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In Central Asia this week, opposition to Kyrgyzstan’s upcoming constitutional referendum on 2 February grew as the government of President Askar Akayav attempted to respond to sensitive political issues. Questions remain over a reported border agreement with China, the arrest of an opposition lawmaker and a police crackdown on a March protest, in which at least five people were killed and led the entire cabinet to resign. "Kyrgyzstan will change into an absolute monarchy with the approval of a new constitution," the AP quoted lawmaker, Adakhan Mudomarov, as telling journalists. The opposition has complained that the proposed constitutional amendments ignore the demands it had put forward in a constitutional commission last year. Critics also point out that the new constitution would give Akayev broader powers. Kyrgyzstan was praised as the most progressive country in Central Asia during the 1990s, but government moves against the opposition have drawn increasing international criticism in recent years. In Turkmenistan, a court delivered heavy sentences to nine people in an ongoing crackdown following the 25 November assassination attempt on the country's autocratic President Saparmurad Niyazov, the AFP reported. Guvanc Dzhumayev, whom the authorities have accused of being one of the main organisers of the attack on Niyazov’s motorcade in the capital, Ashgabad, was sentenced to life imprisonment. His son was sentenced to a 25-year jail term, and his brother and father received 20 years each. A senior representative for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Freimut Duve said state television had tried to humiliate and destroy the accused, by using obscene rhetoric and racist language, AFP reported. Earlier, global human rights watchdog groups such as Amnesty international and Human Rights Watch (HRW) protested the controversial trails. HRW condemned the life sentencing of the former foreign minister and opposition leader, Boris Shikhmuradov, calling it a show trial with "no regard for fundamental due process rights." Meanwhile, a delegation from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) visited the Uzbek capital, Tashkent on Thursday, to meet with the country's prime minister, Otkir Sultonov, to discuss cooperation between the CIS nations. During talks, they discussed the joint struggle against organised crime, drug trafficking and international terrorism as well as religious extremism. Other areas explored included, trade, culture and education as well as broadening bilateral and multilateral relations. Also in Uzbekistan, local media reported the announcement of a joint project with an Austrian company to supply residents near the Aral Sea area with quality drinking water. Under the scheme, up to 600 people will benefit after equipment for desalting water is installed. The Austrian research centre will help with the design of the desalin ation equipment and certify and evaluate the project. If successful, there are also plans to replicate the project in other regions of the country.

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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