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Around the Bloc - 2 July

The important, interesting, or just downright quirky news from TOL’s coverage region. Today: Navalny behind bars; Central Europe sizzles; Turkmen gas; a shamanic festival in Russia; and a Central Asian tunnel. 2 July 2019

Navalny Thrown Back in Jail


Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny was sentenced to 10 days’ detention for taking part in an unauthorized rally in June, according to Al Jazeera. More than 500 people were arrested at the rally against the detention of journalist Ivan Golunov on drug-dealing charges that were later dropped. "Ten days of detention for a rally against arbitrariness, it's unpleasant, but I think I did the right thing. If we remain silent and sit at home, the arbitrariness will never stop," Navalny tweeted Monday after the verdict. Navalny, who has been jailed numerous times for violating Russia’s strict laws against unauthorized demonstrations, spent most of last September and October in detention after twice being found guilty of organizing anti-Kremlin protests. He was also prevented from leaving Russia in November to attend a European Court of Human Rights hearing on whether the authorities violated his rights by repeatedly jailing him.



Gas-to-Liquids Plant Opens in Turkmenistan


Ashgabat’s need for cash is impelling the government to exploit its rich natural gas reserves in new ways. One illustration is the recent inauguration of a $1.7 billion gas-to-liquids plant last week in the desert town of Ovadan-Depe outside the capital, according to AFP. The Turkish- and Japanese-built facility converts gas into liquid fuels and may have been inspired by Qatar. Some economic relief for the state’s strained budget arrived this spring when Russia’s Gazprom energy conglomerate resumed gas imports from Turkmenistan after a three-year pause.



Tunnel Brings Tajikistan and Iran Closer Together


The rocky relationship between Iran and Tajikistan is on the mend, with each side agreeing to pay an additional $4 million each to finish the Istiqlol tunnel, also known as Anzob, on the road between Dushanbe and Tajikistan’s second-largest city Khujand, The Diplomat notes. Tehran and Dushanbe have had a number of diplomatic spats in the past, including over a documentary aired on Tajik state television in 2017 claiming that Iran was behind the killings of prominent figures in the 1990s and early 2000s, and that it backed the now-banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). Iranian leaders warmly received exiled IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri in December 2016, although Iran’s chief mufti denounced this as providing support for enemies of the Tajik nation.



Record High Temps Hit Central Europe


Extremely high temperatures are making life miserable in the west and center of Europe. The Czech Republic registered its hottest June since temperature measurements began in 1775, according to AFP. The temperature peaked at 38.9 degrees Celsius Sunday in the northern Czech town of Doksany, and Prague recorded an all-time high of 37.9. Lithuania also notched up its hottest June on record, with an average monthly temperature of 20.1, and Poland recorded its highest June temperature since 1951 in the eastern town of Radzyn, where thermometers showed 38.2 on 26 June. The heat wave is now on its way to the Balkans, after “weeks of unusually severe thunderstorms in parts of Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Bosnia and Croatia that have triggered floods and extreme humidity,” the Associated Press writes.



Ancestral Wisdom Celebrated in Siberia



Shamans from the Russian republics of Buryatia, Khakasia, and Sakha gathered for a festival devoted to religious practices held in late June in the Irkutsk region. The event was also aimed at raising awareness of the professional side of shamanism, according to The Moscow Times. More than 100 shamans took part, although only around 300 spectators attended. Festival organizers hope such events will publicize the drive to gain official religion status for shamanism, an ancient belief that employs rituals of divination, purification, and healing. After the Soviet Union collapsed, both Buddhism and shamanism experienced a rebirth among the Buryats of eastern Siberia as practices suppressed by the Soviets for decades became more accepted and people became increasingly open about their formerly secretive rituals.

Compiled by Ioana Caloianu
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