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The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on 6 December urged Kazakhstan, which has been enjoying one of the highest GDP growth rates among the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), to diversify its economy beyond the Caspian oil and gas sector in order to ensure long-term stability. "You have to provide Kazakhstan with the capacity to face future commodity price shocks, you have to provide new opportunities outside the oil sector," said Jean Lemierre, president of the EBRD.

His comments followed criticism that a substantial part of Kazakhstan's population had yet to benefit from the burgeoning oil industry investment and revenues. According to some sources, nearly one-third of Kazakhstan's 15-million population lives in poverty, with around a million of them reliant on untreated river water for drinking.

The Kazakh newspaper Kazakhstanskaya Pravda, reported on 6 December that in comments on the media bill, President Nursultan Nazarbayev had called for the silencing of some media outlets. "Stability in the country is the most important issue for our multinational state. That is why there should be no tolerance of calls for sabotage and disobedience brainwashing people to believe that matters are so bad in our country," he said, asserting that some newspapers and electronic media were painting a grim picture of the situation, a practice which, according to him, should be stopped by law, no matter what media outlet it was, domestic or foreign.

The Kazakh leadership has been strongly criticised internationally for its crackdown on the independent press and using libel laws for imprisoning journalists critical of the government.

On Monday, Kazakh media reported that lawyers from CIS countries had met for a seminar in the commercial capital, Almaty to discuss torture and ways of preventing it, under the theme: "Fight against torture: the role of judges and prosecutors to prevent torture". The participants reportedly acknowledged that torture was practised in correctional institutions and detention centres in CIS countries.

In Kazakhstan alone, criminal cases were brought against 95 police officers for violating the rights of detainees in 2002. "Forty-five cases have been instituted against 63 people over the first nine months of this year. Obviously, the pace of such criminal cases is alarming," said Mukhammedzhan Pakerdinov, the deputy chief of the state and legal department of the Kazakh presidential administration.

On Wednesday, leaders of two Kazakh opposition parties expressed concern over proposed amendments to the electoral law. Bulat Abilov, the deputy chairman of the pro-business Ak Zhol (Bright Path) party, was quoted as saying that the election law amendments being considered by Kazakhstan's usually compliant parliament did not augur well for a fair parliamentary poll. "The legislative proposals leave the executive branch with the right to interfere in the electoral process," said the leader of the Communist Party, Serikbolsyn Abdildin.

Earlier this year, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) gave qualified support to a version of the proposed amendments to the Kazakh electoral law, saying it was a step in the right direction, but needed improvement.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) planned to lend Kazakhstan US $190 million between 2004 and 2006, Kazuhiko Higuchi, the ADB representative in Kazakhstan was quoted as saying on Wednesday. According to him, the ADB is currently discussing the financing of rural development, transport, and water supply projects with the Kazakh government. Kazakhstan has received a total of $467 million from the ADB in loans since it became a member of the bank in 1994.

The Kazakh media reported on Thursday that the 18th session of the permanent representatives of the Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC), comprising five ex-Soviet countries - Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Belarus, had ended in Almaty, and that a document on temporary labour migrants from EAEC countries was expected to become effective in February 2004.

"Now the temporary workers, the labour migrants, they are being legalised, as it were, so as to give them equal access to those social, labour, medical and other services in the country where they are working. Of course, first of all, the national laws of the country in which they [labour migrants] are working should be observed," said Serik Primbetov, the deputy secretary-general of the EAEC.

In neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, on Monday, Stephen Young, the US ambassador, called for free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections in 2005. "We have a very strong commitment to supporting free, fair and transparent elections that are consistent with Kyrgyzstan's constitution and meet international standards," Young told journalists in the capital, Bishkek, noting that the United States would not fund any political parties in the run-up to the 2005 elections. However, he warned the country's opposition that it would probably fail to successfully challenge the current regime if its fractured parts did not unite.

Commenting on security in the region, Young said, "There are groups in Central Asia which are against our interests. The most implicit threat comes from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan [IMU], which, despite losses it suffered in Afghanistan in the autumn of 2001, has re-emerged and begun operating actively."

Also in the context of regional security, at a meeting on Monday of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, which includes Tajikistan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, the security chiefs of six former Soviet republics agreed to enhance their foreign policy cooperation and called for closer global attention to Afghanistan. They also expressed their readiness to participate in the fight against drug trafficking from Afghanistan "We planned concrete steps to enforce an anti-drug plan," the head of Russia's security council, Vladimir Rushailo, said. Tajikistan shares a 1,340-km border with Afghanistan, patrolled by thousands of Tajik and Russian guards and which is the main crossing point for Afghan drugs entering Europe.

On Thursday, the Tajik weekly, Ruzi Nav, said a government-run press had for the second time in two weeks, refused to print an issue, apparently because it contained articles critical of the government. Fakhriddin Kholbekov, the paper's deputy editor, said the Sharqi Ozod publishing house had given Ruzi Naw a last-minute notice on Tuesday that it would not print its Wednesday issue. He said the weekly now intended to work with a private press and hoped to publish a new edition on Friday. The press, run by President Emomali Rahmonov's administration, refused last month to print the weekly without giving any notice or explanation. But journalists at the newspaper believed the move was triggered by recent articles critical of the government.

In Uzbekistan, Foreign Minister Sadiq Safayev met the top government officials during a visit to Afghanistan, starting from Wednesday aimed at signing trade and transport agreements. He also held talks with senior security officials about regional security and stability issues.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov had appointed a new prime minister to expedite reforms in the agricultural sector, the Uzbek press reported on Thursday. According to some reports, Karimov replaced Otkir Sultonov for failing to boost the agricultural sector and delivering a poor cotton harvest. Karimov appointed in his place Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who was hitherto governor of central Samarkand Region, Karimov's home area. Sultonov, meanwhile, was appointed deputy prime minister in charge of the energy, oil and chemical sectors.

Uzbekistan would allow the US to keep troops at a base on its territory only for as long as they were needed for the war on terror in Afghanistan, but would not allow a permanent deployment, Karimov said on Thursday, noting that he was opposed to the further "militarisation" of Central Asia. He stressed that Uzbekistan needed more money, not more foreign troops. "Don't give us weapons, give us economic help," Karimov said. The US-led anti-terror coalition has used an air base in the southern Uzbek town of Khanabad since shortly after the 11 September attacks. In exchange, Washington tripled its foreign aid to Uzbekistan to some $500 million last year.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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