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Plus, Google and YouTube are blocked in Tajikistan and Romania looks for a big payday in utility sale.by S. Adam Cardais, Rebecca Johnson, and Madeleine Stern 13 June 2014
Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller said 12 June the company may cut off gas shipments to Ukraine unless Kyiv meets a 16 June deadline to pay nearly $2 billion, Reuters reports.
On 11 June Gazprom extended the deadline to 16 June for Ukraine’s next advance payment for gas deliveries.
A gas shutoff would have immediate implications for the EU, which receives about 15 percent of its gas from Russia via Ukraine, the BBC reports. Gazprom stopped gas shipments twice before over pricing disputes, causing shortages in several EU countries.
“If gas is a commodity, as it is in the rest of the world, then we trade on the basis of a contract, not on the basis of whether Russia likes the Ukrainian government or not,” The Voice of Russia quoted Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk as saying.
Russia and the EU today delivered differing prognoses of whether the dispute can be resolved before the deadline. The Russian Energy Ministry said there were no plans to resume talks before 16 June, although EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said he hoped talks could take place over the weekend.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) says it was involved in the attacks on the Karachi airport in Pakistan on 9 June that left 36 people dead, the Guardian reports. A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban said the two groups cooperated in the assault.
The IMU claims 10 fighters died in the attack. Photos of some of the dead and a statement appeared on its website, Uznews.net reports. The statement said the attack was in retaliation for nighttime raids by the Pakistani army in the Waziristan tribal area.
“This is revenge for the killing [of] civilians, migrant women and their children. This is revenge for the violence of the corrupt Pakistani government,” the statement says.
The organization arose in the 1990s calling for the overthrow of Uzbekistani President Islam Karimov and the establishment of an Islamist state in Central Asia. Its current base is thought to be in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region, on the border with Afghanistan, where several militant groups are active.
The U.S. State Department labeled the IMU as a terrorist organization in 2000, but it splintered after losing its leader Juma Namangani in the fighting in Afghanistan when U.S.-led forces invaded in 2001.
Some reports in the years since 2001 say the group, also known as the Islamist Movement of Turkestan, has tried to re-establish a presence in its original Ferghana Valley base. Tajikistan carried out an operation against a suspected IMU cell near its border with Uzbekistan in January 2013, and two months later a suspected IMU leader was detained in Moscow.
The disappearance of popular Internet services in Tajikistan this week appears to follow a recurrent pattern of foreign websites being blocked by the authorities.
On 12 June, Internet users reported being unable to access Google, including their Gmail accounts, Radio Free Europe reports. The country’s Association of Internet Service Providers confirmed that most providers had blocked Google.
This came two days after YouTube went almost entirely dark – the fourth such outage since July 2012, according to AzerNews. Most recently, in May 2013 YouTube went down for several days after a video showing authoritarian President Imomali Rahmon singing and dancing at his son’s wedding appeared on the popular video-sharing website.
On 11 June, the OSCE’s representative for media freedom urged the authorities to restore YouTube access, RFE reports. Dushanbe denied any involvement, with a government official blaming “possible technical problems.”
Over the past two years, Tajikistani authorities have blocked websites including Russian social media and news portals. In 2012, they twice blocked access to Facebook in what many saw as an effort to muzzle dissent ahead of the 2013 presidential elections.
Bucharest is selling a majority stake in its leading power distributor in the largest public share offering in Romania’s history, Bloomberg reports.
The 51 percent stake in Electrica will be offered on the Bucharest and London stock exchanges 16-26 June. Romania hopes to bring in 1.95 billion lei ($600 million).
The sale is part of an internationally backed plan to offload state-owned companies to help reduce both the budget deficit and the state’s role in the economy, Bloomberg points out. The November sale of a minority stake in the natural gas company Romgaz for 1.7 billion lei was the state’s largest initial public offering until now. Since 2009, Romania has received three aid packages from the International Monetary Fund.
Prime Minister Victor Ponta said Electrica, which serves some 3.6 million customers, should be able to use the cash injection to upgrade Romania’s rickety energy infrastructure, Balkan Insight reports.
Since 2012, Bucharest has also sold minority stakes in a nuclear power plant, a natural gas supplier, and a grid operator.
Arguably the most oppressive regime in TOL’s coverage area, Turkmenistan isn’t exactly raking in the international accolades. But it’s winning plaudits for leadership on a key public health issue: smoking.
On 11 June, the World Health Organization (WHO) honored President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov for his anti-smoking efforts. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan was on hand to present Berdymukhamedov with a special medal for his contributions to the global fight for tobacco control. Berdymukhamedov trained as a dentist and was minister of health under his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov.
In a region beset by tobacco-related health problems, Turkmenistan was one of the first countries to get tough on cigarette use. In 2000, it introduced large fines for smoking in public places, Radio Free Europe reports.
Late last year, the government went a step further with a law banning smoking in many public and private areas, including restaurants and parks, and prohibiting tobacco advertising in all forms.
At up to $6 a pack, cigarettes are also expensive by regional standards.