Plus, Albanian police hunt escaped prisoners and Poland underlines its commitment to coal.by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, and Karlo Marinovic 25 November 2013
Demonstrators descended on central Kyiv 24 November to protest the government’s decision to pull out of an agreement to strengthen trade and political ties with the European Union. Estimates of the crowd ranged from 23,000 by police to 100,000 by rally organizers, the Independent reports.
Protests continued today as demonstrators clashed with police in front of the main government building, Interfax-Ukraine reports.
As the size of the 24 November rally grew, tens of thousands of protesters headed for Independence Square, the focal point of the 2004 Orange Revolution that forced a rerun of rigged presidential elections claimed by Viktor Yanukovych, the Independent writes. Yanukovych was elected president in 2010 in a bitter contest against former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, now jailed.
Tymoshenko’s daughter Eugenia addressed the crowd on the square, saying, “We need to complete what we didn't finish after Orange Revolution,” according to the Guardian.
Opinion polls held in May found that about 42 percent Ukrainians wanted their country to pursue EU membership while 31 percent prefer to join the Russia-led Customs Union.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Moldova, 15,000 people gathered 23 November to protest the country's announced partnership with the EU, the Associated Press reports. A pro-EU rally on 3 November drew an estimated 100,000 participants. Moldova, unlike Ukraine, is expected to sign an association agreement with the EU later this month at a summit in Vilnius.
The leader of an extreme right-wing party was elected governor of a Slovak region in a runoff election 24 November. Marian Kotleba of the People’s Party-Our Slovakia won 55.5 percent of the vote in Banska Bystrica Region, handily defeating Vladimir Manka, who was backed by the governing Smer party, the Slovak Spectator reports.
Manka was expected to win easily after out-polling Kotleba by almost 30 points in the first round two weeks ago, according to AFP. Some observers attributed Kotleba’s victory to voter apathy, as turnout was very low in all eight gubernatorial races, although Banska Bystrica Region recorded the highest turnout of 24.6 percent, according to the daily SME.
Banska Bystrica, in south-central Slovakia, has a population of 650,000 and has the largest area of the country’s eight regions.
Political analyst and journalist Marian Lesko told AFP Kotleba might now set his sights on national office. A general election will be held in 2016.
Albania’s justice minister is promising major reforms in the penal system in the aftermath of a dramatic 23 November prison break by seven convicted murderers.
A nationwide manhunt continues today for three convicts still after the breakout from a high-security prison in Drenova, about 170 kilometers south of Tirana, AFP reports. The other four escapees were captured on 24 November.
The Albanian Interior Ministry issued a statement warning that the three remaining escapees are “armed and dangerous” and notified Greek and Macedonian authorities to be on the lookout, Balkan Insight reports.
After the escape, Justice Minister Nasip Naco described Albania’s prison system as “rotten and riddled with corruption,” AFP writes. According to Balkan Insight, prosecutors believe weapons were smuggled into the facility by outside accomplices and have issued arrest warrants for 21 guards in connection with the escape.
Officials took quick action to plug security breaches at other high-security jails, inspecting four on 24 November. Four chief prison guards and the intelligence director at the General Directorate of Prisons have been fired.
As UN climate talks wound down in Warsaw last week, Polish utilities insisted the country can meet its greenhouse gas commitments without giving up its near-total reliance on coal, Reuters reports
Poland relies on hard coal and the dirtier brown coal for 90 percent of its electricity, most of which is generated in “outdated, highly polluting plants,” according to the news agency.
State-controlled utility PGE plans to install new units at several plants, including one in the central Polish town of Belchatow that is said to be the EU’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. The new, more efficient units will produce fewer emissions, especially of carbon dioxide, a company spokeswoman said 22 November.
New coal-fired plants emit 30 percent to 40 percent less CO2 than older ones, Reuters writes. Polish utilities say building new coal units is the best way to reduce its emissions and meet the EU-mandated 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020.
“It is not possible to reduce emissions efficiently on a global scale without significant progress in clean-coal technologies,” Poland’s Energy Ministry said.
Warsaw underlined its commitment to coal by holding a meeting of coal industry players at the same time as the climate talks. EU rules also commit Poland to greater use of renewable energy sources, but Reuters writes that potential investors in renewables are put off by the lack of guarantees of government subsidies.
Several of the EU’s cash-poor Central and East European members have cut subsidies to renewable energy producers recently.
In Poland, utilities are hoping for different kinds of state aid. The two largest, PGE and Tauron, have applied to the country’s grid operator, PSE, “for payments to keep units open in case they are needed in times of limited supply,” the Financial Times writes.
The utilities are also hoping for so-called capacity market aid in the form of state support to help fund new coal-fired plants. Tauron’s chief financial officer, Krzysztof Zawadzki, tells the FT that expected electricity prices in the next three to five years are not high enough to guarantee returns on investments in new plants.
“In my opinion, introducing mechanisms such as a capacity market seems necessary. The question is what form will the model take,” Zawadzki said.
The Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has voided the first-round results of a controversy-marred election to choose a new metropolitan for the country’s third-largest city, Varna, and scheduled two new rounds of voting on 15 and 22 December, the Sofia Globe reports.
The annulment, announced 23 November, comes after some clergy and laity in the Black Sea coastal city complained of possible vote-buying after the 30 electors chose a colorful abbot and an obscure bishop in initial balloting six days earlier, Novinite reported, citing the Bulgarian religious website Dveri.
Abbot Boris, head of the Bachkovo Monastery, had reportedly boasted of raising a large amount of money ahead of the vote. The other candidate, the little-known Bishop Ignatius of Sliven, announced his withdrawal from the now-canceled second round even though he said his superiors had asked him to stay in the race.
“[P]rotesters against the outcome of the vote rejected both candidates as unsuitable because of controversies about their backgrounds. Boris was singled out by detractors for an alleged love of luxury,” the Sofia Globe writes.
Boris and Ignatius were in the running to replace the previous metropolitan, Kiril, who died in July while diving in the Black Sea. Kiril, too, had faced criticism for his expensive tastes, Novinite reported.
The Bulgarian Orthodox church has been involved in a series of controversies in recent years, including revelations in January 2012 that 11 of 15 Orthodox metropolitans had been informers for the security police under communism.