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Central Asia Report: October 10, 2002

10 October 2002, Volume 2, Number 39

SENATE ELECTIONS IN KAZAKHSTAN. Elections were held for 16 seats in Kazakhstan's 39-member upper house of parliament on 8 October, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. According to the constitution, 32 of the 39 senators are selected by secret ballot by members of the country's regional councils (maslikhats) and city authorities. The remaining seven senators are appointed by the president. Voting takes place every three years for half of the 32 elected seats. Senators serve six-year terms.

One senator was chosen from each of the country's 16 administrative-territorial units, i.e. 14 oblasts and two cities, Astana and Almaty. The Central Election Committee said that a total of 33 candidates -- 31 men and two women -- competed for the open seats. Seventeen of the candidates were put up by the maslikhats, and the others nominated themselves, Interfax-Kazakhstan noted on 8 October. Not all the seats were equally contested. In six of the oblasts, the maslikhat's candidate ran unopposed. The most contested seat was in Qyzyl-Orda Oblast, where there were four candidates, according to the "Kazakhstan Today" website. The news agency added that observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) did not participate in the Senate elections, since the organization's agreement with the Kazakh government provided only for monitoring presidential elections and voting for the Mazhilis (lower chamber of parliament). Meanwhile OSCE representatives in Almaty told RFE/RL on 8 October that their organization was primarily concerned with direct elections involving ordinary citizen's participation, and not "polls conducted by the local councils."

Asia-Plus noted that each candidate was allotted 200,000 tenges (about $1,300) from the state budget to conduct his or her campaign. Meanwhile, "Kazakhstan Today" reported that a total of 59 million tenges ($382,000) of government money was spent on the elections altogether.

The majority of the candidates were members of pro-presidential parties. Most analysts predicted that the elections were unlikely to bring about any great political changes in the country, where real power is concentrated in the presidency. Nevertheless, the results were not without interest, and, in some cases, controversy. (Results are from the preliminary report of Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission. Its vice chairman, Quandyq Turghanqulov, said that final results would be announced by 15 October, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 8 October.)

For a start, the fact that regional councils both nominate and elect candidates may raise eyebrows. The Almaty City Maslikhat elected its own secretary, Zhumabek Toregeldinov. He has been the council's secretary for the last eight years, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. His election to the Senate, chosen by a body he controls, was challenged at a press conference in Almaty on 9 October by the leader of the Compatriots' Party, Zhaqsybay Bazylbaev, who suggested that Toregeldinov might be guilty of abuse of power (see "RFE/RL's Kazakh News," 9 October 2002).

In Karaganda Oblast, which is the center of the country's copper production, the general representative of the Kazakh Copper Corporation (Kazakhmys), Yurii Kubaychuk, won as an unopposed candidate. In the city of Astana the new senator is Farid Galimov, currently the deputy mayor, who used to chair the state commission responsible for transferring the capital from Almaty to Astana. In Qyzyl-Orda Oblast, with supposedly the most contested seat in the country, the incumbent, Ongalbek Sapiev, won handily. Neither of the two female candidates were elected.

The newly elected senators will be sworn in in December. The next Senate elections are scheduled for 2005, when another 16 seats will be contended for. At the same time, President Nursultan Nazarbaev will reassign the seven seats that are his prerogative.

PRESIDENTS TALK COOPERATION IN DUSHANBE... The leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan gathered on 5 October in the Tajik capital Dushanbe for the third summit meeting of the Central Asian Cooperation (CAC), founded last December as the successor organization to the ineffectual Central Asian Economic Community (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 3 January 2002). The previous summits were held in February in Almaty and in July in the western Kazakh city of Aqtau. But last week's meeting, despite a lack of concrete agreements, seemed the most productive of the three and thus most indicative that the organization may have some vitality to it. The leaders discussed removing customs barriers, improving, transport infrastructure, expanding cooperation in the energy sector, regional security and the Afghan situation, and the rational use of the region's water resources (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2002). Turkmen representatives participated at the forum as observers. Uzbek President Islam Karimov was elected the CAC's chairman.

Assessing the meeting's achievements, Karimov particularly drew attention to its work on a four-way agreement to create an international hydro-energy consortium that would allow water and energy supplies to be coordinated on a regional level, Asia-Plus reported on 5 October. Similar consortiums dealing with transport and food were also discussed. "These three consortiums will raise the trade and economies of the Central Asian countries to an absolutely new level and people will feel that our meetings are not in vain," said Kazakh President Nazarbaev as quoted by RIA-Novosti. The leaders further decided to hold a business forum in Tashkent in November, as well as a meeting of their parliamentarians in the Uzbek capital before the end of this year.

The four presidents strongly urged the international community to step up financial assistance to Afghanistan. Over $4.5 billion were promised at the Tokyo conference in January. Unless the pledges materialize soon, Karimov said, the people of Afghanistan will grow desperate and lose confidence in President Hamid Karzai. "This will result in a new round of tension of interethnic clashes in Afghanistan," warned Karimov, Tajik radio reported on 5 October. In addition, he noted that the lack of a banking system in Afghanistan could impede the work on various projects in that country, Interfax said. His Tajik counterpart Imomali Rakhmonov also called for more aid for Kabul, adding virtuously that his own country was providing assistance to its southern neighbor in the form of constructing roads and bridges. Rakhmonov underscored Karimov's warning about the dire consequences of stinginess by comparing Afghanistan's situation to that of his own country: "What happened in regard to Tajikistan is being repeated," he said on Tajik television. "Donor nations at four international conferences pledged more than $1 billion for Tajikistan's postconflict reconstruction, yet in seven years we haven't even received 1 percent of that.... Peace can't be attained just like that." Presumably Rakhmonov did not intend the logical implication of his analogy, which is that the people of Tajikistan have grown desperate and lost confidence in their president.

Meanwhile Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev offered the information that 15,000 metric tons of humanitarian cargo had been delivered to Afghanistan via the Osh-Khorog highway in the last 10 months, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported.

As for regional security, Karimov offered the Pentagon a strong endorsement. Reminding his interlocutors that "the Americans made the main contribution to destroying the Taliban's military machine," he said that the United States "must remain [in Central Asia] as long as it's needed to guarantee peace and stability...and to secure peace and mutual understanding in Afghanistan," AP and Tajik radio reported on 5 October.

The presidents also issued a joint communique offering mutual cooperation to ensure regional stability and security. They pledged support for the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, and other organized crime, RFE/RL reported. (Two days later, Dushanbe hosted a meeting of anti-narcotics-smuggling officials from the Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Tajik Interior ministries, together with a delegation of U.S. drug-enforcement experts, to consider ways to improve their battle against narcotics smuggling, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 October.)

Meanwhile, on the sidelines of the CAC summit, Karimov and Rakhmonov took another step in the direction of security and confidence building by signing a document delimiting some 1,100 kilometers, or 86 percent, of the 1,283-kilometer Uzbek-Tajik border, Asia-Plus said. Karimov said that the demarcation of four areas in Tajikistan's northern Sughd Oblast remained unresolved.

...BUT RHETORIC OBSCURES INACTION OVER ARAL TRAGEDY. As the CAC summit wrapped up on 5 October, the four presidents put on different hats the following day and convened at Rakhmonov's residence in the Varzob Gorge outside Dushanbe for a session of the International Fund to Save the Aral Sea, currently chaired by Tajikistan, Tajik news sources reported on 6 October.

Despite the presidents' rhetoric, however, the fund seemed to have little to show for its work. Rakhmonov cited as an achievement the fact that "during the 10 years of the fund's existence, our states have managed to inform the international community about the Aral problem," Asia-Plus said. Nazarbaev stressed that the sea's desiccation is a global disaster causing climate change as far off as Europe, where Alpine glaciers are melting as a consequence, and the Arctic Ocean, where salt from the exposed Aral seabed has been detected. He added that, thanks to the help of international organizations and internal investment, projects worth $300 million were under way in the four countries addressing problems with water supply, irrigation, and land reclamation, Tajik radio reported. That sum includes a $70 million program to save a section of the northern part of the sea belonging to Kazakhstan and salvage some of the fishing industry there. But he acknowledged, "We presidents have not set ourselves such an ambitious task as to replenish the Aral." That said, Karimov suggested again reviewing the possibility, long discounted as impractical, of diverting Russian rivers from Siberia to Central Asia "if Russia agrees," (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2002). No mention was made of recent reports that thousands of despairing people from Karakalpakistan, Uzbekistan's environmentally devastated northwestern region, are abandoning their homes, with many seeking to move across the border to Kazakhstan.

The leaders signed a document, the Dushanbe Declaration, that proposed establishing a UN commission to study ways of preventing the death of the Aral Sea. They instructed the fund's executive committee to develop an action program for the period up to 2010. They also agreed to hold an international forum in September 2003 on the use of water resources. But there appeared to be little will to face up to the fundamental issue about the drying up of the Aral Sea, which is poor agricultural practices and massive water wastage by the downstream users. In the opinion of many experts, the wastage of water, which is supplied for free in Turkmenistan and nearly free in Uzbekistan, will remain endemic until realistic water pricing motivates governments and farmers to irrigate more economically. But at the press conference following the session, Karimov and Nazarbaev slammed once again Kyrgyz and Tajik proposals to sell water resources to their neighbors, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 7 October.

TURKMEN OPPOSITIONIST DECLARED POLITICAL REFUGEE. After weeks of indecision, the Kazakh government finally rejected a demand from Ashgabat to extradite 42-year-old Gulgeldy Annaniyazov, a Turkmen activist who is one of President Saparmurat Niyazov's most outspoken critics, Interfax reported on 2 October. After he organized a pro-democracy protest in Ashgabat in 1995, Annaniyazov received a 15-year prison sentence but was released in January 1999 under pressure from international organizations. Ordered not to leave the country, he nevertheless fled to Kazakhstan. In late August, Annaniyazov was arrested at the Moscow airport trying to enter the Russian Federation from Kazakhstan using a false passport. He was denied political asylum in Russia and deported back to Kazakhstan on 2 September. Since the Kazakh authorities initially indicated they were inclined to accede to the Turkmen extradition request, their volte-face would appear to be due in large part to the storm of protests that followed from human rights groups, which warned that Annaniyazov faced almost certain torture and possible execution if he was returned home.

Asia-Plus said on 2 October that UN High Commissioner for Refugees had granted Annaniyazov the status of political refugee, and that the decision enjoyed Washington's support. The International Red Cross issued him a travel document permitting refugees to cross borders, since he had no identification papers. In Almaty, Annaniyazov was diagnosed with tuberculosis. On 4 October he was flown from Almaty to Norway to undergo treatment at Norway's expense, Interfax reported. The United States is prepared to accept Annaniyazov as a refuge after recovering from TB, the news agency added.