Kyrgyz wrestling: Hopes pinned on sport


BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — When she first stepped on to a wrestling mat three years ago, Aisuluu Tynybekova had no idea it would be the start of a long journey that would take her to London Olympics, but today the 19-year-old athlete is considered Kyrgyzstan’s best hope to bring home a medal.

The first female wrestler to represent her country at the games, Ms. Tynybekova’s training consists of sparring with male athletes at least 20 pounds heavier than she is and jogging several miles each week in a gorge that measures close to 5,000 feet deep.

Read more at The Washington Times

Ai Weiwei: Chinese dissenter accepts professorship in Germany


BEJING - The leading Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has accepted a teaching post at a Berlin university, a month after he was released from detention. But it is uncertain whether the Chinese authorities will allow him to leave because he remains under tight surveillance.

Ai, who has endured what he described as "extreme conditions" and an 81-day detention in his home country, said on Thursday he was happy to take the offer of a professorship in Germany and that he would continue to focus on freedom of expression in his art.

Read more at The Guardian

Kyrgyzstan reacts: Applaud, denounce "open skies" policy


On July 2, Deputy Prime Minister Dzhoomart Otorbayev insisted that the open skies policy would be implemented but said that no time frame was yet in place.

“The open sky project will be realized,” he said. “It is a very progressive idea. But now it is necessary to look at legal aspects of this project to exercise judgment in its realization.”

Read more at The Washington Times

Gold mine: Roils politics in Kyrgyzstan


BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — As the Kyrgyz government prepares to renegotiate its stake in the Kumtor gold mine, local analysts warn that opposition politicians are using the country’s biggest financial asset as a pawn in partisan rivalries.

Stock in Centerra Gold, the Toronto-based company that operates the Kumtor mine, plummeted in recent weeks as members of the Kyrgyz parliament called for its nationalization.

Read more at The Washington Times

Central Asia: Kazakh playwright's arrest sparks criticism, protest


BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — An internationally acclaimed playwright slated for a top German culture award is among those targeted in the latest round of arrests following an oil workers strike in Kazakhstan in December, prompting criticism from German officials.

“He supported the demonstrations and it was absolutely great that he did that,” said German lawmaker Viola von Cramon, referring to Kazakh playwright Bolat Atabayev, who was arrested June 15. “I guess he will be punished for that now.”

Read more at The Washington Times

Kyrgyz culture: Music scene awash in all that jazz


BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Wedding ceremonies in the mountainous Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan traditionally are accompanied by folk songs and, increasingly, Russian pop music — but these days revelers might be treated to the once-forbidden sounds of a live jazz band.

“We are getting invitations to play at wedding parties, and it is very exciting,” says Bakyt Kydykbaev, who plays drums in the Bishkek jazz outfit Salt Peanuts. “Isn’t it great that people want to listen to jazz at traditional wedding ceremonies?”

Read more at The Washington Times

Kyrgyz students: Try to live on $100 a month


BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Kyrgyzstan’s online forums have buzzed with angry discussions about Economics Minister Akylbek Japarov since he told parliament in April that $100 is enough to live on for a month.

Now three university students in the capital, Bishkek, are documenting their attempt to live on Mr. Japarov’s recommended budget in a blog ( they launched on June 1.

Read more at The Washington Times

Uzbek privatization: Plans cast doubt


BISHKEK - Uzbekistan’s announcement that it will privatize key state-owned assets has evoked skepticism about the former Soviet republic’s commitment to economic reform.

Observers note that the Central Asian nation has a history of harassing entrepreneurs and investors, while much of the country’s wealth is held by a cadre of oligarchs close to the longtime president.

Read more at The Washington Times

BRICS Summit: When it starts to crumble


PARIS, France - When Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill came up with the BRICs concept in 2001, it served as shorthand for a group of economies that deserved special attention even if they weren’t quite ready to join South Korea and Mexico as new entrants to the OECD group of developed economies.

But in one important sense, it represented pure concoction: Except that they were big and interesting, these countries had almost nothing whatsoever in common.

Read more at The Global Post

Azerbaijan neighbor: Tense ties with Iran


BAKU, Azerbaijan - Azerbaijan is experiencing an increasingly tense relationship with neighboring Iran, as the oil-rich capital of Baku basks in the glamor of the Eurovision Song Contest.

This week, Iran recalled its ambassador from Azerbaijan after protesters in Baku displayed posters of Iranian leaders dressed provocatively with homosexual overtones.

The protesters were demonstrating against an Iranian cleric who had denounced the multination singing pageant as a “gay parade.”

Read more at The Washington Times

Song contest: Hopes raised for change in Azerbaijan


BAKU, Azerbaijan - As Azerbaijan prepares to host the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest next week, advocates say now is the time to increase pressure on the former Soviet republic for its human rights abuses.

“[Eurovision] is an opportunity to shine a light on some […] darker spots of Azerbaijan,” German Human Rights Commissioner Markus Loning told The Washington Times.

Since Azerbaijan won last year’s contest in Germany and the right to host this year’s, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders have led a campaign to publicize how President Ilham Aliyev’s regime is intimidating, attacking and jailing Azeri journalists and opposition activists

Read more at The Washington Times

Central Asia: Extinguishing of ‘eternal flame’ pits patriots versus gas company


BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN — Residents of this Central Asian city are concerned about how long their “eternal flame” will burn since it was extinguished briefly last week because of an unpaid gas bill.

“The eternal flame must be eternal. It must burn day and night and remind us of our sacrifice for victory,” said Bishkek poet Sooronbay Jusuyev, 87, a veteran of World War II.

Read more at The Washington Times

Islamic banking: On the rise amid the credit crunch


BERLIN, Germany — If the recent global economic crisis taught a lesson about debt, it might be to think twice about investing in it.

Wary of buying bonds that may never be repaid, some investors in these precarious times are looking for opportunities that don’t involve such high risk.

Some are turning to Islamic banking, a rapidly growing industry that is rippling through global financial systems due to its conservative and low-risk approach.

Read more at Global Post

Rights groups: Decry ‘torture’ of Kazakh detainees


BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Human rights officials are calling for the suspension of a trial of more than three dozen people who say they were tortured after being arrested for taking part in protests in Kazakhstan.

“In order to show that there is a zero-tolerance policy toward torture in places of detention, the trial should be suspended contingent on an impartial, independent and thorough investigation into these allegations,” said Mihra Rittmann, a Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Read more at The Washington Times

Central Asia: Kyrgyzstan televises anti-graft efforts

Image from

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Long perceived as one of the world’s most corrupt countries, Kyrgyzstan is eager to show its commitment in stamping out a culture of graft — and is taking some unusual steps to do so.

People applying for jobs at the new State Service for Combatting Economic Crimes earlier this month took a qualification exam on Kyrgyz law on live television. The new agency replaces the Financial Police, which was abolished due to what Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov called its “high level of corruption.”

Read more at The Washington Times

Tajik-Uzbek relations: Fight over gas and water kindles rivalry

Nurek Dam, Tajikistan

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan - Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are rankling Central Asia with a dispute over gas and water that highlights the longtime distrust and rivalry between the two former Soviet republics.

Tajik diplomats accused Uzbek officials of imposing an “economic blockade” after Uzbekistan’s state-owned gas company, Uztransgaz, halted exports to Tajikstan on April 1.

“The situation, if continued, will lead to further deterioration of living conditions for the people of Tajikistan and threaten to turn into a humanitarian catastrophe,” the diplomats said in a lengthy statement from the Tajik Embassy in Moscow.

Read more at The Washington Times

Asian railroad: Project sparks hope, suspicion in Kyrgyzstan

Tien Shan mountains, Kyrgyzstan

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan - The Kyrgyz government is pushing to speed the construction of a trans-Asia railway, but the massive foreign investment needed to build Kyrgyzstan’s stretch of the project has sparked a heated debate over the price the Central Asian nation would pay for the funding. Lawmakers and analysts say the $2 billion-plus China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway project would provide this landlocked former Soviet republic access to seaports in China, as well as produce $200 million annually in transit fees.

Read more at The Washington Times

Kazakh film: Hope to rebrand country through movies


BERLIN - If ever a country needed rebranding, it’s Kazakhstan. The Central Asian nation’s international identity is shaped — unfairly, but inescapably — by the hit satirical film “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” which lampooned Kazakhstan as hopelessly backward, benighted and bigoted. A fresh reminder of how Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 mockumentary continues to shadow the nation’s image came just days ago, when a medal ceremony at a shooting competition in Kuwait honored the Kazakh gold medalist by mistakenly playing the “Borat” parody of Kazakhstan’s national anthem instead of the real one.

Read more at The Washington Times

Afghan protests: Removal of accused US soldier


KABUL - Afghans in restive parts of the country Thursday protested the removal of a U.S. soldier accused of killing 16 civilians while others said it will not cause problems if justice is served.Meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai on Thursday demanded NATO troops pull out of rural areas like the one where the massacre happened. However, he has no authority to make such a move and the U.S. military maintains the village outposts are critical to keeping the Taliban out of cleared areas.The Taliban on Thursday said it was suspending talks with the United States, though such talks were preliminary and the Taliban has thus far refused a main demand that it recognize the Karzai government for talks to proceed further.

Read more at USA Today

Online censorship: Tajik web users rail against ban


BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan - Internet users and providers in Tajikistan are voicing concerns about online censorship after the government lifted a six-day ban on Facebook and several news websites last week. “I assume the reasons for blocking Facebook is that its Tajik segment has become very active recently,” said Parvina Ibodova, president of the Association of Internet Providers in Tajikistan. “There are many groups and pages that discuss current issues in Tajikistan, including politics. Moreover, prominent opposition figures actively use Facebook in their daily work.”

Read more at The Washington Times

Kyrgyzstan politics: Fight rages over Kyrgyzstan's flag


BISHKEK - It’s blood red with a yellow sunburst in the center that’s covered by the top opening of a yurt - and it’s the focus of fierce debate in this Central Asian nation. Kyrgyzstan’s flag has flown for 20 years since the country’s independence from the former Soviet Union - a tangible representation of the people’s history, heritage and pride, full of symbolism and meaning.

Read more at The Washington Times

Kazakh shift: Eyeing European mining, energy pacts


BERLIN - Kazakh officials hope that recent trade deals with Germany will lead to a trade pact with the European Union that will spur the Central Asian nation’s economic development. “The government is making a strong effort to go beyond oil and gas, and is seeking also to diversify its foreign investors, looking beyond China, the U.S. and Russia to Europe,” said Robert Cutler, who specializes in energy security and geo-economics at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Read more at The Washington Times

Turkmenistan's elections: A lack of choice


PRAGUE - Turkmenistan's president is running for re-election Sunday against candidates only from his own party, a contest that voters say provides them no choice. "I think the president will clearly win...regardless whether there is a choice of candidates or not," said a journalist in the capital, Ashgabat, who asked not to be named out of fear for his safety.

Read more at The Washington Times

Tsunami survivors: Find hope in noodle shop


KESENNUMA, Japan — Running a business in a battered economy in a tsunami-ravaged community is an exercise of hope and redemption for one man with a noodle shop.

“There’s a risk in starting a business now in a terrible economy in a disaster zone,” Yasuhiro Ishiwata, 28, said in his shop in this seaside town that was decimated in the March 11 tidal wave.

Read more at The Washington Times

Casino ban: Kyrgyz citizens irked

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_KGZ130319AA001.jpegBISHKEK, Kygyzstan — Kyrgyzstan has enacted a ban on casinos that supporters say will ease the negative effects of gambling on Kyrgyz society, but opponents argue will leave thousands unemployed and boost organized crime.

Interim President Roza Otunbayeva signed the legislation Tuesday.

Read more at The Washington Times

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