President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov turned 54 on June 29, and Turkmen officials and parliamentarians, leaders of neighboring countries and foreign oil executives wished him a happy birthday and congratulated him for receiving various awards. A gala reception was held -- although the State News Agency of Turkmenistan didn't publish the guest list or the names of any entertainers hired, it lavishly reported on the parade of business leaders coming to pay tribute to the Turkmen leader last week.
Whatever political tensions Turkey may be going through right now (and they are many), they may all pale in comparison to the latest scandal to hit the country: allegations that some of the Turkish premier football league's top teams were involved in match rigging.
The investigation has already led to the arrest of the top executive of this year's league champion (and the favorite team of Turkey's Prime Minister), Istanbul's Fenerbahce, which could be relegated to the second-division if the allegations prove to be true. For a country as football-crazy as Turkey, this unfolding episode is sure to have serious repercussions and will likely play out with a distinct political undertone. More details on the story here and here.
We're told that divine power supersedes earthly laws, but a controversy in Georgia about the legal status of religious minority groups suggests that even God may need a legal personality in today's lawyer-happy world.
A set of legislative amendments, proposed by the ruling United National Movement Party and approved by parliament in a first reading on July 1, would grant a legal status under so-called "public law" (a status also enjoyed by government offices) to five religious groups that have "deep historic ties" with Georgia: the Muslim and Jewish communities, the Roman Catholic Church, Armenian Apostolic Church and Evangelical Baptist Church.
Currently, these groups can only be registered as non-commercial entities, a status mostly reserved for non-governmental organizations. Georgia's minority religious groups have long complained that this status fails to recognize their religious functions.
The proposal is facing steady headwind from the dominant Georgian Orthodox Church, which also falls under "public law" and holds other privileges defined by a special agreement with the Georgian government.
Describing the amendments as "unexpected," Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II on July 4 called for parliament to postpone the vote until public discussions and the formation of a governmental commission to study the proposed change take place. Not to mention, consultations with the Georgian Orthodox Church.
Just what is going on in western Kazakhstan? Two police officers slaughtered in a village on June 30, an elite task unit officer killed trying to hunt down the killers, and the relative of one suspect shot dead while fleeing from the security forces – it sounds more like troubled Afghanistan than usually tranquil Kazakhstan.
Adding to the intrigue, this bout of violence comes in the wake of a May suicide bomb attack in the western oil city of Aktobe that authorities dismissed as the work of the mafia.
This time, police “do not rule out the involvement of religious extremists in the murder of the police officers,” Kazakhstan Today reported as security forces continue to hunt the killers.
The two officers were killed in the village of Shubarshi, 250 kilometers from Aktobe, when attackers set upon their checkpoint, shot them, and fled the scene.
Investigators have named six men as suspects -- four from Shubarshi and two from the nearby villages of Kenkiyak and Sarykol. Five are men in their twenties; one is over 40.
One member of the security forces from the elite Arlan task force has already been killed in the ongoing operation to capture the suspects, Kazakhstan Today reports.
In a previous post about a new sturgeon farming operation in the unlikely locale of Abu Dhabi, this blog asked "if you build it, will they spawn?" Well, according to a new article in the New York Times, the answer to that question seems to be "and how!," especially if the fish are housed in what the story describes as "the piscine version of five-star luxury."
From the Times:
From hatchery to harvest, the pricey fish are coddled in the piscine version of five-star luxury. Food robots dispatch brine shrimp for the newly hatched and dry feed for the older fish at synchronized times. Water in the tanks is recycled through a triple-filtration system at least 20 times a day.
A computerized monitoring system makes sure temperatures remain between 59 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit (15 and 20 degrees Celsius), depending on where the fish is in its life cycle. Should anything go awry, a control room in Germany is alerted and text alerts immediately appear on the cell phones of those on shift in Abu Dhabi.
“If you don’t have good fish, they will not give you anything,” said Muhaned Abu Awad, the plant’s production manager. “You have to pamper the fish.”
Abu Dhabi’s taste for caviar has grown alongside its economic prowess.
While Russian and other European expatriates are the biggest customers locally, Emiratis and other Gulf residents are increasingly seeking out the roe, which can cost as much as $9 a gram, as a symbol of their wealth.
Royal Caviar also sees its location in the Gulf as a strategic advantage in servicing the booming appetites for the newly wealthy in Far East markets, especially those in China.
The number of Muslim worshipers in Tajikistan is clearly growing. Here, scores of men who could not fit inside Dushanbe's main Haji Yacoub Mosque during Friday prayers brave 104-degree Fahrenheit heat (40 C) in the courtyard. The mosque rolls out "collective" prayer mats to accommodate them.
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.
With President Nursultan Nazarbayev ensconced in power for another five years following his April reelection, attention in Kazakhstan is turning to parliamentary politics.
Elections aren’t due until August 2012, but the political scene is already getting a shake-up as Kazakhstan – which has a single-party parliament – contemplates the novel prospect of embracing a multiparty legislature.
What party could be more fit for the role of “parliamentary opposition” than one headed by a man who was a member of the Nur Otan party (led by Nazarbayev, the only party in parliament) until the day before he was elected leader of an “opposition” party?
Step forward Ak Zhol and new leader Azat Peruashev, who quit Nur Otan on July 1 and became Ak Zhol leader the very next day.
Peruashev certainly has good connections: He works with Nazarbayev’s powerful son-in-law Timur Kulibayev at the Atameken Union, a business lobby. Peruashev is chairman; Kulibayev chairs Atameken's presidium.
Pop star Sting has been stung yet again by his musical machinations in the Stans.
After agreeing to wow an audience in the Kazakh capital on July 4 as part of Astana’s annual city day celebrations, which just happen to coincide with the birthday of strongman President Nursultan Nazarbayev on July 6, he abruptly announced the day before the concert that he’s pulling out. It seems Sting has had an attack of conscience over the treatment of protesting oil workers in western Kazakhstan, which he said was brought to his attention by Amnesty International.
“Hunger strikes, imprisoned workers and tens of thousands on strike represents a virtual picket line which I have no intention of crossing,” Sting said in a sanctimonious statement. “The Kazakh gas and oil workers and their families need our support and the spotlight of the international media on their situation in the hope of bringing about positive change.”
A new railroad in Uzbekistan, used extensively as part of the U.S.'s transportation network shipping military cargo to Afghanistan was built using low-quality steel and goes through such mountainous terrain that when the train gets to the bottom of the mountain crossing, the wheels are glowing red from the friction of so much braking. That's according to a new U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks and the Washington Post.
The Post published a story today on this transportation system, the Northern Distribution Network, and while readers of this blog won't find much new in it, the Post did publish a few Wikileaked cables in conjunction, and they shed a bit more light on the NDN.
All the cables are from 2009, the early days of the NDN. The juiciest is the one that described the new rail line. The Soviet-era line that ran from Karshi to Termez, on the Afghanistan border, dipped into Turkmenistan. So Uzbekistan built a new line that stays entirely within its territory -- but there was a reason the Soviets routed theirs through Turkmenistan. The alternative is apparently through terrain that is borderline dangerous, according to the U.S. embassy's source, whose identity was redacted, but was someone "heavily involved" in the new rail line's construction
Embroiled in a dispute with Uzbek authorities about valuation of its shares in a joint venture as it attempts to exit Uzbekistan, the British company Oxus Gold, suspended share trading June 29, the Financial Times reported.
Company officials cited the reason for halting of trades on the Aim, the Alternative Investment Market for small companies on the London Stock Exchange, was that it could not gain access to information needed to publish 2010 financial results in keeping with Aim's rules.
In March, the share value of Oxus dropped in half to 1.52 pence when the dispute with the Uzbek company emerged, and it closed June 29 at only .85 pence.
The British mining firm announced then that it was ceasing operations in Uzbekistan and planned to challenge an Uzbek government audit it says was being conducted in bad faith.
A company spokesman said that the company had enough resources to meet corporate costs and possible arbitration costs.
Oxus' troubles have been shared by other companies in Uzbekistan recently; a number of German companies have been left holding the bag after the seizure of Zeromax, a state-run comglomerate, that had formed ventures with foreign companies. Newmont, a US mining company, had its holdings expropriated by the Uzbek government in 2006, and ultimately settled for below-market prices for its shares.