Belarus

This Week in European Conflict… March 3rd-10th, 2012.

  • The European Union pulled a TV ad from circulation and apologized after many considered it racist. The ad featured several non-Western martial artists who confront a white brunette (symbolizing Europe) with weaponry and ends with her surrounding them.
  • President Lukashenka of Belarus lashed out at the European Union for expanding sanctions against his country last week, specifically at the openly homosexual German Foreign Minister, reportedly saying it is “better to be a dictator than to be gay”. Prison authorities reportedly prevented a pastor from visiting jailed opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka in a bid to persuade him to end his hunger strike on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the leader of the opposition United Civic Party was reportedly blocked by officials from coring into neighbouring Lithuania.
  • Sweden has reportedly been secretly helping Saudi Arabia plan the construction of an arms factory to produce anti-tank missiles since 2005.
  • President Sarkozy said on Tuesday that there are too many immigrants in France, defending his re-election campaign promise to cut the number of new arrivals by half. On Thursday, Sarkozy promised Armenians he will eventually secure the adoption of a law that would make it a crime to deny the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide. On Friday, authorities said they wanted the Basque separatist group ETA to completely disarm and would continue to work with the Spanish government to end the last major guerrilla conflict on the continent.
  • The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England tried to ambush the PM’s attempt to legalize same-sex marriage when he launched his “no” campaign from the pulpit on the weekend. The British government is planning to launch a formal consultation document on allowing homosexual couples to marry. Some disturbing statistics were revealed on Friday, citing that more than half of young black men available for work in the country are now unemployed and that women are being disproportionately affected by government funding cuts.
  • The President of Armenia accused leaders in neighbouring Azerbaijan of seeking to block progress on resolving the conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday. Armenia is set to engage in its first ever joint military exercises with the United States.
  • Three police officers and one gunman were killed in Dagestan on Sunday as unknown gunmen reportedly attacked them near a polling station for the Russian Presidential elections. On Tuesday, a female suicide bomber killed five police officers during an attack on a police station. On Friday, Russian forces reportedly used helicopters and artillery fire to pursue a group of 15 suspected terrorists in the Dagestan region.
  • Around 3,000 coal miners blocked a major road in southwestern Romania on Thursday, demanding a pay raise that was promised to them by the previous government.
  • Slovakia held its Parliamentary elections amid widespread public anger over a major corruption scandal on Saturday.  Exit polls suggested that a leftist opposition party appeared to be winning.
  • Voters in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia held their Parliamentary elections on Sunday, despite Georgia not recognizing them as valid.
  • The Parliament of Moldova voted to legalize chemical castration for convicted pedophiles and some rapists on Tuesday. The law will also apply to foreign nationals. On Wednesday, the acting President set the Presidential elections for March 16th, as the Parliament had failed to agree on a candidate amid prolonged disagreements between political factions.
  • Vladimir Putin won a third term as President in Russia, amid reports of voting irregularities and fraud during Sunday’s vote, though the ruling United Russia party said the elections should serve as “a model for other countries” in terms of transparency. On Monday, the United States urged the Russian government to conduct “an independent, credible investigation of all reported electoral violations” from the Presidential vote, after international elections monitors say the election was clearly skewed in favour of Putin; riot police detained opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny during an anti-government rally; while thousands of Russians joined a mass protest against Putin’s return to the Kremlin, resulting in the detention of hundreds. Two of the members of the feminist band “Pussy Riot” who were arrested on the weekend started a hunger strike in protest. On Tuesday, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said he was troubled by Putin’s claiming victory and called for a discussion on whether to hold a new election. On Wednesday, authorities granted permission to opposition activists to gather up to 50,000 people on the weekend to protest Putin’s win; while the Russian League of Voters condemned the Presidential election as an “insult to civil society”. On Thursday, wives of retired military officers marked International Women’s Day by staging a protest and a hunger strike outside the defense ministry to demand better housing for their families; Putin announced plans to start consultations immediately on the composition of a new government; while NATO’s Secretary-General phoned Putin to congratulate him on his victory and agreed to meet in the “not-too-distant future”. On Friday, police in Moscow announced they will take any necessary measures in the instance of violations at a critical opposition rally on Saturday; the Kremlin said they had dismissed Russia’s ambassador to Qatar in the wake of an altercation between the ambassador and airport authorities; a group of major Russian human rights organizations criticised US Secretary of State Clinton over her response calling Putin the “clear winner” in the Presidential election;  while American President Obama called Putin, in the first conversation between the two men since Putin won his controversial third term. On Saturday, about a dozen protesters were arrested by police as several thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators rallied to denounce the elections.
  • A bomb exploded near the Prime Ministry building in Ankara, Turkey, lightly injuring one person on Monday; while the Turkish authorities were reportedly exploring paths to end the Kurdish conflict. On Friday, authorities expelled members of a Ukrainian feminist group from the country after they staged a topless protest to mark International Women’s Day; while state prosecutors sought permission from the PM to question spy chiefs over their secret contacts with Kurdish militants, challenging the government’s move to cub the investigation.
  • The interior minister of Macedonia condemned a recent wave of ethnically motivated violence, including a series of attacks over the week that left nearly a dozen people injured.
  • Prosecutors at the UN’s Yugoslav war crimes court asked for a 28-year sentence for Vojislave Seselj of Serbia on Wednesday, accusing him of incitement to commit atrocities in the 1990s Balkan wars; while mayors of ethnic Serbian municipalities in northern Kosovo said they had received assurances from the Serbian Parliament speaker that local and Parliamentary elections will be held in Kosovo as well. Former Bosnia politician and warlord Fikret Abdic was released from prison after serving two-thirds of his sentence for crimes against Muslims during the 1992-5 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina on Friday and was met by some 3,000 supporters.
  • The Parliament of Croatia unanimously ratified a treaty on the country’s entry into the European Union on Friday.
  • The European Union announced that Hungary had not answered all the questions raised by the bloc about its respect for democratic rights and freedoms, with the EU threatening legal actions on Wednesday.
  • The President of the Ukraine ordered the government to work on a series of new reforms that he says are aimed at improving social welfare and public trust in the government on Wednesday during a televised cabinet meeting.
Advertisements

This Week in European Conflict… February 25th-March 3, 2012.

  • European Union leaders confirmed that Herman Van Rompuy will serve a second term as President of the European Council on Thursday. Van Rompuy has served as the President since December 2009.
  • A remote-controlled bomb injured 15 police officers and one civilian on Thursday in Istanbul, Turkey targeting a police bus close to the headquarters of the ruling AK Party. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
  • A controversial system of mobile euthanasia units were started on Thursday in the Netherlands. The scheme will send teams of specifically trained doctors and nurses to the homes of people whose own doctors have refused to carry out patients’ requests to end their lives.
  • The government of Ireland passed into law controversial copyright legislation that Internet freedom groups called a new form of censorship.
  • Serbia took a large step towards integrating with mainstream Europe on Monday as European Union foreign ministers called for the country to be made a candidate for union membership; while the European Union mission in Kosovo said six suspected operatives of Serbia’s Interior Ministry were arrested in Kosovo and five of them ordered held for 30 days. On Thursday, EU leaders formally endorsed Serbia as a candidate for membership into the bloc.
  • Hundreds of angry protesters forced President Sarkozy to take refuge in a cafe during his campaigning in France’s Basque country. Sarkozy denounced the “violence of a minority and their unacceptable behaviour”.
  • Senior EU officials agreed on fresh sanctions against Belarus on Monday in response to the President’s continued repression of his political opponents. On Tuesday, jailed hunger-striking opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka received a visit from his wife at the detention centre, who said he looked “half-alive”; while EU members announced they would recall their ambassadors to Minsk—a move Belarus said was “escalating tensions”— after Belarus asked the ambassadors to leave and recalled its own envoys “for consultations” in a tit-for-tat response to an expansion of sanctions. On Friday, EU officials expressed their “serious” concern over the “deterioration of the situation” in the country, as the European Council adopted a statement endorsing the recent EU sanctions and called on the bloc to continue work on “further measures”.
  • Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Russia on Sunday, wearing white scarves and ribbons or carrying white balloons or flowers, and lined the Garden ring holding hands to form a human chain to protest the likely return of Putin to the Presidency. On Monday, the opposition accused the Kremlin of playing up a purported assassination attempt against PM Putin to boost his popularity ahead of the Presidential elections; while an activist in the opposition Solidarity movement was reportedly arrested and sent to a psychiatric clinic for alleged antigovernment action. On Tuesday, authorities announced their plans to modernize the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle to include detachable equipment, such as an optical sight and a lamp. On Wednesday, PM Putin said his enemies were planning dirty tricks including ballot stuffing and even murder to tarnish the elections; opposition political blogger Aleksei Navalny said that he and other opposition protesters would not recognize the results of the March 4th Presidential election if Putin wins; while the Legislative Assembly in St. Petersburg passed a bill banning propaganda to minors about homosexuality or pedophilia, angering critics by tying sexual violence against children to homosexuality. On Thursday, Putin said he had not yet decided whether he wants to stay in power beyond 2018, when the Presidential mandate he is expected to win expires, showing his confidence in an upcoming win; the top investigative body says it launched an investigation into several video clips allegedly containing fake evidence of vote-rigging; authorities accused the US of trying to influence its election process by funding opposition groups; while Human Rights Watch says authorities are cracking down on critics during the protests. On Friday, the Guardian ran an article suggesting that although anti-Putin protests are rampant in Moscow, outside the capital, his support is much greater; election monitors complained of harassment and revealed alleged plans for mass fraud, prompting the opposition to plan protests no matter the results on Monday; Russia expressed a willingness to restore diplomatic relations with neighbouring Georgia, after the Georgian President offered to established visa-free travel to Georgia for Russians; Putin said that protests made him a stronger candidate; while the Russian Interior Ministry announced it plans to send 6,300 police officers from central Russia to Moscow for the election and subsequent days.
  • Police and protesters fought in the streets of Barcelona, Spain on Wednesday as more than 30,000 people joined students in demonstrations against cuts in education spending.
  • Police in London, England announced they arrested 20 people in an operation to dismantle the Occupy protest camp outside St. Paul’s Cathedral on Tuesday. The protesters were refused permission to appeal against a High Court decision to allow their eviction to proceed.
  • Two dozen Azerbaijani and Turkish protesters gathered outside the Armenian Mission near the UN on Monday to mark the 20th anniversary of Azerbaijan’s war with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and to demand an apology for what Baku calls“genocide” in the village of Khojaly. On Tuesday, France’s Constitutional Council ruled that the recent law concerning the mass killings of Armenians a century ago violates the country’s constitution, a move Turkey welcomed.
  • An inactivated explosive device was discovered on an empty subway train at an Athens metro station in Greece on Saturday. Police say they believe the device was likely linked to a far-left group.  
  • A former interior minister and close ally of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko in the Ukraine was sentenced to four years in jail for embezzlement and abuse of office. Critics dismissed the charges as politically motivated. On Monday, the EU criticized the court decision, saying the verdict casts doubt on the independence of the judiciary.

This Week in European Conflict… February 18th-25th, 2012.

  • The former foreign secretary of the EU Jack Straw announced that the European Parliament should be abolished after failing to achieve its purpose of bridging the divide between the European people and EU. Straw argued that the body has a “major democratic deficit”  as a poll shows 78% believe their voice doesn’t count in the EU.
  • Tens of thousands reportedly rallied across Russia on Saturday in support of Vladimir Putin. Hundreds of cars circled central Moscow on Sunday to demand PM Putin allows free elections in the country; President Medvedev announced his intention to meet with some of the heads of the opposition protest movement; while PM Putin outlined plans for military reform and rearmament that would see the government spending 23 trillion rubles (around $770 billion) over a ten year period.  On Monday, a rare meeting between the President and opposition leaders produced talk of political reform but no sign of concessions strong enough to halt protests posing a challenge to Putin; a new poll predicts that Putin will be elected President in the first round of March’s election; while PM Putin announced that the country needs a stronger military to protect it against foreign attempts to stoke conflict around its borders. On Tuesday, Putin allegedly sought to bolster his authority ahead of the Presidential election by promising police in Moscow to pay hefty pay raises; the President of the southern republic of Tatarstan endorsed Putin, claiming Russia needs a “tsar” rather than a manager as head of state; while early voting began in remote areas ahead of the March 4th Presidential election. On Thursday, tens of thousands gathered in a central Moscow stadium to hear Putin, as he spouted nationalistic rhetoric and warned of the dangers of foreign influence, reportedly reminiscent of Soviet times. On Friday, Radio Free Europe ran an article detailing how a new protest movement, organized largely through social media, is rolling through the country; while Putin announced that he sees no new chill in ties with the Americans, but warned that he would not let the US gain nuclear supremacy and had no intention of playing “yes man” to the West on global issues.
  • An opposition activist in Belarus was sentenced to 10 days in jail on Wednesday for holding an unsanctioned “toy protest” in Minsk, and announced he will go on a hunger strike in protest. On Thursday, another toy protest activist was reportedly jailed, while both men announced the start of a hunger strike to protest their imprisonment.
  • A wave of execution-style shootings and a police station bombing have rocked Sweden’s third largest city, sparking fears of gangster violence taking hold of the country, once seen as the world’s safest places.
  • Police announced on Saturday that at least seventeen police and seven insurgents were reportedly killed in four days of fighting on the border between Chechnya and Dagestan. Another 24 police and security troops were also wounded in the fighting.
  • EU officials announced that a new round of talks in Brussels between Serbia and Kosovo was to be postponed to February 22nd after Pristina representatives failed to show up on time because their flight had been cancelled.  On Wednesday, Serbia announced its plans to open its first shelter for gays and lesbians in a southern city. On Thursday, the German Foreign Minister announced that Germany firmly supports Serbia’s bid to join the EU and would like to see it given candidate status at the upcoming week’s EU summit; while former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic slammed the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal as a puppet of NATO, calling it biased against him and other Serbs. On Friday, the EU Enlargement Commissioner announced that Serbia and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leadership reached a deal on border issues and Kosovo’s participation in Balkan regional meetings; while the Bosnian Education Minister has reportedly resigned and fled the country after receiving death threats for his decision to remove mandated religious classes from primary school.
  • Macedonia reportedly urged NATO to accept it as a member when the alliance holds a summit in May, despite Greek opposition due to a long-running dispute over its name.
  • The government of Germany and two main opposition parties agreed to jointly nominate a former East German human rights activist as the next President, following the resignation of the former President on Friday.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people protested across Spain on Sunday against reforms to the labour market, in fears it will destroy workers’ rights and the welfare state. The protests took place in some 57 towns and cities across the country. Thousands of students took to the streets on Tuesday to protest against alleged police violence, a day after security forces arrested 25 protesters and injured 4 at a demonstration against spending cuts in education.
  • Nearly 75 percent of voters in Latvia rejected the plan to change the constitution and introduce Russian as an official second language in the country on Saturday, a move praised by neighbouring Lithuania. Russia however, criticized the country for rejecting their language, calling the vote biased because it excluded so many Russian-speaking “non-citizens” from voting.
  • The Guardian ran an article outlining the six key elements of the deal for the bailout of Greece by the eurozone finance ministers. On Wednesday, trade unions promised a popular revolt over the bailout.
  • Emergency services in London, England began practising their response in the event of an attack during the summer Olympic Games, set to be staged in the capital this year.
  •  The European Court of Human Rights ordered Italy to pay thousands of dollars to 24 Somali and Eritrean migrants who fled Libya in 2009, but were subsequently returned. The court ruled that the migrants risked ill-treatment in Libya where such migrants were systematically detained.
  • President Saakashvili of Georgia challenged his political opponents to disclose their views on relations with Russia, while also underlining his commitment to strengthening the country’s ties with NATO and the EU.

This Week in European Conflict… February 11th-18th, 2012.

  • On Friday, France and Britain agreed to jointly work to develop next-generation unmanned drones as part of their military cooperation.
  • The Guardian ran a set of interesting articles detailing Scotland Yard’s investigation into Britain’s MI5 instances of torture, murder and rendition.
  • Nicolas Sarkozy formally declared that he will be running for a second term as President of France this spring.
  • The chief editor of the leading liberal radio station in Russia announced that a surprise management reshuffle at the station is aimed at dictating the station’s coverage ahead of the March 4th Presidential elections on Tuesday; while it was released that the country came close to a nuclear disaster last December when a blaze engulfed a nuclear-powered submarine carrying atomic weapons. On Wednesday, a fake video showing Vladimir Putin in a courtroom cage in what seemed to be a real trial for terrorism went viral on the internet; while the white ribbon protest gained steam, especially among those fashion-conscious Russians. On Thursday, the European Parliament expressed concern over the disputed Russian State Duma elections in December, but stopped short of called for their annulment; while an official responsible for foreign arms sales says the country set a weapons export record in 2011, selling $13.2 billion in arms to foreign clients, with India, Algeria and Vietnam accounting for half of all exports.
  • Serbs in northern Kosovo began voting on Monday in a referendum asking whether or not they accept the authority of ethnic Albanian rulers. The referendum has no legal weight, but is likely to further complicate the EU-sponsored dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and Serbia’s efforts to eventually join the EU. By Thursday, 99.74% of Serbs who voted rejected Albanian rule; and European Union-brokered talks were set to resume between Serbia and Kosovo.
  • At least three Russian police officers were reportedly killed and six others injured on Monday in a gun battle with suspected militants along the Chechen-Dagestan border.  On Tuesday, Russian security forces allegedly killed the leader of a rebel group, Ibragimkhalil Daudov in Dagestan.
  • Veterans of the Afghan-Soviet war in the Ukraine snubbed the President by turning their backs on him at a ceremony on Wednesday to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. The daughter of former Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko said that her mother has been subjected to poor medical care and abusive conditions in prison during an interview.
  • On Saturday, the people of Latvia voted in a referendum on whether or not to make Russian the second official language of the country.
  • On Sunday night, tens of thousands of people in Greece reportedly tried to demonstrate peacefully in front of the parliament building, but were almost immediately met with teargas, and then took to rioting—setting fire to banks, stores and cafes. On Monday, the country announced it will hold general elections in April, only hours after Parliament voted through tough new austerity measures aimed at saving the country from bankruptcy.
  • The European Parliament President announced he is “appalled” by the deteriorating situation in Belarus regarding human rights and political freedoms on Tuesday and called upon authorities to release opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka and all other political prisoners. On Friday, another prominent Belarusian human rights activist who was sentenced to 4 ½ years in jail for tax evasion was transferred from a detention centre in Minsk to a labour camp in Babruysk.
  • Two international watchdogs condemned recent attacks on a Turkish newspaper office in Germany and France allegedly carried out by Kurdish activists. On Friday, the German President was forced into a humiliating resignation, after being caught up in an alleged corruption scandal and misguided attempt to muzzle the press.

This Week in European Conflict… February 4th-11th, 2012.

  • Tens of thousands of people took part in rallies across Europe on Saturday to protest against an international anti-piracy agreement they fear will curb their freedom to download movies and music for free and encourage internet surveillance.
  • Pro-Europe politician Sauli Niinisto won the Presidency in Finland on Sunday to keep the country in the euro zone with a 63 percent majority.
  • The PM and his cabinet in Romania resigned on Monday after weeks of protests over widespread corruption and austerity measures, naming the foreign intelligence chief Mihai Razvan Ungureanu as the new PM-designate. Emil Boc said he was quitting to “release the tension in the country’s political and social situation”. On Thursday, the Parliament approved the new government headed by designated new PM Mihai Razvan Ungureanu.
  • A group calling itself the Russian arm of Anonymous reportedly hacked private emails that show that a pro-Kremlin group in Russia allegedly runs a network of internet trolls, seeks to buy flattering coverage of PM Putin and is set to hatch plans to discredit opposition activists and media. PM Putin said on Wednesday that the world faced a growing “cult of violence” and warned of outside interference from the West; while officials announced that nearly 40 soldiers in one unit were hospitalized and one died from pneumonia in Siberia that critics charge is due to insufficient uniforms for the extremely cold temperature. On Thursday, the Defense Ministry said that two of their strategic bombers returned to their base in Siberia following a 16-hour training patrol over international waters north of Japan, a move that prompted the air forces of Japan and South Korea to send F-15 and F-16 fighters to monitor the mission; Eurasianet ran an article suggesting that Putin’s nationalist philosophy may lead to a redrawing of Russian borders; a federal judge in New York upheld the conviction of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout after rejecting his motion to have his conviction dismissed; while former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev again said that Vladimir Putin has exhausted himself as Russia’s leader. On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters again gathered in the capital to challenge PM Putin’s grip on power. On Tuesday, President Medvedev ordered the top security service to “detect and curb provocations” by extremists ahead of elections. On Friday, authorities in the Serbian city of Barnaul declared it now illegal to organize antigovernment demonstrations by using toy collections, unless advance permissions are granted; Defense Minister Serdyukov announced that the Navy will get two new nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines this summer; the Federal Security Service (FSB) said that a military officer was jailed for 13 years for passing missile secrets to the American CIA; and President Medvedev dismissed the police chief of St. Petersburg after a 15-year-old boy died after allegedly being beaten in police custody. On Saturday, a group of European vote monitors say they have been denied a meeting with Putin because of his busy schedule; while pro-democracy protests continued despite the freezing temperatures. The Atlantic ran an article about the viral music video that is become a sensation in Russia that suggests Putin was sent to the country by God, and at just the right time.
  • A 24-hour general strike took place on Tuesday this week in Greece, as workers protested austerity measures from being imposed to prevent the country from going bankrupt. On Friday, at least four members of the coalition government are reported to have resigned over austerity cuts. On Sunday, Parliament approved a deeply unpopular austerity bill to secure a second bailout from the EU and IMF and avoid a messy default; while thousands protested against the bailout, pushing the country on to edge of a precipice.
  • Serbia and Kosovo reportedly resumed dialogue after a three-month break, helping to ease some of the tensions between the two. Serbian authorities reported two high-profile, convicted professional killers attempted to escape from a high-security prison in Belgrade on Tuesday.
  • The Parliament in Bosnia voted in a new central government, formally ending a 16-month political crisis that followed the October 2010 elections. The nine portfolios in the new government will be divided among six parties—two Bosnian Serb, two Bosnian Croat, the main Muslim SDA party and the multi-ethnic Social Democrats.
  • The Supreme Court in Spain disbarred Judge Baltasar Garzon for 11 years on Thursday for illegally recording defence lawyers’ conversations with clients, without any chance of appeal. Garzon is also charged in two other cases, one for allegedly abusing his authority by ordering an inquiry into the murder and forced disappearance of more than 100,000 people by forces loyal to late dictator Franco and violating the 1977 amnesty law.
  • A former senior official in Croatia has plead not guilty to charges that he ordered torture and killing of Serbian civilians during the 1991-5 war. Former Deputy Interior Minister Tomislav Mercep has begun his war crimes trial for allegedly ordering the killing, illegal detention, inhuman treatment and looting of property of 52 ethnic Serbs.
  • A former opposition candidate for the de facto Presidency of South Ossetia is reportedly in “serious but stable” condition after being taken to the hospital for a hypertensive crisis. She allegedly suffered the attack while being questioned during a police raid of her headquarters.
  • Some 13 militants and one soldier were reportedly killed in a series of operations in southeastern Turkey on Thursday between security forces and Kurdish PKK fighters; while the national intelligence agency rebuffed a demand from state prosecutors that it answer questions about secret talks it allegedly held with Kurdish rebels.
  • The radical feminist group FEMEN in the Ukraine hosted a topless protest to draw attention to the poor human rights record in Belarus that was recently chosen as the host of the 2014 Hockey World Cup. On Wednesday, the Ukrainian Parliament rejected to bills that would have freed former PM Yulia Tymoshenko, who was sentenced to prison in a process that rights groups and foreign governments have condemned; while President Yankovych fired the Defense Minister without citing a reason for the dismissal.
  • The Interior Minister of France, who is also in charge of immigration, said he is standing by his remarks that not all civilizations are equal, even as critics denounced his comments as dangerous and xenophobic.

This Week in European Conflict… December 11th-17th, 2011.

  • The EU is set to restrict the sale of the main active substances needed for lethal injections to the United States. By Friday, the export of sodium thiopental will only be possible with special permission.
  • French President Sarkozy said that there are now clearly “two Europes” following a summit last week where the UK vetoed EU treaty changes, while former Belgian PM Verhofstadt called upon a boycott of the English language within the EU. European leaders agreed in Brussels to plans for deeper economic integration among the countries that use the euro currency and to impose sanctions on states that go over an agreed budget deficit limit.
  • On Monday, a package bomb thought to have been sent from Italy was sent to the Greek Embassy in Paris, France, but was disabled before it could cause any injuries or damage. Former PM Dominique de Villepin announced he is running for President as an independent candidate on French television. On Thursday, former President Jacques Chirac was convicted by a French court of embezzling public funds and gave him a two-year suspended prison sentence on corruption charges.
  • Rumours that the Swedish-owned Swedbank was facing liquidity and legal problems prompted more than 10,000 Latvians to withdraw their deposits on Sunday. The police have launched an investigation into the source of the rumours, as spreading false rumours that threaten the stability of the banking system is a criminal offence in the country.
  • On Thursday, a gang of seven people were arrested in Slovakia on suspicion of trying to smuggle radioactive material to sell in the Czech Republic. The material was set to arrive from the former Soviet Union and be worth an estimated 500,000 Euros.
  • The President of the breakaway region of Transdniester called upon the election to be scrapped because of numerous violations in voting, after he failed to even qualify for an expected runoff. The Electoral Commission received many complaints from voters and candidates alike. On Friday, the election commission announced it will hold a Presidential runoff on December 25th, after throwing out incumbent Smirnov’s complaints of election irregularities.
  • A Deputy Interior Minister in Belarus was arrested on Monday for possible abuses of office. The man is best known for his leading role in dispersing opposition gatherings and protests and arresting activists. On Friday, two leading activists were charged with verbally insulting police, in an action seen to be taken to prevent their participation in an upcoming party congress; authorities in the eastern city of Vitseksk warned activists of possible consequences should they hold an unsanctioned mass gathering; while the EU imposed sanctions on two officials involved in the trial of human rights activists Ales Byalyatski who was sentenced to prison for tax evasion in November.
  • The Parliament of Moldova has failed to select a new President this week, after he failed to receive the required two-thirds of the vote because of a Communist party boycott. The only Presidential candidate Marian Lupu, alleged that three Communist deputies who recently defected and might have helped him get elected were locked away somewhere by the Communist party. A new ballot will be held in January, and if undecided, will result in the dissolution of Parliament.
  • The founder of a newspaper critical of the authorities of Dagestan died after being gunned down outside his office on Friday. Staff at the newspaper said he was deliberately killed in front of the newspaper office to scare the staff, while other rights activists have stated that his death is payback for his work in the North Caucasus.
  • The mayor of a village in Armenia has resigned in protest at a government decision to transfer large patches of communal land to a German-owned mining company, claiming it would result in an ecological disaster that would lead to a mass exodus of the population, effectively destroying his village. The company plans to extend its open-pit mining operations in the area.
  • After 18 years of negotiations, the World Trade Organization has decided to accept Russia as a member, after the last country to block its bid– Georgia– lifted its objections.  Over the weekend, President Medvedev issued instructions for the government to investigate allegations of electoral fraud during the December 4th parliamentary vote, though claimed he disagreed with demands for a re-vote; while tens of thousands rallied in the streets in the largest anti-government protests in the country’s post-Soviet history. On Monday, one of the richest men in Russia, Mikhail Prokhorov announced that he will run in next year’s Presidential election against PM Putin. On Tuesday, two senior managers of the respected Kommersant publishing group were fired over their coverage of alleged violations during the elections process; while the Director General submitted his resignation in protest; and President Medvedev announced that the first session of the newly elected Parliament would be held on December 21st.  On Wednesday, a Putin loyalist who served as the speaker of Parliament resigned from his position in a move that appeared to be a governmental effort to stem public anger. On Thursday, PM Putin dismissed and mocked the anti-government protesters and claimed that they were “paid agents of the West” on a television program, though he also claimed that they have the right to protest, as long as it is within the law; while DOS attacks on liberal websites and blacklisting of “undesirables” from state television continued.
  • Five people were killed and three wounded in the North Caucasus region in two separate incidences on Wednesday, including four suspected rebel fighters shot dead by Russian soldiers and a senior police investigator who was caught in a road ambush. Three army engineers were injured by a remote-controlled bomb in Ingushetia.
  • On Wednesday, the UN Security Council decided to extend the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus until July 2012 and called upon the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to accelerate reunification talks. The force has been in place since 1964.
  • On Tuesday, a man killed four people and wounded another 122 in Belgium after he lobbed three hand grenades and opened fire at a crowded bus stop before killing himself. The following day, police found the body of another woman, suspected of being Nordine Amrani’s cleaner, while searching the attacker’s garage. Amrani’s lawyer said that he was afraid of being questioned regarding sexual crimes and going back to jail.
  • A lone gunman went on a shooting spree in Florence, Italy on Tuesday, killing two Senegalese street vendors and wounding three others before he turned the gun on himself. The man was described as a far-right personality with a strong anti-immigration stance. Around 300 Africans marched in protest, demanding to see the gunman’s corpse.
  • Security forces in Turkey reportedly killed eight Kurdish militants in fighting in the east on Thursday after helicopter gunships were dispatched to a camp thought to be a winter compound for the PKK. Five of the militants killed were women. The Turkish government has also reportedly threatened to recall its French ambassador and freeze all ties with France if the French parliament passes a bill criminalizing the denial of the Armenian genocide, considering it a “dishonor” to their country.
  • On Tuesday, demonstrators supporting former PM Tymoshenko of the Ukraine battled police outside a court hearing her appeal against a seven-year prison sentence; while the offices of the opposition Ukraine’s Future party were vandalized and robbed in what party officials claim to be a politically motivated attack.
  • On Tuesday, international envoys in Bosnia extended their mandate to oversee the strategic district of Brcko in between two feuding regions, contrary to the advice of the International Crisis Group who claimed that ongoing supervision only encourages local leaders to shirk responsibility. The envoys were to end their mandate two years ago, but stayed in place due to the threats of seccession.
  • On Tuesday, some 25 Russian trucks were refused entry by the EU mission in Kosovo (Eulex), with Eulex saying the convoy must accept its escort or enter through a crossing run by Pristina authorities, which Russia does not recognize as a legitimate body, since Russia does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 independence declaration. The Russian ambassador to Serbia accused Eulex of blocking aid, which Eulex claims is not destined for the general Serbian population but for those manning roadblocks in resistance to the government in Pristina.

This Week in European Conflict… December 4th-10th, 2011.

  • The top military commander in the US announced that he believes the eurozone is at great risk and warned that any breakup of the bloc could have serious consequences for the Pentagon. He warned of the potential for civil unrest after 26 of the 27 EU countries agreed to forge a tighter fiscal union.
  • On Sunday, opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov was arrested by plainclothes police in Russia on his way to a protest calling on Russians to boycott the day’s problematic elections processes. The ruling United Russia party garnered just fewer than 50% of the votes, amid allegations of people being bused from polling station to polling station, vote rigging, fraud and other problems, including  the shutdown of several websites that provide independent election data by suspected hackers intent on silencing allegations of violations in the vote. Hundreds were arrested in a protest in central Moscow on Tuesday, including opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, journalists, several other human rights leaders, bloggers and opposition activists; while an election observer in the republic of Tatarstan says she witnessed several cases of vote rigging in the elections and several other international election observers complained of violations tilted in favour of the ruling United Russia party. PM Putin responded to the allegations and protests by promising to reshuffle the government next year, amid warnings from his spokesman that any unsanctioned rallies would be stopped. On Wednesday, ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev urged authorities to annul the parliamentary vote results and hold a new election as protests and instability increased while police blocked any new protest attempts. Though as many as 800 protesters were arrested in less than 24 hours, opposition groups began calling upon daily protests. President Medvedev posted an insulting post on his Twitter feed against the opposition that was later blamed upon an unidentified official who interfered with the feed. On Thursday, Putin accused US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton of encouraging the Russian protests and giving “the signal” to opposition leaders to protest; while more than 35,000 demonstrators took to the streets with Russians flooding Facebook and Twitter to organize. On Friday, the founder and director general of a Russian online social network was summoned to the prosecutor’s office in Saint Petersburg after he announced they would not comply with an order from the Federal Security Service to block seven groups calling for demonstrations.
  • On Tuesday, three people were charged with a plot to murder a cartoonist in Sweden who depicted the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) in a newspaper in 2005.
  • Serbs in Kosovo started to dismantle roadblocks on Monday that had caused clashes with NATO peacekeepers. A local Serb leader said the removal was part of an agreement with the peacekeeping mission (KFOR).  On Tuesday UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the resumption of dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo to adopt border controls.
  • Croatia went to the polling stations in its general elections on Sunday, electing a new centre-left government. On Friday, the country was embraced as the 28th member of the European Union, formally joining on July 1, 2013.
  • A letter bomb addressed to Deutsche Bank Chief Josef Ackermann was intercepted in Frankfurt, Germany on Wednesday. No group has yet claimed responsibility.
  • A letter bomb exploded at a tax collection agency office in Italy on Friday, wounding the organization’s director. The Italian group, Informal Anarchist Federation, claimed responsibility.
  • Several Greenpeace activists stormed into the grounds of a nuclear power plant in France trying to show the vulnerability of atomic sites in the country. Seven of the nine intruders were detained.
  • On Monday, politicians in Belgium finally agreed to form a government after almost 18 months after the last elections. The government will be headed by Elio Di Rupo, an openly gay francophone from the Wallonia region.
  • On Wednesday, the coalition government in Greece passed an austerity budget aimed at shrinking its debt amid clashes between police and protesters outside of Parliament. Police fired teargas at protesters, who reportedly hurled petrol bombs; broken pavement slabs, and sticks at them, causing over two dozen injuries and 38 arrests.
  • Hundreds of farmers protested in Sofia, Bulgaria on Tuesday against subsidy cuts due next year, calling upon the finance and agricultural ministers to resign.
  • The opposition leader in South Ossetia announced that a deal with former de facto President Eduard Kokoity to end protests had been violated, calling upon her supporters to demonstrate in the capital.  Dzhioyeva said that just prior to quitting his post as President, Kokoity created a Constitutional Court and made dozens of appointments.
  • On Saturday, at least 15,000 supporters of the Communist Party in Moldova demonstrated to demand the resignation of the government, which they say is run from Brussels, the US and Bucharest. Presidential elections are set to be held on December 16th.
  • The European commissioner for human rights warned that any attempt by the government to overhaul human rights laws in the UK would have a damaging effect on global democracy, after the PM expressed his desire to replace the Human Rights Act with a new Bill of Rights. The convention was drawn up after the Second World War and ratified in 1950.
  • Twelve of the some 30 hunger strikers in Kyiv, Ukraine protesting social benefits cuts for Chernobyl cleanup veterans have switched to a so-called dry hunger strike in an attempt to intensify the protest.
  • On Sunday, Parliamentary elections in Slovenia saw a narrow victory for the centre-left mayor of the capital, Ljubljana. The Positive Slovenia party won some 28.5% of the votes (or 28 seats), the Slovenian Democratic Party garnered 26.3% and the Social Democrats got 10.5%.
  • An opposition activist in Belarus reportedly disappeared after reporting to police for questioning in the eastern part of the country. Dzmitry Toustsik has been missing since December 6th.