A dispute among rival outlaw gold miners in Uzbekistan has ended with the death of around 25 people in a blast at an abandoned mine, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Uzbek service reported on July 17.
Radio Ozodlik reports that the explosion occurred on July 13 at a mine near the village of Kochbulak, around 90 kilometers southeast of the capital, Tashkent.
There has been no official disclosure on the incident, as is typical in Uzbekistan, which has in the past sought to quash all information about major accidents. An Emergency Services Ministry spokesman contacted on July 17 said he was unable to provide any information.
Ozodlik’s unnamed source said villagers from Kochbulak regularly went down a nearby mine in search of gold.
“There was a quarrel between two groups. The losing side set fire to the supporting columns that held up the mine. The masonry fell on top of those that remained inside, some were poisoned by the toxic smoke,” the source told Ozodlik.
A local activist from Kochbulak cited by the broadcaster said rescue workers have recovered at least five bodies.
Illegal mining is commonplace across much of Central Asia _ the result of poor employment prospects and ample disused Soviet-era industrial mining facilities.
Uzbekistan is particularly rich in gold reserves, which are estimated to stand at around 5,300 metric tons, and was ranked the world’s seventh largest producer of the metal in 2014.
The industry remains severely underdeveloped, however, and is dominated by two state-controlled companies _ Navoi Mining and Metallurgy Combinat and Almalyk Mining-Metallurgical Complex.
In an episode that is going to sow fears of an imminent surge of terrorist activity in Central Asia, authorities in Kyrgyzstan said July 16 that they killed four gunmen who they said were planning attacks in the capital, Bishkek.
A spokesman for the security services at the scene of the shootout said special forces were forced to open fire after the armed group resisted arrest.
“During the special operation, four security service special unit officers were wounded and later hospitalized,” the State Committee for National Security said in a statement.
Officials were unable to provide more than a few cursory details in the wake of the shootout, but the security services spokesman described the men as belonging to an international group. Local media reported that the group was comprised of citizens of Kazakhstan and that they were militants with the Islamic State group, but officials declined to confirm either of those claims.
Plumes of black smoke could be seen rising in the early evening above the central neighborhood where the shootout took place. Police cordoned off the street where the fighting occured, but crowds of local residents stood and watched from the distance for hours after the worst of the unrest had subsided.
Sustained gunfire and blasts can be heard in footage of the clash uploaded to the Internet. Onlookers at the scene shared video footage of one person with his hands behind his back being marched away from the area. It was not immediately clear if the man was involved in the unrest.
As anger builds in Georgia over Russia’s latest alleged attempt to redesign the country’s borders, Tbilisi is urging Georgians
not to let their emotions get in the way of attempts at rapprochement with Moscow.
“Let’s not be naïve and expect that some meeting will convince Russia to change its policy toward Georgia, toward neighboring countries,” commented Zurab Abashidze, Georgia’s envoy to talks with Russia, after meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin in Prague on July 15.
The ever concerned Karasin had a few tips of his own.
“We have to do our utmost to make sure emotional explosions like this do not disrupt the process of normalization of Georgian-Russian relations,” RIA Novosti reported him as saying.
The calls for calm are easy for Karasin to make, many Georgians believe. His country’s borders and the de-facto frontiers of its separatist proteges are only expanding, while the space Moscow has allotted to neighbors Georgia and Ukraine is getting smaller.
In response to this latest land grab, various rallies have been staged, with a larger-scale event planned for downtown Tbilisi on July 18 in front of the government chancellory.
A court in Tajikistan has sentenced an opposition activist to 13 years in jail as the authorities continue to pursue an indiscriminate campaign to stifle all dissent.
The sentencing of Maqsood Ibragimov, 37, which has so far been reported only by France-based human rights activist Nadezhda Atayeva, brings a close to an episode that highlights the extent to which the Tajik government is going to silence its critics.
Ibragimov must have thought his Russian passport and self-imposed exile status in Moscow would keep him safe, but that was not to be.
He began attracting unwanted attention after founding the "Youth for the Revival of Tajikistan" opposition movement last year.
In October, Dushanbe demanded he be handed over to face charges of extremism, which is how it characterises the political activities of staunch government critics.
That same month, Ibragimov was stabbed by an unknown assailant near his home in Moscow. It might have been worse. The handgun that was found on the site of the attack seems to have malfunctioned.
Quite how Ibragimov actually ended up in Tajikistan is subject of confused accounts.
In the latest version outlined by Atayeva on July 15, Ibragimov was confronted in January outside a prosecutor’s office in Moscow by a group of unknown people, who proceeded to confiscate his Russian passport. He was later taken to an airport and flown to Dushanbe. Atayeva said Ibragimov was tortured and forced to confess that he had returned to Tajikistan of his own will.
A government anticorruption agency in Tajikistan headed by the president’s son has made a move to broaden its remit by pursuing alleged Islamic extremists.
The Agency for State Financial Control and Combating Corruption said in a statement on July 13 that it has detained a group of suspected members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
The charges being leveled _ creating a criminal group, incitement to extremism and failure to report a crime _ are notable for having little to do with financial misdemeanors as such.
It is typically the state security services that initiate such cases, which raises the suspicion that Rustam Emomali, who has been head of the Agency for State Financial Control and Combating Corruption since March, has ambitions beyond chasing down mere bribe-takers.
Emomali’s agency said a resident of the northern Sughd region was detained after he was found with video and audio recordings of the late IMU leader Tahir Yuldashev, who is believed to have been killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s South Waziristan province in August 2009.
“It is believed that (Muhammadshod) Gafurjonov planned to use the the ‘sermons’ and ‘appeals’ of IMU amir Muhammad Tohir for extremists aims in Tajikistan,” the agency said in its statement.
The statement carries on to accuse Gafurjonov of communicating with a countryman currently engaged in fighting in Syria for advice on how to lure Sughd youths toward extremist activities. Another three people are suspected of failing to turn Gafurjonov in to the authorities, the agency said.
Since all criminal investigations and subsequent trials into Islamic radicalism in Tajikistan are shrouded in secrecy, there is no way to determine the credibility of the case.
To many, the nuclear deal with Iran spells security. But to Azerbaijan, Iran's northern neighbor, it also spells a business opportunity.
Already, the energy-rich South Caucasus state is positioning itself to export not only its own natural gas to Europe, but Iran’s as well. And though international sanctions still remain in place, Tehran sounds willing to consider the idea.
The Azerbaijani and Iranian governments, according to Iranian Ambassador Pakayin, are getting ready to start bargaining over joint supply options.
The prospect opens some potentially interesting scenarios in the region’s high-stakes energy-chess game; particularly for Russia, the world’s largest gas producer, on which Europe depends.
Iran boasts about 18 percent of the world’s natural gas supplies, according to Fitch Ratings.
After months of pressure on Kazakhstan’s currency, the central bank has moved to allow the tenge to slide – but avoided the large snap devaluation that doomsayers have long been predicting.
On July 15, the National Bank eased the corridor within which the tenge trades to allow it to drop by 5%, to 198 to the U.S. dollar.
Chief central banker Kayrat Kelimbetov explained, in remarks quoted by Tengri News, that the measure was adopted as the tenge was pushing the upper margin of the corridor of 170-188 tenge to the dollar that the bank had previously committed to enforcing.
There were no immediate signs of panic over the mini-devaluation in Kazakhstan, where the National Bank maintained its exchange rate at 186.8 tenge to the dollar and the currency closed at 187.05 on the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange on July 15. In exchange offices, the tenge was trading at around 187.5 to the dollar after the central bank’s announcement.
Financial analysts predict the slide will be gradual.
“The scenario of a sharp devaluation is not being considered, and in principle that’s correct,” economist Olzhas Khudaybergenov, a former adviser to Kelimbetov, wrote on his Facebook page.
Khudaybergenov predicted a slow depreciation of 0.5-1 tenge per month, with the currency reaching the upper limit of the new corridor (198 tenge) in about a year.
The calm with which the news was received contrasted with the last devaluation in 2014, when the tenge lost nearly 20% of its value in a single day, sparking public anger that escalated into small-scale unrest in Almaty.
Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov meets his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at the SCO summit in Ufa. Behind the smiles, there were disagreements over the planned accession of India and Pakistan to the group. (photo: president.uz)
Central Asian states are eyeing with concern the planned expansion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to include India and Pakistan, regional analysts say.
With the addition of the two South Asian countries, the membership of the organization -- now China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan -- would increase from six to eight. Four of those are outside Central Asia, and all four of those are nuclear powers with populations and economies that far surpass those of the SCO's four Central Asian members.
While there is little room in the SCO for public dissent, Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov issued probably the most surprising statement of the summit, saying that the addition of India and Pakistan "would not only change the political map, but would change the balance of power. This is not a simple issue, and it needs to be discussed."
That went against the conventional wisdom in Ufa, which was that the addition of India and Pakistan would make the SCO stronger and was to be welcomed.
On India and Pakistan, Karimov "said what everyone was thinking, but wouldn't say," said Galiya Ibragimova, a consultant on Central Asia at the Moscow PIR Center on Political Research, in an interview with The Bug Pit.
The concerns about the addition of India and Pakistan are various. In Karimov's case, he is worried that it would shift the group's attention away from Central Asia to South Asia.
Ibragimova pointed out that Karimov has traditionally not wanted to participate in groups where the focus was outside of Central Asia, noting that its decision to pull out of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in 2012 was justified by the fact that the CSTO was also getting involved in conflicts outside the region, for example Nagorno Karabakh.
He had a flat in downtown New York and a castle in Burgundy, but gave it all up for a hayseed village life; most recently, in disputed Nagorno Karabakh. He is German Sterligov, the founder of Russia’s first commodity exchange, and he recently came out of his hermitage in the breakaway territory to face enemies and possibly prosecution back in Moscow.
One of post-Soviet Russia’s first millionaires, 48-year-old Sterligov, who advocates a return to the old Russian alphabet, tsarism and living off the land, earlier this month fled the blandishments of the Moscow region to set up operations in bucolic Karabakh, the longtime battlefield between Armenians and Azerbaijanis.
In a July 13 press-conference, he called the accusations “a lie.”
One of his aides has linked the campaign against Sterligov in Russia to his historical opus, “From Adam to Putin,” in which he wishes that the Russian president would become a Christian. Sterligov accuses the Russian Orthodox Church of heresy.
Tweets by Indian officials showing the Indian-Tajikistan military hospital near the border of Afghanistan. (photos: twitter)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has wrapped up his ambitious post-Soviet trip with a stop in Tajikistan and the joint Indian-Tajikistan hospital near the border with Afghanistan. "This is the last stop on my visit to the five Central Asian countries," Modi said in Dushanbe. "But, we sometimes save the special one for the last."
Tajikistan isn't quite as special to India as it was a few years ago, when Delhi spent tens of millions of dollars to renovate the Ayni air base with the evident aim of establishing it was India's first Central Asian military outpost. Those hopes were dashed -- most likely by Russia -- at least five years ago (Ayni is almost never publicly discussed, and so developments tend to become known to the public with a significant delay).
But some in Delhi seem to still hold on to hope, and the U.K. tabloid Daily Mail reported ahead of Modi's visit that Ayni would be on the agenda. "[Indian] Government sources told Mail Today that use of the Ayni airbase for the Indian Air Force, tops the agenda," the paper reported. “'Getting a foreign airbase, particularly in Central Asia is a significant development. But in this case, two other countries, Tajikistan and Russia, have to agree,' former Air Chief Marshal PV Naik told Mail Today."