The Balkans Today: 24th - 28th October 2016
 
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The Balkans Today

Up to the minute news and updates from the Balkan region

The Balkans Today: 24th - 28th October 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:
     
    • Macedonia’s ruling party is likely to nominate its embattled leader Nikola Gruevski for the forthcoming elections in December, defying calls to remove compromised politicians from its candidate lists. Read more.
     
    • Albert Berisha, who returned to Kosovo after briefly joining fighters in Syria, has set up an NGO to help other returnees - and those mulling following the path that he once took. Read more.
     
    • Bears once held in grim captivity in Albania are adapting to a new life in a sanctuary in Kosovo, encouraging many in Albania to create their own safe haven. Read more.
  •  
     
    Serbian retired general Bratislav Dikic, the suspected ringleader behind the alleged coup attempt in Montenegro, claims Montenegrin police planted evidence against him during his arrest on October 16 on the eve of the country’s parliamentary elections.

    During a visit by the Council for Civilian Control of the Police on Sunday, which was inspecting his treatment in custody, Dikic stated that during his arrest "somebody from the police planted the evidence", referring to a mobile phone and keys to a warehouse where weapons were held.

    The prosecution freed one of the attempted coup suspects from detention, who based on alleged transcripts, was tasked to arrest veteran Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.

    Meanwhile, the Serbian Council for Coordination of the Security Services will meet today in Belgrade to announce the Serbian security agencies’ findings about the alleged terror plan in Montenegro.
     
    Bratislav Dikic: Photo: YouTube screenshot.

     
    by dusica.tomovic via null edited by emma.krstic 10/24/2016 8:17:13 AM
  • Croatia’s new Prime Minister, Andrej Plenkovic, announced on Monday that the government will commence its work and start preparing for its first official session on Thursday. 

    Plenkovic, who is also president of the leading centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, was voted in as prime minister by the parliament on Wednesday.
     
    Andrej Plenkovic. Photo: BETAPHOTO/AP Photo/Darko Bandic
     
  • Serbia celebrated its first royal wedding since 1922 when Prince Mihajlo Karadjordjevic, the grandson of King Aleksandar I, married Ljubica Ljubisavljevic in a ceremony in Belgrade on Sunday, drawing over 100,000 people onto the streets of the Serbian capital.
     
    Around 300 guests attended the ceremony, which took place at St George’s Church in Oplenac, in central Serbia, and was followed by a reception hosted by the groom’s parents, Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic and Princess Katarina, at the White Palace in Belgrade.
     
    Prince Mihailo Karadjordjevic marries Ljubica Ljubisavljevic. Photo: Beta
    The newly married couple pose for a photo with Serbia’s Prince Aleksandar (far right) and his wife, Princess Katarina (second from right), among others. Photo: Beta
    Prince Aleksandar (front right) arrives among the guests for the wedding. Photo: Beta
     
     
     
  • During the past weekend, eight Cuban citizens were caught illegally crossing the border between Montenegro and Croatia’s most southern municipality, Konavle.

    Eight individuals who were travelling in three groups were caught while trying to cross into Croatia over Konvale’s Stranina hill.

    All eight people have been banned from entering Croatia for the next two years and have been transported back to Montenegro.
  • According to Bosnian news website Fokus.ba, Uber is interested in starting up in Sarajevo.
     
    There are no concrete plans yet for Uber's entry to the Bosnian market, but the company's spokeswoman for the Balkans Alexandra Corolea told Fokus that Sarajevo was no exception to their vision to expand into major world cities.
     
    Bosnia's minister for transport Mujo Fiso has previously warned that Uber's way of working may not fit in with regulations in Sarajevo, where strict licensing laws apply.
  • Around 500 migrants staged a protest on Monday in Bulgaria’s largest refugee camp, located in the southern town of Harmanli, two months after a mass fight erupted there in September, the Bulgarian National Radio, BNR, reported.

    The asylum seekers rallied against the conditions in the facility, saying they do not want to stay in Bulgaria anymore and have demanded to be directed in Serbia.

    According to BNR, the majority of the protesters have lost patience in waiting to receive asylum in Bulgaria and have asked for NGOs to visit the camp and inform them about what will happen to them in the future. 

    The municipal and police authorities have started negotiations with the refugees.


    Refugess in Harmanli. Photo: Ivan Atanasov/Sakarnews.info



  • Delyan Dobrev, MP from Bulgaria’s leading party, GERB, voluntarily gave up his parliamentary immunity on Monday, after the state prosecution pressed charges against him earlier in the day over the failed Belene nuclear project.

    The prosecutors have accused Dobrev of willful neglect of the work of the National Electric Company, or NEC, while he was minister of economy and energy (between 2009 and 2013), costing the state over 560 million euros.

    Petar Dimitrov, who was in charge of the economy ministry under the Socialist-led government of Sergey Stanishev between 2007 and 2009 was also indicted for failing to apply the necessary controls over NEC during his mandate. 

    In June, a court in Geneva ordered Bulgaria to pay over 550 million euros in compensation to the Russian nuclear firm Atomstroyexport for the production of two nuclear reactors intended for the Belene project, which was aborted in 2013.
  • Nenad Canak, the leader of the Social Democrats of Vojvodina, Serbia’s northern province, was acquitted on Monday of allegations that he physically assaulted Belgrade resident Pavla Lesanovic in the northern city of Novi Sad in 2012, Serbian TV station N1 reported.

    The Court determined that Canak did not cause bodily harm to Lesanovic, and that the indictment stating that he had jeopardized the victim’s safety was outdated.

    Canak was freed of the charges against him almost one year ago, but the Appellation Court in Novi Sad ordered a retrial.
  • There was outrage in Bosnia today after the National Assembly of the mostly Serb entity Republika Srpska awarded a charter of merit to convicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, among others.
     
    The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights said the move was unacceptable.
     
    Vice president of RS, Ramiz Salkic, branded it "catastrophic" while the political party Democratic Front, based in the Federation entity, released a statement condemning the award.
     
    Karadzic's charter was one of several ceremonial awards made during a special session of the National Assembly of RS to mark its establishment 25 years ago exactly.
     
    Radovan Karadzic in The Hague. Photo: ICTY.
     
  • After Croatia’s new foreign minister Davor Ivo Stier resigned from the European Parliament to officially take his role in the new government last Wednesday, the ruling centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, has announced that his position in Brussels will be filled by Zeljana Zovko, who is currently Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ambassador to Italy.

    A Bosnian Croat, Zovko was on HDZ’s list for the 2014 European Parliament elections, and prior to her posting in Italy, was the ambassador in France and Spain between 2004 and 2011.
  • Journalist Lejla Čolak says to leave #Bosnia after latest threats over her criticism of niqab & burqa wearing in th… twitter.com/i/web/status/7…

  • Top stories from the Balkans this Tuesday:
     
    • Worsening conflict between the US and Russia is adding to confusion over Bulgaria's foreign policy, and highlighting a historic divide between fans and foes of ‘Grandfather Ivan’. Read more.
       
    • Polls in Macedonia showing growing support among ethnic Albanians for newly formed parties could deliver surprises in December's general election, observers say. Read more.
       
    • The public health system in Serbia is under growing pressure as health workers stream out of the country in search of better jobs abroad, health trade unions say. Read more.
       
    • Slovenia’s decision to erect a new border fence will strengthen the people smugglers and could lead to more violence, experts on the refugee crisis in Croatia fear. Read more.
     
  • Goran Maric, a member of Croatia’s senior coalition partner, the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, resigned from his position as a minister without a portfolio in the new government on Tuesday, daily Jutarnji list reported.

    Although still not officially confirmed, the newspaper reported that Maric resigned because he did not want to be a minister without a portfolio.
  • Albania’s so-called “vetting” law, under which all of Albania’s around 800 judges and prosecutors were to be background checked as part of the country’s efforts to cleanse the judicial system of corruption and political influence, has been stalled by a Constitutional Court ruling on Tuesday.

    The law, passed by parliament on August 31 as part of extensive judicial reforms, was brought before the court by the opposition Democratic Party, which claimed the new legal mechanism would result in a ‘witch hunt’.

    The court will decide in coming days if the law is in accordance with the constitution or not.

    Albanian Constitutional Court members. Photo: gjk.gov.al 
  • The Bulgarian government has approved the signing of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, and the Strategic Partnership Agreement, SPA, between the EU and Canada, on the condition that Canada lifts the visa requirement for all Bulgarian citizens by the end of 2017, the government’s press office announced on Tuesday, shortly after the decision was made.

    However, even with Bulgaria’s approval, there is still uncertainty over whether the deals will be signed on October 27 as planned, with the Belgian autonomous region of Wallonia having decided by its deadline on Monday evening that it would not support the CETA.

    Photo: Makaristos/Wikimedia Commons 


  • Goran Maric, a member of the senior ruling coalition partner, the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, has rejected media claims that his decision to quit as a government minister was because he was not given a portfolio, instead saying that he resigned because he will be put in charge of a ministry which does not yet exist.

    According to Maric, the current State Office for State Property Management, DUUDI, will be transformed into a ministry, which he will run.
  • Hungary is building a new fence on its southern border with Serbia in an effort to prevent refugees and migrants from illegally crossing into its territory, Serbian news agency Beta reported on Tuesday.

    Prior to commencing work on the fence, two other types of barriers were tested on the border, according to Beta.

    Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban stated in August that a stronger fence and an electronic surveillance system were needed to prepare for a possible new wave of refugees trying to reach Western Europe.
  • Ten days after Montenegro's ruling Democratic Party of Socialist, DPS, won most votes in the elections, the party decided that the current deputy prime minister Dusko Markovic will be named as the prime minister designated, if DPS secures the majority in the parliament.

    The news came amid rumours that veteran PM Milo Djukanovic is about to leave politics after being in power for almost 27 years.

    Markovic previously served as a head of Montenegrin intelligence service and is considered to be one of Djukanovic's closest allies.

    On election held on October 16, Djukanovic's DPS won 36 seats in the 81-seat parliament. If the minority parties, which ran independently in this election, choose to join him, Djukanovic's party will be able to again form a government.

    Dusko Markovic. Photo: gov.me.


  • The Croatian government is mulling options to shut down the oil refinery in the town of Sisak, central Croatia, the Minister for Environmental Protection and Energy, Slaven Dobrovic, confirmed for regional N1 television network on Wednesday.

    The refinery is owned by the Croatian energy company INA, which is the subject of an ongoing dispute between Croatia and the Hungarian energy company MOL, and talks about its closure have been present for many months.
  • Croatia’s Minister for Environmental Protection and Energy, Slaven Dobrovic, announced that the government is not shutting down the oil refinery in the town of Sisak in central Croatia at a press conference on Wednesday. 

    He explained that in his earlier statement, in which he said claimed the Croatian government was mulling options to close the refinery, he did not mean immediately, but in decades to come, when Croatia becomes less dependent on oil derivatives.
     
    Sisak refinery. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/I, Donatus
     
  • Today’s session of Albania’s Parliamentary Commission on Media was dominated by debate over a scheduled testimony from former editor-in-chief of Albania’s A1 News TV, Alida Tota, who claims to have been fired from the network for her work on an investigation into the death of a 17-year-old boy in a landfill near Tirana. 

    The representatives of the ruling majority walked out of the hearing, claiming the case was being amplified by the opposition for political purposes.
    Illustrative picture by Pexeles
  • Joint Statement on the suspension of the Vetting law from the Constitutional Court of… europa.eu/!Gy99fm via @EU_Commission

  • The Democratic Party of Kosovo has called a parliamentary session for Thursday to discuss the appeals’ court verdict which upheld the sentences against the 10 former Kosovo Liberation Army members accused of crimes against civilians in the 1998-99 conflict, in what was known as the “Drenica Group” case.

    The Kosovo Assembly will also discuss the planned joint statement from the ruling and opposition parties to reassure all other countries that Kosovo is ready to finish marking its border with Montenegro, which the contents of have still not been agreed, even after a joint meeting between the leaders from both sides on Tuesday.

    The Assembly of Kosovo | Photo: BIRN        


  • Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic reassured the media that the oil refinery in the central town of Sisak will not be shut down, and that next week an urgent meeting will be scheduled with the management of the energy company INA, which owns the refinery.

    INA is at the centre of an ongoing dispute between its biggest owners – the state of Croatia and the Hungarian energy company MOL.
  • Financing for a major new coal-fired power plant in Montenegro has collapsed and alternative funding is being sought, local power utility Elektroprivreda Crne Gore (EPCG) and the Czech project contractor said on Wednesday.

    Reuters reported that Skoda Praha, a unit of Czech power firm CEZ, signed a deal last month with EPCG to build the 254 megawatt (MW) unit at Pljevlja at an estimated cost of 324.5 million euros.

    CEZ had sought financing from the state-owned Czech Export Bank (CEB) and the Czech state export credit insurance provider EGAP. CEZ gave no reason why the arrangement was not completed.
  • Top stories from the Balkans this Thursday:
     
    • Macedonia’s ruling centre-right VMRO DPMNE party is trying to stymie the formation of a strong opposition centre-right alliance for the December elections using tempting coalition offers. Read more.
       
    • Bosnia’s Federation entity is accused of hurrying sales of state-owned assets at known-down prices on the stock exchange to get hold of instant cash. Read more.
       
    • After a video in which he slated the US, NATO and the EU swept the social media in the region, Croatian anti-establishment MP Ivan Pernar claims 'people are hungry for the truth'. Read more.
  • Albanian foreign minister Ditmir Bushati and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed strategic partnerships between their two countries during a meeting on Wednesday evening in Ankara.

    Currently on an official visit to Turkey, Bushati expressed his condemnation of the attempted coup in the country in July, while also hailing its efforts to restore constitutional order.

    Picture of the meeting. Photo: mfa.gov.al 
  • At the new Croatian government’s first session, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said that his government would not allow Croatian energy company INA to become a branch office of its biggest owner, the Hungarian energy company MOL.

    His announcement comes after speculation on Wednesday that INA's biggest oil refinery in the central town of Sisak would be shut down, which caused upset among the public.​
     
    Andrej Plenkovic in government. Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA/Denis CERIC/MO
     
  • In a meeting in Belgrade on Thursday, Russian Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev told Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic that the Russian Federation is ready for closer collaboration with Serbia, after both officials agreed that their security agencies are working well together, Vucic’s cabinet stated in a press release after the talks.

    Patrushev also offered Russia’s assistance in modernizing Serbia’s defence systems, the press release stated, although Vucic reiterated his firm stance that Serbia is to remain militarily neutral during the meeting.
  • The general income tax rate in Croatia will be reduced by 2 per cent down to 18 per cent, Croatian finance minister Zdravko Maric announced on Thursday. 

    Additionally, income tax for entrepreneurs, craftsmen and farmers with revenues under 400,000 euros a year will be cut to 12 per cent.
  • Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said that, because of the law, he cannot comment on the alleged expulsions of a number of Russian citizens from Serbia over their alleged involvement in illegal activities in Montenegro, Belgrade-based TV network N1 reported on Thursday.

    “I do not want to answer that question, not because [of what] I said at the press conference on Monday, but because the law prevents me to. Otherwise, I could say a lot of things on that issue, both about happenings in Montenegro and in Serbia,” Vucic stated.
  • Macedonia's ruling VMRO DPMNE party said it will sue retired former secret police chief Slobodan Bogoevski over allegations he made regarding the party’s leader Nikola Gruevksi and his cousin, former secret police chief Saso Mijalkov in an interview for Telma TV on Wednesday.
     
    Among other things, Bogoevski claimed that controversial Greek businessman Dimitris Kontominas told him that he had Gruevski “in his pocket” and Mijalkov had been arrested in the past for drug trafficking.
  • The Albanian Army is going to double it forces alongside NATO troops in Herat in western Afghanistan for the Resolute Support mission, which aims to give additional training and assistance to Afghan security forces and institutions, Albania’s defence minister Mimi Kodheli announced during NATO’s Minister of Defence meetings in Brussels on Thursday.

    The number of Albanian troops deployed for the NATO Kosovo Force, KFOR, mission will also be doubled from the beginning of 2017, the minister stated.

     Albanian Defence minister, Mimi Kodheli. Photo: mod.gov.al
  • Chief Hague Tribunal prosecutor Serge Brammertz criticised Serbia for not extraditing three members of the Serbian Radical Party - Petar Jojic, Jovo Ostojic and Vjerica Radeta – during talks with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade on Thursday.

    During the talks, Brammertz stated that Serbia’s duty to extradite the three Radicals will not go away, according to a press release from the Prime Minister’s Office following the meeting.
  • Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic attended a ceremony on Thursday at which the remains of some 800 people were reburied at Huda jama in Slovenia, where Yugoslav Partisan fighters killed Nazi collaborator soldiers and accompanying civilians in May and June 1945.
     
    Grabar Kitarovic said that she came to pay her respects to "all Croats and other victims of massive killing by the Communist regime after World War Two".

    Later on Thursday, new Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier visited the site as well.
     
    Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic in Huda jama. Photo: BETAPHOTO/AP Photo/Igor Napast
     
  • Top stories from the Balkans this Friday:
     
    • A motion to Macedonia's Constitutional Court, contesting the legality of the December 11 elections due to the uneven size of the electoral districts, could jeopardise the snap polls. Read more.
       
    • Krasimir Kanev, president of Bulgaria's Helsinki Committee, said Thursday's assault on him in Sofia was almost certainly linked to his work, to growing intolerance, and to the refusal of officialdom to deal with hate crimes. Read more.
       
    • New tax-cutting measures in Croatia are welcomed but not likely alone to restore growth rates to pre-2008 levels, experts say. Read more.
       
    • Albanian PM Edi Rama has started an active exchange of opinions and jokes with ordinary citizens on social networks - including live chats - which experts see as a smart election tactic. Read more.
     
  • EU prosecutors in Kosovo have withdrawn a charge of mistreating of two girls during wartime against three former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, Sulejman Selimi, Ismet Haxha and Shekfi Hyseni.

    The decision comes as the Kosovo parliament continues to debate its response to the appeals court decision on Monday to uphold the war crimes conviction of ten former KLA members, including Selimi, who is Pristina’s former ambassador to Albania and ex-head of the Kosovo Security Force.

    Photo during a protest against the arrest of Sylejman Selimi, former general commander of Kosovo Liberation Army | Photo: BIRN


  • Albania’s Minister of Justice, Ylli Manjani, has asked the High Council of Justice to remove the head judge in the southern Albanian town of Gjirokaster, Guximtare Boci, after it was revealed he asked a female client for sexual favours in return for helping her win a property case.
     
    The Albanian public is in uproar over the revelation, which was unveiled to the public by investigative television programme “Stop”, which aired on the TV Klan network in Albania on Thursday evening.
  • The President of the Croatian Journalists' Association, Sasa Lekovic, claimed on Friday that somebody had deliberately cut the screws on one of the wheels of his car, which almost caused him to have an accident while he was driving on a highway.

    He published the allegation in a Facebook post, in which he also said this is not the first time his car has been tampered with, but the previous time also did not result in an accident.
  • Received today Ferhat Dinosha, #Montenegro's new Ambasador to #Kosovo. Our two States enjoy excellent bilateral & n… twitter.com/i/web/status/7…

  • Predsjednik Hrvatskog novinarskog društva pukim slučajem je izbjegao po život opasnu prometnu nesreću!

  • New Croatian MP Ivan Pernar, who recently became anti-establishment star across the Balkans, has asked for a 15-minute break of parliament's session due to the alleged news that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg thanked Croatia for sending its troops to the border with Russia.

    Pernar argued that the decision to send troops abroad could only be made in the parliament and called it a move by the "puppet government".
     
  • A two-day visit to Bosnia by new Croatian prime minister Andrej Plenkovic began today in Sarajevo.
     
    Chairman of the presidency Bakir Izetbegovic and presidency member Dragan Covic received Plenkovic this morning, as the new Croatian premier pledged that Bosnia and Herzegovina would be a particular focus of interest for him.
     
    He has declared himself strongly in favour of the integration of Bosnia into the European Union.
     
    The Social Democratic Party (SDP) criticised Plenkovic today as being pro ethnic segregation after he commented that Croatians should be the ones to vote in Croatian representatives, according to Klix.ba.
     
    Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers Denis Zvizdic with Andrej Plenkovic. Photo: Anadolu
     
     
     
  • Macedonia’s Minister of Culture Elizabeta Kanceska–Milevska said that the criminal investigation against her was a “political theatre by [the opposition] SDSM, carried out by the Special Prosecution”.
     
    Kanceska-Milevska was questioned today in the Skopje Criminal Court after the Special Prosecution, SJO, launched an investigation against her and other persons on October 20 for alleged abuse of office. The court is yet to say whether Milevska’s passport will be taken as a measure of precaution.
  • Police in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, believe the assault on Thursday morning against the president of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Krasimir Kanev, is linked to his work, the head of the Sofia police Mladen Marinov said at a briefing on Friday.

    “We are working on a version linked to his work, to the institution he represents, but of course we are also working on a version for some personal reasons,” Marinov told journalists.

    Krasimir Kanev. Photo: Bulgarian Helsinki Committee 


  • An IT expert from the Swedish company Ericsson who was called by Macedonia’s Special Prosecution, SJO, to help them extract data on past wiretapping activities from the headquarters of the secret police, has completed his task, local media reported, citing well informed sources.
     
    The SJO, which is investigating the mass illegal wiretapping scandal, did not reveal any details about the visit of the foreign expert.
  • Kosovo MPs decided to withdraw a vote on two draft joint statements, issued by the ruling and opposition parties, to reassure all other countries that Kosovo is ready to finish marking its border with Montenegro from the assembly session today, because they failed to reach consensus on harmonizing the two proposals into one. 

    The draft statement was intended to be sent to EU countries to help Kosovo’s cause in gaining visa liberalisation for its citizens.

    Kosovo MPs voting to withdraw two draft joint statements | Photo: BIRN       


  • Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva resigned Friday as vice president of the European Commission to take a job as CEO of the World Bank.

    Georgieva, who was the Vice-President of the Commission responsible for Budget and Human Resources, has informed European Commission President Juncker of her decision to resign from her post in order to take up a new responsibility, as of 2 January 2017, as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA), known collectively as the World Bank.


    "It is with great regret that I have accepted Kristalina Georgieva's decision to resign from the European Commission. The fact that she has been asked to take a leading role in the World Bank is an acknowledgment and recognition of Kristalina Georgieva's many talents and her professionalism. I sincerely congratulate her on this new role. She will be greatly missed," Juncker said.
  • One tear of sadness, one of #joy f her - @KGeorgievaEU leaves @EU_Commission f @WorldBank. Look fwd to ctued cooperation on @eu_near issues.
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