Balkan News

BiH Constitutional Court annuls entity symbols

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) — The BiH constitutional court decided on Saturday (January 27th) to deprive the two entities in BiH, Republika Srpska (RS) and the Federation of BiH (FBiH), of their symbols because they failed to harmonise them with the constitution. As a result, FBiH does not have a flag or coat of arms, while RS does not have an anthem or coat of arms. The court also rejected a request by the RS Parliament for more time to resolve the matter. RS Prime Minister Milorad Dodik argued that the October elections and the process of forming a new government had been too time consuming.
In other news, BIH chief negotiator with the EU Igor Davidovic suggests a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) could be sealed with the Union in late June or early July. At a roundtable discussion Saturday, he said the timeline would work only if BiH manages to meet the necessary political criteria. Two years after the SAA is sealed, a country can apply for EU membership. As for NATO integration, Sven Alkalaj, head of the BiH mission to NATO, stressed that without the arrest of major war crimes fugitives, BiH could not hope to make progress.

Bomb explodes outside party office in eastern Kosovo

PRISTINA, Kosovo, Serbia — A bomb went off outside a building in the town of Gnjilane early Sunday (January 28th). The explosion damaged part of the structure but caused no injuries. The building previously belonged to the local branch of the ruling Democratic League of Kosovo. Recently, however, a faction led by former Parliament Speaker Nejad Daci split to form the Democratic League, which may be using it now.

Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia boost contributions to Afghanistan effort

BRUSSELS, Belgium — During a meeting Friday (January 26th) of countries participating in the NATO- led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, Albania, Bulgaria and Croatia all offered to ramp up support. Albanian Foreign Minister Besnik Mustafaj announced plans to double the number of troops deployed there, while Bulgarian counterpart Ivaylo Kalfin said Sofia would donate some 500 tonnes of surplus weapons to the Afghan Army. Croatian Foreign Minister Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said her country will supply weapons as well, and plans to boost its number of peacekeepers in Afghanistan from the present 153 to 200 in 2007 and to 300 in 2008.

Turkish government reiterates readiness to amend controversial Article 301

ANKARA, Turkey — In separate statements Sunday (January 28th), Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Justice Minister Cemil Cicek stressed that the government is ready to amend controversial Article 301 of the penal code. However, Erdogan added that no concrete proposals have been submitted, and urged the public and NGOs to submit their ideas to the cabinet. While asserting the government is open to proposals, Erdogan said he believes the article should not be completely annulled. Article 301 stipulates that “insulting Turkishness” is a crime. Critics, including the EU, consider it a major barrier to freedom of expression in Turkey.

Montenegro’s prosecutor for organised crime receives threats

PODGORICA, Montenegro — Police announced on Sunday (January 28th) that they have stepped up security around Stoyanka Radovic, special prosecutor for organised crime. Officials say she has received threats from the disbanded Kosovo National Liberation Army. Police also are providing additional protection to Chief Prosecutor Vesna Medenica and Supreme Court Chairman Ratko Vukotic. Information about the threats was provided by international intelligence services, and stem from the recent arrest of a group of ethnic Albanians, who allegedly planned terrorist attacks in the area of Tuzi, about 20km south of Podgorica, on the eve of 2006 general elections.

Macedonia’s Gruevski unconcerned about DUI’s decision to leave parliament

SKOPJE, Macedonia — Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski commented on Sunday (January 28th) that he was not concerned about the decision of the largest ethnic Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), to leave parliament. Gruevski said that DUI has the right to decide its political moves and its choice should be respected. At the same time, however, he rejected the conditions set by the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Alliance for Macedonia (SDSM), to resume dialogue with the government. Gruevski stressed it was time the opposition parties understood their role and realise that executive decisions are in the hands of the ruling coalition. The VMRO-DPMNE had not won the election to implement the programmes of other parties, Gruevski said.

Bulgarian police seize 39 kilos of heroin

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Special police units seized 39 kilos of heroin Saturday (January 27th) in the southern town of Haskovo. The drug was found in a car of 53-year-old man, who allegedly planned to drive the heroin from Haskovo to the central Bulgarian town of Strara Zagora. The estimated street value is more than 774,000 euros. The arrest was part of a huge international operation against a powerful drug trafficking organisation. In 2006, Bulgarian Special Forces managed to confiscate over 150 kilos of heroin.

Agreement reached on Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline project

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Russian, Greek and Bulgarian energy experts have agreed on the text of an agreement to begin the long-stalled Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline. Bulgarian Regional Development and Public Works Minister Asen Gagauzov said on Friday (January 26th) that two days of trilateral consultations held in Sofia had resulted in text that satisfied all three sides. According to press reports, Russia will hold 51% in the joint venture that will run the project and all related facilities, while Bulgaria and Greece will hold 24.5% each. More information is expected at the signing ceremony, scheduled for February 7th.
The pipeline would connect the Black Sea with the Aegean Sea, avoiding expensive transit fees through the Bosporus.  

Vandals stone Christian church in Turkey

ANKARA, Turkey — Vandals threw stones at a Christian church in the northern Turkish town of Samsun on Sunday (January 28th). A few windows were broken but no one inside was hurt, said Mehmet Orhan Picakcilar, the local priest. He said the real damage done by such incidents is to Turkey’s international image.

Greek president urges Albania to respect the rights of Greek minority

EPIRUS, Greece — President Karolos Papoulias is calling for more respect of the rights of the Greek minority in Albania. In a speech Sunday (January 28th), Papoulias said the ethnic Greek community in Albania continues to struggle for its rights. He added that Greece is doing everything in its power to improve bilateral ties with neighbouring Albania. The president also reiterated Greece’s full support for Albania’s Euro-Atlantic integration bid.  


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