Regional headlines: Tsikhanouskaya raises stakes in Belarus; France’s role in Karabakh crisis; amazing Russian dogs; Polish games fly high; and confusion in Kyrgyzstan.

Belarus Opposition Delivers Ultimatum to Lukashenka

The Belarusian opposition raised its campaign to unseat President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to a new level yesterday, telling him to resign and halt the violent crackdown on protesters within two weeks. Unless these demands are met by 25 October, the opposition will call for a general strike, opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya said, AFP reports. Last weekend, Belarusian authorities allowed Tsikhanouskaya to speak with her jailed husband Siarhei, who advised her to toughen her stance against Lukashenka, according to AFP. “Everyone who has not yet made the decision to switch to the side of the people is an accessory to terror,” she said, urging Belarusians to “declare publicly that you no longer support the regime.” All of Lukashenka’s main critics “have been either jailed or pushed out of the country,” AFP says. On Monday, Belarusian police did not rule out that it could use live rounds on protesters, claiming they were becoming more radical in their demands, Al Jazeera reports.

France Debates Role in Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

France’s influential Armenian community is pressing President Emmanuel Macron to openly side with Armenia in its conflict with Azerbaijan. Dozens of French politicians have circulated a petition calling on the country to abandon its official neutral stance as a member of the Minsk Group, a group of countries working toward a peaceful negotiated resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which it co-chairs, VOA reports. Macron has already irritated Turkey, Azerbaijan’s ally, with remarks about Turkish energy exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean and a claim, denied by Ankara, that Syrian Islamist fighters passed through Turkey on their way to join the fighting against Armenian forces, which has left some 600 people dead in the heaviest fighting over the disputed region since the 1990s. However, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said yesterday the country should not deviate from its neutral course, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reports.

Russian Dogs vs. COVID Germs

Dog handlers and scientists are not quite sure how, but they agree that the Shalaika, also known as the Sulimov dog, have an almost super-canine ability to smell drugs, explosives – and perhaps the virus that causes COVID-19. “This is in many ways the perfect scent dog,” Yelena Batayeva, head of Russian airline Aeroflot’s dog training service, told The Moscow Times. “They have a highly unusual mix of Arctic and Southern blood. This gives them the unique skill of being able to pick up smells prevalent in both heavy warm air and light cold air, particles that other dogs we have worked with couldn’t.” Bred in the 1970s by Russian biologist Klim Sulimov, the Shalaika is a cross between the Laika northern herding dog and golden jackals native to Central Asia. About 50 Shalaikas have worked for Aeroflot as sniffer dogs since 2001. According to a 2018 press release, Aeroflot developed software and hardware to help the dogs and their handlers identify smells. They have previously been used to detect illnesses including cancer, and the hope is they can be trained to sniff out the COVID-19 virus, Batayeva said. Finland has also tried training dogs to identify the virus in the sweat of infected people, The New York Times writes.

Polish Gaming Industry Goes From Strength to Strength

Poland’s e-commerce and gaming industries are becoming increasingly attractive to investors. As Bloomberg writes, two majors in this sector – online marketplace Allegro and game maker CD Projekt – are set to become the two biggest companies on the Warsaw Stock Exchange, “highlighting the shift away from old-economy industrials and banks that have dominated [the exchange]”. CD Projekt, already Europe’s second-biggest gaming company, could get a big boost when its hotly awaited sci-fi game “Cyberpunk 2077” comes out next month. Poland’s more than 400 game makers employ some 10,000 people, Emerging Europe says. Underlining the importance of video gaming in Poland’s economy, the Warsaw bourse has set up a special index for games companies, called WIG Games. “There are currently 49 games companies listed on the WSE, making it the world’s leading stock exchange for developers,” Emerging Europe writes.

Turmoil in Kyrgyzstan Continues

Some of the Kyrgyzstanis released from prison during the unrest that followed a disputed election are back in custody. They include former President Almazbek Atambaev, who returned to jail on 10 October, a day after demonstrators at a rally he and others organized clashed with supporters of the recently named prime minister, Sadyr Japarov, Eurasianet writes. Japarov himself was in prison, serving a sentence for kidnapping, before members of parliament named him to head the government. “Japarov was never a major political figure in Kyrgyzstan, even when he was freely walking the streets,” RFE/RL writes. He was jailed in 2017 for taking hostages in a dispute over the Kumtor gold mine in 2013. Tensions between supporters and opponents of Atambaev – who had been serving a sentence for corruption – seem to lie behind some of the unrest in Kyrgyzstan. His “close associate,” Farid Niyazov, is also back behind bars, Eurasianet says, as is Atambaev opponent Kursan Asanov, a former deputy interior minister who was jailed in 2019 for his handling of the chaotic arrest of Atambaev. President Sooronbai Jeenbekov yesterday asked parliament to hold another vote on Japarov’s nomination, Al Jazeera reports.

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer