Kazakhstan is about to launch its first domestically produced naval vessel, the country has announced. The missile boat, called the "Kazakhstan," was produced at the Zenit shipyards in Uralsk and will be launched into the Caspian by the end of April, according to the Ministry of Defense.
The ship "is designed to destroy surface ships, boats and transports of the enemy on their own and in collaboration with naval strike forces," said an MoD release.
The Kazakhstan will thus become the most powerful ship in the eponymous country's nascent navy, and the first that is really a naval ship, as opposed to a coast guard vessel. By next year, two more ships of the same class are scheduled to be launched as well. Kazakhstan naval officials had earlier said they were planning to buy three corvettes (a somewhat larger ship), as well, from South Korea, but little has been said about that lately.
The ship will have a displacement of 240 tons, has a top speed of 30 knots and is armed with "modernised anti-aircraft missile and artillery units," according to a report from CaspioNet, where you can also see a video interview with the ship's captain.
On the heels of a police operation to clean up Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, by cracking down on unwashed vehicles, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has outlined plans to deal with a growing crime wave in the city.
At an April 11 discussion on the future development of the city, the president bemoaned the fact that the crime rate in his dream capital is rising. He said crime in Astana is 1.7 times the national average, while detection rates are the lowest in the country.
The Leader of the Nation singled out a proliferation of bookmakers and gambling halls as a root cause of the growing problem. He urged police to focus on the problem of petty crime in Astana, instructing them not to overlook simple misdemeanors such as leaving chewing gum at street crossings. He suggested that the punishment for such an infraction should include fines and up to three days in jail. His hope is that cracking down hard on petty crime will lead to reductions in more serious crimes.
Traffic police in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, have launched a campaign sure to put fear in the hearts of the city's drivers. Were they targeting the unruly drag racing on Astana's dangerous streets, or the widespread drunk driving? Nope, the cops were concentrating on a more serious problem—unwashed vehicles.
Over the weekend of April 7-8, police handed out 1,067 tickets to drivers of dirty cars, inform.kz reports. The campaign was good for revenue, netting around $60,000—each ticket carrying a fixed penalty of 8,090 tenge ($55). With the spring thaw finally coming to Astana, targeting dirty vehicles is a certain source of revenue since it’s impossible to keep things clean at this time of year. The sweep also netted 41 intoxicated motorists, 45 cars parked illegally and 17 people driving without documents.
Traffic police in Kazakhstan’s gleaming new capital are fighting around the clock to keep order on the city's streets. Over one weekend in Astana earlier this year, 601 offenders were caught for violations including drunk driving, speeding, using a cell phone and driving into oncoming traffic.
But the gaishniki are not having much effect on safety. In 2010, officials registered 12,008 road accidents, which resulted in 2,797 deaths in Kazakhstan. (By comparison, Western Europe suffers roughly half the number of traffic-related deaths per capita).
It remains to be seen if washing the spring mud off car bumpers results in fewer traffic deaths.
Cambridge University has gotten a little too close for comfort to Kazakhstan's long-serving authoritarian leader Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The university’s Churchill College has suspended plans to award one Kazakh student a six-month postdoctoral scientific placement scholarship this year, after mistakenly promoting a “Nazarbayev Fellowship.”
Richard Partington, a senior tutor at Churchill College, said in a statement that the advertisements should have read “Nazarbayev University Fellowship” but had unfortunately been marketed using only the president's surname. The Kazakhstan branch of the financial services giant PricewaterhouseCoopers – which operates independently from the UK firm – would have paid for the fellowship to bring a Kazakh citizen from Nazarbayev's namesake university in Astana to Cambridge.
Officials at Churchill told The Times Higher Education (THE) supplement they decided to change the fellowship's name after the college became nervous about any association with Nazarbayev himself. Schools in the UK have become increasingly wary of getting into bed with dictators since the furor surrounding the London School of Economics' suspicious dealings with the late Libyan dictator’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and lecturers’ protest when London's Metropolitan University proposed links with a university in Uzbekistan.
The days of Kazakhstan's national sport kokpar being a wild free-for-all with a headless goat may be numbered since plans have surfaced to replace the bloody carcass at the center of the game with a plastic dummy.
The move comes at the instigation of Kazakhstan-based animal-rights group KARE-Zabota (Kazakhstan Animal Rescue and Education), acting on complaints from animal-lovers who object to the killing of goats for the sport, a local take on buzkashi.
KARE-Zabota says it received a letter from Kazakhstan's Agency for Sports and Physical Training Affairs agreeing to introduce dummy goats.
Already, the Agency has carried out tests on models from Pakistan and a locally produced imitation goat from Taras, but, lacking flexibility, these were deemed unfit for play. Hopes are now being pinned on an artificial carcass from Shymkent, with testing scheduled for later this year.
Kokpar is a macho sport where two teams of horsemen grapple over a decapitated goat, which they try to deposit in the opponent's goal. The fierce struggle is a test of strength for both riders and horses. It’s unclear how this affront to tradition will be received.
But all sports move on. Football (the game known as soccer in the US) was originally a tussle between villagers in 12th-century England over a pig's bladder before it developed into the relatively tame sport we know today. Could kokpar – which is rumored to have already given the world polo – evolve into a worldwide phenomenon by adopting fake, bloodless goats?
Muslims in northeastern Kazakhstan have been scandalized by the appearance of a new brand of vodka bearing the name of God.
KTK television reports that vodka bottles with the Arabic inscription, “Allah’s strength is enough for everybody," have appeared in shops all over the city of Semey (formerly Semipalatinsk) for approximately $4.40 a pop.
“Imams are outraged: They haven’t seen a bigger sin,” says the report.
“It’s difficult for me to even speak about this. The only salvation for those who did this is to repent. After all, Allah is against alcohol. And here you have such mockery,” Imam Bekzat Boranbai uly told KTK.
A representative of the Aktobe factory that produces the vodka denied intentional blasphemy, insisting the labels and caps are manufactured in Russia.
Drinkers in the former Soviet Union often have dozens of choices when it comes to vodka, which enjoys pride of place in any self-respecting corner store. In Khorog, Tajikistan, I once saw Marlboro Vodka, with a red and white label that looked like a pack of the American cigarettes. Sitting next to that was Mercedes Vodka, stamped with the iconic luxury car emblem.
The trial of those accused of unrest in Zhanaozen last December continued on March 28 in Aktau, with prosecutors detailing the charges against the defendants, including organizing the unrest, arson, assault on representatives of the state, and looting.
Eight of the 37 defendants were singled out as alleged ringleaders. They face up to 10 years in prison. The judge declined a motion to delay the trial of one defendant who was shot in the eye by a police bullet, to allow him to have an operation.
The court heard testimony from 14 people whose property was damaged. Several, in an apparent sign of solidarity with the defendants, declined to pursue their right to compensation.
Rashid Saulebayev, a lawyer from the OzenMunayGaz (OMG) company at the heart of the months-long industrial dispute that descended into violence on December 16, gave evidence for the firm, which suffered damage of some $8 million, including the torching of its HQ and the Aruana Hotel, which it owned.
Asked if OMG considered the damage the defendants’ fault, Saulebayev said it was “the result of mass unrest” but that it was for the court to apportion blame. One defense lawyer asked if the damage could be the result of police firing on demonstrators, but Saulebayev declined to point the finger. Relatives in the courtroom listened to his testimony quietly.
Officials in Astana famously lose their sense of humor when it comes to Borat, so the playing of his spoof version of Kazakhstan’s national anthem at a sporting ceremony in Kuwait isn’t raising many smiles in the Kazakh capital.
The Borat anthem was accidentally played by organizers at a medal ceremony at the Arab Shooting Championships. Gold medalist Maria Dmitrienko stood on the podium looking bemused at the mix-up, which was described as a “scandal” by Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Ilyas Omarov.
The film featured Sacha Baron Cohen as a spoof journalist from Kazakhstan who engages in sexist, racist and childish antics around America. It delighted audiences in the West but left officials and ordinary people in Kazakhstan – where cinemas declined to show it – fuming that their country had been singled out for ridicule.
Kazakhstan’s not having much luck with its national anthem lately: The blunder in Kuwait came days after a goof-up in northern Kazakhstan, where the Ricky Martin song Livin' la Vida Loca was accidentally played instead of the national anthem at the opening of a skiing festival.
Attendees pray for those who died in Zhanaozen 100 days ago.
An opposition rally in downtown Almaty on March 24 drew only a couple of hundred demonstrators, indicating that a protest movement launched in the wake of violence in Zhanaozen in December and disputed parliamentary elections in January is losing momentum. Police abandoned the heavy-handed tactics they employed at a rally in February, keeping their distance and allowing the demonstration to proceed.
Protestors could not reach the planned demonstration site around a statue to Kazakh poet Abay, however, because it was cordoned off for a public celebration that some activists believed was arranged to thwart them. Music from that event drowned out prayers at the rally for those who died in Zhanaozen a symbolic 100 days ago, blasting through the minute’s silence observed in memory.
Top leaders from the OSDP Azat party, which has been a driving force in the protest movement, did not attend. Co-leader Bolat Abilov and deputy leader Amirzhan Kosanov, who both served two short prison sentences for organizing rallies without official permission in January and February, flew to western Kazakhstan to attend mourning ceremonies for the victims of the Zhanaozen violence.
Newspaper editor Igor Vinyavskiy, who had been in detention facing seven years on charges of anti-constitutional activities, has been abruptly freed under amnesty. The authorities’ surprise about-face comes only days after they suddenly released a lawyer who was jailed for her role advising striking oil workers in the troubled town of Zhanaozen.
Vinyavskiy was released on March 15 and shortly afterwards posted a message on Facebook: “I’m free. At home. From the bottom of my heart I thank those who supported me, since that warmed my soul.”
Vinyavskiy was arrested on January 23 on suspicion of advocating the “violent change of constitutional order” with some leaflets authorities seized almost two years previously. He was arrested on the same day Vladimir Kozlov, leader of the unregistered Alga! party, was detained on suspicion of inciting violence in Zhanaozen, where 17 people were killed in December when security forces fired on protestors.
The timing, amid a political crackdown in Kazakhstan, sparked suspicions that Vinyavskiy’s arrest was a reprisal for his Vzglyad newspaper’s reporting on Zhanaozen.
Kozlov and other activists remain in jail facing charges over the unrest. Forty-three protestors also face trial, along with five police officers.