THE UNBIASED OBSERVERS, Issue 7


From 1 September 2011 this newsletter service is subscription only. See Balkan News Service for details.


Friday, 15 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: 06:30 GMT every day Mon to Fri

Provision: e-mail service

Language: English

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 Today’s Topics:

Politics and others:

  • The Democratic Society Congress (DTK) declared “democratic autonomy” in Diyarbakir while 13 Turkish military killed in an ambush in Diyarbakir; Alarmed by the news Prime Minister Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan calls an emergency meeting;
  • Cyprus President Demetris Christofias promised a full investigation into the naval base blasts;
  • Serbia meets the majority of the EU accession criteria according to the Serbian government EU integration office;
  • Press cars set ablaze opposite to Montenegro’s National Security Agency;
  • Kosovo Parliament in favor of continuation of the talks with Serbia;
  • No EULEX Investigation against Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci;
  • A draft EC report on Bulgaria’s progress on judicial reform and the fight against organized crime and corruption reflects the stalemate situation;
  • Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov will not run for president. Facing a 3rd no confidence vote, Borissov expresses hope that Ataka nationalist party will back him up;
  • The Bulgarian President’s Chief of Staff and former Chief of General Staff of the Bulgarian Army checked by Bulgaria’s National Security Agency on the basis of a “Wikileaked” signal;
  • Human Rights’ observance questionable in Bulgaria. Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court responds to UN Human Rights Committee that the international covenant on human rights is not binding on Bulgaria’s judiciary
  • EUR 2,500 Fine for the Turkish company over the incident in Debelets

 

Economy:

  • Greece’s government called a meeting to discuss selective default
  • Five Greek banks downgraded by Fitch rating agency prior to the EU banks stress-tests results publication;
  • South Stream gas pipeline, Nabucco gas pipeline and the gas grid interconnection projects will be granted exemptions by the European Commission on third-party access requirements, according to Bulgaria’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Minister Traycho Traykov
  • Russia’s propped BT Invest, qualified as “The Sure Buyer of Bulgartabac” by the Bulgarian media
  • Greece faces a selective default. Prime Minister Papandreou fires back at IMF and EU in particular that indecisiveness scare investors off.
  • ·        Italy is proposing EUR 48B in budget cuts over 3 years to avoid bailout; Bulgaria’s and Romania’s banks directly exposed to Greece
  • Lukoil Neftochim, Balkan’s largest refinery faces license-stripping by Bulgaria
  • Bulgaria slammed by the European commission for illegal aid provided to Ruse Industry

 

BALKANS – POLITICS

Ankara (Turkey). The Democratic Society Congress, or DTK, declared “democratic autonomy” in Diyarbakir while 13 Turkish military killed in an ambush in Diyarbakir. Alarmed by the news Prime Minister Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan calls an emergency meeting.

Thirteen soldiers were killed and seven wounded in an ambush in Diyarbakır’s Silvan district, the Anatolia news agency reported. Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan summoned an emergency security meeting in his office in Ankara. Beşir Atalay, deputy prime minister in charge of security affairs, Gen. Işık Koşaner, the chief of General Staff, Hakan Fidaner, the head of the National Intelligence Organization, and Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin joined the emergency meeting as Turkish Air Force jets started air operations in the region of the clash in Southeast Turkey.

Huriyet Daily News reports that the Democratic Society Congress, or DTK, an alleged front organization for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, meanwhile met with 850 of its delegates in Diyarbakır on 14 July and announced the decision to start the process of what the group called a “democratic autonomy.” The ambush in Silvan was reportedly set up by the PKK, whose imprisoned leader has been discussing an extended truce with the government. As a first reaction to the incident, Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek said it was “Time for everyone to determine which side they are on: democracy or bloodshed.”

The Turkish security forces killed one militant of the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in the eastern province of Bingol on 15 July, Bingol Governor’s Office said in a statement. A group of PKK militants opened fire when the security forces warned them to stop in Karliova town of Bingol, the statement said. One militant was killed in the clash and the military operations are under way in the region, it added.

The events follow the new Turkish government winning a vote of confidence on July 13.

(Turkey’s 61st government won 322 votes in the 550-seat Turkish parliament, with 173 lawmakers voting against it while 55 lawmakers absent.)

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after the voting “Our solidarity and unity here will be an important test for us to carry our country beyond the level of contemporary civilization. We will pass this test together”

Nicosia (Cyprus). Cyprus President Demetris Christofias promised a full investigation into the naval base blasts.

Cyprus President Demetris Christofias promised a full investigation into 11 July’s massive explosion at a naval base that killed 13 people, Xinhua reports.In his first statement after the explosion, which has caused widespread anger against the government, Christofias announced the appointment of a lawyer (Polys Polyviou) to look into all aspects of the tragedy and allocate responsibilities. Christofias has been blamed by opposition parties and the press that he had given instructions to the National Guard to continue having under its custody 98 containers packed with military explosives and munitions despite warnings about the dangers involved. The containers were confiscated early in 2009 from a Russian ship bound for Syria, after it had sailed from an Iranian port, in violation of United Nations resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran.The munitions were placed under the custody of the National Guard and stacked in the naval base for about 30 months. Over the last few weeks there had been warnings about an imminent catastrophe, after some of the containers were deformed, presumably following small explosions inside them.

Christofias also made mention to the economic aspect of the blast, which blew up the islands main electricity facility, forcing rolling cuts of power supply to consumers. He said Cyprus applied to the European Union for solidarity assistance and also thanked many individual countries for offering help.On top of the damage to the power station estimated at two billion euros, initial estimates put the damage to private property to another two billion euros.

Belgrade (Serbia). Serbia meets the majority of the EU accession criteria according to the Serbian government EU integration office.

Seventy three percent of the targeted tasks, provided in the action plan for Serbia’s accession in the European Union (EU) have been met, said Milica Djelevic, director of government’s office for European integration, in an interview with Serbian Politika daily newspaper.

“We have done much of work so far and I hope that this would contribute to a positive position of the European Commission (EC) on Serbia’s membership zeal,” Djelevic remarked.

Podgorica (Montenegro). Press cars set ablaze opposite to Montenegro’s National Security Agency.

Two press-owned cars of the Vijesti Podgorica daily newspaper were set ablaze and destroyed in the early hours on 14 July, Xinhua Agency informed. The vehicles were set aflame ust across the street from Montenegro’s National Security Agency. Residents in the neighborhood reported being awakened by two loud shots. It is still unclear who was behind the attack.Calling for a speedy police action, Montenegrin Prime Minister Igor Luksic condemned the act, while President Filip Vujanovic said it was important to uncover the attackers’ motives.

“Freedom of the media must be affirmed and protected,” said Vujanovic. “These primitive acts must be rejected with indignation with appropriate sanctions for the perpetrators.”

Mihailo Jovovic, editor and chief of Vijesti, however, said he was hopeful but not optimistic about the prospect.
“There is always suspicion that such attacks are organized and ordered from within the government and criminal circles close to them, to intimidate us and to influence our editorial policy,” stated Jovovic.

Pristina (Kosovo). Kosovo Parliament in favor of continuation of the talks with Serbia.

Parliament in Kosovo rejected the opposition’s proposal for termination of the talks with Serbia and for repeal of the already reached agreements, Serbia’s Blic newspaper writes.46 lawmakers voted against the proposal, 37 voted “in favor”.

Pristina (Kosovo). No EULEX Investigation against Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.

EULEX is not investigating Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci in connection to the report of Council of Europe Special Rapporteur Dick Marty over illegal organ trafficking in Kosovo, Serbia’s Studio B TV reports. Deputy head of the mission is quoted saying that EULEX is not conducting an investigation against Thaci or anybody else, adding that in case some evidence is presented an investigation will be started.

Sofia (Bulgaria). A draft EC report on Bulgaria’s progress on judicial reform and the fight against organized crime and corruption reflects the stalemate situation.

EC’s draft report focuses on the fact that charges are often raised and no conviction is subsequently imposed due to the insufficient evidence, Bulgaria’s Notvinite.com reports. The paper also emphasizes the necessity of transparency in the appointment of magistrates. It notes Bulgaria’s failure to adopt a law on the confiscation of assets gained from illegal activity and the lack of an efficient conflict-of-interest oversight body. The draft report has been sent to the authorities in Sofia and will be officially published by the EC on 20 July.

The preliminary version of the document is expected to undergo revisions due to the anticipated objections on the part of the Bulgarian government and the political ramifications of the document, especially as regards the country’s Schengen bid.

The document also registers the amended Criminal Procedure Code, Judiciary Act and Conflict Of Interest Act, concluding, however, that reforms in the country remain only on paper.

Sofia (Bulgaria). Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov will not run for president. Facing a third no confidence vote, Borissov expresses hope that Ataka nationalist party will back him up.

Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has dispersed any suspicion that he might run in the presidential elections in the fall of 2011. Speaking on  Bulgaria’s National TV (BNT) on 15 July, however, Borisov declared that he will not run for President in the October 23 elections so that the “government can complete its job.” In an optimistic pitch, he emphasized that the GERB government will have an even more successful record than until now. Bulgaria’s Novinite.com reminded that Borissov said recently he would run for President in the elections in 2016 – a statement that many perceived as semi-serious.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov does not intend to defend his government’s policies in Parliament during the upcoming no confidence vote, which will be the third for his Cabinet since it took over in 2009.  Borissov told the National TV on 15 July that he would not even show up in Parliament for the no confidence debate. In his words, “there is no responsible political class of politicians” in Bulgaria today.

The opposition led by the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the centrist ethnic Turkish party Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) has initiated a no confidence vote over “the failure in internal and home affairs” of the Interior Ministry and the failure to join the Schengen Area, originally planned for March 2011. The rightist Blue Coalition, which used to back the Borisov Cabinet, has declared it will support a no confidence vote over what it regards as failures of Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov. The no confidence motion, originally planned for 15 July, will be submitted by the opposition at 12:00 GMT on 18 July.

In Borissov’s opinion, even though the BSP, DPS, and the Blue Coalition want to topple the GERB government, his already former informal ally, the leader of the nationalist party Ataka Volen Siderov would stay aside. With the support of Ataka’s 16 MPs (down from 21 originally as 5 have become independents) now gone, the Borissov Cabinet is relying solely on its own party GERB’s 117 MPs and 10 “independents”, i.e. MPs who have broken off from Ataka and the marginal conservative party RZS (Law, Order, Justice Party) to survive in the 240-seat Parliament.

The newly acquired significance of the 10 “independent” MPs as being crucial for the survival of the Borissov Cabinet has been widely discussed after on 14 July they had a meeting with US Ambassador James Warlick focused upon the creation of a new independent political project. The meeting was reportedly held at the initiative of the US diplomat.

This prompted a string of mutual accusations, with Ataka leader Volen Siderov claiming that GERB had “bought” his erstwhile MPs using GERB money and deflecting a part of the state subsidy that belongs to Ataka for its election results in 2009.

The “independent” MPs on their part claimed that they and other nationalist MPs have been made dependent by being forced to to sign promissory notes turning them into guarantors of loans taken by offshore companies. The issue stirred widely publicized debates about party funding and MP dependence in Bulgaria. Independent MPs also helped the government of the center-right party GERB stay in power in June when the no confidence motion was overturned with 124 MPs against, 70 in favor, and 2 abstaining.

Sofia (Bulgaria. The Bulgarian President’s Chief of Staff and former Chief of General Staff of the Bulgarian Army checked by Bulgaria’s National Security Agency on the basis of a “Wikileaked” signal.

However, the Agency denies comment as to whether it has initiated a check of the Wikileaked information about Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s and Attorney General Boris Velchev.

Bulgaria’s State Agency for National Security (DANS) is probing within its authority revelations of the whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks that former Chief of General Staff, Nikola Kolev, has provided confidential information to the US Embassy in the beginning of 2003. The information was reportedly related to corruption at the Ministry of Defence, Bulgaria’s Novinite.com reports.

This was announced by Prime Minister, Boyko Borissov, during parliamentary control on 15 July. Borissov explained DANS does not have investigative functions, but if there is evidence confirming the Wikileaks report, this evidence would be turned to the Prosecutor’s Office.

The cable in question was released on June 15 by WikiLeaks and provided to the project for investigative journalism www.bivol.bg.

According to the US diplomatic cable, “Gen. Kolev has leveled charges of corruption within the Ministry of Defense, MOD, in a (thus far) still secret report delivered to the President and senior MOD leaders.”

Kolev, who is currently Chief of Staff of President, Georgi Parvanov, and the Presidential Office declined any comments at the time.

Asked by Bulgaria’s mediapool.bg (http://www.mediapool.bg/show/?storyid=182113&srcpos=2) whether it checks data from other “Wikileaked” cables related to the “dark past” of Boyko Borissov (https://www.balkanleaks.eu/06sofia647.html) , former Attorney General Nikola Filchev and his successor Boris Velchev (https://www.balkanleaks.eu/06sofia198.html ) , the National Security Agency categorically denied any comments.

Meanwhile, Bivol.bg commented they were still not able to find out the exact meaning of SIMO, which in another cable, has allegedly confirmed that Borisov was involved in major traffic in methamphetamines.

Bivol points out that no one is probing the PM, because Attorney General, Boris Velchev dismissed the above said cables as rumors, adding this is definitely a “double standard.”

Sofia (Bulgaria. Human Rights’ observance questionable in Bulgaria. Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court responds to UN Human Rights Committee that the international covenant on human rights is not binding on Bulgaria’s judiciary.

Bulgaria needs to address the gap between the human rights rhetoric and reality, the UN Human Rights Committee has stated reviewing the country’s third periodic report on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Bulgaria’s Novinite.com reports.

The Committee said it identified a range of concerns, from systematic issues effecting the general implementation of the ICCPR to detailed substantive points. They were disturbed by the declaration of the Supreme Administrative Court on 7 July 2011 that the ICCPR was only binding on the State, not on the judiciary, the Committee pointed out in a press release.

The Committee also noted that a number of recommendations from other UN bodies have not yet been implemented. These include recommendations from the Committee against Torture on issues related to the concerns of the Human Rights Committee, such as the definition and criminalization of torture, as well as the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s recommendations on the elimination of all corporal punishment of children.

As a conclusion, the UN Human Rights Committee has declared that, although the Bulgarian state can point to a number of new policies, programs and action plans, questions remain about the implementation of these programs and human rights standards on the ground.

Sofia (Bulgaria). EUR 2,500 fine for the Turkish company over the incident in Debelets.

The Regional Inspectorate for Environment and Waters in the central city of Veliko Tarnovo is fining the Turksih company “Tall Tet Global Logistics” with EUR 2,500 over the incident in Debelets, Bulgaria’s Novinite.com reports. The company is the owner of the cistern which overturned in the early hours of 11 July near the town of Debelets, spilling a toxic chemical, causing the evacuation of local residents and polluting the waters of the Belitsa River.

The test results show levels of the chemical – styrene, in the waters are 18.5 higher than the norm. The river is a protected area, included in the European Natura 2000 network. The polluting is a crime, according to the Penal Code, and for this reason the Turkish company is issued the maximum sanction. Over 4 tons of styrene, which is used to make plastic, were spilled and a toxic cloud was formed.

 

BALKANS ECONOMY

Economy

Athens (Greece). Greece’s government called a meeting to discuss selective default.

For the first time since Greece’s credit crisis began, the Cabinet met to discuss how the government would manage the public impact of a selective default on its debt, a development which now seems inevitable, Greek Ekathimerini newspaper reports. Prime Minister George Papandreou told his ministers that they have to be properly briefed on the meaning and implications of a selective default, which is likely to come about as a result of the involvement of the private sector in the country’s second bailout.

Help is expected to come in the form of extended bond maturities or lower interest rates, as well as a bond buyback scheme, it is almost certain that at least one of the three rating agencies will believe that Athens has, in part, defaulted on its debt.

Papandreou said it was important for the government to make it clear that being classified as being in selective default was not the same as Greece defaulting and going bankrupt. This would not create problems for Greek banks either.

According to rating agency Standard & Poor’s, a debtor is in selective default when “payments may not be made on some financial obligations.” This, the government stresses, is not the same as a recognition that Greece cannot pay back any of its debts.The interpretation of the term has gained utmost significance in terms of PASOK’s tussle with New Democracy over the handling of the economy.

Officials from the European Central Bank, the European Commission and private lenders met in Rome on Thursday to discuss a second rescue plan for Greece. European Union leaders are expected to meet on the same issue next week.

Athens (Greece). Five Greek banks downgraded by Fitch rating agency prior to the EU banks stress-tests results publication.

Fitch rating agency downgraded one notch the notation for the five leading Greek banks to “B-” because of strains on their cash positions and assets, AFP reported.  The rating agency issued its new notation only hours before the publication of European Union stress tests on the ability of banks to withstand financial shocks. Greek banks receive massive lifeline support from the European Central Bank, but according to Fitch this, coupled with a flight of capital abroad, left the banks with little room for manoeuvre. Fitch reasoned its decision with the fact that the deep crisis in the Greek economy had resulted in strains of banks’ liquidity and had effects on consolidating their accounts, and the assets in their balance sheets.
The banks affected are: Banque Nationale de Grece (BNG), Eurobank, Alpha, Piraeus and agriculture bank Ate. These banks are on the list of 91 banks in 21 European countries covered by the stress tests to be published by the EU banking regulator EBA late on 15  July.
Fitch also noted that the banks, holders of large amounts of Greek sovereign debt, were exposed directly to the Greek debt crisis.
A Greek banking source, cited by Bulgaria’s Focus News, who declined to be named, said that Greek banks hold Greek debt worth 48 billion euros ($68.0 billion), about the same amount held by the ECB which has bought government bonds from the financial sector under a special relief programme.

Sofia (Bulgaria). South Stream gas pipeline, Nabucco gas pipeline and the gas grid interconnection projects will be granted exemptions by the European Commission on third-party access requirements, according to Bulgaria’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Minister Traycho Traykov.

Bulgarian Energy Minister Traycho Traykov has expressed his confidence in the fact that the South Stream gas pipeline, Nabucco gas pipeline and the gas grid interconnection projects will be granted exemptions by the European Commission on third-party access requirements, Bulgaria’s Novinite.com reports. The condition is part is part of EU’s so-called Third Package of energy market liberalization. In his view, almost none of the current gas pipeline projects can operate in line with the requirements of a fully liberalized market, which is why these new schemes will require a deferral as regards the provision of third-party access to the gas transmission systems.

The decision on South Stream (EUR 15.5 B gas conduit) must be taken by the end of 2012. South Stream, a joint project of Russian Gazprom and Italian Eni, is to transport Russian gas to Europe under the Black Sea. The gas pipeline, seen as a rival to EU-backed Nabucco, is scheduled for completion in 2015.

At the same time, Nabucco Gas Pipeline International GmbH has said that the cost of project has not risen from the initial EUR 7.9 B. Nabucco, an EU priority project, is aims to transport Caspian gas to Europe and bypass Russia. The official deadline for the completion of the project and the first gas supplies is 2015.

The legal framework for the Nabucco gas pipeline was finalized in early June 2011 as the five transit countries – Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Turkey – have signed Project Support Agreements (PSAs) with the Nabucco Consortium.

Sofia (Bulgaria). Russia’s propped BT Invest, qualified as “The Sure Buyer of Bulgartabac” by the Bulgarian media.

Bulgaria’s Agency for Privatization and Post Privatization Control has requested that two of the three bidders for the country’s Bulgartabac tobacco giant provide additional documents and explanations regarding their offers, Bulgaria’s Novinite.com reports. London-based British American Tobacco, the only strategic investor bidding, and Austrian CB Family Office Service have been requested to provide additional documents by July 19, the agency has announced, without clarifying what type of documents are missing.

The move on behalf of privatization agency has triggered allegations that the third bidder, Austra-based BT Invest, is the only sure one. On 8 July, the Privatization Agency confirmed media reports that Russia’s second-biggest bank VTB stands behind BT Invest.

“VTB Bank is the financial institution behind the company BT Invest, which is one of the bidders for Bulgartabac,” the Agency said.A 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 April 26 after years of procrastination.

(Mariela Zamfirova, 15 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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