THE UNBIASED OBSERVERS, Issue 12


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


Friday, 22 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 PM Erdoğan “Cyprus to be reunited as a two-zone federation”
  • Taxi drivers’ strike in Greece continues
  • ICTY welcomes Hadzic’s transfer into the tribunal’s custody; Ratko Mladic back to court on 25 August;
  • Bulgaria’s Chances for Schengen entry slimmer after the EC’s report –  Die Presse: Door closed for Bulgaria, Romania; Handelsblatt: Bad marks for Romania and Bulgaria ; Bulgaria’s Chief Prosecutor finds the criticism in EC’s report “inexplicable”;
  • Bulgaria’s Parliament to pass a declaration condemning terrorism;
  • 175, 244 bid farewell to their native Bulgaria in the last 10 years;
  • OSCE and EU call for political dialogue in Albania

 

Economy:

  • Greek President Carolos Papoulias: “Europe is in danger”; Temporary Default for Greece; Eurozone agrees better terms for Greece;
  • Greek Parliament calls a debate over а bribes-for-business scandal with Siemens;
  • Turkish government works on a master energy plan for Cyprus;
  • Kosovo places Serbia under embargo;
  • Bulgaria’s unemployment rate – 15%;
  • A Virgin Islands based n off-shore company buys the owner of Bulgaria’s biggest steel mill;
  • Bulgaria’s former incumbent telco sells its remaining share in TV & Radio Broadcasting and Transmission subsidiary (NURTS);
  • Amendments to Bulgaria’s criminal code tackle illegal gambling issues;
  • Government hikes the minimum salary in Albania

 

 

BALKANS – POLITICS & OTHER

 

Ankara (Turkey)

Turkish PM Erdoğan “Cyprus to be reunited as a two-zone federation”

The Turkish prime minister drew a hard line on the long-standing Cyprus issue on 20 July, saying the divided island must be united by the end of the year or remain split, Hurriyet Daily wrote.

“Everyone should know the existing window of opportunity on Cyprus will not always be open. The Turkish Cypriot side is working for peace and solutions against all injustices. It’s not bearable anymore,” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, accusing Greek Cypriots of blocking talks and warning that time was running out.

Erdoğan called for Cyprus to be reunited as a two-zone federation, something to which both sides have agreed in principle. They remain at odds, however, over implementation issues.

The situation has taken on new urgency with Greek Cyprus’ scheduled assumption of the six-month rotating EU Presidency in 2012.

The Turkish Prime Minister is on an official visit to Northern Cyprus where he met with Turkish Cypriot President Eroğlu and second Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat.

“We established a state on the geography created by the 1974 peace operation … We have created an economy. Turkey was always with us while we were doing all those things,” Turkish Cypriot President Derviş Eroğlu said.

Athens (Greece)

Taxi drivers’ strike in Greece continues

Strike action continued around the country on 21 July. On the island of Crete, cabbies continued their blockade of Iraklio Airport — though without disrupting flights — while fellow drivers held a rally at the city port. In Thessaly, they blocked the national highway at Tempe.

Meanwhile, blockades at toll stations in Elefsina, Afidnes and the Corinth Canal were lifted on Thursday morning.

The taxi drivers are protesting a new law proposed by the current minister for the sector’s liberalization and are demanding that Ragousis reverts to a law drawn up by his predecessor, Dimitris Reppas, which sets limits to the number of taxi licenses that can be issued.

Belgrade (Serbia)

ICTY welcomes Hadzic’s transfer into the tribunal’s custody;

Ratko Mladic back to court on 25 August

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague welcomed the arrest of war crimes suspect Goran Hadzic by the Serbian authorities on 20 July, Xinhua reported. The war-time Croatian Serb politician was the last fugitive remaining of the 161 persons indicted by the tribunal.He has been on the run since July 2004 when he was charged with crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war committed in Croatia.Hadzic led Croatian Serb separatist forces during the war in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s’ and was the leader of the self-proclaimed Serbian republic of Krajina.

Meanwhile, it has becomeRatko Mladic will be back in the courtroom at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on August 25

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria’s Chances for Schengen entry slimmer after the EC’s report –  Die Presse: Door closed for Bulgaria, Romania; Handelsblatt: Bad marks for Romania and Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s Chief Prosecutor finds the criticism in EC’s report “inexplicable”

“This is the best EC report on Bulgaria’s progress, as it is concrete and points at the issues directly,” said Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in an interview with bTV on the release of EC’s report under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, CVM that focuses on judicial reforms, fight against organized crime and corruption. According to the prime minister, the good thing in the report is that it does put the blame on someone concrete but the European Commission (EC) has outlined what exactly the prosecutor general, the head of the judiciary and the parliament should do.

“I find it inexplicable that we have been accused of being passive,” said Bulgaria’s Prosecutor General Boris Velchev speaking with journalists, Focus Agency reported.

Meanwhile, under the headline “EC Warns Bulgaria and Romania,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung notes that the situation in Bulgaria is worse than in Romania and the EC request are far from being fulfilled. The German articles point out the two reports have been very much anticipated in Brussels since the countries that have objected Bulgaria’s and Romania’s Schengen entry such as Germany, France and the Netherlands have bound their decision on the report’s conclusions. Bulgaria’s Novinite.com points out that German media join around the opinion the poor assessment of Bulgaria will delay even further the joining of Schengen and will dim hopes of no-border control travel of Bulgarians.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria’s Parliament to pass a declaration condemning terrorism

After a meeting with Bulgaria’s Prime Minister, RZS (Law, Order, Justice party) leader Yane Yanev informed he had requested to have security guards from the National Security Office, NSO, but declined saying what the outcome has been, Bulgaria’s Novinite.com informed.

He said that Boyko Borissov had agreed on proposing to the Parliament to adopt a declaration condemning terrorism, violence, and attempts to stir chaos in the eve of the upcoming local and presidential elections, and even assured the GERB parliamentary group would pass it.

Two explosions shook Bulgaria’s capital early 19 July. The first blast went off at 3:58 a.m. in front of the headquarters of the conservative Order, Law and Justice Party, RZS, in downtown Sofia. About twenty minutes later another explosion ripped off the air in front of an office of the  right-wing DSB (Democrats for Strong Bulgaria party), which is a part of the parliamentary Blue Coalition.

Boyko Borissov informed that there are some leads, but the authorities must find sound evidence and then reveal names.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

175, 244 bid farewell to their native Bulgaria in the last 10 years

The population of Bulgaria as at 1 February 2011 was 7 364 570 according to the final results of the Census 2011 of the National Statistical Institute, quoted by Bulgarian media.

Two-thirds of the decrease of the population (68.9%) is due to the negative population growth, while one-third (31.1%) to the migration – some 175,244 people have left the country.

Bulgarian ethnic group is of 5,664,624 people or 84.8% of the people, who have voluntarily declared their ethnic self-determination, show the final results of the Census 2011 presented at a press conference of the National Statistical Institute. The Turkish ethnic group is the second biggest – 8.8% of the population, followed by the Roma – 325,343 people or 4.9% of the population. The urbanisation trend is sustainable.  Some 5,339,001 people live in the towns and cities (72.5%), while 2,025,569 people inhabit the villages (27.5%). Sofia is the city with biggest population – 1,291,591 people (17.5% of the population), while the smallest population is in the district of Vidin – 101,018 (1.4%). Sofia and Varna report increase of the population by 120,749 (10.3%) and 13,061 (2.8%), respectively.

Tirana (Albania)

OSCE and EU call for political dialogue in Albania

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) joined the European Union urge the Albanian government and the opposition to resume political dialogue and move ahead with reforms after the controversial mayoral polls, Xinhua Agency reports.

The appeals came after the ruling Democratic Party of Prime Minister Sali Berisha and main opposition Socialist Party led by Edi Rama have grown estranged after the controversial May local race, and the Socialists have resumed a boycott of parliament in protest.

“I call on the government and the opposition parties to overcome the polarization and pervasive mistrust and end the political stalemate in the country,” Audronius Azubalis, the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Lithuania’s foreign minister.

 

BALKANS ECONOMY

Economy

Athens (Greece)

Greek President Carolos Papoulias: “Europe is in danger”; Temporary Default for Greece; Eurozone agrees better terms for Greece

“I hope the Europeans can understand that Europe is in danger, that they cannot stifle Europe’s historic role, and to take a decision that supports Europe’s weakest,” Greek President Papoulias said during a meeting with Maltese parliament speaker Michael Frendo on 21 July , AFP reported.

The eurozone leaders also called for the setting up of a “Marshall Plan ” for Greece that would help stimulate its flagging economy. The details of the plan remain vague, Greek Ekathimerini newspaper wrote.

Eurozone leaders have, according to a draft statement issued during their meeting in Brussels, agreed to extend the maturity of loans to Greece from 7.5 years to 15 and to reduce the interest rate from 4.5 percent to 3.5, while also giving the EFSF (European Financial Stability Facility) substantially greater flexibility, the Greek newspaper reported on the 21 July summit. It appears that a more comprehensive plan to assist debt-burdened Greece will involve a form of private sector participation that could lead to rating agencies deeming Athens to be in “selective default.” The leaders of the 17 countries have also agreed to provide further emergency loans to Greece. The amount has not yet been specified but it is expected to reach as high as 71 billion euros.

On the eve of the summit, President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso appealed to leaders of the 17-member bloc to agree on a comprehensive package of measures to prevent spill-over of the crisis to Spain and Italy.

Significantly, the eurozone leaders also agreed to giving the EFSF, set up in the wake of the debt crisis to provide funding to Greece, Ireland and Portugal, greater flexibility, including the ability to provide funding to banks.

“To improve the effectiveness of the EFSF and address contagion, we agree to increase the flexibility of the EFSF, allowing it to:

– intervene on the basis of a precautionary program, with adequate conditionality;

– finance recapitalization of financial institutions through loans to governments including in non programme countries;

– intervene in the secondary markets on the basis of an ECB analysis recognizing the existence of exceptional circumstances and a unanimous decision of the EFSF Member States.”

Athens (Greece)

Greek Parliament calls a debate over a bribes-for-business scandal with Siemens

Parliament is due to meet on 21 July to debate the possible prosecution of politicians in connection to the Siemens cash-for-contracts scandal, Greek’s Ekathimerini reported.

The plenary session takea place in the wake of revelations that the company plans to sue the Greek state in a bid to ensure it will not have to pay damages for alleged bribery of public officials. MPs are due to debate whether to set up a panel of three prosecutors to find out if any politicians should be prosecuted for their alleged involvement in allegedly corrupt deals with the Greek branch of the German electronics and engineering giant, which is said to have paid millions of euros in bribes to secure state contracts. Siemens Hellas, the local division of the Munich-based company, is alleged to have paid bribes to political parties and public officials to gain lucrative contracts, which are estimated to have led Greek taxpayers suffering damages of some 2 billion euros.

Ankara (Turkey)

Turkish government works on a master energy plan for Cyprus

The Turkish government is currently working on an energy master plan for the island. Turkey’s bid to supply electricity for the whole of Cyprus has been based on two plans, building a nuclear plant on the island or laying underwater cables from Turkey, according to Turkey’s Chamber of Mechanical Engineers, Hurryiet Daily reported. The claim has been certified by the Turkish Cypriot authority as well as the chamber. Turkey has already set all the options on the table for meeting the energy needs of the island, Haluk Direskeneli, a board member of the Chamber of Mechanical Engineers and head of its Energy Committee, said in a phone interview with Hurryiet.

“Russia’s barge-mounted nuclear power plant might be built in northern Cyprus,” he said, adding that such a facility would generate electricity “not only for the Turkish part [of the divided island], but also the Greek part.” A nuclear plant on the island was also discussed in the Greek Cypriot parliament a few years ago, Direskeneli said.

“Both options were mentioned in a recent master plan,” an official from the Turkish Cypriot Economy and Energy Ministry told the Hürriyet Daily News, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Pristina (Kosovo)

Kosovo places Serbia under embargo

Kosovo’s government took decision to put embargo on Serbian goods import, media in Pristine announced. The decision has been taken as reciprocal measure, because Belgrade doesn’t recognizes Kosovo’s customs marks, Focus Agency informs. Kosovo’s government imposed 10% customs duty on goods from Bosnia and Herzegovina, because Sarajevo also repudiates customs hallmarks.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria’s unemployment rate – 15%

The unemployment rate is 15% for the country, respectively 16.4% for men and 13.5% for women, said Finka Denkova, Director of the Demographic and Social Statistics Department with the National Statistical Institute, cited by Bulgaria’s Focus Agency. Recently Greece registered a similar unemployment rate, slightly over 15%

Denkova commented that the total number of economically active people by February 1, 2011 ran up to 2,834,835, while the unemployed were 494,848. The economically active people are 3,282,749 aged 15-64. The employment rate among men is 56.9%, against 54.0% for women.

 

Sofia (Bulgaria)

A Virgin Islands based n off-shore company buys the owner of Bulgaria’s biggest steel mill

An offshore company, registered on the British Virgin Islands, has acquired the buyer of Bulgaria’s biggest steel mill Kremikovtzi amid many question marks surrounding the deal, Bulgaria’s Novinite.com reports. “Bessian Management Limited” bought “Eltrade company”, owned by 26-year-old Lachezar Varnadzhiev for EUR 10,000, shows a check in the Trade Registry. “Bessian Management Limited” is in its turn controlled by another offshore company – “Bun Sekretarial Limited”, based in Cyprus.

Bulgaria sold in April the production assets of bankrupt Kremikovtzi steel mill in a fourth auction to a local company, owned by 26-year-old Varnadzhiev. The company was established days before the deal was sealed. The capital of Eltrade company was EUR 10K. Bulgaria’s privately-owned First Investment Bank (FIBank) said it had provided all the funding for Kremikovtzi steel mill, amounting to nearly EUR 163.6M. Just before that the bank issued a EUR 20 M bond, which allowed it to boost its credit portfolio by more than EUR 163.6M, which is exactly the price of Kremikovtzi sale deal.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria’s former incumbent telco sales its remaining share in TV & Radio Broadcasting and Transmission subsidiary (NURTS)

Bulgaria’s incumbent BTC, now rebranded vivacom telco, has sold the last 50% of its transmission company NURTS to Bluesat Partners Ltd for an undisclosed fee, Bulgaria’s Novinite.com reports. In August 2010, Vivacom sold the other 50% of NURTS to Cyprus-registered Mancelord Limited.So far, NURTS was a joint venture between the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company, rebranded as Vivacom, and Mancelord Limited. NURTS is a key player in the local market through its broadcasting and transmission facilities, having a full territorial-coverage network of TV towers and retranslation facilities. The deal with Bluesat Partners Ltd now has to be approved by the Fair Competition Committee.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Amendments to Bulgaria’s criminal code tackle illegal gambling issues

Organisation of illegal gambling game will be sentenced with up to six-year sentence and a fine of EUR 500 to EUR 5K, Bulgarian parliament decided on 21 July after passing the final amendments to the Penal Code, Bulgaria’s Focus Agency reports. The amendments envisage that manipulation of football matches and any sport events will face a prison sentence of 6 years and a fine up to EUR 5K. In case the crime is committed with a dangerous repeated ness, or is a severe case or is connected to betting on the development or results of a sports event, administrated by a sports organisation, the sentence will be of 8-year imprisonment and a fine of BGN 2,000 and BGN 50,000.

Tirana (Albania)

Government hikes the minimum salary in Albania

The Albanian government decided to increase the minimum work salary in the country by 5.2%, local media inform to EUR 146.

(Mariela Zamfirova, 22 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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