Plus, Albanian leaders trade blame over another failed EU bid, and Moscow bars a march on the anniversary of last year’s mass election protest.by S. Adam Cardais and Nino Tsintsadze 14 December 2012
Nominated by President Viktor Yanukovych, Azarov won 252 votes in the 450-seat parliament. The 64-year-old has held the post since Yanukovych's election in February 2010. Legislators also elected a speaker 13 December.
Members of Ukraine's three opposition parties abstained from the vote. These factions outpolled the ruling Party of Regions in the 28 October parliamentary elections, though Regions and its allies held onto control of the legislature.
Political analysts predicted that the opposition's gains would lead to a divisive parliament, RIA Novosti notes. And indeed, legislators came to blows as the opposition tried to block the vote to approve Azarov.
Members of FEMEN, the Ukrainian female protest group known for organizing semi-nude demonstrations, were detained while trying to break into the parliamentary building 12 December, according to RIA Novosti.
Speaking at a 13 December meeting of Russian leaders, President Vladimir Putin said Moscow's response to an "unfriendly" piece of U.S. legislation to impose travel bans and other sanctions on Russian human rights abusers "should be adequate but not excessive," Radio Free Europe reports.
His comments seem to represent a slightly less angry stance in Moscow over the so-called Magnitsky bill. Recently passed by the U.S. Congress and expected to become law, the legislation primarily targets Russian officials suspected in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Moscow lawyer who uncovered a massive scheme to defraud the Russian government of tax refunds and who died in prison in 2009 after being beaten by guards. Russian officials have slammed the bill for months. After it passed the U.S Senate last week, lawmakers in the lower house of parliament began debating a retaliatory measure targeting American citizens from a range of professions for rights abuses against Russians, including torture in secret CIA prisons. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is among those on the list.
Though Putin said he supports the legislation, which would impose similar sanctions to those in the Magnitsky bill, he said Moscow's response would go no further, RFE reports. He also called Magnitsky's death a tragedy, the BBC reports, and said Russia is still investigating the case.
Albania's two leading – and notoriously dysfunctional – political parties are at each other's throats over Brussels' decision to hold up the country's bid for coveted EU candidate status for the third year running, Balkan Insight reports.
"Rama attained his sinister goal, by blocking our EU candidate status, which he believes would have boosted the government's appeal in the upcoming elections,” Balkan Insight quotes him as saying.
The Socialists fired back that the government was to blame for failing to meet many of the reform priorities outlined by Brussels.
A day earlier, Greece and Bulgaria blocked Macedonia from receiving a start date for EU accession talks. The Council of Ministers postponed a decision on the matter until the publication of a progress report by the European Commission next spring.
The opposition may not stage a march through central Moscow on 15 December, Russian authorities say, according to Radio Free Europe.
The so-called Freedom March was supposed to mark the first anniversary of the wave of public protests in Russia after widespread reports of fraud in the December 2011 parliamentary elections. Some 50,000 people were expected to take part, RFE reports. Opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov said organizers an official rejection from the Moscow mayor’s office.
The Associated Press reports that march organizers turned down the city’s offer for the march to take place on a similar route to previous demonstrations, insisting on being allowed to use a square in central Moscow.
Instead of the Freedom March, several opposition leaders plan to lay wreaths outside a monument to Soviet oppression in Moscow, RFE reports. Marches are planned in other Russian cities on 15 December.
The Tajik service of Radio Free Europe says it has obtained videos apparently depicting physical abuse of prison inmates in the northern Tajik city of Khujand.
Inmates and family members claimed several men were stripped naked and beaten by guards after being transferred to Prison No. 3 in the city in November. In the videos, the men display large bruises on their bodies. The source of the videos, apparently shot on mobile phones, is not known.
Prison officials and the General Prosecutor’s office refused to comment to RFE about the allegations
Tajikistan has often been criticized over its poor human rights record. Prisoners and human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have raised the issue of torture in prisons many times, and there have been allegations of prisoners dying after mistreatment. This fall, prison authorities and the Interior Ministry pledged to investigate alleged mistreatment of inmates.