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Russia Wants Georgian Lab Shut, Polish Plotter to be Tried as Terrorist

Plus, Belgrade distances itself from a protest in northern Kosovo and another former Slovenian official is convicted of corruption. by Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, Vladimir Matan, and Molly Jane Zuckerman 22 July 2013

1. Russia threatens trade break over bio lab in Georgia

 

Days after blaming a U.S.-funded biological research laboratory in Tbilisi for an outbreak of swine flu in Russia, authorities in Moscow have warned their Georgian counterparts that the facility could jeopardize bilateral trade, Civil.ge reports.

 

Gennady Onishchenko
Gennady Onishchenko, chief sanitary inspector of Russia, said 20 July that the laboratory has “a powerful offensive potential” and is “a direct violation” of an international convention on biological weapons.

 

Onishchenko said the facility is a military lab under the control of the U.S. Navy, but Georgia and the United States say it is aimed at “at protecting public and animal health through dangerous pathogens detection and epidemiological surveillance,” according to Civil.ge. In May the U.S. ambassador to Georgia, Richard Norland, called the lab “a Georgian facility” that would be managed locally “in cooperation and partnership with experts from the United States.”

 

Onishchenko’s claim comes months after Russia overturned a seven-year embargo on Georgian wine and mineral water. Thirty-six Georgian winemakers and four mineral water producers were allowed to resume imports to Russia in March, and the first Georgian wine shipment reached Russia in June, according to RIA Novosti.


Onishchenko said the Kremlin would “strengthen medical defenses against biological threats” in the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, according to Radio Free Europe.

 

2. Polish Breivik copycat now charged with terrorism

 

Polish prosecutors have escalated the charges against a man arrested in 2012 over a plot to blow up parliament, Polskie Radio reports.

 

Brunon K., who originally faced charges of illegal weapons possession and “preparing an attack against the constitutional authorities of Poland,” will be tried as a terrorist, the news agency reports.
 

The more serious charges could lead to a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

 

Prosecutors say that before his 9 November arrest, Brunon K., whose full identity is withheld under Polish privacy laws, had amassed around four tons of explosives that he purportedly planned to attach to a car and drive into the parliament building while the president, prime minister, and other government officials were in attendance.

 

An admitted fan of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, Brunon K. had planned the attack in order to “punish ‘arrogant’ politicians,” according to a declaration released by his lawyer, Maciej Burda, in February, Polskie Radio reported at the time.

 

Prosecutors have described Brunon K., who has no political affiliations, as an anti-Semitic nationalist, but Burda denied that his client had an ideological motive. Burda said “taxes, dishonesty, unfulfilled election promises, and law-breaking” were his client’s motivation for the attack, Polskie Radio reported in February.

 

The Telegraph reported in November that Brunon K. had planned to exceed the death toll of 77 from Breivik’s 2011 car-bomb and gun attacks.

 

An explosives expert, Brunon K. had worked as a researcher at the Agricultural University in Krakow until his arrest. His activities were brought to the attention of authorities either through his wife’s concerns over his interest in killer microbes or because of his online praise of Breivik and his “access to bomb making materials” through his work.

 

3. Belgrade urges Kosovo Serbs to give up separate parliament plan

 

Officials in Serbia are giving the cold shoulder to a movement among some ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo to establish their own legislature, Southeast European Times writes.

 

“Serbia and Serbs should learn from history to do what is best for them, not what is to their detriment,” Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said, according to the news website.

 

The Serbian government is disavowing the movement because it violates an April agreement brokered by the EU that would put northern Kosovo inarguably under the jurisdiction of Kosovan government and law-enforcement agencies, with some autonomy for the Serb-majority area. The deal was a crucial step toward Serbia’s starting EU accession talks.

 

But the backers of the independent parliament refuse to abide by the agreement, which envisions an association of Serb-majority municipalities to oversee some aspects of governance, and vow not to take part in local elections in November.

 

Northern Kosovo, which for a while was a no-go zone for Kosovo police, has a reputation for smuggling and organized crime. “[T]he application of the Brussels agreement, particularly for Serbs in the north, lessens the ability of them to earn large profits through activities outside any system and law,” one think tank analyst told SETimes.

 

A Kosovan commentator, Belul Beqaj, suggested that officials in Belgrade were secretly behind the resistance movement. But Milovan Drecun, the chairman of a parliamentary committee on Kosovo, told SETimes, “The Brussels agreement is an integral part of the Serbian state policy, which means that there is no place for any different actions except formation of the association of Serbian municipalities after the local elections on 3 November.”

 

4. Former top Slovenian official convicted

 

A key figure in Slovenia’s first democratically elected government has been sentenced to seven years in prison for financial crimes, only weeks after a former prime minister was convicted on corruption charges.

 

Igor Bavcar
A court found that as chairman of the Istrabenz conglomerate in 2007, Igor Bavcar set off a chain of trades in the company’s stock that cost it 24.3 million euros ($32 million), The Slovenia Times reports. Bavcar, who served as interior minister from 1990 to 1992, and co-defendant Nastja Susinski were ordered to repay the sum. Susinski received a nearly four-year sentence, and two other defendants were given prison terms in the complex scheme.

 

“The chain trading [of Istrabenz shares] cannot be understood in any other way [than] as an unlawful trade aimed at obtaining financial benefits,” Judge Vladislava Lunder said, according to AFP.

 

Bavcar and co-defendant Bosko Srot pleaded not guilty. Srot was director of the Lasko brewery, which owned Istrabenz. Two other defendants pleaded guilty to lesser charges.

 

In early June, former Prime Minister Janez Jansa was convicted of bribery in relation to a major defense purchase.

 

Slovenia was hit with large protests against corruption this winter. “Slovenia is such a corrupt country ... we need 100 or 200 good verdicts” to restore order, the new mayor of Maribor, which saw some of the fiercest protests, told AFP.

 

5. Hungarian ultra-right styles itself as defender of countryside

 

Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party is making hay out of a law passed one month ago that regulates the purchase of farmland by foreigners, Politics.hu writes.

 

Speaking at what the website called “a meeting of Hungary’s smallest communities,” party leader Gabor Vona said the countryside was under threat from “the forces of global capitalism.”

 

Vona was reacting to a new law that opens the door for foreign professional farmers who have lived and worked in Hungary for at least three years to buy land there. Like some other Central European countries, Hungary had prohibited foreign land ownership but was required to lift the ban by 2014 as a condition of EU membership, Reuters reports.

 

At the 20 July meeting, Vona called for the country to leave the EU or renegotiate its accession agreement, Politics.hu writes.

 

Some members of parliament protested during the vote that the measure would pave the way for foreign agricultural conglomerates and politically connected groups “to scoop up swathes of farmland and force small farmers to become low-paid workers on their own land,” according to Reuters.

 

The remaining restrictions on land ownership will probably result in a legal challenge from Brussels, an aide to Prime Minister Viktor Orban told local media.

Barbara Frye is TOL’s managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Vladimir Matan and Molly Jane Zuckerman are TOL editorial interns.
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