FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Friday:  August 15, 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 Kosovo (4)

Monday
May072012

Vote 2012 Analysis: Now the real campaign begins (PERSPECTIVE)

(Video: OSCE election observer statement on Armenia's May 6 parliamentary elections)

By Naira Hayrumyan

May 6 saw general elections in several European nations, including France, Greece, Serbia, as well as their eastern neighbor - Armenia.

Experts usually make references to ideological differences between contestants in elections. In referring to the Armenia vote, most foreign media would call it a contest between the presidential party and the party of a billionaire former arm wrestling champ – the Republican Party of Armenia led by President Serzh Sargsyan and the Prosperous Armenia Party of Gagik Tsarukyan.

In France, people went to the polls in the presidential runoff to choose between the right-wing ideology, which is based on the support of those “who know how to make money”, and the socialist one, which stands for higher taxes for the rich and more money spent on the opening of new jobs. In France, the Socialists won (with their candidate Francois Hollande beating incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy), and the people of France, still experiencing the effects of the recent global economic crisis, decided that they needed social benefits more than the financial strengthening of Europe.

Greece was also making its difficult ideological choice: two major parties that have alternately ruled the country since 1974, have been in favor of austerity measures, including the sale of national wealth, if only to stay in the euro zone and to get loans to repay the debt. The Conservatives and the right-wing forces think they can sacrifice the future of the euro zone to preserve the national wealth and social guarantees. And in Greece, the latter ideology has prevailed.

In Serbia, the choice has been between the forces espousing concessions on national issues for the European future, and those who have a hard line on issues related to sovereignty, including on Kosovo. The pro-European party is enjoying a slim advantage, with President Boris Tadic still facing a tense runoff. 

And what have the political forces in Armenia been fighting for? What ideologies do the parties that entered the fray stand for? Perhaps, it is only clear that ARF Dashnaktsutyun is a nationalist and socialist party. It speaks of social reform, about promoting national issues. The other parties are quite amorphous.

For example, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, which spent much of the past five years trying to grapple with the crisis, has been running on the platform of reforms. What it hasn’t said, however, is what kind of reforms it wants to press ahead with. Nor has the opposition Armenian National Congress elaborated in plain terms what kind of reforms it wants to implement. Sometimes it stresses social issues, stating that it is necessary to curb migration, resulting in a dwindling of the population, then it speaks of a liberal economy that is far from being social-oriented.

(PHOTO: Gagik Tsarukyan)The most obscure position is of the Prosperous Armenia Party, whose leader Tsarukyan, known for his charity projects, would state at campaign rallies that after the elections he will be doing “even more for the people than he has done before.”

An ideological struggle, when everyone could try this ideology on themselves and see what their lives would be like if one ideology or another prevails, would have entailed a real competition. But this time, the presidential party prevailed.

France and Greece, in fact, have changed their ideologies and the power along with it. In Armenia, the power remained, and this means that nothing will change in people’s lives. Do people going to the polls really want their life to stay unchanged?

Still before the parliamentary elections both the government and opposition were saying that they were preparing for the February 2013 presidential election. And from this point of view it is interesting what the list of presidential candidates will look like against the new backdrop of the alignment of forces in the National Assembly.

Still last year President Serzh Sargsyan publicly spoke about his plans to run for a second term in 2013. And the victory by his party, which is expected to gain some 70 seats in the National Assembly and an opportunity to form the government single-handedly, is likely to become a solid support for his reelection bid. The question is whether or not the first and second presidents of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan and Robert Kocharyan, mount any serious challenge to him.

The opposition Armenian National Congress led by Ter-Petrosyan has overcome the 7% hurdle for election blocs in the May 6 parliamentary elections and has got the right to form a faction in the next parliament. The result appears to be much more modest than expected by Ter-Petrosyan, whose bloc, however, has been speaking about large-scale violations during the Sunday polls.

(PHOTO: Serzh Sargsyan)But the real question here is whether Ter-Petrosyan will estimate his chances as good enough to try to join another presidential campaign against Sargsyan (the last time they had a rivalry in 2008 the opposition leader got some 21%, as against Sargsyan’s 52%, and the eventual street standoff resulted in deadly clashes).  As things stand now, Ter-Petrosyan hasn’t got any reassuring result percentage-wise.

As for Kocharyan, he had implied he would announce his decision on whether or not to return to active politics after the elections, after May 6. Prosperous Armenia and the ARF, both of which are believed to be loyal to Kocharyan, according to preliminary vote results, have about 36% of the vote. This appears to be a formative resource, and Kocharyan may just put everything on the line.

In this view, new alliances could already be in the offing, such as those that have already been formed once during the pre-election month. If the ANC also backs the candidate from the PAP (whether Kocharyan or former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian), then an alternative to Sargsyan is possible.

One way or another, May 7 marks not only the end of the grueling parliamentary campaign, but the start of perhaps a similarly strenuous presidential race.

---This commentary originally appeared in ArmeniaNow.

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 

Sunday
Oct162011

Kosovo's Continuing Limbo (REPORT)

By Barnaby Phillips in Europe 

The border between Serbia and Northern Kosovo is a joke. 

The Serbs have erected barricades on the main roads, making it impossible for NATO troops from the Kosovo peacekeeping force (KFOR) to move. 

The Serbs are demanding the withdrawal from the border posts of customs officials belonging to the mainly Albanian Kosovo government in Pristina, whose authority they do not recognise. 

Meanwhile, the Serbs use a series of tortuous mountain tracks to cross back and forth between Southern Serbia and Northern Kosovo.  

KFOR makes a half-hearted effort to control these, whilst issuing rather vague ultimatums to the Serbs for the removal of the barricades. 

Confused? Me too. It is peaceful for now, but trouble has flared up in recent weeks and could do so again at any moment.

Of course the problem is that the Serbs do not consider "the border" to be a border. My impression, after three days in Serb-controlled Northern Kosovo, is that the ties between this region and "Serbia proper" (excuse the ugly phrase) are tighter than ever. Serbian flags fly everywhere. 

The famous bridge in the divided town of Mitrovica is now blocked on the Serbian side by piles of rubble and stones, so that no vehicles can pass from the Albanian side. The (subsidised) train that runs every day between Northern Kosovo and Southern Serbia is packed. 

European politicians are beginning to make noises about the need for Serbia to dismantle "the parallel structures" of government it maintains in Northern Kosovo. 

In Belgrade I asked Oliver Ivanovic, Serbia's secretary of state for Kosovo, whether he had any intention of doing this.

"We don't see these as 'parallel structures', we see these as the only structures, because we do not recognise the independence of Kosovo" was his reply.

It is very difficult to see a solution to this problem. 

Kosovo remains in a kind of limbo, recognised by the big Western powers, and some others, but forever blocked from full statehood by the Russian veto on the UN security council. At the same time, European countries are increasingly exasperated with Serbia.

So what about division? Serbia would get to keep the North of Kosovo, and would perhaps renounce control of the majority of the majority-Albanian Presevo Valley. 

So what does Ivanovic have to say about this? "Not something we would consider", was his reply. 

Originally published by Al Jazeera under Creative Commons Licensing

Monday
Mar142011

North Kosovo: Dual Sovereignty in Practice (Report) 

(HN, March 14, 2011) -- The dispute between Kosovo and Serbia is most acute in Kosovo’s northern municipalities. The North has not been under effective control from Pristina for two decades; its sparse and predominantly rural Serb population uniformly rejects integration into Kosovo. Though small and largely peaceful, it is the main obstacle to reconciliation and both countries’ European Union (EU) aspirations. A Kosovo-Serbia dialogue mediated by the EU began on 8-9 March 2011 and is likely over the coming months to look at some of the consequences of the dispute for regional cooperation, communications, freedom of movement and the rule of law. For now, however, Belgrade, Pristina and Brussels have decided that tackling the North’s governance or status is too difficult before more efforts are made to secure cooperation on improving the region’s socio-economic development, security and public order.

For some time, the North will remain in effect under dual sovereignty: Kosovo’s and Serbia’s. Kosovo seeks to rid the region of Serbian institutions, integrate it and gain control of the border with Serbia. It is willing to provide substantial self rule and additional competencies as suggested under the Ahtisaari plan, developed in 2007 by the then UN Special Envoy to regulate Kosovo’s supervised independence. But local Serbs see the North as their last stand and Mitrovica town as their centre of intellectual and urban life. Belgrade will continue to use its influence in the North to reach its primary goal, regaining the region as a limited victory to compensate for losing the rest of its former province.

Serbia and Kosovo institutions intersect and overlap in the North without formal boundaries or rules. The majority Serb and minority Albanian communities there live within separate social, political and security structures. They have developed pragmatic ways of navigating between these parallel systems where cooperation is unavoidable. Yet, in a few areas – notably criminal justice – cooperation is non-existent, and the only barrier to crime is community pressure.

Northern Serbs across the political spectrum overwhelmingly cleave to Serbia. However, Belgrade and the Northern political elites belong to different parties and are bitter rivals. Apart from the technical work of managing the North, they share only one common interest: keeping Pristina out and blocking any international initiative that could strengthen common Kosovo institutions, notably police and courts. Two other groups, former local leaders who retain strong influence behind the scenes and an organised crime underworld focused on smuggling, share this one overriding goal. Belgrade prosecutes criminals and rivals selectively, allowing others room to operate; their presence in the North provides plausible deniability for many of its actions.

Observers in Pristina and friendly capitals see Serbia’s massive payments to the North as a major obstacle to the region’s integration into Kosovo. As long as Serbian money sustains their way of life, Northerners have little incentive to compromise. Yet, Kosovo’s own constitution expressly permits Serbian funding for education, medical care and municipal services, provided it is coordinated with Pristina, which currently it is not. Only the small amounts that support Serbian police and court systems directly undermine Kosovo’s integrity.

Virtually all Northern Serbs reject integration into Kosovo and believe their institutions and services are far better than what is offered south of the Ibar River, especially in education and health care. Recent scandals in Pristina, such as alleged massive corruption in the governing PDK party and a December 2010 Council of Europe report claiming implication of top Kosovo officials in organ trafficking, reinforce this view. Serbs distrust Pristina, believing that rights and protection promised now would be quickly subverted after integration. They are willing to cooperate with Pristina individually but not to accept its sovereignty. The North is subject to none of the pressures that brought a measure of integration to Kosovo’s southern Serb enclaves, and its views show no sign of softening.

Like Kosovo as a whole, the North suffers from a reputation for anarchy and domination by gangsters and corrupt politicians. And as in the rest of Kosovo, the reputation is largely false. Crime rates are similar and within the European mainstream; urban Mitrovica has more than its share of offences, the rural municipalities much less. Neighbouring Albanian-populated districts fall between these two Serb-held areas in rates for violent and property crimes. The real problems are contraband and intimidation directed at political and business rivals and anyone associated with Pristina.

Well-established Albanian-Serb networks, nevertheless, smuggle goods, free of duty and tax – especially diesel fuel – from Serbia via the North to southern Kosovo. The trade supports a criminal elite that, while small in the regional context, is still large enough to dominate Northern Kosovo. Curtailing this smuggling would benefit all and is achievable with the tacit support of Belgrade and most Northern Serbs. Some goods remain in the North, however, and residents feel no sympathy for policies that would enforce their separation from Serbia.

Nowhere is the North’s dual sovereignty as problematic as in law enforcement. Rival Kosovo and Serbian systems each have only partial access to the witnesses and official and community support they need. The Kosovo police lack the community’s trust and have a poor reputation. Serbia’s police are barred by a UN Security Council resolution and operate covertly. Serbian court judgments and orders are enforceable only in Serbia itself and are limited in practice to civil matters and economic crimes. Kosovo’s Mitrovica district court technically has jurisdiction north and south of the Ibar but is paralysed and can hear only a handful of cases, judged by internationals from EULEX, the EU’s rule of law mission. The insistence of Kosovo and international community representatives that the Mitrovica court can only fully function after Serbs accept its authority in the North adversely affects Kosovo Albanians in the south and undermines the sense that rule of law is the priority.

The North suffers from a near-total absence of productive employment and depends on state subsidies for its survival; rule of law is weak. These problems are real but insignificant compared to the North’s effect on Kosovo and Serbia. Neither can join the EU while the North’s status is in dispute. Addressing local problems by improving on pragmatic solutions already in place and finding a framework for criminal justice acceptable to the local population would likely perpetuate its uncertain status, by keeping it distinct from the rest of Kosovo. Belgrade and Pristina should use the EU-facilitated talks to consider autonomy for the North in exchange for Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo statehood, as Crisis Group recommended in August 2010. If the political will for this comprehensive compromise is lacking, the parties should not allow the dispute to block progress in other areas. They should instead seek flexible, interim solutions to improve law enforcement, customs collection, and allocation of financial aid in the North.

- Report by the International Crisis Group - Pristina/Mitrovica/Brussels

*The views expressed in this report are solely those of the International Crisis Group and not HUMNews.