THE UNBIASED OBSERVERS, Issue 41


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

 

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Politics and others:

Albania

  • The Albanian President Sent Condolences over Czech Ambassador’s Death

Bosnia and Herzegovina

  • 11,000 T of Explosives Missing?

Bulgaria

  • Bulgaria and Croatia Recognize Libya’s National Transitional Council Again

Croatia

  • Croatia will not Ask Serbia for Permission Ever Again

Greece

  • Greece will Secure its Sovereign Rights in E Mediterranean
  • Lefkimi Declared State an Emergency because of a Wildfire in Evros, Greece

Kosovo

  • Kosovo Police Exercise Fuels New Tension between Pristina and Belgrade

Montenegro

  • Montenegrin PM “Early Elections the Only Solution”
  • Kosovo Police Beats 81-Year-Old Man Coming from Montenegro

Serbia

  • Serbia will Acquire an EU Candidate Status in December
  • Serbia to Take Decisions Protecting Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija

Turkey

  • Turkey Refutes Reports that Civilians in N Iraq had been Killed by a Turkish Air Strike
  • Turkey’s Shaken by Sledgehammer Scandal
  • Kurdish BDP Stops its Boycott to Turkish Parliament

 

Economy:

Bulgaria

  • US Ambassador James Warlick Visits Lukoil Refinery
  • Bulgaria’s Minister of Economy Contradicts his Finance Counterpart’s Statement on Bulgarian Economy and the Global Crisis

Greece

  • Greece will Miss “Slightly” the Budget Deficit’s Target
  • Greece Sets Bond Swap Targets, 90% Minimum Take up Rate

Kosovo

  • Kosovo Boasts EUR 5 M Increase in Customs Revenues Resulting from Embargo on Serbia

Macedonia

  • Macedonia’s Local Currency Downgraded to BB by S&P

Romania

  • Swiss Ringier AG Buys Romania’s Edipresse
  • Romania to Award Six Oil and Gas Block Licenses

Serbia

  • Serbia Loses US$ 13 M because of the Kosovo Embargo

Turkey

  • Turkey Sells Bosphorus Bridges
  • Turkey and China Sign Energy Cooperation Agreement
  • Sabanci Holding Posts a Net Profit of 1.104 Billion Turkish Liras

 

BALKANS – POLITICS & OTHER

Albania

The Albanian President Sent Condolences over Czech Ambassador’s Death

Tirana, Albania’s President Topi sent a letter of condolences over death of Marketa Fialkova, Czech ambassador to Tirana. The Czech diplomat unexpectedly died on 24 August in her residence at the age of 55. According to Alsat TV, her death was a result of natural causes.

Fialkova, a former dissident, represented the Czech Republic in Albania from September 2007. She joined the Foreign Ministry in 1990, shortly after the fall of the Czechoslovak communist regime. She was ambassador to Poland in the early 1990s and secretary to president Vaclav Havel in 1995-1997. She was an OSCE observer, supervising the elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia and Kosovo. She also joined the election observations in Macedonia and Montenegro.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

11,000 T of Explosives Missing?

Sarajevo, Bosnian President Office’s member Nebojša Radmanović has asked the country’s Defense Minister to send a report about the disappearance of 11,000 tons of explosives.

“Lately we heard stories that 11,000 tons of TNT went missing as mines and explosives were disposed of in Bosnia-Herzegovina. If that is true, then we have a serious security problem,” Radmanović is quoted as saying by B92. Defense Minister Selmo Cikotić responded by saying that “this was the first time he had heard about this.” As per reports, there are more than 70 “potential storage facilities” for arms and ammunition in Bosnia.

The NATO headquarters in Sarajevo say they have no information about the missing explosives.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria and Croatia Recognize Libya’s National Transitional Council Again

Sofia, “Croatia and Bulgaria confirm once again that they recognise the National Transitional Council, this time as Libya’s legitimate authorities, and that they will support the Council’s efforts to establish peace and the rule of law throughout the country and build a democratic state, including the organisation of free elections,” reads a joint statement signed by the foreign ministers of Croatia and Bulgaria, Gordan Jandrokovic and Nikolay Mladenov respectively.

Croatia and Bulgaria recognised the political body of Libyan rebels as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people on 28 June, and the latest statement is the continuation of diplomatic cooperation between Croatia and Bulgaria, which is a member of the international Libya Contact Group.

Croatia

Croatia will not Ask Serbia for Permission Ever Again

Zagreb, Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor  commented on the Serbian foreign minister’s indirect criticism of the statements she made during her visit to Kosovo this week, saying that the times when Croatian Prime Ministers went to Belgrade to ask for advice and permission were long gone.

“Regarding some comments on 25 August, I must say that some politicians, both in Croatia and in Serbia, unfortunately still don’t realise, after 20 years of Croatia’s independence, that the Croat people and its prime ministers will never again go to Belgrade to ask for advice or permission to do something. Those times are, fortunately, long gone,” Kosor said, quoted by tPortal.

Greece

Greece will Secure its Sovereign Rights in E Mediterranean

Defence Minister Panos Beglitis categorically stated that “Greece will secure it national and sovereign rights to an absolute degree, as they emanate from the international law of the sea and international treaties,” in reference to the issue of the Aegean continental shelf and an Exclusive Economic Zone, AMNA reported. In the light of his upcoming official visit to Israel and meetings with the Israeli government officials, Beglitis commented that Athens will watch the developments in the eastern Mediterranean and act decisively.

According to Athens News, Frank Ricciardone, the US Ambassador to Ankara, recently dismissed Turkey’s calls for the US’ government to block the American energy company from drilling in Eastern Mediterranean. The US company, Noble Energy, is perhaps best known for discovering Israel’s huge Leviathan gas deposit that borders Cyprus’ Block 12, where drilling is to begin by 1 October. Cyprus may also be the site for a US$ 5 billion liquefied natural gas factory to transport Israeli gas to Europe.

The late Cyprus Republic President Tassos Papadopoulos defied Turkish threats against oil- and gas-exploration licensing in 2007, at a time when his country was isolated over its rejection of the Annan Plan. Ankara had then said that the Cyprus-Israel agreement delimiting Cyprus and Israeli exclusive economic zones was “null and void” Athens News comments.

Pressure for a Cyprus settlement before Nicosia assumes the rotating EU presidency next year is likely to be fraught with many pitfalls. The prospect of Cyprus entering the EU support mechanism also poses a serious threat to the country’s negotiating power in terms of settling the Cyprus problem.

Lefkimi Declared State an Emergency because of a Wildfire in Evros, Greece

Athens, A major wildfire that broke out on 24 August in Lefkimi, Evros prefecture in NE Greece, was still raging on 26 August. Four firefighting airplanes, two French and two Spanish, are reported to help the local fire brigade’s operation. gusty winds in the affected area exasperated the situation. According to the fire brigade, five-kilometre long wildfire has already scorched 3,000 hectares of forestland and crops.

The area south of Lefkimi has been declared in state of emergency and the village of Kili has been evacuated.

Kosovo

Kosovo Police Exercise Fuels New Tension between Pristina and Belgrade

Pristina, A Kosovo police exercise has fueled new tension between Pristina and Belgrade. On 24 August, Kosovo’s Regional Operational Support Unit held an exercise in the southern part of Kosovo.

Serbian Defense Minister Dragan Šutanovac has said as quoted by B 92 that Kosovo special police unit (ROSU) exercises in north Kosovo are inappropriate. In his words, it is obvious that Priština still wants to keep a high level of risk and tension.

“We have to remain patient and wise and not allow to be tricked by such provocations, since this was obviously a provocation intended to trigger a negative reaction and, if possible, again incite a conflict between Serbia and the international community. This time, it did not work,” Serbia’s Defense Minister stated.

Montenegro

Montenegrin PM “Early Elections the Only Solution”

Podgorica, “Early elections are the only remaining solution, Montenegro’s Prime Minister Igor Luksic said at a meeting with leaders of the opposition that failed to come to an agreement over the lessons in Serbian language in Montenegro, Tanjug reported.

According to Montenegrin Dan newspaper, Prime Minister Luksic’s  proposal that 80 percent of the school lessons to be held in the Montenegrin language and 20 percent in other languages. The opposition insisted on mandatory classes of Serbian, in addition to the Montenegrin language.

Along with the language dispute, Montenegro has to pass an election law, which will be step number one along the path to EU integration.

Kosovo Police Beats 81-Year-Old Man Coming from Montenegro

Podgorica, An 81-year-old man from Kosovo, entering the territory from Montenegro where he now resides, has been brutally beaten by members of the Kosovo police (KPS). The incident happened on the Savine Vode crossing and the man identified as Kostadin Stijović, now a resident of the town of Andrijevica in Montenegro was the only non-Albanian traveling on the bus, B92 reported.

The KPS members took him outside started beating him as per the report of the Montenegrin Association of Refugees from Kosovo. The 81-year-old was told that he could cross the border only if he confirms “Kosovo recognition.” The victim was then sent back to Montenegro.

The Association of Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees in Montenegro said in the statement that it sent a demand to the EU mission in Kosovo, EULEX, to start an investigation into the case and take appropriate measures against the perpetrators.

Serbia

Serbia will Acquire an EU Candidate Status in December

Belgrade, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Božidar Đelić is confident that Serbia will get the EU candidate status in December, B92 reports. Đelić has said that he will resign if this does not happen.

Serbia to Take Decisions Protecting Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija

Belgrade, Serbia’s President Boris Tadic told Politika Daily on 26 August that Berlin’s opinions were respected not only because Germany was the most influential and biggest EU member state but also because it was one of Serbia’s most important economic partners.

“On the other hand, bearing in mind Germany’s position we need to make a decision while protecting our national and state interests and our people in Kosovo and Metohija,” the Serbian President said. He had agreed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to continue the dialogue.

Tadić stressed that the talks had never been simple because Serbia and Germany did not agree on some important issues, but added that they had always been open.

Turkey

Turkey Refutes Reports that Civilians in N Iraq have been Killed by a Turkish Air Strike

Ankara, Turkish General Staff released a press statement on 26 August, refuting claims that it killed seven civilians during the bombing campaign against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, on Aug. 21, daily Hürriyet reported on its website.

Pro-PKK RojTV had claimed last week that Turkish military had struck a civilian vehicle during its bombing of PKK hideouts in Qandil mountain and killed seven civilians traveling in the vehicle. Turkish military personnel examined the footage broadcasted by RojTV and said that the damage seen in the footage could not have been caused by the Turkish strikes.

The statement said the destroyed vehicle was “very” far away from the area targeted by Turkish warplanes to begin with, and added that the bombs used by the airforce would have inflicted much heavier damage to the vehicle and its immediate surroundings, had it been hit by one.

Turkey’s Shaken by Sledgehammer Scandal

Ankara, All confidential documents related to the ongoing “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) coup-plot case were stolen from military headquarters, the country’s former top general allegedly said in the second of two illegal recordings carrying shocking revelations.

The comments on the latest recording about the Sledgehammer case, which has caused ongoing legal prosecutions against top military personnel over the last two years, were allegedly made by former Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner, who stepped down in late July in protest of such arrests, Hurryiet reported. Koşaner had made no statement on the recordings, the first of which allegedly taped him revealing weaknesses of the army and a chain of deficiencies in the fight against terror. The second recording is focused more on the Sledgehammer case, the debate over compulsory military service and the removal of Article 35 of the law regulating the military’s duties and responsibilities, an article commonly seen as constituting the legal grounds for military coups.

On the tape, Koşaner allegedly said the documents on the Sledgehammer case had been stolen by anonymous persons who he called traitors from 1st Army Command.

“The government is giving credence to illegally obtained sound recordings. Through this attitude, the government is giving credence to illegal recordings,” Republican People’s Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu told daily Cumhuriyet on 25 August.

The Cabinet of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, hinted in the opening stage of the scandal that the recordings might have been done with the involvement of the foreign intelligence services.

Kurdish BDP Stops its Boycott to Turkish Parliament

Ankara, Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which has refused to take the oath of office and assume its seats since the 12 June elections, plans to end its boycott in October, when the Turkish Parliament returns from its summer recess, Today’s Zaman reported. Sources told the newspaper that BDP decided to end its boycott during a recent Party Council (PM) meeting. The BDP leadership took that decision considering that the political parties in Parliament have begun working on a new constitution and that the BDP should also take an active role in these efforts.

 

 

BALKANS ECONOMY

Bulgaria

US Ambassador James Warlick Visits Lukoil Refinery

Bourgas, Shortly after the drama with revocation and restoration of Lukoil Refinery’s licenses, American Ambassador in Sofia, James Warlick, paid a visit to the biggest refinery in the Balkans, located in the Black Sea city of Bourgas. The US Ambassador was accompanied by the CEO of the Russian-owned Lukoil Bulgaria, Valentin Zlatev and the Mayor of Bourgas, Dimitar Nikolov, Novinite.com reported. The visit covered also the Rosenets oil terminal and Bulgarian, American, EU, and Russian flags were hoisted on the occasion of the visit.

Warlick’s predecessor, former US Ambassador to Bulgaria, James Pardew, commented objectively in a recent interview for the Troud Daily that the revocation of Lukoil’s license was top-level staged political drama without anything happening at the end. James Warlick dissociated from his colleague’s statements.

Bulgaria’s Minister of Economy Contradicts his Finance Counterpart’s Statement on Bulgarian Economy and the Global Crisis

Sofia, Bulgarian Minister of Economy, Energy and Tourism Traicho Traikov has said that the country will not emerge unscathed from the economic downturn.

“Bulgaria is not an island, but a ship, which depends on sea conditions for sailing. Therefore the country will be affected, if a new wave of economic deterioration strikes”, Traikov said in a 25 August interview for state-owned TV channel BNT.

This statement comes into contradiction with a comment of Bulgaria’s Deputy PM and Finance Minister Simeon Dyankov who boasted some ten days ago that Bulagaria’s economy was in an upswing and both US and EU should learn from Bulgaria’s example.

“Bulgaria’s Cabinet is not drafting new anti-crisis measures because the Bulgarian economy is in an upswing,” Dyankov told Nova TV on 16 August.

“There is no risk of rising unemployment in Bulgaria. There is no risk for the deposits. Actually, the deposits in the Bulgarian banks are going up.,” the Finance Minister of Bulgaria said amid rising unemployment and releases that 60% of the job-hunters could not find jobs for more than a year.

Greece

Greece will Miss “Slightly” the Budget Deficit’s Target

Athens, Greece may slightly miss its 2011 budget deficit target and not return to growth in 2012 due to deeper than expected recession this year, Greece’s Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said on 26 August, Greek media reported.

Greece targets a budget deficit of 7.6 percent of GDP this year from 10.5 percent in 2010.

Greece Sets Bond Swap Targets, 90% Minimum Take up Rate

Athens, Greece said on 26 August it would not go ahead with a debt swap crucial to its second bailout if private sector holders of less than 90 percent of the bonds take part, failing to satisfy its international partners, Kathimerini reports. The statement comes after signs that the debt swap plan is facing delays, with between 60 and 70 percent of bondholders participating so far.

Greece and banking lobby group IIF, which jointly coordinate the debt swap talks, had so far presented the 90 percent participation rate as a simple target and not as a condition.

Kosovo

Kosovo Boasts EUR 5 M Increase in Customs Revenues Resulting from Embargo on Serbia

Pristina, Kosovo Minister of Trade and Industry Mimoza Kusari-Ljilja stated that the introduction of reciprocal ban on the import of Serbian goods resulted in an increase of EUR 5 million in the Kosovo customs revenues.

She said that in the period from July 20 to August 8, 2010, the customs revenues amounted to EUR 48.9 million, while in the same period of 2011 they reached EUR 53.8 million, the Pristina press reported.

Kusari-Ljilja commented that since Kosovo stopped importing goods from Serbia, tradesmen have managed to find new partners from almost 40 countries.

Macedonia

Macedonia’s Local Currency Downgraded to BB by S&P

Skopje, “The latest Standard and Poor’s assessment on Macedonia’s credit ratings comes as a result of the new method, which is being applied by the agency as of this June, altering the approach to asses countries and due to which the difference between local and foreign currency will strive to be reduced,” the Macedonian Ministry of Finance has said.

In its latest report, Standard and Poor’s (S&P) downgraded Macedonia’s local currency from BB+ to BB.

The foreign currency rating remains BB i.e. stable, which indicates that Macedonia’s ability to maintain its obligations towards foreign countries hasn’t changed, reads the press release.

S&P said the outlook is stable, reflecting the possibility that Macedonia’s creditworthiness could improve if the nation can adequately address issues that constrain growth such as high unemployment, unreliable energy provision and a lack of infrastructure.

Romania

Swiss Ringier AG Buys Romania’s Edipresse

Bucharest, Switzerland’s Ringier AG has expanded its portfolio of print publications with the purchase of Romanian competitor Edipresse, Balkan Insight reported. The deal is the first media transaction seen on the Romanian market in several months and follows widespread problems experienced in the country’s media industry over the past year. The value of the deal has not been disclosed.

Edipresse Romania is a joint venture between the Swiss Edipresse publishing group and the German Axel Springer Group. It is responsible for editing a number  of weekly magazines  targeted at women and teenagers and covering fashion and lifestyle trends.

Romania to Award Six Oil and Gas Block Licenses

Bucharest, Romania plans to award six new oil and gas blocks in the Black Sea region, according to country officials.

Alexandru Patruti, the head of Romania’s Mineral Resources Agency, ANRM, told Bloomberg that the global crisis had kept investors away at previous auctions this year, but hoped the six blocks put at auction should attract investors.

Romania awarded exploration licenses for five offshore blocks in 2010, with OMV Petrom, Exxon Mobil Corp, Petro Ventures Europe BV and Russia’s Lukoil among the companies searching for oil and gas in the Black Sea waters.

Romania has enough oil and gas reserves to secure its internal consumption over the next 15 year. The Balkan country produces about 13 billion cubic metres of gas a year, representing about 60 per cent of  its annual needs. It imports the rest exclusively from Russia. Bucharest is looking to cut its dependence on Russian energy, mainly by diversifying gas supply routes.

Serbia

Serbia Loses US$ 13 M because of the Kosovo Embargo

Belgrade, Head of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce (PKS) Milos Bugarin said that 30 of the largest Serbian exporters lost over US$ 13 million between 20 July and 20 August because of Kosovo’s ban on Serbian goods. The statement, quoted by Tanjug and the Radio and Television of Serbia continued with a forecast that the losses would surpass US$200 M at the end of the year if the status quo remained unchanged.

Turkey

Turkey Sells Bosphorus Bridges

Ankara, Turkey’s Privatization Board has officially launched an auction to sell the 25-year operating rights for eight toll roads and two Bosphorus bridges, which connect Asian and European parts of Istanbul, in a single package, Hurryiet Daily reported.

Nearly 24.9 million vehicles passing over the two bridges, Bosphorus and Fatih Sultan Mehmet, paid 108.4 million Turkish Liras (US$ 61.8 M, EUR 42.9 M) in the first two months of 2011. The government’s revenues from the remaining toll roads and tunnels exceeded 74.7 million liras over the same period, according to official figures.

Along with the bridges, the Edirne-Istanbul-Ankara, Pozantı-Tarsus-Mersin, Tarsus-Adana-Gaziantep, Toprakkale-İskenderun, Gaziantep-Şanlıurfa, İzmir-Çeşme and İzmir-Aydın highways, İzmir and Ankara freeways, and maintenance facilities, toll collection centers and other production units have all been put on sale.

Investors must apply to the board by 18 November for pre-qualification and will be required to deposit $200 M as collateral to bid, according to an announcement by the board published in the Official Gazette on 25 August. The bidding deadline is 15 December.

According to data provided by the Privatization Board authorities, the length of the roads to be connected will be 1,975 kilometers once the connection roads subject to sale are included, Anatolia news agency reported. An additional bargain and open bidding may follow the sealed tender process. The U.S. dollar will be the currency used in the tender. The toll prices will be included in the contract with the winner of the rights.

Turkey and China Sign Energy Cooperation Agreement

Ankara, Turkey has undersigned a deal to boost cooperation with China in several fields of the energy sector, including nuclear power and boron minerals, Hurryiet reported on 26 August.

The five-year cooperation deal was undersigned by the Turkish Energy Ministry with a possibility of expanding the validity of the deal upon agreement by both countries.

Cooperation will be focused in fields such as nuclear power, boron technologies, renewable energy, thermal power, energy conservation, hydrocarbon exploration and production and mining technologies. Other fields of cooperation are production of solar energy equipment and hydroelectric power plants.

Turkey and China will not only collaborate at the Energy Ministry level, but also create partnerships with related enterprises and research institutions from both countries, according to the deal.

Sabanci Holding Posts a Net Profit of 1.104 Billion Turkish Liras

Ankara, Sabancı Holding, Turkey’s second biggest group of companies, posted a net profit worth 1.104 billion Turkish Liras (US$ 627 M) in the first six months of 2011, the company announced in a statement on 25 August. The group’s profits for companies excluding finance firms have increased by 60 percent [in the first half of 2011, compared to the same period last year. The firm’s consolidated sales grew 13 percent to more than 10.72 billion liras in the first half of the year. While the net profit of the company was 1.1 billion liras, it incurred a consolidated profit worth 2.5 billion liras during the same period.

Sabancı’s manufacturing firms have grown 71 percent, energy companies by 28 percent, retail firms by 17 percent and cement companies by 13 percent in the first half of 2011,

The firm’s consolidated sales grew 13 percent to more than 10.72 billion liras (US$ 6.11 B) in the first half of the year. While the net profit of the company was 1.1 billion liras (US$ 627 M), it incurred a consolidated profit worth 2.5 billion liras (US$1.43 B) during the same period.

Sabancı’s manufacturing firms have grown 71 percent, energy companies by 28 percent, retail firms by 17 percent and cement companies by 13 percent in the first half of 2011.

(Mariela Zamfirova, MBA, 27 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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