THE UNBIASED OBSERVERS, Issue 10


Wednesday, 20 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: 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:

  • Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan Plans a Visit to Gaza Strip;
  • Turkey and Israel face a new round of talks prior to release of UN report on Gaza;
  • US Optimistic about Greece-Macedonia name dispute resolve;
  • Greek anarchists who posted letter bombs to European leaders found guilty;
  • Taxi drivers’ protests creates chaos in Greece;
  • New round of talks between Belgrade and Pristina on the horizon;
  • Over EUR 1.5M damages in Balkan countries caused by arrested Serbian criminal grouping’s head Goran Vukovic;
  • Cyprus and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus intensify dialogue;
  • Bulgaria’s no confidence vote scheduled for 26 July
  • Who the real target is of the explosions in Sofia, PM Boyko Borissov asks rhetorically; Blasts near RZS and DSB Offices are identical, Interior Ministry says;  The US Ambassador emphasizes manifestations of violence have no place in a democratic society;
  • Romania commended by EC for her progress
  • BSP Leader Sergei Stanishev: “This is the European Commission’s worst report Bulgaria has received in the past 3 years”, Bulgaria’s Commissioner to EU Kristalina Georgieva “EC’s report is not an enemy but a friend”;
  • Under the headline “WikiLeaks: Secretary of State Extends Kudos to US Embassy for ‘Top Bulgarian Criminals’ Cable”, Bulgaria’s Novinite.com provides links to the wikileaked documents (http://www.novinite.com/view_news.php?id=130393)
  • Protest against fuel price hikes in Sofia on 23 July;
  • Fire rages near the Bulgarian-Turkish border

Economy:

  • European leaders are struggling to reach a second bailout agreement; The Greek Finance Minister denies Greece’s acceptance of a selective default scenario;
  • Greek unemployment drops to 15.8%;
  • The Tender for the 3rd Bosphorus Bridge postponed for the end of the year;
  • Bulgaria finalizes a shale gas agreement with Chevron;
  • Financial harm caused to the Bulgarian farmers due to the E. coli outbreak is estimated at a total of EUR 2,6М
  • South Stream Project might be frozen

BALKANS – POLITICS & OTHER

Ankara (Turkey).

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan Plans a Visit to Gaza Strip

AFP reports that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan expressed his intention to pay a visit to Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in the near future. The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs is reportedly dealing with the organization of the visit.

Ankara (Turkey)

Turkey and Israel face a new round of talks prior to release of UN report on Gaza

Turkish and Israeli officials are expected to hold another round of negotiations within the week to resolve their differences just before the release of a U.N. report on Israel’s 2010 killing of nine activists on a Gaza-bound Turkish aid flotilla.

“No date has been scheduled yet but the meeting will take place before July 27,” the Turkish member of the U.N. panel, Özdem Sanberk, told the Hürriyet Daily News. “The negotiations might resume in a couple of days,” he said. For normalization of the bilateral relations, Turkey insists on its two conditions: an apology and compensation for the victims.

The United Nations panel is expected to submit its report to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on July 27 and the report is set to be released on Aug. 1. It was originally going to be released earlier but as the parties concerned failed to agree on the final draft during several rounds of negotiations, it has been delayed.

Athens (Greece)

US Optimistic about Greece-Macedonia name dispute resolve

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed her optimism about the longstanding dispute over Macedonia’s name between Greece and the EU candidate in an interview for the Greek Skai channel, reiterating that support the negotiations that have gone on between Skopje and Athens. During her visit to Athens, Clinton was positive that Macedonia should not join the European Union before the row is settled.

The notorious name dispute between Macedonia and Greece has been going on since the former declared independence in 1991. Greece’s concerns that the recognition of Macedonia‘s name could allow territorial claims has technically blocked Macedonia’s accession to NATO and the EU.

Athens (Greece)

Greek anarchists who posted letter bombs to European leaders found guilty

Greek anarchists who posted letter bombs to European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel were found guilty of extremist acts by a special court in Athens on 19 July, Focus Agency reports. Six members of the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei, an anarchist group which claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks since 2008, were found guilty of participating in extremist acts. A seventh was found guilty on separate charges of burglary, theft and falsification. Two others were acquitted, two of the accused, Haralambos Hatzimihelakis and Panayiotis Argyros, both 23, were found guilty of “forming and being members of a terrorist” group and instigating a 2009 bomb attack on the homes of Greece’s Interior Minister Panayotis Hinofotis and another former cabinet member. The four others charged with serious crimes were found guilty of making bombs.

Athens (Greece)

Taxi drivers’ protests creates chaos in Greece

Greece’s taxi drivers escalated their protest at the government’s plans to fully liberalize their sector and lift all restrictions on the number of licenses issued, Ekathimerini reports.

On the second day of a nation-wide work stoppage, Athens cabbies met at 10 a.m. in front of the Marnis Street headquarters of their union SATA, where they decided to strike indefinitely, until their demands were met. The cabbies then drove to Syntagma Square, where they held a protest in front of Parliament that caused more traffic chaos in central Athens. In Thessaloniki, police thwarted a motorcade of taxis that was headed to Macedonia Airport,though some 1,000 drivers left their vehicles on the side of the highway leading to the airport and walked into the departure lounge, where they staged a protest. In Patra, cabbies gathered at the port, where they intend to block the exit of passengers from three large cruise ships that are scheduled to dock at the busy Peloponnese port.

Belgrade (Serbia)

New round of talks between Belgrade and Pristina on the horizon

The sixth round of negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina is due to take place on Wednesday in Brussels, Serbian Blic newspaper informs.It is expected that an agreement will be reached to recognize university diplomas from Pristina. Serbia’s chief negotiator Borislav Stefanovic confirmed the issues on the agenda would be diplomas, cadastre, power and telecommunications.

Belgrade (Serbia)

Over EUR 1.5M damages in Balkan countries caused by arrested Serbian criminal grouping’s head Goran Vukovic

Serbian national Goran Vukovic, international criminal group leader who has been detained in a joint operation of the Bulgarian, Macedonian and Serbian police, has caused more than EUR 1.5M of damages in several Balkan countries, Bulgarian Focus Agency writes. Four Bulgarian and more than sixty Serbian companies have been affected by the frauds of Serbian national Goran Vukovic. The detainee used to be a leader of a hierarchical structure, which he was the only one to be aware of – organised crime groups in different countries. He was arrested in the frames of a special police operation carried out by the Bulgarian, Macedonian and Serbian services, coordinated by SECI. Vukovic used to operate a fraud scheme for deliveries of goods with subsequent payment, but in fact no payments were done, with the use of forged bank documents for fictitious payment. The goods were construction materials. The average cost of the shipments was of EUR 15,000 – 30,000. In order to mislead the sellers, Vukovic used to offer very profitable prices. Goran Vukovic was arrested while making the latest deal – a delivery of construction materials to a construction site in Macedonia.

Nicosia (Cyprus)

Cyprus and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus intensify dialogue

The leaders of politically estranged Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities on 19 July decided to intensify their negotiations on re-unifying the divided island, in response to an appeal by the United Nations, Xinhua Agency reported. Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu met for the first time since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon joined them in talks in Geneva, on July 7.

Christofias said they decided to hold talks twice a week until October, when they are scheduled to meet again with Ban in New York.The UN has called on both sides to bridge their differences by the end of the year so as to proceed with an international conference to finalize an accord early next year.Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey militarily intervened and occupied the north of the island following a coup by a group of Greek officers. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriot authorities declared breakaway and set up “the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” which is recognized only by Turkey.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria’s no confidence vote scheduled for 26 July

The debate for the upcoming no confidence vote against the centrist-right GERB’s minority government in Bulgaria will take place next Monday, while the vote itself is scheduled for 26 July, Bulgaria’s Novinite.com reported.The no confidence vote over what has been perceived as failure in the sphere of home affairs , as well as the country’s delay in joining the Schengen Area, has been initiated by the opposition, led by the leftist Bulgarian Socialist Party and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Who the real target is of the explosions in Sofia, PM Boyko Borissov asks rhetorically; Blasts near RZS and DSB Offices are identical, Interior Ministry says; The US Ambassador emphasizes manifestations of violence have no place in a democratic society

“The biggest manipulations and ‘yellow’ scandals, which come out from the media, go to different capitals and get different interpretations. What the Interior Ministry reported this morning is that two bombs with small equivalent have been placed in such a way that we think that one person has set one bomb and then he have gone to place another one. There are some broken windows and some turmoil short before the Brussels’ report,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said in an interview with TV7, cited by Focus Agency, in a commentary on the explosion that occurred in front of the offices of two political parties (conservative Law, Order, Justice or RZS and right-wing Democrats for Strong Bulgaria or DSB). “If one takes time to think about it, one would easily conclude who is the target of these blasts – whether they are really against the offices of this parties or against the government and the state, and respectively against the nation,” Borisov commented further.
Stanimir Florov, Director of the General Directorate for Fight against Organised Crime, told Focus Agency that the methods and means used in the two cases are one and the same. He explained that the bombs had a fuse, which allows the perpetrators to run away before the explosion. Later, Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov told journalists  that the Ministry has some assumptions as to what the motive for the two blasts might be and who might stand behind them.

US Ambassador James Warlick “I am not acquainted with the details and respectively I cannot put a concrete label on the situation but I would condemn the political violence as a whole,” Warlick commented, adding that violence has no place in a democratic society, Focus Agency reports.

Bucharest (Romania)

Romania commended by EC for her progress

Romania is is making headway in judicial reform and the fight against corruption and organized crime, according to the draft report of the European Commission on the country’s progress under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, Novinite.com reports. Romania has taken steps to streamline court proceedings and is preparing the ground for the entry into force of four new Codes which lay the foundation for modern-day trial procedures, while the National Anti-Corruption Directorate continues its credible efforts to eliminate high-level corruption, the report states, as cited by Romania’s Mediafax Agency.

The country has registered insufficient progress in combating corruption because many top-level corruption cases.The report also notes that the country needs to show better results in the sphere of confiscation of illegal assets and enforcement of deterrent sanctions in conflict of interest cases.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

BSP Leader Sergei Stanishev: “This is the European Commission’s worst report Bulgaria has received in the past 3 years”, Bulgaria’s Commissioner to EU Kristalina Georgieva “EC’s report is not an enemy but a friend”

Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Sergey Stanishev said that the Bulgarian government pleaded the Commission to remove the harshest paragraphs containing criticisms about the judicial system and the Interior Ministry, Focus Agency reported. The final Cooperation and Verification Mechanism report will be released on 20 July. According to Stanishev, the report makes it clear that in 2012 the EC will give its opinion on the development of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism.

“The European Commission (EC)’s report is not an enemy but a friend of the Bulgarian society,” said EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva, quoted by the Bulgarian media.

In the summer of next year, exactly five years after the release of the first monitoring report on problem areas such as organized crime and judicial reform, a comprehensive assessment of the achievements in this period will be made, to be followed by a proposal for the lifting of the mechanism, says the draft of the report cited by Bulgaria’s Novinite.com.

For this to happen Brussels will demand that Bulgaria and Romania implement the recommendations of this year’s reports and overcome the red flag areas.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Under the headline “WikiLeaks: Secretary of State Extends Kudos to US Embassy for ‘Top Bulgarian Criminals’ Cable, Bulgaria’s Novinite.com provides links to the wikileaked documents described below (http://www.novinite.com/view_news.php?id=130393)

A diplomatic cable of the US Embassy in Sofia, dated February 11, 2009, was released 19 July on WikiLeaks, bringing out CDA John Ordway’s report to Washington. The project for investigative journalism http://www.bivol.bg, partner of WikiLeaks for Bulgaria, comments there are a few cables sent by the US Department of State to the American Embassy in Sofia, one of them is remarkable for its highest level of classification and because it is singed personally by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

NB: The Unbiased Observers publishes this for informative purposes only.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Protest against fuel price hikes in Sofia on 23 July

Drivers are invited to refrain from buying any gasoline or diesel on 23 July to stop their vehicles between 13:00 and 13:30. The organizers emphasize that the protest scheduled for 22 July is unrelated to unions, organizations or political parties. Lukoil has attributed the recent price update to the upward trends on global markets. Gasoline prices have risen by 17% since January, while the cost of diesel has gone up by 13%. Peak fuel prices in March caused Bulgarians to organize five protest marches across the country.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Fire rages near the Bulgarian-Turkish border

A large fire has broken out on 19 July afternoon close to the southeastern village of Lesovo, municipality of Elhovo, Fire Safety and Civil Protection DG told FOCUS News Agency. The fire is raging on an area of 1,000 decares and has engulfed dry grass and bushes. 20 firefighters, 30 forestry workers and locals 10 border policemen are battling the flames. The Turkish authorities have been notified, because the fire is close to the border.

BALKANS ECONOMY

Economy

Athens (Greece)

European leaders are struggling to reach a second bailout agreement; The Greek Finance Minister denies Greece’s acceptance of a selective default scenario

European leaders are struggling to convince investors that they will agree on a second Greek bailout at a summit this week as record bond yields threaten to boost financing cost at sales of Spanish and Greek debt, Greece’s Ekathimerini reports. European 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 of a new Greek rescue. The 21 July summit also comes after European bank stress tests on July 15 failed to allay investor concern that lenders were prepared for a Greek default and that euro-area governments had the ability to bail them out.

Greece never accepted the option of a selective default, Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos stated, speaking on Skai Television’s New Files program. The country, he said, continues to be in a difficult position, though it is not on the point of bankruptcy, adding that the «the switch has turned on the track, and we are headed in the direction of easing the public debt burden.”

Athens (Greece)

Greek unemployment drops to 15.8%

The Greek unemployment rate fell to 15.8 percent in April from 16.2 in March, but youth unemployment grew to 43.1 percent from 42.5 percent, AFP cited official data. A year ago, when Greece was about to receive its first debt bailout payment from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, the unemployment rate stood at 11.9 percent and youth unemployment was at 30.8 percent. In April, the official statistics agency said unemployment for women was at 19.6 percent and 13.1 percent for men. The agency said 788,459 people were looking for work in April, down from 811,340 people in March.

Ankara (Turkey)

The Tender for the 3rd Bosphorus Bridge postponed for the end of the year

The tender for the construction of Istanbul’s third bridge on the Bosphorus has been postponed until the end of the year, the motorways authority’s chairman Cahit Turhan said, cited by Anatolia Agency.

“A total of 16 firms have officially stated that they are preparing to apply, including seven from Turkey, four from Japan, two from Russia and one firm per country from Spain, Austria and Italy,” Turhan said. Meanwhile, Chinese, French and South Korean firms have also shown their interest in the tender, through partnerships with local firms, he added. A two-way railway for high speed trains is also slated for the third bridge.

Ankara (Turkey)

WB President Robert Zoellick on a 4-day visit to Turkey

World Bank President Robert Zoellick arrived in Turkey on 19 July on a four-day visit, according to a statement by the bank, cited by Hurryiet daily newspaper. Turkey’s economy and development agenda, as well as regional and global partnerships and roles, will be discussed during Zoellick’s visit in Turkey.

Skopje (Macedonia)

A1 Macedonian TV channel goes bust

The Macedonian court has started an insolvency procedure against the Macedonian A1 television station, Macedonian Vecer newspaper writes. According to the newspaper Aco Petrov is appointed a bankruptcy trustee. The bank accounts of the television are blocked, while its owner, Velija Ramkovski, is under arrest.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria finalises a shale gas agreement with Chevron

Bulgaria will finalize shale gas exploration talks with US Chevron and seal a contract in the next few days, Economy, Energy and Tourism Minister Traycho Traykov has said, cited by Bulgaria’s Novinite.com. The Energy Minister revealed that auctions for new exploration blocks in North Bulgaria were forthcoming. In end-May, US energy giant Chevron won a shale gas drilling permit in Novi Pazar, Northeast Bulgaria, with a EUR 30 M bid. British company BNK Petroleum, which also took part in the competition, was ranked second.The prospect of shale gas exploration in the region has eliciting clashing reactions from energy experts, politicians, and the local population.Locals remain divided, some of them highlighting environmental concerns while others defend the favorable business climate. Experts themselves fail to agree on the benefits of shale gas fracturing. Traikov boasted Tuesday that the tender documentation envisaged a minimum bonus of EUR 200 000 for the five-year exploratory period. Bids for the other two shale gas deposits would be submitted by end-June, Traikov specified.According to preliminary estimates of the companies which applied for the Novi Pazar block, total reserves of shale ghas come in at 300 bcm – 1 trillion cu m.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Financial harm caused to the Bulgarian farmers due to the E. coli outbreak is estimated at a total of EUR 2,6М

Financial harm caused to the Bulgarian vegetable producers due to the E. coli outbreak is estimated at a total of EUR 2,6М (US$ 3.7M), the State Fund Agriculture announced. The farmers will be compensated in two directions. The first one is for those, who have withdrawn produced and unrealised vegetables from the market, while the second – for non-harvested crop, Focus Agency informed. Loss from withdrawn production is estimated at EUR 2,6M (US$3,7M), while from the non-harvested crop – EUR 6,477 (US$9,172).

South Stream Project might be frozen

During the talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Hanover Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will raise the issue about the construction of the section of the Nord Stream pipeline from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea. This is connected to the possibility for Moscow to decide to freeze the realisation of the South Stream gas pipeline because of the problems in the talks with Turkey. With Germany’s support the deliveries could be shifted through Nord Stream, Russian Kommersant comments.

(Mariela Zamfirova, 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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