Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 30 June 2011


News Summary

NORTH AFRICA

Tripoli (Libya). According to spokesperson Oana LungescuIt, it is not NATO’s business to arrest Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, albeit it seconds the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant issued last Monday. Recently, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed the arrest warrant issued by the ICC, saying it was a step further in the isolation and eventual ousting of the embattled Libyan leader.

“The execution of the warrant is nevertheless not NATO’s job. Our job is only to protect Libya’s civilian population,” stated NATO spokesperson Lungescu Tuesday.

The Libyan minister for African Union affairs said that Gaddafi’s government expected support from the continental body at their summit in Equatorial Guinea. “We have come for the African Union to support our position and that the position of Africa will be strong,” Joma Ibrahim Amer told reporters, with the Libyan conflict high on the agenda of the summit opening 30 June. “The African position is clear and is summed up in the roadmap … which was accepted by Libya,” he said, referring to a plan released in March to end the fighting between Gaddafi’s forces and rebels. The rebels, who also sent a delegation to the Malabo meeting, have said they would only accept a plan that sees Gaddafi stepping down.

MIDDLE EAST

Ankara (Turkey). The AKP-CHP stalemate deepens despite a meeting between the two parties. The crisis revolving around the main opposition Republican People Party’s (CHP) jailed deputies deepened after an upper court rejected the proposal to release Mustafa Balbay from custody and the first meeting in Parliament with the new government yielded no progress toward unlocking the stalemate.

The CHP, whose deputies have refused to take the parliamentary oath in protest of their colleagues not being released from prison, was expecting a decision from the upper court regarding Mehmet Haberal, another jailed CHP deputy. Depending on the result, the party has said it could submit a bill to Parliament to change the relevant laws, though it expects a move from the ruling party for legal arrangements to solve the crisis if the courts do not.  Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy leader Haluk İpek met with Kılıçdaroğlu for nearly a half hour in Parliament. The CHP indicated at the meeting that if the judiciary ruling is not positive, ultimately it is the ruling party that should step in to solve the issue.

BALKANS

Athens (Greece). Parliament today resumes the debate at 09:30 hours  (06:30 GMT), and the decisive vote is not expected before 2 p.m. (1100 GMT). Before the debate, it had not yet been decided whether more than one vote would be needed to pass it. The vote will give the green light to the latest tranche of a 110 billion Euro loan for Greece, saving it from a default.

On 30 June about 30 people with sticks and iron bars attacked the Finance Ministry offices in Athens during the vote on an austerity package needed to secure financing from international lenders. The Ministry building was set on fire. Protesters were repulsed by police firing tear gas and chasing them into nearby streets. Three protesters were injured in the incident, which followed other clashes between stone-throwing demonstrators and police in Syntagma square.

The police has so far made nine arrests and detained 29 people in connection with the protests, while the 18 arrested during 28 June’s incidents were led before a public prosecutor, with twelve of them indicted to stand trial on misdemeanor charges and the rest facing felony charges for attacking policemen and disturbing the public peace.

Over 100 people were reported injured, 31 of them police officers. Another arson attack was reported on the Greek Post but firefighters were quickly able to extinguish the flames.

Demonstrators in Thessalonike gathered outside the Water Supply and Sewerage building and marched to the Thessalonike Port Authority facilities, protesting peacefully against the planned privatisation of the two state-run utilities.The protesters also staged brief sit-in demonstrations outside the Public Power Corp. offices and at the harbour’s main gate.The Communist Party-affiliated PAME trade union held a separate demonstration in front of the Venizelos statue at Aristotelous Square followed by a march to Macedonia-Thrace general secretariat building.

Sofia (Bulgaria), Bucharest (Romania). The Danube Bridge 2 project will receive official decision for prolongation of the financial memorandum of the European Commission within several weeks. A request for prolongation of the financial memorandum was sent by Bulgaria and Romania. The positive decision of the Commission will allow the bridge to be finished with European funding although the serious delay in the past years. It is expected the deadline which expired in the end of 2010 to be prolonged with more two years. Up to date 63% of the construction-assembling works of the bridge have been implemented. The paid off funds are at the amount of 85 million Euro.

‘Danube Bridge 2’ refers to the bridge, across the Danube between Vidin in northwestern Bulgaria and Calafat in southern Romania. So far, however, all that can be seen are a few pillars and cranes in the river. The first plans to build a second Danube bridge between Romania and Bulgaria date back almost hundred years.

Sofia (Bulgaria). Bulgaria and Russia have agreed to extend the negotiations over Belene nuclear project by another three months as of July.

“This will be envisaged in the 13th annex to the main contract between Bulgaria and Russia on the construction of two 1,000 megawatt nuclear reactors at Belene,” Bulgarian Energy Minister Traikov said. “The texts in this annex are similar to that of the 11th Annex, which was signed at the end of last year. It will steer clear of binding deadlines on certain activities, such as those set out in the 12th annex.”

The document is expected to be signed this week. The 12th annex to the main contract between Bulgaria and Russia on the construction of two 1,000 megawatt nuclear reactors at Belene expires at the end of June. As time ticked away, Bulgaria faced an ever greater risk of being taken to arbitration by Russia’s Rosatom and forced to pay one billion Euro in damages.

Sofia (Bulgaria). Sofia. Prices of natural gas, electricity and heating will be raised as of 1 July, the State Commission for Energy and Water Regulation announced. Tariffs go up because of the higher oil prices on international markets. Heating will be up to 8% more expensive, natural gas price will be raised 5% and electricity prices will gain no more than 2%.

The price hike will affect domestic demand and inflation. Bulgarians, used to the ongoing post-communism “belt-tightening” policy, are unlikely to react. Only the Union of Pensioners organizes protesting meeting on 30 June in Plovdiv to protest against frozen salaries, spreading corruption and economic misery.

After conflicting signals given by the Prime Minister and some of his ministers, the center-right GERB government decided to increase the minimum wage  from the currently 120 to 135 Euro. Regular pensions will not be indexed, but widows’/widowers’ pensions will be increased to 26.% of the pension of the husband/wife deceased.The measure is estimated to cost some about eight million Euro for the minimum wage and 25 million Euro for the widow pensions until the end of 2011.

Quoting these numbers, there is no surprise that Bulgaria holds the bottom rank of all EU countries in terms of GDP per capita. There is no news in the fact that more than half of the Bulgarian population is unable to save a penny for rainy days.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 30 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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