THE UNBIASED OBSERVERS, Issue 23


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Thursday, 4 August 2011

 

Today’s Topics:

Politics and others:

  • Turkey’s top militaries and government ponder military appointment policies;
  • Greek government boosts police’s powers to deal with demonstrations;
  • Greek government divided over the taxi protest;
  • Quiet night at the Serbian – Kosovo border; Distant outcome of the crisis;
  • Serbian government Commission for Missing Persons: 5,000 bodies in the region to be identified;
  • Romania’s government increases budgets of Intelligence, Defense, Interior and Justice Ministries;
  • Possible split of Kosovo will result in destabilization of Macedonia according to the DUI leader
  • Macedonian President calls for parallel talks with EU and Greece; PM stresses the need for Macedonia to “purge” from the past ghosts;
  • Bulgaria’s elections cost EUR 17.9M;
  • Bulgaria’s population ageing crisis assumes tragic proportions

Economy:

  • Turkey increases investments in the Balkans;
  • Syrians transfer their savings to Turkey;
  • Turkey’s twelve month inflation at 6.31%;
  • Greek Cabinet backs Proton Bank amid an embezzlement probe;
  • Romanian central bank keeps main interest rate at 6.25%;
  • Bulgarian grey sector’s share up to 20% in 2009, No data from the Finance Ministry on the period after 2009;
  • NG: Russia considers a possibility to pull out of Belene Nuclear Power Project;
  • Bulgaria’s fight against Lukoil continues;
  • Russia’s VTB – the only bidder for Bulgaria’s Bulgartabac


BALKANS – POLITICS & OTHER

Ankara (Turkey)

Turkey’s top militaries and government ponder military appointment policies

Imprisoned or prosecuted military personnel cannot be promoted to high ranks.This has been the determining factor of the relevant laws regulating the appointments in the military sphere, discussed during the 2 August’s session of the Supreme Military Council, or YAŞ.

“What we do is to implement the law,” a government source told the Hürriyet Daily News on the second day of the annual YAŞ meeting during which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with the military leadership, led by acting Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel. Many questions remain about how the two sides will resolve deadlocks over the status of jailed generals and fill the posts of the top brass following their collective resignation last week.

Athens (Greece)

Greek government boosts police’s powers to deal with demonstrations

The government is preparing legislation that would give authorities greater powers in the policing of public demonstrations and in obtaining the details of Internet bloggers who have previously remained anonymous, Kathimerini writes.

Among the measures likely to be adopted is the installation of video cameras on police motorcycles and cars so that authorities can identify troublemakers more easily. The government is also examining the use of water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse rioters, Papoutsis told Parliament’s transparency and institutions committee.

Athens (Greece)

Greek government divided over the taxi protest

Head of Parliament’s economic affairs committee, Vasso Papandreou, castigated Transport Minister Yiannis Ragousis for trying to introduce tough measures in August. “Do you understand the implications of this in the middle of the tourist season?” Papandreou said.

Ragousis insisted that the reforms on liberalization of the taxi sector should go on as planned.

The head of the Attica taxi drivers’ union, Thymios Lyberopoulos told Kathimerini, “We are not stopping, we will carry on,” despite reports that some want to call off their action which has cost them dearly over the past 16 days.

Cabbies staged protests in various cities and ports on 2 August but much of the action was more symbolic than disruptive.

Belgrade (Serbia) /Pristina (Kosovo)

Quiet night at the Serbian – Kosovo border; Distant outcome of the crisis

Night was quiet in northern Kosovo, with Serb citizens behind roadblocks they set up for the ninth night in a row, Tanjug reported. At present, only passenger vehicles are allowed to enter Kosovo at the Jarinje and Brnjak administrative checkpoints, while goods from central Serbia still cannot be delivered to the province.Foods from central Serbia cannot pass through the administrative lines for days as KFOR soldiers, who control the points, are acting on orders forbidding transit of any kind of load from that part of the country into Kosovo.

Kosovo Serbs say they will continue protesting peacefully, behind the roadblocks they put up in the places of Rudare, Leposavic and Zupce.

The result from the 2 August meeting between EU mediator Robert Cooper and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Tachi in Pristina, also attended by EU Special Representative for Kosovo Fernando Gentilini,  is unknown.

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Tachi has reportedly repeated his statement that the government would not yield an inch of its decisions on northern Kosovo. Tachi also emphasized that a return to the status quo was out of question.

EULEX began an investigation into the incidents at  Jarinje and Brnjak crossings and it is in the process of collecting evidence, EULEX spokesperson Irina Gudeljevic said.

The investigation is being conducted together by EULEX and Kosovo police, and it is headed by EULEX prosecutor, she told Tanjug. The checkpoints in Jarinje and Brnjak are controlled by US KFOR soldiers, and EULEX officers are monitoring the passenger traffic.

“The coercive taking of control over part of the territory by Serbia will lead to a war,” announced Azem Vlassi, a foreign policy adviser of the Kosovo government, Beta Agency reported. “If Serbia plans to tear away part of Kosovo, it’ll meet legal resistance because every country according to the international law has the right to defend its territory,” Vlassi said.

KFOR Major General Erhard Buhler will be replaced by German Major General Erhard Drews. Тhe latter acted as a chief of staff of Multinational Division South East in Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of SFOR in the period December 2001 – Mаy 2002. The take over will be on 9 September.

Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister Bojidar Djelic commented that the actions of Pristina in Northern Kosovo can be interpreted as an attempt at delaying of Serbia’s accession talks with EU.

Belgrade (Serbia)

Serbian government Commission for Missing Persons: 5,000 bodies in the region to be identified

President of the Serbian government Commission for Missing Persons Veljko Odalovic reminded on 2 August that around 14,000 cases of missing persons cases are still unsolved in the region, and that nearly 5,000 bodies have to be identified, Tanjug reported.

Around 3,000 exhumed bodies have to be identified in Tuzla and Visoko (Bosnia-Herzegovina), 600 in Banja Luka (Republika Srpska), over 900 in Zagreb (Croatia) and 400 in Pristina, Odalovic specified at a news conference dedicated to the Serb victims of the Croatian 1995 military Operation Storm.

At a gathering organized by the association of families of missing and killed persons, Odalovic said the Commission was not satisfied with the speed of identifying the victims, saying it needed to be a lot faster.

Bucharest (Romania)

Romania’s government increases budgets of Intelligence, Defense, Interior and Justice Ministries

Romania’s Government will increase the budgets of the intelligence services and Interior, Defense and Justice ministries by EUR 170M (US$243.4M) according to the draft budget revision, Mediafax reported.

As reported earlier Romania will revise the state budget in August.

Skopje (Macedonia)

Possible split of Kosovo will result in destabilization of Macedonia according to the DUI leader

“Possible division of Kosovo could cause destabilization in Macedonia,” said Ali Ahmeti, leader of the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), Macedonian Utrinski Vesnik daily writes. According to Ahmeti, if the territorial integrity of Kosovo is put at risk, no one could guarantee peace in Macedonia.

“If there are any attempts of changing the borders, I would not assume responsibility to be a guardian of the peace in Macedonia, since we would face a situation in which people start organising themselves just like in 1990, 1999 and 2001. If the situation goes out of control, no one could guarantee that the Albanians would not form a common front,” Ahmeti commented further.

Skopje (Macedonia)

Macedonian Presidents calls for parallel talks with EU and Greece; PM stresses the need for Macedonia to “purge” from the past ghosts

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov said that the European leaders should convince Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou that Greece would not lose anything if Macedonia and the EU start the accession talks, writes Macedonian Vecer newspaper. In Ivanov’s words, some EU member states back Macedonia’s position that the country could hold parallel talks the EU and Greece. According to Ivanov, the name issue solution does not depend only on Macedonia.

„Ghosts from the past hamper Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic integration, since they have been rooted in the minds of several politicians, who cannot grasp the meaning of politics and the civilized reality, and that we are an independent country with its own nation and language,” said Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski speaking at the anniversary of the Anti-Fascist Assembly for the People’s Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM), local media informs.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria’s elections cost EUR 17.9M

The Bulgarian government will allocate EUR17.9M (US$25.6M) for the October 23 local and presidential elections. In comparison, the cost of local elections in 2007 is estimated at EUR 9.5M (US$13.5).

About a month ago, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Simeon Dyankov, announced a different amount – EUR 13.3M (US$19M).

If the elections were today, ruling GERB would have been supported by 30.8%, Socialist Party (BSP) – by 16.8%, ethnic Turkish DPS – by 5.8%, right-wing Blue Coalition – by 4.1% and nationalist Ataka Party – by 2.9%. These data were released after a poll carried out by the Center for Marketing and Analyses. The results of the poll show 55.6% of the Bulgarians will cast ballots in the presidential elections.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria’s population ageing crisis assumes tragic proportions

Bulgaria is fifth in the world by the speed of its population ageing with drastic changes in the demographic structures expected by 2050.

The data comes from a number of local and international studies, according to Emiliya Voynova, an expert with the “Standards of Living and Social Security” Directorate, cited by the Bulgarian news agency BTA and Novinite.com.

The forecast is that by 2050 those age 60 and over will be over 30% of the entire population of the country – a share threatening all social systems with degradation, according to demographic experts. Voynova further points out the demographic situation in Bulgaria is the most critical among all European Union Member States.

Negative trends include low birth rate, high death rate, low average life expectancy, large migration exodus. The average life expectancy in the EU is 76 years for men and 82 years for women, while in Bulgaria it is 70 and 77 respectively. In 1999, the share of Bulgarians under the employment age has been 22%, compared to 15% in 2010.

“We have now an ageing work force without a chance to making it younger by counting only on new births since the number of young people who can have and rise children is going down,” the expert says.

In 2011, in Bulgaria, for every 100 employees going into retirement, just 70 young people enter the work force, compared to 100 and 124 respectively 10 years ago.

BALKANS ECONOMY

Economy

Ankara (Turkey)

Turkey increases investments in the Balkans

A number of Turkish companies have set their sights on investing abroad this year, especially in southeastern European countries, according to an Ernst&Young official quoted by Hurryiet Daily Newspaper.

“I foresee Turkish firms investing about $1 billion abroad through transactions between ЕУР 35М – EUR 140M (US$ 50M – US$200M),” said Müşfik Cantekinler, the institutional financing department chief of Ernst & Young. Most of the investments will take place in Turkey’s neighboring regions, especially the Balkans, he added.

If certain Turkish firms invest above EUR 140M (US$200M), the total foreign investment from Turkey might be even higher by year’s end, he said.

Turkish businesspeople are also following investment opportunities abroad, Cantekinler said. Investors from Turkey are particularly interested in “small, medium” investments worth between EUR 35M (US$50M) and ЕUR 105M (US$150M) in countries such as Greece and Romania, he said.

Ankara (Turkey)

Syrians transfer their savings to Turkey

“Many Syrians are in a rush to bring their investments into Turkey as the country serves as the closest safe harbor for Syrians worried about the instability in their country,” Özkan Tütüncü, the secretary-general of the Chamber of Jewelers in the southern Turkish province of Hatay, told the Hurryiet Daily News.

The total volume of the deposit accounts at banks in Hatay reached EUR 4.08M (US$5.84M) by the end of March this year, jumping from EUR 3.06M ($4.38M) in March 2010 according to the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency, or BBDK. In last 12 months, the total amount in deposit accounts at Turkish banks in Hatay has reached nearly EUR 1.02B (US$1.46B), according to the agency. Foreign exchange deposits rose by 48 percent, to EUR 1.34M (US$1.93M) by the end of March 2011 from EUR 908,810 (US$1.30M) in the same month of last year.

Ankara (Turkey)

Turkey’s twelve month inflation at 6.31%

Turkish consumer prices inflation eased 0.41 percent in July, bringing the 12-month rate to 6.31 percent, official data showed. Turkey’s inflation stood at 6.4 percent in 2010, in line with the government’s target of 6.5 percent. The central bank has said it will target an inflation rate of 5.5 percent in 2011 and 5.0 percent in 2012. Turkey’s economy has staged a spectacular recovery from the global crisis, growing 8.9 percent in 2010.

Athens (Greece)

Greek Cabinet backs Proton Bank amid an embezzlement probe

Greece took steps last month to support a small private bank chaired by a former US ambassador amid an embezzlement probe targeting several major shareholders.

Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos commented that the decision to bolster Proton Bank on July 14, one day before EU-wide bank stress tests, was dictated by “state interests” as there were fears of “negative effects” on the Greek banking system, Focus Agency reported quoting AFP.

“To protect state interests, it is necessary to ensure the smooth, unhindered and safe operation of the bank regardless of its shareholder composition, management or persons directly or indirectly linked to it,” Venizelos stated on 3 August.

The Greek Finance Ministry also released a letter by Venizelos to the national audit office on July 14 in which he warned of possible negative effects” on the Greek banking system if Proton Bank “found itself with a financing gap.”

A day earlier, Greek daily Eleftherotypia had reported on a one-day emergency EUR 100M (US$ 142M) Greek state deposit to Proton Bank ordered by Venizelos over the objections of two ministry officials, who warned that the bank might be unable to repay the money.

(Bucharest) Romania

Romanian central bank keeps main interest rate at 6.25%

Romania’s central bank left its main interest rate at a record low of 6.25% a year for the tenth straight time, as inflation is still likely to top the bank’s forecast, Mediafax reported.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgarian grey sector’s share up to 20% in 2009, No data from the Finance Ministry on the period after 2009

According to data published by the Bulgarian Ministry of Finance, the share of grey sector in the period of 2000-2009 was one fifth of the GDP. The data show that in the last years of the period, the grey economy’s share has grown to 20% of the GDP. Focus Agency reported that the data for the period after 2009 have not been published yet.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

NG: Russia considers a possibility to pull out of Belene Nuclear Power Project

“Getting out of the project is inevitable if there is no progress in the negotiations with our Bulgarian partners”, Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta (NG) reported on 2 August, citing a source оf Atomstroyexport. Тhe decision will be taken by November 2011. The Belene Nuclear Power Plant saga has been going on for almost 30 years.

“Moscow and Sofia talk with each other in the language of ultimatums and judicial actions,” writesN ezavisimaya Gazeta.

Two weeks ago Russia’s state nuclear company Atomstroyexport took Bulgaria’s National Electricity Company (NEC) to an arbitration court for EUR 58M (US$83M) over delayed payments for its work on two nuclear reactors. The next day the Bulgarian company said it was ready to strike back with a EUR 61M (US$87.2M) counter claim against Atomstroyexport over delayed payments for purchases of old equipment for the plant, worth about EUR 300M (US$429.2M).

“In case of failure of the project, trials may continue for several years and claims could tower to EUR 1B (US$1.43B),” Russian Komersant newspaper reported.

A senior representative of Russia’s Energy Ministry said that the litigation with the Bulgaria’s NEC has become for Russia a unique precedent. Previously, all the contradictions that arose from Russia’s international nuclear projects, were resolved through negotiations. But in the case of Bulgaria to reach a compromise has turned out to be very elusive.

There has been an escalation of confrontation. Bulgaria’s NEC announced that it would avenge the “Atomstroyexport”. On 31 July, the conflict reached a new level – the Minister of Economy, Energy and Tourism of Bulgaria Traycho Traykov told the media that he had put forward an ultimatum to the Russian side to withdraw the claim until 1 August.

After the regular government meeting, Economy, Energy and Tourism Minister Traykov announced that the talks with Russia’s Atomstroyexport will continue on 12 August.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria’s fight against Lukoil continues

On 2 August, Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov stated that it was not the European Union that exerted pressure on Bulgaria’s government to stripe Lukoil of its license.

Economy and Energy Minister, Trayko Traykov, has requested a probe of the Commission for Competition Protection, KZK, into a possible monopoly on the jet fuel market in the country. Traykov told the Bulgarian, National Television, BNT, that the probe stems from the case with the revoked license of the Lukoil Bulgaria, which the Sofia City Administrative Court reinstated.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria’s Customs Agency has logged an appeal against the rule of the Sofia City Administrative Court, ACSC, to reinstate the license of Lukoil Bulgaria to operate excise warehouses.

According to the appeal, the magistrates have assumed without reason that Lukoil Neftohim Burgas had been able to prove the type and amount of claimed damage and the likelihood of the incurring of this damage.

The Sofia City Administrative Court blocked the implementation of the Customs Agency’s decision on the revocation of Lukoil’s license and the closure of the only refinery in the country. After the refinery was stripped of its license, over the failure to install electronic measuring devices, the oil processing installations of the plant were switched into hibernation mode. On 2 August, the refinery restarted work at full capacity within 8 hours after the court’s permit.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Russia’s VTB – the only bidder for Bulgaria’s Bulgartabac

Russian authorities have confirmed that the country’s second-biggest bank VTB plans the acquisition of a majority stake in Bulgaria’s cigarette maker Bulgartabac, Bulgaria’s Novinite.com reported.

The bank will most probably resell the holding after winning the tender, Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper hinted by saying that it is not clear exactly who the bank represents.

Austria-registered BT Invest, behind which stands Russia’s second-biggest bank VTB, remained the only bidder for the Bulgarian tobacco monopoly after British American Tobacco and Austria-based CB Family Office Service dumped the sale.

(Mariela Zamfirova, MBA; 3 August 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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