Thursday, November 09, 2006

Lena River Delta from Space

Earth from Space | Smithsonian Institution | Lena River Delta

Just a quick note - this is cool as hell. Clicking the above link allows you to zoom in with great detail to the image of the Lena River Delta (as well as other natural and man-made features).

The Lena River flows north for more than 2,800 miles (4,500 kilometers) through Russian Siberia to the Arctic Ocean. As the river enters the Laptev Sea, it divides into many channels to form a biologically rich delta. Such images help determine the extent of wetland vegetation.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Kyrgyzstan's New Constitution Accepted

In an apparent spirit of compromise, I am told that the Bakiev administration and Kyrgyzstan parliament have worked out and accepted changes to the Constitution. In effect, this completes Bakiev's initial promises from last year and resolves the recent stand-off between reformers and pro-Bakiev supporters.

Kommersant has an interesting interview with the former Kyrgyz president Akaev. In it he discusses his views on the current stalemate in Kyrgyzstan, and his life in Russia away from politics.

Political Compass and How Democrat/Republican Are You?

I had started this post on my LJ, but decided it was an interesting topic here as well. First is the Political Compass test. My result is below:

The political compass test is set up as follows:

And famous political figures would be mapped out, as shown:

Yep, me and Gandhi ... we're tight.

And then we have, How Democrat/Republican are you (2 different quizes). It seems like an appropriate quiz after the elections. Here are my results ... if you're curious, give it a shot yourself.

You Are 48% Democrat

You aren't a full fledged Democrat yet, but it's likely the party that fits you best.
You probably consider yourself an independent Democrat. You usually support the party, but you also think for yourself!

You Are 8% Republican

If you have anything in common with the Republican party, it's by sheer chance.
You're a staunch liberal, and nothing is going to change that!

To be quite honest, I was surprised by some of the so-called "Republican" questions. Both sets of questions were overly simplistic, but the Republican questions are worse. I thought these tests were more biased towards liberal test scores. To me, the Political Compass test was more interesting.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Live Webcam at Ala-Too Square, Bishkek

For those interested in following events live in Bishkek today. The image above is from about 10:20 am, Wednesday morning (Bishkek time).

Events in Kyrgyzstan Take a Turn for the Worse

Clashes between pro- and anti-government demonstrators today in Ala-too Square led to Bishkek police firing tear gas (Черемуха), buck-shot, and some form of noise-makers to disperse the conflict between the two groups. Photos from photojournalist Elena Skochilo (Елены Скочило) are shown here on

Various news agencies are reporting casualties as a result of the police action. It is estimated that approximately 2,000 pro-government protestors clashed with a equal number of pro-reformers. From Monsters and Critics:
The longer-term political fate of the Central Asian nation was unclear. Large-scale rallies began last Thursday after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev failed to accept a new constitution that would limit executive powers.

Since then, not a day has passed without pro-reform demonstrators taking to the streets. Roughly 200 tents have been set up on squares in the center of Bishkek. On Tuesday, a Kyrgyz national holiday, opposition lawmakers told a crowd gathered on the central Alatoo Square that a parliamentary committee had passed the new constitution.

"The creation of the (special committee) and acceptance of the constitution were a necessary step from our side, dictated by the developing political situation in the country," said Deputy Kubatbek Baibolov, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.

But the government refused to recognize the committee's legitimacy, saying the new constitution would not be passed before protesters dispersed.

"The government is working, the president is working. It is only the parliament that has problems," Bakiyev said in Russian at a news conference.

"The constitution should be passed not when a crowd of demonstrators is standing beneath our windows, but only in peaceful conditions," Prime Minister Felix Kulov, formerly a political rival of Bakiyev but now mired with him in the constitutional crisis, said.

The opposition has yet to win the clear lion's share of the country's support. The pro-government rally, dubbed For Stability in a play on the For Reforms opposition party, attracted its own healthy share of demonstrators on Bishkek's Old Square.

It was unclear whether there was any pressure applied to increase support for the government. Bakiyev said Tuesday that he was ready to discuss the constitution with the opposition and that he had no intention of disbanding the parliament. Bishkek itself was otherwise relatively peaceful Tuesday. Streets were open to traffic, and public transport functioned normally, Interfax reported.

Various pundits are busily writing their opinions about the events that are unfolding in Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan. Of course, these columnists write about the vested interests of both Russia and the United States in the region, and look for the invisible hand of each in the politics in the region. Depending upon who you read and believe, the Tulip Revolution was created by the US or Berezovsky, but Bakiev is seen as Pro-Russian or possibly Pro-Berezovsky. Asia Times columnist M. K. Bhadrakumar cites the whole situation as being the result of US interference in the region, without regard for its history. Poor Russia is working to remedy and stabilize the tiny country.
Arguably, Moscow cannot really complain about Bakiyev's policies, even if there are shortfalls in its expectations (as there are bound to be), but it has been nonetheless disinclined to be seen endorsing his policies. The lessons of the "color revolutions" in Georgia and Ukraine have been well understood in Moscow. Thus Moscow has diversified its contacts with various political constituencies in Kyrgyzstan and is careful not to be seen as partisan.

Moscow certainly has encouraged the Bakiyev-Kulov "tandem" to continue, and may well continue to do what it can behind the scenes to ensure that Kyrgyz politics do not descend into anarchy, while steadily expanding and consolidating Russia's strategic gains in Kyrgyzstan in the aftermath of the abortive "color revolution" last year.

Moscow has been astutely exploiting the lack of any creative content in the United States' regional policy, especially in the all-important economic sphere. But there are limits to what Russia can do in resuscitating the Kyrgyz economy. Moscow also probably realizes that the enduring legacy of the Tulip Revolution is that the US has pushed Kyrgyzstan into the status of a faltering state, and even a restoration of the status quo ante, let alone economic progress and healthy social development, will be a long haul.

The anarchic conditions of rioting and arson that followed the US-engineered "color revolution" last year have fundamentally shaken up Kyrgyzstan's state structures and undermined the rule of law. No amount of rhetorical justification for the Tulip Revolution in the name of the US administration's democracy agenda can hide the fact that the attempt to impose lively, youthful US-style democracy on a society as old and tradition-bound as Kyrgyzstan was bound to be catastrophic.

Meanwhile, Kommersant reports that the crowds are against what they see as an Anti-Russian policy of Bakiev and his reported ties to Berezovsky:
“The slogan of today's meeting,” parliament member Temir Sariev told the crowd, “is Kyrgyzstan with Russia, Bakiev with Berezovsky.'”

There has been talk in Bishkek for a long time about Bakiev's secret ties to Boris Berezovsky. Several months ago, information appeared in the press that Berezovsky had flown from London to Bishkek at the personal invitation of the president's son Maxim Bakiev.

“Are you purposefully focusing attention on the information about Berezovsky's trip to Bishkek to deprive Bakiev of Kremlin support?” I asked parliamentarian Melis Eshimknaov as the meeting was reaching high pitch. “Do you think that will help you gain Kremlin support.”

“Of course we are trying to get on Putin's nerves, to show him that his ally has connections with his blood enemy!”

Just then lawyer Oleg Trofimov began speaking from the truck. “Bakiev would seem to be an enemy of the people,” Trofimov began. “About 500,000 of our Kyrgyz brothers live and work in Russia. What will happen if they cannot send money to their families? But Kurmanbek Bakiev has pushed our relations with Russia almost to the breaking point with his connection with Berezovsky! Say no to Bakiev and Berezovsky!”
I'll have more details on the events in Bishkek later this evening when I return home. Lunchtime only affords me a few moments for this post.

Quick Note: Elena informs me that 17 from special forces and 22 protestors from rally were taken to hospital as a result of todays events. More details of the day are provided on her blog.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kyrgyzstan: Rally in Bishkek downtown goes on quietly

Rally at Bishkek central capital goes on. As a REGNUM correspondent was informed by director of Center on human rights protection ‘Kylym Shamy’ Aziza Abdirasulova, “the rally goes on quietly.” “Just the fact that policemen relax sleeping on lawns, smoking and playing cards, means something. Such peaceful coexistence is a good feature,” she stressed.

Meanwhile, according to one of policemen, they are not going to let the protesters pass to a fence of the House of government, as well as erect tents at the fence. “it is our place,” policemen of Police Special Forces troop stated.

Number of policemen in Ala-Too Square and in front of the ‘White House’ has not changed totaling about 2,000 persons. The crowd of protesters scans: “Kulov, Kulov.” As for Prime Minister Felix Kulov, according to certain information, he is going to go out to the protesters in the near future.
For those that require up-to-the-minute details of events in Bishkek, I refer you to Elena Skochilo, aka Morrire and her LiveJournal.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Map of Borat in Kazakhstan by Aardvark Map

Map of Borat Sagdiyev in Kazakhstan by Aardvark Map

Yep, people are actually using the Sasha Baron Cohen character Borat of Kazakhstan to demonstrate their mapping program/plug-in/doohickee. The map below supposedly shows all the places in Kazakhstan that Borat has visited.

The film, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan opens in 2 days, but it seems the world can hardly contain itself for the goofiness to come.

Of course, the real joke is on the people in the film, who don't realize that the character is an outrageous joke.

Katja, having being born in Almaty and lived the first 11 years of her life there, is actually quite excited to see this film. Of course, when my buddy Jim the limo driver was recently driving Nazarbayev to Kennebunkport to meet Bush the First, she was also excited to get Nazarbayev's autograph. I'm pretty sure we'll catch it this opening weekend. Maybe I'll have a chance to post a movie review as well.

Tulips Redux

The so-called Tulip Revolution of March 2005 is being revisited tomorrow with a series of protests and rallies in downtown Bishkek. The slow pace of reforms, continued corruption under President Kurmanbek Bakiev and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, and the recent unmet demands of opposition groups have all coalesced into the frustration that makes this November 2nd rally a reality. All sides are ready for a potentially prolonged and hopefully peaceful demonstration:
Opposition leaders met with President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on October 31, and the meeting was anything but amiable. According to human rights activist Tursunbek Akun, the opposition had put forth five demands and a consensus with the authorities was reached only on the issue of the constitutional reforms. The president will address the parliament on November 2 in the morning. The authorities reassure the population that the opposition rally in the central square will be peaceful but the locals are concerned all the same. Businessmen and owners of stores remember last year pogroms and looting and take precautions.

Ruslan Omurbekov of the Press Service of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry claims that readiness status of the city police force was upped on October 30. The number of patrols in Bishkek streets was increased. The traffic police was put on alert as well. Volunteer detachments are being formed by socially active citizenry all over the city. Parliamentarian Yuri Danilov promises a special hot line for reports on disturbances in Bishkek. A special police team will be dispatched in response to every call.

Edil Baisalov, leader of the Coalition For Democracy and Civil Society, maintains that the rally will be permanent. A tent camp will be set up in the central square for protesters from other cities and regions. Hot meals will be available. Demonstrations will set out at 1 p.m. Bishkek time from three directions at once and converge in the central square where the rally will begin at 2 p.m.
And from the Radio Free Europe report:
Another For Reforms leader, Melis Eshimkanov, who was also at the meetings, indicated that while some progress was made, the two sides remain far away from a general compromise.

"[President Bakiev] gave his verbal agreement to two out of our 10 demands," he said. "First, he said that he will propose the draft constitution that had been agreed on by us and prepared together with our group. The draft broadens the power of the parliament. Secondly, he agreed to make the Kyrgyz State TV and Radio Company a public company. But as for the rest of the demands, including his [reported] family business and other issues, he said he is not ready to resolve them."

The demonstration has received wide publicity and people from various parts of the country are reportedly headed to Bishkek to take part in the rally. Like Adilet Aitikeev from northern Kyrgyzstan, who told RFE/RL why he is going to Bishkek.

"[The rally] is demanding not only the resignation of Bakiev, but also the removal of all of [former Kyrgyz President Askar] Akaev's system," he said. "This is the essence of the rally. This is our goal."

Many of the current government officials who came to power after last year's Tulip Revolution were themselves former officials under Akaev. Among them are President Bakiev, who served as prime minister, and Kulov, who was vice president and served in several other positions under Akaev.

Meilikan Emilbaeva, head of the Osh branch of Tekebaev's Ata-Meken party, is also en route to Bishkek for the November 2 rally.

"Fifty party delegates came from the Osh region," she said. "We support the main demands [of the opposition], especially, regarding constitutional reforms and fighting corruption."

Some traveling to Bishkek are more interested in expressing dissatisfaction with the quality of life in their part of the country rather than to protest for constitutional and other reforms.

Police and security forces in Bishkek have issued numerous warnings to demonstrators that disorder will not be tolerated and will be put down using force if necessary.

When Kulov addressed his Ar-Namys (Dignity) party yesterday he spoke against rash actions that could worsen the situation in the country.

"The use of force to resolve the political crisis will not solve anything, because the problem -- in the final analysis -- is not in a conflict of personalities but in the difficulties of the transitional period," he said.

Some store and restaurant owners in Bishkek's center near where the demonstration will be held were removing goods from the shelves and vowing to keep their businesses locked up on November 2.

Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, the chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, called on October 31 for Kyrgyz authorities and opposition parties to show restraint during the demonstration.
It is expected that as many as 10,000 protesters may appear for the rally, and there is much nervous speculation regarding the outcome. My friend, photojournalist and blogger Elena Skochilo, will be at the rally reporting for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and writing for her blog. She was, of course, there during the events of March 2005 and the looting that occurred the night afterwards.

I am very skeptical that this event will turn out so peaceful as even the first event. To illustrate the differences between now and then, this time there will be a member of Elena's group carrying a Saiga - literally riding shotgun in case events get out of hand.

Russian officials have accused oligarch Boris Berezovsky of having arrived in Bishkek and having a mysterious hand in the upcoming events:
Addressing the Jogorku Kenesh (national parliament) earlier today, [Kyrgyz] Prosecutor General Kambaraly Kongantiyev said no proof of [oligarch Boris] Berezovsky's visit to Kyrgyzstan had been found. "I officially appeal to Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika to provide corroborative documents concerning Berezovsky's arrival," Kongantiyev said.

Kyrgyz border guards and customs already informed the parliament officially that Berezovsky, Yelenin, and Yelevin had never crossed the border of the republic.

According to Kongantiyev, the cable from the Russian Prosecutor General's Office received yesterday does not offer any proof of Berezovsky's presence on the territory of Kyrgyzstan. The official therefore called the claims of the Russian Prosecutor General's Office peremptory. "What do they want? Our structures - border guards, customs, criminal police of the Interior Ministry - officially state that he hasn't been here," Kongantiyev said.

The Kyrgyz Prosecutor General's Office cabled Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Zvyagintsev twenty days ago. "We asked for what corroborative data they had to substantiate the claim concerning Berezovsky's visit to Kyrgyzstan," Kongantiyev explained. "The Russian Prosecutor General's Office has never answered the cable."

As far as the prosecutor general is concerned, Kyrgyzstan has honored its international obligations. "By the way, Russia has never approached us for help in the matter of Berezovsky," Kongantiyev said. "There are no necessary documents, you know."
So what are the likely outcomes of this rally? Many are hoping for Bakiev and Kulov to step down and quickly and quietly as Akaev did last year. However, the potential for this large rally to become an entrenched and stubborn impasse seems greater than a quick and peaceful resolution. From the RIA Novosti opinion column by
Professor Nur Omarov of Russo-Kyrgyz Slav University:
These last days before [the rally] begins are full of suspense: the March 24, 2005 revolution, almost free of violence, may be re-enacted in a far darker way and lead to unforeseeable results. Somber expectations loom as the government and the opposition are evidently unable to meet each other halfway on key issues, and each treating the other's initiatives with suspicion. As President Kurmanbek Bakiev addressed the parliament on November 30, everything he said was lost on regional elites posing in their clash as conservatives and reformers.

Scheduled to open on November 2, the rally may drive Kyrgyz politics into a deadlock. Personal enmity has driven recent allies to abandon their dialogue, so the peaceful rally can become the start of a massacre. Even if the worst does not come to the worst, November 2 and the days to follow certainly hold little promise of a halcyon future for the nation and its budding democracy, with mutual prejudices and unbalanced political and financial interests splitting the self-styled political elite. Whoever wins the tug-of-war will inevitably turn to violence. Short- and medium-term forecasts predict a dictatorship that would trample the emerging civil society underfoot. With a weak central government, which is quickly losing its influence, Kyrgyzstan is likely to be torn apart by mutually hostile regions. There is another option, no less ominous, of a third power gaining the upper hand: Islamist groups, with their growing impact on certain parts of the country.

A steadfast search for a way to harmonize the government's and opposition's interests in an earnest of civil peace and accord dominates the final days before the rally. Come what may, the conflicting parties must not recur to violence, which threatens innocent civilian lives.

All pragmatic Kyrgyz forces appeal to the government and opposition to give up confrontation and open a civilized dialogue to work out mutually acceptable government policies. What Kyrgyzstan needs is a constitutional reform to provide balanced distribution of rights and duties between the three branches of power, thus preventing the diktat of any. What the country has now is office appointment according to clan; what it needs is a professional managerial elite. The progressing national economy demands transparent decision-making and practical efforts not solemn words against corruption rampant at every level.

Last but not least, the conflicting parties must strike out of their programs the items that clearly cannot be met, in particular, the demand of Bakiev-Kulov tandem resignation, which rules out whatever chance of talks and compromises.

November 2 will show which road the Kyrgyz government and opposition choose to follow.