Plus, the right to elect governors restored in Russia and a prison riot in Bishkek.by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, Varvara Lokteva, and Kelly Klein 17 January 2012
1. Official websites targeted in Azerbaijan hacking attack
A number of Azerbaijani official websites were reportedly hacked and left inaccessible for several hours on 16 January. The sites belong to the Interior Ministry, the Communications Ministry, the Constitutional Court, the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, and other state and public organizations, Apa.Az reports. A group calling itself the AzerianCyberArmy claimed responsibility for some of the attacks.
The Trend news agency’s site was also hacked after an item critical of Azerbaijani-Israeli relations was posted on the site, Ann.az reports.
The deputy executive secretary of the New Azerbaijan Party, Mubariz Gurbani, blamed the attacks on “those who cannot conduct polemics,” according to News.az.
Relations between Azerbaijan and Iran, home to a large Azeri minority, have been strained over Baku’s closure of mosques and restrictions on the wearing of headscarves. In November a prominent Azeri writer and critic of both the Iranian and Azerbaijani regimes, Rafiq Tagi, was murdered in Baku shortly after publishing a critical article on the two countries’ relations.
Access to the most of the affected Azerbaijani sites had been restored at the time of writing.
2. Medvedev submits bill on direct election of regional leaders
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev submitted a bill to parliament 16 January to re-establish direct election of regional governors, RIA Novosti reports. The bill comes after widespread protests against alleged fraud surrounding the 4 December Duma elections.
The measure, expected to come into effect in May, would allow voters to choose governors for five-year mandates from among independent candidates or party lists. The political parties will nominate their candidates after voluntary consultations with the president, whose role will be purely advisory, according to Medvedev aide Larisa Brycheva.
Russian governors were directly elected until 2004, when then-President Vladimir Putin replaced the popular vote with a nomination by the president. Putin explained the decision, taken in the aftermath of the Beslan school massacre, as a necessary step to improve security, but critics such as former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned against Putin taking too much power into his own hands.
Putin will run for another presidential term in the 4 March elections. He has endorsed plans to forestall voting fraud by installing video cameras at polling stations and the use of transparent ballot boxes.
3. Kyrgyz official denies reports of deaths in prison riot
Kyrgyzstan’s top penal official has denied reports of several deaths during a disturbance 16 January in a Bishkek prison.
Sheishenbek Baizakov head of the prison authority within the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, said the brawl began with an attack by inmates on prison officers who were carrying out a regular search of the facility, Kloop reported. Other sources said the disturbance broke out as a prisoner was being transferred to another jail.
Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun mediated between inmates and prison staff. Akun said about 30 inmates were injured, six severely, 24.kg reported on 16 January. One inmate died on 17 January from his injuries, the news service said.
Relatives of the prisoners gathered outside the facility and called on authorities to end the bloodshed, according to Knews.kg.
4. Armenia confirms latest round of Karabakh talks
The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet later this month in the latest in a series of summits on the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory. Armenia has officially confirmed the session, which will probably be held in Sochi on 23-24 January, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on 16 January.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will broker what may be his last attempt to resolve the long conflict between two former Soviet republics before the Russian presidential election in March. Medvedev has presided over nine meetings between Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliev, since 2008, News.Az reports.
RFE/RL writes that both sides have accepted the basic points of a peace deal worked out by the international Minsk Group, which reportedly includes granting autonomy to the Armenian-controlled territory in return for Armenia handing back several other small blocks of Azerbaijani territory its forces have controlled since the end of the Karabakh war in 1994. However, the Azeri side demanded changes to the draft accord at the last bilateral summit in June, blocking a possible breakthrough, the article says.
On 16 January, Armenian Foreign Minister David Nalbandian said the internationally mediated peace process was going well, but he accused Azerbaijan of obstructing the investigation of incidents on the de facto border of Nagorno-Karabakh, according to Public Radio of Armenia.
5. Do Poles really eat their veggies?
Despite a raft of media reports warning Britons of health risks from consuming significantly less produce than supposedly more healthful eaters in Poland and Hungary, the bigger story may be the lack of reliable data on European eating habits.
The BBC, the Telegraph, and other British outlets have been running articles based on a new report claiming that Poles top the fruit and vegetable intake statistics among 13 European countries surveyed, at 577 grams per day, while Britons rank near the bottom, consuming less than half as much of these foods. Only four countries – Poland, Italy, Germany, and Austria – exceed the World Health Organization’s recommended daily minimum of 400 grams of fruit and vegetables, the report by the non-profit European Food Information Council says.
Next in the table are Hungary and Estonia, while the Czech Republic, Sweden, and Iceland held down the bottom three slots, with an average consumption of about 225 grams daily. The data were taken from a 2010 study by an EU agency, the European Food Safety Authority.
However, the European Food Information Council cautions that the definitions of “fruit” and “vegetable” vary widely. Many countries exclude potatoes, but Norway includes them. Belgium and Spain exclude fruit juices, while Iceland and Norway include them. The EFSA data includes pulses and nuts as vegetables, but excludes fruit juices.
EFSA plans to address the problem of incompatible food definitions when it begins a five-year dietary survey this year, according to the report.