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Weekly news wrap

In Central Asia this week Tashkent received a boost to its fight against drugs with an announcement that Washington will disburse over US $10m dollars to Uzbek authorities towards the eradication of drug trafficking. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Soros-Kazakhstan Foundation theOpen Society Institute in Uzbekistan and the Open Society Institute in Tajikistan will implement the anti-drug programme, Interfax reported on Wednesday. The programme focuses on a healthy lifestyle and developing state policy for preventing drug-abuse.

An OSCE-backed seminar on the impact of drug trafficking on the world economy, took place in the Uzbek capital this week. Uzbek Deputy Foreign Minister Ilhom Ne’matov called on the international community to consider the negative impact of drug addiction and view the cultivation of drugs in Afghanistan as a priority issue.

Kyrgyzstan also received notification of outside support for its war on drugs with an announcement by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that it intends to set up a model police station for the fight against terrorism, drugs, human trafficking and weapons smuggling in the country, local media reported on Monday. The project is to be implemented by April 2004, and around US $3.8 million has been allocated for it.

Also in Kyrgyzstan more than 3,000 people gathered near the village of Bosbubiek, 600 km southeast of the capital Bishkek, on Monday, to remember the victims of the first public protest to turn violent in this former Soviet republic. The event in Aksy district became a turning point for this fledgling democracy, triggering public protests that the opposition says has forced authorities to tighten control.

In March 2002, five people were shot dead, one died later from injuries after being beaten by police, and several dozen others were injured in a demonstration against the arrest of opposition lawmaker Azimbek Beknazarov on charges of alleged abuse of power that he claimed were politically motivated.

In response perhaps to recent international criticism, Uzbekistan's authorities were unusually forthright about human rights abuses in the penal system this week, announcing that they would continue their alleged crackdown on torture in prisons as part of their broader drive to improve the rights of people in custody. "The Uzbek authorities are making no secret of the gross violations to human rights committed in prisons and are working to put an end to this practice," a government statement says.

This statement was circulated at a briefing in Tashkent in response to a draft report of Theo Van Boven, the UN's special rapporteur on torture, who was in Uzbekistan late last year. In spite of the government measures, grave violations of human rights in prisons still occur, the statement continued. "We are not trying to hide this. The republic's newspapers have already reported about four law enforcement officers who were convicted of illegal activities, including violent treatment of two people," the statement said.

Despite this apparent concession, AP reported that an Uzbek court on Monday convicted two men accused of membership of extremist groups in a trial where no prosecutor was present and no witnesses testified, according to human rights activists who say the case was motivated by the defendants’ religious beliefs.

Furkat Yuldashev, 29, and Mirzarakhmat Aminov, 24, were each sentenced at a Tashkent district court to eight years in prison, said human rights activist Surat Ikramov. The absent prosecutor had reportedly phoned in a sentence recommendation of seven years, Ikramov said. Yuldashev’s mother, Latofat Nabiyeva, had insisted they were just observant Muslims and not members of any banned group.

Uzbekistan has drawn strong international criticism for its campaign against extremist Islam that has led to a widespread crackdown on independent Muslims who choose to practice their faith outside state-run mosques. Lack of due process is a regular feature at trials, where the judiciary fails to operate independently. The two men convicted weren’t allowed to see their lawyers for two weeks after their arrest, but during that time authorities had already forced them to sign confessions.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmonov has called for granting the International Aral Sea Rescue Fund the status of a UN institution, Asia-Plus reported on Tuesday. Rahmonov, who was speaking at the World Water Forum in the Japanese city of Kyoto, drew the attention of the participants to environmental problems in Central Asia. “He said that once the fund had the status of a UN institution it would help effectively solve the Aral problem,” the agency said.

Rahmonov is the chairman of the International Aral Sea Rescue Fund, which aims to solve the problem of the shrinking Aral Sea, bordering Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Turkmenistan will hold elections early next month but there is no clarity on which candidates the country’s 2.2 million voters will see on the ballots. The original announcement about the elections to the Halk Maslahaty (People’s Council) and Mejlis (parliament) appeared in Turkmen newspapers at the end of December. But with just three weeks left until the poll, the identity of the candidates remains a mystery. Turkmen media, which are all state-run, have said very little about the elections since the announcement in late December.

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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