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This week in Central Asia, a bread shortage was reported in Turkmenistan, an energy-rich country with a repressive regime, according to EurasiaNet, an information and analysis website.

Panic buying and price hikes have struck Turkmenistan amid the failure of the country’s winter wheat crop. State-run stores in the capital, Ashgabat, were now experiencing bread shortages, EurasiaNet reported.

In late November, Turkmen president Saparmurat Niyazov announced a purge of state managers in the country’s agricultural sector, along with the dismissal of the country’s five regional governors. Niyazov’s action came after an audit revealed that officials had falsified data on the winter wheat and cotton crops.

All provinces reported complete fulfillment of a winter wheat sowing campaign, while in reality, "wheat-sowing amounted to less that 50 percent [of the established targets] in each of these regions," Niyazov complained.

But according to observers, Niyazov’s constant purging of the bureaucracy is a major contributing factor in the brewing agricultural catastrophe. There are few people left in positions of authority who possess the proper qualifications to keep the economy running. Niyazov has long stressed political loyalty above all else in carrying out his personnel policy.

In Kazakhstan, Bolat Abilov, an opposition leader, had gone on trial for fraud – a charge he insisted was politically motivated, EurasiaNet reported on Tuesday.

Abilov, co-leader of the opposition Nagyz Ak Zhol party, faces up to 10 years in prison on several counts of embezzlement and fraud relating to an investment fund he set up in 1993 as Kazakhstan was in the early stage of its market-economic transformation.

This is not the first time Abilov has faced criminal proceedings, however. This year alone he has received a second libel conviction, and has been given a three-year suspended sentence for assaulting a police officer. He also served 15 days in prison for his part in organizing an unsanctioned rally following the murder in February of Altynbek Sarsenbayev, another co-leader of the Nagyz Ak Zhol party.

In Tajikistan, the European Union (EU) pledged some 80 million euros to Central Asia’s poorest state over the next four years to fight poverty and further economic development, the head of the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia unit of the European Commission, Victor Andres Maldonado, said on Wednesday at the sixth session of a Tajik-EU joint committee in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.

Also on Wednesday, Russia has set new quotas for next year's immigrants, allowing over 50,000 foreigners to obtain temporary residence and over 300,000 to get work permits, the official state newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta wrote on Wednesday.

Moscow had already announced a crackdown on migrant labour in a bid to combat illegal migration, barring foreigners from retail trade in alcohol and medicine effective 1 January 2007, and bringing the number of foreigners trading in markets down to zero after 1 April.

Federal migration service officials said in November that less than 10 percent of up to 12 million foreigners working in Russia were doing so legally. The most significant flows of migrants come from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Moldova and Ukraine, followed closely by China, Turkey, Vietnam and India, the report said.

In Kyrgyzstan, an American serviceman fatally shot a local civilian at the US air base near the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, on Wednesday "in response to a threat," the US military claimed.

A statement released by the public affairs office at the Manas air base, where US planes and military personnel are stationed, said an air force security forces serviceman "used deadly force in response to a threat at an entry control checkpoint." The civilian was treated by air force medics and died at the base's emergency room, the statement from the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing said.

About 1,000 troops are located at the base, which the US began using following the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US, primarily in support of military operations in nearby Afghanistan.

Bishkek and Washington have struggled this year to agree on terms for the continued leasing of the base, which took on greater importance last year after neighbouring Uzbekistan evicted US forces.

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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