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Ukrainian Presidents Discuss Political Crisis, Serbia Looks to Lift GMO Ban

Plus, a human rights court punishes Turkey for illegal deportations of Uzbeks, and the dual-screen YotaPhone proves a hit with Kremlin officials.

by Ky Krauthamer, Karlo Marinovic, and Alexander Silady 10 December 2013

1. Yanukovych signals willingness to meet with opposition


Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych held talks with his three predecessors in Kyiv today and reportedly agreed to hold a “national roundtable” with the opposition and civil society groups, according to Radio Free Europe.


Leonid Kravchuk
The first president of independent Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk, opened the discussion at 2 p.m. local time, a spokeswoman for former President Viktor Yushchenko told Interfax-Ukraine. Leonid Kuchma, who served as president from 1994 to 2005, also attended the meeting.


EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was set to meet Yanukovych afterward, kicking off a two-day visit to Ukraine, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.


On 9 December Ashton expressed concern over reports that police ransacked the office of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party. She urged the authorities to “exercise utmost restraint and refrain from any further use of force.”



Police began clearing opposition tent camps and other sites on the night of 9-10 December, five days after issuing an ultimatum to demonstrators to vacate government property. However, no incidents were reported overnight at the nerve center of the protests on Independence Square, according to Interfax-Ukraine.


2. Under pressure, Serbia moves to ease GMO ban


Serbia’s strict rules on the import of genetically modified foods are hampering the country’s efforts to join the World Trade Organization, local media are reporting.


The 27 November edition of Vecernje Novosti cited unnamed government sources as saying Belgrade missed a 15 October deadline to liberalize its GMO trading rules. The Serbian parliament began debating changes to the law on such foods in January to mollify both the WTO and EU, Balkan Insight reported at the time. Serbia applied to join the WTO in 2004, but its near total ban on the import and production of GMOs ran up against the organization’s more liberal guidelines.


No WTO member had enacted a blanket ban on such foods, a Trade Ministry official said, according to Balkan Insight.


Belgrade’s failure to pass a less restrictive GMO law will prevent it from joining the WTO this year, writes.


The restrictive law might be a hitch in Serbia's  negotiations on joining the European Union as well, as the European Commission’s annual report on the country's progress demanded urgent action to bring Serbia’s law on GMO into line with EU regulations, Kurir reported in October.


EU regulations allow for about 50 GMO products to be used and sold, and for two varieties of potato and corn to be produced in the bloc, according to Balkan Insight.


Opposition to genetically modified foods runs deep in Serbia. Some 80 local governments signed up to a declaration on declaring their territories GMO-free zones, reports, after the government announced plans 4 December to revise the GMO law and align it with EU regulations.


“Changing the current law on GMOs would bring order to the market, products would be labeled, and consumers would have information about the contents of the foods they buy,” the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement.

3. Uzbekistanis win judgment against Turkey


Turkey’s deportation of 19 Uzbekistani nationals to Iran in 2008 has resulted in a large fine handed down by the European Court of Human Rights, Hurriyet Daily News reports.


The Strasbourg court ordered Turkey to pay 10,000 euros ($13,750) for each of the 19 applicants and joint compensation of 3,350 euros  ($4,600) to cover their costs when they were deported to Iran under “inhumane conditions.”

The 19 members of four families were forced to walk for 10 days in the winter from Turkey into Iran, the newspaper writes.


The court also found Turkey had not justified their deportation or given them a way to challenge it.


The Uzbekistanis settled in Iran in 2001, where they were granted refugee status by the UN refugee agency, after passing through Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the court said.


According to Hurriyet, they entered Turkey in September 2007, were deported back to Iran in 2008, again entered Turkey illegally and were finally deported on 11 October 2008.


Uzbekistan’s says the applicants told the court they lived in a camp run by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) after leaving their home country but did not engage in military activity. The armed group, named as a terrorist organization by the EU and United States, emerged in the Ferghana Valley in the 1990s but has been based in Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent years.


The president of the Human Rights of Central Asia Association, Nadezhda Ataeva, said 15 of the 19 were women or children at the time of their deportation.


The families may have been caught in the government’s repression of followers of Abduvali Mirzoev, a prominent preacher at a mosque in Andijan, she told Mirzoev disappeared in 1995. Many Ferghana Valley residents fled to Tajikistan at the same time the IMU established a camp there, the website writes.


4. New Russian smartphone launches as iPhone-phobia mounts


Amid spying concerns after the revelation of U.S. security agencies' wiretaps of foreign leaders, Russia is considering making its officials give up their iPhones in favor of a new smartphone made by the Russian firm Yota, RIA Novosti reports.


A legislative commission is slated to discuss whether foreign-made smartphones are more vulnerable than Russian-made ones.


“There will always be distrust toward smartphone manufacturers. Whoever makes the technology can also eavesdrop on it,” State Duma Deputy Vadim Dengin told the daily Izvestia.




Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, who as president received the first iPhone 4 in Russia as a gift from Steve Jobs in 2010 and eulogized the Apple founder by saying he changed the world, is an early adopter of the dual-screen YotaPhone, which was released on 4 December.


Russia would not be the first country to keep its politicians from owning iPhones – even in Apple's homeland, U.S. President Barack Obama said last week he was not allowed to have one because of security concerns.


The YotaPhone has won accolades abroad, Russia Beyond the Headlines reports. The Android-based device, with an LCD display on the front and a power saving ebook-reader-like screen on the back, took home awards at trade shows in Las Vegas and Cannes.


5. Oj, vej! Slovak TV station trips over language law


A Slovak television station has fallen afoul of a law restricting the use of foreign languages for showing a program in Czech, a language many Slovaks can follow easily.


Slovakia’s broadcasting regulator imposed a 200 euro ($280) fine on the operator of the private Joj station for its April broadcast of the British dieting show Supersize vs Superskinny dubbed into Czech, the Czech Press Agency reports.


Since 2007, Slovak law has barred most foreign-language shows from the country’s TV and radio stations, with exceptions allowed for foreign songs, language courses, and films broadcast in the original language with subtitles, the Czech Press Agency writes. Some broadcasters have been warned for violations, but the only other fine was imposed for Hungarian-language commercials on a municipal TV station in Komarno, a city with a large Hungarian-speaking community.


Czech-dubbed programs can be shown provided they were first shown before the law took effect.


Before Czechoslovakia split up in 1993, broadcast media mixed Slovak and Czech in their programming, including news.


Generations born since then are gradually losing their command of the other country’s language. Only about half of Czechs can still easily understand Slovak, Paulina Tabery of the Czech Sociology Institute’s polling arm said, according to Perhaps because Slovak TV screens a fair number of Czech films, about three-fourths of Slovaks can still follow the former partner’s language with no problems.


“Squirrel,” “uncle,” “kangaroo,” and “I love” are among the 20 Czech words Slovaks need to look up most frequently, according to EvroZpravy.


Czech private media pioneer Vladimir Zelezny started Joj (pronounced Yoy) in 2001, claiming the name was inspired by an exclamation made by Slovak women during orgasm, Radio Prague wrote at the time.

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

Home page photo from a video by ITN/YouTube.

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