August has been a bad month at the pump in Uzbekistan.
Over the past few weeks, the country has seen two sudden and poorly explained gasoline shortages, according to local press reports and the state-run gasoline distributor.
First, on August 6, Uzmetronom, a site believed to be linked to the Uzbek security services, said some gas stations had stopped selling regular gasoline at government-set prices and begun selling only premium at a mark-up. It blamed shortages. Then, on August 20, the semi-official Podrobno.uz reported that motorists could buy only premium gasoline for 2,500 sums per liter ($1.20 at the official exchange rate), an increase of 25 percent over the price authorities set in April. Other octanes are not available in Tashkent, the site said. Presumably the shortages are also affecting other areas.
The shortages have given rise to all kinds of rumors. One holds that the government will soon increase the price of gasoline so traders with stockpiles are waiting for new prices to be announced. A second rumor is that the government will soon give up regulating gasoline prices altogether, leaving prices to the market, where they would likely rise dramatically. Another is that the government has started building up stocks of fuel for the forthcoming cotton-harvesting campaign, hence the shortages.
A boy plays on a camel sculpture while families and tourists gather at cafes, restaurants, and shops surrounding Bukhara's Lab-i-Hauz - a square flanked by 15th- and 16th-Century madrases with its center featuring one of the few remaining pools in the ancient Silk Road city. Bukhara's old city center is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its several blue-tiled mosques and madrases and its history as a former center of Islamic academia, trade, and culture.
Dushanbe hosted a conference on water this week, attended by some 900 representatives from over 70 countries and organizations. Despite a heartening appearance by a delegation from Tajikistan’s archrival, Uzbekistan, the conference didn’t appear to do much to help end one of the region’s most pernicious conflicts.
Discussing water-related cooperation in Dushanbe seems like a good idea considering the long-running friction over water in the region. Upstream, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are planning giant hydropower dams to harness the potential of their mountain rivers. Downstream, agriculture-dependent Uzbekistan is vehemently opposed, using economic blockades to prevent Tajikistan proceeding. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has even suggested the projects – Rogun in Tajikistan and Kambara-Ata in Kyrgyzstan – could spark war.
So the biggest surprise is that Uzbekistan sent a delegation at all. Tashkent and Dushanbe hardly speak these days, largely thanks to the Rogun project, which, at a planned 335 meters, would be the tallest in the world.
With family members watching, soldiers are awarded certificates and are dismissed from military service during a ceremony at the Gur Emir mausoleum in Samarkand in late July. The mausoleum, which dates from the end of the 14th Century, contains the tombs of Central Asian conqueror and ruler Tamerlane, along with those of two sons, two grandsons, and one of his teachers.
Chevrolet is having a hard time satisfying demand in Uzbekistan.
Though the country's flagship industrial enterprise, a General Motors plant, recently produced its two-millionth unit since opening in 1996, that’s not enough to go around in Uzbekistan, where the economy is tightly controlled and high tariffs push imports out of most people’s reach. Adding to the shortages, many of the cars, produced under a joint venture with the hard currency-strapped Uzbek government, are sold in Russia and Kazakhstan.
So GM, which took the joint venture over from Daewoo in 2008, enjoys something of a monopoly in the country and yet fails to satisfy local demand.
Demand spilled into chaos this week when potential buyers of the Chevrolet Matiz, Nexia and Cobalt stampeded a dealership in Tashkent, a video shared by Olam.uz (and above on YouTube) purports to show.
Acquiring a car in Uzbekistan is not a simple process: Much like in the era of Soviet shortages, buyers must queue and leave an 85-percent deposit to get on a list. At that Tashkent cash collection point (oh yeah, and the cars, in practice, can only be purchased for dollars) on August 7, fears of yet another shortage lead to the chaos (and the bloodcurdling screaming), reported Olam.uz.
Though it’s unclear if anything other than Tashkent’s image was hurt, the Uzbek government may wish to think if exporting its limited supply of cars (and gas…) is worth these kinds of scenes.
Prisoners in Uzbekistan may not be able to speak to Red Cross monitors about the conditions of their incarceration, but they may now drink hot chocolate and enjoy live music.
The Interior Ministry has adopted new rules regarding living conditions in the country’s notoriously inhospitable and violent prisons, the semi-official Norma.uz website, which covers legislative issues in Uzbekistan, reported on August 8.
For starters, the rules list foodstuffs prisoners are allowed to purchase and keep: They can now treat themselves to coffee and hot chocolate. Moreover, previously prisoners were allowed to have belongings whose total weight did not exceed 50 kilograms – this stipulation has now been abolished.
The new regulations also allow prisoners to get married or divorced in prison. Though the number of guests at a prison wedding ceremony is limited to two, following the ritual the prisoner will be given a conjugal visit (up to three days, usually inside the prison) with his or her spouse.
Perhaps, the most important change is that a prisoner's close relatives now have the right to obtain written and verbal information about their loved one’s health, and learn about what specific punishments are being applied by prison authorities. Requests are, in theory, to be satisfied immediately.
According to the new rules, prisoners in low-security prison colonies can now wear civilian clothes and shoes and use mobile phones without photo, audio and video features. They can also play musical instruments in specially designated areas.
Hasan Choriyev tried in secret: Human rights activists say Uzbek authorities have set him up on rape charges to punish his son, an exiled opposition leader with designs on the presidency.
The elderly father of an exiled opposition leader is reportedly being tried behind closed doors in Uzbekistan on rape charges that his supporters say are intended to punish his son.
Hasan Choriyev, 71, was arrested on June 17 and later charged with raping a 19-year-old woman. He has been held incommunicado since his arrest over seven weeks ago, the independent Uznews.net website says.
Hasan is accustomed to harassment from officials. He is the father of Bahodyr Choriyev, the leader of the opposition Birdamlik (“Solidarity”) movement, who has lived in American exile since 2004. In November 2012, a local court fined him $11,000 for slander. When he failed to pay the extraordinary sum, his farmland, livestock and house were seized. Earlier, in 2011, authorities fined him $8,500 for “stealing” electricity – that is, using it without meter – after the meter was stolen.
Uznews.net reported on August 5 that the hearings into Choriyev senior’s case started on July 26 behind closed doors but were postponed indefinitely because of the alleged victim’s failure to appear in court.
The defendant’s family has struggled to glean details about the case. Choriyev's lawyer – whom family members fear is colluding with authorities – has cited “investigative secrecy.”
When China opened a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan in 2009, Ashgabat got what it had long wanted: independence from Russia with an alternative market for its abundant natural gas reserves. What wasn’t obvious was just how hooked energy-hungry China would become on Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan is now, by a great margin, China’s largest foreign supplier of natural gas: over 21.3 billion cubic meters (bcm) in 2012, or 51.4 percent of imports, according to data published by the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. That’s about three times more than Qatar supplies China (see chart). And the number is set to skyrocket with the opening of the giant Galkynysh field this autumn, which will also feed the 1,833-kilometer Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan-China pipeline.
China still produces the majority of its own gas domestically. Of the 146.6 bcm it consumed last year, it produced 107.2 bcm, up from 80.3 bcm in 2008 (an increase of 33.5 percent), according to the BP Statistical Review. But its imports are growing fast: In 2008, China imported 4.2 bcm; last year, it imported 39.4 bcm (an increase of 838 percent).
The new head of U.S. Central Command has made his first trip to Central Asia, visiting Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and -- intriguingly -- not Kyrgyzstan. One source close to CENTCOM also pointed out to The Bug Pit that the commander, General Lloyd Austin, has been everywhere else in his area of responsibility before stopping into Central Asia, suggesting what sort of priority the region is.
The official statements about the visit were predictably vague: In Tashkent, "there was an exchange of opinions on the perspective of peaceful resolution of the situation in Afghanistan." In Dushanbe, Austin discussed "assistance in strengthening stability and security in Afghanistan and prevention of risk of spread of terrorism and extremism."
So, we are left to guess about what were the topics of discussion. No doubt at the top of the agenda was the logistical support that those countries provide to U.S. forces and equipment entering and leaving Afghanistan. A piece in Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta sees a sinister hand in the timing of Austin's visit to Tajikistan, coming just before President Emomali Rahmon's trip to Russia: "In recent years a practice has developed: on the eve of Russian-Tajik discussions, without fail, an American envoy appears." That doesn't seem likely; the U.S. government usually isn't efficient enough to pull of that degree of deviousness.