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COVID-19: Russian Communists Break Lockdown Rules To Mark Lenin's 150th Birthday

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A supporter of the Russian Communist Party goes to lay flowers at the mausoleum of Vladimir Lenin in Moscow.

The global death toll from the coronavirus is more than 178,000 with more than 2.5 million infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.

Here's a roundup of COVID-19 developments in RFE/RL's broadcast regions.

Russia

Tens of communists in Russia broke Moscow's coronavirus lockdown to march across Red Square to mark the sesquicentennial anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik revolution.

Members of the Communist Party of Russia laid flowers at the front of Lenin's Mausoleum in the square on April 22, led by party leader Gennady Zyuganov.

Those gathered were split into small groups and kept at a distance from each other when approaching the granite mausoleum, though their presence broke lockdown rules prohibiting Muscovites from leaving their homes except to buy essentials such as food and medicines, to receive medical treatment, or to take out trash or walk family pets.

A day earlier, Zyuganov called on communists in all of Russia's regions, as well as in Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Central Asia, and the South Caucasus, to lay flowers at remaining statues of Lenin.

Communists in Russia had planned to hold mass events and celebrations of Lenin's 150th anniversary with the participation of Communists from foreign nations, but all of the events were postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, a well-known Russian economist Oleg Vyugin says the Russian government needs to provide more support to ordinary citizens and small businesses to overcome hardships caused by coronavirus pandemic.

Vyugin told RFE/RL on April 21 that instead of allocating major support sums to large state-controlled companies and enterprises, the government should focus more on supporting ordinary people and owners of small- and medium-sized businesses.

Vyugin, a former deputy finance minister, chairman of the Observation Council of the Moscow Stock Exchange, and a professor at the National Research University of Russia's High School of Economics, was one of the authors of the Coronacrisis-2020 report published by the Liberal Mission foundation on April 13 that criticized the government's coronavirus relief program.

According to Vyugin, the government's general financial support package is 500 billion rubles ($6.5 billion), of which only 80 billion rubles ($1 billion) is destined for small businesses.

"This attitude might lead to a situation when the revival of small and medium businesses will proceed very slowly and with huge difficulties. [It would be better to choose] what I call a European way, which is a concept to help ordinary people in difficult times," Vyugin said, noting the German government’s approach.

"Germany started giving financial support to small businesses right away. And later, the federal tax service will look at the situation. If it turns out that your business remained profitable [while under pandemic restrictions], you will have to return the money to the government. If you took the money but failed to preserve your business and left your employees jobless, then you will have to return money to the government too," he said.

RFE/RL's Coronavirus Crisis Archive

Features and analysis, videos, and infographics explore how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the countries in our broadcast area.


According to Vyugin, coronavirus restrictions will most likely start being lifted by late May, or early June, by which point officials will have to have figured out ways to "coexist with the virus to avoid an economic catastrophe."

According to Vyugin, if the restrictions on individuals and businesses remain in place for months, they may lead to a situation where banks in Russia will also need government support as the ability of clients to repay loans, credits, and mortgages weakens.

Georgia

Georgia's parliament has approved a presidential decree to extend by one month the countrywide state of emergency implemented to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.

In an April 22 vote, 97 lawmakers were in favor of the decree to extend the state of emergency to May 22, while 10 voted against it.

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili said the extension was needed since the virus was expected to continue spreading in the South Caucasus country for "the next two-three weeks."

She added that Georgia had been able to "control" the extent of the epidemic since an initial state of emergency was declared on March 21.

Georgian health authorities have reported 411 confirmed coronavirus cases, including five deaths.

The state of emergency in Georgia includes a nightly curfew and the closure of nonessential shops, restaurants, and cafes.

Azerbaijan

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is urging the Azerbaijani authorities to stop using the coronavirus crisis to “crack down harder” on critical reporting.

The Paris-based media freedom watchdog issued the call on April 22, after Natiq Isbatov, a journalist for the 7gun.az news website, was jailed for allegedly violating lockdown regulations when he filmed a protest in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku.

"The misuse of lockdown measures to target reporters is the latest escalation in the persecution of independent journalism in Azerbaijan," Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said in a statement.

Cavelier demanded the immediate release of Isbatov, who was detained on April 9 when he filmed protesters gathered outside a municipal employment office in Baku to demand financial support during the quarantine period imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The journalist was later sentenced to 30 days of administrative detention for "violating the lockdown" and "resisting the police."

In its statement, RSF said Azerbaijan’s authorities “have repeatedly voiced a desire to control information” about the coronavirus epidemic, citing legal amendments adopted last month under which the owners of online media can be prosecuted for any "inaccurate" or "dangerous" content.

Meanwhile, the Prosecutor-General’s Office has warned social-media users that the authorities will investigate all reports of "fake news" and will punish "offenders."

As a result, media and journalists are “under pressure” just to use the official information provided by the special unit established by the government to deal with the crisis, according to RSF.

Azerbaijan is ranked 168th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

Critics of President Ilham Aliyev say authorities of the energy-rich South Caucasus state frequently jail opposition activists, reporters, human rights defenders, and civil society advocates without grounds in an effort to silence dissent.

Turkmenistan

Authorities in Turkmenistan's northeastern region of Lebap have banned local residents from using water from the Amudarya River to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the Central Asian nation, where no COVID-19 cases officially have been registered.

The ban includes fishing and using birds caught on the river's shores for food.

An RFE/RL correspondent reports from the region that local authorities also banned people from washing their hands in the Amudarya River and waters nearby and letting their livestock drink from it.

People caught fishing are being detained and placed in quarantine, the report said.

The authorities have not provided detailed information, advising only that the measures are to prevent COVID-19 in the area. However, there are no known cases of coronavirus infection from river water or water wildlife in the world.

The lack of clarity has created rumors and fear among local residents.

In the regional capital, Turkmenabat, personnel in local medical institutions have been forced to raise funds to buy antivirus and disinfection substances for local schools.

Turkmenistan and Tajikistan have reported no coronavirus cases, but experts are skeptical given the lack of transparency within their governments and a lack of independent media.

The two countries have recently bucked the global trend of suspending sports events during the crisis by resuming their national soccer leagues.

Turkmenistan's foreign minister said at a briefing on April 22 that the data was true and that the country isn't hiding anything.

"If there was a single confirmed coronavirus case we would have immediately informed...[the World Health Organization] in line with our obligations," Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov said. "We are not hiding anything."

Based on reporting by RFE/RL's Georgian, Azerbaijani, and Turkmen services, Reuters, Interfax, RIA Novosti, and Channel 1TV

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