Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 4 July 2011


News Summary

NORTH AFRICA

Tripoli (Libya). “Libya’s leader Muamar Gaddafi is ready to fulfill some of the requirements of the Western countries but he is far from capitulating,” said Gaddafi’s son Seif al Islam in an interview with TF-1 French TV channel.

As a reminder, on 27 June the ICC in The Hague issued arrest warrants for Muamar Gaddafi and two other top figures in the Gaddafi regime – his son Saif al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanussi.

„You want to see democracy in place? We are ready to do this. You want to see elections? We agree. What else do you need? A new Constitution? We can also give our consent to this.You need a ceasefire. We don’t oppose that. All the stated proposals are not rejected by us; they are rejected by our rivals (the Libyan opposition)”, Saif al- Islam continued. In his opinion, Gaddafi can not take seriously the call that he terminates the resistance and leaves the country.

„We will never surrender and we will continue to fight. This is our country”, Self al-Islam concluded.

Benghazi (Libya). While visiting Benghazi, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu expressed support for Libyan rebels and pledged financial assistance worth millions of Euros, Handelsblatt reports. According to Davutoglu, the opposition Transitional National Council was the only legitimate representative of the Libyan people and that Muammar Gaddafi should withdraw from power and give a chance to “democracy and transparency.”

The Turkish FM told the Transitional National Council Chairperson Mustafa Abdul Jalil that in addition to the already planned assistance of USD 100 billion the opposition will later get USD 200 billion more. Two thirds of it will be allocated as a loan and one third as free assistance.

Turkey froze Libya’s holdings in a Turkish bank on Monday, a day after it recognized Libya’s rebel leaders as the country’s legitimate representatives and quietly removed its ambassador from Tripoli, Hürriyet  Daily News writes. Turkey’s banking regulatory fund said it was temporarily taking hold of Libyan Foreign Bank’s 62 percent shareholdings in Turkey’s Arap Türk Bankası A.Ş. in line with U.N. Security Council decisions to freeze Libya’s foreign assets.

MIDDLE EAST

Baghdad (Iraq). Iraq’s government said Monday it would not reconcile with members of Al-Qaeda or anyone who has killed Iraqis, but suggested it was open to talks with those who had fought American forces, AFP reports. Reconciliation Minister Amir al-Khuzai made the comments at a news conference after US forces, in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion, suffered their deadliest month in three years in June. Fourteen soldiers were killed, most in rocket attacks, as the nearly 50,000 American troops remaining in Iraq prepare to pull out at the end of this year. June also was the bloodiest month so far this year for Iraqis, with 271 killed in violence.”Reconciliation will not include those whose hands are covered with Iraqi blood, Al-Qaeda, or members of the Baath party” of Saddam Hussein, the dictator ousted by the invasion. “Reconciliation does include those who said, ‘we resisted the occupiers for seven years, and today they are on their way to withdraw at the end of 2011, so we have to return to our lives,'” Khuzai added, referring to US forces as “occupiers,” as many Iraqis do.

Khuzai said in April that Baghdad was hoping to reconcile with any members of the Islamic State of Iraq, Al-Qaeda’s front group in the country, who do not have blood on their hands. In the city of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq, hundreds demonstrated against the minister on Sunday, accusing him of talks with those who had killed Iraqis.

Cairo (Egypt). A pipeline carrying gas from Egypt to Israel and Jordan has been hit by an explosion. No injuries were reported. The blast happened at a pumping station at Nagah, in the Bir al-Abd region of the North Sinai governorate. One security source told the AFP news agency that the pipeline had been bombed by saboteurs. Jordan depends on Egyptian gas to generate 80% of its electricity, while Israel gets 40% of its natural gas from its neighbour.

As BBC reports, Egypt has began supplying Israel with gas in 2008 under a 20-year deal, despite widespread public opposition because of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip and claims that Israel was being offered preferential rates.

Hama (Syria). Syrian troops stormed houses in the city of Hama on 4 July as thousands of residents took to the streets shouting “God is greater” in defiance of a government crackdown on recent large protests, residents said. Witnesses told Hürriyet Daily News that at least 30 buses carrying soldiers and security police had entered Hama this morning. Tanks had reportedly pulled back

Ankara (Turkey). Turkey company MKE has begun manufacturing its own assault rifle, the Mehmetçik 1, after more than three years of research and development, daily Hürriyet reported. Fifty prototype rifles will be manufactured in the next four months, with 200 rifles to be completed by 2012, according to the report. The rifle was designed according to tactical and technical requests from the Land Forces Command and early works consisted of three separate designs, which were then reduced to one after two were eliminated.

The rifle looks somewhat suspiciously like the German HK 417 and uses the old NATO calibre (7.62x51mm). It will replace the old German G3 still in service in Turkey.

BALKANS

Athens (Greece). Euro zone experts are heading to Greece to help it enforce consolidated program, thus “severely restricting the country’s independence,” as Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker said to Greek Naftemporiki daily reports. Juncker continued, that “you cannot afford insulting Greeks, but have to help them. They say they are ready to accept Euro zone expertise.” The financier added the Greek crisis was caused by the country itself to a great extent, but “the recent austerity plan Athens has agreed to will bring solution to the Greek issue.”

Greece may still suffer default if it sticks to the plan for repayment of its debts via attraction of private investors, S&P warns as cited by Reuters. Meanwhile, Greece’s Elefterothipia newspaper reveals that the Papandreou government had secretly agreed on far more painful economies than the austerity package passed by Parliament last week.

Meanwhile according to Austria’s Die Presse, German economist Markus Kerber and other financial experts say, it would be too late now for Greece to leave the Euro. Instead they recommend all countries with healthy economy to get out of the common currency. Besides Germany that would be Austria, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Finland.

Belgrade (Serbia). Serbia does not consider Kosovo a country and it never will. The Brussels-mediated deal between Belgrade and Pristina will improve the everyday life of Kosovo’s residents, but it does not mean independence, insisted the Serbian officials after reaching an agreement with Kosovo’s negotiating team about free movement of people, Serbian Vecernje Novosti daily writes. According to the government the Constitution has not been violated.

However, the opposition thinks Serbia actually “recognizes the false state” by recognizing Kosovar identification documents, driver’s licenses and car registration numbers.

Belgrade (Kosovo). The agreement reached by the negotiating teams of Serbia and Kosovo has provoked stormy reactions in Belgrade and Pristina, Serbian Blic daily reports.

The newspaper writes that reactions in Serbia were various. According to some politicians this was the first step towards recognizing Kosovo’s independence. Some backed the agreement, and others spread accusations of national treason and capitulation. The Association of Kosovo Municipalities announced it would hold Serbian negotiator Borislav Stefanovic responsible for infringing on territorial integrity.

Skopje (Macedonia). Journalists in Macedonia will protest on Monday, the local newspaper Vecer writes.The daily says that about 150 journalists will lose their job and the number rises every day.Journalists in Macedonia face threats and lower salaries and fees. Three Macedonian newspapers known for their criticism of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski published their last issues on Saturday as they are being shut down for alleged tax violations. Opposition-minded newspapers Spic, Vreme, and Koha E Re (in Albanian language) have terminated publication forcing about 100 journalists in unpaid leave after their publishing firm Plus Produkcja had a restraint placed on its bank accounts for allegedly owing one million Euro in taxes. The company’s owner, Velija Ramkovski, a local oligarch, has been in jail since 2010 on counts of financial and tax crimes.

Sofia (Bulgaria). Bulgarian Posts employees are ready to stage protests and strikes to protect their jobs, Valentin Nikiforov, deputy chairman of Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria, told Bulgarian Focus News Agency.
He expressed surprise that the MPs of the governing party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria had removed the state-run company from the list of companies banned from privatization. A petition is now underway to collect signatures of Bulgarian Posts staff against the move.

“Employees and people receiving the service are ready to mount civil and trade union protests and strikes to protect the interests of the company’s 12,800 employees and hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians getting the service,” said the trade unionist. Protests will take place outside the parliament when the bill amending Privatization and Post-Privatization Control Act is tabled for discussion in the plenary hall. Nikiforov recalled that about 1,000 people were laid off during the 2010 reform in Bulgarian Posts. “Postal services are social and all EU countries subsidize it. Prices of postal services are determined by the state and it is impossible to require an enormous profit when there is an upper limit,” he argued.

Sofia (Bulgaria). 4 July is the last day in which bidders for Bulgarian tobacco giant Bulgartabac may submit their tender documents for purchasing its majority stake. Binding offers have to be filed by the 29 August.Ten companies have purchased tender documentation for the sale. Philip Morris and British American Tobacco are no longer eyeing the purchase, according to the Dnevnik daily, which is citing its own sources.

The majority stake – 79,83% – in Bulgaria’s state cigarette producer Bulgartabac Holding, whose management has been harshly criticized in recent years, was put on sale on 26 April after years of procrastination. The bidder with the highest offer will be selected for buyer. No initial price has been set. The buyer of Bulgartabac is to be known by 6 September, the Bulgarian Privatization Agency has confirmed.

Sofia (Bulgaria). Evgeniya Zhivkova, granddaughter of the communist head of state Todor Zhivkov, has revealed her ambitions to run as the leftist Bulgarian Socialist Party’s presidential candidate in the upcoming October elections, Bulgaria’s news-site Novinite.com reports.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 4 July 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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