Plus, Bucharest’s stray dogs get a shelter and a missing Kazakh border guard is found after a horrendous checkpoint attack.by Barbara Frye, Joshua Boissevain, and Ioana Caloianu 6 June 2012
Moscow is expanding its arsenal of weapons to use against public critics of President Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party. A bill passed by the Duma would implement steep hikes in fines against those who take part in unsanctioned rallies “if they disturb public peace or hinder traffic,” RIA Novosti reports.
According to the BBC, fines would rise from 5,000 rubles to 300,000 rubles ($153 to $9,200) for participants and up to 600,000 rubles for officials.
The upper house of the Russian parliament, the Federation Council, plans to take up the bill today. RIA Novosti says the haste is to get the bill passed before rallies planned on Russia Day, 12 June.
Debate over the measure took more than 11 hours, according to various reports, as opposition lawmakers proposed nearly 400 amendments. The BBC quotes Gennady Gudkov, a legislator from the opposition Just Russia party, as saying the bill reflects the Kremlin's “fear of people.”
One day before the Duma passed the protest bill, a member of United Russia won a 30,000 ruble defamation judgment against Aleksei Navalny, a prominent anti-corruption campaigner and opposition activist, The Telegraph reports.
Navalny’s lawyer has said he will appeal the ruling, seeking to stem a flood of similar suits against his client, who coined the popular “party of crooks and thieves” moniker for United Russia.
Another United Russia member said, “If each person wins 30,000 rubles and we have 2 million party members then it works out that Navalny, who so frivolously insults honest people, will owe us all 60 billion rubles,” according to The Telegraph.
A first vote on a bill to make Russian a state language in Ukraine led to violent clashes in Kyiv on 5 June and a physical standoff in the parliament.
Thousands of people on both sides of the issue massed around the parliament building as the vote was held. Meanwhile, in parliament, members of the ruling Party of Regions formed a ring around the speaker’s podium to allow the measure to proceed. The last time the bill came up for a vote, opposition lawmakers physically impeded the speaker, touching off a brawl.
After the vote, Reuters reports, hundreds of opponents marched from parliament to a square in central Kyiv that is being pedestrianized in preparation for the Euro 2012 soccer championships to begin on 8 June. They were met by riot police.
Ukrainian nationalists say the elevation of Russian to official status would help ensure that Ukraine stays under the boot of its powerful neighbor. Supporters of the move say it will mean that the country’s Russian-speakers, who live mostly in eastern Ukraine, can conduct official business and have their children educated in their mother tongue.
Some analysts say that, with the Party of Regions well behind in polls ahead of October’s parliamentary elections, the bill is an attempt to win support among the country’s roughly 14 million residents who have Russian as a native language. The measure must still pass a second reading and be signed by the president.
Romania’s largest shelter for stray dogs has opened in a village close to Bucharest, according to Balkan Insight. Located 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of the Romanian capital, Dogtown can accommodate up to 1,000 animals. It represents a partnership between the local government and the Association Portico rescue group, which will run the shelter for its first two months. Afterward, Balkan Insight reports, “the municipality will see what funding it has for the center.”
On 30 May, the first 40 dogs gathered from the streets of Bucharest reached the center, followed by another 60 in the two following days.
In a visit to the center, the general mayor of Bucharest, Sorin Oprescu, said the dogs caught in the capital will be taken first to existing shelters for quarantine, vaccination, and micro-chipping before being transferred to Dogtown, where they will be available for adoption. Oprescu said online adoptions will be available soon, and he encouraged other rescue groups to contribute to the funding and management of the shelter “so that the dogs won’t spend their lives in captivity and as many of them as possible will be adopted.”
Oprescu is running for another term in the 10 June local elections. A challenger, Silviu Prigoana, announced 5 June that he has signed a partnership with several groups to build a shelter for 2,000 stray dogs in Lehliu, in southern Romania. While Dogtown depends on financing from Bucharest City Hall, Prigoana will pay for both the construction and the running of the center in Lehliu.
Balkan Insight estimates the number of stray dogs in Bucharest at 40,000, with 10,000 Romanians seeking anti-rabies treatment in 2011 after being bitten. In January 2011, a woman died after being mauled by a pack of stray dogs in Bucharest. A year later, a law allowing local authorities to euthanize stray dogs was struck down by the Constitutional Court.
Kazakh authorities have found a border guard who had been missing since the death last week of 14 fellow guards and one civilian at a remote outpost on the border with China, according to Radio Free Europe.
The Kazakh interior minister announced 5 June that they are questioning the man about his role in the mysterious 30 May incident in which the Arkankergen checkpoint burned down. The soldier, who was on duty at the time of the fire, was carrying the gun of his commanding officer, the Associated Press reports.
Officials discovered the bodies among the burnt rubble of the post in the Tien Shan Mountains in southwestern Kazakhstan. Originally, investigators were unsure if the men died in the fire or were killed before. Violence is uncommon in the area of the checkpoint, which is set up every summer to deal with Chinese crossing the border to illegally pick herbs used in medicine, RFE/RL previously reported.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev on 1 June called the incident a “terrorist act” but did not say who he believed had committed it or why. He set up a special commission to investigate whether the fire was an armed attack or the result of an internal dispute.
Kazakhstan marked a national day of mourning for the soldiers and the civilian, a forest ranger, on 5 June. Investigators in Astana are trying to identify the bodies using DNA tests.
Five Azerbaijani and three Armenian soldiers were killed in clashes along the countries’ border earlier this week, according to reports.
Reuters says Baku accused Armenia of killing five of its soldiers 5 June, a day after the three Armenians were killed.
On 4 June, after the Armenian deaths were reported, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton spoke about the violence during a visit to Yerevan. “There is a danger that it could escalate into a much broader conflict that would be very tragic for everyone concerned,” Clinton said, according to the BBC.
Azerbaijan and Armenia are locked in a cold war that sometimes heats up over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnically Armenian enclave located on the territory of Azerbaijan. Armenia occupies several Azerbaijani districts that ring the enclave as well. An uneasy cease-fire has been in place since full-out conflict ended in 1994.
The two countries’ foreign ministers are to discuss the violence in a meeting in Paris on 18 June, according to Reuters.