Plus, Hungary’s president accused of plagiarism and Ceausescu souvenirs go on the auction block.by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, and Kelly Klein 30 January 2012
1. Iran denies links to Azeri-based “plot” to kill Israeli ambassador
Iran has denied any links between Iranian intelligence agencies and the men being held in Azerbaijan in connection with an alleged plot to assassinate the Israeli ambassador to Baku, News.az reports.
On 19 January, Azerbaijan’s National Security Ministry said it had detained members of a “gang” which was planning to assassinate foreigners in Baku, according to News.az. The ministry said the gang leader, identified as Balagardash Dadashov, was collaborating with Iranian secret services. A report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on 25 January identified the detainees as Rasim Farail Aliyev and Ali Huseynov, and said Dadashov was still at large. The report identified their targets as Israeli Ambassador to Baku Michael Lavon-Lotem and a teacher and rabbi at the Chabad Jewish school in Baku.
Lavon-Lotem thanked the Azerbaijani authorities for providing security for Israeli citizens in the country and said Israeli President Shimon Peres had expressed his gratitude to his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliev.
2. Hungarian president in plagiarism probe
The affair broke earlier this month when the Hungarian weekly HVG said much of Schmitt’s 1992 dissertation on the Olympic movement was a direct translation of a Bulgarian historian’s text, which was written in French. Schmitt’s office said he had worked closely with the Bulgarian historian, Nikolay Georgiev, but that his main sources were minutes of International Olympic Committee meetings and IOC reports. Schmitt has worked in both the Hungarian and international Olympic committees and was a deputy undersecretary of state for sports from 1981 to 1990.
Schmitt received his doctorate from the Physical Education University, which was later absorbed by Semmelweis University. On 25 January, the university said a five-member committee would look into the allegations against Schmitt, Politics.hu reported.
Schmitt became a deputy leader of the conservative Fidesz party in 2003. He was elected president in 2010 by the parliament, where Fidesz has a large majority. On 26 January the opposition far-right Jobbik party said it would set up a parliamentary committee to examine the plagiarism allegations, according to Politics.hu.
3. Serbia buys back loss-making steel plant for $1
After several years of large losses, U.S. Steel will sell its plant in Smederovo, Serbia to the Serbian government for a nominal $1, Reuters reports.
U.S. Steel purchased the Zelezara Smederevo steelworks, one of Serbia’s largest employers, in 2003 for $23 million. U.S. Steel’s Serbian subsidiary reported a loss of 150 million euros in 2010 and 73 million euros for the first nine months of 2011, B92 reported.
Reuters interprets the government buy-back as a move to avert thousands of lost jobs ahead of elections in May. The plant employs about 5,500 people. Unemployment in Serbia is at 23 percent, according to Reuters.
Zelezara Smederovo is a crucial component of the Serbian economy. Its products make up 14 percent of Serbian exports and 40 percent of Serbian Railways’ freight traffic, B92 writes.
4. Kazakh prosecutor blames Zhanaozen violence on strikers and rioters
The office of Kazakhstan’s chief prosecutor says the violence in Zhanaozen in December broke out when striking oil workers and “hooligan youngsters” began a wave of looting, arson, and violence, Britain’s Telegraph reports. In a statement released 25 January, the office said most police officers behaved responsibly during the violence, although in some cases the use of force was “disproportionate.”
Three police officers will be charged over the improper use of force. The statement said 14 deaths occurred during the 16 December incident when police fired on strikers and demonstrators. Police have said they acted in self-defense.
In his annual address to the nation on 27 January, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev said, “the situation in Zhanaozen has shown that one-industry towns are prone to social risks.” He said the state of emergency would not be extended past 31 January. The situation had returned to normal in the town, he said.
5. Ceausescus’ finery on the block
After two weeks of around the clock coverage of the protests that gripped the country, Romanians shifted their attention to one of their former leaders, also responsible for a round of protests that changed the country’s history in December 1989. On 26 January, several possessions of the former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and of his wife Elena were auctioned by the Romanian auction house Artmark, according to BBC News. Coincidentally, that day also would have marked Ceausescu’s 94th birthday.
The most coveted and expensive items on display turned out to be a bronze statue of a yak from Mao Zedong, which fetched 12,000 euros, a pair of silver and enamel doves from the Iranian Shah Reza Pahlavi, sold for 7,500 euros, and a tiger and a leopard fur, the newspaper Gandul reports. Overall, almost three-quarters of the objects on display found new owners, selling for more than 54,000 euros. Other artifacts from the “Golden Epoch,” as Ceausescu’s 24-year-rule was dubbed, proved less popular, among them a carpet with Ceausescu’s face meant to adorn the grandiose People’s Palace in Bucharest, and various medals and decorations.
The Ceausescus’ belongings were confiscated by the Romanian state after their summary execution in December 1989. Some ended up at the National Museum of Art, while others were sold or disappeared. The couple’s only surviving child, Valentin, was awarded half of the remaining property in 2009.