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Weekly news wrap

The week started with a constitutional referendum in Tajikistan on Sunday, the result of which provided incumbent President Emomali Rahmonov with the opportunity to extend his term of office beyond 2006. Tajik presidents can henceforth serve for two seven-year terms instead of one, a decision which has raised concerns on the part of international observers. On Tuesday, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe advised caution, noting the very high voter turnout for the referendum - up to 96 percent - raised doubts over the vote's accuracy.

Asked whether he would seek re-election, Rahmonov reportedly told journalists: "I'm at the moment not prepared and haven't thought about it. We'll have to see when the time comes."

Also on Tuesday, the US Embassy in Tajikistan announced that the US Agency for International Development would provide the impoverished nation, along with its neighbour, Uzbekistan, with some US $16 million over the next five years in an effort to mitigate the effects of drug abuse in the two countries. In Uzbekistan, there are said to 100,000 addicts, and their numbers are growing.

There were between 6,000 to 7,000 Afghans in Uzbekistan, office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) confirmed this week. Of the 3,500 registered by the agency, fewer than 2,800 of those were recognised as refugees under UNHCR's mandate. In this context, a UN official observed that Uzbekistan lacked both refugee legislation and a refugee determination procedure, and had yet to accede to any of the international instruments on refugees, such as the UN Convention of 1951 or the protocol of 1967.

The British ambassador to Uzbekistan said on Monday that his government would be ending its support for a prominent human rights activist, Mikhail Ardzinov, accusing him of cooperating with the government.

More than a dozen Uzbek activists protested outside the state television building in the capital, Tashkent, on Thursday, against media censorship, which was officially abolished last year. However, every programme and news report is said to be still being censored and journalists made to re-edit any item containing even a of criticism of government policies.

On Friday, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights raised concern over the fate of Iskandar Khudoberganov, who was sentenced to death in Uzbekistan, and reports of harassment of his family members. Khudoberganov and five other men were found guilty of charges including religious extremism and serious anti-state crimes, such as "attempting to overthrow the constitutional order" and "setting up an illegal group" last November. The trial was reportedly grossly unfair.

In Turkmenistan, Central Asia's most reclusive state, Sunday's deadline on the issue of dual nationality for thousands of Russians residing there passed, with Andrei Molchkov, the charge d'affaires of the Russian Embassy in the capital, Ashgabat, reportedly saying that the embassy had received no applications to relinquish Russian citizenship. Meanwhile, the Russian ITAR-TASS news agency reported that more than 2,600 exit visas for Russia had been issued in Turkmenistan.

Following an alleged assassination attempt on Turkmen President Saparmyrat Niyazov in November, the government has stepped up its efforts to control and monitor the movement of foreigners in the country. On Thursday, it was reported the Turkmen agency charged with registering the movements of foreigners would now have the authority to search and investigate them under a new law. Other agencies possessing the same powers are the interior ministry, the intelligence agency, border guards, certain military units and the president's security service.

Also on Thursday, Ashgabat announced its approval of the 1,800-km Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline project. Still in its infancy, the plan envisions bringing gas from the country's Dauletabad gas fields through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India.

In Kazakhstan, Central Asia's largest nation this week, the World Bank signed an agreement with the government on disbursing about $40 million to the Nuru river in the centre of the country, a Kazakh foreign ministry statement said on Saturday.

Meanwhile, an international conference on the challenges of regional security in Central Asia opened on Monday in the southern Kazakh city of Almaty, where internal and external factors impacting on regional security were to be discussed.

On the health front, the Kazakh health ministry stated that there were nearly 50,000 drug addicts in the country, while some independent experts expressed fears that the true figure might be 10 times as great.

On Thursday Kazakhstan's long debated new land reform came into force, allowing private ownership of land for the first time since the pre-Soviet era. Disputes over the bill led to the resignation of Prime Minister Imangali Tasmagambetov earlier this month.

Also on Thursday, Aitkul Samakova, the Kazakh environmental protection minister signed an agreement on the country's membership of the Swiss-based Global Ecological Foundation, saying that Kazakhstan would thereby benefit in terms of large-scale ecological projects to be implemented in the country.

On the same day, the Kazakh authorities announced they had reopened the border with China and lifted a travel ban to that country after the World Health Organisation declared it SARS-free.

Meanwhile, in the neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, torrential rain on Saturday and Sunday hit Tokmak town in the north and Naukent District in the south of the country. While the southern district was badly affected, no casualties were reported.

Finally, government representatives and senior officials from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - and the Russian Federation - have gathered in the eastern Kyrgyz resort area of Ysyk-Kol this week in an effort to improve cooperation on dealing with the increasing flow of migrant workers in the region.


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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