Ten people have died in an Independence Day clash between protestors and police in the town of Zhanaozen in Kazakhstan’s energy-rich west, the General-Prosecutor's Office has confirmed.
The fatal confrontation is sending shockwaves through Kazakhstan, where major protests are rare, and bringing to mind unfortunate parallels as the country prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of the violent suppression of the Zheltoksan (December) uprising by Soviet security forces in 1986.
“According to preliminary information, as a result of mass unrest 10 people died, and there are injured, including police officers,” the prosecutor’s office said, indicating that the death toll may rise further. It blamed the unrest on the “criminal actions” of a “group of people engaging in hooliganism.”
That comment sparked further comparisons with the Zheltoksan uprising in the then capital of Soviet Kazakhstan, Alma-Ata (now Almaty): it was initially blamed by Soviet authorities on hooligans, before being recognized – after independence – as a harbinger of Kazakhstan’s sovereignty.
Today’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev was prime minister of Soviet Kazakhstan at the time when the Zheltoksan protest was brutally suppressed. Twenty-five years on, protestors in Zhanaozen rioted and set fire to the local government headquarters and the administration building of the OzenMunayGaz company that has been at the center of an energy sector protest ongoing since May, the prosecutor’s office said.
That industrial dispute, which centers on take-home pay and working conditions, has led to the dismissals of at least 2,000 staff, who have used Zhanaozen’s main square (the site of this Independence Day violence) as a focal point for protest over the last seven months.
Violence in a town in Kazakhstan's energy-rich west has spoiled the December 16 Independence Day party that Astana has been billing as a celebration of the country’s success and achievements since it declared independence from the Soviet Union two decades ago.
Kazakhstan’s General-Prosecutor’s Office acknowledged in a statement that the two law-enforcement officers had been injured in “mass unrest,” which it blamed on “the criminal actions of a group of people.”
The prosecutor’s office said Independence Day celebrations planned on the town’s main square, which has also been the focal point of the energy sector protest, were disrupted. Video from the private K-Plus TV channel posted on YouTube showed a crowd rampaging across the square, hurling PA systems to the ground and chasing a police officer off the stage.
It was not clear whether those involved were linked to the energy sector protest or had another goal. Some observers in Kazakhstan suggested that the incident may have been a provocation aimed at instigating violence to discredit President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his administration.
Meanwhile, activists in Kazakhstan suggested – without offering credible substantiation – that there had been fatalities, citing figures ranging from five to as many as 70 people.
Straight out of a Soviet playbook: "Every Kazakhstani must be provided with the opportunity to participate in the country's large-scale industrialization."
Kazakhstan is greeting Independence Day in style on December 16, with a riot of celebrations to mark this year's special anniversary—20 years since the oil-rich Central Asian nation was propelled into statehood as the Soviet Union collapsed around it.
As befits a special occasion in a country that knows how to throw a party, festivities are on a grand scale. New facilities are being opened across the country. The grandest of all is an arch reminiscent of Paris's Arc de Triomphe that President Nursultan Nazarbayev opened in Astana today. Standing 20 meters tall to represent the symbolic anniversary, the arch, called Infinity Land, is being billed as a symbol of Kazakhstan's statehood.
More symbolically, Almaty has also gained a gigantic statue of none other than the president himself, who – according to the spin emanating from Astana – has spent the last two decades singlehandedly steering Kazakhstan into statehood.
Nazarbayev has received an “endless flow” of congratulations from his adoring public, his press service reported, and “the letters’ authors link all the country’s achievements” with their president.
Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov bowing to the Koran during his presidential inauguration, February 16, 2007.
Orchestrating Turkmenistan's sole state-controlled party, government-organized social movements, and labor unions as well as loyal elders and officials, President Berdymukhamedov has nominated himself as president for elections to take place February 12, 2012.
No other candidate has appeared on the scene.
At a ceremony December 15, the Turkmen leader wheeled out the state's lone Democratic Party as well as the state-run labor, women, youth and war veterans' organizations to applaud his candidacy, the opposition website gundogar.org reported, citing the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
Merd Ishangulyyev, a pensioner and local town elder, stepped forward to formally make the nomination, unanimously supported by all the other loyalists at the meeting. With every major state-controlled organization now behind the president, it's difficult to understand how even symbolically, other candidates might emerge. Any potential rivals would still theoretically have a chance if a local initiative group of citizens were formed under the law, then registered at the discretion of local officials, and finally allowed to meet -- with everyone at the meeting showing their passports.
In the 2007 elections that brought Berdymukhamedov to power, several docile alternative candidates were permitted to run as candidates. Their purpose seemed to be to articulate themes for the carefully-controlled state media previewing Berdymukhamedov's eventual reforms in agriculture, education, and health care.
But so far, not even those kind of puppet candidates have emerged.
Russia's Secretary of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushev claimed that Georgia is harboring anti-Russia terrorists, in an interview with the newspaper Argumenty i Fakty on Wednesday:
“The multi-ethnic peoples of Russia and Georgia are inextricably tied to each other. Saakashvili is carrying out a policy that is far from the interests of the Georgian people. More and more Georgian soldiers are being sent to take part in combat operations abroad [in ISAF operation in Afghanistan]. Training of individuals for carrying out terrorist acts in Russia is conducted on the territory of Georgia”, Patrushev said.
To some observers, the timing of that statement is suspicious, coming just days after the huge protests that have made the Russian government look vulnerable for the first time since Vladimir Putin took power in 2000. The Georgian government-run PIK-TV suggested that Patrushev's comments were meant to distract people from internal issues and rally around the central government. Their video report is in Russian, but helpfully subtitled in English. They interview Giorgi Baramidze, minister for Euro-Atlantic integration:
“Unfortunately it is not the first stupid and groundless statement that the Russian government has made. It is likely to have been caused by the intensified tension in its internal politics.”
And Alexey Malashenko, of the Carnegie Moscow Center:
Members of the European Parliament voted this morning 603-8 to send the textile protocol to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) between the European Union and Uzbekistan back to the European Commission.
In the text of the resolution, the European parliamentarians "[s]trongly condemn the use of forced child labour in Uzbekistan" and "[u]rge the Uzbek President Islam Karimov to allow an ILO monitoring mission into the country to address the issue of forced child labour practice."
The MEPs further specify support for the ILO's request for "a high-level tripartite observer mission that would have full freedom of movement and timely access to all locations and relevant parties, including in the cotton fields, in order to assess the implementation of the ILO Convention."
Finally, evidently mindful of how such missions to closed societies run by authoritarian regimes can be manipulated and sidetracked, the parliamentarians spell out further conditions:
Concludes that Parliament will only consider the consent if the ILO observers, have been granted access by the Uzbek authorities to undertake close and unhindered monitoring and have confirmed that concrete reforms have been implemented and yielded substantial results in such a way that the practice of forced labour and child labour is effectively in the process of being eradicated at national, viloyat and local level.
Azerbaijan and Russia are wrapping up three days of negotiations in Baku on the new terms of the Gabala radar station that the Russian military operates in Azerbaijan. The talks were led by Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev and Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov, and they don't seem to have come yet to any agreement on the use of the radar, whose current lease expires in December 2012.
Azerbaijan is asking for a higher rent -- increasing from $7 million a year to $100 million, according to an Azerbaijani member of the parliamentary defense committee, as well as more local employment and more mitigation of the station's environmental effects. Russia, in turn, is reportedly proposing to build a new station (the current one was built in 1985) that would have a much smaller footprint, and to keep the current rent (which according to most sources is actually $10 million a year). From Nezavisimaya Gazeta (in Russian):
Meanwhile, on the eve of the start of the Baku round of negotiations, an unexpected statement was made by Vladimir Savchenko, general director of the Academician Mintz Radio Engineering Institute, who reported that Russia plans to complete construction of the latest radar, "Voronezh-VP" in Gabala (Azerbaijan) in 2019 . This station will replace the previous generation Daryal radars.
"The Voronezh-VP is a high-technology station that can be prefabricated. With regard to timing, the plan is to complete it by 2017-2019, but it all depends on the goodwill of our esteemed neighbors. The final agreement will be secured on a political level," Savchenko said....
Remember that bridge that was mysteriously incapacitated in southern Uzbekistan a month ago? That’s right, the one many suspect the Uzbeks purposely disabled to prevent train traffic from reaching Tajikistan, but was perfectly placed to ensure that Uzbekistan’s lucrative business of supplying NATO troops in Afghanistan could continue unimpeded (and without competition).
Uzbekistan’s blockade poses the risk of a humanitarian crisis in southern Tajikistan, says the head of the United Nations World Food Program mission there, Alzira Ferreira. In addition to hindering run-of-the-mill shipments, the obstruction is even preventing international food aid from reaching the country’s most needy, she told RFE/RL:
Ferreira said there are 23 trains with food stocks organized by the WFP waiting to make the last part of their journey into Tajikistan.
The WFP regularly provides aid to some 500,000 people and 2,000 schools located mainly in Tajikistan's southern Khatlon region.
Ferreira said food prices in Tajikistan are rising due to the shortages caused by the blockade of rail traffic and an increasing number of Tajiks are unable to afford basic goods.
Kazakhstan's elections: "Important for you, important for the country."
As Kazakhstan’s parliamentary election campaign begins on December 16, the country’s political classes are preparing for the ruling Nur Otan party to win yet another landslide. Though President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration bills the snap poll as a move toward democratization, few expect the January 15 election to loosen his stranglehold on the political process.
Eight parties are standing for seats in the Mazhilis, the lower house. Nur Otan, which is led by Nazarbayev and held all elected seats in the last Mazhilis (dissolved last month for this snap election), is heading for a landslide—perhaps on a par with the 88 percent it received in 2007, when no other party cleared the 7-percent electoral threshold.
Under legislation passed in 2008, this time a multiparty parliament is guaranteed: If no other party clears the barrier, the party coming second will be exempted from it.
Favorite to come second is the pro-business Ak Zhol party, led by Azat Peruashev and viewed as tacitly backed by Astana for the role of tame parliamentary opposition.
The only credible opposition force standing is the OSDP, which includes the Azat party and is co-led by Zharmakhan Tuyakbay and Bolat Abilov.
The Party of Patriots’ ticket is headed by environmentalist Mels Yeleusizov, famous for challenging Nazarbayev in this April’s presidential election – and voting not for himself but for Nazarbayev.
The public relations tussle over Tajikistan's ambitious Rogun dam project has now shifted to Europe, where politicians are being unwittingly dragged into the war of words with Uzbekistan.
Tashkent's vehement opposition to Rogun is no secret. The Uzbek government argues that construction of the hydropower plant will deprive it of irrigation water for valuable cotton and vegetable crops. It also says that building such a large dam is tempting fate in a seismically active region.
It is one thing saying that kind of thing oneself, but quite another if one can get an international expert or politician to sign up to the opinion.
And so, enter German European Parliament member Elisabeth Jeggle.
As quoted by regional portal CA-News and several Uzbek news outlets (via Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry), Jeggle took a decidedly anti-Rogun stance while speaking with a group of Uzbek environmentalists in Brussels on November 29.
"Instead of planning large-scale projects, Tajikistan should pay more attention to the upgrading of water and energy infrastructures, so as to avoid loss of water at the expense of neighboring countries, and fully implement alternative environmentally friendly projects without infringing the rights and interests of states in the region," CA-News quotes Jeggle as saying.
A pretty candid slap-down, one might think, but Tajik media is now gleefully reporting that Jeggle has taken exception to how her remarks were reported.