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Iranian President Muhammad Khatami deplored "foreign inference" and what he termed "non multilateral acts" in the oil-rich Caspian Sea, on Monday. His comments follow a bilateral agreement between Russia and Azerbaijan last week, giving the two countries a share of the Caspian's fabulous oil wealth based on the length of their coastlines.

The Caspian is thought to be the third largest oil reserve outside the Gulf and Russia. The huge inland sea is surrounded by Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Iran and Turkmenistan, with smaller shorelines on the sea, want an equal five-way distribution of Caspian resources.

In a related development, Kazak officials showed their willingness on Thursday to agree, by the end of the year, on a study of oil export routes to Iran despite strong US reservations. Iran believes that the most economical and environmentally safe route for Kazak oil would be south through its territories. With foreign support, Kazakhstan hopes to triple its oil production by the year 2015.

Environmental activists protested on Wednesday against a proposed plan to import radioactive nuclear waste into Kazakhstan. One protest took place in the Kazkh city of Semipalatinsk, where the former Soviet Union conducted hundreds of atomic bomb tests. Following in the footsteps of neighbouring Russia the former Soviet republic believes that the measure would earn them much needed cash.

Also in Kazakhstan, 'Adil Soz' - a press freedom watchdog, said that there had been some 700 attacks against journalists and their offices in the first six months of the year. The organisation believes that press freedom in the country had reached a critical stage with the large-scale closures of newspapers, and independent TV and radio channels.

In another human rights development, Amnesty International has criticised the use of the death penalty in Tajikistan in a report released on Monday. The document said that the country sentences people to death without fair trails and in an environment of secrecy where families were not even told that their relatives had been executed.

The rights group maintained that the Soviet-era practice of treating death penalties as a state secret had prevented it from getting full information on the situation in Tajikistan. However it was able to confirm 29 death sentences during the first half of this year and another 74 in 2001.

Meanwhile, experts from the five Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan agreed on the text of a nuclear-weapons-free zone treaty in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent last week.

The treaty will provide a starting point for the removal of existing nuclear assets from the region where they may exist, and also to lay the ground for agreement on nonproliferation. The region still has many nuclear facilities from the Soviet era which have not been properly shut down because the countries concerned don't have the means to do it.

The signing of the treaty would take place in the near future. The UN supported the five-year long negotiations leading to the agreement.

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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