Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 21 June 2011

News Summary


Jerusalem (Israel). Israeli Haaretz newspaper reveals that Israeli and Turkish officials have held secret direct talks to try to solve the diplomatic crisis between the two countries. The negotiations are receiving the Americans’ support. The talks are reportedly being held between an Israeli official on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu, a firm supporter of rehabilitating ties with Israel.

In addition, the U.S. administration has held talks with senior Turkish officials, mainly to foil the flotilla to Gaza due later this month, but also in a bid to improve relations with Israel.

Last week U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to her Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu and expressed satisfaction with the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation’s announcement that the ship ‘Mavi Marmara’ would not take part in the flotilla this time around, officials said. Another point in the talks between Israel and Turkey is the situation in Syria that creates problems for both countries.

Damascus (Syria). Despite the alleged commitment of Syrian President Assad to “national dialogue” and the promise for new laws on the media and parliamentary elections, Syrian forces have extended a security sweep near the Turkish border to the city of Aleppo. Dozens of students at Aleppo University have been arrested and twelve people, including a mosque preacher, were detained in the nearby village of Tel Rifaat, halfway between Aleppo and the Turkish border.

Protesters at the university campus had criticised the speech of Assad in which he blamed saboteurs for the disorder in Syria. This was the third address to the nation of the Syrian President since the uprising against his rule began three months ago. Syrian rights groups say at least 1,300 civilians have been killed and 10,000 detained in a fierce military crackdown.

Diwaniyah (Iraq). AFP reports that two car bombs ripped through a group of Iraqi police near the home of the local governor in Iraq’s central city of Diwaniyah, killing 25 people and wounding more than 30. A medical source at the main hospital in Diwaniyah, 160 kilometres south of Baghdad, said most of the casualties were policemen. It is not known if Salam Hussein Alwan, governor of the province – also named Diwaniyah – was among the casualties. According to the hospital source, 20 bodies had been transported to the hospital and it had admitted 35 wounded.


Athens (Greece). The government of Greek PM George Papandreou faces a confidence vote in parliament today, which it must survive in order to push through its package of 28.4 billion euros ($40.65 billion) of austerity cuts. Euro zone finance ministers called emergency talks on Greece for July 3 to finalize a financial rescue package to avert a default.
If the Greek parliament will adopt the new austerity plan that the Euro zone has set as a condition to release 12 billion Euro ($17 billion) in crucial loans, Athens can remain afloat.

Sofia (Bulgaria). In a commentary, Austrian Wiener Zeitung emphasizes the steep slide of the confidence in the incumbent Bulgarian government. Despite the recent survival of the government in the no confidence vote last week and the optimism of the PM, the Bulgarians have reportedly less hope about the government’s potential to take Bulgaria out of the crisis soon. The Austrian newspaper quotes an article of US Business Insider magazine rating Bulgaria as 13 among 21 countries in the world facing a default. The Austrian newspaper informs that Bulgaria is among the EU member states with the highest leap of April unemployment rate, while the average salary is still below Euro 300.

Sofia (Bulgaria). A report of the Open Society Institute proves that Bulgaria has one of the most expensive, inefficient and distrusted justice and law-administering systems in EU. The judicial branch has been a budget priority in the last 10 years, having from 0.6% of the state budget at the beginning of the period up to 2% today. Bulgaria and Poland share the top position in EU in terms of expenditure dedicated to the judicial system as a percent of GDP. At the same time, Bulgaria has highest number of prosecutors per 100,000 citizens – 19.9, compared to 21.3 in Russia and 5.3 in UK. Trust in Bulgaria’s judiciary is at the bottom level and along this criterion Bulgaria takes second place after Moldova. The situation in the Interior Ministry’s sector is no different and in the period 2000-2011 Bulgaria has spent 5% of its GDP on internal security.

Sofia (Bulgaria). Bulgaria occupies one of the leading positions in road accidents’ toll. One person died, while other 24 got injured in some 21 road accidents reported in the country in the past 24 hours, the press office of the Interior Ministry reported. Six heavy and 107 minor car crashes occurred in the capital city Sofia, injuring 6 people.

Skopje (Rep. of Macedonia). Macedonian Vecer newspaper reports that Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi has welcomed the decision of the European Commission (EC) to announce the EU accession dates for the countries in the West Balkans. Martonyi comments that as far as Macedonia is concerned, there is a need to approach the issue carefully because of the name dispute with Greece. However, in his words, the two countries are close to finding a solution.

Skopje (Rep. of Macedonia). Macedonian Dnevnik daily quotes Austrian President Heinz Fischer as saying that Macedonia shall start the EU accession talks even without a solution to the name dispute. The Austrian President met with his Macedonian counterpart Gjorge Ivanov in Vienna. Fischer added that he has learned some useful historical facts from his Macedonian counterpart about the argument between Athens and Skopje. In his words, the economic crisis in Macedonia will not affect the name dispute solution.

Skopje (Rep. of Macedonia). According to Macedonian Utrinski Vesnik, VMRO-DPMNE and the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) are far from an agreement to form a ruling coalition. The newspaper remarks that the DUI has not sent a representative for the 21st anniversary of the establishment of the VMRO-DPMNE party.

Bucharest (Romania). Mediafax news agency informs that the European Commission has suspended financing for Romania through Axis 2 of the regional operational program (Improving regional and local transport infrastructure) and EC has asked Romanian authorities to check every public procurement contract signed with Axis 2 beneficiaries. In a preliminary report drafted following its audit mission to Romania, between 28 March and 1 April 2011, the Commission mentions the problems in the public procurement system used to award contracts for projects through Axis 2, such as the use of discriminatory bid selection criteria, unjustified use of the accelerated award procedure and additional work contracted as similar work, says a Development Ministry press release. Now Romanian authorities have to check each of the 124 contracts awarded to Axis 2 beneficiaries.

Tirana (Albania). Macedonian Sitel TV reports that Spanish police have arrested owner of Albania Airlines Ali Evsen, accused of money laundering and bribery. 49-year-old Evsen was arrested in Madrid together with Egyptian businessman Hisen Salem and his son Haled Salem. The Salems were close to former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and have been investigated for frauds in the sales of gas in Israel, and have illegally acquired money, deposited in banks in Spain.The investigation revealed that Evsen has helped Salem to transfer the money to Egypt. The Madrid court released Evsen on 18 million Euro bail and Salem on 30 million.


Brussels (Belgium). The total value of funds for the 2012 programme for the supply of food for the most deprived persons in the European Union has been set at €113 million, with the precise allocations fixed per Member State. This is a sharp reduction from the near € 500 million awarded in recent years because of a ruling by the Court of Justice in April stating that the current regulation requires the food covered by this scheme to come from EU public stocks. Therefore, the 2012 scheme is exclusively based on all the available existing intervention stocks (162 000 tonnes of cereals and 54 000 tonnes of Skimmed Milk Powder in intervention).

Bulgaria will receive € 4.2 million under the programme, press service of the European Commission announced. The annual plans are usually adopted in September. The reason for this “earlier” adoption of the annual plan is, in the light of the dramatic cut in resources, to give member states and charities some additional time so that they can try to find alternative sources of food.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 21 June 2011)


About Johann Brandstätter

Photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Bulgaria, working mainly in the Balkans and the Middle East. Conflicts & crises, social and environmental issues, defense & military, travel, transportation.
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