Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 11 July 2011

News Summary


hran (Iran) Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency has announced that Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi plans to meet with International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano during his upcoming visit to Austria.

The foreign minister will meet with the IAEA chief on 12 July in Vienna to discuss Iran’s nuclear issue, Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh told IRNA.

Salehi is scheduled to make a trip to Vienna to meet with Austrian officials and a number of Vienna-based UN officials including the director of the Preparatory Commission of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization.  According to Reuters, the head of the UN atomic agency also said on Wednesday that he plans to meet the Iranian foreign minister, but had no firm details. He said “The most important message for Iran is that they need to fully carry out the safeguard agreement and other relevant obligations. Further cooperation is needed to restore the confidence of the international community.”

Ramallah (Palestine). Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on 10 July called Middle East peace mediators to adopt a European declaration setting out principles of peace between the Palestinians and Israel, Xinhua informed. US, Russian, UN and EU officials, which is meeting in Washington today (11 July).

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians stopped last year over a dispute on the resumption of Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank.

Jerusalem (Israel). Israel and China have signed a deal worth 235 million Dollars to provide Chinese fertilizer producers with 500,000 tons of potash in the second half of 2011, Israel Chemicals Ltd (ICL) said.
“Our agreements with Chinese customers for the second half of the year show our market position as an important provider of fertilizers to the large Chinese market,” said ICL President and CEO Dani Chen in a company statement to Xinhua.

ICL officials said the Dead Sea’s relative proximity to Chinese and Asian markets helped to close the deal.
“We are proud to play a prominent role in increasing agricultural output and food production throughout the world, especially in markets with fast-growing populations, such as China, ” Chen said. ICL, the world’s sixth largest potash producer, also produces a range of bromine, magnesium chloride and sodium chloride products, the company said.

Cairo (Egypt). Hundreds of protestors continued their sit-in in downtown Cairo and some other cities on Sunday to demand justice after Friday’s “million-man” march across the country, Xinhua informed. Protestors blocked the road to some government buildings near Tahrir Square in Cairo to impose more pressure on the military rulers to meet their demands of bringing those accused of killing protestors and corruption to justice.
In response to the protests, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf ordered on Saturday to sack all security officials accused of killing protestors during mass demonstrations. But the promises have not completely soothed some protestors.

Some protestors declared a hunger strike as a symbolic message to the government on behalf of the youth coalitions till they respond to the people’s demands and drafting a new constitution. On 10 July, some protestors blocked the road linking Suez to Ain Sokhna.

On 8 July, ten thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in Cairo and other major cities across the country, complaining about the slow pace of change since the fall of former regime in February and demanding public and fair trials of former officials. The trials of former president Hosni Mubarak and his two sons were scheduled for 3 August. Mubarak remains in a hospital in Sharm El-Sheikh since April. His two sons, Alaa and Gamal, have been detained in the Tora prison in southern Cairo together with a number of other former high officials.

Egyptians will elect a new parliament in September and a new president about two months later.

Baghdad (Iraq). A US soldier was killed in Iraq on 10 July, the US military spokesperson was quoted by Xinhua. The US military said in a statement that the incident is currently under investigation and failed to give further details about how or where it exactly happened.

The soldier’s name was withheld pending notification of next of kin. The death brings the number of US service personnel killed in Iraq this month to three. The new US Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, arrived in Baghdad on a surprise visit on Sunday. Panetta is expected to meet with US military commanders in Iraq and will hold talks with top Iraqi officials about whether a part of US troops will remain in Iraq after the deadline of the end of 2011. Some 46,000 American troops are still in Iraq.

Baghdad and Washington are in debate whether the US need to extend the presence of its troops in Iraq beyond the 2011 deadline.

Ankara (Turkey). The fourth Libya Contact Group meeting to be held this week in Istanbul (15-16 July) will no doubt attract world wide attention, Turkey’s Hürriyet Daily News reports. The situation in Libya is at a critical stage with Gaddafi now threatening attacks against European targets, while rebels are consolidating their power in parts of the country. The location of the meeting has its particular symbolic importance after Turkey’s full diplomatic swing. After a prolonged diplomatic see-sawing starting with an initial opposition to the Western-led military action, Turkey has as of last week, recognized the rebels of the Transitional National Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. Mr. Davutoglu’s recent visit to Benghazi confirmed Ankara’s change of heart and he will no doubt have a lot to discuss with Hilary Clinton during the Istanbul meeting.

But the Istanbul conference will also be a platform for another meeting with its own symbolic importance on a regional level. Although not confirmed yet, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will for the first time meet with the new Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, Stavros Lambrinidis. Lambrinidis, a dynamic MEP and vice president of the Party of European Socialists was given the foreign affairs portfolio after the Greek government reshuffle on 17 June.

In the few days since his appointment, Lambrinidis has already toured Cyprus, Germany, The Netherlands and the Balkans. His task is doubly difficult. He has to improve the spirit of negativism towards Greece among Europeans, but at the same time he has to avert the fears inside his country that Greece being “at the edge of the cliff,” is might give away strong cards of its foreign policy.

Ankara (Turkey). Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman  accused Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan on Sunday of having “shut the door” on reconciliation with Israel and having no intention of normalizing relations.

“It is clear that this person [Erdoğan] is looking not for accommodation, nor peace, nor normalization, but wants to humiliate the State of Israel, sap its international standing and harm our status in the region,” Lieberman told Israel Radio.

“I’m surprised he didn’t also demand that we set the retirement age for women,” the Israeli foreign minister said, referring to a recent domestic political dispute. “He has no intention of arriving at normalization with us. He has shut the door.”

An Israeli official speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News on 10 July said Lieberman’s statement was a direct response to Erdoğan’s harsh comments made on 8 July. Speaking to Turkish Parliament, Erdoğan repeated his past criticism of Israel over its 31 May 2010 attack on the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, an aid ship that took part in a Gaza-bound flotilla: “Normalization of relations between the two countries is unthinkable unless Israel apologizes for this illegal act, which is against all international law and values, pays compensation to the relatives of those who lost their lives in this atrocious event and lifts the embargo on Gaza.”


Sofia (Bulgaria). Turkish President Abdullah Gul arrived for an official two-day visit to Bulgaria on 11 July, the press service of the President’s Office announced. The Turkish head of state will be accompanied by his wife Hayrunnisa Gul.

Bulgaria and Turkey’s presidents will continue the political dialog after the official visit of the Bulgarian head of state to Turkey in 2008 and their attendance of several international forums in Sofia and Istanbul in 2009 and 2010. Security in the Balkans depends a lot on security in the Middle East and North Africa, Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov said at a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul.

“We support democratic processes in these countries,” said the visiting Turkish president. “Today there is no place for closed and authoritative regimes,” he added.

The implementation of gas pipeline project between Bulgaria and Turkey should be stepped up, said the Bulgarian president. Bulgaria has agreements with Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan and other potential gas supplier for the so-called Nabucco project.

Debelets (Bulgaria). A tanker truck loaded with chemicals has overturned on a road close to the northern town of Debelets, Veliko Tarnovo region, forcing the evacuation of 350 people, the press center of the Interior Ministry announced. Five teams of firefighters and civil protection officers have arrived at the site. The vehicle is blocking the road between the cities of Kilifarevo and Veliko Tarnovo. The incident occurred at 00:48 a.m. on 11 July. There is a leak and a risk of a poisonous cloud forming in the region. According to the preliminary information the 20-ton tanker truck was transporting Styrene.

Styrene is an organic compound that can have negative effects on the gastrointestinal tract, kidney, and respiratory system, among others. It is also suspected to cause cancer.

So far no injuries have been reported.

Belgrade, (Serbia). China’s government approved a credit of $US 300 million for the building of Kostolats thermoelectric power plant in Serbia, said Serbia’s Vice President Ivitza Dacic as quoted by RTV (Vojvodina Radio TV). In his words, Serbia must continue to develop its bilateral cooperation with China.

Belgrade (Serbia). A Serbian bus was raided with stones in the region of Gnilane town, Kosovo. The Kosovo police reported that there were no injured and only material damages caused. According to Serbia’s Vesti Online, the bus traveled from Smederevo to the central part of Kosovo.


Nicosia (Cyprus). Huge blasts rocked the main Greek Cypriot naval base at Zygi in the south of the Mediterranean island early on Monday, the state news agency CNA reported. “There were 98 containers of gunpowder, two of them caught fire and huge explosions occurred,” the news agency quoted a police official.

At least 12 people were killed in the blasts. Public radio reported 30 people injured in the explosions, which it said occurred among weapons seized from an Iranian shipment aboard a Cypriot-flagged vessel in 2009. The radio said that the fire brigade were called to a blaze near the base at 4:24 am (0124 GMT) and that the explosions followed at 5:50 am (0250 GMT).Wildfires are a frequent problem in Cyprus in the tinder-dry conditions created by the searing summer heat.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 11 July 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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