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Syrian Refugees Flood into Bulgaria, Belgrade Mayor Ousted

Plus, Yanukovych is confident of resolving Tymoshenko problem ahead of November’s EU summit, and watchdogs voice concern over the jailing of a journalist in Uzbekistan. by Ioana Caloianu and Ky Krauthamer 25 September 2013

1. Bulgaria seeking EU aid for Syrian refugee influx


Bulgarian Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski does not favor the proposal by nationalist parties to close the border with Turkey in an attempt to stem the tide of refugees from the Syrian civil war, Novinite reports.


More than 4,000 illegal immigrants are seeking asylum in Bulgaria, about half from Syria, Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev told AFP. He said 6,000 to 10,000 new refugees could try to enter by the end of the year and complained of the “disproportionate burden" on Bulgaria.


Yovchev said he expected the European Commission to approve Bulgaria’s request for financial assistance to deal with the refugee influx. He said commission officials could make a fact-finding visit in early October.


Bulgaria could receive 4 million euros ($5.4 million) in aid from the European Asylum Support Office and 9 million euros from the union border management agency FRONTEX.


At the end of August, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin said his country could not cope with the logistics of accommodating the rising numbers of migrants coming in from Turkey.


But Oresharski argues, “closing the border would not solve the problem, since the problem is humanitarian, above all,” although he said there was a risk of “radicalized elements” entering the country.


bulgaria.refugee.centerRepresentatives of the Global Village Champions Foundation visited Syrian refugees at a center in Pastrogor, Bulgaria in 2012. Photo from a video by globalvillagechamps/YouTube


2. Belgrade mayor removed as governing parties look to next elections


The vote by Belgrade city council to dismiss Mayor Dragan Djilas 24 September after five years in office has deprived the opposition Democratic Party of one of its last significant political offices.


Balkan Insight reports that the motion to dismiss Djilas, the Democratic Party’s national leader, was made by the co-governing Progressive Party on the grounds he was largely responsible for the city’s shaky financial situation.


Dragan DjilasDragan Djilas
The mayor of Serbia’s capital is appointed by the city assembly. Djilas had previously counted on the support of the Socialists, coalition partners with the Progressives in the national parliament since the Democrats lost power in the 2012 national elections, but they also voted for his dismissal. Djilas’ opponents say his faulty management drove the city into a 644 million euro debt hole; the Democrats say the city owes only around 400 million euros, Reuters reports.


"The Democrats have been sliding deeper and deeper over the past year, partly because of their own mistakes, partly because of an offensive by their political foes,” Belgrade political science lecturer Petar Lazic said.


According to Reuters, the high profile of the Belgrade mayor’s seat might encourage the Progressives to try and force early national elections next year in order to consolidate their political power.


Djilas saw the result of the vote as a “political response to what I have been saying – that the country is sliding into dictatorship and single-party rule," Reuters writes.


New city council elections will likely be held next year. A recent poll showed Progressive support at around 40 percent compared with only 19 percent for the Democrats, according to Balkan Insight.


3. Uzbekistani journalist reportedly jailed on hooliganism charge


sergei.naumovSergei Naumov
International press and human rights monitors are calling for more information about Uzbekistani journalist Sergei Naumov after his reported arrest and conviction.


IWPR writes that Naumov was detained in the city of Urgench in western Uzbekistan 21 September after allegedly pushing and insulting a woman in the street, although other reports say he was charged with stealing a gold chain from a woman. Within hours he was sentenced to 12 days in jail on a charge of hooliganism. On 24 September a lawyer representing him said Naumov was being held in a pretrial detention center in Urgench. Some earlier reports said his whereabouts were not known.


Naumov, who has reported on environmental issues and the cotton industry for IWPR and among other media outlets, had been shooting video in local cotton fields, where the annual harvest is under way, according to Human Rights Watch. Uzbekistan consistently denies the frequent reports of   children being forced to pick cotton, a major earner of export income. In a break with the government’s past reluctance to allow international observers into the cotton fields, this year representatives of the International Labor Organization were given permission to monitor the country’s compliance with ILO conventions on the use of child labor.


In August Naumov was questioned by police after visiting a town where residents were protesting the demolition of their houses, IWPR reports. Nadezhda Ataeva of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia told the news service that Naumov had received threats from law enforcement officers.


"If it is confirmed that Naumov is accused of theft, this will undoubtedly be the latest of many cases of trumped-up charges being brought against independent journalists,” Reporters Without Borders said 23 September.


IWPR says an anonymous source in the Urgench police claimed Naumov’s arrest was “ordered by Tashkent."


“It is common for the authorities to use criminal charges to discredit dissidents and independent journalists,” IWPR writes.


4. Ukrainian leader pledges quick resolution of Tymoshenko affair


Ukraine and the EU will soon iron out their differences over imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, President Viktor Yanukovych told journalists in New York 24 September.


Interfax-Ukraine quotes Yanukovych as saying the matter would be resolved after a commission on the issue led by former European Parliament President Pat Cox and former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski completes its work 21 October.


Tymoshenko’s seven-year sentence for abuse of office is widely seen by EU leaders as political payback for the expensive gas deal she arranged with Russia’s Gazprom in 2009 and as a way to keep her out of politics. EU officials have repeatedly told Kyiv it must resolve her case and other instances of selective justice if it hopes to sign an association agreement and a free-trade pact at a union summit in late November.


Yanukovych met with EU leaders Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso and afterward reaffirmed his aim of signing the agreements, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.


“There’s a mutual understanding that there will be no obstacles on the way to signing the agreement,” he said. “The main problem in Ukraine’s relations with Russia has always been Russia’s use of energy to pressure Ukraine.”


Russia is also urging Ukraine, a major trading partner, to join the Eurasian Customs Union, and predicting the country’s economic collapse if it signs up to the EU agreements instead.


5. Disgraced Czech pol finds love amid the political ruins


Petr NecasPetr Necas
Former Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas has married the former aide whose alleged bribery and spying activities forced him from office.


Necas’ chief of staff, Jana Nagyova, and seven others including three former members of parliament were arrested 14 June in what police said was a money-for-favors deal arranged by Nagyova, possibly with Necas’ knowledge. Necas resigned 17 June to make way for a caretaker government and early elections scheduled for late October, at the same time admitting he and Nagyova were lovers. Necas divorced his first wife, Radka, in August.


The three former lawmakers who allegedly took money from Nagyova to resign their seats, along with Necas, escaped the threat of prosecution in July when the Supreme Court decided they were protected by parliamentary immunity. Nagyova faces charges of bribery and of illegally ordering security agents to spy on Necas’ former wife.


The investigation has broadened to cover the alleged criminal activities of a group of business people and lobbyists. Police questioned well-known lobbyist Ivo Rittig in connection with the Nagyova case 18 September.


Shortly after his resignation Necas claimed he had asked Nagyova to meet with Rittig and another wealthy lobbyist, Roman Janousek, to gather background information. Police searched the two men’s homes and offices during the raid on Nagyova and the other suspects in the bribery case. Neither man has been charged, although Janousek is on trial for a hit and run incident last year.

Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL.
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