1. High-level arrests in Albanian protest shootings
A year after four protesters were shot dead during a protest against the Albanian government, a high-ranking security official was charged with murder 23 January over the incident. The security official, Ndrea Prendi, was arrested along with his driver, Margarit Kume, and the head of the IT department of the prime minister’s office, Armando Kasaj.
The case could add to the long-running split between Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s government and opposition forces led by the Socialists, with Berisha accusing General Prosecutor Ina Rama of siding with the opposition in what he calls the failed coup attempt a year ago.
“The prime minister considers the general prosecutor to be part of plan to overthrow the government on January 21, 2011,” Berisha’s office said in a statement 23 January, Balkan Insight reports.
Rama said ballistic evidence showed that Prendi fired 11 shots into a crowd of demonstrators on 21 January 2011 and that one bullet from his gun was found in the body of one of the dead. After the shootings, Prendi exchanged his gun barrel for that of another official’s weapon to conceal his role in the shootings, Rama said, according to Balkan Insight.
Six other security officers were charged with murder in the case in 2011.
The left-wing opposition has never recognized the results of the 2009 elections narrowly won by the Democratic Party led by Berisha, a former president, claiming serious irregularities took place.
2. Moldova prepared to buy Azerbaijani energy at Gazprom’s expense
Moldova is interested in buying energy from Azerbaijan, Prime Minister Vlad Filat said after his 17-18 January visit to the hydrocarbon-rich Caspian country.
Filat said he invited the Azerbaijani state energy company, SOCAR, to enter the Moldovan market, the Black Sea regional news wire BSANNA reports, citing Moldpres. The sides also reportedly discussed possible Moldovan participation in the EU-backed Nabucco pipeline and AGRI (the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania Interconnector).
Currently, Moldova buys all of its natural gas from Russian Gazprom, which has a controlling 50 percent stake in Moldovagaz, Nezavisimaya gazeta reports. Moldova would like to purchase gas at less than the $400 per 1,000 cubic meters it pays Gazprom, the Russian daily writes, but speculates Baku is upset that a fellow member of the GUAM grouping (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova) is supplying arms to Baku’s enemy, Armenia. In September Moldova reportedly sent a large shipment of weapons and ammunition to Armenia in a secret deal. The Moldovan ambassador in Baku, Igor Bodiu, described the deal as an “unfortunate mistake” after being called on the carpet by the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, Radio Free Europe reports.
Uragan rocket launcher. Source: Wikimedia
3. EU may tighten sanctions on Lukashenka regime
European Union foreign ministers agreed 23 January to broaden the criteria for imposing new sanctions on Belarus but left the details for a later time.
In a press release after the ministers’ latest meeting in Brussels, the EU said the decision “paves the way for future designations of those responsible for serious human rights violations or the repression of civil society and the democratic opposition or supporting or benefiting from the Lukashenka regime.”
Earlier this month an official with the EU External Action Service, Gunnar Wiegand, said the EU was considering adding 135 names to the list of government officials and others subject to travel bans and asset freezes, Naviny.by reports.
EU leaders imposed sanctions on more than 150 people in January 2011 over the government’s harsh response to protests against the December 2010 presidential election. Dozens of opposition politicians and activists were arrested and many remain in prison. The blacklist has gradually been added to and currently includes 201 names, BelaPAN reports (subscription only).
4. Hundreds of Kyrgyz inmates sew lips shut as protest continues
More than 400 prisoners in two Kyrgyz jails sewed their lips shut 23 January as a protest against prison conditions escalated, Radio Free Europe and RIA Novosti report.
According to RFE, the prisoners decided on the extreme measure a day after prison officials threatened to force feed thousands of inmates who have been on hunger strike since a 16 January riot in a Bishkek remand facility.
State Corrections Service head Sheishenbek Baizakov said prisoners were demanding more freedom of movement. "This will never happen, let them all sew their mouths shut," Baizakov said, according to Times Live of South Africa, citing Sapa-AFP.
According to RIA Novosti, only 260 of more than 1,300 prisoners in Kyrgyzstan were taking food.
Kyrgyz human rights ombudsman Tursunbek Akun said the situation in the Kyrgyz detention facilities was critical and must be “urgently solved.”
5. Romanian foreign minister sacked over blog comments
Comments by Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi about anti-government protesters cost him his job when Prime Minister Emil Boc fired him 23 January according to Balkan Insight. In a 16 January blog post, Baconschi described protesters as coming from “violent and clueless slums” and compared participants to the violent miner protesters who descended on Bucharest in the 1990s.
Boc announced Baconschi’s dismissal during a special session of parliament on the protests
taking place in Bucharest and in other cities around the country. Following the speech, Boc told the B1 TV Romanian news channel that Baconschi was let go because “no official should be encouraged to offend people when they are upset for legitimate reasons.” One commentator speculated for Balkan Insight, however, that the firing was an attempt to appease protesters and buy time in response to increasing pressure. Baconschi echoed this sentiment in a response to his dismissal, saying that he understood his firing to be a solely political decision, according to Agerpres. He also said he would keep his leadership position in Boc’s Democratic Liberal Party.
The protests in Bucharest are well into their second week as demonstrators call for the resignation of President Traian Basescu and other government officials. The protests began in response to the resignation of a health official in opposition to proposed austerity measures but have since morphed into a more general antipathy toward the Romanian government.
Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOL Joshua Boissevain and Kelly Klein are TOL editorial interns.