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Weekly Digest of Central Asia

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — The Publisher’s note: Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Central Asia was the scene of intense geopolitical struggle and the Great Game between the British and Russian Empires, and later between the Soviet Union and the West, over Afghanistan and neighboring territories. Into the 21st century, Central Asia has become the area of a renewed geopolitical interest, dubbed the New Great Game, largely based on the region’s hydrocarbon and mineral wealth. On top of that, the region now is perhaps the most important node in the implementation of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative through which Beijing aims to get direct access to Western markets. Every week thousands of news appears in the world’s printed and online media and many of them may escape the attention of busy readers. At The Times of Central Asia, we strongly believe that more information can better contribute to peaceful development and better knowledge of this unique region. So we are presenting this Weekly Digest which compiles what other media have reported on Central Asia over the past week.

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Kazakhstan awards foreign investors

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — The 5th Annual Investor Award Ceremony for investment activity in Kazakhstan was held on December 14 in Astana, during which foreign investors who contributed to the implementation of projects in various sectors of the Kazakh economy were awarded, the official website of the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan reported.

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Uzbekistan: Lawmakers criminalize begging

  • Written by TCA

TASHKENT (TCA) — Uzbekistan’s Senate has approved a law that criminalizes begging in public places across the country, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

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US government supports demographic and health survey in Tajikistan

  • Written by TCA

DUSHANBE (TCA) — Chargé d’Affaires of the United States Embassy Kevin Covert congratulated the Government of Tajikistan on conducting the second Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) at an event on December 14 in Dushanbe. Chargé Covert was joined at the presentation of the 2017 DHS results by Gulnora Hasanzoda, Director of the Agency of Statistics, and Saida Umarzoda, First Deputy Minister of Health and Social Protection of the Population of Tajikistan, the US Embassy in Dushanbe said.

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Kyrgyzstan: Parliament approves bill to strip ex-presidents' immunity

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — The parliament in Kyrgyzstan has approved in first reading a bill that would eliminate immunity for ex-presidents, potentially opening the path for the prosecution of the country’s former President Almazbek Atambayev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

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Uzbekistan bets on dividends from Sufi revival

  • Written by EurasiaNet

TASHKENT (TCA) — The government in Uzbekistan is now considering the once-suppressed Muslim teaching of Sufism as a potential source of revenue from pilgrimage tourism to the country. We are republishing this article on the issue, originally published by Eurasianet:

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Eni, GE Renewable Energy start construction of a wind power plant in Kazakhstan

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — Italy’s Eni and GE Renewable Energy have started a wind power plant construction in the area of Badamsha in Kazakhstan, Kazakh Invest national company for investment support and promotion said.

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Afghanistan: President inaugurates Lapis Lazuli transport corridor

  • Written by TCA

KABUL (TCA) — Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at a ceremony in Herat on December 13 inaugurated the Lapis Lazuli Corridor, saying that the route enables Afghanistan to send its products to Europe and other parts of the world, Afghan broadcaster TOLOnews reported.

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Uzbekistan wins its long fight against malaria

  • Written by TCA

TASHKENT (TCA) — Uzbekistan’s success in becoming recognized as a malaria-free country by the World Health Organization (WHO) is an “extraordinary outcome,” said the Executive Director of the Global Fund on December 11, a UN-backed partnership to end malaria epidemics, UN News service reported.

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Kyrgyzstan: Whimpering ex-president clutches at straws in political showdown

  • Written by EurasiaNet

BISHKEK (TCA) — As Kyrgyzstan’s ex-President is losing loyalists due to his standoff with the incumbent head of state, he now tries to get new allies. We are republishing this article on the issue, originally published by Eurasianet:

The political drama that has gripped Kyrgyzstan over the past few months increasingly looks like it will end in a whimper instead of a bang.

The nation’s once-combative former president is doing much of the whimpering.

In a roundly mocked December 11 television interview, Almazbek Atambayev spoke of his regrets over how he left things before concluding his single permitted term in office late last year.

He picked the wrong man to succeed him, he moaned. And he unjustly hounded that man’s opponent, he lamented.

There was a time last year when it seemed a reasonable bet that businessman Omurbek Babanov might win the October presidential election. But Atambayev, eager to help his then-ally Sooronbai Jeenbekov secure the vote, threw every obstacle possible in Babanov’s way.

Babanov was thoroughly trashed by pro-government media. State television and dubious pop-up news websites put it about that he was ethnically less than fully Kyrgyz. For safe measure, security services then opened a criminal investigation against Babanov on the grounds that innocuous remarks he had made on the campaign stump were actually incitements to inter-ethnic hatred.

Facing likely imprisonment on that count, as well as an additional extravagant charge of coup-plotting, Babanov left the country immediately after the election.

The received wisdom is that Atambayev’s plan was to install Jeenbekov as a puppet president and to continue running things from behind the scenes. Much to Atambayev’s dismay, Jeenbekov turned out to have a mind of his own and has easily cowed his predecessor into submission.

This has prompted a rethink and self-pitying introspection from Atambayev.

“The [criminal cases] against Babanov should be closed. We need to thank him,” he said in a rambling interview with the April television channel, which he owns.

The ex-president now even claims that he asked Jeenbekov and two holdover appointees to close the cases against Babanov in the months after he left office. But to no avail.

“In the last year did [Babanov] really say something, do something? Did he do anything to disrupt the peace?” Atambayev continued. “On the contrary, it turns out he was deceived by Jeenbekov and I. I feel uncomfortable over this.”

This has all generated much snorting derision among the public.

Independent outlet Kaktus Media produced a helpful rundown of all the insults Atambayev had hurled at Babanov during the testy political season of 2017.

Babanov was a God-cursed provocateur “groveling before money.” He had been “infected by the bacteria” of Kyrgyzstan’s hated and deposed ex-ruling families. And so on and so forth.

The change of tack is clearly a remarkably clumsy act of plotting. Atambayev has watched whatever political influence he once had whither away to almost nothing. Since his bust-up with Jeenbekov, he has seen one ally after another slung into jail on corruption charges. His most ardent cheerleaders have now spurned him or slunk away. If the hope is that a forgiving Babanov might return to the political scene, what are the prospects?

He is certainly one of only a few figures with enough political heft to slow Jeenbekov’s ominous momentum. Plenty of people disillusioned with the current stagnating scene would welcome his return.

But Babanov, a businessman first and politician second, likely has little interest in performing the role of counterweight.

Time and time again he has chosen safety over real opposition politics. That was shown most clearly after his defeat in October, when he promptly disavowed his key political assets — notably, the parliamentary party he once controlled — in the apparent hope of keeping his financial ones intact.

Atambayev can plead all he likes, but he is on his own.

Turkmenistan: Authorities impose tax for the use of motor roads

  • Written by TCA

ASHGABAT (TCA) — As the government of Turkmenistan tries to cope with a severe economic crisis and looks for ways to increase state-budget revenues, a vehicle tax for the use of motor roads was imposed in the country starting from October, independent foreign-based news website Chronicles of Turkmenistan reports.

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Turkmenistan president marks Int’l Day of Neutrality with prisoner amnesty

  • Written by TCA

ASHGABAT (TCA) — Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has pardoned 796 prisoners to mark the International Day of Neutrality marked on December 12, Turkmen state media reported.

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Afghanistan: IMF satisfied with government’s monetary, economic policy

  • Written by TCA

KABUL (TCA) — The Afghan Ministry of Finance says the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has assessed the Afghan government’s economic and monetary policies and described them as "successful", Afghan broadcaster TOLOnews reported.

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Kazakhstan and China create joint venture for automobile manufacturing

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — On December 11 in Astana, Kazakhstan’s First Deputy Prime Minister Askar Mamin attended the signing of an investment agreement on sharing the capital (51%) of the largest Kazakhstani automobile manufacturer SaryarkaAvtoProm with Chinese transnational state company China National Machinery IMP & EXP CORP (a member of Genertec), the official website of the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan reported.

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US says Uzbekistan improving on religious freedoms

  • Written by TCA

TASHKENT (TCA) — The US State Department’s annual report on religious freedom, released on December 11, removed for the first time since 2006 Uzbekistan as a "Country of Particular Concern". The State Department did, however, include Uzbekistan on a special Watch List, RFE/RL reported.

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Kyrgyzstan: Killer in ‘bride kidnapping’ case sentenced to 20 years in prison

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — A court in Kyrgyzstan has sentenced a man to 20 years in prison for kidnapping and killing a young woman in a case that caused public outcry in the Central Asian nation, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported.

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Afghanistan: First export shipment set along Lapis Lazuli route to Europe

  • Written by TCA

KABUL (TCA) — The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs on December 11 said Afghanistan is preparing to export the first shipment of products through the Lapis Lazuli Transit, Trade and Transport Route within the next two days, Afghan broadcaster TOLOnews reported.

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Kazakhstan: OSCE and joint UN/EU program hold workshop on management of violent extremist prisoners

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — An OSCE-supported seminar on assessing and managing the risks of violent extremist prisoners, including the rehabilitation of returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters, concluded in Astana last week. The two-day workshop was organized by the OSCE Programme Office in Astana together with the joint United Nations System and European Union programme on the prevention of violent extremism in prisons.

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Kyrgyzstan: PM visits USAID-supported Kyrgyz-Tajik dried fruit processing JV

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — Kyrgyzstan’s Prime Minister Mukhammedkalyi Abylgaziev on December 8 visited Interfruit LLC, a dried fruit processing facility in Uch-Korgon, Batken oblast, in southern Kyrgyzstan. Joined by USAID Mission Director Gary Linden, Prime Minister Abylgaziev familiarized himself with the facility and how it sources locally grown fruits to supply global markets, the press service of the US Embassy in Bishkek reported.

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Afghanistan: Armed groups, MPs, officials involved in illegal mining — report

  • Written by TCA

KABUL (TCA) — The Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC) on December 10 released its first report on mining in Afghanistan, in which it says that the mines' contracts are unclear and were signed after political consideration, Afghan broadcaster TOLOnews reported.

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Int’l community concerned over blockage of internet sites in Tajikistan

  • Written by TCA

DUSHANBE (TCA) — Western diplomats in Tajikistan have expressed concern over the “periodic blockage” of news and social-media websites in the country.

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Kyrgyzstan: Former deputy prime minister arrested on corruption charges

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — Authorities in Kyrgyzstan have arrested a former deputy prime minister on corruption charges, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

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Kyrgyzstan: Legal import from Kazakhstan would help meet demand for motor fuel

  • Written by Maria Levina

BISHKEK (TCA) — The tense situation with petroleum products has not been decreasing for several months in Kyrgyzstan. According to the National Statistics Committee, over eleven months of this year, prices for gasoline have increased by 3.5 soms, or 8.8%, and for diesel fuel by 6.9 soms, or 17%. Supply of petroleum products from Russia and neighboring Kazakhstan could improve the situation.

Earlier this month, the Oil Traders Association of Kyrgyzstan informed about the delay in signing of an indicative balance of duty-free deliveries of fuel from Russia to Kyrgyzstan. The Association warned of a possible increase in retail prices for fuel by 2.5-3 soms per liter from January 1, 2019. The signing of the document was to take place back in October.

The local media predicted a gasoline collapse and discontent of the population, drawing an analogy with the situation in France, where the decision of the authorities to slightly increase gasoline prices turned into violent clashes of tens of thousands of citizens with the police this month.

Kyrgyzstan monthly imports an average of 70 thousand to 100 thousand tons of motor fuel. The country’s demand for petroleum products is 90% covered by supplies from Russia and Kazakhstan. The remaining 10% is mainly provided by the Junda refinery in the Chui province and the Jalal-Abad refinery in the south of the country.

Agreement reached

On December 6, the situation was safely resolved. Kyrgyzstan and Russia signed the indicative balance for duty-free supplies of fuel for 2019.

The volume of supply remained the same as for the last year — about 1 million tons, including 460 thousand tons of gasoline, 485 thousand tons of diesel fuel, 100 thousand tons of jet fuel, and 50 thousand tons of oil. However, the terms of the contract provide for a change in the volume of deliveries.

In early September, the Oil Traders Association submitted proposals to the 2019 balance with the following forecast indicators: gasoline — 485 thousand tons, diesel fuel — 580 thousand tons, and jet fuel — 130 thousand tons. But the Russian side did not agree to increase the amounts.

Rating

Thanks to the signed document, conditions have been created for the further stable and reliable duty-free supply of petroleum products, the Association concluded, adding that Kyrgyzstan ranks first in terms of cheap fuel among the countries dependent on its import.

According to the GlobalPetrolPrices rating, Kyrgyzstan ranks the 22nd among 181 countries in terms of the cost of gasoline ($0.67 per liter) and ranks first in terms of cheap fuel among import-dependent countries. All other countries in the top twenty are producers and exporters of oil, including Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

The average price of gasoline around the world is $1.12 per liter. However, there is substantial difference in these prices among countries. As a general rule, richer countries have higher prices while poorer countries and the countries that produce and export oil have significantly lower prices. One notable exception is the U.S. which is an economically advanced country but has low gas prices, the GlobalPetrolPrices said.

Agreement with Kazakhstan

Domestic oil traders addressed the President of Kyrgyzstan, drawing attention to the difficult situation with petroleum products.

Official deliveries of petroleum products from neighboring Kazakhstan would help resolve the situation. Kazakhstan’s refineries have been modernized and there is a permanent surplus of light petroleum products. Negotiations between the governments of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan on the supply of petroleum products have been unsuccessful for several months.

Kyrgyzstan’s business community believes that the agreement between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan will be beneficial to Kyrgyzstan. Competition between Russian and Kazakh producers will entail a lower purchase price for Kyrgyz oil traders in the long term.

Daniyar Mederov, Deputy Executive Director of the International Business Council based in Bishkek, explained why it is vital to conclude this agreement. Earlier, Kazakhstan banned the export of petroleum products due to a shortage of fuel on its own market. After the recent modernization of the country’s three refineries, there is a permanent surplus of gasoline production in Kazakhstan. There is a need to export, and Kyrgyzstan has to take advantage of this situation. Fuel deliveries from Kazakhstan would help to lower retail fuel prices in Kyrgyzstan, Mederov said.

The draft agreement, which is currently being considered in Kyrgyzstan, includes petroleum and petroleum products, gasoline and diesel fuel. On average, Kyrgyzstan’s need is about 500 thousand tons of diesel fuel per year, and 70% of diesel fuel delivered to Kyrgyzstan from Russia corresponds to the Euro 2 ecological class.

In Kazakhstan, a ban has been imposed on the Euro 2 products, and many mini-refineries can no longer sell their products in the local market. It is estimated that up to 25 thousand tons of diesel fuel per month from Kazakhstan’s mini-refineries could come to Kyrgyzstan’s market. Prices for this diesel fuel are up to 10% lower than those from Russia. Diesel fuel from Kazakhstan’s giants could also come to Kyrgyzstan, but in smaller volumes than gasoline, Mederov said.

The gasoline supplies from Kazakhstan will also affect the environment in Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyzstan’s business community believes. Kazakhstan will supply gasoline not lower than Euro 4 environmental class while up to 40-50% of gasoline from Russia is of Euro 2 and Euro 3 environmental class.

The logistical location of the Shymkent refinery in south Kazakhstan is very convenient for Kyrgyzstan’s gas station networks. A shorter delivery, 4-5 days compared to 15-20 days from Russian refineries, will help significantly reduce costs and increase the profitability of local legal oil traders. As a result, the state budget will receive more income taxes from local companies.

Oil smuggling

The situation with fuel is aggravated by an increase in the smuggling of petroleum products in Kyrgyzstan.

A large flow of contraband fuel flowed to the country through border areas in the northern Talas province bordering Kazakhstan. The volume of smuggling is large — up to 30% of gasoline consumption in the country, which significantly affects the reduction of tax payments to the state.

Last week, the Financial Police of Kyrgyzstan detained over 39 tons of smuggled fuel imported into the Chui oblast.

The difference in the price of Kazakh and Russian gasoline is significant. According to the market participants, 8–10 thousand tons are illegally imported monthly, which corresponds to 25% of Kyrgyzstan’s monthly consumption of high-octane gasoline.

The fact is that Kazakhstan’s fuel storages are now full, and there is a risk of stopping the Kazakh refineries due to overstocking. Kazakhstani fuel manufacturers are forced to sell their products to everyone who can buy, including possible unscrupulous market participants.

If the agreement with Kyrgyzstan is signed and the official supply of gasoline starts, Kazakhstani producers will be interested in cutting off the illegal flow.

Conclusion

The energy market has a significant impact on inflation. The more stable the fuel market, the easier it is to control the inflation processes in the economy.

Kazakhstan will not be able to replace Russia for fuel supplies, but it will expand Kyrgyzstan’s fuel market.

The longer the signing the agreement is postponed, the more likely it is that the surplus of Kazakhstani products will be used in the markets of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has highest unemployed workforce in the world

  • Written by TCA

KABUL (TCA) — The International Labor Organization (ILO) said the unemployment rate in Afghanistan is around 30 percent, which is the highest recorded in the world at present, Afghan broadcaster TOLOnews reports.

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Iran accuses US of transferring IS militants to Afghanistan

  • Written by TCA

KABUL (TCA) — This is not the first time that the United States has been accused of providing transportation to Islamic State (IS) members, but the US has previously denied such allegations, Russia’s Sputnik news agency reported.

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