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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.
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This Week in European Conflict… January 25th-February 4th, 2012.

  • The Council of Europe Commission for Human Rights warned this week of rising racism and xenophobia in Europe amid the current economic crisis, with austerity budgets undermining social rights and putting vulnerable groups at greater risk.  On Wednesday, British PM Cameron accused the European court of human rights of having a “corrosive effect” on people’s support for civil liberties; highlighting controversial rulings undermine the public confidence in the rights court.
  • A group known as the Global Zero NATO-Russia Commission urged the US and Russia to start preparatory talks immediately to remove tactical nuclear weapons from combat bases in Europe as a step towards comprehensive nuclear disarmament. The group stated that nuclear weaponry has “virtually no military utility, incur significant financial costs and security risks, including terrorist capture, and create political friction between NATO and Russia”.
  • On Monday, twenty-five of the EU’s twenty-seven member states agreed to join into a fiscal treaty to help overcome the financial crisis and enforce budget discipline. The Czech Republic and the UK refused to sign, citing “constitutional reasons” and “legal concerns” about the use of the EU institutions in enforcement as reasons.
  • Nearly two dozen aligned opposition groups in Armenia decided to contest the upcoming parliamentary elections jointly, angry at the system of proportional representation.  The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) re-stated its intention to bring down the current President.
  • On Sunday, Greece dismissed a German plan to install an EU budget commissioner with oversight of its economy and veto powers as “laughable”. Under the plan, European institutions would have direct control over Greece’s budget decisions in what would amount to an extraordinary depletion of a member state’s independence in conducting its own affairs.
  • On Sunday, thousands took to the streets in Spain to protest the charges against “superjudge” Baltasar Garzon, who controversially investigated the mass killings by the Francoist dictatorship and corruption in the ruling People’s Party in violation of a 1977 amnesty law.
  • Five centre-right parties in Slovenia formally named conservative Janez Jansa as PM-designate on Wednesday; almost two months after a snap election ousted the Social Democrats from power but produced no outright winner. Jansa was confirmed as PM on Saturday.
  • The government in the Netherlands announced plans to ban Muslim face veils such as burqas and other forms of clothing that cover the face starting next year. A government coalition has agreed to submit a new law to parliament next week that would charge offenders fines of up to 390 Euros ($510 USD).
  • Around sixty-seven percent voted to join the European Union in a referendum vote on Sunday afternoon in Croatia. Less than half the voting population was said to have turned out for the vote, prompting an anti-EU group to say the vote was invalidated.
  • The PM in Turkey was angered over the possible passing of the Armenian genocide denial bill in France, saying that they “murdered freedom of thought” and warned the French President of retaliatory measures if it is implemented. The bill was passed late last Monday, with Armenian blessing. On Friday, security forces reportedly killed five Kurdish insurgents after discovering them hiding in a cave in the southeastern province of Batman; while prominent journalists charged with involvement in an alleged plot to overthrow the government were denied released from custody in a controversial trial on media freedom.
  • The President of Georgia denied opposition claims on Tuesday that he wants to stay in power as the PM when his term expires next year, saying his country “can have no Putin”.
  • The UN refugee agency voiced their concern this week over the plight of asylum-seekers, including some minors, held in two detention centres in Ukraine. More than 100 people are reportedly challenging their detention or have complained that they were denied the right to apply for asylum.
  • The PM of Romania fired his foreign minister last Monday allegedly for calling anti-government protesters “inept violent slum-dwellers” after more than a week of sometimes violent demonstrations. On Tuesday, a new foreign minister was sworn in amid continued protests; while the PM called for unity on that the country’s national Day of Unity. On Wednesday, the constitutional court overturned a government plan to hold local and parliamentary elections on the same day, further unsettling the current centrist government. On Saturday, hundreds protested against a plan to set up Europe’s biggest open-cast gold mine, saying it would destroy ancient Roman gold mines and villages and be environmentally damaging. On Monday, the Supreme Court sentenced former PM Adrian Nastase to two years in prison for corruption, though Nastase denies any wrongdoing; while the main opposition group were winning in opinion polls around the country, as protests continued to rock the ruling PDL party.
  • Thousands of angry demonstrators took to the streets of Bratislava and several other towns in Slovakia on Friday in protest at a major corruption scandal ahead of the March elections. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.
  • On Friday, Norway apologized for the arrest and deportation of Jews during the Second World War on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Some 772 Norwegian Jews and refugees were deported to Germany during the war with only around 34 survivors.
  • Four former Yugoslav soldiers were sentenced to up to four years in Montenegro for war crimes committed against ethnic Croatian prisoners of war during the 1991-5 Croatian conflict. The four were charged with torturing prisoners in a makeshift prisoner camp. Meanwhile Bosnia-Herzegovina’s war crimes court upheld a 31-year prison sentence against Radomir Vukovic, a former Bosnian Serb police officer convicted on genocide charges in connection with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
  • Occupy London protesters in the United Kingdom marked 100 days since beginning last Monday, but were forced into retreat in a new office building. On Friday, Occupy activists attempted to disrupt a debate in Davos for the World Economic Forum, calling on delegates to leave the stage and join them in protest; while Occupy protesters in London were evicted by police from the vacant property they had occupied earlier in the week.
  • PM Putin of Russia warned last Monday of the damage of ethnic tensions in the country and vowed he would toughen migration rules and keep a tight rein on Russia’s regions. On Tuesday, the government purchased 60 Iveco armored vehicles from Italy, with plans to spend some $30 billion on new military equipment, including 120 helicopters. On Wednesday, the Central Election Commission registered Mikhail Prokhorov as a Presidential candidate; while current President Medvedev announced he might run for President again following Putin’s anticipated return to the Presidency. On Friday, election authorities formally disqualified the founder of the liberal opposition Yabloko party, Grigory Yavlinsky, from running in the March 4th Presidential election. On Saturday, some 15,000 people reportedly attended a rally in the Russian Urals in support of PM Putin’s bid for the Presidency. On Sunday, the Yabloko opposition party said that the office of a regional newspaper that it publishes have been destroyed in an attack with a Molotov cocktail; while “For Fair Elections” demonstrators displaying a white ribbon or other symbols on their vehicles circled around the Garden Ring in Moscow in protest of the flawed parliamentary vote. On Tuesday, the opposition drafted their protest demands, including the annulment of the December 2011 parliamentary elections and the dismissal of the chief election official. On Thursday, activists say they have come under pressure and scare tactics from police and security services ahead of their next big protest against Putin’s likely return to the presidency; the Russian state-run arms exported Rosoboronesksport reported $11 billion in sales from the 2011 year, despite billions in lost sales from the UN embargo on Libya; and the Deputy PM expressed his wish to see the country’s children play with toy guns and tanks made in Russia rather than the West, giving a “command” for manufacturers to create toy versions of Russian weapons and military equipment. On Saturday, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in Moscow shouting “Russia without Putin” and calling for a rerun of disputed parliamentary elections; while an international commission has developed a new proposal that would allow NATO and Russia to share data from radars and satellites about missile attacks to try and allay fears of the planned US missile shield in Europe neutralizing Russia’s nuclear deterrent.
  • At least 8 alleged Islamist militants, four Russian servicemen and possibly a civilian were killed in three separate incidents in the North Caucasus region on Tuesday; while five suspected Islamist rebels and four Russian servicemen were killed in a clash in the Republic of Dagestan. On Friday, Russian security forces allegedly killed three militants, including the regional leader of an insurgent group, in a shootout in a private home in the village of Ekazhevo; while other reports claimed that Russian security forces and militants killed some 12 people.
  • Police in Belarus have reportedly arrested well-known human rights activist Aleh Vouchak and charged him with hooliganism on Tuesday.