Posts Tagged ‘Turkmenistan’

Italian Bonds Slump as Shock Waves From Turkish Turmoil Spread

August 13, 2018

Italy’s bonds led losses among euro-area sovereign debt markets as the Turkish currency turmoil fueled fears of a contagion effect across riskier assets.


Yields on two-year securities climbed to the highest levels in more than a week as stocks worldwide declined following a tumble of more than 28 percent in Turkey’s lira this month. The Italian 10-year spread over German bunds hit the highest since May. Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio was reported as saying in an interview Monday that his country won’t be subject to an attack by speculators.

“It’s just a flight to safety move, with peripherals and in particular short-term BTPs hit relatively hard,” said Martin van Vliet, senior interest-rate strategist at ING Groep NV. “Di Maio’s comment on speculative attacks is also not taken positively, as this sort of echoes the economic warfare rhetoric from the Turkey leadership.”

Italian bonds also dropped amid investors concerns about the new government’s spending plans ahead of next month’s budget.

Two-year yields climbed as much as 18 basis points to 1.34 percent, while those on their 10-year debt rose eight basis points to 3.07 percent. The spread over German 10-year yields increased eight basis points to 276 basis points, the highest level since May.


 Turkey and Russia are bracing for financial chaos this week.

Increased tariffs on Turkey’s steel and aluminum exports to the U.S. have accelerated the lira’s tumble, setting in motion economic confusion that could spill over into other countries in the region. At the center of the dispute between the two NATO allies is a detained American pastor, but it doesn’t help that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, above, and President Trump are both strong-headed leaders.

Russia’s currency, the ruble, also took a beating after the Trump administration sanctioned the country for the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy and his daughter.

Italy’s Five Star Movement faces its first national test.

The party campaigned to block a proposed pipeline that would transport gas from the Caspian Sea to southern Italy. That won over southern Italians like Alfredo Fasiello, above, who have long been wary of the pipeline’s environmental risks.

But now that Five Star is in power, it is wavering on that promise as pressure mounts to wean the country off Russian oil and gas by finding alternative sources.

To complicate matters further, Russia and four other countries that border the Caspian Sea — Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan — have agreed to divide the oil and gas-rich seabed among them. The agreement, which comes after three decades of Russian opposition, could have consequences for the construction of the trans-Caspian pipeline to Europe.

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Putin pledges deeper ties with Iran and other Caspian Sea states

August 12, 2018

End to quarrel over world’s biggest lake boosts Russia’s hold over region

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Russian president Vladimir Putin (left) and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani at the Caspian summit in Aktau, Kazakhstan on Sunday © AFP

By Henry Foy in Aktau

Russia has pledged to deepen co-operation with Iran and its Central Asian neighbours through a landmark deal on carving up the Caspian Sea, potentially paving the way for long-stalled energy projects and confirming Russia’s military supremacy over the world’s biggest lake.

The Caspian’s littoral states of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan have quarrelled for more than two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union over how to divide the strategically-important landlocked sea. On Sunday they signed a deal to manage a resource that holds large hydrocarbon resources and is a bridge between Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

“This is an exceptional summit with milestone significance for the fate of the Caspian Sea,” Russian president Vladimir Putin told his fellow leaders. “This gives an opportunity for us to be on a different level of partnership to develop our co-operation in various new directions.”

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani said he welcomed his four partners’ support for the country following the US decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action curtailing Tehran’s nuclear programme and reimpose sanctions on the country.

“It is gratifying that the Caspian countries emphasise multilateralism and oppose unilateral actions that are developing in some countries,” said Mr Rouhani. “The Caspian countries emphasise the protection of the JCPOA as a valuable international arrangement.”

Moscow has long viewed the Caspian within its sphere of influence and has sought to block any attempts to dilute its clout or thwart regional projects such as Turkmenistan’s proposed undersea gas pipeline that would allow it to compete with Russian gas in Europe.

But Mr Putin’s administration agreed to Sunday’s convention as a means to develop warmer ties with Iran, and strengthen co-operation with its Central Asian neighbours amid attempts by China and the US to increase their presence in the region. In exchange Russia gains a ban on any military presence on the Caspian by non-signatories, in effect giving its navy full control over the waves.

“Russia has been the driving force between the recent progress . . . but it remains to be seen whether Moscow has actually given anything away,” said Camilla Hagelund, principal analyst for Central Asia at Verisk Maplecroft. “And from a security perspective they have obviously gained here.”

“But there is ambiguity over the other bilateral agreements that are being signed relating to the Caspian, and how they might affect how this new convention will operate in practice,” she added.

Various bilateral agreements behind the scenes have brought the five parties to the negotiating table. Russia has said it could be willing to restart imports of Turkmenistan gas, in a move that would represent an economic lifeline for the small country’s struggling economy, while Azerbaijan is also keen to increase gas imports to make up for a shortfall in its own production.

Sunday’s convention, signed by the five countries’ presidents in the dusty city of Aktau on the Caspian’s Kazakh coast, seeks to end a generation-long disagreement over whether it should be treated as a sea, subject to international maritime law, or as a lake, divided between all the participants.

The Caspian’s surface water will be treated like a sea, with open water for common use. The seabed and subsoil will in effect be divided up like dry land, although the exact details of the demarcations have not yet been decided.

Reaching this consensus on the status of the sea was a difficult process. It required a lot of effort from all the parties

That will allow undersea pipeline construction with the agreement of the affected states, ending years of legal issues for the proposed Turkmen pipeline. It will also allow for stronger cross-water trade, deepening economic ties between the countries.

“Reaching this consensus on the status of the sea was a difficult process,” said Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s president. “It required a lot of effort from all the parties . . . but now we have good will.”

The ban on any foreign military presence is a victory for Moscow, and in effect blocks Nato or China from using the Caspian to deepen co-operation with Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan. Moscow has used its naval fleet in the Caspian to fire cruise missiles into Syria during its military support for President Bashar al-Assad. Mr Putin said on Sunday that Russia planned to build a new deepwater port on the sea by 2025.

“Nearby there are unstable regions: the Middle East and Afghanistan,” Mr Putin said. “It is important for us to build a systematic front against terrorism and security issues.”

Moscow is also keen to use the Caspian to further develop relations with Tehran. The countries are allied over support for Mr al-Assad, and both find themselves increasingly cut off from global markets because of US sanctions.

The two governments have stepped up talks in recent months on allowing Russian oil and gas companies to develop fields in Iran, in place of western companies that have withdrawn under pressure from Washington.

Moscow has also hinted at potential deals for Russian energy groups to trade Iranian oil in exchange for increased purchases of Russian goods and services by their southern neighbour.

“Our region could be a good example of stability, friendship and a good neighbourhood,” said Mr Rouhani. “The Caspian Sea only belongs to the Caspian states. The deployment and placement of military assets is not allowed for other countries.”

Follow Henry on Twitter at @HenryJFoy

Heavy fighting as Taliban attack western Afghan city

May 15, 2018

Afghan aircraft Tuesday bombed Taliban positions in the western city of Farah after the insurgents launched a major attempt to capture the provincial capital, with fearful residents seeking shelter from explosions and gunfire.

© AFP/File / by Aref Karimi | Afghanistan has sent commandos to battle the Taliban in Farah

The attack — the first major assault targeting a city since the Taliban launched their annual spring offensive — began around midnight, with the militants capturing one urban district and parts of another, said local provincial council member Jamila Amini.

“Heavy fighting continues inside the city and aircraft have just started bombarding Taliban positions,” she told AFP Tuesday from inside Farah.

Afghan officials said police special forces from Kandahar and commandos from Herat had also been deployed.

“(The Taliban) will fail,” vowed interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish, who said both Afghan and foreign air forces were taking part in the fighting.

There was no immediate confirmation from NATO’s mission in Kabul.

Defence ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmnish said at least 10 insurgents and two Afghan security force members had been killed so far.

“The situation is under control and will change by the end of the day,” he said.

But inside the city residents reported clashes were continuing. “The situation is very bad,” Satar Hissaini, a tribal elder in Farah, told AFP.

“Heavy fighting is going on and Taliban are in the city but the police headquarters and NDS (the Afghan intelligence agency) have not fallen to them,” he said.

“NDS forces in their HQ are engaged in heavy clashes with the Taliban.”

Another provincial council member, Dadullah Qani, confirmed Hissaini’s comments, the sound of gunfire and explosions audible as he spoke to an AFP reporter by telephone.

The noise has “filled the city”, said one resident who gave his name as Bilal, adding that he could see smoke rising from the direction of a building housing the NDS.

The insurgents released a statement warning residents to stay inside their homes and “stay calm”.

Many radio and television channels in the province have stopped broadcasting, fearing for their employees’ lives, according to media watchdog Nai.

– Fighting in the cities –

The Taliban are stepping up their spring offensive, in an apparent rejection of a peace talks overture from the government.

Farah is a poppy-growing province in an isolated region of Afghanistan. There are plans for a section of the multi-billion-dollar TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India) gas pipeline to traverse it.

Despite security concerns, the Taliban have pledged to cooperate with the gas project.

Farah, which borders Iran, has been the scene of intense fighting in recent years. In 2017 insurgents tried three times to overrun the capital, according to the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

Afghan troops and police nationwide have struggled to hold back the resurgent Taliban since the withdrawal of NATO combat forces at the end of 2014.

The insurgents have tried several times to take provincial capitals in recent years, including Kunduz and Lashkar Gah.

Kunduz, Afghanistan’s fifth largest city and capital of the northern province of the same name, fell briefly to the Taliban in 2015.

They along with the Islamic State group have also stepped up their attacks in the capital Kabul, which the UN says has in recent years become one of the country’s deadliest places for civilians.

by Aref Karimi

Uzbekistan to join Turkmenistan-India gas pipeline project

April 23, 2018

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  • Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said Uzbek experts would travel to Turkmenistan to discuss Tashkent’s role in the pipeline
  • “We have agreed that Uzbekistan will also take part in this project,” says Mirziyoyev

TASHKENT: Uzbekistan plans to join an $8 billion project to build a natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to India, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said on Monday, although it was unclear whether Tashkent might eventually ship gas through it.

Turkmenistan, which sits on the world’s fourth-biggest gas reserves and borders Afghanistan, started this year laying the Afghan section of the pipeline which will also cross Pakistan, seeing it as key to diversifying exports away from China.

Uzbekistan also exports gas, mainly to China and Russia, although its export volumes are much lower than the Turkmen ones due to higher domestic consumption.

“We have agreed that Uzbekistan will also take part in this project,” Mirziyoyev told reporters after meeting his Turkmen counterpart Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who visited Uzbekistan.

He provided no details, but said Uzbek experts would travel to Turkmenistan to discuss Tashkent’s role in the pipeline.

Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, both ex-Soviet Central Asian republics, each produce more than 60 billion cubic metres of gas a year. China dominates Turkmen exports while Uzbek gas sales are split roughly equally between China and Russia.


More troops sent to west Afghanistan as Taliban step up attacks

March 14, 2018


© AFP/File | Afghan troops (shown firing artillery during an anti-Taliban operation in Farah in late January) regularly come under attack in the remote province
FARAH (AFGHANISTAN) (AFP) – Afghanistan has deployed more troops to a restive western province where a multi-billion-dollar pipeline is planned after the Taliban launched multiple attacks against security forces, causing heavy casualties, officials said Wednesday.The latest assault in Farah, which borders Iran, happened in the early hours of Wednesday when Taliban militants stormed a checkpoint manned by police and intelligence officers on the outskirts of the provincial capital of the same name, killing seven security forces.

It came as the Taliban face growing pressure to take up Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of peace talks to end the 16-year insurgency, but so far the group has given only a muted response

 Image result for Anar Dara district, afghanistan, photos

“When commando forces were deployed they (the militants) retreated,” Jamila Amini, a member of the Farah provincial council, told AFP.

Four members of the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s spy agency, and three police were killed, she added.

The incident and death toll were confirmed by fellow provincial council member Gul Ahmad Faqiri.

“We have sent more troops and commando forces to Farah to contain the situation,” defence ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri told AFP, adding the army chief of staff had also visited the province.

“The situation will soon come under control,” he said.

Taliban fighters on Monday briefly took control of the administrative building of Farah’s Anar Dara district, killing eight police, before they were beaten back by security forces, officials said.

That came after an attack on soldiers in Bala Buluk district over the weekend that resulted in multiple casualties.

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A February 24 raid on an army base in the same district killed at least 18 soldiers, officials said, in one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent months.

Farah is a poppy-growing province in a hard to reach part of Afghanistan which a section of the multi-billion-dollar TAPI gas pipeline will traverse.

The conduit is named for the four countries involved: Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Despite security concerns, the Taliban have pledged to cooperate with the project.

Farah has been the scene of intense fighting in recent years. In 2017 insurgents tried to overrun the capital three times, according to the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

“The security situation has been deteriorating day by day in Farah,” Faqiri confirmed, estimating around a dozen security forces are killed in the province every day.

Former Farah governor Mohammad Aref Shah Jahan resigned in January after days of protests in the provincial capital over rising insecurity.


Farah’s Anar Dara on Verge of Collapse: Officials

Provincial council members calls for reinforcements to the deployed to the district.


Anar Dara district of western Farah province is on the verge of collapse, provincial council officials warned on Monday.

Dadullah Qane, a member of the provincial council said that the Taliban attacked the center of Anar Dara early Monday and took control of the police headquarters.

He warned that “if reinforcements are not deployed to the district, Anar Dara will fall completely to the Taliban.”

Image result for Anar Dara district, afghanistan, photos

Until now, Anar Dara was one of the peaceful districts of the province.

However, local officials have not yet commented over the attack.

This comes after about 15 security force members, including eight Special Forces, were killed on Friday night in Bala Blok district of the province, according to local officials.

Head of Farah provincial council Farid Bakhtawar said the forces had gone to Fararod area in Bala Blok district on Friday night to launch an operation, but were ambushed by Taliban while on their way. Fifteen of them were killed and a number of them were captured by Taliban fighters.

According to the provincial council members, eight of the soldiers killed were Special Forces members.

“In total there are 18 persons of whom three have been captured and the rest including eight Special Forces have been killed,” said Bakhtawar.

“The Special Forces had launched a clearing operation, but they suffered losses in this operation,” said Dadullah Qane, a member of the provincial council.

Afghan defense ministry officials refused to comment on the incident on camera but they did confirm the death of four Special Forces members in the ambush.

Insecurity has increased in Farah province in recent months. Last month, more than 10 national army personnel were also killed in a Taliban attack on a military base.

Farah provincial council chairman said in this incident Taliban also suffered heavy casualties.

The group, however, said in a statement that they had killed dozens of security force members.

U.S. places Pakistan on watch list for religious freedom violations

January 4, 2018


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department has placed Pakistan on a special watch list for “severe violations of religious freedom,” it said on Thursday, days after the White House said Islamabad would have to do more to combat terrorism to receive U.S. aid.

The State Department also said it had re-designated 10 other nations as “countries of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for having engaged in or tolerated egregious violations of religious freedom.

The re-designated countries were China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. They were re-designated on Dec. 22.

“The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity,” the department said in a statement. “These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized Pakistan for not doing more to combat terrorism, and his administration has informed members of Congress that it will announce plans to end “security assistance” payments to the country.

Pakistan has said it is already doing a lot to fight militants, and summoned the U.S. ambassador to explain a tweet by Trump that said the United States had been foolish in dispensing aid to Islamabad.

Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Susan Thomas

Turkmen leader calls for end to free water, gas and power amid economic crisis

June 7, 2017


© AFP/File | Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov


Turkmenistan’s authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov called for an end to free gas, electricity and water for citizens as the energy-rich republic’s economic woes deepen, state media reported Wednesday.

Berdymukhamedov branded the popular subsidies introduced by his eccentric predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov over two decades ago “completely ineffective,” the state newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan said.

Niyazov, who used the moniker ‘Father of the Turkmen’, had made water, electricity and gas free in 1993 shortly after the country gained independence from the Soviet Union.

However financial penalties applied after specific consumption limits.

In 2014 Berdymukhamedov increased the size of these penalties, ostensibly to curb waste.

Currently each Turkmen citizen has the right to free monthly allowances of 35 kilowatt hours of electricity and 50 cubic metres of gas as well as 250 litres of water every day.

The government mouthpiece reported that Berdymukhamedov “gave instructions” to the deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs “to prepare proposals for the cancellation of all benefits.”

The 59-year-old strongman, who is head of both state and cabinet in the country of five million inhabitants, said the allowances would remain for “those who genuinely require social assistance”.

Turkmenistan sits on the world’s fourth largest natural gas reserves and sells most of its gas to China.

The move against subsidies comes as the desert-bound country prepares to host in lavish style the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in the capital Ashgabat in September.

Last year it completed a bird-shaped international airport at a cost of over $2 billion.

Berdymukhamedov also called on officials to “accelerate the transition to market-based relationships”.

But he offered no details on how this transition might occur in a country where the state still accounts for the bulk of economic activity.

The country’s manat currency has continued to weaken following the collapse of hydrocarbon prices in the second half of 2014 and the termination of gas sales to Russia.

Since the government shaved a fifth off the currency’s official value at the beginning of 2015 one dollar is equal to 3.5 manat, while on the black market the greenback can fetch up to six manat.

HRW urges Merkel to address ‘disappearances’ in Turkmenistan

August 25, 2016


© AFP/File | German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov attend an official ceremony in Berlin in 2008

BERLIN (AFP) – Human Rights Watch on Thursday urged Chancellor Angela Merkel to bring up major rights violations, including a “policy of disappearances”, when Germany hosts the president of Turkmenistan next week.

The monitoring group said the rare visit to Germany by Turkmenistan’s reclusive president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov on Monday should be used to tackle the plight of activists.

“Chancellor Angela Merkel should not waste this opportunity to directly and insistently call for oppression in Turkmenistan to be ended,” said HRW’s director for Europe and Central Asia, Hugh Williamson.

Dozens of people were arrested in the late 1990s and early 2000s and vanished in the country’s prison system, and their families received no official word on their whereabouts or wellbeing, he said.

HRW highlighted the disappearances of opposition leader Boris Shikhmuradov, his brother Konstantin and former OSCE ambassador Batyr Berdiev as key cases to address.

It also referred to local reporter Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, who has been incarcerated for almost a year on narcotics charges.

“Chancellor Merkel should press Berdymukhamedov for Nepeskuliev’s release,” Williamson said.

“He is sitting in prison for doing what correspondents around the world do: he shares information about what is happening in his country.”

Germany should urge Turkmenistan to submit a new draft constitution that would include no term limits for the president, allow censorship and offer no protection of the freedom of movement of its citizens to international review, HRW said.

Williamson noted that Turkmenistan had already imposed a travel ban on many dissidents, a policy he said should make Merkel particularly wary given that she grew up in communist East Germany which had similar restrictions.

Rights groups regularly list ex-Soviet Turkmenistan, which has the world’s fourth largest known reserves of natural gas, as one of the least free states.

In crisis-hit Tajikistan, a personality cult blossoms — “We are moving along the path of Turkmenistan and North Korea”

May 31, 2016


© AFP/File / by Christopher Rickleton | A giant poster of Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmon on display in Dushanbe

DUSHANBE (TAJIKISTAN) (AFP) – Along the road passing through an impoverished district of ex-Soviet Tajikistan near the capital Dushanbe, strongman President Emomali Rakhmon’s presence is ubiquitous.

Propaganda posters flank the highway in Gissar, one showing the 63-year-old autocrat — emboldened by constitutional changes passed in a May referendum — in a pensive mood, crouched in a field of red poppies.

In another the former collective farm boss, who led the Central Asian country out of a five-year civil war that began in 1992, is seen reaching joyfully into a heaving bough of grapes.

“Thanks to you Gissar region is prospering,” the poster boasts, as banners bearing similarly grateful messages form a line behind it.

When Rakhmon visited the area in February to open an orchard named after him, state media reported that sections of a 200 metre-long (650-foot) velvet carpet he walked upon were distributed to local pensioners.

“This process is being driven by the president’s advisors,” Rustam Kodir, a prominent Tajik writer and rare critical voice in the country of eight million people, told AFP.

“They only honour him and tell him good things. We are moving along the path of Turkmenistan and North Korea,” said Kodir.

The strongman’s burgeoning personality cult troubles many in the secular republic as religious conservatism rises and the economy toils under the weight of the Russian crisis.

The collapse of the ruble in 2014 forced shut many businesses in Russia that once employed Tajik workers who ended up being sent home.

Tajikistan’s currency the somoni fell by over a quarter against the dollar in 2015 and has continued to fall this year.

– ‘Star of happiness’ –

Rakhmon’s emerging cult appears set to intensify following a May 22 referendum enabling him to rule for life while opening the door to a possible succession by his son Rustam, now 28.

According to the central electoral commission, 94.5 percent of voters endorsed relieving Rakhmon of term limit restrictions, banning religious parties and lowering the minimum age for presidential candidates to 30.

In the build-up to the plebiscite, the country was awash with initiatives bolstering Rakhmon, whom parliament anointed “Leader of the Nation” last year, a status ensuring life-long immunity from prosecution for him and his family.

They included a new holiday created in his honour and a contest for the best essays by schoolchildren in praise of his “heroic” rule.

Last year Rakhmon was called by one political ally “the sun” and a “star of happiness” in a newspaper article, while another supporter said his achievements should be recognised with a statue.

“The mass media — especially state television — is the main instrument for the propagation of this cult,” Shokir Hakimov, deputy head of the opposition Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, told AFP.

– ‘Good Tajik Islam’ –

“There is no space for academic or public discussion about the direction the country is going in, only affirmation,” said Hakimov, whose party has never won seats in Tajikistan’s parliament.

But experts argue that Rakhmon faces a challenge securing a regime accused of entrenched corruption as religious observance grows.

Rakhmon last year appealed for Tajik women not to wear black — read Islamic — clothes, and wear colourful traditional clothing instead.

In 2015 the government banned as extremist a faith-based opposition party following an apparent mutiny the government claims left more than two dozen dead.

The subsequent detention and trial of key leaders of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan — widely viewed as a moderate political force — drew concern from the United States, the EU and the UN.

In a country where minors are prohibited from attending mosques and police reportedly shave believers’ beards, some fear the party’s closure will force religious groups underground, into the arms of extremists.

“The IRPT was a symbol of peace after the civil war,” said Kodir, referring to the conflict that cost tens of thousands of lives.

“We were the only country in the region to have a party like this… Somehow we have shed ourselves of this achievement.”

Mindful of Islam’s growing authority, the government has gone to some lengths to present ex-communist Rakhmon as pious, despite his anti-religious policies.

In Dushanbe’s imposing Nowruz Palace, completed in 2014 at a reported cost of over $60 million (53 million euros), a stone mosaic shows Rakhmon in a business suit sitting beside his mother, hands cupped in supplication.

And in January, the autocrat’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Mecca was covered thoroughly by state media, which noted that he and other officials prayed for the country’s well-being.

Such “performative acts” show the delicate balance Rakhmon must strike as he seeks to both control and harness the religion for the benefit of his regime, Tim Epkenhans, a Tajikistan expert at the University of Freiburg in Germany, told AFP.

This is achieved by “excluding everything that is outside the bounds of a narrowly defined good Tajik Islam,” with state propaganda linking undesirable religious groups to foreign extremists like the Islamic State group, Epkenhans added.

The government claims there are 1,000 Tajiks fighting for IS in the Middle East — among them a former police chief.

“Throughout this all is the image projected of Rakhmon as the decider, who senses threats to his people and deals with them in a timely way,” Epkenhans said.

“That image is only going to grow now.”

by Christopher Rickleton

“Hong Kong’s Future”– By Sir David Tang

February 21, 2016
By Coconuts Hong Kong February 19, 2016 / 14:55 HKT
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Sir David Tang’s speech, entitled “Hong Kong’s Future”, given at the Foreign Correspondents Club yesterday has since gone viral, and we have taken it upon ourselves to transcribe the wordy and at times scathing 15-minute speech in full. Aside from serving as an aspirational piece of text for those looking to expand their vocabularies (and pro-democracy arguments), Tang’s plummy Queen’s English combined with his use of Hong Kong-specific terms have made it hard to make heads or tails of YouTube’s closed captions. On that note, voilà: the full transcript of Tang’s FCC address.

Hong Kong’s Future

A Martian reading our chief executive’s 2016 Policy Address might be forgiven for believing that all is hunky-dory in town, and that it has landed on the best planet in the solar system.

The policy address mentioned how to innovate for the economy, improve livelihood, foster harmony, and share prosperity. What better headings could there be?

The only problem is that human beings on Earth lie. The Martian will soon find out enough because it is intelligent, and has got eyes and ears.

But in fact, the policy address was a silent contortion on the truth.

Does anyone here really believe that the government, our government, fosters harmony or shares prosperity? Does the government believe that it fosters harmony and shares prosperity? I believe these words are patronising and condescending at best, and at worst, meaningless.

In any event, in the policy address, there was not a half-cedilla on the Umbrella Movement last year, perhaps the single most significant political event in Hong Kong since the riots in 1966; nor a mention on the defeat within LegCo of the introduction of universal suffrage for the election of the chief executive.

Indeed, in the entire two hours spent delivering his address, the chief executive did not give the slightest hint of an amoeba of political or social dissatisfaction, yet a great deal of dissatisfaction is prevalent. It was no surprise therefore, that even before the chief executive began his address, four members of LegCo were removed for protesting against his favourite past-time of sweeping what he regards as rotten political dust under the carpet.

The supreme paradox for me is the opening line of his address.

“Since taking office, the current term government has focused its efforts on promoting democracy,” so CY Leung smugly said.

This was his first sentence.

Whoever wrote that for the first sentence for the chief executive, if he himself did not write it, must be a comedian; or perhaps a monkey who accidentally typed up those words on a typewriter. What it all means to me is the disingenuousness of our chief executive and government, and the contempt with which they hold us, the citizens of Hong Kong.

But should we have expected anything else? After all, throughout the Umbrella Movement, our chief executive steadfastly refused to meet the protesters. We should remember that even Li Peng, even Li Peng, the hardcore, hardline Chinese Premier at the time received Wu’er Kaishi, and what’s more, in full view of national television.

By comparison, our Chief Executive hid behind the azaleas at Government House and pushed out that diminutive figure of Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who fluffed around with absurd preconditions and insisted on meeting the students behind closed doors.

You understand how parochial we seem, already.

It all further means that our chief executive does not have the bottle to confront difficult issues, yet that is precisely the one quality that we should demand in our leader.

We certainly don’t want one who totally ignored the heat of our political and social conditions and instead spent half of his speech pontificating the woolly symbols of “One Belt, One Road”, which was mentioned 48 times. Quite apart from the embarrassing unctuousness towards the Chinese president, what on earth would an ordinary citizen of Hong Kong care or understand about One Belt, One Road?

I even doubt that a singular tycoon in Hong Kong could name more than two countries on the original Silk Road that was the inspiration for One Belt, One Road. Is our chief executive really trying to push Hong Kong trade, and our financial services, across Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Iraq… and inexorably into the heart of the terrifying Islamic State?

Borat might have been able to get away with it, with humour – but hardly our sombre Chief Executive with any degree of seriousness.

Therefore if I were to hold out any hope for a better Hong Kong, I would first wish for a much stronger, and much more effective chief executive. I know this sounds [like] self-evident truth, but that is what we need to focus on.

By which I mean someone who would least appear to represent the people of Hong Kong, and not fearful of relaying to the Chinese authority those views which are considered to be discordant music to the ears in the north.

But the most preponderant misreading on the part of the chief executive of Hong Kong is to second guess what the Chinese government does not want to hear. These furtive considerations do great damage to the status of the chief executive, because even before asking, he has turned himself into a puppet on a string, dancing obsequiously to the tunes and echoes of Zhongnanhai.

I would even wish for a chief executive who was cunning enough to persuade the Chinese government to hear openly the grievances of Hong Kong, whilst knowing full well that they would fall on deaf ears. But at least under these open circumstances, we will obtain an airing of what those grievances are, then sooner or later people will become conscious for the need of compromise.

And therein lies the secret of civilisation: divergent views being brought closer together openly, through peaceful, intellectual and intelligent negotiations.

That, in a nutshell, is what Hong Kong is crying out for. A mediator, or a group of mediators who could bring those pan-democrats and the stiff establishment around the same table and begin the process of some kind of reconciliation.

As a citizen of Hong Kong, born and bred below Lion Rock, I was really sad to see the anger – or should I say Tourette’s – displayed by those well-meaning legislators who were ejected from the chamber in front of an ossified face of our Chief Executive.

These tribal confrontations exemplify deep bitterness and resentment, and precisely represent the fundamental and symptomatic illnesses of our territory.

They are similar to the rifts between the Shiite and the Sunni, the Arabs and the Jews, and the North and South Koreans. But there is so much more hope of a lasting ceasefire in our case because we have, thankfully, at least not shed any real blood. Not yet.

Indeed, the Chinese authority could simply transform our entire livelihood tomorrow by becoming a mediator of the two opposing sides. The two sides must meet, they must sit down opposite each other; they must start talking. They must carry a modicum of good will on each of their parts.

It is only when the stinging palpitations of our political polarisations are diffused, that we can once again return to a marvellous and civilised legislature that has served Hong Kong well, before its fragmentations and the damaging of the fabric of our society before our own eyes.

If we’re not careful and simply let alone the sour enemies sit inert, in stalemate across each other on the chamber floor at LegCo, then we will be throwing away what we have managed to build, totally against the odds, a solid and banished rock that was once considered merely as barren.

Churchill was supposed to have said “democracy is the worst kind of government, except for those others which have been tried.” I should like to think that Hong Kong is the worst kind of place in which to live, except for those others which have been tried.

My point here is that, given all the problems we have, with a deteriorating administration which half confesses itself to have a legislature that is becoming ungovernable and losing confidence amongst the majority of the population by the day, with a chief executive whose popularity is at a historic low, we must cling on to Hong Kong as our home, but we cannot afford to stand by our status quo.

Our government has been growing apart from the people of Hong Kong and they must anticipate trouble. Already, there are over one million people in Hong Kong who are trapped by poverty, and they cannot be too pleased about the government. It is simply invidious that in a prosperous community such as Hong Kong, over 15 percent of our population should be living below the breadline.

It is a shameful state, scandalous if you ask me. Then there was the Umbrella Movement, which clearly demonstrated the resolution of many ordinary people taking real democratic power seriously, and their dissatisfaction can only be increased by the defeat of the universal suffrage motion in LegCo.

Then the disturbing case of Lee Po and his colleagues and those hawkers openly branded as separatists by the Liaison Office. To compound our problems, the dwindling numbers of visitors from the mainland, financial oscillations in the markets, not to mention the growing number of the aged against a falling number of our workforce, the umpteen cases of abduction in the mainland about which we hear very little, the dark appearances of triads at demonstrations, the thorough incompetence of the government in creating a proper cultural anchor in the city…

There are many more things which need fixing, and most of them could not be achieved given the standoff between the pan-democrats representing the majority of ordinary people, and the establishment, so-called, hugging most of our somnambulant tycoons, and that elephantine Communist Party in China.

Thank God, thank God we still have a decent judicial system and a fairly uncorrupted community and genuine freedom in Hong Kong. This holy trinity – which is what I call it – is the fortunate remains the pride of Hong Kong people.

You think Shanghai, say, with her mainland judicial system and corruption, and lack of freedom, could overtake Hong Kong as China’s premier city? You would have to be utterly insane, and stupid.

Ergo, we must hang on to this holy trinity of a decent judicial system and uncorrupted community and genuine freedom until the bitter end… or 2047, at least. In my moments of fantasy, I even think Hong Kong could play a vital role in shaping the future of China.

Why else would 50 million mainlanders come flooding through Hong Kong every year?

It’s because of our holy trinity. This would make the seven million of us in Hong Kong the greatest and freest de facto Chinese diaspora, which in turn could change the course of Chinese history in our lifetime.


Beijing’s Liaison Office director in Hong Kong is  Zhang Xiaoming