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Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan had agreed to seek ways of establishing a framework providing for joint use of water and energy in the first six months of 2004, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev reportedly said on Thursday, following talks with his Kyrgyz counterpart, Askar Akayev, in the Kazakh capital, Astana. "A treaty on allied relations between the two countries and a protocol on economic cooperation were signed, in which we determined tasks for the two governments to explore the possibility of setting up a joint venture at the Naryn and Syr Darya cascades during the first half of the year," Nazarbayev said.

The number of tuberculosis (TB) sufferers had fallen in Kazakh prisons, the Kazakh media reported on Wednesday. "Thanks to measures that have been taken, a trend is being observed towards a fall in the number of convicts who are suffering from TB, and the number of TB cases with a lethal outcome has also fallen," the report said, quoting Deputy Justice Minister Sabyrzhan Bekbosynov. There were 6,417 TB sufferers as of November 2003, while the figure for the same period of 2002 was 7,901.

It was reported on Thursday that the Kazakh parliament's lower house, the majlis, had approved a draft law on the media amid public debate and criticism that the new law would worsen the legal position of journalists and the media. Yevgeniy Zhovtis, the director of the Kazakh office of the international bureau for human rights and observance of legality, said earlier on Tuesday that re-registration of media outlets according to the new law could serve as a filter.

Kazakhstan had set up a state agency for fighting corruption and economic crime, a Kazakh media outlet said on Thursday. "Kazakhstan formed a state agency for fighting corruption and economic crime from the State Financial Police Agency," the report said, citing a presidential decree, which was signed on Tuesday.

The Kazakh Delovaya Nedelya weekly said on 20 December that this year, neighbouring Uzbekistan had gathered the lowest cotton harvest in a decade, even by comparison with 2000, which was the driest and least productive year of the past 10. Despite the relative growth of purchase prices this year, slow reforms in the agricultural sector and the continuing state monopoly on cotton exports were depriving Uzbek farmers of incentives to increase yields, thereby promoting poverty in the villages, the report explained. Lower volumes of production could also have been spurred by thefts of cotton and smuggling it into neighbouring Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, where purchase prices were close to average world prices, these being between US $450 and $500 per mt, while in Uzbekistan this season the average purchase price was about $200.

In Tajikistan, migration cards were expected to be introduced with the aim of establishing the precise number of Tajik labour migrants and stepping up measures for protecting their rights, the Tajik media said on Monday. "The so-called external migration card is purely a statistical document and will be given to labour migrants at airports, railway stations and border control checkpoints," Mehriniso Pirmatova, a programme assistant of the International Organization for Migration in Tajikistan, reportedly said. According to official sources, the number of Tajik labour migrants is some 340,000; however, unofficial reports estimate the figure as between 800,000 and 1.5 million, depending on the season.

Qosim Rahimov, a senior official of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), is being tried in court. Kiyomiddin Avezov, the assistant secretary to the IRPT chairman, said on Tuesday that the rape charge against Rahimov were politically motivated and that he had been targeted for his political views. It was the first time the IRPT has commented on the case since Rahimov's trial opened in the capital, Dushanbe, two weeks ago. The IRPT entered a power-sharing government after the 1992-1997 civil war. However, in recent years, the IRPT has accused the government of undermining its influence. Another of its leaders is currently under investigation on murder charges, which, his supporters claim, are politically motivated.

Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov said on Wednesday that the Tajik authorities had agreed to the setting up of a Russian military base on Tajik territory. "There should be a Russian military base in Tajikistan and no-one is refusing this," he reportedly said. The two sides are said to be preparing three documents in addition to the treaty "On the status and terms of the Russian military base's presence in Tajikistan", signed in Moscow in April 1999.

The commander of Russian border troops in Tajikistan had described the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border as tense, the press service of the Russian Federal Security Service's border department in Tajikistan reportedly said on Thursday. The report said border guards had prevented 54 armed border crossing attempts and detained 138 border violators, mainly drug couriers, since January. Over 2,700 kg of drugs have been seized in various border sections. The Tajik-Afghan border, patrolled by the Russian border guards stationed in the country, is the first barrier on the path of traffickers smuggling illicit drugs from Afghanistan to Russia and Europe.

Meanwhile, Leonid Komarovsky, a US citizen of Russian origin who spent months in a Turkmen jail, claimed on Tuesday that a book published in his name by Turkmenistan this month, recounting an alleged attempt to kill President Saparmurat Niyazov, had been produced under torture. "They put my name on the book without my consent; it was part of a deal with the prosecutor-general. They tortured me, beat me, injected me - I had no choice," Komarovsky was quoted by a news agency as saying. According to some experts, the alleged coup was used as a pretext to allow Niyazov to liquidate all opposition remnants.

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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