Plus, despite a ‘horrific’ budget shortfall, Russia boosts nuke spending, and Armenia holds a 'get out of jail day.'by S. Adam Cardais, Barbara Frye, and Ioana Caloianu 9 October 2013
The Serbian government has announced a raft of emergency measures to shore up its ailing economy and avoid bankruptcy, Balkan Insight reports.
On 8 October, Finance Minister Lazar Krstic presented a six-point package that includes wage cuts for government workers of up to 25 percent and raising the value-added-tax on non-essential goods from 8 percent to 10 percent. Belgrade will also cut government subsidies and complete the sale of 179 publicly owned companies.
"Without these measures, we would go bankrupt in the next two years," Krstic said, according to Balkan Insight.
Stuck in recession with 20-plus percent unemployment, Serbia could face a budget deficit of 6.5 percent of gross domestic product this year, Bloomberg reports. Krstic said the reforms should raise some 200 million euros ($271 million) annually, according to the BBC reports.
His announcement comes a week after the International Monetary Fund began talks with Serbia in a likely prelude to a new IMF loan that would probably come with austerity strings attached. Belgrade seems to have done an about face after rejecting a July IMF aid proposal tied to pension and other public spending cuts.
Kyrgyz protesters demanding the nationalization of a controversial Canadian-owned gold mine barricaded a highway 8 October, a day after taking a regional official hostage, Radio Free Europe reports.
Protesters blockaded the Karakol-Bishkek highway in the northern Issyk-Kul province – first with felled tries and then with burning tires. One agitator told RFE that 100 men on horseback would use Molotov cocktails against police if they tried to intervene.
The group demanded the release of 23 protesters arrested 7 October in the regional capital, Karakol, where police used force to disperse some 600 demonstrators who took a provincial official hostage. The protesters forced Emil Kaptagaev into a car, doused it in gasoline, and threatened to torch it if their demands were not met, RFE reports.
Reports differ, EurasiaNet.org notes, on whether the protesters wanted the Kumtor gold mine nationalized, or the government's stake increased to at least 70 percent. Kaptagaev was eventually released unharmed.
The past year has seen increased calls in Kyrgyzstan to nationalize Kumtor. Though the mine accounts for 12 percent of Kyrgyz GDP, many say its operator, Canada-based Centerra Gold, pays too little in taxes and that the country deserves a better deal.
In May, thousands of protesters clashed with police near Kumtor, prompting the government to draft a more lucrative deal for a 50-50 partnership with Centerra Gold. The terms remain tentative, though, and lawmakers said they would revisit the deal 9 October, RFE reports.
Russia will boost spending on nuclear weapons by 50 percent in the next three years as part of a larger drive to beef up its defenses, RIA Novosti reports.
The budget for nuclear weapons will rise from 29.29 billion rubles ($906 million) this year to 46.26 billion rubles in 2016. Some of the new systems to be introduced include a submarine-launched ballistic missile, a long-range cruise missile, and new land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to the news agency.
Overall, spending on the armed forces will grow by 60 percent through 2016, to 3.38 trillion rubles. That would amount to one-fifth of the forecasted 2016 federal budget of 16.374 trillion rubles.
Defense spending appears to be ring-fenced as Russia faces declining revenues and what Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev called “very harsh” budget conditions.
RIA Novosti reports that budget projections include a record deficit of 391 billion rubles next year, climbing to 817 billion rubles in 2015.
In a July briefing, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov predicted a “horrific” shortfall of 1 trillion rubles from tax receipts and privatization proceeds this year and said the gap may have to be covered by the reserve fund, which is made up of oil sales profits.
Amid talk of disarmament in February, President Vladimir Putin said Russia would not give up its nuclear weapons “until it develops conventional weapons with comparable effect” and acknowledged that other countries had surpassed Russia in the development of conventional weapons, particularly “precision-guided” systems, RIA Novosti reported at the time.
To honor the 22nd anniversary of Armenian independence, some 600 prisoners walked free from 12 penitentiaries 8 October under a national amnesty, ArmeniaNow reports.
The day saw several high-profile amnesties, including of opposition activist Tigran Arakelyan, who faced a stiff prison sentence for interfering in a police search and is considered a political prisoner by the opposition. At least two officials convicted of or charged with corruption are also among the "'lucky' ones," ArmeniaNow reports.
The Justice Ministry said another 1,000 convicts will receive reduced sentences. The amnesty aims to address chronic prison overcrowding frequently cited by international human rights group.
Proposed by President Serzh Sargsyan on 21 September, the 22nd anniversary of Armenian independence, the country's ninth amnesty won parliamentary approval last week. While it covers more crimes than earlier releases, those convicted of offenses such as treason or sexual abuse are not included.
The Bulgarian capital was the scene of violent clashes between police and anti-government protesters on the evening of 8 October, according to Novinite. More than six people were detained and several wounded during protests against a court decision allowing a controversial figure to retain his seat in parliament.
Peevski refused to attend the 8 October hearing, complaining in a letter to the court that he had been “demonized” by the media and some politicians, with the “tacit approval” of Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev and the center-right GERB party, which lost power this year to the Socialists.
The Reformist Bloc, a recently created political formation consisting of right-wing parties, has labeled the ruling “absolutely unacceptable from a legal and political perspective,” and criticized the “arbitrariness” of the National Assembly “which may take and go back on their decisions on political appointees without any consideration of the meaning of the law and the constitution,” The Sofia Globe writes.