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Macedonia’s Political Crisis Turns Violent, Lithuania Runs Military Drills Around LNG Terminal

Plus, another opposition leader is sentenced in Azerbaijan and Hungarian xenophobia is highest in more than a decade.

by Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, Evgeny Deulin, and Casper Frederiksen 7 May 2015

1. Macedonia’s wire-tap scandal morphs into street violence


A taped recording that Macedonia’s opposition says proves the government covered up the circumstances of the beating death of a man in 2011 sparked violent demonstrations in Skopje this week, the BBC reports.


Gordana Jankuloska
The protests began peacefully on 5 May, with thousands of Macedonians gathering in front of the parliament building to demand the resignation of Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska and the government, Balkan Insight reports. But events degenerated when “violent groups” joined in, one local journalist told the BBC.


Some rights groups accused the police of using excessive force, beating up activists, and using tear gas, water cannons, and stun grenades, Balkan Insight writes in a separate report. But Jankuloska said police had reacted after protesters beat them with metal bars and threw stones, bottles, and eggs, the Associated Press reports.


The recording that spurred this week’s events purportedly reveals that the government sought to blame one rogue, off-duty Interior Ministry police officer for the beating death of 22-year-old Martin Neskovski in 2011.


Jankuloska described those claims as “monstrous” and accused opposition leader Zoran Zaev, who has been releasing a steady stream of such damaging tapes, of exploiting the young man's death for political gain, according to AP. The government insists the “tapes were cut, edited, and created by unnamed ‘foreign secret services’ ” in order to destabilize the country, according to Balkan Insight.



Neskovski’s death led to weeks of unrest, the website writes.


On 6 May, protests resumed on the streets near the government building, which have now been blocked by police, but didn’t see the same violent ending as the previous day, Balkan Insight reports.


2. Lithuania runs military exercises to guard gas facility


Lithuania’s military has launched exercises simulating an attack on a liquefied natural gas platform that officials say is aimed at fending off actions similar to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Reuters reports.


The 3,000 troops involved in the exercises will deal with a simulated explosion in a pipeline connected to the terminal, anchored at the Baltic Sea port of Klaipeda, while protesters circle the terminal in small boats, according to the news agency.


In addition, the soldiers will face armed groups who seize “local government buildings, weapons stockpiles, and airports to form a separatist government,” Reuters reports.


 "We try to learn from the Ukrainian and Crimean situation. ... We're not fearing anybody,” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite told Reuters.


The terminal itself, named Independence, was set up last year to wean the Baltic country off of Russian gas supplies and is a symbol of Lithuania’s efforts to insulate itself from decisions made at the Kremlin.


The Lithuanian exercises come as the Baltic countries report increased detections of Russian military aircraft and seagoing vessels near their borders. In January, Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national security adviser to U.S. President Jimmy Carter, warned a U.S. Senate panel that Russia could seize Riga and Tallinn in “one day.”


Meanwhile, NATO is carrying out its largest anti-submarine exercises this year in Norway’s North Sea waters. Craft from 11 countries are taking part, with submarines trying to approach ships undetected in a simulated attack.


3. Azerbaijan jails opposition leader who exposed corruption


An opposition leader has joined a growing list of government critics, activists, and journalists sentenced to prison in Azerbaijan.


Faradj Kerimli was sentenced to six and a half years in prison after being convicted of “large-scale narcotics dealing,” Radio Free Europe reports.


Kerimli is described variously as the deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat party or the deputy chairman of its youth wing. He ran the party’s social media pages, which his lawyer said he used to expose corruption in the regime of President Ilham Aliev, RFE reports.


Kerimli was detained in July while taking his mother to the doctor, Caucasian Knot reported at the time. His brother, Siraj Kerimli, had been arrested on charges of drug possession a week earlier.


Siraj Kerimli was sentenced in March to six years in prison.


Amnesty International deems both men prisoners of conscience.


“The charges against Siraj [Kerimli] are clearly a response to his brother’s political activities and criticism of the government. This sentence not only means an innocent man is going to prison, but it is intended as a warning to other activists and their families,” Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement at the time of Siraj Kerimli’s sentencing.


Amnesty noted that both men “were held incommunicado for some time in pretrial detention and denied access to the lawyer of their choice. During interrogation they were questioned about Faradj’s political activities and Facebook posts, rather than drugs. Both reported being beaten and tortured, allegations which have not been investigated.”


After Siraj Kerimli’s detention, police searched the family home and confiscated a laptop, the relevance of which to a drug case Kerimli’s lawyer had unsuccessfully asked the court to clarify.


4. Xenophobia on the rise in Hungary


Xenophobia in Hungary has reached unprecedented levels, according to recent research, Hungary Today reports.


In an April poll by the Tarki Social Research Institute, 46 percent of respondents opposed allowing any asylum seekers to enter the country, the highest percentage since the yearly survey was first conducted in 1992, and an increase from 39 percent in 2014.


Only 9 percent of those surveyed had friendly views of foreigners. The overwhelming majority, around 94 percent of respondents, declared a dislike of Arabs, closely followed by Roma, Chinese, Africans, and Romanians, all of whom were disliked by 70 percent to 80 percent of respondents.


Supporters of the far-right Jobbik party and the Socialists, as well as nonvoters, the unemployed, or residents of the southwestern Southern Transdanubia region were more xenophobic than the average.


Anti-foreigner sentiments were lower among those with higher education, with 35 percent of college graduates and 20 percent of people with a university degree professing the lowest degree of xenophobia, according to the survey.


Viktor Orban
Last year, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban called for an end to immigration and said he wanted Hungary to remain a nation state with Christianity at its core, where everyone spoke the same language.


Orban has offered Hungarian citizenship to ethnic Hungarians elsewhere. They make up 10 percent of the population in Slovakia and around 6 percent to 7 percent in Romania.


5. Berlin court overturns Night Wolves' entry ban


Some members of the Night Wolves Russian biker group who were previously denied entry into Germany will be allowed to ride into the country to commemorate the Soviet victory in World War II after a Berlin court reversed the entry ban, the Associated Press reports.


A Berlin administrative court found insufficient evidence that the group’s presence threatened Germany’s national security or public order, according to AP. It said their visas, issued by Italy for travel throughout the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone, should be deemed valid in Germany.


The Night Wolves are fierce supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin and of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its cooperation with rebels in eastern Ukraine. They were blocked from entering the country last month by Germany’s federal police. Earlier Poland had also denied their entry on grounds of security and order.


Andrei Bobrovsky
Andrei Bobrovsky, the organizer of the group's European tour, said the entry ban cost the Night Wolves some 3 million rubles ($60,000) and said the group was planning to sue European officials – although they had not yet determined whether to target those in Berlin, Brussels, or Warsaw – pro-Kremlin RIA Novosti reports.


Meanwhile, prominent Russian oppositionist Alexei Navalny published a report on his website saying the biker group received 56 million rubles of taxpayer money over the past year and a half through various grants.


The Night Wolves is Russia’s largest motorcycle club, with an estimated membership of some 5,000 people, according to Britain’s Telegraph.


Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Casper Frederiksen and Evgeny Deulin are TOL editorial interns.
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