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Around the Bloc - 10 May

The important, interesting, or just downright quirky news from TOL’s coverage region. Today: Kazakh protests suppressed; Lukashenka and Brussels; Czech AI; football in the Caucasus; and an interview with Robert Kocharyan. 10 May 2019

Internet Restrictions and Arrests Mark V-Day in Kazakhstan


Protesting against nothing can get you arrested in Kazakhstan, it seems. Anticipating potential disruptions to yesterday’s celebrations marking the victory over Germany in World War II, Kazakh powers-that-be temporarily restricted access to several news websites, including RFE/RL, and social media platforms, along with the website of the Bureau for Human Rights. Police also made arrests in several cities, in some cases for photos posted on social media of people holding blank or invisible signs in a show of support for a protester arrested earlier this week while displaying a blank sheet of paper, writes.



Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?


Five European Parliamentarians are hoping to rescind Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s invitation to a dinner in Brussels on Monday to mark the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership, RFE reports. Although the Belarusian strongman has not yet RSVP’d, the parliamentarians wrote a letter to foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini contending that his “regime has maintained a poor human rights record, suppressing dissent, and attacking freedom of speech." Several EU officials said they did not expect Lukashenka to show up.



Armenian Leaders, Beware


In a written interview with Reuters, Armenia’s former President Robert  Kocharyan denied that last year’s regime change was a revolution because “fundamentally nothing has changed in the country, except for the appearance of a big share of aggression in the society, and populism and dilettantism in the leadership.” Kocharyan, who held power between 1998 and 2008 and is now in jail, spoke of the emergence “of a powerful political force capable of challenging the authorities very soon,” and expressed interest in joining it. Last July, Kocharyan was charged with subverting public order when security forces shot and killed 10 people during protests against the disputed presidential election in 2008.



Caucasus Animosities Spill Over Into Football


As if we needed another object lesson in how Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s mutual loathing affects all areas of life, football fans are wondering whether Arsenal’s Armenian star Henrikh Mkhitaryan will be able to travel to Baku for the UEFA Europa League final, BBC Sport writes. The Armenia team captain plays his club football for Arsenal, who will meet fellow English side Chelsea in the final on 29 May. This is not a new situation for Mkhitaryan: he missed Arsenal’s game against Azerbaijan’s FK Qarabag in October because, in the words of Arsenal manager Unai Emery, “he cannot travel here.”


Henrikh Mkhitaryan during an Arsenal game. Image via his Twitter account.



Czechs Aim at AI Greatness


The Czech Republic is on the way to becoming a “European super hub for artificial intelligence,” Prime Minister Andrej Babis said, as the Czech government approved a national strategy for AI, according to Emerging Europe. “We have a great chance to use Czech cutting-edge research in this breakthrough technology,” Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and Trade Karel Havlicek said. Babis said he’s been talking with all EU leaders “and convincing them that we are world leaders in this area.” Czech authorities have a track record in the field: in 2017, there were reports that a group set up at the Interior Ministry was secretly working to prevent election hacking during the approaching elections.

Compiled by Ioana Caloianu
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