With foreign trade already under tight government control, Uzbekistan increased customs duties on a number of foodstuff imports from May 1.
The Novyy Vek newspaper reports that, according to a government resolution signed by President Islam Karimov last week, the import duty on meat products rose from 50 percent previously to 70 percent; on pasta it rose from 20 to 30 percent.
Tashkent, a major supplier of produce to CIS countries, slapped a 50 percent duty on imports of fruit and vegetables (up from 30 percent) and a duty ranging from 10 to 30 percent on fresh vegetables.
The duty on imported beer increased to 100 percent of declared customs value, up from 70 percent. The duty on imported cigarettes jumped from about $18 to $40 per 1,000 smokes.
The new taxes are probably attempts to reverse a trend by encouraging Uzbek shoppers to buy local. According to official figures from the State Statistics Committee, food imports increased by about 19.5 percent to $1.2 billion last year, while food exports fell by 55.9 percent to $884 million.
Food already makes up a substantial chunk of the average Uzbek household’s income. The Korzinka.uz chain of supermarkets prices domestic beef at about $8.50 per kilo and domestically produced sausages at between $6.20 and $8.60 per kilo (at the black-market exchange rate). The average monthly salary is believed to be about $200.
After appearing in Kyrgyzstan and Chechnya, leaflets expressing support for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Djokhar Tsarnaev have now emerged in central Kazakhstan.
The Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency reports that fliers featuring Tsarnaev's picture, along with a note reading "Pray for Djokhar" in English, had been found plastered in a pedestrian underpass in Karaganda. Police have said they will charge anyone caught pasting the posters on public property.
"Should the individuals who put up the leaflets be identified, they will face an administrative offence for damaging public property. Plastering announcements and other posters is a sign of littering," Interfax-Kazakhstan quoted the regional police press service as saying.
Earlier Interfax reported that similar leaflets had appeared in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, and in Russia's Chechnya region, Tsarnaev’s ancestral homeland.
Leaflets found on an avenue named after Russian President Vladimir Putin in downtown Grozny, the Chechen capital, called on people to raise funds for Tsarnaev and his family. Those fliers explained that Tsarnaev was in serious condition in a prison hospital in the United States and that he needed medical and legal aid. "Djokhar's parents appeal for your assistance," the posters said.
The United Kingdom has denied entry to a Kazakh artist who does not have hands because he cannot provide fingerprints, he says.
Anti-nuclear activist Karipbek Kuyukov was due to travel to Great Britain last month to attend a conference and show his paintings, he told Tengrinews.
“I was denied a visa on the grounds that my fingerprints were of unsatisfactory quality. I was asked for additional fingerprints, although I physically could not give them any fingerprints. My sister who was supposed to accompany me received a visa because they took her fingerprints. Why do they need fingerprints anyway?” Kuyukov told Tengrinews. Photos he provided the embassy clearly showed he is disabled, he added, noting that he did not have any problems when he successfully applied for an American visa last year.
The British Consulate in Almaty did not respond to requests for comment on May 6 within the time frame promised. Repeated calls to the British Embassy in Astana went unanswered.
Kuyukov, 44, was born near the Soviet Union’s largest nuclear test site, at Semipalatinsk in what is now northeastern Kazakhstan, and attributes his disability -- he was born without hands -- to the radioactive fallout from the tests.
The entanglement of two Kazakhstani students in the Boston Marathon bombing investigation is placing the Central Asian nation’s golden youth in the spotlight.
The two students –Dias Kadyrbaev and Azamat Tazhayakov -- are facing federal charges that they obstructed the investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15 by allegedly disposing of a computer and backpack belonging to accused bomber Djokhar Tsarnaev. A hearing in their case is scheduled for May 14. If convicted, they face five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. The Kazakhstani pair and Tsarnaev were constant companions for much of the past two years while taking classes at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, roughly 60 miles south of Boston, according to a criminal complaint filed in US District Court on May 1.
While the bombing investigation is ongoing, Kadyrbaev and Tazhayakov already seem to be guilty of egregious errors in judgment, including some that predate their alleged attempted cover-up of Tsarnaev’s alleged involvement in the bombings.
Kadyrbaev and Tazhayakov were the sons of privilege, apparently able to study in the United States not because of their academic acumen but because their parents had attained wealth and status back in their native Kazakhstan. The Kazakhstani government has spent a considerable amount of money over the past 20 years under its Bolashak Program to send its best and brightest abroad to obtain a higher education. But officials decided in 2010 to stop offering Bolashak scholarships to undergraduates. Thus, when Kadyrbaev and Tazhayakov arrived to begin the fall semester in 2011 at UMass-Dartmouth, it seems as though they were dependent on their parents to foot the bill.
The industrial city of Karaganda in northeastern Kazakhstan has seen an event utterly out of the ordinary for the former Soviet Union: a wedding between two women.
The couple organized the symbolic wedding to celebrate their union, the Vox Populi website reports in a photo story showing the elaborate celebration, which included all the usual trappings: from the white limousine that the bride and groom ride in during more traditional celebrations to the flutes of champagne to toast the happy couple.
The marriage has no legal force in Kazakhstan, where same-sex weddings are not recognized by law – but the two women, identified only as Karolina and Kristina, decided to tie the knot symbolically. As Vox Populi put it, “love has no law.”
The pictures showed the elegant couple – one wearing a white wedding dress and the other a white suit – popping champagne corks and following the usual tradition of stopping off at popular sites around the city to have a glass of champagne with wedding guests.
When the wedding party dropped into a shopping mall to buy some food, eyebrows were raised, said Vox Populi. It described onlookers' mood as “spiteful,” with “hostile looks from the shoppers, whispering into walkie-talkies by the security guards, surprised looks from the salespeople.”
The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community tends not to be very visible in Kazakhstan, where anecdotal evidence suggests that members face widespread discrimination.
Vox Populi’s story on the wedding sparked a lively discussion thread, with some participants openly and proudly voicing those prejudices while others stood up in defense of LGBT rights.
Once again, a clash is being reported on the imprecise Kyrgyz-Tajik border in the Ferghana Valley. Like usual, in the days after these regular troubles, a little bit is clear and a lot is not.
What’s clear is that there has been physical violence, property damaged, and hostages taken by opposing residents of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in the un-demarcated borderlands. Once again, the conflict was over infrastructure, this time a road. After that, the details get murky, lost in a flurry of accusation and counter-accusation.
Officials on both sides agree the clash occurred on April 27 in the area around the Tajik exclave of Vorukh, which is surrounded entirely by Kyrgyz territory, when Kyrgyz workers were building or repairing a road. It’s unclear if their activities were government-backed or a local private initiative.
The three countries sharing the Ferghana Valley – Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan – inherited unclear borders at independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Efforts to define them have been halting, especially in populated areas.
According to a Kyrgyz Interior Ministry spokesman cited by Bishkek’s 24.kg news agency, on April 27 Kyrgyz workers were building a road connecting Aksai – a Kyrgyz village that abuts Vorukh – and a neighboring village. Around 3 p.m. about 100 residents of Tajikistan, unhappy with the roadwork, which they alleged was happening on their territory, beat up some construction workers and broke the windows of bulldozers and excavators. As local residents from both sides gathered and grew hostile (with Tajiks outnumbering Kyrgyz 10 to one, according to Kyrgyz police), Tajik border guards fired warning shots into the air. After that, about 4,000 Kyrgyz and about 7,000 Tajiks faced off and blocked the road.
Russia’s drug tsar has come up with a pro-active and novel plan for combatting drug trafficking to his country via Central Asia that sees Russia buying up businesses and creating jobs in the region.
Moscow will initially spend about $64 million on the plan, which involves creating a Russian Corporation for Cooperation with Central Asian Countries, Viktor Ivanov told the Kommersant daily on April 26. Ivanov, the head of the Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN), had finally gotten some government approval for his 2-billion-ruble proposal, which he believes will help reduce the staggering number of drug-related deaths in Russia.
“Every year at least 100,000 young people die [due to drug use] in Russia. Thanks to the program, this figure could in five years be reduced by 25-30 percent. How can this be measured in money?" Kommersant quoted Ivanov as saying. (Other officials have said heroin kills 30,000 Russians each year.)
Central Asia lies on a major narcotics-trafficking route out of Afghanistan. Approximately 30 percent of Afghan opiates transit the region – especially Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – according to the UN, most of them en route to Russia, fueling crime, corruption, and HIV along the old Silk Road. Ivanov estimated the plan would save Russia an amount equivalent to about 1.3 percent of GDP, which he said is “annually lost due to drug-trafficking,” and provoke a “sharp decline” in crime – 32-33 percent. He gave no details on either prognosis.
The United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has launched a criminal investigation into alleged corruption at a London-listed natural resources giant with strong links to Kazakhstan, British media report.
The SFO probe targets the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), a company with interests in the energy and mining sectors mainly in Kazakhstan but also in China, Brazil and some African states. It is partially owned by three oligarchs believed to have powerful connections in Kazakhstan. The Kazakh government also holds a stake.
“The focus of the investigation will be fraud, bribery and corruption relating to the activities of the company or its subsidiaries in Kazakhstan and Africa,” The Guardian newspaper quoted the SFO – an arm of the British government – as saying in an April 25 statement.
ENRC, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, said in a statement the same day that it “is assisting and cooperating fully with the SFO” and “is committed to a full and transparent investigation of its procedures and conduct.”
The news follows a troubled period for ENRC, whose chairman Mehmet Dalman resigned on April 23, less than two weeks after a law firm appointed by ENRC to pursue an internal inquiry into the corruption allegations – first made by a whistleblower – was abruptly replaced.
Kazakhstan’s social affairs minister was pelted with eggs Friday while addressing the government’s controversial pension reforms at a lively press conference.
In a show of protest rare for Kazakhstan, Minister of Labor and Social Protection Serik Abdenov was targeted as he attempted to explain why the government is seeking to raise the pension age for women from 58 to 63 over the next decade. The reform, which would bring the female retirement age into line with the male one, has passed its first reading in the lower house of parliament (with several more stages to go before it becomes law), raising a storm of controversy.
Abdenov called the briefing in Almaty on April 26 to douse the flames of the dispute – but one protestor was not in the mood for listening. Activist Andrey Tsukanov got up and hurled two eggs at the minister, Tengri News reports. A video posted by Radio Azattyq showed Abdenov batting away the make-do missiles.
Abdenov has become the target of vilification and ridicule in the past week after another unsuccessful attempt to defend Astana’s pension reforms to a group of workers in Temirtau, an industrial city in eastern Kazakhstan, fell flat.
Asked why women should work for five more years, Abdenov got a little lost for words. “You have to work and work,” he said, to guffaws of laughter from the audience,” because, my dear fellow countrymen, because, because.”
Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, is bucking a trend by pooh-poohing scaremongering about the security threat that the Central Asian region will face after NATO troops finish withdrawing from Afghanistan next year.
Observers have voiced apprehension that the region will confront rising challenges from threats such as terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking that could destabilize the entire Central Asia region. But Nazarbayev does not subscribe to that view.
“I will say it directly: I do not accept the catastrophic theories that we read and hear from various sides,” he said on April 25, adding that he did not believe that there was some sort of “countdown timer” running, ticking off the days before coalition forces withdraw and disaster strikes.
Nazarbayev was speaking at the Eurasian Media Forum in Astana, a jamboree of assorted international media professionals and pundits organized by his daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva to discuss global and regional problems.
His remarks fly in the face of accepted wisdom about the mounting security threat that Central Asian states will struggle to cope with after 2014.
Nazarbayev’s own security chief, Nurtay Abykayev, is less insouciant than his boss, warning last month of “growing threats of instability.” “We are concerned by the ongoing activeness of terrorist and extremist organizations in the region, particularly in the run-up to the departure of NATO forces from Afghanistan.”