A train crash in southern Uzbekistan in late September led to speculation that it was related to U.S. military transport to Afghanistan on the Northern Distribution Network, but the U.S. says the cargo on the ill-fated train wasn't theirs.
The crash happened September 25 near Tangimush, in Sukhandarya province. It doesn't seem to have been acknowledged by the Uzbekistan government, but some witnesses reported the news to Radio Ozodlik (in Russian) and took photos. Four people were killed.
This is the same line that was the subject of a Wikileaked cable that this blog mentioned a few months ago. In that cable, a local informant reported to the U.S. embassy in Tashkent that the new line, which was being used for NDN cargo, was built on such steep terrain that it necessitated riding the brakes on such a long descent that they were glowing red by the time it reached the bottom:
XXXXXXXXXXXX's description of current operations on the Karshi-Termez rail line is cause for concern. XXXXXXXXXXXX underlined this by saying he himself refused to travel on the line under current conditions. His description of wheels that are red hot by the end of the mountain crossing implies that a train wreck is possible in the literal sense.
I asked the State Department about the September crash, and this is the statement they provided:
Some media reports indicated that the train was carrying fuel; however, the cargo did not belong to the US government. This route is also used for commercial cargo transportation, and this appears to have been a commercial cargo shipment...
Uh-oh. We thought the golden statue of Turkmenbashi, the past dictator of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov, (the title means "leader of Turkmens") was supposed to have been toppled.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who took power in February 2007, removed many of the trappings of Niyazov's cult of personality. Among them was supposed to have been the huge 230-foot statue of his predecessor clad in business attire, arms outstretched, which rotated with the sun.
To be sure, after he announced its demise in May 2008, it took Berdymukhamedov more than two years then to actually take down the statue as planned. Workmen finally removed the figure on August 25, 2010.
The statute formerly stood atop the Arch of Neutrality, which symbolizes a central tenet of Turkmen state propaganda regarding its relations with powerful neighbors.
In fact, if you look at his past speeches, Berdymukhamedov never actually said he was getting rid of the statute for good; he just said it would be "removed to the suburbs" -- and it has been -- that's where the Monument of Neutrality is located.
Bishkek has breathed a sigh of relief. After a few nerve-wracking days, post-election protests in the country’s restive south have come to a halt. Hundreds of voters, disenchanted with last week’s results, held rallies in Jalal-Abad and Osh—a stark reminder of Kyrgyzstan’s treacherous north-south divide and the capital’s weak hold over the country’s more densely populated half.
Publicly, President-Elect Almazbek Atambayev, a northerner, had little to offer his disgruntled citizens, lying low during the protests. Perhaps, he was negotiating behind closed doors with southern strongman Kamchybek Tashiev, who placed third in the October 30 ballot and personally called off the protests by his supporters, on November 4, just in time for a long holiday weekend. Tashiev denied rumors of a deal, but said he would not endorse violence, or the seizure of government buildings—a tactic used by southern protesters in support of native son and ex-president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, following his bloody ouster last year.
Perhaps the lower profile is because the United Kingdom has been stung recently by the Uzbek authorities? Oxus, a British gold-mining firm was forced to out of business, its assets essentially seized and chief engineer sentenced to prison, and the UK Embassy's press secretary was sentenced for associating with outspoken human rights defenders.
Maybe it's just prudence -- or preoccupation with hosting the Olympics?
As previously reported on this blog, Turkey's stock of lufer (bluefish), a staple of Istanbul fish shacks and restaurants, is rapidly dwindling. In response, the government has now set a new size limit on commercially caught lufer, a move which provoked a sea-borne protest by Istanbul fishermen. From Hurriyet:
A group of fishermen yesterday protested a decision by the Ministry of Agriculture to ban the catching of small-sized bluefish.
Vessel traffic on the Bosporus Strait was briefly interrupted as some 150 fishing boats set sail on the strait to protest the recent regulations.
The Food, Agriculture and Livestock Ministry in September increased the minimum catch size from 14 to 20 centimeters for bluefish and from 30 to 45 centimeters for grouper.
The boats carried banners that read “Chaos in the sector,” “Do not touch my bluefish,” “1 million fishermen are victims” and “There is no research, just a ban.”
The Treehugger blog, meanwhile, reports about ongoing efforts to save the lufer, including the recent launch of the first annual "Bluefish Holiday." From the blog, which also provides more background on the new lufer fishing policy:
Russia is trying to get its putative allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization to adopt unified official positions on issues from human rights, terrorism and even World War II history, with the aim of making the group speak with a single voice on foreign policy issues. That's according to a report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant and summarized in English by Ferghana News. According to Kommersant, CSTO members received a draft nine-page document of the "collective directives" on September 26, and that the issue will be formally taken up at a CSTO summit in Moscow next month.
From Ferghana's account:
A nine-page long paper embraces such areas as countering attempts of falsification of the history (primarily meaning the history of the World War II), as well as areas like international security and disarmament, anti-missile defense, cooperation between CSTO and OSCE with NATO, situation in Afghanistan, response to international terrorism, drugs and organized crime, as well as human rights. The countries of the alliance are going to make joint statements and coordinate their positions in respect to the above issues in front of such organizations as UN, OSCE and other international forums.
Russia's envoy to the CSTO Igor Lyakin-Frolov told Kommersant: "Collective directives -- this is an important tool to determine the main targets of our common foreign policy." And he added that a key goal of this was to gain NATO recognition of the group:
[T]he new initiative should, according to Mr. Lyakina-Frolov, "make the CSTO visible and important international institution with a serious military and political weight, which will be listened to in the world...
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan is moving key pieces to a new center of action on Armenia’s political chessboard for election 2012. Mikael Minasian, the president’s son-in-law-cum-deputy-chief-of-staff, became the latest and perhaps most influential figure to quit his day job in the presidential entourage to join Team Sargsyan for next year's parliamentary vote.
Minasian will be joining [ex-Parliamentary Speaker] Hovik Abrahamian in running the campaign of Sargsyan's ruling Republican Party of Armenia.
Armenian media linked the reshuffle to efforts to build up defensive lines against a possible election bid by President Sargsyan’s predecessor (and fellow Nagorno-Karabakh native), Robert Kocharian. Media have also speculated about possible defections from the Sargsyan team to Kocharian.
Perhaps with the chaotic presidential election of 2008 in mind, Minasian said he will make sure that Armenia will emerge post-election strong and “looking confidently into the future.”
But, given that the election is likely to be about confrontation between at least two presidents, one former (Levon Ter-Petrosian) and one current, Armenian politics may ultimately prove to be what one fictional chess queen (Alice in Wonderland) would term “living backwards" -- something that may “make one a little giddy at first,” but allows “one’s memory" to work "both ways."
Some macabre children's toys are on sale in northern Kazakhstan, according to press reports.
The gruesome playthings appear to imitate an abortion or miscarriage, an Interfax report said: “A plastic keg-shaped box contains a human embryo in red liquid. If the cover of the container opens, the embryo falls out together with [a] sticky mucus.”
“When my nine-year-old daughter brought the toy home, I was shocked,” Interfax quoted an outraged parent as saying.
The toys are reported to be on sale at markets and toy stores across Kostanay at a cost of 60-100 tenge (around 40-75 cents).
In contravention of Kazakh law, the packaging displays no writing in Kazakh or Russian, only what the report describes as “hieroglyphics.” That suggests the toys may have been manufactured in neighboring China, Central Asia’s number one source of cheap consumer goods.
Sale of the grisly toys is not limited to Kostanay – they are also on sale near a school in the northwestern city of Oral, displayed alongside more run-of-the-mill items such as exercise books and chewing gum, reports the Uralsk.info local news website alongside a gory picture of the offending item.
Abdurakhmon Tashanov of the Tashkent-based Ezgulik (Goodness) human rights center told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty recently that his organization has "information about the existence of special torture cells that are extremely cold and in which the guards and interrogators put cold water on the floors to increase the suffering of the inmates."
Tashanov said he was skeptical of a new law that is supposed to regulate treatment in pre-trial detention in Uzbekistan.
A giant bird is causing a sensation in its former stomping ground -- Kazakhstan. Working with fossilized pieces of jawbone, a team of scientists, led by Darren Naish at the University of Southampton, has constructed a picture of this oversized fowl, Samrukia nessovi, which lived some 80 million years ago.
Scientists named the Cretaceous creature after the samryk, a mythical phoenix-like bird that features prominently in Kazakh legends, and Lev Nessov, the Soviet palaeontologist who discovered the fossilized remains on one of his forays into the Kyzylkum desert in the 1970s.
The remains somehow found their way to a museum in Belgium where a scientist spotted the unusual pieces on display. In August 2010 Naish and his colleague Gareth Dyke were enlisted to help identify what the bird may have looked like.
The scientists are undecided if the samrukia could fly, but from the size of the jaw, which measures just over 30 centimetres, they have speculated that it may have been a condor-like creature with a massive 4-meter wingspan. If it were flightless, then it may have been 2-3 meters tall and weighed about 50 kilos.