Kyrgyzstan refuses $100m Kazakhstan aid amid tensions

BISHKEK – Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev signed a parliamentary resolution on Thursday to refuse $100 million in aid from oil-rich neighbour Kazakhstan amid an escalating spat between the two Central Asian countries.

Both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are close to Russia and are members of a Moscow-led trade bloc, the Eurasian Economic Union, which the Kremlin has styled as an alternative to the European Union.

But Kyrgyzstan reacted furiously when ageing Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev appeared to endorse a popular opposition candidate rather than Atambayev’s chosen successor ahead of a bitterly contested vote that took place in October.

The two countries have traded accusations ever since, with Kazakhstan imposing growing restrictions on goods imported from Kyrgyzstan which the resource-poor country says run counter to the terms of the EEU trade bloc.

Kyrgyzstan’s presidential website published the news that Atambayev had signed off on the parliamentary resolution on Thursday, deepening a rift in which Russia has yet to intervene.

On Wednesday Atambayev accused leaders of other EEU member states of “complete indifference” to Kazakhstan’s “blockade” of Kyrgyz goods that has seen tailbacks of several kilometres at points along their shared border.

The restrictions at the border, which Kazakhstan says are part of an operation to prevent contraband from Kyrgyzstan entering the country, came after Atambayev portrayed Kazakhstan as a corrupt autocracy in a fiery October speech.

The tirade found a receptive audience among social media users in Kazakhstan where real incomes have collapsed along with global prices for oil, posing a challenge to 77-year-old Nazarbayev’s rule of three decades.

Pro-government media in Kazakhstan has traditionally depicted Kyrgyzstan as a failed state after two revolutions in the space of five years brought fairer elections to the smaller country but only limited reforms and economic progress.

Atambayev, who came to power on the back of the country’s second revolution in 2010 but was limited to a single six-year term in power, is set to be replaced as president by ally Sooronbai Jeenbekov on November 24.

Jeenbekov defied predictions of a second round by winning the October 15 election with around 54 percent of the vote.

His nearest challenger, Omurbek Babanov, secured Nazarbayev’s support but only a third of all votes cast in an election tainted by accusations of administrative pressure and voter intimidation.

Kyrgyzstan’s general prosecutor has since opened an incitement of racial hatred case against Babanov in connection with comments he made during a rally in a minority-inhabited neighbourhood while on the campaign trail.

The $100 million in Kazakh aid was earmarked for the construction of laboratories to help bring Kyrgyz goods in line with the bloc’s standards, but had been delayed several times, according to Kyrgyz authorities.

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