1. Navalny gets prison in corruption trial
The case, which many have called politically motivated, centered on Navanly's alleged embezzling of $500,000 during his time as adviser to a timber company in Kirov, where the trial was held.
The Moscow Election Commission had accepted Navalny’s mayoral bid in a unanimous vote on 17 July, the day before the ruling, AFP writes. If the sentence is upheld on appeal,he will no longer be eligible to hold elective office, but appeal proceedings are not likely to wrap up before the September mayoral elections.
In the past few years Navalny has become a leader of Russia’s opposition movement and, primarily through an interactive website, has encouraged ordinary citizens to expose instances of corruption and official incompetence. He coined the popular phrase “party of crooks and thieves” to describe the ruling United Russia party. The Wall Street Journal once called Navalny “the man Vladimir Putin fears the most.”
Vladimir Markin, a representative for the federal Investigative Committee, previously implied that Navalny’s trial contained political undertones, according to The New York Times.
“If a person tries with all his strength to attract attention, or if I can put it, teases authorities – ‘look at me, I’m so good compared to everyone else’– well, then interest in his past grows and the process of exposing him naturally speeds up,” Markin said.
Jude Sergei Blinov called allegations that the trial was political “groundless,” Bloomberg writes.
The New York Times reports that Navalny tweeted throughout his sentencing, ignoring Blinov’s orders to turn off all phones.
His message to his supporters following his conviction included a veiled reference to the Russian government.
“Ok. Don’t miss me. And most importantly – do not be lazy. The toad will not remove itself from the oil pipeline,” Navalny tweeted.
Navalny’s supporters have called for a rally near the Kremlin in response to the trial, with more than 8,000 people marked as attending on its Facebook page.
Lilia Shvetsova, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told the BBC that Navalny supporters can be expected use this conviction to fuel their cause.
“Navalny is becoming a martyr, a new Russian Mandela," Shvetsova said. "Of course they [Navalny supporters] will be prepared to confront the authorities in the future."
On 17 July, prosecutors said they were abandoning efforts to lift parliamentary immunity for Necas, who resigned last month amid a corruption scandal that saw a top aide arrested and led to a political crisis. The announcement came a day after the Supreme Court ruled that Necas and three former lawmakers could not be prosecuted because they were legislators when the alleged wrongdoing occurred, the Journal reports.
The three former lawmakers were released from jail 16 July. And Necas denies any wrongdoing in the scandal that unfolded with a series of extraordinary raids in early June and the arrests of his chief of staff, Jana Nagyova, and seven others. Nagyova was charged with bribing the three former legislators, among other allegations, and the case against her continues, Supreme State Attorney Ivo Istvan said, according to the Journal.
The prosecutors' decision came just as the Social Democrats, the largest party in Czech parliament, failed to win enough votes to dissolve the assembly in order to hold early elections, Bloomberg reports. The party opposes the caretaker government effectively appointed by President Milos Zeman in a politically unpopular move after Necas' government collapsed.
The caretaker cabinet took office 10 July and must face a confidence vote within 30 days of that date. It will almost certainly lose because the major parties oppose it, according to The Economist, but could nevertheless hang on until the scheduled May 2014 elections because Zeman is not required to name a replacement before then, leaving no clear end in sight for the Czech political crisis.
A recent alleged gang rape has prompted hundreds of Ukrainians to take to the streets in protest against abuse and corruption in the country's police forces, Radio Free Europe writes.
Angry residents of the town of Vradiyevka south of Kyiv attacked a police station there in early July after authorities tried to protect two police officers who, together with another man, are accused of carjacking, beating, and raping a young woman.
RFE reports that a group of Vradiyevka residents set out 7 July to walk the 200 miles to Kyiv and were expected to arrive today. They plan to camp on a central square indefinitely to protest the culture of impunity for abusive and crooked police officers.
The recent rape has similarities to the unsolved rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl in the same town in January 2011, RFE reports. A local resident told RFE that one of the police officers named by the current victim has a reputation for drunkenness and sadism, and owing his job to family connections.
Ukraine’s police are notorious for abuse. Most incidents go unreported, and, in some cases, public pressure is necessary for a proper investigation to be carried out.
Kyiv was the scene of similar protests on 14 July after a police officer hit human rights activist Iryna Bondar while she was doing her job. “When a law enforcement officer allows himself to strike a woman, when a law enforcement officer closes his eyes to the misconduct of another officer, how are we supposed to deal with such police?” Bondar told RFE.
Although President Viktor Yanukovych said he was personally monitoring the Vradiyevka case and some local police officers have been fired, some lawmakers from the ruling Party of Regions have instead proposed tougher penalties for hitting a police officer as a solution to the current protests, further angering protesters and opposition lawmakers, RFE writes.
A vast new memorial is being built near Zajas, western Macedonia, to honor Albanians killed in the second Balkan War, Balkan Insight reports.
Dedicated to 500 Albanians allegedly executed by Serbian forces and buried in unmarked mass graves, the site will include 500 cylindrical headstones, among other features. It is slated for completion by year's end, though the exhumations could take years.
"We will not leave a stone unturned until we find them," an ethnic-Albanian official in Macedonia said.
Erupting after Bulgaria attacked Serbia and Greece over territorial claims, the second Balkan War largely unfolded over the geographical region of Macedonia, a much larger territory than the current republic. Balkan Insight points out that scholars disagree over whether Serbian forces committed massacres against local Albanian populations.
Today, the ethnic-Albanian minority in Macedonia complains of discrimination. Zajas, a majority-Albanian village, is also dedicating a new museum to the war victims.
With Chisinau eyeing a key agreement with Brussels in the coming months, Romania has reiterated its support for Moldova's EU aspirations, RFE reports.
“You are preparing for a great achievement, and I want to be by your side at an important moment and to assure you that Romania will remain your advocate without any reservations – I repeat, without any reservations – as you pursue your European path,” President Traian Basescu told his Moldovan counterpart, Nicolae Timofti, at a 17 July news conference.
He also said the two countries shared “a blood partnership,” a reference to the fact that most Moldovans are of Romanian descent, the Associated Press points out.
At a European summit in November, Moldova is expected to sign a so-called Stabilization and Association Agreement, a key EU pre-accession document. Basescu has said that Moldova could complete the lengthy membership process within 12 years.
A key issue in any negotiations with Brussels will likely be Moldova's long-standing dispute with its breakaway Transdniester region. International talks on the issue are under way in Vienna.
At the 17 July press conference, the presidents also announced the construction of a new natural-gas pipeline between the countries to help ease Moldova’s near-total dependence on Russian energy giant Gazprom for its gas supplies. Russia has used gas bills and tariffs to maintain influence over the country.