Plus, an Austrian bribery trial puts Baku’s bankers under scrutiny and Kazakhstani women demand the right to wear sexy underwear.by Ioana Caloianu, Sarah Fluck, Aliona Kachkan, Ky Krauthamer, and Karlo Marinovic 18 February 2014
After several days of relative calm in Kyiv, protesters armed with stones and Molotov cocktails clashed with police again today as opposition deputies called for a constitutional change to weaken presidential authority, the BBC writes.
Unconfirmed reports of the deaths of three protesters began circulation at midday today. Olga Bogomolets, a physician who coordinates the protest camp’s medical service, said three bodies were lying in a building occupied by protesters, Radio Free Europe’s Ukrainian Service reports.
In a statement, the Ukrainian Security Service gave protesters until 6 p.m. local time to stop the "outrages" or vowed to "restore order by all means permitted by law."
The opposition wants to restore the 2004 constitution under which parliament rather than the president appoints the prime minister, most cabinet members, and regional governors.
Those powers were transferred to the presidency under a revised constitution that took effect shortly after Yanukovych became president in 2010.
The renewed violence broke out the day after Russia announced the resumption of its $15 billion aid package to Ukraine 17 February, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Russia will buy $2 billion worth of Ukrainian euro-denominated bonds this week, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said. Moscow held up the package last month after President Viktor Yanukovych dismissed the government headed by Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, seen as a Moscow ally.
In return for the aid, another pro-Russian premier will likely be appointed, Standard Bank analyst Timothy Ash told the Journal.
The Russian announcement came the same day that Ukrainian opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. Klitschko said he again urged Merkel to slap sanctions on Yanukovych and his inner circle, RFE reports.
Kosovo put on a brave show to celebrate six years of independence 17 February, but the festivities were overshadowed by the Balkan country’s economic problems, Balkan Insight writes.
Although the former Serbian province’s international recognition is increasing, prospects for membership in international organizations such as the UN and EU remain remote.
Prime Minister Hashim Thaci expressed confidence that Serbia would recognize the country soon. The two countries reached a historic deal in April that saw Serbia relinquish some of its control over the Serb-majority north of Kosovo and clear the way for the opening of accession talks with the EU.
Kosovo is still facing economic woes, which include an unemployment rate of 30 percent and bad job prospects for the 70 percent of the population aged 30 and under, Balkan Insight writes.
Once seen as an economic lifeline, ties with Albania have not lived up to expectations, Reuters writes.
Albania promised to devote its port of Shengjin to goods bound to and from Kosovo, but the small Adriatic port processed only about 4,500 tons of such goods in 2013, the port manager told Reuters – the equivalent of one or one and half ships out of 130 serviced that year.
Only 3 percent of Kosovo’s imports and 11 percent of its exports pass through Albania, Reuters writes, and the new Tirana-Pristina motorway sees little commercial traffic.
A former deputy governor of the Austrian central bank and eight other defendants went on trial 17 February for bribing Azerbaijani and Syrian bankers, Bloomberg reports.
The nine are accused of conspiring to pay about $19 million in bribes from 2005 to 2011 to win banknote contracts for a printing company, OeBS, affiliated with the central bank. Prosecutor Volkert Sackmann said the scheme involved kickbacks of as much as 20 percent added to the contracts.
“It’s the Azeri people who had to pay, which is why we’re dealing with breach of trust,” Sackmann said.
Former Austrian central bank deputy governor Wolfgang Duchatczek resigned in June after being charged in the case and suspended from his post, CentralBanking.com reported.
A lawyer representing Duchatczek said in June his client was innocent and had been the first to reveal the bribery.
In court yesterday another lawyer, Herbert Eichenseder, said Duchatczek believed the payments were commissions, Bloomberg writes. Duchatczek chaired the supervisory board of OeBS at the time of the alleged bribery.
OeBS’ former managing director, Michael Wolf, described by Reuters as the main defendant, admits that bribes were paid, Wolf’s lawyer said.
In its June story, Bloomberg said OeBS ran up large losses in the mid-2000s and began looking for new customers. According to the indictment, the scheme to pay kickbacks to Azerbaijani officials was designed to “generate orders from Azerbaijan’s central bank for as long as possible, not the least to avoid that the OeBS has to fire employees.”
Women in the Russia-led Eurasian Customs Union are worried that lace underwear may soon be unobtainable. In Kazakhstan, 30 women were arrested 16 February for holding a street protest and chanting “Freedom to panties!” the Associated Press reports.
The furor broke out over a Customs Union consumer protection rule that could see most women’s underwear in the 170-million-strong trade bloc disappear from stores. In effect since 2012 but not yet enforced, according to The Moscow Times, the rule says underwear must exceed a 6 percent threshold for moisture absorption.
The synthetic materials used in many lace panties do not meet the threshold. The ban will end the production, import, and sale of synthetic lace panties when it takes effect in July in Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, the Moscow paper writes, citing Gazeta.ru.
“Analysts have estimated that 90 percent of [underwear] products would disappear from shelves, if the ban goes into effect this summer as planned,” the AP warns.
The Russian Textile Businesses Union estimates annual underwear sales at more than $4 billion, according to the AP.
The Russian Industry and Trade Ministry earlier said it would seek to quash the rule after underwear makers complained, The Moscow Times writes.
The Eurasian Economic Commission, the regulatory body of the Customs Union, said 17 February it was preparing a statement on the ban, according to the AP.
Lithuania’s electoral commission has given the go-ahead for a referendum that would ban the sale of land to foreigners, setting the scene for a potential clash with the EU, Reuters reports.
On 17 February the commission said referendum backers had submitted valid signatures of more than 10 percent of the population, the threshold for a plebiscite to be held.
After joining the EU in 2004, Lithuania agreed to lift the restrictions on land sales by this May to comply with the union’s principle of the free movement of capital. But conservatives and rural dwellers have kept up a campaign to write the ban into the constitution, although it could mean restrictions on EU funds and fines by the European Court of Justice, according to Reuters.
Polls indicate that two-thirds of Lithuanians oppose land sales to foreigners.
“Ownership of land is an emotional subject in a country that has suffered a string of occupations through its history,” Reuters writes. Referendum backers also say opening the land market to foreigners would drive prices up.
An adviser to President Dalia Grybauskaite, who opposes the ban, said the real goal of the referendum was to force Lithuania out of the EU, the Lithuania Tribune reports.