In a possible sign that political tensions are easing in Ukraine, President Viktor F. Yanukovich pardoned the country’s second-most-prominent political prisoner on Sunday, but his intentions concerning his biggest rival, who is also in custody, remained unclear.
The pardoned prisoner, Yuri V. Lutsenko, is a former interior minister whose arrest in December 2010 on charges that he had abused his office raised concerns in the European Union and the United States that Ukraine’s democracy was at risk. Those worries were heightened the following year when the police arrested Mr. Yanukovich’s biggest rival, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and the leader of the political opposition.
Mr. Yanukovich also freed several lower-profile figures on Sunday, including a former ecology minister, Georgy Filipchuk. But about a dozen other opposition figures remain in prison.
The pardon decree, published by Ukraine’s government, laid out a host of factors that went into the decision, including the prisoners’ former service to the state, their family affairs and their behavior while in prison.
The statement did not mention a campaign mounted by the European Union to win the release of prisoners in exchange for an agreement on broadened trade relations that includes provisions on human rights and the rule of law.
(There’s more at the source.)
Both sides claimed victory in a presidential election in Montenegro on Sunday, raising the prospect of a dispute over the largely ceremonial post in the tiny Adriatic country as it bids to join the European Union.
With no independent exit poll or official word from the state electoral commission, both incumbent Filip Vujanovic and opposition challenger Miodrag Lekic took to the airwaves to announce they had won.
Lekic compared his rival’s claim to a “coup d’etat”.
The president is largely a figurehead for Montenegro’s 680,000 people, with real power vested in the prime minister. But a Lekic victory would set up an awkward cohabitation and deal a significant blow to the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) after more than two decades in power.
Based on his camp’s own count, the DPS’s Vujanovic said he had won 51.3 percent of votes compared to 48.7 for Lekic, a former diplomat.
“This is the winning result,” Vujanovic said in a televised address.
The opposition Democratic Front said Lekic was ahead according to its own count, by 50.5 percent to 49.5.
“I can announce that the people of Montenegro have entrusted me with the post of president,” Lekic said in a televised address. Reacting to Vujanovic’s own victory claim, he added: “We will not accept theft.”
Thousands of Slovenians protested against corruption and the political elite in the center of Ljubljana on Saturday, demanding a snap election after the conservative government of Janez Jansa was ousted last week.
Slovenia is struggling to avoid an international bailout, and parliament last week nominated budget expert Alenka Bratusek of the center-left Positive Slovenia to form a new government.
Jansa’s coalition was brought down in part by street protests of a kind not seen since Slovenian independence in 1991, driven by spending cuts and allegations of government corruption.
Saturday’s march, whose organizers put participation at 10,000 and police at 5,000, was comparable with some of the largest so far, despite being held in pouring rain.
“We are not right and we are not left but we are the people who are sick of you,” said a banner held by one protesters in the capital of the small Alpine state.
Hungarians have protested by the thousands against proposed changes to their constitution that they believe will limit their democratic rights.
March 9, 2013
Opponents of the proposed constitutional changes say they fear they will curb citizens’ democratic rights. This led to two days of protests in Budapest, the first taking place on Thursday with dozens of protesters. On Saturday, thousands turned out to voice their concerns.
The parliament is to vote on the proposed amendments on Monday.
“A really worrying oppressive system is being built up here, like a dictatorship,” Milan Rozsa, a 25-year-old protester, told the AFP news agency.
Critics argue that the proposals seek to reinstate measures that Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government had previously introduced, but which were struck down by the country’s constitutional court in recent months.
They say the proposed changes would have restrictive implications for higher education, by requiring students who receive state grants to stay and work in Hungary after their studies.
Another provision would restrict election campaigning to state media, something critics say would damage Hungary’s democracy. Among the other proposals is a ban on sleeping on the streets.
The changes would also curb the powers of the constitutional court by rendering any of its decisions made before the current constitution came into force last year invalid.
International concern over the upcoming vote is growing.
The European Commission, the Council of Europe and human rights organizations have expressed concern over the upcoming vote.
In a phone call on Friday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told Prime Minister Orban that his government and the parliament should address concerns “in accordance with EU democratic principles.”
Orban responded in writing to Barroso, pledging that Hungary would conform to the norms and rules of the European Union, but he failed to offer details.
The Council of Europe, the European institution responsible for defending human rights, also weighed in on the issue last week, urging Budapest to postpone the vote. The Hungarian government rejected the request.
Saturday’s protest was organized by various human rights organizations, including Amnesty International.
& check out that 99% sign in the background of the top picture! <3
Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat’s pro-Europe government resigned on Friday after being defeated in a confidence vote, raising the prospect of early elections unless a new government is approved within six weeks.
Filat’s government effectively collapsed on March 5 when it lost a confidence vote in which it was deserted by two coalition parties in the ruling Alliance for European Integration.
The Alliance, which has run the former Soviet republic since it pushed the communists into opposition in 2009, has been split for months by internal feuding and personal rivalries.
Political leaders say Moldova’s course toward European integration could be threatened if the three main Alliance partners do not settle their differences and end the crisis.
The signing of landmark association and free trade agreements with the European Union at the end of the year could, particularly, be in jeopardy, they say.
Moldova is one of Europe’s poorest countries with an average monthly salary of about $230. Heavily reliant on Russian energy supplies, its economy is kept afloat by remittances from several hundred thousand Moldovans working in Russia and EU countries.
(There’s more at the source.)
Officially Russia prides itself on being a diverse, multicultural country.
So it seemed appropriate when 18-year-old Elmira Abdrazakova — the daughter of a Russian mother and a Tatar father from frigid Kemerovo Oblast — was crowned Miss Russia 2013 on March 2.
But the online reaction was enough to wipe the smile off Abdrazakova’s face. Within hours of her victory, an avalanche of thousands of hate messages filled with ethnic slurs came in from people espousing Russian nationalist views, forcing Abdrazakova to shut down her social-media pages.
One person wrote that there should be a law barring “Tatar women and also highland and lowland ethnic Shors” from participating in beauty contests.
Another wrote that “a gypsy woman cannot be the face of Russia.”
The reaction prompted Abdrazakova to shut down her page on the popular social-networking site Vkontakte.ru “in order to avoid further provocations,” as she told the Russian News Service. She said that the comments were motivated by “racism or some kind of nationalism” but added that people in the public spotlight have to expect negative reactions.
She said she expects to put her page back up in the near future.
A new poll shows that about 63 per cent of Serbian citizens accept that Kosovo is in practice an independent state - and that Serbia can only fight now to secure the best position for the Serbs still in Kosovo.
About one third of citizens, 32 per cent, say Kosovo is not independent while 5 per cent do not have an answer.
The survey of 1,003 people was conducted by B92 TV and by the agency Ipsos Strategic Marketing.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, which Belgrade opposes. At the same time, normalisation of relations with Kosovo is the EU’s main precondition for Serbia as it continues to pursue EU membership.
Serbia obtained EU candidate status in March 2012 and is hoping to obtain a start date for accession talks in June.
While most Serbs acccept the status quo in Kosovo, the survey shows that most Serbians would still rather see Kosovo as part of Serbia, than Serbia as a part of the EU.
Given a choice, some 65 per cent of those surveyed said the priority for Serbia was Kosovo, while the EU was a priority for 28 per cent of people and 7 per cent were indecisive.
Small Baltic state Latvia decided on Monday to apply to join the euro zone next year, a sign of the faith in the currency which still exists in eastern Europe after three years which have threatened the project.
Small and limber economies, Latvia and Lithuania should slide more easily into the currency bloc than larger states like Poland and the Czech Republic and have remained keener on joining throughout the banking and debt crises.
Many Latvians’ mortgage loans are in euros meaning a switch would decrease currency risk and most see the currency as a lesser long-term risk than the lat. They are also keen to entrench their links with western Europe to keep former imperial master Russia at arms length.
But while the country’s leadership is keen on the project, polls show much of the population are worried that a currency switch will drive prices higher and take control of the economy out of Latvian hands.
Bulgarian miners, railway and power station workers marched through the capital on Tuesday to protest possible job cuts, joining a wave of demonstrations that has already felled the government.
Three people have set themselves on fire, two of them fatally, in mass protests against high electricity prices and low living standards, leaving Bulgaria facing an early election in May that will almost certainly result in a hung parliament.
The outgoing centre-right government said Wednesday would be a day of national mourning after 36-year-old Plamen Goranov, who had become a symbol of the protests, died of his burns.
(More at source.)