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Month in Review: Central Asia in November 2020

November 2020 in Central Asia is remembered for the run-up to the parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan; high-level official meetings of the SCO and CIS; several protests; appreciating exchange rates and rising food prices; and the tenuous epidemiological situation in the region.

The analytical platform CABAR.asia presents a brief overview of the major events in the region over the past month.

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General epidemiological situation

Kazakhstan’s Health Ministry says that the number of coronavirus cases in November nearly quadrupled compared to last month. According to the President of Kazakhstan Kassym Zhomart-Tokayev, several regions of the country had been hiding the real extent of the coronavirus outbreak.

The media also report a staggering death toll. On November 16, the country’s Health Minister stressed increase in maternal mortality over the last three months. Moreover, there has been coronavirus contagion among school-aged children.

As of November 30, Kazakhstan reports a total number of 132,348 coronavirus cases and 1,990 deaths.  

Kazakh Health Ministry has detached pneumonia data from tallying COVID-19 numbers since August 1, 2020. As of November 30, the country reports a total of 42,147 cases of pneumonia and 443 deaths.      

Tightening quarantine measures

The epidemiological situation in Kazakhstan has been rather tenuous over this month.

Apart from East Kazakhstan and North Kazakhstan, Pavlodar, Kostanay, and Akmola regions were assigned red labeling. The cities of Nursultan and Almaty, along with the West Kazakhstan region are in the yellow zone. Territories are assigned to red and yellow quarantine zones if they score high in the COVID-19 risk assessment level.

Kazakhstan has been tightening up quarantine measures in the above-listed regions and cities since November 9. Authorities have installed sanitary checkpoints in Akmola, Kostanay, Pavlodar, and North Kazakhstan regions. The country also cut a number of its international and domestic flights and ordered some businesses to close. At least 80 percent of public and private organizations have shifted to home-based working. Tighter quarantine measures in the East Kazakhstan region have been extended until December 8.

Similar restrictions, particularly prohibition on holding large public events, have been introduced in the West Kazakhstan Region and the city of Nursultan on November 20.  Working hours of entertainment facilities and public transport have been slashed.

“Blame game”

Ex-Minister of Health Yelzhan Birtanov had been detained on October 31 in Nur-Sultan. The former official is persecuted as part of an investigation into an alleged multimillion-dollar embezzlement scam.

Yelzhan Birtanov. Photo: Turar Kazangapov

On November 5, social media users Kazakhstan had launched a campaign in support of the former minister re-sharing the “I / We are Yelzhan Birtanov” poster. They have also started an online petition, where they cited Birtanov’s high professionalism. In an open letter published in defense of Birtanov, authors argue that even the world’s most developed countries could be accused of being unprepared for the ongoing effects of the pandemic.

On September 15, the former Health Minister of neighboring Kyrgyzstan had also been detained on similar charges. Kosmosbek Cholponbaev, as in the case of Yelzhan Birtanov, had been criticized by the authorities prior to his arrest for unsatisfactory performance amidst the pandemic.

“The authorities hoped that Cholponbaev’s arrest would entail a de-escalation of the social and political situation in the country that became tense when the country faced a rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, namely at a time when the government failed to provide timely medical care to citizens,” the media say. 

Upcoming parliamentary elections

On November 5, Kazakhstan announced that six political parties are able to contest the upcoming parliamentary elections in the country. 

On November 27, the All-National Social Democratic Party (OSDP) decided to boycott the elections. They believe the authorities intended to use the participation of the opposition OSDP party to legitimize the elections. The party members also claimed that “the ruling elite has prepped the election results before they even take place”.

The statements of the OSDP representatives look very plausible, but here’s the thing: On November 17, opposition figure Mukhtar Ablyazov issued a statement calling on his supporters to vote for the OSDP. The statement says that the OSDP, although positions itself as opposition, is somehow a pro-government party whose goal is to make elections appear “democratic”. Ablyazov asserted that no opposition party was officially registered to contest the elections.

Ablyazov says that the only way out is to induce international observers to recognize the elections as illegal. He suggested balancing the main pro-government party Nur Otan, which can only be attained by giving a large number of electorate votes for the OSDP party.

Ablyazov alleged that creating competition to the ruling party will force election officials to rig the elections in a way that will help Nur Otan win. In turn, international observers, having recorded violations, will challenge the legality of the electoral process.

This, therefore, suggests that, in view of the numerous followers of Ablyazov, the Kazakh authorities decided to withdraw the OSDP from the election race.

Among other things, on November 24, Dariga Nazarbayeva, daughter of the first president of Kazakhstan and concurrently chairman of the Senate, was nominated as a candidate from the Nur Otan party. It is important to note though that in early November, the British newspaper The Times revealed that Dariga Nazarbayeva owns the central London residence, Sherlock Holmes’ fictional address on Baker Street.

Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B Baker Street. Photo: Dominic Lipinski / PA Wire / TASS

Elections to the lower house of the parliament of Kazakhstan are to be held on January 10, 2021.


Epidemiological situation

The onset of winter and negative temperature this month has aggravated a tenuous epidemiological situation in Kyrgyzstan. The country reported over 400 new coronavirus cases each day over this month. There was also an increase in the monthly coronavirus death toll. Whilst the country reported 80 deaths in October, the death toll passed 126 in November.

As of November 30, Kyrgyzstan reports a total of 72, 807 coronavirus cases and 1,271 deaths since the onset of the pandemic. 2,833 patients are hospital-treated. Kyrgyzstan includes community-acquired pneumonia cases in official COVID-19 data.

Lifting quarantine rules

On November 11, Kyrgyz authorities permitted the reopening of schools in nearly all parts of the country. This is not the case for schools in Bishkek and Osh as they continue with remote learning due to the difficult epidemiological situation in the cities.

On December 1, authorities also permitted the reopening of cinemas and catering services in the capital. Yet, on November 26, the government barred state agencies from holding New Year’s celebrations.     


Protests continue in Kyrgyz capital: several groups took to the streets of Bishkek over this month.

Representatives of small and medium-sized businesses, medical institutions, and state agencies were among demonstrators. Other protesting groups included supporters of political prisoners, civic activists, and patients with various diseases.

Borrowers demand loan forgiveness. Photo: Sputnik / Erkin Sadykov

For the most part, protesters were outraged that the country’s authorities fail to meet the needs of citizens.

Changes in political leadership

On November 14, the acting president and concurrently Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov announced his resignation. Shortly after the resignation, Japarov announced he will run for the presidency in the early presidential elections on January 10, 2021.   

Sadyr Japarov resigned as the acting president of Kyrgyzstan to contest the presidential elections in January 2021.

The first vice prime minister Artyom Novikov had been assigned acting prime minister of the country. Under the current constitution of the country, presidential duties were handed to the parliament’s speaker. It bears mentioning that Talant Mamytov is a close associate of Sadyr Japarov.

Draft constitution

On November 17, MPs published for public review a draft constitution that prompted widespread criticism from both the general public and policymakers. Three peaceful marches have taken place on the streets of Bishkek with hundreds protesting the proposed changes to the constitution.

Hundreds took to the streets of Bishkek on November 22 to protest draft changes to the Constitution. Photo: Ayday Erkebaeva / Mediazona, twitter.kg/tilekkg

Section 3 of the new edition says that from now on the president will exercise executive powers, forming and overseeing the government, as well as introducing bills in parliament. Experts say initiated constitutional changes would concentrate too much power in the hands of the president.

The draft also aims to create a People’s Kurultai. Independent observers contend that this institution would mightily weaken the Parliament.   

International observers have noted that the decision to amend the constitution contradicts democratic principles. On October 22, the Jogorku Kenesh deputies passed a bill providing for constitutional reform.

According to the Venice Commission November 17 report, “as the legal term of the legislature has expired, the Parliament is not allowed to approve extraordinary measures, including constitutional reform (the conclusion states that during the prorogation – period necessary to prevent interruptions in the parliamentary function – the incumbent Parliament has a diminished capacity). It should be borne in mind that the constitutional draft was in fact initiated by the presidential candidate Sadyr Japarov.

A constitutional referendum is set to be held on the same day as the presidential election.

Rising meat prices

Bishkek residents had raised concerns about rising meat prices over this month.

Since early November, meat prices, according to some sources, have climbed by 23 percent.  The antimonopoly committee of the country attributed the rise in prices to Kazakhstan banning meat exports. Because of that, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan procured meat products from Kyrgyzstan, whereas “taking advantage of the situation, resellers have inflated prices.”  

Following Kazakhstan’s example, on November 20, Kyrgyz authorities instituted a ban on agricultural exports. This prohibition applies to cattle, goats, sheep, poultry, etc.  

Foreign visits of the Foreign Minister

Last month, Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Ruslan Kazakbayev met with representatives of foreign countries. On November 11, Kazakbayev met with the Foreign Minister of Turkey, Mevlut Cavusoglu. At the meeting, Turkey has expressed its willingness to assist Kyrgyzstan in the fight against COVID-19.

On November 5, Ruslan Kazakbaev met with Uzbek Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov in Tashkent. Uzbek side provided humanitarian aid in the form of personal protective equipment (PPE), food products, and 400 containers for the construction of the hospital.

On November 25, Kazakhstan provided humanitarian aid to Kyrgyzstan in the form of PPE and 400 ventilators amounting to nearly 78 million KGS. The assistance followed bilateral talks between the two countries from 28 to 30 October.

Earlier it was reported that foreign visits of Kyrgyz diplomats are aimed to seek financial assistance, owing to dire political crisis in the country. For instance, after bilateral negotiations on November 14, Moscow decided to reconvene the assistance to the Kyrgyz Republic.

KMO_178492_00001_1_t247_212554 (1)
Photo: Press Service of the Russian Foreign Ministry

Foreign exchange intervention

Over this month, the National Bank of Kyrgyzstan has conducted nine foreign exchange interventions, selling over $110 million.

Bank’s interventions are aimed at curbing foreign currency appreciations.  Currency fluctuations are observed for the last two months in the Kyrgyz foreign exchange market. Experts say this may be related to recent political events in the country, together with the pandemic-induced global crisis.

Since early 2020, the Central Bank has led a total of twenty-four foreign exchange interventions amounting to over $425 million.  

Delivery of the verdict

On November 30, the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan has decided to revoke the verdict against former president Almazbek Atambayev in the case of the illegal release of the crime boss Aziz Batukaev. 

During Atambayev’s time in office, Aziz Batukaev was released on parole. Right after that, the parliamentary commission ascertained that Batukaev had been illegally released. However, this fact has not been a subject of a wider criminal investigation.

In 2019, the Kyrgyz court had re-opened the criminal investigation on the illegal release of Batukaev, this time featuring the former president’s involvement. This happened as Atambayev managed to alienate his successor Sooronbay Jeenbekov. On June 23, 2020, Atambayev had been sentenced to eleven years in prison with the confiscation of property and deprival of state awards.


Epidemiological situation

There has been another surge of coronavirus cases in Tajikistan over this month. At the same time, a pneumonia outbreak had also been reported in the Khatlon region.

As of November 30, Tajikistan’s Health Ministry reports a total of 12,194 coronavirus cases in the country. The death toll hit 86. According to the Health Ministry, nearly 80 percent of coronavirus infections are asymptomatic.

On November 18, owing to the tenuous epidemiological situation, National Headquarters for combating coronavirus opted to ban mass events, including New Year’s celebrations. 

Exchange rate depreciation

On November 4, the National Bank of Tajikistan carried out exchange rate adjustments to curb speculative activities of the non-bank financial institutions. In early November, the national currency depreciated against the dollar by almost 9,5%.

National Bank attributes somoni deprecation to the growing demand for foreign currency, a negative balance of foreign trade turnover, and a fall in the remittances flow.  

Somoni has depreciated against the dollar by almost 17 percent since the beginning of 2020. Over the past nine months, the National Bank has conducted foreign exchange interventions for more than $104 million.  

Government decrees

  • On November 11, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has made staff changes appointing new heads of towns and provinces. In particular, the nephew of the current prime minister, Zarif Naziri, had been appointed deputy chairman of the Sughd region.
  • On November 3, Emomali Rahmon has approved the formation of the government. As opposed to the previous composition, the President has appointed new ministers and a new Deputy Prime Minister.
  • On November 21, the president has endorsed the state budget for 2021. The priority areas of budget expenditures are education, health care, culture and sports, and social welfare.

Annual dialogue

The annual human rights dialogue between the European Union (EU) and Tajikistan took place virtually on November 11.

The parties discussed issues related to women empowerment and further steps to criminalize domestic violence. In addition, the EU and Tajikistan considered a comprehensive reform of the country’s penitentiary system. 

EU officials have expressed concern over the continued incidents of torture in detention places. The EU also called on Tajikistan to guarantee the safety of journalists and to halt blocking the websites of independent news agencies. 

The EU also called on the Tajik authorities to enforce the decision of the UN Human Rights Committee concerning the lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov, who had been sentenced to 28 years in prison on charges of fraud and forgery.

The lawyer had been taken into custody after he defended opposition party members. In 2019, the UN working group termed Yorov’s arrest a violation of international law and called on the authorities to release the lawyer.

Solar power plant

On November 12, the country’s largest solar power plant, with a capacity of 220 kW, was launched in Murghab, Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. 

The power plant was built to maintain the capacity of the nearby Tajikistan hydroelectric power plant. The solar power plant launch is the result of a successful collaboration between the government of Tajikistan and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Photo: tj.usembassy.gov

The town of Murghab is one of the highest mountain communities in the world. The new power plant will reportedly boost electricity supply by 50 percent.  

Visit of Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Minister

From 19 to 20 November, Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Minister Ruslan Kazakbayev paid a working visit to Tajikistan.

On the first day of the visit, Ruslan Kazakbayev met with the Tajik Prime Minister Kokhir Rasulzoda. During the meeting, Kazakbayev said that Kyrgyzstan is fully committed to its international obligations and strict fulfillment of all earlier treaties and agreements.

Photo: Press Service of Tajikistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Kazakbayev also met with Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Mukhriddin. The parties highlighted the importance of efforts to reinvigorate the work of the intergovernmental commission on delimitation and demarcation of state boundaries.

The meeting concluded with an intergovernmental agreement of joint programming of the incremental measures aimed to bolster mutually beneficial cooperation.

Speaker’s foreign visit 

From 24 to 25 November, the Speaker of the Parliament’s upper house and concurrently son of the current Tajik president Rustam Emomali was on an official visit to Moscow.

On the first day of his visit, Rustam Emomali met with the Chairman of the Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly Valentina Matvienko. Rustam Emomali said that the capacity of economic cooperation between the two countries is not used to its full extent. In turn, Matvienko asserted that excessive bureaucracy is one of the major obstacles hindering potential fulfillment.

Photo: Press Service of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation

On November 25, Rustam Emomali and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin discussed a project to set up a national Tajikistan pavilion on VDNKh. The parties also raised the issue of labor migrants.

The meeting resulted in the signing of a cooperation program between the two countries for the period from 2020 to 2023.


Epidemiological situation

On November 13, one of the villages of the Gekdepe etrap held the opening of a newly-built infectious diseases hospital with a capacity reception of 200 people. At the event, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov said that “no COVID-19 cases had been reported in the country thanks to preventive measures”.

The festive opening was followed by a closed meeting between health workers and the Ministry of Health employees. Media say the deputy health minister reported the difficult epidemiological situation in the country as the number of coronavirus cases increases.

The deputy minister said that the public health directors should fund the repair works of the hospital premises out of their own pockets. He also instructed to ban coronavirus diagnosis.

Restrictive measures

Despite the zero COVID-19 cases, on November 23, the authorities have imposed an intraregional travel ban for citizens over fifty years of age. At the same time, on November 29, the government barred schools in Ashgabat from holding New Year’s events.

On October 31, due to the critical epidemiological situation in the cities of Dashoguz and Turkmenabat, authorities limited the number of working days for markets and other retail outlets. These facilities can operate only two days a week, whereas their owners who violated the constraints were fined 2,000 manats. The media reported that traders were thus compelled to bypass the apartments to sell their goods. 

In mid-November, police officers in the Lebap velayat were ordered to fine five violators of the mask regime on daily basis. The amount of the fine is reportedly 25 manats. 

A profound crisis

On November 24, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov paid a working visit to the Balkan velayat, where he took part in the opening ceremony of a new mosque.

The total area of ​​the mosque, whose walls are made of white marble, is more than 14 hectares. The architectural ensemble comprises four minarets, each of which is 63 meters high. It is noted that precious woods have been used in the interior decoration.

Photo: Turkmenistan today

We recall that a severe economic crisis persists in Turkmenistan over the past years. Country’s velayats record escalation in food prices every. According to local residents, many live on bread alone, which is a scarce commodity in some Turkmen cities.  

Moreover, there is a critical cash shortage in the country. This month it was reported that residents in Lebap started trading household items and their clothes for food. The media report that each and every population segment is involved in this process. Police officers often fine citizens for unregulated street trading.

On November 9 it was revealed that Lebap velayat residents were lining up to donate blood; the state pays citizens two manats for each gram of blood. Journalists observe that people are forced to do that because they do not have jobs.

Recall that the recent measures initiated by Turkmenistan’s Central Bank to stabilize the exchange rate led to the dramatic USD surge in the non-bank market, which could not but affect the cost of imported food.  

As with coronavirus, the Turkmen authorities refuse to recognize these facts. Moreover, on November 25, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov ordered to send humanitarian aid to Afghanistan in the form of medical supplies, food, etc.

Detention of activists

In late October, several citizens of Turkmenistan who opted to protest outside the Turkmen consulate in Istanbul had been detained.

It strikes the attention that law enforcement officers who immediately detained the activists were on duty on the same day at the consulate gate. At the moment, Jumasapar Dyadebayev and Bayram Mammedov are currently in the office of the migration service.

After numerous anti-government protests organized by Turkmen citizens overseas, the Turkmen authorities became wary of public unrest in the country. Thus, the Ministry of Building and Architecture announced a tender for the construction of 20 checkpoints in Ashgabat to maintain public order. 

Monument to the Central Asian Shepherd Dog

On November 10, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov took part in the opening of a new housing estate in the western part of Ashgabat.

16 multi-story buildings and a shopping and entertainment center were built on its territory. Civil servants from various ministries and sectoral departments reportedly own the apartments.           

The centerpiece of a residential area is a fifteen-meter monument of the Turkmen Alabay dog. The initiate honor the breed comes from the Turkmen President himself.

Photo: Information portal of Turkmenistan

It should be stressed that on November 14, residents of Mary velayat reported a mass shooting of stray dogs. People say that the local government had ordered the shooting. Turkmen media contend that these illegal actions occur on a regular basis.

Inter-Afghan talks

On November 2, Turkmenistan’s delegation headed by the Deputy Foreign Minister held a meeting with representatives of the Taliban in Doha, Qatar.  

Photo: press service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan

During the talks, the Turkmen side asserted that it actively cooperates with regional and international actors in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan.

In recent years, Turkmenistan has been vigorously strengthening bilateral relations with Afghanistan. This has been demonstrated by the regular dispatch of humanitarian aid shipments, the enactment of joint infrastructural projects, the adoption of cross-border cooperation programs, to name a few.

In May 2020,  a humanitarian cargo sent by the Turkmen side was captured on the territory of Afghanistan. According to media reports, Taliban militants were involved in the incident.


Epidemiological situation

Uzbekistan’s Health Ministry asserts that the epidemiological situation in the country has stabilized. In particular, several infectious diseases centers have been shut down as there have been fewer patients with COVID-19 in Tashkent. Some lockdown measures have also been lifted. For instance, gaming internet-cafes are to resume their work on December 1. 

As of November 30, Uzbekistan reports a total of 73,041 coronavirus cases in the country. The death toll reached 608. The Health Ministry says they detach pneumonia data from tallying COVID-19 numbers.

Vaccine testing

Uzbekistan began clinical trials of a Chinese-manufactured coronavirus vaccine. The authorities previously said that in case of effective testing, the country will acquire the vaccine at the lowest price.

In addition, the Health Ministry of Health intends to begin trials of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine in early 2021. Russia and Uzbekistan negotiated on the vaccine supply in September this year.

On November 17, Uzbek National Health Agency announced that over sixty percent of the population will be vaccinated by June 2021. Yet, social media users in Uzbekistan question the effectiveness of the above vaccines.  

Replacing domestic labor market

On November 8, nearly 900 citizens of Bangladesh reportedly flew to Uzbekistan to work at the Uzbekistan GTL synthetic fuel plant.

On November 10, deputies of the Oliy Majlis’ legislative chamber have opposed this initiative citing the growing number of unemployed in Uzbekistan. 

At the same time, the Employment and Labor Relations Ministry stated that foreign workers do not have a particular document needed to obtain a work permit in the country. The Ministry of Labor has also conveyed its availability to find jobs for unemployed citizens of Uzbekistan.

On November 4, in a city in the Tashkent region, a crowd gathered outside the Palace of Culture building, where the local mining and metallurgical plant (AGMK) held a fair of job vacancies. According to witnesses, nearly a hundred people literally stormed the palace building.

We can, therefore, conclude that there may be merit in the above recommendations of government officials whilst tackling the issue of unemployment.

Recall that on October 21, nearly a thousand workers staged riots on the territory of the Uzbekistan GTL plant. The workers were outraged that the higher management has failed to pay wages for three months. On October 22, country authorities, together with the management of the plant, negotiated with the infuriated workers.

Notwithstanding the successful agreement, on November 3, a group of employees was prosecuted on charges related to rioting. It was also reported that following the negotiations, the higher management has fired nearly a hundred plant workers and thus recruited foreign citizens.

Karimova’s health

On November 12, Uzbekistan’s Interior Ministry stated that the information on the worsening health situation of Gulnara Karimova was groundless. 

On October 22, it was reported on the poor health situation of the daughter of the republic’s first president. Gulnara Karimova was reported to have been diagnosed with acute pneumonia. In spite of that, she was denied adequate medical care, whereas the transfer of medication had been utterly barred.

On March 18, 2020, the former president’s daughter was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Before that, Gulnara Karimova said that she needed a major surgery due to her poor health.   

IMU leader killed

On November 12, the Afghan National Security Forces claimed killing Aziz Yuldash, leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) foreign terrorist organization.

The Afghan Ministry of Defense said that Aziz Yuldash was involved in the massacres of Afghans in the northern provinces. No other details were reported.

Screenshot from the Twitter account of the Afghan Defense Ministry.

Aziz Yuldash was the son of the IMU’s founding leader Tahir Yuldashev. IMU is listed among foreign terrorist organizations by many countries across the globe.

Bilateral meetings

Visit to the USA

From 15 to 22 November, a delegation of the Republic of Uzbekistan headed by Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov made a working visit to the United States. The purpose of the visit was to conduct the eighth round of bilateral consultations between the United States and Uzbekistan.

On November 20, Abdulaziz Kamilov met in Washington with Dean Thompson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. The parties announced their decision to transform the annual bilateral consultations into a strategic partnership dialogue.

Photo: press service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan

Following the meeting, the American side stated its intention to assist Uzbekistan in coping with the implications of the global pandemic. Moreover, the United States will provide $ 9 million to fight corruption and crime.

Visit to Kazakhstan

On November 21, heads of government of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan met in the city of Turkestan.

Abdulla Aripov and Askar Mamin debated relevant issues of interregional cooperation. Particular attention was paid to the implementation of the action plan to create a regional distribution network.

Power outages

Throughout the month, Uzbek residents have been whining over regular power outages. For instance, agriculture entrepreneurs have sustained huge losses.          

On November 16, the Antimonopoly Committee of Uzbekistan filed a lawsuit to declare the power outages illegal. According to the committee, the electricity supply was cut off in three districts of the Tashkent region at the end of the month due to outstanding consumer debts. And even when the residents paid off their debts, the energy industries in the region did not restore the electricity supply.

On November 20, Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Energy stated that the outages are mainly attributed to the increased electricity consumption before the winter. They argue that short-term outages help to prevent major systemic accidents.

Earlier, the ministry also reported that power outages are due to outmoded power plants. The media remind that it’s not the first time Uzbekistan is experiencing power outages.

On November 1, Uzbek authorities have imposed restrictions on the use of natural gas for businesses.  Ministry of Energy says the country’s gas supply utilities are unable to evenly distribute natural gas during periods of heavy consumption; the restrictions imposed will help ensure gas supplies to residential buildings and social facilities.

After some time, residents of Uzbekistan began reporting intermittency in gas supply. That’s when people started violating the rules of gas exploitation. For instance, a gas explosion has killed four in the Tashkent region since mid-November.

State censorship

In late November, several Uzbek news outlets received warnings from state media regulator Agency for Information and Mass Communications under the Presidential Administration, or AIMK.

The state body was irked by the way media have covered COVID-19 data alluding to the discrepancy on the number of coronavirus cases in the country. AIMK reminded media outlets of the major legal implications of publishing unverified data.

In turn, a news outlet said that government agencies often publish incomplete information on certain issues. By late September, the national movement of Uzbekistan “Yuxalish” called on the government to provide reliable COVID-19 figures.   

Civic activists and foreign diplomats spoke out in support of the Uzbek media. British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Tim Torlot argues that “a democratic society cannot be built without a robust, free media.”

Central Asia

SCO Heads of State Council Summit

On November 10, the Russian President chaired an online meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Heads of State Council. 

The summit was attended by the presidents of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, alongside other representatives of foreign states and international organizations.

At the meeting, the SCO member states reaffirmed their strong commitment to working together in overcoming the socio-economic implications of the pandemic. Several important initiatives have been launched to establish direct communication between health facilities; to cooperate in poverty reduction and food security; to forge industrial clusters; to foster industrial and energy sector cooperation; to develop digital literacy; and to support small and medium-sized businesses.

Following the meeting, an action plan was approved to implement the SCO development strategy for 2021-2025. Apart from that, the Moscow Declaration of the Heads of SCO Member States Council and several other documents were adopted. The meeting welcomed the Kyrgyz Republic’s intention to establish and put into operation the SCO Cultural and Integration Center in Bishkek.

SCO Heads of Government Summit

Heads of Government of the SCO Member States held a virtual meeting on November 30.

Photo: akorda.kz

The summit was attended by the prime ministers of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, alongside representatives of India, China, Russia, and Pakistan. The meeting was also attended by representatives of the SCO observer states, whereas Turkmen Foreign Minister was also a guest of the summit’s host.

At the meeting, the heads of delegation in a constructive and businesslike manner examined the status and prospects of economic development in the world and the region and discussed primary efforts in promoting trade, economic and humanitarian cooperation in the interests of the peoples of the SCO member states.

The meeting also welcomed Russia’s initiative to form a Greater Eurasian Partnership with the participation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, along with other interested states and multilateral institutions.

The heads of delegation welcomed Tajikistan’s initiative to develop a Priority Action Plan for 2021-2022 to overcome the socio-economic, financial, and food insecurity implications of COVID-19 in the region.

The meeting approved the Organization’s budget for 2021 and decided on issues related to fiscal and institutional activities of the SCO standing bodies.

Meeting of CIS Heads of Government

On November 6, 2020, Uzbekistan’s Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov chaired a virtual meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Council of Heads of Government.

The summit was attended by the prime ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and other countries. Turkmenistan’s foreign minister also took part in the meeting.

The Heads of Government focused on trade and economic cooperation of the CIS states amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, together with the increasing impact of global and regional instability and conflicts on economic processes.

During the meeting, Acting President Sadyr Japarov underlined that the political situation in Kyrgyzstan has returned to legal framework; that the composition and structure of Kyrgyzstan’s transitional government had been approved under constitutional norms; and stated that the Kyrgyz Republic remains fully committed to previous obligations and strict fulfillment of all earlier bilateral and multilateral treaties and agreements.

The Council meeting of the CIS Heads of Governments concluded with the signing of 23 documents important to further cooperation within CIS frameworks in its core operations. Among them, particular attention should be paid to the Action Plan to Implement the First Stage (2021–2025) of the CIS 2030 Economic Development Strategy.

EU-Central Asia Dialogue

The sixteenth annual meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the European Union and Central Asia was held virtually on November 17.

The meeting was attended by the foreign ministers of Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and diplomats of other countries.

EU representatives and foreign ministers of the Central Asian states discussed ways to develop cooperation amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Ways of advancing rule of law, democratic governance, and human rights were also cited as being virtually important.

At the online meeting, the EU representatives stressed that they have allocated nearly 134 million euros to Central Asian countries towards coping with the pandemic’s impact.

The parties concluded the meeting by confirming their intention to hold the first “European Union-Central Asia Economic Forum” in 2021.

Republic of Korea-Central Asia Cooperation Forum

The thirteenth forum of “Republic of Korea- Central Asia” was held on November 25-26 in Seoul.

Photo: press service of Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry

The forum was attended by the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and the Republic of Korea.

The parties discussed cooperation between the Republic of Korea and Central Asia in areas like public health, online education, standardization, the environment, along with joint efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

The forum concluded with the heads of delegation unanimously approving the Secretariat’s Work Plan for 2021.

This material has been prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial board or donor.

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