With whole nations under lockdown, sweeping powers are being assumed by governments across the world in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Hungary's parliament on March 30 voted to allow Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree, without a set time limit. While the emergency legislation remains in place, all elections are suspended, as are several government regulations including (ironically) some concerned with protecting public health. Individuals who spread what is deemed false or distorted information may face up to five years in prison. Other measures include up to three years in prison for anyone who disregards quarantine orders. (Jurist, Politico)
Protesters gathered outside the United Nations headquarters in New York as the General Assembly met on Oct 1, to demand an end to state-sponsored forced labor in Turkmenistan's cotton industry. The small but spirited protest came as Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov arrived for his first visit to the United States in three years. Each year the government of Turkmenistan forces tens of thousands of workers from both public and private sectors to pick cotton during the harvest season or else pay a bribe to supervisors to hire a replacement worker, according to protest organizer Cotton Campaign. This takes place under threat of punishment, including public censure, loss of wages from regular jobs and termination of employment. The government treats refusal to contribute to the cotton harvest as insubordination, incitement to sabotage and "contempt of the homeland."
A large section of the Aral Sea has completely dried up for the first time in modern history, according to NASA. Images from the US space agency's Terra satellite released last week show that the eastern basin of the Central Asian inland sea—once the fourth largest in the world—was totally parched in August. Images taken in 2000 show an extensive body of water covering the same area. "This is the first time the eastern basin has completely dried in modern times," Philip Micklin, a geographer emeritus from Western Michigan University told NASA's Earth Obsrvatory. "And it is likely the first time it has completely dried in 600 years, since medieval desiccation associated with diversion of Amu Darya to the Caspian Sea."
Regional security has been seen as the biggest challenge for the planned trans-Afghan gas pipeline—officially the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project, which would pass the war-torn Afghan provinces of Herat and Kandahar as well as Pakistan's restive Baluchistan province. But recent reports of a rival pipeline project being negotiated between China, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan may pose a more fundamental threat to the TAPI. On June 6-8, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperations Organization summit in Beijing, Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and China National Petroleum Corporation's (CNPC) head Jiang Jiemin to discuss the proposal. CNPC offered to conduct a technical and economic feasibility study for the proposed project on Afghan and Tajik territories. That the route would avoid the conflicted Pashtun-dominated areas of southern Afghanistan, making the project more attractive for investors. India's Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses says the Chinese pipeline could undermine the TAPI "akin to the manner in which TAPI played spoiler to the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline project." (IDSA, July 31)