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

Up to the minute news and updates from the Balkan region

The Balkans Today: 12th - 16th September 2016

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

  • The attempts of large groups of migrants to cross the Bulgarian-Serbian border illegally near the towns of Negotin and Dimitrovgrad in Serbia’s east has increased over the last 15 days, the spokesperson of the Serbian Ministry of Defence Yovan Krivokapich told Serbian National Television, RTS, on Thursday, the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency reported.

    Krivokapich announced that last night 50 migrants were arrested and taken to reception centres in Serbia.

    So far, the joint military-police units that have been patrolling the Serbian border since July 16, have arrested around 7,500 migrants, the spokesperson added.

    Refugees in Serbia. Photo: Beta 

  • French Prime Minister Manuel Valls shared his country’s support for Serbia on its path towards EU membership with his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic at a meeting in Paris on Thursday.

    “France supports Serbia on its European path and wants to take part in its economic progress,” Valls said.

    He also noted that the relations between the two countries needed to be strengthened, with particular emphasis on economic cooperation, the Serbian government said in a statement.

    Vucic and Valls discussed bilateral cooperation, European integration, the current situation in the Western Balkans, the security situation in Europe and the fight against terrorism during their meeting.

  • Bulgaria’s ex-Labour Minister and deputy Prime Minister, Ivaylo Kalfin, will run for president as the nomination of the left-wing Alternative for Bulgarian Revival, ABV, the party announced on Thursday.
    Kalfin will be supported by an initiative committee of six parties. 

    Initially ABV was backing Rumen Radev, the candidate of Bulgaria’s largest socialist party, BSP, but after a split between the two parties, it decided to run with a separate candidate. 

    In May this year, ABV left the governing coalition over a disagreement with the policies of the cabinet, led by Boyko Borissov.

    This is not the first time Kalfin has run for president; he was also nominated for the post in 2011 by the BSP, but lost to GERB's candidate Rossen Plevneliev.

    Ivaylo Kalfin. Photo: ABV's official Facebook page 

  • The chief prosecutor at the new Hague-based ‘specialist chambers’ set up to try former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters for crimes committed during and after the 1998-99 war told a press conference on Thursday that he will conduct his investigations fearlessly and impartially.
    Chief prosecutor David Schwendiman insisted he is completely independent: “I don't take instruction from anyone,” Reuters news agency reported him as saying.
    Schwendiman declined to name potential suspects, but Reuters suggested that those under investigation could include some of Kosovo’s top politicians.
    David Schwendiman. Photo: US government
  • The dean of the Zagreb University’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Studies, Vlatko Previsic, is not responding to media inquiries on why students are not allowed to use a room they have been given disposal to for the last 20 years and why a private security agency was hired to watch over the faculty, Croatian news portal Index reported on Thursday.

    After the former dean and now university rector Damir Boras dismissed the student council on Tuesday, claiming irregularities, students were putting up sarcastic posters at the faculty which called for students to gather for a session of Plenum, the body gathering students and faculty staff, to discuss the problems with the dean and the rector. 

    Earlier this year, students started the process to remove Previsic from his position after plans to merge the Faculty of Humanities and Social Studies with the Catholic Theology Faculty, KBF, came to a head amid strong opposition from students. However, the process is ongoing.
  • Debate within Albania’s parliament heated up on Thursday after Democratic Party representatives claimed that a small plane which police say crash-landed near Tirana as a result of technical difficulties was actually involved in a drug smuggling plot. 
    The plane, which landed near the Ishem river a few kilometres north of the capital, was being flown by a 69-year-old Italian man named Guido Andrea Guidi, police said.
    The incident is reminiscent of a similar one in May 2014, when police arrested an Italian pilot, Giorgio Riformato, who was attempting to traffic marijuana from Albania to Italy, but his plan went wrong when his one-engine plane crashed in Divjaka in southern Albania.
    The plane crashed in Ishem. Photo: State Police 
    by fatjona.mejdini via null edited by emma.krstic 9/15/2016 2:59:43 PM
  • Frontex says some 1,800 migrants were detected on the Western Balkans route in August, just a fraction of those at the beginning of the year
  • Top stories from the Balkans this Friday:
    • Muslim women who wear the face-covering niqab say they are often insulted or mocked on the streets of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but are determined to show they are following religious rules. Read more.
    • Unconfirmed reports say Serbia's new honorary consul in St Petersburg will be Gennady Timchenko, a Russian businessman with close links to Vladimir Putin's administration. Read more.
    • Owing to a bureacratic bungle, drivers from Kosovo can now only obtain vehicle license plates made of paper, which only Albania will accept - although Wednesday's agreement with Serbia on reciprocal use of licence plates should improve matters. Read more.
  • Italian pilot crash-lands plane after Albania detour, in case exposing scourge of drug & weapons trafficking

  • The Serbian right-wing Dveri party will organise a regional conference followed by a protest walk to the Serbian Government building on Saturday, where they will deliver conclusions from the conference, the party’s leader, Bosko Obradovic, told BIRN on Friday.

    He said that purpose of the conference is to shed light on the problems that families and family values in Serbia and the world are exposed to.

    “We want to protect family values and support family politics and put the family in the focus of the society,” Obradovic said.
    The walk will be held a day before the Belgrade Pride Parade, marking the end of Pride Week which started on Monday and aims to make the general public more aware of the situation in which LGBT people live in Serbia.
  • Azem Syla, a Kosovo politician who is under investigation for alleged property scams and money laundering, was arrested on Friday, three weeks after he was released from custody.

    Syla’s lawyer, Tome Gashi, said that his arrest was made based on the decision of the EULEX judge, Jennifer Seal, at the request of the international prosecutor. EULEX did not want to comment on this decision.

    When Syla was again detained, he argued that “there is an attempt to influence one of the protected witnesses” in the case against him, which his lawyer called a “scandal”.

    He surrendered to the authorities and was placed in detention on April 29, two days after 300 Kosovo and EULEX police launched a large-scale operation to detain him alongside a number of others believed to be involved in the syndicate.

    Azem Syla  |  Photo: BIRN      

  • Italian banking corporation Unicredit Group filed a case against Croatia before the arbitration court within the World Bank in Washington on Thursday in relation to a decision made by the former centre-left government in 2015 to transfer bank loans taken out in Swiss francs into francs.

    With tens of thousands of Croatian borrowers facing rising debts after the value of the Swiss franc surged, the government stepped in to help in 2015 by announcing that Swiss floans will be converted into euro loans using the exchange rate on the day the loan was taken out.

    Unicredit Group, the owner of Croatia's Zagreb Bank, claims that the law on the conversion of loans in Swiss francs was enforced retroactively since it forced banks to change contracts that corresponded with Croatian laws at the time they were signed.

    Some speculate that all Croatian banks, mostly owned by foreign banking corporations, will lose over a billion euros on the conversion, while it is likely that other banks will file lawsuits as well.

  • Members of the Serbian police force stopped an attempt to smuggle people and arms across the border into Hungary on Wednesday near the Serbian town of Kelebija, the Ministry of Internal Affairs told BIRN in a written statement.
    According to the Ministry, police have arrested four persons in total, from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq and Syria.

    Police suspect that the detainee from Syria had counterfeit documents, while police also seized two automatic rifles, five hand guns and ammunition during the arrests.
    All four people have been handed over to the Prosecution which will decide on further action.

    Seized guns, ammo and a car. Courtesy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. 

  • Over 67 per cent of the Bulgarian Roma consider themselves as poor, the latest survey by the National Statistical Institute, NSI, on incomes and living conditions in the country, revealed on Friday, has shown.

    The lowest level of poverty is shown to be within the Bulgarian ethnic group, of which 15.2 per cent of respondents declared themselves as poor.

    This was the first time the NSI included a question on the ethnicity of the participants in its annual survey. Respondents were able to choose which ethnic group they feel they belong to, but also had the option not to disclose this information.

    Roma mother with her child in front of a church in Sofia. Photo: Lori Scott/Flickr 

  • Bulgaria has sent an official letter to the European Commission demanding 160 million euros in financial support for controlling the migration flow, the Bulgarian National Radio reported on Friday.

    The document, submitted by the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior, covers several projects: renewing the technical equipment for border control, widening the systems for integrated monitoring of the border areas, modernising the information and communicational systems of the border police, and strengthening the national administrative capacity in the field of asylum.
  • Slovenia filed a lawsuit against Croatia before the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, in Strasbourg on Thursday over its alleged breach of court procedures in cases involving Croatian companies and loans from the Slovenian Ljubljana Bank.

    Slovenia wants 360 million euros in compensation for debts that Croatian companies did not pay to Ljubljana Bank in court processes from the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991.
    Slovenia claims that Croatia interfered in the court processes and prevented the bank from winning the cases.

    Before the same court, customers of Ljubljana Bank in Bosnia won a lawsuit in July 2014 against Slovenia over their foreign deposits, which the bank never paid up. According to the verdict, some 130,000 of the bank’s customers in Croatia will collectively receive around 130 million euros plus interest.

    In July 2014, the ECHR ruled in favour of two Bosnian citiziens who sued and won against Ljubljana Bank and Slovenia for not returning their foreign currency savings lost in the early 1990s.
  • Newly appointed Head of Delegation of the European Union to Montenegro, Aivo Orav, presented his credentials on Friday to President of Montenegro, Filip Vujanovic, and officially took up his duty as the EU Ambassador in Podgorica.

    "There is no doubt that my term in office will coincide with a four-year period of challenging reforms. I am confident that in the next four years we will witness visible results in all areas of the accession process. It will be a long journey which will require patience and perseverance, but it is also a journey that will bring you closer to your final goal – EU membership," Orav said.

    He has previously served as the EU ambassador in Macedonia.

  • Leaders of the victors in Croatia’s elections on Sunday, the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, met today with parliamentary representatives from eight national minority groups to discuss forming a potential joint government.

    HDZ president Andrej Plenkovic said that he wants all eight national minorities' MPs to join the future potential HDZ-led government.

    Meanwhile, Milorad Pupovac, leading MP for the Serbian minority, said that these first talks have shown that national minority MPs can have confidence in Plenkovic when it comes to the decision on the composition of the government.

    On Sunday elections, HDZ won 61 out of 151 seats in the Croatian parliament, and plans to form the country’s new government with minority MPs as well as centre-right Bridge of the Independent Lists, MOST, which won 13 seats.
    Andrej Plenkovic. Photo: BETAPHOTO/AP Photo/Darko Bandic
  • Bosnia expects the European Union's foreign ministers to accept its membership application next week, the start of a long path towards joining that could yet be overshadowed by a Bosnian Serb referendum that threatens to expose deep ethnic divides, Reuters reported.

    "I expect that we'll get a positive decision from the EU General Affairs Council simply because we have done everything that was expected from us," Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak told a news conference on Friday.
  • Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic paid a visit to neighbouring Macedonia on Friday where he attended the ceremony marking 100 years since the battle of Kajmakcalan during the First World War in which Serbian soldiers fought Bulgarian forces on Macedonian soil.

    He also visited the Serb military graveyard in the town of Bitola in southwestern Macedonia and met with the country’s President, Gjorge Ivanov, reaffirming their good neighbourly relations.

    Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic in Kajmakcalan. Photo by: Beta

  • Kosovo has selected director Faton Bajraktari’s debut feature ‘Home Sweet Home’ as its entry in the best foreign-language film category at the 2017 Academy Awards.

    The film, which is the third that Kosovo has ever submitted into the category, is a co-production between Kosovo and Macedonia and looks at the challenges facing a post-war society.

    Starring Donat Qosja, Arta Mucaj and Shkumbin Istrefi, it follows the story of lead character Agron, who was considered dead after his comrades in the army witnessed his death during the Kosovo conflict. When he returns home alive, his joy is short lived as he is forced to remain ‘officially’ deceased due to circumstances he finds himself in. 

    "Home sweet home"   

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