THE UNBIASED OBSERVERS, Issue 9


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


Tuesday, 19 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.

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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: 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:

  • New CIA Chief discusses anti-terror agenda in Turkey; Turkish Deputy Prime Minister: Turkey could stage a cross-border operation in fight against the banned Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) when necessary;
  • Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan heads on a visit to Northern Cyprus;
  • A Greek oil tanker with 20 crew members on board had been seized by pirates off Nigeria;
  • A two day Greek cabbies’ strike disrupts tourism;
  • Sage Consultants AD is the intended recipient of the stolen Romanian detonators; Bulgaria’s Focus Agency cites AFP that the detonators were part of an arms deal between Bulgaria and Romania;
  • Cyprus Foreign Minister Marcos Kyprianou Resigns;
  • The 3rd Predetermined Vote of No Confidence in Bulgaria’s GERB Minority Government; The Vote is Scheduled for 22 July after the parliamentary debates are over;
  • Two explosions in Sofia close to RZS and DSB parties’ offices
  • US Ambassador Warlick’s Report on Operation ‘Octopus’ of Bulgaria’s Police Quoted by Bulgarian Media (link to the publication provided for informative purposes only);
  • Emergency landing in Urals of a plane flying from Bulgaria

Economy:

  • Greece’s Prime Minister Papandreou Makes an Attempt for a Consensus with the Opposition ahead of the most important summit in the last 20-year history of Greece; ECB and Berlin at odds over Greek bailout formula;
  • US interests in fuel reserves and investment opportunities in Greek tourism;
  • Seven Major Sell-off Projects in Greece
  • Bulgaria’s Latest Budget Deficit 0.9% of GDP

BALKANS – POLITICS & OTHER

Ankara (Turkey).

New CIA Chief discusses anti-terror agenda in Turkey;

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister: Turkey could stage a cross-border operation in fight against the banned Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) when necessary

New CIA chief Gen. David Petraeus arrived in Ankara on 18 July in an unannounced visit to hold talks with military and government officials about ways to reinforce bilateral cooperation in the fight against terrorism, the Hürriyet Daily News writes.

Petraeus came to Ankara from Afghanistan, where he handed over the command of his troops to Gen. John Allen. He is scheduled to begin his job as CIA chief in early September. Petraeus met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and senior military officials; he is scheduled to leave Turkey early 19 July. Sources said Washington’s potential contribution in helping Turkey fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, would top the agenda of Petraeus’ visit, which was made primarily to thank Turkey for its leadership in commanding the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, in Afghanistan and for cooperating with American troops in ending the terrorism threat. Petraeus and Turkish officials reportedly discussed a wide range of issues common to both countries, including the Syrian regime’s crackdown on protesters and diplomatic relations with Damascus, as well as Iran’s growing influence in Iraq at a moment when the United States is set to withdraw its troops. The ongoing NATO operation against the Libyan regime and other regional political and security matters were also reportedly analyzed.

Meanwhile, Xinhua Agency cites Turkish Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesperson Bulent Arinc saying that Turkey could stage a cross-border operation in fight against the banned Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) when necessary. Last week PKK militants killed 13 Turkish soldiers and wounded seven others in an ambush in Silvan town. Turkish Armed Forces said seven PKK rebels were killed in the clash

Ankara (Turkey)

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan heads on a visit to Northern Cyprus

Turkish Cypriots have seen their country decked out in an unprecedentedly lavish and laudatory fashion ahead of a visit from a Turkish prime minister, Hürriyet Daily News informs.

Erdoğan’s visit does not only have symbolic importance as his first trip abroad since the June 12 elections, when his party won its third straight landslide victory. It is also the prime minister’s first visit to northern Cyprus since a crisis erupted earlier this year over angry anti-Turkey placards carried by protesters demonstrating against new austerity measures. Erdoğan accused the Turkish Cypriots of behaving like ungrateful dependents after a group of leftist activists on the island carried signs reading “F–k you Turkey… We do not want you, your money, your soldiers or your bureaucrats” to protest austerity measures imposed by the Turkish Cypriot government under pressure from Ankara.

The austerity package has, however, started to help improve the Turkish Cypriot economy. At a time when the southern, Greek side of the island has started experiencing serious economic difficulties, northern Cyprus expects a 5 percent increase this year in budget revenues, a 15 percent boost in tourism revenues and annual growth of around 5 to 6 percent – a marked improvement over the negative growth rates seen during the past few years.

Still, Turkish Cypriot Finance Minister Ersin Tatar has become the “most hated Turkish Cypriot” because of the package.

The key goal of Erdoğan’s trip is to reassure Turkish Cypriots of Turkey’s continued support. The visit will also be a message to Greek Cyprus – where a naval-base blast that crippled a key power plant has left southern Cyprus purchasing electricity from the north for the first time in the island’s history – at a time when hopes are building globally that the divided eastern Mediterranean island might be edging toward a resolution by the end of this year.

Turkey has begun to construct a deep-water pipeline to pump some 75 million cubic meters of fresh water a year to northern Cyprus, a project slated to be completed by March 2014. Lately, however, it has started to hint that perhaps instead of one pipeline it might lay down a twin pipeline and double the amount of water provided to the island – and that perhaps the Greek side would also be interested in obtaining water from Turkey. Water shortages have been a perennial problem on the entire island and the water pipeline through the Mediterranean has been in the planning stages since the early 1960s

Athens (Greece)

A Greek oil tanker with 20 crew members on board had been seized by pirates off Nigeria

According to a press release issued by the Greek Citizen Protection Ministry on 18 July, the Liberian-flagged “Aegean Star” of Greek shipping company “Endeavour Marine Agency,” came under attack by some 10 armed men on the weekend as it was sailing some 30 nautical miles off Nigeria’s coasts. Greek authorities said the vessel was transporting oil from Ghana to Benin.
Based on earlier information, all crew members, among them the Greek captain and two Greek mechanics, are in good health. Piracy is an increasing problem in the area, as well as the eastern coasts of Africa over the past three years. Despite the deployment of international anti-piracy task forces off the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden to safeguard the sea routes of merchant ships, pirates hold dozens of ships and hundreds of hostages. In many cases shipping companies have opted to pay millions of U.S. dollars in ransoms to secure the release of the crews and the vessels. Xinhua informed.

Athens (Greece)

A two day Greek cabbies’ strike disrupts tourism

Striking taxi drivers blocked access to Athens International Airport, the city center and the port of Piraeus in protest at the liberalization of their profession. Some 3,000 of the capital’s 14,000 cabbies parked their yellow vehicles along a stretch of the highway leading to the airport, blocking off all but one lane and resulting in delays to several flights. Another 2,500 taxis assembled at the Piraeus port, hampering the flow of passengers, Ekathimerini newspaper reports. Prosecutor Eleni Raikou ordered police to intervene and arrest the protesting taxi drivers if necessary. Taxi drivers later attempted to block one of the main avenues leading to the Parliament, but were prevented by police from reaching Syntagma Square — the front line of mass demonstrations against the government’s anti-austerity measures.

Taxi drivers, who are also striking on 19 July, are protesting government plans to open up their profession, in line with demands by the country’s international creditors, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Architects, pharmacists, lawyers and notaries will also be affected by the deregulation campaign.

A statement from the office of Culture and Tourism Minister Pavlos Geroulanos said, “The way in which this protest is being carried out is very bad, at a critical time for tourism, on which every Greek family depends, including those of taxi drivers.” The Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises said 18 July’s disruption exacerbated the damage caused by recurring riots in the capital.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Sage Consultants AD is the intended recipient of the stolen Romanian detonators

Bulgaria’s Focus Agency cites AFP that the detonators were part of an arms deal between Bulgaria and Romania

The Bulgaria-bound detonators that have been stolen from a train in Romania are parts of shells that were supposed to be repaired in a Bulgarian plant, the CEO of the receiving Bulgarian company Sage Consultants AD told Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency). According to Gencho Hristov, CEO of Sofia-based firm Sage Consultants AD, an arms trader, a total of 80 detonators for shells, not 64 as reported by international media, shipped from the Romanian city of Brasov to Bulgaria have disappeared from the Romanian train that was transporting them to Bulgaria. The theft of the shipment, which was guarded by 10 Romanian gendarmerie officers, was discovered Saturday afternoon at the customs office in Romania’s Giurgiu, right before the train was supposed to enter into Bulgaria.

Hristov told Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) that the missing detonators in question stolen on Romanian territory were a MRV model for 122 mm M-21 OF artillery rockets. The artillery rockets, of which the detonators are part were an incoming transfer from Romania to Bulgaria. “The objects of the transfer from a Romanian factory are old munitions – 122 mm rocket shells and detonators, which were destined to be processed at the Bulgarian military factory VMZ Sopot in order to replace their non-functional elements, and to be made fit for use. The detonators were being transported separately from the shells,” Hristov explained. “Our firm which is a contractor under the deal has a legitimate license for trading with special products. The arms deal in question has been allowed by the respective Romanian and Bulgarian authorities. For the transportation of the shipment on Bulgarian territory, the Office for Control of Hazardous Devices of the Bulgarian Interior Ministry had issued a permit. There have been no violations of the instructions of the competent authorities,” the CEO of Sage Consultants AD explained.

Hristov sought to clarify the real nature of the arms deal and the missing munition parts, In his words, he has been deeply perplexed by the huge media interest and by the worryingly incorrect reports in international, Romanian, and Bulgarian media, some of which ever featured reports about the “theft of nuclear warheads” that he described as ridiculous.

Romania’s military prosecutor’s office has taken up the investigation of the case. The most likely explanation for the theft of the artillery rocket detonators is that they were stolen for scrap. The devices themselves are not explosive, and can only be used when installed on the respective model of artillery shells.

A number of the stolen detonators were found in South Romania, Bulgaria’s Focus Agency reported quoting sources from Romanian Interior Ministry.The Ministry specified that the freight stolen on 16 July from a train traveling to Bulgaria had been found in Citilla region close to the railway line. AFP cites Bulgaria’s Ministry of Economy as saying that the detonators have been part of an arms deal between the two countries.

Nicosia (Cyprus)

Cyprus Foreign Minister Marcos Kyprianou Resigns

Cyprus Foreign Minister Marcos Kyprianou submitted his resignation over a massive blast at a naval base in the south of the island exactly a week ago which killed 13 people, Xinhua Agency reported. On 18 July, Kyprianou told a parliamentary committee which started a probe into the explosion that he has sent a resignation letter to President Demetris Christofias. Kyprianou was alleged to have advocated to continue storing the explosives, confiscated in 2009 from a Russian-owned ship bound for Syria from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, at the naval base despite indications about their deteriorating conditions. The ship had been arrested for breaking a United Nations embargo resolution on Iran.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

The 3rd Predetermined Vote of No Confidence in Bulgaria’s GERB Minority Government

The Vote is Scheduled for 22 July after the parliamentary debates are over

MPs from the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the ethnic Turkish party DPS (Movement for Rights and Freedoms) submitted the third no confidence motion of the government of the center-right party GERB at 12:05 GMT, 18 July. The reasoning of the no confidence motion, which targets in particular Bulgaria’s Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, is the “failure of the government in home affairs and public safety, Bulgaria’s postponed accession to the Schengen Agreement, the police brutality, and the violation of basic human rights.” The right-wing Blue Coalition, which supported the Borisov Cabinet, has declared it will favour a no confidence vote over what it regards as personal failures of Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov. The conservative Order, Law and Justice Party, RZS, is also backing the vote.

The far-right, nationalist Ataka, which was GERB’s strongest ally since the latter’s victory in the July 2009 general elections, recently officially declared they are now against GERB. DPS has defined Ataka;s position as a clear sign that there has been “no divorce” between the ruling GERB and the nationalist Ataka. Nevertheless, the nationalists have firmly announced that they wold stand on the side of the cabinet in the upcoming vote. In order for the vote to pass, 121 Members of the Parliament (half of all 240 plus 1) have to vote for. GERB has 117 MPs but it also enjoys the support of about a dozen renegade MPs, who left RZS, Ataka and the Blue Coalition, giving GERB the comfort of over 130 votes. The opposition can hope to rally 94 votes in its best-case scenario – 40 from BSP, 35 from DPS, 14 from the Blue Coalition, and 5 from RZS.

This is the third no-confidence vote against the cabinet of Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, submitted by the opposition. The first one was over the failure of policies in the health care sector; the second, in June 2011 – failure in the anti-crisis policy. 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.Last week Bulgaria’s nationalist party Ataka formally said it abandoned the minority government of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and center-right ruling party GERB leaving the Cabinet’s survival to depend on a dozen of “independent” renegade MPs.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Two explosions in Sofia close to RZS and DSB parties’ offices

Two explosions hit Sofia, Valery Yordanov, head of Sofia Directorate of the Interior Ministry told Bulgaria’s Focus Radio. About 150 grams of explosive was placed near Law, Order Justice Party’s (RZS) office in the capital of Bulgaria. The next blast took place 20 min later close the right-wing Democracy for Storng Bulgaria (DSB), shortly after 2:00 AM GMT. There are broken window panes, and no injured reported. According to RZS leader, the explosion near the office of his party can be interpreted as a severe provocation to the democracy and security of Bulgarian citizens. Yane Yanev reminded that the ones responsible for the explosion close to Galleria Editorial Office were not identified despite Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s personal commitment. Yanev said that afterwards, the newspaper changed its policy of criticism toward the GERB minority government.

Meanwhile, RZS will be fined between EUR 250 and 2,500 for the dismissal billboards against Prime Minister Boyko Borissov if the Central Election Commission decides in favor of GERB’s complaint.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

US Ambassador Warlick’s Report on Operation ‘Octopus’ of Bulgaria’s Police

Bulgaria’s Novinite.com publishes (http://www.novinite.com/view_news.php?id=130364)

a diplomatic cable of the US Embassy in Sofia, dated February 10, 2010, released on WikiLeaks and provided to the project for investigative journalism http://www.bivol.bg and its affiliate BalkanLeaks.eu, bringing out current US Ambassador to Bulgaria James Warlick’s report to Washington on the so called special police operation “Octopus” of the Bulgarian police under the Borisov Cabinet in which former secret agent Aleksei Petrov was arrested.

“In the end, the government will be judged not on high-profile arrests, but on its ability to speed up corruption cases, close legal loop holes, and  successfully lock up previously untouchable organized crime figures,” the publication reads.

NB: The Unbiased Observers provides the link to the publication for informative purposes only.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Emergency landing in Urals of a plane flying from Bulgaria

An Airbus A-320 passenger plane en route from Bulgaria to Russia made an emergency landing at Russia’s Koltsovo airport in the Urals, a spokeswoman for the airport said on 19 July, quoted by RIA Novosti. The number of people on board the Airbus was not specified. No injured were reported.

Sergei Antonov, a spokesman for the Urals Airlines that the aircraft belongs to, has confirmed the plane’s emergency landing but revealed neither the cause of the incident nor any details.The Airbus A-320 en route from the Bulgarian resort city of Bourgas to Russia’s Yekaterinburg performed the emergency landing at the Koltsovo airport at 0:20 Moscow time on Tuesday (20:20 GMT on Monday).

BALKANS ECONOMY

Economy

Athens (Greece)

Greece’s Prime Minister Papandreou Makes an Attempt for a Consensus with the Opposition ahead of the most important summit in the last 20-year history of Greece;

ECB and Berlin at odds over Greek bailout formula

Prime Minister George Papandreou might make another attempt to find some common ground with opposition leaders ahead of a Eurozone 21 July summit in Brussels, Ekathinerini newspaper informs. The chances of any agreement between PASOK and New Democracy (ND). A factor that makes consensus virtually impossible is that it is unclear what the Eurozone leaders will agree on, if anything. Greece is hoping to clinch a deal for a second bailout, which is likely to include the involvement of the private sector. Several forms of participation are being discussed, including a bond swap and a haircut. Another idea that was made public on 18 July was the possibility of a bank levy being used to raise money for Greece. An unnamed European Union official told Reuters that any agreement on a bond swap this week would probably be quite small but would pave the way for a more comprehensive restructuring in a few months’ timeл

The European Central Bank and Berlin have reached a standoff over the contribution of the private sector to a second Greek bailout package ahead of a eurozone summit on Thursday where the burning issue is to be discussed. Ekathimerini newspaper cites ECB executive board member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi that the private sector’s participation would cost taxpayers more, as the Greek debt is held by a few private banks that would crumble if forced to suffer the cost of a debt write-off. German Chancellor Angela Merkel meanwhile continues to insist private sector involvement must be part of a new deal for saving Greece. “The more significant the voluntary contribution of the private sector, the more unlikely new measures will be required,” she told German state television.

Meanwhile, RBK newspaper reports that Allianz proposes a formula that can reduce the debt of Athens by EUR 50B. Allianz is convinced that the bailout costs should be shared between the state and private investors. The formula suggested is controlled remittance of the debts, based on the voluntary swap of bonds whereby private investors will swap their bonds for new ones with longer maturity period and give up 25% of their nominal value.

Athens (Greece).

US interests in fuel reserves and investment opportunities in Greek tourism

In a wide-ranging interview with Skai TV, aired late 18 July, visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to US interest in oil and gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean and in possible investments in the tourism and renewable energy sectors, saw opportunities for Greece in the broader region, and stressed the importance of Greece’s Socialist government seeking consensus with its political rivals.

The former First Lady told Skai that efforts to locate energy deposits in the eastern Mediterranean were still in the early stages but were of interest to the US. She also highlighted the potential of Greece as a “regional hub” for the transport of oil and natural gas.

Athens (Greece)

Seven Major Sell-off Projects in Greece

After the sale of another stake in OTE telecom, the government is planning to move ahead with more privatizations in hopes of collecting 1.7 billion euros by September, Ekathimerini newspaper reports. The new sell-off package includes less attractive companies such as the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE), Hellenic Post, the Mont Parnes casino and others.

These are the sale of a 40 percent stake in Hellenic Post, the utilization of regional airports, the utilization of marinas and small ports, the use or sale of OSE properties, the sale of a 51 percent stake in the Mont Parnes casino and the renewal of other casino licenses, the sale of a 55 percent stake in Larco and the concession of mining rights at various locations across the country. The government is eyeing the sale of at least 40 percent of Hellenic Post to a strategic investor who will also undertake the company’s management. The state has a 55.2 percent stake in Larco and the government will be expecting the consultants’ proposal for the best possible use of the holding. As far as regional airports are concerned, consultants will have to prepare a national airport policy in cooperation with Athens International Airport and the Civil Aviation Authority. The main aim will be the grouping of regional airports (with the exception of Iraklio), with each group of terminals conceded through contracts to private investors. A similar model will be used for the utilization of small ports and marinas across Greece by the private sector. The mining rights concession concerns three locations: in Halkidiki, where the rights have been conceded to Hellenic Gold, at Peramos in Thrace, where the rights have been granted to Thrace Gold Mines, and at Sappes in the prefecture of Rhodope. Consultants will have to propose the creation of a special purpose company to which the mining and utilization rights will be transferred.

Finally, the consultants must issue a recommendation on the optimum use of OSE group companies, TrainOSE and EDISY, as well as the best possible utilization of OSE’s property assets. The deadline for expressions of interest by candidate consultants is 25 July.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria’s Latest Budget Deficit 0.9% of GDP

Bulgaria has completed the first half of 2011 with a budget deficit of 0.9% its GDP, according to latest data from the Finance Ministry, quoted by Novinite.com. In January-June 2011, Bulgaria’s deficit on cash basis under the government’s Consolidated Fiscal Program amounted to EUR 333.4M (US$ 469.4M) down from EUR 774.08M (US$1.09B) in January-June 2010, a decrease by EUR 441M (US$ 621M) (or 1.3 percentage points) year-on-year. It is formed by a deficit under the national budget of EUR 233.08M (US$328.23M) and a deficit under EU funds of EUR 100.3M (US$ 141.3). In June 2011 alone, Bulgaria registered a monthly budget deficit of EUR 27.9M (US$39.3M). It came after a deficit of EUR 23M (US$32.4M) in May, and a surplus of EUR 97.1M (US$136.8) in April. In the first half of 2011, Bulgaria’s state revenues and grants amounted to EUR 6.16B (US$8.67), or 45.9 % of the 2011 projection. Compared to the same period of 2010, proceeds report a growth by EUR 435.5M (US$613.3M) or 7.6%.

This is mostly due to higher indirect tax revenue, which increased by EUR 326.2M (US$ 459.5M) (15.8 %) year-on-year, the Finance Ministry says. Revenues from direct taxes and from other taxes under the Corporate Income Tax Law also report some growth compared to the data reported in the same period of 2010, the institution notes. Bulgaria’s state spending in the first half of 2011 under the consolidated budget, including the contribution of the Republic of Bulgaria to the EU budget, as of June 30, 2011, amounted to EUR6.49B (US$9.13B), or 45.1 % of the planned expenditures for the year. In structural terms, compared to the June 2010, wage bill, social security expenditures and capital expenditures are lower, while health insurance payments are higher.

Bulgaria’s fiscal reserve has grown by some BGN 200 M since May, amounting to EUR 2.66B (US$3.74) as of end June. As of April 30, 2011, Bulgaria’s fiscal reserve stood at EUR 2.4B (US$3.38B), a decline of EUR 204.5M (US$ 288M)in just two months, and its lowest point since the pre-crisis years. Bulgaria’s fiscal reserve amounted to EUR 2.6B (US$3.7B) as of February 28, 2011, a decline of EUR 153.4M (US$ 215.9M). Bulgaria’s fiscal reserve stood at EUR 2.76B (US$3.89B) at the end of January compared with EUR 3.07B (US$ 4.32B) at the end of December 2010.

(Mariela Zamfirova, 19 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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