According to a survey conducted by the National Institute for Social-Economic and Political Research, over 60% of Belarusians doubt the validity of the death sentence verdict handed down to two men accused of planting a bomb on the Minsk underground. The two men were executed during the second week of March with a bullet to the back of the head. The verdict was handed down in November 2011, and appeals against came from as far away as the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the Chancellor of Germany. Belarus is the only country in Europe that still has the death penalty. Beyond that, however, public opinion seems to be strongly in favor of the theory that Belarusian President Aleksandar Lukashenko was actually behind the underground bombing. And that it was connected to an intense political crisis in the wake of December 2010 presidential elections. That crisis culminated in the arrest of 700 protesters and nine presidential candidates, two of whom are still behind bars.
Russian Stocks Gain on Rumors of Early Release for Yukos Oil Billionaire
Yukos Oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 and sentenced to 13 years in prison for fraud, tax evasion and embezzlement – charges the Yukos billionaire says were false and politically motivated. His release would further boost Russian stocks, which already saw gains earlier this week after Deutsche Bank AG said there was a 50% chance that Khodorkovsky would be released early, before the 7 May inauguration of Vladimir Putin, who won Russia’s 2 March presidential elections.
Iranian Oil Exports Down in March
Iranian oil exports fell in the month of March by some 300,000 barrels per day as global buyers cave in to US-led sanctions targeting Iranian oil imports. This is the first major reduction in Iranian oil exports since the European Union announced it would follow Washington’s lead and embargo crude imports from Iran beginning in July. Turkey is still holding out hope that it will be given a waiver on the embargo, as it imports some 200,000 barrels per day of oil from Iran. Sanctions on Iran have hit Turkey hard, with Turkish exports to Iran declining 25% from December to January alone. Other countries face sanctions from the US for refusing to embargo Iranian oil, among them India, China and South Korea.
Counter-Coup Concerns in Mali
The situation in Mali following a 21 March coup d’état, in which renegade soldiers took over the presidential palace, remains seemingly calm. Coup leaders have partially reopened the country’s main airport, but demonstrations in the capital Bamako are demanding a return to constitutional rule. President Amadou Toumani Toure has not been heard from since the coup, ostensibly launched over the “incompetence” of the government in handling a Touareg rebellion and a growing threat from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). There are real concerns for the potential of a counter coup.
Senegal’s Long-Time Leader Defeated in Elections
After ruling Senegal for 12 years, President Abdoulaye Wade has conceded defeat following run-off presidential elections on 25 March to challenger Macky Sall, who appears to have won some 65% of the votes. Sall was a former prime minister under Wade (2004-2007). Sall fell out with Wade after questioning the credibility and legitimacy of Wade’s son, Karim, in government activities. After the break with Wade, Sall formed the Alliance for the Republic (APR-Yakaar), and then went on to be elected mayor of Fatick in 2009. Most analysts believed that Wade was grooming his son Karim as his replacement – a move that was highly controversial. Karim’s reaction to his father’s loss and his rival’s victory will be worth following in the coming weeks and months.
Syria Ostensibly Accepts UN Peace Plan
The Syrian government has accepted a peace plan from UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, after the UNSC unanimously passed a resolution on Syria last week. Russia and China, having hedged their bets on Syria over the past year, joined the resolution. There seems to be the general understanding that Syria has little choice but to accept the peace plan with all UNSC members now on board. However, that assumption is premature. On the ground, there is no indication that the regime of Bashir al-Assad is losing the battle against opposition and extremist forces. It is estimated that more than 8,000 people have been killed in the violence over the past year. Syria will top the agenda at a Baghdad summit of Arab leaders beginning on 27 March.
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