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CENTRAL ASIA: Weekly news wrap

Ankara, 15 December 2006 (IRIN) - Central Asia’s two most populous and largest countries - Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan - head the global list for prevalence of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB), AFP reported on Friday, citing a study to be published shortly in The Lancet, the UK-based medical journal.

After a survey of 76 countries, researchers led by the World Health Organization found that Kazakhstan had the highest prevalence, with 14.2 percent of TB cases having MDR strains, followed by Uzbekistan (13.8 percent).

MDR TB is defined as a strain that thwarts at least two of the most potent first-line antibiotics, including isoniazid and rifampicin, which are conventionally used to treat TB. MDR TB is mainly caused by misuse of antibiotics, in which a patient fails to complete the full course of drugs.

In Uzbekistan, a European Union (EU) mission was to travel to Uzbekistan this week in a bid to launch an inquiry into last year’s massacre in the eastern province of Andijan, AFP reported on Tuesday, citing a Finnish diplomatic source.

"Negotiations are expected to last all week" to persuade Uzbekistan to agree to a probe into the Andijan violence, said the Finnish source, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, without giving further details.

Tashkent had long rejected the idea of an international inquiry, but Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov proposed at a meeting with EU officials last month that experts from both sides look into the case and other human rights issues.

Non-governmental groups claim between 500 and 1,000 people were killed in May 2005 when Uzbek security forces crushed popular demonstrations against the government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. The European bloc in November 2005 placed an embargo on exports to Uzbekistan of arms that could be used for repression, restricted visas for certain officials, and froze regular meetings with the country.

Also on Tuesday, several hundred activists protested in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, against the ex-Soviet republic's accession into an international debt relief programme for the world's poorest countries, AP reported.

The third protest in a month came as the Kyrgyz government prepares to join the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative - a World Bank and International Monetary Fund programme to help poor nations by writing off part of their debt.

About 300 youth activists picketed the parliament building in Bishkek, threatening to call for the president and government to step down and for parliament to be dissolved if they allowed the country to join the programme.

The Central Asian nation of 5 million people has limited reserves and remains one of the poorest former Soviet republics. Its debt amounts to almost US $2 billion - nearly six times the country's annual budget, according to the Kyrgyz Finance Ministry. The ministry said up to 20 percent of debt could be written off if Kyrgyzstan joins the programme.

In Tajikistan, the former head of that country’s presidential guard, jailed for sedition and murder, has gone on a hunger strike in protest at being denied access to lawyers, his attorney said on Thursday.

Gaffor Mirzoyev was sentenced to life by the country's supreme court in August for the 1998 murders of two officials, for plotting a coup against Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov, illegal arms possession and abuse of office, AP reported.

Mirzoyev, who commanded the presidential guard for a decade before his dismissal in 2004, has denied all the charges. His lawyer Jamilya Kamilova said that Mirzoyev started a hunger strike on Wednesday to protest the authorities' denying him meetings with lawyers and thus preventing him and his defense team from working on appealing his conviction.

AT/DS

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[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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