The Balkans Today: 26th - 30th September 2016
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The Balkans Today

Up to the minute news and updates from the Balkan region

The Balkans Today: 26th - 30th September 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:
    • People in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to defy a ruling by the state-level Constitutional Court that banned the entity’s ‘statehood day’, initial results suggested. Read more.
    • The UN-backed Yugoslav war crimes tribunal has tried hard to protect witnesses and has prosecuted several people for intimidation, but its latest attempt has provoked a bitter dispute with Serbia. Read more.
    • A proposal to run a joint candidate for Belgrade mayor in the next city elections could be the best chance for the embattled opposition to challenge the dominance of the ruling party, experts believe. Read more.
    • A joint list of non-party candidates endorsed by all anti-regime forces in Macedonia is the best way to defeat Nikola Gruevski, a prominent voice in the new leftist Levica party says. Read more.
  • Serbia's candidate for the next Secretary-General of the United Nations, Vuk Jeremic, is likely to be blocked by the US, The Guardian reported on Monday ahead of the next informal ballot at the Security Council.

    "Washington has not forgiven Jeremic for his opposition to Kosovan independence, amid its perception that he used his time as president of the [UN] general assembly as a platform for nationalist rhetoric," the newspaper suggested.

    The chances of Bulgaria’s nominee, current UNESCO head Irina Bokova, have also been damaged after "a behind-the-scenes campaign began to replace her with her fellow countrywoman, Kristalina Georgieva, the EU budget commissioner", the newspaper said.
    Bokova however retains the support of Russia, it added.
    Vuk Jeremic. | Photo by Jean-Marc Ferré/UN Geneva/Flickr
  • After Croatia’s State Election Commission announced on Monday morning the official final results of the parliamentary elections from September 11, the victor, the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, and the Bridge of the Independent Lists, MOST, are continuing their negotiations on forming the country’s new government.

    HDZ won 61 of the 151 seats in Croatia’s parliament, while MOST took 13 seats.

    The two parties have now entered the third week of negotiations following the initial results soon after the polls, with the ministries most likely to be divided between themselves.
  • The Special Criminal Court in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, failed to launch the first terrorism trial in the country’s recent history on Monday because of procedural irregularities in the summoning of witnesses.
    The trial against two suspects, Hasan El Haj Hasan and Meliad Farah, who were indicted in absence for the terror attack at the Burgas Sarafovo airport in 2012, which killed five Israeli and one Bulgarian citizen, has been postponed until November 10. 

    Hasan and Farah are both Lebanese citizens and are on the Interpol list of wanted persons for assisting suicide bomber Mohamed Hasan El Hossaini, who died during the attack.

    Photo: Burgas Airport 

  • Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama gathered members of the country’s recycling associations on Monday to emphasise that the new law on waste import, which was passed in parliament last Thursday, will not allow for the environment to be damaged. 

    The meeting comes amid backlash from environmentalists following the decision by MPs to adopt the law, with green activists announcing a large protest for October 1 and threatening to call a referendum on the issue.

    Rubbish bins in Tirana painted by environmental activists with the names of MPs voting for the controversial draft law on waste import. Photo: BIRN/Ivana Dervishi 
  • The head of Macedonia’s main ruling VMRO DPMNE party, former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, has refused the demands of the Special Prosecution, SJO, to prolong its deadline of June 2017 to finish its investigations into high-level crimes, and for the law on witness protection to be updated.
    Gruevski, who is himself under scrutiny by the SJO, told media on Sunday that the government had fulfilled its obligations to ensure the institution, formed last year to probe illegality in high-level places, could function properly.
    "We secured all that was needed, a budget, money, employments, offices and logistics [for the functioning of the SJO]. All the laws were changed together with the opposition and we don't think there is a need of further upgrades or a new agreement [on the SJO]," Gruevski said.
    VMRO DPMNE leader, Nikola Gruevski. Photo by: MIA
  • Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik has been invited to a hearing by the State Prosecution, according to local news portal
    A prosecution spokesman confirmed the news to Klix that the invite was issued today in connection with the referendum held in Republika Srpska yesterday. The plebiscite had been ruled unconstitutional by Bosnia's Constitutional Court.
  • Croatia, as one of the signatories of the Dayton peace agreement in Bosnia and Herzegovina, see the referendum in its neighbour’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, as “unacceptable”, the Croatian foreign ministry stated on Monday. 

    The ministry sees the referendum, which defies a ruling by the state-level Constitutional Court which deemed the entity’s ‘statehood’ day as unconstitutional, as "an irresponsible act" that has the potential of "destabilizing Bosnia and the wider region of South-Eastern Europe.”
    Miro Kovac. Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA/Daniel KASAP/MO
  • The administrative court in Albania’s capital, Tirana, ordered the main opposition Democratic Party on Monday to pay 145 euros for damages caused to the city during anti-government protests it organised in December 2015, despite the municipality of Tirana seeking 118,000 euros in compensation.

    The Democratic Party took the municipality to court over the compensation request, with the court ruling that the political party was only responsible for two of the seven damages it was accused of causing.

    Protesters demolish the bunker. Photo: LSA/ Gent Shkullaku 
  • The Assembly of Kosovo will discuss on Thursday the request by Canada-based company Envidity Energy Inc - chaired by retired US General Wesley Clark – for a licence granting it coal research rights on more than a third of Kosovo’s total territory, and will possibly be approved if its gets the MPs votes.
    Commenting on the request, the head of assembly, Kadri Veseli, said: “Kosovo needs investors such as from the USA and every Western country. We have to give ourselves a perspective,” adding that the assembly will decide on whether to grant the licence “in an open way”.
    Pal Lekaj, an opposition MP from the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, said that his party will oppose the request “because none of the MPs are informed about the debate, ownership and expropriation and environmental impact”.
    Retired US General Wesley Clark. Photo: Miller Center/Flickr 
    by die.morina via null edited by emma.krstic 9/26/2016 2:59:14 PM
  • Four members of the Public Council of the Bulgarian Fund for Treatment of Children Abroad, which is responsible for the allocation of funds for treating sick children abroad, have resigned over the past five days due to disagreements with the institution’s new management. 

    The management of the fund was replaced in April following a massive and controversial police operation in which officials of the institution, including its former head, Pavel Aleksandrov, were arrested on accusations of corruption. 

    Krasimira Velichkova and Milena Zlatkova resigned from the fund’s Public Council on Monday, expressing their disappointment with the work of the institution since its new director Vladimir Pilosov was appointed.
  • Talgo trains are finally in service in Bosnia and Herzegovina, after years of delays. Federation of BiH Railways launched the first trains today on the Sarajevo to Doboj route, which takes three hours. The very first Talgo train departed on its maiden voyage at 4.48pm. 
    Nine Talgo trains were delivered to Bosnia in 2010 but their use was struck by years of delays due to technical problems.
    A Talgo train running through Bosnia. Photo: Anadolu.
  • Top stories from the Balkans this Tuesday:
    Bulgarian politicians and experts have reacted with indignation after a Macedonian journalist smashed a memorial to their wartime dead to smithereens. Read more.
    Serbia’s next chief war crimes prosecutor faces tough challenges - improving a deteriorating case record, dealing with political pressures and satisfying EU demands that are crucial for the country’s accession negotiations. Read more.
    Nina Ognianova, from the Committee to Protect Journalists, told BIRN in an interview that the ongoing purge of the media in Turkey would have negative long-term repercussions for Turkish society. Read more.
  • The second attempt to start the trial against incarcerated Macedonian journalist Zoran Bozinovski failed today because the judge was absent, a statement from the Criminal Court in Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, said.
    Bozinovski, who is accused of spying and extortion, has spent five months in detention in Skopje following his extradition from Serbia where he had spent another 18 months in confinement.
    His long detention sparked concerns by the European Federation of Journalists, EFJ, the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, ZNM, and the Trade Union of Macedonian Journalists and Media Workers, SSNM, who say the case against Bozinovski is “politically motivated” with the aim of silencing journalists who uncover corruption in which officials are involved.
    Zoran Bozinovski
  • In Bosnia, about 40 former workers from the Borac garment factory in the northeastern town of Banovic are protesting today in front of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina government building. According to local news site, they are demanding retirement allowances and have vowed to camp out.
  • Andrej Plenkovic, president of the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, told media on Tuesday that the potential future coalition government - with the Bridge of the Independent Lists, MOST and MPs for national minorities - will have four vice prime ministers.

    Unofficially, these vice premiers would be MOST's president Bozo Petrov and Zdravko Maric, Ivana Maletic and Davor Ivo Stier from the ranks of HDZ, regional N1 TV reported.
    Andrej Plenkovic. Photo: BETAPHOTO/AP Photo/Darko Bandic
  • More than a half of Bulgaria’s citizens believe that that the yet unnamed presidential candidate of the country’s leading party, Boyko Borissov’s GERB, would win the presidential elections on November 6, a survey by Exacta polling agency, published on Tuesday, shows.

    GERB will announce its candidate in the beginning of October, about a month before the vote, claiming that this will help the government and other institutions to continue their work normally in the lead up to the polls.

    Boyko Borissov at a GERB meeting in April. Photo: 

  • Growth is expected to remain stable in 2016 in Montenegro, according to the latest Southeast Europe Regular Economic Report, SEERER. Growth is projected at 3.2 percent in 2016, the same as in 2015, and is forecast to reach 3.6 percent in 2017.

    Continuing growth is helping improve employment and drive down poverty at the regional level, notes the report, but is not impacting unemployment in Montenegro, which is forecast to rise slightly in 2016, remaining at around 20%.

    “Underpinning the acceleration in growth was Serbia, the region’s largest economy,” says Barbara Cunha, World Bank’s Senior Economist and lead author of the report. “Serbia moved from 0.7 percent growth last year in the aftermath of the 2014 floods to an expected 2.5 percent this year.
  • Aylum-seekers – including unaccompanied children – are suffering violent abuse, illegal push backs and unlawful detention at the hands of Hungary’s authorities and a system blatantly designed to deter them, according to the new Amnesty International report on Hungary's treatment of refugees and migrants.

    “[Hungarian] Prime Minister [Viktor] Orban has replaced the rule of law with the rule of fear. His attempts to deliberately prevent refugees and migrants from reaching Hungary have been accompanied by an ever more disturbing pattern of attacks on them and the international safeguards designed to protect them,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe.

    “Appalling treatment and labyrinthine asylum procedures are a cynical ploy to deter asylum-seekers from Hungary’s ever more militarized borders. Against the backdrop of a toxic referendum campaign, poisonous anti-refugee rhetoric is reaching fever pitch,” Dalhuisen wrote in the report.
  • Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina prime minister Fadil Novalic is the subject of a criminal complaint submitted by the Social Democratic Party, SDP, to the Sarajevo cantonal prosecutor office.
    Local media report that the SDP's allegations are about the sale of government shares in the Tobacco Factory Sarajevo (FDS).
    Prime Minister Novalic said previously that it was not a case of privatisation but sale of minority shares, and that the buyer was British American Tobacco who bought through its registered fund in Austria.
  • Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and the USAID Head of Mission in Kosovo, James Hope, signed an agreement on Tuesday for Kosovo to receive an additional 27 million dollars (around 26 million euros) in funds from the US, taking the total grant the country will receive to over 130 million dollars (around 116 million euros).

    The Grant Agreement for Developmental Objectives was signed in the presence of the US ambassador to Kosovo, Greg Delawie, and the Senior Deputy Assistant to the Administrator of USAID from the Bureau for Europe and Eurasia, Margot Ellis.

    Based on this agreement, Kosovo will use the money for the implementation of three developmental objectives aimed at improving the rule of law and governance in the country, increasing investment and creating jobs in the private sector, and to boost the development of human capital.

    Kosovo President, Hashim Thaci and the USAID Head of Mission in Kosovo, James Hope signing the agreement | Photo: BIRN    
  • Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama compared the reconciliation process between Albania and Serbia to that of Germany and France after the Second World War during his speech at an economic forum between Albania and Germany on Tuesday.

    Rama credited German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her important role in the Berlin Process, a five-year process started in August 2014 aimed at developing the cooperation between and economies of the Western Balkan countries, for helping the region to move towards reconciliation following the 1990s conflicts. 

    "The Berlin process made possible for Balkan leaders to sit together to talk about infrastructure and not have a fight," Rama said.

     Edi Rama and  Aleksandar Vucic during a press conference in May 2015. Photo:
  • Commander of the US Army forces in Europe, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, stated on Thursday that the Kosovo Security Force, FSK, is ready to be an army, but added that he has left the decision on officially transforming it into a regular armed force in the hands of Kosovo’s MPs.

    “What I have seen is really very impressive. I think that it is extremely important that the Parliament supports this decision of transformation,” Hodges said in a joint press conference with FSK commander Lieutenant General Rrahman Rama after the joint army training.

    Lieutenant General Ben Hodges and Lieutenant General Rrahman Rama | Photo: FSK

  • Bulgaria’s Dinko Valev, who gained international popularity as a vigilante ‘migrant hunter’, is planning to travel to Macedonia's capital, Skopje, to confront TV host Milenko Nedelkovski, who sparked outrage in Bulgaria after destroying a memorial plaque in Macedonia to Bulgarian soldiers who died there in WWI.
    Valev told the Bulgarian news website OFFNews that he is planning to wait for Nedelkovski, who has a late night television show on Channel 5 in Macedonia, in front of the building of the network he works for in Skopje. 
    “I will spit in his face once I see him. If he is such a man, then let him beat me,” Valev threatened.
    by maria.cheresheva via null edited by emma.krstic 9/27/2016 3:35:09 PM
  • Top stories from the Balkans this Wednesday:
    • On their way through Hungary, refugees and migrants face illegal detentions, beatings and have even been chased by dogs, Amnesty’s latest report says. Read more.
    • As Albanian emigrants build new lives abroad, experts foresee that the money they send home to their relatives is going to shrink further, but without damaging the country’s economy. Read more.
    • British historian Rory Yeomans, who has researched the Croatian fascist Ustasa movement, says he is worried by attempts by politicians and academics to play down the crimes it committed in World War II. Read more.
  • Croatia has finished in 74th place in a ranking of national competitiveness of 138 countries for 2016 by the World Economic Forum.

    The Forum’s latest report, published on Wednesday, shows that Croatia moved up three places in the annual ranking compared to the list from 2015.
  • Macedonia's Special Prosecution, SJO, launched a new investigation today codenamed ‘Trezor’ [Vault] in which four high ranking officials and employees in the Interior Ministry and counter-intelligence are suspected of committing financial crimes.
    The SJO said that there is reasonable suspicion that the suspects illegally acquired 862,000 euro of budget money through an illicit procurement of telecommunications surveillance equipment for the Macedonian secret police between 2010 and 2012.
    The equipment was bought from an unnamed company in the United Kingdom and sold to the police through a Macedonian firm called Finzi dooel - Skopje at a much higher price, the SJO said.
    The SJO did not reveal the names of the four suspects in order to protect the principle of presumption of innocence, it said.
    Macedonian special prosecutors. Photo by: MIA
  • Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic will start the first round of consultations on naming Croatia’s prime minister-designate with representatives of all parties and individual PMs at noon in her residence in the capital, Zagreb.

    To be named the next prime minister-designate, a person has to receive the support of at least 76 MPs, a majority in the 151-seat parliament.

    Grabar Kitarovic will inform the public of the result of the first round of discussions at 4pm, but it is unlikely that the new prime minister designate will be announced after the initial consultations.
    Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic from last year's consultations. Photo: Office of the President
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina's chief state prosecutor, Goran Salihovic, has been suspended from his post, local media reported.
    The decision by a disciplinary panel of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council came after an investigation was launched into Salihovic in August. A formal complaint was filed against him yesterday.
    He has publicly denied wrongdoing and has the right to appeal.
  • Queer Montenegro and Montenegro Pride Initiative Board announced on Wednesday the call to join the organizing committee in organizing the fourth Pride Parade in the capital Podgorica. 

    The announcement said that this year's parade should be stronger, more massive, more fun and to reflect the voice of all persons who make up the LGBTIQ+ community, their friends, families and allies.

    The organizers' goal, as stated in the statement, is to have more adult members of the LGBTIQ+ community engaging in the creation of the parade. Thus, as noted, the event will be more inclusive and will reflect the diversity of the community.

    Montenegro's capital Podgorica hosted the Pride Parade in December 2015. Photo: BIRN.

  • All eight of Croatia's national minority MPs confirmed that they have still not given their support for the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, in their first-round consultations with President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic on naming the country’s prime minister-designate, regional N1 TV reported after the MPs’ meetings on Wednesday.
  • Montenegro is the leader in Southeast Europe in the transposition of the sustainability acquis comprising energy efficiency, environment and renewables, and has already met its binding renewable energy target for 2020, the Energy Community has said, SeeNews reports.

    "Having partly transposed the Third Energy Package in December 2015, albeit almost one year past the transposition deadline, Montenegro is on a good way in its compliance with the Energy Community acquis", the Secretariat of the Vienna-based organization said in a Monitoring Report.

    There are currently no open infringement cases against Montenegro.
  • Police in the UK’s capital are investigating OneCoin, a virtual currency company owned by Bulgarian citizen Ruzha Ignatova, Bulgarian media reported on Wednesday. 

    According to UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, FCA, which initially announced the investigation by City of London police on September 26, “consumers should be wary of dealing with OneCoin, which claims to offer the chance to make money through the trading and ‘mining’ of virtual currencies.”

    While the financial regulator says OneCoin is not authorised to work in the UK, it has still expressed concern over “the potential risks this firm poses to UK consumers”.

    OneCoin's founder Ruzha Ignatova. Photo: OneCoin 

  • The Belgrade Special Court has refused a request by Balkan drug kingpin Darko Saric to be released from detention with supervision while his retrial, which started on Monday, takes place.

    Saric, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in July 2015 for smuggling cocaine from Latin America, has been in custody since 2014 when he surrendered to Serbian authorities. 

    Saric’s lawyers said that their client has no intention to flee from authorities as he had originally turned himself in by his own free will.

  • Bulgaria’s state owned National Electric Company, NEC, will receive an interest free loan from the state to cover its debt of over 0.6 billion euros to Russia’s Atomstroyexport for nuclear equipment, Bulgarian MPs decided on a second reading of the bill on Wednesday.

    Although the state aid was greenlighted by the parliament, Bulgaria will still has to wait for an approval of the European Commission before transferring the credit to NEC.
  • Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic informed the public that no candidate managed to gather the support of the majority of the 151 MPs in the Croatian parliament following the conclusion of the first round of consultations on naming the prime minister-designate held today in the presidential residence in Zagreb.

    She said that the second round of consultations will be held on October 10.
    Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic. Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA/Lana SLIVAR DOMINIC/MO
  • In Bosnia and Herzegovina this morning, the Federation entity’s Centre for Judicial and Prosecutorial Training signed a partnership agreement with the French Embassy to cooperate to train officers to combat illegal art trafficking.
    The illegal art trade has boomed in recent decades in South-Eastern Europe. Since 1992, several thousand works of art have been stolen from Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as a portrait of Mesa Selimovic by Ismet Mujezinovic that was stolen from the International Portrait Gallery in Tuzla.
  • Bulgaria's Kristalina Georgieva, Vice-President of the European Commission, has been granted one-month unpaid leave from the European Commission in order to lead her campaign for the post of a Secretary-General of the UN, the chief spokesperson of the Commission announced on Wednesday.

  • Grateful to you all who support me and fully committed to continue the race for #NextSG! @She4SG
  • MoD Minister:“#Montenegro stands ready to contribute in strengthening #NATO #Alliance, its unity and solidarity“ #abcd_icds
  • Top stories from the Balkans this Thursday:
    • Activists from the civic movement opposed to the Belgrade Waterfront project have summoned a fresh rally for Thursday - as a government minister accused an OSCE official of interfering in Serbia's affairs over the controversy. Read more.
    • Rumours that Serbs planned to build a basketball court on a site where a mosque once stood in the divided northern town of Mitrovica have upset some Kosovo Albanians. Read more.
    • Opposition parties in Montenegro are confident that October’s local elections in the scandal-hit resorts of Budva and Kotor will not result in easy wins for the ruling party. Read more.
  • The director for Kosovo Police in the Mitrovica region, Nehat Thaci, has been arrested by Serbian police, a spokesperson for Kosovo Police, Daut Hoxha, confirmed to BIRN.

    “Last night around 12:10am we were notified that the director of Kosovo Police for Mitrovica region, Nehat Thaci, is arrested” Hoxha said, but did not give any other details.

    Nehat Thaci- the director for Kosovo Police in the Mitrovica region | Photo: BIRN

  • A 20-year-old French citizen, suspected of having links with jihadist organisations, has been arrested in Bulgaria on his way to Turkey, Bulgarian media reported on Thursday, quoting the French newspaper Figaro.

    Last week, the Law Faculty of the University of Rouen in northern France was closed after the young man was spotted hanging around the building.

    He was under police control and had to report daily to the local police office, but left France in his car on Tuesday and was arrested early on Wednesday after crossing into Bulgaria from Serbia.
  • Vlatko Previsic, the dean of the Zagreb University’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Studies, will need to stand down on Monday due to his age, Croatia’s Ministry of Science, Education and Sports announced on Thursday.

    According to the statute of both the university and the faculty, a person cannot be in the role of dean once they reach the academic year in which they will turn 71 years of age.

    Zagreb University had asked on Tuesday for the ministry to give its opinion on the dean, who many students and professors have been demanding step down for months following his failed attempt to merge studies between the Faculty of Humanities and the Catholic Theology Faculty.
  • In Bosnia and Herzegovina, coalition of NGOs Pod Lupom ("Under the Spotlight"), which oversees local election campaigns and will monitor Sunday's voting, has described this round of elections as "dirty".
    In a press conference this morning, Pod Lupom experts detailed ways that politicians have aimed to manipulate public opinion. Candidates did not offer concrete solutions to local issues, often appealing instead to fear and stirring up ethnic divisions, claims the NGO.
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