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Weekly news wrap

In Central Asia this week another attack on an independent journalist in Kazakhstan was reported, this time by AP. The head of an independent opposition newspaper in Kazakhstan was badly beaten by unidentified attackers outside his home, his wife and colleagues said on Thursday.

Maxim Yerokhin, the 40-year-old editor and founder of the weekly Rabat in the southern city of Shymkent, was hospitalised in a serious condition with numerous head injuries after the beating on Wednesday, doctors said, adding that he could probably be released in 10-12 days.

"We believe Maxim's beating is an attempt to pressure us, to frighten us," Rabat deputy editor Aidar Isakov said. "We are an opposition newspaper fighting for our right to write the truth. This is very bad for the local authorities." Isakov said the paper often writes about scandals involving people in power and that a recent issue included an article about what it said was the construction of a presidential residence in what is supposed to be a protected park area in the former Soviet republic.

A spate of attacks on media outlets in Kazakhstan prompted human right groups and organisations representing journalsits last year to question the safety of independent media in the Central Asian country. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been criticised by human rights groups for becoming increasingly intolerant with dissent.

Washington said on Thursday that Uzbekistan's human rights record remains "very poor" despite some signs of improvement over the last year. US Ambassador John Herbst said recent cases of deaths in police custody and other forms of police abuse, as well as the continued persecution of human rights activists and independent journalists, showed that "much of the old system remained in place."

As positive signs, Herbst pointed to increased access to prisons given to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), an invitation for a United Nations envoy to visit, the abolishment of official media censorship and the recent registration of a second independent human rights group. But he said Uzbekistan still lacked the basic attributes of a free society such as freedom of speech, political pluralism and laws that could prevent abuses by law-enforcement bodies and other human rights violations.

As Asian countries become increasingly concerned about severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) Kazakhstan is checking a suspected case of the killer pneumonia in the Caspian Sea port town of Aktau, the Central Asian country's emergency situations agency said on Thursday. "The woman, aged 40, became ill after a business trip to Beijing between April 8 and April 15," Kayirzhan Turezhanov, the agency's spokesman, told AFP.

It will take 10 days to definitely diagnose whether the patient has contracted SARS. The patient is Kazakhstan's only suspected case of SARS. Doctors in the northern town of Pavlodar gave a clean bill of health to a man earlier suspected of having the illness. The suspected SARS carrier has been isolated in hospital, as have her husband and daughter and the doctor who first treated her.

Kazakhstan shares a border with western China and the government has ordered preventative measures be taken amid concerns that SARS could spread into the country. Worldwide, SARS has sickened more than 300 people and claimed at least 116 lives. Hong Kong and China have been hardest hit.

A child was killed and a dozen homes destroyed in Tajikistan as heavy rains triggered massive mudslides over the weekend, the emergency ministry said on Monday. The 12-year-old died on Sunday after being carried several km by the raging floods, which struck the southeast of the Central Asian country, including the capital Dushanbe.

Around 200 houses were affected by the mudslides and around 500 domesticated animals were killed, the ministry said, adding that damage could reach US $1 million. Workers with the emergencies ministry worked around the clock in Dushanbe to clean up the mud-covered main roads, as officials warned that the possibility of further flash floods and mudslides remained high.

Police in Kyrgyzstan have arrested two men for trying to sell 35 kg of a radioactive substance which they stole from a defunct Soviet nuclear plant, the Central Asian country's deputy interior ministry said on Thursday. "One of the criminals had kept this material in his house since 1984," Deputy Interior Minister Abdylla Suranchyev told journalists. The other man detained for stealing the ytterbium oxide is a former employee of the Orlovka uranium processing plant, close to the capital Bishkek, Suranchyev said.

The detentions follow the theft from Orlovka in January of nearly half a metric tonne of europium oxide, another substance used in the nuclear industry. Experts have repeatedly warned of the risk of poorly secured nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union falling into terrorist hands. Discussions are currently under way at an international conference in Bishkek over how to clean up remnants of the Soviet nuclear industry which pose not only a security risk but an environmental threat in all 5 former Central Asian republics.


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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