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One Convicted in Politkovskaya Murder, Opposition Defies Moscow to Hold Rally

Plus, more arrests in Balkan-wide trafficking probe, and is Georgia the next Ukraine?

by S. Adam Cardais and Ioana Caloianu 17 December 2012

1. Ex-policeman gets 11 years in Politkovskaya slaying 

 

Politkovskaya-100Anna Politkovskaya
A Russian court has sentenced former policeman Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov to 11 years in a high-security prison for his involvement in the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

He was found guilty of tracking Politkovskaya and providing the murder weapon. The court ordered Pavlyuchenkov to pay the late journalist's family 3 million rubles ($98,000), far less than they had sought.

 

Pavlyuchenkov was charged in July, pled guilty to helping organize the murder, and agreed to cooperate with investigators for a reduced sentence. In October, five others were charged with the murder and illegal arms trafficking. They will be tried separately.

 

Politkovskaya was shot dead in her Moscow apartment building in October 2006. Her reporting on human rights violations with a focus on Chechnya angered the Kremlin. Prosecutors said Pavlyuchenkov was part of a Chechen crime syndicate. Investigators have said the killing was ordered by an unknown person upset with her human rights coverage, among other subjects.

 

On 14 December, Pavlyuchenkov apologized to Politkovskaya's two grown children and asked for their forgiveness, RFE reports. They had asked the court to invalidate the plea bargain with because Pavlyuchenkov did not name the mastermind behind the murder, but, as the Committee to Protect Journalists blogged, on 12 December the judge rejected their request and ordered that journalists be excluded from the court until the verdict was read.

 

2. Russian police arrest four opposition leaders during banned protest

 

Riot police broke up a crowd of demonstrators in Moscow 15 December after the anti-Putin opposition staged a banned rally, Reuters reports. Four opposition leaders were arrested.

 

 

Protesters gathered in subfreezing temperatures on Lubyanka Square outside the former KGB headquarters to mark the first anniversary of the protests that began after the contested December 2011 parliamentary elections. Some laid flowers at a monument to victims of Soviet-era repression, while others chanted "Down with the police state" and "Russia without Putin" as police looked on and helicopters flew overhead, according to multiple media accounts.

 

Alexei Navalny
Last week Moscow city officials rejected the demonstration application to use the central square, warning that unsanctioned rallies would not be tolerated. Police didn't intervene until the crowd dwindled in the late afternoon, RIA Novosti reports, arresting some 40 protestors, including opposition leaders Sergei Udaltsov and Alexei Navalny.

 

"I don't know how many people are here, but I am proud of each and every one of those who came here," Navalny, a prominent anti-corruption campaigner, said before he was detained, Reuters reports. "The main thing is that people are here, that they are expressing their view and showing that they exist."

 

Authorities put the turnout at 700 people, while independent sources estimated a figure closer to 2,000. Similar rallies were held in other Russian cities 15 December, and opposition leaders vowed to continue their protest campaign.

 

3. After historic election, Georgia faces key tests in 2013

 

Will Georgia turn out to be another Ukraine? So asks Radio Free Europe in an analysis of the many challenges the country faces in the wake of an historic transition of power.

 

After the October parliamentary elections, President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM) ceded defeat to billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition after nearly 10 years of rule. It was the country's first peaceful transition of power through competitive elections – a "systematic breakthrough," political analyst Tornike Sharashenidze tells RFE.

 

But many challenges remain, from economic development to improving on the reforms begun under Saakashvili by strengthening the judiciary and other institutions. The breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, recognized as independent by Russia after the Ossetian war in 2008, are also a priority. 

 

Real progress on these and other issues, RFE’s Robert Coalson suggests, hinges on whether Georgia can skirt the political dysfunction that has plagued post-Orange Revolution Ukraine. For that to happen, Ivanishvili's new government must work alongside Saakashvili, who leaves office next year, and his party. However, many officials from the former government have been arrested on corruption and other charges in what some call justice, others a political purge.

Mikheil Saakashvili and Bidzina Ivanishvili, seen here meeting in October, have buried the hatchet, for now.

 

If the two adversarial parties can't work together, Coalson writes, Georgia could very well go the road of Ukraine, where political gridlock and a democratic backslide have betrayed the promise and hope of the 2004 Orange Revolution.

 

4. Balkan police nab dozens in major trafficking probe

 

Kosovo and EU police arrested seven more suspects 13 December in an investigation of a Balkan crime syndicate believed to be involved in human trafficking in the European Union, Balkan Insight reports.

 

They were charged with organized crime and smuggling of migrants, the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) said 13 December. A day earlier, 45 other suspected gang members were arrested in Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia, including several police officers, Balkan Insight reports. 

 

Authorities have been after the human trafficking syndicate since at least 2011, making the first arrests that December. Indictments followed in December 2012.

 

5. Absurdist honor for dramatist-turned-statesman Havel

 

A group of Czech cultural figures, politicians, and other celebrities is asking friends and admirers of Vaclav Havel to roll up their trousers 18 December, the first anniversary of the former president’s death at the age of 75.

 

The Short Trousers for Vaclav Havel initiative aims to honor his memory “in a way that would be distinctive, memorable and simple so that it can be followed by the largest number of well-wishers.” The gesture recalls the photos of Havel walking past a guard of honor during his inauguration as Czechoslovak president in December 1989, wearing a noticeably short pair of formal trousers.

 

As Havel himself explained, his trousers simply looked too short because he had pulled them up just minutes earlier. He picked up this habit during his years in prison as a dissident, fellow inmate and future advisor Jan Solc said shortly after Havel’s death, when he would quickly adjust his clothing when guards ordered him to “make himself presentable” for an interrogation. The initiative’s website quotes Havel as saying that he “more or less enjoyed” having become celebrated for wearing short trousers. “I say to myself that it is a gentle way of ridiculing myself.”

 

Many other commemorations of Havel’s life, both lighthearted and solemn, will take place across the country 18 December.

 

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant.
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