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New efforts are under way, including a programme involving the United States and Russia, to safeguard dangerous radioactive material that terrorists could steal around the world to build a "dirty bomb", the UN announced on Tuesday. In a report, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said "uncontrolled radioactive sources are a widespread phenomenon" in states such as Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Such materials are easily available because more than 100 countries may have inadequate programmes to prevent or even detect such thefts. The IAEA said governments, including that of the United States, must take urgent steps to raise security levels to prevent theft and to recover missing supplies. The issue of funding a clear-up of former Soviet nuclear sites was discussed at the G8 summit in Canada on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Kyrgyzstan government admitted this week the Central Asian nation was on the brink of civil war. Bishkek accused the fledgling opposition of trying to overthrow the country's leadership. Thousands of opposition supporters have been holding rallies and marches in the rebellious south for the past two weeks, calling for President Askar Akayev to resign in one of the worst political crises since independence from Moscow more than a decade ago.

A Kyrgyz human rights group said this week many people who took part in protests this year claim to have been beaten or tortured by law enforcement officials. Ramazan Dyryldayev, head of Krygyzstan's Human Rights Committee said he had heard of more than 100 cases of protesters being beaten after taking part in demonstrations over the trial of an opposition deputy.

In a move observers say will stifle opposition politics in neighbouring Kazakhstan, lawmakers on Wednesday sent President Nursultan Nazarbayev a bill tightening the rules on forming political parties that has led to an outcry from the country's fledgling opposition. Nazarbayev is widely expected to sign the bill. The proposed law demands that a legal opposition party must have at least 50,000 members, this would disqualify 16 of Kazakhstan's 19 opposition parties. The Organisation for Security and Coooperation in Europe (OSCE) expressed deep concern about the proposed law on Thursday, it said it could be the end of political pluralism in the country.

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation said on Tuesday that Uzbekistan had made progress in reforming its heavily centralised and restrictive economy, but pointed out that more observation was needed before it resumes cooperation with the Central Asian country. The IMF withdrew its representative from Uzbekistan last year due to frustration over lack of economic reforms but earlier this year signed a memorandum with Tashkent after the government promised to move to convertibility of its currency by midyear. The IMF's renewed interaction with Uzbekistan comes after the country's increased international profile since 11 September.

Drug abuse in Central Asia is increasing, particularly the intravenous use of heroin, a report released on Thursday by the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention in Central Asia has stated. The report indicates that Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan both now have more than 100,000 addicts. The intravenous use of drugs is considered one of the main reasons for the spread of HIV/AIDS, particularly in Kyrgyzstan, where more than 90 percent of HIV-infected people inject narcotics.

Russian officials said on Friday their border guards had this year seized more than 2 mt of drugs, mainly heroin, and arrested more than 700 smugglers along Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan.

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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