Ukrainian authorities stepped up a crackdown on organized crime in the port city of Odessa during the night of March 23-24. Police and the "Berkut" antiterrorist unit entered the city hall that night to detain the first deputy mayor Anatoly Vorokhayev, accused leader of a financial pyramid scheme. The arrest was thwarted by clerical and security staff inside city hall and by an instantly assembled crowd of several thousand outside, led by city mayor Eduard Hurvits. The next day, March 24, thousands of supporters of Hurvits again demonstrated in front of city hall. An equally large crowd was mobilized to a counterdemonstration in support of Odessa Region Administration head Ruslan Bodelan, who is challenging Hurvits for the post of mayor in the upcoming elections. Bodelan also runs for parliament near the top of the slate of the Agrarian party, which is loosely aligned with the presidential camp. The Hurvits and Bodelan groupings accuse each other of being linked with organized crime. The authorities are particularly concerned over Hurvits’ reported hiring of the "protection" group nicknamed "Angel" as a mayoral security service.
Odessa has recently witnessed a series of violent incidents involving rival business and political groupings against the background of the electoral campaign. Vechernyaya Odessa newspaper’s chief editor Boris Derevenko and several private entrepreneurs have been assassinated; an anti-Hurvits witness in an ongoing court trial has also been murdered; Electoral Commission chairman Leonid Kapelyushny, a pro-Hurvits man, has been injured in an assassination attempt; district ("raion") administration chief Ihor Svoboda disappeared almost three weeks ago and is presumed kidnapped. The authorities have at last begun focusing on the situation, most recently arresting several senior city hall officials and some businessmen on criminal charges. (Ukrainian agencies, March 17 and 24)
Ajaria Enlarges Powers of its Security and Law Enforcement Bodies.