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Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov denounced his critics this week, accusing NGOs and rights groups operating in the country of spreading false reports of repression in Central Asia's most populous state. In March, Karimov's 15-year rule was challenged when militants fought street battles with police and set off bombs that killed 47 - most of them militants and police. Tashkent alleges the perpetrators of the attack were foreign Al-Qaeda elements.

During a parliamentary session on Thursday, Karimov defended the closure earlier this month of billionaire George Soros's charity foundation in the country, accusing it of breaking the law and undermining the constitution.

His rhetoric will undoubtedly fuel the debate over the Soros Foundation's expulsion from the country, an act that brought criticism from Washington one week ago, while earlier The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) announced that it would curb its activities in the country, following a lack of positive reforms.

Speaking in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, George Soros on Tuesday warned of a potentially explosive situation in the country. "Uzbekistan is now engaged in a downward spiral of increased repression and economic decline - its difficult to see how that can be reversed," the Hungarian-born US philanthropist reportedly said.

Soros was in Kyrgyzstan to pledge his assistance in staging Central Asia's first democratic elections, a situation he described as "hopeful", provided Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev makes good his promise to step down next year. Kyrgyzstan is considered one of the more open countries in the region, despite increasing criticism for alleged crackdowns on media and the opposition.

Such visits clearly pay dividends. Pyramid, an independent Kyrgyz television station resumed broadcasts after pressure from international organisations like Soros to put it back on the air. The station had been forced to stop broadcasting in March after technical problems with its ariel and transmitter. After resolving the problem, state officials said the station interfered with a pro-government channel and refused to let it broadcast.

Staying in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev on Wednesday appealed for international assistance to mitigate the risks of natural disasters in the mountainous state. His announcement followed a deadly landslide in the country's south that took the lives of at least 33 people and left scores homeless. Kyrgyz authorities are keen to resettle thousands of families in an area prone to such disasters.

In other news, the World Bank is pledging to nearly double aid to Kyrgyzstan to reduce the danger from radioactive waste sites that could threaten Central Asia's densely populated Ferghana valley. According to officials on Thursday, Kyrgyzstan inherited several radioactive dumps from the Soviet nuclear industry, and uranium waste sites in the southern town of Mayluu-Suu have the potential to contaminate water resources in the expansive valley, which is shared by two other former Soviet republics.

And in neighbouring Tajikistan, heavy rains partially destroyed bridges connecting the towns of Kulob and Khovaling in the southern Khatlon region, while on Wednesday authorities ordered the evacuation of Gulchin village due to rising waters, after the region was buffeted by two weeks of heavy rain.

On Thursday, a two-day conference entitled "The Problems of Labour Migration: Realities, Tendencies, and Forecasts" opened in the Tajik capital Dushanbe. Attended by countries from throughout the world, such events have significance for the countries of Central Asia which, by some estimates, are home to nearly two million migrant workers who travel abroad seeking employment.

Some 600,000 Tajiks a year reportedly travel abroad for work - the vast majority to Russia, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Mamadsho Illolov, the Minister of Labour and Social Protection of the Population, noted that remittances by Tajik labour migrants account for 20 percent of the country's GDP, making Tajikistan largely dependent on the migration policies of Moscow.

Also in Tajikistan, supporters of former Tajik minister Yaqub Salimov called on Tajik President Imomal Rakhmonov to release the former interior minister, who is currently awaiting trial on charges of treason. Over 1,500 persons reportedly signed the letter for Salimov, who was arrested in Moscow and extradited to Tajikistan in late February.

Meanwhile in Kazakhstan, Washington on Tuesday warned the authorities in Central Asia's largest nation that prosperity was dependent on political pluralism, noting legislative elections later this year would be an important test of their commitment to reform.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said Astana could not depend entirely on its massive energy reserves for continued economic growth and decried ongoing harassment and prosecution of independent media and opposition. His comments came less than a week after Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced that he was vetoing a controversial bill that critics said would restrict media freedom in the country; a move which was welcomed by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Also in Kazakhstan, an international forum entitled: "The Caspian region: politics, economy and business" opened in Astana on Wednesday. Regional cooperation, implementation of strategic projects pertaining to Caspian hydrocarbon resources, and investment incentives dominated the discussions, which were attended by five states bordering the sea - Kazakhstan, Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkmenistan.

As for Turkmenistan this week, little news came out of the largely desert, but energy rich nation. On Wednesday, Freedom House, a non-profit, nonpartisan organisation, working to advance the worldwide expansion of political and economic freedom, released its report: "Freedom of the Press 2004: A Global Survey of Media Independence".

According to the report, of the 193 countries surveyed, Turkmenistan was listed as one of the worst five offenders along with Burma, Cuba, Libya, and North Korea. Earlier in the month, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights issued a report entitled "Turkmenistan: The Making of a Failed State", detailing a wide array of abuses committed by the government of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

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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