Thursday, June 10, 2010

Albania's political deadlock

Dancing, but not moving, The Economist

A row over alleged election fraud has paralysed Albania

A time-waster in Tirana

A COMMUNIST-ERA Albanian song celebrated the country’s defiant dancing in the mouth of the wolf (western imperialism). Now Albanians are chuckling at headlines that have them dancing in the mouth of the crocodile (the European Union). On May 19th the heads of the two main blocks in the European Parliament summoned Sali Berisha, Albania’s prime minister, and Edi Rama, leader of the opposition Socialists, to Au Crocodile, a restaurant in Strasbourg, to settle their differences.

Albania has been paralysed since last June’s general election, which Mr Rama claims was stolen by Mr Berisha’s Democratic Party. In recent months the Socialists have boycotted parliament, held demonstrations and mounted hunger strikes. Mr Berisha says there is no proof of wrongdoing. However, an investigation into one ballot box found that most votes were from people who were abroad or who did not have an identity document allowing them to vote.

The invitation to Au Crocodile began with some boilerplate about the spirit of compromise being the European way of doing things. But then the European parliamentarians came brutally to the point. Albania has applied for EU candidacy. But the EU requires applicants to be well-functioning democracies. Unless Mr Rama and Mr Berisha resolve the issue, the MEPs said, they would recommend the suspension of Albania’s bid.

Albania will not be joining the EU soon. But the row could hinder its attempt to be granted visa-free travel within the Schengen area of 25 European countries. If a decision is put on ice because of the political gridlock, Albanians will be furious and Mr Berisha will heap the blame on Mr Rama. But Mr Rama says it is vital not to pretend all is well in Albania for the sake of expediency..............

PM Papandreou meets Libyan leader Kadhafi

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou on Wednesday held a two-hour meeting in Tripoloi, Libya, with Muammar Kadhafi, something unusual for the Libyan leader. As Papandreou told Greek reporters afterwards, the meeting had its political aspect as well as its emotional human dimension.

The Greek premier said that they had the opportunity of referring to the past, remembering the beginning of relations which is due to late Andreas Papandreou and Muammar Kadhafi, as well as the Libyan leader's surprise visit and that of late Fancois Mitterrand to Elounda in Crete where Andreas Papandreou had invited them.

As regards the political part, talks focused on issues concerning political developments in the wider region and on Libya's role in Africa, since Libya can constitute a gateway to the "black continent."

Also discussed were the Palestinian problem, the Cyprus issue combined with the efforts of Cyprus President Demetris Christofias, Greek-Turkish relations and the crisis surrounding the Gaza Strip and how ways can be found to promote humanitarian aid.

A strategic economic cooperation agreement between Greece and Libya was also signed on Wednesday afternoon.

Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi spoke of a historic day, while he said that the instruction given by Libyan leader Muamamar Kadhafi is for Libya's economic relations with Greece to develop in every way.

On his part, Greek Prime Minister Papandreou spoke of a clear message and the revival of an old relation between the two countries that had begun by late Andreas Papandreou and Muammar Kadhafi.

It was announced that the agreement is included in a memorandum that was signed on the part of Greece by Minister of State Haris Pamboukis and on the Libyan side by the Economy and Planning minister.

The main sectors included in the cooperation memorandum are telecommunications, transportation, energy, tourism, farm products, archaeology, the construction of infrastructure works, mainly port works, real estate, pharmaceutical industries, health and education.

Both sides set tight time limits for the implementation of the agreement and the first assessment of its implementation will take place in three months.

A special work group was also created that will monitor the course of the entire cooperation and for which the Libyan prime minister expressed his government's desire for it to turn from a strategic cooperation agreement into a partnership relation.
NATO ministers to discuss Kosovo mission

Source: B92

BRUSSELS -- Foreign ministers of NATO member states will discuss reduction of the mission in Kosovo and Metohija in Brussels today.

They will discuss the possibility of reducing the number of KFOR troops in Kosovo from the current 10,000 to 5,000.

The first step in transforming KFOR into a smaller and more mobile discouragement force has already been carried out successfully, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a news conference in Brussels, ahead of the ministerial meeting.
Tadić meets with Macedonian counterpart
10 June 2010 | 10:21 | Source: FoNet
SKOPJE -- President Boris Tadić and his Macedonian counterpart Gjorge Ivanov said that increasing the speed of the region’s European integration is a priority.

Tadić, Ivanov meet in Skopje (Beta)
Tadić, Ivanov meet in Skopje (Beta)

They also said that this is a key condition for long-term stability and peace in the region.

The meeting between Tadić and Ivanov in Skopje represents the continuation of political dialog on the highest level and personal relations between the two presidents, the joint statement claims.

Several issues were discussed at the meeting, both of bilateral and regional interest.

Tadić and Ivanov said that cooperation is intensifying in light of the coming June summit of the European Union Council of Ministers.

They both said that they hope that European leaders will positively evaluate progress in implementing reforms and enable the countries of the region to speed up their integration agenda.

Opinions were exchanged at the meeting regarding important regional issues for the preservation of stability in the region, according to the joint statement.

After The Gulf: Is Albania The Next Oil Frontier?

June 10, 2010
Marin KatusaBio
Marin Katusa is chief investment strategist for Casey Research's energy division.

After a troubled past, resource-rich Albania is trying to modernize itself into a good place to do business… and with astonishing success.

Over the years, we’ve visited Albania more times than we’d care to admit. Although it’s not a place we’d recommend for a family vacation, your investment dollars will find a happy home there. Unlike the rocky tale of Albania itself, the latest oil development stories are bound to have a much happier ending.

Albania, Diamond in the Rough?

Albania, about the size of Massachusetts, is surrounded by Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece, and the Adriatic Sea. It beats out only Moldova in gross domestic product (GDP) by population: at US$6,300 per person, it’s dwarfed by the likes of America (US$45,800 per person) and even financially buggered Greece (US$30,000).

A lack of consistent energy and transportation infrastructure is partly responsible for Albania’s sorry numbers. Areas outside capital Tirana and Durrës, a large port, still experience blackouts with fair regularity. Railways are limited, and while major cities are connected by highways, smaller roads can be relatively difficult to access and then to negotiate when you find them. The reasons the country is now having to play catch-up lie in 20th-century history.......

Albanian PM Promises to Raise Wages

Tirana | 10 June 2010 |
Sali Berisha
Sali Berisha
Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha declared on Wednesday that the government will raise salaries and pensions by July 1, based on what he called the excellent results of the economy in the first several months of 2010.

“This wage raise is against the trend of what all governments in Europe and perhaps the world are doing,” said Berisha during a cabinet meeting.

The Albanian premier explained that the decision was based on the growth of Albania’s exports and bank deposits in the first five months of 2010, and lashed out at the opposition for accusing the government of running the country into an economic crisis.

“The growth of ‘Made in Albania’ exports, a 14 per cent growth in bank deposits and 28 per cent more new businesses registered are data that rebuke all the dark and ill-willed propaganda made today against Albania’s economy,” Berisha said.

The announcement comes while institutions that monitor Albania’s economy, like the World Bank, are calling on the government to reduce the country's spiraling public debt, which has risen steeply in the last two years.

According to the Ministry of Finance, revenues from taxes and customs fees rose only by 3.9 per cent in the first four months of 2010. It is expected that the wage hike, which will likely be on the order of 10 to 12 per cent, will be financed by more debt or the sale of public assets.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Serious Turkish Provocation against Greek Navy

A formation of 7 Turkish Air Force aircraft (4 F-16s and 3 F-4E Terminators) conducted a mock attack on the Hellenic Navy Frigate Salamis (F-455). The Turkish aircraft entered the Aegean between Chios and Lesbos Islands.

The formation entered an area in which the Greek Navy was conducting the “Kataigis” exercise. At one point 2 of the 3 F-4E lowered their altitude and conducted a mock strafing run against the Greek frigate.

The Greek Navy frigate locked onto the Turkish aircraft during this incident and subsequently the Turkish fighters left the area. The incident can be considered as very serious and could lead to serious accidents happening.

Basescu: Aromanians national minority in Albania. Kosovo did not know

During a visit to Albania, Romania's President Traian Basescu said for arumun minority should be given the status of a national minority. "They are citizens believe the Albanian state who have shown that they deserve this rating," Basescu said during a joint press conference with President Bamir Topi.

Romanian President has reiterated his position that the state will not recognize Kosovo's independence and noted that Romania does not respect the Kosovars but respect the international laws.

During his stay in Albania, Romanian President meet with Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Albania, Sali Berisha and Albania's Parliament Speaker Jozefina Topalli. Also in another meeting, he met with arumun community that lives in Albania.
(ANSAmed) - VLORE - The path to bring Albania to Europe is still long, but many steps have been taken, and others will follow in the short-term, so that in a few years, Tirana can enter the EU through the front door. ''Albania is acting with diligence and determination,'' said Minister for Technological Innovation and Information Genc Pollo, one of the men who Premier Sali Berisha is relying on to bring the country towards the standards necessary to enter the EU, ''to create the conditions for EU membership.

Not the minimum conditions, but standards that are even better. We are working hard and we know that we will be able to succeed''. Minister Pollo acknowledged Italy's important role in this process, ''because our two countries have always been close to each other,'' almost underscoring that they also had a close relationship under the communist regime of Enver Hoxha, when Albania had almost no external contact.

The conditions are also associated with a strong push by the Albanian government for reforms, especially in the field of innovation technology, where they are making great progress........

Monday, June 7, 2010

Albania to boost its contributions as NATO member


TIRANA, Albania -- Membership to NATO means more defence spending, local media reported on Monday (June 7th).

To meet the criteria to join the Alliance, the government had to double defence spending, from about 9m euros in 2005 to about 19m euros in 2009.

The money reportedly was used to modernise the military infrastructure, pay army salaries and buy goods and services in the sector.

The bill is expected to rise over the next ten years: a study by the Institute for Economic and Legal Consultancy forecasts that Albania will invest about 3 billion euros in its defence sector by 2020.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

“New Kosovo talks won’t jeopardize stability”


BELGRADE -- Kosovo Ministry State Secretary Oliver Ivanović disagreed with statements made regarding Kosovo by the UK ambassador to Serbia Stephen Wordsworth.

He does not agree with Wordsworth’s opinion that new Kosovo status talks would cause instability in the region and that relations between Serbia and Kosovo and Serbia’s EU integration are no longer separate issues.

Ivanović said that the current unresolved status of Kosovo is what can lead to instability in Serbia, adding that this instability will last until the status issue is solved.

He said that the world and Europe must realize that they cannot satisfy the Albanian side with accepting the unilateral secession of Kosovo, because it endangers the stability of Serbia.

“The secession of Kosovo, the way that it has started, leads to extremist policies, we were able to see that in the past, and Europe has seen it as well. I think that in order for the Balkans to stabilize, Serbia must be stable, and it can only be stabilized with new negotiations that would lead to an acceptable solution,” Ivanović said.

“Serbia finds itself in front of a great dilemma. It has taken a stance, through the words of its officials, it has said that if the question of choosing between Kosovo and EU is posed, Kosovo would be the priority. I think that at this moment, such a stance is problematic. We see that there was a large compromise made in Sarajevo, and we saw the foreign ministers of Serbia and Kosovo sit at the same table, without signs, however, but we can expect that the fight for having signs in front of them will be a part of the next phase. The most important event will occur in the coming months, which is the stance of the International Court of Justice, and I think that it will greatly influence and determine what will happen next,” political analyst Predrag Simić said.

Simić added that the stances of the British ambassador are nothing new, since it was known earlier that the Kosovo question and Serbia’s EU integration are not separate issues and that they would be crossing paths sooner or later.

Greece, security news

Defence Procurement Review: Improving Operational Availability instead of New Weapons Purchases

The improvement of the operational availability of existing weapons systems has become the primary goal for the Armed Forces, according to head of the General Defence Staff General Giagos. The poor economic outlook of the country means decisions on the procurement of new weapons have to be delayed or scrapped altogether. This can affect the purchase of new fighter aircraft, frigates and armoured fighting vehicles. The newly revised 5 year defence procurement plan worth €8.5 billion is expected to contain programmes which on the one hand will focus on the improvement of logistical support for the better utilisation and increased readiness of existing equipment. An example of the dire situation facing the Armed Forces is an article by the newspaper Revelations (Aποκαλύψεις) which reported on the danger that the Greek fleet of Leopard 2 tanks could become immobilised due to the lack of lubricants. The revelation came a few days after the signing of an agreement to procure the necessary ammunition for these tanks.

One the other hand the procurement plan must focus on the modernisation and upgrading of existing systems. The following are examples of the most urgent programmes for the various branches of the military:

1. The upgrading of the 19 older AH-64A+ attack helicopters of the Army to the same level as the newer 12 AH-64D models which were recently accepted into service.

2. The Mid-Life Upgrade of the 4 MEKO-200HN frigates of the Hydra class. Weapons improvements are to include the replacement of the Phalanx CIWS with RAM (Rolling Airframe Missiles) and the upgrading of the main 5” gun to the Mod4 standard. This upgrade is deemed important as a result of Turkish efforts to change the power balance in the Aegean.

3. The upgrade of the existing fleet of third generation fighter aircraft of the Air Force. The existing 20 Mirage 2000 EGM/BGM are to be brought to the -5Mk2 standard and the F-16C/D Block 30 and Block 50 aircraft are to be brought to the Block 52+/Advanced standard. The Air Force has 4 subtypes of F-16 aircraft in service with two different types of engines which places a heavy burden on support and training.

Special emphasis must be given to the quick acceptance of the new Type 214 submarines, the completion of the NH-90 tactical helicopter deliveries and the issuing of a new tender for Maritime Patrol Aircraft. This last programme has a bearing on the problematic issue of Search & Rescue areas and also of the Navy’s anti-submarine warfare capabilities.

Albania's Muslim community sues journalist who urged ban on Islam

The Associated Press

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — The main group representing Albania’s Muslim majority population says it is suing a journalist who suggested the government should ban their faith.

The Albanian Muslim Community says in a statement released Tuesday that Kastriot Myftaraj allegedly incited religious hatred with his writings in the small circulation, Tirana-based Sot (Today) daily newspaper.

Myftaraj published two articles last month claiming that “Islam harms Albanian national coherence.” He wrote that the best response was for the country to “outlaw the Muslim religion in Albania and close down all mosques.”

About two-thirds of Albania’s 3.2 million population is Muslim. Albanians were not allowed to practice any religion under Communist rule between 1967 and 1990.