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Mass Grave Found in Serbia, Kyiv Takes Stock After Latest Huge Rally

Plus, Slovenia and Bulgaria try to reassure jittery investors, and Turkmenistan holds a ‘multiparty’ election.

by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, and Karlo Marinovic 16 December 2013

1. Hundreds of Albanians suspected buried in mass grave


A mass grave containing hundreds of bodies has been found close to the Serbia-Kosovo border thanks to a joint effort of the two countries and the EU justice and police service EULEX, according to Reuters. The bodies are thought to be those of Albanian victims of the Serbian-Kosovo conflict in 1998-1999.


The head of the Kosovo state commission for missing persons, Prenk Gjetaj, said the bodies were found buried on the premises of a road maintenance company in the southern Serbian village of Rudnica. Information from local sources indicates there may be from 250 to 400 bodies on the site, Gjetaj said.


B92 reports that reports emerged about mass graves in the area in 2004; unsuccessful excavations were made in 2007.


EULEX announced on 13 December that it will continue the Rudnica excavations, which are currently taking place in cooperation with Serbian authorities.


The Serbian Prosecutor's Office suspects the Rudnica victims were brought to the area during the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo in June 1999, B92 reports.


More than 1,700 people that disappeared during the 1998-1999 conflict are still missing.


Albania war cemeteryA cemetery for Kosovan conflict victims repatriated from mass graves in Serbia. Photo by Sarel Kromer / Flickr


2. Yanukovych to hold more talks with Putin, EU officials grow tetchy

A day after another giant anti-government rally on Kyiv’s Independence Square, Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych is preparing for more talks with his Russian counterpart, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.


Yanukovych’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Russia tomorrow will concern a loan for Ukraine, the Russian Finance Ministry said.


On 15 December a crowd put at from 150,000 to 200,000 assembled on the central square, Businessweek cites Interfax as saying, although police estimated the crowd at only about 30,000 as of 4 p.m. local time. A smaller pro-government rally nearby drew about 15,000 people.


Some signs are emerging of discord among top European officials over how to handle the situation in Ukraine, Reuters writes today.


In a rebuke to EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele, who used his Twitter feed 15 December to say talks with Ukraine were on hold over Kyiv’s hesitancy to sign a free-trade deal, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said his government saw no reason to suspend the talks, and chided Fuele for “making policy on the basis of a Twitter notice.”


Carl Bildt
As EU foreign ministers held a regular meeting in Brussels today, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt criticized Yanukovych’s “doubletalk” about his intentions toward the EU deal, The Wall Street Journal reports.


His British counterpart William Hague said, “The EU door remains open to Ukraine, but clearly they are not willing to or able to walk through it. The prospects of this have taken a major knock.”


3. Turkmenistan holds first multiparty election


Voters in Turkmenistan went to the polls 15 December in the country’s first multiparty elections. Turnout was 91.3 percent, the elections authority reported, according to RIA Novosti, which notes that 283 candidates competed for five-year terms in the 125-seat parliament.


Candidates were nominated by citizens’ groups, trade unions, a women’s rights group, the ruling party, and for the first time, a second legal party established last year. Called the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, “It pledges loyalty to [President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov] and is described by Amnesty International as ‘the government’s ally rather than as a contender to power,’ ” RIA Novosti writes.


All groups that nominated candidates are loyal to the president, Radio Free Europe reports.


An 18-year-old university student in Ashgabat told AFP he would vote for the ruling party of Berdymukhammedov, known as “Arkadag,” or Protector: “We had a special lesson in our college to help us young voters to understand the importance of the polls. I will support the course of our dear Arkadag,” he said.


A middle-aged man in a village near the capital planned to cast his ballot for the new party, saying, “I hope the Party of Industrialists and Businessmen will fight for the interests of rural people and small business.”


The first results are expected later today.


4. Bulgaria rebuffs S&P downgrade


Bulgarian officials are fighting back against Standard & Poor's negative economic prognosis for the country, Bloomberg reports.


On 13 December the ratings agency cut its economic outlook for Bulgaria from stable to negative based on “low economic growth, high unemployment, and political uncertainty amid recurring protests,” Bloomberg writes.


S&P expects a stagnant economy this year with anemic household spending and poor investment growth, while the continuing political uncertainty could slow economic reforms, further hampering growth.


Finance Minister Petar Chobanov responded with a statement claiming statistical data counters the agency’s downgrade, arguing that increased exports, consumption, sales, and industrial output will instead drive the country's economy forward.


Economy Minister Dragomir Stoynev criticized S&P for commenting on the situation “in a purely political manner,” Novinite reports, citing


Anti-corruption protests have continued in waves for months in Bulgaria, along with calls for early elections to replace the current governme


The Finance Ministry announced 14 December a loan deal with Deutsche Bank and Raiffeisen Bank International of 290 million euros ($398 million) to cover its budget deficit, Reuters reports.


5. Slovenian banks survive stress test, barely


Slovenian banks need a large cash injection, but the country can probably raise the money on its own, the Finance Ministry and the EU’s commissioner for economic affairs said last week.


According to The Wall Street Journal, a “stress test” of the country’s crisis-weakened banks overseen by the European Central Bank indicated the need to inject 3 billion euros ($4.1 billion) into the three largest state-owned banks. Five other banks will be asked to raise 1.77 billion euros as a buffer in case of another economic downturn.


Until the global financial downturn of 2008-2009, Slovenia enjoyed robust growth thanks to an export-driven economy. Growth fell back into negative figures in 2012 due to continued poor export demand, a reduction in domestic spending, and an increase in bad loans that reached 7 billion euros ($9 billion) by last summer.


Speaking of the banking review, EU Commissioner for Economic Affairs Olli Rehn said it was clear that Slovenia could repair its banking sector without asking for EU assistance, the Journal writes.


BostjanJazbec.100Bostjan Jazbec
Central Bank Governor Bostjan Jazbec told Reuters 13 December the banks will emerge from the stress test with stronger balance sheets. But he warned the next two years will be chancy, with the economy not expected to climb back to positive growth until 2015.


“Of course, if things really seriously deteriorate in the following months, one can never put away the threat [of an international bailout],” Jazbec said.


“The banking system is nothing but the mirror image of everything that is happening in the real sector of the economy, and the real sector of the economy in Slovenia is lagging behind the averages of the euro zone,” he added.


Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Karlo Marinovic is a TOL editorial intern.


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