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Aftermath of Middle East Rebellions to Hit Central Asian States

Oil-rich Azerbaijan had its first Facebook-organized rally last Friday.

According to Amnesty International information, about 300 people gathered in the city’s Fountain Square for a rally held by the Musavat opposition party. Several people were also detained on their way to the event by the police.

“There is no justification for heavy-handed tactics to be used against obviously peaceful protestors,” said Natalia Nozadze, Amnesty International’s Azerbaijan expert who was present at the protest.

Demonstrators chanted “Liberty” and called for the resignation of the president and also called for the release of imprisoned activists.

The opposition activists sent out more than 35,000 invitations for people to support the anti-government group on Facebook and more than 3,000 clicked the “I’m attending” button to support the Friday action.

Observers sound skeptical of a Near-Eastern scenario to be repeated in Baku. But Friday’s protests rattled the authorities enough to cause a wave of arrests that made the regime look both vicious and fearful.

Police said 43 people were detained near the Oil Academy, a major university in central Baku.

Azerbaijan, an energy supplier to Europe and a transit route for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, has been ruled by one family for nearly two decades since Soviet veteran Heidar Aliyev came to power in 1993. He was succeeded by his son Ilham in 2003.

The removal of autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt is being felt in other Central Asian countries as well.

Run by an aging tyrant Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan is nervous too.

State media in Uzbekistan, the only media permitted in the country, has been attacking both Muslim extremists and Western “satanic” rock and roll. This kind of music is created by “evil forces” and is “approaching as dark clouds over the heads of Uzbek youth,” the Radio Free Europe quoted local media as saying.

Meanwhile, in a sign of both corruption and anxiety, last year Uzbeks became the second-fastest growing nationality purchasing luxury residential properties in London. The Moscow Times reports average sale amounts to US$3.3 million.

While Russia has benefited from the turmoil in the Arab world due to the surge in the price of oil, China is worried about its own internal tensions in Tibet and Islamic Turkic-speaking Xinjiang, and at the same time China depends on Central Asia for a considerable portion of its energy needs.

China buys a lot of natural gas from Turkmenistan. Lately, China has been turning to neighboring Kazakhstan for more of its energy needs — 40 percent of its uranium, for example. China National Petroleum Corp. is developing gas deposits in western Kazakhstan for direct export to China via a pipeline under construction.

“But the problem is that a good percentage of energy shipments over land have to enter China via Xinjiang, which can easily become unsafe if disturbances break out,” Richard Lourie, the author of Autobiography of Joseph Stalin, said to The Moscow Times.

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