A court in Kazakhstan has ordered the release on parole of jailed opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis wrote on his Facebook on August 4.
Kozlov, the former leader of the banned Alga! opposition party, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for his supposed involvement whipping up unrest in the town of Zhanaozen in December 2011.
Zhovtis wrote of his relief at the news of Kozlov’s imminent release.
“It is true that another 15 days will pass before the decision comes into force, but at last…” he wrote.
Kozlov has appealed for early release on previous occasions without success. On the contrary, the politician appears to have been singled out for particularly harsh punishment by prison authorities for allegedly violating rules.
Last July, officials at Kozlov’s prison colony in Zarechniy in south-eastern Kazakhstan transferred him “to a strict-regime cellblock,” purportedly for offenses that included “speaking ill of the country’s president.” Kozlov was reportedly transferred away from the strict-regime cellblock on August 1.
Kozlov was not present in Zhanaozen at the time of the disturbances, but the government claims he was whipping up strikers with the ultimate aim of overthrowing Nazarbayev. The politician has always steadfastly denied any involvment in the violence and argued at the time that he wished to serve as a negotiator between the government and striking oil workers in the town.
The chiefs of staff of the armed forces of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and Tajikistan watch military exercises in Urumqi. (photo: Inter Services Public Relations)
Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and Tajikistan have set up a "Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism" to jointly combat terrorism, further advancing security cooperation between the unlikely group of countries.
The chiefs of general staffs of the four armed forces met in Urumqi, China, on Wednsday and announced the formation of the mechanism, which will coordinate efforts on "study and judgment of counter terrorism situation, confirmation of clues, intelligence sharing, anti-terrorist capability building, joint anti-terrorist training and personnel training," according to a joint statement by the four sides.
Recall that when this idea was first publicly broached in March, Russian analysts reacted with some alarm, calling it a "Central Asian NATO" representing an unprecedentedly bold move by China into Central Asian security while excluding Russia. (Some Russian media then blamed this blog for fomenting discord between China and Russia by reporting on those analysts' comments.) Thus far there seems to be no further comment from the Russian government or press on this development.
The four representatives also observed a Chinese military exercise at Korla. "Exercise encompased a very effective neutralization of a terrorists' base in a remote mountainous region employing all the modern aerial and ground equipment and gadgets. [Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan] appreciated [the People's Liberation Army] troops for their skills and enhanced abilities to counter all categories of terrorism," according to a Pakistani military press release.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and his Kazakhstan counterpart Imangali Tasmagambetov meet in Astana. (photo: MoD Kazakhstan)
Russia has given Kazakhstan several air defense systems, and the two sides reportedly negotiated more Kazakh purchases of Russian aircraft during a visit by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu this week to Astana.
The delivery of the S-300PS air defense systems has been discussed for years. When Russia announced at the end of last year that the deal was finally complete, the Kazakh side declined to comment publicly, and anonymous MoD officials complained that the systems in fact needed lots of repair and were not ready for service.
This time, though, Kazakhstan's MoD announced that they had received the S-300s -- and that Russia had even thrown in 170 rockets to be used with them.
It's unclear what threats from the air Kazakhstan faces. But Russia has been pursuing a joint air defense system within the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and has been carrying out analogous negotiations with CSTO members Armenia and Belarus. (Kazakhstan also has claimed that Uzbekistan drones have violated its airspace.)
In addition, Shoigu discussed two possible aircraft deals with Kazakhstan, reported the Russian newspaper Kommersant, citing a source "familiar with the deals." They would include four Yak-130s, which can be used both as training aircraft and light attack jets; an undisclosed number of Yak-152 training aircraft; and two Il-76MD-90A military transport aircraft. The negotiations on the transport aircraft are "relatively advanced," Kommersant reported.
Ever the optimist, Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon is again pleading with the global Islamic community for financial assistance to develop his country.
Speaking at the 12th World Islamic Economic Forum in Indonesia this week, Rahmon appealed to prosperous Muslim countries to give a helping hand to struggling Muslim nations, including his own.
Rahmon proposed changing banking procedures to simplify the transfer of grants and lowering interest rates for loans.
“In our view, with a view to lowering the impact of global crises and other current issues in the developing Islamic world, especially among countries that do not have an outlet to the sea, it is necessary to create a specialized bank or a financial support fund,” he said. “I am certain that this would to a great extent enable the successful resolution of current problems before us, as well as strengthen the unity of the Islamic umma on the trajectory toward peace and stability,”
The Tajik government suggests electricity infrastructure like the proposed CASA-1000 grid, mineral exploration, farming and tourism could be promising targets for investment.
Rahmon said conditions were highly favorable in his country for investment and that reforms had been enacted to promote private enterprise. This will come as a surprise to the business community in Tajikistan, which has become used to operations in conditions of rampant corruption and cronyism.
Since the start of the year, Rahmon has been doing the rounds in monied Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the hope of drumming up investment for his cash-strapped country. Those efforts have yielded few notable results, however.
Rumors about the rape of a little girl has sparked mass unrest along ethnic lines in villages in southern Kazakhstan, culminating in dozens of arrests.
Interior Ministry official Syrym Abdullayev said on August 1 that trouble in the Maktaraal district, in the South Kazakhstan region, began when word spread that an eight-year old girl had been sexually assaulted by a local 15-year old boy.
The ensuing unrest centered on an area inhabited by large numbers of ethnic Tajiks. One clash involving dozens of people ended up with windows of a shop being smashed and three people injured. Tengri News reported that 170 police officers were dispatched to the scene to restore calm.
Reports are piecemeal, but it seems the disturbances spread across several villages in the area, which borders Uzbekistan. Overnight on August 1, a group of men set light to two houses and a car in the village of Dikhan.
RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, Azattyq, reported that the local Tajik community pleaded with authorities to provide them with protection.
“Around 100 young people came shouting, so we escaped with our children. In the space of 10-15 minutes, they burned down the house and destroyed the car,” Makhmutzhan Arzimuratov, owner of a damaged house in Dikhan, told Azattyq, recalling the late-night attack.
A shop in the village of Muratbayev was also target of an arson attack.
Georgia appointed a new defense minister who immediately became the subject of controversy when the outgoing minister criticized the selection.
The new minister, Levon Izoria, was announced on Monday, and spoke to the press on Tuesday. From a policy perspective, he signaled little new, vowing to continue Georgia's "active participation in NATO Resolute Support – we will pursue it with our strategic partner, the United States,” he said, referring to the western military mission in Afghanistan. Izoria also emphasized the importance of the new security cooperation agreement with the U.S. which will focus on building up Georgia's ability to defend itself, reported Civil.ge.
But the woman whom Izoria is replacing, Tinatin Khidasheli, took a public shot at his appointment. Izoria comes from Georgia's internal security services; he had been serving as deputy head of the State Security Service, and before that deputy interior minister. That background is inappropriate for a defense minister, Khidasheli said shortly after the appointment was announced.
“It is a wrong message to our partners abroad, as well as internally, when at first Irakli Alasania, a political figure, was replaced by a security official [Mindia Janelidze] as defense minister and then Khidasheli was replaced again by a security [official]… It indicates on a very negative trend,” Khidasheli said. Her husband and speaker of the parliament Davit Usupashvili echoed the comments.
The latest desperate measures by Turkmenistan’s government to alleviate pressure on the national currency have reportedly sparked panic among the population and prompted many to begin stockpiling food.
Alternative News of Turkmenistan (ANT) website reported last week that the Central Bank had suspended currency convertibility for private enterprises, including those trading in food and similar basic items.
The website on July 26 cited its sources as saying that President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov would be personally granting permission to individual companies to buy and sell foreign currencies.
With companies in Turkmenistan unable to secure foreign cash, they are unable to pay suppliers, causing a shortage of imported goods on the local market. As ANT notes, similar restrictions were introduced in October but were not extended to companies dealing in food goods and industrial materials.
Some entrepreneurs should theoretically be able to draw on bank accounts in foreign denomination to continue their transactions, but ANT cited an unnamed government official as saying that only a handful of companies had positive balances on the dollar accounts.
“We have returned back to the days [of former president Saparmurat Niyazov],” the source told ANT.
Without referring to the ANT reports, the Central Bank this week tried to inject a note of reassurance by noting in a statement that it was creating all conditions necessary for currency convertibility.
“The private sector, as well as citizens, can without interference convert foreign currencies as established under the law,” the statement said.
In his latest marathon press conference, Kyrgyzstan’s president spoke in favor of proposed constitutional reforms, lashed out at criticism from Turkey and had yet another pop at the United States.
Almazbek Atambayev has taken a leaf out of his Russian counterpart’s books by holding regular hours-long meetings with the press in which he rarely fails to jar some sensibilities.
The focus this year was on wide-ranging constitutional reforms that would if approved bolster the role of the executive — the prime minister’s office, in other words. The plan is to eventually submit the changes to a national referendum. Suggestions that the constitution is to be modified are particularly contentious as previous changes made in 2010 included provisions for the document to remain untouched at least until 2020.
Speculation is that Atambayev may seek to extend his rule by slotting in the prime minister’s seat, but he offered less than emphatic reassurances on that front.
“If I wanted to stay in power, I would have done it without parliament. I would have had no trouble doing it through a referendum by popular initiative,” he said.
On the contrary, he suggested, the intent behind modifying the constitution was to prevent his successor for grabbing too much power.
“With the current constitution the next president could easily become a dragon,” Atambayev said, speaking about a constitution he himself ushered into being. “In order for there to be no dragon with 120 heads [the number of members of parliament], we need to change the constitution.”
Much discussion has been aroused by the suggestion to have the constitution recognize the supreme value of “love for the motherland,” “respect for the elderly” and “honor and dignity” — juridically vague if not meaningless terms that might stand to trump the current constitutional supremacy of individual human rights.
Tajikistan’s anticorruption agency says it has uncovered an alleged embezzlement scheme at state bank Amonatbank, suggesting the crisis gripping the country’s lending sectors extends beyond just the lack of liquidity.
The deputy chairman of the Agency for State Financial Control and Combating Corruption, Davlatbek Hairzoda, said last week that the scheme has cost the government 31.6 million somoni ($4 million). Four bank employees are under investigation.
The timing is unfortunate since dwindling faith in the country’s private banks in Tajikistan has been driving many people to move their money to an institution perceived as being underpinned by state support.
Amonatbank chief executive Ruhullo Hakimzoda revealed last month that the banking crisis has compelled many state and private enterprises to move their business to his bank.
In the first half of 2016, Amonatbank’s client base for salary payments and bank card services increased by 20 percent, Hakimzoda said. No surprise there since workers whose wage packets are serviced by banks like troubled private lender Tojiksodirotbank have experienced severe complications in getting hold of any of their cash.
“Besides that, Amonatbank has seen an 11.8 percent increase in deposits, which is mostly accounted for by an outflow from other banks,” Hakimzoda said.
More customers has not translated into profits. Hakimzoda said losses in the first six months of the year came in at 6 million somoni ($760,000).
With the presidential election coming into view in Kyrgyzstan, parliament is bracing to effect new changes to the constitution — the eighth round of amendments since the country earned independence.
Speculation about possible tinkering with the founding law has been brewing since 2014. President Almazbek Atambayev stoked talk of imminent action at an end-of-year press conference in December, when he argued constitutional changes were necessary to successfully implement judicial reform.
“Sooner or later, the amendments are needed. If we want normal courts, we will have to change the constitution. Of course, the essence of it cannot be changed, we have to follow the path we chose,” Atambayev said.
Atambayev has repeatedly stated he has no plans to change the constitution to remain in power or become the prime minister after his term ends in 2017, so that remains off the table for now.
The latest constitutional initiative has ostensibly been spearheaded by members of parliament, who insist the consideration of their package of changes should be considered this fall. The MPs comes from four parliamentary factions: the Atambayev-linked Social Democratic Party (SDPK), the Kyrgyzstan Party, Onuguu-Progress and the Respublika-Ata Jurt opposition party.
There are about 30 amendments in play touching on areas including human rights and the authority of parliament, the judiciary, the president and the prime minister.