These CFCs won’t punch a hole in the ozone layer, but the Colonel would still be horrified.
A little bit of Kentucky has landed in Central Asia’s largest city.
The logo and the overall design may look familiar – yes that's Colonel Sanders looking out from the center of the billboard – but welcome to Champions Fried Chicken (CFC) Uzbekistan's homegrown response to the restaurant formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Fans of fried chicken in Tashkent had hoped for a taste of Colonel Sander's secret recipe when advertisements appeared on a downtown development last fall promising a KFC franchise would open soon. The billboard has since disappeared and the KFC never materialized, but Tashkent has struck back with its own fried chicken emporium.
Located in the new Poytaxt shopping mall on the pedestrianized Sailgokh Street (better known to locals as “Broadway”) CFC is providing Uzbeks an alternative to plov, the national rice and meat dish, by introducing its customers to the wonderful world of “finger lickin' good” chicken.
In the heart of Central Asia, the KFC-Colonel connection may be lost on some. But the founders of CFC likely had another marketing opportunity in mind.
Chelsea Football Club, owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, is wildly popular in Uzbekistan. Chelsea is the current holder of the Champions League title. And so Tashkent's CFC puts the champions into fried chicken in more ways than one.
The jet-setting, hyper-fashionable daughter of Uzbekistan’s strongman president is doing everything she can to pretend she organized a recent charity event with American stars and European royalty. From her own web statements, snapshot album, and the dutiful state-run press back home, one would think she hosted the event – which was held to raise money for foundations run by former American President Bill Clinton and Prince Albert II of Monaco.
Articles on both Karimova’s personal website and the website of her charity group, Fund Forum, state that her jewelry company, Guli, co-sponsored the fundraiser – “Nights in Monaco” – where tickets started at $5,000 per person. But on the official webpage of the May 23 gala, Guli is buried in the sponsor list. It seems the jewelry was offered at auction, though there is no word yet if anyone bought the stuff. And among all those photographs of the glamorous and rich, there is none of Karimova.
Poor Gulnara: It seems she was relegated to the sidelines at the black-tie affair. She was at least allowed to set up her own exhibition, boasts Fund Forum:
A major exposition titled “Generations Pass, Traditions Remain” mounted by Guli label in collaboration with Fund Forum, a leading NGO in Central Asia headed by Gulnara Karimova, was an opportunity for those gathered to get a taste of Uzbek culture, offering a blend of modern technologies and national traditions. The guests were drawn by Guli collections that represent traditional jewelry in a contemporary interpretation like a thread connecting the present and the past.
Security in Afghanistan topped the agenda as Vladimir Putin, inaugurated as Russian president a month ago, visited Tashkent on June 4, holding late-night talks with his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov.
According to a Kremlin transcript, Karimov used the visit to expound on Uzbekistan’s “serious concern” about the dangers of security threats from Afghanistan spilling over its borders after the drawdown of NATO troops, scheduled for completion by 2014. He warned against “complacency” that everything will go to plan.
Karimov, whose country shares a southern border with Afghanistan, said Russia “has never been indifferent to the problems of Central Asia,” and he was counting on “Russia’s interest in resolving the serious, quite acute problems that will arise in the Central Asian region” with the NATO withdrawal.
Putin characterized cooperation with Uzbekistan as “extremely important” in light of the drawdown, which he described as linked to “security inside the Russian Federation itself.”
Putin and Karimov met the same day NATO announced it had secured agreements with Uzbekistan and two Central Asian neighbors -- Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – to use a key transport route to return equipment from Afghanistan to Europe. NATO already had a deal with Russia to use the Northern Distribution Network for reverse transit out of Afghanistan.
As Uzbek President Islam Karimov prepares to visit to China this week, a human rights group in Tashkent is warning that the two nations' economic ties are growing thanks, in part, to their shared disregard for human rights.
Karimov will visit China on June 5 and 6 as articles in both China’s and Uzbekistan’s state-run papers are pre-praising the deepening of ties between the two nations.
But the Expert Working Group, one of the few human rights organizations still working in Uzbekistan, released a reminder on June 4 of the other things China and Uzbekistan share, like abysmal human rights records.
Uzbekistan sees China as a very convenient partner, in particular because of China’s silence over human rights situation in this Central Asian country. It is for that reason statements in the Uzbek mass media on “strengthening bilateral cooperation in the field of human rights” and “the Uzbek support for the Chinese position on the issues of Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet” raise irony and offend the ear.
NATO reached an agreement with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to ship military equipment out of Afghanistan through Central Asia, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen reported today:
We also reached agreement on reverse transit from Afghanistan with three Central Asian partners: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. These agreements will give us a range of new options and the robust and flexible transport network we need....
With Russia we have a transit arrangement, a reverse transit arrangement already, and the fact that we have now concluded a transit arrangement, three concrete transit arrangements with Central Asian countries at the Chicago Summit, will make the use of the Russian transit arrangement even more effective.
In response to a question on payment for the reverse transit, he implied that there was some, but wouldn't specify: "I do not comment on details in the transit arrangements, but it goes without saying that we have concluded agreements that are of mutual satisfaction of the involved partners."
Meanwhile, he said negotiations with Pakistan on reopening those lines of communication continue: "I'm not going to comment on details in negotiations with Pakistan. I'll just reiterate that I still hope that a solution can be found in the very near future."
These NATO deals are not related to separate deals the U.S. has reached. Obviously the U.S. is a member of NATO, and it's not clear if this new NATO deal now covers all NATO member countries besides the U.S., or what.
The most interesting subplot here is what this means for Pakistan. The AP story on Rasmussen's comments had an intriguing bit of analysis:
So goes the PR blurb for a new social networking site designed for Internet-unfriendly Uzbekistan, but, say critics, it might as well read “our clone of Facebook.”
YouFace.uz has an interface strikingly similar to its famous counterpart: from the blue background and logo touting free-of-charge access (YouFace: “It will always be free”; Facebook: “It’s free and always will be”) to the almost identical user layout.
In an ironic twist, the launch comes 18 months after the NBC show 30 Rock spoofed social networking platforms with a fictional site called – you guessed it – YouFace.
The real, Uzbek YouFace has so far attracted 332 users, and on May 31 they were avidly debating (in Russian and Uzbek) whether the Facebook clone would take off.
“A shining example of how a lemon can be turned into lemonade,” commented one.
“You shouldn’t steal from someone else,” snapped another.
Ayyub Abdulloh, 22, says the site is his brainchild, set up with four sponsors – but financial issues are “private.”
In an online YouFace chat with EurasiaNet.org, he defended it against plagiarism charges: “It is not similar [to] Facebook, but just looks like that.” He pointed out that cars have similarities which create “comfort for drivers,” and in the same vein “websites must be comfortable too.”
The security forces in Uzbekistan have been carrying out regular, large-scale antiterror exercises in Tashkent, suggesting a heightened concern about terror attacks or riots, opposition media are reporting.
The webstie uznews.com has been carrying a series of reports about police and military exercises carried out in the city. A common theme of the reports is that the authorities don't provide any information about the exercises, which then sow panic among locals who wonder what is going on when soldiers storm their neighborhoods. In February, one exercise led residents to believe that there was a hostage situation at a school:
Residents in a Tashkent neighbourhood were terrified to find themselves under attack from terrorists on 25th February, only to learn that the frightening events unfolding around them were apparently being staged as an exercise.
School number 149 was at the centre of events that day; people in camouflage fatigues, helmets and carrying weapons, began to herd passers by away from the neighbourhood and the school.
People who did not come out of their flats were ordered to remain there. At one point the sound of shooting and grenade explosions were clearly audible.
Another drill, at a railway station near the Tashkent airport earlier this month, prompted rumors that prisoners had broken out of a train that was transporting them:
Tenants said that they were frightened when military personnel and a great number of armoured vehicles started shootings at the railway station on 4 May....
“I walked on the bridge and saw military personnel come towards me, some 20 of them wearing helmets and bulletproof vests. ‘Are you going to detain someone?’ I asked. ‘No, do not worry, grandma, we are conducting drills,’ they replied,” the elderly woman said.
A new report by the United Nations drug agency sheds light on the nuts and bolts of narcotics transit from Afghanistan through Central Asia, highlighting the former Soviet republics’ lackluster efforts at interdiction.
The 106-page report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), released this month, describes how smugglers traffic heroin and opium from Afghanistan, the world’s largest producer, to Russia, the world’s largest consumer. Ninety tons of highly pure heroin, roughly a quarter of the substance exiting Afghanistan, passes through Central Asia annually. Yet in 2010 authorities in the region seized less than 3 percent of it. And despite international efforts to help, that number keeps falling.
Central Asia’s entrenched corruption makes the region a perfect smuggling route, says the report. Senior officials are complicit in the trade, or at least take bribes to look the other way, especially in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. A lack of cooperation among neighbors also offers a boon to traffickers.
The stakes are huge.
“UNODC estimates that in 2010 drug traffickers in Central Asia made a net profit of $1.4 billion from heroin sales. Much of this profit was likely incurred by Tajik traffickers, given that Tajikistan is estimated to handle most of the flow,” said the report. They profit by marking up the heroin by as much as 600 percent once it gets to Russia. Between 70 and 75 percent of the drugs travel by road, leaving a trail of new addicts across Central Asia.
The city of Tashkent is making it easier for police to sort residents into “insiders” and “outsiders” by forcing everyone to get a new stamp in their internal passports. It’s unclear what’s behind the new measure, but in one of the most corrupt places on earth the extra red tape could provide police another opportunity to stick their hands in residents’ pockets, observers fear.
As of May 14, the inhabitants of Uzbekistan’s capital have been formally divided into two groups, and must line up for the proper stamps to show it. Residents who were born in Tashkent or already have a permanent Tashkent living permit will have one stamp; outsiders, those who have come to Tashkent from the provinces, will have a different stamp.
According to Uzmetronom, a news site believed by some to be connected to Uzbekistan’s security services, the stamps allow police to “quickly determine whether the holder of the document is a native resident of the capital city or region or if he/she came to the capital from a distant region [of Uzbekistan].” Uzmetronom does not say why police must be able to quickly separate residents from non-residents.
The Ministry of the Interior says it is training officials and lawyers on the new law’s specifics, but the regulations are lengthy. Requiring all residents to get a new stamp sounds like a paperwork-generating nightmare ripe for misreading.
Authorities in Uzbekistan don't like to discuss how they push schoolchildren, college students and teachers to toil in the country’s feudal cotton industry. But now that spring planting is underway, again a few brave activists are bringing us reports on both children and adults being dragged out of school and forced to work in the cotton fields, in dangerous conditions for no pay.
A two-page report by the Expert Working Group, one of the only independent NGOs left in Uzbekistan, provides the latest details, including testimonies. From the English version:
From the first days of May the Uzbek youth at secondary schools, lyceums and colleges in Bukhara, Samarkand, Jizzakh, Syrdarya, Khorezm regions and autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan were forced to attend spring cotton cultivation activities. This type of work usually includes weeding and hilling of the ground. It can be suggested that the same type of practice with forced spring labor is taking place in all other areas of the country. The minors from secondary schools involved in this type of forced spring labor are 13-16 years old (7-8-9th grades of school) and minors from lyceums and colleges are 16-18 years old.
From Monday to Friday the Uzbek youth involved in forced spring labor attend the local cotton fields from 13.00 afternoon till 18.00 evening. And on Saturdays and Sundays they attend the cotton fields from 09.00 of morning till 18.00 evening. Thus on Saturdays the classes for these groups of children are cancelled. The sources say the spring forced labor for the children would last until May 20-25.
The report likewise notes that “Uzbek authorities have never acknowledged the forced child labor problem and have avoided any public promise to eradicate it.”