Georgia's political crisis moved into high gear on October 30 after ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was caught advising the embattled Georgian television station, Rustavi2, to barricade itself against the government’s alleged seizure plans and adopt a “revolutionary scenario.” Based on the wiretapped conversation, posted online, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili accused Saakashvili of fomenting an upheaval and vowed to “neutralize everything and everyone” threatening the country’s constitutional order.
The State Security Service early this afternoon began questioning Saakashvili’s two interlocutors, Rustavi2 General Director Nika Gvaramia and former National Security Council head Giga Bokeria, a senior member of Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM). Neither of the two men is being held. The Service already is investigating another supposed conversation between Saakashvili and Bokeria.
Driving the drama is the shortly expected verdict in a lawsuit for ownership of the Saakashvili-sympathetic television station Rustavi2, the country’s most frequently viewed national broadcaster. Station staff and supporters claim the suit fronts as a takeover attempt by the government, and that they will not recognize a court-decision that changes Rustavi2’s ownership.
With tensions escalating, the hearing on Friday was postponed until November 2.
Georgian television is now awash with the taped conversations, the authenticity of which both Gvaramia and Bokeria have confirmed. Dates mentioned in the conversation indicate it occurred some 10 days ago.
A leading campaigner in the effort to document Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest, which has been blighted by claims of rights abuses, has found his office destroyed by an unexplained fire.
Activists monitoring the harvest have faced an unprecedented wave of intimidation from authorities this year, despite mounting international scrutiny of the sector.
Dmitriy Tikhonov, who has reported cases of forced labor in cotton fields to international organizations, found his office in his home town, Angren, in charred ruins when he returned there on October 29, following an absence.
Files detailing the abuses he had documented were missing. Tikhonov did find a metal box container still intact in the ruins, but the hard drive that was stored inside had disappeared.
“The fire is a horrific escalation of the intimidation campaign against Dmitry and all Uzbek human rights defenders throughout 2015, aimed at preventing them from reporting on forced labor in the cotton sector,” Umida Niyazova, director of the Berlin-based Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, said in remarks quoted by the Cotton Campaign, an international advocacy group.
The fire appears to have taken place on October 20, which was the same day that Tikhonov was presented with criminal charges of disorderly conduct. The charges were brought after three members of a local neighborhood committee accused him of using foul language while asking them questions about cotton harvest mobilization.
Four out of the six parties elected to Kyrgyzstan’s 120-seat parliament in the October 4 vote have agreed to form a broad ruling coalition. The size of the majority is likely to be enough to avoid a repeat of the frequent coalition collapses that blighted the last parliament.
Formation of the coalition on October 29 was spearheaded by election winner Social Democratic Party (SPDK), which won 38 seats, in part because of the tacit support of its historic leader, President Almazbek Atambayev. SDPK fell far short of an outright majority, however, so it has had to join forces with the Kyrgyzstan party (18 seats), Onuguu-Progress (13) and Ata-Meken (11).
Barring major schism, that block of 80 deputies could provide a strong mandate to pass much-needed legislation.
Respublika-Ata Jurt, headed by a wealthy businessman and former prime minister, Omurbek Babanov, and Bir Bol, whose parliamentary faction will be led by southerner Altynbek Suleimanov, will sit in opposition.
Incumbent Prime Minister Temir Sariyev, who became the country’s fifth head of government in five years in late April and who is not affiliated to any of the parties in parliament, is to continue in his role.
The coalition is larger than any in the last term of parliament. No single party can collapse the government by unilaterally exiting the coalition, which was a regular threat last time round.
The most likely dissident party will be Ata-Meken. Atambayev in summer accused Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebayev of having “one foot in government, one in opposition” — a reference to the party’s recurrent criticism of a government of which it ostensibly formed a part.
With its November 1 parliament vote just days away, Azerbaijan today continued a string of detentions of senior government officials from the national security ministry and communications ministry that has left observers struggling to explain.
On October 29, Vidadi Zeynolav, the chief of staff of the communications ministry, a high-profile body handling such nationally sensitive projects as Azerbaijan's first satellite launch, was detained for unclear reasons.
To date, 22 arrests of officials related to government-run security or communications bodies have been reported.The first seven cases occurred after Mahmudov’s dismissal on October 17. An additional 15 followed on October 28.
Prosecutors say that the individuals were abusing their official powers or damaging "the rights and legitimate interests" of individuals or organizations, yet details of the cases remain under wraps. The hit list includes the deputy directors of Azerbaijan's counter-terrorism center and transnational organized crime center.
As ever more people in Kazakhstan get onto the Internet, the government is adopting expanding measures to limit access to websites they deem harmful.
Those efforts have earned the country a demotion in Washington-based Freedom House’s latest online freedom rankings to “Not Free,” down from “Partly Free” last year.
The watchdog found in its annual Freedom on the Net report that the government is increasingly cracking down on independent journalism and online content deemed extremist.
“The government also continues to pass restrictive laws banning certain content online and expanding its powers to shut down communication networks and media outlets,” the report found.
Freedom House said that the most significant cases of censorship target reporting on the Islamic State group. The authorities have routinely blocked not only content released by the extremist organization, such as recruitment videos targeting Kazakhstan, but also reports about it in local and foreign media, including EurasiaNet.org.
But there was also pervasive blocking of material unrelated to religious extremism, Freedom House said. Those included reports about the closure of the Adam Bol magazine, the possibility of Ukraine-style secessionism in Kazakhstan, and a minor ethnic clash in south Kazakhstan in February.
That public unrest prompted authorities to temporarily disconnect Internet services and block mobile telephone networks.
German company DEA Deutsche Erdoel AG is set to relinquish its natural gas concession on Turkmenistan’s Caspian Sea shelf over frustration at excess bureaucracy and corruption, according to foreign-based website Alternative News of Turkmenistan (ANT).
The website reported, citing what it claimed were sources inside Turkmenistan’s presidential administration, that the Hamburg-based oil and gas company plans to end its exploration commitments at what is known as Block 23.
DEA AG — formerly RWE Dea AG — was granted exploration rights for Block 23 under a production sharing agreement in 2009 in an agreement that suggested Turkmenistan was readying to open its energy resources up to outsider investors.
The ultimate prize has been access to onshore reserves, but Western courtiers have been kept waiting ever since.
ANT cites it sources as saying that DEA AG has grown tired at “bureaucratic complications” in the Central Asian nation.
“For more than two years, the company has not managed to get the exploration drilling permits, even though all the four-year preparatory work envisioned in 2009 had been completed,” the website reported.
According to ANT, Turkmenistan State Agency for Management and Use of Hydrocarbon Resources, which answers to the president, insisted on dragging out the process for issuing drilling rights.
One reason offered for the reluctance to issue the license was that the block is adjacent to the Hazar nature reserve, the website reported.
DEA AG did not respond to EurasiaNet.org’s emailed request for comment on the claims that it is pulling out of Turkmenistan.
“On the eve of parliamentary elections, when independent voices are crucial for having an informed debate about the country’s direction, Azerbaijani citizens will especially suffer from the silence their government has imposed,” Santos was quoted as saying in the OSCE PA statement.
Santos also lamented the fact that prominent critics of President Ilham Aliyev’s administration are now behind bars, including investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, rights activists Intigam Aliyev and Leyla Yunus, and opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov. Watchdog groups contend that they were all jailed on politically motivated charges. Officials in Baku deny the country has any political prisoners.
The OSCE PA recently announced that it would not send an observer mission to Baku for the parliamentary elections after the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights cancelled its election-observation mission, citing restrictions imposed by Azerbaijani authorities.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wound up a five-nation tour of Central Asia on October 27 in Astana with the promise of multimillion dollar investment deals and an offer from Tokyo to help build a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan.
In the end, however, nothing substantive appears to have come of this leg of Abe’s historic visit to the region.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in remarks cited by his office that Kazakhstan and Japan are moving forward with 10 projects worth a total of $700 million. And yet there were no reports of any investment deals actually being signed between the two countries, which Nazarbayev described as “distant neighbors, but close friends.”
Nazarbayev said hopefully that there was Japanese investor interest in sectors ranging from agriculture and transport to chemicals and rare earth metals.
The agreements on the table in Kazakhstan were dwarfed by the $18 billion and $8.5 billion in investment deals reportedly signed in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan earlier in Abe’s five-nation tour.
Astana is eager to drum up investment as it faces an economic downturn, especially with one of its biggest trading partners, Russia, in recession and another, China, facing slower growth. Tokyo appears to be trying to take advantage of those countries’ plight to muscle more aggressively into the backyard of rival Beijing, whose economic presence in Central Asia is far greater.
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan may be close to striking a border delimitation deal that could mitigate the occasional flare-ups of unrest among communities in disputed areas.
Speaking on October 27, Kyrgyz deputy prime minister Abdyrahman Mamataliyev hailed the proposed land swap as a historic turning point, CA-News reported.
“This will be a mutually advantageous exchange — 12 hectares apiece. We will receive plots in the village of Kok-Tash, where a cemetery is located. They will get plots lower down from this village,” said Mamataliyev, whose ministerial brief includes border issues.
Negotiations on settling land disputes have long been hindered by each side’s insistence on sticking to delimitations dating back to the Soviet era, when the location of any particular border was of little real significance.
Tajikistan has suggested agreeing to a delimitation established in documents dating back to 1924-27, while Kyrgyzstan insists on a 1958 border. The latter arrangement was at the time approved by the Kyrgyz government, but not Tajikistan’s Supreme Soviet.
But Mamataliyev said the proposed solution has been hammered out without recourse to any historic maps.
Tajikistan's government provided the Taliban in Afghanistan with weapons in exchange for the release of four soldiers who had been captured by the Taliban on the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, a Taliban official has said.
The four Tajikistani soldiers were captured last December after they got lost hunting for firewood, and were released in June with the help of Qatari mediation. The terms of the exchange weren't announced at the time, but now an unnamed senior Taliban leader, in an interview with the American website The Daily Beast, said that it involved a shipment of weapons from Dushanbe.
The deal was done by the son of a Taliban leader and a scrap metal dealer in Dushanbe, the official said. "In exchange for the guards’ release, the Taliban wanted weapons," the Daily Beast reported. “'Dr. Tahir Shamalzai [the Taliban envoy] traveled from Kabul airport to Dushanbe, inspected the weapons, and crossed with the weapons from Tajikistan into Afghanistan,' a senior Taliban leader tells The Daily Beast."
The details about the arms shipment are unclear: "Our sources use words like 'big' and 'significant,' but won’t go into details," the website reported. "A Taliban sub-commander in Kunduz who goes by the name Qari Omar tells The Daily Beast that the then-commander of forces there, Mullah Rahmatullah, was pleased with the deal."
The Daily Beast frames the event as part of a larger Russian-Taliban cooperation, which seems improbable; the much simpler explanation is that Tajikistan had access to weapons that the Taliban wanted, and needed to get its soldiers back. The Taliban official made no mention of the Qatari role.