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Plus, Moscow levels the first “foreign agent” fine, and Uzbekistan cracks down on … cyclists.by S. Adam Cardais, Ioana Caloianu, and Vladimir Matan 26 April 2013
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic has apologized for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) by Bosnian Serb forces, Radio Free Europe reports.
"I kneel and ask for forgiveness for Serbia for the crime committed in Srebrenica," Nikolic said in a statement on Bosnian television. But, he added, "genocide needs to be proved."
After upsetting incumbent Boris Tadic in Serbia's May 2012 presidential elections, Nikolic alarmed regional and European leaders by saying no genocide occurred at Srebrenica, the BBC notes.
He insists genocide remains unproved by international courts, although both the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice classify the massacre as such, Balkan Insight points out.
"I believe this will improve relations in the region," he said, according to Balkan Insight. "It is about time that all countries in the region turn to a joint future and European integration, and continue to build good neighborly relations."
However, a spokeswoman for families of victims of the massacre told AFP she was unconvinced. Munira Subasic, head Mothers of Srebrenica, said, "We do not need someone to kneel and ask for forgiveness. We want to hear the Serbian president and Serbia say the word genocide."
The election monitor Golos (Voice) must pay $10,000 for failing to register as a foreign agent, a Moscow court said 25 April, AFP reports.
This is the first sanction leveled under a controversial law Russian legislators passed last year requiring think tanks, rights groups, and other politically involved civic groups that receive foreign funding to register as foreign agents. That term connotes "spy" to most Russians, RIA Novosti writes.
Russia's only independent election monitor, Golos vowed to appeal. The group says it stopped accepting international funding after the law passed to avoid registering, and that it returned money for winning the international Andrei Sakharov Freedom prize last year. The Justice Ministry's case reportedly hinges on this prize money.
Golos alleged large-scale fraud in Russia's 2011 parliamentary elections and the 2012 presidential polls, won by Vladimir Putin for a third term. This helped spark mass public protests.
The ruling follows recent inspections at civic groups across Russia that Moscow says aim to check compliance with the registration law.
Seventy-six of parliament’s 101 members voted 25 April to dismiss Speaker Marian Lupu. The vote passed with the support of the opposition Communist Party along with members of former Prime Minister Vlad Filat’s Liberal Democratic Party and independent deputies, Radio Free Europe reports.
Filat himself suffered a heavy blow on 22 April when the Constitutional Court ruled that President Nicolae Timofti could not nominate him to return as prime minister, citing suspicions of corruption.
Timofti then nominated Foreign Minister Iurie Leanca to be the interim prime minister. Timofti has not commented on the court’s rejection of Filat, according to Prime.md.
Filat’s government completed a slow collapse six weeks ago when it lost a no-confidence vote in parliament.
Although Filat and Lupu share liberal views and a pro-Western orientation, personal and party rivalries have driven them apart and forced the disintegration of the Filat government. The real power behind the scenes is powerful businessman Vlad Plahotniuc, whose Democratic Party Lupu nominally heads, analyst Vladimir Socor writes.
The new mayor of Skopje’s central district, Andrej Zernovski, called a temporary halt to all construction on the controversial Skopje 2014 urban renewal project 25 April, Balkan Insight reports.
The area is the site of the lavish project designed to refashion or build new government buildings, museums, a new national theater and other structures in a conservative style mixing classical and Baroque elements.
Zernovski opposes the project and has accused his political opponents of laundering money earmarked for it.
“I gave instructions today to visit all sites … to determine the factual situation and the involvement of the previous leadership [in the project],” Zernovski told the press 25 April, according to Balkan Insight.
Zernovski, of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, was elected to run the Centar municipality on 21 April, defeating Vladimir Todorovic, whose VMRO DPMNE party conceived Skopje 2014.
The project envisages some 20 buildings and at least 30 marble and bronze statues in central Skopje, including a giant monument to Alexander the Great that sparked tensions with Greece.
Originally budgeted at 80 million euros, spending on the project has now reached 208 million euros ($270 million), Culture Minister Elizabeta Kanceska-Milevska admitted on 23 April. She rejected claims by critics that the true cost could be 500 million to 1 billion euros.
At the same press conference, outgoing Centar Mayor Todorovic said he was not worried about a possible probe into Skopje 2014’s finances.
“We have been transparent about the project all along. … All of the contracts have been made public. However, they may have been scattered throughout different institutions,” he said.
Uzbek police have launched an unofficial campaign to get cyclists off the roads, claiming they contribute to traffic accidents, Radio Free Europe reports, citing regional media.
A special squad has been tasked with fining riders who violate traffic rules and seizing their bicycles. Scores have reportedly lost their wheels since the campaign began this week. Bicycle shops have even been told to shut down, EurasiaNet.org reports, also citing regional media.
EurasiaNet says authorities have linked the campaign to a rise in traffic accidents involving cyclists, even though no supporting figures are available.
Speaking to RFE, Tashkent traffic officer Musurmon Hudoyqulov confirmed the campaign but stressed, "If cyclists don't violate the rules, don’t ride in the middle of the road, and follow traffic signs, we don't stop them."
Cyclists can reclaim confiscated bikes after paying a fine, reportedly around 26,000 soms ($13), according to RFE.
RFE notes that while urban cycling is on the rise in Tashkent, the capital has been slow to respond with bike lanes, for instance.