Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 13 July 2011


News Summary

NORTH AFRICA

Tripoli (Libya). France’s foreign minister says his country has had “contact” with emissaries from the Libyan leadership concerning the departure of Muammar Gaddafi.

“There are contacts but it’s not a negotiation proper at this stage,” Alain Juppe told France Info radio station. “Everybody is in contact with everybody. The Libyan regime is sending messengers everywhere, to Turkey, New York, Paris. Emissaries are telling us Gaddafi is ready to go, let’s talk about it,” Jupe said as quoted by Al Jazeera.

Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said the Libyan regime was in talks with the French government. “The truth is that we are negotiating with France and not with the rebels,” the Algerian El Khabar newspaper quoted Gaddfi’s son.

In an interview with French daily Le Figaro on Tuesday, Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, the Libyan prime minister, said Tripoli was ready to “negotiate without conditions” but that the bombing would have to stop first. Mahmoudi indicated that the Libyan leader might be willing to step down.

The International Contact Group on Libya will meet in Istanbul on 14 July to discuss how to fund Libya’s rebels, as Libyan government assets remain frozen, Hürriyet Daily News writes today. International donors to Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) will discuss a variety of funding options during the meeting. Turkey has invited China and Russia to join discussions on Libya as part of the contact group for the first time.

MIDDLE EAST

Damascus (Syria). Syria has denounced a statement by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which she said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had lost legitimacy and was “not indispensable”, Al Jazeera reported.

“Syria strongly condemns the statements of the American foreign minister … these remarks are provocative and aim at continuing the internal tension,” Syria’s state news agency SANA quoted on 12 July.

Cairo (Egypt). Protesters in Tahrir Square have blocked traffic and stopped employees entering a government administrative building on the edge of the square.

“The military council is following the same policies as the ousted regime,” one of the demonstrators told Al Jazeera. Thousands of Egyptians marched on the cabinet headquarters in central Cairo on Tuesday to demand the removal of the ruling military council. The march prompted a warning from the military council that it would use all legitimate means to end the five-day protest in the city’s Tahrir Square.

“The people want the removal of the field marshal,” the crowd shouted, referring to Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the military council leader who served as Mubarak’s defence minister for two decades. The protest that began on 8 July has increasingly targeted the generals running the country and is one of the longest since the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak, who is at a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, is due to go on trial on 3 August over the death of more than 840 protesters in the uprising. Essam Sharaf, the prime minister, has been trying to appease the protesters by promising a cabinet reshuffle and ordering other changes in the interior ministry, but the demonstrators have rejected the proposals. The military council said the protests were threatening public order and the country’s security.

Tehran (Iran). Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, after a meeting with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on 11 July, expressed hope that negotiations would restart between Iran and the so-called P5+1 countries, Hürriyet Daily News informed

“We hope that negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries restart,” Davutoğlu was quoted. “We are willing to fulfill our tasks on this matter.”

Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) broke down after the parties failed to agree on the subject of meetings. Western countries have hoped that negotiations with Iran will focus on halting the country’s uranium enrichment program, while Iran says it wants to negotiate on a host of issues, including the dropping of sanctions.

Ramallah (Palestine). Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has vowed to pursue the bid for statehood at the UN General Assembly in New York in September.

The announcement comes after mediators of the Middle East Quartet failed to announce any progress in their meeting in Washington on 11 July about how to revive stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Al Jazeera reports.

Abbas called the Middle East Quartet’s silence “a negative indication” and continues, “We will go to the United Nations and we hope the US will not use its veto. The Palestinian UN bid is for statehood on the lines that existed before the 1967 Six Day War, covering the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Israel, the US and some European governments oppose the plan and the Quartet had been expected to draw up a new initiative for peace talks that could persuade the Palestinians to drop the bid.

Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian negotiator, told the AFP news agency that there is no other option but to support the Palestinian plan to seek statehood.

Sana (Yemen). The settlement of the situation in Yemen will not be discussed by the U.N. Security Council, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Rossiya 24 television. “Nobody tries to aggravate the situation, take sides, drag that issue into the UN Security Council,” Lavrov said. “The United States, the EU, the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, the UN and Russia – we have the same stance, urging the both sides in Yemen to get down to the negotiating table to reach an agreement”.

Moscow will support coordinated decisions of Yemeni political forces aimed at overcoming the crisis in the country, Russian Foreign Ministry sources told ITAR-TASS following a telephone conversation between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Yemen’s Acting President Mansur al-Hadi end of last month.

Ankara (Turkey). Turkish police have thwarted an imminent attack and arrested 15 suspected Al-Qaeda members in the past two days, an interior ministry official was quoted by AFP on Tuesday. One man was arrested on 11 July in a suburb of the capital Ankara “as he was about to carry out an operation,” a statement said without elaborating. Several weapons and ammunition, as well as documents belonging to the organisation were seized.

The official continued, saying that 14 other suspects were later detained in and around Ankara as well as in the northwestern towns of Bursa and Yalova. A Turkish Al-Qaeda cell was blamed by the authorities for 2003 attacks in Istanbul on two synagogues, the British consulate and the HSBC bank that left 63 dead, including the consul. Last year, the man who took over from Osama bin Laden as the head of the terror network, Egypt’s Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued clear threats against Turkey as it prepared to assume command of the NATO force in Kabul.

BALKANS

Athens (Greece). Under the headline “Greece, EU dance around issue of default,” Ekathimerini newspaper writes, that Athens rejects the possibility as the Euro zone tries to find a way to include the private sector in the bailout

There was a difference of opinion at the European level talks on 12 July over whether members of the Euro zone are prepared to allow Greece to default – a possibility that Athens still rejects – following talks between finance ministers. Greece’s Evangelos Venizelos said that it was not yet clear how the private sector would be involved in helping Greece overcome its debt problems.

In the meantime, Athens will push for the EU and the International Monetary Fund to decide about a second bailout package. Government sources said Greece would need the money by 14 September.

Meanwhile, the Euro zone is turning a crucial corner as Italy and Spain, two big economies compared with debt-hit nations like Greece, Ireland and Portugal are nearing a new crisis. Italy is by far the country with the greatest sensitivity to rising debt servicing costs. Experts are saying that the burden of a bailout for Spain or Italy would weigh much more than saving Greece. Hurryiet Daily News writes that in a bid to keep Italy and Spain from the same fate as Greece, Portugal and Ireland, the Euro zone finance ministers on 11 July promised cheaper loans, longer maturities and a more flexible rescue fund.

Sofia (Bulgaria). The U.S. anti-ballistic missile systems will cover all of Europe, including the entire Bulgarian territory, Ellen Tauscher, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs assured at a meeting with MEPs in Washington DC, attended by Buglarian MEP Ivaylo Kalfin. Ms. Tauscher noted some Bulgarian territories were not placed under protection before the revision of the plan.

The possible deployment of a NATO missile defense shield in Europe is the only disputable point between Russia and NATO, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, quoted by Russia’s RIA Novosti. During the NATO-Russia Council in Sochi on 4 July, the alliance refused to provide legally binding guarantees that its missiles would not be directed against Russia, which Moscow says is the only way to prevent a new arms race.

Western Balkans. The European Commission announced on 12 July the finalization of its plans for financial support for ongoing reforms in the Western Balkans. The countries included are: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey, as well as Kosovo. Bulgaria’s Novinite.com reports that the EC will inject EUR 5.5 B for reforms in the Western Balkans and Turkey.

“The funds should act as a catalyst for reform in the enlargement countries and support the countries along their path of European integration.”, said European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fule. The EC points out the funding will focus on areas such as reform of the judiciary and public administration, enhancing regional cooperation in the fight against organised crime and corruption, building up a vibrant civil society, fostering reforms and regional cooperation in education, as well as underpinning sustainable recovery from the economic crisis through investment in strategic infrastructure projects.

Sofia (Bulgaria) A 13-year-old German boy died on Monday in Bulgaria’s Black Sea resort Golden Sands after he was sucked in by the pump of a hotel swimming pool, Bulgaria’s Novinite.com reported. The boy, who was on a vacation in Bulgaria with his parents, drowned in the Berlin Hotel in Golden Sands.

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.  Inspections showed that the swimming pool in the hotel was operated illegally because it had not been authorized by a municipal commission. Only 56 of the 220 swimming pools in the resorts around Varna, including Golden Sands, have the official certificate for operation.

Meanwhile, Russia’s ITAR-TASS informed that 39 children from Russia and Ukraine were hospitalized with signs of a serious intestinal infection in Burgas on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. The children between 10 and 16 were taken to hospital from Green Park Hotel located in the resort town of Kiten. The reasons for mass infection are being examined. The first reports by the Bulgarian media show that the reasons were usage of non-purified water by the hotel as well as food supplies that were over the best-before date for up to two months.

Skopje (Macedonia). Talks between the VMRO-DPMNE and the Union for Democratic Integration (DUI) ended up successfully, writes Macedonian Vecer newspaper. It is expected by the end of the week for mandate-holder Nikola Gruevski to announce the line-up and the programme of the new government.  Vecer remarks that despite the speculations the positions in the security and customs services will be given to the VMRO-DPMNE.  Former members of the National Liberation Army will not get a pension, while at the recommendation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the parliament should give authentic interpretation of four cases of war crimes, which are heard at the Macedonian courts.
DUI has undertaken the engagement to secure compensations for the resettled people during the conflicts.

ELSEWHERE

Nicosia (Cyprus). Thousands of protesters marched on the Greek Cypriot presidential palace in anger on 12 July a day after a deadly explosion killed 12 people, AFP reported. “We want (President Demetris) Christofias out, because he’s responsible for all this and we are very angry,” one of the demonstrators said.

The protesters broke through an outer gate of the presidential palace in Nicosia despite the presence of riot police after marching from Eleftheria Square. They gathered following calls on networking sites and mobile texts to organise demonstrations against what they perceived as government negligence in not preventing the Mediterranean island’s worst peacetime military accident. A police officer put the number of protesters at 2,000 to 3,000 but told AFP that the demonstration was growing.

A huge blast on 11 July in a Cypriot naval base on the south coast killed 12 people and injured 62, two of whom remained in critical condition on. The commander of Cyprus’s navy, Andreas Ioannides, was among the dead, as was the commander of the Evangelos Florakis naval base, Lambros Lambrou. Four other members of the armed services, including 20-year-old twin brothers, and six firefighters also died. The explosion sparked severe power outages that come at the height of a scorching summer, with afternoon temperatures in Nicosia approaching 40 degrees Celsius.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 13 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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