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This week in Central Asia, anthrax cases have been reported in southern Kazakhstan, the Kazakh Telegraph Agency said on Wednesday, citing the country's emergencies ministry. Nine people from three villages in the South Kazakhstan region with suspected symptoms of anthrax were taken to hospital for treatment, the report said.

More than 460 people who came into close contact with those infected are under medical observation, the Russian Interfax news agency reported. Anthrax is a disease caused by spore-forming bacteria. It can be transmitted to humans through contact with contaminated animal substances such as hair, faeces or hides and is characterised by fever.

The Uzbek government on Tuesday dismissed concern by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that Uzbeks who fled to Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan could face torture now that they have been returned. "All UNHCR statements that returned persons could be subject to torture are groundless," Uzbek delegate Akmal Saidov said on behalf of Uzbekistan at a meeting of the refugee body's executive committee in Geneva.

The comments follow up a year-long row between Uzbekistan and UNHCR over hundreds of people who fled the country following a government crackdown on demonstrators in the eastern city of Andijan in May 2005. UNHCR had expressed concern about the fate of asylum seekers and refugees in neighbouring countries, whom Uzbekistan was trying to have extradited on charges ranging from terrorism to participation in forbidden organisations.

Most of the refugees were moved to Romania and then resettled elsewhere, including to the US. But a small number have been returned to Uzbekistan, where UNHCR has said they could face torture.

Going to Turkmenistan, an international rights watchdog on Thursday hailed a decision by the European Union (EU) to abandon a trade pact with the reclusive Central Asian state, describing it as a "landmark move against tyranny".

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has long criticised the EU for negotiating a trade pact with gas-producing Turkmenistan, run by an autocratic leader with a personality cult. The deal has been on hold since the 1990s due to human rights concerns.

The International Trade Committee of the European Parliament voted earlier this week against pursuing the pact any further pending "clear tangible and sustained progress on the human rights situation". "(The) vote signals that the EU will not allow grossly abusive governments to profit from EU engagement," Holly Cartner, HRW's Europe and Central Asia director, said in a statement.

Also on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his government to tighten immigration rules and crack down on the country's markets where many of the traders are from Central Asia and the Caucasus, the Russian media reported.

Putin's orders came as Russian authorities announced a tightening of immigration controls against Georgians amid a major crisis in relations with Tbilisi over spying allegations.

AT/JL/AT


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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