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Merkel Heads to Moldova, Basescu Heads Back to Presidential Palace

Plus, France may pull a U-turn on the issue of Romani migrants and Ecuador gets embroiled in another asylum scandal.

by Ky Krauthamer, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Ernad Halilovic 22 August 2012

1. Merkel’s Chisinau visit puts Moldova’s future in spotlight

 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Chisinau 22 August and is expected to meet with Moldovan leaders on the country’s future relations with Europe, according to Radio Free Europe.

 

Merkel’s trip, which will include visits with both Prime Minister Vlad Filat and newly elected President Nicolai Timofti as well as a public speech, is being seen as a sign Europe is taking a more active interest in the former Soviet outpost. Berlin considers Moldova a standout success for the EU’s Eastern Partnership project, compared with other participants like Ukraine and Belarus, according to Deutsche Welle.

 

But Merkel’s visit also comes as the country appears more vocally divided over which direction its future lies, east or west.

 

Also on her agenda is the complicated issue of Moldova’s frozen conflict with its pro-Russian breakaway region of Transdniester. However, a somewhat unexpected change in leadership in both Tiraspol and Chisinau, along with the recent restart of official multilateral negotiations, have raised hopes of finding a resolution to the 20-year standoff.

 

Merkel_Moldova_22.8.12Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat and German Chancellor Angela Merkel shortly after Merkel’s plane touched down in Chisinau 22 August. Photo from a Pro TV Chisinau video

 

2. Romanian high court invalidates Basescu impeachment vote

 

The road is clear for suspended Romanian President Traian Basescu to resume office after the country’s Constitutional Court invalidated a referendum on his impeachment.

 

Although 88 percent of those who took part in the 29 July referendum voted for Basescu’s impeachment, turnout reached only 46 percent, under the 50 percent threshold to validate the results. Six of the nine justices voted 21 August to invalidate the referendum. The question came to the high court when the Interior Ministry said it could not vouch for the accuracy of the voter lists.

 

Basescu has not commented on the decision, which marks a watershed in his power struggle with the three-month-old government headed by Social Democrat Victor Ponta. Each side accuses the other of manipulating the constitution to strengthen its hold on power.

 

Crin_Antonescu100Crin Antonescu
The Romanian press reported on rumors about the resignation of the acting president, Crin Antonescu, who has said he will quit the political scene if Basescu is reinstated.

 

Several members of the co-governing National Liberal Party, which Antonescu heads, voiced serious doubts that political cooperation with Basescu would be possible if Antonescu resigns, according to Ziare.com. The skeptics include former Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu.

 

Ponta said the court ruling will be respected and implemented, but told the press the decision was “unfair and against democratic laws and the will of the absolute majority of Romanians.” He went on to announce that he will propose a “vast constitutional reform” to prevent “tragedies like the Basescu regime” in the future.

 

Ponta also said the court took so long to reach a verdict not so that it could check the voting lists but in order for Basescu’s supporters on the court to persuade other justices to invalidate the referendum, according to Realitatea TV.

 

3. France may open labor market to Romanians, Bulgarians

 

The French government is due to discuss labor rights for Roma 22 August as criticism mounts over the authorities’ closure of Roma camps and repatriation of Romanian and Bulgarian citizens.

 

EurActiv cited French media reports last week quoting Interior Minister Manuel Valls as saying that lifting working restrictions on the Roma could be discussed at the meeting.

 

Most of France’s estimated 15,000 migrant Roma are thought to be from Romania and Bulgaria. France and other EU members that have not already done so are obliged to open their labor markets to Bulgarians and Romanians by 1 January 2014.

 

Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland of Europe’s major human-rights body, the Council of Europe, praised France’s decision to discuss the Roma as “a welcome step toward finding long-lasting solutions.”

 

In his 21 August statement, Jagland added, “The Council of Europe has consistently stressed the need to go beyond short-term measures. Simply moving Roma families around within or between states merely worsens their conditions.”

 

France_RomaA reported 150 Roma were forced to seek new homes when police shut down their camp in the northern French city of Villeneuve d'Ascq earlier this month. Photo from a video by GrandLille.tv

 

4. Ecuador mulls extradition of Belarusian corruption cop

 

Days after offering political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Ecuador may be on the verge of stripping a Belarusian man of his asylum status and sending him home,  the Associated Press reports.

 

The Ecuadorian government granted political asylum two years ago to Alyaksandr Bakarou, 30, a former financial crimes investigator who claimed to have uncovered a petroleum-smuggling ring involving high Belarusian officials. Belarusian prosecutors counter with accusations that Bakarou (also spelled Bakarov) tried to extort bribes from employees of the Total Oil company. They want to try him on charges of fraud and corruption.

 

Ecuador’s National Court of Justice rejected Minsk’s extradition request in October. But Bakarou was detained shortly before Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka visited Ecuador in June and is now in a jail in Quito, fueling reports he may be sent back to Belarus, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Belarus is the only European country where capital punishment is still in use. Bakarou claims extradition could result in torture and a death sentence, RFE reports. On that basis, his Ecuadorian girlfriend has appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to recommend against his extradition.

 

5. In Ashgabat, they’re gonna party like it’s 1949

 

Turkmenistan will soon have a second legal political party, but any serious challenge to the regime is very unlikely, the Chronicles of Turkmenistan opposition website reports.

 

Berdymukhamedov_100Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov
The Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs held its first convention 21 August. The party was founded this spring by businessman and chairman of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Alexander Dadaev, whom the Vienna-based website describes as a close friend of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.

 

A member of the same group, Orazmammed Mammedov, was elected chairman of the party, Deutsche Welle reports.

 

A law allowing the establishment of new parties took effect early this year after Berdymukhamedov stressed the need to introduce multiparty democracy. Parties’ governing structures must be located on Turkmen territory, a provision that appears to exclude the regime’s exiled opponents from party politics, Deutsche Welle writes.

 

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOLJoshua Boissevain and Ioana Caloianu are TOL editorial assistants. Ernad Halilovic is a TOL editorial intern.
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