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Weekly News Wrap 21/6

The Tajik president, Emomali Rahmonov, appealed this week to the world's donor nations for urgent assistance to his country and the Central Asian region as a whole in an effort to prevent the region from becoming permanently unstable.

Rahmonov was speaking during the opening of an international conference in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, to mark the fifth anniversary of the end of Tajikistan’s five year-long civil war that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people and left the already impoverished country facing economic ruin.

In a message to delegates attending the conference, read by his representative in Tajikistan, Ivo Petrov, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised Rahmonov for the commitment to peace shown by both the president and the leaders of the United Tajik Opposition. The United States, meanwhile, said it would continue to support the Tajik administration in its efforts to combat terrorism in the region and that the US was also looking to expand assistance and economic cooperation between the two countries.

Rahmonov also called last week for closer cooperation between Commonwealth of Independent States border troops in the Central Asian region to combat drug smuggling, which appeared to have hit a peak this week when Tajik border guards seized their biggest-ever haul of heroin coming out of Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the head of the Russian Federal Border Guards, Konstantin Totsky, appeared to stress the importance of Rahmonov’s warning when he said this week that he believed that members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) - a hardline Uzbek group accused of having close links with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda - were regrouping in neighbouring Tajikistan.

Speaking at a regional meeting of border guard chiefs in Dushanbe, Totsky said his guards had arrested two groups of IMU fighters trying to make their way illegally into Tajikistan. The first group had been arrested came in February and the second the following month. Despite American confidence that the IMU had suffered serious casualties during the US-led war in Afghanistan, many regional analysts believe that the IMU nevertheless remains a force to be reckoned with in the region.

In Uzbekistan proper this week, government officials came out in strong opposition to a report by the international watchdog group, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), which claimed that no positive changes had resulted from the government's abolition of press censorship last month. "These are the authoritarian reforms of an dictatorial regime," a CPJ spokesman said in the capital, Tashkent.

An Uzbek presidential spokesman called the group’s statement "hasty", pointing out that immediate results could not be expected.

Meanwhile, the Uzbek economy received good news this week when the US embassy in Tashkent announced that the US was extending US $193 million in aid to Uzbekistan this year. Included in this was $60 million earmarked for security programmes and almost $50 million for market reform and other assistance programmes. Some $70 million has been made available for humanitarian assistance.

The Uzbek authorities, which are committed later this month to remove all restrictions on foreign currency exchange, warmly welcomed the announcement. The restrictions were imposed in 1996 in an attempt to shield the country from the upheavals of the transition to a market economy. The IMF has said that if Uzbekistan manages to reform its exchange rate policy by the end of the month, then the country will be able to enter into new loan programme talks.

Political turmoil continued in Kyrgyzstan this week as the supporters of the sacked parliamentary deputy, Azimbek Beknazarov, seemed set on a collision course with the authorities. Thousands of his supporters gathered in the southern city of Jalal-Abad on Monday on the eve of Beknazarov’s trial on corruption charges.

However, at the last minute, the trial was moved away from Jalal-Abad to the northern Kyrgyz city of Toktogul - a move which further fuelled the anger of Beknazarov’s supporters. They are demanding the resignation of President Askar Akayev, whom they blame for the country’s poor economic performance, as well as for the deaths of five opposition supporters in March when police opened fire on demonstrators.

For his part, Beknazarov refused to attend court on Wednesday, saying he was observing his rights under Kyrgyz law, which allow a defendant 10 days notification of the trial date. Beknazarov said he had only been informed of the trial date on Monday.

There was better news for the Kazakh leadership this week when the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) promised that following Kazakhstan’s export of goods to Afghanistan - primarily wheat - and its assistance in delivering humanitarian aid, WFP would make every effort to open the markets of the UN member states for a number of Kazakh products.

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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