Uzbekistan resumes gas supplies to Tajikistan
* Central Asian states sign supply contract to year-end
* 15-day disruption had threatened Tajik economy
* Uzbekistan says requires more gas for China
By Roman Kozhevnikov
DUSHANBE, April 16 (Reuters) - Uzbekistan resumed pumping natural gas to Tajikistan on Monday after signing a contract to end a 15-day stoppage that soured relations between the Central Asian neighbours and threatened disruption to the fragile Tajik economy.
Gas flows to Tajikistan had resumed in accordance with a contract signed on April 11, Uzbek state energy company Uzbekneftegaz said in a statement on its website, www.ung.uz.
A representative of Tajik state company TajikTransGaz said the contract guaranteed the supply of 155 million cubic metres of Uzbek gas between now and the end of the year at an initial price of $264 per thousand cubic metre.
He said the contract price could change to reflect market conditions throughout the year, without giving further details.
The severance of Uzbek gas supplies from April 1 had posed a threat to the economy in Tajikistan, the poorest of 15 former Soviet republics, by forcing a state-run cement plant to halt output and an aluminium smelter to reconsider expansion plans.
Uzbekistan, a major regional gas producer and supplier, had said it needed the extra gas volumes for supply to China. A three-month contract with Tajikistan that expired on March 31 was not renewed in time to prevent the stoppage.
Some analysts in Tajikistan saw political overtones in the decision to cut gas needed by the largest cement firm involved in a project to build a huge hydroelectric power station that Uzbekistan says would disrupt water supplies downstream.
State-run Tajik Cement halted production immediately after the stoppage on April 1.
Mountainous Tajikistan, the poorest of 15 former Soviet republics, experiences frequent power blackouts. Only southern regions of the country and upmarket homes in the centre of the capital Dushanbe receive regular supplies of gas.
As well as Tajik Cement, the biggest loser from any cut in gas supplies from Uzbekistan would be a state-run aluminium smelter that contributes more than half of the country's entire export revenues.
Tajikistan Aluminium Company, or TALCO, had said a prolonged cessation of gas supplies would require it to abandon plans to increase output by around 20 percent this year.
In the first three months of 2011, Tajikistan imported 15 million cubic metres of Uzbek gas monthly, equivalent to only about 10 percent of Uzbekistan's daily output. (Writing by Robin Paxton)
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