Kazakhstan has issued a diplomatic call for restraint from its allies Russia and Turkey following Ankara’s shooting down of a Russian warplane involved in airstrikes on Syria.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement, issued the day after Turkey downed the Russian fighter jet, that the “tragic incident” on November 24 was cause for regret.
Both sides should exercise restraint and explore “all possible measures and channels of communication for the de-escalation of the situation,” Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry said.
The statement follows an ill-tempered war of words between Ankara and Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned what he called “a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists” and foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has canceled a planned trip to Ankara.
The standoff between two of Kazakhstan’s allies that have long been at loggerheads over Syria — with the Kremlin backing embattled incumbent Bashar al-Assad with airstrikes targeting rebels and Turkey’s Recep Erdogan seeking his overthrow and backing the militants — is uncomfortable for President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Kazakhstan is a staunch ally of Russia and a fellow member of the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union, but also has a close partnership with Turkey and is a fellow member of the Ankara-led Turkic Council.
Turkey’s links with Turkic peoples have played a role in the controversy, as the fighter jet crashed in an area of Syria inhabited by ethnic Turkmen, some of whom are believed to be Ankara-backed rebels.
Astana was careful not to apportion blame for the shooting down of the aircraft, in which one pilot died and the other was rescued by Russian special forces.
A court in Kyrgyzstan has doubled the prison sentence handed down to a popular imam who was earlier this year found guilty of inciting religious hatred and distributing extremist material.
Rights advocacy group Bir Duino said Osh provincial court on November 24 increased Rashot Kamalov’s punishment to 10 years in a high-security facility. A local court in the southern town of Kara-Suu, where Kamalov served as imam of As-Sarakhsi mosque, passed a five-year sentence in October.
The harsher sentence appears to have been by motivated the Osh court’s decision to restore a charge of abuse of office dropped in earlier proceedings.
Lawyers for Kamalov have said they will pursue a further appeal in the Supreme Court.
The severity of the punishment is bound to fan discontent among Kamalov’s numerous supporters in Kara-Suu. The imam’s trial, which lawyers complained was marred by numerous irregularities, was loyally attended by Kamalov’s most devoted parishioners.
The imam was arrested on February 9 following a raid on his home by armed special operations forces. Police found a disk during their search that contained a video recording of a sermon delivered by Kamalov at the As-Sarakhsi Mosque during Friday prayers on July 4, 2014.
Prosecutors have argued that Kamalov’s references to the caliphate in his sermons constituted support for the activities of radical and violent Islamists in the Middle East.
An unknown number of people from Kyrgyzstan, including from Kara-Suu, are said to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the ranks of radical Islamist groups fighting there.
Despite an absence of transparent and convincing evidence that the Islamic State group is actively establishing a presence in Kyrgyzstan, authorities have been eager to claim that the terrorist organization has made inroads.
As the economy sputters in Kazakhstan, the government has been forced into a review of the ambitious and costly infrastructure projects it had hoped would prove a tonic for growth.
Providing a fresh and sobering update, economy minister Yerbolat Dosayev told a meeting of the Cabinet on November 18 that it is now expected the economy will grow by 1.2 percent in 2015, down from the earlier forecast of 1.5 percent.
A spike in inflation is also expected as a result of the plunging value of the national currency, the tenge, Dosayev said in remarks quoted by Tengri News. The tenge has fallen by nearly 40 percent against the dollar since the move to a free float in August.
The inflation forecast has been increased to 8-10 percent from the previous expectation of 6-8 percent, Dosayev said.
Kazakhstan’s exports fell by 42 percent in the first nine months of this year, Total.kz quoted Dosayev as saying.
With President Nursultan Nazarbayev ordering belt-tightening to combat the revenue squeeze, Prime Minister Karim Masimov has ordered a review of the vast Nurly Zhol stimulus program, which was approved last year.
All regional governors are to review projects planned under the Nurly Zhol (Bright Path) strategy, Kazinform reported on November 23. Aset Isekeshev, the minister for industry and development, is to report back to the Cabinet with revised plans by March 1.
Almost inevitably, a group of deputies in Tajikistan has proposed a draft bill to designate President Emomali Rahmon the “leader of the nation.”
Nothing is known yet about what specific additional powers the honorific might endow on Rahmon, but the proposal fits into a broader pattern of state-sponsored adulation of the president.
Asia-Plus reported that the legislation to create the title — the full name of which is “Founder of Peace and Harmony: Leader of the Nation” — is being studied at committee stage in parliament. Since 51 out of the 63 seats in parliament are held by the ruling People’s Democratic Party, there can be little doubt how that is going to pan out.
Perhaps the only surprising aspect of this proposal is that is has not come earlier. Rahmon’s portraits are a ubiquitous sight across the country and power has been increasingly consolidated in his hands with the elimination of all political opponents.
Central Asia is familiar with such personalized styles of leadership.
Under legislation approved in 2010, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev was named “Leader of the Nation,” a title that gave him and his family lifelong immunity and bestowed Nazarbayev with the right to intervene in policy-making following his retirement.
Rahmon’s elevation to the made-up leader of the nation status may in part be designed to do away with the legalities technically limiting his right to seek reelection in perpetuity.
Even supporters of the president concede that Rahmon would not be permitted to run again once his current seven-year term runs out in 2020.
Security services in Kazakhstan’s capital recently foiled a major terrorist conspiracy, city mayor Adilbek Dzhaksybekov has claimed.
He gave no details of the alleged terrorist plot beyond that it was thwarted four months ago, or in the summer.
“Anti-terror questions are now coming to the fore,” Dzhaksybekov told a law-enforcement meeting in Astana. “The National Security Committee uncovered, literally four months ago, a major clandestine and well-equipped group which was planning terrorist acts in Astana.”
In recent months city residents have reported no evidence of heightened security in Astana, where security is not particularly tight and residents can stroll freely quite close to government buildings on the Left Bank.
Dzhaksybekov spoke of the need to be vigilant in preventing acts of terrorism following this month’s attacks in Paris.
Kazakhstan has not witnessed any major terrorist attacks. It experienced its first suicide bombing in 2011, and that year and the next year the country saw a series of low-level, mainly botched explosions and attacks on law-enforcement officers in which scores – mostly alleged extremists and members of the security forces - died.
In the most serious incident, seven people were killed when a gunman went on a rampage in the southern city of Taraz in 2011.
Tajikistan has met its quota for the fall military conscription drive 10 days ahead of time this year, state news agency Khovar reported on November 20.
If true, it is a remarkable achievement for a country where so many able-bodied young men have left for overseas in search of work.
This year’s conscript recruitment drive was tinged with bloodshed after two officers with the military mobilization office were killed after being attacked in the capital, Dushanbe, early November 7. Two men have been arrested on suspicion of committing the killings, although authorities have said they still are uncertain over the motive. Investigators said after the incident that the killings were not linked to recruitment drive, although since the two suspects are unemployed and of conscription age, it seems possible that assertion may need to be revisited.
Khovar said the first provinces to meet the quota were Khatlon and Gorno-Badakhshan, followed by Dushanbe, the Sughd province and finally the Districts of Republican Subordination, an area that surrounds Dushanbe.
The two month-long fall military enlistment season had been due to end on November 30. Male adults aged 18 to 27 are eligible for call-up, which boosts the ranks of the military by up to 16,000 draftees every year, according to Defense Ministry figures.
As Khovar notes, there are 600,000 people of eligible age, but 150,000 are exempt for various reasons, while another 100,000 are working abroad. It is unclear though if that larger figure also includes those that have already done their service. The figure for the number of people living abroad may strike some as seeming surprisingly low. An exact calculation on that is difficult as many young men travel to Russia for work without going through much of the necessary bureaucratic procedures.
In a grisly epilogue to the major Kyrgyzstan prison break earlier this year, the former director of the jail was found hanged on November 20.
Imankul Teltayev’s body was discovered in the medical ward of the detention facility where he was awaiting trial for dereliction of duty, the prison service said in a statement.
According to the government account, on the night of October 11, nine inmates at the prison run by Teltayev overpowered guards and made their escape. Three guards were said to been killed during the breakout, and another to have died of his injuries some days later.
Five of the men were captured almost immediately and again incarcerated. Within ten days, three of them had died in strange circumstances. Of the four that got away, three were eventually tracked down and killed. Only one from that group remains alive.
Teltayev was taken into custody on November 11 as investigations proceeded into his role in the breakout.
The prison service said he complained of ill-health shortly thereafter.
“After arrival at the detention facility, he complained about the state of his health and he was placed in a medical ward. He was kept there alone,” the prison service said in its brief statement.
24.kg news website cited a prisons official as saying that they believed Teltayev had succumbed to a nervous breakdown and hanged himself with a sheet.
“There is information that he attempted suicide four years ago, when they fired him the first time,” the unnamed official told 24.kg.
Prime Minister Temir Sariyev met with the head of the prison service to discuss the alleged suicide and to demand a thorough and swift investigation.
A group of students from Tajikistan’s universities — not known to be hotbeds of political activity — are purportedly up in arms that Western governments will not deport wanted members of the opposition.
For all the claimed wide-scale anger, however, demonstrations in front of the U.S. and German embassies on November 19 managed to draw only a handful of young people.
In October, a petition was started up at the Tajik National University demanding the extradition of prominent critics of the government currently based abroad. Backers of the petition, which has called for countries hosting Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) leader Mukhiddin Kabiri, the head of the Vatandor opposition movement, Dodojon Atovulloyev, and former Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdullajanov to be handed over, say they have got signatures of support from 400 students across multiple universities.
That enthusiasm was decidedly absent at the pickets, to which nobody thought to bring banners or placards.
The appeals were submitted to legislators in the United States, Germany, and the European Union, and, on somewhat spurious grounds, to the University of Heidelberg in Germany, according to organizers of the initiative.
“Kabiri spoke at Heidelberg University and criticized the policies of Tajikistan’s government,” explained picket organizer Asliddin Khushvakhtov.
The IRPT was a vaguely tolerated nominal opposition force until this summer, but authorities seized on the opportunity of what it claimed was an uprising by disaffected former defense minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda to finally crush the party. Prosecutors claimed the party was involved in the alleged revolt and designated it a terrorist organization.
Khushvakhtov was eager to recite the government’s line on the IRPT.
A man has been jailed on charges of promoting separatism in Kazakhstan — the first time someone has been thrown behind bars for a crime introduced last year, while separatist conflict raged in Ukraine.
The resident of the northern town of Ridder, a stone’s throw from Kazakhstan’s long border with Russia, received a five-year prison sentence for his activities on a social networking website, the Total.kz reports.
Igor Sychev, 26, was found guilty of propagating separatism over an online poll he published in spring quizzing the residents of Ridder on their views of whether their province, East Kazakhstan Region, should secede and join Russia.
The poll was published on the Heard in Ridder forum on Russian social networking site VKontakte, of which Sychev was administrator.
“I did not create the poll, and after there was a complaint the poll was removed,” Total.kz quoted Sychev as saying after the verdict was delivered on November 18.
“I have never engaged nor do I engage in any separatist activity,” added Sychev, who said his “illegal” trial had been conducted “for show.”
Sychev was convicted under a clause criminalizing calls for separatism that was hurriedly inserted into a new version of the criminal code passed last year. The crime carries a maximum 10-year jail term.
As many commentators pointed out at the time, pro-Russian activists fomenting violence in eastern Ukrainian cities like Donetsk and Luhansk could not fail to arouse consternation in Kazakhstan.
Members of the public in Kazakhstan have taken to stripping off and hitting the streets for bets and laughs — and to take showers.
The craze was sparked by a man who walked naked through the city of Oskemen in north-eastern Kazakhstan earlier this month for a bet.
The unidentified young man won the bet with a casual stroll down a main street in the city on November 11 — but ended up in jail for his pains, all for a pair of boots.
“My boots were torn, and I needed some new ones,” he explained to the YK-local news website on November 13, speaking under the pseudonym Adil.
“I was chatting to some friends, and we were talking about shoes. And we had a bet. The conditions were that if I walked naked through the street, they would buy me some boots. If I chickened out, I would have to do something worse.”
He refused to elaborate on what that was, as it was “a secret.”
Adil won a pair of $60 boots from the bet, but the police were not amused.
He was arrested and jailed for 15 days on hooliganism charges on November 17.