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In Central Asia this week, authorities in Uzbekistan forcibly detained a rights activist on Tuesday, two days after he staged a protest demanding the resignation of the president, AP reported, quoting his wife. Oleg Nikolayev, 42, drove his car around the capital, Tashkent, on Sunday with the placards attached to the windows reading "President Karimov Resign!" and "Uzbekistan's Government Resign!".

Public protests are rare and harshly suppressed in this former Soviet republic, which is still run by a former communist boss, and incidents of anyone openly demanding that the president and the government go are particularly unusual. Nikolayev was driving his car on Tuesday when another car cut him off, and about 15 men, some wearing police uniforms, attacked him, as well as his wife, a son and a friend, who were also in the car, his wife Tatyana Nikolayeva said.

It appears Tashkent is also nervous about the potential for broader student unrest, following an unexpectedly large protest in Samarkand at the end of March, EurasiaNet reported this week. Some local observers believe students and professors are likely to face increased government repression, joining other persecuted groups, including independent journalists, human rights advocates and members of "unauthorised" religious organisations.

A crowd of up to 2,000 students from the Samarkand Foreign Languages Institute staged a spontaneous protest on 24 March in an effort to get regional officials to reverse a decision to remove the institute’s rector, Yusuf Abdullayev. Some protesters carried placards with slogans such as "Return the Rector," "Return our Reason" and "No Rector - No Studying."

It emerged this week that the FBI plans to open offices in Tashkent, Kabul and eight other foreign capitals as part of a decade-long overseas expansion that officials say is crucial to meet the global threat of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The blueprint also calls for adding 30 new FBI personnel, including 17 agents, to the nearly 200 stationed at 46 locations around the world, according to FBI documents and interviews with AP.

Their importance was demonstrated during the afternoon of the 11 September terror attacks, the FBI says, when agents in dozens of cities were already tracking down leads with the cooperation of local authorities in Germany, Canada, Great Britain and elsewhere. "Had we not had those relationships, it would have been a question not of days in covering leads, but probably weeks and months," said Roderick Beverly, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Office of International Operations.

To underscore the threat to security in the region, a radical Islamic group has stepped up its activity in Kyrgyzstan since the beginning of the war in Iraq, AFP reported Monday, quoting officials. About 12 members of the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir (Liberation Party) have been detained in southern Kyrgyzstan since the start of the Iraq conflict for distributing "extremist religious" leaflets and literature, said the Osh regional police spokesman, Vyacheslav Algereyev. They had been charged with inciting religious and ethnic hatred, Algereyev said.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir is banned across Central Asia and calls for the establishment of an Islamic state in the region. It has never been linked to violence, and claims to eschew the use of force. The group has been subject to harsh crackdowns across Central Asia out of fears that it is linked to terrorists, and thousands of Hizb-ut-Tahrir members have been arrested in Uzbekistan.

The EC on Monday approved a 10 million euro aid package for humanitarian activities in Tajikistan, the Asis-Plus news agency reported. The funds will be earmarked for providing food and medical aid, carrying out sanitary work, as well as implementing projects on water supply in Tajikistan, the mission of the EC's Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, announced.

In another development this week, local media reported that Tajik seasonal workers are facing harsh new travel restrictions as they set out on their annual mass exodus across Uzbekistan to find desperately needed jobs in Russia. In violation of a 2000 agreement on facilitating mutual travel, Uzbek border guards are allegedly stepping up physical harassment of Tajik migrants and demanding international-style passports, which most of them don't have and could not afford.

Up to now, Uzbeks have accepted the old Tajik domestic passports, but the Uzbek ambassador, Bakhtior Urdashev, recently said these were no good, because there was no room in them for stamps. About a million or more Tajiks leave home around now and return in November. At this time of year, their only feasible routes go across Uzbekistan. Even domestic travellers between northern and central Tajikistan face demands for passports, because mountain passes at this time of year are blocked by snow and they must take trains that cross a chunk of Uzbek territory.

Turkmenistan on Monday claimed a near 100-percent turnout in weekend elections to a top advisory body and thousands of local councils. "No violations have been registered, the election was conducted to high standards," a spokesman for the central election commission insisted, despite few signs of enthusiasm among the public, and minimal pre-election campaigning or media coverage. Electoral officials claimed a 99.8 percent turnout, but continued to withhold the results on Monday evening, nearly 24 hours after polling stations formally closed.

"It's absolutely no surprise they declared such a high turnout; the purpose of such numbers is to show that people support the president," Edward Polyetayev, head of the Kazakhstan-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, told AFP. "Our observers heard reports of officials visiting people's homes with ballot boxes to ensure they voted, and many do vote because they're afraid of reprisals - it's like in Soviet times," Polyetayev said. Some 2.4 million people were eligible to vote for a 65-member national people's assembly and for 5,535 local councils in this former Soviet republic ruled by eccentric President Saparmyrat Niyazov.

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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