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Kyiv Protesters Call for Sanctions, Russia Nabs Alleged Terrorists

Plus, a nervous Estonia wants more eyes in the sky and bisons will once again be home on the Czech range. by Barbara Frye, Piers Lawson, Ioana Caloianu, and Karlo Marinovic 13 January 2014

1. Opposition figure’s beating leads to call for sanctions in Kyiv


Demonstrations in Kyiv are continuing to put pressure on President Viktor Yanukovych, after police beat an opposition leader 10 January, AFP reports.


Yuri Lutsenko
About 50,000 people gathered in the city 12 January to call for the imposition of international sanctions against Ukrainian government officials, following the beating of Yuri Lutsenko.


Lutsenko was admitted to hospital with head and other injuries after protesting the imprisonment of three far-right activists accused of planning to blow up a statue of Vladimir Lenin in the city of Boryspil in 2011, QHA, the Crimean News Agency, reports. The news agency says he is in stable condition.


Lutsenko, interior minister in the government of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, was imprisoned in late 2010 on abuse of office charges widely deemed political. He was pardoned by Yanukovych in 2013.


“The first to be sanctioned by the West is the Interior Minister [Vitali] Zakharchenko and all of his gang that gave an order to beat people,” said Arseny Yatsenyuk, a former Chairman of the Ukrainian parliament and leader of the parliamentary faction of Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party, VOA News reports. The VOA said the protesters warned the president not to sign a trade pact with Russia.


The opposition has again called for early presidential elections, scheduled for 2015.


"In order to be heard, we are going to organize a national strike – first a short one, as a warning, and then a full-scale one that lasts a long time," opposition leader and boxing champion Vitali Klitschko said, according to Al Jazeera, which reports that the next protests are scheduled for 19 January.


Demonstrations against Yanukovych have grown again, after a drop in numbers in the period around Orthodox Christmas.


The president's decision to back out of an EU trade deal saw hundreds of thousands Ukrainians gather in Kyiv.


2. Russia arrests members of alleged terrorist group


Five members of a "banned international terrorist organization" have been arrested in Russia’s North Caucasus region, the BBC and various news organizations report


The National Anti-Terrorism Committee said the suspects belonged to an international terror group and were in possession of grenades, ammunition, and a self-made explosive device. They were arrested in Nalchik, a town about 300 kilometers (185 miles) east of the Black Sea resort of Sochi, the host of next month's Winter Olympics, the BBC reports.


The police agency did not name the group or give further details.


Russia earlier announced it was deploying more than 30,000 police and Interior Ministry troops to the region, where there are concerns over the threat of attacks by Islamist militants.


In late December two suicide bombings killed 34 people in the southern city of Volgograd. No one has claimed responsibility for those attacks but authorities said a similar bombing in October was carried out by a woman from Dagestan, the North Caucasus republic that has become the focal point of Islamist resistance to Russian rule.


President Vladimir Putin has personally overseen preparations for the Olympics, his pet project intended to showcase Russia's power and wealth.


Last week, he inspected preparations for the games and went skiing in the mountains near Sochi.


On 10 January, the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert for Americans planning to attend the Games. “Westerners have not specifically been targeted, but are viewed by IK as complicit in the Russian government's efforts to control the North Caucasus region,” the alert said, referring to the separatist group known as Caucasus Emirate, or Imirat Kavkaz in Russian.  


In recent years, there has been conflict between Russian forces and separatists in Chechnya in addition to violence across Dagestan and the neighboring North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia.


Hundreds of people have been killed, among them members of the government and security services.


3. Estonia adds surveillance drones to its military mix


Alarmed by a Russian arms buildup, the Estonian military is turning to drones to boost its surveillance capabilities, Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR) reports.


Defense Forces Commander-in-Chief Major General Riho Terras told the Eesti Paevaleht newspaper that Estonia needs ways to more quickly find out what is happening when conflict looms, according to ERR.


“Since we are surrounded on all sides by allies against Russia, then Russia is the place where the processes taking place should be monitored particularly closely,” Terras told Eesti Paevaleht.


The general cited Russia’s increasing militarization and stepped-up military exercises. In the fall, Russian and Belarusian forces practiced maneuvers in Belarus, across the border from the Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania. Shortly afterward, NATO forces conducted exercises in Latvia and Poland.


Terras said a "blind" nation "could not be defended," according to ERR.


Eesti Paevaleht said Estonia, a member of NATO, will purchase U.S.-built Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft.


The Estonian army has used hand-held Raven aerial drones for reconnaissance purposes in Afghanistan since 2009.


4. Bison to roam the Czech plains again


Plans have been announced in the Czech Republic to re-introduce a herd of bison to the country later this year, the Prague Post reports.


The newspaper quotes a spokesman for Czech Landscape, a conservation organization, as saying the herd – composed of one male and four females – will be released in a location yet to be decided.

European bison. Photo by asw909/Flickr


Experts say European bison are cousins of American bison. They were once abundant on the territory of what is now the Czech Republic but gradually fell victim to hunters and deforestation and became almost extinct after World War I. The animals survived only by being bred in captivity.


AFP notes that the animal, called "Zubr" in Czech, “had only survived in the names of villages such as Zubri et Zubrnice, as well as in the names of popular drinks, the Zubr beer and Zubrovka vodka.”


Czech Landscape has signed a contract with the European Bison Friends Society in Poland, which coordinates rescue programs of European bison in Europe, according to the Prague Post.


The Czech Republic is one of the few countries in the area of the European bison's original habitat where the species has not yet returned to the wild, the Prague Post quoted Czech Landscape Director Dalibor Dostal as saying.


Many rural parts of the country are seen as ideal habitats for bison, featuring picturesque hills, ponds, and spruce forests.


The group is working with various experts to decide where the bison will be released, but a final decision will be made by the government, Dostal said.


Bison are up to two meters (almost seven feet) tall and 3.5 metres (more than 11 feet) long. They have two pointed horns and unpredictable manners – especially during the rutting season. 

5. Now for the lighting round: Croatian or Serbian?


A footnote in the ongoing scandal over the politically motivated closure of the George Washington Bridge, which links the U.S. states of New York and New Jersey, has become a source of outrage in some parts of the Balkans, The New York Times reports.


Mark Sokolich
When it emerged that a political appointee of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had referred derisively to the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, as a “little Serb,” an emissary of Serbia’s government demanded an apology.


Emails and text messages uncovered by American media paint a picture of the bridge closure in September as political revenge by members of Christie’s staff against Mayor Mark Sokolich, who had refused to endorse the governor in his re-election bid. The closure snarled traffic in Fort Lee for days.


The tale gets more twisted, though, as Sokolich is of Croatian, not Serbian, descent – the “ich” suffix on his name being the apparent cause of confusion.


The Belgrade-based B92 news agency, in an article datelined Beograd/Nju Dzersi, quotes Slavka Draskovic, the Serbian government’s liaison with diaspora groups, as saying, “We must not allow any name that ends in 'ic' to become identified with the poor and abusive, and, as in this case, to become a victim of prejudice and preconceived notions about the Serbian people.” 


The Serbian names Americans are probably most familiar with are those of the late dictator Slobodan Milosevic and tennis great Novak Djokovic. A Wikipedia list of notable Croatians in America (Johnny Mercer, Scott Bakula, Frank Gorshin, Denise Richards) is admittedly light on any “ic” names that most Americans are likely to have heard, but does include actor John Malkovich and bassist Krist Novoselic of the rock band Nirvana.

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Piers Lawson is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Karlo Marinovic is a TOL editorial intern.

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