Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 24 June 2011


News Summary

MIDDLE EAST

Tripoli (Libya). AFP reports that the opposition in Libya has established indirect contacts with members of  Muammar Gaddafi’s regime and is prepared to allow the Libyan leader to stay in a remote area in his country. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Shaman, representative of the Transitional National Council told Le Figaro that Gaddafi would have to commit that neither he nor any member of his family would ever take part in a post-revolutionary government. The secret talks take place reportedly in South Africa or in France where Gaddafi has recently sent a diplomat.

Baghdad (Iraq). Three three explosions in a busy district of the Iraqi capital Baghdad killed 21 and inured more than 42 people. AFP reports that the blasts hit the Shurt al-Raba market in the south of the city. One of the bombs targeted a mosque in the area, according to AP news agency.

Syrian-Turkish border. Villagers and journalists in Guvecci, Тurkey could see military activity across the border. BBC reported that after Syrian troops had reportedly stormed Khirbet al-Jouz early on 23 June, tanks and soldiers were seen on roads around the village, snipers were spotted on roof tops, and one witness saw a machine gun position being established. A watchtower which had been flying a Turkish flag – put there by Syrians grateful for Turkey’s help – was now flying a Syrian flag, witnesses told BBC.

Umit Bektas, a Reuters photographer positioned on a hillside on the Turkish side of the border, said he had seen armoured vehicles taking up positions on the Syrian hillside, apparently with the aim of preventing more Syrians from crossing the into Turkey. Earlier on 23 June, hundreds of people broke through barbed wire to get out of Syria, while another group of several hundred people were spotted further down the same road.

Ankara (Turkey). Turkey has instilled great efforts in Palestinian unity as it hosts Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas in Ankara among parallel efforts to normalize ties with Israel. Both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the leader of Hamas are on a visit to Turkey and scheduled to meet Turkish officials. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu confirmed Turkey’s commitment to the cause of reconciliation of Fatah and Hamas.

Hamas’ leader Khaled Meshaal did not meet Abbas during his visit. Last month, the secularist Fatah and the Islamist Hamas signed a reconciliation deal in Cairo that was supposed to pave the way toward Palestinian reunification. It failed, however, due to disagreement on who should be named prime minister and Hamas’ opposition to the appointment of the Western-backed Salam Fayyad to the post. Turkeys’ Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, meanwhile, discussed the matter with Egyptian counterpart Nabil Elaraby.

Ankara (Turkey). Oya Eronat of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is expected to enter Parliament after the country’s top election board deprived a pro-Kurdish candidate’s right to assume his place in the legislature. The Democratic Society Congress, an umbrella organization of pro-Kurdish groups, called on the 35 newly elected members of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) to boycott the Parliament following the Supreme Election Board decision.

“We will either enter Parliament with 36 deputies or not enter at all. The election board’s decision is unacceptable for both the people of Diyarbakır and others in the region,” said Filiz Kocali, co-chair of the BDP. “It is now the election board and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s job to find a solution. This ruling ignores the people’s will, and is provocative as well as unjust and unlawful.”

Ankara (Turkey). An Istanbul court has ruled to prevent the release of two prisoners who were elected to Parliament earlier this month provoking fiery reactions from Turkey’s main opposition party that convened an emergency meeting. The meeting was called by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu immediately after the court decision to prohibit journalist Mustafa Balbay and Professor Mehmet Haberal’s release. Balbay and Haberal are in prison on charges of allegedly being part of the Ergenekon plot to overthrow Turkey’s government.

“We are a large party; we will not be left helpless. We will take the necessary steps to ensure their release,” deputy leader Gürsel Tekin said.

BALKANS

Athens (Greece). Greek unions called a two-day general strike next week to coincide with debate in parliament on new austerity measures. “In view of the vote on the mid-term budget plan… agreed between the government and its greedy creditors, we have decided to call a 48-hour general strike June 28-29,” the main Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) specified in a press release.

The civil service union ADEDY has said it would join the protest movement, the fourth general strike of the year. The action was agreed in principle and announced several days ago by the unions but the exact dates were not set until the finance ministry’s publication of the calendar for the parliamentary vote.
On 22 June the cabinet approved a 2012-15 austerity budget plan as well as laws for its implementation, a key condition for further EU-IMF help to tame a massive public debt.
The austerity measures will add up to more than 28 billion Euros ($40 billion) by 2015 and include a major privatisation programme to raise 50 billion Euros.

Belgrade (Serbia). Serbian newspaper Press reports that the initial phase of the talks between EU and Serbia will not be endangered by the recognition of the independence of Kosovo. However, if Serbia wants to count on the German Bundestag’s support, the step has to be taken before the completion of the process and Pristina has to be recognized as independent . According to the newspaper, this position was expressed during a visit of German parliamentary delegation to Belgrade. German Ambassador Wolfram Maas has said that this has never been the official position of Berlin.

Belgrade (Serbia). Serbian Danas newspaper quotes Frederick Swinnen, the Special Adviser of Prosecutor of ICTY (the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) in The Hague as saying that the case against  Ratko Mladić is being prepared and several scenarios are under consideration, one of them envisaging connecting the cases against Mladić and Radovan Karadžić. Mladić has not asked for a medical examination so far and he has not placed a request for attorney’s defense.

Mladić, the wartime Bosnian Serb military chief wanted for genocide for Europe’s worst massacre of civilians since World War II, was the U.N. war crimes tribunal’s No. 1 fugitive together with his partner in crime, Radovan Karadžić.

Sofia (Bulgaria). Russia’s Rosbalt Agency informs that Bulgaria has rejected for a third time the Bourgas – Alexandroupolis project. Bulgaria’s Environment Ministry pushed back the environmental assessment of the project as unsatisfactory and set two months for its readjustment. Analysts believe that Bulgaria will try to block the project as environmentally dangerous and thus avoid paying punitive fees to its project partners Greece and Russia.

Sofia (Bulgaria). “Currently we have fulfilled 100% of what Brussels asked us to do and we demand having a date and a decision on Bulgaria’s and Romania’s joining the Schengen area. After that, if there are additional criteria for all members, of course, we will comply,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov is quoted saying upon his arrival in Brussels for the European Council meeting.The Schengen enlargement is not on the agenda of the meeting, but it became clear even before its start that the Netherlands want to include texts which could hinder Bulgaria’s membership by tying it with additional criteria, the Bulgarian National Radio reports.

Skopje (Macedonia). Macedonia’s Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski met his Greek counterpart Georgious Papandreou in Brussels. Prior to that Gruevski was received by Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle, who said: “2011 can be a year of opportunity for the enlargement process in the Western Balkans and we want to make sure that Skopje is among those countries in the region that are leading the way towards deeper EU integration. The European Commission made a recommendation to start accession negotiations in October 2009. This recommendation is still in force and for it to continue to be valid the country needs to continue making progress on the necessary reforms. That is why resolving the name issue remains essential. Both sides should continue to be engaged, either under the auspices of the UN, or through direct talks”.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 24 June 2011)

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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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