 30 vote, which some analysts say will need a second round, will pit current Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev against heavyweight rivals from the south of the country, where central government's grip on power is tenuous. The election is the culmination of constitutional reforms introduced after the overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010. Current President Roza Otunbayeva, who led the interim government that took power, will step down on December 31.

Two decades after independence from the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan, which borders economic powerhouse China and lies on a drug trafficking route out of Afghanistan, remains culturally and ethnically divided. As well as divisions between the more developed north and poorer south, tensions persist between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south after the violent clashes that killed more than 400 people in June 2010. The new model of government, which replaces nearly two decades of failed authoritarian rule, makes parliament the main decision-making body in Kyrgyzstan. A fragile coalition government, led by Atambayev, is attempting to entrench the first parliamentary democracy in a region otherwise governed by strongman presidents. But some politicians oppose this model of government. Those with links to the Bakiyev government have a groundswell of support in the ousted president's southern strongholds. Bakiyev himself is now exiled in Belarus. Atambayev's main challengers, say analysts, will be two politicians who enjoy strong support from Kyrgyz nationalists in the south: Kamchibek Tashiyev, who represents the Ata Zhurt (Motherland) party; and Adakhan Madumarov, leader of the Butun Kyrgyzstan (United Kyrgyzstan) party. The final list of candidates eliminated three quarters of the 83 hopefuls who applied to run for president, a group that had included retired army officers, scientists and the unemployed. Most fell foul of the requirements to present at least 30,000 signatures, pay a deposit and pass a public Kyrgyz language test in a country where Russian is still the first language for many. Kyrgyz television stations have been temporarily forbidden from transmitting foreign news broadcasts that could be seen to affect the outcome of the election. Most foreign news programs broadcast in Kyrgyzstan are from Russia. In the first sign of pre-election maneuvering, a would-be contender effectively threw his weight behind Atambayev by withdrawing from the race shortly before the final list was published, despite having fulfilled the necessary criteria. Ata Meken (Fatherland) party leader Omurbek Tekebayev, nicknamed "Father of the Constitution," explained his decision in a statement as a means of "consolidating and strengthening the unity of democratic forces." He did not mention Atambayev. Should no single candidate win more than 50 percent of the vote, the two leading candidates will stage a run-off election after a minimum period of two weeks has elapsed. "It's obvious that there will be a second round," said Alexander Kulinsky, spokesman for Tekebayev, before forecasting an Atambayev victory "by a whisker." Political and military analyst Toktogul Kakchekeyev, however, forecast that Atambayev's experience in the current and previous governments could help him to emerge victorious in the first round. Future presidents of Kyrgyzstan will be limited to a single six-year term, but will have the right to appoint the defense minister and the national security head.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has sent 28 long-term election observers to Kyrgyzstan and will dispatch a further 350 observers to monitor the vote. (Reuters)


Car bomb kills eight in Russia's Dagestan

28 September

MAKHACHKALA, Russia (Reuters) - One policeman and seven civilians were killed when a car bomb exploded in Russia's Muslim North Caucasus province of Dagestan on Wednesday, authorities and local media said.

Three car bombs killed six people and gunmen killed four more, including a high-level law enforcement official, last week in the region wedged between Chechnya and the Caspian Sea. Dagestan is beset by near-daily shootings and bomb attacks, blamed on an Islamist insurgency across the North Caucasus stemming from two separatist wars in Chechnya, poverty and an increase in radical Islam. "As a result of the car bomb one policeman was killed, along with five civilians who were traveling past in another vehicle," a source in the regional Investigative Committee told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. Radio station Ekho Moskvy said two more civilians were killed, including an 11-year-old girl. The committee source said the attack took place in the village of Hajjalmakhi, about 60 km (40 miles) southwest of the provincial capital Makhachkala. Upon discovering an empty "suspicious-looking vehicle" parked on the village outskirts, police started to conduct a search when it burst into flames, a law enforcement source told Interfax news agency. Rebels are fighting for a separate Islamic state ruled by sharia law in the mainly Muslim North Caucasus on Russia's southern frontier. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has called the insurgency the country's main security threat in the year before the March 2012 presidential election, which will see Prime Minister Vladimir Putin seek a return to the Kremlin. The insurgents claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at Moscow's Domodedovo airport that killed 37 people in January and twin bombings that killed 40 in Moscow's metro last year. (Reuters)


Kazakhstan approves restrictive religion law

29 September

Kazakhstan's upper house of parliament approved a bill Thursday that backers say will help combat religious extremism, but that critics call a blow to freedom of belief in the ex-Soviet nation. The bill approved by the Senate will require existing religious organizations in the mainly Muslim nation to dissolve and register again through a procedure that is virtually guaranteed to exclude smaller groups, including minority Christian communities.

Passage of the bill marks a reversal of authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbayev's earlier attempts to cast Kazakhstan as a land of religious tolerance. One activist estimates that two-thirds of existing religious groups could be abolished as a result of the new law. Backers of the revised law argue that the legislation is necessary to fight extremism. Authorities have been unsettled by an uncharacteristic outburst of Islamist-inspired violence in the oil-rich western regions over the summer. "The bill prohibits religious associations that are bent on the destruction of families, force the abandonment of property in favor of religious communities ... and that are harmful to the morals and health of citizens," the Senate said this week in a statement. Most Muslims in Kazakhstan adhere to a largely liberal strand of the faith, although more extreme devotees are reportedly growing in number. Overall mosque attendance is on the rise and the government is seemingly intent on carefully vetting the creeping rise of religious fervor. Many are skeptical, however, that regulating faith groups will have any success in stemming the tide of extremist underground Islamist movements. The bill needs approval from Nazarbayev before it can become law — a mere formality since he urged parliament earlier this month to introduce tighter controls over religious groups.

Critics are angered by the speed with which the bill has been rushed through Parliament and say there has been a lack of public debate over the legislation. The law will require groups to reach membership number thresholds before they can register at various levels. To register locally, a group must have 50 members. To register at a regional level, they require 500 members. The most complicated procedure will be registering nationwide, which requires a group to have 5,000 members across all the country's regions. "Several minority religious groups do not have the required number of members and would be prohibited from continuing their activities and subject to fines if they disobey," the Washington-based democracy watchdog Freedom House said in a statement prior to the Senate vote. Other provisions envision strict oversight of missionary activity, government reviews on religious literature and texts, and rules on where people are permitted to pray.  "This new law has simply legalized the current practice ... of persecuting unregistered minority religious groups and limiting missionary activity," said rights activist Ninel Fokina, head of the Almaty Helsinki Committee. Fokina said authorities have been openly speaking about the need for a purge in the religious sphere. "I believe that out of the 4,500 religious groups currently in existence, barely 1,500 will remain," she said. Fokina said the new rules would also greatly complicate the life of even relatively large Christian Protestant communities, such as Lutherans, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses. (AP)


American Jailed for Funding Chechen Rebels

29 September 2011

The leader of the U.S. branch of a defunct Islamic charity has been sentenced to nearly three years in prison after being convicted of helping smuggle $150,000 to Chechen insurgents via Saudi Arabia. U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan said that while he had no doubt that the money went to the Islamic fighters battling the Russian army in Chechnya, as the prosecution maintained, there was no proof directly linking Pete Seda to terrorism. For that reason, Hogan said he would not apply the so-called "terrorism enhancement" that could have sent Seda to prison for eight years. Instead, Hogan sentenced Seda to 33 months in prison, ordered him to pay the Internal Revenue Service $80,980 in restitution and allowed him to remain free for 60 days before reporting. Seda, also known as Pirouz Sedaghaty, is an Iranian-born U.S. citizen who ran the U.S. chapter of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation based in Ashland, Oregon. He worked in Ashland as a tree surgeon and was an outspoken proponent of the peaceful aspects of Islam. He was known for marching in the local Independence Day parade with his camel. Seda was convicted last year of tax fraud and conspiracy to defraud the government for helping Saudi Arabian national Soliman Al-Buthe convert a contribution from a doctor in England into traveler's checks, which Al-Buthe took on a flight to Saudi Arabia without declaring it to authorities. Prosecutors have been unable to force Al-Buthe to return to the United States to face the same charges as Seda. Acting U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton said federal prosecutors felt that they had proved Seda's connection to terrorism, but respected the court's ruling and were satisfied with the sentence. "Money is the lifeblood of terrorist organizations," Holton said. "We are working very hard to cut off that lifeline. Shutting down Al-Haramain internationally and here was an essential part of that." Last week, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the U.S. Treasury Department rightly designated the Oregon branch of the Saudi Arabia-based charity a terrorist organization in 2004 for financing terrorist activities in Chechnya and Albania. But the appeals court found that the department improperly seized the group's assets. The unanimous three-judge panel found that the department's Office of Foreign Assets Control violated the charity's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure by improperly using a "blocking order" to freeze the charity's assets without a warrant. The foundation disbanded after the department froze its assets. Seda declined to comment, citing the advice of his lawyers. Defense attorney Steve Wax said they planned to appeal both the convictions and the sentence. Wax said the fact that the judge did not impose the terrorism enhancement gave them a better chance of getting approval for Seda to remain free pending appeal. "The most important issue with respect to the money going to Chechnya was the judge finding the government did not establish a link to Mr. Seda," Wax said.

Seda had been scheduled to be sentenced last fall, but Hogan delayed the proceeding after it was revealed that an FBI agent had failed to disclose an offer to pay a witness in the case. The judge eventually ruled that the matter had no bearing on Seda's conviction. (The Moscow Times)


US finds new friend in Uzbekistan after Pakistan fallout

30 September

The past fortnight has seen relations between Islamabad and Washington sink to new lows over allegations that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency was working with the Haqqani network to direct attacks on American targets in Afghanistan.  The crisis, the latest in a turbulent year, has seen both countries scrambling to build up alternative regional alliances.  However, more than a third of supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan pass through Pakistan, giving Islamabad a strong bargaining position.  A White House official said President Obama had discussed sending more supplies through the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan during a phone call with the country's president, Islam Karimov. At the same time, Hillary Clinton met her Uzbek counterpart on Thursday, and Congress is considering legislative changes that would allow more military aid to the Central Asian despite its poor human rights record.  "We value our relationship with Uzbekistan. They have been very helpful to us with respect to the Northern Distribution Network," said Mrs Clinton. That route winds its way through Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia to Afghanistan and has already become more important in the past year as the US began switching supplies from Pakistan's roads.  But closer ties will anger human rights organisations which have protested proposed plans to send military aid to Uzbekistan for the first time since 2004, when funds were choked off as penalty for the country's poor human rights record. Twenty groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group, signed a letter of protest sent to Mrs Clinton before her meeting with Mr Ganiev.

"We call on you to stand behind your strong past statements regarding human rights abuses in Uzbekistan," the letter said. "We strongly urge you to oppose passage of the law and not to invoke this waiver." At the same time, Pakistan has been looking to China as a foil for its dependence on the US with a series of high-level meetings during the past week. However, yesterday it emerged that China Kingho Group had pulled out of a $19bn deal in southern Pakistan because of security concerns, according to The Wall Street Journal – suggesting Islamabad may not be able to rely on its giant neighbour as an alternative to the US. (Daily Telegraph)


Protesters demand release of detained Kyrgyz policeman 3 october Some 400 protesters blocked a highway in southern Kyrgyzstan on October 3 to demand the immediate release of four local policemen detained over the death of a Russian citizen in August, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports. The protest blocked the Osh-Bishkek highway in southern Jalal-Abad Oblast. An RFE/RL correspondent reports that up to 200 cars are stuck on a bridge in Bazar-Korgon which the protesters refuse to leave until the four policemen are released. The four police officers have been charged in connection with the death of Dadamirza Kholmirzaev, a local Uzbek who was a Russian citizen. The four are charged with torture, abuse of office, and extortion. Kholmirzaev died in a Jalal-Abad hospital on August 9, two days after being questioned by Bazar-Korgon district police about the deadly clashes between local Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in June last year. The autopsy report said Kholmirzaev died of serious injuries, namely numerous fractured ribs and damage to his internal organs. Bazar-Korgon police chief Ernist Moldokeev was fired later in August in the wake of Kholmirzaev's death. (RFE/RL)


Armenia refuses to attend meeting of PACE ad hoc committee on Nagorno-Karabakh

3 October

The Armenian delegation did not attend the next meeting of the ad hoc committee on Nagorno-Karabakh, the head of the Azerbaijani delegation to the Assembly Samed Seyidov told reporters. "The Armenian delegation did not attend the next meeting of the ad hoc committee on Nagorno-Karabakh. We have long discussed this and decided to inform the Bureau about non-participation of the delegation at the meeting. All have seen that Armenia violates the unanimous decision of the PACE Bureau and does not attend the meeting," Seyidov said. A meeting of Azerbaijani and Armenian delegations to PACE had been scheduled for Monday. In 2005, PACE adopted a resolution establishing the ad hoc committee on Nagorno-Karabakh. However, in connection with the death of chairman - Lord Russell Johnson, the ad hoc committee suspended its activities. Subsequently, the Bureau decided to restore its activity. (Trend)


Saakashvili: New Parliament Building in Kutaisi to Host First Session on May 26

4 October

The Parliament will hold its first session in the new chamber, currently under construction in Kutaisi, on May 26, 2012, President Saakashvili said on Tuesday. When this summer the Parliament passed constitutional amendment defining Georgia’s second largest city of Kutaisi as the location of the legislative body, it was believed that the relocation from the capital city Tbilisi would have taken place after the election of new Parliament; according to the constitution the next parliamentary elections are scheduled for October, 2012. In his remarks made while opening a justice house in Kutaisi, Saakashvili only said that the first session in the new Parliament building in Kutaisi would take place on Georgia’s Independence Day on May 26; he did not elaborate further into details, which immediately triggered a speculation whether his brief remarks were actually a hint on possible early parliamentary elections. But as one ruling party lawmakers, Akaki Bobokhidze, who was one of the first to publicly voice an initiative of Parliament’s relocation three years ago, said the President’s remarks referred to the sitting Parliament and were in no way alluding to early elections. He also said that the sitting Parliament would only hold “a symbolic session” in Kutaisi on May 26. The constitutional amendment on the legislative body’s new location, which was passed by the parliament on July 1, 2011 does not say that it should refer to the next Parliament elected in 2012; it says that the amendment should go into force as soon as published. The amendment was published by the state online registry of legal acts on July 14, meaning that it is in force since that date; however, parliamentary sittings are still held in Tbilisi. President Saakashvili also said on October 4, that he was delivering his promise that Kutaisi would turn not only into “the parliamentary capital” of Georgia, but to “the second capital” of the country, adding that the Chamber of Control, the state audit agency, would also be relocated in Kutaisi, where a separate government office is also being constructed to house government members when arriving in the city after the Parliament’s relocation. (Civil Georgia)


EU invites Kazakhstan to join Trans-Caspian Pipeline project

4 October

The European Union has invited Kazakhstan to take part in the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline project, European Union Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said on Tuesday. In September the EU Council approved the mandate given to the European Commission, to negotiate an agreement for the legal framework for a Trans-Caspian gas pipeline system with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. The Trans-Caspian pipeline is supposed to connect the Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan shores of the Caspian Sea to export gas via Azerbaijan to Europe. The expected annual capacity of the Tengiz (Kazakhstan) Turkmenbashi (Turkmenistan) Baku (Azerbaijan) Tbilisi (Georgia) Erzurum (Turkey) route amounts to 20-30 billion cubic meters of gas. The cost of the project is estimated at 7.9 billion euros. "This pipeline will become a very important contribution to the development of the Southern Gas Corridor. Not many people know that this is the first time the EU has suggested signing an international contract aimed at supporting an infrastructure project. It shows how important the project and cooperation in the region are important for the EU and all its 27 member states. We will welcome corresponding participation of Kazakhstan in the Southern Corridor in the future," Oettinger said. "We think it is very important to create stable markets with good prices and the world's best consumers," the commissioner said. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that any attempts from outside to interfere in Caspian's business affairs, or issues which are sensitive for the Caspian Five members, may complicate the situation in the region and have a negative impact on current negotiations on the new legal status of the Caspian Sea. (RIA Novosti)


Kazakhstan to begin NPP construction in next 10 years

5 October

"Nuclear power plants may appear in Kazakhstan in the next ten years", Kazatomprom deputy chairman Sergey Yashin said at the Sixth Eurasian Forum KazEnergy in Astana on Wednesday. He said the construction of nuclear power plants will promote the development of related industries on a new level that will meet the challenges of the country's industrialization." NPP should be considered as the main engine of industrial development, as the construction of plants is technological production, and thus related industries will also develop," Yashin said . Key themes of the second day of the forum are nuclear power and new possibilities for development of renewable energy sources. (Trend)


Six held in alleged plot to assassinate Afghan President 5 October Afghanistan's Interior Ministry says it has detained six people in connection with an alleged plot to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Afghanistan's intelligence agency said the group had recruited one of Karzai's bodyguards in order to kill the Afghan president. National Directorate of Security spokesman Lutfullah Mashal described the alleged conspirators as "a dangerous and educated group including teachers and students." He said those arrested had ties with a member of Al-Qaeda and the militant Haqqani network based in Pakistan's tribal region of North Waziristan. Karzai was on a visit to India when the arrests were made by Afghan intelligence agents. The arrests follow a series of assassinations and attempted assassinations of key figures in Afghanistan who have been working with Karzai's central government. On September 20, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani -- a powerful factional leader from northern Afghanistan and head of Kabul's peace-negotiating team -- was killed by a turban suicide bomber. Afghan officials say Rabbani was killed by a Pakistani and that Islamabad has refused to cooperate in the investigation, a charge denied by Islamabad. Karzai's powerful brother Ahmad Wali Karzai was killed by a security guard at his home in Kandahar in July, and presidential adviser Jan Mohammad was murdered less than a week later. (RFE/RL)
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