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Plus, dozens injured as NATO troops clash with Kosovo Serbs, and Slovakia prepares for mass walkout of doctors.by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, and Joshua Boissevain 30 November 2011
1. Tensions mount after election annulment in South Ossetia
The front runner in South Ossetia’s 27 November run-off elections has declared herself president, even though the breakaway region’s supreme court voided the results because of accusations of election irregularities.
Alla Dzhioyeva, a former education minister, anti-corruption campaigner, and opposition candidate to Kremlin-backed Anatoly Bibilov, was set to win the election with preliminary results showing her with a 17-point lead when the court’s decision came on 29 November, according to the Associated Press. In protest of the decision, hundreds of Dzhioyeva supporters surrounded the government building in Tskhinvali 29 November shouting her name and “Justice.” Government soldiers guarding the building apparently fired warning shots into the air to hold off the protesters.
The region’s high court ruled to annul the results of the vote because of alleged electoral violations, including reports that Dzhioyeva supporters were intimidating voters, according to Civil.ge. An observer from the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in Paris, however, told Radio Free Europe that the election was “conducted democratically.” The court decided that new elections will take place 25 March and that Dzhioyeva will be barred from participating. Radio Free Europe reported that there were, however, some questions as to the legality of the ruling as several of the justices did not participate in the decision.
Political tensions in the region were heating up as the election took place, and recent events seemed to have inflamed the situation. On 28 November, Dzhioyeva supporters protested outside of the Central Election Commission’s offices as rumors of the impending decision spread. After the court’s ruling, Dzhioyeva called it “unprofessional,” according to Radio Free Europe, and said she would go ahead with plans to create a 10-person government council. In response to the decision and escalating tensions, Russia, which is one of the few countries to recognize South Ossetia’s independence after the region’s 2008 war with Georgia, called on both sides “to respect decisions that were adopted in accordance with the law by the supreme authorities," according to Agence France-Presse.
2. Deadline looms in threatened mass strike by Slovak doctors
One day before the resignations of more than 1,000 Slovak doctors were to take effect, a state of emergency continues in more than a dozen Slovak hospitals. The government announced the emergency measures on 28 November in a bid to ensure the provision of basic medical services in case doctors make good on their threat to stop working in a pay dispute.
Doctors are demanding a 700 euro monthly pay increase; the government has offered 300 euros. About 2,000 doctors originally handed in their resignations, although several hundred have since rescinded their decision to quit. The state of emergency allows authorities to compel doctors to work even if their resignations remain in effect, the Slovak Spectator reports.
The dispute has been brewing for several months. In addition to demanding pay raises, doctors say they work too much unpaid overtime and object to the government’s proposal to privatize hospitals. A similar threat by Czech doctors was averted earlier this year by promises of higher pay and less overtime.
The situation in Slovak hospitals varies from region to region. A hospital in the northern town of Liptovsky Mikulas said many doctors had not turned up for work. Substitutes were being brought in from a nearby town and some patients had been transferred to other hospitals, Health Minister Ivan Uhliarik said. Almost all the doctors at a hospital in the second-largest Slovak city, Kosice, had withdrawn their resignations by midday 29 November, the daily Sme reports.
3. Moscow, NATO see new northern Kosovo clashes in different lights
The escalating clashes between international forces and local Serbs in northern Kosovo elicited a warning that NATO troops would use "all means available" to defend themselves and a sharp criticism of the NATO-led operation from Russia’s envoy to the UN.
Vitaly Churkin said at a meeting of the UN Security Council that the violence at a border checkpoint, where about 30 NATO troops and 100 civilians were injured 28 November as troops used water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets, might have been prevented if the NATO force, known as KFOR, “focused on providing security of the region’s residents, as stipulated in their mandate, rather than on eliminating Serbian barricades.”
The situation in northern Kosovo is “extremely volatile” and the "combined factors of frustration, fear, and mistrust could easily and quickly provide the spark that could ignite violence," the head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Farid Zarif, told the Security Council 29 November.
4. Ailing Tymoshenko moved to “European standard” medical unit
"The living conditions in this ward (including the temperature) correspond to European standards,” the Ukrainian prison service said 29 November, according to Interfax. The service said Tymoshenko would undergo medical treatment for an unspecified illness.
Tymoshenko’s appeal against her sentence will be heard 1 December, but her condition will probably not allow her to be present, Tymoshenko’s lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, said 29 November, the Russian Legal Information Agency reported.
5. Remittances propping up Kosovo economy
About 15 percent of Kosovo’s gross domestic product comes from remittances, Seb Bytyci, executive director of the Balkans Policy Institute, tells the Southeast European Times.
"Without remittances it would be impossible for Kosovans to maintain their lifestyle, which is higher than their income and GDP per capita, as statistics suggest,” Bytyci said.
However, although many families rely on money sent home from abroad, migrants are less interested in investing in the national economy, economist Edita Krasniqi said.
A study by the UN Development Program in 2010 indicated that nearly one-fifth of Kosovo's households receive remittances that constitute on average 40 percent of the household budget.
Although expatriate Kosovans may be keen on investing in their home country, the local business environment still needs government policies to become more appealing, according to Bytyci. He said this can be done by improving the legal framework for investment, strengthening the rule of law, and investing in infrastructure. In the long run, such investments would pay off more than remittances, says Leke Gjonaj, the head of the Kosovar-German Economic Association.