According to the Russian-language Swiss news sit nashagazeta.ch, last year the controversial Gulnara Karimova, Uzbekistan's ambassador to Spain and UN organizations in Geneva, took third place among the wealthiest women in Switzerland, reported fergananews.com
It looks like you have to buy a copy of Bilan at the newstand to see the whole list, but apparently this year Gulnara is tied with her sister Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, Uzbekistan's ambassador to UNESCO in Paris. What with Lola's failed libel lawsuit -- leaving the journalist who called her a "dictator's daughter" vindicated -- and Gulhara's flopped fashion show in Manhattan, the Karimovs may have had some unrecovered expenses this year. The pair have lost $200 million between them since last year, but are still worth $1 billion, says nashagazeta.ch
Other high rollers on the list include Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev's daughter Dinara Kulibayeva.
And the debate continues as to whether it really is him.
A EurasiaNet reader Sarah Kendzior writes on Twitter: "Mirziyoyev is not on Facebook. I wrote about this months ago, and so did others (in Uzbek)."
In July, Kendzior noted that the prime minister's Facebook wall posts were "unironic" but wondered if he was really "...a Leon Panetta fan (?!)".
The article in Uzbek in Vatandosh she references denies that the Facebook page is really his, and cites the press service of the Cabinet of Ministers. Vatandosh also mentioned that some of the photos on the account seem to have been taken from the Internet.
But Uzbek colleagues have pointed out to me that some of the photos do seem to be original and do not seem to be from government sites, and they think the site could well be his. As they point out, why hasn't Mirziyoyev had this site closed down, if it isn't really his? In July, when the article was written, there were 400 friends; today, four months later, there are 1,825 friends so it's getting a lot of attention for Uzbekistan.
Facebook doesn't have a system for public figures to notate their personal account as "validated" as Twitter does, but it does enable public figures to make public profiles to which members can subscribe. Mirziyoyev's account is of the personal type.
As our sister blog The Bug Pit reported this week, speculation is mounting that a November 17 “terrorist attack” that knocked out a rail line connecting Uzbekistan with southern Tajikistan may not be all the Uzbeks say it was. One doesn’t have to look hard to find a motive for sabotage. Certainly, the episode seems to have limited archrival Tajikistan’s ability to supply NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
For Uzbekistan, perhaps the most significant aspect of the rail line in question is its complete irrelevance to its own economy, and to its role as the hub of the Northern Distribution Network that is essential for supplying NATO troops. The damage occurred on a section of track after the NDN freight turns off to Afghanistan, in the desert before crossing into Tajikistan. Uzbekistan has no other use for this line and appears in no hurry to see it repaired.
The state daily Neitral'nyi Turkmenistan ran an interview with parliamentary officials December 2 that purports to illustrate how elections will be free in Turkmenistan.
The only problem is that the enabling legislation to guarantee a plurality of political parties has never been passed, and every aspect of the nomination process will be at the discretion of local officials.
Last time "free" elections were held in 2007 and Gurbanguly Berdymukhahmedov handily prevailed, there were some opponents permitted to spoke at carefully-choreographed regional meetings on approved topics that gave the public a bit of a chance to vent about mismanaged agriculture or poor education. So we can expect some of that next February in the next presidential elections, but it does not appear at this time as if the all-powerful Turkmen leader will legalize any serious alternative parties, much less allow any real rival to appear on the scene.
Gurbangul Bayramov, chairman of the Mejlis (parliamentary) Committee on Work with Local Representative Government Bodies and Self-Management was interviewed by Neitral'nyi Turkmenistan and asked about participation in the elections by civic groups.
Bayramov cited the constitutional guarantee for citizens to "create political parties" (note the plural) and other civic associations and the obligation for them to "conduct their activity under the law". So in theory, people could just form a group and show up -- except there is no law to govern them. The law on civic associations permits citizens to "create associations on the basis of common interests to achieve common goals." But they must register at the Ministry of Justice -- and there's the hitch -- officials will only legalize those organizations that are loyal to the government.
Egemen Bagis, Turkey's Minister for European Union Affairs, has a penchant for making unpredictable or surprising statements. On Nov. 30, during a talk in Brussels, Bagis dropped another bombshell: opponents of the Turkish government managed to surreptitiously record Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's bedroom conversations. From a Dogan News Agency report in Hurriyet:
Private conversations between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his wife in their bedroom were secretly recorded, Turkish EU Minister Egemen Bağış has said.
“Unfortunately, even this country’s prime minister’s personal conversations with his spouse in their own bedroom have been recorded. This is not a simple affair that could be regarded as the freedom of press,” Bağış said at the European Union Press Club in Brussels on Nov. 30.
Speaking in relation to ongoing criticism about the arrest of journalists in Turkey, the minister said no one in the country had been arrested due to their journalistic activities and added that those currently in prison had been incarcerated for their ties to outlawed groups or other groups that sought to overthrow the government via illegal means.
The news should actually not be very surprising. Bugging, wiretapping and video surveillance have become an integral part of the Turkish political, legal and media landscape over the last few years. In fact, in a 2009 In a television interview, Erdogan said he was concerned about his phone being tapped. “What do you think? Of course,” Erdogan answered his interviewer.
“Therefore I watch what I say over the phone. I'm not comfortable speaking over the phone,” Erdogan told his interviewer on Turkey's private NTV news network.
The International Partnership for Human Rights, a coalition of European and Central Asian human rights groups, has released a new report this month, Central Asia: Censorship and Control of the Internet and Other New Media.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has been praised by Western leaders for increasing Internet access, but it turns out that with the average monthly salary only $285 in Turkmenistan, the $215 monthly Internet fee or even the dollar-an-hour Internet cafe are beyond most people's budgets. In any event, the Internet is heavily regulated, and there is only one state-run provider, Turkmentelecom, which blocks independents sites like gundogar.org and chrono-tm.org as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Live Journal.
Chinese Huawei Technologies and Finnish-German Nokia Siemens Networks have signed contracts with the country’s Ministry of Communications to upgrade the state-owned mobile network and introduce new services. Yet concerns have been expressed that these companies may agree to assist the Turkmen government in monitoring cell phone and internet use in exchange for lucrative deals, says the study.
Although the report is quite bleak describing heavy police control of the Internet and the cancellation of cell phone service for 2.4 million people when the contract of Russia's mobile company MTS was not extended, there are some glimmers of hope. Last July, some citizen journalists came forward to try to cover the explosion in Abadan when the authorities tried to cover it up. While a stringer for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was jailed for his coverage of Abadan, after a worldwide outcry he was released.
Mobile service has continued to deteriorate, says the report, and recent travelers to Ashgabat confirm difficulties in getting cell phone coverage.
South Ossetia’s de facto regime keeps saying that a “color revolution” is not going to play out in the troubled enclave over its disputed de facto presidential election results, but events continue to be pretty, well, colorful.
But Jioyeva says that South Ossetians chose differently. She and her supporters are now baffled about why the current authorities and Russia refuse to accept her. “Why don’t you love me, Russia?” Jioyeva mused, adding that she is a “Russian by passport and in my spirit.”
In an interview with Richard Solash of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Miklos Marschall, the deputy managing director of Transparency International, says that countries that were performing poorly in the past tended to stay in the low rankings: "corruption is so endemic that that is almost the system. So it's not a deviation from the system, it is the system."
The Arab Spring uprisings show that people are losing patience with their corrupt systems, says Marschall. That "should send an important message to some governments in Central Asia and some other places that corruption can lead to regime changes," he said.
Marschall is rather bleak on the prospects for these countries.
"The really, I would say, dark situation [is] in countries like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, where there is hardly any accountability whatsoever. The governing elites have practically no accountability," he says. "There is no political opposition. There is no civil society. There is no free press. So these are basically almost closed societies, and that's why there is no improvement."
That's a bit harsh, as in Uzbekistan, there is a small, hardy core of human rights defenders and independent journalists who do get the word out, and political opposition groups in exile do have some resonance inside the country, although it is difficult to measure.
The homepage of the (newly, and poorly, redesigned) Hurriyet Daily News features a fairly provocative headline today: "Turkey given possession of nuclear warheads, report says." So has Turkey just become the Middle East's newest nuclear power? The real story is a lot less sensational, yet also much more interesting, than that.
Turkey, as a member of NATO, has in fact hosted tactical nuclear weapons since the 1950's. Today, NATO keeps an estimated stockpile of 60-70 nuclear bombs at the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, down from 90 in 2001. Most of these (some 50) are designed to be delivered by United States aircraft (which are not housed at Incirlik and would have to be flown in and armed for any mission). The rest are earmarked for Turkish fighter jets, although it appears that Turkish pilots are currently not being trained for nuclear missions. (Hurriyet's sloppy story follows up on a more carefully written one that appeared the day before in the Vatan newspaper, written by Washington correspondent Ilhan Tanir.)
From an interesting report published at the end of last year by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which looked at the status of the the US's tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, especially in light of NATO's newly-developed "Strategic Concept," which places less importance on these weapons:
The intramural tensions escalated after South Ossetia's de facto authorities cancelled results from the November 27 runoff for the region's de facto presidential poll; results that gave opposition candidate Alla Jioyeva the lead over establishment candidate Anatoliy Bibilov, the Kremlin favorite.
The outcome came as a serious humiliation for Moscow, which keeps South Ossetia under its political and military patronage, but failed to see its guy put in charge after two consecutive attempts.
Nevertheless, in times of trouble, South Ossetia can only turn to Moscow for help. The EU and US don’t see the region on the map and are telling it to go back to Georgia. Tbilisi demands that South Ossetia return to the Georgian fold and accept back the ethnic Georgian residents who fled during the 2008 war.
So, again it was Moscow that sent a representative to defuse tensions that are dangerous for locals and embarrassing for the Russians.
Jioyeva, though, emerged dissatisfied from today’s talks with Russian envoy Sergei Vinokurov. (Perhaps not surprisingly, given that the Kremlin had earlier supported the de facto Supreme Court's decision to throw out the runoff results and bar her from running again.) She said the talks will continue, but announced no plans to back off her claim to South Ossetia's de facto presidency.