Kyrgyzstan has lost another prime minister — its 27th since independence.
Temir Sariyev, who spent less than a year in office, resigned on April 11 following a public and unsightly spat involving allegations of corruption.
Sariyev’s downfall was precipitated by his battle with Transportation Minister Argynbek Malabayev over a tender to build a strategic 104-kilometer road worth $100 million that was won by a Chinese company. The road would link the towns of Balykchy and Korumdu in the tourism magnet of Issyk-Kul region.
The scandal, which saw Malabayev accuse Sariyev of looking to profit from the deal and Sariyev attempt to engineer Malabayev’s dismissal, had Kyrgyzstan written all over it.
Chinese companies are responsible for building the vast majority of Kyrgyzstan’s road infrastructure and frequently face accusations of enabling government corruption.
Malabayev claimed Sariyev had a personal interest in Long Hai’s victory and blamed his own deputy, Ulan Uyezbayev, for helping to push the deal through behind his back. (Malabayev has said he was on a business trip outside the country when the results of the tender were announced).
In support of his claims, Malabayev said that the manager of Long Hai’s Kyrgyzstan office is a member of Ak-Shumkar party, which was founded and led by Sariev.
A parliamentary committee looking into the tender recommended parliament consider booting out Sariyev, who decided instead to fall on his sword.
An ugly dust-up in Moscow, seemingly provoked by racial hatred, has landed a migrant laborer from Tajikistan in the hospital and threatens to leave him blind in one eye.
On the evening of April 8, Tajik citizen Sulaiman Saidov was targeted in an apparently unprovoked assault that culminated in him being shot four times with an Osa traumatic handgun.
Saidov’s cousin, Dilshod Abdurahmonov, told EurasiaNet.org that the incident started when the attacker approached Saidov on a metro train and made a threatening remark: “Either you disappear or it will be the end of you.” Judging the man to be drunk, Saidov, who was in a metro carriage with another one of his cousins, 19-year old Muhammadjon Hakimov, ignored the warning.
“But then suddenly the man pulled out a pistol and fired one shot. This all happened inside the carriage. And then he wanted to shoot another guy — Muhammadjon Hakimov, who ran away in fear. When Sulaiman stood his ground, he was shot again twice in the head. When he left the carriage, the [attacker] followed him and in the fight that ensued he shot [Saidov] one more time in the stomach,” Abdurahmonov told EurasiaNet.org.
Abdurahmonov said his cousin’s is serious but stable, but doctors have confirmed that Saidov will likely be blind in one eye.
“We have to have an operation that will cost 120,000 rubles ($1,800). But there are no guarantees they can save his eye. His parents don’t know what has happened. They are elderly and constantly unwell,” Abdurahmonov said.
Saidov has received some support from the embassy of Tajikistan and a pledge of further help from Civic Assistance Committee, a Russian nongovernment organization that assists migrants.
Demand for old-fashioned mobile phones has surged in Kazakhstan following a recent ban on government employees bringing smartphones into the workplace.
As of April 1, civil servants have been forbidden from taking any phones able to capture photos, record audio or send and receive Bluetooth messages to work. The ban was primarily motivated over concerns about the growing amount of classified information allegedly being leaked out and posted on social media websites.
“This rule is being applied completely in the Interior Ministry,” said Saltanat Azirbek, a spokesperson for the ministry in Almaty. “Official documents should in no instance be publicly circulated since they could fall into the hands of criminals, and people of ill-intent could use them to their own ends.”
Some Kazakhstani government workers have long been setting the example. While roaming the halls of parliament, Interior Minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov recently showed off his own phone, a vintage Nokia model that he said he has been using for the past 10 years.
Others are less impressed and have taken to social media to debate the merits of the new prohibition. The consensus is that the rules are unfair since most use their smartphones mainly to communicate with colleagues, relatives and friends, not to pass on secret state information.
The general public is even more caustic in its assessment. Shavkat Sabirov, head of Internet Association of Kazakhstan, noted that refraining from the use of modern telephones in an age of rapid technological development is decidedly regressive.
There is mixed news from Kazakhstan’s economy as consumers contend with a continued leap in prices for basic goods, while the national currency has returned to a stability of old, albeit with some help.
News agency Kazakh-Zerno reported earlier this month on some Economy Ministry comparisons of prices between March 2015 and the month before.
Sugar went up by 41 percent, butter by 24 percent, coffee and tea by 23 percent, seafood by 21 percent and bread by 20 percent. Meat has remained fairly stable, rising by a modest 4 percent.
In January, the government decided to stop subsidizing the production of bread as budget-cutting measure. Officials said that would save the treasury around 7-8 billion tenge ($21 million) annually.
The government did decide, however, to continue spending around 1.5 billion tenge per year on containing the cost of the cheapest types of bread as a way to prevent hardship for the most economically vulnerable sections of the population.
The devaluation of the national currency has also made it punitively pricey for Kazakhstanis to travel abroad.
KTK TV channel reported that in March airline tickets went up by 11 percent and train tickets increased 6 percent.
Even getting sick is becoming unaffordable. The average cost of medicine has increased by 9.5 percent over the past month, KTK reported, citing official data.
Months after breaking off a long-standing deal with Russian companies to build two major hydropower projects, Kyrgyzstan has found a potential white knight in the form of a major Chinese investor.
Kyrgyzstan deputy Prime Minister Oleg Pankratov met with representatives of China’s State Power Investment Corporation on April 6 to discuss plan to build a cascade of four hydropower stations on the Naryn River. Collectively, the cascade is expected to generate around 4.6 billion kilowatt hours annually — more than either of the now-scotched Russian projects.
“We are carrying out work on a few projects to develop new generating capacities that will allow us, in the near future, to considerably increase the amount of power produced. This is of special importance, because energy consumption is growing every year that passes”, Pankratov was quoted as saying by KyrTag news agency.
An official for the state-owned electricity provider State Power Investment Corporation told Kyrgyz media that they have assessed the potential of the Central Asian nation’s hydropower potential and feel ready to begin work on building the 1,150 megawatt Kazarman hydropower cascade.
The terms of the deal are not yet known, however.
According to the company website, Beijing-based State Power Investment Corporation holds assets in hydropower, thermal and nuclear power and has registered capital of $7 billion and total assets worth $120 billion.
In January, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to cancel earlier hydropower construction deals with the Russian companies leading the projects, citing lack of progress in work.
City hall in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s commercial hub, is leading by example as it attempts to convert the city’s petrol-heads to eco-friendly bicycles.
Timur Bazarbaev, a besuited city hall official, took to two wheels for Almaty TV’s cameras on April 4, following Mayor Baurzhan Baybek’s call to officials in February to leave their cars at home and get on their bicycles to set an example for the good citizens of Almaty.
Bazarbaev recently started cycling to work after being inspired by his colleagues and getting fed up of sitting in Almaty’s notorious traffic jams.
“It’s a little bit hard,” he admitted to Almaty TV. “Our terrain is mountainous with many ups and downs, but overall I believe that it’s convenient, effective and useful.”
Cycling is increasing in popularity in Almaty, but the car still accounts for the majority of commutes.
In recent years, attempts have been made to unclog the city’s main thoroughfares by encouraging more journeys by bicycle. Since 2010 more than 30 kilometers of dedicated bicycle lanes have been laid in the city and Almaty has even introduced a bike share scheme similar to London’s Boris bikes.
In a bid to encourage more pedal power, on April 10 Almaty’s main streets will be turned over to cyclists with a mass cycle ride planned.
Tajikistan may be about to get a new day off if lawmakers get their way: President’s Day, or to be more exact, Leader of the Nation Day.
This is more personality cult-building in operation here, since the latter title was bestowed on President Emomali Rahmon only last year.
Asia Plus news website reported on April 6 that parliamentarians have already teed up the text for the required legislation.
There are a few candidate dates. One is November 19, the date in 1992 when Rahmon was appointed chairman of Tajikistan’s Supreme Council, one of the first formal steps taken toward him becoming president. Or it could be November 6, which was the date for the presidential elections in 1994, 1999, 2006 and 2013.
But since November 6 already marks Constitution Day, there is also the possibility that a compromise date of October 5 could be agreed upon. That is Rahmon’s birthday.
Ozodagon suggests another possibility: November 6, which marked the start of the 16th session of the Supreme Council of Tajikistan in 1992, which culminated in the historic decision on Rahmon’s chairmanship.
Member of parliament Abduhalim Gafforov told Ozodagon that deputies proposed calling the holiday President’s Day.
“But then again it would be better to call this day Leader’s Day, since there are also other kinds of presidents in other structures, like the Academy of Sciences, for example. But there is only one Leader of the Nation,” Gafforov said.
This is far from the first initiative in creating the burgeoning cult of personality around Rahmon. The last year has seen a particular intensification of this process.
While it is often noted that the citizens of Kazakhstan are averse to protesting, only the brave would try to meddle with their mobile phones.
Consider the case of mobile telephone provider ALTEL, which has been assailed by disgruntled subscribers in recent days over complaints that they reneged on agreements.
ALTEL, a daughter company of state-owned Kazakhtelecom, was the first mobile communications company to enter the market in Kazakhstan in 1994. In 2010, it was first to introduce 3G, and two years later it brought in the LTE standard, which is usually marketed under the 4G brand.
In November, the company announced it was set to merge with Swedish mobile services provider Tele2, which also has a presence on Kazakhstan’s market. According to a report by news website Informburo.kz, the merger would have created a single company with a 7 million-strong client base — ALTEL previously had 2 million subscribers. That would account for 20 percent of the mobile communications market in Kazakhstan. The new entity will also control more than 80 percent of Kazakhstan’s mobile Internet market.
But big is not always beautiful, as ALTEL customers have learned.
ALTEL’s main selling point was that it provided unlimited Internet packages, which proved hugely popular.
In a move that has angered many clients, however, ALTEL on April 4 announced that it was scrapping its unlimited 4G offers and that it would now provide a limited 30 gigabytes monthly. ALTEL has defended decision by stating that it was forced to take the decision because of the numerous complaints about low speeds.
For the first time in Tajikistan, mosque prayer leaders have been arraigned on terrorism charges.
The six people on trial are accused of membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization banned in Tajikistan.
This marks a departure from the norm since prayer leaders, or imam khatib, are more commonly targeted with charges of sexual molestation or even witchcraft.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service, Ozodi, reported on April 5 that the group was arrested in March and have since been in pre-trial detention. Authorities have declined to provide any further information, arguing that it could interfere with the course of investigations.
A lawyer for one of the accused told EurasiaNet.org that the men were detained at various locations around Sughd and that all of them were graduates of the Islamic University of Madinah, in Saudi Arabia.
“The detention of other imam khatibs and spiritual leaders belonging to this group is carrying on. At the moment, their detention has been sanctioned by the court and they are facing official charges,” the lawyer, Faizinniso Vohidova, told EurasiaNet.org.
Vohidova said that investigators argue that the group was recruited to the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1990s.
The Muslim Brotherhood was banned in Tajikistan in 2006 and declared a terrorist group. That created some discomfort in the period following the revolution in Egypt, when Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi was ushered into power through elections in 2012.
Despite implicitly considering Morsi the leader of a terrorist group, Tajikistan demurred from severing diplomatic relations with Egypt.
With nerves on the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border only now dissipating, authorities in Bishkek have embarked on the potentially foolhardy move of helping themselves to four Uzbek-owned resorts at a popular tourist destination.
Local media has been full of the news about embattled Prime Minister Temir Sariyev signing a government order to appropriate the resorts on Issyk-Kul lake on April 4.
The timing is awkward, although it could stand to help Sariyev out of a tight spot.
On March 26, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan pulled back troops from a disputed section of shared border, ending an uneasy week-long standoff sparked by the sudden deployment of Uzbek soldiers and military vehicles to the area.
On balance, it feels like Uzbekistan lost the battle of wits and nerves. It withdrew its forces first from the high-altitude territory without ever properly explaining what prompted it to mobilize its men in the first place.
Still, the episode did momentarily blow some wind into the beleaguered opposition’s sails, so Sariyev may be looking to shore up his position and exploit the patriotic card to forestall an expected vote of no-confidence in parliament.
By all appearances, this looks like an ill-conceived gambit. According to a report by Tazabek.kg, only one of the four resorts seems to be long-term leased to a commercial organization, while the other three were controlled by state-owned Uzbek entities.
The agreements underpinning the ownership of the resorts date back to the Soviet era, when power-brokers in Moscow decided to boost Issyk-Kul’s profile as a place of rest and therapeutic treatments.