New hope: Kyrgyzstan prime minister

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BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — The Kyrgyz parliament approved a new coalition government this week, choosing a prime minister lawmakers hope will be able to soothe the volatile nation's glaring north-south political divide while holding together the shaky alliances of the new administration.

Southerner Zhantro Satybaldiyev becomes prime minister two weeks after the previous ruling alliance fell apart amid corruption allegations and fears over the health of the impoverished nation's shrinking economy. The collapse was the third time a government has fallen since a revolution in April 2010 ushered in Central Asia's first parliamentary democracy.

Read more at The Washington Times

Turkmen democracy: Still a distant prospect

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PRAGUE — A second political party in Turkmenistan — still under an absolute dictatorship more than 20 years after achieving independence from the Soviet Union — will do nothing to bring democracy to the oil-rich Central Asian nation, political observers and analysts say.

Last week, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov announced that the newly formed Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs will be allowed to compete with his ruling Democratic Party.

Read more at The Washington Times

Kazakh parking: new website shames drivers

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BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Kazakhstan is gaining a reputation as having the world's worst parkers after an infuriated driver began an online campaign to expose the most brazen violators of the country's traffic laws.

"Like many others, I face the problem [of] bad parking every day," says software programmer Roman Slegin, 29. "I used to work in a bank, where being late for work bore penalties, [including] salary cuts. Many times in the mornings, I couldn't take my car out of the parking lot because of incorrectly parked cars."

Read more at The Washington Times

In Kyrgyzstan: Laws to curb extravagance

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BISHKEK - "Businessmen and officials have big-show funerals, and the Shariah [Islamic law] does not condone that," said Mufti Rakhmatylo Eghemberdiev, head of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan.

"According to Shariah, wastefulness is a sin: Allah forbade it. Besides the stress after a relative's death, people are also faced with the stress of how to afford horses to slaughter."

Read more at The Washington Times

Drugs, violence: Tear at Tajik society

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KABUL - Recent deadly clashes in eastern Tajikistan between government forces and rebels underscore the disruptive influence of drug trafficking throughout the impoverished Central Asian nation, analysts say.

Fighting between Tajik security forces and armed groups close to the border with Afghanistan ebbed this week, after authorities offered amnesty to fighters in the semi-autonomous Gorno-Badakhshan region — a key route for narcotics from Afghanistan.

Read more at The Washington Times

Second day: India's electricity outage hits 620 million

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GUWAHATI, India – The gargantuan power outage affecting 620 million people in India on Tuesday — the second day of massive blackouts — was making life difficult in many ways.

Irfan Akbar complained that he couldn't perform his cleansing rituals for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan because water pumps were getting no power.

Read more at USA Today

Uzbek theater: Thriving in dangerous arena

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TASHKENT, Uzbekistan — Branded by human rights groups as one of the world’s most repressive regimes, Uzbekistan is perhaps the last place one would expect an experimental theater company to thrive.

Yet Tashkent’s Ilkholm theater has been going strong for nearly 30 years, and continues to deal with controversial themes such as sexuality and government repression.

Read more at The Washington Times

Kyrgyz wrestling: Hopes pinned on sport

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 (survival.kloop.kg) they launched on June 1.

Read more at The Washington Times

Uzbek privatization: Plans cast doubt

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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