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Yanukovych Opponents Ramp Up Rhetoric, Kazakhstani Police Appeal Torture Verdict

Plus, Romania arrests a suspected celebrity hacker and Tajikistan imposes a dress code on imams.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, Aliona Kachkan, and Aleksandra Zivkovic 23 January 2014

1. Ukrainian opposition demands fresh elections


Vitali Klitschko, the head of Ukraine’s opposition UDAR party, demanded that President Viktor Yanukovych call snap elections after he and other opposition leaders met with the president 22 January, the Guardian reports. Klitschko said Yanukovych could stop the violence of the past few days if he announced a vote, and he warned that the opposition “will go on the attack” unless the president agreed to more talks today.


Another opposition leader who took part in the long-delayed meeting, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, told protesters afterward that Yanukovych had 24 hours to agree to a peaceful solution. “If he does not go down that path, then we will go forward together,” Yatsenyuk said, according to Radio Free Europe. “And if it means a bullet to the head, then it is a bullet to the head.”


kyiv riotEmergency workers treat an injury victim during a clash between police and rioters in Kyiv. Image from a video by


Yanukovych’s official website described the more than three-hour meeting as “the first stage of negotiations” with the parliamentary opposition.


Klitschko said the opposition is also demanding the government’s resignation and the repeal of harsh laws against protests that were implemented last week, RFE’s Ukrainian service reports.


Concerns are growing over the involvement of hard-line nationalist groups in the protests. A coordinator of the Pravyy Sektor (Right Sector) group told RFE “guerrilla warfare” would break out if the authorities “try to carry out a bloody crackdown.” Right Sector rejects the more moderate opposition’s call for negotiations with the government, instead urging sympathizers to donate slingshots, gasoline, fireworks, and other makeshift weapons, RFE writes.


2. Police in Kazakhstan appeal torture ruling


A court in Kazakhstan was expected to begin hearing the appeal today of what Radio Free Europe calls an unprecedented finding of police torture against an innocent man.


A. GerasimovAleksandr Gerasimov
In November, a judge in the northern city of Kostanay ordered police to pay 2 million tenge ($13,000) in damages to Aleksandr Gerasimov, a construction worker who said he suffered lasting injuries when police tortured him in 2007. Kostanay police appealed the ruling to a regional court.


Gerasimov, 44, said he was beaten and suffocated by officers when he went to a police station in 2007 looking for his stepson, who had been arrested in connection with the killing of an elderly woman. After local authorities ignored his claims, lawyers from the Open Society Foundations’ Open Society Justice Initiative and a Kazakhstani legal rights group made him the subject of Central Asia’s first case before the United Nations Committee Against Torture, RFE writes.


In May 2012 the committee found in Gerasimov's favor and urged Kazakhstan to investigate his claims and compensate him.


In its most recent annual review of Kazakhstan’s rights climate, Human Rights Watch said that while several police officers were found guilty of torture in 2013 and the government adopted a law to set up a national anti-torture regime, perpetrators are rarely punished. “To date, there has been no effective investigation into serious and credible allegations of torture by detainees in the aftermath of the December 2011 Zhanaozen violence,” the organization says.


3. Celebrity hacker suspect held in Romania

Romania’s organized crime police said 22 January that they have arrested a man suspected of being “Guccifer,” a hacker who exposed personal information about U.S. officials, Hollywood stars, and other prominent public figures, Reuters reports.

Police did not identify the man, but Radio Romania gave his name as Marcel Lazar Lehel, who received a suspended sentence for hacking in 2012.


Guccifer’s victims include former U.S. President George W. Bush, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, journalist Carl Bernstein, and Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. The online outlaw also gleaned mobile phone numbers and email addresses of a handful of A-list celebrities, online tabloid The Smoking Gun reports.


Hackers from Eastern Europe have garnered a lot of attention recently. Last year Latvian hacker Deniss Calovskis was accused of unleashing a virus that made more than a million computers worldwide vulnerable to exposure of users’ bank accounts. In 2012 cyber-security expert Tom Kellerman warned that Eastern European hackers posed a more serious threat than better-known East Asian hacking groups, according to tech-news site The Register.


4. Tajikistan introduces dress code for imams


Tajik Muslim clergy will soon be required to wear standard-issue dress approved by the authorities, Interfax reports. Beginning 1 February, the state will also begin paying imams’ salaries, ranging from 800 to 2,000 somoni ($170 to $420) a month, said Saidmukarram Abdulqodirzoda, head of the Council of Ulema, the country’s highest Islamic authority.


The approved costume for Muslim religious leaders is composed of a gray satin shirt, a turban, trousers, and a blue embroidered gown, all created by Tajik fashion designer Mukarrama Qayumova, RFE writes. Abdulqodirzoda praised the design for its “special national characteristics, beautiful color, and beautiful style.”


The state-appointed Committee on Religious Affairs said it will cover 30 percent of the cost of outfitting the clergy, with the Council of Ulema and imams themselves footing the rest of the bill.


Authorities in Tajikistan have decreed dress codes for teachers and students in recent years, although vocal criticism forced them to rescind a plan for teachers to wear special uniforms, RFE writes. Since 2011 Hajj pilgrims have been required to wear blue-and-white clothing bearing the country’s official symbols.


5. Azerbaijan plans worldwide survey of mud volcanoes


Azerbaijani geologists are compiling the world's first atlas of mud volcanoes, Azernews reports, citing a leading expert in the field.


Azerbaijan has more identified mud volcanoes than any other country, with about 400. The volcanoes, typically small cones that emits mud and gas, usually occur in areas where oil and gas are plentiful, such as the Caspian Sea basin that is the source of Azerbaijan’s hydrocarbon wealth.


Adil Aliyev, head of the Mud Volcanoes Department at the Azerbaijani National Academy of Sciences’ Geology Institute, said previous estimates of 700 or 800 mud volcanoes worldwide now look far too low. "During the preparation of the atlas, it became clear that there are more than 2,000 mud volcanoes in the world today," he said. Many lie at the bottom of the Caspian, Black, and Mediterranean seas.


One of Azerbaijan’s most active mud volcanoes, Shyhzerli, erupted earlier this month, two or three days after an earthquake nearby, according to the Trend news agency. It was the 23rd known eruption of Shyhzerli since 1848.


Normally such eruptions are harmless phenomena, and mud volcanoes have become tourist destinations, but on occasion they can explode, blasting flames and vomiting mud. A major eruption in October 2001 of 700-meter (2,296-foot) Boyuk Khanizadagh in the Gobustan National Park near Baku, the world's largest mud volcano, shots flames 300 meters into the air, according to Azernews.


Mud volcanoes are also found in the Black Sea, although in far smaller numbers than in the Caspian. Azerbaijani and Ukrainian scientists are currently working on Ukraine’s Kerch peninsula to pinpoint the similarities and differences in mud volcanoes in the two areas,  Aliyev told Azernews.


Baku mud volcanoA mud volcano near Baku spews flames into the air. Image from a video by xristos zografou / YouTube

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