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Weekly news wrap

The week in Central Asia started with Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev's meeting with representatives of the government, media, political parties and non-governmental groups, and claiming he would not seek re-election in 2005. "New constitutional amendments don't allow a new term for me," he said, adding that elections in 2005 would take place in full accordance with the constitution and democratic principles. However, Emil Aliyev, deputy chairman of the Ar-Namys opposition party, called the meeting a 'decoration' to improve the country's international image.

Also on Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the European Union (EU) should press for concrete improvements in human rights when it met with senior Kyrgyz and Kazakh officials this week. In a letter sent to EU foreign ministers in advance of the meetings, HRW urged the EU to seek concrete commitments from the two governments to improve their poor human rights records. "These meetings are the EU’s chance to get concrete results from its Central Asian partners," said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of the international watchdog group's Europe and Central Asia division. "If the EU agrees to dialogue without tangible progress, that could actually undermine efforts toward human rights and democracy in these countries."

The United Nations Population Fund conducted a three-day seminar in Kyrgyzstan starting Monday together with the State Commission on Religious Affairs under the Kyrgyz government titled "Islam and Family Planning" with the aim of discussing family planning and reproductive health issues. Participants of the seminar made an appeal to the authorities, emphasising the importance of conducting training activities targeting population, as there was an urgent need for educating youth on preventive measures against HIV/AIDS and securing the reproductive health of the nation.

Some US $1.6 million was needed to rebuild mudslide-hit towns and villages not far from the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan Prime Minister Nikolai Tanayev said at a meeting with officials of international financial organisations on Wednesday, adding that six bridges, 20 km of rural roads and a great number of houses had been completely destroyed, while 180 people were evacuated.

In neighbouring Kazakhstan, the Foreign Ministry reportedly said on Tuesday that the USA had recognised Kazakhstan as a country that met the US Congress's requirements for democracy and human rights. "Following the consideration of this issue by the US State Department our country will continue to receive (US) financial aid," the press release said. But there was no independent confirmation of this.

However, EU officials expressed 'serious doubts' on Tuesday about the trial of the Kazakh journalist Sergei Duvanov, imprisoned for 42 months for raping an underage girl. Duvanov was the editor of a human rights bulletin that fiercely criticised President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The EU also said it wanted to see "improvements regarding the general investment climate in Kazakhstan, in particular on transparency, registration and work permits for foreign workers, the rule of law and stability of contract".

It was reported on Wednesday that the Kazakh president's office turned down a pardon request for Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, an opposition leader jailed on corruption charges. Opposition and human rights activists said his conviction was politically motivated and part of the government's crackdown on dissent. Nazarbayev's office said the pardon could not be granted because it had been requested by Zhakiyanov's wife, not himself.

Memorial, one of the leading human rights groups in Russia, said on Tuesday that Bakhrom Khamroyev, a prominent Uzbek opposition figure in Moscow, had been arrested by Russian intelligence on drugs charges, suspecting his detention was politically motivated. Khamroyev last month reportedly gave a well-publicised Moscow press conference condemning Karimov's rule and accusing the Uzbek authorities of using Russia's intelligence services to detain Uzbek opposition figures living in exile in Russia. He was forced to flee Uzbekistan in December 1992 in a government crackdown on his opposition group Birlik.

Secretary-General Johnny Akerholm led a delegation of senior European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) officials on a visit to Uzbekistan this week as part of the bank’s commitment to monitor developments in the country. The visit was the first since the bank’s annual meeting in Tashkent in May, and the first of a series being made in the context of the bank’s strategy for Uzbekistan, released in March. Mr Akerholm, who was coordinating the bank’s monitoring efforts in Uzbekistan, met government officials, representatives of the diplomatic and business communities, and representatives of NGOs in the country.

But Tashkent's human rights record and commitment to free speech was again questioned this week when on Wednesday Ruslan Shariov, an independent journalist charged with sodomy, went on trial in Uzbekistan, highlighting concerns about media freedom and oppression of homosexuals in the tightly-controlled Central Asian country. His arrest and closed trial had been criticised by international human rights groups, while Nazima Kamolova, one of Sharipov's lawyers, claimed that the charges were 'linked to his journalist activities'.

On Thursday the United Nations Human Rights Committee condemned the recent execution of six Uzbeks, who alleged they had not received a fair trial and whose cases were currently pending before the committee. The committee said it amounted to a grave breach of the Optional Protocol to execute an individual whose case was pending before the committee.

In Tajikistan, it was reported on Monday that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a US $11 million credit for the country, after agreeing to waive two conditions of the government's $90 million three-year agreement. "Tajikistan's performance under the Fund-supported Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility arrangement has generally been satisfactory, and its economic growth remains strong. The authorities are to be commended for maintaining a prudent fiscal stance through expenditure discipline and better tax administration," Shigemitsu Sugisaki, IMF's deputy managing director, said in a statement.

On Tuesday the prosecutor general's office in Tajikistan said that a top official in the country's main Islamic opposition party had been arrested on charges of rape. The Islamic Renaissance Party immediately denounced the arrest as part of a government crackdown, noting that its vice-president was arrested last month. Arrested Mullah Rahkimov, 64, is on the party's governing board in charge of the group's finances. He was accused of having sex with a girl under the legal consent age of 16, the prosecutor's office said.

On the same day, the United Nations Children's Fund launched "Social Monitoring 2003", an annual report examining the wellbeing of children in 'transition' countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The report said that infant mortality rates in the Caucasus and Central Asia were five times greater than in the rest of Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS, and 12 times greater than in western industrialised countries.

Also in Tajikistan, a centre for mine clearance issues was opened in the capital, Dushanbe, on Wednesday. Opening the centre, Deputy Prime Minister Saidamir Zuhurov stressed that the centre would function thanks to financial support from the British government and the United Nations Development Programme. The centre's strategic aims were to reduce the number of mine-related incidents involving civilians and clear arable and grazing lands of mines.

The same day an IMF mission led by Robert Christiansen, the deputy head of the European department's second division, arrived in Dushanbe with the purpose of reviewing the implementation of the Tajik government's poverty reduction programme. The mission will continue its work until next Thursday and meet the heads of the ministries and departments.

Meanwhile, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) high commissioner on national minorities, Rolf Ekeus, discussed the situation of national minorities, including issues related to education, language use and political participation, on a three-day visit to Tajikistan which ended on Thursday. The aim of the visit was to learn more about the current nature of majority-minority relations in Tajikistan and to develop a dialogue with representatives of state structures and the civil society. "The nature of my dialogue with Tajik authorities was open and constructive," the high commissioner said at the end of his first visit to the country.

The OSCE Permanent Council on Thursday adopted an Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings which envisages new measures against this modern form of slavery at national and international level. The OSCE's 55 participating states approved a range of recommendations for national action such as making trafficking a criminal offence, providing protection and shelter for victims and establishing special anti-trafficking units to fight trafficking in both countries of origin and destination. "Despite all efforts, the last decade has seen a tremendous increase both in incidents of trafficking in human beings and in the number of victims," the preamble to the Permanent Council Decision stated.


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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