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.
Nearly 600 police officers and soldiers have descended into the troubled town of Zhanaozen, scene of riots last December that left 15 protestors dead. Authorities say they are conducting a special law-enforcement operation that will end on August 3, the day after the appeal of 13 civilians serving prison terms over the fatal violence is to be heard.
The regional police HQ said 586 officers, including 300 soldiers, had been drafted for the operation, dubbed “Law and Order,” Kazakhstan Today reported.
The news comes three days after regional police chief Meyrkhan Zhamanbayev denied reports of a troop build-up in the town. Speaking to the local Lada newspaper, he said 200 soldiers were always on duty in Zhanaozen, due to a “shortage” of police officers. It was also “time for the people of Zhanaozen to get used to the soldiers,” since a permanent garrison for 100 troops is being built there.
The Law and Order operation has so far mainly netted petty criminals. But the timing of this zero-tolerance approach suggests that the massive security build-up is related to the hearing of the appeal of 13 jailed civilians from Zhanaozen (who include former oil workers whose industrial action sparked December’s unrest).
Six people have been killed in a shootout with security forces in Almaty, raising concerns that the terrorism that stalked Kazakhstan last year is rearing its head once again.
The six, suspected of involvement in the killing of a police officer in Almaty on July 28, were shot dead by police in an apartment block in a residential district on July 30 after refusing to surrender, Tengri News quoted a police spokeswoman as saying. The group was engaged in criminal activity including robbery, and authorities suspect they may be religious extremists.
Security forces hunting for suspects in the July 28 shooting death of a police officer had sealed off the apartment block.
The violence comes three weeks after an explosion in a house on the outskirts of Almaty left eight people dead in a case police are treating as terrorism. It blew up on the night of July 10-11, killing the four adults and four children. Suspicious items found among the debris included weapons, ammunition, and police uniforms and equipment, Megapolis newspaper reported.
Kazakhstan, which had long prided itself on its reputation for stability, was last year hit by a string of attacks across the country, mostly targeting law-enforcement bodies.