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United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan left Turkmenistan on Wednesday after completing a 12-day tour of Central Asian nations. Turkmenistan’s President Saparmurad Niyazov, during the course of the visit, called on the UN to support the 1,500 km planned gas pipeline from his country to Pakistan via Afghanistan. According to international media Niyazov maintained that the estimated US$ 2 billion project would boost Afghan reconstruction by providing employment and sustainable revenues. The pipeline will also prove lucrative for Ashgabat.

During the visit that saw Annan in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan as well as Turkmenistan, the Secretary General highlighted the significance of the international fight against terrorism, regional environmental issues, water management and the fight against drugs.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, hosted a four-day meeting of parliamentarians from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which started on Wednesday. Local media reported that the gathering discussed an interstate programme of joint measures to combat crime and drugs in the region.

Also in Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev endorsed a new law allowing private land ownership in the country. Under the draft law some 273 million hectares of the vast Central Asian republic could end up in private ownership. The move is expected to improve the rural economy and increase revenues for the government.

Alan Waddams, the head of the European Commissions’ (EC) mission to Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan this week assured the Tajik Prime Minster, Aqil Oqilov, of continued EU cooperation in resolving regional environmental issues and implementing projects for poverty alleviation in the mountainous country.

Finally, international media reported on Wednesday the banning of the game of billiards in Uzbekistan. The decision, in the authoritarian but secular former Soviet republic, was apparently taken by the authorities to put an end to the perceived misuse of billiard halls for drug taking and alcohol abuse. The ban shocked many Uzbeks, who have few leisure options due to low incomes and poor infrastructure.

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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