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Weekly news wrap

An earthquake with a magnitude of five on the Richter scale hit Tajikistan on 26 July, but no casualties or major damage were reported. Its epicentre was 220 km northeast of the capital Dushanbe, and the emergency situations ministry said that no casualties had been reported from the area.

Tajikistan had demanded that Russia extradite a former Tajik minister, Yakub Selimov, who was arrested in Moscow last month, and planned to bring new charges of murder and terrorism against him, officials reportedly said on 26 July. He served as interior minister for three years in the early 1990s. During the civil war, he fought on the side of the government against Islamic insurgents, but in 1997 he allegedly became involved in an anti-government uprising in the south of the country.

It was reported on 27 July that the Tajik justice ministry had registered another NGO, Life Without Drugs, with the main objective of cooperating in the implementation of international agreements signed by the government on the trade in illicit drugs. An important part of the NGO's activity will be prevention of drug abuse among youth.

It was reported on Tuesday that infant mortality had fallen in Tajikistan, citing the country's health ministry. Two hundred and seventy-three infant mortality cases were reported in the country in the first six months of the year, while last year over the same period that figure was 293. The main cause of infant mortality in Tajikistan is diarrhoea, which causes dehydration of the body with fatal consequences, and diarrhoeal diseases account for 70 percent of the overall mortality rate in the country.

Also on Tuesday, Tajikistan's Supreme Court sentenced two men to long prison terms in connection with the killing of two prominent journalists during the country's civil war. Akhtam Tourov was sentenced to 22 years and Narzibek Davlatov to 15 years in a maximum security prison for their role in the murder of Viktor Nikulin, a correspondent of Russia's ORT television, and Muhiddin Olimpur, who worked for the BBC, said Makhmadali Vatanov, the Supreme Court deputy chairman. Nikulin, 28, was shot dead in his Dushanbe office in March 1995, and Olimpur, 46, was abducted and found dead with gunshot wounds in Dushanbe in December 1995.

Staying in that country, the Tajik interior ministry said on Thursday that law enforcement bodies had arrested two women who for years allegedly recruited young women in the country to operate as commercial sex workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The two women were part of an international crime network supplying prostitutes to the small oil-rich kingdom and they had confessed to sending more than 10 women to the UAE since the beginning of the year, a ministry spokesman told the media.

It was reported on Monday that about 27 mt of expired pesticides and 135,000 non-recyclable containers of toxic chemicals had accumulated in the northern region of Kazakhstan. "These chemical substances and containers have accumulated in farm depots and pose a threat to the environment," Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency said, quoting Viktor Musiyenko, a physician at the regional state environmental health department's labour hygiene section. "Most of the depots do not meet the necessary safety requirements," Musiyenko said.

The Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria and the Kazakh National AIDS Prevention Centre have signed a grant agreement, as part of a programme to provide HIV-positive people and those living with AIDS with social and psychological assistance, Kazakh media reported on Wednesday. Under the agreement, the Fund will grant Kazakhstan more than US $22 million over five years. According to official statistics, the number of HIV/AIDS infected people in the country is 3,600, but experts say that the real number is 10 times that figure.

On Wednesday, Russian ITAR-TASS news agency reported that officers of the Kazakh National Security Committee had detained two Kazakh citizens and a Russian national who had tried to sell an isotope of plutonium-239 in the northern Kazakh city of Pavlodar. "It [isotope] cannot be used for producing weapons of mass destruction," committee officers noted, adding that the isotope was used in fire-fighting signalling.

In neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, the intelligence agency said on Monday that the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) was behind two recent bombings in the country. A December explosion at a market in the capital, Bishkek, killed seven people and injured more than 50. In May, an explosion at a petrol station in the southern Osh region killed one person. Both bombings were ordered by IMU leaders, Chinara Asanova, a National Security Service spokeswoman said. The IMU is blamed for incursions in Kyrgyzstan and neighbouring Uzbekistan in 1999 and 2000.

On Tuesday, Boris Shapiro of Kyrgyzstan's AIDS Prevention Centre told Interfax news agency that 426 people had HIV/AIDS in the country, of whom 344 were Kyrgyz nationals and almost 25 percent of the total aged between 15 and 24. He noted that drug abuse had increased in Kyrgyzstan, leading to a rise in the number of HIV/AIDS incidences. Hardest hit was Osh region, through which drugs transited from Afghanistan, he said.

On Thursday, the Kyrgyz AKI Press news agency reported that in the first six months of the year 67 emergency situations had been registered in the southern Jalal-Abad region, including 31 floods, 18 landslides and eight avalanches that resulted in damage worth US $1.5 million, quoting the head of the construction and emergency situations department at the Jalal-Abad provincial administration.

Also on Thursday, at a two-day conference bringing official delegations from the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) called for the development of transport corridors to boost the economies of Central and South Asia. Increased trade fostered by such subregional cooperation could lead to "an increase in the GDP of concerned countries, a rise in employment, savings in transport costs and travel time, and the fostering of competition and private-sector development," Yoshihiro Iwasaki, the director-general of ADB's South Asia Department, reportedly said.

Meanwhile, in Uzbekistan, the region's most populous nation, Ruslan Sharipov, an independent journalist charged with sodomy, demanded that the judges at his closed trial be replaced, but the plea was rejected, Uzbek rights activists said Thursday. He demanded at a hearing on Wednesday that the panel of judges considering his case be replaced, because, he said, they had ignored complaints about alleged violations of legal proceedings, Sharipov's public defender, Surat Ikramov, said in a statement.

In Turkmenistan, the authorities have tightened access to higher education, forcing all students to first spend two years in socially useful activities, marking a step back even from the Soviet era. Under the new rules, those wanting to enter university will first have to do either two years' army service - where conscripts usually repair roads, work the land or perform other manual tasks - or to get two years' experience in their preferred study area.

Increasingly fearful for his security following an alleged coup attempt last November, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov was anxious to maintain the compliance which was drilled into young people in the Soviet era, commented Edward Poletayev, the director of the Institute of War and Peace Reporting's Kazakhstan office.

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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