Monitors from the former Soviet Union to observe Turkmen election

[The Europeans side thought–Why bother?]

Monitors from the former Soviet Union to observe Turkmen election

Observers from the former Soviet Union will monitor a presidential election in Turkmenistan next month but Europe’s main monitoring body has said political freedom in the country is so limited that there is no point in sending a team.

The vast, sany Karakum desert dominates Turkmenistan in Central Asia

The vast, sany Karakum desert dominates Turkmenistan in Central Asia Photo: Rex

By James Kilner, Central Asia Correspondent

The five Central Asian states have acquired a dubious democratic record since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 but Turkmenistan still stands out. The vote on Feb 12 is only the second formerly contested Turkmen presidential election since independence.

Turkmenistan, which lies next to the Caspian Sea and is dominated by the vast, sandy Karakum desert, is rich in gas which has attracted the attention of its neighbours over the last few years. But it is also one of the most secretive and closed countries in the world.

News websites linked to the Turkmen authorities have now said that observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the alliance of former Soviet nations, will send monitors to the election.

The Europeans, though, have declined to send a monitoring team.

After visiting Turkmenistan in December, Europe’s election monitoring team, dubbed the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and run by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said political freedom in the country was so limited that sending a monitoring team would be meaningless.

“The OSCE/ODIHR NAM [Needs Assessment Mission] does not consider that the deployment of an election observation mission, even of a limited nature, would add value at this point in time,” it said in a report on Jan 3.

The US-based lobby group Freedom House rates Turkmenistan as one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world.

Election observers from the former Soviet Union, though, have monitored a presidential election in Turkmenistan previously. They gave a positive account of the 2007 presidential election, which President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov won with 89 per cent of the vote.

Eight candidates have registered for the election on Feb 12, although there is no genuine opposition and Mr Berdymukhamedov is the only one with any real name recognition. He is expected to win the vote easily.

Turkmen President Makes Fantastic Electioneering Promises–Ski Slopes and Skating Rinks In Desert Nation

President Vows To Make Turkmenistan ‘Industrial Power’

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is expected to face little challenge being reelected.

Incumbent Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov kicked off his reelection campaign by vowing to turn Turkmenistan “into an industrial power.”

With a presidential election scheduled for February 12, Berdymukhammedov said on national television on January 9 new factories would be built to help the country move from an agricultural-based economy.

On agriculture, Berdymukhammedov said the emphasis would shift from herding to farming. Turkmenistan is nearly 90 percent desert.

Berdymukhammedov also spoke of the need for new political parties that would “inspire people to conscientiously work for the sake of further enlightenment of our homeland.”

He also mentioned “organizing independent media outlets,” but did not elaborate. All media in Turkmenistan are state-owned.

Berdymukhammedov also made an unusual promise, saying he wished to build a skiing area in the Kopetdag hills, near Ashgabat, with equipment to make artificial snow and “possibly” an outdoor ice-skating rink.

Temperatures can fall to below freezing in the winter but Turkmenistan is better known for its hot climate, with temperatures reaching into the 50s Celsius in summer.

Tajikistan Renews Support for Iran’s Peaceful N. Program

Tajikistan Renews Support for Iran’s Peaceful N. Program

TEHRAN (FNA)- Tajik Foreign Ministry Spokesman Dawlat Nazriov underlined his country’s support for Iran’s access to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

“The government of Tajikistan has repeatedly and clearly announced its stance in the past and announces again now that we support Iran’s peaceful nuclear program despite the hues and cries made by some western countries,” Nazriov said, addressing a meeting on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Iran-Tajikistan ties.

He reiterated that Dushanbe supports any efforts by the Islamic Republic of Iran to use nuclear energy for peaceful means.

Meantime, the Tajik spokesman stressed that differences and disputes among the UN member states should be resolved through dialogue.

Elsewhere, Nazriov lauded the two Persian-speaking nations’ excellent relations in different fields.

Twenty years ago, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Iran was the first nation to recognize an independent Tajikistan.

Iran and Tajikistan have recently accelerated expansion of their ties and cooperation and observers believe that the good achievements gained in area of their mutual cooperation should be deemed as a result of the efforts made by the two countries’ officials.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who paid an official visit to Dushanbe in September, viewed the close and friendly relations between the two countries as special and exceptional.

The president, who was in Tajikistan upon his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon’s formal invitation on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the ex-Soviet state’s independence, hailed bilateral ties between Tehran and Dushanbe as “special and exceptional.”

He referred to the common cultural, historical and traditional commonalties between the two Persian-speaking nations and called for further exchanges of expertise in technological fields between Iran and Tajikistan.

Iran is the second largest foreign investor in Tajikistan after China.

How Is Ukrainian Veterinary Service Qualified To Monitor Quality of Human Food Production?

[Russian Head of Health Services has a right and a duty to question the quality of imported Ukrainian meat products (nothing of “vegetable origin or baby food”), when the inspectors normally oversee production of animal feed.   Doesn’t the Ukrainian govt. have to use inspectors of food products who are qualified, in fact, or at least on paper?  Unless these inspectors were all given extracurricular training, or the consumers were suddenly reclassified then this qualification was foul.  I will now be curious to see the European standards which Ukraine is allegedly complying with.]

Ukraine cries foul over Russian health chief’s ‘animal’ remark

Gennady Onishchenko

Gennady Onishchenko

© RIA Novosti

MOSCOW, January 10 (RIA Novosti)

Ukraine’s foreign minister is demanding an apology after Russia’s chief public health official Gennady Onishchenko said the authorities in Kiev were “likening” Ukrainians to animals.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Onishchenko said a new reform plan to transfer control over food production to the country’s veterinary service “de facto contains the identification of Ukrainians as animals,” and called for a ban on food imports from Ukraine.

The authorities in Kiev argue the move will make the country’s consumer protection service “more European.”

“Why doesn’t he like the European experience of control we’re bringing in?” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Konstantyn Hryshchenko wrote on his Twitter account. “Onishchenko had better publicly apologize for his words.”

Ukraine’s veterinary watchdog chief Ivan Bisyuk said the move “doesn’t mean vets will control products of vegetable origin or baby food,” according to the Vzglyad newspaper.

Vision for the New Silk Road

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Afghanistan and the Modern Silk Road

For many centuries, the ancient Silk Road was Afghanistan’s only contact with the outside world. Three decades of conflict has cost Afghanistan dearly, destroying whatever little infrastructure existed. Afghanistan is in dire need of a modern infrastructure, sound basic services, good governance and efficient institutions. Rehabilitating the existing road network is a high priority for the Afghan government and the international community has been helping the country to rebuild shattered road and rail network.

Afghanistan at a crossroads

For centuries, the countries of South and Central Asia were connected to each other and the rest of the continent by a sprawling trading network called the Silk Road.  Afghanistan was at the heart of this network with merchants trading their goods from the Far East to Asia Minor.

Afghanistan can once again reclaim its proud history of commerce and culture and become an integrated link at the heart of the new Silk Road. As important as these transport projects are for Afghanistan, they are equally important for the Central Asia region and for the world. Transport infrastructure and energy supply are the backbone and lifeblood of any economy. For Central Asia, transit through Afghanistan is a vital lifeline, linking landlocked economies to critical global markets.

Afghanistan together with ADB charting a new course

Since resuming operations in Afghanistan in 2002, ADB is a key donor in the transport sector. ADB has recently approved $754 million in assistance to rebuild Afghanistan’s shattered road and rail network, bringing to more than $2 billion the amount it has contributed to the country’s reconstruction over the past decade.

The new funding will upgrade hundreds of kilometers of priority roads and finance construction of new facilities to complement the ADB-funded rail line connecting the northern hub of Mazar-e-Sharif and Uzbekistan. ADB is also involved in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan’s 2,700 km Ring Road. Work on the last remaining 233 km stretch of road will soon be underway and when complete will connect the northwestern towns of Qaisar, Bala Murghab, and Laman..

“Infrastructure links the new mineral centers to markets, creates jobs, improves trade, and—perhaps most importantly—provides Afghans with a sense of hope for the future,” said Juan Miranda, ADB’s Director General for Central and West Asia. “With the development of modern road, rail and energy networks, Afghanistan is poised to reap the benefits of its strategic location and become a pivotal crossroads for trade and commerce in the region.”

Vision for the New Silk Road

larger image HERE

ADB’s focus on Afghanistan’s transport and energy networks will enable Afghanistan to fulfill its role as a key player in the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program, the 10-country partnership that promotes the implementation of regional projects in energy, transport, and trade facilitation. The New Silk Road vision is a shared commitment to promote private-sector investment, increase regional trade and transit, and foster a network of linkages throughout the region. The creation of a New Silk Road will help Afghanistan and its neighbors maximize the value of natural resources, build human capacity, create jobs, generate revenue to pay for needed services, and capitalize on the region’s economic potential.

The CAREC Action Plan focuses on the development of the six CAREC corridors, which will facilitate transport and trade within and through the CAREC region and provide important links among the world’s rapidly growing markets around the CAREC region.

When completed, the six land transport corridors would cover 3,600 kilometers of roads and 2,000 kilometers of railway, traversing the CAREC region and linking Europe, East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and beyond.

ADB is committed to supporting this process and to helping Asia ensure that economic cooperation and integration bring benefits to the people of the CAREC, and Asia as a whole.

Afghan leaders cast doubt on U.S.-Taliban talks

Afghan leaders cast doubt on U.S.-Taliban talks

Source : ReuterS

BERLIN (Reuters) – A group of Afghan political leaders on Monday cast doubt on the outcome of U.S. talks with the Taliban, which have become a key focus of Washington’s efforts to leave Afghanistan as planned by 2014.

Abdul Rashid Dostum, army chief of staff and leader of the National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, said the talks could win the Taliban time, allowing them to make gains after the departure of international troops.

Senior U.S. officials told Reuters last month that, after 10 months, talks with the Taliban had reached a critical juncture and they would soon know if a breakthrough was possible.

Dostum and three other Northern Alliance leaders met four members of the United States congress in Berlin on Monday, where they issued a joint statement urging a decentralisation of power in Afghanistan and criticising the peace talks.

“There is an assumption that the Taliban may be using the negotiation process as a cover, as a means of calming the United States, and then … gaining time by 2014 to resurge,” Dostum said at a news conference in Berlin.

“We cannot afford to be naive and exclude the possibility of a negative turn of the situation.”

The statement described the talks as flawed because they exclude anti-Taliban Afghans, and risk betraying those Afghans who fought to remove the Taliban from power a decade ago.

The Taliban said in a surprise announcement last week they had reached a preliminary agreement to set up a political office in Qatar and asked for the release of prisoners held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay.

Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher said he and three fellow congress members joined the talks because they fear the United States government might be about to make unacceptable compromises.

Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, leader of the People’s Unity Party of Afghanistan and an influential power broker in the country, said: “we are not against achieving peace through negotiation, our doubts are about the quality and mechanism of the negotiations.”

(Reporting by Alexandra Hudson)

Pakistani Police Prepare for Expected Energy Shortage Rioting

[SEE: Pakistan Is Out of Gas and Out of Cash–Perfect Time for An Invasion]

Police prepare for riots

RAWALPINDI, Jan 8: Local police have raised 20 riot control squads to deal with violent street protests over gas and electricity crises and political agitation that endanger public peace, official sources said on Sunday.

Four hundred police personnel picked from all the police stations in the Rawalpindi will man the squads and officers chosen to command them have been screened for the job, according to the sources.

They will be equipped with anti-riot tools and stationed at the Rawalpindi Police Lines, ready at all times to go into action to do their task of crowd and riot control.

Places vacated at the police stations by the policemen assigned to the squads will be filled by men doing stationary duties at the police lines. Many police personnel in the lines have never been posted at police stations since they joined the force.

City Police Officer Azhar Hameed Khokhar believed that formation of the riot control squads would help the police recruits gain experience after replacing their senior colleagues.

The need to form the squads was felt during the recent violent street protests against gas shortage. During the protests, collecting police personnel from police lines and stations
caused considerable delay in dealing with the rioters. Quick response units have already been formed to perform counter-terrorist duties in the district.

In the summer last year, hundreds of policemen living in the police lines headquarters were found missing or absent. The then regional police officer (RPO) later confirmed that more than 700 policemen had been found absent or missing from the police lines.

He ordered an inquiry into the missing of policemen involving some high level officials. There were also over two dozen cops who were found absent from duty for more than two years.

It had been a common practice among the police officials residing in police lines headquarters to leave for their homes at night.