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A Researcher Vanishes in Tajikistan, Ukraine’s Poroshenko Gets a Boost

Plus, Macedonia gets a new-old government, and Czech scientists say they have a Lyme disease vaccine.

by S. Adam Cardais, Barbara Frye, and Madeleine Stern 20 June 2014

1. Demands grow for information about researcher detained in Tajikistan


Pressure is mounting on the government of Tajikistan to reveal the whereabouts of an academic who was detained by security forces earlier this week.


Alexander Sodiqov, a citizen of Tajikistan who lives in Canada, was researching conflict resolution in Central Asia, reports.


He had just met with opposition leader Alim Sherzamonov in Badakhshan, a restive southeastern region that borders Afghanistan, when agents from the secret police took him into custody on 16 June, according to the website.


Alexander Sodiqov has reportedly been seen only in what appear to be two staged television appearances since his 16 June detention.


“The State Committee for National Security later made a statement confirming the arrest that suggested Sodiqov had been involved in espionage on behalf of an unidentified foreign government, but officials have since refused to confirm he is in their custody,” a Human Rights Watch statement says.


The only public sightings of Sodiqov since have been two alleged appearances on local television – most recently on 19 June – looking pale and confused, reports, citing accounts in Tajikistani media. He made a statement that appeared to be edited to discredit Sherzamonov and the Aga Khan, a Shia Muslim leader and global philanthropist who has been a benefactor to the region.


Petitions have been drawn up demanding Sodiqov’s release. Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are among the groups urging the authorities in Tajikistan to shed light on his whereabouts. The refusal to acknowledge that the researcher is in their custody, “placing [him] outside the protection of the law,” is a violation of international law, Human Rights Watch notes.


Sodiqov is working on a doctorate at the University of Toronto, and his trip to Central Asia was part of a study for the University of Exeter.


The director of the country’s secret police, Saimumin Yatimov, warned on 19 June that foreign spies were afoot in Tajikistan, reports, citing Radio Free Europe’s local service.


“Under the guise of nongovernmental organizations, they use methods that don't benefit the people of Tajikistan. In Tajikistan there are a few spy services – whose status I will not comment on here – that cooperate with organized criminals and spend big sums of money. They prepare them for the fight against our security, undermining the safety of our people,” Yatimov said.


2. Ukrainian parliament backs key Poroshenko appointees


Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has won strong support for three top cabinet posts that will play a key role in steering Ukraine through political and economic crisis.


On 19 June, more than two-thirds of legislators backed the president’s nominations for foreign minister, central bank chief, and prosecutor-general – “an unusual level of support,” Reuters reports.


Previously Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Pavlo Klimkin will help lead Ukraine’s European integration as foreign minister, as well as efforts to reach a settlement with pro-Russia rebels in the east. As central bank chief, longtime investment banker Valeria Hontareva will play a key role in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and other lenders aimed at shoring up Ukraine’s debt-ridden economy. Vitaly Yarema, formerly a deputy prime minister, is Ukraine’s anti-corruption tsar as prosecutor-general, a top law-enforcement post.


“The fight against corruption is as important as that for peace,” Poroshenko said in nominating Yarema, Reuters reports.


The president must still appoint a defense minister and state security chief, two key posts as government forces clash with the eastern separatists. Thursday’s appointments came amid fresh fighting near the town of Krasny Liman after rebels rejected Poroshenko’s 18 June offer of a cease fire if they disarmed, Radio Free Europe reports.


Later on 19 June, Poroshenko met with officials in two key eastern regions to explain his peace plan.


3. Macedonia’s Gruevski wins a fourth term


Macedonia’s parliament approved a new conservative government 19 June led by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, though a political standoff with the opposition drags on.


Nikola Gruevski
Now in his fourth consecutive term, Gruevski pledged to focus on the economy, European and NATO integration, and interethnic relations, among other priorities, AFP reports.


The opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia sat out the parliamentary vote. Save a single deputy, the party boycotted parliament in May after alleging fraud in April’s general and presidential elections.


In power since 2006, Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE party won a strong majority in April and has rejected the opposition’s calls for new polls. International observers said the vote was generally free and fair, despite issues such as biased media coverage, according to AFP.


Gruevski is to meet soon with opposition leader Zoran Zaev for the first time in an attempt to defuse the crisis, Balkan Insight reports.


Gruevski’s new cabinet includes no major changes, Balkan Insight reports. In terms of an agenda, the government is courting around 30 foreign investments that it says could create 10,000 jobs in the years ahead.


Parliament approved the new government 77-6, with no abstentions, according to Balkan Insight.


4. Czech researchers develop Lyme disease vaccine


Scientists in the Czech Republic have developed a new vaccine against Lyme disease, Radio Prague reports.


The vaccine, which was developed by a team of scientists working with Czech pharmaceutical firm Bioveta, is expected to receive approval for veterinary use within the next four years.


The researchers say the vaccine is formulated in such a way that it may be suitable for human use after some adjustments.


“It is not a whole cell vaccine, like current veterinary vaccines, but is a recombinant vaccine; this means it is far safer, with a lower risk of side effects for people,” Jaroslav Turanek, a member of the research team, was quoted as saying.


If the vaccine is approved for use on humans, it will be the only Lyme disease vaccine on the market. The only other licensed vaccine, produced by U.S. pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, was discontinued in 2002 over concerns about adverse affects, according to the National Institutes of Health.


The Czech research team hopes the drug will be made available for human use within six years.


5. Broke, TV Nova sends staff packing


Serbia’s TV Nova has laid off its entire staff of 90 after failing to win a national frequency from the broadcasting regulator, Balkan Insight reports.


In an emergency meeting, director Dejan Jocic told the staff that the station had run out of money. Government officials had reportedly promised Jocic a national frequency before Nova launched on cable in December, but – evidently frustrated with waiting – the station’s foreign investors pulled the plug, Balkan Insight reports, citing an unnamed staffer.


Many staff members had left established national broadcasters for TV Nova.


“I was assured this would become a respected TV station … and now I am left on the street,” one employee told Balkan Insight.


Aspiring to be a major broadcaster of news, sports, and entertainment, TV Nova initially failed to gain a national broadcast frequency last summer. Under EU pressure, Serbia’s Broadcasting Agency opted instead to use an available frequency to prepare for the switchover from analog to digital, Balkan Insight reported in December.


Led by Matthias Dietel, Dutch company BD Media Invest is the money behind TV Nova.


“I believe in Serbia and in the people who work here, so [TV Nova] will have great significance,” Dietel said in December, according to Balkan Insight. “I have tried such endeavors across the world, and my intuition has never betrayed me.”

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Barbara Frye is TOL’s managing editor. Madeleine Stern is a TOL editorial intern.

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