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Plus, Krakow out, Lviv still in the running to host 2022 Winter Olympics, and can anything stop rampant illegal logging in the Balkans?by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, Marketa Horazna, and Rebecca Johnson 27 May 2014
Kyiv Mayor-elect Vitali Klitschko has told the hundreds of demonstrators still keeping up their vigil on a central city square to go home, Reuters reports.
Former heavyweight boxing champion Klitschko, elected 25 May with around 56 percent of the vote, was a regular visitor and rousing speechmaker on the city’s main Independence Square, or Maidan, during the months of protests that eventually brought down former President Viktor Yanukovych.
Speaking 26 May alongside President-elect Petro Poroshenko, Klitschko said the protesters had won their fight.
“The main task of the Maidan has been achieved, we were saved from dictatorship. The barricades have fulfilled their function and must now be removed,” he said.
Klitschko promised to erect a monument to those who died defending Ukraine’s European values, AFP reports.
The mayor-elect acted on complaints from city residents about criminals and drunks on the barricade-filled square. One Kyiv resident told AFP, “We want [the new government] to finally remove this debris. We are tired of it,” adding, “it is time for our country to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The provisional authorities who took power after Yanukovych fled to Russia were hesitant to dismantle the Maidan camp for fear of upsetting the people who brought them to power, AFP writes.
Both Klitschko and Poroshenko vowed to defend the ideals of the Maidan protesters, Reuters writes, but the new president will have to work to show them he has moved on from the cronyism and corruption of the past: “Maidan diehards, who have camped out in all weather and braved snipers’ bullets, have mixed views of Poroshenko, noting that as a former minister in Yanukovych’s government, he hardly counts as a new face in Ukrainian politics.”
Tension appeared to have died down 26 May in the capital of Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region, Khorog, after several days of violent incidents and riots, Radio Free Europe reports.
Nearly cut off from the rest of Tajikistan, Gorno-Badakhshan borders Afghanistan and, according to EurasiaNet.org, “is a pit stop on smuggling routes for drugs, gems, cigarettes, and possibly people.” The rioting broke out after a shootout between police and “alleged drug dealers” 21 May in which at least two people died.
“That set off a rampage in Khorog, with residents – angered at what they called the authorities’ heavy hand – burning government buildings, including a police station, the prosecutor’s office, and a court building,” EurasiaNet.org writes.
On 24 May at least one person was killed when protesters attacked security forces, according to RFE. Activists and authorities agreed 25 May to investigate the incidents and the protesters left the town’s main square the same day.
Kyrgyzstan reacted to the 21 May incident by beefing up security at its border with Gorno-Badakhshan, Asia-Plus reported 23 May, citing Kyrgyzstani media.
Flare-ups of separatist activity have occurred in Gorno-Badakhshan since the civil war in the early 1990s when the region’s small Pamiri minority fought for the region’s autonomy. The worst took place in 2012 when thousands of troops were sent in to quell local militants and large demonstrations broke out in Khorog.
“During the 2012 military operations, authorities tried, and mostly failed, to unseat several local warlords suspected of drug trafficking. Some Western analysts see the violence as part of a turf war, with the authorities trying to take a larger piece of the drug-smuggling pie for themselves,” EurasiaNet.org writes.
Two of the 766 newly elected members of the European Parliament are Roma, bringing to five the number of Roma ever elected to the body, according to Romea.cz.
Speaking about her victory, Post told Reuters that Europe’s 15 million Roma “live as if it is a state of war, in the peaceful Europe of 2014,” a situation that is “not acceptable” and “shameful.” She is the third Romani woman to win election to the EU legislature. Hungary’s Viktoria Mohacsi served in the 2004-2009 parliament and her fellow countrywoman Livia Jaroka was elected in 2004 and again in 2009.
Draghici, who studied and played music in the United States, told EUObserver in April the issue of anti-Roma feelings among his countrymen was more complicated than it may seem. Commenting on the poll finding that three-fourths of Romanians would note vote for a Romani European Parliament candidate, he said, “Life is not only studies,” adding, “I don't think voters will not vote for a candidate because they are Roma.”
Krakow voters rejected the idea of hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics in a referendum, prompting the city to withdraw its official bid, Reuters reports.
The contenders for the 2022 Games have been narrowed down to Almaty, Beijing, Oslo, and – despite the current crisis in Ukraine – Lviv.
Almost 70 percent of those who voted in the 25 May referendum were against Krakow’s bid to bring the Olympics to Poland for the first time.
“I think it is bad news, but this was the citizens’ will,” Mayor Jacek Majchrowski said.
The prospect of Lviv staying in contention is uncertain as Ukraine struggles for its very survival, the Associated Press reported in April.
“Currently our dream is on hold due to the current circumstances in Ukraine,” Sergei Goncharov, the chief executive of the Ukrainian bid, told the AP. He said operations had been cut to a minimum and promotion suspended until the country emerged from crisis.
“We remain convinced of the strong economic and political impact of holding the games,” Goncharov said. “It would help our integration process in Europe and the world, which is important at the moment.”
Lviv is the major city of western Ukraine, where most residents favor joining the European Union.
Krakow’s hopes took a blow in April when the head of the bid team, former snowboarder Jagna Marczulajtis-Walczak, resigned amid claims her husband tried to bribe journalists to produce favorable stories, the AP reported.
The International Olympic Committee could cut the current runners down to as few as two when it meets in Lausanne, Switzerland in July.
Last year Romania proposed tougher laws to tackle the chronic problem of illegal logging. Balkan Insight reported that the country with almost two-thirds of Europe’s remaining virgin forest outside of Russia saw 280,000 hectares (1,000 square miles) lost or degraded by illegal timber cutting in the previous decade, according to Greenpeace.
The bill setting higher penalties for illegal logging awaits a vote in the lower house of parliament, and meanwhile, wildcat logging continues unabated, AFP reported earlier this year. And rampant tree cutting goes on across the Balkans. “[B]ig business, corrupt officials, lack of investment, and institutional indifference are combining to deprive the region” of a major resource, Balkan Insight reports.
A probe by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network found that “Although much of the activity is driven by a lack of fuel, organized criminals are also moving into the business.”
The Romanian government registered more than 30,000 cases of illegal logging between 2009 and 2011, according to Balkan Insight, casting doubt on the official claim that the trade is declining. The country has about 6.4 million hectares of forest – an area the size of Latvia – but some nearby countries can ill afford to see their less abundant timber resources destroyed by unregulated cutting.
The problem is acute in Bosnia and Bulgaria, AFP reported, with Bulgaria recently passing a law punishing offenders with permit revocation, fines of up to $7,000, and prison terms of up to five years.
“In Romania, there have been no arrests for illegal logging, something activists believe wouldn’t be possible without official help,” Balkan Insight writes.
Romanian authorities are working on changes to the forestry code, particularly to clamp down on the fraudulent use of permits to transport timber.
The president of a Romanian forest owners’ association told AFP that timber companies lay a false paper trail to cover their tracks.
“The illegally cut wood is often accompanied by seemingly legal documents that are actually issued by dummy companies,” he said.
“When the authorities eventually decide to check on these companies, it is too late, they no longer exist and their managers are gone.”