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Witness in Magnitsky Case Found Dead, Tajik Facebook Goes Dark

Plus, Ukraine marks a milestone in the Chernobyl cleanup and Russians plan to celebrate the end of the world in style.

by Ky Krauthamer,Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Andrew McIntyre 28 November 2012

1. Source in Magnitsky case found dead


Sergei Magnitsky
A Russian businessman reported to be helping Swiss investigators uncover the high-profile corruption brought to light by the late lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was found dead outside his home in England, The Independent writes. Although the body of Alexander Perepilichnyy was found two weeks ago outside his house in a luxury gated community in Surrey, news of his death emerged only this week. Surrey police confirmed his death 27 November, according to The Times. A coroner is investigating the circumstances of his death.


Perepilichnyy, 44, was reportedly in good health. Local police would not confirm a suggestion that he had gone jogging on the day of his death, according to The Independent.


A wealthy businessman, Perepilichnyy came to Britain three years ago. The Independent writes that he was a crucial witness against the so-called Klyuev group of Russian officials and crime figures “implicated in a series of multi-million pound tax frauds and the death in custody of the whistle-blowing Moscow lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.”


He is allegedly the fourth person linked to the Magnitsky case who has died suddenly.


The Swiss Attorney General’s office confirmed that Perepilichnyy had given evidence to Swiss prosecutors, The Independent reports.


Magnitsky, an attorney investigating a tax fraud involving Russian officials, died in pretrial detention after being beaten by prison guards in November 2009, a Russian presidential commission concluded.


2. Kyrgyz pol steps down in anger at reports of election fraud


FKulovFeliks Kulov
Prominent Kyrgyz politician Feliks Kulov stepped down as official head of the three-party ruling coalition 27 November in protest at reported fraud during the weekend local elections, Radio Free Europe reports.


The Kyrgyz news agency said Kulov told a meeting of his Ar-Namys party of reports of intimidation of election observers, bribery, and other violations during the 25 November city council elections. Kulov played a leading role in the downfall of President Askar Akaev in 2005 and served as prime minister under Akaev’s successor, Kurmanbek Bakiev.


“Despite the combined efforts of Ar-Namys, Ata-Meken, and SDPK [national] coalition factions to hold fair elections, we failed. I think I have no moral right to head the coalition,” he said.


Ar-Namys failed to pass the 7 percent threshold required to win seats on local councils.


With nearly all of the votes counted, the Social Democratic Party, led by President Almazbek Atambaev, was the top vote winner in the Bishkek city council elections, with nearly 33 percent of the vote, reports. The opposition Respublika party is in second place at 18 percent, followed by the national coalition member Ata-Meken at 10 percent, and the Zamandash-Sovremennik party at 9.5 percent.


3. First piece of new Chernobyl sarcophagus completed


The first section of a massive steel lid for the damaged nuclear reactor at Chernobyl has been completed, euronews reports. The arch-shaped container is expected to be 105 meters (344 feet) tall, 150 meters long, and span 257 meters when finished in 2015.




Shortly after Chernobyl reactor No. 4 exploded in 1986, a steel and concrete container was erected, but that structure is at risk of collapsing and releasing radioactive material. The new structure is designed to last 100 years. When finished, it will slide on rails to seal the damaged reactor, allowing engineers using robotic cranes to dismantle the old container and the remains of the reactor and dispose of the radioactive waste. Where that radioactive material will be disposed of has not been determined, euronews writes.


The area surrounding the plant remains off-limits to all but plant workers. A 30-kilometer (19-mile) exclusion zone is still officially uninhabitable, Radio Free Europe reports.


4. Tajikistan cuts access to Facebook, again


Authorities in Tajikistan have blocked access to Facebook for the second time this year, saying citizens are too tired of the "mud and slander" emanating from the site, according to Reuters. The blockade is one of several measures seen as aimed at dampening public dissent as the country looks ahead to a presidential election in 2013.


In a 27 November press conference, Office of Telecommunications head Beg Zukhurov said his office had instituted the blanket ban because of too much criticism of the country’s leadership.


“I received many calls from citizens of Tajikistan asking me to shut down this Facebook as a hotbed of slander,” he said, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Emerging Europe blog. “Unknown people there insult the leaders of the state. They are apparently being paid well for that.” 


But many see the move to cut access to Facebook as sign that officials are growing concerned about a rise in public criticism of authoritarian President Imomali Rahmon. "We can expect to see more steps to restrict freedom of speech on the Internet, as the authorities have made no secret of the fact they see a real threat in social networking sites," one political analyst in Dushanbe told Reuters.


This most recent Facebook block comes months after the government set up a public volunteer organization to monitor the Internet for cases of profanity, insult, or libel. Previously, Facebook was blacked out in March, along with several news sites after an article critical of Rahmon circulated on the social network. Authorities again blocked access to several news sites as well as YouTube – though not Facebook – after the military clashed with rebel forces in July.


There are only about 41,000 Facebook users in the country of 7 million, or just more than half a percent of the population. But the site has also exploded in the past year and a half, Reuters reports. 


5. Russians get ready for the party of a lifetime


An enterprising Siberian marketeer is looking to make a quick ruble in the last days of civilization as we know it, RIA Novosti writes. The agency reports on the “apocalypse kits” apparently selling well in the Siberian city of Tomsk ahead of 21 December, the date supposedly prophesied by Mayan priests as the end of the world.


Packaged in brown paper bags, the kits contain vodka, the Russian staples buckwheat and canned fish, candles and matches, a notepad and pencil, drugs including heart medicine, soap, and a piece of rope “in an apparent concession to pessimists,” the agency writes.


The kit was dreamed up by a local bridal party operator after hearing of a similar gimmick being peddled in Mexico.


Last week the news agency reported on a free apocalypse survival course being offered in Simferopol, Ukraine.


Consumers in some countries can even insure themselves against the apocalypse, RT writes, although Russian regulations prohibit this. Besides, as one Russian insurance executive pointed out, “You can ask the Russian insurance company to insure the risk from the so-called end of the world. The question is, if the end of the world comes, who will pay you, and what would you need it for?”


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

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