News Digest

22 June 2011 News Digest

By Alima Bissenova (06/22/2011 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Kyrgyzstan violence: Osh unrest remembered one year on

8 June 2011 News Digest

By Alima Bissenova (06/08/2011 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Kyrgyz bars head of ethnic clashes probe

25 May 2011 News Digest

By Alima Bissenova (05/25/2011 issue of the CACI Analyst)

11 May 2011 News Digest

By Alima Bissenova (05/11/2011 issue of the CACI Analyst)



2 May

13 April 2011 News Digest

By Ali (04/14/2011 issue of the CACI Analyst)

NATO's South Caucasus envoy to visit Georgia


30 March 2011 News Digest

By Alima Bissenova (03/30/2011 issue of the CACI Analyst)

MCC Considering USD 100-150 mln Aid for Georgia

16 March 2011 News Digest

By Alima Bissenova (03/16/2011 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Election campaign kicks off in Kazakhstan

2 March 2011 News Digest

By Alima Bissenova (03/03/2011 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Azeri oil heads through Ukrainian pipeline
16 February
The Odessa-Brody pipeline through Ukraine started carrying crude oil from Azerbaijan to Belarus, the state oil shipping company announced. Azeri and Ukrainian officials met on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in early February to discuss energy issues in Europe. Kiev is trying to shore up its reputation as a transit hub for oil and natural gas while Azerbaijan moves to become a regional leader in energy as new reserves come on stream. The 419-mile pipeline had been operated toward Russia following supply concerns. Russian oil is delivered to the Odessa-Brody pipeline from a junction of the Druzhba pipeline, the longest in the world. Ukraine's oil-shipping monopoly UkrTransNafta said shipments of Azeri crude oil through the pipeline enhances the energy security for Ukraine and "the region and Europe as a whole," the company was quoted by the Platts news service as saying. Sofia in January signed a deal with Azerbaijan to import 80,000 barrels of oil per day. The Ukrainian pipeline company noted that it would continue "reliable and uninterrupted transit of Russian oil" toward Eastern Europe. Odessa-Brody can carry can carry as much as 87 million barrels of oil per year. (UPI)

16 February 2011 News Digest

By Alima Bissenova (02/16/2011 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Saakashvili meets Merkel
5 February
President Saakashvili met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Munich on February 5 on the sideline of the 47th Security Conference. The 40-minute meeting was held in “a warm and friendly atmosphere,” the Georgian President’s administration said in a press release. It said that Chancellor Merkel expressed “unconditional support” to Georgia’s territorial integrity and reassured the Georgian leader that “during her dialogue with Russia she always raises an issue of fulfillment August 12 cease-fire agreement.” Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister, Nino Kalandadze, told reporters in Munich before the meeting: “We will ask the German side once again to call on the Russian Federation to fulfill its commitments.” The two leaders also talked about internal political and economic developments in Georgia and discussed bilateral relations, the Georgian President’s administration said. (Civil Georgia)

Karzai criticizes extra-legal groups in Afghanistan
6 February
Afghan President Hamid Karzai today criticized what he called "parallel structures" operating outside the law in Afghanistan, such as foreign aid organizations and private security firms. He told an international conference in Munich that such structures weaken the state's efforts to assume security and governance for the country. Karzai also announced a handover date for when Afghan security forces would begin to take control of the country. He named March 21, the first day of the New Year in Afghanistan and throughout the region. Karzai said some foreign-run private institutions do more harm than good for Afghanistan. "The parallel structures are there in order to help Afghanistan … in order to help Afghanistan's improved governance. Unfortunately, the real effect of that is in reverse of the objectives," he said. Karzai said in the coming year he intends to focus on the “drivers of corruption" by enforcing laws and working out land-management programs as part of his goal to take over full security in the country by 2014. (RFE/RL)

Azerbaijan’s President meets chief of Turkish National Intelligence Organization
7 February
President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has today met head of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT), Hakan Fidan.  The Head of State expressed satisfaction with the first visit of Hakan Fidan to Azerbaijan as the head of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization.  President Ilham Aliyev said relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey base on the principles of friendship and brotherhood. The President expressed confidence cooperation on national security between the two countries would be rapidly developing as much as in other fields. President Ilham Aliyev stressed the necessity of strengthening security issues in the region, adding development of Azerbaijan-Turkey relations in this field has positive impact on the whole region. Mr. Fidan conveyed greetings of Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Head of the Azerbaijan State.
The Turkish chief said he was honored to visit Azerbaijan as the head of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT). Mr. Fidan said he saw big changes and development in Baku during the visit and he was very pleased with what he saw here. The Head of State asked Fidan to deliver his greetings to Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (AzerTAc)

Kazakhstan to deport wives of jailed Uzbek asylum seekers
9 February
The wives of two young Uzbek asylum seekers face imminent deportation from Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports. A court in Almaty ruled on February 8 that Dildora Amirkulova and Shakhnoza Muratova should be deported to Uzbekistan by February 13. Amirkulova and Muratova are married to two brothers -- Sunatulla and Sukhrob Kuldashev -- who have been in jail in Almaty since January 25. Authorities in Kazakhstan said the two men are on a wanted list in Uzbekistan on unclear charges and that their passports are missing. The two couples came last year to Kazakhstan, where Sunatulla, 25, and Sukhrob, 22, sought asylum. Their wives told RFE/RL that the men had been detained by Uzbek police last April and questioned about the whereabouts of their eldest brother, Oibek. Oibek Kuldashev is among a group of 29 Uzbek asylum seekers detained by Kazakh authorities last June at the request of Tashkent. Uzbekistan has officially asked Kazakhstan to extradite the 29, all men described by Tashkent as Islamic extremists. Kazakh authorities denied the Uzbeks refugee status. Their fate has not been decided yet. Amirkulova told RFE/RL that an officer of Almaty's Turksib District police had tricked her and Muratova.
She said they were invited to the Turksib District Interior Affairs department to obtain their confiscated passports. But instead, she said, they were brought to court, where the judge quickly discussed their case and issued the deportation ruling. The two women said that they cannot leave Kazakhstan while their husbands are still in jail and no decision has been made regarding their fate. They said they are concerned that their husbands will face jail and torture if they return to Uzbekistan. (RFE/RL)

US signs fuel deal over Afghanistan airbase
9 February
The U.S. signed a deal over Afghanistan fuel contract allowing Manas Refuelling Complex in Kyrgyzstan to supply 20 % of fuel to the Manas Air Base, Kazakhstan Today reports. The US on Tuesday signed a deal to pass part of a $630m (?392m) Afghanistan fuel contract to a newly formed state company in Kyrgyzstan, in a compromise designed to safeguard its airbase in the small but strategic former Soviet republic, The Telegraph reported.
The deal will help to keep Mina Corp, the existing holder of the contract, supplying the Manas Air base, despite a campaign against the company by Kyrgyz politicians, including President Roza Otunbayeva, who claim that the families of two previous leaders benefited improperly from its dealings. The base, near the capital, Bishkek, is a crucial supply hub for the war in Afghanistan. "A mutually agreed portion of the requirements of the United States for fuel and for related services at the Transit Center will be reserved for supply by an entity or entities designated by the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic," said Larry Memmott, the US deputy chief of mission. "We want this process to be completely transparent." After signing a separate deal with the US Department of Defense, the state-run Manas Refuelling Complex will now be free to supply fuel to the base, starting at 20 per cent of its requirements, and moving up eventually to 50 per cent. The rest will continue to be supplied by Mina Corp, which, along with its sister company Red Star Enterprises, has held the contract to supply the base since 2002. Mina Corp, which is registered in Gibraltar, based in Dubai, and controlled by an American businessman, has come under fire since Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the former president, was deposed last April, and was put under investigation by US Congress last April. But the Congress investigators in December reported that they had found no evidence to back up claims that the Mr Bakiyev's family benefited financially from the company's operations. (Kazakhstan Today)

Caspian littoral states` border service chiefs meet in Baku
9 February
Chiefs of border services of the Caspian littoral states (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Russia and Turkmenistan) today had a working meeting in Baku. Participants had exchange of views on current situation on the Caspian, state of cooperation among the borders structures, the prospects of security measures and cooperation mechanism in this field. Also in the center of focus were issues related to the results of the last year summit of the heads of state of the Caspian coastal countries and preparation of the cooperation draft.  Heads of delegations stressed necessity of developing cooperation to combat against threat of international terrorism, illegal migration and drug trafficking. (AzerTAc)

Anti-Iranian Rally held in Baku
10 February
A rally has taken place in front of the Iranian embassy in Baku to protest what are widely perceived to be anti-Azerbaijani statements appearing in the Iranian media and Iran’s warmer ties with Armenia, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports. The demonstrations were organized separately by the opposition National Democratic Party and a nongovernmental organization, International Diaspora Center. The picketers protested recent comments made on the Iranian Sahar-2 television channel made by Iranian officials and clerics as well as Iran's improved relations with Armenia. They chanted such slogans as "Put an end to provocations against Azerbaijan!" and "Ahmadinejad, don't play with our patience!" They also held portraits of the Iranian and Armenian presidents together. The police did not disperse the protest, but briefly detained some demonstrators afterward. A similar picket was organized in front of the Iranian embassy in Baku on February 2. On February 1, during the Azerbaijani parliament's opening session, a number of deputies made anti-Iranian statements that blamed Iran for exporting drugs into the country and for promoting fundamentalist Islam. Iran's Sahar-2 station regularly broadcasts anti-Azerbaijani programs. They recently criticized Baku's ban on girls wearing the hijab in middle schools and hinted that the Naxcivan Autonomous Republic has remained a part of Azerbaijan only due to Iran's support. An estimated 15-25 percent of Iran's 76 million people are ethnic Azeris. (RFE/RL)

Azerbaijan preparing for Karabakh war: minister
11 February
Azerbaijan is seriously preparing for war with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh, the country's defence minister told international peace mediators in Baku on Friday. "Azerbaijan is seriously preparing to liberate its territories," Safar Abiyev said in comments published by the ministry's press service. This is not the first occasion that a top Azerbaijani official has used bellicose rhetoric over a possible new conflict. Azerbaijan has repeatedly threatened to use force to win back Karabakh if peace talks do not yield results, while Armenia has warned of large-scale retaliation if Baku launches military action. Abiyev said that Armenia must end what he called its "occupation policy" in Karabakh, where ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized control from Azerbaijan in a war in the early 1990s that left an estimated 30,000 dead. "Only in this context is a peaceful settlement of the conflict possible," the defence minister said. The separatist Karabakh defence ministry responded to Abiyev's comments with a declaration that Armenian troops were training constantly to repel any attempt by Azerbaijan to seize the region back. Karabakh Armenian forces were ready "if necessary, to ensure that any encroachment by the enemy meets with adequate retaliation," a separatist defence ministry spokesman said in comments reported by Interfax. The Azerbaijani defence minister was speaking to peace mediators from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose efforts to find a negotiated solution to the Karabakh dispute have continued for more than a decade. Abiyev said that Azerbaijan had not yet given up hope that the mediators' efforts could succeed, despite the lack of progress so far. A leading think tank warned this week that increased spending on weapons, escalating frontline clashes, warlike rhetoric and a virtual breakdown in peace talks were increasing the chances of renewed military action over Karabakh. The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said that exchanges of fire across the ceasefire line could spiral out of control, threatening regional stability and Western energy interests in the region. (AFP)

Baku won't have just one gas customer
11 February
It's unlikely that Azerbaijan would send all of its natural gas reserves to a single consumer, a foreign relations expert said from Baku. Azerbaijan is moving to the front of Russian and European strategies to expand their energy options. Azerbaijan is trying to draw as many energy customers as possible, notes Marcel Vietor, a policy analyst at the German Council on Foreign Relations. "Diversifying energy resources is safer and wiser than selling the entire volume to a single buyer and Azerbaijan is aware of this," he was quoted by the Trend news agency as saying. "I assume that the diversification of some part of Azerbaijani gas through its sale to Europe and Turkey is in the interests of the country." Russian energy company Gazprom is courting Azerbaijan for access to its natural gas while Europe is banking on Baku to fill the reserve capacity of its planned Nabucco natural gas pipeline.
Vietor said Azerbaijan doesn't have enough gas on hand to meet the entire requirements of any one customer.
"Azerbaijan does not have enough gas that is necessary to fill the Nabucco pipeline fully," he said. "Even it had, Baku likely won't send all of its gas to one direction by the Nabucco pipeline." (UPI)

Kazakhstan opposition to boycott presidential polls
12 February
Kazakhstan's main opposition party Azat said Saturday it would boycott presidential polls to be held in April, which President Nursultan Nazarbayev is expected to win comfortably. The Central Asian republic's Azat (Freedom) Social Democratic Party said it would boycott the polls because the president had breached the constitution by calling snap elections. "We announce our intention not to take part in the early presidential elections," the party said in a statement sent to AFP. "We demand that the elections be held within the time period set by the constitution.'
Earlier Saturday, the party had unanimously voted for co-chairman Bulat Abilov to stand as its presidential candidate. The Kazakh parliament is made up entirely of Nazarbayev supporters and critics have complained that opposition activists are silenced by what is seen as an increasingly authoritarian regime. Few doubt that the president will secure an overwhelming victory in the polls and analysts say the opposition, which was caught off guard by the announcement, would simply not have enough time to prepare for the vote. The long-serving leader on February 4 issued a decree to hold early polls on April 3, bringing elections forward from 2012. Election campaigning is to start on March 3 and end on April 1. The surprise call to the polls came after the president unexpectedly rejected a proposal to hold a referendum on extending his term to 2020, scrapping two elections.
The rubber-stamp parliament backed the idea last month, even though it fell foul of the country's constitution and was slammed by the United States as a "setback for democracy." A petition calling for the referendum gathered more than four million signatures, representing more than half the electorate. A new five-year term at the helm of the Central Asian former Soviet republic would extend the 70-year-old leader's rule to a third decade. Along with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who rose to power at the same time, Nazarbayev is the longest-serving leader in the former Soviet states. (AFP)

Saakashvili Speaks of 'United Caucasus' in Talks with Turkish FM
12 February
President Saakashvili spoke about "the idea of creating united Caucasus" at a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davuto?lu, in Tbilisi on February 12, the Georgian President's administration said.
It said that Saakashvili noted importance of "opened borders" in the region. "Existence of the united Caucasus is my desire," Saakashvili said. "We have shared this opinion with our Azerbaijani and Armenian friends."
"There is still a long road ahead before materialization of this idea, but this a positive step forward," Saakashvili added, referring to a decision to simplify border crossing between Turkey and Georgia. The Georgian President's administration said that during the meeting with the Turkish Foreign Minister it was agreed to simplify border crossing starting from this May. Earlier on February 12, the Turkish Foreign Minister said at a news conference after meeting with his Georgian counterpart, Grigol Vashadze, that one-stop procedures would apply while crossing the border. Before meeting with the Georgian leadership in Tbilisi on Saturday, the Turkish Foreign Minister spent first day of his official visit to Georgia on Friday in Batumi, main town of Adjara Autonomous Republic, which borders with Turkey. President Saakashvili told Ahmet Davuto?lu, that Batumi had turned into "an economic center not only for Georgia, but for the entire Black Sea." "Georgia should turn into a major economic link for the Central Asia and Caspian region and for Turkey," Saakashvili said. "Turkey is not only economically fast developing country, it has also turned into a standard of innovations... The fact that we are opening borders is a positive example for other countries of the region." A potential deal between Tbilisi and Ankara on restoration of sites of cultural heritage was among the issues raised during the meeting between the Turkish and Georgian Foreign Ministers. The deal, if signed, will pave the way for reconstruction of four Georgian medieval monasteries, now located in north-east Turkey, in exchange of rebuilding one mosque in Batumi and restoring of several others. The issue has turned into a source of controversy in Georgia as the influential Georgian Orthodox Church spoke out against the potential agreement. Speaking at a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart, the Georgian Foreign Minister expressed regret that the agreement was not yet signed. "I want to say that we have been late; we should have completed talks earlier and in this case the cultural heritage, which simultaneously belongs to Georgia and Turkey, would have been in better condition,” Grigol Vashadze said. The similar agreement was close to finalizing three years ago, but at the time Georgian government yielded to opposition from the Georgian Orthodox Church and the deal was not signed. Ahmet Davuto?lu also said that it was an important issue, “since we have common history.” He said that the Georgian historical monuments located on the territory of Turkey also were part of Turkey's historic heritage and vise versa. “Cultural monuments existing in Georgia are joint cultural heritage. It especially applies to Adjara and Batumi, where Muslim population is residing. It is a good example of good neighborly relations and it should be assessed and discussed positively,” he said. (Civil Georgia)

Tajik Leader Orders Mosque Crackdown
14 February
Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon instructed his security services on Friday to tighten control over religious education and mosques, which he said were often used to foment religious radicalism in the Central Asian state.
Rakhmon was speaking two days after the main opposition Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan censured the secular government of the majority Muslim state, accusing it of corruption and trampling on religious and political rights.
Rakhmon, whose ruling People's Democratic Party has rejected these charges, said the unchecked proliferation of mosques and religious schools posed a major threat to stability in the country of 7.5 million. "Under the guise of teaching the basics of Islam, criminals recruit teenagers and young people to their ranks and then send them to extremist religious schools in Islamic states," Rakhmon told a meeting of Tajikistan's Security Council.
"Some mosques are giving the floor to those who propagate extremist ideology and are turning into places for recruiting youths to the ranks of extremists," he said. Tajikistan, the poorest of five former Soviet republics in Central Asia, fought a civil war between 1992 and 1997 in which tens of thousands were killed. The Islamic Revival Party formed the core of the alliance that fought against the government. The opposition's unprecedentedstrong statement and Rakhmon's riposte, in which he said militant Islamists were gaining a foothold in rural areas, underscore the fragile peace in a nation where the average monthly wage is $80.  Critics of the government say crackdowns on believers and abject poverty drive many young people to radical Islam. Others say an Egypt-style revolt is unlikely because many young men — the key population group for protest — can find jobs in Russia and Kazakhstan, and memories of the civil war are fresh.  Rakhmon said the number of mosques in Tajikistan exceeded the number of secondary schools and included 1,250 "illegal" mosques that had not officially been registered. He said the State National Security Committee, successor to the KGB, was not doing enough to control the spread of militant Islam and called on it "to purge its ranks of random people who discredit the honor of their service." Authorities in Tajikistan jailed more than 100 members of banned groups last year, while Rakhmon also criticized what he sees as a growing trend among women to wear religious clothing.
For the last several months, government troops have been fighting a group of insurgents in the country's east. Officials say the rebels, who claimed responsibility for a September ambush on a military convoy, are linked to al-Qaida.  The Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan, which has more than 40,000 members, wants religion to play a bigger role in public life, but has not made demands for an Islamic state. Some party members have identified Malaysia as a model they would like to emulate. (The Moscow Times)

Wives of Uzbek asylum seekers urge Kazakh parties to help
14 February
The wives of 29 Uzbek asylum seekers currently held in detention in Almaty have appealed to opposition parties and the presidential Nur-Otan party for help for their husbands, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports. The Uzbek men have been held at a pretrial detention center of the Committee for National Security (KNB) in Almaty since June. Uzbek authorities have requested their extradition, but the men and their wives are demanding they be granted refugee status in Kazakhstan or elsewhere because they say they will face jail and torture if they return to Uzbekistan. One of the women, Umida Azimova, told RFE/RL that she and other wives attended the congress of the Kazakh opposition Azat Social Democratic Party on February 12 and again asked for help. She said the wives also appealed to Azat leaders Bolat Abilov and Zharmakhan Tuyaqbai in January. Azimova said a member of Azat's Political Council, Marzhan Aspadniyarova, told her the party is not able to provide the Uzbek asylum-seekers and their wives with financial or legal support, but will continue to raise their issue. But Azimova said she and the other Uzbek families need tangible assistance. On January 29, the Uzbek women asked the leaders of the Algha (Forward) opposition party for help. They say Algha leader Vladimir Kozlov found money to hire lawyers, but no attorney has thus far agreed to take their case and represent them. Some of the Uzbek wives told RFE/RL that as soon as a lawyer becomes acquainted with the case they refuse to take it because they believe the KNB's involvement precludes any chance of success. Earlier this month, the Uzbek women tried to seek assistance from the ruling Nur-Otan party, but were not admitted into party headquarters. The fate of the 29 Uzbek refugees -- all of whom are devout practicing Muslims but reject claims they are violent Islamists -- has not yet been decided. (RFE/RL)

US Assistant Secretary of State travels to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan
14 February
United.States Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Robert  Blake, will lead interagency delegations to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan during February 14-19 to engage in bilateral consultations, State Department press-release says. In Ashgabat on February 16, he will conduct a mid-year review of the Annual Bilateral Consultations and will meet with government officials, business leaders, and civil society representatives.
On February 17-18, he will lead the U.S. side in Tashkent at the second Annual Bilateral Consultations. A business delegation composed of representatives from leading U.S. firms will accompany him and hold an Uzbekistan-U.S. Business Forum on February 18. The Assistant Secretary will also meet with government officials and civil society representatives. The United States launched the Annual Bilateral Consultations in 2009 with Central Asian countries in order to discuss the full spectrum of  their bilateral relationships, including strategic cooperation, human rights, economic issues and regional challenges. (Trend)

Central Election Committee registered 11 candidates to run for presidential election
15 February
The Central Election Committee of Kazakhstan has registered 11 candidates for president's post, Kazakhstan Today reports. According to the Central Election Committee press service, three applicants had been registered earlier and two more applicants were registered today. In particular, a pensioner Saule Masina, 1947, temporarily unemployed Sovetkazy Nursila, 1955, a security guard of a security agency Tolybay Baymurzin, 1962, and a director of a travel company Kanat Turageldiev, 1962, will run for presidential election. The Central Election Committee has also registered a candidate from the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan Zhambyl Ahmetbekov, 1961. The Central Election Committee has registered 11 candidates, 9 of whom are self-nominated applicants. One of the candidates - Ualihan Kaysarov - dropped out of pre-election campaign as he had not passed the state language proficiency examination. (Kazakhstan Today)

Afghanistan defends takeover of women’s shelters
15 February
Afghanistan Tuesday defended a government plan to take over running of shelters for abused women, saying many women were tricked into leaving home without good reason and warning the refuges are rife with corruption. The plan triggered alarm among rights group, who warn it will undo important progress made on women's rights since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban, by placing victims of abuse at the mercy of a state lacking resources and often subject to the influence of misogynist powerbrokers. It follows accusations in the Afghan media that such shelters, run by foreign-funded non-governmental organizations, encourage immorality, prostitution and drug abuse. Afghanistan's caretaker Minister for Women’s Affairs Dr Husn Banu Ghazanfar, said the government had found numerous "violations" in the running of shelters. She suggested they were grossly over-funded and that it was unclear where the money had gone. Though conceding many women faced "problems" at home, Ghazanfar said some were "deceived" into leaving. "Some of them haven't had any problems in their homes and later they apologize to their families and to us," she said. Ghazanfar said she personally had no evidence of prostitution or drug abuse, but said such rumors had to be stopped. "We won't let anyone do whatever they want under the name of a safe-house," Ghazanfar told a news conference. "We are able to defend the rights of our daughters and women." The issue reflects suspicion in some segments of Afghanistan's conservative society about the influence of Westerners who poured into the country after 2001. The new regulation, which needs cabinet approval, would see victims of domestic abuse subjected to compulsory forensic examination, barred from leaving without ministry approval and registered with the police. They can be evicted if they are "accepted" back by relatives, or upon marriage, which for many Afghan women is forced. Some run to shelters to escape unwanted husbands. Women suspected or accused of crimes would not be admitted. But running away from home is considered a "moral crime" in Afghanistan, like adultery, that women can be prosecuted for. Some women jailed for adultery say they were raped. New York-based Human Rights Watch said the plan reflected the growing strength of conservatives within President Hamid Karzai's government and was an overture to Taliban insurgents waging an escalating war against NATO and Afghan forces. Some of the 14 shelters in Afghanistan faced closure if taken over by a government lacking the money and resources to run them, the group said. (Reuters)

Chinese foreign minister to visit Armenia Wednesday
16 February
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi begins on Wednesday his first official visit to Armenia, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said. China's top diplomat is paying his two-day visit to Armenia upon an invitation from his Armenian counterpart Eduard Nalbandyan. "The visit of China's foreign minister will be the first visit of such high-ranking Chinese official to our country since Armenia declared independence," the ministry said in a statement. "The Issues of strengthening and developing Armenian and Chinese relations as well as a variety of regional and international issues will be discussed." During the visit the Chinese foreign minister is scheduled to meet with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, Catholicos of all Armenians Garegin II, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisyan, Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandyan and other officials. (RIA Novosti)

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