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Weekly news wrap

Economics featured prominently this week in Central Asia, a five-nation region of some 60 million people, the vast majority of whom are poverty-stricken. On Wednesday, the IMF reported an upturn in its relations with Uzbekistan, the region's most populous nation, following a fresh commitment to currency convertibility. Erik De Vrijer, the head of a visiting IMF delegation to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, reportedly said that the move must now be followed by efforts to improve the business climate through legal and civil reform, and to promote external and internal trade. The free-market oriented IMF has often been at odds with the authoritarian leadership of Uzbek President Islam Karimov over its reluctance to relinquish its grip on what is mainly a cotton- and minerals-based economy. The news followed an earlier report by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) saying that Tashkent had been making progress on several economic and political reforms, specifically mentioning efforts to encourage the growth of the private sector and to simplify the tax system. To the east, in Kyrgyzstan, the World Bank announced on Thursday that it would provide US $15 million in loans to help rural communities in the mountainous republic recover from the collapse of Soviet-era collective farming. Training, expertise and micro-credits would be allocated to as many as 3,000 projects in 200 local communities across the remote landlocked nation of 4.9 million, where rural poverty remained widespread, the report said. Staying in Kyrgyzstan, Russia had announced plans to grant legal protection to Kyrgyz labour migrants working there, under the first such agreement Moscow had signed with a former Soviet republic, Kyrgyz officials reported on Thursday. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, hundreds of thousands of labour migrants have flooded Russia in search of job opportunities. Under the terms of the agreement, a Russian employer can reportedly employ a Kyrgyz citizen on a three-year contract, instead of just one year. It also frees employers from paying insurance in the event of a migrant worker being deported. In neighbouring Kazakhstan, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) noted that the country had been successfully carrying out a programme of making loans to small businesses over the past five years. "Kazakhstan is one of the most successful states among 26 countries at the moment where the EBRD is carrying out its programme on making loans to small businesses," the director of the bank's group for small businesses, Elisabeth Wallace, reportedly told a press conference in the country's commercial capital, Almaty, on Monday. However, all is not well in the oil-rich nation, with Martin Ferstl, an executive from the Anglo-Dutch oil company, Shell, painting a gloomy picture of the country's readiness to become a major player on the world energy markets, highlighting legal and political uncertainties in the Caspian Sea region. Environmental legislation was underdeveloped, systems for environmental auditing and calculating damage were not in place, nor was there domestic legislation for offshore production, he said. And while there have been some positive developments in the region, there are also causes of concern. On Tuesday, Transparency International issued its global "Corruption Perception Index". According to the Berlin-based watchdog group, amongst the top 32 corrupt countries in the world, Tajikistan was found to be the worst of the Central Asian countries, followed by Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan (Turkmenistan was not included in the survey). On Monday, a Kazakh opposition leader went on trial on tax evasion charges he claimed were politically motivated. A district court in Almaty charged Amirzhan Kosanov, the chairman of the Republican People's Party, with evading taxes and falsifying official documents. "Everybody can see political motives behind the case," Kosanov told journalists. "I will create a precedent and prove that one can defend the truth in Kazakhstan and protect himself from absurd accusations. I intend to win the case." On Thursday, Anton Rupnik, the head of the OSCE in Kazakhstan, maintained that there had been legal violations in that country's local council elections held last month. "Even though the OSCE officially did not send its observers to the local polls, a number of the organisation's experts followed their progress. On the basis of the information supplied by these experts, the centre concluded that legal violations have been committed during the elections," he said at a press briefing in Almaty.

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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