The Balkans Today: 12th - 16th December 2016
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The Balkans Today

Up to the minute news and updates from the Balkan region

The Balkans Today: 12th - 16th December 2016

Our team brings you live updates of the most important events and developments in the Balkans as they happen.

    Top stories from the Balkans this Monday:
    • Both main political parties were celebrating victory in the election in Macedonia on Sunday night ahead of the official declaration of the results by the State Electoral Commission. Read more.
    • Iconoclastic former editor of ‘Feral’ says old-style journalism is dead, Croatia’s Social Democrats should be smashed to pieces and calls Prime Minister Plenkovic a human ‘slot machine’. Read more.
    • The death toll in the northeast Bulgarian village of Hitrino reached eight on Sunday as the authorities declared a state of emergency over gas exposure for an undefined period. Read more.
    Eight former Bosnian Serb policemen go on trial in Serbia on Monday for war crimes against Bosniaks from Srebrenica in July 1995.

    The eight men are accused of organising and participating in the shooting of more than 100 Bosniak civilians in an agricultural warehouse in the village of Kravica near Srebrenica.

    "This is a very important case as Serbia needs to face its past," Serbia's former chief war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic told the AFP news agency.
    Mourners at the Srebrenica commemoration in July, on the 21st anniversary of the atrocity. Photo: Anadolu.
    After Sunday's general election in Macedonia, it is still uncertain which party has been victorious and secured more seats in the 123-seat parliament.

    Out of 99.72 per cent of votes counted by the State Electoral Commission, DIK, the main ruling VMRO DPMNE party has won 452,709 of them (or 38.06 per cent) while the main opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, has won 436,469 (or 36.69 per cent).

    The DIK last night refrained from giving any projections about MP seats while the main election monitors, the NGO MOST, said it was “too close to call” whether any of the parties won more MPs.
    Both the ruling and opposition party supporters were celebrating winning the election last night without the official results having come out.
    Photo: MIA
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov begins a two-day visit to Belgrade on Monday. Russian news agency TASS reported that he is expected to discuss collaboration between Russia and Serbia and the situation in the Balkans with Serbian leaders and to take part in a session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC).

    The itinerary of Lavrov’s visit envisions meetings with President Tomislav Nikolic, Prime Minister Alexander Vucic, and Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic.

    "In the course of the talks, the sides will do a profound review of the major issues of bilateral and international relations, will assess the dynamics of (action under) the previous agreements and will consider steps towards further cooperation," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in connection with the visit.

    Russian FM Sergei Lavrov. Photo:

    Kosovo Premier Isa Mustafa and recently-elected Montenegrin counterpart Dusko Markovic met Sunday in Shkoder, 120 kilometers north of Albania's capital, Tirana, and close to the Montenegrin border. They talked about "intensifying especially economic co-operation."

    The Associated Press reported that the statement didn't explain why the meeting was held in Albania. It also didn't say whether they discussed the ratification by Kosovo of a border demarcation agreement between them, the only remaining step needed for visa-free travel to European Union countries.

    The deal is contested by Kosovo's opposition parties, saying it cedes territory to Montenegro, a claim the government rejects.
    The judge in the case against eight former Bosnian Serb policemen, accused of war crimes against Bosniaks from Srebrenica in July 1995, rejected complaints by defence lawyers in court in Belgrade on Monday that their clients’ right to a fair trial was violated.

    The lawyers for the men, accused of organising and participating in the shooting of more than 100 Bosniak civilians in an agricultural warehouse in the village of Kravica near Srebrenica, then asked for the presiding judge to be removed from the trial.

    The next hearing will be held on Tuesday after the court rules on the defence’s request.
    Esma Redzepova, the lauded “queen of Gypsy music” and an advocate of Roma women’s rights, died on Sunday in Skopje at the age of 73, the Guardian reported.

    Redzepova’s career, spanning five decades, included representing Macedonia at the 2013 Eurovision song contest, being the leading voice in her husband Stevo Teodosievski’s ensemble, and, surprisingly, singing the opening credits for the 2006 film ‘Borat’.

    During her lifetime she and her husband fostered 47 children.
    The first court session for the high-profile property scam case, for which former Democratic Party of Kosovo MP Azem Syla and 38 other persons are suspected of being involved in an organised crime syndicate that allegedly was responsible for land fraud and money laundering, was conducted behind closed doors on Monday.

    Judge Arcadiuss Sedek said that the reason for keeping the session closed to media was that the court is yet to decide if the indictment against the suspects will be confirmed.
    "If there will be a hearing session it will be opened," said Sedek.

    The special prosecution indicted the group on October 25 on allegations that they illegally appropriated land near Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, by falsifying the ownership of documents and obtaining unlawful court decisions.

    Azem Syla on the day when he was arrested | Photo: BIRN       

    Kosovo’s parliamentary commission on foreign affairs agreed on Monday that it requires an explanation from Prime Minister Isa Mustafa and Minister for Dialogue, Edita Tahiri, on why Kosovo Serb authorities started constructing a wall in northern Mitrovica last week.

    The commission also agreed that obligatory written reports for such situations must be submitted to the commission and that all agreements with Serbia need to be brought before it.

    However, it is yet to vote on these agreements. 
    Kosovo’s Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning ordered on Thursday that the building of the two-metre-high wall be halted, because according to officials, it is against Kosovo’s laws to do so.
    The wall in North Mitrovica constructed by Kosovo Serb |  Photo: BIRN  

    The good relations and economic and cultural ties between Croatia and Germany were praised during a meeting between Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Monday. 

    Plenkovic said that both countries have agreed on supporting Bosnia and Herzegovina on its path towards EU and NATO membership.

    Regarding Serbia's EU negotiations, Plenkovic expressed his hopes that numerous open issues regarding the legacy of "Great-Serbian aggression" towards Croatia in the 1990s, during the reign of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, will be resolved during his government’s mandate.

    Merkel also stated that she welcomes Croatia's willingness to take 1,600 refugees from Syria and Iraq.
    Angela Merkel and Andrej Plenkovic. Photo: BETAPHOTO/AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
    Today, interviews took place to hire a new president of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
    Five court judges applied: Mira Smajlovic, Izo Tankic, Ranko Debevec, Tihomor Lukes and Branko Peric. Dalida Burzic, chief prosecutor of Sarajevo Canton, and Ismet Suskic, prosecutor for organised crime, economic crime and corruption, are also contenders.
    The mandate of the President of the Court Meddzida Kreso expires at the end of January. He has been in the position for 12 years. The next president will be elected for a term of six years.
    Vuk Jeremic, president of the Belgrade-based the Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development, told N1 television network on Monday that he is considering running for President of Serbia. 

    "If I would run for the [Serbian President’s] office, it would be the most important decision in my career and therefore I approach it seriously and do not rush in,” he said. “It's hard to live [in Serbia], people are dissatisfied and it [problems] cannot be solved overnight. Therefore, it is more important to offer the solutions for those problems.”
    Former Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic. | Photo by Jean-Marc Ferré/UN Geneva/Flickr
    A Saint Petersburg State Ballet performance of Swan Lake on ice that was to take place today in Sarajevo has been postponed because water shortages in the Bosnian capital meant the ice rink could not be prepared in time, reports Radio Sarajevo.
    Water is shut off across most of Sarajevo for several hours every night, as well as occasional stoppages in the day time, due to works on the city's old plumbing system.
    On Sunday, large sections of the city were left without running water for a large portion of the day. The performance of Swan Lake will now take place on December 20.
    Serbia’s Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic has denied allegations that police flew people to Montenegro by helicopter to organise riots on the country’s October 16 election day, Belgrade-based N1 television network reported.
    The leader of the Serbian right-wing Dveri party, Bosko Obradovic, previously told Serbian daily Danas that "the police minister Stefanovic organised transport by helicopter of certain [Serbian national Aleksandar] Sindjelic on the day of elections in Montenegro.” 
    Sindjelic, the main suspect in the alleged election day plot to kill Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, is currently protected under witness status in Montenegro in exchange for his testimony. 
    Stefanovic added that he expects Obradovic to issue an apology to the Serbian police for such claims. 
    Kosovo has remanded a Serbian citizen in custody for a month over war crimes allegations, the Basic Court in Pristina told BIRN on Monday.

    The suspect, identified only by the initials ‘S.B.’, was “extradited to the Republic of Kosovo from Bosnia and Herzegovina at the request of the Special Prosecutor of the Republic of Kosovo”, said Basic Court spokesperson Mirlinda Gashi.

    Gashi said the suspect was a Serb Roma, but did not give details of the specific allegations.
    Kosovo State Prosecutor  |  Photo: BIRN    

    by die.morina via null edited by emma.krstic 12/12/2016 3:54:52 PM
    Croatia has vetoed the opening of Chapter 26 in Serbia's EU accession talks, and Serbian PM Aleksandar Vucic announced late Monday he would not attend the Serbia-EU intergovernmental conference in Brussels unless the country lifted the veto, Prva TV reported.

    Serbian news agency Tanjug reported that Vucic, who arrived in Brussels late Monday, will leave as early as this evening unless an agreement on lifting the veto is reached with EU foreign policy and security chief Federica Mogherini, the television reported.

    Serbian PM Aleksandar Vucic. Photo:

    Top stories from the Balkans this Tuesday:
    • Serbia's Foreign Minister hailed an arms deal with Russia, dismisses potential EU opposition to it, and launches a stinging attack on Croatia, accusing it of building up weapons for an attack on Serbia. Read more.
    • European integration will not stop Balkan governments from cracking down on independent voices unless societies has built up strong means of resistance, Kiril Koroteev,of the Moscow-based human rights centre Memorial told BIRN. Read more.
    • As UK and America withdraw from the region, Europe’s ability to use ‘soft power’ to nudge the Balkans in the direction of liberal democracy will further decline, making instability more likely. Read the comment piece.
    #Lavrov laid wreaths at Liberators of Belgrade Memorial and Soviet Soldier Monument. He signed Guest book at Cemete……

    The parties from the right-wing coalition Reformist Bloc, a minority coalition partner in Bulgaria’s outgoing GERB-led government, accepted the mandate for forming a new government from Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev on Tuesday.

    This is the third and last mandate Plevneliev is offering according to the constitutional procedure for forming a government within the current parliament, after Bulgaria’s two main parties - centre-right GERB and the leftist Bulgarian Socialist Party - already returned their mandates, pushing for new elections.

    If the Reformist Bloc fails to gather the necessary support for forming a new cabinet by next Monday, it would have to return the mandate to the president, who will face the challenge of setting up a third interim government within his five years in office.
    Following a furious reaction from Serbia after Zagreb blocked the opening of a negotiating chapter in Serbia’s EU accession talks, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic told media that "if you want to become an EU member country, you need to pass what other countries have gone through.”

    Grabar-Kitarovic went onto say “Croatia had to meet all the criteria. We have had a lot of difficulties, there were some blockades we were considering unjust, but in this [Serbia’s] case, we are talking about criteria that are easy to be met. I see no reason for Serbia not to fulfill them."

    She also mentioned the declaration signed with Belgrade this year in which Croatia agreed to support Serbia in its EU accession process while Serbia promised to pay greater attention to the needs of the Croatian minority.
    by natalia.zaba via null edited by emma.krstic 12/13/2016 11:48:22 AM
    The start of the trial in Belgrade of eight former Bosnian Serb policemen, accused of involvement in the massacre of Bosniaks from Srebrenica in July 1995, has been postponed on Tuesday until February 6 next year.
    The commencement of the trial was initially delayed when the defence requested on Monday that the judges be removed and the hearing be postponed because the men’s lawyers and the accused had not been given the identities of protected witnesses expected to testify.
    The president of the court stated on Tuesday that the judges are not hiding the identity of the protected witnesses in the trial from the defence, as they themselves do not know the witnesses’ identities, and has ordered the prosecution to reveal them to the court.
    This is the first case that will be prosecuted in Serbia related to the 1995 Srebrenica massacres.
    by milivoje.pantovic via null edited by emma.krstic 12/13/2016 12:59:14 PM
    Albania’s Constitutional Court continues to stall the controversial judicial vetting law despite the Venice Commission having deemed three days ago that it is in accordance with the country’s constitution.

    The Constitutional Court had asked for an opinion on the law, which would see the country’s more than 800 judges and prosecutors vetted, from the Venice Commission after the opposition Democratic Party and judges associations claimed it was anti-constitutional and violated human rights.

    The so-called “vetting law” is a key criteria that the EU Commission wants implemented in order for Albania to move forward in its bid to open EU accession talks.
    Albanian Constitutional Court members. Photo: gjk.

    The European Union is demanding that Serbia closes the Russian-Serbian humanitarian centre in the southern city of Nis in order to move towards EU membership, the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, claimed on Tuesday during his official visit to Serbia.

    “During the existence of this centre, over 4 million square kilometres of land was cleared from mines and 1,500 mines were deactivated. This centre also helped in putting out fires in the south of Europe and even in the EU member states, but officials from the EU are silent on these achievements,” Lavrov said, according to the Belgrade-based television station B92.
    Former Bosnian Serb Army commander Ratko Mladic’s defence lawyers urged the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on Tuesday to acquit him of war crimes and genocide charges.

    In the final day of closing arguments at Mladic’s trial in The Hague, defence lawyer Dragan Ivetic said that “we believe the only fair and just outcome is an acquittal due to the fact the prosecution has failed to meet its burden of proof as to Gen. Ratko Mladic”, the Associated Press reported.
    Ratko Mladic in court on Wednesday.
    Top stories from the Balkans this Wednesday:
    • The formation of a new Macedonian government will be a daunting task, observers said after Sunday's elections ended with a near-tie between the ruling party and the opposition. Read more.
    • Albania's ruling Socialist Party has called for the obligatory registration of news sites and the blocking of those that fail to register themselves during election campaigns. Read more.
    • Fleeing the violence in Syria, Nivin met Salim in Lebanon and fell in love, and the couple finally came to Albania's capital Tirana to start a family and set up their business in peace. Read more.
    Ambassador Uyehara handed over a donation of #food #aid to the Serbian #Orthodox Church’s People’s Kitchen……

    Zagreb-based human rights NGO Centre for Peace Studies pleaded for the Croatian government and President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic to call for a ceasefire in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo in order to evacuate civilians.

    The NGO also said that Croatia, considering the mass civilian casualties it experienced in the eastern town of Vukovar during the 1990s, as well as the siege of Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo, should offer shelter to some of the civilians.
    After two days of discussions, Croatia’s parliamentary committee for the constitution concluded that a plaque installed in November in the town of Jasenovac bearing the slogan 'Za dom spremni' ('Ready for the Home(land)'), which was used by Croatia’s WWII fascist Ustasa movement, insults victims of the nearby concentration camp that the Ustasa ran.

    The committee called for the state authorities to do everything in their power to protect the dignity of the victims of the Ustasa regime and their memory of them, particularly in places such as Jasenovac.
    Additionally, the committee urged the government to introduce an institutional legal framework covering the issue of the use of symbols from totalitarian regimes.

    Earlier in December, the Croatian Prime Minister, Andrej Plenkovic, raised the possibility of banning all totalitarian symbols.
    Plaque. Photo: UDHOS Zagreb
    Over 3,000 children in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, have been victims of crimes or violence this year while the same number of children are at risk of becoming so, the Sofia-based Social Activities and Practice Institute announced on Wednesday.

    The youngest child that has suffered from a violent crime in 2016 was 16 months old, the Institute noted, advising the Bulgarian authorities to open more child-friendly facilities across the country where children who have experienced this kind of crime can be questioned.
    The US ambassador to Tirana, Donald Lu, turned attention on Wednesday to the police’s failure to capture Klemend Balili, an Albanian businessman and former director of Transport Services in the Region of Saranda, who is wanted on suspicion of drugs trading. 
    Lu claimed that many security agencies, including from the US, had requested that Albanian authorities capture Balili, but they had not done so as their interests lay elsewhere. 
    "Politicians have paid attention to the interests of criminal and corrupted businessmen. Otherwise, how is possible that Balili is still free?” Lu stated while participating in a conference with the Albanian Ombudsman. “This is a failure of the police and justice system."
    Earlier this month, Albanian officials finally admitted, after eight months of silence on the matter, that Greece had requested Bablili’s arrests, but both countries blame each other for delays in arresting him.
    US ambassador to Tirana, Donald Lu. Photo: Facebook 
    by fatjona.mejdini via null edited by emma.krstic 12/14/2016 1:38:40 PM
    A Belgrade court acquitted former anti-terrorist police spokesperson Radomir Pocuca on Wednesday of charges of endangering the safety of peace campaign group Women in Black, Belgrade-based television network N1 reported.

    Pocuca posted a statement on Facebook in March 2014 in which he called for football hooligans to unite and fight against Women in Black after the held a commemoration in the Serbian capital to mark the 15th anniversary of war crimes committed by Serbian forces against Kosovo Albanians.
    The chief of the EU office in Kosovo, Natalya Apostolova, said the European Union believes in building bridges, not walls, when asked by Kosovo MPs about a two-metre-high concrete barrier which Serb authorities began constructing next to the Ibar River in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo last week.

    "The EU has never built nor supports walls. The EU builds bridges,” she said, adding that “the EU has a project, which is the revitalisation of the Ibar [River] bridge. The wall is not our project, and we cannot control it.

    Apostolova stressed that the EU is following the situation in Mitrovica.

    Last Thursday, Kosovo’s Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning ordered that Serb authorities halt the building of the wall.

    The chief of the EU office in Kosovo, Natalya Apostolova | Photo: BIRN  

    Serbian Ombudsman, Sasa Jankovic,Photo by: Media Center Belgrade

    Serbian Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic claimed in an open letter to Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic that the vocabulary he uses in his position is a sign of totalitarianism and not democratic rule.

    "Among other things, you said about me and some other people that we're a priori against our country and our people,” Jankovic said.

    “Such a vocabulary used [by a person] in such a position is a sign of totalitarianism not the democratic structure, which, as I believe, we both are longing for.

    Referring to a press conference Vucic held on Tuesday, Jankovic claimed it is not the first time that the Prime Minister has delivered “an incitement of hatred and intolerance,” but asked for it to “be the last time.”
    Montenegro's defense minister says the country will decide whether to join NATO in a parliamentary vote and not a popular referendum as sought by the opposition and Russia, the Associated Press reported.

    Defense Minister Predrag Boskovic said on Wednesday that pro-NATO lawmakers make up a majority in the country's new Parliament. The election in October was marked by an alleged foiled coup attempt orchestrated by anti-NATO nationalists, including two Russians.

    A suspect in an alleged plot to assassinate pro-Western Montenegrin politician Milo Djukanovic has posted a photograph of himself standing near Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this week in Belgrade.

    Nemanja Ristic, who is wanted in Montenegro for conspiracy to kill Djukanovic in an alleged foreign-organized coup attempt in October, posted the image on his Instagram account on December 13.
    Top stories from the Balkans this Thursday:
    • Tension in Macedonia following Sunday's tight election is growing, as both main political blocs claim victory at the polls and each side's patience starts to run out. Read more.
    • Since Croatia joined the EU, the pressure to silence nationalists and far-rightists has relaxed – and they have returned in force, two experts say. Read more.
    • Demobilised soldiers from Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska have threatened to protest and claim they are considering suicide if they are not granted the early retirement to which they are entitled. Read more.
    The voice of solidarity with civil victims of #Syria from #Montenegro and call for peace and respect of……

    The International Telecommunication Union, ITU, officially allocated the telephone code +383 to Kosovo on Thursday morning, following six years of negotiations, the Kosovo government announced in a statement.
    “This news is a historical achievement in the field of telecom and empowers the international subjectivity of Kosovo as a state,” Kosovo’s Minister for Dialogue, Edita Tahiri, declared.
    The agreement between Kosovo and Serbia for the former to get its own dialing code was reached in Brussels on November 13 with the number to be allocated by December 15.
     Kosovo's Minister for Dialogue, Edita Tahiri | Photo: Government of Kosovo

    by die.morina via null edited by emma.krstic 12/15/2016 10:27:02 AM
    Montenegro does not meet the criteria for NATO membership, it is laughable to speak of it as a country which can contribute to the alliance’s security, Andrei Kelin, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's European Cooperation Department told Russian outlet Sputnik.

    "Montenegro is being dragged into NATO at an accelerated and strengthened rate. Montenegro does not meet in any way the criteria of membership in the alliance, which were developed in the past … Speaking of Montenegro, which has armed forces of less than 2,000 people and its economy is in deplorable state, as a country which could bring some extra value to NATO security is just laughable," Kelin said.
    by dusica.tomovic via null edited by emma.krstic 12/15/2016 12:11:55 PM

    On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of its renewed independence, #Montenegro donates "Dove" to @UNGeneva.

    Important day for????????????????!#EU & #BosniaAndHerzegovina mark new stage of #trade cooperation w. today's #SAA signatureℹ️……

    Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told media on Thursday that he sees no need to respond to an open letter directed to him by Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic yesterday, in which the premier was accused of using a vocabulary that shows signs of totalitarianism, not democratic rule.

    "I didn't have a need to answer it … Whether he [Jankovic] is a good politician or not, the nation will tell,” Vucic said, adding that he thinks “it's bad that he says this from the function he's handling now.”

    Vucic also congratulated Jankovic on his rising popularity in Croatia, highlighting his own unpopularity there.
    Watchdog organisation Transparency Serbia stated that the attitude of the authorities towards the Serbian Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic and the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance, Rodoljub Sabic, indicates independent state institutions have never been in a more difficult situation as now, Belgrade-based N1 television network reported on Thursday.

    The watchdog stated that while the Ombudsman and Commissioner have reminded the executive legislative powers in the country that their annual reports need to be discussed in the National Assembly, as dictated by the law, this is yet to happen.
    Ministers Zenka (Human & Minority Rights) & Ljumović (Culture) will represent #Montenegro Govt at Podgorica Pride this Saturday. #mne4lgbt
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