In this issue: Kazakh Cyclist in Dead Heat Race with Armstrong Kazakhstan Edges Towards Abolishing Death Penalty Finance, IT, Law, Audit Dominate Entrants' Choices Experts Finalize Caspian Ecological Convention
Kazakh Cyclist in Dead Heat Race with Armstrong
One third of the way into the world's most prestigious cycling race, the Tour de France, Kazakh Alexander Vinokourov is only 21 seconds behind the leader, the defending champion Lance Armstrong of Texas, and Armstrong calls him a "threat".
29-year-old Vinokourov, who races for Team Telekom, won 114.6-mile stage nine, the last in the Alps, on Monday and narrowed the gap between him and the yellow jersey. The four times champion Lance Armstrong is seeking to win his fifth straight title and tie the all time record.
Experts say Vinokourov is emerging as something of a dark horse this year. In March, he won the prestigious Paris-Nice race -- becoming only the seventh rider to win it back-to-back.
"We were all in a hurry to catch Vinokourov because he's a threat overall," Armstrong said earlier.
"Lance was a bit stronger than me last year. I didn't even try to beat him," said Vinokourov, whose stage victory Monday was his first on the Tour. "But going into the Pyrenees, the gap isn't very big and I am in good condition."
More than 170 cyclists are riding in Tour de France, which is to culminate in Paris on June 27.
Kazakhstan Edges Towards Abolishing Death Penalty
Kazakhstan is planning to introduce moratorium on death penalties this year, move on to introducing life imprisonment as of January 1, 2004, and is planning to build a new special prison for convicts who will be serving life terms, Justice Minister Onalsyn Zhumabekov announced in Astana on July 16.
"Our state is currently seeking to resolve the issue of abolishing the death penalty, initially through the moratorium, and of the introduction of the life imprisonment," Zhumabekov told reporters, khabar.kz reported.
He was speaking at the news conference following his trip to Pavlodar, where the correction facility is to be built.
"We have looked at the former building of Khimprom, and we think of building the facility on its foundation," he said.
Just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Khimprom factory, remarkably enough, was built in Pavlodar as the future chemical weapons production facility. Though it never produced a single weapon, using its premises as a building for special prison will perhaps become one of the most peculiar projects of conversion.
The prison will cost the budget 800 million tenge ($1= 147 tenge) and will house up to 500 inmates. This will be enough to accommodate 30-40 convicts sentenced for capital crimes across the country annually, Zhumabekov said.
As the country works to humanize its criminal statutes and correction system, including through multiple changes in the legislation and the transfer of correction facilities to the civilian department, the issue of death penalty, however, is continuing to be a subject of hot debates in the Kazakh society. Many people still oppose the abolishment.
About 69% of respondents in a recent poll opposed the moratorium on the death penalty, while 31% supported it, Zhumabekov told a session of the Legal Policy Council in Astana on July 10. Importantly, the number of moratorium opponents is declining, he noted.
The numbers of death sentence convictions in Kazakhstan is also declining, Zhumabekov said. Kazakhstan was holding 28 convicts sentenced to execution as of June 1, 2003, while the same number was 96 in 1999, 71 in 2000, 65 in 2001 and 51 in 2002, the minister said. The president pardoned eight convicts sentenced to death in 1999; the number was four in 2000 and 2001, and two in 2002. This year no one sentenced to death has been pardoned.
Death sentences were commuted to prison terms for 23 convicts in 1999, 18 in 2000, 14 in 2001, 5 in 2002, and 3 in 2003. According to the minister, death sentence is a punishment for first-degree murder. Only 5% of deliberate murders are punished with death, he said.
Finance, IT, Law, Audit Dominate Entrants' Choices
As Kazakhstan's universities and institutes move into the admission exams stage, statistics shows that young people are mostly interested in finance, information technologies, foreign languages, law, accounting and auditing, as well as the public administration, the Ministry of Education announced July 16. Entrants are also interested in technical studies, particularly in the oil and gas sector.
A total of 160,000 young men and women submitted their applications for admission this year before the July 16 deadline, 36,000 more compared to 2002. The figure also represents 70 percent of the number of high school graduates this year.
Admission tests will take place in 52 civilian and 10 non-civilian higher education institution in late July-early August, and the results will be announced on the days of the testing. Also in early July, the Government will announce its educational grants based on the results of the testing.
Experts Finalize Caspian Ecological Convention
Experts from the five Caspian littoral states finalized on July 15 the new framework environmental protection convention for the sea, which is known for its two most valuable types of "black gold" oil and caviar.
Negotiators from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Russia and Turkmenistan met for two days in Astana and prepared what they called the "draft" of this important document, express-k.kz reported.
Kazakh Deputy Environment Minister Enlik Nurgalieva said she hoped all the issues would be ironed out during this meeting. Some organizational issues were left unresolved, however, including the management structure for enforcing the convention and the position of the secretariat. It was the eighth meeting of experts from the Caspian states seeking to work out an accord on protecting the sea's unique ecology.
The leaders of the five nations are expected to sign the convention in the fall.
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News Bulletin of the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the USA and Canada
(Compiled from own sources and various agencies' reports)
Contact persons: Roman Vassilenko, Aibek Nurbalin
Tel.: (202) 232- 5488 ext. 104, 115, Fax: (202) 232- 5845