Kyrgyzstan’s international donor community is buzzing with scandal: The director of the World Bank’s Kyrgyzstan office, Alexander Kramer, apparently hurled a drinking glass at Kyrgyzstan’s new deputy prime minister, Djoomart Otorbayev, on February 3.
The incident occurred during a donor meeting at government headquarters, known as the White House, in Bishkek. According to one eyewitness, Kramer had just spoken for a few minutes, praising recent government initiatives and encouraging Bishkek to ensure officials are chosen for their merits. He defended the World Bank’s sometimes slow motions in the country, noting that development is “a marathon rather than a sprint,” according to EurasiaNet's source. During the next set of remarks, by the International Monetary Fund’s country director, Kramer suddenly stood up, yelled, “This is all crap!” and threw the glass, which shattered on the floor in front of Otorbayev.
He then stormed out of the room, a video of which made the evening news.
Officials in Kyrgyzstan appear to be of two minds about the country’s gambling industry.
Until a ban came into force on January 1, the sector was booming, relatively speaking. The injunction, drawn up under former Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev (now president) and his deputy prime minister, Omurbek Babanov (now prime minister), was, they said until a few weeks ago, necessary to crack down on organized crime. Now the Atambayev-Babanov tandem seems to think allowing some gambling could burnish their pro-business credentials.
Speaking before reporters on January 30, Babanov demonstrated just how muddy his government’s policy is, first by lamenting government regulations:
“The gambling sector is sick enough,” he said. “Many times the government tried to impose strict rules to regulate the sector. All this led to the parliament’s cardinal decision to ban casinos.”
Then, by lamenting the undesired consequences of those regulations, which are difficult to enforce and have prompted street protests (ostensibly supporting casino workers put out of their jobs):
“Now, much has gone into the shadows ... Of course its wrong when the people working in the casinos were left without jobs.”
Then, by promising to resurrect the sector under a new, more regulated regime:
The prime minister said that the government would submit to parliament a proposal for the development of an isolated area near the village of Tamchy [on Lake Issyk-Kul] where gaming centers and casinos would be located.
A crackdown on Kazakhstan’s political opposition, activists and media critical of Astana is continuing: Less than a week after opposition leaders were jailed for rallying in Almaty without permission, more protest participants have been taken to court while other political activists face separate, more serious charges over December’s violence in Zhanaozen.
Youth activist Zhanbolat Mamay was charged on February 3 with inciting social discord in Zhanaozen, a charge carrying a jail sentence of up to 12 years. This is the same charge faced by Vladimir Kozlov, the leader of the unregistered Alga! party who has been in detention since January 23, and activists Ayzhangul Amirova and Serik Sapargali. Outspoken theater director Bolat Atabayev is an official suspect on the same charge, though not yet indicted.
OSCE Parliamentary Assembly human rights committee chair Matteo Mecacci has described Kozlov and newspaper editor Igor Vinyavskiy, arrested in a separate case on the same day as Kozlov, as “political prisoners” and called for their release.
It may be freezing all over Europe, but please also spare a thought for sun-loving Turkmenistan.
One day after an unusually heavy snowfall, temperatures plummeted February 3 to a rare -8 degrees Celsius in the capital, Ashgabat. Forecasters are predicting the mercury will drop a few more notches overnight.
In the northern town of Dashoguz, meteorological authorities say the temperature could sink as low as -21 degrees Celsius.
In these kinds of situations, many Ashgabat residents are saved by their electric radiators and heaters run on gas, which has been provided for free since President Saparmurat Niyazov was in power.
Even so, houses in Turkmenistan are poorly designed to cope with such cold snaps.
That fact was amply highlighted during a working tour of Ashgabat on February 2 by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who dropped in on a high-rise block in its final stages of construction.
State television showed the president acquainting himself with living conditions for prospective dwellers in that haughty and imperious style now familiar to many Internet users thanks to a video leaked on YouTube.
Berdymukhamedov was not happy: “The quality of work here does not meet the high demands required in new construction, especially that which is designated for social purposes.”
Illustrating his observation, he pointed to a leaking ceiling in the apartment (also shown on television), which Berdymukhamedov said demonstrated “an unacceptable approach to work.”
As to the design of the apartment, he continued, this left much to be desired.
Tasoluk, a development on the outskirts of Istanbul
The subject of Istanbul and its booming growth appears to be in the air these days. In a recent report, National Public Radio's Peter Kenyon takes a look at how Istanbul's fast-paced development is leading to a clash between old and new and also forcing residents of older, more run-down neighborhood out of their homes.
Meanwhile, in a report for the Atlantic's website, writer David Lepska asks how Istanbul has managed to become one of Europe's safest cities despite its becoming one of the world's largest cities? From Lepska's piece:
In terms of policing, Turkey's vast cosmopolis offers lessons for the developing megacities of today, places like Dubai and Jakarta, Nairobi and Cairo. Istanbul has in recent decades been undergoing a rapid transformation, as urban expansion and modernization remake previously dilapidated and marginalized neighborhoods into welcoming retail and residential districts, often pushing the less advantaged to outlying areas. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former Istanbul mayor, envisions the city as a global hub and world financial center.
It's already one of the safer major international cities, for which Zarinebaf cites layers of law enforcement. Policing principles are drawn from the military. Training and education is essential – 85 percent of Turkish police have undergraduate degrees.
The city sets up police checkpoints at night to monitor movement. An integrated surveillance system connects hundreds of CCTV cameras to thousands of squad cars and scores of mobile stations, keeping an eye on most public areas.
Uzbekistan is slated to get some new night vision goggles, bulletproof vests and GPS equipment from the U.S., a State Department official has said. A couple of weeks ago, the U.S. formally notified Congress that it intends to again start giving Uzbekistan military aid, which had been halted since 2002 because of concerns about human rights. At the time it wasn't clear what exactly would be given to Tashkent under the waiver, but now the State Department has described in a little more detail what is under discussion here. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, at a press conference on February 1:
Examples of the kinds of things that this waiver was given for – this will enhance the Uzbeks’ ability to counteract transnational terrorism and all – things like night vision goggles, personal protection equipment, global positioning systems. It’s defensive in nature, and it’s also supportive of their ability to secure the routes in and out of Afghanistan.
It's not clear that there is in fact any significant threat to the NDN in Uzbekistan. The closest thing so far, initially called a "terror" attack by the Uzbek authorities, appears more and more to be looking like an inside job. More likely, this is the pretext that the Uzbekistan government is using to justify the aid, knowing that that will resonate with U.S. policymakers; their real interest is likely geopolitical, that is showing Russia that they have other options for security other than Moscow and the CSTO.
At the press conference, Nuland also addressed the question of human rights and this aid:
Once again, interethnic strife in southern Kyrgyzstan is testing a new government in far-away Bishkek. This time the friction comes between ethnic Kyrgyz and minority Tajiks in remote Batken Province, whose eponymous capital has seen at least two days of street protests. The demonstrators have come out in defense of the local governor, dismissed February 1, reportedly for failing to quell the latest bout of ethnic tensions in the fragile Ferghana Valley.
The first apparent spark of the current conflict dates to a late-December brawl between Kyrgyz and Tajiks in Batken’s Andarak village. The new chief of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) and an interior ministry official criticized Governor Arzybek Burkanov for failing to respond to the fight, recommending he be removed. These officials aren’t the first to worry the next ethnic flashpoint in Kyrgyzstan will be between Kyrgyz and Tajiks in Batken Province, where the former have long charged the latter with illegally occupying land along the undefined frontier with Tajikistan.
Then, on January 26, a young Tajik man allegedly murdered a female Kyrgyz bank teller. Though the suspect was arrested, residents of his village, Aydarken, reportedly chased his extended family from their homes.
Human rights ombudsman Tursunbek Akun has warned this situation could further escalate and said what should be obvious: Only the criminal, not his relatives nor his entire ethnic group, must be punished.
Any industrial dispute in Kazakhstan is the focus of heightened attention these days, after a strike in the western energy hub of Zhanaozen spiraled into fatal violence in December.
Now a labor dispute which broke out in western Atyrau Region at a local subcontractor for American energy giant Chevron has been settled with the offer of a pay raise and without recourse to strike action, the director of the firm involved has said.
Yves Shama, general director of the Senimdi Kurylys company -- which carries out construction work for Tengizchevroil, which is 50 percent owned by Chevron and is the operator of Kazakhstan’s largest field, Tengiz -- denied earlier reports that workers at two affiliated firms had downed tools demanding a raise.
“There wasn’t any strike action,” Shama told EurasiaNet.org by telephone on February 2. He said some employees had requested a pay rise on January 25 but had returned to work after management promised to consider their demands.
On January 28 the company made an offer that was subsequently accepted by most employees. It consisted of a 25-percent across-the-board raise backdated to January 1, a “small bonus” for 2011, and a pledge to conduct inflation reviews every six months. Shama declined to specify salary scales, describing it as “quite a confidential question.”
“I think everyone’s been satisfied,” he said, though he acknowledged that 10-15 staff members had left the company over the issue. The company and its affiliates currently employ around 600 people.
Given all that’s gone on in the past year in Kazakhstan, some of Astana’s most ardent well-wishers in Washington are hoping that President Nursultan Nazarbayev grapples with the always delicate issue of succession planning.
The subject of a stable leadership transition came up several times during an all-day conference in Washington, DC, on January 31, hosted by the Atlantic Council. The meeting was designed primarily to laud Kazakhstan’s economic achievements over the past 20 years, as well as celebrate a strong US-Kazakhstani partnership.
Nazarbayev, a septuagenarian who has been at the helm of the Kazakhstani government since the Soviet collapse in 1991, has given no indication that he wants to leave the political stage. He seems in robust health, yet it was revealed in 2011 that he spent time at a German hospital.