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Weekly news wrap

The situation at the Syrdarya River's Chardara reservoir in southern Kazakhstan remained a concern this week as the Kazakh media reported on Thursday that the water level in the Uzbek Arnasay reservoir, separated from the Chardara by a dyke, was alarmingly high and had washed away some parts of the dam. The report added that a state of emergency had been declared in the area, while the authorities were trying to reinforce the dam between the two reservoirs. The Soviet-built reservoir was constructed for irrigation purposes and, according to the initial plans, excessive water in the Chardara was to flow into the neighbouring Arnasay depression in Uzbekistan.

Earlier this week, Uzbek President Islam Karimov accused Kazakhstan of releasing too much water into the Syrdarya, a key water source in Central Asia, saying that recent flooding had led to the evacuation of more than 2,000 people. In a letter to his Kazakh counterpart on Saturday, Karimov called on Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to stick to water agreements signed by four Central Asian nations.

Water management during Soviet times in Central Asia was highly centralised, with Moscow instructing upstream republics of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to accumulate water in their reservoirs in winter and to start releasing it at the beginning of the cotton farming season to downstream Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

On Wednesday, Kazakh opposition leaders accused the government of trying to maintain a flawed election system that had allowed widespread ballot rigging by turning down most opposition-proposed amendments to a draft election law, according to an AP report. The leaders of the Ak Zhol and Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan parties said in a statement that the government was trying to preserve an undemocratic election system based on the practice of direct rigging of votes. "We can say that the system of falsification of elections remains fully in place," Petr Svoik, head of Democratic Choice, said.

It was reported on Thursday that over 470 buildings and facilities were damaged by a hurricane blowing through central Kazakhstan. According to the Kazakh emergency agency, the wind blew at a speed of 30-35 metres per second. Local authorities said that the regional centre of Karaganda accounted for nearly half of the damaged residential buildings, schools, cultural and defence ministry facilities. Destruction was also reported in the towns of Temirtau, Saran, Shakhtinsk, as well as in Bukharzhyrau and Shest districts. The energy supply and communications systems were partially or completely damaged in over 20 inhabited areas. Emergency and rescue services had already begun repair work.

In Uzbekistan, local media reported on Saturday that according to local rights groups, a man convicted of religious extremism had gone on hunger strike in a prison hospital in Tashkent demanding that his prison wardens be punished for systematically torturing him. Odil Khojayorov, 32, had been sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment by the southern Kashkadarya regional court and sent to a prison in Zarafshan while he was already ill, the report added.

On Monday, Uzbekistan's supreme court sentenced to death a man it said was a Chechen-trained member of an extremist Muslim group responsible for bloody raids on neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. Azizbek Karimov, 25, was convicted of terrorism and attempting to harm the constitutional order by planning an explosion at a bank in the Kyrgyz town of Osh last May, AP reported, citing a court spokesman. Karimov belonged to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a pro-Taliban organisation whose members crossed into Tajikistan from Afghanistan to enter Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in 1999.

Meanwhile, two members of the IMU were sentenced to death in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, on Thursday for bomb attacks carried out in the country. The court found that Asadullo Abdullayev, 24, and Ilkhom Izatullayev, 25, both citizens of neighbouring Uzbekistan, had plotted an explosion in December 2002 which killed seven people and wounded 21 at a big market in Bishkek. The two IMU militants were also convicted of causing a May 2003 explosion at a bank in southern Osh city, which killed a bank employee.

Also this week, Uzbekistan banned poultry imports from southeast Asia and China. The country's Ministry of Agriculture and Water Industry reportedly said on Monday that the ban had been imposed on birds and eggs to prevent bird flu from spreading in the country. No cases of bird flu infection have been registered in Uzbekistan as yet. Earlier this month, neighbouring Kyrgyzstan also introduced the same ban.

In Tajikistan, a top security officer said on Wednesday that the mountainous nation was ready to take command of its border with Afghanistan, which has been protected by the Russian troops stationed in the country. "Eleven years have passed since the agreement was signed, and I think this time was sufficient for us to become stronger and be ready to take over our border," Lt-Gen Abdurakhmon Azimov, chairman of the State Border Guard Committee, said. The agreement between Russian and Tajikistan on Russia's participation in protecting Afghan border was signed in May 1993. His comments came two days after a team of experts led by Lt-Gen Alexander Manilov, Deputy Chief of the Russian Border Troops, arrived in Dushanbe to hold talks on the status of Russian border troops in the country.

Finally, Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov has established a satellite television channel to boost the country's image abroad, Turkmen state media reported on Friday. "The world knows little about what is happening in Turkmenistan. We are changing Ashgabat and the whole country, making improvements for forthcoming generations with no harm to our people's level of life," Niyazov said, adding that some US $14 million had been allocated for the project.

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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