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OSCE Parliamentary Session Ends In Kazakhstan

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has wrapped up its 17th annual session with a call for member states to increase aid to Afghanistan and a plea to Russia to show restraint as tensions flare with Georgia over its pro-Moscow breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In its final "Astana Declaration" at the conclusion of the meeting in the Kazakh capital, the OSCE also said it would send observers to the U.S. presidential elections this fall and formally recognized the Ukrainian famine of the 1930s, which killed millions.

Transparency, the theme of this year's meeting, was also reflected in the final statement, which cited "the need for the OSCE to carry on further reform aiming at reducing the democratic deficit, strengthening transparency and accountability."

The assembly, which met from June 29 through July 3, argued that greater transparency is particularly needed in the energy sector, which is the top industry in many post-Soviet countries, including Kazakhstan, which is set to assume the OSCE chairmanship in 2010. "The lack of transparency in the oil, gas, and mining industries, especially in countries that depend heavily on income from these sectors, often goes hand-in-hand with government corruption," the OSCE resolution said.

The Vienna-based OSCE body also referred to "secessionist regimes" in Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions, noting the "growing instability within the conflict zones in Georgia." The declaration urged Russia “to refrain from maintaining ties with those regions in any manner that would constitute a challenge to the sovereignty of Georgia."

The resolution also said that Russia's issuance of passports to residents of Georgian breakaway regions and "assertion of the right to defend these people by military force, constitute a challenge to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia."

Kazakhstan, a Russian ally, abstained from voting on that resolution.

The declaration condemned continued unrest in Afghanistan and called on OSCE members to "meet their full commitment with respect to international contributions, specifically the military mission and donor pledges."

Another resolution recognized the Holodomor, the famine in Ukraine in 1932-33, paying tribute to "the innocent lives of millions of Ukrainians who a result of the mass starvation brought about by the cruel deliberate actions of the totalitarian Stalinist regime." The resolution called on "all parliaments to adopt acts regarding recognition of the Holodomor."

Astana's representative to the assembly asked members to recall that other areas of the former Soviet Union, including Kazakhstan, also suffered from that famine.

The declaration also called on member states to continue helping Ukraine alleviate the effects of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 and to "destroy or ensure the destruction of all cluster munitions under their jurisdictions" in line with the Convention on Cluster Munitions adopted in Dublin in May.

One resolution on water management appeared to devote special attention to Central Asia, which is chronically short of water and faces possible drought this year. It urged OSCE members to develop more effective water-management policies.

There were also resolutions on cyber security and cyber crime; combating the sexual exploitation of children; preventing violence against women; recognizing the economic, cultural, political and social contributions of migrants; combating anti-Semitism; expanding trade between North America and Europe; and promoting a Mediterranean Free Trade Area.

Joao Soares of Portugal was elected president of the Parliamentary Assembly, succeeding Sweden's Goran Lennmarker, and Kazakhstan's Senate speaker Kasymzhomart Tokaev was voted in as his vice president. Soares was described on the OSCE website as a "veteran election observer" and Soares said the OSCE needs to expand its election monitoring activities.

Soares said that means "not only to the east of Vienna, and not only in the Balkans but also elections in the USA."