jueves, 23 de julio de 2009

Opposition Leader Drops Out of Kyrgyz Election

MOSCOW — The leading opposition candidate in Kyrgyzstan essentially withdrew from the presidential race on Thursday even before voting had concluded, asserting that widespread fraud had assured the incumbent’s victory.

The candidate, Almazbek Atambaev, a former prime minister, called on the public and international organizations to reject the election as unlawful. Mr. Atambaev instructed supporters who were working as observers at polling and vote-counting stations to leave, and he demanded that a new election be organized.

“The authorities understood that they would lose an honest and free election, which is why they relied on force — relied on force against their own people!” Mr. Atambaev said in a statement.

Election officials dismissed his accusations, saying that the balloting was legitimate. Official results were not expected to be released until Friday morning.

The Russian state news agency said an exit poll showed the incumbent, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, with 67 percent of the vote, and Mr. Atambaev with 13 percent. The opposition called the exit poll false and said it planned to hold street protests against the election. The government said such actions were illegal and would be blocked.

Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia that is host to an important American military base that supports operations in Afghanistan, has regularly faced political turmoil in recent years. It has also been the site of a tug of war between the United States and Russia over influence in Central Asia.

Kyrgyz opposition leader Almazbek Atambaev, center, spoke at a rally in Bishkek on Thursday after the closing of the presidential vote.

Mr. Bakiyev took power after the so-called Tulip Revolution of 2005, which ousted a government that was considered corrupt.

He had been expected to win a second term easily, though there was disagreement in Kyrgyzstan over why. His supporters said he had steered his poor country, which has five million people, through difficult times caused by the financial crisis and had garnered strong popularity.

The opposition has derided him as an autocrat who has persecuted opposition leaders and independent journalists. Many have been arrested, attacked and even killed over the past year.

Mr. Bakiyev has accused the opposition of airing phony charges of vote-rigging in an effort to explain away its lack of popularity. Casting his ballot on Thursday, he declared that the voting would be fair, saying that the Kyrgyz people cared about democracy.

“Each person understands that the fate of the nation, and his own future, depends on his choice,” the president said.

Officials of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were in Kyrgyzstan to monitor the election, and they said they would deliver a preliminary report on Friday.

American officials have generally refrained from criticizing the Kyrgyz government in recent months. They have focused on ensuring that the United States military can remain at the air base on the outskirts of the capital, Bishkek.

In February, Mr. Bakiyev announced that he was closing the base, apparently at the behest of Moscow. But he later reversed his decision after lobbying by the Washington, which agreed to pay more rent.

By CLIFFORD J. LEVY, Published NYT July 23, 2009

jueves, 16 de julio de 2009

Interview with Abkhazian President Sergei Bagapsch

“We Won't Beg for Diplomatic Recognition”

Once a popular holiday getaway for the communist elite, tiny Abkhazia is now a de-facto republic at odds with most of the world. President Sergei Bagapsh spoke with SPIEGEL ONLINE about his nation's plans, friends and foes -- and prime real estate.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Other than Russia, your neighboring Black Sea states do not recognize Abkhazia as a nation. Are you isolated?

Sergei Bagapsch: We are a small country with around 242,000 inhabitants. At the moment, our connections with Russia suffice to allow us to develop our economy. Of course, we would be happy if Europe was more open toward us. But I think that's just a question of time. At the moment, we are trying to develop economic relationships with Iran, Jordan, Turkey and Belarus. We won't beg for diplomatic recognition.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Up until now, only Russia and Nicaragua have recognized your republic. Did that change anything for the Abkhazian people?

Bagapsch: The most important thing is that our people now know they can have normal lives. We know that it takes time to build an independent state. And we want a state based on a constitution and founded on the norms of international law. That requires new laws and a new way of thinking.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does the Obama administration approach you differently to that of former US President George W. Bush, who called on Abkhazia to stick with Georgia?

Bagapsch: Up until now, there's been no trace of anything like that. The Americans first need to be clear about how they want to deal with the ongoing crisis in Georgia. Experts and political scientists are starting to doubt whether it's a good idea to continue to pay such respect to Georgia's concept of "territorial integrity." That's a good start.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Before the Caucasus war with Georgia in August 2008, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier came to visit Abkhazia. He wanted to try to prevent the impending war. Why do you think his mission failed?

Bagapsch: Steinmeier really impressed me. He's an experienced and talented politician. However, we couldn't accept his suggestion that we approach the negotiations with Georgia without preconditions. Negotiations like that could not have changed the fact that Georgia's president, Mikhail Saakashvili, was preparing for military aggression against South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Even now, talks with Georgia's leadership are completely useless.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Saakashvili has said that the war is not yet over. Is there any danger of more fighting in South Ossetia and Abkhazia?

Bagapsch: As long as Saakashvili is in charge in Georgia, there will be that danger. Where the opposition is suppressed, there will be a build-up of explosive political tension. And then there are going to be attempts to release that tension onto an external enemy. If Saakashvili takes us on again, he will be destroyed. The man is a natural-born aggressor.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But is Saakashvili the only problem? Doesn't his political opposition also dread having to admit that they have lost Abkhazia for good?

Bagapsch: It will certainly take decades before Georgia will really see what has been going on. The current generation wants to prolong the illusion that Abkhazia is Georgia and that the Abkhazians are Georgians. If European politicians -- German politicians included -- were more long-sighted and more courageous, they might be able to help Georgia free itself of an illusion that only does it harm. The sooner that happens, the sooner we will have the neighborly relations with Georgia that we want.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In the Georgia-Abkhazia war in 1992-1993, around 200,000 Georgians fled from Abkhazia. Why can't these people return?

Bagapsch: We have let around 60,000 Georgians return to the Gali district. But the return of all the Georgians who left -- including the ones who fought against us -- could lead to war here. Those who started the Georgian invasion of Abkhazia in 1992 should be held responsible for the fate of those refugees. Rather than contributing toward Georgia's rearmament, the West would be better off giving money to Georgia for the reintegration of the refugees -- and for the reintegration of the refugees in their own Georgian territory, because they all emigrated from Georgia to Abkhazia in the first place.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But isn't it true that you are opposed to the return of those refugees because it would drastically alter your country's ethnic mix?

Bagapsch: That obviously plays a role. When the Georgians were here, we Abkhazians only made up 17 percent of the population. But the most important thing remains the irreconcilable political differences between our two nations. Unfortunately, Georgia is doing everything it can to prolong this conflict.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: There are Russian military bases in Abkhazia, Russian troops guard your external borders, and your currency is the ruble. And, then, you want the Russians to manage your railways for 10 years. Is it possible that you're getting just a little too dependent on Russia?

Bagapsch: We are dealing with the Russian railways because we have to modernize our own. We would be equally pleased to deal with the German railways if they were interested. In any case, there are no completely independent nations in this world. Liechtenstein is dependent on Switzerland, Luxembourg on France. We are all dependent on one another. Georgia is dependent on America; we are on Russia.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The opposition in Abkhazia is concerned that your small nation could turn into "a quasi-nation that lives off foreign financial deposits, like a parasite." Two-thirds of the Abkhazian budget comes from Russian grants. Doesn't that justify a certain degree of concern?

Bagapsch: No country in the world has developed without credit and outside help. Russia builds streets, schools, hospitals and churches -- and we are grateful for that.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You have suggested that foreigners be allowed to purchase real estate in Abkhazia, something that Abkhazian law has blocked until now. Isn't the fear that many Abkhazians have -- that they will be pushed out by rich Russians -- a legitimate one?

Bagapsch: We are discussing this issue. I have suggested that we look at the experiences other nations have had with this issue. Foreigners buy apartments in Spain: They relax there, pay taxes and bring money into the country. On the other hand, houses and land here are being sold to foreigners -- but not in accordance with the laws. As a result, we end up with protracted disputes that overburden our justice system. We need proper regulations. And, in the course of a sensible debate, we should be able to find a workable solution for Abkhazia.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you think things will be like for Abkhazia in, say, 10 or 20 years?

Bagapsch: We will be a wealthy, affluent nation because we will have succeeded in swiftly stimulating our economy. There are already British, Czech and Austrian investors who want to get involved here. We are modernizing our airport, and we will soon be able to accept flights from Moscow and St. Petersburg. That will definitely be interesting for German tourists, particularly the ones who may have already been here in the days of the former East Germany.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In December, there will be presidential elections in Abkhazia. Unlike in Russia, it is hard to predict the outcome. Four years ago, there were serious problems with vote counting, the results were considered suspect and there were massive protests. Have things gotten any better?

Bagapsch: Unlike in any other former member state of the Soviet Union, we have an opposition here and an adversarial press. That's good -- and it shows that we have chosen democracy.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But that adversarial press also complains of problems. In February, Inal Khashig, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Chegemskaya Pravda, was allegedly driven to a remote location by some of your friends and relatives. There, he was reportedly reminded of the fate of murdered Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya. Does this sort of thing endanger the freedom of the press in Abkhazia?

Bagapsch: Absolutely not. In my years as president, I have never reacted to any written provocations. No one harassed Inal Khashig when he was criticizing the state. It was only when he wrote about my family -- and in a vulgar way -- that my relatives and a few of my close friends got angry. They sat him in the car, and they said to him: "Now it's not just about the president; now it's personal." But that's the Caucasus. Around here, you have to answer for insults like that.

Interview conducted by Uwe Klussmann in Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia
Der Spiegel, 07/16/2009

martes, 7 de julio de 2009

95 Percent of Bride Kidnappings in Ingushetia are Pre-Agreed

The majority of bride kidnappings in Ingushetia take place upon prior agreement between the families of the would-be couple. According to Magomed Mutsolgov, a member of the advisory board on human rights in Russia and leader of the human rights NGO "Mashr", only five percent of such kidnappings end with opening of criminal cases.

"In recent years, kidnapping of brides became popular for two reasons: financial - it's easier to agree and kidnap a bride. In this case, many financial expenses are excluded," Mr Mutsolgov explained to the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent. His second reason is that in this manner all the sisters have chance to get married.

The human rights activist notes that elders of Ingushetia are actively voicing to stop this practice. Magomed Mutsolgov has added that one should not equate a kidnapping with a "bride stealing" and explained: "A kidnapping is a distress, while a bride stealing in most cases ends in a good big wedding party."

According to the Investigatory Department Ingushetia of the Investigatory Committee at the Prosecutor's Office (ICPO) of the Russian Federation, this year, the republic sees fewer kidnappings of women with the aim of marriage. In the first five months of 2009, Ingushetia registered 18 such cases. Under the Russian legislation "bride-stealing" is same punishable as a kidnapping and entails criminal liability. The Department believes that this tradition should be completely eradicated.

Dmitry Florin; Source: CK correspondent, jul 03 2009, 11:00

Armed mobs spread ethnic strife in China's west

Death toll rises to 156 in Urumqi riot in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

By WILLIAM FOREMAN, Associated Press Writer William Foreman, Associated Press Writer – 1 min ago

URUMQI, China – Mobs of Han Chinese wielding meat cleavers and clubs and groups of Muslim Uighur men beat people in the streets of the capital of China's Xinjiang region Tuesday. The government imposed a curfew as it tried to stem communal violence after a riot that killed at least 156 people.

Members of the Uighur ethnic group attacked people near the Urumqi's railway station, and women in headscarves protested the arrests of husbands and sons in another part of the city. Meanwhile, for much of the afternoon, a mob of 1,000 mostly young Han Chinese holding cleavers and clubs and chanting "Defend the Country" tore through streets trying to get to a Uighur neighborhood until they were repulsed by police firing tear gas.

Panic and anger bubbled up amid the suspicion in Urumqi (pronounced uh-ROOM-chee). In some neighborhoods, Han Chinese — China's majority ethnic group — armed themselves with pieces of lumber and shovels to defend themselves. People bought up bottled water out of fear, as one resident said, that "the Uighurs might poison the water."

The outbursts happened despite swarms of paramilitary and riot police enforcing a dragnet that state media said led to the arrest more than 1,400 participants in Sunday's riot, the worst ethnic violence in the often tense region in decades.

Trying to control the message, the government has slowed mobile phone and Internet services, blocked Twitter — whose servers are overseas — and censored Chinese social networking and news sites and accused Uighurs living in exile of inciting Sunday's riot. State media coverage, however, carried graphic footage and pictures of the unrest _showing mainly Han Chinese victims and stoking the anger.

The violence is a further embarrassment for a Chinese leadership preparing for the 60th anniversary of communist rule in October and calling for the creation of a "harmonious society" to celebrate. Years of rapid development have failed to smooth over the ethnic fault lines in Xinjiang, where the Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers) have watched growing numbers of Han Chinese move in.

Wang Lequan, Xinjiang's Communist Party secretary, declared a curfew in all but name, imposing traffic restrictions and ordering people off the streets from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. Wednesday "to avoid further chaos."

"It is needed for the overall situation. I hope people pay great attention and act immediately," he said in an announcement broadcast on Xinjiang television.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang blamed the violence on Rebiya Kadeer, the U.S.-exiled Uighur leader.

"Using violence, making rumors, and distorting facts are what cowards do because they are afraid to see social stability and ethnic solidarity in Xinjiang," he told a regular news conference.

Qin said Kadeer was behind the violence, adding "she has committed crimes that jeopardize national security." Evidence had been found against her, Qin said, but refused to give details.

Sunday's riot started as a peaceful demonstration by Uighurs over a deadly fight at a factory in eastern China between Han Chinese and Uighur workers. It then spiraled out of control, as mainly Uighur groups beat people and set fire to vehicles and shops belonging to Han Chinese.

On Tuesday, some among the Han Chinese mob, who were retreating from the tear gas, were met by Urumqi's Communist Party leader Li Zhi, who climbed atop a police vehicle and started chanting with the crowd. Li pumped his fists, beat his chest, and urged the crowd to strike down Kadeer, the 62-year-old Uighur leader.

"Those Muslims killed so many of our people. We just can't let that happen," said one man in the crowd, surnamed Liu. He carried a long wooden stick and said the Han Chinese were forced to take up arms. People walked by with bloodshot eyes from the tear gas.

To the east, on Xingfu road, Han Chinese residents stoned a car with two Uighurs inside until it crashed, pulling one passenger out and beating him until police arrived, residents said.

Elsewhere in the city, about 200 people, mostly women in traditional headscarves, took to the streets in another neighborhood, wailing for the release of their sons and husbands in the crackdown and confronting lines of paramilitary police. The women said police came through their neighborhood Monday night and strip-searched men to check for cuts and other signs of fighting before hauling them away.

"My husband was detained at gunpoint. They were hitting people, they were stripping people naked. My husband was scared so he locked the door, but the police broke down the door and took him away," said a woman, who gave her name as Aynir. She said about 300 people were arrested in the market in the southern section of town.

The protesters briefly scuffled with paramilitary police, who pushed them back with long sticks before both sides retreated.

Foreign reporters on a government-run tour of the riot's aftermath witnessed the protest and without their presence, the incident might have gone unreported given the media controls.

Groups of 10 or so Uighur men with bricks and knives attacked Han Chinese passers-by and shop-owners midday outside the city's southern railway station, until police ran them off, witnesses said.

"They were using everything for weapons, like bricks, sticks and cleavers," said a Mr. Ma, an employee at the Dicos fast-food restaurant nearby. "Whenever the rioters saw someone on the street, they would ask 'are you a Uighur?' If they kept silent or couldn't answer in the Uighur language, they would get beaten or killed."

It was not immediately clear if anyone was killed in those reported attacks.

Li, the Communist Party official, told a news conference that more than 1,000 people had been detained as of early Tuesday and suggested more arrests were under way. "The number is changing all the time. We will let those who did not commit serious crimes go back to their work units."

The official Xinhua News Agency said earlier Tuesday that 1,434 suspects had been arrested, and that checkpoints had been set up to stop rioters from escaping.

Officials at the news conference said they could not give a breakdown of how many of the dead were Uighurs and how many were Han Chinese.

Sunday's riot started as a peaceful demonstration by 1,000 to 3,000 people protesting the June 25 deaths of Uighur factory workers killed in a brawl in the southern Chinese city of Shaoguan. Xinhua said two died. Messages circulating on Internet sites popular with Uighurs put the figure higher, raising tensions in Xinjiang.

In a sign the government was trying to address communal grievances, Xinhua announced Tuesday that 13 people had been arrested over the factory fight, including three from Xinjiang. Two others were arrested for spreading rumors on the Internet that Xinjiang employees had raped two female workers, the report said, citing a local police deputy director.

The disturbances in Xinjiang carry reminders of the widespread anti-Chinese protests that shook Tibet last year and have left large parts of western China living with police checkpoints and tightened security. Like the Tibetans, Uighur unrest has not been muted by rapid economic development, though the government publicly is unwilling to address ethnic tensions.