FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Monday:  October 6, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Balkans (3)

Monday
Feb132012

Update on Northern Kosovo Barricades (COMMENTARY)

By Marko Prelec

The “barricade”, on the main Pristina-Belgrade highway at Dudin Krs. The footprints over the barricade are animal tracks.

My Crisis Group colleagues and I drove up to Serb-held northern Kosovo on Thursday, and crossed into Serbia (briefly). In short, everything has changed, though no one has announced any change at all. The worst winter in living memory, which many hoped would drive the locals to use the official border posts, is in full sway and the border posts are open as are the roads leading to them, but not a single vehicle passes. However understandable Kosovo’s interest in controlling its borders, there are important lessons here about trying to use issues like freedom of movement to pressure a reluctant people to accept a sovereignty they view as foreign.

Few barricades remain in the snowbound northern region of Kosovo, and fewer still are manned. The main Pristina-Belgrade highway is still blocked at the hamlet of Dudin Krš by what appears to be a pile of gravel (impossible to tell under all that snow) and some barbed wire stolen from NATO during one of last fall’s countless confrontations. A little way further up the road, the once-massive Rudare roadblock is completely open, though a few men are visible nearby, presumably ready to close it if need be.

Snow drift in no mans land between the Kosovo border post at Jarinje and the 1389 barricade in Serbia. The road here is under a meter or more of snow.

Two of Mitrovica’s three bridges between the Serb-held north and the Kosovo-controlled south are still open, and the snow has provided a way around one of the barricades that used to block traffic just past the easternmost bridge: the roadway has migrated up over the kerb onto the snow-covered sidewalk, past the pile of gravel, and back onto the road. From here, the road is clear, and well ploughed, all the way up to the Serbian border near the village of Jarinje.

German KFOR troops man a checkpoint just before the border post; they stop cars and bark “karta!” (ID card), check the driver’s ID, and wave you through. A few hundred meters further down the (now unploughed) road you come to the actual border post, which looks like an Alaska ghost town. The first sign of life is a charming Alaskan husky, thrilled to have new people to play with. Then a Bulgarian EULEX official emerges from his hut and asks us why we have no license plates (our car is registered in Kosovo, and driving through the Serb-held North with Kosovo plates is dangerous – but half the North drives without plates of any kind). He then asks where we are going, something I am coming to wonder myself since the road ahead is not only totally unploughed, but also blocked by EULEX tank traps. We say we want to drive to Serbia. He tells us, OK, but there is a problem with the road; there is a roadblock further ahead on Serbian territory and “everyone who tries to get through turns back”. He then leans closer and says, “there is another road you can take, I am telling you this as advice” – he, the EULEX border policeman, is directing us to the illegal alternative route (that is clearly marked with a turnoff just short of the KFOR checkpoint, one of many such routes opened and maintained by locals). Since we are investigating the actual, formal crossing point and not trying to get to Serbia, we agree to leave the car at the border and walk through on foot.

The road is tranquil and lovely and we make rapid progress through the deepening snow, using footprints left by previous trekkers. After a few hundred meters the road – with drifts of a meter or more, totally impassable, roadblock or no – is barred by rocks fallen from the hillside. After about a kilometre and a half, we come to the first barrier, where someone has taken the guardrail and bent it across the road. The next hundred meters or so are full of felled saplings and branches, nothing a few strong men couldn’t remove in an hour. Finally, we come to the barricade itself, which is really just a green army tent erected in the middle of the road, festooned with Greek, Russian and Serbian flags.

This, too, seems deserted apart from another dog, this one a tiny brown mutt who is clearly terrified of us but also hopeful we might provide food, or at least human affection; he takes shelter behind a pile of logs chopped for heating and eyes us warily. I walk past, to where the road has again been ploughed. It turns out buses from Serbia come this far and stop, discharging passengers who walk up to and then over the hill around the border post, back down to the road where another bus awaits them. I snap a few photos and get ready to turn back when the guardian of the barricade emerges. He is the first we have seen and is located on Serbian, not Kosovo, territory.

Trees blocking the road just before the 1389 barricade, just visible in background (it is really just a tent on the road).

The barricade watcher is in his early twenties and turns out to be a volunteer from Montenegro, here to defend his Serb brothers from the Albanians. He is a member of an extremist group SNP 1389, which has clashed violently with police in Serbia and Kosovo, but is courteous and polite and assures us he is unarmed as he invites us into his tent. Inside, the walls are decorated with a banner reading “Next year in Prizren” [a town in south-western Kosovo], posters supporting accused war criminals Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić and Montenegro’s flag from before its separation from Serbia; there are two cots, a wood-burning stove, and a table with some preserved food. We chat amiably for about half an hour; he’s opposed to the EU but upset that it refused to accept Montenegro as a candidate member. Our host discusses the relative merits of the KFOR troops he’s fought with (“the Hungarians, we beat the living shit out of them and still they wouldn’t shoot, but the Germans! You move too fast and they open fire.”) and bemoaned the international and Serbian perfidy that was leaving Kosovo Serbs at the mercy of Pristina. The only hope, he thought, was for Serbian president Boris Tadić’s party to lose the upcoming elections – or for Kosovo to be partitioned.

He (we never got his name) also told us a bus routinely stopped by his tent, discharging passengers from Serbia who would then walk toward the border, but break off just before and hike up over the adjacent KFOR base and back down to the highway inside Kosovo, where another bus waited to pick them up. (Buses that use the alternative routes recommended by EULEX have been doing the same, but in their case because the vehicles cannot make it over the steepest terrain in the snow, so they make their passengers climb over it on foot.)

Looking back at the 1389 barricade from the Serbian side.

We said goodbye to the 1389 man and his (now exuberantly friendly) puppy and trudged back to the border. On our return, it was clear the EULEX guards had been conferring, and worrying, about what to do with us. Absurdly, since we had just come from Kosovo and left our car parked at their post, they insisted on processing my companions (who had Serbian ID) and issuing the “entry-exit documents” adopted in the technical dialogue mediated by the EU. Though they had assured us they issued these as a matter of course, it still took half an hour and much whispering and conferring before the papers appeared. In the meantime, they told us that pedestrians routinely used the crossing point when the snow was too deep to climb, which was hard for the ones with a lot of luggage.

What does all this mean? The EU pressured Serbia intensely in November and December, demanding that it force the northern Kosovo Serbs to remove their barricades in the name of “freedom of movement”. KFOR fought several actions against barricades, inflicting – and taking – casualties. The barricades inside Kosovo are gone. Yet there is no free movement, because the road into Serbia is blocked – by EULEX itself, and by our lone Montenegrin on Serbia’s own territory. But no one raises a peep. It’s easy to guess why. The one remaining roadblock is flimsy and could be cleared by Serbia in half an hour – but the Kosovo Serbs would respond by putting up their own barricades again. Then EULEX and KFOR would have to troop back outside into the freezing cold and confront them, fruitlessly, as they did last fall. Much better to go with a gentleman’s agreement: the official border posts are nominally open, but the real crossing points remain the alternative routes.

The situation shows with crystal clarity the folly of the “freedom of movement” campaign, which cost tens of millions of Euros (flying Kosovo officials to, and from, the border day after day runs into serious money), dozens of injuries, made travel more difficult for real people and achieved nothing. All this started because of the basic disputes between Kosovo and Serbia, over Kosovo’s independence and territorial integrity. Trying to use issues like freedom of movement – or the rule of law – as tools to change locals’ minds about sovereignty issues, rather than as ends in themselves, just damages the tool. The dispute isn’t a technicality and cannot be resolved as though it were.

Marko Prelec is Director of Crisis Group's Balkans Project, covering Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia

Originally published in The Balkan Regatta - a blog section of the International Crisis Group 

Thursday
Aug112011

Macedonia: Ten Years after the Conflict (REPORT) 

- by International Crisis Group 

Ten years after signature of the Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA) that ended fighting between the country’s ethnic Albanians and Macedonians, much of the agreement has been implemented, and a resumption of armed conflict is unlikely. Macedonia is justified in celebrating its success in integrating minorities into political life, but inter-party and inter-ethnic tensions have been growing for five years.

While this part of the Balkans looks to eventual EU membership to secure stability, it remains fragile, and worrying trends – rising ethnic Macedonian nationalism, state capture by the prime minister and his party, decline in media and judicial independence, increased segregation in schools and slow decentralisation – risk undermining the multi-ethnic civil state Macedonia can become.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who has just formed a new government, should work closely with his Albanian coalition partners and opposition parties to pass and implement the measures needed for more democratisation, inter-ethnic reconciliation and a solution to the name dispute with Greece.

On 5 June Macedonia held elections that international observers assessed as generally positive and whose results political parties accepted quickly. The opposition Alliance of Social Democrats in Macedonia (SDSM) coalition increased its presence in parliament from 27 to 42 seats. Re-elected to lead the government, but with ten less seats, Gruevski and his Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation – Democratic Party of Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) will now have to cooperate more closely with their Albanian coalition partner, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI).

Albanian parties should strengthen their loyalty to the state and engage more substantially in policy and decision-making. The new more pluralistic and balanced 123-seat parliament should foster greater cooperation among political elites and help overcome the highly polarised environment that was exacerbated during the SDSM’s four-month parliamentary boycott.

A more balanced legislature should also temper the prime minister’s state-sponsored nationalism, most evident in the hugely expensive and divisive urban renewal program in Skopje, built around a nationalist vision of ancient Macedonia that is offensive to the country’s minorities and Greece alike. The failures to secure NATO membership in April 2008 and to begin negotiations over membership with the EU in 2009, four years after obtaining candidate status, helped Gruevski secure support for his “national renaissance” policy line. The resulting increased emphasis on nationalism, however, is dividing Macedonians unhealthfully between “patriots’ and “traitors”, irritating Albanians and discouraging Macedonia’s friends in the EU.

The previous government coalition captured many state institutions, especially the parliament that it dominated. Political dialogue broke down, and Gruevski and the SDSM leader attacked each other in highly personal terms. Legislative boycotts and laws passed under emergency procedures undermined democratic debate. VMRO-DPMNE and DUI party members were favoured for public jobs, without regard for merit. The government reduced criticism in parts of the highly politicised media by buying favours through advertising. Selective fiscal investigation into and subsequent forced bankruptcy of the opposition-leaning television station A1 and detention of its owner were viewed at home and abroad as silencing criticism. As under past administrations, the judiciary lacked independence.

Relations between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians also suffered. The government was criticised for not doing enough to ensure equitable representation, implement the law on languages and oppose cultural exclusion. At the same time, segregation in the education system was becoming more entrenched. Although a good institutional framework exists to promote and encourage inter-ethnic dialogue, relations suffered from weak central government support. The prevalent view among much of the Albanian political elite is that the DUI must be more forceful in articulating the needs of ethnic Albanians than it was in the previous coalition.

Albanians are especially frustrated at successive governments’ inability to resolve the name issue. As Crisis Group has repeatedly argued, the dispute risks derailing the strategies of the EU and NATO to stabilise Macedonia and the wider region through integration and enlargement. Years of UN-mediated negotiations have made little progress, and further talks have not been scheduled. Macedonia in particular appears to be waiting for an International Court of Justice (ICJ) verdict in the case it brought for alleged violations of the 1995 Interim Agreement that regulates bilateral relations in the absence of a name agreement. The financial crisis in Greece and popular resentment of austerity measures there do not make it easy for the Greek leadership to focus on resolving the dispute. Nevertheless, Macedonia should seek decisive progress so as not to miss the opportunity to get the go-ahead for membership negotiations when the EU makes new enlargement decisions in December.

Citizens of all ethnic backgrounds and political persuasion have reason to celebrate Ohrid’s tenth anniversary. The OFA has done much to reduce discrimination and inequality and maintain unity. It is still needed to forge a common understanding of the civic state. During his immediately preceding term as prime minister, however, Gruevski sought to build a strong state identity based on Macedonia’s ancient history, from which ethnic Albanians feel excluded. They are more focused on advocating a highly decentralised federal and bilingual state that ethnic Macedonians see as threatening to the country’s survival. The two concepts have little in common; managing and shaping them so that they can provide mutual support or at least coexist constructively is difficult. But bringing Macedonia’s political and ethnic elites and ordinary citizens closer together around a shared vision of a unified multi-national state is a challenge that the new government cannot avoid.

Skopje/Istanbul/Brussels / Report by ICG August 11, 2011 - for ICG's recommendations please click here 

Friday
Oct222010

HUMNEWS HEADLINES - October 22, 2010 (Europe and Eurasia) 

Armenia

Azerbaijani top official calls on Russia to say decisive word on Armenia’s “occupation”

Referendum on border opening to be conducted in Kars

Armenia-EU political cooperation efficiently develops

Armenian opposition leader upbeat on prisoner release

Most of Armenia’s economy in shadow

Seyran Ohanyan hopes for Armenian-British further military cooperation

Misinterpreted Encyclopedia: British and Russian publishers distort basic facts about Armenia  

Armenia’s National Assembly has renovated oval hall

Gibraltar

UK must defend waters, says opposition

Talks with Spain make a sudden return

Remembering Trafalgar

Kyrgyzstan

Russia, US could cooperate in Kyrgyzstan: president

CEC not ready to announce final election results in Kyrgyzstan

India facilitates Kyrgyzstan on parliamentary elections

In Kyrgyzstan 7-safe boxes containing ballot papers drip wet

German Development Bank to annul Kyrgyzstan’s €5 million debt to Germany

Troupe from Kyrgyzstan brings nomadic melodies

Liechtenstein

Corruption: Finance probes stretch limits of justice system

Moldova

EU gives green light to visa-free talks with Moldova

How to battle illegal logging in the face of low incomes and high wood demand?

Media watchdog: press freedom in EU, Balkans deteriorating

News report cast spotlight on education in Black Sea countries

Litmus along the Dniester

Mongolia

Internet public relations agencies offer some questionable services

Nomads no more: A steppe-land struggles with new riches

Mongolia win medals in World Sumo Championship (sports)  

Tajikistan

Tajiks drawn into radical Islam groups

War on Terror Tajik-style: Shave those beards  

Tajikistan modernizing Varzob HPP-1

Turkmenistan  

Gazprom considers joining Turkmenistan-to-India pipeline project

WHO recognizes Turkmenistan as free from malaria

Cheleken expansion program nearing completion (oil & gas news)