A raid on Friday of last week of the Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) news service offices in Baku by Azeri prosecutors has created an uproar in the news media. RFE/RL representatives reported that armed police ordered employees to leave the radio headquarters building “Azadliq” in the capital of Baku, said the station’s director, Kenan Aliyev. He also reported that RFE/RL journalists are being summoned for questioning to the prosecutor’s office.
The US State Department issued a press release expressing that it is “deeply disturbed,” by the raid. The administration of Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev said that they had no immediate comment, but that a statement would be made “very soon.” This raid is part of a larger crackdown on journalists in the ex-Soviet, oil rich autocracy, particularly on groups with foreign sources of funding, like RFE/RL whose sponsors include the US government.
The official court order stated that the search was part of an ongoing investigation of the Azerbaijani Service in connection with Azeri laws on foreign funding of NGO’s. US Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski said that Azerbaijan’s relationship with it and with the West is “severely jeopardized by the crackdown on civil society.”
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- A pro-Russian separatist leader, Denis Pushilin, has claimed that Ukraine will face a “second Chernobyl” due to Kiev’s decision to use nuclear fuel from Westinghouse, a US-based company. Pushilin claimed that current nuclear power plants were operating at radiation levels 14 factors higher than the acceptable norm. However, Ukraine’s state nuclear corporation claimed that the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant was operating perfectly normally. Other odd facts on Pushilin’s statement abound – such as his reference to the company as “Western House” rather than Westinghouse.
- Talks have started between representatives from the separatist Donetsk Republic and the Ukrainian military. Members of both delegations remain unannounced, and the meeting is being held behind closed doors. Ukrainian spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said the negotiators will be discussing issues of compliance with the Minsk accords, focusing mainly on “information exchanges, certain messages, and items of the ceasefire’s implementation, and support for the operation of a coordination center in Donetsk.
- A new railway to Xinjiang province is under construction, and will link Golmud in Qinghai and Korla in Xinjiang, part of a Chinese government initiative to integrate the country’s transportation networks more closely with the far western Xinjiang province. Construction began on the railway Sunday, and is expected to be completed in five years. The line is planned to run by abundant oil and mineral resources that are slated for exploitation in the coming years.
- The Iranian military said on Saturday that it has deployed a suicide drone in preparation for a massive ongoing military war game and drill in the Strait of Hormuz. This drone is designed to crash into targets and set off its warhead, and is thought to be based on the design of the captured US drone of the American ScanEagle.
- South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham reported on Saturday that a vote on the legislation for more stringent conditional sanctions on Iran would be one of the first new items for the incoming 114th US Congress in January. These statements were made during a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Obama administration has warned that any additional measures could undermine negotiations and supporters of the sanctions bill were unable to get support from the Democratic-led 113th Congress.
- A still-unresolved political impasse between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah has prevented the formation of a cabinet in the new administration. The original pledge was to form new heads of ministries within 45 days of Ghani’s election on September 29, but failed to do so. Thus far, both have failed to resolve differences to create a new government, and so the dispute between the two continues.
- The Turkmen Parliament ratified a treaty of friendship between Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan last Friday. Both countries are involved in a project to transport Central Asian gas to China from Turkmenistan with a pipeline potentially passing through Kyrgyz territory. China’s CNPC, its national oil company, have been sourcing fuel from Turkmenistan as part of a pipeline system, branches A and B of which pass through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Line C through the same countries has recently been commissioned, but Line D will transit through Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.