Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 27 June 2011


News Summary

MIDDLE EAST

Ankara (Turkey). Turkey’s Hürriyet newspaper reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted Turkey’s request for an apology for the killing of Turkish citizens on board the Mavi Marmara in May 2010, but backed out on three separate occasions due to fear his coalition government might fall. Citing information leaked from secret meetings between Ankara and Tel Aviv, Hürriyet reveals that Israel’s prime minister was set to apologize to Turkey for the deaths of nine activists in an ill-fated 2010 aid flotilla to Gaza relations improved significantly during the secret meetings in Geneva and Israel agreed to apologize to Turkey and pay compensations to the families of the nine people who were killed when Israeli commandos. Netanyahu, however, backed out of the agreement due to fear his coalition government might fall and decided instead to “express his sorrow” for the incident.

Ankara (Turkey). A powerful explosion resulting  from a gas leak ripped through a gas station in Karakopru, Sanliurfa province (southeast Turkey), killing one person, injuring 12 and causing serious damage. The governor of the province said both the owners of the gas station and residents had recently reported an apparent gas leak, but experts who visited the gas station failed to detect a problem. According to him dozens of buildings and 19 vehicles in the area were damaged.

Ankara (Turkey). Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul has postponed his visit to Bulgaria and Montenegro, initially scheduled for July 3 and 4, for a week later, due to the opening of his country’s first new Parliamentary session. The first session of the new Turkish parliament is scheduled for 28 June Tuesday. The Turkish President has already called for the country’s opposition parties to attend Tuesday’s opening session of Parliament after each complained bitterly about courts refusing to release their members from prison. The Democratic Society Congress (DTK), an umbrella organization of pro-Kurdish groups, called on 35 newly elected Peace and Democracy Party members to boycott Parliament following the Supreme Election Board decision to strip a Kurdish candidate of the right to enter Parliament due to a pending trial.

Benghazi (Libya). NATO operations in Libya entered a 100th day on 27 June with airstrikes having eased the siege of key rebel cities and with Gaddafi still in power. As Operation “Unified Protector” approaches its 5000 strike sortie, NATO is still hitting around 50 targets a day, mostly in or around Tripoli and Misrata in the west, Brega in the east and the Nafusa Mountains to the south of the capital. Three months after French jets flew their first missions over eastern Libya, NATO is still pounding targets across the country in what has become a war fought on multiple fronts, but with few clear victories for either side. A standstill has taken hold, with rebel fighters holding their positions around Misrata and Ajdabiya, near Brega, despite the occasional rocket or mortar attack causing casualties. Only in the Nafusa Mountains the rebel army appears to be making any sustained progress toward Tripoli.

Damascus (Syria).  French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told France’s RTL radio that Assad had passed the “point of no return.”

“I regret that the repression continues to unfold in conditions which calls into question the region’s security, because we have reached more than 10,000 refugees in Turkey…,” Juppe added. Meanwhile, Syrian troops pushed towards the Lebanese border as they pressed a deadly crackdown in central towns ahead of 27 June’s opposition meeting in Damascus. The latest violence near the flash point city of Homs forced hundreds of people to flee over the border into Lebanon. The exodus came as Turkey, where about 12,000 Syrians have already taken refuge in recent weeks,  erected a border tent city to accommodate a possible new influx of refugees. The number of Syrians taking refuge at tent cities in Turkey has decreased to 11,122 after several hundred people went back home, Turkish officials said.

Cairo (Egypt). “The United States and Israel are behind the religious sedition in Egypt” as “they realise this is the only way to break up the country,” Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Yahia al-Gamal said to the MENA news agency. Al-Gamal accused the United States and Israel of provoking religious tensions to weaken his country.

“Israel is trying to do this because Egypt is the most important power in the region,” he said.
At least three people were hurt during recent clashes between Muslims and Christians in a village in the Sohag governorate over the reported building of a church. Egypt has been gripped by insecurity and sectarian strife since a revolt that toppled president Hosni Mubarak on 11 February. Coptic Christians, who account for up to 10 percent of Egypt’s 80-million people, complain of discrimination and have been the targets of sectarian attacks.

BALKANS

Athens (Greece).  A protest by PAME communist trade union is staged just prior to the parliamentary debate on the austerity package, which the government needs to pass if it is to get another package of EU-IMF aid. A giant banner is placed early today at Athens’ iconic Acropolis urging a “counter-attack” against an austerity package imposed by foreign creditors to avoid default. “The people have the power and never surrender. Organize counter-attack,” the banner reads in Greek and English. About 300 activists of the union entered the site and put up the banner at the foot of the Parthenon before the site opened to the public.

Greece has debts of some 350 billion Euros and needs a second bailout worth more than 100 billion Euros after a 110-billion-Euro bailout by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund last year proved insufficient. Unions have called a 48-hour general strike from 28 June to oppose the package which is expected to be adopted later this week by parliament.

Skopje (Rep. of Macedonia). Macedonian Utrinski Vesnik writes that VMRO-DPMNE and Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) have reached an agreement to form a ruling coalition. The leaders of the two parties, Nikola Gruevski and Ali Ahmeti, have agreed to divide the ministerial posts 2:1 in favor of VMRO-DPMNE, which means the new Macedonian government will have more Albanian ministers who will manage more significant portfolios.

Meanwhile, Ralf Breth, OSCE Ambassador in Skopje has called on political parties in Macedonia not to take advantage of a young man’s death in the center of Skopje, Macedonian Dnevnik daily reports. A 22-year-old man died in the center of Skopje after being beaten by police. The incident occurred during celebrations of the electoral victory of VMRO-DPMNE. For more than two weeks a group of young people from Skopje have organized protests against police brutality.

Sofia (Bulgaria). Bulgaria is last in the ranking of the 10 newest EU member states in terms of EU funds’ absorption with only 37%. Latvia has absorbed the most EU funding from the, according to a report of audit company KPMG. Romania has absorbed 45% of the funds it was allocated. For the 2007-2013 period countries whose accession to EU took place in the 2004-2007 period were earmarked a total of € 208.2 billion.

Sofia (Bulgaria). A minister might be the presidential candidate of the governing party Citizen for European Development of Bulgaria (GEDB), Tsvetan Tsvetanov, interior minister and chief of the party’s campaign office, said in an interview with bTV television. Asked whether the party’s presidential candidate could be a minister, and regional development minister Rosen Plevneliev in particular, Tsvetanov said: “Everything is possible.” However, he denied the candidate would be former prime minister Simeon Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha, former president Petar Stoyanov, former foreign minister Solomon Passy, MEP Nadezhda Neynski, MP Lachezar Ivanov.

Sofia (Bulgaria). Russia has announced it has not been informed of Bulgaria’s decision to freeze Belene nuclear project for another three months as of July. “Rosatom has not received Bulgaria’s proposal for freezing talks on Belene”, the CEO of the Russian state company, contracted for the construction of the nuclear plant, Sergey Kirienko said in Moscow.

Commenting on the recent criticism about his cabinet’s unclear stance to the project, Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said, “There is enough evidence that high-ranking Bulgarian officials have criminally mismanaged the Belene NPP project since its relaunch in 2006. Enough materials have been sent to the prosecutor. It is high time that certain people are formally charged.”

(Middle East & Balkans News, 27 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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