April 15, 2009 / 1:39 PM / 11 years ago

Tajik president says "enemies" waging Internet war

DUSHANBE (Reuters) - Tajikistan’s long-serving president accused the “enemies” of his nation on Wednesday of using the Internet to undermine his rule and urged his people to mobilise against the threat.

President Imomali Rakhmon did not name any countries, but his remarks came at a time of growing tension between Tajikistan, a strategic nation courted by the West, and Russia, its former Soviet overlord.

In his annual state of the nation address, Rakhmon said forces on the Internet were waging a “deliberate and evil campaign” against Tajikistan, a Persian speaking country which gained independence after the Soviet collapse in 1991.

“This information war ... is aimed at humiliating Tajikistan’s role in international politics, at instilling pessimism in our people about their future,” he said.

“The Tajik nation should know the goals and aims of its enemies, remain politically vigilant and avoid despair,” he said, adding 80 percent of media reports on Tajikistan were based on “lies, slander and biased materials”.

The impoverished nation depends on both Russia, where a million of its skilled workers earn wages, and the West, which provides it with humanitarian aid, to make ends meet.

Remittances account for about half of Tajikistan’s gross domestic product and are falling along with Russia’s contracting economy. The other source of national income is an aluminium plant but its role has decreased as the economic crisis sent world aluminium prices to a seven-year low.

Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan, has distanced itself from Russia over the past years, accusing Moscow of breaking its promises of more investment.

The United States has stepped up contacts with Tajikistan, which it sees as part of a supply transit route for troops fighting in Afghanistan.

U.S. diplomacy intensified this year after Kyrgyzstan evicted U.S. troops from an air base, a strategic win for Russia which sees the region as part of its sphere of interest.

“It is obvious that the independence of the Tajik nation and its diversified foreign policy are not in favour with certain circles,” Rakhmon said. He gave no specific examples.

Tajik officials have long complained about Russia’s negative perception of its people working there and racism and violence against labourers from the Muslim nation.

Russia hosts the world’s second-largest number of migrants after the United States, according to the UN’s International Organisation for Migration, many from Tajikistan.

Rakhmon nearly cancelled a visit to Russia in February as relations soured. He is particularly upset by a lack of Russian commitment to help Tajikistan build a $3.2-billion power plant, which he sees as a key pillar in the economy.

Tajikistan terminated a deal this month allowing a Russian TV channel to broadcast in the country.

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