Uzbekistan's state-run oil and gas company increased the price it charges domestic customers for natural gas by 8.5 percent on October 1, moving further to close the giant gap between domestic and export prices.
Uzbekneftegaz announced on its website in late September that it will now charge local consumers, including domestic industries, 151,740 sums ($70.70 at the official exchange rate) per thousand cubic meters (tcm) of natural gas. According to calculations by the private Novyy Vek daily, that’s an 8.5-percent rise. The paper notes the domestic tariff also rose 14 percent in April and has risen 45 percent over the past 12 months.
Uzbekistan sells gas at $290 per tcm to Kyrgyzstan, a Kyrgyz official told Kazakhstan's Tengrinews this summer. So the subsidized domestic price is less than a quarter of what Tashkent earns from selling gas abroad.
That might explain widespread shortages of gas and electricity in rural areas each winter, as Tashkent increases exports to neighboring countries and China.
According figures cited by Novyy Vek, domestic consumption stands at around 50 billion cubic meters (bcm) annually. Output fell by 0.2 percent to 62.9 bcm in 2012.
Asked about the $1 billion Russian military aid package,, Omuraliyev didn't specify exactly what sort of equipment would be given, but said the priority would be in getting equipment that would work together as a system. "For example, there is a need for an air surveillance system, ground surveillance, special operations battle management systems that all make up a single complex and together complement one another," he said. "I can't now say exactly how many tanks, airplanes or helicopters we will get, but I can verify that they will be weapons systems which allow us to significantly strengthen our military capabilities. And he added that the equipment may not be straight off the production line: "We should remember that 'new' could also mean equipment produced earlier but kept in warehouses... which still fulfill current requirements."
Human rights groups have long urged consumers and apparel manufacturers to boycott cotton from Uzbekistan, the world’s second largest cotton exporter, because it is picked using forced and child labor. But as the number of international – mostly Western – manufacturers pledge to eschew Uzbek fibers, Tashkent is looking east, increasing exports to countries where human rights are less of a concern.
In August, Uzbekistan signed a deal to supply 200,000 metric tons of cotton fiber – about one-third of exports – to Bangladesh annually. Now Beijing is ready to purchase 300,000 metric tons – over half of Uzbekistan’s total cotton fiber exports – a year, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported on September 25.
"Accords on stable annual supplies to the tune of at least 300,000 metric tons have been achieved by the governments of the two countries. 'Firm' contracts will be signed in October as part of a cotton fair in Tashkent," RIA Novosti quoted a source in the Uzbek cotton industry as saying.
RIA Novosti said that Uzbek cotton exports were expected to total no less than 600,000 metric tons in the 2012-2013 season, slightly less than 620,000 metric tons sold abroad last year.
The new deal means Bangladesh and China will together account for over 83 percent of Uzbek cotton exports. Previously, Bangladesh accounted for 35 percent, China for 15 percent and South Korea for 7 percent, according to RIA Novosti. (Uzbekistan annually produces over 3 million metric tons of raw cotton and over 1 million metric tons of cotton fiber; about 60 percent of the fiber is exported.)
Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, the youngest daughter of Uzbekistan's strongman, says her socialite sister Gulnara Karimova has a “slim” chance of assuming the presidency after their father, Islam Karimov, departs from the political scene.
In an interview with the BBC Uzbek Service published on September 25, Karimova-Tillyaeva, 35, said she had not spoken to her sister in 12 years and said she learns about the near-constant scandals surrounding Gulnara from the media.
"I believe her chances are slim," Lola said of Gulnara's apparent ambitions to succeed their 75-year-old father.
Lola, Uzbekistan's permanent representative at UNESCO in Paris, distanced herself from her father’s human rights abuses and her sister’s corruption inquiries, explaining that she spends little time in the country.
Gulnara Karimova, 40, styles herself a pop star and fashion designer. Until recently she was Uzbekistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva. She resigned in July after authorities in France searched several of her properties at the request of Swiss prosecutors investigating a money-laundering case involving her associates.
Gulnara has also been named in a corruption investigation in Sweden over Scandinavian telecoms giant TeliaSonera’s purchase of the rights to operate in Uzbekistan. The company denies wrongdoing.
Defying calls from human rights activists, a court in Uzbekistan has sentenced Bukhara-based human rights activist Bobomurod Razzakov to four years in prison on charges his supporters say are fabricated.
On September 24, a court in Bukhara found Razzakov, 60, guilty of human trafficking, Human Rights Watch reports. The New York-based advocacy group says the charges were in retaliation for Razzakov’s human rights activities.
Human Rights Watch had earlier called on Uzbek authorities to immediately drop the case and unconditionally release Razzakov, the leader of the Bukhara branch of Uzbekistan's only registered independent human rights group, Ezgulik ("Mercy").
Uzbekistan often brings trumped-up charges of drug trafficking, rape and extortion against critics in what look like attempts to shut them up.
Razzakov's "prosecution fits a typical pattern of fabricated criminal charges brought to silence human rights defenders and should be dropped immediately," Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a September 14 statement.
A local woman accused Razzakov of forcing her into the custody of a person who pressed her into prostitution. Razzakov maintains that several days before his detention the woman asked him to help find a relative who had gone missing in Russia. His lawyer suggested that Uzbek security services had pressured her into bringing the charges against him, Human Rights Watch said.
An independent journalist missing for three days in Uzbekistan has been jailed on what human rights activists are calling politically motivated charges.
Sergei Naumov disappeared in the western city of Urgench on September 21 after telling friends he had been having trouble with local police. Given Uzbekistan’s record of forcibly silencing critics, and Naumov’s reporting on the use of forced labor in the annual cotton harvest, his friends feared the worst.
Nadejda Atayeva, France-based leader of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, wrote on her blog on September 24 that Naumov had been located in a detention center in Urgench after the city court found him guilty of "petty hooliganism" and sentenced him to 12 days after a remarkably speedy trial on September 21.
Human Rights Watch, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Uzbek human rights activists expressed alarm about Naumov’s disappearance. “The brutal practice of ‘disappearing’ government critics is a terrible blight on Uzbekistan’s already abysmal human rights record,” Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a September 24 statement.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Tashkent to “scrap the fabricated charges."
Some rare good news from the Aral Sea, Central Asia’s most infamous manmade environmental disaster: Efforts to save the northern part of the sea have notched up a success. The water is getting ever closer to the town of Aral, which once stood on the seashore but was left high and dry when the sea started steadily shrinking in the 1960s.
At one point the waters retreated 74 kilometers from the town (formerly called Aralsk) as the rivers feeding the inland sea were diverted by Soviet central planners to Central Asia's thirsty cotton and rice fields.
“This means the sea is returning,” he said in remarks quoted by Kazinform. “This data has been proven by satellite observation.”
Efforts to restore the fish population are also bearing fruit. At one point there was only one type of fish left in the waters, Kusherbayev said, but now there are 22. Salinity levels have dropped from 34 grams per liter to eight.
The recovery of the Northern Aral Sea has been brought about by a 13-kilometer dike that opened in 2005, an ambitious project that cost $86 million, of which $64.5 million came from a World Bank loan.
The potential for radical Islamist militants to appear in Central Asia after the U.S./NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan is perhaps the biggest fear in the region. But real information about militants' intentions vis-a-vis Central Asia is scarce, allowing speculation, and often fear-mongering, to fill the vacuum. So a new project by the website Registan to investigate the strategy of the biggest such group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, is very much overdue. As the site's managing editor, Noah Tucker, put it in the first post on the topic:
It seems sometimes that in all the chatter about the supposedly imminent threat of an IMU invasion of Central Asia the only people not talking about it are the IMU themselves. In contrast, earlier this year the movement splintered for at least the second time to create a special unit in cooperation with the Tehrik-e Taliban’s (TTP) Adnan Rashid to focus on prison-break operations inside Pakistan. In the latest interview Hikmatiy claims, “our jihad is part of the completion of the Hind G’azasi [the (Holy) Conquest of Greater India] that our Prophet foretold and that was longed for by his honored companions [sahoba].” The reference to this particular obscure hadith, popular mostly with the Pakistani jihadi groups, is a sign of just how deeply the IMU has been pulled into the Af/Pak political labyrinth....
The lights went out in more ways than one in Tashkent on September 10 as Uzbekistan was dumped from football's World Cup play-offs. Jordan edged past the home team 9-8 in a penalty shootout to advance to the next stage, after an embarrassing power outage plunged Pakhtakor Stadium into darkness on Tashkent's showcase night.
The marathon game, which lasted three and a half hours, was decided when Uzbekistan's hero of the first half, Anzur Ismailov, missed his penalty shot, shattering Uzbekistan's hopes of going to the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil. The teams took a remarkable 20 penalty kicks to finally break the deadlock.
Uzbekistan came into the game as slight favorites after securing a 1-1 draw in Jordan on September 6. The home team got off to a bright start with Ismailov scoring in the fifth minute before Jordan's Saeed Al Murjan got an equalizer at 42 minutes. After a scoreless second half, the teams were all square at an aggregate score of 2-2, triggering 30 minutes of extra time.
Uzbekistan's creaking energy system was put on display to viewers around the world in the first period of extra time when the floodlights died for 18 minutes. When the match resumed, the teams remained deadlocked, so it was left to a penalty shootout to decide who would advance to a meeting with a South American team for the right to play at the finals.
Back in June, Uzbekistan stood at the top of its qualification group with two matches to play. Then an own goal by Akmal Shorakhmedov condemned the Uzbeks to a 1-0 defeat in South Korea, who took over the top spot.
China’s president clinched another round of multi-billion-dollar oil and gas deals in Uzbekistan on September 9 as he continued vacuuming up the region’s energy resources on his tour of Central Asia.
Xi Jinping and his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov signed agreements worth $15 billion in Tashkent, AFP reported.
Details were not immediately released, but the report said the deals included contracts in the oil and gas industry, where Sino-Uzbek economic cooperation has been expanding since Uzbekistan started exporting gas to China in September 2012, and also agreements in the uranium sector, which Tashkent is eager to develop.
Other deals covering trade, energy, investment and financing were also signed, a report on the People’s Daily website added. Uzbek media, which are notoriously slow to react to events, had not reported the deals by late evening on September 9; neither had the presidential or Foreign Ministry websites.
During his visit Xi called for China and Uzbekistan to boost bilateral trade, which stood at $3.4 billion last year, to $5 billion by 2017. Xi suggested opening negotiations to set up a Sino-Uzbek free trade zone, and looking at measures to promote infrastructure connectivity between the two countries, which do not share a direct border but are linked via Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan.