And after three days of claiming that the blast was caused by fireworks igniting, officials have now finally admitted that ammunition also exploded, but found a convoluted way of explaining it on the official government website Turkmenistan: Golden Age:
It has been established by a government commission that the ignition occurred as a result of hot weather in recent days, which led to a detonation of pyrotechnical goods, and their flight over a significant territory, in the radius of which happened to be an army warehouse, where explosives were stored from ammunition of the Soviet era which were to be recycled.
The official statement also acknowledged damage to buildings.
In an article on chrono-tm.org, an independent emigre site maintained by the Turkmenistan Initiative for Human Rights, the editors said, "Despite the fact that official statistics on the number of deaths have clearly been minimized, it must be acknowledged that this was the first civilized reaction from the Turkmen leadership to the accident in Abadan."
Girls milk cows at Kyrgyzstan's Song-Kul lake, where they migrate with their families every year to take advantage of the lush jailoo, or summer pasture. The lake sits at 3000 meters (almost 10,000 feet).
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.
Fergananews.com, an independent Central Asian news site, has published a number of photos of damaged buildings in Abadan, site of an explosion in Turkmenistan last Thursday, showing smokey holes where rockets have shot through. A former Abadan worker said that it was common for people to steal ammunition from the depot and sell it, lending credence to a theory being discussed in Central Asian forums now that the explosion could have been a cover-up for theft of arms sold on the black market, so the depletion of stocks would not be noticed.
In an interview with the Russian TV channel Rain, Ajdar Kurtov, an expert from the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, said that aging Soviet weapons depots have been timebombs all over the former Soviet Union, and some have already exploded, such as in Bashkortostan. With the temperatures at 104 and above in Turkmenistan this last week, fires ignite easily. On the other hand, with its enormous gas revenues, Turkmenistan has been able to modernize its armed forces and weaponry and has purchased new supplies in recent years, mainly from Russia.
Kurtov cautions that it has been extremely difficult to get information from the affected area. Riot police are now guarding the roads at checkpoints and only allowing in evacuees with identification. Not a single federal Russian newspaper has permanent correspondents in Ashgabat, a closed society, he says.
Mobile phone connection, recently severely compromised with the forced exit of Russia's MobileTeleSystems (MTS), is heavily controlled and appears to have been shut off in the area.
Residents have been helping each other cope, offering food and clothing and preparing makeshift camps on the street, but everywhere there are still missiles scattered around from the accident. Unexploded shells and rolls of ammunition are in trees and bushes, on the street, poking from the roofs and walls of homes, and constituting a grave danger for people trying to return. While military people are patrolling the streets and have cordoned off the area of the explosion, they do not seem to be removing the unexploded ordnance. Everywhere there is the stench of burning buildings, still smouldering -- and now dead bodies, not all of which have been removed for fear of further explosives.
Serdar Aytakov, a reporter for the independent radio station Ekho Mosvky, is in Asghabat covering the story of the explosion. He says that the most grave blow for the townspeople is that authorities have decided to bury victims in mass graves, and are not returning bodies to relatives. They say it is impossible to identify the victims, and that there are only fragments of some bodies. It may be that the government fears revealing the real total of deaths and injuries from the disaster, especially after they claimed there were no casualties. They also likely want to avoid the spectacle of numerous funerals and mourners.
A curious message about the Abadan explosion showing up on a number of Russian-language social media and citizens' reporting sites could be a phishing attempt by an unscrupulous hacker, a Russian hackers' website warns.
The writer introduces himself as "Imalbek Yanisiev, a photojournalist for the youth human rights group, Ikhtyk namirusil [Our Cause]."
That was the first grounds for suspicion, as there isn't known to be any sort of independent human rights group by that name in Turkmenistan, a country where civil society has been ruthlessly suppressed.
Yanisiev then goes on to describe what purports to be a first-hand account of the chaotic scene in Abadan, with shells still flying and Turkmen riot troops patrolling the streets. As other citizen journalists have reported, he notes that authorities are arresting anyone who tries to take pictures.
Yet another red flag that calls his credibility into question is that he claims police are arresting "first of all, representatives of opposition parties, organizations and movements."
But...this is Turkmenistan. There aren't really any significant groups of this nature -- unless they've been very well hidden underground and are just surfacing now?
The account goes on to say, convincingly, "According to our unconfirmed information, the fire at the warehouse is a provocation by the authorities. It is an excuse to settle scores with us, the opposition, the people who want freedom, democratic reforms."
The Russian news service regnum.ru was among the Russian-language news sites that took the report at face value and quoted it at length in a report yesterday about the explosion in Abadan.
The Turkmen government is still spinning the tragedy of an explosion in Abadan as a mere ignition of fireworks, claiming there were no casualties, and Turkmen diplomats are making indignant statements that the foreign media is publishing "lies and provocations", AP reported.
The state television is still running musical programs and upbeat reports of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's various meetings; today the state newspaper Neitral'nyi Turkmenistan carried only a brief mention of a special government commission that supposedly has the Abadan disaster under control, before moving on to breathless reports of presidential birthday greetings still pouring in. It's surreal.
Suddenly, in the midst of this disconnected maelstrom, the president appears on television with a surprise announcement: an invitation to those who call themselves the opposition to take part in next year's presidential elections on a level playing field, AFP reports.
But as AFP noted, only an excerpt of the speech ran, and was heavily edited -- and as voiceover.
Photographers gathered in front of the Georgian Interior Ministry office in Tbilisi at 10 p.m. on June 8 to rally against the continued detention of four Georgian photojournalists.
Georgian police initially arrested five photojournalists a day earlier: among them Irakli Gedenidze, the personal photographer for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili; his wife Natia Gedenidze, a local newspaper photographer; Shahk Aivazov, an Associated Press photojournalist; Zurab Kurtsikidze, a staff photojournalist for the European Pressphoto Agency; and Gia Abdaladze, a photographer with the Georgian Foreign Ministry.
A few hours after his detention, AP photographer Aivazov was released. The other four have since been accused of spying for "a foreign country."
The government classified the investigation as top secret, thereby closing the case to outside scrutiny. As the photographers were being interrogated inside the ministry office, their protesting colleagues demanded the transparency of the case and the release of the detainees.
Temo Bardzimashvili is a freelance photojournalist based in Tbilisi.
France's sale of sophisticated warships to Russia has inspired reams of commentary speculating on what threat this might pose to NATO members or other Western allies, in particular Georgia. (Most recently, Vlad Socor wrote last week in the Eurasia Daily Monitor that the sale was motivated by "mercantilism... bypassing NATO and trumping basic notions of allied strategy and solidarity.")
Now, a U.S. Navy officer has published his master's thesis (pdf) on the purchase, which Dmitry Gorenburg says "may be the definitive work on the subject." The officer, Lieutenant Commander Patrick Thomas Baker, argues that Russia wants the ship not for any particular combat capability, but as the linchpin of a larger naval modernization strategy:
[T]he Mistral sale is driven by Russia‘s need to acquire modern command and control and shipbuilding technologies, rather than increase its amphibious assault capabilities per se.
Russia's naval chief, Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy -- who is notorious for arguing that with the Mistral, Russia would have been able to defeat Georgia "in 40 minutes, not 26 hours" -- was interested in the ship since before the Georgia war, which Baker says "suggests that a desire to acquire a new system preceded identifying a required capability and developing a system to fulfill that capability.":
The death toll in an explosion in the town of Abadan in Turkmenistan is nearing 200, the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights reported at chrono-tm.org, an independent émigré news site.
About 100 people killed are said to be military personnel, and the rest are civilians, including adults and children.
Authorities have given out orders to detain everyone attempting to take pictures of the disaster with their cell phone cameras or video cameras. Some detentions have already been made.
Nevertheless, people are making photos anyway, and some of them have been published at chrono-tm.org here. The photos indicate burning apartment buildings and smoke, and an unexploded rocket that contradicts the official story that the blast was caused by fireworks igniting.
By law, the government needs to present formal charges within 48 hours against the four photographers, who are being held in jail on suspicion of espionage. How much more information may be released when those charges are filed, however, is unknown. The case has been classified as secret; the photographers' lawyers decline to share details about the government's case with media.
Among the detainees are President Mikheil Saakashvili’s own photographer, Irakli Gedenidze, and his wife, also a photographer.
Saakashvili’s spokesperson Manana Manjgaladze on Friday offered a brief glimpse into the case, but clarified little. She said that the accusations are not related to the detainees' work as photographers, but rather are about passing on confidential information, such as documentation and officials’ schedules, on to what she described as a spy network. Gedenidze had access to such information as a pool photographer for the president’s office, she said.
Manjgaladze pointed out that the photographers were not known for their anti-government views and added that “[i]t is troubling that their detention is being linked to media freedom" issues.
But many civil rights activists, journalists and opposition politicians are making that connection. A protest rally of journalists wearing black blindfolds, organized by the opposition-minded media holding Alia, was held on July 8 in front of the Tbilisi police building where the four men are held.