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Kosovo Holds Suspected Islamists on Terrorism Charges, Azerbaijan Jails Another Journalist

Plus, Georgian exports to Russia rebound after embargo ends, and Bosnian Serbs consider how to commemorate the centenary of World War I.

by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, Karlo Marinovic, and Alexander Silady 15 November 2013

1. Suspected radical Islamists held on terror charges in Kosovo

 

Six people are being held in Kosovo on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack, the Associated Press reports.

 

The six men, arrested 6 November in Pristina and Gjilan, are reported to be members of a Muslim extremist group, the Muslim Believers of Tawhid and Jihad in Kosovo. A seventh suspect remains at large. An email ostensibly sent by the group threatened Kosovo police with “terrible and painful attacks” unless the men are released.

 

Little is known about the organization, which apparently formed recently, Abit Hoxha, a researcher at the Center for Security Studies in Pristina, told Southeast European Times.

 

Police said four of the suspects were detained in a sting operation when they attempted to buy guns from officers posing as arms dealers in a park in Pristina, the AP reports. Two of the detainees are also suspected of assaulting of two U.S. Mormon missionaries in Pristina on 3 November.

 

Some of the suspects have apparent ties to radical organizations fighting in the Syrian rebellion, according to SETimes.

 

Around 150 ethnic Albanians “are believed to have joined foreign fighters” in the Syrian conflict, the AP writes.

 

2. Azerbaijan imprisons two more regime critics

 

Amnesty International has spoken out against the jailing of Azerbaijani blogger Rashad Ramazanov and opposition newspaper editor Sardar Alibeyli. In separate trials 13 November, Ramazanov was sentenced to nine years in prison on drug charges and Alibeyli received a four-year sentence for hooliganism.

 

Rashad Ramazanov. Photo from Youtube video by Obyektiv TvRashad Ramazanov
“Rashad Ramazanov and Sardar Alibeyli are prisoners of conscience, jailed solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression,” Amnesty’s John Dalhuisen said. The organization puts the number of prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan at around 18.

 

Since President Ilham Aliev’s re-election five weeks ago, authorities have used various forms of legal pressure against a leading election monitor, an opposition newspaper, bloggers, journalists, and academics, Radio Free Europe writes.

 

Several international monitoring organizations praised the election as free and fair, but ODIHR, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, found evidence of widespread fraud.

 

Amnesty International writes that both Ramazanov and Alibeyli believe they have been incarcerated due to their criticism of Aliev and complain of faulty legal procedures during their trials. Ramazanov told his lawyer that he had been beaten in custody, while no defense witnesses were allowed to take part in the trial of Alibeyli, who edits the pro-opposition newspaper Nota Bene.

 

Earlier this month, Azeri newspaper Yeni Musavat printed an appeal for support to its readers, claiming the authorities were not allowing it to be sold. Another newspaper, Azadliq, said it might have to close over unpaid debts to the state publishing house. 

 

3. Russia rediscovers its taste for Georgian libations

 

In a further sign of gradually improving bilateral relations, Georgian exports of wine to Russia are booming, just months after Russia lifted a long embargo.

 

Georgia’s Agriculture Ministry said Russia had regained its former place as the leading importer of Georgian wines, Vestnik Kavkaza reports.

 

In June, Russia lifted a ban on Georgian wine and mineral water it imposed in 2006, claiming health grounds, part of a wider policy of squeezing the Georgian economy as relations worsened. Between June and September Georgia shipped 8.9 million bottles of wine to Russia – 33.7 percent of total wine exports for the year to date.

 

Georgia wineryThe Kindzmarauli Corp. winery in eastern Georgia. Photo by Andrzej Wójtowicz/Flickr

 

Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili promised better ties during his successful 2012 campaign to topple President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement from power.

 

In the first nine months of the year wine exports totaled 26.5 million bottles, a 71 percent increase over the same period last year, according to Vestnik Kavkaza. After Russia, the leading importers were Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Poland. Georgia, home to one of the oldest wine-making regions on the planet, shipped wines to 49 countries in all.

 

Although Georgia’s trade balance remains heavily weighted toward imports, exports are doing well, showing a 14 percent year-on-year increase in the first three quarters of the year to just over $2 billion, Civil.ge reports.

 

Wine exports ballooned by 73.9 percent in the period, reaching a value of $74.1 million, or 3.7 percent of total exports. Mineral water – another old Russian favorite – also showed a big increase, rising 60 percent to $72.8 million.

 

Rising imports helped raise Russia to the fourth spot among Georgia’s trading partners this year, according to Civil.ge.

 

4. Mixed forecast for expansion of Russia-led customs union

 

Kyrgyzstan and Armenia are expected to take the next steps toward joining the Eurasian Customs Union by the end of the year, an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin has said.

 

Armenia could present its roadmap for entry into the Russia-led trading bloc as early as the end of November, Sergei Glazyev told RIA Novosti 12 November, as reported by Business New Europe.

 

Kyrgyzstan’s commitment to join the bloc, presently composed of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, remains open to question, with some analysts saying it is deliberately dragging out the process in hopes of extracting concessions from Moscow.

 

The case of Uzbekistan, Russia’s most obdurate trading partner in Central Asia, is even harder to read. The speaker of the Uzbekistani Senate, Ilgizar Sobirov, said Tuesday that the country had a positive attitude toward the customs union. But the head of the Senate’s foreign relations committee, Sodik Safayev, quickly countered that there had been no change in Uzbekistan’s stance on membership in international organizations, The Times of Central Asia reports.

 

Tashkent has taken an on-again, off-again approach to Russia-dominated regional groupings. It pulled out of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) last year – for the second time – and, according to Safayev, is not considering any change to its policy of neutrality.

 

Safayev’s comments came after a meeting between Sobirov and his visiting Russian counterpart, Valentina Matviyenko. RIA Novosti writes that Matviyenko said she felt an interest in joining the trade bloc from the Uzbek side but that any developments in that direction would be slow.

 

5. Bosnian Serb leader backpedals on opposition to World War I anniversary events

 

The president of Bosnia’s Serb-majority entity may reconsider his opposition to next year’s commemorations of the outbreak of World War I in Sarajevo, according to Austria’s ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik said earlier this month that events planned for Sarajevo next year, the 100th anniversary of Austria’s declaration of war against Serbia, would not be historically well grounded and would not help reconciliation among Bosnia’s peoples.

 

But in an interview published on 14 November by Banja Luka daily Nezavisne Novine, Austrian Ambassador Martin Pamer said Dodik told him a meeting that Republika Srpska might participate in centenary events, including a concert by the Vienna Philharmonic, if given assurances that Serbs will not be blamed for the start of the war.

 

Austria declared war on 28 July 1914, exactly one month after the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife were assassinated during a visit to Sarajevo. The killer, Gavrilo Princip, was a Bosnian Serb and a member of the “Young Bosnia” revolutionary group.

 

“Clearly, the condition is that the ceremony is not to be directed against Republika Srpska, Serbia, or Serbs,” Pamer said.

 

Austria-Hungary occupied Turkish-ruled Bosnia in 1878 and annexed it in 1908. Many scholars believe competing Austrian and Russian interests in the Balkans, which had already fueled regional wars in 1912 and 1913, were a deciding factor in ratcheting up international tensions to the point that Europe-wide conflict became inevitable.

 

“To most Serbs, Princip was a national hero whose memory is to be celebrated. Many Croats, on the other hand, recall Princip as a terrorist and do not rejoice in the destruction of Austria-Hungary, which was a direct consequence of the war,” Balkan Insight writes.

 

“There are those who are trying to present [Princip] as a murderer and a terrorist and others as a hero,” Pamer said. “I think neither is correct. Legally, he is a murderer, but there is the issue of ‘the murderer of a tyrant,’ when it is justified to murder a tyrant, to free people.” 

 

Gavrilo Princip (first row, middle) was tried in Sarajevo 12 October to 23 October and convicted to 20 years of prison. Picture from Wikimedia Commons

Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Karlo Marinovic and Alexander Silady are TOL editorial interns.
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