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Ukraine Court Bans Downtown Kyiv Protests, Partizan Belgrade Owner Jailed in Corruption Probe

Plus, the Kremlin slams Estonia over the military funeral of an SS veteran, and Czech authorities file charges against dozens in deadly alcohol poisoning.

by Ioana Caloianu, Ky Krauthamer, Karlo Marinovic, and Aleksandra Zivkovic 16 January 2014

1. Central Kyiv rallies temporarily outlawed, Klitschko foresees ‘repressive acts’


A Ukrainian court has temporarily banned large-scale protests in the capital city of Kyiv. Deutsche Welle writes that the court did not give a reason for the ban, which is in force until 8 March. Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko called the ruling an omen of upcoming “repressive acts against peaceful protesters.”


Since November hundreds of thousands of people have been gathering on Kyiv’s Independence Square, dubbed the Euromaidan by demonstrators, to protest President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to back away from an EU trade deal in favor of closer ties with Russia. The latest large rally on 12 January saw 50,000 people calling for international sanctions after prominent opposition member Yuri Lutsenko was beaten by police.


Deutsche Welle reports that the U.S. officials are mulling sanctions against Yanukovych’s government but no concrete decisions have been made.


Klitschko, 12.1.2014Vitali Klitschko speaks to a large crowd on Independence Square on 12 January. Image from a video by RuptlyTV/YouTube


One of the main obstacles to a Ukraine-EU pact has been the imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on charges of abuse of office. Days before the deal was to be signed in November, Ukrainian authorities opened a case against Tymoshenko's lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, for allegedly beating his ex-wife. According to AFP, Ukrainian prosecutors have now charged Vlasenko with unlawfully imprisoning or kidnapping her. He dismissed the charges as a “total lie” fabricated against him because of his role in Tymoshenko's defense.


Tymoshenko’s popularity seems to be slipping slightly a year ahead of presidential elections, according to a poll cited by Business New Europe. The survey by the independent Democratic Initiative Fund found that the incumbent Yanukovych remains the most popular potential candidate with 30 percent support, up 10 points since late December. Tymoshenko, who was second in prior polls, has been overtaken by Klitschko, who drew 22 percent in the latest survey, up from 16 percent last month.


2. Serbian soccer boss jailed on corruption charges


Partizan Belgrade soccer club owner Dragan Djuric was detained 14 January on allegations that he illegally took in more than $2 million from a privatization deal, Serbia’s Tanjug news agency reports.


Djuric is one of the biggest fish landed in a sweep against suspicious sales of state assets, launched by the government last year under pressure from the EU to clean up a notoriously murky part of the Serbian economy.


The case centers on the sale of a state veterinary institute to companies controlled by Djuric in 2005. He may have gained more than 207 million dinars ($2.4 million) on the deal, prosecutors said in a press release.


A Belgrade court set bail at the equivalent of 2 million euros.


The veterinary institute sell-off was one of two dozen privatizations tagged for investigation by anti-corruption agencies, Tanjug writes. The European Commission had warned Belgrade about the 24 suspicious deals in 2011 and asked authorities to investigate them.


In December the country’s organized crime prosecutor, Miljko Radisavljevic, brought charges against 63 people suspected of involvement in fraudulent privatizations, SETimes reports. The suspects include three former government ministers and the former director of the Privatization Agency, Radisavljevic said.

Almost 2,000 of about 3,000 state-owned firms privatized between 2001 and 2011 have shut their doors or gone into bankruptcy, the government’s Social and Economic Council said, according to SETimes.


3. Moscow condemns honors for late Estonian SS soldier


Harald NugiseksHarald Nugiseks
Russia has criticized the military funeral of Nazi-decorated Estonian war veteran Harald Nugiseks as an “amoral mockery” of the memory of millions of war dead, RIA Novosti reports.


“We regard the ceremonial burial of a Nazi criminal by the Estonian authorities as another example of a twisted interpretation by official Tallinn of historic realities of the Second World War,” Russian human rights ombudsman Konstantin Dolgov said in a statement posted on the Foreign Ministry website 15 January.


Nugiseks, 93, died 2 January and was buried 10 January at the Estonian Soldiers Memorial Church in Tori, according to UPI. Nugiseks joined the Nazi forces fighting against the Soviet Union in 1941 and later served in an SS division, earning the Third Reich’s highest award for bravery in battle, the Knight’s Cross.


Estonian Defense Minister Urmas Reinsalu praised Nugiseks as “a legendary Estonian soldier whose tragedy was that he could not fight for Estonian freedom in an Estonian uniform.” Nugiseks received an honorary captain's rank from the Estonian army when the country declared independence in 1991.


Moscow often criticizes Estonian tributes to its veterans who fought with Nazi forces, a collaboration many in the Baltic nation see as an important step toward independence from the Soviet Union, according to RIA Novosti.


Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 and wrested Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania from Soviet control. The three states were reincorporated into the USSR at the end of the war.


4. Charges filed in Czech methanol deaths


Eighteen months after panic hit the Czech Republic when dozens died from drinking methanol-tainted liquor, prosecutors have filed charges against 31 suspects, some of whom could face life in prison.


Two Czechs and a Slovak accused of being the leaders of a black-market alcohol ring are in custody. They and four others are charged with willful reckless endangerment and could face prison terms of 12 to 20 years with the possibility of life terms in exceptional circumstances, the Czech Press Agency reports.


The first trials are expected to start this spring. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to try all the suspects at once or in groups. Around 40 other suspects are accused of lesser crimes connected with the scandal.


Thirty-eight people died and 79 suffered serious injuries as a result of drinking homemade booze laced with poisonous methanol. When the first wave of deaths occurred in September 2012, Czech authorities banned the sale of hard liquor for two weeks and imposed tighter labeling rules, and Slovakia and Poland restricted imports of Czech liquor. The latest victim, a woman in northern Bohemia, died last month, Czech Television reports.


The tragedy, dubbed by the Czech Press Agency as the second worst disaster in the Czech Republic’s 20-year history after the deadly floods of 1997, is not unique. In 2001 more than 50 people died in Estonia from drinking methanol-laced illegal vodka, and a similar outbreak in Serbia in 1998 reportedly caused 43 deaths.


5. Shtetl trails to link towns in Poland and neighboring countries


Historians from Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine are collecting materials for a physical and digital “Shtetl Route” to boost tourism and preserve Jewish heritage in the region, the Associated Press writes.


Funded almost entirely by the EU, the 450,000 euro ($615,000) project will produce a website with information and 3D models of towns in the three countries that once hosted Jewish communities, or shtetls. Sightseeing guidebooks will be published late next year, said Emil Majuk of the Brama Grodzka cultural center in Lublin, which is heading up the effort. Partner groups in Ukraine and Belarus are cooperating on the project.


"These are really fantastic little towns, with old architecture and old, multicultural character with their synagogues and Catholic and Orthodox churches," Majuk said.


Three tourist trails will be mapped out and virtual models built of five vanished Jewish communities in each country, according to Jewish Heritage Europe.


The 15 shtetls have not yet been selected, Majuk said. One likely to make the list is Szczebrzeszyn, southeast of Lublin near the Ukrainian border.


Known for its recently renovated synagogue and old Jewish cemetery, Szczebrzeszyn was a diverse town with historic Orthodox and Catholic churches, Dziennik Wschodni writes. “We want to emphasize the Jewish heritage and the multiculturalism of these towns,” Majuk told the Polish newspaper.


Szczebrzeszyn Jewish cemeteryThe Jewish cemetery in Szczebrzeszyn. Photo by Lysy/Wikimedia Commons

Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Karlo Marinovic and Aleksandra Zivkovic are TOL editorial interns.
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