21 January 2019, 16:02

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of January 14-20, 2019

Gas explosions in multi-storey buildings in Shakhty and Tbilisi; unprecedented court decision to write off Chechen residents' multibillion-rouble debts for gas; completion of receiving documents from applicants running for the position of Makhachkala Mayor; formation of the government and the launch of the new parliament's activities in Armenia; rally in Baku with the demand to release political prisoners, – see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of January 14-20, 2019, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Gas explosions in multi-storey buildings in Shakhty and Tbilisi

On January 14, in the city of Shakhty in the Rostov Region, four apartments on the eighth and ninth floors of a house collapsed as a result of an explosion. Five persons were killed, and other four were hospitalized. The rescue operation was completed on January 16, and that day was declared a day of mourning in Shakhty. On January 15, tenants of the blocks not affected by the explosion were allowed to enter their apartments to take out their belongings. They were not allowed to return to their apartments until January 17. Contrary to claims of gas specialists about good condition of the gas equipment in the collapsed house, the authorities mentioned the gas leak as the only version of the explosion.

On January 16, an explosion occurred in a nine-storey building in Tbilisi. The explosion killed four persons, including a child who died in hospital. Eight victims, including a four-year-old girl, were hospitalized. Tenants of the house claim that on the day of the explosion there was a strong smell of gas in the block, but gas specialists who inspected the place an hour before the explosion did not detect any leak. After the explosion, the Tbilisi City Mayoralty recognized that the nine-storey building was gasified and inhabited, but not commissioned. In the case on the explosion, the police arrested two employees of a gas company who were accused of negligence after the gas explosion in a multi-storey building. The day of January 17 was declared a day of mourning in Georgia.

Unprecedented court decision to write off Chechen residents' multibillion-rouble gas debts

On January 16, the Prosecutor's Office of Chechnya announced the decision pronounced by the Zavodskoy District Court of Grozny, which ordered the "Gazprom Mezhregiongaz Grozny" to write off more than nine billion roubles of the population' gas debt. According to the Prosecutor's Office, the statute of limitations for the debt has expired and the demands of the "Gazprom Mezhregiongaz Grozny" to cover the debts "created social tensions in society and could lead to public protests." Later, the Chechen Prosecutor has noted that the debt for gas supplied to the population, which the court ordered to write off, was accumulated in the period of up to November 30, 2015. The "Gazprom Mezhregiongaz Grozny" filed an appeal against the decision of the Zavodskoy District Court of Grozny. The decision to write off debts has been made with the involvement of Ramzan Kadyrov, and such a decision will allow him to increase his popularity in Chechnya, comments political analyst Alexei Malashenko. The decision to write off the Chechen residents' debts will become a pretext for other regions of Northern Caucasus to put forward similar claims, believes economist Natalia Zubarevich. By January 19, the number of regions which, following the example of Chechnya, want to write off debts for gas, has grown up to four.

End of receiving documents from applicants running for position of Makhachkala Mayor

On January 16, in Makhachkala, the reception of documents from applicants running for the position of the city mayor was completed. 40 people managed to submit their applications. Gadjimurad Omarov, a State Duma MP, was among those who submitted an application on the last day. After his documents had been accepted by the competition commission, he held a press conference at which he declared that the Mayor of Makhachkala should be elected not by local MPs, but by all citizens. According to the analysts earlier interviewed by the "Caucasian Knot", the competitive procedures for the election of a new head of Makhachkala are of a formal nature, since the leader of Dagestan has already named Salman Dadaev his candidate and the possibilities of others who run for the position are limited.

Formation of government and launch of new parliament's operation in Armenia

Last week, members of the parliament elected on December 9, 2018 started to work in Armenia. On January 14, the new parliament elected the speaker: Ararat Mirzoyan, former First Deputy Prime Minister who was nominated by the parliamentary majority, the "My Step" bloc. On January 18, the work of the first session of the parliament was completed. During the first session, the MPs elected three vice-speakers and heads of commissions. The MPs also approved a draft law to restore the Commission for the Protection of Human Rights abolished by the 6th convocation parliament and to form a new commission on regional and Eurasian integration.

On January 14, Armenian President Armen Sargsyan signed a decree appointing Nikol Pashinyan the Prime Minister of the country. Nikol Pashinyan was nominated by the "My Step" bloc. And on January 19, the press service of the Armenian President announced the completion of the process for formation of the Armenian government. All 12 ministers and two Deputy Prime Ministers were included in the previous composition of the government.

Rally in Baku with demand to release political prisoners

On January 19, in Baku, the opposition organized a rally with the demand to release political prisoners. In particular, the protesters demanded to release blogger Mekhman Guseinov, who declared a hunger strike in protest against a new criminal case instituted against him shortly before his release. The participants of the rally also demanded to return to Azerbaijan the funds sent to offshores. The police report that the rally gathered about 2800 people. According to the calculations run by the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent, at least 5000 people attended the protest action which was sanctioned by the authorities and passed without incidents.

This article was originally published on the Russian page of 24/7 Internet agency ‘Caucasian Knot’ on January 21, 2019 at 08:20 am MSK. To access the full text of the article, click here.

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