Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 23 June 2011

News Summary


Tripoli (Libya). Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has qualified NATO as “criminals” and “barbarians” and accused NATO states of murder, two days after civilians were killed in an air strike. BBC reports that Italian Foreign Minister Franco Fratini and Arab League Chairman Amr Moussa has called for a ceasefire, the former reasoning the proposal with the urgent need for delivery of humanitarian aid.

Denmark announced that it recognizes the Libyan opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

Beijing (China). Xinhua Agency reports that China has called both sides of Libya to give peace a chance as it hosted the first visit of the country’s opposition leader to Beijing.

“We hope the two sides in the Libyan conflicts …truly give peace a chance and this will work for the fundamental interests of the Libyan people,” Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said in a meeting with Chairman of the Executive Board of Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) Mahmoud Jibril on 22 June. Jibril arrived in China Tuesday for a two-day visit. Yang also said the NTC has gradually become “an important political force” in Libya.

As Libya enters a fifth month of conflict, many of the Gaddafi soldiers have defected to the side of the opposition.

Cairo (Egypt).  Mena Agency reports that Egypt’s military authority rejected the resignation of Yehia al-Gamal, Deputy Prime Minister of the Egyptian caretaker government.Gamal said in a statement that he his resignation had been accepted by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, but Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) ruling the country in the transitional period, rejected the resignation. Tantawi emphasized in a statement that “the current time requires sacrifice from all for the good of the nation.”

Sanaa (Yemen). Saba Agency informs that Yemeni Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi met with opposition leaders to follow up the implementation of the rest terms of the truce deal they agreed earlier this month. The discussion focused on the mechanism of implementing the rest agreed terms, including ending manifestation of armed groups, dislodging armed tribesmen from the capital Sanaa and other major cities, terminating acts of banditry and repairing the damaged oil pipeline.The agency said the meeting did not deal with any political issues about power transition.

Aden/Sanaa (Yemen). Xinhua Agency quotes the head of intelligence body in Mukalla city Abdullah al-Jirazie as saying that 68 al-Qaeda prisoners escaped from a central jail in Yemen’s southeastern province of Hadramout, through meters-long tunnel they dug over the past months.al-Jirazie said that the al-Qaeda fugitives had also attacked some of the security soldiers outside the prison in Mukalla city killing one and injuring two. Another provincial official said the prison had been attacked by al-Qaeda militants wielding heavy machine guns and grenades, saying they managed to free dozens of prisoners.

Manama (Bahrain).  AFP reports that the United States voiced concern over a Bahraini court’s sentencing of eight Shiite opposition activists to life in prison.”We are concerned about the severity of the sentences handed down yesterday in Bahrain. We’re also concerned about the use of military courts to try these civilians,” State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.

Jerusalem (Israel). Xinhua informs that an Israeli company has unveiled a system designed to protect commercial airliners from missiles due to global terrorism presenting increasing threats to civil aviation. Elop, a subsidiary of privately owned Elbit Systems Ltd., offered the visitors at the Paris Air Show on Tuesday a full-scale model of C-MUSIC (Commercial Multi-Spectral Infrared Countermeasures System), a device which is able to knock down shoulder-launched, heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles. The system, partly developed in conjunction with state-run RAFAEL, is comprised of a 2.7 meter-long pod fitted with an infrared laser and sensors. The technology is currently used in military aviation, mainly on helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

The Italian Air Force recently awarded Elbit an over 15 million U.S. dollars contract to supply the system for various aircraft, a company press release read. The civilian version, which the manufacturer calls “Sky Defender,” is fully automated. Israel’s El Al, Arkia and Israir fleets will adopt the system within a year, the local Ynet news service reported last week. The government has recently earmarked 80 million dollars for the project.


Athens (Greece), Sofia (Bulgaria), Bucharest (Romania), Belgrade (Serbia). Bulgaria is most vulnerable due to Greek banking sector links according to an article of The Wall Street Journal. „Greece’s debt woes may have troubling financial ramifications for parts of South East Europe if they blow up further, raising the stakes for the already under pressure Romanian Leu and Serbian Dinar as well as the pegged Bulgarian Lev,” the article reads. Due to strong regional banking sector links, Greek neighbor Bulgaria tops the list of possible victims, but it isn’t alone. “Bulgaria is likely to be the hardest hit…Romania looks to be the next most vulnerable to Greece followed by Serbia,” a note from Deutsche Bank said.

The WSJ quotes data from the Bank for International Settlements showing that 28% of Bulgaria’s banking sector assets are held by Greek banks and that 38% of total foreign bank claims come from Greece. Bulgaria’s banking sector also has the highest short-term external debt–in proportion to gross domestic product–coming due this year. In the case of Serbia and Romania, the proportion of total foreign bank claims that are from Greece is 27% and nearly 19%, respectively, the BIS data shows.

Sofia (Bulgaria), Bucharest (Romania), Athens (Greece). German-Greek liberal MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis reveals in an exclusive interview with EurActiv that the European Commission considers a plan to directly manage regional funds in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania as the countries’ administrations are currently incapable of doing so themselves. Presenting the “Hercules Plan“, which he co-authored, Chatzimarkakis indicated that EU Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn believes such a plan is necessary for Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. “The question of absorption of EU money is a big issue for the commissioner responsible for cohesion funds. And he sees three countries that are not able to absorb EU funding in an appropriate manner,” Chatzimarkakis said. He commented this was due to “the non-existent capacity of ministries to come up with proposals, but also to work on the programmes and to mend the problems in the country”.

Chatzimarkakis said Commissioner Hahn had “hundreds of millions of euros in his portfolio for so-called ‘technical assistance’. That means he can send people, experts, from the European Investment Bank, from the European Commission, from the member states, for a certain time, to the respective countries, to help the administration, to carry out programmes and absorb money”.

It remains unclear whether the leaders of countries like Bulgaria and Romania would accept losing some of their sovereignty in this way, and in particular if such assistance would be linked to the creation of EU anti-corruption boards. Bulgaria’s Eurofund Adoption Minister Tomislav Donchev said that last week he had a meeting with Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn and the latter had not mentioned anything about such a plan. Donchev reminded that Bulgaria still waits the answer of the European Commission whether international institutions experts can be hired for help and paid with funds under the respective operative program.

Sofia (Bulgaria). Novinite.com reports that Bulgaria is EU’s third most unstable country, according to the Failed States Index 2011 of the US magazine Foreign Policy. The sixth edition of the annual ranking, prepared by the Fund for Peace non-profit organization and published by Foreign Policy, draws on some 130,000 publicly available sources to analyze 177 countries and rate them on 12 indicators of pressure on the state during the year 2010. In 2011, Bulgaria ranks 130th out of a total of 177 countries, inching between Bahrain and Panama. Of all EU member states, only Cyprus and Romania perform worse.Bulgaria’s issues are “poverty, sharp or severe economic decline” and “rise of factionalized elites”, according to Deutsche Welle as quoted by the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency (BTA). The country’s lowest score is on “legitimacy of the state” but it boasts the lowest risk of “massive movement of refugees and internally displaced persons”. According to Foreign Policy, Bulgaria is currently a “borderline” case, meaning that it holds a middle ground between “stable” and “in danger”.

Sofia (Bulgaria). According to a report of Eurostat, Luxembourg is the richest EU member-state in terms of GDP per capita, while the poorest is Bulgaria. Based on first preliminary estimates for 2010, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita expressed in Purchasing Power Standards2 (PPS) varied from 43% to 283% of the EU27 average across the Member States. Bulgaria occupies the bottom-line with 43%. The Netherlands comes second after Luxembourg, followed by Denmark, Ireland and Austria.

Amidst allegedly heated disputes with the trade unions, Bulgaria’s Ministry of Finance proposed that the minimum monthly wage in Bulgaria would be increased as of  1 September, while the unionists demanded that the government should stick to its original plan and raise the minimum income as of 1 July. After three months of consultations the government suggested increasing minimum wage by Euro 15 to Euro 135 and widow’s pension by 6.5% to 26.5% of the deceased spouses’s pension.

Sofia (Bulgaria). “Makkaza check-point at Bulgarian-Greek border will be opened in September,” Prime Minister Boyko Borisov told the media and conveniently skipped the fact that the project had been implemented for nearly 10 years. The Bulgarian Prime Minister, who follows a self-made tradition to open road segments, sports, children playgrounds, museums and facilities in different industries, said that Greece was in the last phase of the construction process, while Bulgaria should catch up at an accelerated pace. Makkaza will serve for automobiles and heavyweight motor vehicles.

Sofia (Bulgaria). The highly controversial project for the construction of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline has been delayed further as the Bulgarian Environment Ministry has turned down the company’s environmental assessment report for the second time.

Belgrade (Serbia). Vecerne Novosti newspaper reports that Serbia is to clip Members of Parliaments’ immunity and in the future they will be protected only for what thy say officially on the parliamentary tribune. This step of Belgrade is in line with Brussels’ recommendations that MPs, ministers, judges and prosecutors have to be no longer untouchables. If the change can not be passed via amendment of laws, Belgrade will initiate changes in the Constitution.

Tirana (Albania). Xinhua informs that the International Monetary Fund ( IMF) has given a less optimistic forecast of Albania’s GDP growth for this year and cautioned Tirana a budget cut like last year was imperative.”Economic growth in 2010 is estimated at 3.5 percent, and we project it to decelerate further to 2 2/3 percent in 2011, due to lackluster domestic demand. Due to the pressure on the budget the IMF advised Albania to cut spending and even consider raising taxes, but Albanian Finance Minister Ridvan Bode ruled out raising taxes.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 23 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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