Sunday, 31 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.
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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
Politics and others:
- Unprecedented top militaries’ resignations in Turkey bring up stormy times for the government. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan moves a step closer to control the 2nd biggest NATO army;
- After the path of dialogue fails, taxi drivers strike grows into an open-end protest;
- Traffic at the two disputable North-Kosovo crossing points blocked; Shortage of food in Kosovska Mitrovica; Extraordinary session of Parliament in Belgrade;
- Belgrade approves a restitution bill to meet one of the key EU pre-accession requirements;
- Cyprus President refuses to step down amid massive criticism and demand for his resignation;
- The cash-strapped Bulgarians ready to sell their votes;
- EPS and EBRD sign a EUR 80M loan agreement;
- Bucharest revises the state budget in August;
- Bulgaria taps into state fuel reserve over a Lukoil crisis
BALKANS – POLITICS & OTHER
Unprecedented top militaries’ resignations in Turkey bring up stormy times for the government. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan moves a step closer to control the 2nd biggest NATO army
Turkish President Abdullah Gul refuted the allegations about crisis in country’s leadership in connection to the resignations of several top military chiefs. Gul admitted that the resignations have been an unprecedented event in the history of Turkey and added that there was no vacuum in power. Turkish President, Abdullah Gul, has appointed General Necdet Ozel as the new Chief of the Turkish Armed Forces. Earlier Hurryiet Daily reported that Turkey’s top military brass resigned on 29 July, expressing their protest against the arrests of tens of generals, accused of being involved in plotting a military coup. The mass resignations, which marked a first in the country’s history, immediately caused a state crisis.
Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner, Land Forces Commander Gen. Erdal Ceylanoğlu, Air Forces Commander Gen. Hasan Aksay and Naval Forces Commander Adm. Eşref Uğur Yiğit quit their posts days before the Supreme Military Council, or YAŞ, was supposed to meet to discuss key military promotions. Koşaner had another two years left in the office. Gendarmerie Forces Commander Necdet Özel did not resign.
The resignations came hours after a prosecutor demanded the arrest of a top military official, Gen. Hüseyin Nusret Taşdeler, the commander of the Aegean Army. Sources said disagreements over promotions and the arrests of numerous generals peaked to an unacceptable level following the legal action against Taşdeler.
Tensions between the military and the government have been high in recent years as hundreds of high-ranking officers were put behind bars in the ongoing “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) and Ergenekon coup-plot cases.
It was not yet sure whether this year’s YAŞ, set to begin Aug 1., would take place as scheduled.
After the path of dialogue fails, taxi drivers strike grows into an open-end protest
Taxi drivers confirmed on 29 July that they would continue with strike action, which is set to enter its third week on 1 August after talks with Transport Minister Yiannis Ragousis failed to satisfy them. Efthymios Lyberopoulos, the head of the Attica taxi drivers’ union, said the minister had appeared open to dialogue but avoided making the specific commitments they sought.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the ministry said the deregulation of the sector would go ahead as planned. But ministry sources told Ekathimerini newspaper that government officials would continue talks with members of all related parties — including taxi drivers and representatives of the tourism sector, which has been badly hit by the cabbies’ action — until the end of August.
Traffic at the two disputable North Kosovo crossing points blocked; Shortage of food in Kosovska Mitrovica; Extraordinary session of Parliament in Belgrade
Goods from Serbia did not arrive in northern Kosovo on 30 July, causing the first shortages in shops in Kosovska Mitrovica, Tanjug reports. After KFOR blocked the Jarinje and Brnjak administrative crossings, goods from Serbia can no longer reach Serb municipalities in the northern part of the province.
The situation is unchanged at the barricade in Rudare, in the municipality of Zvecan – around 200 local Serbs are still physically protecting the barricade, and KFOR units, which withdrew on 28 July after their commander Erhard Buehler came to an agreement with representatives of the Serbian government, visited the location around 11 a.m. and then headed back toward Kosovska Mitrovica.
Jarinje and Brnjak crossings in northern Kosovo still closed. At the Jarinje crossing, U.S. troops in KFOR have not let any vehicles or even pedestrians through as KFOR started enforcing the decision of the Pristina government to ban the passage of goods from Serbia at the Jarinje crossing.
Head of Belgrade’s negotiating team Borislav Stefanovic and the KFOR commander agreed after a three and a half hour meeting Friday that KFOR troops will withdraw from Rudare, where they came at 1:40 p.m. on 29 July to remove the Serb-mounted barricades.
Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic stated that he did not attend the consultations at the UN Security Council (SC) on the latest development in northern Kosovo-Metohija held late on 28 July. Jeremic said that three permanent UN SC members used the right of veto to prevent Serbia from taking part in the consultations. The regular UN SC session on Kosovo will be held in late August.
On 30 July Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic commented that the interim authorities in Pristina caused the crisis in northern Kosovo in order to provoke Serbia to end the dialogue. Opening the debate at the extraordinary session of the Serbian parliament on the government-sponsored draft declaration on the situation in Kosovo, the prime minister said Belgrade will remain firm in its stance that the problems in the province can only be solved in a peaceful and democratic manner. Cvetkovic said the crisis was caused by Pristina’s irresponsible and unilateral moves, aimed at changing the reality on the ground, upsetting the Serb population and establishing the interim Pristina institutions in the northern part of the province.
At a news conference in Pristina following a meeting with EULEX Head Xavier De Marnhac, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hasim Thaci reiterated the operations in northern Kosovo were meant to enforce the decision on reciprocity and rule of law. He was quoted earlier by the local media as saying that the embargo measures against Serbia would be kept. In conclusion, Thaci emphasized that Pristina was ready to resume dialogue with Belgrade.
Council of the EU official Robert Cooper, who acts as the mediator in the talks between Belgrade and Pristina, will visit Belgrade and Pristina early next week to help ease the tension in Kosovo, Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, confirmed for Tanjug.
KFOR soliders, who are controlling the Brnjak crossing on the road from Kosovska Mitrovica to Ribarice together with the Kosovo police and the so-called Kosovo customs officials, put up ramps and barbed wire across the road. No one at the crossing could say when it would be reopened.
The Quint countries (United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy) condemned the move of the Pristina government which sent police special forces to take control of administrative crossings in northern Kosovo, and warned that it must work in full coordination with the EU, EULEX and KFOR to find a peaceful solution. According to Blic newspaper, Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci informed the heads of EULEX just before the tension-fomenting operation started, but they refused to give a green light. After the meeting, Hashim Thaci still went ahead and ordered ROSU to head to northern Kosovo. According to a Blic newspaper’s source in Pristina, one of the few diplomats who knew about the operation was U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell.
Belgrade approves a restitution bill to meet one of the key EU pre-accession requirements
The Serbian government’s Economy and Finance Committee approved the bill on the return of nationalized property and compensation, which will, according to Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic, remedy a historic injustice without causing a new one, in line with Serbia’s property and financial resources.
Presenting the bill which will undergo a public hearing until September 2, Djelic specified the document regulated the conditions, manner and procedure for the return of property nationalized after March 9, 1945 from physical and some legal persons, or the compensation for such property. This is one of the important conditions of Serbia’s EU accession.
Cyprus President refuses to step down amid massive criticism and demand for his resignation
“No, of course not,” Cyprus President Demetris Christofias said in answering a question whether he was going to heed demands by politicians and the press for his resignation.
The government submitted their resignation during an emergency meeting of the Council of Ministers on 28 July as a result of severe public criticism over the deadly blast at the naval base in southern Cyprus on July 11. The blast, one of the largest conventional explosions ever recorded, occurred in Syrian bound Iranian explosives and munitions that were confiscated under United Nations resolutions. The blast also wrecked a nearby brand new power station, reducing the power generating capacity of the eastern Mediterranean island by 53 percent and forcing rolling cuts to the industry and households.
Moody’s proceeded with downgrading the island’s two main banks, the Bank of Cyprus and Marfin-Popular Bank, which hold between 4.5 to 5 billion euros (6.44 to 7.18 billion U.S. dollars) of Greek stock, for being widely exposed to the Greek debt.
However, the government official rejected suggestions that the downgrading of the Cyprus economy by international rating agencies would result in bailout arrangements.
Still, the prospect of a zero-growth economy and borrowing difficulties would lead to increased demands for President Christofias’ resignation.
The new Macedonian Cabinet took oath; Macedonia’s Parliament voted the deputy ministers
By 66 votes ‘for’ and 36 ‘against’ Members of the Macedonian Parliament elected the deputy ministers of the new government on 29 July after giving its green light to the new Cabinet on the previous day.
Nikola Gruevski – the sixth prime minister of independent Macedonia – has been given an opportunity for a third time in a row to form a government after his party VMRO-DPMNE won the elections in 2011, 2008 and 2006.
Incumbent Vice-Premiers Zoran Stavreski and Vladimir Pesevski (VMRO-DPMNE) are keeping their positions, as it is the case with their party colleagues Gordana Jankuloska and Elizabeta Kanceska – Mileska, namely the ministers of interior and culture respectively.
Incumbent Macedonia’s Ambassador to the European Union, Nikola Popovski, is to take over the helm of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while former Education Minister Nikola Todorov will become new head of the Ministry of Health. Pance Kralev will now take his place at the Ministry of Education and Science. Ivo Ivanovski, Mile Janakieski will also resume their duties as Ministers of Administration, Information Society; Transport & Communications respectively.
Socialist Party member Ljupco Dimovski also stays at the helm of the Ministry of Agriculture, while incumbent deputy minister for labor and social policy Spiro Risteski is to take the ministerial position in the new government.
VMRO-DPMNE coalition partner DUI will give two Vice-Premiers – for European Affairs; Framework Agreement Implementation – Teuta Arifi and Musa Xhaferi respectively. Valon Saracini is to take the office of the Economy Minister, while Fatmir Besimi will become the new Defense Minister.
Abdulaqim Ademi, Nevzat Bejta and Blerim Bexheti are to be the new ministers of environment, local self-government and justice.
Nezdet Mustafa, Hadi Nezir and Vele Samak will resume their duties as ministers without portfolio, along with a new one – Bill Pavleski.
New Deputy Ministers’ line-up includes: Xhelal Bajrami – Internal Affairs; Biljana Briskoska-Boskovski – Justice; Katerina Kosteska – Economy; Jovica Andonovski – Health; Zoran Konjanovski – Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management; Safet Neziri – Education & Science; Ibrahim Ibrahimi – Labour & Social Policy; Tahir Hani – Transport and Communications; Stevo Temelkovski – Environment and Physical Planning; Saso Lazarovski – Local Self-Government. Emil Dimitriev, Zoran Petrov, Dragan Nedeljkovic, Nedim Remizi and Marta Arsovska Tomovski resume their duties as Deputy Ministers of Defense, Foreign Affairs, Culture, Finance and Information Society.
The cash-strapped Bulgarians ready to sell their votes
At least 25% of Bulgaria’s voters would agree to sell their votes to any political party in exchange of humble sums of money, according to the poll, conducted by the “Mediana” agency and cited by Sofia Press.
10% of the Bulgarians surveyed have admitted they would agree to sell their vote for EUR 51 during the upcoming presidential and local elections, both scheduled to take place on 23 October in the country. Additionally, 15% have declared they would agree to sell their votes if the “deal” is worth close to EUR 150. “Mediana”‘s expert Kolyo Kolev, however, has stated that “many more” Bulgarians would agree to be bribed during the elections. Less than 15% of the Bulgarians surveyed have said they believe the elections will be fair.
EPS and EBRD sign a EUR 80M loan agreement
Representatives of the Electric Power Industry of Serbia (EPS) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) signed a EUR 80 million loan agreement, which EPS will use to improve environmental protection in the Kolubara coal-basin. The contract was signed by EPS General Manager Zoran Manasijevic and Head of the EBRD Office in Serbia Hildegard Gacek.The EBRD and the German Development Bank (KfW) loans, worth EUR 80 million and EUR 74 million respectively, will cover 85 percent of the project cost, while EPS will provide the remaining funds through its sale of electric energy. The loan will be used for the provision of a new system for coal excavation, as well as for improvement of the quality of Kolubara’s lignite, which will assist in reducing the CO2 emissions by 200,000 tons on an annual basis. A total cost of the Kolubara project amounts to EUR 140 million.
Bucharest revises the state budget in August
Romania’s Government will conduct this year’s first budget adjustment in early August, with priority granted to allotting additional resources for investment programs, especially those run by the Ministry of Transports, Prime Minister Emil Boc told Romania’s Mediafax news agency reports. The Prime Minister said that the ministries spent EUR800M more in the first six months of 2011 than in the same period of 2010. People close to the matter told Mediafax in mid-July that the Government will revise the budget after the IMF’s evaluation mission. The funds will be redistributed according to the ministries’ needs and investment record in the first half of the year. Romania’s consolidated budget posted a deficit of 11.3 billion lei (EUR2.66 billion) in the first six months, equal to 2.07% of the gross domestic product, below the RON12.6 billion deficit target agreed with the International Monetary Fund.
Romania pledged to lower the budget deficit to 4.4% of GDP in 2011, from 6.5% of GDP a year earlier.
Bulgaria taps into state fuel reserve over a Lukoil crisis
The Bulgarian cabinet released 1,800 tons of jet fuel from the State reserve, Economy and Energy Minister, Traycho Traykov announced on 30 July. The decision, signed by the Council of Ministers during the night, will secure jet fuel for the upcoming week. The fuel is destined to the airports of the Black Sea cities of Varna and Burgas where the summer tourist season is in its peack. Burgas currently has fuel to last only until Monday, Varna – until mid-week. Additional volumes for Burgas will be also redirected from the airport in the second largest city of Plovdiv. The order of the cabinet is for the release of jet fuel, kept in the Lukoil Bulgaria warehouses, for a week-long consumption.
During a parliamentary session on 29 July, Bulgaria’s Minister of Finance Simeon Dyankov stated that Bulgaria would not suffer fuel crisis after the termination of the operations of Lukoil. He confirmed that he had requested the Ministry of Economy that the state fuel reserves would be used and in his words they would suffice 160 days. Dyankov mentioned that alternative sources of oil supply would be negotiated very soon.
Bulgaria’s government has no choice but to tap into the state reserve fuel to prevent shortages after revoking the licence of Russian oil giant Lukoil local refinery, the only in the country.
Crisis headquarters will monitor the situation on Bulgaria’s fuel market after the local refinery of Russian oil giant Lukoil was forced to halt operations for at least a month and a half, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told journalists. Bulgaria’s Economy and Energy Minister Traycho Traykov is head the crisis headquarters that also includes Transport Minister Ivaylo Moskovski, head of customs offices Vanyo Tanov, a deputy interior minister, a deputy finance minister and head of the State Reserve. The officials will supervise the fluctuations on the fuel market after the revocation of the refinery licence to sell fuels.
Bulgaria’s Neftochim, the only oil refinery in the country, controlled by Russia’s giant Lukoil, started on 27 July to reduce crude processing to effectively stop production after the customs office revoked its licences.
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. There is also a tax inspection of the company as well.
Lukoil will rather close the Neftochim refinery in Bulgaria’s Burgas than step back in its conflict with Bulgaria’s government, Broker Credit Service analyst Andrey Polishchuk is quoted as saying by Bulgaria’s Novinite.com. The conflict between the Bulgarian customs authorities and Lukoil is partially connected with the efforts on behalf of the country’s government to take over the fuel market and stop the price hike, according to the analyst.
However, he has pointed out that Lukoil would lose just 1% of its profits if the refinery does not start working again until the end of 2011, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper writes. “Lukoil will not sell at a loss and would rather close the Burgas refinery, as it did with the one in Odessa,” the Russian analyst concluded. Lukoil supplies 40% of the fuel products on Bulgaria’s market.
(Mariela Zamfirova, MBA; 30 July 2011)