THE UNBIASED OBSERVERS, Issue 30


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


Saturday, 13 August 2011

Politics and others:

Albania:

  • Albanian Bulqiza Mine in Danger to Collapse
  • The Head of OSCE Calls on Election Revision in Albania

Bosnia and Herzegovina:

  • Palestinian President on a Visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina on 14 August

Croatia:

  • The Croatian PM on a Visit to Kosovo on 24 August
  • The Croatian Defence Ministry Donates Rifles to Afghanistan

Greece:

  • Is the Soft Approach toward 800,000 Civil Servants Going to Work Miracles in Greece

Kosovo:

  • North Kosovo Serbs Request UN for Help

Macedonia

  • “Macedonia a Hostage of the PM” according to the Report of the International Crisis
  • Macedonia Commemorates 10th Anniversary of the Ohrid Framework Agreement
  • A Woman Tries to Blow up a Social Center in Macedonia

Romania

  • According to Romania’s Labor Minister, Spain will Continue Employing Romanians
  • Romania’s Public Wages Unchanged in 2011

Serbia

  • “ICTY Is Just a Screen for the Kosovo Issue,” Rasim Ljajic, Leader of SDPS

Turkey

  • Turkish PM Erdoğan – US President Obama Discuss Syria on the Phone
  • A Blast of a Gas Pipeline in Turkey Halts the Supply from Iran
  • Former Chief of Turkey’s Army General Staff “Protected” Suspects in a Coup

Economy:

Bulgaria

  • Bulgaria’s Economy Growth Slows Down to 1.9% in Q2 2011

Cyprus

  • Cyprus’ Finance Minister Determined to Ward Off Bailout
  • Noble Energy Starts Oil Drilling in Cyprus Waters in September

Greece

  • Greece Economy Shrinks by 6.9%in Q2 2011

Romania

  • Fitch Upgrades Romania’s LT Currency Ratings to BBB

Turkey

  • Turkey Chooses Stability over Growth as a Priority
  • Turkey Signs a Free Trade Agreement with South Korea

BALKANS – POLITICS & OTHER

Albania

Albanian Bulqiza Mine in Danger to Collapse

Tirana, The Mine Inspection and Rescue Unit (RISHM), an institution subordinate to the Ministry of Economy, has appealed to State Police to start evacuation of Bulqiza miners since the mine is in danger of collapse, ATA reported. At a news conference, representative of RISHM, declared: “Interruption of mine activity is a must since more than two months ago there has been a collapse of the mine at level 15 and 16 followed by serious damages.” Now there are serious risks for the miners, who have been on a hunger strike for the last 17 days.

The Head of OSCE Calls on Election Revision in Albania

Tirana, Head of the OSCE in Albania, Ambassador Eugen Wollfarth, said that the Election Law needs revision in order to be applicable to future electoral processes. Wollfarth has called on political forces to launch a dialogue on electoral reform, ATA reports. He also stressed that political parties need to be careful with changes of the Constitution. Wollfarth repeated appeals for dialogue in Albanian politics. In his view, the election reform should be far-reaching. “We expect a sweeping reform to be launched by Parliament,” he said.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Palestinian President on a Visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina on 14 August

Sarajevo, President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas will come to three-day work visit to BiH on August 14, Fena reports.

Gary Robbins: “State Union Concept Has No Legal Foundation”

Sarajevo, Head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ambassador Gary D. Robbins, has expressed profound concern over recent statements by public officials asserting that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a “state union” deriving its sovereignty from the entities, Fena reported.

Croatia

The Croatian PM on a Visit to Kosovo on 24 August

Zagreb, Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor will pay an official visit to Kosovo on 24 August at the invitation of Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, during which she will meet with Kosovo officials and open a Croatian-Kosovo business forum in Pristina, Hina reports.

The Croatian Defence Ministry Donates Rifles to Afghanistan

Zagreb, In line with a decision by the Croatian government, the Defence Ministry, in cooperation with US partners, has prepared a donation of 15,000 AK 47 rifles, worth around five million kuna, for Afghanistan’s security forces, Hina reports.

Greece

Is the Soft Approach toward 800,000 Civil Servants Going to Work Miracles in Greece

Athens, With only 10 days left until a team from the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission arrives in Athens to check how Greece is progressing with its economic reforms ahead of receiving an EUR 8 B loan tranche expected September, the Greek government plunges into a battle with civil servants, Kathimerini writes.

Prior to “inspection”, the Greek government has to shut down public bodies,introduce across-the-board remuneration structure in the civil service and to speed up the privatization program.The PASOK Cabinet faces fierce resistance from public sector workers. Civil servants’ union ADEDY made it clear that its members would strike in September if their wages are cut further. Civil servants have already seen their salaries slashed by up to 30 percent since last year. As of 8 August, they also began working an extra 30 minutes each day, taking their working week to 40 hours from 37.5.

ADEDY also threatened that it would attempt to block the effort to sell state assets. “For us, this is an act of national treason and those who attempt it will face the consequences accordingly,” ADEDY general secretary Ilias Iliopoulos told The Associated Press. “We will use all means at our disposal to hopefully overturn the government but mainly to file lawsuits against those who sign these agreements.”

There are some advocates within the ruling party who think that PASOK has to apply a softer approach in dealing with 800,000 civil servants.

Kosovo

North Kosovo Serbs Request UN for Help

Pristina, The governors of four municipalities in northern Kosovo sent a letter dated 11 August to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in which they are asking him to prevent any unilateral action by Pristina and to ensure the safety of Serbs in northern Kosovo and Metohija. In their letter to the UN Secretary General, the governors write that they have information that KFOR, EULEX and Kosovo police will implement an action that would threaten to compromise the security, stability and the lives of citizens, and perhaps also of members of KFOR and EULEX, and that this is why they are calling for immediate action.

“We ask you to perform the legal mandate that is entrusted to you and inform the UN Security Council and General Assembly and to prevent the operation that could have catastrophic consequences,” reads the letter cited by Tanjug. Copy of the letter was also sent to representatives of UNMIK, EULEX, OSCE, KFOR and domestic and its international missions. The governors also claim that KFOR Commander Erhard Buehler behaves unprofessionally and acts under instructions from the U.S. Ambassador to Pristina Christopher Dell. They complain that illegal Pristina provisional institutions, the International Civilian Office and the ambassadors of the Quint (United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy) in Pristina abuse the mandate of KFOR and EULEX and harass the civilian population in northern Kosovo Metohija.

The governors state that they are under strong pressure and that members of KFOR and EULEX abuse them and criminalize the Serb population in order to justify illegal actions.

Macedonia

“Macedonia a Hostage of the PM” according to the Report of the International Crisis Group

Skopje, “Ten years after the Ohrid Agreement ended fighting between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians, Macedonia is more stable and inclusive, but political party and ethnic tensions are growing, and the new government needs to reverse the negative trends,” reads the International Crisis Group’s Europe Report 212 of 11 August.

The International Crisis Group, is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflicts, said that the nationalism in Macedonia is sponsored by the state, comments Macedonian Utrinski Vesnik newspaper.

“While Macedonia regards the EU membership as a guarantee for stability, the country is still susceptible to the concerning tendencies – the looming Macedonian ethnic nationalism, the state has become hostage of the prime minster and his party, the media and the independence of the judicial system are in crisis. This decreases Macedonia’s changes to become a multiethnic state of the citizens,” a report of the Group states.

Macedonia Commemorates 10th Anniversary of the Ohrid Framework Agreement

Skopje, The Secretariat for Implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement (SIOFA) hosts 12-13 August in Ohrid a conference on the accord’s 10th anniversary, Macedonian MIA news agency informs. President Gjorge Ivanov will open the conference, followed by the address of Vice Premier for Framework Agreement Implementation Musa Xhaferi.
The forum brings together domestic and international officials, including Philip Reeker, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, as well as Ohrid Agreement facilitators James Pardew and Alain Le Roy, who currently serves as Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations.

The Ohrid Framework Agreement was the peace deal signed by the government of the Republic of Macedonia and ethnic Albanian representatives on August 13, 2001. The agreement ended the armed conflict between the National Liberation Army and the Macedonian security forces and set the groundwork for improving the rights of ethnic Albanians.

A Woman Tries to Blow up a Social Center in Macedonia

Skopje, A 35-year-old woman from the village of Aracinovo, district of Skopje, threw an explosive device at the social service centre in municipality of Gazi Baba, Macedonian Kanal 5 TV reported. The incident occurred noontime on 12 August. The woman threw the explosive device in the centre after her application for social benefits was rejected. She left the building and threw the explosive device at one of the offices.  No one got injured, the explosion caused only material damage.

Romania

According to Romania’s Labor Minister, Spain will Continue Employing Romanians

Bucharest, Spanish companies will continue to employ Romanians despite new labour restrictions aimed at fighting Spanish unemployment, the Romanian labour minister said on 12 August. The EU executives gave Spain a green light on 11 August to tighten restrictions on Romanian workers as it struggles against dire unemployment, the worst across the 27-nation bloc.
“I am sincerely telling you: not a single Romanian will be affected by this measure. The ones who are already in Spain are not concerned and the ones who are still living in Romania do not depend on these restrictions but on the demand of Spanish employers,” the minister, Sebastian Lazaroiu, told RFI Romania radio.
“Spanish employers are still looking for Romanian workers to fill in jobs that Spanish citizens do not want, in the construction sector, in agriculture, in cleaning,” Lazaroiu added.
Romanians from Romania will now need a work permit to get these jobs in Spain but “the employer is the one who has to obtain the permit and I believe that the Spanish employers constitute a lobby strong enough to get them,” Lazaroiu said.

Romania’s Public Wages Unchanged in 2011

Bucharest, Romania’s fiscal strategy was agreed upon with the EU and IMF, and does not affect current public wages or pensions, but the value of these payments in 2012 will be set through next year’s budget and wage law, according to developments on foreign markets, Prime Minister Emil Boc said on 12 August, Mediafax reported.

Boc said the Government will determine its wage policy for next year by taking into account Romania’s growth forecast for 2012, international economic developments and budget collections. On 11 August, the Finance Ministry published the fiscal-budgetary strategy for 2012-2014.

Serbia

“ICTY Is Just a Screen for the Kosovo Issue,” Rasim Ljajic, Leader of SDPS

Belgrade, Serbian Minister of Labour and Social Policy and leader of the SDPS (the Social Democratic Party of Serbia) Rasim Ljajic is quoted saying by Tanjug. He states that he has been right to say that the EU’s condition in relation to the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia) has been just a screen for the real prerequisite – the Kosovo issue, which becomes clear now and citizens have know this fact.

“I was right when I claimed that the EU’s insistence on the country’s cooperation with the ICTY was just a screen for Kosovo. That became obvious the day after the extradition of (Radovan) Karadzic in 2008, when the EU Council of Ministers at its meeting in Brussels hardly took any notice of that. The same thing happened after the capture of (Ratko) Mladic – they requested that (Goran) Hadzic be brought to justice. That is a kind of hypocrisy the EU is demonstrating towards Serbia. The Kosovo issue is emerging now as the main prerequisite, and citizens should know that,” Ljajic said for the Belgrade-based daily Vecernje Novosti.

Turkey

Turkish PM Erdoğan – US President Obama Discuss Syria on the Phone

Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had a phone conversation with US President Barack Obama, the Anatolian Agency informs. The two discussed Syria and Africa in the phone conversation, officials said on 11 August.

“The two leaders underlined the urgency of the situation in Syria, expressing deep concern over the Syrian government’s use of violence on civilians as well as affirmed the importance of the need to meet legitimate expectations of the Syrian people for transition to democracy,” said a statement released by the Turkish Premier’s press office. The statement said the two leaders had called for an immediate halt of bloodshed and violence against the civilians.
“The two sides have agreed to monitor closely steps to be taken by the Syrian government and to continue consultations,” the statement said.
Statement said Erdogan and Obama also discussed the famine in Africa, adding, “they have agreed to cooperate closely to fight the tragic drought in the African Horn and to boost relief and aid efforts to save lives in the region.”

Meanwhile, it became clear that the Turkish Foreign Minister handed to Syria’s President al-Assad a letter from his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gül in which the latter calls on al-Assad to carry out democratic reforms in Syria and put an end to the bloodsheds, Anatolia Agency reported.

A Blast of a Gas Pipeline in Turkey Halts the Supply from Iran

Ankara, Iranian gas flow to Turkey has been halted due to an explosion on the pipeline in in the eastern Turkish province of Ağrı overnight and repairs have been started which will take one week, a Turkish Energy Ministry official said, quoted by Hurryiet. The repairs and restarting of gas flows will take one week. Turkey’s supplies of additional gas from Azerbaijan and Russia will reportedly cover the shortfall caused by the explosion, which according to state-run Anatolian news agency occurred in the eastern Turkish province of Ağrı.

Iran is Turkey’s second-biggest supplier of natural gas after Russia, sending 10 billion cubic metres of gas each year. Turkey uses gas to fire half of its power plants. It was not immediately clear what had caused 12 August’s blast but sabotage is common on pipelines leading into Turkey from Iran and Iraq by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. Late last month, gas exports from Iran to Turkey were briefly halted due to a blast. The pipeline was swiftly repaired and gas flows were resumed a day later. PKK is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States a

Former Chief of Turkey’s Army General Staff “Protected” Suspects in a Coup

Ankara, “Former Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ “protected” suspects in an alleged military plan targeting the ruling government,” Deputy Prime Minister Hüseyin Çelik announced on 11 August, cited by Hurryiet.

“The Turkish Armed Forces is a 1 million-strong community, from its chief of General Staff to the soldiers, and among them there may be some 1,000 people who seek to stage a coup. But you put the institution under suspicion if you institutionally protect these people,” Çelik told CNNTürk on Thursday, referring to Gen. Başbuğ, who headed the military when the alleged “Internet Memorandum” was prepared.

The ongoing Internet Memorandum case refers to an alleged document by the General Staff about setting up 42 Internet sites to distribute propaganda against the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and Greeks and Armenians.

BALKANS ECONOMY

Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s Economy Growth Slows Down to 1.9% in Q2 2011

Sofia, The Bulgarian economy’s growth has slowed down to 1.9% in the second quarter of the year on an annual basis due to a decline in exports, data of the statistics office show. On quarterly basis, the emerging economy expanded a slim 0.1% from April through June.

The slowdown mainly came in the wake of a 0.5% quarterly fall in exports following first quarter’s 4.6% increase. Imports however increased by 2.4% after 1% drop in the preceding three-month period. The Bulgarian economy expanded by 3,4% in the first quarter of the year on an annual basis mainly thanks to the recovery in exports, revised data of the statistics office showed at the beginning of June, well above the flash data published a month ago.

The data from the Q1 marked the first considerable increase in economic growth since the country plunged into a recession and overshot analysts’ forecasts, which set the GDP growth levels at about 1.5%.The latest figures confirm local analysts’ opinion that driven by strong exports, as well as the good performance of the industry and services sectors, the Bulgarian economy has started to expand, but too weakly and unsteadily. Meanwhile the European bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) lowered its annual economic growth forecast for Bulgaria from 3.1% to 2.3% in 2011.

Cyprus

Cyprus’ Finance Minister Determined to Ward Off Bailout

Nicosia, Finance Minister Kikis Kazamias called on parties to approve the EUR 750 M austerity package as a first step, pledging to start work on a second set of measures immediately afterwards, taking into consideration any party proposals.Kazamias also sought to turn the tables on critics who suggested that President Demetris Christofias was deliberately leading Cyprus to the EU support mechanism to blame others for the tougher measures that would entail.

“I do not accept that the government is deliberately leading Cyprus to the support mechanism,” Kazamias told state radio. “Why (would we do that)? To increase the voices we hear today for the resignation of the government?”

The Cypriot government approved an austerity package plan to shore up the island’s flagging economy and ward off bailout by the European Union. The package provides for additional income and public spending cuts amounting up to EUR 600 M (US$ 846 M) by the end of next year. The plan was introduced into parliament by the new Finance Minister Kikis Kazamias, who said that it aims at keeping public deficit down to 4-4.5 percent by the end of this year and down to 2-2.5 percent at the end of 2012, with an aim to wipe out public deficit entirely by the end of 2013.

The announcement of the package came as Fitch agency announced the downgrading of Cyprus’ credit rating by two notches to BBB, citing possible inability by the island to access international financing sources to re-finance its growing debt and consequent need for a bailout support. The other two main rating agencies, Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s, had both cut Cypru’s ratings last month down to BBB+ and Baa1 respectively.

Kazamias told Parliament Finance Committee that without the measures public deficit would end at 6.5 percent at the end of the year.

The island’s economic problems were compounded last month by a deadly blast which caused damages to the economy. The explosion on July 11 of a cargo of confiscated Iranian munitions piled up at a naval base killed 13 people and wrecked the island’s main power station, wiping out a projected modest growth of 1.8 percent.

The austerity package includes reform of the pensions system and a contribution from public servants of three percent of their salary for the next three years or longer if needed. Parliament has scheduled to meet on 25 August to consider the new measures but the package could meet strong resistance by the opposition.

The current government does not muster a majority in Parliament after the center Democratic Party recently pulled out of its coalition with leftist AKEL party. Opposition parties therefore can form a block of 37 votes in the 56-seat parliament against the 19-seat AKEL.

Noble Energy Starts Oil Drilling in Cyprus Waters in September

Nicosia, Noble Energy Inc. is to begin exploratory drilling in Cyprus’ offshore Block 12 on 21 September, the state broadcaster reported last night. The company’s rig is currently in Israeli waters but will soon be completing drilling at a gas find there.Block 12, located in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone, is just 12 km from Israel’s Leviathan gas field.

At the time of discovery, Leviathan was the largest find ever discovered in the under-explored area of the Mediterranean Sea and the largest discovery in the history of Noble Energy.Cyprus has signed a production-sharing contract with Noble Energy, which has a concession to explore for hydrocarbons in Block 12. Noble Energy is contractually obliged to start drilling on or before October 1. The exploratory drilling will anywhere from two to four months, allowing Cyprus to obtain a clear view of the size of its hydrocarbon reserves in the block. The government will then proceed with a second round of licensing for other blocks in the region.

Greece

Greece Economy Shrinks by 6.9%in Q2 2011

Athens, The Greek economy suffered a steep 6.9% year-on-year contraction in the second quarter, much worse than the 5.5% drop on an annual basis in the first, the state statistics agency reported. Compared with the last three months of 2010, Greece, which had to be bailed out in May 2010 to save it from defaulting on its debt, eked out growth of just 0.2%, it said.

Romania

Fitch Upgrades Romania’s LT Currency Ratings to BBB

Bucharest, Fitch Ratings upgraded the Romanian city of Bucharest’s long-term foreign currency ratings to ‘BBB-‘ from ‘BB+’ and the long-term local currency ratings to ‘BBB’ from ‘BBB-‘, with stable outlooks, following a similar move on Romania’s ratings a month ago, Mediafax reported.

Romania Promotes Tourism: EUR 2.3 M Tender

Bucharest, Romania’s Tourism Ministry has launched a tender to buy copywriting services for campaigns promoting Romania as a tourist destination and raising awareness to the country’s tourist brand, for an estimated EUR2.3 million, net of VAT.

Turkey

Turkey Chooses Stability over Growth as a Priority

Ankara, Turkey is withdrawing from an aggressive economic growth strategy amid global recession concerns, according to a statement by Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan.

“Turkish growth may stand at 6 or 7 percent” by end 2011,” Babacan said.

His statement came a day after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called for less spending amid a week-old shift in monetary policy. Turkey’s economy marked a record growth of 11% in Q1 2011.

Turkey Signs a Free Trade Agreement with South Korea

Ankara, Turkey is close to inking a free trade deal with South Korea, according to Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, who is on a visit to South Korea.

“Turkey will attract much more investment through the free trade agreement,” the minister told journalists during his visit in Seoul, adding that South Koreans were interested in doing business with Turkey and buying materials from the country.

“In a short time we will attract an investment worth about US$1.5 B from Korea,” Çağlayan said. The investment will be in products that are currently being imported to Turkey, he added without disclosing the goods in question, Anatolia news agency reported.

(Mariela Zamfirova, MBA; 12 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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