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.
President Ilham Aliyev at the opening of the Araz munitions plant in Shirvan in 2010. (photo: Ministry of Defense Industry of Azerbaijan(
Azerbaijan's government has responded with uncharacteristic solicitousness to an explosion at a state munitions factory that killed two workers and injured 24 more, underscoring the importance the state places on its defense capacity.
The explosion occurred at the Araz munitions plant in the city of Shirvan, southwest of Baku, on July 26. Azerbaijani authorities said it was caused by a stockpile of old ammunition that had been slated for disposal.
The government's response was swift and active: the Minister of Defense Industry Yavar Jamalov visited the injured at the hospital and went to the funerals of those killed. The ministry's press service is releasing regular updates on the health of the injured. An investigative commission was formed and the state prosecutor's office opened a criminal case. This level of responsiveness is unusual for a government that tends to rule in a distant, imperious manner and to punish the messengers who call attention to bad news in the country.
It’s election time in Georgia and, once again, just like summer swallows, accusations about political pressure have returned. This time, though, they come from the head of state himself, with the chairperson of Georgia’s highest court further broadening their scope.
Such allegations come at a sensitive time for the ruling Georgian Dream, which faces an October 8 parliamentary election. The coalition came to power in 2012 after itself facing down various forms of pressure from then President Mikheil Saakashvili’s administration. The group has long maintained that it doesn’t get up to the same sort of tricks.
But some seem to think that depends on the alleged violation. A senior Georgian Dream lawmaker this week suggested that President Giorgi Margvelashvili had been drunk when he claimed that a police run-in with a family member was meant to intimidate him. “He must’ve had a little too much on that day,” said Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Manana Kobakhidze.
Around 200 oil laborers in the western Kazakhstan city of Zhanozen mounted five straight days of strike actions last week in protest at their employers’ plan to reduce working hours and cut salaries.
Memories are still raw in the city of events in December 2011, when a lengthy sit-in by striking oil workers culminated with unrest that was crushed with force by police, leaving more than a dozen dead.
The protest by employees of drilling company Burgylau took the form of them dropping tools for two hours daily. Notably, some of this news is being reported by loyal to the government, which represents a stark difference to 2011, when state media largely ignored industrial unrest in Zhanaozen.
One of the workers’ complaints is related to a string of what they are unfounded dismissals. Around 60 people have been fired in recent times, protesters said.
There is also unhappiness about the performance of trade unions. Workers have said the union has failed to address their complaints and they are demanding a change to the leadership. Unions in Kazakhstan are typically largely toothless bodies that do the companies’ bidding. Employees at Burgylau have said they want transparent reports on how their monthly 2,000 tenge dues to the body are being spent.
The union has defended itself from criticism, saying the strikes are unfounded and that rumors of unlawful dismissal were little more than rumors. It also said that it has received no reports that complaining workers are facing intimidation from the company, as has been claimed.
Unlike in much of the former Soviet Union, young men in Uzbekistan clamor to do military service, and the competition is so intense that authorities have introduced stringent new entrance requirements.
Officials estimate that only one out of every 10 hopeful applicants is successful.
A decree published this week on legal affairs website Norma.uz contains all the details. The fitness section comprises three routines: chin-ups, a 100-meter dash and a 3,000-meter run. Next comes a three-part written exam testing knowledge of math, and Uzbek language and history.
Enrolment takes place just once annually and hopeful conscripts can apply only once.
The relative prestige associated with doing obligatory service in Uzbekistan dates back to reforms enacted in 2008, when the length of service was reduced from 24 months to 12. Wages paid to conscripts were also raised.
There are numerous correlated benefits to serving. One is that it increases chances of getting government jobs or the professional army itself, where positions are also highly sought after for the perks. The Defense Ministry has said that between 2007 and 2015, it allocated more than 3,000 apartments to servicemen and their families.
With unemployment a chronic problem in Uzbekistan, any path to regular, respectable and well-paid work is eagerly pursued.
Those that have completed military service are also eligible to receive additional benefits while completing their university studies.
Perhaps most importantly, it would appear that Uzbekistan has been fairly successful is clamping down on hazing in the armed forces. The systematic bullying that occurs across the former Soviet Union is typically compounded by long terms of conscription and low levels of professionalism.