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Kazakhstan and Belarus signed an agreement on joining the international North-South transportation corridor on Thursday in Russia's second largest city of St. Petersburg at an international Eurasian conference on transportation. The North-South corridor aims to connect Asian and European countries through the Persian Gulf, Iran, the Caspian Sea, Russia and onwards to Europe. Kazakhstan hosted an international conference of landlocked developing countries in late August focusing on freedom of access to the sea, infrastructure development, efficiency of transport operations and international support measures. The defenders of Sergey Duvanov, an independent Kazakh journalist convicted of rape charges, said on Monday that Kazakh legislation had become a tool for the crackdown on disagreeable journalists. It has been 33 days since the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan accepted an appeal made by a lawyer acting for Duvanov, but no reply had been received yet, they reportedly said. Duvanov was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for raping a minor. Some human rights activists said that the arrest and trail was politically motivated as Duvanov was a prominent government critic. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said on Wednesday that he wanted to appoint civilians to head law-enforcement and security agencies, seeking to demilitarise those bodies in the largest Central Asian nation. People who weren't from the military were capable of dealing with not only professional, but also political and financial problems within these agencies, Nazarbayev reportedly said. Kazakhstan is getting ready for the coming congress of world traditional and national religions to be held in the capital, Astana on 23-24 September. The top Islamic cleric of Kazakhstan Absattar-kazhy Derbisali said to local media on Thursday that the forum would disprove the claim of clash of civilisations. "I believe that we should disprove the idea that is currently circulating that the world will face a clash of civilisations and that a confrontation between the east and west has started," he said. It is expected that 18 delegations from various countries will attend the congress. Staying in that country, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has called on Kazakhstan to step up work on democratising society. Head of the OSCE mission to the country, Anton Rupnik, told reporters on Thursday that a lot needed to be done to improve legislation. "The priority areas of cooperation [between the parties] should be liberalisation of electoral legislation and improving the situation in ensuring freedom of speech and the press," he said. New radioactive spots have been recently detected at the former Azgir nuclear test site in the western Kazakh province of Atyrau. The spots are said to have appeared because of intensive weathering and erosion of land. A total of 17 underground nuclear explosions were carried out at the site between 1966 and 1970. Seven out of nine underground caverns are reportedly full of radioactive brine. Going south to Kyrgyzstan, China's foreign minister Li Zhaoxing said on Saturday that China and Kyrgyzstan would jointly fight terrorism and separatism. "We will jointly fight against our common threats such as terrorism and separatism, and will continue developing trade and economic relations," he said, after meeting his Kyrgyz counterpart. Kyrgyz foreign minister Askar Aitmatov told reporters after talks with Zhaoxing that Kyrgyzstan and China had a common approach to almost all regional and world issues. Commenting on the relocation of the regional anti-terrorist centre of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation based in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek to neighbouring Uzbekistan, Aitmatov said on Saturday that it had been decided on for two reasons. After the US-led antiterrorist coalition had successfully carried out the Enduring Freedom operation, the direct threat of extremist incursions in Kyrgyzstan had been eliminated. Secondly, according to Bishkek, Uzbekistan was now more sensitive to extremism than Kyrgyzstan. Uzbek media reported on Thursday that Germany had donated humanitarian aid worth some US $600,000 to the Uzbek Ministry of Interior's central hospital. The aid package was presented by one of the German capital's districts and other German aid organisations. However, Matilda Bogner of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IRIN previously that the US had laws restricting the provision of aid to governments involved in torture or other systematic human rights abuses, noting that any aid going to military or law-enforcement bodies within Uzbekistan had to be very carefully assessed, because many of those bodies, especially law-enforcement agencies, were involved in torture. The US State Department said on Wednesday that President Bush announced that 10 countries had made important progress over the last three months in the fight to abolish modern day slavery and human trafficking. Richard Boucher, State Department spokesman, reportedly said that the commitment to fight human trafficking of 10 countries, including Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, had led to their exclusion from the list of countries to face sanctions. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan were previously among 15 countries that were not taking active measures in combating human trafficking. Three members of the radical Islamist party Hizbut Tahrir were arrested in southern Tajikistan on Saturday. The three - an Uzbek citizen and two ethnic Uzbeks from Tajikistan - were arrested while passing out leaflets in an isolated village in the country. Since 1999, 350 members of the Hizbut Tahrir have been arrested in Tajikistan and 120 of them sentenced to imprisonment terms of varying length. Chinese media reported on Thursday that the prime ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation member states would meet in Beijing on 23 September. The meeting would be hosted by the Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao. The Shanghai group was established in 2001, when Uzbekistan joined the existing "Shanghai Five' and it sees anti-terrorism efforts as one of its top priorities, while China considers it an important factor in counterbalancing growing US influence in Central Asia.

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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