Thursday, November 27, 2014

EU chief calls for decentralization and federalization of Ukraine

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (R) welcomes Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko (L).(Reuters / Eric Vidal)

To solve the current crisis in Ukraine, the country should become decentralized and federalized, Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, announced in his political anniversary speech in Paris this week.

Quoting "1,000 deaths" in the country since the cease-fire agreement was reached in Minsk on September 5, Van Rompuy said he could no longer call the situation a cease-fire. And a new cessation of conflict, if controlled by the same players, would have the identical outcome, the politician said in his speech, marking his five years presidency of the European Council.

Urging a "global solution," the EU chief said a way for Ukraine to become a "decentralized (or federalized) country" must be found. He called for the country's closer ties with the EU. However, he also said, "Europe has become unpopular among Europeans" in the past five to six years.

Kiev should "establish a correct relationship with Russia, its neighbor, with which it shares history, culture and language," Van Rompuy said, adding that the interests of minorities in Ukraine should be respected.

Sharing his EU "experiences and perspectives" with students at the Sciences Po institute of political studies in Paris, he pointed out that the current crisis in Ukraine is "the most grave geopolitical crisis we've experienced in Europe since the end of the Cold war." What makes it even worse, according to the Rompuy, is the fact that the "war" is happening on European soil.

Van Rompuy is not the first European politician to suggest Ukraine's federalization. Earlier in August, Germany's Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who is also the country's economy minister, spoke out for federalization to be introduced in Ukraine once the conflict in the east of the country is resolved.

The same measures to help settle the crisis in eastern Ukraine have been voiced by Moscow. However, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko keeps ruling out such political changes, saying the country's federalization is out of question.

Reuters: Mystery of Amphipolis tomb holds Greeks in thrall

First entry: 26 November 2014 - 11:56 Athens, 09:56 GMT
Last update: 02:30 Athens, 00:30 GMTPolitics
Reuters: Mystery of Amphipolis tomb holds Greeks in thrall
Reuters: Mystery of Amphipolis tomb holds Greeks in thrall
After six years of economic crisis, political tumult and a humiliating international bailout, Greeks are desperate for heroes and Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's government is eager for some good news, says a despatch by Reuters refering to the archaeological excavations at Amphipolis.
"It revives Greeks' hopes that despite their big struggle to survive there is a 'holy grail' that will reconnect them to a period of glory and power," said to ReutersChristos Kechagias, a sociologist who teaches at the University of Athens. "In times of crisis, people have the chance to redefine their identity."
Greek broadcasters have been transfixed by discoveries from the tomb -- a pebble mosaic showing the abduction of Persephone; two sculpted "Caryatid" figures; skeletal remains in a limestone grave that are now being analysed for identification, says Reuters.
Samaras has frequently highlighted the tomb in his speeches. With his wife Georgia, he toured the site in August, walking along the marble wall that rings the tomb. He then stood before the tomb's entrance guarded by headless sphinxes to announce a "significant discovery" that makes "all Greeks proud".
Not everyone is happy
The opposition has criticised Samaras -- whose government handles all announcements related to the tomb -- for trying to make political capital from the discovery.
"Amphipolis is not the place for political games," said Panos Skourletis, spokesman for the opposition Syriza party.
Despina Koutsoumba, an archaeologist who belongs to the small, anti-capitalist Antarsya party, says Samaras is using Amphipolis to hide cutbacks at archaeological and other sites: "They highlight Amphipolis to cover up the nation's bankruptcy."

SE Europe's police chiefs meet in Belgrade

BELGRADE -- This year's General Assembly of the of Southeast Europe Police Chiefs Association (SEPCA) was held in Belgrade on Wednesday.
Addressing the gathering, Serbian Interior Minister Nebojša Stefanović said the country's Serbian Ministry of Interior (MUP) "will maximize is contribution to the fight against crime in the country, the region and Europe."
Opening the SEPCA annual meeting, Stefanović pointed out that the Interior Ministry would act to ensure respect for and enforcement of the law and to preserve the stability of public order and peace and security of the citizens on the territory of Serbia.

At the same time, it will be a reliable partner in the region and honestly cooperate with European police services, the minister said.

He said he was looking forward to the signing of a new memorandum of understanding concerning the work of SEPCA by the regional police chiefs during the meeting in Belgrade.

Pointing out that Serbia chaired SEPCA last year, Stefanović said that it had been then that an idea of creating a new and modern association that would offer an even faster and more efficient response to the key security challenges facing the region and Europe had been conceived.

“In this sense, I believe that our future activities will focus on strengthening the strategic capacity at the regional level, with the aim of improving our joint fight against organized and other forms of serious crime," said Stefanović.

Serbian Police Director Milorad Veljović pointed to the importance of the joint fight against all forms of organized crime and willingness to continue to cooperate in joint tasks in that fight.

“Crime is taking on new forms today and we must always be ready, if not even a step ahead of those on the other side of the law in order to protect the security in the region," said Veljović.

He stressed that the Serbian police had long been calling for stepping up international cooperation, not only with the countries in the region, but also with the EU member states and all other police forces in the world.

“Aware of the fact that organized crime and other forms of serious crime know no borders, we are committed to strengthening and improving this cooperation in the future,” said Veljovic.

He pointed out that the Serbian Interior Ministry was implementing reforms in Serbia's police sector and one of its key priorities was the fight against organized and other forms of serious crime.

Stressing that the reforms in the sector, backed by the government, were aimed at creating a modern, efficient and democratic police that would comply with relevant EU standards and models, Veljović said it was necessary that the police had a high degree of integrity and a successful strategic management model.

The SEPCA General Assembly meeting is being attended by representatives of numerous international bodies responsible for providing security and fighting against crime and by representatives of Europol.

"Strategic level cooperation"

Police officials of Serbia, Austria and Switzerland underlined on Wednesday the need to strengthen mutual cooperation in the fight against crime in the region of Southeast Europe and throughout the continent.

During a break in the General Assembly of the Southeast Europe Police Chiefs Association (SEPCA), police officials of the three countries addressed reporters and expressed readiness to promote the cooperation "on a strategic level."

Serbian Chief of Police Milorad Veljović said that the fight against organized crime cannot be waged on one's own and partially. “The only way to persist in this fight is through cooperation, which must be genuine and well-intentioned in order to yield results,” Veljovic pointed out.

The Serbian police are fully committed to the fight against organized crime, where no one will be protected or spared, he stressed.

Director of the Austrian Federal Criminal Office Franz Lang said that the Southeast Europe is very important for the security system of the entire continent and underlined the significance of joining forces in crime fighting.

Noting that he is happy to see Austria take part in the promotion of law enforcement services in the region, Lang said that this cooperation will be made official by the signing of a memorandum of understanding at the SEPCA General Assembly session on Wednesday.

Rene Wohlhauser of the Swiss Federal Criminal Police voiced confidence that police forces in the region will be able to step up the fight against organized crime through mutual cooperation.

"I can confirm that the cooperation between the police of Serbia and other SEPCA members with the Swiss police is good and built on mutual trust," he said.

Assistant Director of EUROPOL Christian Jechoutek welcomed the coming changes in SEPCA, noting specifically that they will be introduced based on the agreement of its members. This will make SEPCA an even stronger partner in the fight against all aspects of organized crime, he stressed.

According to Jechoutek, the changes in SEPCA will facilitate closer operative cooperation between EUROPOL and police forces in countries of the Southeast Europe.

Serbian chief of police wished success to the interior minister of Albania, which is set to take over the SEPCA chairmanship today, stressing that the cooperation between police forces of the two countries is vital for the region's security.

Turkish president slams "impertinence of U.S."

ANKARA -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday slammed the "impertinence" of the United States over the pressure it is exerting on his country.
(Beta/AP, file)
(Beta/AP, file)
Washington is pressuring Turkey to allow the use of the Incirlik airbase to U.S. war planes attacking extremists of the Islamic State.
"Why is somebody coming to this region from 12,000 kilometres away? I want you to know that we are against impertinence, recklessness and endless demands," he told a group of businesspeople in Ankara, in what the AFP agency said was "a clear reference to the U.S."

Relations between the United States and Turkey have deteriorated during the past months over the latter's reluctance to join a military coalition fighting against the Jihadis in Iraq and Syria.

U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden and Erdogan met last weekend in a bid to reconcile their positions, but the meeting ended without any discernible success.

Ankara believes that the Kurds fighting in the town of Kobane should not be given military assistance, but has allowed some 150 Kurdish fighters from Iraq to reach the town.

According to Turkish officials, the danger from the Jihadis would be removed not by mounting air strikes against them - "but by overthrowing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad."

Transforming KSF into army "internal affair" - NATO

BRUSSELS -- A NATO spokeswoman has said that transforming the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) into an army was "an internal affair, up to the local institutions."
Asked by the Beta agency to disclose the stand of NATO regarding Wednesday's comments by Agim Ceku Oana Lungescu "pointed out that NATO is currently supporting the development of the Kosovo Security Force within their initial mission and mandate, through the recently established NATO advisory liaison team."
If the mandate and mission change, I expect the NATO Council to reconsider the level of NATO engagement, the spokeswoman said.

This was her "additional explanation" when asked about Priština's plans, and when the reporter remarked that according to UN Security Council Resolution 1244 that ended the 1999 war in Kosovo, the interim authorities could not form an army but only a security body tasked with civil defense duties.

According to Ceku, Priština's plan enjoys "strong support of international allies of Kosovo."

The Serbian authorities have stressed on several occasions that they fiercely oppose the transformation of the civil defense forces in Kosovo into a military force.

NATO advisors have been training the 2,500-strong Kosovo Security Force so far and, according to diplomatic sources in Brussels, the authorities in Priština intend to create an army of 5,000 soldiers.

Beta quoted "analysts from Kosovo" as stating in a U.S. German Marshall Fund report that FSK members were receiving military training, including handling of heavy artillery.

Before the latest announcements from Priština, NATO sources told Beta that the KSF was "envisaged and prepared for a number of security tasks, and trained in line with NATO standards."

The agency was told that NATO "expects the KSF to take responsibility for the functions it was trained for, and those are emergency situations, clearing of explosive devices, and civil defense."

It was recently said that the KSF had "complete operative capability."

Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga said that creating a Kosovo army was "one of the first tasks" right after forming the assembly and the government, while Serbs in Kosovo have warned it would represent a danger to the region.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Albanian national arrested for nightclub shooting in Greece 

Albert Bako, 31, was apprehended during a police raid in an apartment in a central Athens district.
Bako was caught on closed circuit security cameras exiting the nightclub after a verbal attack at another custo

mer and returning within minutes with an automatic Kalashnikov type rifle, according to police.
The suspect fired at staff and customers before escaping.

Bako has also been implicated in gang related similar attacks at two other nightclubs in Athens recently. In one of the cases Oct 30 a man died.
This time four people among the 15 were seriously injured.

Albania's National Day

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
November 26, 2014

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I congratulate the people of Albania as you celebrate your 102nd Independence Day on November 28.
Albania is a strong and reliable NATO ally and a force for stability in the Western Balkans. I thank the Albanian people for their support of the ISAF and Resolute Support missions in Afghanistan, as well as their immediate and valued contributions to the global coalition to counter ISIL.
The United States continues to actively support Albania’s efforts to meet the requirements for joining the European Union. I commend your progress on the path toward full Euro-Atlantic integration.
On this special occasion, the United States stands with you as a steadfast partner and ally.

More Hungarian soldiers in Kosovo and Bosnia

BELGRADE -- Hungarian army chief Tibor Benko says the number of Hungarian soldiers in Kosovo and Bosnia would increase as the forces withdraw from Afghanistan.
"We need to set up strong and firm cooperation in the Balkan region because it bears major importance for both sides, which is why the decision has been adopted that the number of troops in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina should increase simultaneously with the withdrawal of soldiers from Afghanistan," Benko said in Belgrade.
He was on Tuesday meeting with his Serbian counterpart Ljubiša Diković.

Benko noted that the two countries' armies had an exceptionally good cooperation in joint exercises and multinational peacekeeping operations since he assumed office as the head of the Hungarian army headquarters.

"During my last visit to Cyprus, I had a chance to see the actions of exceptionally well-trained and committed soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Serbia," Benko said.

He announced the possibility of cooperation in the area of military medicine. The seat of a NATO military medical centre is based in Hungary, Benko recalled and expressed the belief that good cooperation can be achieved in this area.

He recalled that Hungary has been a member of the EU since 2004 and added that the experience of the Hungarian soldiers can prove useful for the Serbian army as well and help facilitate its EU accession process.

Diković stated that the two countries share exceptionally good bilateral military cooperation.

For a number of years now, our soldiers have been conducting trainings together with the armed forces of Hungary in the preparations for participation in multinational operations, especially for the deployment of troops in Cyprus, Diković said.

He recalled that around 300 Hungarian soldiers are deployed within KFOR in Kosovo and Metohija, while their number in EULEX totals around 30.

As the crown of cooperation, Diković listed the joint exercises of the two countries' armed forces in Serbia and Hungary that include use of lethal weapons, which points to the highest possible degree of trust between any two armies.

Diković announced talks with his Hungarian colleague on regional security situation and the capacities of the ABHO Center for training in Kruševac or the Center for training for participation in multinational operations in South base.

"We will also discuss the possibilities for exchange of data on the state in airspace and other important issues relevant to further development of the bilateral military cooperation," Diković said.

One of the topics of the talks will cover the possibilities for joint participation in the European security structure, having in mind Serbia's strategic commitment to EU accession, Diković said.

"Kosovo will soon have its army"

PRIŠTINA -- Agim Ceku, who heads the Ministry for the Kosovo Security Force in the outgoing government in Priština, has stated that "Kosovo will soon get its army ."
According to him, "at one of the first sessions upon its constitution" the Kosovo assembly will adopt a decision to transform the Security Force into "the army of Kosovo."
In an interview published by the Priština-based Albanian-language daily Epoka e Re on Wednesday, Ceku said that the transformation was running behind schedule "because of the delay in the constitution of the Kosovo parliament."

Ceku expressed trust in the successful realization of the project because, as he said, this is a "national project" and bears considerable importance "for the country and its citizens'.

Ceku claims that the project also has widespread support ad powerful international allies, and added that he does not expect any problems and complaints from the lines of the opposition because all political parties support the transformation.

According to report, authorities in Priština on Wednesday "celebrate the Day of the Kosovo Security Force."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Albania and Her Protectress

THE signature of the "Pact of friendship and security between Italy and Albania," at Tirana on November 27, 1926, has caused widespread comment in the Balkans and considerable surprise in diplomatic circles. The excitement in Belgrade was such that the Italophile Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Nintchitch, resigned, and the Jugoslavs talked of a new orientation of their foreign policy. In Greece, where the signature was announced and the text published on the eve of the entry of the new "(Ecumenical" Ministry into office, the Foreign Minister, Mr. Michalakopoulos, has cautiously watched the attitude of Great Britain and France, and the Greek press has displayed calmness and prudence. But obviously any change in the condition of Albania must directly affect her Greek and Jugoslav neighbors, and indirectly the other states of southeastern Europe.

First, let us examine the text. The preamble states the object of the Pact to be to "tighten the mutual relations of friendship and security resulting from the geographical situation" of Italy and Albania, to "contribute to the strengthening of peace," and to "maintain the political, juridical and territorial status quo of Albania." These phrases sound somewhat vague. "Peace" has not usually been "strengthened" by the intervention of a Great Power in the affairs of a Balkan state: Russia and Austria-Hungary brought "not peace but a sword" by their interference in the Serbia of the Obrenovitch dynasty; Russia's intrusion into Bulgarian politics led to the abdication of the first Prince of Bulgaria and the long social ostracism of the second; in Greece, the reign of Otho was embittered by the quarrels of the three "Protecting Powers;" German influence was largely responsible for the losses of Turkey in the late war. The principle of "the Balkan Peninsula for the Balkan peoples" is sound and nowadays generally accepted. Nor is it clear what is meant by "maintaining the political, juridical and territorial status quo." Probably, from the standpoint of Ahmed Zogu, the President of the Albanian Republic, the "maintenance" of "the political status quo" means the "maintenance" of himself in power by the strong arm of his ally, whose cannon would protect the huge mansion built for him on the hill overlooking the roadstead of Durazzo and connected (according to a local story) by a secret underground passage with the shore. Who, again, was threatening "the juridical and territorial status quo" of Albania? Neither Greece, who under the Republican system (especially under Pangalos, himself of Albanian origin) has been on particularly good terms with her smaller neighbor, nor Jugoslavia, who would scarcely have dared such an affront to the public law of Europe and was the supporter and host of Ahmed Zogu, a fugitive in Belgrade at a time when Italy was the friend of Fan Noli.
As published, the Pact consists, besides the preamble, of five articles. Article 1 repeats that "Italy and Albania recognize that every disturbance directed against the political, juridical and territorial status quo of Albania is contrary to their political interest" -- a statement admitting of wide and varied interpretation. Article 2 engages "the high contracting parties, for the safeguard of the above interest, to lend to one another their mutual support and their cordial collaboration. They also pledge themselves not to conclude with other Powers political or military agreements prejudicial to the interests of the other party, as defined in the present Pact." Yet we were informed that a similar Pact was offered to Jugoslavia by Albania! Article 3 engages both "parties to submit to a special procedure of conciliation or arbitration the questions which might divide them and which could not be settled by the ordinary diplomatic procedure." "A special convention, to be concluded with the least possible delay," was to regulate "the methods of this procedure." Article 4 fixes the duration of the Pact at five years, and permits of its denunciation or renewal "one year before its expiration." The last article provides for its ratification, and subsequent registration by the League of Nations.

Even supposing that there are no secret articles, the published text of the Pact suffices to cause alarm to the friends of Albanian independence, who did not create an independent Albania in order that it might become an Austrian, Italian or Serbian protectorate. From the time of Francesco Crispi, himself a Sicilian of Albanian origin, Italian statesmen have had their eyes directed to the opposite coast of the Adriatic, visible on a clear day from Otranto. From a much earlier period, that following the death of Skanderbeg and the Turkish conquest in the last third of the fifteenth century, Italian interests in Albania had been aroused and maintained by the considerable Albanian colonies of refugees, who had fled to Southern Italy and found there a second home. Crispi's program was not the annexation of Albania, then Turkish, but the prevention of an Austrian occupation. After the battle of Adua in 1896 and the consequent fall of Crispi, the policy of Imperialism underwent a long eclipse; but in the early years of the present century another Sicilian, the Marchese Di San Giuliano, travelled in Albania and published a little volume of "Letters from Albania," of which he made a holocaust when he became Minister of Foreign Affairs. Consequently, his book is rare, except in a German translation. Meanwhile, Italian consuls, like Millelire at Jannina and Di Gubernatis, worked for the extension of Italian influence. After the declaration of Albanian independence the six months' reign of Prince William of Wied at Durazzo was a continuous struggle between Austria and Italy, in which leading Albanians were used as pawns by the two great players. Meanwhile San Giuliano had done his best to make the Serbs evacuate Durazzo and the Montenegrins Scutari in 1913, and to throw the Greek frontier as far as possible to the south. Even a Prime Minister so little interested in foreign policy as Giolitti told Mr. Kaklamanos (the present Greek Minister in London), then Greek chargé d'affaires in Rome, that "if Greece wished to remain on friendly terms with Italy, she must not touch Valona." Consequently, Mr. Venizelos prevented the Greek troops from occupying Valona and, in 1914, obtained from the Greek parliament the cession to Albania of the islet of Saseno in the bay, which in the British days had been an appendage of the Ionian Islands, and had with them been ceded by Great Britain to Greece in 1864. At the end of 1914, the Italians occupied and fortified Saseno, perhaps on the strength of Lucan's application to it of the epithet, "Calabrian" in his Pharsalia. 

 There they still remain, although Saseno is waterless and could be commanded by cannon planted on the Akrokeraunian Mountains. Valona and other places in Albania they evacuated under the Tirana agreement in 1921, when Giolitti was again Premier, and the late Take Jonescu, the Rumanian statesman, told the writer that he had congratulated the Italian Prime Minister on having got rid of so thankless a burden. The malaria bred in the lagoons near Valona had wrought havoc among the Italian troops, and one Italian garrison had mutinied rather than go to Albania. At that time the Albanians showed quite plainly that they did not want them, and that l'Albania farà da se. But the modern blackshirts are in many cases too young to remember the unpleasant Albanian bivouacs of the war, while to the present director of Italian policy Durazzo may seem, as it was to the ancient Romans whom he professes to imitate, the first step on that Via Egnatia which led to Salonika. Even before the advent of Fascism, it was obvious that Italian Nationalism, its intellectual predecessor, was bent upon assuming the part formerly played--but with greater experience and local knowledge -- by Austria. 

But the Balkan peoples did not, by dint of gigantic sacrifices, rid the Balkan peninsula of Austria in order to put Italy in her place, although Austria had in Bosnia and the Herzegovina a set of officials who on a smaller scale reproduced the British civil service of India. Yet none the less Austria was unpopular, because she was a foreign Power, alien to the national sentiment. Most peoples prefer to be worse governed by their own compatriots than to be better governed by foreigners, as Great Britain found in the Ionian Islands.

more see: 

Greece acts to rescue ship carrying hundreds of migrants

Syrian refugees sit with their mouths sealed with tape as they participate in a hunger strike in the Greek capital Athens on November 24, 2014.

ATHENS Tue Nov 25, 2014
(Reuters) - Greece has sent a frigate to rescue a container ship believed to carrying hundreds of undocumented migrants and in distress off its southern island of Crete, the Greek coastguard said on Tuesday.

The Kiribati-flagged vessel, with about 700 people aboard, was sailing 30 nautical miles (55 km) southeast of Crete. The ship reported an engine problem in an area with strong winds.
Four container ships sailing nearby could be called on to help if needed, a coastguard spokesman said. "There is no immediate danger, our priority is to save them if needed," he said. "We're waiting for the weather to calm down."

Greece is a popular entry point into Europe for thousands of undocumented migrants from Asia and Africa. In September Athens warned that it was slipping into a "danger zone" without adequate funds or resources to handle a fast-growing wave of refugees from war-torn nations like Syria and Iraq.
Tirana can recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus

Ankara pressure to Albania to recognize Turkish Cyprus, in exchange for military aid

The decision could cause earthquake in Albanian Greek relations

Tirana. Albania can recognize the
Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus? Sources from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Albania indicate a diplomatic escalation of Ankara in terms of Tirana, to make last-ordinated efforts for recognition of the Cyprus Turkish Republic, the unknown by any UN state.
The news comes from News 24 TV, which for the first time, featured a special report from The Republic of Turkish Cyprus.

But diplomatic sources speak of pressure by Turkey to Tirana, even the fact that Albania is in a difficult economic situation but also expects from Turkey a military aid, in exchange for recognition of the Republic of Turkish Cyprus.

Turkey was the first country that recognized the independence of Kosovo, and covers a portion of the Albanian diplomacy in the world. This determination of Tirana, has caused clashes as Italy and Greece, both members of the EU, but in particular a decision on recognition of the Cyprus Turkish Republic from Tirana, can have a domino effect from Athens to Albania
PDIU: Albanian Government to seek national minority status for Albanians in Greece

Ardit bido, a member of the PJIU requested by the Albanian government to seek national minority status for Albanians remained in the genocide.

"Albanians remained in the province of Epirus, our brothers and language of a nation, are today's most pressing minorities across Europe.. PDIU asks today officially and directly, to the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and any other state instance raise the issue of the remaining minority Cham Albanians to their Greek counterparts and the European Union.

"The demand of the Albanian side should be official recognition of the status of the Albanian national minority in Epirus. They are denied basic rights today: the right of self-proclaimed Albanian and education, communication involved when pushing native language. It is unconscionable if the Albanian state continues to be silenced, "said bido.

Monday, November 24, 2014

France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship

President Hollande has been under pressure to deny Putin access to two €1.2 billion helicopter carriers over the Ukraine crisis

Amid a growing diplomatic crisis between Vladimir Putin and the rest of Europe, hundreds of Russian sailors have reportedly been prevented from boarding a warship built for them in western France.
The €1.2 billion (£960 million) contract between France and Russia for the delivery of two new Mistral-class helicopter carriers has been the subject of intense pressure from the US and other nations.
President Hollande has spent months resisting calls to cancel the deal altogether in response to what David Cameron has described as “Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine”, but has reportedly delayed the handover of the first of the two ships until the ceasefire in the conflict region is “fully observed”.
Russia has warned that France will be subject to huge compensation fees if it does not give up control of the vessel, named the Vladivostok, before the end of November. It was supposed to be handed over on 14 November, the Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported.

On Monday, the regional French newspaper Ouest-France reported that 400 Russian sailors due to board Vladivostok for training were refused access at the request of the Paris authorities.
Russia’s Interfax agency has since reported that the sailors in the port city of Saint Nazaire were allowed to board the vessel on Tuesday, citing a military source. 

But the tussle for control of Vladivostok will do nothing to ease tensions between Russia and France, which insists that because of the fighting in Ukraine “the conditions are not in place” for delivery.
Separate Itar-Tass reports suggest the French shipbuilder responsible for the project, DCNS, is keeping quiet about a potential date when the second helicopter carrier, the Sevastopol, will be ready to float out.
And France’s prime minister Manuel Valls hit out angrily last week at suggestions Moscow was setting strict deadlines for the ships’ delivery.
Read More: Cameron issues Putin with Ukraine warning
Russian President leaves G20 early due to criticism over Ukraine
Hollande to split up Obama and Putin at D-Day memorials
“Today, the conditions to deliver the Mistral aren't there,” Valls told reporters. “France honours its contracts, but France is a nation that counts, wants peace in Ukraine and that makes sovereign decisions without anybody from outside dictating how it acts.”
President Hollande and President Putin were due to meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit at the weekend, but reports suggested the Mistral situation was not overtly discussed.
“What's key - and the president will discuss it with several leaders during the G20 - is to rediscover the path to peace between Ukraine and Russia,” Valls told reporters last Friday. “We're far from that today.”

France’s cash-strapped far right turns to Russian lender

© AFP / Marine Le Pen stands before a large poster reading "No to Brussels" at a rally ahead of the 2014 European elections.
Latest update : 2014-11-23

The French far right’s cosiness with Vladimir Putin’s Russia is back in the spotlight as Marine Le Pen’s party confirms it borrowed nine million euros from a Russian lender, saying “no one else will give us a cent”.

France’s far-right National Front (FN) said Sunday it had borrowed the money from Moscow-based First Czech Russian Bank (FRCB), confirming a report by the investigative news website Mediapart.
The party treasurer Wallerand de Saint-Just told France Info radio a deal was signed with the Russian lender in September.
Saint-Just said the party had received a first installment of two million euros.
“We have been looking for loans for some time, to fund our election campaigns. But our bank, like most French and European lenders, categorically refuses to give the FN and FN candidates the slightest cent,” he said.
Saint-Just has expressed similar concerns in the past, saying banks were reluctant to lend money to political parties since former president Nicolas Sarkozy was fined 500,000 euros for undisclosed expenses in his failed 2012 presidential bid.
Last November, the FN’s longtime bank Société Générale said it would no longer lend money to its client.
The surging anti-immigration party, which has made a breakthrough in the French parliament and came first in European elections in May, has long struggled to raise the cash needed to match its political ambitions.
Saint-Just said the Russian loan would cover part of the FN's campaigning expenses ahead of national elections in 2017, estimating the party's needs at "30 to 40 million euros".
Some of the eurosceptic party's fund-raising efforts have raised eyebrows in France.
Investigators are currently probing suspicious loans paid to FN candidates by affiliated group “Jeanne”, set up by party leader Marine Le Pen and named after French heroine Joan of Arc.
Russian influence
News of the Russian loan comes at a critical time in relations between Russia and the EU, which have been soured by the Ukrainian crisis.
Brussels has slapped sanctions on five Russian lenders and more than 100 businessmen and politicians, including Russian nationalist lawmaker Alexander Mikhailovich Babakov, who allegedly acted as go-between in the FN’s loan deal.
FN veteran Christian Bouchet told Mediapart there was nothing wrong with reaching out to Russian banks.
“It’s certainly no worse than borrowing from [Muammar] Gaddafi,” he said, in a thinly veiled reference to ongoing investigations into claims Sarkozy received funding from the late Libyan leader for his 2007 presidential campaign.
Pointing to Le Pen’s well-known penchant for Moscow, Mediapart said the FN’s Russian funding raised concerns about “possible foreign interference in French politics”.
The far right leader has made multiple trips to Moscow since taking over from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2011.
She has made no secret of her respect for President Vladimir Putin, repeatedly slamming EU leaders for stoking a “new Cold War” with Russia.
She has been particularly critical of French President François Hollande’s decision to suspend delivery of two Mistral-class warships to Moscow, accusing the government of bowing to pressure from the US.
Le Pen's party has described Putin as a "patriot" and a defender of traditional European values, hailing his moves to crack down on LGBT "propaganda".
Last month, a report by the Nouvel Observateur claimed FN leaders had made frequent contact with the Russian ambassador in Paris, Alexander Orlov.
"The Kremlin is now betting on the National Front," wrote the French weekly. "It deems the party capable of seizing power in France and changing the course of European history in Moscow's favour."
US Secretary of Defence Hagel to Resign; Democrats Revenge?

Chuck HagelNovember 24 2014

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down under pressure, the first cabinet-level casualty of the collapse of President Obama’s Democratic majority in the Senate and the struggles of his national security team amid an onslaught of global crises.

The president, who is expected to announce Mr. Hagel’s resignation in a Rose Garden appearance on Monday, made the decision to ask his defense secretary — the sole Republican on his national security team — to step down last Friday after a series of meetings over the past two weeks, senior administration officials said.

The officials described Mr. Obama’s decision to remove Mr. Hagel, 68, as a recognition that the threat from the Islamic State would require a different kind of skills than those that Mr. Hagel was brought on to employ. A Republican with military experience who was skeptical about the Iraq war, Mr. Hagel came in to manage the Afghanistan combat withdrawal and the shrinking Pentagon budget in the era of budget sequestration.

But now “the next couple of years will demand a different kind of focus,” one administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He insisted that Mr. Hagel was not fired, saying that the defense secretary initiated discussions about his future two weeks ago with the president, and that the two men mutually agreed that it was time for him to leave.

But Mr. Hagel’s aides had maintained in recent weeks that he expected to serve the full four years as defense secretary. His removal appears to be an effort by the White House to show that it is sensitive to critics who have pointed to stumbles in the government’s early response to several national security issues, including the Ebola crisis and the threat posed by the Islamic State.

Even before the announcement of Mr. Hagel’s removal, Obama officials were speculating on his possible replacement. At the top of the list are Michèle Flournoy, a former under secretary of defense; Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and a former officer with the Army’s 82nd Airborne; and Ashton B. Carter, a former deputy secretary of defense.

A respected former senator who struck a friendship with Mr. Obama when they were both critics of the Iraq war from positions on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Hagel has nonetheless had trouble penetrating the tight team of former campaign aides and advisers who form Mr. Obama’s closely knit set of loyalists. Senior administration officials have characterized him as quiet during cabinet meetings; Mr. Hagel’s defenders said that he waited until he was alone with the president before sharing his views, the better to avoid leaks.

Whatever the case, Mr. Hagel struggled to fit in with Mr. Obama’s close circle and was viewed as never gaining traction in the administration after a bruising confirmation fight among his old Senate colleagues, during which he was criticized for seeming tentative in his responses to sharp questions.

Greece, Turkey at odds over fuel reserves in Mediterranean

EuropeMiddle EastTurkeyEnergy ResourcesInternational OrganizationsAntonis SamarasEuropean Union
U.S., others worry Greek-Turkish hostilities in Mediterranean could lead to new hot spot
About 20 years ago, a blip in the centuries of bad blood between them, NATO allies Greece and Turkey came to the brink of war over conflicting claims to an arid Aegean isle inhabited solely by goats, rabbits and sheep.
Now, after a sudden burst of business and friendly relations helped thaw generations of animosity, Greece and Turkey are at it again, this time, trading threats over claims to oil and gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.
No other North Atlantic Treaty Organization neighbors have seen relations fraught with so much tension and mistrust. And as Espen Bard Elder, a senior United Nations troubleshooter, warned recently during a trip to Athens, "This has all got to stop."
"What's happening right now is actually quite dangerous and I encourage everyone to do their best to avoid any kind of further escalation," Elder said.
Concern is growing in the United States and Europe that the energy-rich eastern Mediterranean will become a new hot spot near an already-volatile region: the Middle East.
Tension first flared last month when Turkey, at political odds with most of its regional neighbors, including Israel, Cyprus and Egypt, sent a research vessel and two frigates into disputed waters south of war-divided Cyprus to chart natural gas deposits as part of a naval exercise in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Greek Cypriot government, which Ankara, the Turkish capital, refuses to recognize after seizing the island's northern Turkish enclave in a 1974 invasion, suspended United Nations-sponsored reunification talks in retaliation. It also teamed up with energy-hungry Egypt and its sister state, Greece, to further probe exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean, enraging Turkey, a major energy hub that wants to become the region's paramount power.
"Whatever its aspiration," said Costas Fillis, a research director at the Athens-based Institute of International Relations, "no single nation is going up to bat for Turkey these days. That means it is feeling the heat of isolation. So, rather than see itself miss out on any direct gains [from drilling in the region], it prefers to behave like a spoilsport blocking any energy cooperation among its adversaries."
It also means that Turkey is "playing it safe, preferring to pick on Greece and Cyprus, both cash-strapped, and age-old foes," Fillis explains, "than [on] any of their energy partners, Israel and Egypt," both key U.S allies.
Last week, as Greece and Turkey engaged in a sudden surge of aerial encounters and gunboat pursuits in the Aegean, the Turkish frigate Barbaros sailed deeper into Greek Cypriot waters with new rules of engagement. Turkey's naval commander, Adm. Bulent Bostanoglu, warned that the new rules would be applied against "any reaction from Greek and Israeli ships" patrolling the region.
"Bring it on," Greek navy officials are said to have responded in Athens. "We, too, have been given fresh rules of engagement." The European Union, meanwhile, warned Ankara that it was violating Cyprus' sovereignty.
U.S. officials have sought to avoid taking sides publicly, instead focusing on efforts to enlist Turkey in an international coalition against the militant group Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
But as tension rose, putting the Houston-based Noble Energy drilling off Israel and Cyprus in the firing line, Washington last week made a sharp about-face, with its top diplomat in Cyprus publicly pointing out to Turkey "that it was best for it to pull back the Barbaros, call off its naval exercise [in the region] … and return to the negotiating table" to resume Cyprus peace talks.
Turkey did not publicly respond.
Since the 2010 discovery of a giant gas field off Israel, countries in the region, including Cyprus, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon and Greece, have been jockeying for control of the resources.
"The region is a gold mine, an El Dorado of oil and gas," says Antony Foskolos, a leading researcher at the Geological Survey in Canada. "The greater area has a capacity of about 500 trillion cubic feet when Canada, the U.S. and Mexico together have 350 tcf."
Faced with such profitable prospects, Egypt, struggling with its worst energy crisis in decades, has already signed a deal with Cyprus charting sea boundaries between the two countries for the purpose of commercial exploitation. Israel has done the same with the island republic; Greece will soon follow suit, hoping to press ahead with designs to funnel Cypriot and Israeli natural gas to Western Europe without Turkish permission.
How soon that could happen remains unclear. But with global demand for gas expected to jump by more than 50% over the next 20 years, according to the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental policy-coordinating and advisory body based in Paris, such "pipeline designs serving as supplementary conduits of energy to Europe make absolute sense," Foskolos says.
So, also, does the prospect of generating revenue that could wipe out the crippling debts of Greece and Cyprus, both heavily reliant on rescue loans given by European and international creditors in exchange for brutal budget cuts to fix their broken economies.
Greek officials put their untapped energy reserves at $750 billion. Cyprus estimates its plots at $1 trillion and Egypt around $2.2 trillion. Cyprus has already licensed energy giants including Noble, Italy's Eni and France's Total to drill in one of its 17 offshore fields.
This year, the abundance of money-making reserves pushed Greek and Turkish Cypriots to resume peace talks, hoping that a 10-year hiatus could be broken with a breakthrough in the West's longest-running diplomatic dispute. Vice President Joe Biden even stepped in, visiting the island to prod both sides to sign a peace deal that could "seal stability" in the eastern Mediterranean.
If only it were so simple.
Peace talks have floundered and the energy dispute has rekindled the Greek-Turkish rivalry.
To defuse the situation and potentially jump-start Cyprus' peace talks, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his Turkish counterpart have agreed to meet in Athens in early December. Washington's involvement may be needed.
"It's obvious that neither side wants this crisis to spiral out of control," Fillis says. "But so long as this volatile situation continues and Ankara keeps the Barbaros in Cyprus' waters — even after the end of its naval exercise on Dec. 30 — the greater the chance of something going terribly wrong."
Carassava is a special correspondent.

NATO chief: Serbia decides on its alliances

BELGRADE -- Serbia is "a sovereign country that makes its own decisions on cooperation with other countries," NATO's secretary general has said.
(Beta/AP, file)
(Beta/AP, file)
Jens Stoltenberg said that the military alliance's cooperation with Serbia and other countries of the Western Balkans is "of great importance" and expressed "readiness for further development and improvement of such cooperation."
According to a statement from the Serbian parliament, he made the comments during the annual session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. The gathering was attended by a delegation of the Serbian parliament.

The head of Albania's delegation at the meeting wished to know about a recent joint military exercises staged by Serbia and Russia, and Stoltenberg was quoted as saying that "Serbia is a sovereign country that makes its own decisions on cooperation with other countries."

The annual session of the NATO PA was held from November 21-24 in The Hague.

The Serbian delegation included Dragan Šormaz, Branislav Blažić, Aleksandar Radojević, Dejan Radenković, and Dubravka Filipovski.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

GPolice on a hunt for an Albanian with a criminal record suspected for the night club assault

23 November 2014

Attica’s security services are on the trail of the perpetrator who fired his Kalashnikov early on Saturday in the Etsi Apla night club in Mikrolimano. According to the latest information, the shooting’s fallout is 15 injured, 3 of whom seriously. All are young people aged 20-39.

9 of the injured, whose lives are out of danger, are being treated in different hospitals. 4 were admitted to the Attikon hospital, among them a young woman with a head wound. 2 of the injured underwent chest surgery at the Erithros hospital. Another 2 were hospitalized at Evangelismos and Thriasio. A young woman was admitted to the KAT hospital. Six of the injured were released for home treatment after receiving first aid.

14 Kalashnikov shell casings were found at the scene of the shooting. The police have a video showing the perpetrator sitting in the nightclub; witnesses said he had been in the company of two other people.

Witnesses also reported that the shooter had made threats against club employees, saying, "Everyone here will die tonight." Then he began firing at random and the club crowd went into a frenzy. When he stopped shooting, the perpetrator got into a taxi and fled, witnesses say.

The shooter is an Albanian citizen, 35 years old, perpetrator of 3 more armed assaults: two on cafes in Agios Panteleimonas and one in Mihalopoulou Street. posted a mug shot of the suspect.

The first attack was carried out on 31 October 2014, at a coffee bar at the intersection of Chiou and Kritis streets. The perpetrators fired from a car at the bar with a Kalashnikov. A 44-year-old customer was fatally wounded, as well as a 21-year-old Albanian woman who served at the bar.

The second assault took place on the evening of 6 November at 106 Aristotle St., when two men fired 12 bullets into a café without hitting anyone. The perpetrators, who were riding in a car with stolen plates, stopped in front of the café, fired their Kalashnikov, and then fled.

There is information suggesting that the 35-year-old man was a member of an Albanian gang, involved in drug trafficking and pimping, but this is hitherto unconfirmed.

The motivation behind the assault is not yet clear. Law enforcers are investigating two versions: the shooter was a racketeer who wanted to force the club owners into paying for protection, or was under the influence of drugs.

Yannis Moralis: Events like this one shock and dispirit us

"Events like this one shock and dispirit us. I wish those injured a quick recuperation, and hope the police arrest the perpetrator ASAP so that justice is done," said Yiannis Moralis, the Mayor of Piraeus, after having spoken with the Ministry of Health Secretary Vassilis Kondozamanis as well as with the management of the Attikon and Evangelismos hospitals.

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German foreign minister speaks out against Ukraine joining NATO

Published time: November 23, 2014 17:10
AFP Photo / Yurko Dyachyshyn
AFP Photo / Yurko Dyachyshyn
Germany's FM, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has said he is against Ukraine joining NATO. In an interview with Der Spiegel, he said he considers “that it is possible for NATO to have a partnership with Ukraine, but not membership.”
He also added that he does not believe it is realistic for Ukraine to join the European Union in the foreseeable future, as the economic and political modernization of Ukraine is a “project for a few generations.”
He also urged Kiev to introduce reforms to fight corruption and mismanagement of the economy, saying they had to start immediately and that there was no time to lose.

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.(AFP Photo / Odd Andersen)
German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.(AFP Photo / Odd Andersen)
Meanwhile, Russia President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said one of the means of changing the balance of power in the world to eventually subdue Russia was NATO’s gradual approach toward its borders, which made Russia “nervous”, he said, speaking to the BBC.
Russia needs a “100 percent guarantee that no one would think about Ukraine joining NATO,” Peskov said.
On Friday, Jeff Rathke, a spokesman for the US State Department, said that Washington supported Ukraine’s ambitions to join NATO, but the final decision should of course be made by Kiev.
Rathke also said that lethal assistance to Ukraine was not yet “off the table.”
“Our position on lethal aid hasn’t changed. Nothing is off the table, and we continue to believe there’s no military solution. But we, in light of Russia’s actions, as the nominee mentioned yesterday in his testimony, this is – as he indicated, this is something that we should be looking at,” Rathke said.