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COVID-19: Kazakh NGOs Demand Detailed Report On Spending; Iran Allows All Mosques To Open Temporarily

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Iran has allowed a phased return to normal economic activity since mid-April in a bid to to help its battered economy, which has been hit hard by U.S. sanctions.

The global death toll from the coronavirus is some 286,000 with more than 4.1 million infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.

Here's a roundup of COVID-19 developments in RFE/RL's broadcast regions.

Central Asia

Dozens of rights activists representing almost 20 nongovernmental organizations in Kazakhstan have demanded the government provide detailed information on how it's spending billions of dollars allocated to tackle the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

In their petition dated May 12, the activists recalled President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev's public statement last week saying his government had spent $13 billion on measures to slow the spread of the virus in the country and demanded "transparency and accountability in all measures and financial spending by the State Treasury and the National Fund."

"The coronavirus pandemic is not only causing economic and social hardships, it is creating conditions for corruption, inappropriate and unreasonable budgetary spending. And that undermines public confidence in government institutions and the measures it undertakes," the petition says.

Energy-rich Kazakhstan has registered the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the region with 5,279, including 32 deaths.

In Tajikistan, the Defense Ministry has imposed a quarantine on all military units and introduced a temporary ban on family visits to conscripts.

Ministry spokesman Orif Nozimiyon told RFE/RL on May 12 that all military barracks and cafeterias were now being regularly disinfected.

Tajikistan did not officially register a coronavirus case until April 30, just ahead of a mission by the World Health (WHO) to the country.

By May 11, health authorities had reported 661 cases in Tajikistan, including 21 deaths. Still, many in the country doubt the data and believe the government has been underreporting the situation.

Meanwhile, Turkmenistan remains the only country in the region that has not officially registered a single coronavirus case yet.

Experts are skeptical of the claim that there are no cases given the lack of transparency and independent media in the country.

The WHO has been working on a possible visit to Turkmenistan to assess the situation on the ground of one of the world's most tightly run countries.

Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov said his country was ready to host the WHO mission. "With a big amount of respect, we are awaiting the visit of this [WHO] group to Turkmenistan," he said.

In neighboring Uzbekistan, the latest official statement says 2,509 coronavirus cases have been registered, including 10 deaths.

In Kyrgyzstan, 1,037 cases have been recorded with 12 deaths.

Iran

All mosques in Iran will reopen temporarily on May 12 in another step toward easing restrictions implemented to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

The decision to reopen the mosques was made in consultation with the Ministry of Health, Iranian state news agency IRIB reported, quoting Mohammad Qomi, the director of the Islamic Development Organization.

Qomi said later that mosques would only be open for three days commemorating specific nights for the holy month of Ramadan and it was unclear whether they would stay open, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.

Iran, which has suffered the Middle East's deadliest coronavirus outbreak, has begun easing restrictions even though some parts of the country have seen a rise in infections.

The Tasnim news agency reported on May 10 that a district in Khuzestan Province had been placed under lockdown. It quoted the governor of the province as saying there had been a sharp rise in new cases, forcing authorities to reverse a phased return to work.

Iran has allowed the phased return since April 11 to help rescue its economy, which has been battered by U.S. sanctions. The country last week had to devalue its currency to fight hyperinflation caused by the sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.

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Iran's coronavirus deaths stood at 6,685 on May 11, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said in a statement on state TV. It has 109,286 diagnosed cases.

President Hassan Rohani last week announced that mosques in 132 districts considered low-risk for spread of the virus could open. This amounted to about one-third of Iran's administrative division.

Friday Prayer gatherings resumed on May 8 in up to 180 Iranian cities and towns seen as being at low risk of coronavirus contagion, state media reported.

Schools will reopen next week, Rohani said on May 10, according to the presidency's official website.

Iran has already lifted a ban on intercity trips, and large shopping centers have resumed activities.

Rohani also announced the replacement of the minister of industry, mines and trade on May 11, according to the official presidential website.

Hossein Modares Khiabani will replace Reza Rahmani as the caretaker head of the ministry, the announcement said without explaining why Rahmani was dismissed.

Rohani called on Khiabani to stabilize car prices, eliminate obstacles for domestic production, and expand nonoil exports.

Rahmani said in a letter to Rohani that the reason for his removal was that the parliament had not agreed to the formation of a ministry of commerce. A copy of his letter was published by Fars.

Russia

In Russia, restrictions that have prevented people from going to work formally ended on May 12 even with the country's official infection rate rising by thousands a day.

Russia has reported almost 11,000 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours -- making its total the second-largest number of confirmed infections in the world -- as lockdowns continued easing in parts of Europe.

Despite having the fastest growth rate of coronavirus infections in Europe and 232,243 cases overall -- trailing only the United States -- Russia still has a comparatively low number of fatalities at 2,116 as of May 12.

Russian officials put the continued daily rise in cases down to widespread testing, noting that more than 5.8 million tests have been carried out so far.

But some critics say that suggests the number of deaths in Russia is being underreported while others say test results can be inaccurate.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen, and Uzbek services, RIA Novosti, Reuters, AP, and AFP
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