Chronic shortages of gas for heating their homes and cooking meals have forced the residents of Andijan to hunt for firewood, uznews.net has reported.
With the cold winter and frequent power outages, people are even cutting down trees in a cemetery, says the news portal.
Uznews.net has regularly highlighted gas and electricity shortages in Uzbekistan this season. In a January 13 report, exiled Uzbek analyst Tashpulat Yuldashev writes that service interruptions have been become common for entire districts and cities. Lines have grown long at gasoline pumps due to shortages and some factories have halted production without diesel fuel or coal.
Uzbeks in the provinces have been scavenging everything they can find to use for fuel -- twigs, cotton stalks, dung, and lignite, says Yuldashev. The energy shortages have led to conflicts between angry customers and besieged authorities and even to attacks on utility workers. Some persistent protesters, fed up with shortages, debts and fines, have been jailed for short terms.
In response, authorities have reportedly arrested dozens of managers and punished engineers and inspectors in power companies for fraud. The energy shortages expose the invalidity of the government's claims to be over-fulfilling its energy plans.
Yuldashev says Uzbekistan’s state power companies suffer a host of problems from aging, inefficient infrastructure to poor management, which seemed to have worsened when Uzbekistan pulled out of Central Asia's Unified Energy System in 2009.
Tashkent's jitney drivers are refusing to cave to government pressure to register, uznews.net reports.
Uzbekistan's Cabinet of Ministers passed new legislation calling for all taxi drivers to obtain licenses, paint their cars ivory-colored, install meters and bank card machines, and place orange lights on the roof with the sign "taxi." They must also affix the familiar chessboard insignia on the sides of the car.
The illegal cabbies, known as bombily, have refused to comply with the new regulations, despite the threat of heavy fines of $115-230 for driving without a hack license.
Last spring, tax inspectors pretending to be regular passengers pulled sting operations on the jitney drivers, fining many.
Drivers interviewed by uznews.net said they were discouraged from working for companies that keep a hefty portion of their pay. Some complained about the heavy cost of licenses, repainting and installing credit card machines.
The new regulations have angered drivers who said they would be left without a livelihood, particularly in Andijan and other poor regions. Their threatened protests were enough to get officials to back down from enforcement for a time, says the Human Rights Alliance in an e-mail statement January 8.
Transportation officials are still determining what to charge per kilometer, says gazeta.uz
Mirjalil Abdullaev, a Tashkent transportation licensing official in the mayor's office said that with a population of one million people, the city should have 9,000 taxis. Currently, there are only about 1,500 licensed cabs, and unreliable estimates of anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 illegal drivers, he said.
The Turkmen presidential campaign has produced no surprises yet.
The cookie-cutter candidates running in opposition to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov all come from state controlled organizations or industries and are not straying from the incumbent's program.
Perhaps their purpose is to get a tiny bit out in front of the Turkmen leader so as to test which ideas are more feasible. For example, Rejep Bazarov, deputy head of the government in Dashoguz velayat (province) proposed that Turkmenistan curtail the practice of hand-picking cotton, and mechanize the harvest. He also wanted to increase manufacturing of products for export in the provinces.
Kakageldi Abdyllaev, head of a branch of Turkmengas has stumped for the building of the Trans-Caspian Pipeline. He believes energy demand from Europe will grow. "Our country will not regret efforts in this direction, since representatives of global oil and gas business have made offers of new projects and proposals in this direction," said Abdyllaev, not specifying which companies. He also called for pumping more gas to China, Iran and Russia, and moving ahead with the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline.
Ana Abayeva, a school-teacher in Ashgabat, attempted to run for president but her application was rejected by election officials, the Turkmen Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported. Abayeva was supported by the unregisterend non-governmental organization Civil Society Movement, so the lack of legal status disqualified her candidacy. A Justice Ministry official contacted by RFE/RL said that the NGO would first have to be registered itself.
Protester stopped by police near the presidential palace in Tashkent, 2003
Analysts generally agree that no Arab Spring is coming to Central Asia any time soon, despite similarly entrenched dictators and poverty. Current and former US officials; EU, American, Turkish and other experts have all weighed in with all the reasons why such upheavals are unlikely – particularly the lack of independent broadcasting, Internet, and social media.
But there is some evidence that the conversation about the Arab Spring is itself a bit of a catalyst and that lessons from the Middle East are being absorbed by authoritarian leaders and their subjects alike. There doesn't seem to be a way to independently and reliably poll public opinion in Uzbekistan about this now.
Meanwhile, the independent web site uznews.net interviewed a few prominent activists on the prospects of the Arab Spring in Central Asia.
Dilarom Ishakova, a Tashkent activist said she was disappointed that political prisoners were not released on the 20th anniversary of Uzbekistan's independence. Massive unrest as in the Arab world was unlikely, she said; the 2005 massacre in Andijan and the suppression of a popular uprising still had an effect: “The people are very intimidated."
Ruhiddin Kamilov, a Tashkent lawyer, said that an Arab Spring was hardly likely in Uzbekistan.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov used his considerable advantages -- total control over the media and all public organizations -- to announce his program in the essentially uncontested presidential elections on February 12.
"Speaking Cotton," a film by Stefanie Trambow and Erik Malchow, portrays the ongoing exploitation of children in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields, with interviews of children as young as 11. The repeated scenes of large groups of children with their teachers, hunched over plucking cotton bolls for months, let us know this isn't about family farming, but a state-sanctioned program.
NGOs such as the Uzbek-German Forum For Human Rights and the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan published numerous reports last fall exposing the persistent practice of removing children from school and forcing them to work long hours harvesting cotton.
Yet UNICEF has had a hard time publicly validating and condemning the practice, the most widespread form of child exploitation in Uzbekistan. The subject isn't mentioned on UNICEF's website for Uzbekistan, and you have to dig to the bottom of the last page of a thrice-yearly newsletter not available on the site to find a single paragraph on forced child labor in Uzbekistan:
The hallmark of Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s coming to power in 2007 was his opening of Internet cafes and restoration of the education system – these steps into the 21st century for his isolated Central Asian nation caused Westerners to become the most hopeful about change in Turkmenistan. In fact, the cafes came with soldiers and passport checks, and remained too expensive for most users.
Since that time, Internet penetration shot up, while remaining the lowest in Central Asia at 1.6 percent of the population, but then slowed to a plateau, and service grew far more expensive, facing many obstacles, even as other countries have found connection costs dropping.
In his campaign speech January 9, when Berdymukhamedov spoke of moving his country from the agrarian to the industrial stage, he meant that most Turkmens are outside of the oil and gas industry, eking out a living in agriculture or low-wage municipal jobs or jobless in poverty. As much as gas revenue is supposedly plowed into social development, there is little to show for it – new clinics and schools sit half empty with new equipment gathering dust because there aren’t enough trained people.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has used his considerable "administrative resources" -- i.e. his total control over state television -- to announce his program in the essentially uncontested presidential elections on February 12.
The Turkmen leader nevertheless took the faux-humble approach, saying that his statement was important "for me, with the heavy but noble burden to serve my people" and for Turkmens themselves "who have the opportunity to oversee all the facts of my promises today."
Turkmens actually don't have that opportunity, without free press, but it's interesting that the notion of public oversight has become urgent enough at least to simulate.
Berdymukhamedov then explained his campaign promise: "to turn Turkmenistan from a primarily agrarian country to an industrial power" -- a pledge that capturedthe headlines.
But there's some obvious questions lingering under all the president's invocations of the need to obtain the latest advanced technologies.
For one, what has Berdymukhamedov been doing for the last five years, if his country is still "primarily agrarian"? To be sure, he's proudly mentioned all the new factories built on his watch, but it's not clear how well they're producing or what percentage of state revenue they bring, given that statistics are either hidden or exaggerated.
More to the point, it's the gas and oil industry, not cotton or wheat that already make up the lion's share of Turkmenistan's GDP (a lot of which goes into the president's own account) -- making the president's emphasis on moving from nomadic pastoralism to farming a bit strange.
In his January 9 televised campaign speech, Berdymukhamedov repeatedly linked Turkmenistan’s economic development to a need to democratize the country’s political system. He even called "for the creation of new parties and the organizations of independent mass media," explaining that Turkmenistan would benefit from "parties that would consolidate the people, inspire the people to creative labor in the name of the further flourishing of our Motherland." There was a catch to his pronouncement, naturally. Democratization will not apply to his own presidential reelection bid on February 12.
Not surprisingly, state media reported January 11 that the country’s rubber-stamp Mejlis, or parliament, passed a law creating a hypothetical foundation for the formation of new political parties. With only a month before elections, though, there is not enough time for any potential political party to meet registration requirements and put forward a presidential candidate to challenge Berdymukhamedov. Under Turkmen law, candidates have until 25 days before elections to register.
Neitral'nyi Turkmenistan, the state Russian-language newspaper, now has an English-language supplement, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan (TDH) reported. It looks to be as propagandistic as the Russian edition, with "achievements and prospects of the modernization of the Turkmen fuel and energy sector" and a priority for "diversifying gas exports."
The health section of the new insert "spotlights the successes of the state health policy." There are predictable items on Avaza, the president's pet project to create a tourist zone on the Caspian sea coast; on the restored circus; and an ancient calender which is yet another achievement of the Turkmen people.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has now installed Viktor Zaitsev as editor-in-chief of Neitral'nyi Turkmenistan, turkmenistan.ru reports. His predecessor Vladimov Gurbanov, was dismissed last month without any explanation at the time.
Now the semi-official news site turkmenistan.ru reports that Gubanov, who is also chair of the Committee on Science, Education and Culture of the Mejlis (parliament) was released from his duties at the newspaper "in connection with an increase in his work load at the Mejlis."