The European Union approved a second bailout for Greece in the wee hours of Feb. 21, signing off on a $170 billion rescue package—a day after thousands of protesters took to the streets to oppose austerity in both Greece and Spain. As Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos flew out to Brussels to try to clinch the deal, 3,500 marched in Athens, with another 1,200 reported from Thessaloniki. In Athens, hundreds of police trailed the marches—held a week after Parliament approved the austerity measures as rioters torched dozens of buildings in the city center. A new clash was reported at the Parliament biulding, with stone-throwing youth met with tear-gas canisters. In Spain, there were protests in more than 50 towns and cities. The largest were in Madrid and Barcelona, which both drew hundreds of thousands of marchers. (LAT, Feb. 20; AFP, Feb. 19)
The government of Cyprus has launched a second licensing round for offshore exploratory drilling amid hopes that new fossil fuel deposit discoveries will boost the eurozone country's drooping economy, with record unemployment and a near-junk status credit rating due to its banks' high exposure to Greek debt. An initial licensing round in 2007 only won interest from US firm Noble Energy—which discovered a huge find of some 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Last year, it began drilling in Block 12, the southeastern section of the Cypriot economic zone, which sits close to a large Israeli gas field. However, the effort is raising tensions with Turkey—which claims that blocks included in the second licensing round are within its continental shelf. The Cypriot Foreign Ministry called the claim "unfounded and contrary to international law." The statement said: "The Republic of Cyprus calls on Turkey to end its illegal, provocative and arrogant behavior, to steer clear from issuing threats and to adhere to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea."
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Feb. 10 expressed its concern over the trial of Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon, which involves his investigations of acts that occurred during the Spanish Civil War and subsequent dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco. OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville indicated that judges should not be criminally charged for investigations performed within the scope of their judicial duties. Colville stated, "judges should not be subject to criminal prosecution for doing their job...Spain is obliged under international law to investigate past serious human rights violations, including those committed during the Franco regime, and to prosecute and punish those responsible."
The Greek cabinet approved new austerity measures demanded by the EU and IMF in return for a €130 billion ($170 billion) bailout, as unions began a two-day general strike Feb. 10. This second proposed bailout would cut €3.3 billion from state spending, lower the minimum wage by more than 20%, and lay off thousands of workers. Demonstrators in front of the parliament building threw rocks and petrol bombs at police, who retaliated with tear gas. The austerity bill must be approved by parliament. Five ministers have resigned from the government in protest of the bill, and junior parties in the ruling coalition have defected over the "humiliating" terms. But interim Prime Minister Lucas Papademos said rejecting the measures "is not an option that we can allow as the country will pay a high price for the consequences... Any other option would be catastrophic." (SETimes, BBC News, NYT, Feb. 10)
Police in Kosova used force to break up roadblocks by hundreds of ethnic Albanians who halted traffic entering from neighboring Serbia to protest what they called Serbian obstruction of the country's independence since its secession in 2008. In the town of Podujevo, near the Merdare border crossing, riot police used tear gas and water cannons on some 500 demonstrators, who responded by throwing rocks. Dozens were reportedly detained, with injuries reported on both sides. The protests were organized by the Self-Determination movement, which holds 14 seats in Kosova's 120-seat parliament. The movement's leader Albin Kurti accused his political opponents of hindering the functioning of the Kosovar republic "because their interests are linked to imports and sales of Serbian products." (RFE/RL, RIA-Novosti, Jan. 15)
Police in Bucharest fired tear gas to disperse thousands of demonstrators who blocked traffic in the city's University Square Jan. 14 to protest austerity measures and poor living standards. Protesters called for President Traian Basescu's resignation and early elections, carrying signs reading "Liberty" and "Down with President Basescu." In 2009, Romania took a two-year $27.5 billion loan from the EU, IMF and the World Bank, which imposed harsh austerity measures, reducing public wages by 25% and increasing taxes. The catalyst for the protests was the resignation of popular health official Raed Arafat, a Palestinian with Romanian citizenship who opposed health "reforms" proposed by the government. (AlJazeera, AP, CNN, Jan. 15)
Thousands of followers of the far-right Jobbik party protested against the EU in Budapest Jan. 14. Two Jobbik MPs set an EU flag on fire at the protest in front of the European Commission offices. "This week the EU declared war on Hungary in a very harsh and open way," Csanad Szegedi, a Jobbik member of European Parliament told the crowd of some 2,000. The EU had threatened legal action against Prime Minister Viktor Orban's conservative government over new constitutional measures that centralize power in the hands of the executive, and that European leaders say undermine the independence of Hungary's central bank. On Jan. 2, tens of thousands of socialists, Greens and other leftists marched against the constitutional changes, which include imposition of flat tax, accusing Orban of being a "Viktator." They massed outside the Budapest opera house as Orban's ruling Fidesz party held a gala celebration inside.
Internet restrictions passed in February 2010 are set to go into effect in Belarus on Jan. 6, amid international criticism. The law creates several tiers of limitations on use of the Internet. Anyone who owns a shared connection, or a cyber-cafe, must monitor all users to insure that they do not visit a "blacklisted" site, or, in some cases, simply a site hosted off of Belarus servers. Users are required to identify themselves, and the owners of shared connections must keep a surfing history of each user for at least a year. Violations of any of these provisions may result in fines.