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Pictures of the Kumtor mine taken in April 22013 seem to show it in a very dilapidated condition.

Kyrgyzstan's Kumtor gold mine seems to be falling apart, literally.

Surrounded by scandal since the early days of the project's history, it appears that, as the Kyrgyz government attempts to acquire more shares of this cash cow on its territory, there is need for some serious upgrading at the site.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Azattyk, has received some photos of the facilities at Kumtor as they were in April 2013 and those pictures show some major housekeeping was in order.

Perhaps a quick bit of background before viewing. Kumtor is located some 4,000 meters above sea level in northeastern Kyrgyzstan's Tien Shan mountains. Conditions are so severe at that altitude that those working there are limited to several weeks at the site before being brought down to recuperate.

According to Kumtor Gold, the proven gold reserves at the site are some 4,841 metric tons of gold with probable reserves of some 80,345 tons. Kyrgyzstan registered 10.5 percent GDP growth in 2013, led by a production boost at the Kumtor mine (600,402 ounces).

Canada's Centerra is the operator of Kumtor. Centerra owns about two-thirds of the Kumtor project but the Kyrgyz government is seeking to raise its stake from roughly 33 percent to 50 percent with a possibility of increasing that to 67 percent in the future.

The project is a political lightning rod for Kyrgyzstan's opposition parties and movements. A cloud of scandal hangs over Kumtor and provides Kyrgyzstan's political opponents and government critics with opportunities to cast accusations at government officials and businessmen, and at the Canadian company.

The bottom line in these allegations is that Kyrgyzstan is getting ripped off and should be receiving more money from the gold found on its territory.

It is a charge that resonates with a population making an average monthly wage of $100.

So, with that as a background, here are some of photos from Azattyk. Tens of millions of dollars were spent on constructing these facilities that the Kyrgyz government will acquire a 50 percent stake in once the new agreement with Centerra is completed. One photo shows a huge tent made in China serving as the main processing area for the project.

-- Bruce Pannier, based on information from RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

*NOTE: One comment posted under Azattyk's article claimed that the buildings in the photographs had been repaired since April 2013 but there are no current pictures to support or refute this assertion.

**Qishloq Ovozi will soon have articles from Franco Galdini and Ryskeldi Satke investigating some of the finances of Kumtor.

Former members of the Uzbek government, professors, students, and people from a range of professions have put their message of protest on Facebook.

People from Uzbekistan have a message for President Islam Karimov: "Qorqmayman!" which is Uzbek for "I am not afraid!"

A Facebook page started little more than a week ago now has several thousand people posting photos with the words "I am not afraid" on them and often leaving additional comments.

They make clear their message is meant for President Karimov, though some use the term "dictator," and his government, the country's security forces, and police.

Akmal Nabiev says he "is not afraid to say the truth and demand my rights."

Izatullo Rahmatullo from Osh says he is "only afraid of Allah."

One former member of Uzbekistan's military who is now living in the United States warns, "If you are afraid, you will be destroyed."

Former members of the Uzbek government, professors, students, and people from a range of professions have put their message of protest on the site.

It is a bold display of defiance to a government known for imprisoning political opponents and critics.

It's true the majority of those who have posted images or comments live outside Uzbekistan, but about one-third are people still living inside the country international rights groups have regularly ranked as one of the worst violators of human rights and media freedom.

Messages on the site come from Nukus, the Ferghana Valley and other areas of Uzbekistan.

The Uzbek government views the Internet much the same way the Chinese government does. There are benefits to be had but a huge number of websites contain information the governments do not wish their publics to access. So Uzbek authorities do their best to monitor Internet usage and block worrisome sites.

Uzbekistan has followed China's lead in promoting domestic websites, including social-networking sites, such as Bamboo.uz, Uzbekistan's version of Twitter. At the same time Uzbek state media, which are nearly the only media available in Uzbekistan, constantly preach about the dangers present on the Internet, the bad foreign influences, hedonist values, or oppositely, the ultraconservatism of Islamic extremists

Since March this year, more and more provincial officials have prohibited state employees from accessing foreign social-networking sites, such as Facebook, from computers at the workplace.

What's interesting is that Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry just opened a site on Facebook earlier this month.

Even more interesting, a hacker calling himself Muzaffar Qosim managed to get the "Qorqmaymiz" ("We are not afraid") site registered at Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry (something not likely to last long).

The "Qorqmaymiz" website will not gain any supporters from the government. And it appears that message has started circulating also.

A group of university students in Uzbekistan, more than 100, voiced their support on the page, then withdrew it shortly afterward, posting a joint message that they had not fully understood the nature of the site.

How long the page might be available to view in Uzbekistan is hard to say. Probably not long. But with parliamentary elections due in December this year and a presidential election to follow several weeks later, critics and opponents of Uzbekistan's government can be expected to use the Internet in any way possible to ratchet up pressure on the Uzbek government in the coming months.

-- Bruce Pannier, with Shukrat Babajonov of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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