Sunday, October 27, 2013

5,000 march in support of ‘political prisoners’ in Moscow

People carry pictures of political prisoners during an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov)
People carry pictures of political prisoners during an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov)
 
Around 5,000 people took the streets of Moscow on Sunday to participate in an opposition rally, demanding the release of activists jailed after the May 2012 Bolotnaya demonstration and other people they described as “political prisoners.”
The march went off peacefully without incident as protesters made their way around the Boulevard Ring in the center of the capital, the Interior Ministry said. A contingent of 3,000 police officers was deployed to maintain order during the event. 

A demonstrator wears a tape over his mouth reading Putin during an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Evgeny Biyatov)
A demonstrator wears a tape over his mouth reading Putin during an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Evgeny Biyatov)
The demonstrators carried black-and-white portraits of people they consider political prisoners, including activists accused of rioting at the May 6, 2012 Bolotnaya Square protest, where hundreds of people were briefly detained after clashes with police.

Placards also called for the release of members of Pussy Riot punk band, Greenpeace activists detained after an attempt to storm an oil platform in the Barents Sea, former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and others.

Large banners carried at the front of the procession proclaimed: “We demand the release of all May 6 prisoners. Freedom to all political inmates,” and “Mass riots are in Putin’s head. Enough with Putinism – release the hostages.”
   
Prominent opposition leader Aleksey Navalny, who took second place in the Moscow mayoral election in September, also participated in the protest, accompanied by his wife, Yulia. 

Russian protest leader Aleksey Navalny and his wife Yulia attend an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Evgeny Biyatov)
Russian protest leader Aleksey Navalny and his wife Yulia attend an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Evgeny Biyatov)
The police said that about 5,000 people participating in the rally. Online news portal Gazeta.ru provided the same numbers, with liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta speaking of a turnout of 7,000.   

The opposition agreed a route for the march with the Moscow authorities on Thursday, initially expecting around 20,000 people to take part in the protest.  

About two dozen people were charged with serious public order offenses after the May 2012 Bolotnaya protest.

Following the riots, law enforcement agencies started criminal cases into calls for mass unrest and violence against police officers.

Two of the detained prisoners have been sentenced to 2 1/2 years and 4 1/2 years behind bars, respectively, and one man has been declared mentally ill and sent to a closed psychiatric ward for compulsory treatment. 

A protestor holds a scythe during an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov)
A protestor holds a scythe during an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov)

Eleven people are currently on trial and other separate cases are still in the investigation phase.

The Presidential Council for Human Rights has submitted a request for amnesty to President Vladimir Putin that, if granted in full, would free all the Bolotnaya prisoners.

The planned amnesty is connected to the 20th anniversary of the modern Russian Constitution, which will be celebrated on December 12.

In mid-September, Putin said that he personally considered it possible to grant amnesty to the Bolotnaya convicts and suspects, but added that this should be done only after the cases are processed by the courts. 

People carry pictures of political prisoners during an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Ilya Pitalev)
People carry pictures of political prisoners during an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Ilya Pitalev)
 

Saakashvili era ends as Georgia elects new president

After a decade of controversial rule, Mikhail Saakashvili is set to step down after Georgians elect their new president Sunday. Once a popular and powerful head of state, he steps down from a post that has been largely reduced to ceremonial functions.
Some 3.5 million Georgians are eligible to vote in Sunday’s poll, with more than 50 percent of votes needed to win in the first round of voting. There is no minimum turnout requirement, and if a second round of voting is needed, it would be held within two weeks.
The new Georgian president will be a ceremonial figure thanks to a number of constitutional amendments adopted in the past year by the country’s parliament. The reforms have been pushed through by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition, which beat President Saakashvili’s United National Movement in parliamentary elections last year.
Prior to Sunday’s election, opinion polls put Georgy Margvelashvili, a candidate endorsed by Ivanishvili, ahead of the other 22 candidates, including Saakashvili’s preferred candidate, former parliamentary speaker David Bakradze. Saakashvili himself is barred from running after two terms in office.
Ivanishvili, who is Georgia’s wealthiest man, took to politics with the goal to oust Saakashvili and his followers from power. Before his party took control of parliament, he pledged to step down as soon as Georgia elected a new president. Now he says he intends to keep his promise, even though the office of prime minister currently holds much more power in the country.

Bidzina Ivanishvili (L) addressing his supporters on October 1, 2012. (AFP Photo / Giorgy Kakulia)
Bidzina Ivanishvili (L) addressing his supporters on October 1, 2012. (AFP Photo / Giorgy Kakulia)

Saakashvili became Georgia’s leader after ousting his predecessor, Eduard Shevarnadze, in the 2003 public uprising dubbed the Rose Revolution. Once in power, he took a strong pro-American stance, hiring a number of western advisers to help his ambitious reforms, sending Georgian troops to Iraq and Afghanistan to join the US- and NATO-led forces, and campaigned for Georgia’s accession to NATO.
He enjoyed notable successes in reducing official corruption, cracked down on powerful crime rings and gave a boost to the country’s economy with a combination of liberal reforms and foreign loans. The policies won Saakashvili widespread praise in the West as an example of success and a beacon of democracy in the post-Soviet space.
At the same time, Tbilisi’s relations with Moscow deteriorated dramatically under Saakashvili, as Georgia accused Russia of betraying its role as peacekeeper in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The two regions were parts of Soviet Georgia, but sought independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Both fought against Georgia in bloody armed conflicts, and Russia kept its troops in both enclaves to prevent further violence. Tbilisi said that Moscow was secretly supporting and encouraging the secessionists while opposing Georgia’s attempts to bring them back under control.

Still from YouTube video
Still from YouTube video

Moscow too voiced anger at Georgia, saying it turns a blind eye on militants fighting in Russia’s troubled south, who found shelter in Georgian territory. The confrontation reached its peak in 2008, when Saakashvili’s government sent its army to take control of South Ossetia. Angered by the invasion, Russia intervened, defeating Georgian the army and prompting a major diplomatic crisis with western countries. After the war, relations between Georgia and Russia were frozen for years.
The disastrous military campaign seriously weakened Saakashvili’s support at home. However it was his increasingly authoritarian policies that led his party to defeat in the 2012 parliamentary election. His government launched brutal police crackdowns on opposition rallies in 2007, and again in 2011. Critics blamed his party of extorting bribes from big businesses, undermining the independence of the courts and the media and even accused them of political assassinations. The final straw was the release prior to the election of video footage from a Georgian prison, which showed inmates beaten and tortured by guards.

Georgian riot police officers disperse opposition rally in Tbilisi late on May 25, 2011. (AFP Photo / Giorgi Kakulia)
Georgian riot police officers disperse opposition rally in Tbilisi late on May 25, 2011. (AFP Photo / Giorgi Kakulia)
After the new parliament backed an Ivanishvili-led cabinet, Saakashvili’s supporters found themselves in rough water. Several former top officials, including ex-Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, were arrested, while others fled the country. Saakashvili enjoyed presidential immunity from prosecution while in office, but the new government has threatened to take him to court after his term in office ends on several occasions.
Over the past year, Saakashvili’s role in Georgian politics shrank. Among his most recent actions, he delivered an anti-Russian speech at the UN General Assembly, campaigned unsuccessfully for Georgia to boycott the 2014 Sochi Olympics and made a posthumous award of Hero of Georgia to independent Georgia’s first president, Soviet dissident-turned-nationalist Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who died in 1993.
Saakashvili has said that after leaving office he plans to retire from politics, live in Georgia and start a wine business.

4 children among 5 stabbed to death in brutal NYC rampage

A New York Police Department (NYPD) vehicle is seen near the scene of a stabbing incident at a Brooklyn residence, in New York October 27, 2013. (Reuters / Eduardo Munoz)
A New York Police Department (NYPD) vehicle is seen near the scene of a stabbing incident at a Brooklyn residence, in New York October 27, 2013. (Reuters / Eduardo Munoz)
 
 
New York police are investigating the brutal slaying of four children and a 37-year-old woman who were stabbed at a Brooklyn residence. Police say a person of interest has been taken into custody.
The victims included two boys, ages one and five, and two girls, ages seven and nine, police said. The infant boy and both girls were pronounced dead at the scene by emergency responders.

The five-year-old boy and woman were taken to two Brooklyn hospitals, where both were pronounced dead.

All five victims had stab wounds to their upper bodies, the NYPD said. Police are withholding the victims’ identities until their families have been notified.
The authorities responded to reports of a stabbing around 11 pm on Saturday at a home on 57th Street near Ninth Avenue, in Sunset Park, police said. The suspect was found bloody and barefoot and is currently in police custody. Authorities believe the suspect is related to several of the victims.
No motive thus far has been established for the attack. 

New York Police Department (NYPD) officers stand guard near the scene of a stabbing incident at a Brooklyn residence, in New York October 27, 2013. (Reuters / Eduardo Munoz)
New York Police Department (NYPD) officers stand guard near the scene of a stabbing incident at a Brooklyn residence, in New York October 27, 2013. (Reuters / Eduardo Munoz)
  

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