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EU Faces Russian Trade Complaint, Bulgarian Rightist Chief in Airport Fracas

Plus, a Georgian nun’s vision brings thousands of pilgrims to historic cathedral city, and Czech police investigate the death of the Palestinian envoy in embassy explosion.

by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, and Karlo Marinovic 8 January 2014

1. Moscow turns the trade tables, blames EU for unfair duties


Russia is accusing the EU of unfair anti-dumping duties in a complaint before the World Trade Organization, its first such action since joining the WTO in 2012.


The complaint filed 6 January concerns levies on Russian exports of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and some steel products, which the EU imposed after concluding that Russia was pricing the products at below the cost of production, EUobserver reports.


Russia is the world's largest exporter of ammonium nitrate, with almost 3.5 million tons, half of its total production, exported in 2010, Finnbay reports.


Russia has tangled with the WTO and EU before, EUobserver writes, over such issues as its restrictions on imports from Ukraine and other countries and the EU’s charges of monopolistic pricing by gas giant Gazprom. Moscow is a respondent in two trade disputes at the WTO initiated by the EU and Japan over its taxes on recycling foreign cars.


Research by the trade monitor group Global Trade Alert found that Russia imposed more protectionist trade measures than any other country last year, The Moscow Times reports.


According to the study, more than 300 protectionist measures, such as targeted bailouts and subsidies for domestic companies, made up one-fifth of the world’s protectionist measures in 2013.


2. Press watchdogs decry ‘impunity’ in attacks on Montenegrin journalists


Lidija NikcevicLidija Nikcevic
International press groups have condemned the beating of Montenegrin journalist Lidija Nikcevic 4 January and suggested if fits a pattern of attacks on journalists critical of the government.


Reporters Without Borders said in a statement, "Impunity for violence against media personnel is the rule in Montenegro. The tolerance that the justice system shows toward those who attack journalists is unacceptable.”


“This is just the latest in a series of violent incidents on journalists and media in Montenegro,” OSCE media freedom representative Dunja Mijatovic said.


Nikcevic, a reporter for the Dan newspaper, was “repeatedly struck on the head” in the attack outside the newspaper’s office and had to spend 24 hours in a hospital as a result of her injuries, the reporters group said.


RWB notes that a second attack on a prominent newspaper, Vijesti, occurred 26 December when a bomb exploded below the window of editor Mihailo Jovovic. No one was injured in the incident.

“I am extremely concerned about the safety of journalists in Montenegro,” Mijatovic said. “The fact that no one has yet been prosecuted or arrested for the attacks on Vijesti newspaper and the bomb that exploded in front of Tufik Softic’s house in August of last year sends a message of impunity. This is not acceptable.”


Vijesti reporter Softic was not injured in the bombing. Vijesti reporters have been repeatedly threatened and attacked for their stories on crime and corruption, RWB said at the time.


The spate of attacks on journalists working for Vijesti and Dan in the past decade has been linked to their coverage of corruption in the ruling elite, especially in the ranks of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists. Djukanovic, who has been either president or prime minister for nearly the entire period since 1991, has faced numerous allegations of corruption and involvement in organized crime, although none has been proved.


Vijesti chief executive Zeljko Ivanovic called the December bombing "a terrorist attack” and an attempt to kill Jovovic.


“Whoever ordered and committed this new crime, the responsibility is on Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and his coalition government," he said.


3. Airport fight could see charges leveled at Bulgarian extremist leader


siderov 100Volen Siderov
Prosecutors in Sofia were expected to say today if they will seek to strip ultranationalist leader Volen Siderov of parliamentary immunity, Standart reports.


Siderov, whose Attack party holds 23 seats in the Bulgarian parliament, is being investigated for hooliganism and causing minor bodily harm in an incident at Varna airport 6 January.


Local reporter Rositsa Penkova said the incident began aboard a domestic flight from Sofia to Varna, when Siderov began talking to a woman passenger, later identified by prosecutors as Stephanie Dumortier, a cultural attaché at the French consulate in Varna, The Sofia Globe reports.


When their conversation grew noisy, a male passenger aged about 30 intervened and called Siderov a “boor,” Penkova said. The confrontation continued and grew heated after the passengers boarded a runway bus, forcing the driver to press the emergency button and summon security officers. She said Siderov and other members of his group were in a fight with the young man, whom she described as “stout and tall, with a fine physique.”


After the passengers left the bus, Attack members tried to stop them from taking photos and videos, Penkova said, citing eyewitness accounts.


The French Embassy said one of its diplomats had been insulted and threatened by a Bulgarian citizen during the flight, according to The Globe. The Bulgarian allegedly made critical remarks based on the diplomat’s nationality and invoked his parliamentary status to demand to see the diplomat’s identification, the embassy said.


Siderov said he had been framed by Varna regional governor Ivan Velikov.


This is not the first time Siderov has been involved in a public fracas, Novinite reports, noting his run-in with a German police after another airliner incident in 2010 and a row he and other Attack parliamentarians reportedly caused in a Brussels restaurant last year.


Bulgaria’s Socialist-led coalition relies on Attack for parliamentary support, Novinite writes.


4. Palestinian envoy’s death not suspicious: Czech police


Czech police are now treating the New Year’s Day explosion death of Palestinian ambassador to Prague, Jamal al-Jamal, as a case of negligence, although questions remain about weapons police found at the Palestinian mission, the Associated Press reports.


Al-Jamal, 56, died in hospital shortly after the explosion occurred as he attempted to open a safe in the mission’s new building in a Prague suburb. No evidence has come to light contradicting the initial reports that the explosion was due to improper manipulation of the safe, equipped with a security system, rather than an assassination. Suggestions in the media that the safe was booby-trapped remain unverified.


In a statement 6 January, the Czech Foreign Ministry said it considers the discovery of 12 unregistered weapons at the embassy “a serious violation of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations” and asked the Palestinian side to “clearly and unequivocally” explain them, according to the AP.


The weapons included machine guns and pistols, Police President Martin Cervicek told the daily Mlada fronta Dnes.


Palestinian Deputy Foreign Minister Taysir Jaradat said 5 January he had discussed the matter with Czech diplomats, the AP reported in a separate story.


“We told them that these guns have been in the embassy for a long time – going back to the former regime of Czechoslovakia – and these guns were either licensed in the embassy or were given as gifts to the ambassador,” he told the Voice of Palestine radio station. “They are not in use.”


This is the second time suspicious weapons have been found in a Middle Eastern embassy in Prague, Mlada fronta writes. After the downfall of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraqi diplomats handed in an arms cache including anti-tank rockets that Czech intelligence believed was intended for an attack the previous year on Radio Free Europe headquarters in Prague.


5. Nun’s vision brings crowds of faithful to Georgian holy place


Thousands of pilgrims began leaving the ancient Georgian town of Mtskheta 7 January as the deadline expired for wishes to be granted by a local saint, Radio Free Europe reports.


Orthodox believers began streaming into Mtskheta several days earlier after a local nun, Mother Paraskeva, said she had experienced a vision in which Father Gabriel, a monk who died in 1995 and was canonized in 2012, appeared to her and said he would grant two wishes to believers who visited his grave before Orthodox Christmas on 7 January.


Mtskheta, near Tbilisi, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on the planet and its churches are among the holiest sites of Georgian Christians.


The Orthodox Church warned against putting too much faith in the nun’s vision. Writing on Facebook, Kirion Machaidze, leader of the monastery where Gabriel was buried, accused the visitors of "idol worship" and of treating Father Gabriel like a "genie,” the BBC writes.


A statement issued by church leaders sought to dispel the notion that any wish will come true after a visit to the saint’s tomb, and said “those requests which are pleasing to God and which are in line with the will of the Lord are fulfilled, not just any desire."


The Orthodox Church wields enormous power and influence in Georgian society, and Patriarch Ilia II is trusted by 94 percent of the population according to a recent poll.


The BBC reports that the nun later explained there was no vision and that she only received “a sign” after asking Father Gabriel to grant the wishes of believers. 


MtskhetaA view of Mtskheta. Photo by Aleksey Muhranoff/Wikimedia Commons

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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