Kyrgyzstan’s government is coming to the assistance of debtors battered by the U.S. greenback’s rise against the local currency, but it is unclear how useful, widespread or sustainable a new som-for-dollar debt scheme will be.
Nearly 3,000 people that took out large loans in dollars for housing in the first half of 2015 were left unable to make payments as the som plummeted by over one-fifth against the dollar in the last six months of the year, largely on the back of economic peril in Russia.
A government initiative presented on February 1 allows those people to exchange their outstanding dollar debt for Kyrgyz soms at a favorable rate of 62.144 soms — a rate from July 1, 2015, before the dollar began its climb towards the roughly 76 soms it costs now.
The government has put aside over $7.5 million to plug the gap between the exchange rate of yore and the current one and is only intervening in loans worth $40,000 or less.
The questions surrounding the scheme relate to whether this will be too little, too late, and whether the government will expand the plan to other struggling debtors that borrowed large dollar sums in the second half of the year — on July 2, for instance.
Also, the interest on the loans will remain at the high market rate of nearly 16.76 percent, even if the original loans were secured at a lower rate. Whether the most troubled debtors will be able to make these payments remains an unknown.
A political activist recently jailed on charges of inciting ethnic strife has been released pending appeal after issuing a grovelling public recantation for his purported offense.
Serikzhan Mambetalin was freed on January 31 after serving just over a week of his two-year sentence.
“I am at home… How happy I am!” he wrote on his Facebook page on February 1.
Mambetalin’s Facebook page was regularly updated, presumably by his supporters, throughout his trial and incarceration, which began in October.
A court ordered Mambetalin’s release until the appeal is heard, but the activist has been made to sign a written undertaking not to leave his hometown, Almaty.
Mambetalin’s release came after he posted a contrite statement of repentance on his Facebook page on January 29 — a week after he was jailed along with another political activist, Yermek Narymbayev, who remains behind bars.
“The investigation gathered exhaustive evidence of my guilt,” the statement said. “Therefore I fully admit my guilt over the proof presented to me and actively repent.”
Mambetalin has changed his tune since his trial, when he strenuously denied any guilt and denounced the trial — which was condemned by international human rights watchdogs — as a “political order” motivated by his activism and his opposition to President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Kazakhstan’s ruling Nur Otan party is set to be challenged by at least one opposition force at the snap March 20 parliamentary elections, but prospects the competition will be fair should be discounted at the outset.
The All-National Social Democratic Party (OSDP) decided at a congress on January 30 that it will field 27 candidates on the party list. Names include long-familiar habitués of Kazakhstan’s beleaguered opposition movement, such as OSDP leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbay, economist Petr Svoik, activist and former senator Zauresh Battalova and veteran opposition politician Ualikhan Kaisarov.
Fresh faces were few and far between, suggesting that the only-semi-cooperative opposition has struggled to capture the imagination of a new generation.
Tuyukbai was sober about his party’s electoral prospects and suggested that the results have already been determined.
“To talk about real percentages is a thankless task, because nobody knows what the real percentages are, and how many votes each participating party will receive. Nobody counts these votes. Today, the questions of distribution are in the main decided with pencil in hand by high-ranking officials,” Tuyukbai said in remarks quoted by Informburo.kz.
Instead, OSDP’s election campaign should be devoted to raising the alarm about the economic, political and social crisis gripping the country, Tuyukbai said, in the evident belief that the authorities are oblivious to all these factors.
The OSDP is right to be pessimistic about any chances it will be allowed a look-in.
Restrictions on the circulation of cash out of Turkmenistan have reportedly been extended to a service popularly used to make transfers to relatives abroad.
The foreign-based Alternative News of Turkmenistan reported earlier this month that Western Union branches in the country had limited transfers out of the country to just $300 per transaction. The payment could be made only in manat at the state-approved exchange rate, which is lower than the black market rate. Operations carried out with a credit card incurred an additional surcharge equivalent to 8 percent of the sum being sent.
The monthly limit on how much can be transferred was set at $1,000 per person.
Operations also required presenting various documentation, including the Soviet-vintage propiska and employment record book, which evidently reflects the authorities desire to monitor who is sending what, where and when.
Although strict, the apparently informal rules appear to have not done enough to stem the outflow of dollars.
Alternative News of Turkmenistan cited sources inside the country as saying Western Union has now introduced a new cap. Customers can no longer transfer amounts larger than their monthly salary.
If correct, the fact that people are believed to have been funneling more money out than they officially earn — presumably offloading their cash savings in the process — is a stark testament to mounting loss of trust in the domestic currency.
Georgian soldiers have been accused of sexually abusing children while on a peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, according to United Nations human rights officials. Georgia's ministry of defense said it was investigating the allegations.
UN investigators have been researching claims that children in the CAR were abused by soldiers in a European Union peacekeeping mission in 2014. In a statement issued Friday, theUN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that some Georgians were among those accused.
"While the nationalities of some of the soldiers remain unclear, three of the girls said they believed their abusers were members of the Georgian EUFOR contingent. The four girls were aged between 14 and 16 at the time of the alleged abuse," the statement said.
About 100 Georgian soldiers served in the peacekeeping force from 2014-2015. They were the second-largest troop contributor to the force, behind France. Georgia presented the mission, as it does its many contributions to American and European military endeavors abroad, as a means of raising Georgia's prestige in the West.
A court in Tajikistan has ruled to extend the detention of jailed lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov by two months, according to a report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi.
Ozodi cites the press service of the Ismoil Somoni district court in Dushanbe as saying that the extension is required for further investigation into the case.
Yorov was arrested in September on charges of fraud and forging documents only days after he agreed to represent 13 members of the now-banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), whose entire leadership stands accused of attempting to topple the government. The case against Yorov relates to an alleged incident in 2010, when he is said to have received $4,000 dollars from an individual in the city of Istaravshan.
Yorov’s relatives said that court decision on the extension of his detention was adopted in their presence on January 28, Ozodi reported. “We saw him close up, and he felt fine,” one relative told the broadcaster.
Unrelenting pressure against the opposition is par for the course for a government increasingly reliant on unfettered authoritarian measures, but the mistreatment of lawyers is a particularly grim harbinger.
Another lawyer acting for the IRPT, Nuriddin Mahkamov, was arrested on October 22.
Compounding their international reputation for legal nihilism, the authorities earlier this month detained three foreign lawyers — two from Turkey, another from Russia — who had traveled to Tajikistan in the hope of meeting the jailed IRPT members and lawyers.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meets Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov in Ashgabat. (photo: MFA Russia)
Russia has offered Turkmenistan help in guarding that country's restive border with Afghanistan, but Turkmenistan has turned them down, Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said on a visit this week to Ashgabat.
The top agenda item for Lavrov's two-day visit was gas. Russia's state company Gazprom announced earlier this month that it was stopping gas purchases from Turkmenistan, which used to be one of Moscow's top suppliers until China built a huge pipeline to Turkmenistan and now buys the lion's share of Turkmen gas. It's not clear what progress was made on that front, but Russian newspaper Kommersant, citing anonymous sources, reported that "in the coming days the two sides will start negotiations about the possible parameters of further cooperation in the gas sphere."
But the two sides couldn't not discuss the situation on the border with Afghanistan, which over the past two years has unexpectedly become the site of several skirmishes and incursions back and forth between the Taliban and Turkmenistan's security forces.
The official Turkmen statement about Lavrov's visit said the two sides discussed "a united position regarding the necessity of a political-diplomatic resolution of the problems in the Central Asian region, in particular those connected with the situation in Afghanistan."
Lavrov himself was a little more specific, telling reporters that Ashgabat had described some "additional measures" that they were taking on the border, and that they didn't need Moscow's help.
Kazakhstan’s president could hardly be expected to run for parliament, so the ruling Nur Otan party has gone for the next best thing: The actor who played him as a young man in the biopic.
Nurlan Alimzhanov is just one of several celebrities that Nur Otan included in its populist list of candidates for the March 20 parliamentary election, which authorities are hoping will serve as a tonic for their flagging legitimacy.
Other recognizable faces selected by a unanimous vote at a party congress in Astana on January 29 included Gennady Golovkin, a world champion boxer renowned as the best pound-for pound fighter in the world, Olympic gold medal-winning weightlifter Ilya Ilyin and Kairat Nurtas, a wildly popular 26-year-old pop singer.
One actual Nazarbayev is also standing — Dariga Nazarbayeva, the president’s daughter and current first deputy prime minister.
Alimzhanov may be the actor, but it was President Nursultan Nazarbayev that gave the real performance in Astana as a man pretending his party is readying for a proper election. Speaking to the congress, he urged a “competitive fight” in the upcoming vote.
Since there is no real opposition (not behind bars) anywhere to be seen, however, it can be taken for granted that the new legislature will be similarly compliant as the outgoing lot.
Kyrgyzstan’s thin-skinned President Almazbek Atambayev’s long-running and unseemly spat with an outspoken local journalist has taken a fresh and typically farcical turn.
After Atambayev successfully sued the editor of Kyrgyz language outlet Maalymat.kg, Dayirbek Orunbekov, for defamation last year for a whopping $26,000, the journalist has managed to persuade a local court to take up a case against the president on similar grounds.
If Orunbekov wins — which few expect — he will claim from the head of state a single unit of the battered national currency, the som.
Judicial proceedings to determine whether or not Atambayev defamed Orunbekov in his end of year speech, by effectively accusing him of being a slanderer-for-hire, began earlier this week.
Testifying in Atambayev’s favor, presidential representative Chynara Musabekova told the court on January 28 that suggestions Orunbekov was “working on somebody’s money” when writing articles critical of the head of state were only a “hypothesis” rather than an insult to Orunbekov’s “honor and dignity.”
According to local news site Kloop.kg, Orunbekov was prevented from making his own argument in court due to his inadequate Russian, with testimony in the state language Kyrgyz oddly inadmissible.
The latest seasonal outbreak of conspiracy theories in Russia has it that the Americans are infecting the former Soviet Union with swine flu through a laboratory in Georgia.
A surge in H1N1 influenza in the Caucasus provided a fresh news peg for Russian paranoia about a US-funded biolab in Georgia, named after former US Senator Richard Lugar. The Kremlin long has declared the facility a bioweapon planted by the US next to the Russian border, and blamed it for spreading everything from anthrax to cow madness.
Now, Russian media, be it the Kremlin’s international propaganda arm Sputnik or local tabloids, are connecting the dots between post-Soviet sneezing and the Indiana Republican. Russian news cited concerns about the Georgian facility in neighboring Armenia, where the swine-flu death toll reached 18 last week, but all such headlines seem to be coming from Russia.
Even reporting on denials from Georgian health officials offers Russian media an opportunity to keep the theories in the spotlight.
“This is utter nonsense . . . spewed by the special services of a certain country,” said Paata Imnadze, deputy chief of the Georgian National Center for Disease Control and Public Health. The Lugar Lab’s mission, Innadze said, is to study and prevent the spread of diseases in humans and animals.