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Weekly news wrap

This week started with a summit of four of the five Central Asian countries in the largest Kazakh city of Almaty, where leaders pledged to combat the flow of illicit drugs, terrorism and Islamic extremism across the region.

"Separately our nations cannot fight these evils," Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev told journalists after meeting with his counterparts from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

It was reported on Saturday that the first case of a death of an HIV infected person was registered in Semipalatinsk, East Kazakhstan Region. Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency stated that there had been 3,506 HIV cases as of April 2003 and over 80 HIV/AIDS related deaths had been registered in the country since the first HIV/AIDS cases was registered in 1987.

On Monday, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, head of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Netherland's foreign minister, met top Kazakh officials at the start of his four nation tour of the region. He called for fair treatment of two Kazakh opposition activists, journalist Sergey Duvanov and opposition leader Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, whose high-profile prosecutions had drawn international criticism from human rights groups.

On Tuesday, the OSCE chairman reportedly met the Uzbek President Islam Karimov and other top officials in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, strongly urging them to impose a moratorium on the death penalty. Moreover, he held talks with Uzbek human rights activists at the OSCE office in the country.

One day later in Kyrgyzstan, the chairman-in-offce called for further progress on democracy in that country, noting, however, that the mountainous nation had advanced in terms of civil freedoms compared with other Central Asian nations.

"There is still a lot to be done in the country on democracy and the rule of law. But progress has been made," de Hoop Scheffer said, claiming that he had called upon Bishkek to extend a moratorium on the death penalty that had been in force in the country for several years, as well as to sign an additional United Nations protocol on torture. De Hoop Scheffer is expected to arrive in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, on Friday - the last stop of his tour of the region.

The United Nations Development Programme launched on Tuesday its Human Development Report 2003, which showed that poverty in many countries in Central Asia had soared. While Kazakhstan has improved its position in the human development index, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan declined in ranking, and Uzbekistan maintained the same position. The declines were attributed to lower life expectancy, lower literacy rates, reduced incomes, and poorer education.

On Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson arrived in Kazakhstan for talks on cooperation between the Central Asian state and the NATO military bloc. Robertson met with the Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to discuss NATO's Partnership for Peace programme and Astana's possible assistance to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF), local media reported.

In Uzbekistan, the World Bank released a report on Monday stating that the Central Asian nation had one of the lowest economic growth ratings and one of the lowest living standards among the former Soviet republics due to its government's slow and inconsistent economic reforms. The study found that more than one-quarter of the population was poor, with one-third of those living in extreme poverty.

It was reported that Kyrgyzstan's Deputy Prime Minister Kubanychbek Jumaliev, the former prime minister, had been injured and his assistant killed in a car accident on Monday along a mountain pass, 150 km far from the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.

On Thursday, a joint Uzbek-Kyrgyz intergovernmental commission finished its regular meeting in Tashkent. The deputy prime ministers of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, Rustam Yunusov and Bazarbay Mambetov, chaired the meeting. The trade between the two neighbouring countries had dropped due to strict border controls, especially initiated by the Uzbek side.

In an effort to tackle the issue, the commission pointed out the importance of a further expansion of cooperation, discussing how to increase the number of joint ventures, trade houses, establishing information and data exchange.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson is visiting Kyrgyzstan where he is scheduled to hold meetings with the top officials of the country on Friday.

Tajik authorities and the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday signed a deal on mutual guarantees under the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty. According to the agreement Dushanbe was obliged to ensure that nuclear materials available in the country would not be utilised for the production of nuclear weapons. The former Soviet republic has uranium mines and a uranium enrichment plan in the northern Sughd region, closed after gaining independence in 1991.

Going to Turkmenistan, the most reclusive nation in the region, the Russian-Turkmen commission held its first meeting on Monday in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, regarding the ongoing dual citizenship row between Turkmenistan and Russia . The delegations were chaired by Rashid Meredov, Turkmen foreign minister, and Alexey Fedotov, Russian deputy foreign minister.

It was reported on Tuesday that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov had issued a decree limiting applications for higher education to those who had proved themselves in two years' work or army service. Regarding the issue, "Turkmens are losing their education, the country is regressing into poverty," Avdy Kuliev, exiled opposition leader reportedly said from Moscow.

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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