Two weeks after he took the oath of office, President Almazbek Atambayev’s party has formed a new parliamentary coalition, casting a bloc of lawmakers perceived as representing Kyrgyzstan’s south into the opposition.
Atambayev’s Social Democrats (SDPK) united with parties Respublika, Ata-Meken, and Ar-Namys on December 16. The group has suggested SDPK’s Asylbek Zheenbekov as speaker and Omurbek Babanov of Respublika as prime minister. The latter will surely be controversial, as Babanov – who was first deputy prime minister when Atambayev was premier – figures prominently in widespread rumors of high-level corruption.
In the new coalition, SDPK has attempted to address the fractiousness that undermined its previous coalition with Ata-Jurt and Respublika by insisting on a formal agreement that forbids members of the coalition who hold official posts from criticizing its policies.
The agreement also specifies that the speaker of the parliament will be subject to re-vote each year, a measure that a number of deputies have argued is intended to weaken the post and diminish parliament’s independence from the executive – a capstone achievement of the 2010 constitution.
While the coalition – which includes 92 of 120 deputies – may bring some stability to an often-fractious parliament, it threatens to highlight Kyrgyzstan’s salient regional divide.
The military spending bill passed this week by Congress includes a provision calling on the U.S. to "normalize" military relations with Georgia, including the sale of weapons. The timing of the bill (which still has to be signed by President Obama) is provocative, coming as U.S.-Russia relations have been going through a rough spell and the Kremlin accused Georgia of harboring anti-Russian terrorists on its soil. Meanwhile, things seem to have been going Georgia's way; in addition to this news, the U.S. and NATO have noted "significant progress" in Georgia's NATO accession process, and NATO officially designated Georgia as an "aspirant" country for the first time.
The bill (pdf) includes a section 1242 (full text below) on Georgia, which calls on the Secretaries of Defense and State to develop a plan within 90 days "for the normalization of United States defense cooperation with the Republic of Georgia, including the sale of defensive arms." It also calls on NATO and NATO candidate countries "to restore and enhance their sales of defensive articles and services to the Republic of Georgia as part of a broader NATO effort to deepen its defense relationship and cooperation with the Republic of Georgia."
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has imposed a state of emergency on the troubled western town of Zhanaozen, scene of violent clashes between protestors and police during December 16 Independence Day celebrations in which 11 people died.
Under the 20-day state of emergency, rallies, protests, and strikes are prohibited; freedom of movement within the oil town of Zhanaozen, and into and out of it, is restricted.
Although a government investigation commission has just begun work, Nazarbayev absolved the police and blamed the “criminal actions” of protestors for the violence.
Interior Minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov earlier said the clashes were provoked by former staff members of the OzenMunayGaz company who were dismissed over the summer for striking.
However, the president expressed doubt about that version, saying that “the oil workers’ industrial dispute must not be mixed up with the actions of bandit elements which wanted to use the situation for their criminal designs.”
A Turkmen delegation was received at the State Department and the Library of Congress to discuss bilateral cooperation and further exchanges. A musical program included the ghidjak, a traditional stringed instrument with a bow similar to a violin’s, and the dutar, a two-stringed lute.
The Turkmen government saw the program as an opportunity to show off President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's role in preserving culture, and the US was hoping to familiarize the American public with the art of a country most could not find on a map, although it is increasingly important to American geopolitical interests. State Department writers helped the cause by describing the art scene in Turkmenistan as “reinvigorated”.
Turkmen theater and film director Annageldi Garajayev said Turkmenistan’s policy of "arts revival" involves new facilities for theater and is “creating opportunities.” He cited "new arts festivals, two new concert and cinema series, an opera revival, a successful Turkmen chamber orchestra and two new television channels devoted to culture."
The University of Maryland organized a meeting for the visiting Turkmen "cultural workers," as the Turkmen state media dubbed them, using the old Soviet phrase, and the Meridian International Center hosted an exhibition of Turkmen art,
Ten people have died in an Independence Day clash between protestors and police in the town of Zhanaozen in Kazakhstan’s energy-rich west, the General-Prosecutor's Office has confirmed.
The fatal confrontation is sending shockwaves through Kazakhstan, where major protests are rare, and bringing to mind unfortunate parallels as the country prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of the violent suppression of the Zheltoksan (December) uprising by Soviet security forces in 1986.
“According to preliminary information, as a result of mass unrest 10 people died, and there are injured, including police officers,” the prosecutor’s office said, indicating that the death toll may rise further. It blamed the unrest on the “criminal actions” of a “group of people engaging in hooliganism.”
That comment sparked further comparisons with the Zheltoksan uprising in the then capital of Soviet Kazakhstan, Alma-Ata (now Almaty): it was initially blamed by Soviet authorities on hooligans, before being recognized – after independence – as a harbinger of Kazakhstan’s sovereignty.
Today’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev was prime minister of Soviet Kazakhstan at the time when the Zheltoksan protest was brutally suppressed. Twenty-five years on, protestors in Zhanaozen rioted and set fire to the local government headquarters and the administration building of the OzenMunayGaz company that has been at the center of an energy sector protest ongoing since May, the prosecutor’s office said.
That industrial dispute, which centers on take-home pay and working conditions, has led to the dismissals of at least 2,000 staff, who have used Zhanaozen’s main square (the site of this Independence Day violence) as a focal point for protest over the last seven months.
Violence in a town in Kazakhstan's energy-rich west has spoiled the December 16 Independence Day party that Astana has been billing as a celebration of the country’s success and achievements since it declared independence from the Soviet Union two decades ago.
Kazakhstan’s General-Prosecutor’s Office acknowledged in a statement that the two law-enforcement officers had been injured in “mass unrest,” which it blamed on “the criminal actions of a group of people.”
The prosecutor’s office said Independence Day celebrations planned on the town’s main square, which has also been the focal point of the energy sector protest, were disrupted. Video from the private K-Plus TV channel posted on YouTube showed a crowd rampaging across the square, hurling PA systems to the ground and chasing a police officer off the stage.
It was not clear whether those involved were linked to the energy sector protest or had another goal. Some observers in Kazakhstan suggested that the incident may have been a provocation aimed at instigating violence to discredit President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his administration.
Meanwhile, activists in Kazakhstan suggested – without offering credible substantiation – that there had been fatalities, citing figures ranging from five to as many as 70 people.
Straight out of a Soviet playbook: "Every Kazakhstani must be provided with the opportunity to participate in the country's large-scale industrialization."
Kazakhstan is greeting Independence Day in style on December 16, with a riot of celebrations to mark this year's special anniversary—20 years since the oil-rich Central Asian nation was propelled into statehood as the Soviet Union collapsed around it.
As befits a special occasion in a country that knows how to throw a party, festivities are on a grand scale. New facilities are being opened across the country. The grandest of all is an arch reminiscent of Paris's Arc de Triomphe that President Nursultan Nazarbayev opened in Astana today. Standing 20 meters tall to represent the symbolic anniversary, the arch, called Infinity Land, is being billed as a symbol of Kazakhstan's statehood.
More symbolically, Almaty has also gained a gigantic statue of none other than the president himself, who – according to the spin emanating from Astana – has spent the last two decades singlehandedly steering Kazakhstan into statehood.
Nazarbayev has received an “endless flow” of congratulations from his adoring public, his press service reported, and “the letters’ authors link all the country’s achievements” with their president.
Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov bowing to the Koran during his presidential inauguration, February 16, 2007.
Orchestrating Turkmenistan's sole state-controlled party, government-organized social movements, and labor unions as well as loyal elders and officials, President Berdymukhamedov has nominated himself as president for elections to take place February 12, 2012.
No other candidate has appeared on the scene.
At a ceremony December 15, the Turkmen leader wheeled out the state's lone Democratic Party as well as the state-run labor, women, youth and war veterans' organizations to applaud his candidacy, the opposition website gundogar.org reported, citing the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
Merd Ishangulyyev, a pensioner and local town elder, stepped forward to formally make the nomination, unanimously supported by all the other loyalists at the meeting. With every major state-controlled organization now behind the president, it's difficult to understand how even symbolically, other candidates might emerge. Any potential rivals would still theoretically have a chance if a local initiative group of citizens were formed under the law, then registered at the discretion of local officials, and finally allowed to meet -- with everyone at the meeting showing their passports.
In the 2007 elections that brought Berdymukhamedov to power, several docile alternative candidates were permitted to run as candidates. Their purpose seemed to be to articulate themes for the carefully-controlled state media previewing Berdymukhamedov's eventual reforms in agriculture, education, and health care.
But so far, not even those kind of puppet candidates have emerged.
Russia's Secretary of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushev claimed that Georgia is harboring anti-Russia terrorists, in an interview with the newspaper Argumenty i Fakty on Wednesday:
“The multi-ethnic peoples of Russia and Georgia are inextricably tied to each other. Saakashvili is carrying out a policy that is far from the interests of the Georgian people. More and more Georgian soldiers are being sent to take part in combat operations abroad [in ISAF operation in Afghanistan]. Training of individuals for carrying out terrorist acts in Russia is conducted on the territory of Georgia”, Patrushev said.
To some observers, the timing of that statement is suspicious, coming just days after the huge protests that have made the Russian government look vulnerable for the first time since Vladimir Putin took power in 2000. The Georgian government-run PIK-TV suggested that Patrushev's comments were meant to distract people from internal issues and rally around the central government. Their video report is in Russian, but helpfully subtitled in English. They interview Giorgi Baramidze, minister for Euro-Atlantic integration:
“Unfortunately it is not the first stupid and groundless statement that the Russian government has made. It is likely to have been caused by the intensified tension in its internal politics.”
And Alexey Malashenko, of the Carnegie Moscow Center:
Members of the European Parliament voted this morning 603-8 to send the textile protocol to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) between the European Union and Uzbekistan back to the European Commission.
In the text of the resolution, the European parliamentarians "[s]trongly condemn the use of forced child labour in Uzbekistan" and "[u]rge the Uzbek President Islam Karimov to allow an ILO monitoring mission into the country to address the issue of forced child labour practice."
The MEPs further specify support for the ILO's request for "a high-level tripartite observer mission that would have full freedom of movement and timely access to all locations and relevant parties, including in the cotton fields, in order to assess the implementation of the ILO Convention."
Finally, evidently mindful of how such missions to closed societies run by authoritarian regimes can be manipulated and sidetracked, the parliamentarians spell out further conditions:
Concludes that Parliament will only consider the consent if the ILO observers, have been granted access by the Uzbek authorities to undertake close and unhindered monitoring and have confirmed that concrete reforms have been implemented and yielded substantial results in such a way that the practice of forced labour and child labour is effectively in the process of being eradicated at national, viloyat and local level.