Belarussian Presidential Elections set for December 19, 2010

Belarus Coat of Arms

Belarus Coat of Arms

The Belarussian parliament back in September had set the date for the presidential elections. As RIA Novosti communicated at the time:

The Parliament of Belarus on Tuesday set the presidential election in the country for December 19, 2010, reports RIA Novosti.

This decision was taken unanimously by parliamentarians.

Incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko had made it clear earlier that he would participate in the election, but this was not officially announced.

Now to participate in this election, potential candidates need to come up with at least 100’000 valid signatures supporting their candidature. Apparently, eleven candidates have achieved this, again as per RIA Novosti:

Eleven potential candiates handed over the required signatures to participate in the presidential elections of Belarus, Nikolai Lozovik, the secretary of the CEC (Central Election Commission) told RIA Novosti on Saturday. A potential candidate must collect at least 100,000 signatures in his support.
“In the first place is the current president, Alexander Lukashenko, who has handed over more than 1.1 million signatures”, said Lozovik.
He said that the second highest number of signatures to be handed over was from opposition author and writer Vladimir Neklayev, who arrived at more than 160 thousand signatures, followed by former Deputy Foreigne Minister of Belarus, Andrei Sannikov and the vice-president of the United Civil Party and well-known liberal economist Yaroslav Romanchuk with more than 150 thousand and 120 thousand signatures, respectively.
“All other candidates have handed over to the committee from 105 to 120 thousand signatures”, informed the secretary of the Belarus CEC.
The last presidential elections in Belarus were held on March 19, 2006 with Alexander Lukashenko getting 82.6% of the vote (source: Wikipedia). According to the OSCE the elections were “severely flawed due to arbitrary use of state power and restriction on basic rights”, as they wrote in a press release:

MINSK, 20 March, 2006 – The Belarusian presidential election on 19 March failed to meet OSCE commitments for democratic elections, despite the fact that voters were offered the potential for a genuine choice between four candidates.

Arbitrary use of state power and widespread detentions showed a disregard for the basic rights of freedom of assembly, association and expression, and raise doubts regarding the authorities’ willingness to tolerate political competition, concludes the OSCE Election Observation Mission in a statement issued today.

Over 500 international observers from 38 countries observed the voting and counting on behalf of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, PA.

“The Belarusian people deserve better. The courageous efforts of the opposition candidates to offer voters a genuine choice for president were obstructed by actions by state authorities,” said OSCE PA president Alcee Hastings, appointed by the OSCE Chairman-in-Office as the Special Co-ordinator for the short-term observers.

Well, let’s see how it goes this time. The Belarussian president, by the way has a 5 year term.

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WWF: Hungary Toxic Sludge Disaster Avoidable

Toxic Sludge Disaster Hungary 2010

Toxic Sludge Disaster Hungary 2010

A few days ago, a toxic sludge reservoir maintained by the Hungarian aluminium producer MAL inundation whole villages, killing seven and injuring over 100 people. It turns out that this reservoir has been unstable for some time. It has been leaking at least since June, as evidence posted by the WWF International proves. According to their website:
An aerial photograph taken in June showing a damaged and clearly leaking sludge pond wall shows that the toxic mud disaster in Hungary and subsequent pollution of rivers including the Danube could have been avoided, WWF-Hungary said today.
The sludge pond dam wall burst Monday flooding six villages with toxic red mud. Another victim succumbed to injuries in hospital yesterday and two bodies were found during clean up operations today, taking the death toll to seven with one person still missing.
“This new evidence of the degraded state of the walls and significant leakage more than three months before the incident should be cause for an urgent investigation, not just of this disaster but of the state of Hungary’s other toxic sludge ponds,” said Gábor Figeczky, the Acting Director of WWF-Hungary.
Today, Hungarian authorities have evacuated Kolontár as they fear another inundation with toxic sludge the reservoir might break completely. Writes Le Monde:
The nightmare continues in Hungary. The village of Kolontár was completely evacuated on Saturday October 9 as authorities feared a second inundation of the red toxic sludge.
While the ecologic catastrophe that happened on Monday already has cost the lives of seven and injured close to 150, the reservoir of the bauxite-aluminium factory near Ajke that caused the deadly spill which threatens the ecosystem of the Danube river is at the risk of collapsing completely from new fissures discovered in the dam.
It’s worth remembering, that the population – mostly farmers – have no lost their entire livelihood, as the land they were cultivating is now toxic. It is also worth noting that the proprietor, the Bakonyi family, of MAL, the company which is responsible for the spill, is among the richest 100 families in Hungary (28 to be precise), writes the Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger.
This is, of course, another example of the Capitalist paradigm in which the profits are for a few, while the costs are to be shared amongst everyone else.

Restitution of Illicit Assets Act passed by Swiss Parliament

I hadn’t realised that this law had already passed if it weren’t for a tweet from Pakistan (Hat Tip: Syed Ali Raza Abidi)

On October 1, 2010, the both houses of the Swiss Parliament passed a new law that will somewhat facilitate the restitution of “potentate funds”, or assets of politically exposed persons (PEPs) who are most likely illicit. The law closes a gap in Swiss law that lead to difficulties when the government in question fails to cooperate in the restitution of the funds. As the Federal Council wrote in its Dispatch (Message accompanying a law submitted to Parliament):

Nevertheless, the growing phenomenon of so-called “failing states” has shown up the limits of the system, in particular in the Mobutu and Duvalier cases. The draft law therefore comes into existence as a result of difficulties encountered by the Swiss authorities in returning assets frozen in Switzerland to such states following the failure of the process of international mutual assistance to produce a satisfactory result.

The vote was Ständerat (State Council) voted 41 yes to 0 no, while the Nationalrat (National Council) voted 161 yes to 32 no.

It remains to be seen whether future cases will be handled with less issues than previous ones since much depends on the corporation of the countries in question. As the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs writes on its website:

Restitution of potentate funds

Potentate funds that manage to enter Switzerland despite comprehensive precautionary measures have to be identified and repatriated to their country of origin. This so-called restitution is an important instrument in the Switzerland’s policy of combating illegal monies. Therefore Switzerland has returned about CHF 1.7 billion to their countries of origin, which is more than any other financial center of a comparable size. Individual cases attract considerable publicity on account of the high profile of the people and the amounts of money involved. Examples include:

the Montesinos case, Peru, 2002
the Marcos case, the Philippines, 2003
the Abacha case, Nigeria, 2005
the Angolese assets case, Angola, 2005
the Kazakh assets case, Kazakhstan, 2007
the Salinas case, Mexico, 2008

Some cases are particularly complex to solve. Among them, one can mention the Mobutu case (Democratic Republic of Congo/DRC) and the Duvalier case (Haiti). In the Mobutu case, Switzerland strove during 12 years to return the frozen assets to the DRC. This challenge finally failed among others because of the lack of cooperation of this State. In these circumstances, the Federal Criminal Court of Switzerland (FCC) ruled on 14.07.2009 against pursuing a complaint regarding these assets. The freezing of Mobutu’s assets in conformity with the decision taken on 30.04.2009 by the Federal Council (Swiss Government) has therefore been lifted.

Below is the English text. Beware though that English is not an official language of Switzerland and the English translation is for informational purposes only. Only the French, Italian and German versions are relevant in law.

Swiss Ambassador to Theran released

Swiss Ambassador to Tehran, Lidia Leu Agosti

Swiss Ambassador to Tehran, Lidia Leu Agosti

Swiss Ambassador to Theran released

According to news from Press TV, the Swiss Ambassador to Tehran, Livia Leu Agosti, has been released a few hours after she was arrested.

Apparently, she was arrested on a trip – which was announced to relevant authorities – to the north of Khorasan Province, because “her identity was not established at that time”.

At this time there is no further information from the Swiss Foreign Ministry available.

Spanish Judge Opens Criminal Investigation against Repsol

Oil Platform at Tarragona

Image Source: El Pais

Do you remember  hearing about oil spills in the Mediterranean off the coast of Spain in 2009? I don’t. If it was in the news, I must have missed it. El Pais writes today:

A court in Tarragona has opened the door for criminal prosecution against Repsol for at least two oil spills off-shore opposite the Ebro delta (Tarragona), about 40 kilometers off the Catalonian coast. The spills, that the oil company didn’t indicate to the authorities, happened in May and June 2009 during performing prospection task intended to determine the viability of two patches of submarine oil difficult to access.

The Ministry of Developement detected the spills in July of last year and the prosecutors opened an official investigation the following month, which completed appreciating evidence of a felony against the environment, according to the complaint that the judge received last week.

Read full story at El Pais (Spanish)

There was indeed something about the accident in the (Spanish) press in 2009. Also from El Pais:

After three days of willful silence, Repsol admitted yesterday its responsibility for the oil spills that its North-American subcontractor Pride kept secret from the Ministry of Developement at least two occasions in May and June. The oil company notified the Merchant Marine in a brief letter delivered 13:54 yesterday, according to the archives of that body. In the message, Repsol is asking to be included in the disciplinary proceedings because of “contractual obligations” towards Pride, which it hired to perform tasks of exploring the coast of Tarragona.

Read the full story at El Pais (Spanish)

Note: Pride is probably referring to Pride International, Inc., which is headquartered in Houston, Texas. Repsol is a Spanish oil company, the 15th largest petroleum refiner worldwide.

The oil patch data is also interesting, especially the depth:

– Name: Montanazo D-5 y Lubina-1.

– Distance from coast: 40 kilometres.

– Estimated lifetime: From 5 to 7 years.

– Expected to be operational: 2014

– Depth: 2.354 and 2.439 meters (update: this is the total depth, of which 736 m are water).

– Estimated production: Between 3,800 and 3,700 barrels of crude daily.

– Operator: Repsol (75%), Cepsa (7,3%) and others.

– Investment: 135 million euros.

2,400 meters? That’s even deeper than the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico – the one that is still gushing after 70 something days. Looks like the countries bordering the Mediterranean have been lucky (this time).

Update: The 2,400m is the total depth, with 736m of water, according to Repsol.

Press TV: ‘Mossad hit men targeted Erdogan’

Tayyip Erdogan

Image Source: Press TV

This one would be a major development if true. From Press TV:

The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has failed in an attempt to assassinate Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a Jordanian weekly says.

Informed sources in Turkey say that the Mossad plot has been foiled by the country’s security forces, al-Manar quoted a report in the most recent edition of the Al-Majd weekly as saying.

There are also reports that Israel has been trying to incite violence inside Turkey by lending support to the militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Earlier in June, Sedat Laciner, the head of the International Strategic Research Organization — a Turkish think tank — said Mossad agents and Israeli military retirees had been sighted providing training to PKK militants in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Laciner said Tel Aviv does not have a positive perception of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, which is led by Erdogan.

After an Israeli attack on a Gaza-bound flotilla that left nine Turkish citizens dead on May 31, Ankara drew up a roadmap to “completely” cut its ties with Israel.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul had earlier announced that a roadmap would be prepared on the issue of sanctions against Israel.

“The roadmap details a process through which Turkey will completely cut its ties with Israel” in several stages, Turkish daily Today’s Zaman reported on June 17.

According to the roadmap, the first step would be that Turkey’s ambassador to Tel Aviv, who had previously been recalled, would not be sent back unless Israel sends a member to a UN investigatory commission that aims to look into the Israeli attack on the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla.

The roadmap would also require all military training and cooperation with Israel to be halted and states that an internal Israeli inquiry into the attack would in no way be recognized by Turkey.

If that is true, I wonder if that doesn’t amount to a declaration of war of Israel to Turkey.

Indeed, there is mounting suspicion in Turkey that none other than Israel and Washington are stoking unrest in Kurdistan by supporting  the PKK. Especially, Turkey is investigating a recent attack of PKK forces on the Turkish Navy: Continue reading