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Posts tagged ‘Rascia Land of Serbia’

Conservative Serbia to get first openly gay prime minister

June 15, 2017

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s president on Thursday nominated the highly conservative country’s first openly gay prime minister, a move likely to infuriate both the Christian Orthodox church and ultranationalists.

President Aleksandar Vucic announced that Ana Brnabic, 41, was nominated as the prime minister-designate, which could also make her the first female head of government in the country’s history. Her cabinet needs formal approval by parliament next week.

It was “a difficult decision reached in the interest of Serbia and its citizens,” said Vucic, a former extremist-turned-reformist who has promised to boost gay rights as part of efforts to move closer to European Union membership.

“If elected in parliament, I will run the government with dedication and responsibility and I will do my job honestly and with love,” Brnabic told state Tanjug news agency. Brnabic’s nomination is considered part of Vucic’s apparent turn toward the West despite strong pressure from Russia to maintain its influence in the region. The British-educated Brnabic, a marketing expert, had worked for U.S. companies before she assumed her Serbian government job.

“I believe she has professional skills and personal qualities,” Vucic said. “I’m convinced she will work hard.” Brnabic is currently Serbia’s minister of public administration and local government. She is not a member of Vucic’s ruling populist Serbian Progressive Party but is considered loyal to him.

Her appointment to the government last year — she was hand-picked by Vucic who was then prime minister — was hailed by rights groups as historic for the Balkan country whose gay community regularly faces discrimination, harassment and violence.

“Hopefully this will blow over in three or four days, and then I won’t be known as the gay minister,” she told the Associated Press at the time. Pro-Russian nationalists blasted the choice Thursday. The conservative opposition Dveri group, close to the Serbian Orthodox Church, said Brnabic was obviously appointed under Western pressure.

“Is it possible that the ruling majority has no other candidate for the prime minister-designate but the one imposed by the West, which dictates all the moves by this government?” the party asked. Vucic’s coalition partners were also infuriated.

“Ana Brnabic is not my prime minister,” nationalist official Dragan Markovic-Palma told the private Beta news agency. Earlier he said he would not approve anyone for the post who does not have at least two children.

Vucic, who was prime minister before his election as president in April, was expected to appoint a loyalist to maintain control of the government as he moved into the largely ceremonial presidential position.

Associated Press writer Jovana Gec contributed.

Kosovo votes amid thorny issues of border, talks with Serbia

June 11, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Voters in Kosovo were casting their ballots Sunday in an early general election for the new 120-seat parliament. At stake are thorny issues of the border demarcation deal with Montenegro that brought down the previous government, and the approval of another deal with Serbia giving more rights to the ethnic Serb minority.

The continuation of fraught talks with Belgrade — which denies Kosovo’s existence as a state — is also a key concern. Nineteen political parties, five coalitions and two citizens’ initiatives, all promising to secure economic growth and ease Kosovars’ travel restrictions to the European Union, have nominated candidates.

Among the contenders are a coalition of three major parties run by former rebel commanders. They have proposed Ramush Haradinaj, still regarded by Serbia as a war criminal, as prime minister. Others include Prime Minister Isa Mustafa’s party, which nominates former finance Minister Avdullah Hoti for leadership, and the Self-Determination Movement, the biggest opposition party to shun pre-election coalitions, which put forward their founder Albin Kurti as a candidate for prime minister.

Valdete Daka, head of the Central Election Commission that manages the electoral process, called on Kosovars to vote “to show to the world we are part of democracy and know how to hold elections properly” after casting her ballot at a polling station in the capital, Pristina.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. The new state has been recognized by 114 countries, including the United States and most of the EU members, but not by Belgrade. Kosovo is the only western Balkan country whose citizens need visas to enter the European Union’s Schengen zone. To join, Brussels insists Kosovo’s parliament must first approve a border demarcation deal signed with Montenegro in 2015.

Opposition parties say that deal meant a loss of territory, over 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres), or less than 1 percent of Kosovo’s land. The former Cabinet, international experts and the country’s Western backers dispute that claim.

The Self-Determination Movement and others also oppose another deal signed in 2015 that gave more rights to the ethnic Serb minority. A further issue is the prospect of former ethnic Albanian senior rebel commanders facing prosecution in the newly established international war crimes court. The court in The Hague is expected to shortly issue indictments for crimes committed against civilians during and after the 1998-1999 war with Serbia.

Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

Unaccompanied minors among stranded migrants in Serbia

May 18, 2017

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Asad Ullah, a 10-year-old migrant from Afghanistan, spent weeks travelling in the cold and rain after his father sent him off to look for a brighter future in Europe. Ullah told The Associated Press on Thursday that he set off in a group of migrants with smugglers through Iran, Turkey and Bulgaria before reaching Serbia nearly two months ago. During his journey, Ullah slept out in the open and lived in makeshift migrant shelters with little food and no facilities. He kept close to other migrants, afraid not to get lost.

“It is very hard, but I am going to Europe,” said Ullah, who was among more than 100 minors brought last week to a center for asylum-seekers on the outskirts of the Serbian capital, Belgrade. Previously, he had spent weeks in a now-demolished migrant shelter in the city center. He said his father sent him away to Europe rather than stay in Afghanistan where “there is no life.”

“He (his father) said to go to Europe for American life,” Ullah said in broken English. “I said: ‘OK, I go to Europe.'” A report by the U.N. children’s agency published on Wednesday warned that more than 300,000 children like Ullah have been migrating alone worldwide over a two-year period, in a dramatic escalation of a trend that has forced many young refugees into slavery and prostitution.

The numbers of refugee children have grown in Serbia too, where about 7,000 refugees and migrants have been stranded, unable to cross the heavily guarded borders of neighboring EU countries Hungary and Croatia. Michel Saint-Lot, the UNICEF representative in Serbia, said that around 3,200, or 46 percent, of all refugees and migrants in Serbia are children, while every third child is unaccompanied.

“That is one too many,” he said. Saint-Lot added that while on the road on their own, unaccompanied children are exposed to abuse and violence and face “potential issue of being trafficked, for sexual exploitation, for slavery and lack of access to basic care.”

“Those are major challenges for the children,” Saint-Lot insisted. While some minors set off with their families, they end up separated either by chance, or by smugglers who often split up families as a way to control them. Some, like Ullah, are sent away from home by parents who want them to reach Western Europe so they eventually can bring the rest of the family over, or earn money to support relatives who stayed behind.

Saint-Lot said that the fact that they are stranded in Serbia, unable to move on to their desired destinations in Europe, has put additional strain on the children — leading to psychological pressure and breakdowns in some cases.

“The most important aspect is ensuring that all children have access to learning, that they are protected from abuse, neglect, sexual exploitation, that there is proper psychological care,” Saint-Lot said.

Insah Ullah from Afghanistan, who is 17 and isn’t related to Asad Ullah, was also brought from Belgrade city center to the camp in the suburb of Krnjaca last week. On Thursday, he and other migrants could be seen playing in the camp yard on a sunny day. Insah Ullah said he would never have left his home if he had hope for a future in Afghanistan.

“I miss my family and I love my family too much and I miss my country,” he said. “No one wants to leave his country, no one wants to leave their parents, because if parents are with you, everything is with you.”

“If they are not, nothing is with you” Ullah said.

Jovana Gec contributed to this report.

Official results confirm Serbia PM Vucic elected president

April 03, 2017

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — A near-complete official vote count of Serbia’s presidential election confirmed on Monday that prime minister Aleksandar Vucic has won by a landslide in the first round of voting, further strengthening his authoritarian rule in the Balkan country amid support from Russia.

The State Election Commission said after counting 91 percent of ballots that Vucic won 55 percent of votes, followed by liberal candidate Sasa Jankovic with 16 percent, and Luka Maksimovic, a parody politician, with 9 percent.

The triumph in Sunday’s balloting is a major boost for Vucic, who is now expected to further tighten his already firm grip on power in Serbia. Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party also dominates the parliament.

A former extreme nationalist who has rebranded himself as a pro-EU reformer, Vucic has said he wants to lead the Balkan country into the European Union, while also pushing for deeper ties to longtime ally Russia.

Vucic’s candidacy was endorsed by Russian President Vladimir Putin amid fears from some of Moscow’s expanding influence in the tense Balkan region. Putin on Monday congratulated Vucic on his “convincing election,” including popular support for his “meaningful and balanced foreign policy,” the TASS news agency said.

Putin has reportedly promised his signature on the delivery of fighter planes, battle tanks and armored vehicles to Serbia. The move triggered fears of an arms race in the war-weary Balkans. In Brussels, the EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn warned Monday that Vucic has a “certain responsibility” in light of Sunday’s polls “to use this strong support by the citizens in a careful way.”

Hahn told reporters that he was comforted by Vucic’s early assurances that “he will fully respect the constitutional framework, and I trust him.” Opposition candidates have accused Vucic of control over the media, mudslinging and intimidation of voters. Critics say Vucic’s full control deals a blow to Serbia’s fragile democracy.

“No runoff means our society is politically immature,” analyst Jovo Bakic said. “Where else is there no runoff? Only in North Korea!” Vucic has been prime minister since 2014. He is expected to appoint a figurehead successor as prime minister and transform the presidency from a ceremonial office into a more powerful post.

Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.

Serbia’s powerful PM claims landslide presidential win

April 02, 2017

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s powerful Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic claimed victory Sunday in the presidential election that was a test of his authoritarian rule, an outcome that could expand Russia’s influence in the Balkans.

Speaking to supporters at his right-wing party’s headquarters, Vucic said, “My victory is crystal clear. This is a very important day for us, showing which way Serbia should be heading.” “A huge majority of people in Serbia support continuation of the European path for Serbia, along with preserving our traditionally good ties with Russia and China,” Vucic said, while his backers chanted “Victory, victory!”

While Vucic has said he wants to lead Serbia into the European Union, he has been pushing for deeper ties to longtime ally Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin endorsed him. Right before the election, Vucic visited Putin, who reportedly promised his signature on the delivery of fighter planes, battle tanks and armored vehicles to Serbia. The move triggered fears of an arms race in the western Balkans, which Russia considers its sphere of influence.

Vucic claimed victory after projections by different independent polling agencies had him receiving more than 55 percent of the votes cast during Sunday’s election. Liberal challenger Sasa Jankovic placed second with 15 percent and Luka Maksimovic, a media student who ran as a parody politician, came in third with 9 percent, according to the pollsters.

Official results are expected Monday. Vucic, a former ultranationalist who now declares support for Serbia joining the European Union, had been forecast to win the presidency by a high margin. He needed to secure more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff election on April 16 that would have put him in a trickier position facing off against a single opposition candidate.

Vucic has been prime minister since 2014. He is expected to use a win in the presidential race to appoint a figurehead successor as prime minister and to transform the presidency from a ceremonial office into a more powerful post from which he could rule unchallenged.

The opposition has accused Vucic of muzzling the media and intimidating voters ahead of the election. Vucic denied the allegations, saying only he can bring stability to a region scarred by the wars of the 1990s, which Vucic supported at the time.

Jankovic, an independent candidate with no party affiliation, said Sunday he was happy with his campaign, which galvanized the pro-democratic movement opposed to Serbia’s persistent corruption and growing autocracy.

Jankovic said he would await the official results to concede defeat, and called the election “just the beginning.” “Even participation in such an election was worth respect,” he said, referring to the unfair pre-election conditions. “But this election race goes on, and will go on.”

The biggest surprise of the election was Maksimovic, a media student who ran as a parody politician. As a satirical candidate decked out in a white suit, oversized jewelry and a man-bun, Maksimovic mocked corruption in Serbian politics by promising to steal if he were elected. His supporters were mostly young voters alienated by Serbia’s decades-long crisis and economic decline.

Maksimovic’s widely viewed videos on social media networks portrayed him doing pushups, sucking a raw egg and riding a white horse surrounded by mock bodyguards.

Associated Press writers Amer Cohadzic, Ivana Bzganovic and Jovana Gec contributed.

Serbia’s powerful PM favored to win presidential election

April 02, 2017

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbs voted Sunday in a presidential election that was a test of their powerful leader’s authoritarian rule amid growing Russian influence in the Balkan region. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, a former ultranationalist now a declared pro-European Union politician, is slated to win the presidency by a high margin against 10 opposition candidates, including a parody candidate who is mocking the country’s political establishment.

Vucic’s political clout could face a blow, however, if he does not sweep his opponents in the first round of voting. Vucic needs to win by more than 50 percent of the vote Sunday to avoid a runoff election on April 16 that would put him in a much trickier position against a single opposition candidate.

Vucic’s main challengers in the vote include human-rights lawyer and former Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic, former Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic and firebrand nationalist and Vucic’s former mentor Vojislav Seselj, who has been tried for war crimes.

The opposition has accused Vucic of muzzling the media and intimidating voters ahead of the election. Vucic denies such accusations, saying only he can bring stability to a region scarred by the wars of the 1990s, which Vucic had supported at the time.

“I really hope that with these elections, Serbia will carry on toward its further stability with full support of its government,” Vucic said as he cast his ballot. “I don’t know if I’ll win, but I truly hope that those who want to destabilize Serbia will not succeed.”

Jankovic, the independent candidate, said Sunday he’s happy with his campaign, which has galvanized the pro-democratic movement in Serbia that has been upset with the country’s persistent corruption and growing autocracy.

“In Serbia, a new, honest political movement has been created, and it’s the reason why we should be optimistic,” Jankovic said after he voted. The prime minister since 2014, Vucic expected to use his win to appoint a figurehead successor and transform the presidency from a ceremonial office into a more muscular role — and rule unchallenged like Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has endorsed him.

Contrary to his claims that he wants to lead Serbia into the EU, Vucic has been pushing for deeper ties with longtime ally Russia. Right before the vote, Vucic even visited Putin, who reportedly promised his signature on the delivery of fighter planes, battle tanks and armored vehicles to Serbia. The move triggered fears of an arms race in the western Balkans, which Russia considers its sphere of influence.

One of the biggest surprises of the election campaign has been Luka Maksimovic, a media student who is running as a parody politician, decked out in a white suit, oversized jewelry and a man-bun. Maksimovic’s parody character mocks corrupt Serbian politicians by promising to steal if he is elected.

His widely viewed videos on social media networks portray him doing push-ups, sucking a raw egg or riding a white horse surrounded by mock bodyguards. His supporters are mostly young voters alienated by Serbia’s decades-long crisis and economic decline.

“Let the best candidate win! And definitely, I’m the best,” Maksimovic said after he voted.

Associated Press writers Amer Cohadzic, Ivana Bzganovic and Jovana Gec contributed.

Populist party says Serbia PM to run for president

February 14, 2017

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic will run for the presidency in the election in April, his ruling populist party said on Tuesday. Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said after a Serbian Progressive Party meeting that Vucic was unanimously approved as its candidate.

Vucic said in an interview on Serbian state television that he has accepted the candidacy in order to “maintain continuity and stability.” “This is of great importance for the future of Serbia,” he said.

The decision means that current pro-Russian president, fellow Serbian Progressive Tomislav Nikolic, will end his term, unless he decides to run for re-election independently. Vucic said that “it would be good if we could continue to work together.”

Although Serbia’s presidency is largely ceremonial, the outcome of the election could determine whether the country continues on its EU membership path or will move toward its traditional Slavic ally Russia.

Vucic is a former ultranationalist turned pro-EU reformer. The formal announcement of the date for the two-round vote is expected early next month, but numerous candidates have announced they are running.

They include ultranationalist leader Vojislav Seselj, a staunch pro-Russian who was acquitted of war crimes by a United Nations court, and former Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic. Jeremic was president of the U.N. General Assembly in 2012-13 and a candidate to replace Secretary General Ban-Ki-moon in 2015.

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