THE UNBIASED OBSERVERS, Issue 24


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Friday, 5 August 2011

 

Today’s Topics:

Politics and others:

  • Turkish President Abdullah Gül approved the new five top military commanders of Turkey; US – Turkey security cooperation remains unaffected by the changes in Turkish top-rank commanders;
  • Serbia’s Deputy PM Ivica Dacic: “Serbia will not trade Kosovo for EU Accession”
    • A former director of a Romanian state railway company director to be investigated for embezzlement;
    • Average pay in Romania up by 1% in June;
    • Paul Wohler is new US Ambassador to Macedonia;
    • Bulgaria’s Standart newspaper has a new minority owner

Economy:

  • Turkey’s Central Bank holds an extraordinary meeting over growing concerns on global trends;
  • Greece’s public debt rose to EUR 6.6 B (US$9.39 B) in June
  • The European Commission President warns about systemic weaknesses in the eurozone; Herman Van Rompuy calls for quick approval of the support package for Greece;
  • Romanian government OKs budget revision
  • Macedonia expects GDP growth of 3.5% in 2011;
  • Bulgaria sues Russia over Belene Project in Geneva;
  • Bulgaria selects five companies for nuclear power plant stress-tests;
  • A 3rd airport on Bulgarian Black Sea coast

 

BALKANS – POLITICS & OTHER

Ankara (Turkey)

Turkish President Abdullah Gül approved the new five top military commanders of Turkey

US – Turkey security cooperation remains unaffected by the changes in Turkish top-rank commanders

The top commanding officers of the Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, were determined on 4 August after three-day discussions by the Supreme Military Council, or YAŞ. The final decisions were published after their approval by President Abdullah Gül, Turkish Hürriyet Daily reported on its website.

The new top commanders are: Chief of General Staff: Gen. Necdet Özel. Özel, born in 1950 in Ankara; Land Force Commander: Gen. Hayri Kıvrıkoğlu. Kıvrıkoğlu, born in 1948 in Konya; Naval Force Commander: Adm. Emin Murat Bilgel. Bilgel, born in 1952 in Istanbul; Air Force Commander: Gen. Mehmet Erten. Erten, born in 1948 in Muğla’s Bodrum district and Gendarmarie Commander: Gen. Bekir Kalyoncu.

Security relations between Turkey and the United States will remain unaffected by the recent resignation of Turkey’s top brass, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone said 3 August at a hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Hürriyet reported.

Belgrade (Serbia)/Pristina (Kosovo)

Serbia’s Deputy PM Ivica Dacic: “Serbia will not trade Kosovo for EU Accession”

“Many are linking the latest developments in Serbia’s southern province to the forthcoming negotiations with the EU and additional pressures on Serbia in that regard, but our position is clear – there is a red line of state interests that Serbia will certainly not cross,” Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Ivica Dacic said in Belgrade. He added that Kosovo Prime Minister Hasim Taci had tried to change the situation in the north of Kosovo by force, attempting to do something similar to the 1995 Operation Storm in Croatia.

“Serbia does not want to become engaged in a war and is committed to resolving all issues by peaceful means. I am positive, though, that the international community would have readily accepted the new situation had Taci’s action succeeded,” Dacic said, quoted by Tanjug.

The minister welcomed the late 3 August agreement between Serbian officials and KFOR Commander Erhard Buehler on the way to control administrative checkpoints in northern Kosovo and expressed the hope a “final solution” would soon be found.

EULEX is not withdrawing from northern Kosovo and the situation there is peaceful at the moment, EULEX spokeswoman Irina Gudeljevic told Tanjug. The EULEX police is present in the north, in the court house in Kosovska Mitrovica and on patrols. The remaining civilian personnel is at the EULEX house in northern Mitrovica.

The Serbian Ministry for Kosovo has sent an appeal to EULEX and KFOR to protect the Serbs south of the Ibar river from the violence of Albanian extremists and ensure the safety of their person and property. The burning of the Petrovic family house in the village of Zociste is the one of the latest in the series of incidents and attacks on Serbs south of the Ibar in recent days. One more house of Kosovo Serbs has been damaged in the village of Ljevosa near Pec, regional spokesperson of the Kosovo police Zecir Keljmendi told Tanjug on 3 August.

The first contingent of KFOR reserve troops arrived in the afternoon of 3 August at the Pristina airport as a re-enforcement to the international military forces after the eruption of the crisis in northern Kosovo, Pristina media reported. At the request of KFOR commander Erhard Buehler, NATO decided to send around 700 members of the reserve forces, most of whom were stationed in Germany.

Bucharest (Romania)

А former director of a Romanian state railway company director to be investigated for embezzlement

The former general manager of Romania’s state-owned passenger railway company CFR Calatori, Alexandru Noaptes, and his wife are unable to account for about EUR3 M (US$4.27 M) of their wealth, the country’s integrity agency ANI revealed .

Mediafax reported that the agency called on the Bucharest Court of Appeals to trigger investigations into the matter. The agency has checked the wealth statements submitted by Noaptes, who was general manager of CFR Calatori between March 2005 and January 2009, and it has found a considerable difference, of nearly EUR3 million, between his gained wealth and his income from the state company between 2005 and 2007. The total income of Noaptes and his wife between 2005 and 2007 stood at about EUR232,385 (US$ 330,591).

Bucharest (Romania)

Average pay in Romania up by 1% in June

The average net salary in Romania rose 1% on the month to EUR350 (US$ 498) in June, due to granting of occasional bonuses, amounts distributed from the profits, and to higher production and revenue, the statistics institute INS said Thursday.

Skopje (Macedonia)

Paul Wohler is new US Ambassador to Macedonia

Paul Wohlers has been officially appointed US ambassador to Macedonia, Macedonian Dnevnik daily informs. Wohlers has been elected at a sitting of the US Senate. He will replace Philip Reeker, whose term in office expired.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria’s Standart newspaper has a new minority owner

Standart daily newspaper, one of the biggest three newspapers in Bulgaria,  has not been bought by the controversial New Bulgarian Media Group, Novinite.com reported. 34.5% of the paper have been sold to GM Press, owned by the president of the volleyball CSKA team Georgi Georgiev. The remaining 65.5% of Standart remain in the hands of Todor Batkov, who owned 100% of the shares up to now. Batkov remains the president of the Board of Directors of the paper, which will be increased with two representatives of the new shareholder. The editor-in-chief of Standart remains Slavka Bozukova.

Earlier the Cross information agency reported that Standart has been bought by Delyan Peevski, son of controversial New Bulgarian Media Group Irena Krasteva.

 

 

BALKANS ECONOMY

Economy

Ankara (Turkey)

Turkey’s Central Bank holds an extraordinary meeting over growing concerns on global trends

Turkey’s Central Bank prepares to intervene in the currency market, following a fresh move by Switzerland, amid concerns that a new phase of currency wars may be starting as debt-hit Europe’s common money continues to lose value.

The Turkish Lira follows the suite of the euro’s downward trend as the value of the currency started going down following a Central Bank decision last week to stop daily foreign exchange purchases.

The Turkish Central Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee will have an unscheduled interim meeting on 4 August to discuss the growing concerns on “public debt in certain European countries and the global growth outlook,” according to a statement  of the Bank, quoted by Hürriyet.

Turkey’s Central Bank has made a surprise decision to cut its policy rate by 50 base points, hike its overnight borrowing rate by 350 base points and introduce daily foreign exchange selling auctions, in an extraordinary meeting it held on 4 August.

The bank’s policy rate was cut to 5.75 percent from 6.25 percent. Meanwhile, the bank hiked its overnight borrowing rate from 1.5 percent to 5 percent.

It also announced that it would start foreign exchange selling auctions as of 5 August. The amount in the daily foreign exchange selling auction will be determined by the Central Bank on a daily basis everyday, at 11 a.m. local time.

The bank had announced on that it would hold an unscheduled monetary policy board meeting to discuss the growing concerns on the sovereign debt crisis in Europe and the global growth outlook,.

Athens (Greece)

Greece’s public debt rose to EUR 6.6 B (US$9.39 B) in June

The amount of public sector debt in Greece rose to EUR 6.6 B (US$9.39 B) in June from EUR 6.4 B (US$ 9.11) euros in May, according to official figures reported by Kathimerini.

The most indebted state institutions are insurance funds, who owe EUR 2.6 B (US$3.7), with state hospitals owing EUR 1.8 B (US$2.56 B), local authorities 892 million euros in debt and ministries owing EUR 980 M (US$1.4 B).

The cash-strapped government has promised its foreign creditors – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – that it will slash public spending by merging hospitals and reducing the size of the bloated civil service.

Athens (Greece)

The European Commission President warns about systemic weaknesses in the eurozone; Herman Van Rompuy calls for quick approval of the support package for Greece

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso indicated that the debt crisis, which claimed Greece as its first victim, was beginning to expose potential systemic weaknesses in the eurozone. “The tensions in bond markets reflect a growing concern among investors about the systemic capacity of the euro area to respond to the evolving crisis,” he said in a statement.

The head of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, has called on eurozone members to speed up their approval of the latest support package for Greece amid growing concern that Spain and Italy will be engulfed by the debt crisis, Kathimerini reports.

Van Rompuy met in Madrid with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, who cut short his holiday to address the concern being caused by his country’s spiraling borrowing costs, which have reached levels close to those that triggered the bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

Concern has been expressed in some eurozone countries about the fact that governments will have to lend Greece money when they are facing borrowing problems of their own. The premium for buying Spanish 10-year bonds over German notes surged to more than 400 basis points on 3 August, the highest since the introduction of the euro. European Commission spokeswoman Chantal Hughes insisted that all members of the eurozone would contribute to the EUR 8 B (US$11.4 B) loan installment for Greece next month.

(Bucharest) Romania

Romanian government OKs budget revision

Romania’s Government approved 2011’s first budget revision, raising the budgets of several ministries to finance investments and eliminate debts incurred by state companies, Prime Minister Emil Boc stated quoted by Mediafax.

As reported earlier, the budgets of the intelligence services and Interior, Defense and Justice ministries will be increased by EUR 170M (US$243.4M) according to the draft budget revision, Mediafax reported.

Skopje (Macedonia)

Macedonia expects GDP growth of 3.5% in 2011

The National Bank of Macedonia (NBRM) expects a GDP growth of 3,5 percent and inflation rate of 4,5 percent in 2011.

By the end of 2011, the National Bank forecasts he balance of payments current account deficit to be 5.5% of GDP, which represents a downward adjustment of 0.6 percentage points of gross domestic product compared to the April projection. Under the assumption of additional government borrowing, the capital and financial account expects net-inflows of 9.4% of the gross domestic product, as opposed to 8.8% of GDP according to the April projection. The foreign reserves are expected to increase at a faster pace compared to the April projection, ensuring 4-month export-import coverage of the next year.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria sues Russia over Belene Project in Geneva

Bulgaria’s state-run power grid operator has threatened to sue in Geneva Russia’s state nuclear company Atomstroyexport over delayed payments on planned Belene nuclear plant, Bulgaria’s Novinite.com reported. The government in Sofia however was quick to point out that “this is not a counter-claim” to Moscow’s lawsuit at an arbitration court in Paris, which is again on due payments on the nuclear project.

“The action was described as a “counter claim” just because the two sums in question are similar,” a statement by the Economy and Energy Ministry said.

It was not immediately clear however why the Bulgarian authorities have picked the Swiss town for their lawsuit. Meanwhile it emerged that Bulgaria and Russia will discuss possibilities for Russia’s Atomstroyexport to withdraw its EUR 58 M (US$ 82.6 M) claim at the negotiation table.

Bulgaria’s National Electricity Transmission Company NEC has received a letter by Atomstroyexport to this effect. According to Minister of Economy, Energy and Tourism Traycho Traykov negotiations will continue until August 12 at the latest.

Two weeks ago Russia’s state nuclear company Atomstroyexport took Bulgaria’s NEK to an arbitration court for EUR 58 M (US$ 82.6 M) over delayed payments for its work on two nuclear reactors.

The next day the Bulgarian company said it is ready to strike back with a EUR 61 M (US$ 86.8 M) counter claim against Atomstroyexport over delayed payments for purchases of old equipment for the plant, worth about EUR 300 M (US$427 M).

Sofia (Bulgaria)

Bulgaria selects five companies for nuclear power plant stress-tests

Bulgaria has selected  five companies to prepare the stress tests at the country’s sole nuclear power plant in Kozloduy, a public procurement notice shows. Local consultancies Risk Engineering and Enpro Consult, US energy giant Westinghouse, which was recently signed to help extend the life of Units 5 and 6, WorleyParsons, consultant of Belene nuclear power project, and the Institute for Nuclear Research and Nuclear Energy at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences have been contracted to help the plant conduct the tests.

Ten companies, associations and research institutes were invited at the end of June to compete for preparing the stress tests at Kozloduy, including France’s Areva, which oversees the plant’s security systems.

The contest included negotiations with the invited companies. The project budget is set at EUR 1.29 M (US$1.83 M).

The stress tests at the plant will cost about EUR 5.62 M (US$7.99 M) and will be financed by the nuclear company. Stress tests are performed in three stages, examination of the nuclear operator, local authority control and peer review by EU. The consultants should verify and prepare the necessary documents, which will then be audited by the Nuclear Regulatory Agency.

Sofia (Bulgaria)

A 3rd airport on Bulgarian Black sea coast

The Bulgarian Cabinet created a limited state company for the management of Balchik Airport, following up on plans to transform the idling military facility into an international airport. The news was disseminated after the regular government’s meeting on 3 August.

The company, with capital of EUR 0.20 M (US$ 0.28 m), will be exclusively owned by the state, with the Minister of Transport exercising the state’s ownership. Balchik is located north of Varna, Bulgaria’s largest Black Sea city and the site of the country’s two seaside airports, the other being 130 km south near Burgas.

(Mariela Zamfirova, 4 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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