Indian outrage: Sexual-assaults spark anger

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_IND130607aa001.jpegNEW DELHI - Outrage grew Wednesday over a series of sexual assaults that have rocked India with protests since last year after an American tourist was gang-raped and robbed Tuesday by three men while on her way back to her hotel.

"What kind of a message are we trying to send -- that we are hostile to women?" said Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association, a woman's rights group. "The government has to buck up and ensure safety for female tourists."

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Pakistan vote: Democracy at work, despite violence

PML-N Headquarters, Pakistan CC colincookmanKARACHI, Pakistan — Despite protests over vote-rigging Sunday, many heralded Pakistan's election as a historic democratic exercise in a country known for its military takeovers.

"It would be stupidity to have expected a 100% free and fair (election), but we are leaps and bounds ahead of what came before," said 30-year-old Hareem Sumbul, who worked at a Karachi polling station.

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Pakistan's election: Sharif victory amid violence

b_179_129_16777215_00_images_PAK130517003.jpegKARACHI - Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared victory as unofficial, partial vote counts showed his party with an overwhelming lead following a historic election marred by violence Saturday, including a string of attacks that killed 29 people.

If his victory is confirmed, it would be a remarkable comeback for the 63-year-old Sharif, who has twice served as the country's premier but was toppled in a military coup in 1999. He spent years in exile before returning to the country in 2007. His party weathered a strong campaign by former cricket star Imran Khan that energized Pakistan's young people.

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Pakistani election: Threat of violence looms large

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LAHORE - With terrorism happening almost daily, Pakistan faces a crucial test in elections this weekend that violent Taliban jihadists who seek a Muslim theocracy have vowed to ruin.

Saturday's elections will be the first peaceful transition of power from one civilian government to another in Pakistan's history after decades of military rule that ended only five years ago.

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Fighting Taliban: Afghan villagers' struggle

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ANDAR, Afghanistan -- Former Taliban commander Mullah Ramahtullah expresses contempt for the militants he once considered brothers in arms.

Though he still wears his hair long, as many Taliban members do, Ramahtullah says he has broken away from Afghanistan's former hard-line rulers and is supporting an uprising against them in a remote corner of Ghazni province known as Andar district.

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Gas shortage: Uzbekistan sparks calls for reform

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TASHKENT, Uzbekistan — A repeat of last year's gasoline shortage in Uzbekistan is prompting calls for investment in and modernization of the Central Asian nation's oil industry.

Gas stations in the capital, Tashkent, began running out of fuel on Nov. 15, causing long lines of irate drivers seeking fuel. The crisis resembles last year's shortage: Normal supplies resumed after the New Year.

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Tajikistan's music: Rock music creates clashes

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DUSHANBE, Tajikistan — The poorest of the former Soviet Central Asian states and arguably the most culturally conservative, Tajikistan is home to a small but growing rock-music scene in spite of the social pressures to conform and the difficulties finding a working guitar.

"Society doesn't like the music that we play," said Jack Rock, the stage name of the leader singer of Al Azif, Tajikistan's only "thrash metal" band. "Everybody always says that we are wasting time and we need to play softly and slowly."

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Central Asia: A new fight over water is looming

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BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — A new fight over water is looming between Kyrgyzstan and its energy-rich Central Asian neighbors — and analysts say the likely winner could be Russia.

The former Soviet republics neighboring Kyrgyzstan have long accused it of hoarding its water resources, and Kyrgyz plans to dam a key river to generate electricity will likely reinvigorate those criticisms.

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Kyrgyzstan’s forests: Rescued by environmental groups

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Kyrgyzstan — Environmental groups are aiming to rescue Kyrgyzstan's vast forests of fruits and nuts from the perils of overharvesting and climate change by improving the lives of the people who live and labor among the trees.

"Our fruit and nut forests cover [1.56 million acres] with more than 300 different species of tree," says Kaiyrkul Shalpykov of the National Academy of Sciences in Bishkek. "But the increasing numbers of people living in the forest and the economic situation in the country, as well as climate change, all impact the forests."

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Pakistani girls: 'Education is our right'

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MINGORA, Pakistan — As Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai recovers from bullet wounds in a British hospital, her classmates say they will not let the Taliban extremists who put her there force them to quit school.

"Though we are very sad for our friend Malala, such mean actions would never discourage us and will never keep our attention from getting education," said Rida, a ninth-grade schoolmate of Malala's at Khushal School in Mingora, Swat Valley.

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Kyrgyz arrest: Ex-president's son possible bargaining chip


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BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — This month's arrest of a deposed Kyrgyz president's son in London has generated speculation the he could become a bargaining chip in negotiations over a U.S. military base in this Central Asian country.

Kyrgyzstan has no extradition agreements with Britain or the U.S., but has said it wants to repatriate Maksim Bakiyev, son of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, so that he can face charges of corruption and abuse of power during his father's rule.

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Pakistani activist: Safety of teen threatened by Taliban

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KARACHI, Pakistan -- The Taliban is threatening to finish off a 14-year-old Pakistani girl whom it shot for helping other girls go to school -- if she survives a wounding that has made her a hero to many Pakistanis.

Schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head and neck, was airlifted Thursday to a military hospital for her own protection after the attack that also injured two of her friends. A hospital spokesman described her condition as "satisfactory" Friday.

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Kyrgyzstan’s opposition: Stability risked by protests

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BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Opposition politicians demanding the nationalization of the Canadian-owned Kumtor gold mine in Kyrgyzstan have been accused of an attempted coup, prompting analysts to warn that agitators are using the controversial foreign investment to plunge the revolution-prone Central Asian republic into further instability.

"There is a fear that with all the political turmoil and economic worries in recent years that Kyrgyzstan isn't a viable county and a fear that foreigners are here to stir things up and take the wealth and resources of Kyrgyzstan," said Nick Megoran, a senior lecturer specializing in Kyrgyzstan at Newcastle University in Britain. "By picking on the Kumtor case, a nationalist party like Ata-Jurt is able to press all sorts of populist buttons."

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Taliban attack: Pakistanis support young activist

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KARACHI, Pakistan - Pakistanis expressed outrage Wednesday and schools closed in protest over the Taliban shooting of a 14-year-old girl who promoted education for girls in a region controlled by Islamists.

Malala Yousufzai was in the intensive care unit at a military hospital in Peshawar after undergoing surgery to remove a bullet in her neck, officials said. Flags flew at half-staff, and many held prayers for her recovery and demonstrations in her support.

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Kazakhstan's films: Debate on censorship and limited funding

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ALMATY, Kazakhstan — Central Asia's film festival season is in full swing, and as movie buffs in cities like Almaty, Bishkek, Tashkent and Dushanbe sample some of the region's latest cinematic works, the debate on censorship and limited film funding is gaining fresh attention.

"Only in post-Soviet countries do we have this situation where [nearly] all cinema is sponsored by government," said Nikita Makarenko, producer of the Central Asian Festival of Independent Film in Tashkent.

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Uzbek scrutiny: Uzbeks bristle over web surveillance

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BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — When Samir logs on to the Internet, he has to disguise his Web address to avoid official propaganda and protect himself from retaliation from his own government.

"In order to visit all the sites that I want, I use [Web proxies]. ... All sites that write the truth and promote debate are blocked. Without a [proxy], all I can access is state news, full of joy and happiness," said Samir, who like others interviewed for this article asked to be identified only by a first name.

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Uzbek government: Promise to end child labor

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TASHKENT, Uzbekistan — Uzbekistan's prime minister pledged last month to end child labor in the country's cotton fields. But as the harvest season gets under way, human rights activists say children as young as 13 are being put to work under grueling conditions, despite extreme measures to recruit adult labor.

"Every year, from the beginning of the first days of September, the entire country is immersed in a cotton hysteria," said Hakim, a human rights activist based in Tashkent, who asked his last name not be used for fear of persecution.

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Hero's welcome: Axe-murderer back in Azerbaijan

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BUDAPEST — Long-standing tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia have escalated after an Azeri army officer who murdered an Armenian officer was given a hero's welcome on returning home after eight years in prison in Hungary last month.

"There is already a war of words, and I am very much concerned that a further stepping up of negative rhetoric will lead to violent clashes or even a new war," said Ulrike Lunacek, an Austrian member of the European Parliament's EU-Armenia, EU-Azerbaijan and EU-Georgia committee, which is calling for the murderer to be imprisoned and his hero status revoked.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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

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