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Plus, Uzbekistan tightens the screws on Internet users and leaking pipes could hold up production at a vast Kazakhstan oil field for two years.by Ioana Caloianu, Barbara Frye, Marketa Horazna, and Ky Krauthamer 8 April 2014
The VAT increase was one of several steps mooted by the government to bring down the fiscal deficit after it was forced to inject 3.3 billion euros ($4.5 billion) into debt-ridden domestic banks late last year to avoid an international bailout. Bratusek scrapped the idea when the coalition member Civic List party said it would hurt the economy, Reuters writes.
The government came up with the VAT increase after a previous proposed real-estate tax was rejected by the constitutional court in March.
The cash-strapped government voted 6 April to raise excise duties, mainly on alcohol and tobacco, and further cut public spending, Macedonia’s MINA agency reports.
Bratusek is likely to win the confidence vote, which could take place in late April, Reuters writes, but the cabinet could still fall over a power struggle in her Positive Slovenia party. Party founder and Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Jankovic tried to unseat her last year and is now calling for a new leadership contest. But since the other coalition parties refuse to cooperate with Jankovic over corruption allegations against him, a vote in his favor would trigger a government collapse, according to political analyst Tanja Staric, quoted by Reuters.
Lokot is the first opposition candidate to win a top municipal post in Novosibirsk, Russia’s third largest city, after decades of United Russia rule, showing how the “protest electorate” of “students, professionals, intellectuals, and disenfranchised citizens” has gelled in the city, the Moscow paper writes.
This early election was held to replace the former mayor, Vladimir Gorodetsky, who was appointed deputy governor of Novosibirsk region in January. “The result will be seen as a significant blow for the party which holds power nationally and in many key regions and cities,” The Siberian Times writes.
Opposition candidates have scored several notable political successes in city elections since 2012, The Moscow Times writes, including wins in Yaroslavl for Yevgeny Urlashov (later removed from office and imprisoned for bribery) and for Yevgeny Roizman in Yekaterinburg.
Alexei Rusakov, secretary of the Communist Party’s Novosibirsk regional branch, told The Moscow Times Lokot’s election will encourage the opposition in other big cities.
“We persevered because the opposition managed to unite around a single candidate," Rusakov said.
More delays loom for the Kashagan oil field, Kazakhstan’s biggest natural resource.
The discovery of gas leaks from the pipelines serving the Caspian Sea field last fall forced the project to shut down and led the government last month to ask more than $700 million for environmental damage from the oil majors running the project.
ExxonMobil, Shell, and the other companies involved are eager to resume drilling so they “can start generating revenue to recoup some of the $50 billion they have already invested in Kashagan over the last 17 years,” The Wall Street Journal reports. Some experts believe Kashagan is the biggest oil field ever found outside the Middle East.
Initial plans to resume production within a few months now seem premature.
“There’s no date for restart, but it certainly won’t be this summer,” The Journal quotes a person familiar with the project as saying.
The shutdown could last for two years, Steve LeVine writes in Quartz. A source close to the project said Shell recently began notifying employees and contractors to expect a long delay, according to Levine, a journalist who specializes in energy issues.
Two new pipelines will have to be laid to replace the cracked pipes that were leaking toxic hydrogen sulfide gas, he writes.
“The project has presented huge engineering challenges throughout the 13 years since work began. Much of it is built on artificial islands to avoid damage from pack ice in a shallow sea that freezes for five months a year. The oil is 4,200 meters (4,590 yards) below the seabed at very high pressure,” Reuters notes.
Even while waiting for Kashagan to resume pumping, Kazakhstan has plenty of hydrocarbon resources. It is the second biggest oil producer among former Soviet states after Russia, producing 1.64 million barrels per day in 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Kashagan may add that much again when it reaches peak output, according to Reuters.
Uzbekistan is tightening its already-firm grip on the Internet, the Trend news agency reports.
Internet café owners are having to install video surveillance cameras and will be forbidden from setting up shop in basements under new rules adopted by the country’s information and telecommunications regulator, according to Trend.
In addition, café owners will have to keep logs for three months of what websites customers visit, Pakistan’s News International reports, citing media in Uzbekistan.
The country regularly appears on Reporters Without Borders’ annual list of Enemies of the Internet. This year’s edition, released last month, explains the Uzbekistani government’s multifaceted approach to controlling the Internet and telecommunications. It includes
“Presently, the majority of independent sites that provide news, reflect political opposition, and defend human rights are censored,” the report says. “Other sites are hit by temporary blocking, especially at times of major social and political events.”
The authorities in Uzbekistan have also taken to creating clones of Western social media sites, including Facebook and, in February, Twitter.
“State television has called social media a tool foreign powers use to foment revolution in former-Soviet states, but said local versions like Muloqot.uz and Sinfdosh.uz ‘improve the moral and physical health of youth and form high morals,’ ” EurasiaNet.org reported in February.
Was an adviser to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev sacked over his links to the moderate Islamist Gulen movement that has recently drawn fire from a close ally, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan?
A few days before Aliev dismissed the head of the political analysis and information department in his administration, Elnur Aslanov, on 17 March, another presidential adviser warned that those named in emails purportedly revealing Azerbaijani officials’ links to the Gulen movement “should know that attempts to adapt the state policy to their interests will fail,” IWPR reports.
Ali Hasanov of the presidential office’s social and political affairs department “stated that some religious movements and missionary organizations are trying to establish themselves in Azerbaijan and to create an extensive network in order to realize their interests,” according to the Central Asia–Caucasus Analyst.
Aslanov, whose mother, Rabiat Aslanova, is a senior member of the ruling party, was later named to head a planning unit at the Communications Ministry, Ann.az reports.
The loose-knit worldwide network of schools and businesses associated with U.S.-based Turkish theologian Fethullah Gulen is under scrutiny in Turkey, where Erdogan accuses Gulen’s Hizmet movement of fomenting the corruption allegations currently wracking the government. Gulenists espouse capitalism and secular education, but some critics say elements of the movement aim to reimpose an Islamic state in Turkey.
“[Erdogan] has deployed thousands of police to clamp down on Hizmet and root out its followers from official institutions,” IWPR writes. “In Azerbaijan, both government and opposition news sources reported in late February that a similar ‘parallel structure’ [of highly placed Gulen followers] existed in Baku as well.”
The Gulen movement is probably “the most successful movement in Azerbaijan’s unfolding Islamic revival,” Azerbaijani university professor Fuad Aliev wrote for the U.S. Hudson Institute think tank in 2012. “No other Islamic movement in Azerbaijan can claim such an extensive organization or level of influence in business, charity, lobbying and, above all, in the field of education.”
Analysts surmise that domestic politics probably lay behind Aslanov’s dismissal, however.
“The Hizmet movement was just used to raise the issue and shape public opinion,” Arastun Orujlu of Baku’s East-West Research Center told IWPR. “The Hizmet movement has been in Azerbaijan for years now. If it really was a threat, the government would have taken serious steps years ago.”
Political analyst Arif Yunus doubts the allegation that Aslanov is a Gulen follower, the Central Asia–Caucasus Analyst writes. In a TV interview, Yunus said Aslanov probably got caught up in an internal power struggle.