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Albanian Opposition Claims Election Win, Serbian Church Faces New Scandal

Plus, Latvia bans Nazi and Soviet symbols and Amazon eyes the East European online marketplace.

by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, Vladimir Matan, and Molly Jane Zuckerman 24 June 2013

1. Early results indicate Socialist lead in tense Albanian vote

 

The Albanian national elections closed on 23 June with both major parties declaring victory.

 

Edi Rama
Socialist opposition leader Edi Rama claimed success for his party after the polls closed, while government spokesperson Majlinda Bregu declared victory for Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s Democratic Party shortly after, Balkan Insight reports.

 

One exit poll indicated that Rama’s party would take about 52 percent of the vote, nine points more than the Democratic Party, according to Balkan Insight. Early results on June 24 also put the Socialists ahead.

 

Reuters reports that the European Commission considers the elections a “crucial test” for Albania in its journey to join the EU, the top priority for both major parties, despite their lengthy, often bitter rivalry.

 

Albania has been a member of NATO since 2009, but has yet to be named a full candidate for EU membership.

 

At least one violent incident broke out on polling day. An opposition supporter was killed and a Democratic Party candidate injured in a shootout in the city of Lac, the Associated Press reports.

 

2. Serbian priest jailed for fatal beating of man under his care

 

An Orthodox priest in Serbia has been sentenced to 20 years behind bars for beating to death a man enrolled in a church-affiliated drug rehab facility, Reuters reports. Branislav Peranovic was found guilty of second-degree murder by a court in the town of Sabac on 21 June. The victim, Nebojsa Zarubac, was under treatment at the Sretenje facility, administered by Peranovic, when the priest fatally beat him with a long stick on 6 August 2012 after the two men argued, the Serbian daily Blic writes.

 

Branislav Peranovic

Peranovic's aggressive treatment of drug users became known when a video emerged showing him beating drug addicts in 2009, when he ran a different church-affiliated treatment center. Peranovic's justification of the extreme treatment earned him the support of the Serbian far-right group Obraz, according to Blic.

 

Peranovic lost his job as a result of the video but later set up another treatment center, Reuters reports.

 

The case is the latest scandal to tar the church's reputation, following a leak of sex tapes involving a Serbian Orthodox bishop in Bosnia and other allegations of sexual misconduct.

 

Orthodox leaders themselves have fallen out over the government's moves to ease tensions with Kosovo, with a conservative faction accusing the right-wing government of betraying the Serbian people. Now the government is “drawing a line in the sand to tell the church how far it may go,” Reuters quotes analyst Nenad Sebek as saying.

 

3. Amazon seeking entry points to Central European markets

 

Amazon is on the verge of setting up an operation in Poland, Polish Radio reports, citing the Rzeczpospolita daily and an unnamed source. But contrary to earlier reports, its new offices in Warsaw will concentrate on IT services rather than offering a full Polish version of its global online retail outlet.

 

Polish customers place about a million orders every month from Amazon's British site, according to Polish Radio, while the Poznan-based company Allegro continues to lead the domestic online retail market.

 

Meanwhile, Amazon is firming up plans for a large logistics center in the Czech Republic, the Czech Lidove noviny reports.

 

The facility, which would probably be built near Prague's airport, could employ as many as 3,000 people to service German and Central European customers.

 

Amazon already operates a service center in Slovakia and a development facility in Romania, according to the Czech daily.

 

4. Czech political crisis casts shadow over Temelin expansion

 

Political upheaval in the Czech Republic may slow or even cancel the selection of a winner for the country's biggest construction project, local media are saying.

 

State-controlled energy giant CEZ was due to announce the winning bid for the planned expansion of the Temelin nuclear power plant in September, World Nuclear News writes, but Prime Minister Petr Necas' resignation may delay the process.

 

 

Temelin350The Temelin nuclear power station.

 

The Prague Post cites sources who speculate that the new reactor project might not survive without Necas’ stewardship to move the project along.

 

Necas stepped down 17 June after his chief of staff was charged with bribing members of parliament and ordering illegal intelligence activity in one of the biggest corruption probes in Czech history.

 

President Milos Zeman has asked Necas and his cabinet members to remain in office until a new government is named. He asked that the present government make no "strategic" decisions, according to World Nuclear News.

 

Two bidders remain in contention for the estimated $10 billion contract to build two new reactors at Temelin: a Russian-Czech consortium and the Japanese-U.S. Westinghouse. U.S. officials, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have visited Prague to plump for Westinghouse. Zeman, like former President Vaclav Klaus, is said to favor the Russian offer. 

 

5. Russians angered by Latvian ban on Soviet symbols

 

Latvian lawmakers have adopted amendments to a law banning some displays of Nazi and Soviet symbols, according to RIA Novosti.  President Andris Berzins is expected to sign the bill into law this summer, prohibiting the public display of the swastika and the Soviet hammer-and-sickle symbols as well as uniforms and anthems associated with the two ideologies.

 

The Russian news agency writes that the legislation is an attempt by Latvian authorities to calm tensions caused by annual pro-Russian rallies and SS veterans' parades. During World War II, the country was occupied by the Soviet and German armies in turn before being incorporated into the Soviet Union.

 

Unnamed Russian lawmakers condemned the ban as “blatant disrespect for the memories of those who perished fighting against fascism.” State Duma CIS Affairs committee chairman Leonid Slutsky also criticized the way in which the legislation treats Soviet and Nazi symbols equally.

 

The relationship between Latvia and Russia since the Soviet implosion has been affected by a different interpretation of their common history. While Russia claims that the Red Army freed the country from the Nazis, Riga regards the half-century within the Soviet Union as an occupation. Baltic neighbor Lithuania, along with Hungary, are the only other EU countries that have enacted similar bans.

Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Vladimir Matan and Molly Jane Zuckerman are TOL editorial interns.
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