1. Kazakhstan’s president wins fifth term in token election

Nursultan Nazarbaev clinched his fifth straight presidential term in the 26 April president election, extending his fame as the longest-serving leader of a former Soviet republic.

Early results show the incumbent winning 97 percent of the vote in a record turnout of 95.11 percent, the BBC reports.

The 74-year-old Nazarbaev has ruled Kazakhstan since 1989, two years before the country gained independence from the Soviet Union. He has since faced only token opposition.

The incumbent has touted the petroleum-rich country’s economic stability and development under his command and urged voters to extend his mandate.

“I am sure Kazakhstan’s people will vote primarily for the stable development of our state and the improvement of people’s lives, as well as the stability of the state and in support of the policies the country has implemented under my leadership,” Nazarbaev said as he cast his ballot in Astana, according to BBC. “I am confident of this.”

Nazarbaev faced two opponents in the contest, which was held a year earlier than scheduled at the request of the country’s parliament. The others on the ballot were Communist Party nominee Turgun Syzdykov and Abelgazi Kusainov, a former senator and government minister, TengriNews reported last week. Some 9.5 million people were eligible to vote, according to TengriNews.

Human rights and election observers have long criticized the lack of pluralism in Kazakhstani elections. Human Rights Watch, in its 2014 World Report, describes an escalation in arbitrary arrests of government critics and a “marked escalation” in a crackdown on news media in the Central Asian country.

2. Armenia marks centenary of massacre

Armenia has marked the centenary of the mass killings that occurred under Ottoman rule as neighboring Turkey continued to deny that the historic events amounted to genocide.

Serzh Sargsyan, the Armenian president, on 24 April welcomed his French and Russian counterparts, Francois Hollande and Vladimir Putin, at a ceremony in Yerevan honoring those who died in killings that began in 1915. Both leaders declared the World War I mass killings a genocide.

“Human language is not capable of describing all that was experienced by a whole nation,” Sargsyan said in a speech, a text of which was provided by the president’s office. “Around 1.5 million human beings were slaughtered merely for being Armenian, as unimaginable atrocities of the human race became concealed in eternal silence. Some survived, with their life stories conveyed as historical testaments to generations to come.”

In his speech at Yerevan’s Tsitsernakaberd genocide memorial, President Vladimir Putin said, “We have always considered that mass killings are impossible to justify in any ways,” ArmeniaNow reports.

“The international society must do everything so that the tragic events of the past are never repeated, so that all nations are able to live in peace.”

The ceremony was also attended by Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic and Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan expressed his “condolences” to Armenia in a letter to the head of the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul. But Erdogan also denied that the 1915-1917 killings were a genocide, according to a Reuters report.

Yerevan has long sought international recognition of its claims that some 1.5 million Christian Armenians, then Ottoman citizens, were massacred in a deliberate eradication campaign. Pope Francis and German President Joachim Gauch recently used the word “genocide” to denounce the World War I atrocities against the Armenians and other Christian minorities.

Last week, the German and Austrian parliaments approved resolutions declaring the Ottoman killings of Armenians during World War I a genocide, SwissInfo reports.

The issue has stymied international efforts to improve diplomatic and trade relations between Turkey and Armenia.

3. Putin accuses Washington of backing Islamic insurgents

President Vladimir Putin has marked his 15th year in power by accusing the United States of supporting separatists in the North Caucasus.

Putin, in a new documentary film on his rule as president and prime minister, says Russian intelligence reported “direct contacts between fighters from the North Caucasus and representatives of U.S. Special Forces in Azerbaijan,” Germany’s Deutsche Welle reported on 26 April.

The Russian president said he expressed concern to then-President George W. Bush about U.S. intelligence agents providing logistical and other support for Islamic fighters and that his U.S. counterpart vowed to “kick the ass” of those responsible, according to the Associated Press.

Russia fought two devastating wars in Chechnya, which is now ruled by a mercurial strongman who professes loyalty to the Kremlin, Ramzan Kadyrov.

The two-hour documentary film on Putin builds on other recent interviews in which the Kremlin leader has criticized the West and defended the annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in Ukraine. In a documentary marking the first anniversary of the Crimea annexation, he said plans for the invasion of the Black Sea peninsula were worked out as the Olympic Games were taking place in Sochi.

He accused the West of wanting a docile Russia. “The so-called ruling classes, political and economic elites, like us only when we are wretched and poor and stand with a begging hand,” he said, according to AP.

Putin was first elected president in March 2000 after serving as interim leader following the resignation of Boris Yeltsin. He was sworn in on 7 May 2000.

4. Easy riders: Russian motorcyclists vow to skirt Polish roadblock

Some two dozen Russian motorcyclists are vowing to defy Polish threats to bar their way to Berlin for a ride commemorating the Soviet siege of Berlin in World War II.

The group, whose members include the Night Wolves motorcycle club supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin, began their ride on 25 April amid threats from Warsaw that they would not be allowed to transit through Polish territory. Germany has also threatened to bar some of the riders.

Night Wolves leader Alexander Zaldostanov said they will find other ways of getting to Berlin in early May to mark the 70th anniversary surrender of Nazi Germany. “If they don’t let us in as a motorcycle column, we’ll go individually, from various points,” he said, AP reports.

Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz called the motorcycle group’s intended ride through her country a “provocation,” according to AP.

Warsaw announced on 24 April that it would deny entry to the riders, accusing the group of ultranationalism, Radio Free Europe reports.

To mark the first anniversary of the annexation of Crimea last month, Zaldostanov lashed out at the West. “For the first time we showed resistance to the global Satanism, the growing savagery of Western Europe, the rush to consumerism that denies all spirituality, the destruction of traditional values, all this homosexual talk, this American democracy,” he said. 

5. Voters fail to block facelift for Skopje shopping mall

A voter effort to preserve a Yugoslav-era shopping center in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, appears to have been defeated.

Local authorities say the referendum – the first of its kind in Macedonia – fell short of reaching the minimum 50 percent turnout of eligible voters in the Skopje municipality of Centar, Balkan Insight reports. However, they said results showed there was overwhelming support to protect the 1970s GTC mall from a planned facelift.

The state-owned shopping complex is a popular fixture of Skopje’s central district, and its open-air passages and exterior walls lined with planters has stood as a contrast to the modern, enclosed malls that have been built in other parts of the city.

The government has been under fire for years over plans to expand, enclose, and renovate the center as part of a general make-over of central Skopje. Opposition parties have accused the ruling VMRO-DPMNE of trying to disrupt the referendum, including shutting down elevators in buildings to prevent elderly people from going to the polls, Balkan Insight reports.

Andrej Zernovski, mayor of the Centar municipality, said the results showed residents want to prevent a Baroque facelift for the building.

“Over 95 percent of the votes went for the preservation of the authentic look of the GTC,” he said, according to Balkan Insight. “No one can dare to ruin the authenticity of the GTC.”

Timothy Spence is TOL’s former managing editor and a freelance writer, editor, and journalism trainer in Vienna.