Weekly news wrap

The week's news in Central Asia was dominated by Uzbek President Islam Karimov's failure on Sunday to respond to a key demand by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to condemn torture, dwelling instead the country's achievements.

The development bank for central Europe and the former Soviet Union had understood that Karimov would make the statement when he opened the bank's annual meeting in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. The United Nations, along with rights bodies and some governments, say that in Uzbekistan, with a population of 25 million, political prisoners are subject to beatings, suffocation, electric shock, sexual violence and denial of food or water.

EBRD President Jean Lemierre said the 1,600-member conference wanted to make clear that respect for human rights was "a fundamental factor in the improvement of the investment climate". The bank, which provides funds for development projects in former socialist countries, was criticised for its choice of Tashkent as the location of the meeting.

In his opening address, Karimov, the ex-communist party boss who has been in power since independence in 1991, chose to stress Uzbekistan's economic achievements, its democratic institutions and its strong relationship with the US. "I should responsibly say that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has a huge role and share in the reforms being undertaken in Uzbekistan and in the consistent democratic and economic renovation of the country," Karimov said. The EBRD has lent Uzbekistan about US $600 million over the past 12 years.

Interfax-Kazkhstan reported this week that experts from the Office for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had completed a report on the case of the Kazakh journalist Sergey Duvanov, who was convicted of rape. The head of Kazakhstan's International Bureau on Human Rights and the Observance of Legality, Yevgeniy Zhovtis, told the news agency on Monday that Dutch legal experts had completed the report and submitted it to the OSCE.

Zhovtis said the report was critical in nature. "As far as I know, they [the OSCE] will be waiting for a response or any other move from the government until Wednesday [7 May], and after this the report will be published," the human rights activist, who is Duvanov's lawyer, said.

On Tuesday, Peter Eigen, the chairman of the international anti-corruption organisation Transparency International, told a news conference in the Kazakh commercial capital, Almaty, that there was very little financial transparency in the government, announcing the findings of an expert poll which had evaluated the transparency of the Kazakh budgetary system. A total of 55 people took part in the poll, including members of the parliament, NGOs, journalists, civil servants, businessmen and independent experts.

"The answers given by those polled show that the budget system of Kazakhstan is not transparent enough. The processes of drawing up and implementing the budget are considered to be the least transparent area for the people living in the country," says the foundation in the report on the findings of the poll.

Fresh underground tremors were registered in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, on Monday, ITAR-TASS reported. According to a source in the Tashkent seismology station, the epicentre of the earthquake was located 280 km southeast of Tashkent, where it registered five points on the Richter scale. In the capital itself, the tremors registered 3.5 points. According to preliminary data, the quake, the fourth since the beginning of this year in Uzbekistan, caused no fatalities or destruction.

And in neighbouring Tajikistan floods had hit the Asht District of the northern Soghd Region over the weekend, killing a woman, destroying roads and bridges, and bringing down power lines, the Tajik newspaper Leninabadskaya Pravda reported. The flooding caused material damage amounting to over $350,000, the report said, quoting a source at the Tajik Emergency Situations Ministry.

As a result of torrential rains between 23 and 25 April in the district, "53 houses were partially destroyed. The floods broke and swept away 6 km of water pipes. A total of 15 km of footpaths, six bridges, electric power lines, and fortification facilities stretching for 20 km were damaged in the village of Ponghoz," the report added.

And finally, Turkmens caught smoking, talking on their mobile phone or playing music too loudly while driving would be fined under new traffic regulations, the government-run newspaper reported on Friday. President Saparmyrat Niyazov's edict, published in the national newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan, also warns that violators will be given 12 hours to pay the fines. After that the amount will be doubled every 12 hours. The new rules came into effect on Thursday.