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Weekly news wrap

Kyrgyzstan's fragile democracy was again tested this week when President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signed a new constitution limiting his powers and providing more authority to the parliament. The document, approved by parliament on Wednesday, was an effort to stem mounting protests in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.

Over the past two weeks, the opposition had accused Bakiyev of failing to keep promises made when he came to power in last year's so-called Tulip Revolution, calling on the Kyrgyz leader to resign if he failed to agree to the new constitution, the BBC reported.

"The new constitution of the Kyrgyz republic....is the result of the agreement between the different political forces and one more step toward democracy in our country," the Kyrgyz leader reportedly said at a signing ceremony before a group of journalists.

But according to the Associated Press, under the changes the country's parliament, and not the president, will form the government, though the president will have limited powers to dissolve the legislature.

In other political news, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov won a third term in office on Monday, in an election described by international observers as being neither free nor fair.

After a boycott by the country's three main opposition parties, the former communist official, who has led the impoverished nation for the past 14 years, won more than 76 percent of the vote, with his closest rival winning just 7 percent, the Associated Press reported.

Western observers told Reuters that they had noted a number of irregularities in Monday's poll, including ballot stuffing and identical signatures on some ballot papers.

"The results were probably falsified to show progress for democracy," one Western diplomat was reported as saying.

With few alternatives on offer, most voters in the Central Asian state appeared to have picked the obvious candidate - the current president - the Institute for War and Peace Reporting said.

One day after voters went to the polls, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) stated the presidential election had not been fully democratic given the lack of real competition.

The head of a long-term observer mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Onno van der Wind, added that observers noted serious shortcomings during the polling, including widespread family voting, proxy voting, multiple voting and identical signatures on voter lists.

Staying in Tajikistan, doctors reported this week that they believed there were over 6,000 people living HIV in the country. In the first 10 months of this year, 121 HIV-positive people were [officially] registered in Tajikistan, the deputy chief physician of the Tajik National AIDS Prevention Centre, Bozor Akramov, told the Tajik Avesta news agency.

In other news, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) cited two Central Asian countries in its list of 13 as being "enemies of the Internet". In addition to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the list included Saudi Arabia, Belarus, Myanmar, China, North Korea, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Tunisia, and Vietnam, the AFP news agency reported on Monday.

Turkmenistan, with less than 1 percent of the population online, was reportedly one of the world's least connected countries, the Paris-based watchdog group said, while in Uzbekistan, official censorship seemed to have tightened following last year's brutal crackdown on anti-government protests in the southeastern city of Andijan.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported on Thursday that the European Union (EU) appeared set to ease sanctions on contacts with Uzbekistan, citing "encouraging steps" by Tashkent on human rights issues, according to a German official.

One day earlier the government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov promised EU officials it would set up an inquiry into events in Andijan in May 20005.

According to rights groups, upward of 1,000 people may have been killed when government forces opened fire on anti-government demonstrators in the city, a charge Tashkent has vehemently denied, despite its adamant refusal for an international inquiry.

EU states last year imposed visa bans on 12 senior Uzbek officials as well as an arms embargo, and suspended working contacts with Tashkent following bloodshed, the Financial Times report said, noting that Foreign Ministers next Monday were expected to resume working contacts but extend the other sanctions in the short-term, the report added.

The sanctions were due to expire this month.

On Wednesday, an Uzbek court dismissed that country's Justice Ministry's effort to close down the office of the Joint Development Associate (JDA) International, a US NGO.

"After studying arguments of the sides, the court ruled to dismiss the case on closing down the office of JDA International in Uzbekistan," a correspondent of the Russian Regum news agency was told.

The NGO was accused of carrying out missionary activities, using the office's building and assets for commercial purposes and several other violations.

Over the past year, Uzbek authorities have expelled a number of foreign NGOs and organisations, including the Eurasia Foundation, Freedom House, the International Research and Exchanges Board, the American Bar Association, Counterpart International and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Observers say Tashkent is wary that Western NGOs might be preparing the ground for a popular uprising similar to the "colour revolutions" that have swept the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Ukraine and neighbouring Kyrgyzstan over the past few years.


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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