This Week in European Conflict… November 25th- December 3rd, 2011.
A court in Belarushanded down a four-and-a-half year prison sentence to prominent human rights activist Ales Byalyatiski for tax evasion on Thursday in a move that was seen as politically motivated. The UN human rights panel criticized the country on Friday for what it called “numerous and consistent allegations of widespread torture and ill-treatment of detainees”, also expressing concern over reports that the government only informs families of persons sentenced to death weeks after the punishment has been carried out. On Monday, another opposition activist was charged with insulting police in a dispute about his parole restrictions for “the illegal display of the banned Belarusian national flag” in a public place.
Some 21 KFOR solders were injured in a clash with protesters in northern Kosovo on Wednesday-Thursday, as they attempted to dismantle a roadblock put up by local Serbs to prevent ethnic Albanian authorities from establishing control in the north. On Monday, two more soldiers were wounded by gunfire in clashes with the Serb demonstrators. On Friday, Serbia and Kosovo struck a deal on border management after three days of negotiations in Brussels.
President Medvedev of Russia warned on Wednesday that it will deploy its own missiles and possibly withdraw from the New Start nuclear arms reduction treaty if the US moves forward with its plans for a missile-defence system in Europe. The missile-defence system, with current agreements to place 24 interceptor missiles in Romania and a sophisticated radar system in Turkey, is being developed to defend against a potential missile attack by Iran. On Wednesday, PM Putin said that Russia could not afford to let political opposition or disagreement jeopardize stability during the upcoming parliamentary elections set for December 4th and insisted that in the face of opposition the governing party would tighten its grip. On Sunday, PM Putin accepted the nomination for the United Russia Party as a candidate for the Presidency in the March 2012 elections. On Monday, the Kremlin launched a campaign to crack down on Russians’ access to western media that is critical of the PM and his United Russia party ahead of the March 4 elections. On Tuesday, Russia turned on a new incoming missile early warning system in its westernmost region in response to the US plans for a European missile shield. On Friday, the country’s only independent election monitoring group was found guilty of breaking Russian electoral law, under the claim they are part of a US-funded plot to disrupt Sunday’s vote. The group claims they have been harassed and intimidated by state security officials in the runup to the parliamentary elections after they recorded more than 4,700 complaints, most involving the ruling United Russia party. On Saturday, the head of Golos, the election monitoring group was held for several hours by customs officials and her laptop taken on the pretext that it had illegal software, while parliamentary voting began in the Far East regions.
Election officials in South Ossetia declared the second round of the Presidential election valid after more than the required 30% of eligible voters cast ballots. Former Education Minister Alla Dzhioyeva appeared to be leading the runoff, amid allegations of bribing and intimidating voters, though the Central Election Commission was ordered to refrain from releasing official results until complaints about violations were heard. The Supreme Court then voided the second round on Tuesday citing significant electoral violations. On Wednesday, soldiers fired warning shots into the air during a rally to support Dzhioyeva, who denounced the Supreme Court’s ruling and said she was forming a new government.
A 24-hour general strike against austerity measures on Thursday in Portugal was one of the biggest in the country’s history. Portugal is locked into a three-year programme of debt-reduction measures in return for the financial rescue package from European partners and the IMF.
Riot police clashed with protesting workers at Greece’s biggest power producer on Thursday over a new property tax imposed as part of the country’s latest austerity measures. The police detained some 15 people. Meanwhile, thousands of workers took to the streets in a 24 hour general strike.
Some 200 pensioners, many armed with pitchforks attacked and attempted to occupy the office of the regional governor in Donetsk, Ukraine on Monday, but were stopped by the police. The protesters are demanding that the Ukrainian government resign. On Tuesday, some 3,000 veterans of the Chernobyl cleanup picketed the government building in Kyiv, protesting planned cuts in social allowances.
Confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik of Norway has been declared legally insane by prosecutors on Tuesday after a mental evaluation. Breivik, who killed 77 people during a bombing and shooting attack in July, was reported to be a paranoid schizophrenic.
The Parliament of Moldova has set December 16th as the date for its second attempt to pick a President in less than a month, ending more than two years of leadership crisis. The head of state is elected by Parliament, not by direct popular vote and political stalemate has derailed previous attempts.
On Thursday, six party talks in Belgium resulted in the formation of a new government, 18 months after a parliamentary election and after 535 days without a government. Tens of thousands marched in Brussels on Friday, protesting against austerity measures flagged by the incoming government.