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Abkhaz Leader Survives Ambush, Poland Makes U-turn on ACTA

Plus, Romanian crime boss sentenced in Spain and compensation – sometime – for sterilized Czech women.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, and Joshua Boissevain 22 February 2012

1. Abkhaz leader survives assassination attempt


ankvab.100Alexander Ankvab
At least one guard was killed in an ambush today on a motorcade carrying Alexander Ankvab, the de facto president of the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia. A mine reportedly exploded under one vehicle in the convoy at 8:25 a.m. local time in the town of Gudauta. Several guards were wounded as they came under fire from attackers using grenade launchers and machine guns. Some reports say a second guard later died in hospital. Ankvab was said to be uninjured and at his office not long after the fight, according to Democracy and Freedom Watch, a Georgian news site.


Ankvab was elected president of the state recognized only by Russia and a handful of other countries in August. He has survived several previous attempts on his life. According to regional news site Caucasian Knot, he survived four attacks in 2005-2007 when serving as prime minister, and another in 2010, when he was vice president.


Elections to the Abkhaz legislature are set to take place in less than three weeks.


2. Head of Romanian prostitution ring sentenced in Spain


A notorious Romanian mob boss has been sentenced by a Spanish court to 30 years in prison for charges including human trafficking and procuring for prostitution, El Pais reports. Ioan Clamparu, dubbed “Pig’s Head,” had been sought by the Romanian authorities for eight years before being arrested in Spain in September in a joint action by Romanian and Spanish police. He had been on Interpol’s most-wanted list of European fugitives.


ClamparuIoan Clamparu
Spanish authorities said Clamparu’s gang brought hundreds of Romanian women to Madrid starting in 2001 and forced them to work as prostitutes. In 2006 Romanian President Traian Basescu cited the Clamparu case as an example of the Romanian authorities' failure to combat organized crime.


3. Compensation agreed for sterilized Czech women


The Czech government’s human rights council has recommended paying compensation to women who were improperly sterilized between 1971 and 1991. A majority of the cabinet reportedly agreed with the recommendation, which was announced by council head Monika Simunkova on 20 February, the Czech Press Agency reports.


The council proposed a payment of 300,000 to 400,000 crowns ($15,775 to $21,000) for each woman who underwent involuntary sterilization, and estimated the state could end up paying up to 400 million crowns in total compensation, the Prague Daily Monitor reports. However, the eligible women may have to wait several years. Simunkova said details of the compensation program should be worked out by the end of 2013.


In the 1970s and 1980s women mostly from poor and Romani families were offered 10,000 crowns – then the equivalent of several months’ wages – to undergo sterilization. Women who have successfully sued Czech authorities in local and international courts have said they were not fully informed about the procedure, or signed authorization papers while still under anesthesia after giving birth.


The number of women potentially eligible for compensation is unknown. “There are no statistics. We are representing three women, 80 have turned to the ombudsman for help, and how many could there really be? It could go into the thousands,” a lawyer for the League of Human Rights, Katerina Cervena, told the Lidove noviny newspaper.


4. Poland’s Tusk says he was wrong on ACTA


Donald Tusk
A month after vowing not to give in to “blackmail” by opponents of the ACTA anti-counterfeiting treaty, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk made an abrupt U-turn late last week, admitting the Polish government’s position was “reckless” and saying “I was wrong” to support the controversial agreement designed to create more legal protection for copyright holders. Similar to concerns raised by bills proposed in the United States, opponents worry that governments would use their new powers to silence online critics in the guise of shutting down copyright infringers.


On 21 February Tusk said his government would not ratify the treaty in its present form. When Poland announced it would ratify the treaty on 18 January, government websites came under sustained attack by hackers from the Anonymous group and protesters took to the streets of Warsaw. Similar protests took place in Prague, Bratislava, Ljubljana, and other cities.


On 17 February Tusk called on the European Parliament to reject the treaty. Twenty-two EU members, including Poland, signed it on 26 January, but the treaty cannot take effect until it is ratified by the EU parliament and all 27 members.


5. Influential think tank’s gloomy prognosis for Central Asia


A hard-to-predict mixture of internal and regional conditions – compounded by not-so-altruistic foreign influences – is turning Central Asia into a powder keg waiting to explode, according to a new report by the Asia Society.


Economic difficulties, corruption, authoritarian regimes, and the specter of religious extremism all plague Central Asian countries to varying degrees and could bring each of them to a tipping point, writes the report’s author, former Wall Street Journal reporter Philip Shishkin. A gradual diverging of regional interests, exacerbated by disagreements over borders or limited resources like water, means that regional stability won’t do much to calm the countries’ internal struggles, he writes.


The report also argues that foreign influence has so far not done enough to pull the region back from the brink. None of the region’s top foreign powers – China, Russia, the United States, and the European Union – has elaborated any real long-term interests or strategies in the region. As one U.S. official quoted in the report, bluntly put it, “It is often said that Central Asia is no one’s top priority.” But that doesn’t keep these countries from competing for regional influence. This, the report argues, has done nothing but encourage the “negative tendencies of local governments.”


While the report says change might be in the air for the Central Asian region, it cautions that an Arab Spring-style wave of revolutions is unlikely, despite many similarities in socioeconomic conditions. “The population of Central Asia tends to be depoliticized, and some of its most active members are either content with the relative  economic stability (as in Kazakhstan) or are working in Russia (as in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), and they are not clamoring for political change,” it says. More likely, the report argues, change to the region will come from within the ruling echelons of the countries resulting from presidential succession issues.


Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOL. Ioana Caloianu and Joshua Boissevain are TOL editorial assistants.
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