The Balkans Today: 25th April - 1st May 2016
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The Balkans Today

Up to the minute news and updates from the Balkan region

The Balkans Today: 25th April - 1st May 2016

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

    Former CoE rapporteur Dick Marty speaks as potential KLA crimes witness is shot dead

    Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama announced the start of a new public administration programme on Monday that will allow 2,000 young Albanians to take up internships in the nation's ministries and state agencies.

    The programme is also open to Albanians residing in other countries, such as Kosovo and Macedonia.

    Rama stated that the program is important because it not only offers the opportunity for those involved to gain experience, but also gives the country's public administration the chance to boost its human resources.
    Albanian Council of Ministers | Photo:
    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia filed an official complaint with the authorities of Montenegro, as a result of which Montenegrin police shut down an Abkhazian tourism exposition,

    The Abkhazian exposition was a part of an international tourism fair in the coastal town of Budva in Montenegro.

    According to the president of Abkhazia’s Chamber of Commerce Gennadi Gagulia, Montenegrin police covered the exposition with tarp following Abkhazia’s refusal to remove it from the fair.

    "By the end of the day, police surrounded our pavilion. The government of Montenegro instructed them to immediately close our exposition. They said that Montenegro’s MFA received a complaint from the MFA of Georgia," Gagulia told Sputnik Abkhazia.

    Georgia habitually tries to prevent Abkhazian participation in international political, cultural, and sport events, where it is presented as an independent state.

    The safety of journalists remains the main threat to media freedom in the OSCE region, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic said today during her visit to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    Invited to speak before the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mijatovic participated in a debate on freedom of expression and media freedom in which she stressed that journalists’ safety must be high on the political agenda and that the vicious cycle of impunity must be broken.

    “The mounting number of attacks against journalists must be addressed at the highest political level in order to reverse the rapidly deteriorating trend for journalists’ safety in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Mijatovic said. Read more. 

    Croatian Office for Suppression Corruption and Organised Crime, USKOK, filled an indictment for corruptive activities against executive director of Zagreb football club Dinamo Zdravko Mamic, club's manager Zoran Mamic, former club director Damir Vrbanovic and tax administration officer Milan Pernar.

    Four persons are accused of abuse of office and position, giving and taking bribes and abuse of trust in economic transactions through the club's financial transactions, damaging th club for some 15.4 million euros and the state for some 1.6 million euros.

    USKOK initially arrested the four men in July 2015, releasing them, while continuing the investigation.

    Zdravko Mamic. | Photo: Beta

    After two years of renovations and an investment of 70 million leva (around 35 million euros), Sofia’s central railway station opened on Tuesday.

    The 41-year-old train station has been turned into an energy-efficient transport hub.

    Its escalators, which have not worked for two decades, have been replaced and a playground and a sports hall incorporated into the building, with adaptations made for people with disabilities.

    The entirely renovated waiting room of the railway station. | Photo: Facebook 

    Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Tuesday that his ruling Progressive Party will seek insight into all election materials from the national Electorate Committee, RIK.

    According to RIK, the elections were generally free and fair. Based on 97.46 per cent of the votes counted, it said the coalition "Aleksandar Vucic - Serbia wins" won 48 per cent of the votes, easily coming first.

    Six other lists passed the 5-per-cent threshold needed to enter parliament.

    The Serbian Socialist Party, SPS, came second with won 11 per cent of the votes, the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, came third with 8 per cent, the Democratic Party, DS, came fourth with 6 per cent, and the movement “Enough is enough” came fifth with 5.9 per cent.

    The coalition grouped around former Serbian president Boris Tadic also won 5 per cent of the votes, as did the right-wing coalition between Dveri and the Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS.

    Photo: Beta 

    Before meeting with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic in her official residence, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Mirogoj cemetery in Zagreb to pay his respects in front of the 'Wall of Pain', a memorial dedicated to all victims of the 1990s war in Croatia.

    Recep Tayyip Erdogan in front of the memorial. Photo: Anadolu Agency

    "I see the President's abolition [of investigations] as the pinnacle of hypocrisy and a deep moral erosion,"  Vlatko Stefanovski, front man of famed Macedonian and ex-Yugoslav band "Leb i Sol", told Fokus Daily.

    He was commenting on President Gjorge Ivanov's decision to stop criminal investigations against 56 top politicians and their associates which sparked a series of massive anti-government protests dubbed the "Colorful Revolution."

    Vlatko Stefanovski

    Representatives of "unofficial" mosques in Bosnia, which operate outside the authority of the country's official Islamic Community, IZ, wrote an open letter on Tuesday to explain why they refused to sign an agreement with IZ and be reincluded into the regulated community.

    The letter, which is signed by some of the leaders of these "unofficial" mosques, argued that they were not included in discussions about the terms of the agreement with the IZ before being asked to sign the agreement to fall back under its authority.

    In it, the representatives also stressed that they want to continue dialogue with the IZ, Bosnian media reported.

    Over the weekend, the Council of the IZ adopted a final report on the negotiations conducted with the unregulated mosques so far, noting that 22 of them refused to sign the agreement.
    Croatian Radio-Television, HRT, fired journalist Sasa Kosanovic on Tuesday for taking part in filming a Danish-Croatian documentary ‘15 Minutes - Massacre in Dvor’ about killings during the Croatian Army’s 1995 Operation Storm without getting written permission from his employers.

    The documentary about the responsibility of Danish UN troops for not stopping war crime committed by unknown units in Dvor in central Croatia has caused negative reactions in Croatia and was also pulled from the broadcast schedule of Serbian national TV station RTS.

    Kosanovic, who claims he had verbal permission from his superior to be involved in the film, has said he will file charges against HRT.
    Kosovo police have issued an arrest warrant for a governing party lawmaker in Wednesday's raids, and police checked scores of bars and restaurants allegedly managed by criminal gangs, local media reported.

    The European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, EULEX, was leading the operation with the assistance of Kosovo police. Both declined to confirm the arrest of the lawmaker, only saying that "a massive operation led by EULEX is ongoing."

    EULEX spokeswoman Besa Domi said that the police operation had concluded, without giving more details. Prosecutors were expected to provide more details later Wednesday.

    Kosovo President Hashim Thaci hailed the operation and called on all possible witnesses to cooperate with police and prosecutors.

    "The fight against corruption and organized crime is the key to building up a democratic and fair state, key to our European future," he said on his Facebook page.
    #Montenegro's PM Đukanović congratulates election victory to #Serbia's PM Vučić. @avucic @sns_srbija…

    Bulgaria has reported an 11 per cent increase in the annual number of tourist visits to the country over the period of March 2014 to March 2015. 

    The surge comes mostly from neighbouring countries, with the number of Turkish citizens travelling to Bulgaria rising the most, by 31 per cent.

    Almost 28 per cent more visitors from Israel were also noted, 23 per cent more Macedonians, and 10.6 per cent more tourists from Serbia. Serbian tourists accounted for 10.6 per cent more.
    However, the number of EU tourists who have visited Bulgaria in the last month has dropped by 10 per cent.
    Bansko Ski Resort. | Photo: Roumen Petrov/Flickr 

    The pro-Russian coalition between the Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS and Dveri accused Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and his Progressive Party, SNS, of pressuring the national Electorate Commission, RIK, to declare that their coalition will not join the new parliament, and announced street riots if this outcome occurs.

    Bosko Obradovic, president of Dveri, told BIRN that Vucic will try to use RIK’s decision to hold re-votes in 164 polling stations across the country in order to manipulate the ballots to exclude DSS and Dveri out of the parliament.

    “If that happens, we will definitely organise street protests,” Obradovic told BIRN.
    Based on 97.46 per cent of the votes counted, the DSS-Dveri coalition will enter parliament with 5 per cent of votes.

    RIK so far annulled votes at seven polling stations on Wednesday, and is yet to confirm the number of irregularities recorded.

    RIK is supposed to announce the final results of the election on Thursday.

    Bosko Obradovic with coalition partner from DSS, Sanda Raskovic Ivic | Photo: Facebook 

    Top stories from the Balkans this Thursday:

    • The new ban imposed on the public use of the burqa in Pazardjik, in southeast Bulgaria, sets the stage for a debate in parliament on banning face-coverings nationally. Read more.

    • Montenegro’s government handed honorary citizenship in 2014 to a Libyan-born “office manager” and his wife in what appears to have been an as yet unsuccessful attempt to lure investment from an Abu Dhabi sheikh, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network can reveal.

    • The fierce attack launched by the chief prosecutor of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate on the Foreign Intelligence Service is seen as pointing to a serious inter-institutional conflict in Romania. Read more.
    Bosnia’s parliament has not approved any of the proposals for reforming the electoral statute of the city of Mostar during its session on Wednesday, which may have represented the last opportunity for the city to organise local elections in 2016.

    Amendments to the city’s electoral law needed to be approved before May 4, when the country’s Central Election Commission will call local elections, for polls to take place in the city this year. 

    Mostar is the only municipality where no local elections were held in 2012, after the Constitutional Court deemed its electoral statute unconstitutional.

    The old bridge in Mostar | Photo: Flickr 

    The Bulgarian Parliament has put an end to the marathon vote on amendments to the country's electoral code, which started on April 21. 

    The MPs backtracked from many of the initial proposals, which provoked public outrage and protests.
    Surprisingly, the parliament decided that referendums will be held jointly with national elections – something banned in the initial version of the code.

    Under the changes, Bulgarians who live abroad will be allowed to open polling stations, but their number will be limited.

    Mandatory voting was also given the green light, together with sanctions for citizens who fail to vote in two consecutive elections from any one type. They will be removed from the electoral roll, but have the option to reapply again.
    Srebrenica mayor candidates need to remember that the municipality has special significance as "it is a place where a genocide has been committed," Bosnia’s High Representative Valentin Inzko told local television network N1, after victims associations criticised the choice of Serb parties to put forward a joint candidate for the position who has rejected the term.

    Inzko also said that Bosnia’s political leaders and politicians need to “focus on the economic development and better life of all the residents in Srebrenica.”

    He added that they “must avoid provocations, and they need to work actively to the reconciliation which is in the interest of all citizens of this municipality.”

    Valentin Inzko | Photo: OHR 

    Fugitive Azem Syla resigns from parliament, says to return to #Kosovo soon after avoiding anti-graft arrest sweep

    Top stories from the Balkans this Saturday:

    • Azem Syla, an MP from the ruling party in Kosovo, facilitated an alleged land scam that cost the state 30 million Euros, chief EULEX investigator said in an interview for BIRN. Watch the interview here. 
    • The right-wing coalition uniting Dveri and the Democratic Party of Serbia will take to the streets on Saturday after the Election Commission declares they did not meet the 5-per-cent threshold needed to enter parliament. Read more
    • Making the most of spring break - why stay at home? These Tourist Office of Belgrade recommendations are nearby and affordable. Read the recommendations here.

    Ex-president Boris Tadić questions legitimacy of #Serbia government as hundreds protest alleged electoral fraud

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