Plus, Minsk acknowledges the “teddy bear airdrop,” and is Zhanaozen headed for more unrest?by S. Adam Cardais and Joshua Boissevain 27 July 2012
Hundreds of protesters gathered in Moscow 26 July to demand the release of activists under investigation in relation to the clashes between police and demonstrators the day before Vladimir Putin's 7 May presidential inauguration, Radio Free Europe reports.
Some protesters chanted "Russia without Putin" and held signs reading, "They are behind bars so that you live in fear."
Twelve of the at least 14 activists under investigation are in pre-trial detention. Sergei Udaltsov, the Left Front leader who was detained himself in the 6 May "March of Millions," said 26 July that "no compromise is possible after these arrests," RFE reports.
The Associated Press put the number of protesters at close to 1,000. At press time, one person had been detained for allegedly carrying a knife and flares. Russian authorities approved the demonstration.
Following wide reports of fraud in December's parliamentary elections, tens of thousands of Russians have taken to the streets to protest Putin’s rule. The former KGB officer, now in his third term as president, has nevertheless moved swiftly to consolidate autocratic power. His United Russia party has proposed several bills to restrict freedom of expression, assembly, and other rights since May.
A new Islamic television channel will begin broadcasting in Russia next month, Radio Free Europe reports.
The Russian-language AI-TV will cover topics of interest to the country's Muslim minority, Damir Mukhitdinov of the Russian Muslim's Religious Directorate for European Regions told RFE. A council of Islamic clerics supported by the Kremlin will oversee the channel.
RFE points out that news of the channel comes a week after assassination attempts on the two leading Islamic clerics in Tatarstan, the usually peaceful Muslim-majority Russian republic. One of the pro-Kremlin clerics was killed, and the attacks raised fears that the Islamic insurgency in Russia's south might be metastasizing.
Tatarstan's government has recommended that media only quote seven approved Islamic experts in reporting the attacks. The government's response is "near hysterical," one Russian journalist told RFE.
"How do you account for a provocation by a single-engine airplane that didn't just cross the border, but invaded Belarus' territory scot-free?" Lukashenka said at a 26 July meeting with his military leadership, RIA Novosti reports.
Despite eyewitness, on-the-ground confirmation, Minsk had denied what the Swedish advertising agency Studio Total called "Teddybear Airdrop Minsk 2012." On 4 July, pilot Tomas Mazetti flew a plane into Belarus loaded with 1,000 teddy bears holding signs with the message, "It's impossible to silence us."
Lukashenka now says Belarus' air defense chose not to act against the incursion, according to RIA Novosti. A full investigation is complete, he says, and "staff decisions" will follow soon.
Minsk has one of the worst human rights records in Europe. RIA Novosti reports that Belarusian authorities earlier arrested the editor of a website that reported on the teddy bear drop and a real estate agent who helped several Studio Total employees rent an apartment in the capital – even though the regime has only now acknowledged the incursion.
Kazakh authorities have increased security in Zhanaozen, western Kazakhstan, on concerns of renewed tensions in the town that saw deadly unrest last year, Radio Free Europe reports.
Security forces and police sealed off the town's center 25 July to prevent what officials called "possible disorders." That follows reports that residents were planning mass demonstrations to demand the release of relatives who were jailed for allegedly inciting the December unrest in Zhanaozen, where security forces opened fire on striking oil workers, killing at least 16.
Several police officials were convicted of abuse of power during the unrest. But Navi Pillay, the UN human rights chief, says Kazakh authorities still have not conducted a thorough investigation. Following a visit to Zhanaozen earlier this month, Pillay said it remains unclear exactly what happened during the unrest.
Dacic takes the lead of a new nationalist coalition that includes President Tomislav Nikolic’s Progressives and the United Regions party, and holds 140 of the parliament’s 250 seats. It will face some serious and immediate problems, including a 25 percent unemployment rate, a growing budget deficit, and a record-low dinar.
Brussels will be closely watching the actions of the new government, whose allies have strong ties to Russia and have said in the past that recognition of Kosovo’s independence could be a deal-breaker for joining the EU, according to The Associated Press. Dacic, as the wartime spokesman for Milosevic, once had harsh words for the West. But in a 26 June speech to parliament, he said he would speed Serbia along to joining the EU, a path originally set by the former President Boris Tadic and his now-opposition Democratic Party. Dacic also said he would no longer deal with his country’s troubled history. "If they say the word Balkan means 'blood and honey,' there's been enough blood, it's time to feel the taste of honey too," he said, according to Reuters.