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COVID-19: Anti-Lockdown Protests In Georgia; Watchdog Says Central Asian Governments Failing To Respect Rights

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Georgian police detain coronavirus-lockdown protesters in Tbilisi on April 23.

The global death toll from the coronavirus is more than 184,000 with more than 2.6 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.

Georgia

Dozens of members of Georgia's opposition Girchi party have rallied in Tbilisi, demanding the repeal of the state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic after it was extended by one month.

Party leader Zurab Japaridze told reporters on April 23 that the extension wouldn't change anything, because the situation around the pandemic will not change in one month.

According to Japaridze, the state of emergency must be cancelled in order "to reignite the economy," though regulations requiring the wearing of masks outdoors and social distancing may stay in place.

The rally was held at the former hippodrome in the Georgian capital. Police detained about 10 protesters.

Georgian Police Detain Coronavirus Lockdown Protesters
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Georgian health authorities said on April 23 that the number of coronavirus cases in the country was 420, including five deaths.

Central Asia

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says governments in Central Asia are failing to respect the rights of their citizens in their responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

The rights group said in a statement on April 23 that while officials in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan have taken "important steps" to limit the spread of the outbreak, they have also used the restrictions put in place to target journalists, health-care providers, and activists, and have carried out quarantine measures in ways that have at times proven "arbitrary and disproportionate."

“All Central Asian governments have obligations to protect their citizens’ right to health by providing accurate information about COVID-19,” said Hugh Williamson, HRW Europe and Central Asia director.

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“Human rights should be respected while the emergency measures are in place, and during any future responses to the virus.... They should not use restrictions to muzzle journalists, health-care providers, and others attempting to inform the public or protect against rights violations,” he added.

HRW said that authorities in Turkmenistan, which along with Tajikistan has yet to acknowledge the existence of COVID-19 cases in their countries, "have sought to silence medical workers and others speaking out about the impact of the virus in the country."

The statement notes that the situation in Tajikistan has reached a point where RFE/RL President Jamie Fly sent a letter to Tajik authorities chiding the Health Ministry and other agencies for refusing to answer questions regarding the spread of COVID-19.

"By failing to deliver information about COVID-19 and repressing information about it, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan are gravely endangering their citizens’ health," the HRW statement said.

By April 23, the largest number of registered coronavirus cases in the region was in Kazakhstan, with 2,207 confirmed positive tests and 20 deaths.

In Uzbekistan, the latest number of coronavirus cases reported by the authorities was 1,716, including seven deaths.

In Kyrgyzstan, there were 631 cases recorded, including eight deaths, as of April 23.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria has closed its border to prevent Bulgarian Turks in Turkey from entering the country during the first days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The Health Ministry’s order applies from midnight on April 23 to April 27 in a bid to prevent travel due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ramadan begins on April 24.

More than 300,000 Bulgarian citizens live in Turkey. Most of them are Bulgarian-born ethnic Turks who fled to Turkey in 1989 because of discrimination against the minority group under the former communist regime.

The border closure came in response to information that many Bulgarian Turks in Turkey planned to visit relatives and their ancestral villages and towns in Bulgaria for Ramadan.

Turkey has recorded around 100,000 coronavirus infections and 2,491 deaths, making it one of the hardest hit countries in the world.

Turkish authorities on April 23 implemented a four-day lockdown in 31 cities including Ankara and Istanbul. Mosques will remain closed during Ramadan to stem the spread of the virus.

Bulgaria has 1,097 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 52 deaths.

The Chief Mufti's Office in Bulgaria announced that mosques would remain closed during Ramadan and services would be broadcast online.

On the recommendation of the European Union, Bulgaria in late March closed the EU's external borders to third-country nationals.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church refused to close churches and monasteries for Easter on April 19.

Uzbekistan

A new 10,000-bed infectious-diseases hospital is being built near Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent, to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic in the Central Asian nation of 32 million.

A project contractor, Enter Engineering, said on April 22 that the medical facility's first phase in the Zangiota district will be officially opened in early May.

"The facility is designed both to treat virus-infected residents and to house Uzbek citizens returning home from abroad who require quarantine," Shohrukh Sattarov, CEO of Enter Engineering said.

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According to the contractor, the remainder of the complex will be completed within a month after the initial opening.

Uzbek health authorities said in late March that they had started building the hospital, following the example of the authorities of the Chinese city of Wuhan, who earlier this year constructed the Huoshenshan Hospital to handle coronavirus patients in less than two weeks.

Enter Engineering is working on the state-commissioned project together with the state railway company.

As of April 23, the number of coronavirus cases in Uzbekistan was 1,716, including seven deaths.

Iran

In Iran, one of the countries worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic, authorities have closed mosques and shrines believed to have contributed to the initial spread of the virus.

President Hassan Rohani said some sites may open on May 4. But Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has already suggested that mass gatherings may be barred throughout Ramadan over the virus.

Iran has reported almost 86,000 infections and up to 5,400 deaths, but critics say the actual numbers could be considerably higher since the information flow is strictly controlled by the authoritarian regime and foreign media access has been all but banned.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Bulgarian, Georgian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Uzbek services, Reuters, Oil&Gas.com, Kun.uz, and Gazeta.uz
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