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Poland's Government on the Edge, Mass Grave Could be Bosnia’s Largest

Plus, another long backup at the Russia-Ukraine border, and Washington says a popular Russian crooner has mob ties.

by S. Adam Cardais, Ioana Caloianu, and Barbara Frye 1 November 2013

1. Polish government teetering amid corruption scandal

 

A vote-buying scandal within Poland's beleaguered ruling party could spark early elections, The Wall Street Journal reports.

 

Donald Tusk
Prime Minister Donald Tusk's Civic Platform is reeling this week after Polish Newsweek released audio and video recordings of party officials promising jobs in exchange for support in the party's regional internal elections.

 

Specifically, Bloomberg reports, the recordings reveal two Civic Platform lawmakers promising party officials jobs at state-owned companies if they backed Jacek Protasiewicz for the party chairmanship of Lower Silesia in the 26 October vote. Protasiewicz upset the incumbent and, while Civic Platform has ruled out a revote, it suspended the two lawmakers after confirming the recordings as authentic.

 

According to reporting in both The WSJ and Bloomberg, government officials nevertheless warn that the internal conflict could lead to early elections. Civic Platform trails the opposition in opinion polls and its coalition has a slim two-seat parliamentary majority.

 

In power since 2007, Civic Platform has been struggling largely due to Poland's sluggish economy, which barely avoided recession this year amid the euro-zone crisis and Warsaw's belt-tightening efforts. Since August, three of its parliamentarians have quit over the party's economic policies, including a planned pension overhaul that still needs to win parliamentary approval before year's end.

 

In addition, tens of thousands of Poles gathered in Warsaw last month during a four-day protest against the government's labor policies.

 

2. Mass grave could be Bosnia’s largest

 

A mass grave discovered in northwestern Bosnia could be the country’s biggest from the 1992-1995 conflict, France 24 reports. Since its discovery in September, forensic scientists have recovered 360 bodies from the Tomasica site near the city of Prijedor and estimate that hundreds more remain. The final figure might surpass the 629 bodies discovered at a site near Srebrenica until now believed to be the biggest mass grave from the Bosnian war, the news agency reports.

 

Sixteen Bosnian Serbs have been convicted of atrocities committed in the region near the grave site, Reuters notes, and the bodies recovered are those of Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and Croats. Some victims were killed nearby and brought to the grave, but the discovery of bullets at the site indicates that it was also used for executions, France 24 reports.

 

Mujo Begic of the Bosnian government’s Missing Person’s Institute said investigators had long known about the grave but did not know its exact location, according to Reuters. Only when those with the knowledge, including some former Bosnian Serb fighters, began to talk could the exhumations begin, he said.

 

Begic said identity papers from some of the victims have been found at the burial site, thus easing their identification. France 24 notes that 1,200 people who disappeared from the area during the war are still missing.

 

Despite claims from local associations that more than 3,000 people had been killed in Prijedor in spring 1992, Serb authorities continue to deny that war crimes took place there and until this year prohibited commemorations of the massacre. 

 

3. Long lines at Ukraine-Russia border, again

 

Nearly three months after a similar backup involving freight cars, hundreds of trucks were lined up waiting to cross from Ukraine into Russia 31 October, RIA Novosti reports.

 

The wait was due to new customs procedures introduced by Russia. Ukrainian officials said the changes were unexpected, but their Russian counterparts said they had been announced in advance.

 

“The situation was complicated because when the new rules were introduced, many foreign trucks … were already on the road and when they arrived at checkpoints, they were not ready to provide guarantees to ensure transit. It was these first vehicles that caused the congestion,” a Russian customs spokesman told RIA Novosti.

 

 

In August, meticulous checks by Russian border guards caused a long backup of freight cars heading from Ukraine to Russia.

 

The new attention to the border comes as Ukraine readies to sign a political association and free trade agreement with the EU later this month. Russia is fiercely opposed to the move and has tried to persuade Kyiv to instead join its free-trade area, composed of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia, with Armenia in line to join.

 

Moscow has warned of repercussions for Ukraine if it inks the EU deal. This week the Russian foreign minister said Ukraine would lose trade preferences it enjoys with his country and that Russians and Ukrainians should have to use foreign passports to cross their mutual border instead of the internal documents they use now.

 

In July, Russia blocked imports of a popular chocolate brand made in Ukraine.

 

4. U.S. says Russian singer has mob ties

 

Grigory Lepsveridze
The U.S. Treasury Department has blacklisted Russian singer Grigory Lepsveridze – stage name Grigory Leps – over alleged ties to an international crime group, RIA Novosti reports.

 

The U.S. says the award-winning singer and ethnic Georgian is a money courier for the Brother's Circle, a Eurasian crime syndicate involved in narcotics trafficking and other criminal activity. Leps was among six people and four entities the U.S. Treasury blacklisted 30 October over links to the group.

 

On his website, Leps, 51, slammed the allegations, Bloomberg reports. "If Treasury executives think I'm a criminal, they should dig up Frank Sinatra and send him to jail. That's as absurd as the charges against me."

 

The second highest-paid entertainer in Russia, Leps performed at a massive campaign rally for Russian President Vladimir Putin last year. In 2011, former President Dmitri Medvedev awarded him the Russian Artist of Merit title, Bloomberg reports.

 

The Brother's Circle is a global organized crime organization based in the countries of the former Soviet Union, the U.S. government says. Washington has blacklisted 28 people and entities for ties to the group.

 

5. Fugitive U.S. leaker hired by Russian website, lawyer says

 

Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has been hired by a Web company in Russia, where he has temporary asylum, RIA Novosti reports.

 

Snowden's lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said Snowden will begin work maintaining one of Russia's largest websites 1 November. He refused to name the site, but the technology news site Digit.ru speculated that it might be VKontakte.ru, Russia's answer to Facebook.

 

A VKontakte.ru spokesman would neither confirm nor deny the report. Other Russian Web companies flatly denied hiring Snowden, RIA Novosti reports.

 

In August, Moscow granted Snowden asylum through 31 July 2014. Charged with violating U.S. espionage laws, Snowden fled the United States in May, after releasing to journalists information he obtained as a National Security Agency contractor about a secret U.S. program to monitor online and telephone communications. He went to Hong Kong before Russia.

 

Snowden's whereabouts in Russia are undisclosed. A tabloid news site recently published what it said was a picture of Snowden on a river cruise through Moscow this summer, Reuters reports.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Barbara Frye is TOL’s managing editor. 
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