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An opposition journalist and human rights activist in Kazakhstan has been formally charged with raping a 14-year-old girl, AP reported on Friday. Sergei Duvanov has been on a hunger strike since his detention last week for the alleged incident and his health is said to be deteriorating. The newspaper editor was arrested the night before he was due to leave for the US for meetings with human rights and journalist protection groups.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the continent's top democracy and human rights body, said it was "alarmed by the situation and the facts" surrounding the case. Duvanov, editor of an independent weekly bulletin, sometimes critical of the government, was formally charged by Kazakh authorities on Wednesday. His supporters claim the case is a fabrication, in response to his outspoken criticism of President Nursultan Nazarbayev's government.

In Kazakhstan this week, a poll conducted by the justice ministry showed that most Kazakhs surveyed were opposed to the abolition of the death penalty, AFP reported. Of the 4,140 respondents, 62 percent said that the death penalty should remain. Earlier this year, the country's President, Nursultan Nazarbayev suggested a moratorium on and subsequent abolition of the death penalty. In the year 2002, 27 people were executed in the Central Asian nation, compared to 40 in 2001, the report said.

According to press reports, the Uzbek government is pressing the West to take a harder line against an Islamic group, already banned in the region, by branding it a terrorist organisation. The Uzbek deputy foreign minister, Sadyk Safayev called for a ban on the Hizb-ut-Tahrir group, which allegedly has links to Al-Qaeda.

The US banned the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) which was branded a militant group and a terrorist organisation in September 2000, following the kidnapping of American mountain climbers in Kyrgyzstan.

In Tajikistan, The deputy prime minister, Qozidaviat Qoimdodov met with UNESCO's director, Koichiro Matsuur to discuss the dying Aral Sea that is shared by Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. According to media reports, Qoimdodov has requested help from the international aid community in reconstructing water supplies and called for rational and effective use of water resources in the region. Extensive Soviet-era rerouting of the rivers that flow into The Aral Sea have led to an environmental, social and health catastrophe in the region.

And finally, in an attempt to impose the Turkmen president's ideals and values on his country, a local newspaper reported that instructors should be hired to spread the teachings of Saparmurat Niyazov, written in his book "Rukhnama," which has been compared to the holy bible and the Islamic holy book, the Quran.

Turkmen officials say the book aims to create a sense of nationhood, but observers have accused them of taking a Soviet style stance in promoting personality cults and political instructors, an AFP report said.

The call for instructors is just the latest in a line of bizarre moves made by the Turkmen president. Earlier this year he renamed the days of the week and months of the year after himself and his family.

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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