Balkan News

Pope Benedict XVI, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I meet in Istanbul

ISTANBUL, Turkey — The process of dialogue between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches was the focus of a closed-door meeting between Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and visiting Pope Benedict XVI in Istanbul on Wednesday (November 29th). They also attended a thanksgiving service at Saint George Cathedral. Earlier on Wednesday, the Pope visited the towns of Izmir and Ephesus.
He wraps up his three-day visit on Thursday with a tour of the famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul — another attempt, analysts say, to mend relations with Muslims angry over a quote by a Byzantine emperor that Benedict wove into a September speech.

EP’s Borrell reaffirms support for Albania‘s EU integration bid

BRUSSELS, Belgium — European Parliament (EP) President Josep Borrell reaffirmed his support for Albania’s EU accession bid, saying the Union would be “incomplete without the Western Balkans”, during a meeting with Albanian Parliament Speaker Jozefina Topalli in Brussels on Wednesday (November 29th). She was there to attend an international forum on European energy and combating terrorism. Topalli assured Borrell that the Albanian authorities would continue working to realise set reforms and that they would take seriously recommendations regarding the legislative field, highlighted in the European Commission’s latest report on Albania.

Kosovo’s Ceku visits Moscow

PRISTINA, Kosovo, Serbia — Prime Minister Agim Ceku departed on Wednesday (November 29th) for a two-day visit to Moscow, where he is meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov and parliamentary officials. The aim of the visit is to brief Russian authorities about developments in the UN-mediated status negotiations. But Pristina media reports suggest Ceku also is trying to convince Moscow to support Kosovo’s independence. This is the first visit to Moscow by a Kosovo Albanian leader.
In other news, the Kosovo government condemned the violence Tuesday that marred a rally by the pro-independence Vetevendosje (Self-determination) movement in Pristina. UN police and local security forces had to use teargas to disperse a crowd that vandalised the parliament building and UNMIK headquarters.

UN tribunal prosecutors unhappy with NATO’s PfP invitation to Serbia

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — UN war crimes tribunal chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte is disappointed that Serbia was invited to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme during the Riga summit Wednesday (November 29th), according to del Ponte spokesman Anton Nikiforov. Talking to Belgrade’s B92 Radio later in the day, he said the tribunal was surprised that the invitation was extended to Serbia though it has not met its obligations in terms of war crimes co-operation.
Commenting on the same issue, Serbian President Boris Tadic said Wednesday that the admission to NATO’s PfP programme did not mean that the problem of ICTY co-operation had been solved. He said Serbia must close this chapter and that all ICTY indictees must be arrested and brought to justice.

Bulgarian court allows confiscation of late crime boss’ properties

SOFIA, Bulgaria — The Sofia Regional Court decided on Wednesday (November 29th) to allow the partial confiscation of properties owned by purported drug boss Konstantin Dimitrov-Samokovetsa, who was killed in Amsterdam in 2003. Under the court’s decision, an apartment in Varna, as well as residences in Sofia, would be seized from Dimitrov-Samokovetsa’s heirs. The magistrates were shown evidence that indicated the holdings could not have been bought on his declared income. Some property in London also is in question.

Albanian foreign minister visits China, stressing bilateral ties

TIRANA, Albania — Foreign Minister Besnik Mustafaj wraps up an official visit to China on Friday (December 1st). On Wednesday, he and counterpart Li Zhaoxing discussed concrete measures to boost bilateral ties, particularly co-operation in trade, education and culture. Mustafaj’s visit was postponed repeatedly because of a dispute over Albania’s decision to grant asylum to five Chinese Uighur Muslims, released this spring from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay. China has been pressing for their extradition, claiming they are terrorists, not political refugees.

Bulgaria seals accord with Russia to build country’s second nuclear plant

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Representatives of Bulgaria’s power utility NEC and the Russian company Atomstroyexport sealed an agreement Wednesday (November 29th) on the construction of a second Bulgarian nuclear plant, in Belene. Earlier this year, an Atomstroyexport-led consortium won an international tender for the Belene project, beating out the Czech Skoda Alliance.

Romania detains two former officials, two others in privatisation scandal

BUCHAREST, Romania — Four people, two former government officials and two foreign consultants, were arrested on Wednesday (November 29th) in connection with an ongoing investigation into leaked information in strategic privatisation deals. According to local media reports, the detainees are the former head of the Romanian state privatisation department Dorinel Mucea and former Ministry of Communications adviser Mihai Donciu, Russian-born US citizen Vadim Benyatov Don and Bulgarian national Stamen Stanchev. The last two are employees of the Western consultancy group, Credit Suisse First Boston. They are charged with economic espionage.

Macedonian authorities detain 18 former officials in anti-corruption operation

SKOPJE, Macedonia — Authorities detained 18 former government and other officials late Wednesday (November 29th), in a large-scale operation against corruption and organised crime. Media reports suggest the detainees include three former deputy ministers, though no names were released. They and others reportedly face charges of abuse of office, money laundering and corruption stemming from different affairs worth millions of euros.

Deadline for forming new BiH Council of Ministers expires in February

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) — The deadline for establishing the new BiH Council of Ministers or cabinet expires on February 22nd, according to an announcement Wednesday (November 29th) from the head of the BiH Parliament’s legal panel, Milan Zjajic. He urged the parties and institutions involved in the process to speed up efforts. The BiH Presidency must name the prime minister-designate by December 5th. On Wednesday, leaders of the main BiH parties met in Banja Luka to negotiate a parliamentary majority in the BiH House of Representatives, but failed to reach an agreement.

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