Central Asia Theater
If the Iraq war is not about oil, somebody forgot to tell the editors of the New York Times and, it seems, the leadership of the People's Republic of China. On June 27, the Times runs a front-page story on the current $18.5 billion bid to purchase Unocal by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), which the Bush administration is considering barring on national security grounds. Drawing an unsettling analogy "with Japan in the 1930's," the Times says China's bid for control of a US oil major is also seen by Beijing explicitly in terms of national security—an inexorable result of growing Chinese energy consumption combined with US military control of the Persian Gulf:
More than 1,000 Kyrgyz troops fired tear gas June 17 to drive protesters from a key state building, foiling what the government said was an attempt by supporters of the ousted president to regain power. Acting President Kurmanbek Bakiyev blamed the riots on followers of his predecessor Askar Akayev, who fled into exile after a coup in March, and said he would personally defend his government "with a gun in my hands if necessary."
There was a powerful explosion outside the emergencies ministry in Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan, June 13. Vehicles were damaged in the blast, and the ministry's windows blown out, but no casualties were reported. "I do not exclude that this was a terrorist act," Interior Minister Khumdin Sharipov told reporters. Earlier this year, a car bomb outside the same ministry killed the driver and injured three people. No-one claimed responsibility for that blast. Sharipov said this time the explosive was planted in a wheelbarrow. He said three people had been detained in connection with the attack, but gave no further details. Tajikistan suffered a five-year civil war from 1992-97, following the break-up of the former Soviet Union, and remains volatile. (BBC, June 13)
A May 27 article in The Forward, Uzbek Unrest Shines Light on Leader's Ties to Jewry, highlights the cozy relationship between the repressive Uzbek regime led by President Islam Karimov, organized American Jewry and that great moral authority on democracy, Natan Sharansky:
Earlier this month, Karimov unleashed his security forces to quell an opposition demonstration in the east of the Central Asian republic, causing hundreds of civilian deaths. Even before the latest violence, in recent years the State Department, the United Nations and major human rights organizations all have criticized the Uzbek regime for alleged abuses, including the systematic use of rape and torture against opponents.
A week after calm started to return to Uzbekistan (see out last blog post), signs of simmering unrest continue, and the geopolitics of the conflict are starting to become clearer... Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Newsline (RFE/RL) reported May 23 that hundreds protested in Korasuv, the border town which had been briefly seized by Islamists in a seemingly spontaneous uprising. The protest was quickly broken by security forces. Arrests of suspected Islamists also continue.
With the world still trying to get a grasp of the magnitude of the violence that has shaken Uzbekistan over the past week, the Uzbek government claims to have retaken (with no bloodshed) the small eastern border town of Korasuv, where local authorities were ousted in a popular uprising. The regime is claiming the uprising there was led by Islamic militants, and has arrested Bakhtiyor Rakhimov, said to be their leader, and several others. The government has now also officially raised its estimate of the dead in the suppression of protests in nearby Andijan to 169--still a far cry from the estimates of opposition activists, who claim between 500 and 700. The government is also claiming the dead are overwhelmingly members of the security forces killed by "terrorists"; opposition leaders say they are overwhelmingly protesters killed by security forces. It does appear that armories were raided by protesters, and that firing came from both sides. Over 2,000 prisoners were said to be freed when protesters stormed the prison. (BBC, May 19)
The government and opposition protesters are sharply at odds in Uzbekistan days after the eastern city of Andijan exploded into violence. A May 15 AP report claimed some 500 bodies had been laid out in a school in Andijan for identification by relatives, "corroborating witness accounts of hundreds killed" when soldiers opened fire on street protests. Medical authorities also reported some 2,000 wounded in local hospitals. However, a May 18 account on Russia's MosNews.com quotes Uzbek officials denying this very death toll. “Not a single civilian was killed by government forces there," Prosecutor General Rashid Kadyrov said. According to him the overall death toll was 169 people, including 32 soldiers. Kadyrov claimed reports of 500 or even 700 dead are “deliberate attempts to deceive the international community." He assailed the protesters as "terrorists," "criminals" and "extremists."
The ongoing protests in Uzbekistan's eastern city of Andijan exploded into violence yesterday as demonstrators stormed a jail in an effort to free 23 men accused of membership in an Islamist organization and soldiers responded by opening fire on the crowd of some 4,000, leaving a an initially confirmed nine dead and as many as 50 wounded. Reports indicate that at least some of the defendants were freed, and that protesters also attacked other official buildings. Some were reported firing back at soldiers from the crowd.