THE UNBIASED OBSERVERS, Issue 4


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Tuesday, 12 July 2011

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The purpose of the newsletter is to provide the latest news in the Balkans region in an objective, balanced and multiple-perspective way. All sources are quoted for the sake of convenience of the readers. By reading the newsletter you’ll learn in less than half an hour all regional top-headlines in politics and economy.

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Coverage: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Turkey

Timing: 6:30 am GMT every day Mon to Fri

Provision: e-mail service

Language: English

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 Today’s Topics:

Politics and others:

  • Turkey’s Parliament oath-taking crisis comes to end;
  • The City of Athens involved in a “purging campaign” against Indignants;
  • The Road to Europe as faced by Belgrade and Pristina;
  • Cyprus faces energy crisis after deadly blast;
  • Macedonia’s government formation still pending;
  • Greek-Macedonian Name Dispute in a standstill;
  • Turkish truck transporting styrene in Bulgaria without a certificate;
  • 60 Bulgarians arrested for credit-card forgery;
  • The campaign for “dismissal” of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov gains momentum;
  • A 13-year-old German boy has perished in Bulgaria’s Black Sea resort Golden Sands after he was sucked in by the pump of a hotel swimming pool

Economy:

  • In an open letter to Eurogroup Chairman Jean-Claude Juncker early on 12 July, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou criticized European partners for acting too slowly to stem the crisis while creating a “cacophony”;
  • Tax evasion amounts to 4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product every year, according to a report by the Bank of Greece and the illegal economy comes close to 30 percent of GDP;
  • The 2011 World Bank report on economic activity in Bulgaria shows that in one year the country has dropped 7 slots to 51st place; Bulgaria’s agenda for administrative reform has been primarily focused on staff reduction, which will not result in a sufficient improvement of the work of state employees or the business environment, according to estimates of the European Commission (EC);
  • The consumer price index (CPI) in Bulgaria in June 2011 compared to May 2011 was 99.1%, meaning the monthly inflation was -0.9%

 

BALKANS – POLITICS

 

Ankara (Turkey)

The main opposition and ruling party came to an agreement 11 July, resolving an ongoing “oath crisis” while paving the way for parliamentary debate to move to the subject of a new constitution. Deputies from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, began taking the oath of office in Parliament after reaching a consensus with the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, that highlighted a new charter, Turkey’s Huriyet Daily reports . The subsequent proceedings on the government’s new program marked the first legislative activity by the CHP, which had refused to take the oath after the June 12 general elections due to a conflict over jailed deputies. Representatives supported by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, however, continued boycotting the oath of office.

Representatives from the AKP and CHP met 11 July morning in Parliament to discuss an agreement to end the oath crisis. AKP group deputy chairmen Nurettin Canikli and Ahmet Aydın, and deputy party leader Haluk İpek, attended the meeting with CHP group deputy chairman Akif Hamzaçebi, Kırklareli deputy Turgut Dibek and Istanbul deputy Aydın Ayaydın.The joint deal text approved by PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and CHP’s Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu emphasized a strong new constitution that broadens freedom, adding that the Turkish Parliament, which established the Republic of Turkey and headed operations in the war of independence, had united to face and overcome much bigger problems.

Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, has declared that they do not recognize the main opposition’s joint declaration with the ruling party and will continue to refuse to take the parliamentary oath. The BDP’s oath crisis started following the June 12 elections in which 36 independent deputies supported by the pro-Kurdish BDP were elected into Parliament. However, the deputies decided not to take the parliamentary oath when Turkey’s Supreme Election Board, or YSK, disqualified Hatip Dicle, a jailed Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, leader who is on trial. A total of six deputies are currently in prison as part of the KCK trial. Meanwhile, the Democratic Society Congress, or DTK, an umbrella organization that brings together many pro-Kurdish organizations, called all its delegates for a meeting on 14 July to discuss the boycott decision as well as to consider the calls for democratic autonomy. The DTK currently has 850 delegates across Turkey.

 

Athens (Greece)

The City of Athens wants the Indignant protesters camped in Syntagma Square to pack up their tents and go but will not remove them itself, Mayor Giorgos Kaminis is quoted as saying by Greek Ekathimerini newspaper. The protesters were due to gather for the 48th straight evening on 11 July and Kaminis said that the municipality did not have the authority or the inclination to remove dozens of people who have camped in the square by force, apparently suggesting that the police should take on this task. “The municipality has to prove it exists,” he said. “It has to look after the square. We will ask the protesters to leave peacefully.”

There are growing concerns that Syntagma is becoming a magnet for petty criminals and vagrants but the Indignant are adamant that they will not be pushed out. Dora Bakoyannis, a former Athens mayor and current leader of the Democratic Alliance party, accused Kaminis of shirking his responsibility by not cleaning up the square.

Belgrade (Serbia)

Dialog opens the European road of Belgrade and Pristina, say EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Serbian Blic daily writes. “The latest agreement between the two countries eases dialog and is a positive step,” reads a statement of the U.S. Secretary of State.

Three opposition parties in Kosovo have asked for an extraordinary sitting of the parliament to discuss the request for termination of the negotiations with Belgrade, Blic informs. The Democratic Union of Kosovo, the Self-Determination Movement and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo have asked for extraordinary parliamentary sitting for termination of the negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo. According to the media in Pristina, the sitting will be called this week.

 

Nicosia (Cyprus).

The Cypriot Navy’s chief of staff, Andreas Ioannides , and a military base commander, Lambros Lambrou , were among at least 12 people killed on 11 July in an explosion at a munitions facility that prompted the resignations of armed forces commander Petros Tsalikides and Defense Minister Costas Papacostas, reports Greece’s Ekatimerini newspaper. The other 10 victims were army officers and firefighters. At least 60 more were injured in the blast which also knocked out the island’s main power station, disrupting electricity supplies.Firemen were called to the navy base in Zygi, on the island’s southern coast between Larnaca and Limassol, at around 4.30 a.m. to curb a fire that had broken out at a munitions facility. Shortly before 6 a.m., locals reported hearing a huge explosion that sprayed debris hundreds of meters from the depot.  Defense officials said an investigation into the cause of the blast had yet to yield any results.

In a written statement, Cyprus government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said the explosion had occurred in a facility storing munitions confiscated from an Iranian ship Cyprus authorities intercepted in 2009. The vessel had been en route to Syria in violation of UN sanctions. Stefanou added that ministry officials had discussed the storage conditions at the munitions facility last week. “Decisions were taken on protecting the material but unfortunately there was not enough time for these decisions to be implemented,” he said.The munitions, which had been stored in shipping containers, had started to warp recently, sources said, adding that experts had called for them to be kept at cooler temperatures before being destroyed. According to a US State Department cable made public by WikiLeaks, the munitions stored in the containers comprised powerful explosives including compressed gunpowder.

 

Meanwhile, Cyprus faces a serious energy crisis as a result of the blast, Greece’s Ekathimerini newspaper informs

Commerce Minister Antonis Paschalides called the blast a “tragedy of Biblical dimensions” for the small Mediterranean island. Massive damage was caused to homes in the nearby village of Mari, forcing the evacuation of its 150 residents.

According to a statement from the Electricity Authority of Cyprus on 12 July, reduced capacity in the Vassiliko plant, which covers 60 percent of Cyprus’s supply, will mean power cuts in various parts of the island as repairs get underway. But, the authority’s chairman Charis Thrassou warned, the repairs will take months maybe even years to complete and may cost in excess of one billion euros. According to the Finance Ministry’s statement, the power plant, which cost 1.5 billion euros to build and was only recently completed, is partially owned by the state, which will have to foot a significant part of the bill for its repair as the insurance will not cover the entire amount. Cypriots meanwhile, are being urged to save energy and water to ensure that businesses, hotels and industry can keep going, especially as this is peak holiday season. Water supplies have also been affected by the blast as the island’s desalination plants had to be shut down and a rationing system introduced.

Skopje (Macedonia)

It is still unclear whether mandate-holder PM Nikola Gruevski will announce the line-up and the programme of the new Macedonian government by the end of the week, writes Macedonian Vecer newspaper. The daily reminds that the legal deadline for government formation is June 17. According to unofficial information, the talks between the VMRO-DPMNE and the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) have become complicated because of the division of the posts in the security and customs services. Ali Ahmeti’s party is eyeing the posts of the head of the customs and of the bureau for public security or of the security directorate and the counterintelligence. VMRO-DPMNE, however, is not willing to give them.

Skopje (Macedonia)

Macedonia-Greece name despite cannot be solved until Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is conducting internal instead of foreign policy, said former Greek foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis, in an interview with Macedonian Utrinski Vesnik. “Greece would like to see its neighbour in the EU and NATO but there are other internal priorities. Thus, there is no place for much optimism,” Bakoyannis remarked. In her words, it is not clear whether the Macedonian prime minister is willing to negotiate on the issue. “According to me, he does not and thus the Greek government and the two nationals do not have too many options,” the former minister added.

 

Sofia (Bulgaria)

A probe of the Bulgarian Automobile Inspection, DAI, has established that the Turkish driver, who caused a harmful spill near the northern town of Debelets did not own a certificate allowing him to transport hazardous substances, Bulgaria’s Novinite.com reports. The probe further revealed the cistern did not have signs it contains such substances while the driver did not have a break in the last 24 hours before the incident. The driver was arrested and was kept behind bars for 24 hours. Upon expiration of the 24 hours, his ID documents have been taken away on the order of the Prosecutor’s Office and under the Foreign Citizens Act, so that he cannot leave the country before the end of the investigation.Yumer Var, a 45-year-old Turkish citizen, was charged with recklessly polluting the environment and making it harmful for people, animals and plants. Under the Penal Code he faces up to 5 years behind bars. The incident happened when a Turkish cistern truck transporting amounts of a dangerous chemical rolled over early 11 July, causing the evacuation of 2 200 residents of Debelets, which is located near the city of Veliko Tarnovo. Over 4 tons of styrene, which is used to make plastic, were spilled and a toxic cloud was formed.

 

Sofia (Bulgaria)

A total of 60 Bulgarian citizens have now been arrested by police authorities across Europe for participating in a large international scheme for credit card forgery and other crimes, Bulgaria’s Novinite.com writes. The gang has been active since nine years and has accumulated a fortune estimated at over EUR 50M. Around 5000 police officers from Spain Bulgaria, Italy, Poland, Germany, US intelligence agents and experts from Europol have contributed to the operation, codenamed Night Clone Card. The Bulgarian crime ring, which has been described as the world’s largest in the sphere of bank card cloning, has been active mostly in Italy, where nine suspects were detained. US police arrested two suspects and two more were apprehended in Spain, while one person was held in Poland.

 

Sofia (Bulgaria)

A new internet page (www.uvolnenie.org) has been created, joining appeals to fire Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov. The latest action comes after billboards saying “I will fire Boyko Borisov!” popped up at the exits of the Bulgarian capital Sofia on 11 July. The author of the statement remains unknown. The “I will fire Boyko Borisov” sign appeared a week after a Facebook group declared July 5 a “Day without Borisov.” The billboards were removed several hours after their appearence.An investigation of the Bulgarian daily Dnevnik showed the billboards are owned by the DMD Consult advertising agency, which refused to reveal the name of the person who placed the order. They only said the same person has ordered another 100 billboards. It is unclear if they are only in the capital or in other cities.

 

Sofia (Bulgaria)

A 13-year-old German boy has perished in Bulgaria’s Black Sea resort Golden Sands after he was sucked in by the pump of a hotel swimming pool, Bulgarian Novinite.com reported. The boy, who was on a vacation in Bulgaria with his parents, drowned on Monday in the Berlin Hotel in Golden Sands, the Bulgarian Red Cross announced. The case is under investigation but it is believed that the pump was without the required safety bars, and thus the boy was unable to overcome the current sucking him in. The boy was later taken to hospital in a coma but died during the night. “When the kid dove, and came close to the pump, the current was too strong and he couldn’t get out,” explained Lavrentiy Silov from the Bulgarian Red Cross in Varna, as cited by BNT. The management of the hotel has refused any comments saying that an investigation is under way.Inspections showed that the swimming pool in the hotel worked illegally because it had not been authorized by a municipal commission. Only 56 of the 220 swimming pools in the resorts in the Varna Municipality, including Golden Sands, have the respective official authorization.

This tragedy followed the news about the spread of a serious stomach infection has spread among Russian, Ukrainian, French and Bulgarian kids in Kiten resort as a result of food-poisoning and water consumption.

 

BALKANS ECONOMY

Economy

Athens (Greece)

In an open letter to Eurogroup Chairman Jean-Claude Juncker early on 12 July, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou criticized European partners for acting too slowly to stem the crisis while creating a “cacophony” that ultimately put domestic politics before the common currency, Greece’s Ekathimerini newspaper reports. “Crunch time has arrived and there is no room for indecisiveness and errors such as taking decisions that in the end prove ‘too little, too late’ to convince the markets we are serious; (and) making compromises that satisfy our internal political ‘red lines’ that in the end substitute tactical politics for sound management of the crisis,” Papandreou wrote. The prime minister’s office released the letter as the finance ministers of the Euro zone met in Brussels for emergency talks on a Greek bailout and on measures to stem the possibility of contagion to Italy and Spain, including the thorny issue of private-sector involvement, which is high on the agenda of Tuesday’s talks between all 27 members of the European Union. “There is no room for indecision and mistakes… such as allowing cacophony to substitute for a common agenda and create more panic than security,” Papandreou said in his letter to Juncker, criticizing a French proposal under which investors would reinvest 70 percent of their holdings in 30-year Greek bonds, which rating agency Standard & Poor’s said last week would amount to a “selective default.” “Greece is paying the price of excessive experimentation and confusion,” Papandreou said, adding that Europe-wide bank stress tests to be released on Friday “could spark greater insecurity on markets.”

Christine Lagarde, the new chief of the International Monetary Fund, said that her organisation and its European partners, however, were not ready to discuss the terms of any second bailout for Greece.

Meanwhile, the crisis around Italy gains momentum. The country has debts of around Euro 900 B that has to be paid back in the next few years and if the sale of its bonds continues as it is now, the yield on them will skyrocket and make the financing for Italy too expensive.

Athens (Greece)

Tax evasion amounts to 4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product every year, according to a report by the Bank of Greece published on 11 July. At the same time the illegal economy comes close to 30 percent of GDP, the report estimates, including uninsured work that amounts to 25 percent of all labor. There have been no efforts made in the last few years to contain tax evasion as well as uninsured work, which in this crucial period has resulted in problems in the collection of taxes, while social security funds are strained and require more funds from the state budget.

 

Sofia (Bulgaria)

The 2011 World Bank report on economic activity in Bulgaria shows that in one year the country has dropped 7 slots to 51st place.

Bulgaria’s agenda for administrative reform has been primarily focused on staff reduction, which will not result in a sufficient improvement of the work of state employees or the business environment, according to estimates of the European Commission (EC), quoted by Bulgaria’s Novinite.com. Cumbersome administrative procedures remain in place, undermining the impact of low tax rates in Bulgaria, according to EC’s assessment of Bulgaria’s progress under the Convergence Program for 2011-2014 and the National Reform Program, reports Bulgaria’s Sega newspaper.According to EU experts, apart from reducing workforce, the Bulgarian government is not doing enough to address problems like the lack of stability in the administration, the presence of politically dependent state workers and the insufficient measures aimed at boosting their knowledge and skills.EC’s report also exposes the unproductive fight against corruption in regulatory bodies and institutions related to the protection of competition, which has a negative impact on the country’s overall economic and social development and on its EU funds absorption. In view of these conditions, Bulgaria’s economy fails to create the best environment to attract investment. Administrative fees charged by the country’s institutions remain high while licensing procedures are too complex.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

The consumer price index (CPI) in Bulgaria in June 2011 compared to May 2011 was 99.1%, meaning the monthly inflation was -0.9%. The data were reported by the National Statistical Institute (NSI). The annual average inflation, measured by CPI, in the last 12 months (July 2010 – June 2011) compared to the previous 12 months (July 2009 – June 2010) was 4.3%.

(Mariela Zamfirova, 12 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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