The Balkans Today: 13th - 17th February 2017
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The Balkans Today

Up to the minute news and updates from the Balkan region

The Balkans Today: 13th - 17th February 2017

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:
    • Michael MacQueen, who tracks down Bosnian war crimes suspects in the US, looks back on years of bringing human rights violators to justice in the face of complex court procedures and delays. Read more.
    • Macedonia spent at least 150 million euros on attracting foreign investments over the last decade, a study of budget bills shows – over half the value of the investments that the country attracted. Read more.

    • As gang, fan and drug-related shootings and killings shake Serbian cities, a security expert says it all shows that the country is far from winning the proclaimed 'war' on mafia violence. Read more.

  • A group of around ten Croatian hooligans attacked supporters of the Partizan basketball club from Belgrade in Zagreb on Sunday evening.

    One Partizan supporter was hospitalised after receiving injuries to his head and one of the suspected attackers has been arrested.
    The investigation is ongoing.

  • During the press conference, one of the patrons at the club, Hana, explained that the gas attack lasted some 15 minutes, during which "unbelievable terror and panic broke out" at the venue. 

    Jelena Postic from Zagreb Pride stated that the group is disappointed by the lack of reaction from Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic to the incident, saying "she should be the President of all citizens".
    Photo of people cut after trying to escape the club. Photo: Twitter/ana_esplanada
  • The Association of the Radio Taxi Zagreb, the biggest taxi services provider in the Croatian capital, announced that it will start a peaceful protest in some 15 days if the authorities do not ban drivers from using the Uber app to get passengers. 

    The Association's vice president, Ivan Pilko, said that around 1,000 taxi drivers are expected to take part, and if authorities ignore their peaceful protest then they will block the city and the airport.

    They claim that Uber drivers - for which they claim are working illegally - took 40 per cent of their profits and almost all customers driving during the night.
  • Macedonia's regular state prosecution confirmed on Monday that it has opened an investigation into the pre-election financing of the main opposition Social Democratic party, SDSM.
    The move comes just days after last week the Special Prosecution started questioning donors of the main ruling VMRO DPMNE about its party financing, to which the ruling party protested, claiming that they are deliberately being targeted.
  • Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic has condemned three attacks that took place in Zagreb last week, one against a teenage Iraqi aylum seeker on Thursday, another on Sunday against Partizan basketball club supporters from Belgrade, and the third when tear gas was thrown into a nightclub hosting a thematic LGBT night, also on Sunday.

    The President said she expects swift investigations into the attacks to determine the motives behind them and to punish the perpetrators.

    The President pleaded that people should avoid jumping to conclusions about the motives of the attacks before the investigation is completed so as not to "raise tensions among the public".
    Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic. Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA/Lana SLIVAR DOMINIC/MO
  • The University of Augsburg in Austria confirmed to BIRN on Monday that it has received an email accusing Croatian Education and Science Minister Pavo Barisic of "plagiarism concerning his doctoral dissertation".

    Klaus P. Prem from university's press office stated that the institution us currently “in the process of verifying the identity and credibility of the informants" and will determine after the process is completed "whether a formal investigation, which is standard procedure in such cases, will be initiated."

    On Friday, news site Index reported that Barisic - who survived a vote of no-confidence in parliament on Friday - was reported for auto-plagiarism of his doctoral dissertation at the University of Augsburg, where he attained the PhD in 1989.

    Barisic was reported for allegedly compiling the university’s own science papers into a doctoral dissertation called 'Welt und Ethos' ('World and Ethos') and representing it as an original and new work.
    Pavo Barisic. Photo: Beta
  • Montenegrin parliamentary committee approved on Monday request to lift immunity of two opposition leaders suspected of being involved in the alleged coup attempt on election day in October.

    Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime, Milivoje Katnic, has made the motion so that Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic, leaders of the pro-Russian opposition alliance Democratic Front, could be detained and eventually put on trial.

    Katnic has claimed that both leaders are suspected of "establishing a criminal organization" and being involved in attempts against "the constitutional rule and security of Montenegro."

    The motion to strip the immunity of the two opposition leaders has to be approved by the majority in an 81-seat parliament. The vote is expected to be held on Wednesday.

    Both Mandic and Knezevic have dismissed the plot allegations as "fiction".

    Accusing prosecutor's office of taking action under the influence of former PM Milo Djukanovic, the Democratic Front said on Monday that “Djukanovic is threatening to drag Montenegro in the civil war.”

    “If violence becomes state policy and the answer to this could be violence,” the alliance told the press conference late on Monday.

    The Democratic Front said that former PM Milo Djukanovic is "threatening to drag Montenegro in the civil war.“ Photo: The Democratic Front/Facebook. 

  • Chairman of the Council of Ministers of BiH Denis Zvizdic, who is paying an official visit to Montenegro at the invitation of the Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, said that the focus of Tuesday's conversations will be economic cooperation and economic issues, and achieving more meaningful and better economic cooperation, Sarajevo Times reports.

    “We want to improve our economic relations in content,” said Zvizdic and recalled that trade between Montenegro and Bosnia at the moment amounts to 330 million Bosnian marks(160 million euros).
  • Top stories from the Balkans this Tuesday:
    • A new court faces old problems in protecting witnesses to a dark chapter in Kosovo’s fight for freedom. Read more.
    • Lawmakers are expected to vote on Wednesday on a motion to strip two Montenegrin opposition leaders of their immunity from prosecution over their alleged involvement in a coup attempt. Read more.
    • Controversy has been growing in Croatia as increasing numbers of doctors have been declining to carry out abortions, citing a law that allows them to refuse on moral or religious grounds. Read more.
  • The Croatian state attorney office is investigating suspicious travel expenses paid by the war veterans' ministry in 2015 during the term of minister Predrag Matic in the government led by centre-left Social Democratic Party, SDP, RTL TV reported on Monday.

    The ministry spent 128,000 euros on travel expenses in 2015, but state revision found that the purposes of some trip were missing from certain travel logs.

    In response to the allegations, Matic stated that he wants a full investigation to be conducted, claiming he "hasn't ever done something against the law".

    The latest allegations of suspicious travel expenses come after Tomislav Saucha, the ex-chief of staff of former Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, was arrested on Friday on suspicion of paying out 73,000 euros in per diems for fictive trips by government advisors.
  • Zagreb football club Dinamo marked the 17-year anniversary on Tuesday since it reintroduced its former name, with the club having played as Hask Gradjanski and Croatia between 1991 and 2000.

    The club’s name was changed by its administration in 1991, influenced by the wish of the Croatian 1990s wartime President Franjo Tudjman, who wanted to distance the club from the name it was given during Socialist Yugoslavia and that was common for sports clubs in post-communists states, such as Russia, Romania, Albania and Serbia.

    During the 1990s, Dinamo's hardcore supporters – the Bad Blue Boys - advocated for the old name to be reintroduced and entered a public conflict with Tudjman and Croatian authorities.

    After Tudjman died in December 1999, the club's assembly reintroduced the old name with 43 votes 'for' and only one 'against', evoking massive public celebration.
    Croatian 1990s wartime President Franjo Tudjman explains to a child why he should support Zagreb football club under its 1990s name of Croatia and not under its old name of Dinamo.
  • Bosnia's border police recorded a 21 percent increase in illegal border crossings in 2016 compared with the previous year.
    218 people were caught crossing the border illegally last year, said border officials.
    During 2016, it seized 1,158 foreign and 275 local documents from foreign and local nationals.
    The vast majority of border crossings, however, were made by travellers with all the right documentation. 
  • Zagreb-based NGO, the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, sent an open letter to Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, calling her to express her regrets and respect for the victims of crimes committed in 1991 by the reserve police battalion, commanded by Tomislav Mercep, who the Supreme Court sentenced to seven years in prison on Monday.

    The initiative asked the Grabar Kitarovic to distance herself from the crimes, since Mercep was a special guest at her presidential inauguration in February 2015.

    The NGO also emphasised its belief that it is important for the President to recognise "the death, suffering and pain of all [Croatian] citizens," and that by inviting Mercep to her inauguration, she insulted the victims and "all those who have, in the 1990s, fought for democracy and the state [based on the] rule of law, which would respect human rights."

    Mercep was convicted of not preventing the battalion, nicknamed the ‘Mercepovci’ (‘Mercep’s Men’), from detaining, torturing and killing several dozen mainly Serb civilians at the Zagreb Trade Fair, the town of Kutina in central Croatia and Pakracka Poljana in western Slavonia in late 1991.

    A total of 46 civilians were killed by the Mercepovci, three went missing and have not been found, and six were tortured but survived.
  • Bosnia's chairman of the Council of Ministers Denis Zvizdic is in Podgorica, Montenegro today at the invitation of Montenegrin prime minister Dusko Markovic.
    The delegation from Bosnia includes the deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers and minister of foreign trade and economic relations, Mirko Sarovic, deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers and minister of finance and treasury, Vjekoslav Bevanda, and ministers of foreign affairs Igor Crnadak, defense Marina Pendes, communications and transport Ismir Jusko and minister for human rights and refugees, Semiha Borovac.
    While in Podgorica, Zvizdić will meet with the president of Montenegro's parliament, Ivan Brajovic, and Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic.
    Denis Zvizdic with Dusko Markovic in Podgorica. Photo: Anadolu
  • Croatian War Veterans' Minister Tomo Medved said on Tuesday that the register of 1990s Croatian war veterans - put online four years ago - will no longer be a public document, daily newspaper Novi list reported.

    Medved explained that the register should function as a unique record of war veterans at disposal to Croatian institutions, while veterans now have to attain official confirmation of their war merits at other institutions.
  • Stevo Culej, an MP of the governing centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, posted a photo on Facebook on Monday evening with himself and Tomislav Mercep, former 1990s assistant to the interior minister, whom the Supreme Court sentenced to sentenced to seven years in prison on Monday.

    Along with the photo, Culej wrote "Not good" in the post, likely referring to the outcome of Mercep’s trial, with the Croatian Supreme Court increasing his verdict to seven years on Monday.  

    Culej, himself a 1990s war veteran, is known for controversies, including when he wrote on Facebook in September that the ethnic Roma MP Veljko Kajtazi “lies like a Serbian Gypsy” and “lies and works on the behalf of Croat-haters”. Culej did not apologise for his statements. 

    Mercep was convicted, as a commander, of not preventing the battalion, nicknamed the ‘Mercepovci’ (‘Mercep’s Men’), from detaining, torturing and killing several dozen mainly Serb civilians at the Zagreb Trade Fair, the town of Kutina in central Croatia and Pakracka Poljana in western Slavonia in late 1991.
    Stevo Culej (first from the left) and Tomislav Mercep (fourth from the left). Photo: Facebook/Stevo Culej
  • Croatian news site Index filed a complaint on Tuesday to the public information officer against Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic over her office's decision not to provide information on her official trip to Washington in January.

    On Monday, the president's office refused to show Index the travel logs and the written report accompanying them, which outlined the cost of the trip, as well as the details of the visit, which were not fully explained to the public.

    The office refused to present the documents, claiming that Index, with 11 requests in a month, had disrupted the office’s ability to function properly.
    Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (left) with US Senator Marco Rubio during her visit to Washington. Photo: Twitter/Marco Rubio
  • Kosovo Parliament started debating on Tuesday the idea of turning the Kosovo Security Forces into a regular army, following a request from Daut Haradinaj, MP from the opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, to open the discussion. 

    During the debate, Haradinaj stated: “Kosovo Armed Forces must not be seen as a threat to no one, but as guards of peace and stability in region,” adding that he believes Kosovo Serbs MPs have become a barrier to the possible transformation process.

    In order for Kosovo to turn its security forces into an army, the country would need to amend its Constitution, and to do so requires the support of two thirds of MPs that represent the country’s minorities.

    However, this cannot happen without Kosovo Serb representatives returning to parliament after they commenced a boycott of institutions following parliament’s approval of a law on the Trepca mine.

  • During a debate in Kosovo parliament on Tuesday over turning the Kosovo Security Forces, KSF, into a regular army, the KSF minister, Haki Demolli, stated that they have sent 18 invitations for MPs of Srpska Lista, the main party representing the Serb community in Kosovo, to discuss the constitutional changes that would need to be made for the transformation to be possible. 

    “On the meetings with Kosovo Serb ministers, they conditioned their vote, while after, they avoided meetings with us,” Demolli stated.

    Meanwhile, Ganimete Musliu, an MP of the ruling Kosovo Democratic Party, stated that Srpska Lista MPs, “who have parliament seats and benefits”, are the main problem when it comes to the possibility of transforming the KSF, but “can be solved”. 

    Musliu added that “with or without them [Srpska Lista], KSF must be an army. Srpska Lista must understand this, that Kosovo is a country to all its citizens. They represent Kosovo Serbs here, not Serbia.

    Kosovo Parliament debating on Tuesday about Kosovo Security Forces | Photo: BIRN 

    The Serbian Progressive Party presidency unanimously decided on Tuesday that itss party leader and current Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic, would be the party’s candidate in the upcoming presidential elections this spring.
    Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic confirmed this evening that he has been put forward as the presidential candidate for the ruling Serbian Progressive Party in the country’s upcoming elections.
    Vucic said in an interview with public broadcaster RTS that at this stage, he had been proposed by the party Presidency, but the final decision is still to be made on Friday at a meeting of the Main Board.
    “It is an issue of importance for the future of Serbia, because in recent months we could see how all of those who were destroying the country, who led it to the brink of bankruptcy and destroyed the future, wish to return to power and destroy Serbia,” said Vucic, referring to the opposition Democratic Party, which was in power until 2012.
    Vucic said that without the support of current Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, a “lot of good and important results” would not have been achieved, and that it was Nikolic’s “historic role”.
    “I intend to work together with him, if he wants that,” he said, adding that he had met with Nikolic, but did not want to discuss the details of “private talks”.
    Vucic accused “some of the opposition candidates” of spending millions in foreign money.
    He refused to say who will be the candidate for the role of next Serbian prime minister.
    “You can keep asking me that for two days, it does not cross my mind to answer,” he said.
    Aleksandar Vucic, the Serbian Prime Minister, said that mayor of Belgrade Sinisa Mali would have to bear “political responsibility” for the mystery demolitions by masked men that took place in the capital’s Savamala district last year.

    “He is a good manager … but the atmosphere is like that in which someone has to pay political price,” Vucic told Serbian public broadcaster RTS.

    He reiterated that senior city officials were behind the demolitions, and that he would have been proud of them if they have done it openly during the day.

    Vucic said that Marija Mali has been used in a political game.

    On the nights of April 24 and 25 last year, about 30 masked men demolished buildings overnight in Belgrade’s Savamala district, where the huge government-backed Belgrade Waterfront complex is to be built.
    Top stories from the Balkans this Wednesday: 
    • The leadership of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party proposed party chief and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic as its candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, making him the frontrunner. Read more.
    • False rumours that the oldest cinema in the Bulgarian capital was about to be shut down have brought it hundreds of new visitors, sparking hopes of a revival of its glory days. Read more.
    • Montenegro’s opposition has decided to boycott local elections in the country’s second city, Niksic, over an attempt to prosecute two opposition MPs suspected of involvement in an alleged coup plot. Read more.
    US President Donald Trump and the American people have sent their congratulations to Kosovo for the ninth anniversary of its independence as the Balkan nation gets ready to celebrate the occasion on February 17, its national day, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a press statement published on Wednesday.
    The United States values its strong friendship with Kosovo based on mutual aspirations for stability, peace, and prosperity for all of our citizens. We applaud the progress the people of Kosovo have made in developing democratic, multiethnic institutions over their nine years of independence,” the statement read.
    Tillerson also drew attention to two historic sporting achievements that Kosovo celebrated in 2016 - its first-ever Olympic gold medal and its national football team making its FIFA debut – adding that “we [the US] look forward to Kosovo’s continued achievements as it works to strengthen rule of law, counter violent extremism, and build positive relationships with its neighbors and around the world.”
    Albanian Police arrested four people on Tuesday suspected of being involved in the armed robbery of around 7 million euros during two separate attacks on private armoured cars that were transporting bank money from the Tirana International Airport.

    Two of those arrested were formerly soldiers sent to Afghanistan as part of Albanian missions there. 

    Six people were allegedly involved in the robberies, which happened in the busiest areas of Tirana, creating major concern among citizens, who have hailed the police on social networks for identifying and arresting those responsible.

    Police during the operation of capturing perpetrators. Photo: State Police  
    Sebastian Sosa, Belgrade-based representative of the International Monetary Fund, IMF, told Bloomberg on Tuesday that Serbia needs to “stop subsidising unprofitable state companies” in order to sustain the results it has made in cutting its budget deficit and expenditures.

    Serbia needs to “stop with subsidies, debt repayment, financing these companies through arrears for electricity or gas, or arrears for social security payments” and find “a permanent solution,” Sosa said.

    His comments came ahead of a visit by an IMF delegation to Belgrade, scheduled to start on February 27.

    Bloomberg reports that “the IMF mission will study budget spending and how that will affect this year’s fiscal outlook.”
    The Croatian government is monitoring internal developments in Croatian company Agrokor, the country’s largest retailers, which reportedly has problems in financing its debts Croatian finance minister Zdravko Maric said on Wednesday.

    Maric, who worked as a manager in Agrokor before becoming the finance minister, stated that the government must pay attention to the company, which employs 60,000 workers across the region, out of which 40,000 are in Croatia.
    The EU Parliament voted in favour of adopting a resolution on Bosnia and Herzegovina on Wednesday, welcoming the steps the country has made so far on its path towards EU membership, but warning it to stay away from divisive topics.
    The resolution was adopted with 496 votes in its favour, 132 against, and 67 abstentions.
    Bosnia and Herzegovina applied for EU membership a year ago and is now in the process of answering the union’s questionnaire on the country’s readiness to join the bloc.
    During Tuesday’s discussion on the resolution, Croatia pushed hard to promote the “federalization” of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but other parliamentarians claimed this idea was actually aimed at creating a third, Croat-majority entity within Bosnia.
    Current Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said on Wednesday that he is not surprised by the decision of the leadership of the Serbian Progressive Party to back Serbian Prime Minister and head of the Progressives, Aleksandar Vucic, in the upcoming presidential elections.
    The party’s leadership decided unanimously to nominate Vucic as their candidate at a session on party session on Tuesday, but the final decision is yet to be adopted by the main board of the Progressives at a meeting on February 17.
    “We’ll talk about it,” Nikolic said on Wednesday when asked if he is quitting his candidacy, Beta news agency reported on Wednesday.
    Nikolic won the presidential elections in 2012 as the candidate put forwards by the Progressives.
    The European Parliament passed a resolution on Albania on Wednesday in which it is emphasized that country could open the accession talks with the EU as soon as the first results from the country’s extensive judicial reforms can be seen.

    The resolution specifically referred to the implementation of the so-called “vetting law” that will vet the 800 judges and prosecutors in the country. 

    Albania is also required to hold free and fair elections on June 18, and the country’s institutions should work harder to identify the criminal groups responsible for cannabis cultivation, the resolution said. 

    One of the most striking parts of the resolution was an article under which Albania is asked to enshrine the rights of people with Bulgarian ethnicity in the Prespa, Golo Brdo, and Gora regions in law and to ensure this is upheld in practice. 

    The resolution was approved with 546 votes in its favour, 85 against and 62 abstentions.

    European Parliament. Photo: Wikipedia 
    Montenegro's Supreme State Prosecutor Ivica Stankovic ordered the Special State Prosecutor's Office on Wednesday not to seek the arrest of two opposition leaders who are suspected of involvement in attempts to undermine "the constitutional rule and security of Montenegro".

    The ruling majority on Wednesday stripped two opposition leaders of the pro-Russian opposition Democratic Front alliance, Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic, of their immunity from prosecution over their alleged involvement in a coup attempt on election day on October 16.

    "Having in mind the presumption of innocence and the presumption in favour of liberty, the custody of these persons should not be sought,” Stankovic said.

    One of the opposition leaders Andrija Mandic. Photo: BIRN.

    Kosovo’s government has appointed Mimoza Ahmetaj as the new Minister of European Integration.
    Ahmetaj has previously served as Kosovo’s ambassador to Belgium and Slovenia.

    Before that, Ahmetaj was an adviser to Hashim Thaci when he was Prime Minister of Kosovo, and before that Ahmetaj was MP for the ruling Democratic Party.

    Until Ahmetaj was appointed on Tuesday, Kosovo had been without a Minister of European Integration since September 2016 when the former post-holder, Bekim Collaku, resigned to take a role in the president’s office.

    Macedonia's Defense Minister Zoran Jolevski met with US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher on February 2 during a visit to the United States, just days before Rohrabacher controversially suggested new borders be drawn in the Balkans, the Defense Ministry has confirmed to BIRN.
    On February 6, Rohrabacher - who is also chair of the US House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats - told Albanian TV channel Vizion Plus that Macedonia was not a state and that its territory should be shared out between Kosovo and Bulgaria.
    Dana Rohrabacher. Photo:
    On its 47th anniversary, the University of Pristina has received a threatening letter from somebody claiming to write on behalf of ISIS.

    “The letter was in handwriting, there is no logo, and it was signed under the name of terrorist organisation ISIS,” Agron Borovci, a spokesperson for Pristina police, told Radio Free Europe.

    He confirmed that Kosovo police interviewed several people in relation to the case and are investigating the matter. 

    The University changed its 47th anniversary celebrations because of the threat since, according to them, the letter read: “We will attack you on February 15 at 11.00,” which according to the university provost was the time the ceremony was planned for.

    NATO Ministers confirmed that Montenegro is on the right track to join the Alliance in the very near future #DefMin

    Sputnik Serbia, a news outlet owned by Russia, reported that Tomislav Nikolic, current Serbian President who won 2012 elections as the ruling Serbian Progressive Party candidate, would be running for another mandate in upcoming presidential elections this spring.

    BIRN could not independently verify the report.

    Nikolic candidacy would come as a surprise, as Progressives’ leadership on Tuesday proposed party chief and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic as its candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, making him the frontrunner. 

    Tomislav Nikolic [left] and Aleksandar Vucic. Photo: Darko Vojinovic/AP/Beta 

    Zorana Mihajlovic, Serbian infrastructure minister and deputy president of ruling the ruling Progressive Party, stated that if Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic ran for another term, as Serbian media reported he would on Wednesday, despite the fact his party supported Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic as their presidential candidate, it would divide the Progressives. 

    “I do not want to believe that Tomislav Nikolic will turn against Serbia, the Serbian Progressive Party and Aleksandar Vucic. But if this is true it would be a sad beginning of an end of the political career of the Progressives’ founder Tomislav Nikolic,” Mihajlovic wrote in a statement on Thursday.

    “If this is true, that this is Nikolic’s attempt to divide the Progressives and help the opposition win [the upcoming presidential elections], that attempt will not succeed,” she added.

    Zorana Mihajlovic. Photo: Beta 

    Serbian opposition Democratic Party, DS, has called for Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic to resign from his post after the premier’s ruling Progressive Party voted to nominate him as their candidate in the upcoming presidential elections.
    Igor Selak, DS vice president, warned in a statement on Thursday that Vucic might use his prime minister’s post for “political promotion and other candidates will not have even a minimum of media space to present their stands and programmes.”
    He added: “We are also inviting officials from the Serbian Progressive Party to demand that candidate Vucic resigns from the post of the head of the government with the same urge as they have been demanding from Sasa Jankovic to resign from the post of [Serbia’s] Ombudsman.” 
    Salak was referring to the fact that Progressives have been demanding Jankovic to resign from his current post as Ombudsman after he announced he might run for president, claiming that he might abuse his official position for campaign promotion.
    DS previously decided to support Jankovic in the spring elections.
    Aleksandar Vucic I Photo by: Beta/Milos Miskov
    by gordana.andric edited by emma.krstic 2/16/2017 11:06:38 AM
    The Serbian Progressive Party will fight against “everyone”, if needed, in the upcoming presidential elections campaign, Marija Obradovic, vice president of the Progressives’ managing board, told Serbian news agency Tanjug on Thursday.

    “The president of the Serbian Progressive Party Aleksandar Vucic has strong, undivided support of over half a million Progressives, that obliges him, and all of who are leading the party, to bravely step forward regardless on anything,” she said, adding that “stability and continuity of the reforms in Serbia cannot be jeopardised at any price.”

    She concluded: “Serbia before anyone!”

    With Croatia considering reintroducing compulsory military service, Austrian conservative daily Die Presse published a report on Wednesday highlighting that Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic did not take part in mandatory army service, because he was anaemic, before it was abolished in the country in 2008.

    The publication cited numerous professional athletes who were diagnosed as anaemic but went on to achieve extraordinary sporting careers, such as US tennis legend Pete Sampras and French football legend Zinedine Zidane.
    Andrej Plenkovic. Photo: Betaphoto/Dario GRZELJ
    Aleksandar Vulin, Serbian labour minister and the leader of the Socialists Movement, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, stated that if Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic decides to run in the upcoming presidential elections,as media have reported he will, it would be a “betrayal” to Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.
    “If Nikolic would do that, he would stand on the side of [opposition candidates] Sasa Jankovic and Vuk Jeremic. That would mean that Vucic is being betrayed by politicians and that Serbia is staying beside him.
    “Compromises he made, the attention he was putting into his dealings with Nikolic unfortunately may turn to be yet again Vucic’s good intention that turned against him,” Vulin told news agency Tanjug on Thursday.
    He added: “Aleksandar Vucic is a choice of Serbia, its decision to be stable and firm, and that is why Aleksandar Vucic will not be left alone.”
    Aleksandar Vulin. Photo: Beta 

    by gordana.andric edited by emma.krstic 2/16/2017 11:34:02 AM
    The Croatian government plans to spend 420 million euros from the state budget on the building of a bridge connecting the Peljesac peninsula to the mainland, bypassing the narrow strip of the Bosnian coast, it said on Thursday when presenting its plan for financing the project. 

    Of this amount, 35 million will come from the 2017 budget, the government said.

    Additionally, the government announced that 85 per cent of the final costs of the project will be financed with EU funds.
    “We have allegations of Russian interference in a whole series of elections – from Bulgaria to the United States,” UK defence minister Michael Fallon told Sky News in an interview, published on Thursday.

    According to Fallon, there is no doubt that Russia is using all of the weapons it has at its disposal – “its information, its television networks, its propaganda” to “aggressively interfere” in other democracies.

    "We need to be very wary of what Russia is up to,” he said.

    Michael Fallon. Photo: Chatam House, London 

    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg outlined on Thursday that the Alliance will strengthen its air and maritime presence in the Black Sea region.
    "We discussed our presence in the Black Sea region. Complementing our strengthened regional posture in the air and on land – based on a multinational framework brigade in Romania. Eight Allies have committed to provide brigade staff. And five Allies have committed land and air forces for training and air policing," he said. "Today, we agreed on two additional maritime measures: an increased NATO naval presence in the Black Sea for enhanced training, exercises and situational awareness, and a maritime coordination function for our Standing Naval Forces when operating with other Allied forces in the Black Sea region. And this shows Allies stand together, united and strong," Stoltenberg added.
    The Secretary General also told a press conference that NATO was modernizing its Command Structure in response to new security challenges.
    Romania requested an increased NATO naval presence in the Black Sea at the 2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw. NATO considered the move as a response to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. However, both Bulgaria and Turkey were against such a force, reluctant to damaging their ties with Moscow. 
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