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Putin Prevails, Poland Mourns

Plus, Medvedev wants Khodorkovsky’s case reviewed and Moldovan towns ban promotion of homosexuality.

by Barbara Frye, Joshua Boissevain, and Ioana Caloianu 5 March 2012

1. Putin wins amid competing accounts of election


As widely expected, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin won Russia’s presidential election on 4 March with sufficient support – 64 percent – to avoid a second round of voting. But also as widely expected, observers are protesting that the voting was marred by large-scale fraud.


Vladimir Putin casts his ballot in the 4 March election. Photo from the website of the prime minister.


Two observers interviewed by the Guardian said fraudulent absentee ballots were a particular issue. The scheme involved allowing people who supposedly could not leave work to vote in absentia. But when observers visited the absentee voters’ supposed workplaces, they were empty, the premises belonged to different companies altogether, or the absentee voters did not work there.


“On the whole in central Moscow, we see the same situation,” Pyotr Kucherenko, a lawyer and volunteer observer, told the British daily.


Another reported dodgy practice was carousel voting, in which groups of people are bussed from polling station to polling station to vote repeatedly.


RIA Novosti reports that independent election watchdog Golos “listed on its website almost 3,000 reported violations.”  But Putin campaign director and filmmaker Stanislav Govorukhin called Sunday’s vote “the cleanest election in Russian history."


A delegation of observers from the former Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States deemed the elections transparent and lawful.


Supporters and critics of Putin plan to stage rallies in the Russian capital today.


2. Medvedev orders review of Khodorkovsky case


More surprising than Russia’s voting result was a post-election order by outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev that the country’s top prosecutor review “the legality of 32 criminal cases including the jailing of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky,” Reuters reports.


Khodorkovsky, former director of oil giant Yukos, was convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2003 after helping to fund a political opposition movement. In 2010 he was found guilty of stealing oil from Yukos to sell it abroad at higher prices. The latter verdict could keep him in prison until 2017. The trials were condemned internationally and domestically as politically motivated.


“There's been so many ... orders that you run out of words to comment,” Khodorkovsky’s lawyer, Vadim Klyuvgant, told Reuters. “But if ... the prosecutor and the president start to conform with the law, we will know it from the result. The lawlessness of this sentence is so glaring that there's nothing to study there.”


Opposition leaders gave Medvedev a list last month of people they considered political prisoners who should be released from detention.


3. Poland mourns train crash victims


A collision of two trains in southern Poland has left 16 dead and 58 hurt, the BBC reports. The accident, which happened on the evening of 3 March on the Warsaw-Krakow line, was caused by one of the trains traveling on the wrong track.


Prime Minister Donald Tusk called the crash the "most tragic train catastrophe ... in many years," while President Bronislaw Komorowski called for a period of mourning once emergency teams finish removing the wreckage from the tracks.


A woman who lives in the nearby town of Szczekociny told the Associated Press she heard a “terrible, terrible noise like a bomb going off” and rushed to the site of the wreck. An anonymous passenger described the chaos at the moment of impact for television station TVN4: “I hit the person in front of me. The lights went out. Everything flew. We flew over the compartment like bags. We could hear screams. We prayed."”


Prosecutors have opened an investigation into the causes of the accident, which comes three months before the Euro 2012 football championship that Poland will co-host with Ukraine.


4. Osh mayor’s party gets majority in city council


Melis Myrzakmatov
The mayor of Osh, Melis Myrzakmatov, has consolidated his lock on power in Kyrgyzstan’s second city after municipal elections on 4 March. Myrzakmatov’s Uluttar Birimdigi (National Unity) party was the largest single vote-getter, winning 47 percent of the ballots cast, Radio Free Europe reports.


The results mean the months-old Uluttar Birimdigi party will be able to dominate the city council, which in turn elects the mayor.


Myrzakmatov has repeatedly defied the power of the central government in Bishkek and has made nationalist appeals to the citizens of Osh. He proposed unsuccessfully to build apartment buildings on the city’s outskirts to house those made homeless by the ethnic violence that racked the city in June 2010 – making former Uzbek neighborhoods available for commercial development.


Myrzakmatov was also accused by the Uzbek owner of an Osh television station of forcing him to hand over control of the station.


Helping Myrzakmatov is the fact that two unsuccessful candidates in the country’s autumn presidential elections have made common cause with the mayor in their opposition to the central government, RFE reports.


5. Moldovan cities move to ban “gay propaganda”


In the past two weeks, four local authorities in Moldova have made moves to ban demonstrations by gays and lesbians, helping to foster a a “dangerous climate” in the country, according to Amnesty International.


On 23 February, the city council in Balti, Moldova’s third largest city, voted to adopt a resolution banning “homosexual propaganda within city limits.” The initiative was made on behalf of the Communist Party at the request of the Moldovan Orthodox Church, according to the Adevarul newspaper.


The same day, two villages southwest of Balti, Chetris and Hiliuti in the Falesti district, adopted similar measures. Both villages also adopted bans on the promotion of Islam and the building of mosques, according to And on 3 March, the city of Anenii Noi, southeast of Chisinau, passed a draft decision against “gay propaganda,” the news agency also reports.


At least 10 other locations are debating the issue, Publika says. Local human-rights organizations have vowed to fight the measures in court.


“In effect, these decisions are inscribing into law discrimination against LGBTI people and they stoke up a climate of hostility and fear,” John Dalhuisen, an Amnesty International deputy director, said in a statement. “A failure by the national authorities to overturn the local councils’ decisions will amount to violation of their national and international obligations.”


Last week, similar legislation was passed by the Legislative Assembly in St. Petersburg and is now awaiting final approval from the governor.

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Ioana Caloianu and Joshua Boissevain are TOL editorial assistants.
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