THE UNBIASED OBSERVERS, Issue 8


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Monday, 18 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.

Take some time while drinking your morning tea or coffee and read the myriad of Balkan news. The Unbiased Observers saves you the time that you will spend delving into the topics later during the day.

We are your everyday personal and accessible news provider and we are ready to do additional research in order to meet your interest demands and answer your questions.

Read us every day, share some brief moments in the morning with us.

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

Timing: 0630 GMT every day Mon to Fri

Provision: e-mail service

Language: English

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Today’s Topics:

Politics and others:

  • US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton believes the “chemotherapy” will help Greece’s economy viability;
  • US Secretary Hillary Clinton calls on Turkey to address human rights and media freedom issues;
  • An army probe in the killing of 13 Turkish military launched;
  • A strike of Greek taxi drivers blocks access to seaports and Bulgarian – Greek border
  • A single boat represents Gaza Flotilla II; Signs for resolution of Israel-Turkey crisis;
  • A Serb Pays EUR 15,000 on bribes in a lifetime; Serbia expects a positive evaluation from EC in terms of its candidacy for EU; The European Union will not access countries, which have not recognised one another, says German Ambassador to Kosovo Hans-Dieter Steinbach;
  • 64 detonators stolen on their from Romania to Bulgaria; Bulgarian Defence Ministry shrugs the fact off by saying that the recipient is a private Bulgarian company and the detonators are not Bulgarian army supply; According to Spokesperson of the Romanian Interior Ministry Marius Militaru, the components are dangerous only when they are integrated in rocket systems, not separately;
  • Тhe US Ambassador points out the sore spots in Bulgaria’s judicial system;
  • The GERB minority cabinet will survive the 3rd no confidence vote thankful to Ataka nationalist party;
  • RZS stands behind the dismissal campaign against Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov;
  • Ex Foreign Minister Ivaylo Kalfin is BSP Candidate for Bulgarian President
  • Old New Ministers in the Macedonian Government; New Government to be appointed on 27 July

Economy:

  • The stress-tests results of the European banks does not have a soothing effect but raise additional questions about the secondary effect of sovereign crisis on funding;
  • Greece’s Prime Minister expects a long-term solution to Greek crisis to come as a result of this week’s Euro zone summit; European Socialists stand for a „stability agency,” to “reprofile the debt of eurozone member states and at the same time ensure correction of a member state whose economy runs the risk of losing stability”
  • Unemployment rate falls in Romania;
  • Fuel prices grow in Bulgaria amid Lukoil-related scandals

 

BALKANS – POLITICS & OTHER

Athens (Greece).

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton believes the “chemotherapy” will help Greece’s economy viability.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced strong U.S. support for Greece’s battle to overcome its debt crisis, saying it was taking the difficult steps required for future growth, Hürriyet Daily News reports. Clinton’s visit to Athens was intended to signal Washington’s backing for Prime Minister George Papandreou ahead of a meeting of euro zone leaders in Brussels to decide on a new bailout package for Greece amid fears the debt crisis could spill over to Spain and Italy. Athens had wanted an endorsement from Clinton to help ease concern in international markets about Greece’s future, Ekathimerini newspaper writes.Clinton recognized the difficulties that the austerity measures are causing, likening it to “chemotherapy,” but said that Washington, where the International Monetary Fund is also based, believes they will help secure the viability of Greece’s economy.

U.S. officials said Clinton also discussed several of Greece’s diplomatic priorities including remaining strains in its relationship with Turkey and slow reunification talks on the ethnically split island of Cyprus.

Ankara (Turkey)

US Secretary Hillary Clinton calls on Turkey to address human rights and media freedom issues

The top U.S. diplomat extended full support to Turkey in its fight against terrorism and praised its role in modernization efforts across region, but warned Ankara to clean its own house first. In her comments, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Turkey to address concerns over ailing human rights and freedom of expression issues by adopting a new constitution. Clinton joined the Libya Contact Group meeting in Istanbul on 15 July and then held bilateral talks with Turkish government officials and opposition party representatives. She met separately with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and held a joint press conference with Davutoğlu where she voiced her concerns about deteriorating Turkish democracy.

Hürriyet Daily News reported that the U.S. condemned the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, on every occasion and had extended strong support to the Turkish government to eradicate “PKK terrorism.” Clinton also emphasized that Washington had included the PKK on its list of terrorism organizations. “[The] U.S. always supports the Turkish army in tracking terrorists and this support will continue,” Clinton said, adding that the United States was aware of the dangers of terrorism.

Ankara (Turkey)

An army probe in the killing of 13 Turkish military launched

Thirteen soldiers were killed in the attack дх 14 July by members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, the highest casualty toll to the military since late 2008, Huryiet Daily News reported. Some Turkish newspaper reports claimed that the team hit by the terrorists was very tired as its troops had been on operations for the last 48 hours, and that some soldiers died not due to militants’ bullets but to “friendly fire” from Turkish jets that fire-bombed the scene of the attack. According to another allegation, the military delayed sending additional forces to the region to counter the assault. Military sources who spoke to daily Milliyet columnist Fikret Bila denied these claims but said an initial probe had already been launched, not to investigate the validity of these allegations, but to find out how the attack occurred. Sources said no jets were flying over the region and that such planes were not used in close-range combat, though helicopters were used in the response to the attack.

A PKK group ambushed a military team in Silvan, part of Diyarbakır province in Southeast Anatolia. The soldiers were reportedly caught unprepared as they were taking a rest in a forested area. Thirteen troops were killed in the attack, as were seven PKK members, while several other soldiers, including the commander of the team, were injured. Denying that the blaze that broke out was started by the fire bombs dropped by the Turkish fighter jets, sources noted that the attack occurred in the afternoon, when the temperature topped 40 degrees Celsius. Responding to the criticism that the team was composed mainly of basic privates instead of professional soldiers, the sources said the team was part of the gendarmerie’s Tactical Commando Regiment. The gendarmerie is responsible for the security of Turkey’s rural regions and was thus in the area Thursday when the PKK attacked, the sources said.

It is not yet known whether the army will share the findings of its report with the public.

The attack came at a time when the PKK has escalated its attacks following the end of a cease-fire July 15. The government held an emergency meeting Friday and stated that the fight against terror would continue with full determination.

Athens (Greece)

A strike of Greek taxi drivers blocks access to seaports and Bulgarian – Greek border

Greek taxi drivers’ strike, which blocked the port in Piraeus and the international airport in Athens, caused much incontinence to hundreds of tourists, RIA Novosti reports. More than 2,000 taxi drivers blocked the access to one of the biggest seaports. Several thousands of tourists, who have arrived with cruise liners, did not manage to go sightseeing in Athens, because their buses got blocked in huge traffic jams. The strike caused much trouble to the Eleftherios Venizelos airport, too. Greece’s minister of culture and tourism called taxi drivers to terminate the strike, as it hampers the tourism. Around 1,300 taxi drivers in Thessaloniki blocked a toll collection booth. Access to the border checkpoint to Bulgaria has been blocked for half an hour.

Athens (Greece)

A single boat represents Gaza Flotilla II; Signs for resolution of Israel-Turkey crisis soon

Despite the recent Gaza-bound flotilla’s failure to set sail en masse from several Mediterranean ports, one of the boats left Greek territorial waters in the evening, 16 July, and headed to the coastal strip, with its crew saying they represent the whole flotilla. The Dignite-Al Karama, which reached the eastern Greek island of Kastellorizo last week carrying a crew of pro-Palestinian activists is set to arrive in Gaza between 18 July and 19 July in a symbolic act of protest against what the activists called “Israel’s illegal blockade” on the Gaza Strip. Aboard the vessel are six French activists, one Canadian, one Tunisian and one Swedish citizen, the Ha’aretz daily reported.

Israel’s defense establishment is showing increased support for resolving the crisis between Israel and Turkey following the Mavi Marmara affair, even at the price of an apology to Ankara by Jerusalem, Hyurriet Daily News reports. According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, internal discussions between defense officials and Justice Ministry officials over the past few weeks have suggested that a cautious apology could stop possible lawsuits by Turkish organizations against Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, officers and bring the affair to an end.

Belgrade (Serbia)

A Serb Pays EUR 15,000 on bribes in a lifetime;

Serbia expects a positive evaluation from EC in terms of its candidacy for EU

The European Union will not access countries, which have not recognised one another, says German Ambassador to Kosovo Hans-Dieter Steinbach

Every Serb pays an average of about EUR 15 000 for bribes during their lifetime, according to a report cited by Bulgaria’s Novinite.com. If bribes had to be paid at every stage of life, including for an exam pass, a diploma, jobs and a grave, that sum could rise to 25,000 euros, which amounts to about four annual gross salaries, the Serbian newspaper Press reported on Sunday, as cited by DPA.

“In Serbia everything and everybody can be bought or bribed,’ the paper said stressing that corruption is especially rampant in the health sector.The publication reminds that Serbia occupies the fourth position in the World Health Organization’s corruption ranking, ranked only behind Tajikistan, Moldova and Morocco. While health services are officially free in Serbia, patients have to pay about EUR 1 000 for giving birth in a clinic, access to a hospital bed costs up to EUR 700 and an operation EUR 3 000. A traffic policeman’s bribe could reach EUR 100, while a driving license can be bought for EUR 500, and a passport – for EUR 1 000, the report says; it also points out that gifts such as whiskey or chocolates provided to officials or doctors are also rampant.

The European Commission (EC) is working out its position on Serbia’s candidacy for EU membership, writes Serbian Vecernje Novosti  newspaper.According to the newspaper, it is expected for the EC to give a positive evaluation for the country and make a recommendation for launching the accession talks. Many analysts in Serbia think that Serbia will not become a EU member states before it acknowledges Kosovo’s independence.

The European Union will not access countries, which have not recognised one another, said German Ambassador to Kosovo Hans-Dieter Steinbach in an interview with Koha Ditore newspaper.

“The EU membership is a long process both for Serbia and for Kosovo and for the rest of the countries in the region,” said the German diplomat.

“At certain moment in the accession process the countries from the region will face the issue about Kosovo’s independence. I am convinced that the Union will not accept countries, which do not recognise one another,” Steinbach remarked.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

64 rocket detonators stolen on their from Romania to Bulgaria;

Bulgarian Defence Ministry shrugs the fact off by saying that the recipient is a private Bulgarian company and the rocket detonators are not Bulgarian army supply

According to Spokesperson of the Romanian Interior Ministry Marius Militaru, the components are dangerous only when they are integrated in rocket systems, not separately.

A total of 64 detonators for rockets shipped from the Romanian city of Brasov to Bulgaria are found to have disappeared from the train that was transporting them even though the shipment was guarded by 10 Romanian gendarmerie officers, the Bulgarian National Radio reported on 17 July. Romanian company Romarm, the producers of detonators for a Bulgarian company which have been stolen from Romanian train, has declared it was not responsible for the explosives, Bulgaria’s Novinite.com reported.

The absence of the arms shipment was discovered at the customs office in Romania’s Giurgiu, right before the train was supposed to enter into Bulgaria. Romania’s military prosecutor’s office has taken up the investigation of the case. It is still unknown in what part of the journey the detonators went missing but the seals on two of the railway cars are found to have been broken. A private Bulgarian company, not the Bulgarian Army, was supposed to receive the four containers with detonators bound for Bulgaria that have been, according to the Bulgarian Defense Ministry.

“The information received through military-diplomatic channels shows that the detonators were destined for a Bulgarian firm, which is also officially confirmed by the Romanian Foreign Ministry,” the Bulgarian Defense Ministry said. The name of the private company in question has not been revealed.

Romarm informed in a statement, as cited by BGNES, that its unit TOHAN – Zarnesti had an arms supply contract with a Bulgarian company, without naming it. Under the contract, the transfer of the munitions took place in Brasov, and subsequently the receiver of the goods was responsible for their safety. According to Romarm, the Bulgarian firm made contract with a Romanian firm that was supposed to provide for the security of the arms shipment on Romanian territory.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Тhe US Ambassador points out the sore spots in Bulgaria’s judicial system

The Bulgarian cabinet is applying all possible effort to deal with organized crime and corruption, but sound evidence and effective verdicts are also a must, according to US Ambassador in Sofia, James Warlick, cited by Bulgaria’s Novinite.com. In a 18 July  interview for the TV channel bTV, the diplomat reiterated arrests need to be followed by convictions, and there is no easy solution for this dilemma. Warlick emphasized once again that the majority of Bulgaria’s magistrates are professional and honest, but there is still a strong need of reforms in the Supreme Judicial Council, VSS, and the judicial system as a whole.

The diplomat repeated for yet another time that Bulgaria needs to have a Bill for the confiscation of illegal assets without conviction, explaining the American example. This Bill was recently rejected by the Bulgarian Parliament.

“It is unacceptable to be seeing 25-year-old young men driving Bentleys, and having luxury vacation homes on the Black Sea coast, and, at the same time, no source of income,” the Ambassador said.

When asked about his reaction to the initiative in social networks, titled “Day without Warlick,” the diplomat laughed and pointed out it was part of democracy, which is a marvelous thing, adding there would be a problem if everyone in Bulgaria agreed with the American Ambassador.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

The GERB minority cabinet will survive the 3rd no confidence vote thankful to Ataka nationalist party

Even though it withdrew its formal support for Bulgaria’s government of the center-right party GERB, the nationalist party Ataka has declared it will not back a no confidence motion of the leftist and rightist opposition, Bulgaria’s novinite.com reports. Thus, Ataka has terminated even the slightest possibility that the government led by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov might be toppled in its third no confidence vote.

A national council meeting of the Ataka party, during which over 200 coordinators met in Sofia, has decided almost unanimously that their formation has no way of supporting the no confidence vote for the Cabinet of PM Boyko Borisov, which is to be tabled by the ethnic Turkish party DPS (Movement for Rights and Freedoms), and the Bulgarian Socialist Party, and will be backed by the rightist Blue Coalition.It is unclear whether the 16 Ataka MPs (down from their original number of 21) will abstain, vote against, or will boycott the vote. In any of these cases, however, the survival of the Borisov Cabinet is certain.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

RZS stands behind the dismissal campaign against Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov

The Order, Law, Justice (RZS) Party announced at a news conference on 17 July that it has organized the web-based campaign on the “dismissal” of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, Bulgaria’s mediapool reported. As the Bulgarian media wrote earlier, a website was launched on the dismissal of the Bulgarian Prime Minister on 12 July and simultaneously billboards saying “I will fire Boyko Borissov” mushroomed in the capital of Bulgaria. The RZS news conference was called by party leader Yane Yanev and Atanas Semov, RZS’s candidate for president. While the conservative marginal RZS initially supported GERB when it took over in 2009, it soon moved to become its vocal opposition.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Ex Foreign Minister Ivaylo Kalfin is BSP Candidate for President

Bulgaria’s next President should put efforts into creating a long-term vision for the country’s development, Ivaylo Kalfin, newly endorsed presidential runner by the leftist oppositional Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), has stated. Kalfin was Minister of Foreign Affairs in the socialist government of Sergei Stanishev.

Skopje (Macedonia).

Old New Ministers in the Macedonian Government; New Government to be appointed on 27 July

Some of the ministers in the cabinet of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski will join the new lineup but will take the helm in new resources, writes Macedonian Vecer daily.
Former minister of education Nikola Todorov, for instance, will be appointed minister of healthcare, while former minister of economy Fatmir Besimi will take the ministry of local self-government. Mustafa Djaferi will be deputy prime minister of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, while former deputy prime minister Abdulakim Ademi – minister of environment. Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s decision for the ministers of the previous government to be appointed in the new cabinet too is a signal for constancy in the policy of the coalition of VMRO-DPMNE and the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), said political expert Vladimir Misev in an interview with Macedonian Dnevnik daily. According to Misev, the ruling power will face severer criticism on behalf of the opposition.

BALKANS ECONOMY

Economy

Eurozone

The stress-tests results of the European banks does not have a soothing effect but raise additional questions about the secondary effect of sovereign crisis on funding

Euro-area government leaders will hold a special summit on 21 July, focusing efforts on stemming the contagion from Greece. Leaders are at odds with one another and with the European Central Bank over demands by Germany and Finland that private investors bear some of the burden for a second Greek bailout.

European banks may have to raise as much as 80 billion euros ($113 billion) of additional capital as the stress tests failed to allay investor concern about a Greek default and governments’ ability to bail out their lenders, Ekathimerini Newspaper quotes a publication of Bloomberg. The eight banks that failed out of the 90 tested on July 15 had only a combined capital shortfall of 2.5 billion euros, the European Banking Authority said July 15. As many as 20 banks need to bolster capital, JPMorgan Cazenove analysts led by Kian Abouhossein wrote in a report after the results were published.  Greece’s EFG Eurobank Ergasias SA (EUROB) and Agricultural Bank of Greece (ATE) SA, Austria’s Oesterreichische Volksbanken AG (VBPS) and Spain’s Banco Pastor SA (PAS), Caja de Ahorros del Mediterraneo (CAM), Banco Grupo Caja3, CatalunyaCaixa and Unnim failed this year’s tests. As many as 16 more will need to bolster capital after their core Tier 1 ratio dropped below 6 percent, little more than the assessment’s 5 percent pass-mark, the EBA said.

About 20 banks would have failed had they not raised capital through April, the EBA said. The shortfall would have totaled 26.8 billion euros without the extra money, the EBA said. In all, European lenders raised 50 billion euros from January to April, according to EBA Chairman Andrea Enria. UniCredit SpA (UCG), Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas (BNP) SA, Credit Agricole SA (ACA), Societe Generale, Banco Santander SA (SAN) and Credit Suisse Group AG are among banks that may have to raise a combined total of about 62 billion euros in additional capital. All the banks passed the EBA’s tests.

Athens (Greece)

Greece’s Prime Minister expects a long-term solution to Greek crisis to come as a result of this week’s Eurozone summit; European Socialists stand for a stability agency,” to “reprofile the debt of eurozone member states and at the same time ensure correction of a member state whose economy runs the risk of losing stability.”

Prime Minister George Papandreou is hoping that 21 July’s Eurozone summit will lead to leaders agreeing on a long-term solution for Greece’s debt problem as he ruled out the possibility of bankruptcy. Speaking to Sunday’s Kathimerini, Papandreou suggested that eurozone leaders have accepted the need to ease Greece’s debt burden.

“It is the first time that Europe has recognized and has placed on the table the issue of reducing the debt burden on the Greek people,” he said. “This alone is a very positive development.” However, the prime minister said that his government flatly rejects an all-out default.

Although it is not yet clear what might be agreed at the summit, the idea of Greece being lent money from the European Financial Stability Facility to buy back its bonds at market rates, thereby reducing its debt load, has dominated the debate over the past few days.

Some opposition politicians have called for any new loan agreement with the EU and the International Monetary Fund to require a qualified majority of 180 votes in the 300-seat Parliament. But Papandreou said that he has no intention of adding this proviso.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou joined on 16 July fellow European socialists in a call for a dedicated agency to stabilize euro debt and for limiting the power of credit rating agencies. The Party of European Socialists , or PES, issued a six-point Eurozone recovery plan, declaring it time for governments of member states “to collectively reassert their primacy over financial markets.”

Bucharest (Romania)

Unemployment rate falls in Romania

Romanian unemployment rate fell to 4.78% in June, from 4.97% a month earlier, the country’s employment agency ANOFM said Monday, Romanian Mediafax news agency reports. A year earlier, Romania’s jobless rate was 7.44%. The total number of unemployed people reached 435,961 in June, down from 453,067 people in the previous month, ANOFM said. End-June, the number of jobless claims was 158,815, from 172,733 claims a month earlier.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Fuel prices grow in Bulgaria amid Lukoil-related scandals

Fuel prices in Bulgaria has reached new highs after Lukoil Bulgaria announced new minor increases. Since January 2011, the gas price is up by 17%, while the diesel price has increased by 13%. The major argument of Lukoil Bulgaria for the latest fuel price hike is the oil price dynamics on the international market, after Brent oil hit the USD 117.6 per barrel in the latest London exchange session.

On March 23, the Bulgarian government signed a one-month moratorium on fuel prices with Lukoil Bulgaria, which brought gas prices down to BGN 2.36 per liter, and diesel prices to BGN 2.45 per liter. The moratorium was subsequently extended till May 9 but gas prices have been crawling up ever since. In spite of that, however, according to the Europe’s Energy Portal, Bulgaria still has the third lowest fuel prices in the European Union with EUR 1.288 per liter of A95/Euro95, after Estonia (EUR 1.2 per liter), and Cyprus (EUR 1.21 per liter).

Meanwhile, ex-Interior Minister and current left-wing MP Rumen Petkov has rejected allegations that Lukoil participates in smuggling schemes.He announced that the yearly amount of fuels processed by Lukoil dropped last year by 400,000 t, which is an evidence that the company has become a victim of smuggling.

In a 17 July interview for the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR), he estimated losses incurred to the state budget from cigarette smuggling at no less than BGN 800 M and stressed that this could not take place without the participation of the Customs Agency and the Interior Ministry. Several days ago, Customs Agency Director Vanyo Tanov threatened to deprive the Lukoil Neftochim refinery of its license allowing it to function as a tax warehouse. The warning was issued after the Burgas-based crude oil processing plant was found to have failed to install the obligatory measuring devices reporting fuel volumes released on the market. Tanov also vowed to launch all-out inspections at the exit points of all fuel tax warehouses in the country and insisted that if “cheating the state” through fuel tax evasion were possible, it could only happen at Lukoil Neftochim, because the refinery had failed to comply with the new requirements.The oil company responded by saying that a very large number of measuring devices had to be installed on the refinery’s premises but that the 2011 investment program envisaged a solution to the problem.

(Mariela Zamfirova, 18 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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