- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

Government struggles with tortured semantics
TASHKENT Uzbekistan denied United Nations torture charges this week, but acknowledged "incidents" of human rights abuses in its prisons.
In the first official response to a recent report by a special U.N. envoy, a government official said law-enforcement bodies do not resort to systematic torture. But presidential adviser Abdulaziz Komilov said there were "certain incidents of serious human rights abuses in prisons. … I would like to stress that these incidents are not of a systematic nature."
Theo van Boven, the special U.N. envoy for torture, reported in December after a visit to Uzbekistan that torture was common in the Central Asian country's jails and prisons. He cited cases of deaths in police custody, beatings, plastic bags being tied around people's heads, electric shock and other forms of abuse.

Charter change sought so Rakhmonov can stay
DUSHANBE Parliament announced this week that the Central Asian country will hold a referendum in June to vote on changes to its constitution aimed at extending the mandate of President Emomali Rakhmonov.
Mr. Rakhmonov, 50, has led the country since 1992. One of many amendments to be put to voters in the June 22 referendum would end a ban against the national leader running for a second term.
If it passes, Mr. Rakhmonov who restored stability after the breakup of the Soviet Union set off a civil war in Tajikistan that claimed more than 50,000 lives could run twice more for seven-year terms after his current mandate runs out in 2006.

Peace negotiators fear loss of foreign aid
HAKONE, Japan Sri Lanka's peace negotiators wrapped up talks in this Japanese resort Thursday amid fears the war in Iraq could dim their prospects of attracting much-needed foreign assistance, officials said.
The Japanese-hosted talks between the Sri Lankan government and the rebel Tamil Tigers concluded their hard bargaining with no progress, leaving the two sides only yesterday to finalize a joint statement, diplomats said.
"There is no breakthrough … but there was a lot of hard work and there will have to be many more sessions of hard work before we get to a settlement," said Norwegian peace broker, Erik Solheim. At this week's session, however, the two sides agreed on a road map for the devolution of power and a framework to strengthen human rights and address the issue of child soldiers.

Weekly notes …
Nepal's King Gyanendra and Queen Komal arrived in India Thursday for a 10-day visit, during which they will attend the Hindu festival of Koti Home (Sacred Fire) at Kanchikamakoti Pith in southern India. On the first day of the visit, the king met Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who also hosted a dinner for the royal couple. … The United States government has intervened to have Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev dropped from a multimillion-dollar lawsuit in which he was accused of deceiving foreign investors, the investors' lawyer told Agence France-Presse. Mr. Aliyev was one of 15 defendants named in the lawsuit filed last year in southern New York stemming from a failed deal in the 1990s to privatize Azerbaijan's state oil company. The U.S. government filed a formal suggestion of immunity because he is a sitting head of state, said Barry Kingham, a partner with New York law firm Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt and Mosle, whose clients filed the lawsuit. "This is normal in such cases," the lawyer said, adding that "the complaint against Heidar Aliyev … has been dismissed for now."

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