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Plus, a mufti in Kyrgyzstan is embroiled in a sex tape scandal and pension changes get Armenians on the streets and into the courts.by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, and Karlo Marinovic 7 January 2014
One month before the Winter Olympics open, with the terror bombings in Volgograd still fresh in memory, Russia has launched a huge security operation in and around the Olympic host city of Sochi.
“All divisions responsible for ensuring the security of guests and participants at the Games are being put on combat alert,” Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov said, according to Reuters. Authorities have also tightened restrictions on traffic into the city.
Deutsche Welle reports that 37,000 police from around Russia will be stationed in Sochi to provide security and assist visitors. More than 20,000 additional civil defense personnel, soldiers, border guards, and intelligence agents will also be sent to the area.
The massive security operation is in addition to an unprecedented level of monitoring of telephone and online communications in the area revealed in October by two Russian investigative reporters.
Following two suicide bombings in late December at Volgograd’s main train station and aboard a trolleybus, leaving at least 34 people dead, President Vladimir Putin ordered heightened security nationwide, Reuters writes. No group has claimed responsibility for the bombings, but media have focused on the potential involvement of North Caucasus Islamists, noting rebel leader Doku Umarov’s threat to use “maximum force” against the Games last summer. After a previous suicide attack in Volgograd in October, investigators identified the bomber as a woman from the mostly Muslim republic of Dagestan.
Restrictions on one kind of activity in Sochi are to be eased, Putin announced last week when he lifted a ban on protest rallies. Protests will now be permitted in a special area under tight security.
The first events of the Games will take place 6 February, with the opening ceremony due to be held 7 February.
Former Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase has been sentenced to prison a second time for corruption. The country’s supreme court found him guilty of bribery 6 January and ordered him to spend four years in prison, the BBC reports. He will serve a concurrent three-year sentence for blackmail.
Both convictions relate to Nastase’s receipt of Chinese building materials worth 630,000 euros ($860,000) between 2001 and 2004. The court said Nastase appointed “construction entrepreneur” Irian Jianu head of the State Construction Inspectorate after she delivered the supplies. He was also found guilty of blackmailing the former Romanian consul in Shanghai, Ioan Paun, according to the BBC.
Nastase’s wife, Dana, was given a three-year suspended sentence for collusion. Jianu is currently serving a six-year term for the misuse of campaign finances during Nastase’s unsuccessful run for the presidency in 2004.
Nastase condemned the convictions as “terrible and unjust” and a case of “filthy revenge,” the daily Evenimentul Zilei reports.
A member of the Social Democratic Party that Nastase once led, Codrin Stefanescu, decried the decision as a “public execution,” according to Digi 24, while former Justice Minister Monica Macovei said there was no evidence that the case against Nastase was politically motivated and called the trial a “success of the legal system and a lesson for all politicians.”
Nastase first entered prison in 2012 after being sentenced to two years in the campaign financing case. He was granted early release in March 2013.
A video showing the grand mufti of Kyrgyzstan apparently having sex with a young woman has underlined the disconnect between law and Islamic practice in the officially secular country.
Egemberdiev did not deny that he was the man in the video and said he married the woman four years ago in a ceremony called nikah, which is sometimes used to enable Muslims to marry additional wives even where polygamy is against the law, as in Kyrgyzstan, RFE writes. Local media reported that Egemberdiev is legally married to a woman whose identity is not known.
A member of a local Islamic civic organization, Bakyt Nurdinov, told RFE the incident has aroused a “very heated discussion.”
"Muslim spiritual leaders are in shock. The situation is difficult; they don't know what to say. It's the first time such a thing has happened,” Nurdinov said.
It is not the first time Egemberdiev has been linked to scandal, however. At the time of his election in 2012 he and his predecessor, Chubak-Hajji Jalilov, were under investigation in connection with money earned through organizing hajj pilgrimages to Mecca, according to the report.
Egemberdiev rejected those allegations and said the video is another attempt to blacken his name.
Jalilov resigned in July 2012 as the hajj scandal grew, and a previous mufti, Muaratali Jumanov, was kidnapped and beaten in 2010, dying two months later.
In 2012 the Kyrgyzstani parliament failed to adopt a bill that would have prevented imams from conducting Islamic weddings unless the couple had officially registered their marriage. The bill was designed to stem the common practice of bride kidnapping.
Starting 1 January, Armenian workers aged 40 and under are required to invest 5 percent of their wages into private pension funds, and many are unhappy about it.
A new pension law was adopted in 2011, but opposition parties held up the private pension contributions until late last year. On 17 December the four parliamentary opposition parties requested the Constitutional Court to declare the law unconstitutional and suspend its application, ArmeniaNow.com reports.
The same day protesters marched to the Constitutional Court to pressure justices into ruling against the law. Opponents of the law are afraid to entrust their savings to private funds, although they would support making the contributions voluntary rather than mandatory, according to ArmeniaNow.
Earlier in December President Serzh Sargsyan made an emotional appeal for people to support the new system, saying he felt ashamed that pensioners receive such meager payments from the state, and blamed the situation on his predecessors, ArmeniaNow writes.
A typical retired Armenian worker receives a monthly pension of just 10,000 drams ($25), according to Pensions Watch.
The two main goals of the pension reform are to reduce poverty among the elderly and pump new capital into the economy, Aram Derdzyan and Astghik Mkhitaryan blog on the website of the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University.
The average monthly wage before taxes is about $370, the two economists write. After deducting income taxes and mandatory pension contributions, an average wage earner will take home about $260 a month.
The law tries to minimize risk through a government guarantee to pay back taxpayers all the money they contribute to private funds with adjustments for inflation, they write. The system also allows workers to choose how much of their pension payments are invested in “risky” assets.
The sacking of an ethnic Croat politician in Bosnia by the president of the country’s Bosniak-Croat region may hobble the region’s government, Balkan Insight writes.
"I am surprised by such a decision from Budimir, and with the choice of minister who was dismissed. I think there are no reasons sufficiently strong for dismissal that could be interpreted as a principled stance,” Federation Vice President Mirsad Kebo said, Oslobodjenje reports. The move could have serious political consequences for Croats in the Federation, he said.
The firing looks like another move in a confrontation between Budimir and Federation Prime Minister Nermin Niksic. Budimir is calling on Niksic to resign so the entire entity government can be replaced, Balkan Insight writes.
In 2012 Niksic, a Bosniak, asked Budimir to dismiss Krajina and seven other ministers after Niksic’s Social Democratic Party left a coalition with Budimir and Krajina’s Croatian Party of Rights and other parties, SEEbiz reports.
Niksic now says Krajina was sacked because he has resisted Budimir’s “blackmail,” Balkan Insight reports.
“For some time now, Budimir has been blackmailing some ministers from the government ... threatening he would dismiss them if they do not accept his demands and dictates, all based on my request to dismiss eight ministers [in 2012]” Niksic said in a statement.
The sacking, described as “legally questionable” by Bosnia’s international overseer, the Office of the High Representative, may be an attempt to gain popularity among disgruntled Croat voters before this year’s general election, a partisan settling of scores, or just a power grab, sociologist Enes Ratkusic comments for Al Jazeera.