Plus, the UN and Kazakhstan team up to mediate Central Asian water disputes and Turkmen citizens jump for joy at the leader’s command.by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, Joshua Boissevain, and Vladimir Matan 3 April 2013
A leader of a political party whose candidate lost a mayoral race in a city near Moscow is alleging voting irregularities, RIA Novosti reports.
The early election was held 31 March in Zhukovsky, a city of 100,000 that is a center of the Russian aircraft industry.
Prokhorov, who considered a run for the Russian presidency in 2012, complained of “blatant violations” in a blog post, RIA Novosti says. The independent election monitor Golos reported 75 violations, including vote buying, and videos appeared online apparently showing Zhukovsky residents being paid to cast their ballots.
The regional elections commission head said several dozen complaints local police logged over apparent election violations were not serious enough to cast doubt on the outcome, according to RIA Novosti. The early election was held to replace former Mayor Alexander Bobovnikov, who resigned in January.
Zhukovsky has been the scene of frequent protests over the past year, mostly in connection with the cutting down of part of a local forest in order to make way for a road to a new aviation research center. Environmentalists said the trees could have been spared by rerouting the road, according to The Moscow Times.
Russian local elections in March 2011 were tarnished by many reports of serious fraud.
The Polish government is seeking an escape route from the legal block on selling its majority stake in the troubled national air carrier LOT, Reuters reports.
"There is no doubt that if we don't want to keep funneling public funds into this bottomless pit, privatization remains the only realistic option," Prime Minister Donald Tusk told a press conference, according to AFP.
LOT has racked up more than $400 million in losses in the past five years, forcing the government to inject $500 million into the carrier in December to keep it from running out of cash, Reuters says. Polish law prevents the government from selling more than 49 percent of the company, a restriction Tusk’s cabinet asked parliament to lift 2 April.
The ability to offer a majority stake in LOT will make the company more attractive to stable and strong investors, Treasury Minister Mikolaj Budzanowski said, according to Reuters.
Selling LOT, however, may require more than a change in domestic law. EU regulations place restrictions on non-European companies acquiring large stakes in strategic companies like airlines, and finding a European company willing to buy the carrier may be difficult, according to analysts cited by Reuters.
In 1999 LOT was sold to Swissair but was nationalized again after Swissair’s bankruptcy, AFP writes.
The UN Development Program is stepping up efforts toward a regional approach to water security issues in Central Asia, EurasiaNet.org writes, and Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov is trying to be a bridge-builder in that process. At a meeting with fellow Asian foreign ministers in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, recently, Idrissov said he raised the question of the controversial Rogun hydroelectric project with Tajik President Imomali Rahmon.
For Tajikistan, Rogun is seen as a cure for chronic power shortages that often plunge large areas of the country into enforced brownouts lasting for weeks. But downstream neighbor Uzbekistan has long argued that the reservoir behind the giant dam will slow the flow of water it needs for the cotton fields that supply much-needed export earnings.
"The states in the upper waters should not violate the rights and economic interests of the states located in the lower waters and vice versa,” Idrissov said.
UNDP representative Jan Harfst said recently that Uzbekistan’s preference for bilateral rather than multinational diplomacy made life difficult for international organizations in the region, EurasiaNet.org notes.
One of Uzbekistan’s tactics has been to hike rail tariffs and delay Tajik freight trains at their common border. Now Uzbek officials are pondering a new rail line to connect Tashkent with the densely populated Ferghana Valley, bypassing the current line, which detours into Tajik territory to avoid mountainous terrain.
If built, the new line could deprive Tajikistan of around $25 million a year in transit fees, EurasiaNet.org reports.
The imbalance between boy and girl babies in parts of the Caucasus and southeastern Europe is a concern for demographers and women’s rights activists, who surmise that selective abortion of female fetuses is the most likely explanation for the phenomenon.
In 2011, alarmed by the practice, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe pushed for a ban on sex selection of fetuses except in cases where the mother’s health was endangered.
Selective abortion as practiced in countries like China and India is spurred partly by falling birth rates, which also plague the South Caucasus – societies that place a high value on boy children – science writer Mara Hvistendahl tells Radio Free Europe’s Robert Coalson.
Hvistendahl, whose book Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, rejects the common perception of selective abortion as a feature of poor, tradition-bound countries.
“What is actually happening is that sex selection is something that hits first in urban areas, in rapidly developing countries, not the poorest places in the world. That is why it hit China; that's why it hit India. And that is why it is now hitting parts of Eastern Europe,” she said.
“Since around 2000, sex-selective abortion has taken off in the Caucasus countries – in Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia – also in parts of the Balkans.”
Hvistendahl cites data from 2005 indicating that more than 110 boys were being born for every 100 girls, well above the natural level of about 105 to 100.
“In Armenia, I believe, it was 120 boys for every 100 girls. That is alarming because it is just as bad as in China, which has a very, very serious problem.”
Turkmenistan is marking its second annual “Week of Health and Happiness” and many citizens are getting in on the action – whether they want to or not, according to EurasiaNet.org.
Strongman President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov ordered up a variety of physical activities across Turkmenistan to promote fitness and health in the lead-up to World Health Day on 7 April. The festivities, which culminate in a bike race and awards ceremony, follow in the tradition set up by Berdymukhammedov’s predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, who infamously made his entire cabinet celebrate the international holiday by walking an 8-kilometer (5-mile) path of concrete steps in the hills above Ashgabat only to meet them at the top in a helicopter.
Students, government workers, bus drivers, and even doctors are required to participate in the festivities, Radio Free Europe reports. A video released by Turkmenistan’s state news agency shows citizens performing coordinated calisthenics and marches.
“These activities are a reflection of our countrymen and countrywomen going through a peaceful white path toward progress,” the president said of the events, according to a TV presenter quoted by RFE.
But how do local residents feel about all the healthy hubbub?
“Most of these events are held just for show because we had to perform this exercise several times for the TV crew to record it,” one doctor told RFE. “We had to wait several hours for the TV crew. Filming took one or two hours.”