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Amid Tajik Dam Conflict, UN Allows Propaganda Event with Intel Award

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 23 -- With the prime minister of Tajikistan Oqil Oqilov at the UN for two days in a row, claiming leadership on World Water Day, the UN on Tuesday allowed him a press conference that was little more than propaganda, with corporate awards given by Intel and only one question, in Russian, taken.

  Inner City Press on Monday asked the prime minister about his country's proposed dam, which Uzbekistan and now Kazakhstan oppose, He replied that the electrical power is needed, and that down-river countries with hydro carbons should proposal some sort of trade.

  Later on Monday, Uzbekistan's Ambassador Murad Askarov told Inner City Press that they could not longer afford electricity trading with Tajikistan in winter, and that absent independent international expert, the dam should not proceed.

  On Tuesday, in order to get the Tajik prime minister's reply and write to the story, Inner City Press went to attend his second press conference, about the Millennium Development Goals. It included a award and a protest -- video here, at end -- but now Inner City Press was not allowed a question, only this one, later, at the day's UN noon briefing:

Inner City Press: There have been two-day events here on Water for Life and World Water Day and the Prime Minister of Tajikistan has been central to all of it. There’s a conflict, a pretty serious conflict between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, that borders have been closed. They are building a dam that Uzbekistan says cannot be built without outside observers. So since the UN has this regional centre in Turkmenistan, the Uzbek Ambassador said that the UN has not gotten involved in this cross-border; it is only interested in the Aral Sea. I wanted to know if that is true, and why the UN, given this new centre, would not be involved in what is probably the starkest conflict in the area.

And just very briefly, I wanted to know, just now there was a press conference held in this room by the Prime Minister of Tajikistan at which there was only time for one question. And an award was given to him by Intel on the stage where you are sitting. And it seemed like it was more of a PR stunt than a press conference. So I am wondering: who is in charge of the room here to make that, in the same way that journalists follow rules, that the room is not filled with diplomats and that the stage is not used as with journalists as extras for corporate awards...?

Spokesman: ... this preventive diplomacy centre in Turkmenistan, in Ashgabat, is indeed an important part of the equation in dealing with regional tensions and regional security. That is why it was established precisely there. And its role is to look at a whole range of different topics that could give rise to increased tensions in the region. That is the first thing. The second thing is, on the question of the press conference here, it is not for me to decide how the Prime Minister of Tajikistan conducts his press conference. You can take that up with the Permanent Mission of Tajikistan.

Tajik PM in UN propaganda zone, disputed dam not shown

Question: It was conducted by DPI [Department of Public Information]. DPI ran the press conference. And I think we have all seen the rules that say no more than half an hour, time for Q&A, you see what I am saying? So the room was not rented to Tajikistan. DPI ran the press conference, so I am just wondering.

Spokesperson: Look, this is done, when you have a press conference in here by a Permanent Mission, this is the Permanent Mission speaking, not the United Nations, okay. The Permanent Mission is the body at that point that is doing the briefing. If they are sitting here on the stage, it is their briefing; it is not the United Nations.

Question: There was a guy standing at the, I mean there was a gentleman for DPI who actually was the one who was supposed to call questions. And there was also a guy from MDGs, there was two others… it was not a Tajikistan press conference. It was a DPI press conference about the MDGs. I am just wondering who runs it. That is just a simple [question], who is in charge of the room?

Spokesperson: Well, okay, let’s find out about that and tell you precisely what the rules are and what the rules are not. I would simply say that, repeating myself, I do not speak for the Government of Tajikistan, surprising as it may seem. Right, it is up to them to speak for themselves.

But it was not Tajikistan's press conference; it was moderated by DPI. And even when France moderated its own press conference by Nicolas Sarkozy, when they sought to limit it to French journalists, the UN said it would not happen again.
   Soon, Ban Ki-moon will travel to Central Asia. Will he even try to address the dispute about dams? Watch this site.

Footnote: Tajikistan also sponsored a reception Monday night for Nowruz, complete with all Central Asian delicacies: samsa, plov, manti and a dessert caled chuck chuck that looked suspiciously like a Rice Krispie treat. (A French attended recollected a beer in Togo also called chuch chuck.)
  The UN's Lynn Pascoe took a seat at a raised up table. Vijay Nambiar buzzed through the crowd shaking hands, to say that he was there. Of the Permanent Five members of the Security Council, only Russia's Vitaly Churkin was there. In a swag bag, a key chain was given out, emblazoned "Tajikistan IS water." Indeed.

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At UN, Kazakh Official Praises Nazarbaev Authority in Karabakh, Dodges on Free Press

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 5 -- When Kazakhstan's foreign minister Kanat Saudabayev took three questions from the Press in front of the UN Security Council stakeout on February 5, lack of media freedom was unaddressed while the leader Nursultan Nazarbaev was extolled. There was even an echo of Borat.

  The UN Charter requires the Security Council to work with regional organizations. The OSCE, of which Kazakhstan took from Greece the chairmanship in January, is one such organization, involved in a number of frozen conflicts on which the UN cannot act, observing elections as the UN says it cannot do, most recently in Sri Lanka.

Inner City Press asked Minister Saudabayev two questions, but got only one answered. Using his February 15 trip to Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia as the hook, Inner City Press asked what Kazakhstan planned to do about Nagorno-Karabakh -- and then, to respond to questions raised about media freedom in Kazakhstan, in connection with its OSCE role. Video here, from Minute 9:43.

Through a translator -- more on him in a moment -- Saudabayev said that there are things in Kazakhstan's favor, in tacking Nagorno Karabakh: president Nursultan Nazarbaev "has high authority with participating parties." Saudabayev walked away without answering.

  Inner City Press asked his translator the media freedom questions. He didn't answer that, but spoke about Evgeniy Zhovtis, saying that he's been a human rights lawyer in Kazakhstan for years without incident, but when he "ran over a pedestrian," all bets were off.

Saudabayev, answer on press freedom not shown

  It is not political, the translator insisted, contrary to Human Rights Watch. They say

"Ramazan Yesergepov, editor of the newspaper Alma-Ata Info, was sentenced to three years in prison on August 8, for disclosing state secrets, after the newspaper published an article making corruption allegations against local authorities based on classified documents. In June, the independent Almaty weekly Taszhargan had to cease publishing after an appellate court upheld a prior decision awarding Romin Madinov, a member of parliament, 3 million tenge (about US$20,000) in "moral damages" for an article alleging that Madinov's business interests benefited from his legislative work. In September, an Almaty court ordered the weekly Respublika to pay 60 million tenge (about $400,000) in "moral damages" to the BTA Bank, which had sued the newspaper after a March article discussing the bank's possible bankruptcy allegedly cost the bank the equivalent of $45 million in deposits. The appeal is still pending, but the newspaper is not able to pay the fine and will cease publishing if the decision is upheld.

"The government could have easily shown its commitment to freedom of expression by not adopting the July amendments, which were sharply criticized by the OSCE. It also could have established a cap on civil defamation penalties and ensured that investigative journalists like Yesergepov are not unjustly subject to criminal prosecution."

  The translator was Roman Vassilenko, previously the spokesman at Kazakhstan's Embassy in Washington. In that capacity, when comedian Sasha Baron Cohen of Borat fame came to the embassy, cameras in tow, Vassilenko had to deal with him. Now he is translating at the UN in New York for the foreign minister, accompanied by a coterie of pro-government Kazakh press.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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