Plus, a Moldovan region opens the door to secession and a Kosovo Serb held on war-crimes charges will run for office.by Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, Sarah Fluck, and Aliona Kachkan 3 February 2014
1. Three detained after pro-Ukraine rally in Tashkent
Three people remain in jail in Uzbekistan after being arrested last week for staging a show of solidarity with protesters in Ukraine. Friends and family worry they will be subject to torture or abuse, EurasiaNet.org reports.
Several people were arrested 29 January after a small rally in front of the Ukrainian Embassy in Tashkent to show support for Ukraine’s anti-government protesters, according to multiple reports. The activists handed embassy officials a petition condemning Kyiv’s actions against the protesters and expressed their support for the EuroMaidan movement, Fergana.news reports.
Umida Akhmedova, a well-known photographer in Uzbekistan and abroad; her son, Timur Karpov; and two other detainees have been released but were fined approximately $1,000 for organizing an unsanctioned demonstration, according to NewEurasia.net (a TOL sister site).
In an interview with a Ukrainian blog, Oleg Karpov, a filmmaker and Akhmedova’s husband, called the fine illegal and said the rally was not an unsanctioned demonstration but rather “a photo session or flash mob.”
The other people, identified by NewEurasia and Front Line Defenders as Alexei Ulko, a culture blogger; Ashot Danielyan, a musician; and Artem Ludny are still in jail. A source close to one of the detainees told TOL they would be behind bars until 11 February.
Demonstrations to show support for the prisoners are planned for London, Paris, and Kyiv today and tomorrow.
Uzbekistan, which prohibits protests or demonstrations, scrapes the bottom of nearly every rights group’s international ranking for freedom and civil liberties.
2. Sochi preps for Olympics by killing stray dogs
Immediately before the Winter Olympics, officials in Sochi, Russia, have arranged for the killing of the city’s stray dogs.
The owner of the extermination company hired to do the job, Alexei Sorokin, would not say in an interview with ABC News how many animals had been killed so far, but the Toronto Star reports that last year, Sochi city officials aimed to kill 2,000 dogs and cats at a cost of 1.7 million rubles ($48,000).
Sorokin told ABC the strays posed a threat to the games and visitors. “Let’s call things by their real name. These dogs are biological trash,” he told the network.
“Imagine if during an Olympic games, a ski jumper landed at 130 kilometers (81 miles) an hour and a dog runs into him when he lands. It would be deadly for both a jumper and for the stray dog,” he said.
Sergei Krivonosov, a lawmaker from the region that includes Sochi, told Russia’s RBK Daily that while he does not approve of the method of the cull, it is faster than putting the dogs in shelters. “[T]he fact is that the animals should not be on the street, obviously. We have a responsibility to the international community,” he said.
Environmentalists in Sochi have launched a petition drive demanding that authorities provide land for a new animal shelter, RBK reports. But another lawmaker, Dmitri Vyatkin, told the newspaper there is no consensus in the country on how to deal with the huge problem of strays. He said the issue pits those who have been attacked by dogs against those who support sterilization and sheltering. “The public need to decide what it wants,” he said.
Last year, the officials canceled a cull after protests from animal rights groups, ABC News reports.
3. Voters in Moldova region strongly back Customs Union over EU ties
An overwhelming majority of voters in an autonomous region of Moldova supported joining a Russia-led trading bloc in a nonbinding referendum 2 February, Economica.net reports.
Citing preliminary results from the regional electoral commission, the Romanian news site reports that about 94.5 percent of voters in Gagauzia favored the country’s entry into the Customs Union, which includes Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Only 2.7 percent backed closer links with the European Union.
Moldova initialed a free-trade and political association agreement with the EU in November and its leaders have been pulling the country in the direction of Brussels. Moldovans will be allowed to travel to the EU without a visa as soon as one last legislative hurdle is cleared.
Voters in Gagauzia also voted to secede if Moldova were to lose its sovereignty, an apparent nod to fears that the country’s pro-Western leaders may seek to reunite it with Romania. With a majority Russian-speaking population and a Turkish identity, Gagauzia has a pro-Russian orientation and ambitions of independence that threaten Moldova’s wishes for further European integration.
The referendums, which were opposed by the government, took place despite a court ruling that they were illegal, Radio Free Europe reports. The secession question is especially delicate given that Moldova already has one breakaway region, Transdniester, that is essentially sponsored by Russia.
Gagauzian officials said negotiations between Brussels and Chisinau have been opaque. Ivan Burgudji, a member of Gagauzia’s legislature, told RFE, “[T]he entire population of Moldova hasn’t been acquainted with what is going to be signed, and what is good and what is bad in it.”
4. Arrested Kosovo Serb will run for mayor of North Mitrovica
A Kosovo Serb official arrested last week on war-crimes charges has filed to run for mayor of the northern, Serb-run section of ethnically divided Mitrovica, Balkan Insight reports.
Oliver Ivanovic, long considered a moderate among Kosovo Serb leaders, was arrested “as an alleged suspect in an ongoing war crimes investigation, together with allegations of aggravated murder after the conflict,” according to a statement from the European Union's rule of law mission (EULEX) in Kosovo.
EULEX officials are being tight-lipped about the case, but Balkan Insight reports he is “suspected of involvement in violence in 2000 in which 10 Kosovo Albanians were killed and many more wounded and driven from their homes.” The news agency says Ivanovic was a “bridge watcher,” patrolling the bridge that links the Albanian and Serb sides of the Ibar River running through Mitrovica.
After his arrest, some Serbs in North Mitrovica protested in the street, and a top official in the Serbian government asked the EU’s foreign policy chief to intervene on his behalf, Balkan Insight reports.
“[H]ow come he - if he had committed the crime – moved freely throughout Kosovo, talked to everyone … and then suddenly on the eve of [repeat local] elections he is arrested,” Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told reporters.
5. Belarus aims to restore habitat for threatened bird species
Local officials in Belarus are getting international help to restore the peatland nesting grounds of a vulnerable bird species, the Belarusian Telegraph Agency (BelTA) reports.
The aquatic warbler’s numbers in Belarus have dropped by as much as half since 1997, when about 12,000 lived there – the minimum number to ensure the survival of the species in the country, an official with the National Academy of Sciences told BelTA. A “normal” population would number around 50,000, the news agency says.
The warbler has fewer than 50 regular breeding sites in Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Germany, and Lithuania, while one “genetically distinct” population of the bird has gone extinct in Hungary, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Widespread loss of habitat threatens the species. “Since 1970, [the population] is likely to have declined significantly as a result of the destruction of 80 percent to 90 percent of its habitat in the river systems of upper Pripyat, Yaselda (Belarus) and Biebrza/Narew (Poland). These systems hold approximately 75 percent of the European population,” according to the IUCN. The organization says conservation efforts are stemming the decline in some parts of Eastern Europe.
More than half of Belarus’ considerable peatlands were drained in the 1960s. Many now sit idle or have been used for forestry, peat-harvesting, or agriculture. A previous United Nations Development Program project in Belarus restored more than 28,000 hectares (about 70,000 acres) of dried-out peatland. Work includes pulling out shrubs and trees that have sprung up in the affected areas and erecting dams and dykes to keep water in. The EU is spending 1.4 million euros ($1.9 million) on the project.