Central Asia Theater

China pressures Kyrgyzstan after Bishkek blast

China's Foreign Ministry called on Kyrgyzstan to take urgent measures to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals and institutions following a deadly blast at Beijing's embassy in Bishkek, capital of the Central Asian naiton. China says it will assist Kyrgyzstan in the investigation into the Aug. 30 suicide car-bomb blast that killed the driver and injured three embassy employees. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion has fallen on the Turkestan Islamic Party, a Uigur separatist organization formerly known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. China has growing economic interests in Kyrgyzstan under the "Silk Road" initiative, land route of the "One Belt, One Road" trade and infrastructure scheme which also includes a maritime leg through the Indian Ocean. (SCMP, Sept. 1; RFE/RL, Aug. 31; Nikkei Asian ReviewThe Standard, Hong Kong, Aug. 30)

ISIS behind deadly attack in Kazakhstan?

A team of two gunmen killed three security officers and two civilians in an attack on police station and an office of the National Security Committee (KNB) in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty July 18. While no group has yet taken responsibility for the attack, the shootings come a month after a deadly assault in the northwestern town of Aktobe. In the June 6 incident, a number of militants in Aktobe stole guns from sporting goods stores and attacked a military post. In the ensuing shoot-out, 12 of the attackers were killed and nine were detained. Within days, a court in Aktobe convicted the nine and three alleged accomplices of plotting the attack on behalf of ISIS. The suspects in the Almaty attack remain at large. A "terrorism alert" has been declared in the city. While this is the first report of an ISIS franchise in Kazakhstan, depressed oil prices are causing economic chaos in the Central Asian nation. (Russia Direct, EurasiaNet, NYTBloomberg)

Protests rock Kazakhstan over land-grabbing

Hundreds have been detained in protests across Kazakhstan over a new government policy to privatize farmlands and open the agricultural sector to foreign capital. The protest campaign began in early May, when the government announced the new policy, with large demonstrations reported in Astana, Almaty, Karagandy and other cities. City squares have been repeatedly occupied in defiance of an official ban on public gatherings. The crackdown has extended to the media, with several journalists arrested. But video footage posted to YouTube shows police in Kyzylorda charging unarmed demonstrators in scenes reminiscent of the massacre of striking oil-workers in Zhanaozen in 2011.

Tajikistan gets president-for-life

Voters in Tajikistan on May 20 approved changes to the country's constitution that will allow President Emomali Rahmon to rule indefinitely. Voters approved amendments to remove presidential term limits, lower the minimum age for presidential candidates from 35 to 30 and ban religiously based political parties. The first provision allows Rakhmon, 63, to extend his rule, which he has held since 1992. The second provision would allow his son, Rustam Emomali, 29, to be able to run for president in the next election in 2020. The final provision would continue to ban the main opposition Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan, which was declared a terrorist organization and banned last year. Election authorites reported that the 41 proposed amendments were approved by 94.5% of voters, with 92% turnout.

Tibetan language campaigner disappears

A businessman from Yushu prefecture, Qinghai province, has spent more than six weeks in prison after his attempts to persuade the local government to provide Tibetan language information in schools were featured in a lengthy article in the New York Times last November. According to a new article in the Times, his family reports that he has been in police custody since January but they have not been allowed to see him and have not been informed of the reason for his detention. Tashi Wangchuk repeatedly expressed that his actions were not political and related solely to the preservation of Tibetan culture and he even offered praise to Chinese President Xi Jinping. However, any challenge to the authorities over matters to do with Tibetan identity risk being treated as "separatist"—a criminal offence carrying a potentially very lengthy prison sentence.

Two Tibetans self-immolate in one day

The first self-immolation in the Tibetan region this year was reported Feb. 29 as a monk set himself ablaze in a Tibetan-majority area of Sichuan province. Kalsang Wangdu self-immolated near the Retsokha monastery in Kardze prefecture, calling out for Tibetan independence as he burned. He died on the way to a hospital in the provincial capital of Chengdu. That same day, Dorjee Tsering, an exile-born 16-year-old student, set himself ablaze at Lakhanwala Tibetan settlement in Dehradun district of India's Uttarkhand state. He survived but is in critical condition, with burns on 95% of his body, and is currently undergoing treatment at a hospital in New Delhi.

Russo-Turkish pipeline route on hold amid crisis

With Moscow threatening sanctions against Turkey in the aftermath of the downing of a Russian warplane on the Syrian border, plans for a Russo-Turkish free trade zone appear be on hold—along with key energy projects. Foremost among these is the TurkStream gas pipeline, which Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said Moscow could "restrict." (Reuters) TurkStream is being developed by GazProm, the Russian energy giant, to export Russian (and potentially Central Asian) natural gas through Turkey via the Black Sea. Ulyukayev's hedging is understandable: this has long been a strategic project for Moscow, which has long nurtured a grudge over the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline—linking the Caucasus to Turkish port of Ceyhan through a route that by-passes Russia.

ISIS commander was trained by Blackwater: report

Internet partisans are at present avidly posting a story from conspiranoid website AntiMedia back in June noting reports that a former police commander from Tajikistan was featured in an ISIS video, where he "admitted" (boasted would be more like it) that he was trained by military contractor Blackwater under US State Department aegis. While AntiMedia says he was thusly trained "up until last year," the cited CNN report quotes him as saying the training was from 2003 to 2008. It apparently took place both in Tajikistan and at a Blackwater facility in North Carolina. (Blackwater, strictly speaking, has not existed since 2009, having twice reorganized and changed its name since then.) Gulmurod Khalimov, an ex-colonel of the Tajik Interior Ministry's OMON elite units, says in his ISIS promotional video: "Listen, you American pigs: I've been to America three times. I saw how you train soldiers to kill Muslims. You taught your soldiers how to surround and attack, in order to exterminate Islam and Muslims."

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