South Korea seeks talks with striking medics as return to work deadline looms

The South Korean government was committed to its reform plan, which would increase medical school admissions by 65 percent, citing shortages of health professionals and a looming demographic crisis. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

South Korea seeks talks with striking medics as return to work deadline looms

  • Nearly 10,000 junior doctors – about 80 percent of the trainee workforce – handed in their notice and walked off the job last week

SEOUL: South Korea said Thursday it was seeking its first talks with striking junior doctors, warning them to return to hospitals ahead of a looming deadline or risk legal action over work stoppages that have plunged hospitals into chaos.
Nearly 10,000 junior doctors — about 80 percent of the trainee workforce — handed in their notice and walked off the job last week to protest government plans to sharply increase medical school admissions to cope with shortages and an aging society.
Doctors say the plan would hurt the quality of service, and the Korean Medical Association (KMA) has slammed the government’s “intimidation tactics.”
Under South Korean law, doctors are prohibited from striking, and the government has threatened to arrest and suspend the medical licenses of medics who do not return to work by Thursday.
Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo said he had contacted doctors involved in the strike seeking talks and hoped to meet them later Thursday, adding he was unsure “how many people will attend.”
Doctors had begun trickling back to work in hospitals, Park said. “We have confirmed a downgrade in the walkouts for two days in a row,” he told a press briefing.
But Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong told local media on Thursday that “a full-scale return has not yet materialized.”
“As today is the last day (to) return, I implore them to do so for the patients,” he said, adding medics who returned to work before the deadline expired would not be punished.
Cho said the government was committed to its reform plan, which would increase medical school admissions by 65 percent, citing shortages of health professionals and a looming demographic crisis.
The KMA has not commented on possible talks, but a social media account run by young doctors shared a screenshot of a text message from the government and said: “You must be joking.”
Analysts say the government’s hard-line stance may play well for them ahead of legislative elections set for April 10.
“If the government were to back down now, they would perceive it as a major setback ahead of the upcoming general elections,” Kim Jae-heon, the secretary general of an NGO advocating free medical care, said.
But doctors “believe that stepping back at this point would result in their own disadvantage. It seems the current standoff will continue for a while.”
Proponents of the reform say doctors are mainly concerned the changes could erode their salaries and social status. The government says South Korea has one of the lowest doctor-to-patient ratios among developed countries.
Polling shows up to 75 percent of the public support the reforms, and President Yoon Suk Yeol, who has taken a hard line on the striking doctors, has seen his approval ratings tick up.
Kim Sung-ju, head of the Korean Cancer Patients Rights Council, said that patients’ lives were being held “hostage.”
“If the entire system comes to a halt simply because (junior doctors) have left, it truly highlights the shortage of doctors,” he said.
“It is astonishing that they are... using patients’ lives as leverage to further their own interests.”
The mass work stoppage has resulted in cancelations and postponements of surgeries for cancer patients and C-sections for pregnant women, with the government raising its public health alert to the highest level.
Kim Tae-hyeon, the head of the Korean ALS Association, said the striking doctors were “worse than organized criminals.”
“In hospice wards and intensive care units, (patients) are struggling to stay alive,” he added.


Biden avoids further Mideast spiral as Iran, Israel show restraint but for how long?

Updated 21 April 2024
Follow

Biden avoids further Mideast spiral as Iran, Israel show restraint but for how long?

  • Israel’s retaliatory strikes against Iran and Syria this week caused little damage
  • Middle East remains a delicate situation for Biden as he gears up for re-election 

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden can breathe a bit easier, at least for the moment, now that Israel and Iran appear to have stepped back from the brink of tipping the Middle East into all-out war.

Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Iran and Syria caused limited damage. The restrained action came after Biden urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to temper its response to Iran’s unprecedented direct attack on Israel last week and avoid an escalation of violence in the region. Iran’s barrage of drones and missiles inflicted little damage and followed a suspected Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus this month that killed two generals.
Iran’s public response to the Israeli strikes Friday also was muted, raising hopes that Israel-Iran tensions — long carried out in the shadows with cyberattacks, assassinations and sabotage — will stay at a simmer.
The situation remains a delicate one for Biden as he gears up his reelection effort in the face of headwinds in the Middle East, Russia and the Indo-Pacific. All are testing the proposition he made to voters during his 2020 campaign that a Biden White House would bring a measure of calm and renewed respect for the United States on the world stage.
Foreign policy matters are not typically the top issue for American voters. This November is expected to be no different, with the economy and border security carrying greater resonance.
But public polling suggests that overseas concerns could have more relevance with voters than in any US election since 2006, when voter dissatisfaction over the Iraq War was a major factor in the Republican Party losing 30 House and six Senate seats.
“We see this issue rising in saliency, and at the same time we’re seeing voter appraisals of President Biden’s handling of foreign affairs being quite negative,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “That combination is not a great one for Biden.”
Biden has staked enormous political capital on his response to the Israel-Hamas war as well as his administration’s backing of Ukraine as it fends off a Russian invasion.
The apparent de-escalation of tensions between Israel and Iran also comes as the House on Saturday approved $95 billion in wartime aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, a measure that Biden has pushed for as Ukrainian forces run desperately short on arms.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, pushed the package forward after months of delay as he faced the threat of ouster by his party’s right flank. The legislation now awaits a vote in the Senate. The new money would provide a surge of weaponry to the front lines, giving the White House renewed hope that Ukraine can right the ship after months of setbacks in the war.
Biden also has made bolstering relations in the Indo-Pacific a central focus of his foreign policy agenda, looking to win allies and build ties as China becomes a more formidable economic and military competitor.
But Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have an argument to make that Biden’s policies have contributed to the US dealing with myriad global quandaries, said Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Washington think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Republicans have criticized Biden’s unsuccessful efforts earlier in his term to revive a nuclear deal with Iran brokered by the Obama administration and abandoned by Trump, saying that would embolden Tehran. The agreement had provided Iran with billions in sanctions relief in exchange for the country agreeing to roll back its nuclear program.
GOP critics have sought to connect Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and they blame the Obama administration for not offering a strong enough response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2014 seizure of Crimea.
“You can make an intellectual case, a policy case of how we got from Point A to B to C to D and ended up in a world on fire,” said Goldberg, a national security official in the Trump administration. “People may not care about how we got here, but they do care that we are here.”
Polling suggests Americans’ concerns about foreign policy issues are growing, and there are mixed signs of whether Biden’s pitch as a steady foreign policy hand is resonating with voters.
About 4 in 10 US adults named foreign policy topics in an open-ended question that asked people to share up to five issues for the government to work on in 2024, according to The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll published in January. That’s about twice as many as mentioned the topic in an AP- NORC poll conducted in the previous year.
Further, about 47 percent of Americans said they believe Biden has hurt relations with other countries, according to an AP-NORC poll published this month. Similarly, 47 percent said the same about Trump.
Biden was flying high in the first six months of his presidency, with the American electorate largely approving of his performance and giving him high marks for his handling of the economy and the coronavirus pandemic. But the president saw his approval ratings tank in the aftermath of the chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in August 2021 and they never fully recovered.
Now, Biden finds himself dealing with the uncertainty of two wars. Both could shadow him right up to Election Day.
With the Israel-Hamas war, Republicans pillory him as not being adequately supportive of Israel, and the left wing of his party harshly criticizes the president, who has shown displeasure with Netanyahu’s prosecution of the war, for not doing more to force the Israelis to safeguard Palestinian lives.
After Israel’s carefully calibrated strikes on Iran, Middle East tensions have entered a “gray area” that all parties must navigate carefully, said Aaron David Miller, an adviser on Middle East issues in Republican and Democratic administrations.
“Does what has occurred over the last 10 days strengthen each sides’ risk-readiness or has it made them drop back from the brink and revert into risk aversion?” Miller said. “Israel and Iran got away with striking each other’s territory without a major escalation. What conclusions do they draw from that? Is the conclusion that we might be able to do this again? Or is it we really dodged a bullet here and we have to be exceedingly careful.”
Israel and Hamas appear far away from an agreement on a temporary ceasefire that would facilitate the release of remaining hostages in Hamas-controlled Gaza and help get aid into the territory. It’s an agreement that Biden sees as essential to finding an endgame to the war.
CIA Director William Burns expressed disappointment this past week that Hamas has not yet accepted a proposal that Egyptian and Qatari negotiators had presented this month. He blamed the group for “standing in the way of innocent civilians in Gaza getting humanitarian relief that they so desperately need.”
At the same time, the Biden administration has tried to demonstrate it is holding Israel accountable, imposing new penalties Friday on two entities accused of fundraising for extremist Israel settlers that were already under sanctions, as well as the founder of an organization whose members regularly assault Palestinians.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan and other administration officials met on Thursday with Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, Ron Dermer, and national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi. US officials, according to the White House, reiterated Biden’s concerns about Israel’s plans to carry out an operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where some 1.5 million Palestinians have taken shelter.
Ross Baker, professor emeritus of political science at Rutgers University, said Biden may have temporarily benefited from Israeli-Iranian tensions driving attention away from the deprivation in Gaza.
“Sometimes salvation can come in unexpected ways,” Baker said. “But the way ahead has no shortage of complications.”


Biden avoids a further Mideast spiral as Israel and Iran show restraint. But for how long?

Updated 21 April 2024
Follow

Biden avoids a further Mideast spiral as Israel and Iran show restraint. But for how long?

  • The situation remains a delicate one for Biden as he gears up his reelection effort in the face of headwinds in the Middle East, Russia and the Indo-Pacific

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden can breathe a bit easier, at least for the moment, now that Israel and Iran appear to have stepped back from the brink of tipping the Middle East into all-out war.

Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Iran and Syria caused limited damage. The restrained action came after Biden urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to temper its response to Iran’s unprecedented direct attack on Israel last week and avoid an escalation of violence in the region. Iran’s barrage of drones and missiles inflicted little damage and followed a suspected Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus this month that killed two generals.
Iran’s public response to the Israeli strikes Friday also was muted, raising hopes that Israel-Iran tensions — long carried out in the shadows with cyberattacks, assassinations and sabotage — will stay at a simmer.
The situation remains a delicate one for Biden as he gears up his reelection effort in the face of headwinds in the Middle East, Russia and the Indo-Pacific. All are testing the proposition he made to voters during his 2020 campaign that a Biden White House would bring a measure of calm and renewed respect for the United States on the world stage.
Foreign policy matters are not typically the top issue for American voters. This November is expected to be no different, with the economy and border security carrying greater resonance.
But public polling suggests that overseas concerns could have more relevance with voters than in any US election since 2006, when voter dissatisfaction over the Iraq War was a major factor in the Republican Party losing 30 House and six Senate seats.
“We see this issue rising in saliency, and at the same time we’re seeing voter appraisals of President Biden’s handling of foreign affairs being quite negative,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “That combination is not a great one for Biden.”
Biden has staked enormous political capital on his response to the Israel-Hamas war as well as his administration’s backing of Ukraine as it fends off a Russian invasion.
The apparent de-escalation of tensions between Israel and Iran also comes as the House on Saturday approved $95 billion in wartime aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, a measure that Biden has pushed for as Ukrainian forces run desperately short on arms.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, pushed the package forward after months of delay as he faced the threat of ouster by his party’s right flank. The legislation now awaits a vote in the Senate. The new money would provide a surge of weaponry to the front lines, giving the White House renewed hope that Ukraine can right the ship after months of setbacks in the war.
Biden also has made bolstering relations in the Indo-Pacific a central focus of his foreign policy agenda, looking to win allies and build ties as China becomes a more formidable economic and military competitor.
But Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have an argument to make that Biden’s policies have contributed to the US dealing with myriad global quandaries, said Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Washington think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Republicans have criticized Biden’s unsuccessful efforts earlier in his term to revive a nuclear deal with Iran brokered by the Obama administration and abandoned by Trump, saying that would embolden Tehran. The agreement had provided Iran with billions in sanctions relief in exchange for the country agreeing to roll back its nuclear program.
GOP critics have sought to connect Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and they blame the Obama administration for not offering a strong enough response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2014 seizure of Crimea.
“You can make an intellectual case, a policy case of how we got from Point A to B to C to D and ended up in a world on fire,” said Goldberg, a national security official in the Trump administration. “People may not care about how we got here, but they do care that we are here.”
Polling suggests Americans’ concerns about foreign policy issues are growing, and there are mixed signs of whether Biden’s pitch as a steady foreign policy hand is resonating with voters.
About 4 in 10 US adults named foreign policy topics in an open-ended question that asked people to share up to five issues for the government to work on in 2024, according to The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll published in January. That’s about twice as many as mentioned the topic in an AP- NORC poll conducted in the previous year.
Further, about 47 percent of Americans said they believe Biden has hurt relations with other countries, according to an AP-NORC poll published this month. Similarly, 47 percent said the same about Trump.
Biden was flying high in the first six months of his presidency, with the American electorate largely approving of his performance and giving him high marks for his handling of the economy and the coronavirus pandemic. But the president saw his approval ratings tank in the aftermath of the chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in August 2021 and they never fully recovered.
Now, Biden finds himself dealing with the uncertainty of two wars. Both could shadow him right up to Election Day.
With the Israel-Hamas war, Republicans pillory him as not being adequately supportive of Israel, and the left wing of his party harshly criticizes the president, who has shown displeasure with Netanyahu’s prosecution of the war, for not doing more to force the Israelis to safeguard Palestinian lives.
After Israel’s carefully calibrated strikes on Iran, Middle East tensions have entered a “gray area” that all parties must navigate carefully, said Aaron David Miller, an adviser on Middle East issues in Republican and Democratic administrations.
“Does what has occurred over the last 10 days strengthen each sides’ risk-readiness or has it made them drop back from the brink and revert into risk aversion?” Miller said. “Israel and Iran got away with striking each other’s territory without a major escalation. What conclusions do they draw from that? Is the conclusion that we might be able to do this again? Or is it we really dodged a bullet here and we have to be exceedingly careful.”
Israel and Hamas appear far away from an agreement on a temporary ceasefire that would facilitate the release of remaining hostages in Hamas-controlled Gaza and help get aid into the territory. It’s an agreement that Biden sees as essential to finding an endgame to the war.
CIA Director William Burns expressed disappointment this past week that Hamas has not yet accepted a proposal that Egyptian and Qatari negotiators had presented this month. He blamed the group for “standing in the way of innocent civilians in Gaza getting humanitarian relief that they so desperately need.”
At the same time, the Biden administration has tried to demonstrate it is holding Israel accountable, imposing new penalties Friday on two entities accused of fundraising for extremist Israel settlers that were already under sanctions, as well as the founder of an organization whose members regularly assault Palestinians.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan and other administration officials met on Thursday with Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, Ron Dermer, and national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi. US officials, according to the White House, reiterated Biden’s concerns about Israel’s plans to carry out an operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where some 1.5 million Palestinians have taken shelter.
Ross Baker, professor emeritus of political science at Rutgers University, said Biden may have temporarily benefited from Israeli-Iranian tensions driving attention away from the deprivation in Gaza.
“Sometimes salvation can come in unexpected ways,” Baker said. “But the way ahead has no shortage of complications.”


A man escaped Sudan’s bloody civil war. His mysterious death in Missisippi has sparked suspicion

Updated 21 April 2024
Follow

A man escaped Sudan’s bloody civil war. His mysterious death in Missisippi has sparked suspicion

  • Family members and concerned citizens spent weeks searching for Dau Mabil, who was captured by a surveillance camera walking near the trail

JACKSON, Mississippi: As a child, Dau Mabil escaped war-torn Sudan and built a new life in Mississippi. This month, fishermen found the body of the 33-year-old Mabil floating in a river, prompting calls for a federal investigation into his disappearance and death.
Mabil, who lived in Jackson with his wife, went missing in broad daylight on March 25 after going for a walk on a trail connecting the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum with other city landmarks. His brother, Bul Mabil, cast doubt on initial autopsy results published Thursday, which a sheriff said did not uncover signs of foul play.
Bul Mabil said he is dissatisfied with the way authorities have handled the case.
“I can’t believe this would happen to someone who came here from a war-torn country,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. ”I was expecting much better government in this country. But this is the way the United States operates. It is so appalling.”
Democratic US Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, whose district includes Jackson, sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting a Justice Department investigation. Thompson said civil rights organizations had contacted his office about the case, and his letter described Mabil as an “African male, who is married to Mrs. Karissa Bowley, a white female.”
Family members and concerned citizens spent weeks searching for Dau Mabil, who was captured by a surveillance camera walking near the trail. In an interview, Bul Mabil said he raced to Jackson from his home in Houston on March 26 after hearing of his brother’s death from a family friend. He said he began looking into the case on his own, alongside the Capitol Police, a state law enforcement agency that operates in part of Jackson.
At the same time, Bowley led rallies and information campaigns on behalf of her missing husband, asking for the public’s help to find him. She did not respond to a text or phone call seeking comment.
Fishermen spotted a body on April 13 in the Pearl River in Lawrence County, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) south of Jackson. Days later, officials confirmed the remains were those of Dau Mabil.
Bul Mabil said his brother’s death has been devastating for him and his mother, who still lives in a refugee camp.
The brothers were among the thousands of young refugees brought to the US during their country’s bloody civil war. After they arrived, Julie Hines Mabus, the ex-wife of former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus, started a foundation that helped the children settle in Jackson. She described Dau Mabil as “soft-spoken, a smile on his face, a little twinkle in his eye.”
“To get here was miraculous and then for Bul to get his brother here was even more miraculous,” Hines Mabus told the AP. “It was sort of like a homecoming. And now for Bul to face this with his brother, it’s just heartbreaking.”
Bul Mabil filed emergency legal papers to ensure his brother’s body wouldn’t be released to Bowley and her family until an autopsy was performed by both the state crime lab and an independent medical examiner. On Thursday, Hinds County Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas granted the request, pausing release of the body and ordering a second autopsy.
In a subsequent court filing, Bowley’s attorney said her client “embraces” the judge’s order for an additional autopsy, with the condition it be conducted only after all law enforcement entities finish investigating.
Bul Mabil cast doubt on a statement from Lawrence County Sheriff Ryan Everett, who first reported the results of the initial autopsy Thursday. Everett said the autopsy did not reveal foul play, but an official determination may be made later, pending further testing.
Bailey Martin, a spokesperson for the state Department of Public Safety, said the state crime lab performed the autopsy. The department expects to receive DNA confirmation next week.
Bul Mabil’s attorneys said they hope an independent autopsy can be done within the next week.
Capitol Police conducted an “insufficient” investigation, Bul Mabil said. One of this attorneys, Carlos Tanner, said his client was “being left in the dark about the suspicious circumstances” about his brother’s disappearance and death.
Vallena Greer, a Jackson woman who took in and raised Dau Mabil, said he thrived in America. He received a school award for his improved English speaking skills and was a talented soccer player.
At the time of his disappearance, Dau Mabil worked as a manager at a Jackson restaurant and planned on returning to school to earn a computer science degree.
“He did well for what America wants immigrants to be,” Bul Mabil said. “We called Mississippi our second home. We didn’t know something like this would happen to one of us.”
 

 


China says AUKUS security pact risks nuclear proliferation in Pacific

Updated 21 April 2024
Follow

China says AUKUS security pact risks nuclear proliferation in Pacific

SYDNEY, Australia: China’s foreign minister on Saturday accused Western powers in the AUKUS security pact of provoking division and risking nuclear proliferation in the South Pacific.
On a weekend visit to strengthen Beijing’s ties with Papua New Guinea, Foreign Minister Wang Yi lashed out at AUKUS, which provides for the United States and Britain to equip Australia with nuclear-powered but conventionally armed submarines.
The three-way AUKUS agreement “runs counter” to a South Pacific treaty banning nuclear weapons in the region, he told a news conference in Port Moresby.
AUKUS also “raises serious nuclear proliferation risks,” the Chinese foreign minister told reporters after meeting with his Papua New Guinea counterpart Justin Tkatchenko.
In recent years, Beijing has tried to chip away at US and Australian influence across the South Pacific, including in Papua New Guinea.
The Pacific Islands, while small in population, are replete with natural resources and sit at a geostrategic crossroads that could prove strategically vital in any military dispute over Taiwan.
Australia is by far Papua New Guinea’s largest donor, but Chinese firms have made solid inroads into markets in the impoverished but resource-rich nation.

The Chinese foreign minister seized on a recent announcement by the AUKUS nations that they are considering cooperating with Japan on military technology.
Under the AUKUS agreement, the partners plan to develop advanced warfighting capabilities such as artificial intelligence, undersea drones and hypersonic missiles.
“The recent attempts to draw more countries to join in such an initiative of stoking confrontation between blocs and provoking division are totally inconsistent with the urgent needs of the island countries,” the foreign minister said.
Wang took a thinly veiled swipe at Australian and US relations with Solomon Islands, which held elections on Wednesday.

Solomon Islands
The Solomons’ incumbent prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, has embraced China while his main challengers view Beijing’s growing influence with a mix of skepticism and alarm.
A new government has yet to be agreed among elected MPs.

Electoral officers prepare to count votes from the general election at the Multi-Purpose Center in Honiara, capital city of the Solomon Islands, on April 19, 2024. (AFP)

“We believe that the people of Solomon Islands have the wisdom and ability to determine the future of their country. Island nations belong to their people,” Wang said.
“They are not the backyard of any big country,” Wang said — an allusion to historic perceptions that Australia considered the South Pacific to be its backyard.
State-backed Chinese news outlets have pushed reports that the United States might orchestrate riots to block Sogavare from returning to power.
US Ambassador to the Solomons Ann Marie Yastischock has said such rumors are “blatantly misleading.”
Papua New Guinea’s foreign minister welcomed the Chinese minister, saying they had “reached some understanding” in their talks.
“PNG values China as an important bilateral partner,” he said.
Wang is scheduled to have breakfast with Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape on Sunday, wrapping up a three-nation tour of Indonesia, Cambodia and Papua New Guinea that began April 18.
 


Moldova faces new challenge from restive Gagauzia region

Updated 21 April 2024
Follow

Moldova faces new challenge from restive Gagauzia region

  • Gagauzia’s 140,000 residents, mainly ethnic Turks, have had uneasy relations with central authorities since Moldova threw off Soviet rule in 1991
  • President Maia Sandu has identified Russia as the biggest threat to her country and wants Moldova to join the European Union

CHISINAU: Moldova’s pro-European government faces a new challenge from its restive pro-Moscow Gagauzia region after its leaders denounced proposed judicial reforms and demanded enhanced status for the Russian language.
Gagauzia’s 140,000 residents, mainly ethnic Turks who adhere to Orthodox Christianity, have had uneasy relations with central authorities since Moldova threw off Soviet rule in 1991.
On Friday, Gagauzia’s local assembly rejected judicial reforms which would shut down an appeal court in the region and called for special status for Russian, alongside Moldova’s sole state language, Romanian.
Under Moldova’s constitution, Gagauzia’s leader, or bashkan, is automatically a member of the government in the country lying between Ukraine and Romania.
But President Maia Sandu refuses to sign an enabling decree on grounds that the current bashkan, Yevgenia Gutul, was elected on the ticket of a banned pro-Russian political party led by fugitive businessman Ilan Shor, convicted of mass fraud.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu. (Reuters)

Prime Minister Dorin Recean stood by the judicial reforms and said the courts would uproot what he called criminal elements running the region.
“The judicial system will do what it has to and bring to account all members of these groups,” he told a television interviewer on Friday evening. “There are absolutely no grounds for confrontation. Our goal is to build Europe.”
Sandu has identified Russia as the biggest threat to her country and called a referendum for later in the year on joining the European Union alongside a presidential election.
Gutul is deeply suspicious of the EU plan, accuses Sandu of victimizing her region and has made two trips to Russia in the past month and asked Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin for help.
Political analyst Vitalie Andrievschi said the region’s demands, including its call for improved status for the Russian language, were part of a campaign endorsed by the Kremlin — and Shor — to disrupt political activity in Moldova.
“They need this to stir things up in a year with a presidential election and referendum on the agenda in order to undermine stability and divide the country,” he told Reuters.