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Plus, Kyrgyzstan suspends a major new refinery and Mongolia launches its biggest wind farm.by Ioana Caloianu, Sarah Fluck, Barbara Frye, Annabel Lau, and Karlo Marinovic 20 February 2014
The death toll in clashes in Ukraine’s capital has inched upward as violence broke out again this morning, with some on the scene and abroad warning of a grave escalation.
RIA Novosti reports that at least 28 people, including at least 10 police officers, have now been killed. The news agency cites eyewitness accounts of “police officers being taken hostage and beaten by radical elements among the protesters” and reports of police snipers firing into crowds.
The mayor of Kyiv has quit the ruling Party of Regions to protest the violence, and opposition leader Vitali Klitschko was calling on members of parliament to convene this afternoon to resolve the crisis, according to Radio Free Europe’s live blog on the clashes. Klitschko also repeated calls for President Viktor Yanukovych to step down as “the only way to stop the violence.”
The Telegraph’s Roland Oliphant tweeted that he had seen people killed by a single bullet to the head, evidence of professional snipers at work. Reuters posted a photo of what it said was a protester aiming a sniper rifle, while Polish television aired footage of a police officer firing an automatic weapon, RFE reports.
The apparent move on the part of the security forces from “rubber bullets” to live ammunition, and the reported arming of the protesters, could have huge consequences, Oliphant said in a Telegraph video report. “The worry is that once live rounds are used, that means this is going to turn from street protests into firefights, which will eventually descend into a real civil war,” he said.
As black smoke filled the air nearby, the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland, and France met with Yanukovych this morning ahead of a meeting later today in Brussels to determine what, if any, sanctions the European Union should impose on Ukraine.
EU foreign ministers are working on a document to impose “targeted measures against Ukrainians responsible for the violence in the country,” without naming names, according to RFE. It also calls for an “EU arms embargo on Ukraine and a ban on exports of equipment used for internal repression such as batons.”
Meanwhile, some of Ukraine’s neighbors are girding for a possible influx of refugees if the violence spreads. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said his country will “accept ‘larger numbers’ of Ukrainian refugees and injured,” Bloomberg Businessweek reports. Poland’s border with Ukraine stretches for 529 kilometers (329 miles). Hungary, which also shares a border with Ukraine, was reportedly making similar preparations.
Investment in Russia was down 7 percent in January compared with a year before, despite hopes that the Olympics would boost the tide, Reuters reports.
That news comes amid worries that the country is sliding into recession and as a global survey puts Russia atop the list for the incidence of financial crime, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The investment dip surprised analysts who in a Reuters poll had predicted a 0.5 percent uptick.
“The bad surprise is that we thought the Olympics preparation would help, at least in the first quarter of this year,” Natalia Orlova, an economist at Alfa-Bank in Russia, told the news agency. She compared the trend with 2009, when Russia’s economy shrank by 8 percent.
The signs of trouble were evident last year, analyst Dmitri Travin wrote recently, as the economy grew by only 1.3 percent despite high oil prices.
“The investment malaise underscores the poor state of Russia’s business climate and boosts the argument of those calling for structural reforms to diversify an economy that is too dependent on stagnant natural resource sectors,” Reuters writes, noting that the central bank is now predicting growth of less than 2 percent for at least two more years.
The investment and growth slump coincided with the slide of the Russian currency, which hit an all-time low of 49 rubles against the euro, RT reports.
The ruble’s volatility might be behind some of the investment slowdown, as some companies may have bought foreign currency instead of pouring money into operations, Orlova told Reuters.
Russia’s treacherous business environment is likely not helping. In a recent poll of more than 100 companies in the country, more than 60 percent told accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers that they had been the victim of financial crime in the past two years, The Journal reports. The global average was 37 percent, Eastern Europe’s 40 percent, and Africa’s 50 percent.
The most frequent economic crime in Russia, and globally, was “asset misappropriation,” according to the survey, but Russia far outdid the rest of the world in bribery and corruption.
Work has stopped at a new oil refinery in northern Kyrgyzstan in the face of environmental protests by nearby residents, EurasiaNet.org reports.
After the Chinese-built Junda refinery opened in January in the town of Kara-Balta, locals complained of “fetid smoke.” For three years before the plant opened, residents had told officials they feared it would pollute the air and a local river, according to the news site.
Although the government has set up a commission to monitor the refinery’s impact, parliament is pushing for its own oversight body, 24kg reports.
Construction on the 20.37-hectare (50-acre) facility started in September 2009 with an estimated $300 million in Chinese investment. The refinery is expected to process around 800,000 tons of crude oil imported from Kazakhstan and employ more than 2,000 locals, helping to ease Kyrgyzstan’s dependence on Russian oil and gas, The Times of Central Asia reports.
Kyrgyzstan’s government said Junda will restart when the disagreements have been resolved, while the Economy Ministry said the shutdown was a planned part of a trial run for the facility, according to the newspaper.
The refinery row, with its lack of dialogue with the community and suspicion of a foreign investor, echoes a dispute over the Canadian-owned Kumtor gold mine in Kyrgyzstan’s eastern mountains, EurasiaNet.org notes. Environmental issues have also been raised in that case, as well as accusations that the protests are a smokescreen for Kyrgyzstani efforts to squeeze more money out of the Canadian firm or expropriate the mine altogether.
Mongolia is increasingly tapping into its renewable energy resources, launching a major wind power project in the Gobi Desert, Bloomberg reports.
Slated to begin operations in late 2014, the Sainshand wind farm will be Mongolia’s largest, generating 190 gigawatt hours of electricity annually, according to a press release from Ferrostaal Industrial Projects GmbH, a German project management company and the majority investor. That amounts to about 5 percent of the electricity generated in Mongolia in 2010.
Ferrostaal is putting $120 million into the project.
Mongolia has been looking for alternatives to coal, the widespread use of which use has earned Ulaanbaatar a World Health Organization ranking as the world’s second most polluted city. Government initiatives such as the distribution of more energy-efficient coal stoves have helped little, and pollution is responsible for a quarter of all deaths registered in the Mongolian capital.
Wind speeds averaging 7.5 to 8.5 meters per second (16.8 to 19 miles per hour) make wind energy one of Mongolia’s most promising alternatives to fossil fuels, according to Ferrostaal. The country, which inaugurated a slightly smaller wind farm last year, hopes to rely on wind power for one-fifth of its energy needs by 2020.
The governing body of European soccer has sanctioned teams in Serbia and Russia after fans displayed racist behavior at games, Reuters reports.
UEFA banned CSKA Moscow fans from attending the club’ next home game and mandated a partial stadium closure for Serbia’s under-21 national team.
The soccer federation said CSKA Moscow rooters displayed “multiple racist and far-right symbols” at a road match against Czech club Viktoria Plzen in December, Reuters writes. CSKA fans also allegedly yelled racist remarks at Manchester City’s Yaya Toure, who is from Ivory Coast, at an October Champions League contest.
“Due to the fact that CSKA Moscow had previous records concerning the racist behavior of their supporters, they have been ordered to play their next UEFA competition match as host club behind closed doors,” the federation said, according to Reuters.
CSKA Moscow was also fined 50,000 euros ($69,000).
This could be damaging to the Serbian club, which is in second place in its group in pursuit of the under-21 European championship finals next year, AFP reports.
Croatia’s Josip Simunic was hit in December with a 10-match ban after he shouted a pro-Nazi salute at the playoffs against Iceland last month, the Guardian reported at the time. As a result, he will miss the World Cup finals.