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Ukraine to Open Refugee Corridors, Czechs Warn Albania Over CEZ Affair

Plus, Turkmenistan is edgy over increasing cross-border militant attacks and a court says Hungary’s controversial Jobbik party is not extremist.

by Ky Krauthamer, Marketa Horazna, Rebecca Johnson, and Madeleine Stern 10 June 2014

1. Poroshenko demands assistance for civilians caught in Ukraine fighting

 

As fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, newly inaugurated President Petro Poroshenko today ordered that humanitarian corridors be created for citizens to safely flee areas of conflict, the BBC reports.

 

Officials say fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels has left more than 200 people dead in what Kyiv calls a “counter-terror operation” against separatists who have seized several government buildings and have declared independence in Donetsk and Luhansk.

 

Petro Poroshenko holds a ceremonial mace during his swearing-in ceremony on 7 June. Photo: Ukrainian president’s official website.
 

 

On 7 June, the day he was sworn in, Poroshenko said “Russian militants” would be given safe passage out of the country.

 

The president also ordered that transportation, food, and medical supplies be provided for local officials to minister to the expected influx of displaced people, according to a statement on his website.

 

Reports of large numbers of people crossing the Ukrainian-Russian border remain unconfirmed. Authorities in Russia’s Rostov region declared a humanitarian emergency in nine border districts last week, but Ukrainian officials denied that civilians were fleeing, The Moscow Times reported. Ukrainians are permitted to stay visa-free in Russia for 90 days in a 180-day period.

 

The Russian ombudsman for children’s rights, Pavel Astakhov, is one of those claiming that a refugee crisis exists on the border. He has been tweeting regularly and posting on Instagram about people he says are refugees coming into the Rostov region.

 

2. Concern rises in Turkmenistan over alleged Taliban incursions

 

Several militants were killed in a 4 June attack on a village in Afghanistan’s Badghis Province near the Turkmenistani border, Radio Free Europe reports, citing the local chief of security. Six Afghan border guards were reported wounded.

 

The incident is the latest in a string of clashes in the area involving militant groups. Taliban representatives denied responsibility for a previous attack in Badghis Province in which three Turkmenistan border guards were killed. However, some accounts say Taliban-affiliated groups led by ethnic Uzbeks are active in the area, RFE’s Qishloq Ovozi blog wrote after a 24 May incident in which three Turkmenistani troops were killed in a fight with militants who crossed the two countries’ border from Afghanistan’s Faryab Province, northeast of Badghis.

 

Map: United Nations Cartographic Section

 

 

The Taliban is seeking entry points into Central Asia and may be shifting its incursions from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan, an officer with the Turkmenistani State Border Service told the U.S.-military sponsored website Central Asia Online in an article published 2 June, before the latest border incident.

 

An acting district commander in the Faryab Province, Asyl Khan, said the attackers in the 24 May incident were militants from the “Topan group.” The website cites unnamed sources as saying the group serves under “insurgent field commander Ghulam Destghir.”

 

The border guard officer from Turkmenistan, who requested that his name not be used, told Central Asia Online he and his colleagues expect more clashes with militants but do not believe the Taliban will launch a full-scale offensive on the border.

 

Turkmenistan’s military is reportedly upgrading its weapons and equipment and erecting electrified fences along most of the Afghan border.

 

Turkmenistani state television reported 2 June that President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov reprimanded the border service commander and his deputy for poor performance, according to EurasiaNet.org.

 

3. Bishkek police quash protest over gas shortages

 

Kyrgyzstani police detained 10 organizers of a protest in Bishkek 9 June against Gazprom’s purchase of the national gas supplier and continued shortages of Uzbekistan-sourced gas, RFE reports.

 

The protests come at a time of increasing frustration with gas supply problems in Kyrgyzstan. Earlier this year Gazprom purchased the bankrupt state gas company and shortly afterward Uzbekistan stopped gas deliveries with no explanation. Kyrgyzstani leaders claim their repeated attempts to contact their Uzbekistani counterparts to resolve the dispute have been ignored, EurasiaNet.org reports.

 

A resolution to the situation is in the works, brokered by Gazprom, an official of a gas distributor in Osh said today, according to the 24.kg news agency.

 

Gazprom is negotiating with the Uzbekistani side on restoring the flow of gas to southern Kyrgyzstan, he said.

 

Bishkek has said it would prefer to resolve the dispute by diplomatic means, but some in the country have called for direct action. Some Kyrgyzstani officials have mooted a tit-for-tat gas shutoff to an Uzbek exclave, EurasiaNet.org writes, and the government may temporarily close a canal that delivers irrigation water across the border for what it says are repairs, the Times of Central Asia reports.

 

First Deputy Prime Minister Taiyrbek Sarpashev said last week the government would not accept a parliamentary committee’s proposal to cut off irrigation water in response to Uzbekistan’s stoppage of gas.

 

At yesterday’s rally in Bishkek, however, activists showed their frustration with the gas crisis in stronger terms, RFE notes. Protesters burned dried animal dung, a traditional Central Asian fuel, and attempted to deliver gift-wrapped dung to senior officials. 

 

4. Dispute with Prague could foil Albania’s EU bid

 

The Czech Republic is prepared to veto Albania’s bid for EU candidacy over a commercial dispute, an anonymous source close to the European Commission told iHNED.cz.

 

The European Commission recommended Albania for candidate status 4 June, five years after the country applied to become a full EU member. EU leaders will discuss the matter at their biannual summit 26-27 June.

 

Several members have reservations about illegal migration and crime in Albania but only Prague is prepared to use its veto to scotch the country’s latest attempt to become an official candidate, the source said.

 

The Czech government wants to resolve a long-running dispute with Tirana over the Albanian subsidiary of Czech energy giant CEZ. Two years ago CEZ tried to pull out of the country claiming it was stymied by widespread electricity theft and unpaid bills. Albanian authorities responded by briefly arresting several CEZ employees.

 

In 2013 Albanian regulators revoked the license of CEZ’s local subsidiary, CEZ Shperndarje and put the company under state administration, the Czech News Agency writes. The company responded by launching an international arbitration proceeding.

 

CEZ, which is 70 percent owned by the Czech government, bought a majority stake in the Shperndarje electricity distributor in 2009.

 

The company, active throughout southeastern Europe and the Caucasus, also faces problems in Bulgaria, where protests over alleged high prices charged by it and other foreign-owned power companies contributed to the fall of the government in 2013. 

 

5. It’s the law: Hungary’s Jobbik is not a far-right party

 

Hungarian media are already in politicians’ bad books for their coordinated protests against a proposed new tax on their advertising revenues. Now it seems news reporters may be forced to describe political parties strictly on their own terms – literally – following a ruling last week by the country’s supreme court.

 

The case concerned the commercial TV station ATV’s use of the phrase “parliamentary far-right party” in a news broadcast to describe the Jobbik party, The Wall Street Journal’s Emerging Europe blog wrote 4 June. Although Jobbik is often tagged with such labels as extremist and anti-Semitic, and is apparently so far to the right that even France’s National Front leader Marine Le Pen ruled out joining the two parties’ forces at the European Parliament, the court overturned a lower court ruling in favor of ATV.

 

“Jobbik doesn’t consider itself an extreme-right party thus referring to it with the adjective ‘far right’ constitutes an act of expressing an opinion, making it possible for the viewer to associate it with a radical movement and induce a negative impression,” the court stated.

 

Jobbik accused the station of violating a statutory prohibition on expressing opinion in news reports in a 2012 newscast and the powerful Hungarian media authority agreed, EUObserver reports. ATV got the complaint thrown out in a lower court but that ruling has now been overturned by the supreme court.

 

The station argued that the offending phrase was factual rather than opinion.

 

“This [ruling] only applies to TV and radio broadcasting as they are obliged to provide impartial news for a certain period of air time,” EUObserver writes.

 

In 2012 Jobbik sued prominent Holocaust scholar Laszlo Karsai for calling it a neo-Nazi party, winning a decision in one court, only for a higher court to overrule the finding.

 

Jobbik won 21 percent of the vote in national elections two months ago, a three-point gain over the 2010 elections, making it the third-largest party in parliament. Last month’s European Parliament elections saw the party win 15 percent of the vote and pick up three of Hungary’s 21 seats.

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Marketa Horazna, Rebecca Johnson, and Madeleine Stern are TOL editorial interns.
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