The World Trade Organization has approved terms for Kazakhstan to join, paving the way for Central Asia’s leading economy to become a full member toward the end of the year after nearly two decades of “challenging” talks.
Speaking in Geneva after signing the accession protocol with WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo on July 27, President Nursultan Nazarbayev hailed the imminent accession as a sign that Kazakhstan’s economy is opening up to the world.
“In improving the investment climate, we are giving priority to the diversification of our economy,” he said in remarks quoted by state news agency Kazinform.
Astana sees accession as crucial to its bid to wean Kazakhstan’s economy off its dependence on oil and gas. To that end, Nazarbayev reminded investors that Kazakhstan has devised perks for those putting money into the non-extractive sectors.
The government has indicated that it aims to complete the ratification process by October 31 and hopes Kazakhstan will be a full member once the next WTO ministerial conference comes around in mid-December.
Kazakhstan’s accession negotiations have lasted 19 years and been among the most “challenging” the global body has faced with any country, the WTO said in a statement issued when talks were finally completed last month.
It made it clear that the process had been substantially set back by Kazakhstan joining the Russia-led Customs Union (a regional free trade zone) in 2010, which evolved into the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) this year.
Kazakhstan’s accession process slowed after Russia first said the Customs Union members would negotiate as a bloc to join, before proceeding to join alone in 2012.
Imprisoned opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov has been targeted for harsh punitive measures for alleged violations of prison rules, including “speaking ill” of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, his wife told EurasiaNet.org on July 27.
The timing of the punishment could be intended to deny parole eligibility to Kozlov, who is serving a seven-and-a-half year sentence on charges of fomenting fatal violence in western Kazakhstan in 2011 and plotting to overthrow the state.
Aliya Turusbekova told EurasiaNet.org that prison authorities have characterized her husband as a “persistent offender” and transferred him “to a strict-regime cellblock” on July 27.
Kozlov is accused of “threatening the [work] team leader with physical reprisals and speaking ill of the country’s president,” she explained, citing information she received from his lawyer. The change in his status means greater restrictions on telephone calls, visits and parcels, Turusbekova said.
An official at the prison colony in Zarechniy in south-eastern Kazakhstan, where Kozlov is being held, declined to confirm or deny the change in status when contacted by EurasiaNet.org. “We do not give out any information by telephone,” the official said, before hanging up.
Kozlov briefly declared a hunger strike last week in protest at his treatment after he was placed in solitary confinement, the Open Dialog Foundation, a Poland-based human rights watchdog, said on July 21.
The watchdog added that Kozlov is suffering from health problems in jail, where he has been held in cramped conditions and forced to stand for long periods in temperatures approaching 50 degrees Celsius.
An Almaty hospital has been caught trading in children, selling newborns to desperate childless parents for a few thousand dollars apiece.
The case is only the latest in a string of scandals exposing the unbridled level of graft blighting Kazakhstan’s healthcare system.
Prosecutors exposed the “trade in minors” at the Almaty Multidisciplinary Clinical Hospital, where healthcare staff were “providing intermediary services for the illegal acquisition of newborn children for various sums of money,” Dinmukhamed Serikbayev, a city prosecutor’s office official, said in remarks quoted by Tengri News on July 24.
The four suspects, who include a midwife and a nurse, allegedly sold five new-born babies for a total sum of $10,000 plus 150,000 tenge ($800) and pocketed the proceeds.
This is the second baby sale racket to be uncovered in Kazakhstan this summer. In June, two healthcare staff at a perinatal center in the south of the country were arrested on suspicion of selling babies for $1,000-3,000 each.
The mothers wanted to give the newborns up for adoption, but prosecutors believe healthcare staff bypassed all the legal niceties to make some cash on the side.
Corruption is omnipresent in Kazakhstan’s health service. Patients routinely have to pay bribes to receive services to which they are legally entitled free of charge. Doctors and nurses in the public sector pursue bribes to supplement their meager salaries, but even in private institutions staff sometimes demand extra off-the-books payments.
Authorities in Kyrgyzstan have fallen largely silent about the alleged Islamic State cell that they neutralized earlier this month, only for the group itself to purportedly address a video message to the nation.
The nine-minute clip, titled “Address to the people of Kyrgyzstan,” was posted on July 25 and remained online for only a few hours before being taken down, news website Kloop.kg reported.
As Kloop reported, the video consisted of an address to camera by a man speaking in Kyrgyz who appealed to viewers with calls for the Kyrgyz people to “relocate to the lands of Islamic State from infidel nations.” The speech was accompanied by Russian subtitles.
It is specified by the speaker that Kyrgyzstan is one such “infidel nation,” because of the country’s embrace of “man-created laws and rules, “such as democracy.
The video was stamped with the logo of Furat Media, the Russian-language wing of the IS group’s online propaganda operation. Pending further verification by security experts, the authenticity of the video remains in question.
Authorities have for months been warning of a Kyrgyz contingent within the IS group. According to the Interior Ministry’s latest estimates, 422 citizens of Kyrgyzstan, including 55 women, are engaged in combat activities with radical Islamic organizations in Iraq and Syria.
Kloop notes that the footage issued over the weekend was bereft of the scenes of brutality or violence that have increasingly come to typify the IS group’s output.
The takedown of a once-powerful politician in Kyrgyzstan who served as mayor of Osh when that city was devastated by a wave of deadly ethnic clashes in 2010 appears to have been completed.
News website 24.kg reported that Osh city court on July 22 sentenced Melis Myrzakmatov, who is evading capture in an overseas location, to seven years in jail for abuse of office.
The case revolves around alleged financial misdemeanors involved in the construction of an elevated bridge in Osh. Prosecutors have said no cost estimates exercise were performed before tenders were issued and that the entire affair has already cost the state more than $450,000. (Myrzakmatov’s successor, Aitmamat Kadyrbaev, has pledged to complete the job and name it in honor of Russian President Vladimir Putin.)
Myrzakmatov’s current whereabouts are not known with certainty, although newspaper Vecherny Bishkek in December cited a source among the ex-mayor’s associates as saying he had taken refuge in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
Given his once untouchable status, Myrzakmatov’s downfall has been observed with some incredulity by long-term watchers of the region. He distinguished himself during the 2010 unrest for his markedly nationalistic tone, which earned him the contempt of his city’s ethnic Uzbek community and admiration from sections of the Kyrgyz population. Some believe he had a role in instigating the violence that scarred the city.
Attempts by the government to remove Myrzakmatov from power were met with open contempt. He was finally unseated in December 2013, however.
Filmmakers should harness the power of the silver screen to make feel-good movies about Kazakhstan and avoid churning out hard-hitting productions that “shame” the country. So says the guardian of the nation’s cultural values, in remarks which sound like something out of the mouth of the fictional Kazakhstani journalist Borat.
Instead of tackling hard-hitting subjects like violence and corruption, moviemakers should direct their creative efforts toward “fighting what is negative in society,” not showing “human passions that abase our senses,” Arystanbek Mukhamediuly, Kazakhstan’s minister of culture and sport, said on July 22 in remarks quoted by Tengri News.
It arouses “indignation” when movies depicting “contemptible human qualities” are made, he added, especially when they go on to represent Kazakhstan at international film festivals.
Mukhamediuly’s latest broadside came a month after he took aim at movies that “shame” Kazakhstan – such as Harmony Lessons, an award-winning production by Emir Baygazin that won a Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2013.
Described by The Hollywood Reporter as “formally disciplined and psychologically gripping,” the movie tackles the topic of bullying (which is rife in many schools in Kazakhstan, where the film has never been shown in mainstream cinemas).
In the face of widespread hopes of a last-minute change of heart, Kyrgyzstan’s government has torn up a foundational treaty in the Central Asian nation’s ties with the United States.
By signing off on the cancellation of the 1993 treaty on July 21, Prime Minister Temir Sariev stands to endanger the millions of dollars worth of assistance that Washington provides to Kyrgyzstan every year.
Bishkek has adopted the measure in response to the U.S. State Department bestowing the 2014 Human Rights Defender Award on jailed activist Azimjan Askarov.
In September 2010, Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek, was sentenced to life imprisonment for what Kyrgyz authorities say was his role in inciting the mob killing of a police officer during the ethnic unrest in June that year. Western governments and advocacy groups have regularly mounted staunch defenses of Askarov, saying that he was framed and later found guilty in a trial marred by irregularities.
The U.S. award enraged Bishkek, which has described the recognition of Askarov as an attempt to destabilize the country and sow interethnic tension.
The 1993 treaty provides for a tariff waiver on goods imported into Kyrgyzstan as part of U.S. aid programs. It also exempts non-Kyrgyz employees of U.S. government or private aid programs from income and social security taxes.
It seems unlikely that the risk-averse U.S. government will entertain the prospect of being majorly exposed to tax checks in a country where such inspections are regularly conducted by officials seeking bribes, as investors have had cause to learn to their detriment. The change, which comes into effect on Aug. 20, will also require a cumbersome layer of bureaucratic wrangling that could in any event stand to hamstring programs for an indefinite period.
A court in Tajikistan has jailed yet another top opposition figure — a member of Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan’s leadership council, Jaloliddin Mahmudov.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service said Mahmudov was sentenced on July 20 to five years in a maximum security jail by the Hissor district court for the illegal trade and possession of weapons.
Mahmudov has for several years served as IRPT’s representative on the central election commission. He was detained in February, some three weeks before the parliamentary elections.
IRPT lost the only two seats it had in parliament in that vote, which was roundly condemned by international monitors. The party described Mahmudov’s arrest at such an important juncture for its fate as a politically motivated move.
With its leader fearing to return home for fear of prosecution and another leading party light now behind bars, IRPT looks more than ever like a spent force inside Tajikistan.
Other political figures placed behind bars in Tajikistan in recent times include:
- Maqsood Ibragimov, a Russia-based opposition activist who was earlier this month sentenced to 17 years in jail on extremism charges;
- Zaid Saidov, a former minister-turned-government foe sentenced to 26 years in prison in 2013 on charges of fraud, corruption, statutory rape and polygamy;
An unnamed village in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region seen under floodwater in an undated photo. (Photo: United Nations Rapid Emergency Assessment and Coordination Team)
The wave of natural calamities hitting Tajikistan is expanding and growing deadly, with at least three people reported killed on July 21 following a landslide in the Vanj district in the Pamirs.
Asia-Plus news website has reported that another three people are still missing.
Nilufar Aslamshoev, the press secretary for the head of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, told Asia-Plus that a landslide buried a Hyundai Starex van in the Vodhud municipality, killing three passengers onboard. Two passengers cannot be located.
Aslamshoev said that a torrential flood in the village of Lugad, in the same area, washed away an earthmover and two trucks. The driver of one of the trucks has gone missing, she said.
The Pamirs are not the only region affected.
CA-News has cited unnamed rescue officials as saying more than sixty homes have been either partially or totally destroyed in the Rasht region, which lies around 200 east of the capital, Dushanbe. One person, a 28-year old with disabilities, was reportedly killed in the Rasht region.
The spate of landslides and floods scourging Tajikistan are the result of intense heat in recent days, which have led to an unusually rapid snowmelt.
Along with homes, the floods have also destroyed schools, shops, crops, roads and power lines. A United Nations Rapid Emergency Assessment and Coordination Team estimates that more than 80 percent of communities in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region has been left without power as a result of damage to infrastructure.
Welcome to Kazakhstan! But not all of it, unless you want to pay a fine.
That’s the mixed message emerging as enthusiasm about moves to open up visa-free travel to a growing list of nationalities is dampened by the introduction of special access permits for some of the country’s prime tourist spots.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs unveiled legislation on June 26 making it easier for citizens of 19 countries to visit the country for stays of up to 15 days by waiving visa requirements. The full list can be found here. The law will remain in force through to the end of 2017.
But while it will become easier for many to get into Kazakhstan, it will now be illegal to visit some of the country’s top tourist draws without written permission obtained seven days in advance.
Under legislation that came into force on June 15, special documentation is needed to visit sights located within a 25-kilometer radius of the border. That would include Medeu ice skating rink and the Shymbluak ski resort, both located only a short drive from the country’s largest city, Almaty. Other places effectively off-limits to visitors include Lake Alakol and the Kolsai lakes.
Anybody visiting these places without the proper paperwork now risks incurring a fine.
According to tour guide Karlygash Makatova, a foreign diplomat was recently fined for visiting Big Almaty Lake without permission, Tengrinews website reported. Makatova mentioned another occasion when tourists were detained and fined while visiting Sharyn Canyon, one of Almaty region's landmark attractions.