Opposition leaders are back behind bars in Almaty, jailed for organizing a protest less than two weeks after their release from prison for rallying without official permission last month. The growing cycle of protests, arrests, and more protests appears to be encouraging the opposition, which is calling for fair elections and political reform in Kazakhstan.
OSDP Azat party co-leader Bolat Abilov and deputy leader Amirzhan Kosanov were jailed for 15 days immediately after the February 25 protest. The sentence is “political revenge by the regime,” Kosanov told EurasiaNet.org by telephone as he was being taken to prison, announcing that he and Abilov would stage a hunger strike in protest.
The sentences add to mounting tensions in Kazakhstan, which is in the throes of what critics see as a political crackdown launched by President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration following December’s deadly violence in Zhanaozen. Astana denies any crackdown.
The imprisonments followed a tense rally in central Almaty that saw scuffles between police and protestors amid cries of “Nazarbayev out!” Several demonstrators were arrested, some carried aloft to police vans as they shouted anti-government slogans.
OSDP Azat leaders Kosanov, Abilov and Zharmakhan Tuyakbay were rounded up before reaching the rally, as were three other organizers – Bakhytzhan Toregozhina, Bakhytgul Makimbay and Yermurat Bapi.
In Kyrgyzstan, it’s never quite clear whether the battle against organized crime is genuine or a covert turf war between powerful interest groups.
Whatever the case may be, this week Washington has stepped up its support in the effort to tackle one apparent kingpin. On February 23, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on one of Kyrgyzstan’s most wanted, alleged narkobaron Kamchybek Kolbayev. President Barack Obama had added him to a list of global drug barons in June, prohibiting US companies and citizens from doing business with him, but the sanctions didn’t kick in until now. Treasury says Kolbayev is a midlevel manager in a international operation known as the “Brothers’ Circle” -- “a multi-ethnic criminal group composed of leaders and senior members of several Eurasian criminal groups largely based in countries of the former Soviet Union but operating in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.”
Kamchybek Kolbayev acts for or on behalf of the Brothers' Circle by serving as the Brothers' Circle "overseer" for its Central Asian activities, including narcotics trafficking. In June 2011, President Obama identified Kolbayev as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. Kolbayev is wanted in Kyrgyzstan for organized crimes and crimes involving the use of weapons/explosives, and organized/transnational crime.
Many Facebook users block other users for posting nasty comments on their wall, but few have blocked an entire country. Yet this is what happened yesterday when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev apparently decided he'd had it with angry posts from Georgia.
The onslaught against the Russian president’s Facebook page took place on the February 23 Homeland Defender’s Day, a Russian public holiday that commemorates military service. To mark the day, Georgians (and not only) in a loosely coordinated campaign bombarded Medvedev’s page with requests to withdraw Russian troops from separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia, territories kept under heavy Russian military guard since the 2008 Russia-Georgia war.
The steady flow of comments ran the gamut from demands, to requests (for an IDP's return to Abkhazia, for instance) to coarse statements. “It was essentially an occupy-Medvedev’s-Facebook-page campaign to demand the de-occupation of Georgia,” one user commented to EurasiaNet.org.
At first, the comments kept disappearing almost instantly, and instead greetings from well-wishers started to pop up. “I wish you good health, Dmitry Anatoliyevich,” one kind user wrote, but her wishes got drowned in an avalanche of comments from Georgia.
Apparently unable to keep up with the stream, the Kremlin's Facebook men simply disabled the page for users from Georgia.
“They blocked users with Georgian IPs for a little bit,” said Giorgi Jakhaia, a Georgian blogger displaced from Abkhazia, and one of the organizers of the campaign. After briefly reopening, "the page got blocked again" when a fresh barrage of comments began, said Jakhaia, known by his nom de blog, Cyxymu.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili visits Afghanistan Feb. 20
A top Pentagon official is visiting Tbilisi this week, and high on the agenda will be hammering out the details of the much vaunted "new level" of defense cooperation between the U.S. and Georgia. As was the case during President Mikheil Saakashvilil's recent visit to Washington, there was a rhetorical disconnect between the U.S. and Georgian sides about what is the way ahead for military ties between the two allies.
The Georgian side again focused on the concept of "self-defense capabilities," i.e. weapons. “The United States is very much interested in increasing Georgia’s self-defense capabilities,” said Nino Kalandadze, the deputy foreign minister.
The American side, by contrast, focused on more institutional reforms in the Georgian military, as could be seen in the speech the Pentagon official, Celeste Wallander, gave at Georgia's National Defense Academy. While Wallander said that the two sides are "advancing our relationship into new areas of cooperation," she spent far more time lecturing the cadets on the need for the military to be apolitical, suggesting that was more important than any hardware:
As a complement to my Eurasianet article today about the growing regional rivalry between Turkey and Iran, you might also want to take a look at an International Crisis Group report released today about the politics surrounding Iran's nuclear program and what role Turkey might be able to play in brining about a resolution to the standoff between Tehran and the west over this issue.
The report suggests that sanctions alone might push Iran further into a corner and that diplomatic engagement -- the kind Ankara has been promoting -- should still be given a try. The report also says that Turkey, with its historic connection to Iran and its familiarity with working with the Iranians, could be an ideal country to help engage Tehran on the nuclear issue. From the report:
Placing one’s eggs almost exclusively in the sanctions basket is risky business. There is a good chance they will not persuade Iran to slow its nuclear efforts, and so – in the absence of a serious diplomatic option including a more far-reaching proposal – the U.S. might well corner itself into waging a war with high costs (such as possible Iranian retaliatory moves in Iraq, Afghanistan and, through proxies, against Israel) for uncertain gains (a delay in Iran’s nuclear progress countered by the likely expulsion of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, intensified determination to acquire a bomb and accelerated efforts to do so).
A prominent cleric from Uzbekistan is recovering after being shot several times in an apparent assassination attempt in Sweden.
Obid-kori Nazarov was attacked on February 22 by an assailant who lay in wait near his home in the small town of Stromsund, the independent Uznews.net website reported, citing an unnamed associate.
The attacker fled after Nazarov shouted for help. He was taken to a hospital for an operation and there were conflicting reports about his condition, described by Uznews.net as “serious but stable” and by RFE/RL as “critical.”
Nazarov gained popularity as an imam in Uzbekistan in the 1990s, where his fiery sermons led President Islam Karimov’s administration to cast him as an opponent at a time when the main challenge to Karimov’s rule came from clerics with wide public followings.
He still has “tens of thousands of followers and admirers” and “is considered one of the most powerful opponents of the regime,” RFE/RL commented.
Democracy pays, sometimes literally. According to Armenian news reports,
the European Union is dangling a hefty check before Armenia to motivate the financially struggling country to hold a clean parliamentary election in May.
The aid money, set aside by the EU for the 16 members of its European Neighbourhood Policy program, is not for Armenia alone. The funds will be distributed on a “more for more” basis; in other words, the more democracy, the more money.
“[T]hat means the partner countries will receive more money, more assistance from the EU, based on the progress in democratic reforms,” explained Peter Stano, the European Commission spokesman for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy. “In [the] case of Armenia[,] this formula [more for more] means that one of the commitments to democratic values will be shown in the conduct of the elections,” Stano told EurasiaNet.org.
But Armenia will have to do its democracy homework before it can find out the size of its possible share. “When it comes to individual amounts for individual countries[,] nothing has been decided yet,” Stano said.
Last October, with his wife and several ministers in tow, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan became to first non-African world leader to visit Somalia in the last 20 years. Erdogan's visit has actually turned out to be more than just window dressing: in recent months, Turkey -- which had previously not been a major player in international relief work -- has taken the lead in providing aid in the war-torn country, in the process earning plaudits from both locals and other international organizations.
With a one-day summit on Somalia, which will gather leaders from some 50 countries and international aid organizations, scheduled to start tomorrow in London, the "Turkish model" of aid appears to be of particular interest. From a new BBC report that looks at Turkey's humanitarian work in Somalia:
In the months since the militant Islamist group, al-Shabab, was finally pushed out of the city by African Union soldiers Turkey has emerged as the most visible foreign presence in Mogadishu - if you discount the green armoured cars belonging to the AU force (Amisom), which still growl their way through the busy streets.
While most foreign organisations remain cooped up at the heavily guarded Amisom base by the airport, some 200 Turkish nationals are now living and working in the city on a variety of projects, ranging from construction to logistics and aid.
"They are our brothers" is a common reaction from Somalis when the Turkish are mentioned.
Azerbaijan claims it has again caught some Iranian-sponsored terrorists, but is proving tight-lipped about the details.
On February 21, the country’s state-run AzTV reported that a terrorist cell allegedly operated by Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had been busted.
Stashing guns and explosives, the group allegedly planned attacks on “foreign nationals.” The report did not specify the nationality of the foreigners, letting the outside world put two and two together.
Speaking to EurasiaNet.org, a spokesperson for Azerbaijan's Ministry of National Security refused either to confirm or to deny the station's report.
Strangely, pro-government and state-run news sites have proven similarly skittish about delving into the AzTV report; no news about the arrests could be found on any of these websites on the morning of February 22.
A Russian Foreign Ministry official has said that the U.S. might use its air base at Manas to attack Iran. At a Moscow briefing today, spokesman Alexander Lukashevich echoed the recent claim of Kyrgyzstan's President Almazbek Atambayev that a U.S.-Iran war could embroil Kyrgyzstan:
"It cannot be excluded that this site could be used in a potential conflict with Iran," foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters. "We hope that such an apocalyptic scenario will not be realised...."
Lukashevich said using the airbase as a launch-pad to strike Iran would require "changes or rather violations" to the lease agreement between Washington and Bishkek.
"The statements from Washington which do not rule out a military solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis have caused serious worries in the Central Asian region," he said.
"The worries are shared not just by Kyrgyzstan -- where a debate has erupted about the risk of a retaliatory strike from Iran -- but other Central Asian countries," he added.
Now, if the U.S. wanted to attack Iran, it would have no shortage of launching pads. It has an air base in neighboring Turkey, an entire naval fleet in Bahrain, and of course a substantial military presence in Afghanistan. Why they would choose to use distant Kyrgyzstan, which would require crossing at least two other countries' airspaces along the way, instead of those far easier options, is something that neither Atambayev nor Lukashevich have explained.
Recall that the Iranian ambassador to Bishkek spoke out publicly to quash such speculation when Atambayev first voiced it. When it's the Iranian official who is the voice of reason, well...