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Workers March in Warsaw, Shell Readies to Drill in Ukraine

Plus, prosecutors go after perpetrators in a Kosovo anti-gay attack and a U.S. court says a murder suspect must face trial in the Czech Republic. by Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, and Jennifer Day 16 September 2013 1. Thousands protest Polish government labor policies


Tens of thousands of Poles took to the streets of Warsaw 14 September for a fourth day of demonstrations against Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s center-right government and its labor policies. City authorities put the turnout at 100,000, but organizers of the march, which include members of Poland's largest union and other labor groups, estimated the number of protesters at 120,000, the Associated Press reports.



Demonstrators called attention to longer working hours, the government's seizure of some investments inside private pension funds, and a new law that raised the retirement age from 65 for men and 60 for women to 67 for both sexes. Supporters of the moves say they are necessary to cut government debt and attract business.


Protesters blew whistles, threw smoke grenades, and carried banners declaring, “Tusk’s Government Must Go," according to AP. The prime minister's approval ratings are at their lowest point and the government is hobbled by a declining parliamentary majority. Recent polls have turned up conflicting findings of how Tusk's party would fare against the conservative-populist Law and Justice party, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Reuters reports.


Tusk's changes to the pension system have fueled concern among Poles and other European observers, and they led to a drop in the Polish stock exchange amid an otherwise encouraging economic picture in Europe.


Demonstrators also protested falling job security and faltering guarantees of health care and pension benefits. Unemployment has hovered around 13 percent or 14 percent since late December, rates not seen since late 2006, and the average monthly wage stood at 3,740 zlotys ($1,182) in the first quarter, according to government statistics.


Jan Guz, leader of Poland's largest union, OPZZ, said that if the government did not heed their demands, demonstrators would "block the whole country," AP reports.


2. Shell finally gets green light for gas exploration in Ukraine


After months of preliminaries, a Ukrainian energy company and Royal Dutch Shell have signed a deal to kick off gas exploration in an eastern Ukraine deposit.


Gas could start to be produced from the Yuzivska field as early as late 2014, Interfax reports, quoting the country's energy and coal minister, Eduard Stavytsky.


Shell and its Ukrainian partner, Nadra Yuzivska, a state-run company created specifically for this joint venture, will be looking for conventional natural gas as well as shale gas.


In January, Shell and the Ukrainian government signed a 50-year production-sharing agreement that commits the company to spending about $500 million for exploration and about $10 billion overall on the site, according to Interfax.


Ukraine's prime minister, Mykola Azarov, said last week that officials hope the field will eventually produce as much as 20 billion cubic meters of gas per year, Radio Free Europe reports. Ukraine consumed about 65 billion cubic meters in 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. About 70 percent of that came from Russia at a steep markup, and Ukraine is anxious to ease its dependence on gas supplies from its eastern neighbor.


3. Kosovo prosecutors bring indictments in anti-gay attacks


The editor of a Kosovo magazine that was the target of an anti-gay attack in December has hailed the recent indictments of three people for their alleged involvement in the crime, Southeast European Times writes.


Kosovo and EU prosecutors filed an indictment 4 September against three people who they say were in a crowd that broke in and wrecked a youth center in Pristina where Kosovo 2.0 magazine was to launch its first issue on gay rights. The three face charges of inflicting light bodily harm and inciting national, racial, religious, or ethnic hatred, discord or intolerance, according to SETimes.


Besa Luci, the magazine's editor, said the indictments show that “free speech, be it of the individual or the media, as in the case of cannot be violated,” but she said it was a pity that it took an attack on the magazine to shine a spotlight on pervasive homophobia in Kosovan society.


Sadete Demaj-Kajtazi, a senior official for human rights in the office of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, attributed the violence to a lack of education and awareness about gay issues. He said the cabinet is working on an anti-discrimination law that would “foresee and include a series of measures to protect people from discrimination because of [their] sexual orientation and their gender identity,” according to SETimes.


Anti-gay discrimination and violence are not unusual in the Balkans. In Serbia, for example, right-wing extremists attacked the Belgrade gay-pride parade in 2010, and the 2009, 2011, and 2012 events were canceled due to threats of violence. Homosexuals are included in Serbia's relatively recent anti-discrimination law.


4. Court orders extradition of accused murderer from U.S. to Czech Republic


A U.S. court ruled last week that an American accused of a grisly quadruple murder in the Czech Republic can be extradited to face trial, the Czech Press Agency reports


Kevin Dahlgren, 21, is accused of killing his cousin, her husband, and their two sons in May while on a visit from California. The day of the murders, he took a taxi from their home in the eastern city of Brno to the Vienna airport, where he caught a flight back to the United States. He was arrested upon arriving at Dulles airport outside Washington, D.C.


Dahlgren told an American court earlier this year that he had been out jogging and returned to find the family dead. He said he fled in fear and confusion, the Czech Press Agency reported at the time.


During extradition proceedings, the prosecutor said a pair of shorts stained with the blood of one of the victims was in Dahlgren's luggage and that Dahlgren had refused to let a cleaning woman enter the house on the day of the murders, the Associated Press reports.


Representing Dahlgren is Theodore Simon, a lawyer in Philadelphia who worked on the appeal of Seattle college student Amanda Knox after her 2009 conviction in Italy on charges of murdering her roommate, Meredith Kercher.


Simon said he would appeal the ruling. If upheld, it does not necessarily mean Dahlgren would be sent to the Czech Republic, as the U.S. State Department has the final say. If sent back and convicted, Dahlgren could face life in prison.


5. Belarus strongman gets well-deserved recognition


In June, TOL wrote of Belarus, "Most recently, references to the country in the international media seem limited to headlines about fatal beaver attacks and its preeminence in sending junk email."


Alyaksandr Lukashenka
Add to that list President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's receipt 12 September of the Ig Nobel Peace Prize, given by a U.S. organization called Improbable Research.


Lukashenka received the award for making it illegal to applaud in public, while the country's security services got special recognition for arresting a one-armed man for clapping.


Applauding became a dangerous act in Belarus two years ago when the political opposition adopted it as a means of protest. After demonstrations against a flawed presidential election in December 2010 led to the beatings and arrests of many regime critics, the opposition resorted to legal means, like regular applause sessions, to show solidarity and express protest.


But some caught applauding in public were nevertheless rounded up by the police. Snared in one dragnet was Konstantin Kaplin, who has only one arm and said he was simply photographing one of the clapping sessions, The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time.


How to find a police officer anywhere, anytime in Belarus.


The de facto ban on clapping led to other absurd situations. At a July 2011 speech by Lukashenka, "even his supporters were afraid to applaud the head of state. So Mr. Lukashenka's speech in the square passed off in the silence of the grave," Kommersant reported.


The Ig Nobel Peace Prize was one of 10 gongs handed out at the Ig Nobel ceremony, which took place at Harvard University. The Ig Nobels recognize research or inventions that seem kooky but may nevertheless yield something valuable. Among other recipients this year were researchers looking into "surgical management of an epidemic of penile amputations in Siam" and a team in France "for confirming, by experiment, that people who think they are drunk also think they are attractive."
Barbara Frye is TOL’s managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Jennifer Day is a TOL volunteer.
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