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Posts tagged ‘Land of the Balkans’

Macedonia’s Zaev set to warm up ties with Greece, Kosovo

December 12, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Macedonia’s prime minister reiterated his will on Tuesday to reach a solution with Greece following more than two decades of disputes over his country’s name. Zoran Zaev said Macedonian and Greek officials were working “to reconfirm their will of resuming essential talks … to reach a solution.”

Zaev, in power since spring, has vowed to improve relations with Greece, which has opposed Macedonia’s name since it declared it and won recognition by the United Nations after Yugoslavia’s breakup in 1991.

Greece says Macedonia’s name harbors territorial pretensions on Greece’s northern province of the same name. Greece blocked Macedonia from joining NATO in 2008 under its provisional name. In Kosovo on the first-ever visit by a Macedonian prime minister to its neighbor, Zaev also vowed to warm ties there.

He said Skopje would acquiesce to Kosovar demands for a new, international investigation into a 2015 attack by militants from Kosovo in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo. Eight police officers and 10 militants were killed in fighting that was hotly disputed by both sides and was the worst outbreak of violence in Macedonia since a nine-month insurgency by fighters from its Kosovar minority in 2001.

“Such an issue is in the interest of our cooperation and that should not remain an obstacle to our ties,” Zaev said at a news conference with his host counterpart Ramush Haradinaj. Macedonia has a large ethnic Albanian minority — which is the main single ethnic group in neighboring Kosovo and also Albania — that regularly plays an important part in creating governing coalitions.

“We share the same aspirations for membership into the European Union and NATO because the future of the whole Western Balkans is in EU and NATO,” said Zaev.

Associated Press writer Llazar Semini contributed from Tirana, Albania.

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Leaders of Turkey, Greece air grievances at tense conference

December 07, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The leaders of Greece and Turkey publicly aired their grievances Thursday in a tense news conference as a two-day visit to Athens by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan got off to a rocky start.

The Greek government had expressed hopes that the visit — the first to Greece by a Turkish president in 65 years — would help improve the often-frosty relations between the two neighbors. The NATO allies are divided by a series of decades-old issues, including territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea, and have come to the brink of war three times since the early 1970s.

But from the outset, the discussions focused on disagreements. On the eve of his visit, Erdogan rattled his Greek hosts by telling Greece’s Skai television that the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne should be “updated.” The treaty delineated modern Turkey’s borders and outlines the status of the Muslim minority in Greece and the Greek minority in Turkey, among other issues.

In a visibly testy first meeting with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, the two engaged in a thinly-veiled verbal spat over the treaty and Greece’s Muslim minority, which Erdogan is to visit Friday.

“This happened in Lausanne, that happened in Lausanne. I get that, but let’s now quickly do what is necessary,” Erdogan told Pavlopoulos. “Many things have changed in 94 years. If we review these, I believe that all the sides will agree that so many things have to (change.)”

The spat continued during Erdogan’s appearance at an unusually candid joint news conference with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. The two listed a series of grievances their countries have with each other, including religious and minority rights, the divided island of Cyprus and the case of ten Turkish servicemen who have applied for asylum in Greece following a Turkish government crackdown after a failed coup last year.

“It is very important to strengthen our channels of communication, and this can only happen on the basis of mutual respect,” Tsipras said. The prime minister said the two also discussed tensions in the Aegean Sea, where Greece complains Turkish fighter jets frequently violate its airspace.

“The increasing violations of Greek airspace in the Aegean and particularly the simulated dogfights in the Aegean pose a threat to our relations, and particularly a threat to our pilots,” Tsipras said.

For his part, Erdogan insisted once more that the Lausanne treaty needed to be reviewed, but stressed his country had no territorial claims on its smaller neighbor. On the topic of the Muslim minority in Greece — which the country recognizes only as a religious minority, while Turkey has long pressed for better rights — Tsipras said his government agreed that improvements must be made in their quality of life.

“But issues that concern reforms involving Greek citizens are not an issue of negotiation between countries,” he said. Tsipras noted it was unclear exactly what Erdogan was seeking with his call to update the 1923 treaty.

“The truth is I am a little confused about what he is putting on the table,” he said. Greeks have been aghast at Erdogan’s previous comments over possibly revising the Lausanne treaty, fearing that could harbor territorial claims.

Erdogan and Tsipras also sparred over Cyprus, a Mediterranean island divided since a 1974 Turkish invasion into a Turkish-occupied north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south. Another round of internationally-brokered peace talks to reunify the island failed earlier this year.

“Who left the table? Southern Cyprus did … we want the issue to reach a fair and lasting solution but that is not southern Cyprus’ concern,” Erdogan said. Tsipras retorted: “My dear friend, Mr. President, we must not forget that this issue remains unresolved because 43 years ago there was an illegal invasion and occupation of the northern part of Cyprus.”

Erdogan also raised the issue of Athens having no official mosque, to which Tsipras responded by saying Greece had restored several mosques around the country, including a centuries-old mosque in Athens.

The refugee crisis appeared to be the only issue the two sides did not disagree on, with both noting they had shared a significant burden of the migration flows into the European Union. More than a million people crossed from Turkey through Greece at the height of the crisis.

Later Thursday, several hundred leftist, anarchist and Kurdish protesters held a peaceful march through Athens against Erdogan’s visit. On Friday, Erdogan will visit the northeastern town of Komotini to meet with members of Greece’s Muslim minority.

Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Derek Gatopoulos and Nicholas Paphitis in Athens contributed.

22 detained as Greeks mark 2008 police shooting of teenager

December 06, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Rioting youths hurled fire bombs, set up street barricades and damaged storefronts in Greece’s two largest cities Wednesday, violence that broke out after marches marking the ninth anniversary of the fatal police shooting of a teenager and continued on-and-off for several hours.

The clashes in Athens and Thessaloniki coincided with a police security operation to prepare for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s two-visit to Greece, which starts Thursday. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Authorities said at least 22 people were detained for questioning in the Greek capital, where a pair of rallies drew several thousand participants. Some youths proceeded to hurl stones, flares and Molotov cocktails at police officers and set a parked car ablaze, police said.

The unruly rowdy demonstrators also blocked streets with burning trash bins and material taken from construction sites. Similar scenes unfolded in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, where protesters threw rocks at police from the top of apartment buildings. locks.

About 2,000 police were deployed in Athens for the events marking the 2008 death of 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos. A police officer shot the boy while he was out with friends in Exarchia, a central Athens neighborhood popular with anarchists.

The policeman who fired the fatal shot said he didn’t intend to shoot Grigoropoulos. He was convicted of deliberate manslaughter and is serving a life sentence. The teenager’s death sparked riots across Greece that lasted for weeks. Athens was the hit the worst, with many stores, buildings, and vehicles in the capital smashed and burned.

Kantouris reported from Thessaloniki, Greece.

Rain slows in Albania but agricultural land still underwater

December 03, 2017

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanian authorities say that despite less rainfall and lower river levels, thousands of homes and scores of schools have been damaged, and agricultural land is still submerged.

The government said Sunday that 600 families were evacuated Saturday in two southwestern districts. More than 3,000 homes, 56 schools and 16,000 hectares (40,000 acres) of agricultural land have been flooded. Many roads and 28 bridges have been damaged.

Authorities have started calculating the damage to consider financial compensation. At least one person has died in the last several days of heavy rainfall that has flooded many parts of Albania. Ports and the only international airport were temporarily closed for part of the weekend.

Schools were closed Friday and the Education Ministry will make a decision soon about Monday’s classes.

Kosovo top opposition leader, 2 other lawmakers arrested

November 24, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo police on Friday arrested a top opposition leader and two other lawmakers accused of disrupting the work of the previous parliament with tear gas and violent acts. Albin Kurti, Donika Kadaj Bujupi and Albulena Haxhiu of the left-wing Self-Determination Party were arrested while entering the parliament building.

Police used tear gas to disperse some opposition supporters trying to block their minivan that was taking Kurti. Visar Ymeri, leader of the Self-Determination Party, denounced the “brutal arrest of the three lawmakers based on political orders” and considered it “continuation of the overall persecution of Self-Determination during recent times.”

Since the signing of a border demarcation agreement with Montenegro in August 2015 the opposition has contested it, saying Kosovo is ceding territory — a claim denied by the previous government and international experts. The protesters disrupted parliamentary work, using tear gas canisters, blowing whistles and throwing water bottles.

Approval of the deal is a pre-condition for a visa-free regime for Kosovo citizens in the European Union’s Schengen countries. Political tension in the country remains high over who won mayoral election last month. It is not yet clear whether Self-Determination will keep the mayor’s post in the capital Pristina or it will go to the other now-opposition Democratic League of Kosovo.

Another aching issue is a special court established to prosecute crimes committed during and immediately after Kosovo’s 1998-1999 war with Serbia for independence. It is expected to issue indictments against former independence fighters.

Associated Press writer Llazar Semini contributed from Tirana, Albania.

Bosnian court acquits ex-Srebrenica commander of war crimes

October 09, 2017

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnia’s war crimes court on Monday acquitted the wartime commander of Srebrenica, who was accused of committing atrocities against Serbs during the 1992-95 Balkan conflict.

The acquittal of Naser Oric immediately prompted anger from Serbian leaders, with Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin saying the court ruling “threatens security, trust and reconciliation in the whole of the Balkans.”

Oric was accused of war crimes against three Serb prisoners of war who were slain in villages around the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in the early days of the conflict. A panel of judges presiding over the trial ruled Monday the prosecution did not present evidence proving the case against Oric.

Oric had previously been tried by a U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, where he was also acquitted in 2008. Oric is seen as a hero by many Muslim Bosnians for his role in defending Srebrenica, where Serb forces massacred some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995. The Srebrenica massacre, the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II, is the only episode of Bosnia’s war to be defined as genocide by two U.N. courts.

Serbs continue to claim the 1995 Srebrenica slaughter was an act of revenge by uncontrolled troops because they say that soldiers under Oric’s command killed thousands of Serbs in the villages surrounding the eastern town.

“It is clear that we will have to fight for justice ourselves,” said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Still, he urged Serbs not to “utter a hard word against Bosniak Muslim) neighbors so that we can build friendship with them and build a future together with them.”

Bosnian Serb political leader Milorad Dodik said Oric’s acquittal showed there was no justice for Serbs. He called on Serb judges and prosecutors to abandon their posts in Bosnia’s top court and prosecution office and urged all Bosnian Serb political representatives “to gather around the cause of declaring the (two institutions) illegitimate.”

The Bosnian war pitted the country’s three main ethnic factions — Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims — against each other after Bosnia split from what was then Yugoslavia. More than 100,000 people were killed in the conflict before a peace deal was brokered in 1995.

AP Writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.

Erdogan receives warm welcome from Muslim Serbian town

2017-10-11

NOVI PAZAR – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan received a rapturous welcome on Wednesday during a visit to the Serbian town of Novi Pazar, capital of the Muslim majority Sandzak region that has seen mass emigration to Turkey since the violent breakup of Yugoslavia.

Erdogan, on a two-day visit to Serbia, hopes to boost Turkey’s economic and cultural influence in the Balkan region, which was part of the Ottoman empire for centuries, at a time of increased tensions with the European Union and United States.

“We have special relations with this region. Your happiness is our happiness, your pain is our pain,” Erdogan told more than 10,000 people gathered in front of the municipality building.

“Sandzak is the biggest bridge linking us with our brothers in Serbia,” he said, with Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic standing close by.

Turkish influence is already strong among fellow Muslims in Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo, but mainly Orthodox Christian Serbia is traditionally much closer to Russia. However, Belgrade and Ankara, which both want to join the EU but are frustrated by the slow pace of progress, are keen to increase bilateral trade.

Erdogan said Turkey would finance the construction of a road linking Sandzak with the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, reconstruct an Ottoman-era hammam and build a bridge in Novi Pazar.

In Belgrade on Tuesday, Erdogan pledged gas and Turkish investments for the Balkans and he signed deals with Vucic to expand a bilateral free trade agreement.

In Novi Pazar, local people waved Turkish flags and the green and blue flags of Serbia’s Muslim community, and chanted Allahu Akbar (God is greatest). A big banner read “Welcome Sultan” and was signed by “Ottoman grandchildren”.

“Erdogan is our nation’s leader, Vucic is our state leader, this is the greatest day for us Muslims to have them both here,” Ismail Ismailovic, 28, from the nearby town of Tutin, farmer, sporting long beard and white embroidered Muslim skull cap.

It was a far cry from the 1990s when Serbia and Turkey were sharply at odds in the conflicts that tore apart Yugoslavia. Turkey sees itself as the historic defender of Muslims across the Balkan region.

“I know I am not going to be welcomed here like Erdogan is,” said Vucic, who was a firebrand Serbian nationalist during the wars of the 1990s but has turned strongly pro-EU. “But at least I can come out and say that I am working in your best interest.”

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85351.

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