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Posts tagged ‘Europe Section’

Albania president rejects Kosovo passport request

October 11, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Albania’s president has turned down a request from his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci to issue Albanian passports for citizens in neighboring Kosovo, the only nation in Europe excluded from a visa-free European travel zone.

Ilir Meta, who is visiting Kosovo Wednesday, said the solution was “through dialogue.” The European Union insists Kosovo must approve a border demarcation deal with Montenegro before its citizens can enjoy visa-free travel within the so-called Schengen zone.

Opposition lawmakers in Kosovo have refused to ratify that deal, saying it meant Kosovo would lose land. Albania has enjoyed access to the visa-free regime since 2010. Kosovo’s 1.9 million population is mainly ethnic Albanian.

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Macedonia local elections to test new left-wing government

October 13, 2017

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia’s left-wing government faces a strong test in this weekend’s municipal elections, five months after it came to power during an acute political crisis following a decade of conservative rule.

The first round of the vote is scheduled for Sunday, with over 1.8 million registered voters choosing local officials in the capital, Skopje, and another 80 municipalities. The re-run is on Oct. 29. Opinion polls show a slight advantage for the governing Social Democrats, particularly in the capital, Skopje, where the party’s candidate mayor is 2.6 percent ahead of the conservative incumbent.

The conservative VMRO-DPMNE main opposition party is seeking to defend its dominance on a local level. It won 56 of 81 municipalities in the last elections in 2013 against the Social Democrats’ four. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has sought to get Macedonia to join NATO and the European Union, and to see through criminal investigations into conservative officials over a 2015 wiretapping scandal.

Zaev has urged voters to “free the country from the remnants of the VMRO-DPMNE criminal regime.” Zaev’s ascent followed a protracted political crisis triggered by the wiretaps, for which he blamed the then-ruling conservatives. They denied wrongdoing and blamed unspecified foreign spies.

On the streets of Skopje, many voters seem disenchanted with politics. “After every election, I’m poorer and more miserable. It is just a show for politicians and their greed for more power and money,” 36-year-old dentistry technician Dijana Stojanovska told the Associated Press.

VMRO-DPMNE campaigning has focused on what it calls “national issues,” claiming that the Social Democrats plan to change the country’s name — over which Macedonia has a decades-long dispute with southern neighbor Greece — to join NATO and the EU.

VMRO-DPMNE also accuses Zaev’s government of treason, for proposing to make Albanian Macedonia’s second official language, and signing a friendship pact with neighboring Bulgaria. Albanians form a quarter of Macedonia’s 2.1-million population, and ethnic tensions boiled over in 2001 when an ethnic Albanian uprising brought the country to the brink of civil war.

The local elections were delayed for five months due to a new crisis after VMRO DPMNE came first in parliamentary elections last year but was unable to secure a governing majority. Second-placed Zaev was eventually able to form a coalition with the ethnic Albanian DUI party.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has over 300 observers to monitor the voting. Preliminary results are expected Monday.

Italy populists protest passage of revised election rules

October 12, 2017

ROME (AP) — Backers of Italy’s populist 5-Star Movement are protesting the initial passage of revised election rules they contend are designed to foil their bid to gain national power for the first time.

The Chamber of Deputies — the lower chamber of the Italian Parliament — approved the rules late Thursday despite defections by some lawmakers from parties that are officially backing the changes. Supporters include the main governing Democratic Party, loyalists of center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, and the Northern League, a right-wing party gaining ground in opinion polls.

The Senate now takes up the bill. The 5-Star Movement, Parliament’s largest opposition party, opposes the changes, which reward parties in election coalitions. The Movement refuses to participate in coalitions and hopes to win Italy’s premiership in elections due by early 2018.

Hungary, Ukraine still at odds over Ukraine education law

October 12, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary will continue to withhold its support for Ukraine’s further integration with the European Union as long as a new Ukrainian education law remains unchanged, Hungary’s foreign minister said Thursday.

The education law passed last month specifies that Ukrainian will be the main language used in schools, rolling back the option for lessons to be taught in other languages. Ukraine has some 150,000 ethnic Hungarians, mostly in the country’s west.

“We consider the new Ukrainian education law a stab in the back of our country,” Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said, speaking after a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Klimkin. Ethnic Hungarians in Transcarpathia, as Hungary calls western Ukraine, fear that the 71 Hungarian schools there could be at risk of having to close, Szijjarto said.

He said relations between neighbors Hungary and Ukraine are “at their most difficult period” since Ukraine declared independence from the collapsing Soviet Union in 1991. Russia, Romania and Moldova have also expressed concerns about the new language law.

Klimkin said not knowing the native language made it hard for minorities to be successful in Ukraine. He said 75 percent of students in an area with a large Hungarian minority failed their high school exit exams.

“Everyone needs the opportunity to fulfill themselves in their country of citizenship,” Klimkin said. “But this is not possible without knowing the language.” However, he said “not a single school” would be closed or “a single teacher” dismissed because of the new language requirement.

Klimkin said Hungary’s move to grant Hungarian citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine would not benefit those people. He also alleged that Russia was using the language issue to “manipulate” and “provoke” in Ukraine, including “directly and indirectly” in the Transcarpathia region.

In reply, Szijjarto said ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine “don’t need any incitement from anyone to stand up for their own rights.” “As long as the Hungarians of Transcarpathia ask us to fight on this issue and not back down, we will fight and not back down,” Szijjarto said.

French President Macron launches step 2 of labor reforms

October 12, 2017

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron is launching step two of his campaign to rethink French labor law, focusing on unemployment benefits and job training. Macron meets Thursday with France’s main workers and employers unions to start negotiations that will last for months. The discussions come as workers are still protesting a first set of labor measures Macron signed last month, aimed at making it easier for firms to hire and fire.

The government now wants to extend unemployment benefits to independent entrepreneurs, farmers and merchants who go bankrupt. Employees who voluntarily quit would also be entitled to unemployment benefits under strict conditions, to encourage workers to change jobs more easily.

The government also wants to reform the way the benefits are financed and help unemployed people acquire new skills needed in a rapidly changing global economy.

Russia’s security agency detains 6 Crimean Tatar activists

October 11, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s domestic security agency said Wednesday it detained six people in Crimea accused of involvement in an extremist organization, a move described by one of the suspects’ lawyer as part of Moscow’s crackdown on the Crimean Tatars.

Emil Kurbedinov, a lawyer for one of the six detainees, said that police also rounded up nine other Crimean Tatars who protested the detentions in the Crimean town of Bakhchisarai. The Federal Security Service or FSB, the main KGB successor agency, said it has stopped the activities of a local cell of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamist group which Russia and several other ex-Soviet nations banned as a “terrorist” organization.

The FSB said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that it has opened a criminal probe against six people suspected of involvement in the group. Kurbedinov, a lawyer for Suleiman Asanov, whom the FSB accused of organizing the cell, described the charges as “absurd.” He said all six detainees were local Crimean Tatar activists who opposed Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.

Russia has faced criticism for infringing on the ethnic group’s rights since the annexation. “It’s yet another attempt to intimidate people with ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ labels,” Kurbedinov said by phone from Bakhchisarai.

Kurbedinov said nine other Crimean Tatars who were protesting the detentions were taken into custody for holding an unsanctioned demonstration and were set to face court hearings Thursday. Zair Smedlyayev, who heads an association of Crimean Tatars, also said the move was part of a continuing crackdown on the Turkic ethnic group.

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was visiting the Ukrainian capital, said Turkey was monitoring the situation of Crimean Tatars and thanked Ukraine for defending their rights.

Finance Minister Dijsselbloem to leave Dutch politics

October 11, 2017

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the head of the 19-country eurozone, is leaving Dutch politics after 12 years as a lawmaker and nearly five as the Netherlands’ finance minister. Dijsselbloem said in a letter published Wednesday on his Labor Party’s website that he will leave Parliament later this month, but will complete his mandate, which ends in January, as chairman of the eurogroup.

Dijsselbloem says he no longer has “the firepower” to remain in Parliament as part of the Labor Party’s opposition bloc for the coming four years. Dijsselbloem says in his letter that Labor, “paid the price” at the election for tough austerity measures he pushed through to help the Dutch economy recover from the financial crisis. The party slumped from 38 to nine seats in the 150-seat lower house of Parliament.

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