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Russia IDs Volgograd Bombers, Major Serbian Pol Steps Down

Plus, Georgia investigates a 'corpse' video and Azerbaijan sees a string of self-immolations.

by S. Adam Cardais, Aliona Kachkan, and Karlo Marinovic 31 January 2014

1. Moscow names Volgograd bombers, arrests two others

 

Russian authorities say they have identified the suicide bombers in last month's attacks in Volgograd and arrested two alleged accomplices, Reuters reports.

 

On 30 January, the National Antiterrorism Committee said Asker Samedov and Suleiman Magomedov – members of a terrorist group in Russia's restive North Caucasus – carried out the bombings that killed 34 people. In addition, the committee said it arrested the brothers Magomednabi and Tagir Batirov in Dagestan 29 January on suspicion of helping the bombers reach Volgograd, according to Reuters.

 

Russian authorities called the alleged bombers members of the "Buinaksk Terrorist Group." Buinaksk is a city in Dagestan, the majority-Muslim center of an insurgency to create an Islamist state in the North Caucasus.

 

Their identification comes shortly after a group calling itself Vilayat Dagestan claimed responsibility for the bombings of a train station and trolleybus in Volgograd. Last week, the group posted an online video identifying the bombers as Suleiman and Abdulrakhman. It was not clear if they were the same men identified by Russian authorities 30 January, Reuters reports.

 

Islamist insurgents have threatened other attacks ahead of and during the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month. However, the head of security for the Games has said there is "no concrete threat," Reuters reports.

 

2.  Serbia snap polls looming, longtime Democratic Party leader quits

 

Former Serbian President Boris Tadic is leaving the opposition Democratic Party (DS) in a "shock" resignation, Balkan Insight reports.

 

Boris Tadic
"I decided to leave the party and resign as honorary president because people who gave the DS a label as a corrupt and scandal-stained party are now coming back to the political bloc around the DS,” said Tadic, who is often credited with steering Serbia to EU candidacy in 2012.

 

Tadic was referring to the Democrats' potential coalition with Zoran Zivkovic's New Party. Tadic said Zivkovic, a former DS member, served as prime minister during a period in the early 2000s when the government had questionable business ties, Balkan Insight reports.

 

Tadic's resignation came a day after President Tomislav Nikolic called early parliamentary elections for 16 March. The ruling Progressives are widely expected to win, and the DS is trying to partner with other opposition parties to take as many seats as possible after losing both the legislature and the presidency in 2012.

 

President from 2004 to 2012, Tadic was widely blamed for the DS's defeat in 2012 and lost the party leadership, Balkan Insight writes. In his 30 January remarks, Tadic hinted he might form a new party and said he would make a decision on whether to participate in the upcoming elections soon, B92 reports.

 

3. 'Two corpses' video linked to alleged anti-government plot

 

Tbilisi has launched an investigation into a video of a former prime minister asking for "two corpses" in evident response to a planned mutiny within the Georgian Army, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Uploaded online 29 January, the video shows former Prime Minister and Interior Minister Ivane Merabishvili telling a group of soldiers: "I need two men. Two corpses. Bring me these two corpses. That's it."

 

 

Former President Mikheil Saakashvili, Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, and former Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili also appear.

 

Civil.ge reports that the video is believed to have been filmed in May 2009 after authorities uncovered plans for what they called a Russia-backed mutiny within the army aimed at toppling the government. It is unclear whom then-Interior Minister Merabishvili is referring to. Fifteen days later, two of the alleged plotters were arrested. A third suspect was shot dead in a killing that Georgian prosecutors seem to link to Merabishvili's remarks in the video, Civil.ge reports.

 

Merabishvili was arrested in May on charges including abuse of power and embezzlement. He says the "two corpses" remark were in reference to two Russian intelligence agents killed by Georgian army plotters to cover their tracks. It was not, he insists, an order to kill anyone, Civil.ge reports.

 

4. Woman is latest in string of self-immolations in Azerbaijan

 

A young woman set herself on fire in Baku 30 January, becoming possibly the fourth person in a month to do so in Azerbaijan, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Maleyka Bayramly, 21, was admitted to a hospital in Baku with critical burns covering around 70 percent of her body after pouring gas on herself and setting it alight, according to the BBC.

 

Bayramly’s suicide attempt was thought to be triggered by problems in her love life.

 

Self-immolation has been a gruesome trend in Azerbaijan since 25 December, when Zaur Hasanov set himself on fire in Baku. Hasanov, 42, was a veteran of the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan for the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. He said he was protesting having lost a restaurant he had owned on the orders of a government official and never having received compensation. Hasanov died of his injuries.

 

Then on 27 January Nizami Kerimov, also a veteran of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, set himself on fire after he said officials demanded a hefty bribe to reinstate his social benefits, according to Panorama, an Armenian news service.

 

The next day, some reports say veteran Maarif Valiyev set himself alight in front of a government building in the city of Barda to protest the authorities’ failure to provide him with land for housing, but officials denied that account to Radio Free Europe.

 

5. Rare independent TV channel in Russia runs into trouble

 

At least two major Russian cable providers have stopped broadcasting the independent TV channel Dozhd (Rain) after a scandal in which the station asked if the horrific World War II siege of Leningrad could have been averted, the Guardian reports.

 

The cable companies said they had dropped Dozhd for asking if Leningrad should have surrendered to the Nazis, rather than holding out for 900 days in which hundreds of thousands of people died. The anniversary of the ending of the siege was 27 January.

 

The question sparked a furor, with some accusing the channel of spreading extremism and with prosecutors launching an investigation to see if the channel has broken any laws, The Washington Post reports.

 

Behind the reaction, say the channel’s defenders, is an attempt to shut down an outlet that provides straightforward reporting, including coverage of the anti-government protests in Russia in 2011 and 2012, opposition figure Aleksei Navalny’s race for Moscow mayor last year, and the ongoing protests in Ukraine, Radio  Free Europe reports.

 

Pavel Lobkov, a presenter for the station, told RFE the scandal was a pretext to get rid of the only opposition channel broadcasting in some regions.

 

Reporters Without Borders ranks Russia 148th of 179 countries for freedom of the press, owing to repression and unsolved murders of and attacks on journalists.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Aliona Kackhan and Karlo Marinovic are TOL editorial interns.

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