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Central Asia Report: August 5, 2002

5 August 2002, Volume 2, Number 29

UZBEKISTAN AND JAPAN DECLARE STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP. A three-day official visit by Uzbek President Islam Karimov to Japan on 28-31 July cemented a relationship that has been intensifying since 11 September, as measured by rising levels in Japanese assistance to Uzbekistan and a series of high-level Japanese delegations to Tashkent in past months. Most recently, Deputy Foreign Minister Seiken Sugiura led 33 representatives from Japan's government, industry, and academic communities to the Uzbek capital in mid-July on a "Silk Road mission" whose stated purpose was to investigate opportunities to invest in Central Asia, expand cooperation in the fields of oil and gas and power engineering, and help the region integrate into the rest of the Asian continent. Karimov's trip to Japan advanced that agenda. It was his second visit to the country; the first was in April 1994.

On 29 July, Karimov met Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, and Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa to discuss political and economic aspects of bilateral relations, postwar reconstruction in Afghanistan, and Central Asian regional security, Kyodo News Service and reported. He was also received by Emperor Akihito. A total of 14 documents were signed during the course of Karimov's trip. But of particular importance was a joint declaration of friendship, cooperation, and strategic partnership signed on 29 July by Koizumi and the Uzbek president. When briefing journalists in Uzbekistan on 28 July about his upcoming trip to Tokyo, Karimov had highlighted this declaration on strategic partnership as one of two outstanding achievements that he expected from the visit, Uzbek news sources said. Karimov explicitly drew a comparison with the U.S.-Uzbek agreement, signed last autumn, which established Tashkent's new relationship with Washington in the post-11 September environment (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 18 October 2002). Deliberately echoing the language of that agreement, the president said that "the creation of a similar strategic partnership with the second-most-high-potential nation in the world, Japan, means that Uzbekistan is improving its foreign policy," Uzbek radio reported on 28 July. He added that such ties with Japan would "raise Uzbekistan's prestige in comparison to that our neighbors."

The second noteworthy document to which Karimov drew particular attention was also signed on 29 July by him and Koizumi -- a statement of support for the process of market reform in Uzbekistan, incorporating a Japanese pledge to assist that process and expand bilateral economic relations, Interfax reported. Uzbek television noted on 28 July that Tokyo has already provided humanitarian aid worth over $150 million over the past six years, while Japanese allocations and investments in Uzbekistan since 1991 have topped $1.6 billion, including a $188 million easy-term loan earlier this year for reconstructing Tashkent's hydropower plant.

Other agreements related to developing trade, avoiding double taxation, and opening new air routes to supplement the biweekly Osaka-Tashkent flights currently available. The two sides also reaffirmed their support for the "Silk Road" energy project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2002). Meanwhile, Karimov courted top trade officials and Japanese captains of industry with meetings with the minister of international trade and industry, the president of Japan International Cooperation Agency, the heads of Marubeni Corporation and Mistsui & Co., and others, Interfax reported on 1 August. Finally, the Uzbek leader visited Waseda University, where he was granted an honorary doctorate degree.

The practical implications of a Uzbek-Japanese strategic partnership remain to be seen. Tashkent's alliance with Washington has a predominantly military-security character. Analysts have suggested that, for balance, Tashkent is now looking for a complementary political-economic relationship with its Asian partner. While Karimov sought Foreign Minister Kawaguchi's support for Tokyo's ongoing financial support for Uzbekistan's economic reforms, the Uzbek leader publicly expressed his support for Japan to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, said on 29 July. And in the face of criticism that Tokyo is not pulling its weight in the international fight against terrorism, its financial backing for Uzbekistan's transition process offers it an alternative way to contribute to economic and political stability in Central Asia.

KAZAKH OPPOSITIONIST'S TRIAL ENDS. The trial in the northern Kazakh city of Pavlodar of former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov was adjourned on 31 July for the court to consider its verdict after the state prosecutor demanded that he receive an eight-year sentence, be banned from holding public office for three years, and pay a fine, RFE/RL's Kazakh bureau reported. The trial opened on 15 July. Zhaqiyanov, who is one of the cofounders of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK), is charged with financial crimes and abusing his authority while governor by privatizing various enterprises at artificially low prices (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 18 July 2002). Specifically, he is accused of deliberately undervaluing the Tort-Quduq gold mine and the Peschanskii engineering-repair plant in June 1999. Furthermore, he is said to have exchanged warehouses of medical equipment belonging to the Romat pharmaceutical company and Pavlodar's Emergency Situations Department, presumably with a view to profiting from the redistribution of medical supplies. Altogether, his various manipulations allegedly cost the treasury 3.12 million tenge (about $20,300). But the prosecutor called for Zhaqiyanov to reimburse 26 million tenge ($170,000) in damages to the state and pay 294,000 tenge ($2000) in court fees, Khabar news agency said.

Zhaqiyanov's lawyers asked for all charges to be dropped for lack of evidence, saying that none of the witnesses indicated he was involved in these episodes, Interfax-Kazazkhstan reported on 30 June. But glimpses of the proceedings inside the courthouse suggest that some genuinely complicated issues were involved. One concerned whether Zhaqiyanov even had the legal right to sell state shares in municipal properties when he did in June 1999, Interfax said. Prosecutors contended that governors were awarded that right in September 1999; a witness presented by the defense as a legal expert argued a different interpretation of the law at the time based on a government resolution from April 1999. At stake was the question of whether Zhaqiyanov had exceeded his gubernatorial powers (with which he is charged under article 308, part 3 of Kazakhstan's criminal code).

The defense faced certain disadvantages, RFE/RL reported. Whereas the state could subpoena its witnesses, the defense could only invite them to appear, with the result that only four of the 15 scheduled defense witnesses showed up. Those who declined to come included Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Tokaev, Finance Minister Aleksandr Pavlov, and the governors of the Karaganda, Pavlodar, and Almaty oblasts, Interfax-Kazakhstan said on 26 June. Moreover, although the trial was supposed to be open, it was conducted behind closed doors whenever materials deemed classified were presented in evidence, the news agency said.

Questioning of Zhaqiyanov began on 29 July. He said his single aim in selling off state enterprises was to head off bankruptcies and preserve jobs, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, on the same day Judge Igor Tarasenko announced that a new criminal case was being opened against the defendant, related to the medical storehouses. Graphologists had determined that the signature of the director of one of the storehouses, ordering them to be exchanged, had been forged and written on top of the official stamp, the court heard. Zhaqiyanov retorted that he could not imagine what personal interest he might have in swapping a government medical storehouse with one from the Romat firm, Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency said on 29 July.

Zhaqiyanov pleaded not guilty on 31 July and in a closing statement said that the cause-and-effect relationship between his activities as a member of the DVK opposition and his prosecution by the state on unsubstantiated charges was "obvious," RFE/RL's Kazakh bureau reported. He thanked all the representatives of the international community, diplomatic missions, parties and associations, and human rights activists who supported him, ITAR-TASS added. A verdict was expected on 2 August.

[Editor's note: A regional court on 2 August sentenced Zhaqiyanov to seven years in jail. Petr Svoik, a member of the defense team, said Zhaqiyanov could appeal the decision within 10 days.]