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Plus, Kazakhstan's currency plunges and Albania gives its beleaguered wildlife a break.by S. Adam Cardais, Sarah Fluck, and Lily Sieradzki 12 February 2014
1. Bosnian protesters call for government's resignation as unrest continues
Bosnia's emerging opposition has upped the stakes in calling for the government's resignation, Bloomberg reports.
The demand came as anti-government protests continued 11 February in Sarajevo and other towns in the Federation, Bosnia's majority Bosniak (Muslim) and Croat section, in the country's worst unrest since the 1992-1995 conflict.
“Demonstrations will continue today,” organizer Zoran Ivancic told Bloomberg via phone from Sarajevo. "They will continue every day until our requests are met, which primarily means the resignation of the central government."
Legislators say the constitution must be amended before setting a date, according to Bloomberg, and officials in the Serb-majority part of Bosnia have been unwilling to consider early elections.
Federation Prime Minister Nermin Niksic said he will not step down unless snap polls are called, Balkan Insight reports.
Hundreds of people, including police officers, have been hurt in the unrest that erupted last week in Tuzla, northern Bosnia, over the closure of several factories. It quickly spread to other cities as broader demonstrations against Bosnia's abysmal economy and a toxic political climate that has paralyzed the government.
The U.S. and European Union have condemned the violence. Bosnian Serb leaders, meanwhile, say the protests aim to destabilize the Serb section, according to Balkan Insight.
After the 1992-1995 conflict, two semi-independent political entities were created in Bosnia – the Federation and Serb Republic – to promote power sharing among the country's three dominant ethnic groups. But the complex structure has instead led to political paralysis and stagnation.
2. Nine Serbs convicted in 1999 Kosovo atrocities
Nine former members of the "Jackals" paramilitary group were found guilty 11 February of killing more than 120 ethnic Albanian civilians during the Kosovo war, Radio Free Europe reports.
Serbia's war crimes court handed down prison sentences ranging from two to the maximum 20 years. Two other defendants were acquitted, according to RFE.
The court found the nine men guilty of attacks against civilians in four Kosovo villages in the spring of 1999. In one of the worst atrocities of the 1998-1999 conflict, the Jackals killed 41 people in the village of Cuska, where they locked the men in a house and set it on fire, RFE reports.
“The men carried out attacks against the civilian population, expelled civilians from houses, separating men from women and killing them," presiding Judge Snezana Nikolic Garotic said, Balkan Insight reports.
The court said the Jackals operated under the command of the then-Yugoslav army.
All 11 defendants pleaded not guilty. Both the defense and prosecution may appeal within 30 days. The Serbian war crimes prosecutor said he would appeal the two acquittals, Reuters reports.
3. Kazakhstanis slam currency devaluation as businesses shutter
Social networks lit up in Kazakhstan after the government allowed a snap currency devaluation that will spark inflation, EurasiaNet.org reports.
"The government of my country just broke my heart," said online commenter Zauresh Amanzholova.
EurasiaNet.org points out that the move comes just a month after National Bank Chairman Kairat Kelimbetov again denied speculation that Kazakhstan would stop supporting the tenge. Kazakhstanis lashed out online because they will now have to pay more for food and other imports that are priced in dollars.
“Consumer goods are to a large extent imported from abroad, and the prices for all of those are going to shoot up markedly, which is going to push up inflation,” Central Asia expert Alex Nice of the Economist Intelligence Unit told RFE.
The devaluation will also hit businesses that sell imports. As a result, many stores and shops shuttered across the country 11 February. Several car dealers suspended operations until the tenge is stabilized, according to RFE.
At a press conference, Kelimbetov rebuffed calls for his resignation, defended the devaluation, and promised to try to keep inflation at 6 percent to 8 percent this year.
4. Albania stops hunting for two years
Albania has enacted a two-year ban on all hunting of birds and mammals, National Geographic reports.
The hunting moratorium is an attempt to protect the country’s endangered species, including brown bears and eagles. Environment Minister Lefter Koka said earlier this year that these species have seen a dramatic fall in numbers.
Migratory birds are also under pressure from hunting, according to Euronatur, an environmental organization.
“After a flight over the Mediterranean that costs them all their strength the birds arrive on the coast completely exhausted to find not rest but a battery of hunters lying in wait for them,” the group says on its website. “Hunting laws fall miles short of any European standard. There is a lack of provisions to protect important bird habitats and a general disregard for law.”
"We have been forced to adopt strict measures to protect endangered species from illegal hunting," Koka told AFP.
Until now, hunting in Albania has been widespread and loosely enforced. Thousands of people travel to Albania to hunt each year, according to AFP. Police estimate 75,000 hunting rifles are registered for use in the country, as well as possibly higher numbers of illegal weapons, the news agency reports.
Hunting regulation has fallen primarily to the Environment Ministry, which could do little except impose fines. The new ban will involve the state police for more direct enforcement, in addition to suspending all hunting licenses and use of hunting grounds, according to National Geographic.
The shift toward tightening environmental policy occurred after elections in June, the magazine notes. Spase Shumka, board member of Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania, also credited a July National Geographic article by best-selling author Jonathan Franzen with raising awareness of the declining bird population.
5. EU probe into Gazprom nears completion
After two years, the EU is readying to release an investigation into the business practices of Russian energy giant Gazprom.
The findings will likely be ugly, Edward Lucas, international editor at The Economist and author of Deception: Spies, Lies, and How Russia Deceives the West, told Radio Free Europe
“I think we are going to see, first of all, a spectacular lump of bad publicity for Gazprom, because the complaints will list all of the bad things that Gazprom has been doing, then we will have fines, which may be very substantial, and there will also be the opportunity for the companies that have been overcharged for gas to launch lawsuits against Gazprom over the [extortionate] prices that they have been charging,” Lucas said.
Russia is the main importer of gas and oil to the EU. Government-controlled Gazprom has long dominated gas supplies to Eastern and Central Europe, owning both the means of production and the pipeline network, in violation of EU law. In September 2012, Brussels began investigating whether Gazprom is abusing its dominant position in the region, which pays the highest prices for gas in Europe.
If Gazprom is found to have broken EU laws, it could face a fine of up to $14 billion, Reuters reports. The investigation will likely be finished in the spring, the EU’s energy commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, told Reuters in November.
As well as bad publicity, RFE notes that the findings could give competitors ammunition for lawsuits against Gazprom. The news agency says Russian official have been trying to reach a settlement with the EU before the findings go public.
For its part, Gazprom counters that the probe is “a politically motivated attempt to bring down EU gas prices,” according to Reuters.