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A four-year-old girl died of bubonic plague on Saturday in the south-central Kazakh province of Kyzyl-Ordinskaya, while another 27 people who had been in contact with her were placed under observation. According to the Kazakh health ministry, the disease had been caused by the bite of a flea carrying plague bacteria; the child had lived in the village of Shomysh, located in a natural reservoir of the disease.

On Monday, US Senator Dick Lugar, reportedly said that the US would give Kazakhstan US $40 million over two years to fight and prevent dangerous infectious diseases. The money would come under the Nunn-Lugar programme designed to help former Soviet countries to destroy and safeguard weapons of mass destruction, said Lugar, one of the programme's architects.

On Tuesday he reportedly said that Washington would give neighbouring Uzbekistan an additional $10 million to reduce biological threats, while part of the money would be used to destroy waste from the former Soviet biological weapons laboratory on Vozrozhdeniya Island in the Aral Sea, shared by Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and where a known 100 mt of anthrax agent had been buried by the Soviet military.

Kazakhstan's justice minister, Onalsyn Zhumabekov, said on Tuesday that the government would introduce life imprisonment next year as a new form of punishment intended to replace the death penalty, adding that a bill drafted by his ministry which, if adopted by parliament, would allow courts from January 2004 to sentence those convicted of grave crimes to life imprisonment instead of capital punishment.

The 13th session of the integration committee of the Eurasian Economic Community (Eurasec) is set to convene in Kazakhstan's commercial capital, Almaty, on Friday to discuss common customs tariffs, a mechanism for protecting member states' markets using no special protective or compensatory measures and looking at the dynamics of trade in goods and services. The Eurasec member states are Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.

Turkmenistan's top legislative body said on Monday that President Saparmurat Niyazov had been elected as its chairman for life, a move that will assure the authoritarian leader a share of power even in the unlikely event of losing presidential elections he has promised to hold in a few years. Ovezgeldy Atayev, the chairman of the Turkmen parliament, said in a statement that more than 2,500 members of the People's Council had unanimously elected Niyazov as its chairman for life.

Turkmenistan's Turkmenneftegaz and Gazprom, Russia's biggest oil and gas company, had on Monday signed a deal on mutual supplies of production equipment and services for the payment of Turkmen gas in 2004-2006, Russian media reported. Under the terms of the agreement, Ashgabat will start supplying gas - 5 to 6 cu. m. - to Russia in 2004 and from 2009 will supply up to 80 billion cu. m. annually.

Staying in Turkmenistan, it was reported on Wednesday that a new constitutional clause outlawing dual citizenship had been published, stating that no other nationality held by a citizen of Turkmenistan would be recognised by the government. This is likely to further alienate the country's Russian minority, many of whose members have been leaving since a decree by Niyazov ending dual citizenship was issued by Niyazov in April.

In Tajikistan, a malaria outbreak in the south had spread with more than 100 people already registered as infected, and another 50 taken to hospital with suspected malaria in the southern town of Kulob, the Tajik news agency Varorud said on Monday.

On Wednesday, Washington delivered $16 million worth of medical supplies to Tajikistan, thereby launching the largest-ever humanitarian aid project for the country. A military aircraft brought antibiotics, vaccines and other medicines to the capital, Dushanbe, to be distributed to hospitals around the country. Tajikistan will get medicines and medical equipment worth a total of $27 million by early 2004.

On Thursday, Tajikistan's Supreme Court said Zainiddin Abduvakhobov, 27, a leader of Hizb-ut-Tahrir (a secretive Islamic organisation advocating the removal of Central Asia's secular governments, and aiming to unite all Muslims under a caliphate ruled by the Islamic Shari'ah) had been sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment. Abduvakhobov was convicted of publicly calling for violent change in the nation's constitutional order and sentenced by the Soghd regional court in the northern city of Khujand.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Uzbekistan, where labour disputes and industrial unrest are rare, agencies reported that workers from a state-owned chemical factory in the eastern city of Ferghana had been on strike since 31 July, demanding back wages for the past 11 months, Abdusalom Ergashev, the head of the Ferghana branch of the Erk party, reportedly said on Thursday, adding that the 1,400 workers involved in the strike had brought the factory to a standstill.

Kyrgyzstan, it was reported on Monday, planned to sign an agreement with Uzbekistan before the end of the year to approve their common border. Lidya Imanaliyeva, the Kyrgyz first deputy foreign minister, told media representatives that the negotiations between the parties held in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, had resulted in a protocol of intent to intensify border demarcation talks and approve more than 1,000 km of frontier by the end of 2003.

An IMF mission, headed by Tapio Saavalainen, met Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolay Tanayev and a group of Kyrgyz economists on Wednesday after having talked with Kyrgyz ministers and representatives from the country's economic sector. A final meeting of the mission with the Kyrgyz government is expected to be held on 26 August.

The same day, Kyrgyz authorities expressed concern over the increase of criminal activities involving the production and distribution of illegal drugs. "Kyrgyz criminal structures are now focusing on the production and sale of drugs," First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov said on Thursday.


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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