The Kumtor mine has produced over 270 tons of gold since operations began in the mid-1990s.
Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted overwhelmingly on October 23 not to accept a deal with Canada’s Centerra Gold, leaving the fate of the country’s only significant industrial asset, and the one-year-old government, uncertain yet again.
Eighty-four deputies voted to scrap a September 10 memorandum between the government and the Toronto-listed company that would increase Kyrgyzstan’s stake in the high-altitude Kumtor gold mine from roughly 33 percent to an even 50 percent. Two deputies voted to support the memorandum.
Later in the day, parliament demanded the government negotiate no less than a 67-percent share in the mine. That resolution also instructed the General Prosecutor’s office to open criminal cases connected with earlier iterations of the operating agreement, dating from 2003.
Earlier this year parliament demanded the government renegotiate a 2009 agreement with Centerra. The ongoing negotiations are the fourth since the mine began operations in the mid-1990s, which helps explain why a Canadian think-tank this year ranked Kyrgyzstan the world’s fifth-worst place to invest in mining. The government now has until December 23 to broker a deal. Should the two parties fail to agree, deputies vowed to break unilaterally the 2009 operating agreement. Since Kyrgyzstan does not have the cash to buy Centerra out, that move would likely look a lot like expropriation.
In the latest assault on foreign miners operating in Kyrgyzstan, an angry crowd has attacked an Australian-run gold exploration project in the south. The company says the attack looks related to the ongoing wave of violence against foreign mining outfits in the Central Asian country.
A group of about 200 protestors attacked the offices of Australian-listed Manas Resources’ local subsidiary, Z-Explorer, at the Shambesai gold field in Batken Province on October 18, Reuters reported.
A company representative told Reuters that the angry crowd met a bulldozer on its way to the deposit, which the company discovered in 2010. The crowd then ransacked the company’s local office, “looting computers and other equipment, and burning seized documents,” Reuters quoted the representative as saying.
The company reported only “minor damage” in an October 21 statement: “A group of activists … disturbed what was initially a peaceful negotiation regarding site works. This group is likely to be affiliated with groups that have protested against mining elsewhere in the country. As a result of the activists intervening, a larger crowd gathered, blocked site access and some minor damage was recorded at the community liaison office.”
A local official also downplayed the attack. “The protesters came to the company's office, but they did not set fire to it. They only burned some papers," the head of the district, Akram Madumarov, told the 24.kg news agency.
Tajikistan’s presidential race just got a lot less interesting.
The only serious opposition candidate for the November election says she has failed to register. Oynihol Bobonazarova, a human rights activist, says authorities made it impossible for her to gather the required number of signatures to enroll as a candidate.
Bobonazarova, the candidate for the Union of Reformist Forces, had previously accused police of interfering in her campaign and harassing supporters who were trying to collect signatures. She said this morning she collected just over 201,000 signatures; the Central Election Commission requires 210,000.
"My opponent was not only [incumbent strongman Emomali] Rakhmon, but the whole state machine," Bobonazarova said at a news conference October 11, Asia-Plus reported. She added that government officials even tried to prevent her from getting the necessary stationary: “I didn’t think there would be so many obstacles and difficulties” to collecting signatures.
Six other candidates, including Rakhmon, have registered. Several are from so-called “pocket opposition” parties designed to bestow on the exercise the image of plurality, but which are loyal to the president.
Bobonazarova’s candidacy had excited the urban, online intelligentsia. She was the surprise choice of the two main opposition parties – the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and the Social Democratic Party – which have failed to inspire, and overcome relentless government-backed smear campaigns, in recent elections. Besides being a female candidate in a conservative country, Bobonazarova came with bona fide activist credentials, untainted by business dealings or a flashy past.
It may be just an accident: the consequence, for example, of aging infrastructure. But a derailed troop train from Tajikistan passing through rival Uzbekistan is likely to draw scrutiny.
The train carrying almost 300 passengers en route from Dushanbe to northern Tajikistan slipped off the tracks early October 10 in Uzbekistan’s Jizzakh Region, injuring several dozen people, most of them conscripts, Asia-Plus reported. Radio Ozodi reported 52 injuries. There are no reports of fatalities.
Asia-Plus said there were about 200 recruits and several officers on board.
No rail lines connect Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, with northern Sughd Province, which is in the Fergana Valley, forcing all train traffic to pass through Uzbekistan. This arrangement worked fine until the late 1980s, when both countries were constituent republics of the Soviet Union. But today the two independent countries barely speak. Uzbekistan is vehemently opposed to Tajikistan’s plans to build a giant hydropower plan upstream, fearing it will give Dushanbe economic leverage and control over the region’s limited water resources. Uzbekistan's president has said it could lead to war. Tashkent often looks like it is trying to blockade isolated Tajikistan – closing borders, halting freight, turning off gas supplies – in apparent attempts to prevent construction at Rogun.
NATO logistics officers dependent on Uzbekistan’s rail network to haul supplies out of Afghanistan are likely to take notice.
When Turkish Airlines started transiting through Bishkek on its new thrice-weekly flights from Istanbul to Ulaanbaatar in mid-2012, the move was hailed in Kyrgyzstan as the start of a transition to a “civilian transit hub” that would replace the controversial American airbase at Manas International Airport.
The governor of Kyrgyzstan’s Issyk-Kul Province was taken hostage for several hours on October 7 in the latest bout of unrest related to a controversial, Canadian-owned gold mine. Hundreds of protestors, including some on horseback, continued to clash with police late in the evening.
Protestors grabbed Emil Kaptagaev, who has been governor only since a summer shakeup that followed violent riots outside the nearby mine in May, and stuffed him into a car. Some reports said the rioters wanted to nationalize the mine, Kumtor; others said they wanted the government’s stake in any future deal to be no less than 70 percent.
Kaptagaev was released around 7 p.m. local time amid unconfirmed reports he had been drenched in gasoline and threatened with matches.
Several hours later, protests flared up again, with police reportedly employing stun grenades and tear gas in failed attempts to disperse rioters throwing rocks and pouring petrol on the road, according to Kloop.kg.
A press officer for the local police told Kloop.kg earlier in the day that the protestors were supporters of Bakhtiar Kurmanov and Ermek Dzhunushbaev, who were arrested last month for allegedly trying to extort $3 million from Kumtor.
Few in Bishkek believe protests like this happen spontaneously. Instead, they are often attributed to criminal gangs or politicians trying to extort money from the mine, the largest legitimate business in Kyrgyzstan. In a good year Kumtor accounts for 12 percent of GDP and half of industrial output.
One of the biggest businessmen operating in Tajikistan’s capital has admitted he’s been laundering Iranian oil money for years.
In August, EurasiaNet.org highlighted the Tajik wing of Iranian businessman Babak Zanjani’s transcontinental financial empire. The US Treasury had frozen Zanjani’s accounts earlier this year for allegedly helping Iran sell its oil, despite international sanctions. The EU has blacklisted him for the same. Now, under pressure at home, he says that’s exactly what he’s been doing all along, the New York Times reports, referencing an interview with the weekly Aseman magazine.
Beginning in 2010, Mr. Zanjani, who declined to be interviewed for this article, told the magazine and, in a separate meeting, the semiofficial Iranian Students’ News Agency that he used a spider web of 64 companies in Dubai, Turkey and Malaysia to sell millions of barrels of oil, earning $17.5 billion in desperately needed foreign exchange for Iran’s Oil Ministry, Revolutionary Guards and central bank.
“The central bank was running out of money,” he said in the Aseman interview, published last week. In 2010, “they asked me to bring their oil money into Iran so the system could use it,” Mr. Zanjani said of Iran’s political establishment. “So that is what I did.” […]
“This is what I do — antisanctions operations,” Mr. Zanjani said. “I am a businessman who has done his job well. Since I was placed under sanctions they haven’t managed to sell even three million barrels of oil.”
The World Bank released summaries of the first two studies in a series of long-awaited reports on Tajikistan’s controversial Rogun hydropower dam this week. Prepared by French consultancy Coyne et Bellier, the technical assessments are designed to help Tajikistan make informed engineering decisions about the complicated project.
Depending on how you read the carefully worded reports, which have been reviewed by Tajik officials, they could be seen as a victory for either Tajikistan or downstream Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is vehemently opposed to the project, arguing that it is not safe and that it will give Tajikistan unfair control over water resources. President Islam Karimov has even said that such a project could lead to war.
Yet the reports also allow Tajik officials to argue that everything is under control, that the consultants outlined necessary, but manageable repairs.
For certain, the reports recommend what sounds like a lot of repairs to previously built structures, and expensive-sounding mitigation efforts to address an underground threat.
Kyrgyzstan’s government is working overtime to convince legislators and the public that a preliminary restructuring deal involving the country’s largest foreign investor is in the state’s best interests. But parliament’s governing coalition is balking at signing off on the deal.
Georgian soldiers disembark at the Manas Transit Center, in Kyrgyzstan, after a charter flight from Tbilisi. They will spend about two days at the airbase before deploying to Afghanistan on a US Air Force jet. With over 1,500 soldiers on the ground, Georgia is the largest non-NATO contributor to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.