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Last Updated: Monday, 31 October 2005, 13:23 GMT
Central Asia: At-a-glance

KazakhstanUzbekistanKyrgyzstanTurkmenistanTajikistan The BBC's news website takes a look at gathering political tensions across Central Asia.

KYRGYZSTAN

A country of striking beauty, the small mountainous nation of Kyrgyzstan is also one of the most impoverished in the region.

There is longstanding tension between the north and south of the country, with most of the nation's wealth concentrated in the north.

Kyrgyzstan's former President Askar Akayev was overthrown by popular protests in March 2005.

In the early years of his presidency, Mr Akayev was widely regarded as the most liberal leader in former Soviet Central Asia. But there was growing discontent with his leadership, amid political suppression, economic stagnation and widespread corruption.

Kyrgyzstan held presidential elections in July and Kurmanbek Bakiev was elected leader. His former rival Felix Kulov was appointed prime minister.

KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakhstan is the wealthiest and most stable country in Central Asia, thanks chiefly to its oil reserves.

But the political system has become increasingly authoritarian, corruption is widespread and rural areas are still very poor.

Political power is concentrated in the hands of Nursultan Nazarbayev, who came to power in 1989 as the communist leader of what was then a Soviet republic, and he has been president of independent Kazakhstan since 1991.

His party has a comfortable parliamentary majority, ensuring he maintains tight control.

Like some other Central Asian rulers, Mr Nazarbayev has been keen to promote his relatives and allies.

Presidential elections are slated for December 2005.

Previous elections have failed to meet international standards. Privately owned and opposition media are subject to harassment and censorship.

Analysts say the country remains stable. However, the small opposition is increasingly active, and oil wealth has created a business class that is interested in political power.

TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan is the only Central Asian country to have had a civil war since the break-up of the Soviet Union.

The five-year conflict, from 1992-1997, killed up to 50,000 people, and more than one-tenth of the population fled the country.

Emomali Rahmonov was elected president in 1994. His People's Democratic Party occupies almost all of the 63 seats in the lower house of parliament.

Previous elections have failed to meet international standards. Opposition Islamic and communist parties have a handful of seats between them.

The main issues that dog Central Asia - widespread poverty and repressive leadership - are of concern here, too.

Tajiks are still "war-weary", one observer says, and unwilling to take risks. However, the country's economy is increasingly reliant on revenues from its position as a drugs route out of Afghanistan, and there continue to be simmering divisions related to the civil war.

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan is effectively a one-party state, and the regime is considered highly authoritarian and repressive.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the head of the Communist Party Saparmyrat Niyazov was elected president in 1991, and named president-for-life in 1999.

Mr Niyazov has nurtured a personality cult and likes to be known as Turkmenbashi, or Father of All Turkmens.

There is no official political opposition. There is no free press, and only a handful of opposition demonstrations have been reported since independence. A small number of fractured opposition groups exist in exile, but their influence is said to be negligible.

Analysts are concerned about the country's growing poverty - despite revenue from important reserves of natural gas - and the absence of political institutions. The lack of a clear line of succession after Mr Niyazov is a potential cause of instability in the longer term.

UZBEKISTAN

A large protest in the eastern town of Andijan in May 2005 was brutally crushed by troops, with reports of several hundred deaths.

It was the latest in a long line of alleged human rights abuses by the government of Islam Karimov, in power since 1989, when he became Communist Party leader in then Soviet Uzbekistan.

There is no real organised opposition and the media is tightly controlled by the state. A UN report has documented the systematic use of torture. There is widespread frustration about the country's low standards of living.

Mr Karimov has been accused of using the perceived threat of Islamic militancy to justify his repressive style of leadership, and observers say that has strengthened sympathy for militant groups.

The absence of a legitimate means of expressing dissent could create fertile ground for violent protest.





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