Latvia

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… 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.