Although Turks have shown an incredible level of unity in the wake of Sunday's devastating 7.2-magnitude earthquake in the east's Lake Van region, it was probably inevitable that politics would soon start working their way into the story, especially since the the quake's epicenter was also right in the heart of a predominantly Kurdish area.
Many of the municipalities in the area, for example, are run by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which in the last few years has been engaged in a bitter fight with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to win votes in Turkey's mostly-Kurdish southeast. The fight appears to be continuing. Speaking in parliament yesterday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while admitting that the government failed to properly deliver aid and relief in the first 24 hours after the earthquake, also took a dig at the BDP. From a report in Today's Zaman:
[Erdogan] also criticized the lack of coordination in aid distribution in spite of large amounts of supplies being sent to the disaster area. “The İstanbul Municipality can reach out to Van, the municipalities of Bursa, Ankara and Erzurum can reach out to Van, but the municipalities in that region fail to reach out to an area that is right next to them,” in apparent criticism of Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) municipalities. “Those who are able to organize people to throw stones at police and soldiers, vandalizing the streets, throwing Molotov cocktails, you see, are nowhere to be seen in the hour of disaster.”
The strange case of the Armenian-Moldovan-Libyan-Latvian arms deal has reached a sort of conclusion: Moldova's ambassador to Baku has apologized for the deal, reports News.az:
'Those responsible for arms sale have been called to the Security Committee of Moldova and commission for security issues of the parliament and brought to responsibility. Though no sanctions have been applied in Moldova related to arms sales to any country, it was politically incorrect to sell arms to Armenia. We will try not to tolerate such cases anymore', the ambassador said.
That's some pretty serious groveling. At least from the official Azerbaijani perspective, relations between them and Moldova are not all that strong, with just $1 million in trade: "The products imported into Moldova from Azerbaijan were natural juice and medicines." They do have a common cause as countries with territories occupied by another country. But there is likely some nuance to Moldovan-Azerbaijan relations I'm missing, that would explain why it is so "politically incorrect" to sell arms to their neighbor. Anyone with the answer, let me know.
Emomali Rakhmon likes dazzling figures: the height of Tajikistan’s newest flagpole; the record-breaking weight of the latest cotton harvest; and the number of small hydroelectric power projects popping up around his country.
Last month, the Tajik president boasted that 250 small- and medium-sized hydropower plants have opened “in recent years” and another 190 are on their way, the state-run Khovar news agency quoted him as saying. In fact, 23 have been built so far in 2011, according to government figures released last week.
These figures may help ease the pain of earlier-than-normal electricity rationing. In September, authorities announced rolling blackouts, not only for remote areas, but also for Dushanbe, the capital. The blackouts are common in winter, when water levels drop in rivers, leaving some areas with only 2-4 hours of electricity per day. But they usually start in October or November.
While the American-led military effort in Afghanistan grinds on, the culinary choices for soldiers in the country (at least those on the larger military bases) appear to be improving. The AFP recently took a look at what the American military is cooking up these days, which is actually quite impressive. From the AFP's article:
Steak, lobster and guacamole might not spring to mind as war rations, but the larger US bases in Afghanistan have an impressive array of "chow" to fuel their troops for the fight.
At Forward Operating Base Fenty in the country's east, soldiers can choose from a well-stocked salad bar, make their own bagel sandwich and try speciality feasts such as Mongolian barbecues and Mexican meals with all the trimmings.
"It's a very exotic collection of pre-packaged food," said Sergeant Jonathan Arthur, who -- perhaps overwhelmed by choice -- tucked into an eclectic lunch of burger, samosas, bacon, vegetables and grapes.
They may be thousands of miles away but there is plenty to remind the forces of home, from packets of beef jerky and Otis Spunkmeyer muffins to full American breakfasts served up by the subcontracted kitchen team.
Friday's "surf'n'turf" was a favourite with some troops, although others turned their noses up at the "frozen" seafood offerings and were more excited about pizza night in the dining facility, known as the DFAC or "chow hall".
"They do a good job actually, they really do, and they have a good variety so I really can't complain," said Lieutenant Colonel Mary Newman in the airforce combat stress team, who was partial to the cookies'n'cream ice-cream.
General Stanley McChrystal banned fast-food outlets as unseemly for a war zone while serving as US commander in Afghanistan, but General David Petraeus reversed that decision after taking over when McChrystal was sacked in 2010.
And if Baku can make it there, it can make it anywhere . . . that's the tune Azerbaijani media are playing in an unabashed celebration of the country’s becoming a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council this week.
Azerbaijan’s debut on the council is “a victory for the Azerbaijani people,” declared Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov. But more than a symbolic victory, the membership placed Baku in a better position to shape the international debate about its long-running conflict with Armenia and separatists over breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh.
Ali Hasanov, a senior presidential administration official, indicated that Baku will use its new position to bring Nagorno-Karabakh-related issues to the UN floor. “Capitalizing on the [two]-year-long membership of the UN Security Council, Azerbaijan will demand restoring norms of international law,” he said, without elaboration, Regnum reported.
Mammadyarov said that Baku will seek support for such initiatives from the main international negotiators in the conflict -- the US, France and Russia, all permanent members of the Security Council.
Some Azerbaijani politicians could not help but gloat at sour faces in Armenia, Baku’s arch-rival in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. “Armenia is seriously upset,” asserted independent parliament member Rasim Musambekov.
It probably is, but the Armenians are trying not to show it. Yerevan did not make an official statement about Azerbaijan’s promotion, but one official claimed that the Security Council would not be swayed by Azerbaijan. The country’s membership, he reasoned, will only damage the council’s reputation.
As voters in Kyrgyzstan prepare to elect a new president on October 30, allegations that some candidates are using their official positions to influence the campaign – employing “administrative resources,” in local parlance -- continue to saturate the Kyrgyz press. But this week, local and international elections observers said they have seen few such examples.
On October 24, the Bishkek-based Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, which is conducting long-term campaign monitoring, expressed cautious optimism. “The electoral process is taking place relatively openly, transparently, and democratically,” concluded the coalition’s third report on the process, noting only three cases of administrative abuse.
Two involved state-employed teachers gathering students at campaign events for leading candidate Almazbek Atambayev, who stepped down as prime minister to run. The coalition did not observe the third incident, which was cited in parliamentary debate: Policemen in Osh backing former Emergencies Minister Kamchybek Tashiev allegedly seized the licenses of drivers who expressed support for Atambayev.
The list of irregularities is surprisingly short given that new allegations of violations, primarily against Atambayev, have appeared almost every day of the campaign. Only two weeks ago, Coalition leader Dinara Oshurahunova publicly listed a large number herself.
At a press conference October 24, Oshurakhunova said that despite the allegations, complaints have lacked factual evidence, making them difficult to investigate.
And now Turkmenistan's small but hardy citizen reporters' corps has produced a videotaped scene of a female teacher clobbering a student with the heel of her shoe, the independent news site chrono-tm.org reports.
It's quite startling to see how this teacher persists, chasing the hapless youth around the classroom.
Turkmens daring to shoot such scenes and upload them through the heavily-restricted Internet in Turkmenistan take enormous risks. Recently a reporter from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev, was sentenced to five years of prison on fabricated charges for his independent reporting of the explosion in Abadan.
Graybeards and Kremlinologists may recall that Brezhnev, who presided in the Kremlin from 1964-82, was the first Soviet-style leader to develop a taste for proletarian bling – awarding himself the Hero of the Soviet Union medal four times. Not bad for a guy who bequeathed the Stagnation Era to history.
Berdymukhadov’s predecessor in Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, took the quest for jewelry to new heights, hoarding a half-dozen Hero of Turkmenistan medals.
So it’s clear that Berdymukhamedov has a long way to go before his narcissistic hero-worship impulse enters genuine nutty despot territory.
But at 54 years old, Berdymukhamedov is still comparatively young. Give him time.
A Chinese military doctor tends to a Pakistani patient during a PLA humanitarian mission to Pakistan in 2010.
In its effort to combat separatist Uighur groups, China is apparently seeking to establish military bases in the part of Pakistan that borders the Uighurs' home province of Xinjiang. That's according to Pakistani journalist Amir Mir, writing in Asia Times:
While Pakistan wants China to build a naval base at its southwestern seaport of Gwadar in Balochistan province, Beijing is more interested in setting up military bases either in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan or in the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA) that border Xinjiang province.
The Chinese desire is meant to contain growing terrorist activities of Chinese rebels belonging to the al-Qaeda-linked East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) that is also described as the Turkistani Islamic Party (TIP).
The Chinese Muslim rebels want the creation of an independent Islamic state and are allegedly being trained in the tribal areas of Pakistan. According to well-placed diplomatic circles in Islamabad, Beijing's wish for a military presence in Pakistan was discussed at length by the political and military leadership of both countries in recent months as China (which views the Uyghur separatist sentiment as a dire threat) has become ever-more concerned about Pakistan's tribal areas as a haven for radicals.
The toll from Sunday's 7.2 magnitude earthquake in eastern Turkey's Lake Van region continues to rise, with officials now saying that at least 432 people died in the quake and over 1,300 were injured. In addition, more than 2,200 buildings were destroyed in the quake.
As the frantic search for survivors continues, there have been a few reports of miraculous rescues, including one of a two-week old baby. From an AP report:
A 2-week-old baby girl, her mother and grandmother were pulled alive from the rubble of an apartment building in a dramatic rescue Tuesday, 48 hours after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake toppled some 2,000 buildings in eastern Turkey.
Television footage showed a rescuer in an orange jumpsuit squeezing into the hulk of crushed concrete and metal to free the baby. The infant, named Azra Karaduman, was wrapped in a blanket and handed over to a medic amid a scrum of media and applauding emergency workers....
....The baby's mother, Semiha, and grandmother, Gulsaadet, were huddled together, with the baby clinging to her mother's shoulder when rescuers found them, emergency worker Kadir Direk said. There was a bakery at the ground floor of the building, which may have kept them warm, he said.
The baby was in good health but was flown to a hospital in Ankara, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported. Hours after she was freed, the two others were pulled from the large, half-flattened building and rushed to ambulances as onlookers clapped and cheered. The mother had been semiconscious, but woke up when rescuers arrived, Direk said.
"Bringing them out is such happiness. I wouldn't be happier if they gave me tons of money," said rescuer Oytun Gulpinar.