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Posts tagged ‘Land of the Balkans’

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.

Serbia’s dethroned royals hold a wedding in Belgrade

October 07, 2017

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Although it’s not a kingdom now, Serbia has hosted a wedding for dethroned royals. Prince Philip Karadjordjevic, of the dethroned Serbian royals, married Danica Marinkovic on Saturday in a ceremony at Belgrade’s main cathedral.

The wedding was performed by the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej, and attended by many public figures. Dozens gathered outside the church on a sunny but chilly autumn day. Philip is one of the sons of Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, the heir to Serbia’s now-defunct throne. The royal family ruled Yugoslavia until communists took power after World War II and abolished the monarchy. Exiled during WWII, the family returned to Serbia after 2000.

Philip was born in Fairfax, Virginia, while his wife is the daughter of prominent Serbian painter Cile Marinkovic.

Hundreds rally for free, fair elections in Serbian capital

October 06, 2017

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Several hundred people have gathered at an opposition protest demanding that an upcoming local election in the Serbian capital of Belgrade be free and fair. Opposition leaders have alleged that the ruling parties have been beefing up voters’ lists ahead of the ballot expected next spring. The authorities have denied this.

The Belgrade race is viewed as a test of President Aleksandar Vucic’s rule. Vucic swept the presidential elections earlier this year and his right-leaning coalition controls the government, but opposition parties are hoping to undermine his power in Belgrade.

Opposition leaders have accused Vucic of stifling democratic freedoms, exerting pressure on the media and threatening opponents. Protesters on Friday put forward a set of demands, including equal treatment in the media and international observers at the Belgrade vote.

Leaders of Romania, Croatia want a one-speed Europe

October 02, 2017

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — The presidents of Romania and Croatia have called for an end to the differences between older and newer European Union members. Some newer EU members are frustrated they do not enjoy the same benefits as older EU members. Many East European members do not use the euro.

Klaus Iohannis said he and Croatian President Kolinda Gabar-Kitarovic agreed Monday on “an elimination of differences between different states (which is) very important,” Iohannis said. Grabar-Kitarovic said she opposed “a two-speed Europe,” after talks with Iohannis. She said Romania and neighbor Bulgaria, both EU members, deserve to be members of the visa-free Schengen travel zone.

She also said Romania and Bulgaria, members since 2007, should no longer be subjected to a process that monitors whether they implement reforms.

Greece backs extradition of Russian to US over bitcoin fraud

October 04, 2017

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — A Greek court ruled Wednesday to extradite Russian cybercrime suspect Alexander Vinnik to the United States, where he is wanted in connection with a $4 billion bitcoin fraud case.

The three-member panel of judges backed the U.S. extradition request for the 37-year-old, who was arrested while on vacation in northern Greece on July 25. Soon after the decision, Vinnik’s lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court on behalf of their client.

Russia is also seeking Vinnik’s extradition on separate fraud charges, but no date has yet been set for that hearing. While fighting his extradition to the U.S., Vinnik’s lawyers said he would not contest the Russian request.

“We have not seen the formal decision and we’ll wait for it to come out before making comment,” Vinnik’s lawyer Alexandros Lykourezos said. “We have taken immediate action and appealed the ruling and the case will be examined by the criminal division of the Supreme Court.”

U.S. authorities accuse Vinnik of running digital currency exchange BTC-e and of involvement in laundering money from criminal proceeds, charges he denies. Speaking during Wednesday’s hearing, Vinnik repeated that he had nothing to do with the digital platform he is accused of running to commit the bitcoin fraud. He said he was merely a technician and the platform was one of his clients.

“I have nothing to do with what I am accused of,” he told the judges. Vinnik said electronic equipment confiscated during his arrest was not related to his job, and that the laptop seized by police contained only cartoons for his children.

Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed.

Russia starts delivery of MiG-29 fighter jets to Serbia

October 02, 2017

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Russia on Monday started delivering six MiG-29 fighter jets to Serbia, part of Moscow’s promised military hardware that could worsen tensions in the war-weary Balkans. Two of the warplanes were transported, disassembled, on a Russian cargo plane that landed at a military airport near Belgrade on Monday afternoon. All six are to arrive by Oct. 20, when Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is expected in the Serbian capital.

Moscow is handing over the MiGs for free, but it’s estimated the overhaul of the secondhand aircraft will cost Serbia some 200 million euros ($235 million.) Russia has also promised the delivery of 30 battle tanks and 30 armored vehicles to Serbia, which was at war with its neighbors Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s during the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Monday that in addition to the jets, the country will boost its anti-aircraft defense. It has been negotiating the purchase of the Russian-made S-300 systems. “We will continue to protect our freedom and independence,” Vucic said.

Serbia has been on the path to join the European Union, but under political and propaganda pressure from Moscow it has steadily slid toward the Kremlin and its goal of keeping Balkan countries out of NATO and other Western bodies.

Serbia is a member of the Western military alliance’s Partnership for Peace program. A NATO official, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity, said “the defense equipment which NATO’s partners procure is a sovereign choice for those countries. There are no restrictions imposed by NATO.”

Serbia’s archrival, NATO-member Croatia, is shopping for a new fighter to replace the nation’s aging MiG-21s. The two leading contenders for the planned contract reportedly include Israeli version of American Lockheed Martin’s F-16 and Swedish Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen.

AP Writer Lorne Cook contributed from Brussels.

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