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BISHKEK (TCA) — The Publisher’s note: Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Central Asia was the scene of intense geopolitical struggle and the Great Game between the British and Russian Empires, and later between the Soviet Union and the West, over Afghanistan and neighboring territories. Into the 21st century, Central Asia has become the area of a renewed geopolitical interest, dubbed the New Great Game, largely based on the region’s hydrocarbon and mineral wealth. On top of that, the region now is perhaps the most important node in the implementation of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative through which Beijing aims to get direct access to Western markets. Every week thousands of news appears in the world’s printed and online media and many of them may escape the attention of busy readers. At The Times of Central Asia, we strongly believe that more information can better contribute to peaceful development and better knowledge of this unique region. So we are presenting this Weekly Digest which compiles what other media have reported on Central Asia over the past week.

KAZAKHSTAN

A Spy Case Exposes China’s Power Play in Central Asia

Kazakhstan’s leaders struggle to balance hunger for Chinese investment with fears of encroachment by their giant eastern neighbor

July 10 — “In a top-secret operation earlier this year, Kazakh counterintelligence officers swooped in on a Soviet-era apartment block and detained a senior government adviser on charges of spying for China.” READ MORE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-spy-case-exposes-chinas-power-play-in-central-asia-11562756782

Kazakhstan to spend $3.3 billion until 2023 to develop Shymkent

Located in southern Kazakhstan, Shymkent has grown significantly in the last decade with the population exceeding one million in 2018 following Almaty and capital Nur-Sultan

July 10 — “Kazakhstan will invest 1.284 trillion tenge (US$3.3 billion) until 2023 to boost development and upgrade infrastructure in the nation’s third largest city Shymkent. The funds will be used to implement 89 initiatives, said Kazakh Minister of National Economy Ruslan Dalenov. The initiatives are included in the comprehensive plan for the city development until 2023 adopted July 9 by the Kazakh government.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2019/07/kazakhstan-to-spend-3-3-billion-until-2023-to-develop-shymkent/

Dozens Rally In Front Of Nazarbaev's Office In Nur-Sultan

Protests over social issues, low incomes, and court abuses have increased in Kazakhstan in recent months

July 10 — “Dozens of people from across Kazakhstan have rallied near the office of the leader of the ruling Nur-Otan party, former President Nursultan Nazarbaev, demanding the creation of a special commission to look into what they said were wrongful past court rulings. The men and women, many of them frustrated and angry, said that all their attempts to find justice in court had failed and they were seeking help from Nazarbaev.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/dozens-rally-in-front-of-nazarbaev-s-office-in-nur-sultan/30047425.html

Kazakhstan: Xinjiang rights activist case crawls toward trial

Bilash insists his only target is the Chinese state, which he decries for its policies in Xinjiang, where at least 1.5 million ethnic Kazakhs live

July 11 — “After vanishing from the news for months, a jailed activist who made his name drawing international attention to the plight of ethnic Kazakhs in China will soon go on trial. Aiman Umarova, the lawyer defending Serikzhan Bilash against charges of inciting interethnic hatred, told Eurasianet on July 11 that prosecutors informed her that the criminal investigation into her client has now concluded. Earlier this week, a court in the capital, Nur-Sultan, extended Bilash’s house arrest for a third time.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-xinjiang-rights-activist-case-crawls-toward-trial

KYRGYZSTAN

KYRGYZSTAN: "Registration only gives you permission to exist"

In an apparent change of policy, Kyrgyzstan has given many religious communities state registration and therefore permission to exist in recent months. However, state registration does not remove many obstacles to exercising freedom of religion and belief

July 5 — “Kyrgyzstan has registered over 60 communities, most of them Protestant, since December 2018. But some Jehovah's Witness communities still cannot get state permission to exist, while Ahmadi Muslims remain banned. Amid physical attacks on and burial denials to non-Muslims,"giving registration does not guarantee that people can exercise their freedom of religion and belief". READ MORE: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2491

Kyrgyzstan: Killing of Nigerian teacher sparks conversation around racism

Many worry the tragic incident may have exposed a disturbing strain of racism in Kyrgyz society

July 10 — “In the middle of one afternoon earlier this month, a young man killed a foreigner on a busy street in the center of Kyrgyzstan’s capital. Surveillance footage shows how the confrontation began, with a sharp exchange of words that quickly escalated when the 22-year-old smashed the other man in the face, knocking him heavily to the ground. Onlookers quickly came to the stricken man’s assistance. But Ali Abubakar, 38, who was from Nigeria, would never recover from his injuries.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-killing-of-nigerian-teacher-sparks-conversation-around-racism

In Kyrgyzstan, the standoff between the old regime and the new authorities reaches new heights

The loss of former President Atambayev’s immunity has been called the result of a conflict between Kyrgyzstan’s previous government and the current regime

July 10 — “t the end of June, Kyrgyz MPs removed former president Almazbek Atambayev’s immunity from prosecution by 103 votes out of a possible 109. Parliament’s decision is based on a new law signed by current President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, which provides a mechanism for removing immunity from former heads of state. The General Prosecutor’s Office has found evidence of serious offences in Atambayev’s actions during his six year-long presidency (2011-2017), which means that he may now face criminal charges. Atambayev himself rejects the accusations and, by all accounts, is preparing for a fight.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/kyrgyzstan-president-immunity-standoff/

TAJIKISTAN

Bad Bread? Dead Tajik Prisoners' Relatives Suspicious Of 'Food Poisoning' Explanation

Several family members claim they saw signs of apparent beatings on the bodies of their relatives, casting serious doubt on the authorities' explanation of how they died

July 9 — “The relatives of some of the 14 Tajik inmates who reportedly died after eating spoiled bread are suspicious of the official explanation of their deaths after seeing their bruised and broken bodies. “His nose was broken, his face wasn’t recognizable anymore,” Saodat Solehova told RFE/RL on July 9, adding that there were other signs on the body of her 34-year-old son, Nekqadam Solehov, that he had been severely beaten.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajik-prisoners-relatives-suspicious-of-food-poisoning-deaths/30046138.html

Tajikistan, China to hold another joint military drill in Pamirs

China’s role in helping Tajikistan secure its border with Afghanistan has been growing steadily over the past few years

July 9 — “Tajikistan will later this month conduct another round of joint military exercises in its high-altitude Pamirs region with China’s armed forces, lending weight to suspicions that Dushanbe is increasingly outsourcing its security needs to Beijing. The exercises will take place along the Afghan border, in the Ishkashim district of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, or GBAO.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-china-to-hold-another-joint-military-drill-in-pamirs

A Thaw Between Tajikistan and Iran, But Challenges Remain

The strained relations between Tajikistan and Iran have shown signs of improvement, as both countries have economic interest in expanding cooperation

July 10 — ““Welcome to your second homeland,” President Emomali Rahmon told his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani upon his arrival in Tajikistan for the fifth summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), on June 15 (Radio Ozodi, June 15). The visit comes at a time of warming relations between the two Persian-speaking countries.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/a-thaw-between-tajikistan-and-iran-but-challenges-remain/

TURKMENISTAN

Take It Or Else: Turkmen Officials Forced To Spend Vacations At Overpriced State Resort

Avaza was built between 2007 and 2017 as part of authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's plan to create a world-class tourism infrastructure in Turkmenistan

July 7 — “Many state workers in Turkmenistan's northern Dashoguz region have little say over where they will spend their precious vacations this summer. Several state workers have told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service that they were ordered by authorities to buy holiday packages for Avaza, a glitzy resort town on Turkmenistan's Caspian coast where hotels are largely empty due to exorbitant prices.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/avaza-awaza-turkmen-officials-forced-to-spend-vacations-overpriced-state-resort/30041754.html

Turkmenistan: Make deals against a sea of troubles

In its ‘Akhal-Teke: A Turkmenistan Bulletin’, Eurasianet reviews the main news and events in the Central Asian country for the previous week

July 9 — ““Pul ýok” are words no Turkmen ever wants to see or hear. But paper signs reading exactly that – “no money” – have reportedly begun appearing on ATMs in the capital, Ashgabat. Vienna-based website Chronicles of Turkmenistan reported on July 8 that only around 20 or 30 people who got in line at the cash machines over the weekend were able to withdraw money. Countless others went without.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-make-deals-against-a-sea-of-troubles

Turkmenistan dictator in a rage as his people flee

The ongoing economic crisis in Turkmenistan has taken its toll on the country’s population number

July 9 — “When Turkmenistan’s dictator was told the latest census showed that a third of the population had fled his rule, he took immediate action: he ordered another head count. Unfortunately for President Berdymukhamedov, the results were just as bad, again indicating a population decline of almost two million, according to sources cited by Radio Free Europe.” READ MORE: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/turkmenistan-dictator-in-a-rage-as-his-people-flee-9sbm0sblc

UZBEKISTAN

A New Era for Press Freedom in a Changing Uzbekistan?

The ongoing economic and political reforms in Uzbekistan have slightly improved the situation of media freedom in the tightly-controlled country

July 8 — “Uzbekistan’s media was reborn following the new administration and its transformation is still ongoing.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/07/a-new-era-for-press-freedom-in-a-changing-uzbekistan/

Uzbekistan: Most Intriguing Market In Frontier Asia

Uzbekistan is poised to be a leader in Central Asia and is a standout country among other frontier markets

July 10 — “Uzbekistan's economy and stock market are both standouts within the frontier market space for a wide variety of reasons. The IMF projects that growth will remain between 5-6% during the next 3 years, which is still well below its historical high. This strong growth will be spearheaded by the country's new economic reforms and the increased FDI in Central Asia. The country's new president has spearheaded a wide variety of market reforms since 2016, which will prove to be beneficial for the economy.” READ MORE: https://seekingalpha.com/article/4274239-uzbekistan-intriguing-market-frontier-asia

Uzbekistan has too much gold, wants Treasurys

Uzbekistan currently scoops up all the gold produced locally and its holdings have been increasing in recent years

July 11 — “With trade wars and sluggish growth making goldbugs of central bankers around the world, one country wants to buck the trend. The central Asian nation of Uzbekistan is unwinding decades of isolation, opening its economy and modernizing its markets after the death in 2016 of Islam Karimov, the country’s ruler for the previous quarter-century. Currency controls have been rolled back, the government debuted Eurobonds in February, and now central bank Governor Mamarizo Nurmuratov is looking to buy U.S. and Chinese sovereign debt as he diversifies the nation’s $26 billion of international reserves away from the yellow metal.” READ MORE: https://finance-commerce.com/2019/07/uzbekistan-has-too-much-gold-wants-treasurys/

AFGHANISTAN

How Afghanistan is haunted by its history of insecurity

During its rule, the Taliban brought security to Afghanistan, something the Afghan people craved for. But by implementing strict Wahhabism, they hurled the country that already lived in the Middle Ages to some dark corner of human history

July 9 — “Arecent international study finds that Afghanistan is the world’s most insecure country. What has gone wrong? After Soviet forces quit Afghanistan in February 1989, and the Mujahedin toppled the Afghan Communist regime in 1992, Washington was in a hurry to forget war-shattered Afghanistan. That policy of neglect and abandonment of a Cold War ally was the harbinger of other policy mistakes which have led to America’s complete failure in Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/jul/9/how-afghanistan-is-haunted-by-its-history-of-insec/

Majorities of Both US Veterans and Public Believe Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan 'Not Worth Fighting'

Roughly two-thirds of both veterans and members of the public told Pew that the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq wasn't worth it, and nearly 60 percent said they felt the same way about the ongoing 18-year war in Afghanistan

July 11 — “The majority of American veterans and members of the general public agreed in two new surveys that the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the U.S. military campaign in Syria were all "not worth fighting." The Pew Research Center, for the pair of polls published Wednesday, asked all respondents to consider the costs versus the benefits to the United States in their analysis of whether each conflict was worthwhile.” READ MORE: https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/07/11/majorities-both-us-veterans-and-public-believe-wars-iraq-and-afghanistan-not-worth

Life in the city: Tackling Kabul's urban challenges

Security and environmental concerns prompt Kabul residents and experts to seek better urban strategies and living conditions

July 11 — “Two years ago, the makeshift houses on the hilltops around Kabul's west side started to burst with pastel colours. It was part of an ongoing effort by the Kabul municipality to beautify the capital, Kabul. Residents on the Joy-e Shir hillside, where most of the houses are informal residences, are offered a choice between shades of red, orange, blue, yellow and white.” READ MORE: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/07/life-city-tackling-kabul-urban-challenges-190711065801100.html

WORLD

Domestic and International Considerations Hamper Development of Russo-Chinese Rail Links

A rail line from China through their territory could help end the geo-economic and geopolitical isolation and dependence of Central Asian countries on Russia

July 11 — “The common desire of Moscow and Beijing to develop railways linking Asia with Europe is not making as much progress as the two parties had hoped or as many had expected. This is due in part to international concerns involving third countries, including the Central Asian states, but it mostly stems from domestic political considerations inside Russia.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/domestic-and-international-considerations-hamper-development-of-russo-chinese-rail-links/

Oil Is Driving the Iran Crisis

From Washington’s perspective, the principal challenger to America’s privileged status in the Gulf is Iran

July 11 — “It’s always the oil. While President Trump was hobnobbing with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G-20 summit in Japan, brushing off a recent UN report about the prince’s role in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Asia and the Middle East, pleading with foreign leaders to support “Sentinel.” The aim of that administration plan: to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. Both Trump and Pompeo insisted that their efforts were driven by concern over Iranian misbehavior in the region and the need to ensure the safety of maritime commerce.” READ MORE: https://www.thenation.com/article/oil-is-driving-the-iran-crisis/

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