14 January 2009 News Digest

By Alima Bissenova (01/14/2009 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Kazakh police clash with protesters on Independence Day

16 December

Some 400 protesters have clashed in Kazakhstan's commercial capital, Almaty, with security forces after police tried to detain the leader of the demonstration, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports. The group was protesting unresolved housing issues and demands that the government resign. The clash on Republic Square occurred when police tried to arrest protest leader Ainur Kurmanov, who heads an unregistered NGO dealing with the housing crisis. Kurmanov told RFE/RL from the police station that the protesters wanted to commemorate the victims of a December protest in 1986, when Soviet forces cracked down on a student protest in Almaty. Kazakhstan marks the 17th anniversary of its independence on December 16. (RFE/RL)

Kazakh energy sector opens up
16 December
The state-owned oil and gas company in Kazakhstan, KazMunaiGas, moved on projects involving local firms for the first time in corporate history. KMG signed along with local developers and investment firms joint documents involving the development of the Mertvyy Kultuk offshore oil field. The deal is the first time KMG has reached out to national investors, testing the ability of Kazakhstan to explore its continental shelf without foreign assistance, the European weekly New Europe noted Tuesday. "This is the first national project where the investors get involved in the oil operations at the stage of geological survey," said KMG President Kairgeldy Kabyldin. Meanwhile, a trilateral deal involving KMG, ConocoPhillips and Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Development Co. is the first time Arab investors have moved on Kazakh reserves available on the offshore Nursultan oil field in the Caspian Sea.The developments come as Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, both emerging as key energy hubs for Europe, moved on the basic foundations of the 435-mile Trans-Caspian pipeline network. The Trans-Caspian network will bypass Russia, bringing Kazakh oil from the Kashagan oil field to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline to Europe. (UPI)

Kazakh opposition protests development of Almaty square

19 December

Dozens of protesters from Kazakhstan's Azat opposition party have picketed the Almaty mayor's office demanding that construction going on under the city's Square of the Republic be stopped. The Almaty city administration has been building a shopping and entertainment center under the square for many months. Azat party leader Bolat Abilov read out his party's petition demanding an immediate stop to all construction work, the restoration of the square's original look, and for it to be renamed Independence Square.
Abilov said it is improper to have an entertainment center under the square, which was "soaked with the blood of Kazakh youth in December 1986."Kazakhs are currently marking the 22nd anniversary of a mass student protest against the Kremlin that was violently broken up by the Soviet regime in 1986. (RFE/RL)

Turkish Foreign Minister says Armenia apology could hurt diplomacy

19 December

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ali Babacan has said a controversy over an apology by Turkish intellectuals for the mass killings of Armenians in World War I could hurt efforts to improve diplomatic ties with Armenia. His comments came on the same day Turkey's powerful generals said they opposed the Internet initiative, which has also drawn criticism from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and nationalists. "This is a sensitive issue for Turkey. There is a negotiation process going on [with Armenia].... This kind of debate is of no use to anyone especially at a time talks continue and it may harm the negotiation process," Babacan was quoted by the Anatolian news agency as saying. On December 17, Erdogan said the campaign, which has tested one of Turkey's most sensitive taboos, had no other benefit than "stirring up trouble, disturbing our peace, and undoing the steps which have been taken." President Abdullah Gul has hailed the initiative as proof of Turkey's democratic health. He became the first Turkish leader to visit Armenia in September as Turkey sought to end almost 100 year of animosity. Turkish and Armenian officials have expressed hopes of restoring full diplomatic relations soon. Turks, including Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk, have been prosecuted in the European Union candidate country for affirming that the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 amounted to genocide. Turkey accepts that many Armenians were killed during the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, but rejects Armenian assertions, backed by Western historians, it was genocide, saying that Muslim Turks also died in interethnic conflicts. The apology, which avoids the word genocide and uses instead the term great catastrophe, has reignited a debate that challenges one of the ideological foundations of modern Turkey. It comes at a time of heightened nationalism in Turkey. Organisers have said the initiative, posted on the Internet (http://www.ozurdilivoruz.com) along with a nonbinding petition to gather signatures, was meant to allow Turks to offer a personal apology and to end an official silence. It has been signed by 200 intellectuals. (Reuters)

ex-UN envoy raps georgian leader, joins opposition

25 December

Georgia's former ambassador to the United Nations, until recently an active member of President Mikheil Saakashvili's team, said on December 24 he was joining the opposition and called for an early election. Irakly Alasania, who regularly polls among the Caucasus nation's most popular public figures, accused Saakashvili of autocratic decision-making and failing to avoid a war with giant neighbor Russia in August. "There were ways to avoid the war with Russia. Responsibility for dragging Georgia into this provocative war rests with Georgia's president," he told a news conference. "I think the crisis in our country was caused by authoritarian leadership, a chaotic decision-making process as well as absence of a transparent governing system." But he also said that the war had been triggered by "a provocation prepared by Russian security and military services." In the past, Alasania has worked as Saakashvili's diplomatic and security adviser, holding the post of Georgia's envoy in talks on its rebel Abkhazia province and working on the National Security Council. Russia says it was forced to react in August after its peace-keepers and civilians came under fire when Tbilisi attempted to retake its rebel pro-Moscow South Ossetia province by force. Western governments originally criticized Russia's response as "disproportionate," but a freeze on European Union and NATO ties with energy power Russia was reversed months later. Several former close allies of Saakashvili have swapped sides. Nino Burjanadze, a co-author with Saakashvili of the 2003 "Rose Revolution" that brought down longtime leader Eduard Shevardnadze, last month formed her own opposition party. (Reuters)


Azerbaijani Parliament Approves Referendum On Presidential Term Limit

26 December

Azerbaijan's parliament has voted overwhelmingly to hold a referendum early next year to remove the limit on presidential terms, potentially extending four decades of dynastic rule in the oil-rich state. The parliament voted 100 to 7 to hold a referendum on March 18 on proposed constitutional amendments that would remove the two-term limit on the president. The move would allow incumbent President Ilham Aliyev to stay in power when his mandate expires in 2013. Parliament deputy Ali Ahmedov, who is also the executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, told parliament that if the constitutional change takes place, it wouldn't harm democracy in the country. "The number of presidential terms is not a democracy issue," Ahmedov said. "If the president is elected once, twice, or three times, it's not a democracy issue, but a legislative issue." Last week, the parliament overwhelmingly backed the proposal to lift a ban on a third presidential term. And on December 24, the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the legality of the referendum. (RFE/RL)


Gazprom, Turkmenistan in pipeline deal

26 December

Russian energy monopoly Gazprom agreed to a deal with Turkmenistan for greater control over a Central Asian gas pipeline, a statement said. Gazprom and Turkmenistan reached a deal for Gazprom to gain greater rights to use the Central Asia-Center pipeline network to bring more natural gas to Russia, Gazprom said in a statement. The CAC consists of five pipelines traversing Turkmenistan via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Construction of a western branch through Turkmenistan will contribute to the transportation of natural gas from the Caspian Sea east.  Gazprom said 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year will come from Turkmenistan, with another 353 billion cubic feet per year from Kazakhstan. The energy giant in July finalized an agreement to invest in the energy sector in Turkmenistan, pledging to back pre-development projects on a branch of CAC. Meanwhile, Turkey's Hurriyet said Gazprom has told Ankara the country could get natural gas supplies at a discount on par with other regional importers. Hurriyet said an unnamed Gazprom spokesman said Turkey was rewarded for paying its gas costs promptly, an affront to Ukraine, which has been in a row with Russia over outstanding debt. (UPI)


Indian firms will build Tajik lines

29 December

Indian companies KEC International Ltd. and RPG Transmission Ltd. will build power lines in Tajikistan. The two companies won a tender to build the electricity transmission lines in Tajikistan that will connect the Sangtuda-1 hydroelectric power station to Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan, the Khovar news agency reported. KEC and RPG will build the 118-kilometer electricity transmission line from the Sangtuda-1 hydroelectric power station to the Afghan town of Pol-e Khomri for $19 million. The Asian Development Bank and the OPEC fund for international development will allocate money for the project. Construction is expected to begin in late January. (UPI)


AzerBAIJANi oil exports reach 9 million barrels

29 December

Crude oil exports from Azerbaijan topped 9 million barrels in November, bringing some $627 million in profits, state reporting agencies said Monday. The State Customs Committee said more than 75 percent of exports came from the Azerbaijan International Operating Co., with the State Oil Co. of Azerbaijan Republic rounding out the remaining volume, the Azeri Business Center reported. Pipelines in the region accounted for 211.7 million barrels of oil exports as of Dec. 1, with rail transport accounting for more than 14 million barrels during the same period.The committee report said 9.1 million barrels traveled through the Baku-Novorossiysk oil pipeline and another 2.6 million transited through the Baku-Supsa route. The Baku-Tbilisi- Ceyhan pipeline, the second-longest in the world, transferred nearly 200 million barrels to export markets, the report said. (UPI)


Bank of Georgia Receives USD 39 mln OPIC Financing

29 December

Bank of Georgia, the largest bank in the country, said on December 29, it had received a USD 39 million financing package from the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). Nika Enukidze, chairman of BOG’s supervisory board, said the package would enhance the bank’s lending capabilities. The financing is part of OPIC’s USD 176 million project, which the agency announced in October to finance seven projects in Georgia. As part of this USD 176 million package, OPIC and Georgia’s second largest bank, TBC Bank, signed a memorandum, in October on allocation of USD 40 million to finance long-term mortgages, as well as small and medium sized businesses. Meanwhile, both BOG and TBC Bank have confirmed that they had to cut jobs because of declined lending related to both banks’ tightened credit standards and less demand from clients. BOG said that it had cut 830 jobs, mainly in retail services, which reportedly is roughly 20% of the bank’s personnel. TBC Bank confirmed cutting of 300 jobs - 10% of its workforce; unofficial reports, say that the bank plans more job cuts. International donors at the Brussels conference in October have pledged a total of USD 850 million to support Georgia’s banking sector. Donors have pledged total of USD 4.5 billion assistance for Georgia following the August war. “The banking sector has weathered the immediate impact of the conflict, but near-term post-conflict challenges remain,” the needs assessment document, based on which the donors made their pledges, reads. Key Georgian banks face USD 500 million external obligations falling due in early, 2009. And the refinancing needs of the banking sector to roll over liabilities and to provide for support for the moderate growth scenario being supported by the standby arrangement, tentatively amounts to about USD 700 million through 2009, according to the document, drafted by the World Bank-led assessment team. There are total of 22 commercial banks in Georgia with BOG 32.9% of market share in total assets, followed by TBC Bank with 23.7%; Bank Republic-Societe Generale Group – 7.9%; ProCreditBank – 7.4%; VTB and Cartu Bank 5% each; with the rest of the banks having total of about 18% of market share in total assets. (Civil Georgia)


Azerbaijan won’t renew three licenses

30 December

Azerbaijani broadcasting licenses for Radio Liberty, Voice of America and the BBC will not be renewed, a government official said Tuesday. Nushirevan Meherremli, the National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting chairman, said the decision, which takes effect Thursday, had nothing to do with politics, Today.az reported. "We strive to bring the practice in conformity to the law. We have started this process long before," Meherremli said." The decision also includes Europa Plus radio station, the chairman said, explaining the council has given Europa Plus a chance to bring "their activity in compliance" with Azerbaijani radio stations within two years. The U.S. State Department said it was disappointed by Azerbaijan's decision. "These media organizations play a crucial role in supporting democratic debate and the free exchange of ideas and information," said Gordon Duguid, acting State Department deputy spokesman. "This decision, if carried out, will represent a serious setback to freedom of speech, and retard democratic reform in Azerbaijan." Meherremli said for "unknown reasons when we stopped transmission of Russian and Turkish TV channels no one spoke of the political substantiation of the issue." (UPI)


Taliban kill 20 bodyguards in Afghanistan

1 January

Taliban insurgents have ambushed the convoy of a district chief in southern Afghanistan and killed 20 of his bodyguards, an official says. Mullah Salaam, the district chief of Musa Qala in Helmand Province and who was once a member of the ousted Taliban, survived the December 31 attack on his convoy unharmed, the provincial spokesman said. Spokesman Dawood Ahmadi said two of the attackers were killed in a clash that followed the ambush in Helmand, a Taliban stronghold and one of the main drug-producing regions of Afghanistan, the world's top supplier of heroin. The Taliban could not be reached for comment immediately and the Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul confirmed the killing of 20 guards on the payroll of the ministry, one of the single bloodiest attacks against security forces in months. The ministry said one woman was also killed in the attack, adding more details of the incident were expected to come. Afghanistan is going through one of its worst spells of violence since 2005, when the Taliban began regrouping after being ousted in the U.S.-led invasion following the September 11, 2001, attacks. (Reuters)

Azerbaijan limits foreign radio broadcasts

1 January

Foreign radio broadcasts can no longer be offered on local frequencies in Azerbaijan, the communication ministry said Thursday. RIA Novosti said the decision to ban the presence of foreign radio services on local frequencies was made by the National Television and Radio Council in Azerbaijan Tuesday. The ban, which went into effect at the start of the new year Thursday, means the broadcasting licenses for international media groups like the BBC and Voice of America have been terminated in the oil-rich country. Domestic TV and radio broadcasts in Azerbaijan will also now face more stringent regulations including being solely broadcast in Azerbaijani. The only broadcasts that will be allowed to be offered in other languages are news and educational broadcasts, which can feature foreign languages but must include Azerbaijani subtitles. The new regulations also limit the maximum length of an educational broadcast to 30 minutes, RIA Novosti said. (UPI)  

Pakistan says senior Taliban official arrested in Peshawar

3 January

Pakistani intelligence officials say they have arrested a senior Taliban official who was freed by Afghanistan in 2007 in exchange for the Taliban's release of a kidnapped journalist. Ustad Mohammad Yasir was detained in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on January 1, following a tip-off and a raid on a house, agencies quote officials as saying. Yasir was among several Taliban leaders released in March 2007 in exchange for the release of Daniele Mastrogiacomo, an Italian journalist who had been held hostage by the Taliban. Yasir had served as a spokesman for Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar before the Taliban regime was ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001. Many Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants fled into Pakistan after the Taliban fell from power. Pakistan has expressed its commitment to capturing remaining Taliban loyalists taking refuge in its lawless northwest frontier region, but Western governments, as well as neighboring Afghanistan, have questioned Islamabad's ability or willingness to fulfill its promises. (RFE/RL)

British forces checking report on Afghan civilian deaths

6 January

NATO's British forces say they are checking a report that some civilians were killed during an operation against the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand, a spokesman said. Hundreds of Afghans were killed in air strikes and raids by foreign troops last year, undermining public support for the presence of international forces and leading to a rift between President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers. The latest incident happened in Baghni district on January 5 when, according to a provincial government source, five members of a family were killed in an operation by British forces. No further details were given by the official. "We are looking into this," Major Steve Melbourne, a spokesman for the British forces in Helmand, said by phone. Nearly 700 civilians were killed up to October last year in raids by foreign and Afghan forces, an Afghan rights body said last month, quoting a UN estimate. Violence has surged to its worst level in Afghanistan since the Taliban, ousted in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, regrouped four years ago. On January 6, a soldier from the NATO-led force was killed in an attack in a southern area, the alliance said. Further details were not immediately available. (Reuters)


Central Asia’s era of cheap gas comes to a close

6 January

Starting on January 1, Uzbekistan increased the gas price it charges neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan for natural gas to $240 per 1,000 cubic meters, saying last year's price of $145 was far below real market prices. The two impoverished Central Asian countries protested that the increase was excessive and unaffordable for their domestic customers. Sulosyn Toktosunova, a Bishkek-based expert, tells RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that many Kyrgyz households will no longer be able to afford their gas bills. "The new gas price will have a very bad impact on people's living standards," Toktosunova said. "Possibly, we are going to have a serious crisis in this regard in 2009. Last year, many people were not able to pay their gas bills even with earlier, cheaper prices. They were in debt. How will they cope with new tariffs?" Tajikistan has already found itself on the verge of a severe energy crisis. From the beginning of the year, Tashkent has also cut gas deliveries to its neighbor by half due to Dushanbe's failure to pay some $12 million it owes for gas for 2008. But as Uzbekistan courts more affluent customers, like Russia and China, both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan acknowledge that there is no going back to the days of cheap gas. Beyond protesting Tashkent's decision to raise its gas price, there seems to be little either Bishkek or Dushanbe can do. In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, politicians and experts say it is now time to explore domestic energy sources as the only way to escape the rising gas prices from their neighbor. "Now we have to explore our own energy sources," says Shodi Shabdolov, a Tajik legislator. "Tajikistan has great capabilities to produce electricity. Speaking approximately, it has up to 5 billion tons of top-quality coal. The government should have been trying to attract foreign investment to these sectors." Shabdolov adds, "There is nothing wrong with Uzbekistan's decision to raise its gas price, because that is how the market economy works, and the era of 'Soviet brotherhood' is long gone." Unlike their other Central Asian neighbors, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan do not have abundant oil and gas resources. However, with numerous rivers in their mountainous terrain, both have the capacity to become major hydroelectric energy producers and exporters in the region. Tajikistan alone has the estimated potential to produce over 300 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year -- the largest hydroelectric capacity in Central Asia. Ironically, both countries face crippling power shortages that leave households with only a few hours of electricity during the winter months. Tajikistan has long been straggling to complete construction of a number of hydropower stations, including the Roghun and Sangtuda plants in its eastern regions. Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan hopes to solve its electricity problems by completing its Kambarata-1 and Kambarata-2 power stations on the Naryn River.
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev is traveling to Moscow later this month, and his office said a previously promised $2 billion Russian credit to Kyrgyzstan is high on agenda in bilateral talks. (RFE/RL)

Afghan President says U.S.-led raid killed 17 civillians

8 January

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned a U.S.-led coalition military operation that reportedly killed 17 civilians, including women and children. The U.S. military said only militants were killed in the incident. Civilian deaths caused by foreign troop operations when hunting militants have undermined support for foreign forces and are a sore point between the Afghan government and its allies. The lastest reported civilian casualties occurred in an area of eastern Laghman Province on January 6, the palace said in a statement."Based on the reports, during a coalition operation, 17 civilians including women and children were killed among militants in Laghman Province," it said. "The Afghan government has always clarified its stance in this regard and wants an end to such incidents which only divert the war on terror from its main path and endanger our successes," the statement quoted Afghan President Hamid Karzai as saying. Karzai also condemned the insurgents for deliberately using civilians as "human shields."
The U.S. military said 32 insurgents, including a woman, were killed during the operation, which it said was aimed at the Taliban's roadside-bomb network in Laghman. "I am confirming to you that all killed were militants," U.S. forces spokesman Colonel Jerry O'Hara told Reuters on January 8 when asked to comment about the palace statement."If any civilians were involved in this operation, our sincere condolences to them and their family," O'Hara said. Karzai, who has been leading Afghanistan since U.S.-led troops overthrew Taliban's government in 2001, has repeatedly warned foreign forces to prevent civilian casualties. Nearly 700 civilians were killed until October last year during operations by foreign and Afghan forces, an Afghan rights body said last month, quoting a UN estimate. (Reuters)

Afghan official says 2 million Afghans unemployed

8 January

The Afghan government says that some 2 million workers in the country are unemployed.
The Labor and Social Affairs Ministry added that an estimated 30,000 foreigners are working in Afghanistan. Deputy Labor and Social Affairs Minister Ghaws Bashiri told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that it is necessary to hire foreigners because Afghans "don't have high-level vocational skills and abilities." Unemployment in Afghanistan is estimated at between 30-35 percent, down from 40 percent three years ago. Employment opportunities have been hurt by the harsh winter in the country, as construction work has slowed and agriculture -- which employs 80 percent of the country's workforce -- has been damaged. (RFE/RL)

Russia hurts European energy security

8 January

Russia worked to prevent Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan from moving into the European natural gas market, the former head of the state-run Azeri oil company said. Sabit Baghirov, the former president of the State Oil Co. of Azerbaijan Republic and current head of the Center of Economic and Political Studies, said Russia is undermining attempts to diversify the European energy sector by courting Caspian suppliers."Russia attempts to prevent the supply of Azerbaijani and Turkmen gas to European markets by all means," he said. Baghirov said Russian aggression in the energy sector made the Western-backed Nabucco pipeline attractive to Azerbaijan, but cautioned the project may not have adequate supplies to replace Russian gas to Europe, Azeri news agency Today.Az reported Thursday. "Nabucco will allow meeting the growing consumption of gas in the (European Union) countries not from Russian sources," he said. "It means that Nabucco is not intended to replace Russian gas with another." Nabucco is a planned natural gas pipeline to bring Caspian gas to European markets through Turkey. Russia embraces the South Stream pipeline as a rival to Nabucco, though Baghirov said Moscow fears a declining influence in the Caspian region more than Nabucco. (UPI)


Georgia announces readiness to restart gas transit to South Ossetia – Putin

9 January

The Georgian authorities  have  informed  Russia  that  they  are ready to resume the transit  of  gas  supplies  to  South  Ossetia,  Russian  Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told foreign journalists on Thursday."We  have  diligently  been  delivering gas to Georgia, despite any political  problems  with  this  country. We need to give Georgia credit because  it  has  recently  informed us that it is ready to restart [the

transit of] gas supplies to South Ossetia," Putin said. Asked  about  a  so-called  "energy  weapon" in connection with the Russian-Ukrainian  gas dispute, the prime minister said that he does not "know any  'political  energy  weapon'. " "But I know about weapons that Ukraine delivered to the Caucasus during hostilities there," he added. (Interfax)


U.S. VP-elect Biden in Afghanistan to meet leaders

10 January

U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden arrived in Afghanistan on January 10 to meet political and military leaders in the war-torn country, which will become a top foreign policy priority of the new administration.One of the first decisions U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is expected to make is to approve the deployment of up to 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan to try to stem the strengthening Taliban insurgency ahead of Afghan elections due in September. Biden is due to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai as well as U.S. General David McKiernan, commander of the 65,000-strong international troop presence in Afghanistan. "Biden is here in Kabul to meet with various leaders including President Karzai and other ministers," said an Afghan government official who declined to be named. "Biden's visit will reaffirm the United States' commitment to Afghanistan." Colonel Gregory Julian, spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said Biden would meet McKiernan. Biden, for long the chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has made many trips to Afghanistan and diplomats say he has a detailed knowledge of the country. After U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government for sheltering the Al-Qaeda leaders behind the September 11 attacks, analysts say President George W. Bush's administration took its eye off the ball in Afghanistan by diverting military and financial resources to Iraq. The Taliban then regrouped and relaunched their insurgency in mid-2005 and fighting has now spread from the militant heartlands in the south and east to the outskirts of the capital Kabul. The first batch of U.S. reinforcements, some 3,000 troops, is due in Afghanistan this month, taking up positions just south and southwest of Kabul. Most of the rest of the extra forces are likely to be sent to the south to break the stalemate between the Taliban and mainly British, Canadian, and Dutch troops there. (Reuters)

Tbilisi, Moscow Strike Deal on Enguri Power Plant

10 January

Russia’s electricity trader Inter RAO said it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Georgia on “effective exploitation” of Enguri hydro power plant (HPP). The Enguri HPP’s five generators with a total capacity of 1,300 megawatt are located on the Abkhaz side of the administrative border, and its arch dam is located on the Georgian-controlled territory. A statement posted on the Russian state control Inter RAO’s website on December 31 says that the memorandum was signed in Tbilisi between the company’s chairman, Yevgeny Dod, and Georgian Energy Minister, Alexandre Khetaguri. “The sides have, in particular, agreed to develop a program of measures [for effective exploitation of Enguri HPP]. According to the provisions of the signed document it should be at least a ten-year program,” the statement reads. “The Russian company representatives have held preliminary talks with the leadership of the Georgian and Abkhaz energy sectors. The document signed in Tbilisi is deemed by the participating parties as a success in the light of importance of the Enguri HPP in terms of supply of electricity to the entire Caucasus region and the southern Russian Federation.” Tbilisi and Sokhumi have an agreement according to which 40% of the electricity generated by the Enguri HPP is consumed in Abkhazia and southern Russia and the rest 60% is received by Georgia. The Georgian Energy Ministry has declined to comment on the memorandum with Inter RAO. The ministry spokesperson, however, told Civil.Ge on January 10, that the ministry officials planned to summon a press conference on the matter in “next few days.” (Civil Georgia)


Georgian delivery of Russian gas to Armenia to resume

12 January

Russian natural-gas deliveries to Armenia via a pipeline passing through Georgian territory will be fully restored on January 13, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports. Amenia's state gas company, ArmRosGazprom, said that the repair of the Ghazakh-Sagoramo pipeline in Georgia is nearly complete. The pipeline -- which passes through the Azerbaijani-populated Gardabani district of Georgia -- is the key source of gas supplies to Armenia. Georgia suspended the flow of gas on January 9, citing emergency repairs on the key pipeline. Georgian Energy Minister Aleksandre Khetaguri said the pipeline was seriously damaged by increased gas pressure that he said was due to a seasonal rise in consumption in Armenia. (RFE/RL)

Georgian FM: Charter with U.S. Hits Russia’s Goals

12 January

Russia will be “irritated” by the U.S.-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership, because the document is yet another blow for the Russia’s goal to turn Georgia into a source of “instability,” “grey zone” and into “area of lawlessness,” Grigol Vashadze, the Georgian foreign minister, said on January 12. “This Charter, as you understand, is yet another nail in the coffin, which will burry Russia’s goals it wanted to carry out during the August [war],” Vashadze said at a joint news conference with visiting Swiss Foreign Minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey. In remarks with the Georgian journalists in Washington after signing the Charter on January 9, Vashadze said that Moscow would of course “have a sharp reaction,” but it should not become a reason for Georgia “to close up the country and then to take key to Moscow and run to Russia any time when we want to make an important decisions.” (Civil Georgia)


Kyrgyzstan enacts law restricting religious activities

13 January

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev has signed a controversial bill on the activities and registration of religious groups, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports. The legislation has been criticized by international human rights groups, who believe it would restrict the activities of religious organizations. The law increases the number of people needed to officially register a religious organization from 10 people to 200 people, bans children from being involved in religious organizations, and prohibits people from proselytizing. It also forbids the distribution of religious materials in public places, children's institutions, schools, and people from giving out such materials from house to house. The new law includes new rules for the registration and annulment of religious organizations. The legislation was supported by the Muslim Spiritual Council and the Russian Orthodox Church in Kyrgyzstan, but was criticized by many Kyrgyz and international organizations concerned with human rights. (RFE/RL)

Three opposition parties call for Saakashvilis’ resignation

14 January

A group of three opposition parties has called on the rest of the opposition groups to join forces and launch protest rallies to demand President Saakashvili’s resignation. The Conservative Party, the Movement for United Georgia and the Party of People, joined by an individual opposition politician Levan Gachechiladze, a former presidential candidate, issued a statement on January 13, saying that free and fair early parliamentary elections would be impossible under Saakashvili’s presidency. “Therefore, the only solution is to achieve Saakashvili’s resignation through protest rallies and hold free elections afterwards,” the statement reads. (Civil Georgia)