President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan has upped his rhetoric against neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, warning that their efforts to build hydroelectric power stations on rivers upstream could spark war.
Speaking during an official visit to Astana on September 7, Karimov launched a broadside against Bishkek and Dushanbe, which, he said, “forget that the Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya are trans-border rivers.”
“Why do you think such questions [sharing limited international water resources] are discussed by the United Nations?” he asked in remarks quoted by Kazakhstan’s Bnews website.
It was a rhetorical question: “Because today many experts declare that water resources could tomorrow become a problem around which relations deteriorate, and not only in our region. Everything can be so aggravated that this can spark not simply serious confrontation but even wars.”
Karimov has long been a vociferous opponent of plans by Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to complete long-stalled hydropower dam projects -- Rogun on the Vakhsh River (the headwaters of the Amu-Darya) in Tajikistan and Kambarata on the Naryn River (which becomes the Syr-Darya) in Kyrgyzstan.
Tashkent says the dams could disrupt water supplies to downstream states, adversely impacting its economy and damaging the environment. Bishkek and Dushanbe counter that they need to harness hydropower to kick-start their ailing economies.
The Swiss Attorney General’s Office has confirmed that a money-laundering investigation has been opened against four Uzbek citizens, two of whom are under arrest in Switzerland.
“The Attorney General’s Office (OAG) confirms the arrest of two Uzbek citizens at Geneva,” a spokeswoman told EurasiaNet.org by e-mail, specifying that the arrests were made “due to a criminal investigation of the OAG.”
“At this stage, the investigation is conducted in respect of money laundering and against four Uzbek citizens,” the Attorney General’s Office said.
None of the individuals were named, but the confirmation of the money-laundering probe came in response to a query filed by EurasiaNet.org following local media reports about the arrest of two well-connected Uzbek citizens in Geneva that had, according to press speculation, sparked a protest last month at the Swiss Embassy in Tashkent.
Regional news site Centrasia.ru reported that the embassy was picketed by a group of 10-11 people carrying placards saying “Shame on Switzerland!” in protest against the detention of two Uzbek staff members of Coca-Cola Uzbekistan, named as Aliyer Irgashev and Shahruh Sabirov (the latter was named in other sources as Farruh Saberov).
Citing “sources,” Centrasia.ru suggested the protest was organized by a foundation run by Gulnara Karimova, eldest daughter of President Islam Karimov -- the Forum of Culture and Art of Uzbekistan (Fund Forum for short). Neither the foundation nor Coca-Cola Uzbekistan have responded to emails requesting comment sent in August.
As President Nursultan Nazarbayev took to the podium September 3 to address parliament, observers sat back ready to hear what he had to say about the troubles that have plagued Kazakhstan over the last year, from terrorism and deadly unrest to two mysterious mass murders this summer.
Instead, what they got was a diatribe against graffiti and garbage: Nazarbayev used his speech to rail against anti-social behavior, including cussing and public drunkenness. (This is not a new fixation: In April the president instructed police in the capital, Astana, to arrest people who leave chewing gum at street crossings.)
Nazarbayev also urged parliament to adopt laws to promote economic growth and improve ordinary people’s lives -- quite sensibly, since the investigation into the turmoil in Zhanaozen on Independence Day last December that left 15 dead acknowledged social grievances as a contributing factor.
The president noted that “at my instruction, last year, by the 20th anniversary of independence, every town and village was to have become a model of comfort and orderliness” -- though his message had obviously not reached Zhanaozen, if the official investigation findings are to be believed. Nazarbayev did not mention the violence or its aftermath.
For some observers, his speech was long on style -- buzzwords included “social modernization” and “green economy” -- and short on substance.
“Evidently, the president simply has nothing to say,” opposition leader Bolat Abilov told the Guljan website, accusing Nazarbayev of ignoring “serious topics.”
As investigators in Kazakhstan probe their second bizarre mass-murder mystery this summer, they have appealed to the public to help them find a killer who stabbed 11 people to death in a national park near the country’s financial capital, Almaty.
Police are urging the public to come forward with information that may lead to the arrest of the murderer, Tengri News reported on August 16. Law-enforcement officers have questioned over 5,000 people, and around 200 officers are combing the park for clues.
A septuagenarian park ranger identified as Panayota Zakharopulo and his common-law wife were among the slain. Police are seeking the ranger’s missing son, aged 51, whose smashed-up car was later found in a mountain gorge.
The bodies, some of them burnt, were found at separate sites in the Ile-Alatau national park, a popular alpine picnicking and hiking area near Almaty, on August 13 and 14. Some were found in the house of the ranger, where police said there were no signs of a struggle or robbery (despite there being over $12,000 in the safe).
As for advancing theories, Interior Minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov has only somewhat hazily said that police are pursuing the line that the motive may have been an “internal conflict.”
In Uzbekistan, where public protest is strictly controlled, reports have emerged of picketers targeting the Swiss Embassy after the arrest of Uzbek citizens in Switzerland on suspicion of money-laundering.
Star of stage and screen, fairy-tale hero – Kazakhstan’s Leader of the Nation is now getting his place cemented in the history books with the publication of his first official biography.
The tome offers a “historical retrospective” of the life and times of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the first (and so far only) president of independent Kazakhstan, under whose astute tutelage the country’s “dramatic” march forward will be viewed.
Being billed by state media as the first attempt at “a historical biographical study of the life and activity” of Nazarbayev, the book, overseen by the president’s office, follows “his path from simple rural guy to national leader.”
If the territory sounds familiar, it is: The early stages of this rise to power and glory were charted in last year’s movie Sky of My Childhood, and Nazarbayev’s life has also featured in a hagiography written by disgraced former British MP Jonathan Aitken (after Aitken served time in a British jail for perjury).
The judge did drop the longest jail sentence -- handed to former oil worker Roza Tuletayeva -- from seven years to five. She was a prominent figure in the seventh-month oil-sector strike in Zhanaozen that sparked the violence. Appeals brought by 14 others convicted of involvement in the turmoil (of whom 12 are serving prison terms of three to six years), were rejected.
An appeal from four protestors from the nearby village of Shetpe also serving time over the clashes has already been rejected, as has the appeal of five police officers imprisoned for unlawfully shooting protestors.
Uzbekistan has adopted a law banning foreign military bases on its territory, ending feverish speculation that a rapprochement with the United States – and recent distancing from Moscow – was the precursor to Tashkent welcoming the US military back in.
Uzbekistan’s new foreign policy doctrine, passed by the lower house of parliament on August 2, specifically prohibits foreign military bases from operating on its territory, the government-run Uzdaily.com website reported.
Speculation that President Islam Karimov was preparing to welcome the US military had been fed by Washington’s courting of Uzbekistan ahead of the drawdown of troops from neighboring Afghanistan. Uzbekistan is a key cog on the Northern Distribution Network supply route into and out of Afghanistan, and the US operated a military base in the country until 2005, when Tashkent ejected it following Washington's criticism of the shooting of protestors in Andijan.
In June, Tashkent’s abrupt suspension of its membership in the Russia-led regional Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) also fed the rumor mill.
The recent travails in Uzbekistan of Russian cellphone giant MTS – hit by employee arrests and a three-month suspension – highlight the perils for foreigners of doing business in Central Asia’s most populous country.