From 1 September 2011 this newsletter service is subscription only. See Balkan News Service for details.
Thursday, 28 July 2011
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.
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
Politics and others:
- Turkey and Iran launch operations against PKK and PJAK;
- Israeli politicians divided over deporting Turkish workers;
- Greek Transport minister postpones the problem with taxi drivers;
- The Bosnian-Serb President denies government reshuffle;
- Crisis in Greek Cyprus crashes the job-related hopes of Turkish Cypriots;
- Another vehicle belonging to the Vijesti newspaper was set on fire in Podgorica on 23 July,
- US and NATO condemn the border operation of the Kosovo police special units; Kosovo’s Interior Minister confirms withdrawal of the units from the Kosovo – Serbian border; One Kosovo policeman died;
- Macedonian government approved by Parliament; The highlights of the Cabinet’s Program;
- Bulgarian police nabs a suspect for explosions of political parties’ offices
- “Turkey will not be affected by a financial crisis in Europe,” Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan says before his departure on a visit to Azerbaijan;
- Greece under inspection by EU and IMF; S&P foresees a 2nd debt haircut;
- Serbia requests CEFTA for help to resolve the dispute with Kosovo;
- Romania takes care for the elder citizens in contrast to Bulgaria;
- Moody’s lowered the ratings of Cyprus;
- Macedonian A1 TV channels in bankruptcy;
- The biggest Bulgaria-based refinery Lukoil stops operations;
- None of the Bulgarian railway tunnels comply with EU standards, says a former Transport Minister
BALKANS – POLITICS & OTHER
Turkey and Iran launch operations against PKK and PJAK
Increasing acts of violence by outlawed Kurdish organizations in the region have pushed Turkey and Iran to conduct separate operations on the Iraqi border, which has witnessed serious clashes between Iranian forces and militant groups, Hurryiet Daily reports.
The Iranian army has launched a powerful operation against the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan , or PJAK, in Iran, reportedly crossing the Iraqi border as it intensified its efforts to reach the group’s headquarters in the Kandil Mountains of northern Iraq.
In a separate move, the Turkish military began a limited operation against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in the Şemdinli district of Hakkari province, on the Iraqi border, the private channel CNNTürk reported 26 July. It said additional troops have been sent to the military outposts in the region and claimed some targets had been shelled. Turkey’s anti-terror operations have intensified following the killing of 13 troops July 14 in Diyarbakır’s Silvan district.
Diplomatic sources said the two countries’ operations were not linked and no military coordination had been sought thus far despite their continuous cooperation in the anti-terror fight.
Turkish civil and military officials held a security summit on 26 July to review measures taken against growing terrorism acts, including the government’s fresh proposal of giving police a larger role in the anti-terror fight.
Israeli politicians divided over deporting Turkish workers
A disagreement between leading Israeli politicians about whether to apologize to Turkey for last year’s Gaza aid flotilla raid has broadened into a conflict about the continued employment of Turkish workers in Israel, daily Haaretz reported 27 July.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry under its minister, the far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman, has claimed that the Yılmazlar company, which provides employment for 350 Turkish workers in Israel, recently established a political party with anti-Israeli tendencies and objected to the extension of the visas of the 350 workers employed by company. The ministry did not elaborate on the nature of the political party. The Defense Ministry under Ehud Barak, however, is fighting to extend the visas for fear of damaging Israel’s already dismal relations with Turkey, Hurryiet Daily writes.
Greek Transport minister postpones the problem with taxi drivers
Transport Minister Yiannis Ragousis appeared to diffuse mounting tensions among protesting taxi drivers on 26 July as he avoided rising to their challenge to state his position on reforms aimed at opening up their sector to competition, declaring that dialogue would continue until October, Greece’s Ekathimerini reported.But the issue appears to have divided ruling PASOK, with Ragousis coming under fire from many of his party’s MPs during a heated session of Parliament’s transport committee. Outside in Syntagma Square, about 8,000 taxi drivers converged to protest the controversial reforms under discussion. But the demonstration was peaceful and the feared clashes with police did not occur.
Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegowina)
The Serbian President denies government reshuffle
Republika Srpska (RS) President Milorad Dodik denied media reports of impending changes within the Serbian government, describing them as propaganda by the government of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina that was bought by the media in RS.
“Prime Minister Dzombic and all the ministers have my unquestionable support. This government has full support from the party in power and myself as the president of RS and nothing is going to change about that,” Dodik told the local media.
Some media in Serbia recently reported that the government had not met the president’s expectations and that there would be changes within it because of that. Even Prime Minister Aleksandar Dzombic has commented on the claims, saying that he has no such information, but is willing to resign should the president ask him.
Crisis in Greek Cyprus crashes the job-related hopes of Turkish Cypriots
The debt crisis that has ravaged Greece is also having an impact on the economy of Greek Cyprus, which many Turkish Cypriots have typically relied on for jobs. These days, though, the number of Turkish Cypriots crossing the border daily for work has reportedly plummeted due to the worsening economic outlook in the southern part of the island, Hurriyet reported. Due to the crisis in Greece, many firms in Greek Cyprus have had to fire Turkish Cypriot workers, who had sought higher wages. Greek Cypriot businesses have started to hire Polish and Sri Lankan immigrants.
Greek Cyprus is posting healthier economic figures than Greece, such as a budget deficit of 5.3 percent of gross domestic product and government debt that stands at 60.8 percent of GDP. The figures are 32.4 and 96.2 percent for Greece, respectively. However, its banking sector remains largely dependent on Greek banks, which have heavy exposure to government debt.
Another vehicle belonging to the Vijesti newspaper was set on fire in Podgorica on 23 July,
The fire was started by an unknown person and the damage to the vehicle was minimal. Former Vijesti employee Tonko Nisavic, in front of whose house the incident happened, said a police officer who happened to be passing by at the time of the fire saw the culprit.
The police crime scene investigation unit showed up soon after and left about half an hour later, he added. The police are still trying to identify the perpetrator, according to Vijesti’s unofficial source within the force. Two other Vijesti vehicles were set ablaze on 14 July.
US and NATO condemn the border operation of the Kosovo police special units; Kosovo’s Interior Minister confirms withdrawal of the units from the Kosovo – Serbian border; One Kosovo policeman died
The U.S. expressed regret that the operation of the Kosovo police special units ROSU, aimed at taking over administrative crossings in northern Kosovo, was not coordinated with the international community, and called on the Serbian and Kosovo authorities to work toward a de-escalation of the current situation, Serbia’s TANJUG Agency reported.
NATO holds that the situation in Kosovo, after the attempt of special units of the Kosovo police to seize the administrative crossings in northern Kosovo, has to be resolved in a peaceful manner and through dialogue, Alliance’s spokeswoman Carmen Romero said on 27 July in Brussels.
Kosovo Interior Minister Bajram Redzepi said for the Kosovo TV on 27 July that special units had withdrawn from the administrative crossings of Jarinje and Brnjak, all in keeping with the agreement reached with KFOR.
Kosovo policeman Enver Zumberi died at the University Clinical Centre in Pristina at 10.05 p.m, 26 July. One more police officer was being hospitalized, but his life is not in danger.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister has defended an order for his special police to take control of two contested border crossings with Serbia, saying it was “the right decision” despite condemnation from the European Union, AP reports. Hashim Thaci said the operation in which a member of the police unit died and four others were slightly injured was a “concrete step in establishing the rule of law” in the volatile north.
Macedonian government approved by Parliament
Rising economic standard and employment, Macedonia’s EU and NATO integration, uncompromising fight against corruption and crime, good interethnic relations, along with investments in education, science and IT are the five priorities of the new Government, said PM-designate Nikola Gruevski at the Wednesday’s session on the Cabinet election. The Macedonian Parliament voted in approval of the new Cabinet on 27 July. According to the Prime Minister, the Government composition represents a combination of youth and experience.
The budget deficit will be controlled at a moderate level, 2-3 percent of GDP, in the function of significant capital investments and projects in the transport, energy, education and healthcare infrastructure, thus enabling moderate degree of indebtedness. Public investments will range between 4-5 percent of the GDP, whereas recovery of the global economy, increased confidence in opportunities we offer in technological-industrial zones will contribute towards the growth of foreign director investments, which are expected to reach EUR 300-400 million in 2011, and reaching EUR 450-650 in 2015″, Gruevski is quoted saying by Macedonia’s MIA Agency.
“Annual export will rise by 8-10 percent, along with a 6-8 percent increasing import. The new government will preserve the Denar’s stability, focus on reducing the unemployment rate below 25 percent by 2015, as well as sustain inflation at about 3 percent at an annual level”, added Gruevski.
Bulgarian police nabs a suspect for explosions of political parties’ offices
A suspect has been apprehended for the recent explosion in front of the rightist Democrats for Strong Bulgaria party’s office in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia. The Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office has already pressed charges against the suspect, the BGNES news agency has reported. Traces of trotyl have been found on the detained individual’s clothes. Besides that, the male suspect has been recognized by two witnesses.
The blast went off around half past 4 am on July 19 in front of an office of the party of former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, the right-wing Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB). Twenty minutes prior to that, another bomb went off in front of the headquarters of the conservative Order, Law and Justice Party, RZS, in downtown Sofia. The Head of the Unit for Combating Organized Crime (GDBOP) pointed out both bombs contained about 150 grams of Trotyl (TNT), which along with the timing, could mean the two explosions were the work of the same perpetrator.
People protest the demolition of former museum of Enver Hoxha in Tirana
A petition against the demolition of the International Culture Center signed by 6,100 citizens has been sent to the Albanian President Bamir Topi by representatives of the movement “Civil Action for the Rescue of the Pyramid”, Bulgaria’s Novinite.com reports. “The Pyramid”, former mausoleum of Stalinist ex-dictator Enver Hoxha, was built in 1988 to commemorate Hoxha’s 80th birthday, three years after his death. The pyramid-shaped cultural centre turned into now one of the capital’s most important historical landmarks.
The government, however, has turned a deaf year to objections raised by famous Albanian architects and avid defenders of the building from the opposition, according to a publication of Macedonian online news agency Kurir cited by Bulgarian counterpart CROSS. Last week Albanian lawmakers approved plans to demolish the building to make way for new parliament. Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha has said that the new parliament building is to be ready by November 28, 2012, when Albania celebrates its 100th anniversary of independence. Five days ago, thousands of people gathered in front of the Pyramid to protest against the Parliament’s decision to destroy the building.
“Turkey will not be affected by a financial crisis in Europe,” Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan says before his departure on a visit to Azerbaijan
“In the past, I had stated that the economic crisis in Europe would touch Turkey slightly. This time it seems like the crisis won’t even touch at all. We are in better position and are stronger compared to past. You need not be concerned about Turkey’s economy,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is quoted saying by Hurryiet Daily News. The Turkish Prime Minister commented that Turkey was fully prepared against a financial crisis in Europe.
Speaking to reporters prior to his departure from Ankara’s Esenboğa Airport for Azerbaijan, Erdoğan said, “there could be a crisis in the West. However, we are prepared against an economic crisis.” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey aimed to strengthen existing strategic partnership with Azerbaijan, the semi-official Anatolia news agency reported. The Nabucco pipeline project, mutual visa exemptions, facilities for businessmen and the Nagorno-Karabakh talks are expected to top Turkey’s agenda during Erdoğan’s visit to Azerbaijan.
Greece under inspection by EU and IMF; S&P foresees a 2nd debt haircut
Greece’s socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou praised his government’s efforts in bringing about the outcome of last week’s eurozone summit, that saw the country clinch a fresh debt deal with its lenders, while lashing out at his conservative rivals, Greece’s Ekathimerini writes.
EU and IMF inspectors will launch on 27 July an evaluation of Greece’s progress in meeting its fiscal targets and executing the midterm economic program passed in Parliament earlier this summer. Greece has undertaken a pledge to deliver EUR 50B in proceeds from a massive and complicated state selloff by 2015, including EUR 5B this year. Senior representatives from Greece’s foreign lenders are expected in Athens by mid August.
Meanwhile, new and bigger restructuring of Greek debt is likely within the next two years, an official from credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s told Ekathimerini’s newspaper, adding a further downgrade of Greece’s sovereign debt rating was «pretty certain.” Greece became the lowest-rated country in the world by Standard & Poor’s, which downgraded it 8 notches June 13.
Serbia requests CEFTA for help to resolve the dispute with Kosovo
The Serbian Ministry of Economy and Regional Development sent a letter to UNMIK Chief of Staff Robert Sorenson, requesting urgent consultations regarding Pristina’s unilateral decision to ban entrance of goods from central Serbia into Kosovo-Metohija (KiM).
According to TANJUG, the letter characterizes Pristina’s decision as a blatant violation of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), and requests urgent steps to suspend this decision. An aggravating circumstance is that, while launching proceedings, Serbia must address the CEFTA Chair in Office, which is actually UNMIK – Kosovo, whose mandate started on January 1 and ends on December 31, 2011.
The decision of the Pristina administration started being implemented on July 20, when customs officers were ordered not to allow trucks arriving from other parts of Serbia to enter Kosovo. CEFTA members are Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Albania, Moldova and UNMIK, on behalf of the Pristina institutions.
Kosovo Minister of Trade and Industry Mimoza Kusari-Ljilja is quoted by TANYUG as saying that there are two possibilities for the unblocking of traffic at the Merdare administrative crossing, but that neither of them implies the placement of goods on the Kosovo market. The first option is that lorries blocked at the Merdare administrative crossing be enabled to enter Kosovo, turn around and go back, Kusari-Ljilja told Pristina electronic media. The second option is for them to enter Kosovo and unload the goods at the customs terminal. The goods would remain there and would not be placed on the market, she said.
About 30 lorries have been stuck at the Merdare administrative crossing since 20 July, waiting for the permission of the Kosovo authorities to enter the province. Eight trucks are stuck in the zone between two checkpoints, loaded mainly with construction material. They are not allowed to enter Kosovo or go back to central Serbia. The lorries are not allowed to enter Kosovo because of the Pristina authorities’ decision to ban import from central Serbia, and they are not allowed to go back for procedural reasons, since they had checked out the goods.
Romania takes care for the elder citizens in contrast to Bulgaria
The Romanian “solidarity basket” program, approved by the Government, will provide pensioners each month with a package comprising basic food products, like flour, sugar, oil, corn and rice, for the “lowest price possible”, Romanian Mediafax news agency informs.
“Economically, the program is not a budgetary burden, there are no subsidies or financial support and does not impact VAT collections. It is only an additional organization effort on the part of local or central public administration bodies,” says the memorandum approved by the Government to introduce this program. According to this document, the program will be started by the Government and implemented through the local authorities, under the supervision of county prefects. Local authorities may take part in the program, in the interest of offering social support to pensioners, so that “we are counting on [the authorities’] collaboration.”
In contrast, the raise of the token pensions in Bulgaria had become a saga and ended in partial solution of the painful issue. After zigzagging maneuvers in the end of June 2011, the Bulgarian government took a decision to hike the minimum wage and widowers’ pensions as of 1 September. The min. wage will be ЕUR 138, while regular pensions will not be indexed, but widows’/widowers’ pensions will be increased to 26.5% of the pension of the husband/wife deceased, up from the current 20%.
Moody’s lowered the ratings of Cyprus
Moody’s rating agency lowered the rating of Cyprus to Baa1 , or two notches from the previous note “A2″, because of concerns about the fiscal situation and impact on the economy of the accidental destruction of a power plant, AFP reported. The forecast is negative and the short-term ratings of Cyprus is also lowered.
Macedonian A1 TV channels in bankruptcy
A1 television channel is going to announce bankruptcy, Macedonian Vecer daily reported. Bankruptcy trustee Atso Petrov has asked the court to declare bankruptcy. According to Petrov the television has debts to pay off at amount of EUR 30 million, while it has only EUR 900,000 in its account.
The biggest Bulgaria-based refinery Lukoil stops operations
The Lukoil refinery, the only one in Bulgaria, is in emergency operational mode in preparations to stop work, according to Lukoil Bulgaria’s CEO, Valentin Zlatev, cited by Bulgaria’s Novinite.com.
Zlatev spoke upon leaving the emergency meeting with Finance Minister, Simeon Dyankov, and the Director of the Customs Agency, Vanyo Tanov, where the three discussed the revoked license of Lukoil on two of its fuel storage facilities. А decision has been issued by the State Customs Agency terminating the license of Nefothim Burgas to operate the so-called excise storage facilities.The decision pertains also to the oil terminal “Rosenets,” both property of the Lukoil Bulgaria company. The news was reported by the TV channel bTV early 27 July. In a phone call to the TV station, the Director of the Customs Agency, Vanyo Tanov confirmed the news, explaining the move means “Lukoil” is stopping operations in Bulgaria, because it can no longer produce fuels. The order stems from the fact the company failed to install devices that send data for the sales to the National Revenue Agency, NRA.
Currently, the Customs Agency is conducting a full inventory of the company, which is the largest fuel importer in Bulgaria by checking the available fuel in the storage in order to assess the amount of the excise owed by Lukoil. The authorities inform that upon full payment, the company would again be allowed to sell fuels, but until then it could trade only the quantities that are outside the refinery.
“Fuels and the license have nothing to do with each other. The Customs Agency is issuing an order to revoke the license of Neftohim Burgas and the “Rosenets” oil terminal. We abide by the law; we follow directions and are stopping the work of the refinery. Otherwise, I am as informed as you are,” Zlatev told the reporters, adding it was likely Lukoil will hold a special press conference on 29 July.
Zlatev is confident that Bulgaria is not in any danger of a fuel crisis, saying there are 420 licensed importers and fuel would be sufficient.
“Everyone is equal before the law,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said in a commentary on the news that the license of Lukoil Neftochom has been taken away.
None of the Bulgarian railway tunnels comply with EU standards
“Not a single railway tunnel in Bulgaria meets the technical requirements of the European Union (EU),” said Petar Mutafchiev, MP with opposition Coalition for Bulgaria and former minister of transport, speaking at parliament, FOCUS News Agency reported. Mutafchiev added that he would abstain during the vote on the draft decision for approval on holding talks and signing a guarantee agreement between Bulgaria and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development for the financing of a project for rehabilitation of the railway infrastructure. Mutafchiev explained that some EUR 80M of the loan is part of the programme for rehabilitation of EUR 127million, which has been started by the previous government, and which includes rehabilitation of all tunnels in Bulgaria.
“There is not a single tunnel in Bulgaria, which to be provided with water, anti-fire equipment, lights, and people evacuation system. This loan will secure only EUR 80M, which will be only for purchase of equipment and contact network but not for repair of the railway tunnels,” Mutafchiev explained.
Amid frequent railway accidents, Bulgarian media reported in February – March 2011, that Bulgarian trains would also need to be inspected for safety certificates renewal.
(Mariela Zamfirova, MBA; 28 July 2011)