During a pivotal moment for Kyrgyzstan’s parliament – as lawmakers prepare a vote of no confidence in the prime minister, and as they discuss whether to nationalize the country’s largest mine – the people’s deputies took a moment to focus on sartorial issues.
A new set of rules and recommendations approved late June 26 bans visitors and staff from wearing miniskirts and clashing ties inside the Jogorku Kenesh, local media outlets report. The rules do not, however, apply to the deputies themselves.
The Jogorku Kenesh’s committee on parliamentary procedure and ethics has forbidden women from wearing shiny embroidery or exposing too much cleavage. Women must also go easy with the perfume. Men must ensure their shirt and tie match the color of their suit. No baggy sweaters are allowed and jeans are strictly verboten.
The committee encourages both men and women to wear discreet colors, such as blue, beige, gray and brown. Everyone is now prohibited from wearing lace, and no one is allowed to enter the White House in a tank top or flashing his or her stomach.
Are these rules necessary? Forbidding slippers and flip-flops does make good safety sense. (So would banning bare-knuckle brawls and guns.)
The arrest of the popular former mayor of Kyrgyzstan’s capital on corruption charges, despite his immunity as a sitting parliamentary deputy, looks like risky business for the weak government in Bishkek.
Nariman Tyuleyev, who served as Bishkek mayor under former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, is charged with corruption, costing the state some $1.4 million when he purchased unneeded and overpriced Chinese-made city buses back in 2008, local news agencies report.
The case against him is not particularly surprising in a city known for flashy and unmitigated graft. And this is far from the first time Tyuleyev has been linked to sleaze: In a conversation where his name was mentioned in 2008, shortly after being appointed acting-mayor by Bakiyev, the US Embassy tosses this telling aside into a cable later made available by Wikileaks: “Note: Many connect Tuliyev with organized crime. End note.”
But Tyuleyev (often spelled Tuleyev and Tuleev) isn’t just another official from the hated Bakiyev regime. He’s currently a member of the opposition Ata-Jurt party in parliament. Thus, it would seem Tyuleyev has parliamentary immunity, though the prosecutor’s office says the crime is so grave that it can revoke his immunity. Tyuleyev was arrested this weekend and put in temporary detention for two months.
Kyrgyzstan’s Kumtor gold mine is responsible for some 12 percent of the country’s GDP. Nevertheless, or perhaps for that reason, politicians can’t seem to keep their hands off it.
This week, following a parliamentary commission report describing environmental damage in and around the high-altitude mine, deputies began debating whether to revoke Kumtor’s operating license. Centerra Gold Inc, which runs Kumtor and is one-third owned by Bishkek, believes the report’s “findings are without merit.” But the debate, and lingering proposals for nationalization, wreaked havoc on Centerra’s stock: It plunged over 30 percent in Toronto. Once again, Centerra’s headaches doing business in Kyrgyzstan provide a cautionary tale for potential investors.
It’s a high-stakes debate: Falling production at the 4,000-meter mine, linked to a strike in February, has already cut projections for Kyrgyzstan’s growth this year from 7.5 percent to 1.8 percent.
The arguments in parliament – including one proposal to have Centerra pay revenues to the Kyrgyz state five years in advance – will do little to encourage investors who find Kyrgyzstan’s relentless political turmoil hard to stomach. Moreover, this isn’t the first time in Kumtor’s long history that Kyrgyz politicians have talked nationalization, or threatened to rip up existing agreements. Centerra has faced regular problems over the years, including sudden tax hikes and Kyrgyz demands for a larger share of the company, which also operates a mine in Mongolia.
The U.S. military is conducting exercises with their counterparts from Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan on disaster response and emergency management. The exercises, called Regional Cooperation 2012, are taking place in Kyrgyzstan through June 29.
They're being run by U.S. Central Command, with some contributions from the Massachusetts National Guard, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Manas air base. Military officials from the Central Asian countries are participating, as well as some civilian agencies from the government of Kyrgyzstan, like border troops, the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Emergency Situations.
The exercise Regional Cooperation (RC) is an annual event in Central Asia that focuses on coordinating military and civilian assistance to disaster response and emergency management. It's been held in Tajikistan twice before (in 2011 and 2009) and was supposed to be held in Kyrgyzstan in 2010, but the revolution and violence of that year caused the exercise to be moved to Germany. This is just a tabletop exercise, as opposed to the Steppe Eagle field exercises that the U.S. carries out every year in Kazakhstan. And the fact that it's coming just after the Shanghai Cooperation Organization exercises in Tajikistan, which featured many of the same participants, is accidental, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek tells The Bug Pit: "This takes place after the SCO exercise, but that is purely coincidence. The annual event usually takes place later (September), but in order to get several countries’ schedules to align, it is being done in June."
Since coming to power in April 2010, Kyrgyzstan’s government has said that the family of deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his associates used the country’s largest bank to launder and export vast amounts of cash. A new report by Global Witness, an anti-corruption watchdog, says lax Western banking regulations abetted such alleged criminal activities.
After Bakiyev and his notoriously venal family were overthrown in April 2010, the interim government promptly nationalized AsiaUniversalBank (AUB); the bank’s former managers claim the charges are politically motivated. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, in an audit, appears to support Bishkek’s money-laundering claims. The former president is living in Belarus; his son Maxim has sought asylum in the UK.
But the case points to a larger problem, says Global Witness in the report, “Grave Secrecy”: It is too easy to set up a fake company in many Western countries “to launder the proceeds of corruption, tax evasion and other crimes.” The UK, New Zealand, and states such as Delaware “are effectively permitting hidden company ownership” and doing little to enforce anti-money laundering laws. “This matters because ‘shell’ companies – entities that are little more than just a name on a piece of paper – are key to the outflow of corrupt money that keeps poor countries poor.”
“It is so easy to set up a secretive ‘shell’ company in the UK and elsewhere that criminals, terrorists and corrupt politicians can easily move money around the world with impunity,” said Tom Mayne, a Global Witness campaigner, in a statement. “Not only that but you can do this perfectly legally. This denies citizens of poor countries the chance to lift themselves out of poverty and leaves them dependent on aid.”
As the European Union prepares to review its Central Asia strategy, a leading international human rights watchdog has urged Brussels to demand the five republics improve their human rights records, or face consequences.
In a June 21 statement ahead of an EU meeting on Central Asia policy, Human Rights Watch urged the 27-member organization not to allow geopolitical interests to serve as “an excuse for downplaying the EU’s focus on human rights abuses in the region.”
“Affecting positive change in Central Asia isn’t easy, but being clear about expectations and linking closer engagement to progress is a good place to start,” Veronika Szente Goldston, HRW’s Europe and Central Asia advocacy director, said in a statement. “The EU has resisted doing this so far, but it’s not too late to set things right.”
EU foreign ministers will meet on June 25 to assess its 2007 program, “The EU and Central Asia: Strategy for a New Partnership.”
HRW said the governments of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan “all have distinctly poor human rights records and to various degrees resist meaningful reform.”
The watchdog documented concerns in a report issued on June 20, which singled out all five states for failing to prevent torture in places of confinement, restricting media freedoms and pressuring civil society activists.
Central Asia has long been associated with difficult border crossings and onerous visa requirements. But now three states are moving to abolish visas for citizens of developed countries in a bid to boost tourism, local media reports say.
Kyrgyzstan became the latest country to take steps to ease visa requirements with a parliamentary vote on June 14 in favor of a bill allowing citizens of 44 states visa-free entry for 60 days, the K.News website reported.
If President Almazbek Atambayev signs the bill into law, citizens from the United States and Canada, EU member states and some Middle Eastern countries will be able to visit Kyrgyzstan without the traditional visa hassle.
The parliament of neighboring Tajikistan last month also voted to lift visa requirements for US and EU nationals and citizens from some Southeast Asian states, Asia-Plus reported. If approved by President Emomali Rakhmon, this would absolve visitors of the need to obtain an invitation and apply for a visa in advance.
Kazakhstan is also mulling an easing of procedures, with plans afoot to allow citizens from the 34 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (including the United States, Canada, EU countries, Australia and New Zealand) visa-free travel for 15 days, reports Tengri News.
A spokesman at Kyrgyzstan’s Interior Ministry has acknowledged that only about half of the small arms that went missing during the country’s 2010 political and ethnic violence have been accounted for. The “huge number” of weapons floating about is “enough to carry out another revolution in the country,” believes the chairman of parliament’s defense and security committee.
Bishkek’s 24.kg news agency reported this week that security forces lost about 1,200 small arms and light weapons – including assault rifles, grenade launchers and pistols – during the political violence that unseated President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on April 7, 2010, and during ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in and around Osh that June. (Some reports have said security forces distributed guns and armored vehicles to ethnic Kyrgyz, or at least did little to stop violent gangs from commandeering them.) Though 24.kg’s numbers don’t quite add up, the report says only 49 percent of the 1,177 arms lost have been returned, and authorities fear many of the rest may be available on the black market.
There, an unused Makarov pistol goes for about $1,500; a Kalashnikov (AK-47) for about $1,000; and grenades for a rocket-propelled (RPG) launcher cost between $300 and $500 a pop, says 24.kg. A Dragunov sniper rifle, which can hit a target 800 meters away, costs about $4,000, according to the agency.
As southern Kyrgyzstan marks the second anniversary of ethnic clashes between its Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities, local and international rights activists are concerned about wounds that continue to fester, and what they describe as ongoing discrimination against the Uzbek minority.
Amnesty International released a report June 8 that it says “outlines the failure of the Kyrgyzstani authorities to fairly and effectively investigate the June 2010 violence,” which killed hundreds and displaced hundreds of thousands.
“There are wounds that time will not heal. Truth, accountability and justice are the only tools that will mend the bridges between the two ethnic communities,” Maisy Weicherding of Amnesty said in a statement.
As Amnesty pointed out, during the June 10-14 violence in 2010, both the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities were involved in “killings, looting and rampaging” in and around Osh, but most injuries and deaths were suffered by ethnic Uzbeks.
An internationally led inquiry found that 470 people were killed, 74 percent of whom were Uzbeks. Nevertheless, the inquiry said ethnic Uzbeks were accused of murder over 30 times more often than members of the Kyrgyz community. Bishkek subsequently rejected the findings of that inquiry.
American airmen at the Manas Transit Center outside of Bishkek could be smuggling drugs on their military planes, says a senior Kyrgyz official, and their cargoes should be subject to inspection by Kyrgyz authorities.
The recommendation came from the head of Kyrgyzstan’s drug control agency, Vitaly Orozaliyev, who was speaking before a parliamentary committee on June 5, 24.kg reported.
According to Orozaliyev, under current agreements neither the cargo that comes to Manas, nor its workers, are subject to searches. “Yes, there’s been information about narcotics. We have held talks with our Russian and American colleagues about this and believe it would be right to raise the issue of searching cargo shipments coming into the transit center.”
It’s been known to happen elsewhere.
Maybe Orozaliyev has seen “American Gangster,” the 2007 Ridley Scott film based on the true story of Frank Lucas. Lucas collaborated with American troops in Vietnam to ship home high-quality heroin (in coffins of dead servicemen) and build a narcotics empire in New York in the 1970s.
Since then, the heart of the heroin industry has shifted from Southeast Asia to Afghanistan, which now produces over 90 percent of the world’s opiates. And the trade in Afghan heroin through Central Asia is worth billions of dollars. So at the tail end of another disastrous war in an opium-rich region, it’s not hard to follow Orozaliyev’s logic.