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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

'I Can't Handle Lies Anymore!' Kazakh Journalist Quits State TV, Citing Government Control

Kazakh authorities have never shown any tolerance toward criticism, whether it comes from the independent press, activists, or political opponents

Sept 2 — “Erbol Mandibek quit his lucrative job at a Kazakh state television station because he said he could no longer take "lies and hypocrisy" in the government-controlled media. In a Facebook post in early August, Mandibek wrote that he had to choose between his good salary and his conscience. The journalist said he had chosen the latter, because working for the TV station Qazaqstan meant turning a blind eye to the country's problems, taking orders from the government, and prioritizing officials' wishes over the people's needs.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakh-journalist-quits-state-tv-government-control-lies/30817600.html

Kazakhstan on track for $700M crypto mining investment goal, says minister

A Kazakh minister claimed that there are already preliminary agreements on attracting more than $700 investment for cryptocurrency mining

Sept. 2 — “According to the Digital Development Minister of Kazakhstan, Bagdat Mussin, the country is in negotiations regarding investments in its cryptocurrency mining sector amounting to 300 billion tenges ($714 million). Earlier in June, another Kazakh minister, while arguing against the ban on cryptocurrencies during a parliamentary discussion, had claimed that the country may get more than $700 million investment for its cryptocurrency mining farms over the next three years.” READ MORE: https://cointelegraph.com/news/kazakhstan-on-track-for-700m-crypto-mining-investment-goal-says-minister

Kazakhstan: Presidential address fails to excite

Pledges to let people raid their pension pots were met favorably, though

Sept 3 — “The second state-of-the-nation address delivered by Kazakhstan’s president has been greeted largely with shoulder-shrugging, although stated plans to allow citizens to withdraw money from their pension funds has won plaudits from the public. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who took office in 2019, returned to many familiar themes in his September 1 address, which was focused in large part on injecting a note of optimism after a torrid year of economic woe precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-presidential-address-fails-to-excite

KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan Again Boasts Multiparty Vote In Unpredictable Parliamentary Elections

The vote set for October 4 might outdo all the previous polls as this time there are no clear favorites, which has raised the hopes of the at least 16 parties that will take part in the elections

Aug 31 — “Campaigning for Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary elections does not officially start until September 4, but scandals, accusations, and confusion have already started. Elections in Kyrgyzstan -- the lone democracy in Central Asia -- have always been raucous events. The 2005 parliamentary elections, for example, led to the ouster of President Askar Akaev in the Tulip Revolution.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyzstan-again-boasts-multiparty-vote-in-unpredictable-parliamentary-elections/30813491.html

As Kyrgyzstan Marks Independence Day, Poet Calls Out Corruption

At Kyrgyzstan’s muted independence day celebration, a poet-singer called out government corruption in his performance

Sept 1 — “On Monday, August 31 Kyrgyzstan celebrated 29 years of independence in somewhat muted form, with the usual large public gatherings cancelled on account of the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, President Sooronbay Jeenbekov addressed a gathering at Ala-Too Square in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, at which a well-known Kyrgyz akyn, an improvisational poet-singer, called out corruption as an enduring problem in the country.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/09/as-kyrgyzstan-marks-independence-day-poet-calls-out-corruption/

Q&A: In Kyrgyzstan, a Small Investment Can Make a Big Difference

The Open Society Foundations, through its Youth Action Fund, has provided small grants directly to more than 50 young people in Kyrgyzstan to help inspire the next generation of human rights activists

Sept 2 — “What is it like to be a young person who cares about human rights in Kyrgyzstan?
In Kyrgyzstan, human rights are often portrayed by the media and the government as a threat to Kyrgyz culture. The state-run media says that NGOs engaged in human rights work, especially those receiving funds from organizations outside the country, have an outside agenda that is threatening to Kyrgyzstan.” READ MORE: https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/voices/q-and-a-in-kyrgyzstan-a-small-investment-can-make-a-big-difference

TAJIKISTAN

Tajik Travel Companies Failed the Summer Season

The tour operators in Tajikistan assess the summer season’s results as disastrous and predict the situation’s aggravation

Sept 1 — “Dushanbe resident Odina Makhmadov planned to spend a vacation with his 60-year-old mother in a health resort in Tajikistan this year, but due to the coronavirus, he decided to go to the village to visit relatives. He is concerned that the risks of getting infected with COVID-19 are still high. “I was planning to go to Bahoriston resort with my mother, but the circumstances changed. I think we will not be able to go to the holiday resort this year. My mother is at coronavirus risk group by age, it is better to save money for a rainy day,” Makhmadov added.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/tajik-travel-companies-failed-the-summer-season/

China may want more bases in Tajikistan, Pentagon says

China’s security assistance to its impoverished neighbor has been growing rapidly over the past few years

Sept 2 — “A new Pentagon report has warned that China may be eyeing new military bases in neighboring Tajikistan, where the People's Liberation Army already operates at least one clandestine outpost. The September 1 report to Congress said Beijing is “seeking to establish a more robust overseas logistics and basing infrastructure to allow the PLA to project and sustain military power at greater distances.” Tajikistan is listed as one of 12 countries the PLA "has likely considered." China officially operates only one base overseas, in Djibouti.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/china-may-want-more-bases-in-tajikistan-pentagon-says

Brother Of Organizer Of 2018 Foreign Cyclists' Killings In Tajikistan Gets Additional 20 Years

The four cyclists — two Americans, a Dutch national, and a Swiss national — were killed on July 29, 2018, when attackers plowed their vehicle into their group on a road and then stabbed some of them

Sept 2 — “A brother of the late organizer of the 2018 killing of four foreign cyclists in Tajikistan has been handed an additional 20 years in prison after the Supreme Court found him guilty of calling inmates to stage riots that claimed dozens of lives in 2019. Sources close to the Supreme Court of Tajikistan told RFE/RL on September 1 that the trial of Bakhtiyor Abdusamadov was held behind closed doors and that his case was related to the deadly prison riot in the Vahdat district near Dushanbe, the capital in May 2019.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/brother-of-organizer-of-2018-foreign-cyclists-killings-in-tajikistan-gets-additional-20-years/30816790.html

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan: The dog days of August

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

Sept 1 — “A plane-spotter in Munich, Germany, provoked a flurry of intrigue this week when he uploaded a picture of a Turkmenistan Airlines-owned Challenger 870. Such sightings are useful as the plane in question, which carries the tail number EZ-B024, is not recorded on flight tracking apps as it is likely a craft used for official purposes. The plane was seen again in the same German city two days later, on August 29. What were these mysterious flights?” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-the-dog-days-of-august

Turkmen In U.S. Protest Berymukhammedov's Plan To Change Constitution

The protesters in the United States say that Berdymukhammedov plans to use the constitutional amendments to secure his lifetime presidency and its eventual succession to his son and grandchildren

Sept 3 — “Dozens of Turkmen citizens have held rallies in Washington, as well as in the cities of Houston and Pittsburgh, protesting the plan by Turkmenistan's authoritarian leader, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, to introduce amendments to the constitution, the details of which remain unknown in the tightly-controlled Central Asian nation.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmen-in-u-s-protest-berymukhammedov-s-plan-to-change-constitution/30818842.html

Former principal of the school where parents organized a protest detained

Any protest is practically unthinkable in authoritarian Turkmenistan

Sept 3 — “Correspondents of “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” report that on 2 September, 2020 the former principal of Ashgabat secondary school №64 Byashim Gaitnazarov was detained. On 30 August, 2020 a spontaneous protest was organized by parents and teaching staff because of the closing of the Russian language department.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2020/09/former-principal-of-the-school-where-parents-organized-a-protest-detained/

UZBEKISTAN

Analysis: Will Uzbekistan's Champion of Reform Stay the Course?

President Mirziyoyev won his citizens' hearts and minds by saying what they had longed to hear — that the system needed transformation

Aug 30 — “The international community, human rights advocates, and Uzbeks themselves were agreeably surprised when, after a quarter century of then-Uzbek president Islam Karimov's iron-fisted rule, his successor launched the nation in 2016 on a series of often bold reforms. Today, approaching the fourth anniversary of the new president's ascent to power, many of those same analysts are giving Shavkat Mirziyoyev a mixed report card and calling for him to follow through on the reforms he put in motion.” READ MORE: https://www.voanews.com/south-central-asia/analysis-will-uzbekistans-champion-reform-stay-course

Uzbek TV Urges Battle Against 'Spiritual Viruses' (Homosexuality And Feminism) Threatening The Nation

Uzbek society remains very strictly family-oriented, with traditional, well-defined roles for men and women

Sept 1 — “Uzbek state television has launched an attack on feminism and homosexuality, saying they don't belong in the predominantly Muslim Central Asian country. In the 90-minute live program known as Munosabat (Attitude), the station -- which serves as a mouthpiece for the government -- targeted a social-media flash mob held by young Uzbek women who were protesting violence against women and domestic abuse.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-tv-urges-battle-against-spiritual-viruses-(homosexuality-and-feminism)-threatening-the-nation/30815545.html

Uzbekistan: COVID-19 adds more pain to university exam nightmare

Forty stadiums and 25 open-air spaces were set aside for the huge numbers of university applicants. Students had to wear masks and disposable gloves provided by the state exam-setting board and were supposed to be spaced three meters from one another for additional protection

Sept 2 — “Hundreds of thousands of school-leavers in Uzbekistan began sitting their crucial final exams on September 2, weeks later than normal, and in parks and stadiums as a preventative measure against the spread of COVID-19. These exams are always an intensely high-pressure milestone for young Uzbeks engaged in fierce competition to win university places. Only around one in 10 applicants is expected to secure a spot this session.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-covid-19-adds-more-pain-to-university-exam-nightmare

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan firm eyes emerging middle class with new cars, trucks

There are 11 different models in total, priced between $1,200 and $2,500

Sept 2 — “An Afghan company has unveiled a range of small trucks and passenger vans which it hopes will appeal to a local market still dominated by second-hand Japanese models imported via Dubai. The firm, Amin Noor, presented the vehicles at a ceremony in the capital Kabul, a reminder that in a country beset by militant violence and political instability there are companies working hard to tap a small but growing middle class.” READ MORE: https://www.investing.com/news/economy/afghan-firm-eyes-emerging-middle-class-with-new-cars-trucks-2283767

Multi-modal TVET delivery during COVID-19: Expanding access to continued learning in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, many students – especially those in rural areas – have limited or infrequent access to communications infrastructure

Sept 2 — “The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented health, economic and social shock. In Afghanistan, this has affected all facets of modern life, including shutting down education institutions across the country in mid-March. As part of lockdown measures, the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector saw the closure of 300 TVET schools and institutes. Workplace closures had also meant that ‘apprentices’ under in-formal training – known as the Ostad-Shagerdi system – had lost both training opportunities and livelihoods.” READ MORE: https://blogs.worldbank.org/education/multi-modal-tvet-delivery-during-covid-19-expanding-access-continued-learning-afghanistan

Fig growing helps bread earning, boost economy in Afghanistan's Kandahar province

Kandahar figs are exported to China, the United Arab Emirates, and India

Sept 3 — “"I am very satisfied with the outcome of the figs collected from my gardens. It's been drastically life-changing for me," Hajji Abdul Hai, a 52-year-old resident of the Shah Walikot district in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province, told Xinhua. Collecting figs from trees along with a daily wager in his garden, Hai said he earned around 300,000 afghani (about 4,000 U.S. dollars) last year by selling figs and is hopeful to earn more this year. Hai said that a decade ago he used to go to neighboring countries for work, but over the past couple of years he has been able to increase his income by selling figs on the home soil.” READ MORE: http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-09/03/c_139340330.htm

WORLD

Chinese hydroelectric investments in Central Asia: A snapshot

The first in a series of briefings on Beijing's investments in Central Asian renewables

Aug 31 — “Any investor wishing to stay friendly with all five Central Asian republics knows to steer clear of major hydropower projects. When the five countries were part of the Soviet Union, interdependence worked: Moscow built some of the world’s tallest dams in upstream Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan; downstream Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan shared their abundant oil and gas when the rivers froze in winter.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/chinese-hydroelectric-investments-in-central-asia-a-snapshot

COVID-19 exposes the fragility of Central Asia

Central Asia has so far avoided the tragic human toll of COVID-19 seen among many of its neighbours, but the pandemic has laid bare the region’s longstanding structural and governance problems

Sept 3 — “At first, some — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan — seemed to effectively curb COVID-19’s spread by closing borders and implementing lockdowns, but a lack of transparency and limited testing may have kept infection rates artificially low. With shuttered economies, interrupted supply chains, and the return of migrant labourers from abroad, the costs of large-scale shelter-in-place policies led to inflation, shortages of basic goods and public grumbling.” READ MORE: https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2020/09/03/covid-19-exposes-the-fragility-of-central-asia/

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