Plus, protesters arrested as Putin vows to protect rights and freedoms, and Serbian voters look for an alternative.by Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, and Stanislav Maselnik 7 May 2012
Production is set to start later this year on a mine in western Azerbaijan that contains an estimated $2.5 billion worth of gold and silver reserves, according to Radio Free Europe. In an investigation, the news agency has revealed that a majority stake in the mine is owned by the country’s ruling family, which seems to have taken pains to hide that fact.
According to RFE, the women appear “in the records of other Panamanian companies being used as fronts for businesses in Azerbaijan, including the Azerfon cellular-services provider.”
Reporter Ismayilova, who has investigated the opaque business dealings of the Aliev family before, was recently the object of a blackmail attempt. RFE reports that when the chief geologist in the country’s Environment Ministry was asked about the Aliev’s family financial interest in the project, he “said only ‘Shame on you!’ and hung up.”
Preliminary results of Armenia’s parliamentary elections put the ruling party well ahead of its rivals, but international observers have given the conduct of the elections mixed reviews.
Although the country has strong laws in place, and turnout was relatively high – above 60 percent – observers cited violations by some parties that they say were winked at by elections officials.
Francois-Xavier de Donnea, chairman of one OSCE mission, said officials dismissed legitimate complaints, including charges that some parties illegally used teachers and school buildings in their campaigns. He also cited the illegal “major donations” given to some voters around the country by political parties, to which “courts looked the other way.”
Radmila Sekerinska, leader of another OSCE mission, noted some instances of “intimidation of voters.”
RFE reports that President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party won nearly 45 percent of the vote, compared with less than 7 percent for the opposition Armenian National Congress.
Prosperous Armenia, a junior partner in the government coalition, looks set to take slightly less than 31 percent of the vote.
Other parties that surpassed the 5 percent threshold needed to get into parliament were the Heritage party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, and the Orinats Erkir (Rule of Law) party, according to RIA Novosti.
RFE reports that representatives of some opposition parties, who had pledged to work together to prevent fraud during these elections, held a joint press conference to complain of vote-rigging and to accuse elections officials of inflating the turnout. They said they will go forward with plans for an opposition rally in Yerevan on 8 May.
Pledging “to respect and protect the rights and freedom of [Russia’s] citizens,” Vladimir Putin was sworn in on 7 May for a third term as Russian president, one day after about 400 people had been detained by police in opposition protests.
As Putin spoke to a crowd of about 2,000 invited guests, yet more demonstrators – including Putin’s one-time prime minister, Boris Nemtsov – were being arrested for staging what police said was an unsanctioned protest.
On 6 May thousands of people – estimates ranged from 8,000 to 100,000 – descended on Moscow for the March of Millions. RIA Novosti described a confusing and chaotic scene, with protesters being given conflicting instructions, some setting up tents, and smoke bombs going off in the crowd.
Meanwhile, the news agency reports, Putin will have to come up with $170 billion over the next six years to keep his campaign promises to increase spending, including a hike in wages and pensions. He also faces the task of modernizing the country’s oil- and gas-bound economy.
Preliminary results of Serbia’s 6 May presidential and parliamentary elections show pro-European parties struggling to maintain the upper hand.
In the presidential contest, incumbent President Boris Tadic, who has made EU accession a primary goal, received 26.7 of the vote, based on 25 percent of the ballots counted.
Progressive Party leader Tomislav Nikolic, who opposes Serbia’s accession to the EU if it were to mean giving up the country’s claim to its former province, Kosovo, won 25.5 percent.
The two men will face each other in a 20 May run-off.
Nikolic’s party won the parallel parliamentary vote with 23.5 percent, while Tadic’s Democratic Party took 22.1 percent, although Balkan Insight writes that the nationalist-leaning Progressives will likely have trouble finding coalition partners to form a government.
The role of kingmaker will likely fall to the Socialists, who got 15 percent of the vote, Radio Free Europe notes. That party, once the political home of Slobodan Milosevic, formed a coalition with the Democrats after the previous parliamentary elections.
“[H]igh unemployment and other economic problems have led to a growing anti-EU sentiment in [Serbia], which was granted EU candidacy status in March. The country has 24 percent unemployment and monthly salaries averaging at around 400 euros,” EUobserver notes.
According to the State Election Commission, about 61 percent of voters participated in the elections, with final results due to be announced by 10 May. Observers from the national Center for Free Elections and Democracy reported no serious irregularities at the polling stations, Balkan Insight reports.
Meanwhile, minority Serbs living in Kosovo participated in the 6 May poll under an agreement between the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and Kosovo’s government. 90 mobile polling booths were set up by the OSCE and the ballot counting is taking place outside Kosovo in Vranje and Raska in Serbia.
After two years of tightening their belts, government workers in Romania will breathe slightly more easily with Bucharest and the IMF agreeing on a deal to raise their salaries.
According to Reuters, the pact will give workers an 8 percent hike in June, with additional raises planned to make up for the 25 percent hit public employees took in 2010.
The announcement came a week after a no-confidence vote toppled the government of Mihai Ungureanu, a development that capped a winter of protests over austerity measures.
Victor Ponta, Ungureanu’s leftist successor as prime minister, said an examination of the budget by new Finance Minister Florin Georgescu showed that neither of the two preceding governments had allocated money for pension or salary hikes, Mediafax reports.
But outgoing Finance Minister Bogdan Dragoi said his government also had planned the increases for 1 June, given that the country’s economy had expanded in 2011 by 2.5 percent instead of the projected 2 percent.