Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 20 July 2011


News Summary

NORTH AFRICA

Brega (Libya). NATO dismisses allegations on a “coordinated” action with Libyan rebels in Brega.  The French President meets the rebels in Paris, while French  Minister of Foreign Affairs Alain Juppe says Gaddafi may stay in Libya if he withdraws from politics.

A NATO spokesman dismissed that the military alliance had “direct coordination” with Libyan rebel forces, who fought their way into the eastern oil town of Brega, Xinhua reported.

“The situation in Brega is very fluid… It is premature for us to come with a verdict with respect to the situation there,” Colonel Roland Lavoie, spokesman for NATO’s Libya operation said.

Libyan rebels claimed control of Brega on Monday, as most pro-Gaddafi troops reportedly retreated westward. The Libyan government has accused NATO of carrying out a coordinated attack with rebel forces on Brega.

According to Libya TV 15 were killed in NATO air raid in Brega. In a separate statement, Ahmed Bani, spokesman for the Libyan rebels told the media that the government troops had destroyed a petro-chemical plant in the Libyan oil city of Brega.

Meanwhile the French newspaper Liberation reported that French President Nikola Sarkozy is meeting with representatives of the  National Transition Council of Libya in the Élysée Palace on 20 July.

MIDDLE EAST

Tehran (Iran). France slams Iran’s nuclear program; Iran says it has seized a US surveillance drone.

France denounced Iran’s new plan to add centrifuges and to further enrich uranium, calling the move a “provocation,” Xinhua Agency reported. “Iran is making in a new provocation by announcing the upcoming installation of new generation centrifuges,” the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We condemn this headlong rush which threatens regional and international peace and security,” it added.

The statement came after Iran’s announcement to install new centrifuges expected to accelerate the country’s nuclear program.

Tehran repeatedly insisted on peaceful aspect of its nuclear program, but the United States and its western allies worry that Iran would use the uranium enrichment to make nuclear weapons.

The Voice of America reports that Iranian Member of Parliament Allie Aghazedah Daffsari announced that Iranian authorities had seized a US unmanned surveillance plane that had attempted to collect data about an underground facility for enrichment of uranium near Qom.

Gaza Strip (Palestine). Fishermen challenge the nautical Gaza Strip limits; Israeli warplanes raid Gaza Strip.

Emboldened by the Gaza flotilla’s attempt to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza by sea, some Gazan fishermen have been trying to sail beyond the three nautical mile limit imposed by Israel, Al Jazeera reports. The Oslo Accords allowed fishermen to work within 20 nautical miles of the coast, but Israel later reduced the limit on the premise that allowing more space will potentially allow Gazans to receive smuggled weapons. Israel responds to the fishermen’s actions with water cannons, and sometimes with live gunfire.

Warplanes attacked “a target situated in the north of the Gaza Strip in retaliation for rockets fired in the past few days against Israeli territory” AFP reported. A rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip came down in southern Israel late 19 July without causing casualties or damage. A total of 23 rockets have hit Israeli territory since the beginning of the month, the Israeli army said. They have often been followed by reprisal raids.

Jerusalem (Israel). The reconciliation efforts of Ankara – Jerusalem, the Israeli Minister on Strategic Issues says.

“Israel looks forward to see the publishing the UN report on Gaza 2010 since the reconciliation efforts of Turkey and Israel have failed, Israel’s Minister of Strategic Issues said on 20 July.

„The persistence of the Turks makes it impossible to smoothen the differences in our positions and now we have to wait for the UN report’s release,” The minister commented in a radio interview with Israel’s national radio.

Ankara (Turkey). What is the objective of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s trip to Gaza?

The Turkish prime minister has expressed his wish to visit Hamas-controlled Gaza after a trip to Egypt, a move he will reportedly make if Israel refuses to apologize to Turkey over last year’s deadly flotilla raid, Hurryiet Daily News reports. According to diplomatic sources, Erdoğan was planning to cross into Gaza from the Rafah gate with Egypt during his trip to the country 21 July.

Taking into consideration that the U.N. panel on Gaza will release its report on the Mavi Marmara incident on 27 July, the prime minister decided to postpone the Gaza part of his trip due to the possibility of an apology from Israel. If this does not happen before the U.N. report is released, Erdoğan is reportedly considering going to Gaza during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which starts on 1 August, breaking the Israeli embargo himself.

Ankara (Turkey). Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeats Turkeys’ threat to freeze relations with EU.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has reiterated his threat to freeze relations with the EU if Greek Cyprus takes over the EU presidency in 2012, saying the European Union has not been acting honestly toward Turkey, Hurryiet Daily News writes.

“This is our final approach… How can we sit at the negotiating table with a Greek Cypriot administration that we do not recognize?” Erdoğan told a news conference at the airport in Ankara before departing for northern Cyprus to attend the anniversary of the Turkish military intervention 20 July 1974.

“We don’t care what the EU would think about it. The EU should have thought about it while accepting them [Greek Cypriots] into the EU,” he said.

Turkey is pressing for a solution to end the island’s decades-old division between its Turkish and Greek communities before Greek Cyprus takes over a six-month presidency of the union, so that a united, not a divided, Cyprus will be at the helm.

Ankara (Turkey). Deputy AKP leader warns Turkey of a global crisis.

A key policy maker from Turkey’s governing party acknowledged economic risks for the first time, advising citizens to be cautious and “not spend too much,”  Hurryiet Daily News wrote today.

Speaking in an interview for the TV8 channel, Bülent Gedikli, the deputy president of the ruling AKP said “black clouds” have started to form over the global economy.

“This will have negative effects on Turkey,” he advised citizens. “Thus, be cautious. Hold on to what you’ve got. Don’t spend too much.” The world “probably will face a crisis,” Gedikli said. “One should not spend promiscuously. We are not painting a rose-colored picture here, we are speaking the truth.”

BALKANS

Athens (Greece). Eurozone levy is a wrong approach for solution of the Greek crisis, bankers believe. Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos heads for Washington. Germany’s wise men recommend a haircut on Greek debt of around 50 %.

Banks may launch lawsuits if a Euro zone bank levy is imposed on the industry to help fund a rescue of Greece as it would unfairly punish banks not exposed to the country, two bank industry sources are cited by Greece’s Ekathimerini newspaper.

A tax on Euro zone banks to raise 10 billion Euro per year for three years has been proposed, but that would send a completely wrong signal by punishing banks regardless of their holdings, the sources told Reuters. Private sector creditors to Greece, being coordinated by the Institute of International Finance, are on track to present one complex proposal to Euro zone leaders meeting on 21 July. It would not include a levy, but will include a range of options, the two sources said.

Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos will travel to Washington on 25 July for a two-day visit. Venizelos, who is also the Socialist government’s deputy prime minister, is expected to meet with White House and Congress officials, as well as chief executives of the International Monetary Fund.

Germany’s panel of economic advisers wants the government to urge a haircut on Greek debt of around 50 percent in view of the worsening Euro zone debt crisis, Ekathimerini newspaper reports, quoting a German daily.

“A haircut on existing bonds of around 50 percent should be sought, reducing the debt ratio to around 106 percent from 160 percent,” the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung cited the group as saying.

Athens (Greece). Greek oil tanker released by pirates.

Pirates released a Greek-owned oil tanker they had seized on 16 July off Nigeria, Greek authorities said, cited by Xinhua Agency.

The 20-member crew on board the Liberian-flagged “Aegean Star” were safe and in good health, as the ship was expected to dock back at Tema port in Ghana, the Greek Citizen Protection Ministry said in a statement. The tanker, owned by Greek shipping company “Endeavour Marine Agency,” was seized by pirates 30 nautical miles (about 55.6 km) off Nigeria’s coasts. The vessel was transporting fuel from Ghana to Benin. Greek officials did not comment on whether ransom was paid to secure the swift release of the vessel and crew.

Piracy costs 7 billion to 12 billion U.S. dollars annually to the international shipping industry, according to a 2010 survey.

Greek shipping companies rank third globally on losses by piracy, as over 10 percent of the 445 attacks reported in 2010 were against Greek-owned vessels and an undetermined sum was paid in ransom.

Sofia (Bulgaria). Bulgaria’s failure on the arena of fight against organized crime and corruption reflected in EC annual report.

Bulgaria has failed to achieve “convincing results” in its fight against organized crime and corruption, according to the annual monitoring report of the European Commission on its postEU accession progress. The EC is about as critical of Bulgaria’s lack of progress to crack down on organized crime and corruption as it is of the country’s flawed reform of the judiciary. The 2011 monitoring report does recognize that Bulgaria has achieved progress with respect to police report through the integration of operative and investigative police work. This is recommended to be deepened, including a new focus on reforming pre-trial investigations.

As far as Bulgaria’s fight against high-level corruption, the 2011 monitoring report under the so called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism sees “very few final and enforced verdicts in this area and… no indications of active targeting of high-level corruption.” Bulgaria’s Penal Code is described as “outdated” while court practice in the country is said to be “overly attentive to procedures at the expense of delivering justice.”

The Commission raises concerns regarding weaknesses in asset declaration and verification of politicians, magistrates and senior civil servants. The document highlights that Bulgaria “must formulate a set of concrete targets for the fight against corruption and organised crime for the different institutions involved in the implementation of the Integrated Strategy,” the EC recommends.

Sofia (Bulgaria). According to the Bulgarian Interior Minister the “tiny blasts” in Sofia have aimed at waking up politicians.

Ultimatums cannot be issued from non-professionals when it comes to a police investigation, according to Bulgaria’s Interior Minister Tsvetanov. The Minister spoke in an interview for the morning show of the TV channel TV7, commenting on the statement of right-wing leader, Ivan Kostov that the executive power in Bulgaria has 24 hours to reveal the names of the people responsible for the two 19 July’s morning blasts in Sofia.

Tsvetanov said the “tiny explosions” have been trying to revive both RZS and DSB so that they focus back on politics and reiterated the two blasts had been a deed of the same perpetrators.

Two explosions shook the offices of Bulgarian parties on 19 July, inflicting damage on neighboring buildings. The first blast went off at 03:58 in front of the headquarters of the conservative Order, Law and Justice Party in downtown Sofia. About twenty minutes later another explosion happened in front of an office of the Democrats for Strong Bulgaria party, which is a part of the right-wing parliamentary Blue Coalition.

Meanwhile, the windows of the Plovdiv-based office of the DPS (Ethnic-Turkish party) was broken with a stone.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 20 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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