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Romanian Shale-Gas Protesters Roughed up, Unrest in Ukraine Spooks Investors

Also, a Lithuanian court sides with a journalist on sources and Russia’s new space center is cited for building violations.

by Erik N. Nelson, Ioana Caloianu, Karlo Marinovic, Alexander Silady, and Martha Tesema 5 December 2013

1. Eco-protesters ‘brutally’ dealt with by Romanian police


Romanian police halted demonstrations against U.S. energy firm Chevron’s shale gas exploration 2 December, leading to charges of brutality and ending a six-week suspension of the company’s drilling, RT reports.


The police, assisted by firefighters, beat 40 of the protesters after surrounding their makeshift camp near an exploration site in the eastern Romanian village of Pungesti, according to the news agency. About 30 demonstrators from the area were detained on charges of hostile behavior, in “full accordance with the law,” Prime Minister Victor Ponta said, RT reports. 


“Me and one more guy got stomped on with boots, shields, and batons,” Zina Domnitea told, adding that Chevron employees have continued with shale gas exploration with assistance of police who control the access to the site. 


Following the police intervention, activists started a petition, “Stop Chevron and police abuse in Pungesti,” and plan to send it to the European Parliament and the European Commission with a warning of an “irresponsible and dangerous attack on human and civil rights” in Romania, RT reports.


The protest is the latest anti-shale gas exploration demonstration in Romania, following Chevron's 2010 deal with the Romanian government to lease more than 2 million acres of land for the project, according to the Guardian.


The U.S. energy giant gained government approval for exploratory drilling in Pungesti in October but was forced to suspend work after local residents blocked access to the site.


Protesters oppose hydraulic fracturing, which involves pumping water and chemicals at high pressure into the ground to extract gas or oil, because it could contaminate ground water.


Chevron says it doesn’t plan to use that method, however. The company is embarked upon a five-year exploration program in Romania, which could hold enough shale gas to satisfy its needs for more than a century, according to Reuters.


2. Court decides Lithuanian journalist can protect sources


A Lithuanian court sided on 3 December with an editor’s right to withhold the names of confidential sources for a report that Russia was digging up dirt on Lithuania’s president, AFP reports.


Jurga Eivaite
On 8 November, the Baltic News Service (BNS) was ordered to reveal who leaked information from Lithuanian security services for a 31 October article that said Russia was attempting to discredit Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.


"We are happy ... a journalist's job will now be easier, they will have more safeguards,” Jurga Eivaite, head of BNS, told reporters after the decision.


The BNS report said Russian authorities planned to use Soviet-era records but did not say what sort of information they contained. The service reported that the effort was in retaliation for the since-derailed political association and free trade agreement that Ukraine was to sign with the EU last month. Lithuania currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.


The report also cites Russia’s opposition to Lithuania’s energy policies, which aim to decrease dependence on Russian Energy by 35 percent by 2016.


According to Reuters, Lithuanian government investigators interrogated the news service’s political journalists and searched the BNS editor in chief’s home, taking away computers.


These actions were deemed unlawful by the court and were condemned by politicians across the spectrum.


“This is something we are not happy about,” the deputy speaker of parliament, Vydas Gedvilas, told reporters, according to the Lithuania Tribune.

3. Ukraine’s U-turn, unrest give investors jitters


Ukraine’s recent decision to reject closer ties to the European Union, and the resulting street protests that have rocked Kyiv for more than a week, have investors nervous about the country, Radio Free Europe reports.


Ukraine had been expected to sign an EU association and free-trade agreement during the 28-29 November Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, but EU leaders left with pacts from only Georgia and Moldova.


Only a few days later, the cost of traders’ insurance against a loan default by the Ukrainian government went up, Charles Robertson, global chief economist for the British investment firm Renaissance Capital, told RFE.


“Three days ago, it cost you $9.5 million, today it will cost you $10.5 million to insure yourself against [a default on] $100 million,” he said. “It has gone up about one percentage point."


At the same time, the Ukrainian government must promise a 19.34 percent return on its sovereign dollar bonds, which now are rated “junk.” Investors demanded only an 8.52 percent return in August 2012, RFE writes.


Opposition protesters got a boost on 4 December when all three of Ukraine’s post-Soviet presidents issued a statement of support for the pro-EU demonstrators.


Leonid Kravchuk
“We express solidarity with the peaceful civic actions of hundreds of thousands of young Ukrainians,” said the statement from Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma, and Viktor Yushchenko.


The three ex-presidents also condemned the “excessive” use of force by authorities to clamp down on the protesters and urged them and the government to openly discuss “the European aspirations of the Ukrainian people.”


4. Russian prosecutors go after shoddy Cosmodrome construction


In a realm where precision can be the difference between success and failure, the Russian space program is answering charges that construction of its new launch facility violated construction standards, RIA Novosti reports.


A Soyuz rocket carrying a supply spacecraft headed to the International Space Station launches from Baikonur in late November. That facility will become secondary once Vostochny opens. Photo by Roscosmos.


The Vostochny cosmodrome is intended to replace Kazakhstan’s Baikonur, the first space-flight facility in the world, after a payment dispute between the Russian and Kazakhstani governments. The first rockets are due to launch from the new facility in 2015 and it is to be completed by 2020.


The violations of labor laws, building safety codes, and environmental-protection regulations were the fault of the numerous companies subcontracted to construct the facility, the Prosecutor General’s office said in a 4 December statement, according to RIA Novosti. The building project was plagued with delays this year, which Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin called “sabotage.”


More than $10 billion has been spent on the Vostochny project so far, according to Russia Beyond the Headlines. The location has a proven track record for Russian rocketry – during the Soviet era intercontinental ballistic missiles were stored there, although the rebuilt complex is meant to be used only for space exploration.


President Vladimir Putin said in April that Vostochny would be open for use by American and European space programs as well.


5. Belarusian writer’s work on gays wins accolade


A Belarusian journalist who has received the German government’s Media Development Award told Deutsche Welle that it could help embattled sexual minorities in her country.


“It shows that homosexuality in and of itself is an important topic – but especially in Belarus. It also encourages gays and lesbians here to keep fighting for their rights,” Volha Malafeyechava said.


Malafeyechava became the Eastern European winner of the award for her report, "The story of a homosexual,” inspired by the experiences of Sergey Androsenko, a young man from Minsk.


The article was published on the website of local Belarusian broadcaster RadioSTART and was intended to make people realize “that lesbians and gays do live among us and to stop acting as if they didn't,” Malafeyechava said.


Malafeyechava said she had long been interested in the subject and had been debating with friends as to “whether homosexuality was a natural inclination or whether it required medical attention.” The chance to cover the topic came after she met Androsenko at a party.


Malafeyechava said most people in Belarus ignore the issue of homosexuality and that her article elicited a number of angry reactions.


Freedom of speech remains a sensitive issue in Belarus, where journalists face prison for covering taboo subjects. Malafeyechava said the award shows that “journalism in Belarus is a profession to be taken seriously,” as well as a venue for changing European perceptions about Belarus.

Erik N. Nelson is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Karlo Marinovic, Alexander Silady, and Martha Tesema are TOL editorial interns.
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