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In Central Asia this week, experts at an international conference on foreign investment in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, concluded that despite increased Western interest in the region after 11 September, Central Asian economies remain one of the least attractive to foreign investors. Representatives of international financial institutions, researchers and government officials at the two-day conference said that geographical isolation, as well as poor transport and communication infrastructure were the main deterrents to foreign investment. Bureaucratic hurdles, widespread corruption and lack of transparency in business, frightened off some investors, they added. With a land mass as large as Europe, Central Asia has a total population of about 60 million. However, according to the head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)in Uzbekistan, Kenji Nakazawa, direct foreign investment per capita, even in energy-rich Kazakhstan, is less than half of that in central Europe, while foreign investment in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan equalled no more than two percent of their gross domestic products. Also in Uzbekistan, a court on Tuesday upheld the death sentence of a man who international human rights groups said was tortured into confessing his crime, AP reported. Iskander Khudayberganov was convicted on 28 November on a range of charges including terrorism, anti-constitutional activities and murder. His lawyers asked a panel of judges to overrule the death sentence and acquit him of all charges for lack of evidence and gross violations of set procedures during the trial and investigations. Such trials had been one of the pivotal concerns of watchdog groups such as the Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International. According to AFP, in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, Washington had expressed concerns over the upcoming constitutional referendum. "The constitutional referendum scheduled for 2 February will not permit adequate time for public discussions of the government's draft constitutional amendments," State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher said. Another statement prior to the visit of the US Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Beth Jones, also questioned the commitment of Kyrgyz President Akayev's government to protect human rights and ensure the balance of power. In Kazakastan, 20 newly arrived prisoners in a southern jail in Shimkent cut their veins to protest over living conditions there, international media reported. The protesting prisoners demanded the right to move freely inside the premises. Meanwhile, a court on Monday in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe sentenced Rakhmat Azizov to death for killing Mirzob Sokhibov, a guard at the German humanitarian aid organisation, ORA International's Dushanbe office. Another man convicted in the case, Khabibullaho Dilshodov, was sentenced to 25 years in prison, and a juvenile, Doniyor Azamov, was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Late last year, the three broke into ORA's office, killed Sobikov and stole US $6,000. Although the culprits were arrested two days after the attack, the aid organisation suspended its operation in Dushanbe for two months.

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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