Thursday, December 31, 2015

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Brink of Civil War: Civilian Casualties Soar in Turkish Assault on Kurds

People carry the coffin of Medeni Orak, a man killed in Nusaybin, Turkey, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015.

© AP Photo/ Cagdas Erdogan
Middle East

The death toll among civilians has surged as Turkish security forces continue a large-scale operation against Kurdish rebels in southeastern Turkey, shattering the last hopes to conclude a truce between the opposing sides.

Government forces have killed over 150 civilians and at least 200 Kurdish insurgents within the last week, according to human rights groups and local officials, cited by the New York Times. Amid escalating fighting across southeastern Turkey, hundreds of thousands of residents have abandoned their homes for safer regions.
“What people here in the west [of Turkey] do not realize is that we are one step away from a civil war,” Engin Gur, a resident of the Turkish South East who moved to Istanbul, told the New York Times.
The frozen conflict between state authorities and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) reignited last July following the failure of a two-year ceasefire agreement.
Many experts observed that Turkish President Erdogan initially aimed to use the Kurdish conflict as a tool to strengthen the position of his Justice and Development Party (AKP), and consolidate the nation around its leader in the run up to parliamentary elections in November. As soon as AKP won the elections by a large margin, the violence erupted.
Erdogan promised to eradicate the PKK, claiming that the group is the primary enemy of Turkey in spite of significant military achievements by the Kurds in Syria, including territorial gains that are aligned with the stated policies of Ankara.
“You will be annihilated in those houses, those buildings, those ditches which you have dug,” Erdogan pronounced, referring to trenches made by rebels in many southeastern cities. “Our security forces will continue this fight until it has been completely cleansed and a peaceful atmosphere established.”
At the same time Ankara officially claims it seeks a political settlement to the conflict. Once the military operation is finished, authorities state, talks with Kurds will be resumed.
It’s unknown who would take part in those negotiations on behalf of Kurds. Ankara has ruled out talking with the leader of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas following his calls for Kurdish self-rule in the southeast of the country.
According to the New York Times, the most probable candidate for the role of Kurdish diplomat is jailed rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan. “They do not want to deal with the legitimate political actors, that is, the HDP or the PKK leadership directly,” Asli Aydintasbas, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said, commenting on the stance of Turkish officials in the Kurdish conflict.
Aydintasbas added that Ocalan will likely demand a “form of self-rule or autonomy” for the Kurdish population.
As a result of the recent conflict, many settlements in southeastern Turkey have no electricity and many citizens are trapped in their houses with no food, according to the New York Times. Scarce reports from those regions say that once densely populated areas now resemble war zones similar to those of Syria and Iraq.
“The tanks fire all day and we have nowhere left to hide,” Nurettin Kurtay, a resident of Turkey’s southeastern province of Sirnak told the New York Times by phone.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Serbia 'Welcomes' but Declines Ankara's Call to Mediate Russia-Turkey Ties

Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (L) and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic talk during their meeting in Belgrade, Serbia, December 28, 2015

© REUTERS/ Marko Djurica

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic told Sputnik Serbia on Wednesday that he had refused Ankara's proposal to mediate the standoff between Russia and Turkey.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — Earlier in the day, Nikolic's press service said in a statement that Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had approached him to assist in the normalization of relations between Ankara and Moscow.
"I decided to relay Turkey's wish to our friends in Russia. That's all. I have not accepted the offer to be a mediator, but I have listened to Ankara's proposal, which I welcome," Nikolic said.
He added that Davutoglu had asked him to establish contact between Moscow and Ankara and it was his duty to pass the information about this request on to Russia, in light of the peaceful nature of the Turkish intentions. Russian-Turkish ties deteriorated following the downing of a Russian Su-24 aircraft by a Turkish F-16 on November 24 over Syria.

Turkey's Islamist Agenda in Kosovo

David L. Phillips Headshot
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed an audience in Prizren during an official visit to Kosovo in October 2013: "We all belong to a common history, common culture, common civilization. We are the people who are brethren of that structure. Do not forget, Turkey is Kosovo, Kosovo is Turkey!"
Turkey's foreign policy in the Balkans promotes a neo-Ottoman agenda, aimed at expanding its influence in former territories of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey exports Islamism under the guise of cultural cooperation. It also seeks economic advantage, using business as leverage to consolidate its national interests.
The Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA) is a primary vehicle through which Turkey advances its ideological agenda. TIKA is the vanguard of Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP), which supports Muslim Brotherhood chapters around the world. TIKA runs a parallel and complementary foreign policy to official state institutions, coordinating with Turkey's Ministry of Culture and the Presidency of Religious Affairs to promote the AKP's Islamist agenda.
TIKA operates under the guise of a social welfare agency. In Kosovo, it supports more than 400 projects in the fields of agriculture, health and education. Affordable health care is offered in Kosovo at Turkish-run hospitals and clinics, sponsored by TIKA.
Despite its extensive activities, Zeri reports that the Central Bank of Kosovo has logged only 2.7 million Euros transferred by TIKA to its Kosovo account between 2009 and 2014. TIKA transfers most funds in cash with no official record. TIKA does not want to draw attention to its activities.
Most TIKA funds are used to restore Ottoman monuments and build mosques. For example, TIKA supported restoration of the Sultan Murat Tomb in Kosovo. It rebuilt Ottoman religious sites like the Fatih Mosque and the Sinan Pasha Mosque, which cost 1.2 million Euros. Since 2011, TIKA has restored approximately 30 religious structures from the Ottoman period and 20 new mosques across Kosovo. Erdogan personally pledged funds to build the country's biggest mosque in Pristina.
In addition, TIKA supports regional Islamic unions and institutions. It subsidizes community based social mobilization projects, which promote Islam. TIKA's network of Muslim community leaders and imams, including Turkish imams, actively promote Islam. Its apparent benevolence includes food for the Iftar meal during Ramadan, delivered to impressionable Kosovars in poor rural areas.

TIKA also sponsors schools in Pristina, Prizren, Gjakova, and Peja. Some schools provide Qur'anic instruction, as well as Turkish language instruction. As many as 20,000 Turks reside in Kosovo, where Turkish is an official language. The Turkish Embassy in Pristina awards 100 scholarships for Kosovars to study in Turkey each year.
But not all schools supported by TIKA are part of the formal education sector. Some function like madrassas, offering Islamic education, and contributing to the radicalization of Kosovar youth. The Government of Kosovo acknowledges that more than 300 have joined the Islamic State in Syria. The figure dates back a couple of years. The actual number today may be much higher.

Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Centers are also vehicles for Turkish influence. According to its charter, Yunus Emre Centers "provide services abroad to people who want to have education in the fields of Turkish language, culture and art, to improve the friendship between Turkey and other countries."

Support for educational institutions as a propaganda tool to foster a positive impression of Turkey among Kosovars. Turkey's Minister of Education visited Kosovo and publicly asked Kosovo institutions to change history texts in order to portray Ottomans as liberators, rather than as occupants and aggressors.
Erdogan asked the Government of Kosovo to close schools established by Fetullah Gulen, with whom he has had a falling out. Kosovo officials acquiesced, though Gulen schools offered quality education to Kosovars.
Turkish businessmen also benefit from Turkey's aggressive religious and cultural promotion. A well-respected Turkish scholar asks of the AKP, "Are they Islamists or just thieves with a religious rhetoric?"
Turkey is Kosovo's largest trading partner, after Serbia. The trade volume between Turkey and Kosovo was 206.5 million Euros in 2012. (Export to Kosovo was 199.5 million Euros; import from Kosovo only 7 million Euro). Trade volume slightly decreased in 2013-14 due to an economic slowdown in the region.

Tenders for some of the biggest public projects in Kosovo have been won by Turkish companies. The Limak Holding company won the concession to manage the Pristina International Airport. The Çalık-Limak Consortium also acquired the Kosovo Energy Distribution Services. Limak pledged to invest 300 million Euros in the transmission system, but its investment still has not materialized.
The Merdare-Morina highway connecting Kosovo to Albania was built by the Turkish construction company, Enka, in consortium with Bechtel. Calik-Limak has just started construction of the Pristina-Hani Elezit highway between Kosovo and Macedonia.
The award of tenders may be subject to political influence. Calik Holding and Limak are politically well-connected. Erdogan's son-in-law is a major shareholder in Limak.
The Turkish banking system dominates the financial sector in Kosovo. A majority of Kosovo's major banks are Turkish, including the Turkish Economic Bank (TEB).
More than 900 Turkish companies operate in Kosovo. About 7,000 Kosovars are employed by Turkish companies in, for example, the food processing and textile sectors. It is hard to be accepted or keep a job in business where the owner is Turkish if you don't speak Turkish.
Kadri Veseli, a prominent Kosovo politician, was a former critic of Turkish concerns acquiring Kosovo state enterprises. Veseli bemoaned Turkey's penetration as bad for both Kosovo's economy and its EU aspirations.
Since become Speaker of Kosovo's Parliament, however, Vaseli has not said a word about Turkey's economic dominance. He and other prominent Kosovo politicians, including Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci, have close ties to Erdogan, as well as Turkish business and political leaders.
Turkey has cemented its influence through security cooperation. Around 2,000 Turkish soldiers were deployed as part of the KFOR peacekeeping mission in 1999. There are still 350 Turkish soldiers in Pristina and Prizren. Turkey has indicated its willingness to assume control of Bondsteel, the US base in Kosovo, as US forces withdraw.
Turkey has also shown itself a reliable political partner. Ankara was reluctant to endorse Kosovo's independence, lest a parallel be drawn with its Kurdish minority. However, Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize Kosovo when it declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's notion of "strategic depth" views Turkey as a regional power and an alternative to the EU for countries like Kosovo. Muslim solidarity is the centerpiece of Davutoğlu's strategy to expand Turkey's influence.
Davutoğlu explicitly linked Turkey's foreign policy to its Ottoman Empire's legacy during a trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2009. "The Ottoman centuries of the Balkans were a success story. Now we have to reinvent this." He announced, "Turkey is back."
Faster integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions is the best antidote to Turkey's influence in Kosovo and the Western Balkans. US interests are also served by intensified engagement in the region.
Closer cooperation between the US and Kosovo can act as a bulwark against Turkey's export of Islamist values. It would prevent the further radicalization of Kosovo society, staunching the flow of Kosovars to join ISIS.
Mr. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Experts to the US Department of State during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations. Phillips is author of "Liberating Kosovo: Coercive Diplomacy and US Intervention" (Kennedy School at Harvard University and NBC Publishing).

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Turkey's Erdogan: Kurd leader's autonomy call 'treason'

Investigation launched after plea for greater Kurdish autonomy as president calls remarks a "clear provocation".

Erdogan accused a Kurdish leader of talking 'nonsense' with a 'clear provocation and treason' [AP]
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan said autonomy demands from a Kurdish leader were a "clear provocation" and his political party will be "taught a lesson".
A Turkish prosecutor opened an investigation into Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) chief Selahattin Demirtas after he made recent calls for greater Kurdish self-governance in the country's southeast.
Demirtas said there would be a Kurdistan in the next century [Reuters]
Erdogan's remarks targeting Demirtas on Tuesday could further widen the gulf between the government and the Kurdish opposition as violence increases in the region.
"A certain leader ... talked nonsense and what he did is a clear provocation and treason," Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul before departing on a trip to Saudi Arabia, adding the HDP would be "taught a lesson by our citizens and the law".
Demirtas was a participant in a two-day gathering of Kurdish groups last weekend that called for more self-governance. At the conference, he said there would be "a Kurdistan" in the next century and it could include an independent state.
Intense fighting
Clashes between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and security forces in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast have flared since the collapse of a ceasefire in July.
Fighting has been particularly intense in the last two weeks and the military says more than 210 Kurdish fighters were killed.
The HDP and rights groups say civilians are also dying in the conflict, a claim the government denies.
"This is the time when the masks have been taken off and the real faces exposed," Erdogan said, addressing Demirtas.
"How dare you talk about establishing a state in the southeast and in the east within Turkey's existing unitary structure," he added.

RELATED: Turkey denies targeting civilians in fight against PKK

"You cannot take such a step. Neither the national will, nor our security forces, armed forces, police, village guards will allow such a thing."
An autonomous Kurdish entity known as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) exists in neighbouring northern Iraq.
The KRG and Turkey are politically and economically on good terms with increasing Turkish investments in the region.

President and patriarch meet, discuss "Vatican model" idea

Tomislav Nikolic and SPC Patriarch Irinej have discussed the possibility of proposing "the Vatican model" for the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) in Kosovo.
Source: Vecernje novosti
(Tanjug, file)
(Tanjug, file)
Belgrde-based Vecernje Novosti daily writes on Tuesday that the meeting was held amid preparations for the resumption of dialogue with Pristina.
According to the announcements coming from the Serbian negotiating team, the government intends to nominate precisely the question of the status of the Serbian Orthodox Church and its property in the southern province once the talks have resumed.

The SPC announced that the president and the patriarch discussed the problems of the Church and the people in Kosovo, "with special emphasis on the perspective that can be expected after the opening of chapter 35 in (accession) negotiations with the EU."

In his first platform on Kosovo three years ago Nikolic envisaged that the SPC should, within the essential autonomy of Kosovo and Metohija, have the same position that the Roman Catholic Church, i.e., the Vatican, has in relation to Italy.

Then SPC at the time "informally rejected this proposal, because there had been interpretations that the relation toward the Kosovo authorities could be interpreted as an announcement of a recognition of the province's independence." Instead, the Church "informally proposed international guarantees for its status and property in the province."

According to this article, "this proposal, unless it is changed" should be the platform for future talks in Brussels on the topic of the position of the SPC.

The Church at the time rejected "the Vatican model" believing that the example is not adequate when it comes to situation of the Diocese of Raska-Prizren in Kosovo, as "the Vatican, Italy and the city of Rome are not burdened by the past, national conflicts and religious differences that exist in the southern province."

For that reason the Church found the authority of the EU or the UN to be more acceptable, as "a pledge to define the status, the assets and the mission of the Church, without making direct contact with the authorities in Pristina and without concluding any kind of agreement."

According to the newspaper, when explaining "the Vatican model" as a solution, the president nowadays usually points out that it would not mean the SPC should have "the status of a state in Kosovo" - but instead that it should "present its stance and talk with Pristina, without depending on it."

The article also noted that the document regulating relations between Italy and the Holy See was signed in 1929 and is known as the Lateran Treaty. Italy recognized the sovereignty of the Holy See over the area of ​​the Vatican City State, which became a separate subject of international law. The contract also regulates the position of the Catholic Church in Italy and a financial settlement regarding the claims of the Holy See for the loss of its property.

Digital Albania and Digital Kosovo, agreement signed

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Albania, Royal Norwegian Embassy in Tirana and Prishtina, and British Council have signed a Memorandum of Understanding in the framework of cooperation regarding the implementation of the “Digital Diplomacy – Digital Albania and Digital Kosovo” project.
The Memorandum is signed by the Kosovo foreign deputy minister, Petrit Selimi, his counterpart from Albania, Halil Hyseni, Ambassador of Norwegian Royal Embassy in Tirana and Prishtina, Jan Braathu, and the Director of British Council in Kosovo, Arjeta Emra.
This Memorandum aims at establishing a partnership among four abovementioned parties in light of the respective project. Parties aim to support the efforts of Albania and Kosovo in light of international recognition and to promote both countries image through digital diplomacy, as well as to engage young people as a contributing factor in strengthening and improving the image of their respective countries.

300,000 Euros in grant money from the Norwegian government

Upon this occasion, Deputy Minister of Kosovo, Petrit Selimi, stated that: “… this project, supported by the Norwegian government through a grant amounted to €300,000, is same time one of the most ambitious projects in the field of digital diplomacy. Furthermore, Norwegian and British governments have consistently supported Kosovo’s efforts in this area, efforts that  have placed young and innovative citizens in the foreground as active diplomats. Deputy minister Selimi emphasized that the draft Strategy for Digital Diplomacy of Kosovo and the efforts of the Foreign Ministry of Kosovo, with its international partners, were also recognized through the ranking of  this strategy as the fourth best in the world (following the US, UK and Israel ) by the prestigious Turkish magazine in the field of public and digital diplomacy, “Yeni Diplomasi””.

Promoting digital diplomats…

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Albania, Halil Hyseni stressed that the government in Tirana welcomes this agreement and implementation of the cooperation of particular importance to the promotion and consolidation of the two respective countries and promote their assets effectively at a global level. Hyseni stated that this project will involve more young people from Albania and Kosovo, who have the potential to promote their countries through implementation of their creative ideas. Albanian Deputy Foreign Minister further said that this memorandum will promote network of “digital diplomats” and will also assist in the implementation of public and cultural diplomacy.
His Excellency, the Ambassador of Norway in Tirana and Prishtina, Jan Braathu, stated that the digital diplomacy project between Albania and Kosovo will help change and improve perceptions of the international community  towards these two wonderful countries. Furthermore, Ambassador Braathu emphasised that  true ambassadors of countries around the world are young and innovative people who through positive writings in Wikipedia and various website give tangible contribution to the promotion of their countries in all areas, tourism, culture, environment, and so on. These young people are those who can mark significant achievements and break the barriers that politicians and ambassadors cannot overcome. Kingdom of Norway remains committed to support talented young people in Albania and Kosovo, as the best representatives of their countries, concluded Ambassador Braathu..

Useful projects for citizens

Director of the British Council in Kosovo, Arjeta Emra, reiterated that Kosovo citizens are the best diplomats in the country. Upon this occasion, she extended her gratitude to the MFA of Kosovo and Albania for establishing  this important cooperation for both countries, same time she extended her gratitude to the Norwegian government for cooperation and valuable contribution in supporting this project, as well as other initiatives useful for citizens of Kosovo. The British Council, by its well recognized  expertise and qualities, it continues to encourage inclusiveness in all of its activities, and that British Council remains faithful partner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kosovo and all other institutions that encourage the engagement of Kosovo youth as active digital  diplomats to the benefit of the country, stated  Arjeta Emra.

US Aircraft Carrier Harry S. Truman Launches First Anti-Daesh Operations

The aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman

© Flickr/ Official USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Page
Middle East

Fighter aircraft from the US carrier Harry S. Truman flew their first missions on Tuesday as part of the anti-Daesh operations in Syria and Iraq, the US Navy said in a press release.

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — On December 16, the aircraft carrier joined the US 5th Fleet, ending a two-month gap where the United States had no carrier presence in the Persian Gulf.
"Truman and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7 join French nuclear powered aircraft carrier FS Charles De Gaulle (R 91) in conducting combined combat operations in Iraq and Syria from the Arabian Gulf," the US Navy stated on Tuesday.
The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group was deployed in support of the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve against Daesh, which is outlawed in Russia as well as in other countries. The aircraft carrier will also contribute to maritime security operations, and theater security cooperation efforts in the Middle East region, according to the US Navy.

Serbian president "to assist" Turkey in dispute with Russia

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic has accepted the invitation of Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu "to assist Turkey in the dispute with Russia."
Source: Tanjug
This was announced by the president's press service on Tuesday, after Nikolic's meeting in Belgrade with Davutoglu.
A statement said that the Turkish prime minister conveyed to Nikolic "the desire of the Turkish side to have a normal relationship with Moscow."

He also "conveyed the greetings of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and expressed hope that the two presidents will meet soon."

Davutoglu also gave a positive assessment of the Belgrade-Pristina negotiations, while Nikolic, commenting on the situation in Kosovo and Metohija, said:

"It is especially painful for us when our friends promote Kosovo's independence. Here I have Turkey, too, in mind."

The president also that Serbia is negotiating with Pristina and making every effort so that all citizens in Kosovo and Metohija can live in peace and stability. The effort, he added, "should be helped by everyone in an open and transparent manner."

Nikolic told Davutoglu that his country wants to have good relations with Turkey, "especially as it has citizens of Islamic faith in a part of its territory, who have special ties with Turkey."

"Serbia does not interfere in relations between the two Muslim religious communities," Nikolic stressed, in reference to Serbia's rival Islamic organizations, and added that Turkey "can contribute to smoothing over this problem, as it can, through investments, help develop the part of Serbia with a predominantly Muslim population."

Nikolic said that Serbia "wants to become a full member of the European Union, as does Turkey," adding that Serbia is harmonizing its regulations with EU standards.

However, he added, "Serbia has its pride, which cannot be drowned in unjustified and legally baseless demands."

Underlining that his country meets the conditions for full membership he remarked that "as it does not expect others to fulfill its every wish, it also cannot be expected to fulfill every wish of others."

"The opening of the first (EU accession) negotiations chapters means that Serbia is a good place for investment. I invite investors from Turkey to invest in Serbia," said Nikolic.

Davutoglu noted "the importance of Serbia to Turkey " and said it was the third country he visited since recently becoming prime minister.

"The size of a country is not measured in geographical terms. For us, Serbia is a large and important country," Davutoglu stressed.

The Turkish official also emphasized that economic cooperation between the two countries is "a priority" and added that "good relations will have positive repercussions."

Turkey Tries to Drag Russia, NATO Into Military Conflict – Serbian Leader

The Russian Su-24 bomber crashes in flames in a mountainous area in northern Syria after it was shot down by Turkish fighter jets near the Turkish-Syrian border November 24, 2015.

© REUTERS/ Sadettin Molla

Turkey’s decision to down a Russian Su-24 attack aircraft was an attempt to drag its NATO allies in a large-scale war with Russia over Syria, President Tomislav Nikolic told Sputnik Serbia on Tuesday.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — In November, a Turkish F-16 fighter shot down a Russian Su-24 in Syria with an air-to-air missile fired from Turkish airspace as the Russian plane flew close to the Syrian-Turkish border. Ankara claims the warplane violated its airspace, however, both the Russian General Staff and the Syrian Air Defense Command have confirmed that the Russian jet never crossed into Turkish airspace.
"This was an attempt to get two powers involved in one big military conflict over Syria," Nikolic said, adding that what was happening in Syria was a "clash of concepts."
The Serbian leader asserted that the Syrian people must be free to elect their government in a fair election, rather than have it brought to power through foreign interference. He added that the question of President Bashar Assad's role in Syria's future was at the core of the dispute.

Greek Minority Leader Disappointed With Albania Govt

The Greek minority party leader Vangjel Dule says Edi Rama is letting ties with Greece deteriorate while running the country through ‘a closed circle’.

Fatjona Mejdini

The leader of PBDNJ, Vangjel Dule [in the center] talking with Prime Minister, Edi Rama | Photo: LSA

The relationship between Albania and Greece, two neighbours with a long history of both friendship and disputes, are not in their best phase today.

Greece remains the biggest foreign investor in Albania but when it comes to political ties, relations have deteriorated again lately.

One indicator of that is the poor relationship of the Party for Unity for Human Rights Party, PBDNJ, the main Greek minority party in Albania, with the government of Edi Rama.

The party headed by Vangjel Dule has been active on the political scene for almost two decades, and in recent years formed part of then then-opposition coalition led by Rama’s Socialists, a coalition that took power in 2013.

As well as being political partners, Dule and Rama seemed to share a personal friendship. At election rallies in 2013 Rama called him “a friend, a decent and hardworking person”, but since he took power, the relationship has deteriorated


Albania minorities object to territorial division
January 29, 2015
Albania's civil society is calling on officials to diffuse tensions and protect minorities from discrimination and potential violence as a result of the decision to scrap the existing municipalities and create a new territorial administration.

The government reduced the 384 local government units to 65, effectively creating entirely Albanian-majority municipalities.

Greek, Macedonian and other minority representatives said the government's move violates their rights and international norms.

"The territorial reform runs contrary to the spirit of the Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and it constitutes a flagrant violation of the accepted European standards," Vangjel Dule, leader of the Union for Human Rights Party in Tirana, told SETimes.

The new territorial division creates dangerous conditions that may result in social conflicts and ethnic confrontations, said Stavri Marko, representative of the Komuniteti Himarjot in the formerly Greek-majority Himara municipality.

"It harms the wealth and the properties of Himara municipality," Marko told SETimes.

Minority representatives said the move is in violation of the constitution, as public schools in minority languages will be closed and they will lose other fundamental rights, even the right to self-identify.

"These are rights guaranteed by the constitution and the latter must be implemented," Marko said.

The minorities said their voice was not considered at the meetings with Prime Minister Edi Rama or in parliament.

"This is an issue that belongs to the community. The people must decide for themselves, people know better the balance of co-existence," Enio Theodhori, a law student in Tirana from Dropull village, told SETimes.

The Macedonian minority has requested that it is represented in three municipalities, but the new territorial arrangement brought two -- Golo brdo and Gora -- into the third Pustec municipality.

"The will of the Macedonian community in Albania was not respected. We Macedonians are concentrated into three areas, but our demands were only partially considered," Edmond Themelko, head of the Pustec municipality, told SETimes.

Officials said the new territorial organisation will be applied in Albania's local election in June.

But civil society representatives said the new municipal map should be revised to factor in the minorities and then approved again by the parliament.

The Association of Communes and Municipalities in Albania lodged a request with the Central Elections Commission (CEC) for a popular referendum to annul the new reorganisation.

"We already have the needed signatures, will present them to the Central Elections Commission, and hopefully we will begin as soon as possible," Vasfi Apostoli of the Macedonian Alliance Party for European Integration told SETimes.

As many as 20,000 signatures per municipality must be collected to enact a referendum.

Albanian law stipulates no referendum can be held three months before or after elections. The local elections are scheduled for June 21 and all referendum-related procedures must end in March.

However, five votes are needed in the CEC to approve a referendum. The CEC has long operated with four members because the other three resigned.

"The territorial reform took place within a short time. This surely has harmed the ethnic minorities. There are minority regions, parcelled into various local units. This has created problems in maintaining the language and customs as well as the publications and radio-television for which they have their own rights," Fatos Baxhaku, an analyst at Shqip in Tirana, told SETimes.

Baxhaku said the issue should be resolved quickly because it stirs local tensions, but also to ensure regional security.

The government maintains that by the new territorial map, it has not violated the ethnic minorities but favoured them instead.

"The territorial division has respected the minority rights by making tolerations on the general criteria. When we drafted the new territorial map, we set a number of exceptional criteria exactly to favour the minority and not to violate the ethnic proportions," Minister of Local Issues Bledi Cuci said.

Ethnic tensions rose last month when the UHRP requested in parliament that the Greek minority obtain its own representative in the national council for public radio and television, but parliament declined.

Albania's minorities did not recognise the results of the 2011 census because census forms did not include an ethnicity item, but instead gave citizens the option to mark "other." Minority advocates say the procedure significantly understated the numbers of minority citizens.

"Territorial issues are always a delicate matter. They need to be studied in depth and cannot be left in the hands of the parliamentary majorities, whenever they change," said Hasan Celibashi, an expert at the Centre for Security and Commitment in Tirana.

"The territorial division is something that goes beyond political forces, and affects not only political parties, but the entire population. Governments come and go and administrative divisions cannot change on a whim. They should operate with caution because it can trigger violence, social clashes and ethnic conflicts in minority areas. In these zones, the situation is fragile and new administrative maps can throw fuel to the fire," Celibashi told SETimes.

Monday, December 28, 2015

'Newly Awakened' Russian Navy Has Pentagon Shaking in Its Boots

(L-R) Russian navy corvette Steregushchy, destroyer Nastoichivy and frigate Admiral Gorshkov are anchored in a bay of the Russian fleet base in Baltiysk in Kaliningrad region, Russia, July 19, 2015

© REUTERS/ Maxim Shemetov

In the fight against Daesh in Syria, Russia has demonstrated its state-of-the-art naval prowess. According to a new Pentagon report, the proven effectiveness of the Kremlin’s fleet has Washington worried.

In October, the Russian military launched 18 Kalibr-M cruise missiles from warships stationed in the Caspian Sea. Travelling over 1,500 miles, these projectiles struck terrorist targets in Syria, destroying key components of Daesh, also known as ISIL/the Islamic State.
While this action was clearly aimed at sending a strong message to terrorist groups in Syria, the demonstration appears to have also had an impact on the Pentagon. In a new report from the US Navy’s intelligence branch, the US military expresses concerns of a "newly awakened" Russian navy.
"Russia has begun, and over the next decade will make large strides in fielding a 21st century navy capable of a dependable national defense [and] an impressive but limited presence in more distant global areas of interests…" reads the report, entitled "The Russian Navy: A Historic Transition."
The report is authored by George Fedoroff, the US Office of Naval Intelligence’s top expert on Russia, and based on the Kremlin’s growing fleet of ships and submarines, which currently includes 186 vessels. Fedoroff also took the Russian Navy’s state-of-the-art weaponry into consideration, as well as the resolve of Russian sailors.
According to Fedoroff, the United States has underestimated Russian military capabilities since the end of the Cold War. Now, for the first time in 24 years, the Pentagon is beginning to take notice.
"Since 2000, as Russia’s governmental order and economy have stabilized, there has been a focused and funded effort to revitalize the Russian military – including the navy," the report reads. "Suspended construction programs are now moving toward completion and new construction programs are beginning to provide the navy with 21st-century submarine and surface platforms."
Fedoroff also cited Russia’s Kalibr cruise missiles as a sign of Russia’s growing naval strength.
"Kalibr provides even modest platforms, such as corvettes, with significant offensive capability and, with the use of the land attack missile, all platforms have a significant ability to hold distant fixed targets at risk using conventional warheads," the report reads.
"The proliferation of this capability within the new Russian navy is profoundly changing its ability to deter, threaten or destroy adversary targets."
Earlier this month, Russia also launched cruise missiles against Syrian targets from submarines operating in the Mediterranean.
As Russia’s navy advances, challenging Washington’s hegemony, China’s sea fleet is also making rapid gains. According to Dean Cheng, senior research fellow for Chinese Political and Security Affairs at the Heritage Foundation, China has "already outmatched every regional navy."
With its naval dominance at risk, Washington is set to spend between $80-92 billion in taxpayer money to upgrade its own submarine fleet. Earlier this month, the US Navy also faced embarrassment when its newest ship, the USS Milwaukee, broke down after less than a month of action. The littoral combat ship was towed to a base in Virginia for repairs.
Another sizeable investment for the Pentagon, the $3 billion USS Zumwalt, is already facing criticism for being outdated – and unsafe. Conducting its maiden voyage earlier this month, the stealth destroyer has a futuristic appearance, but may lack seaworthiness.
"On the DDG-1000 [Zumwalt-class], with the waves coming at you from behind, when a ship pitches down, it can lose transverse stability as the stern comes out of the water – and basically roll over," said Ken Bower, a naval architect, according to Wired.
No wonder Washington is worried about Russian submarines.

Turkey's conflict with Russia "has no bearing on Serbia"

Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu said on Belgrade on Monday that the conflict between his country and Russia "cannot influence the good relations with Serbia." 

Source: Tanjug
Davutoglu was taking questions from reporters during his joint news conference with Serbian PM Aleksandar Vucic when he was asked to comment on Serbia's position regarding the crisis in Ankara-Moscow relations over Turkey's downing of a Russian bomber.
The Turkish official said he was aware that Serbia has "good relations" with Russia, but that the ties between Serbia and Turkey "cannot be influenced by any third side."

"Turkey, too, until now had excellent relations with Russia and I hope we will return to the old days of good relations," said he.

According to Davutoglu, Serbia and Turkey are "two countries and two peoples in the same region."

"The Balkans is like a soup into which we wish to put a nice spice to make it even tastier," the Turkish prime minister had been quoted as saying.

Relations between Turkey and Serbia "will not change - and the goal of my visit is to improve them," he said.

Commenting on Vucic's statements regarding the downing of the Russian Su-24, Davutoglu said he did not consider Serbia to be a small country - but rather "a big and important one."

He then stated that the Russian plane had "violated Turkey's airspace" and was shot down for that reason.

"We were only defending our airspace," he reiterated.

According to Davutoglu, Vucic's visit to Srebrenica "demonstrated the right stance, especially when it comes to erasing bad memories from the past."

Asked to comment on Davutoglu's remark about Turkey "wanting to add spice to the Balkan soup," Vucic said he "shies away from metaphors, because they can be interpreted in various ways."

"The Balkans represents a place of conflict and turbulence for many, for us it is the most beautiful place in the world, we and our children live here, here we wish to stay. That's the most beautiful piece of land for us and for many people who have exceptional spirit, strength, and energy, that few peoples outside of the Balkans possess," he said.

Asked whether he "expected Russia's reaction" because of Davutoglu's visit to Belgrade, Vucic said it was an internal matter for Serbia and Turkey, and that he was convinced that Serbia's friends in Russia respect that.

"Good conditions"

Serbia and Turkey are bound by very important, historical ties, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in Belgrade on Monday, underlining the importance of strengthening them even further.

Addressing the media after a bilateral meeting with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, Davutoglu said that the Turkish government would be glad to have with Serbia the same arrangement as with Bulgaria and Greece, concerning a top-level council.

According to Davutoglu, the aim is to increase the volume of trade between Serbia and Turkey to USD 1 billion in 2016 from USD 780 million in 2014.

The opportunities that Serbia has offered to Turkish investors are really good. I have come here with 130 business people from Turkey, although it is very hard to arrange such a meeting at the end of the year, Davutoglu said.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Refugees bring back smiles to Greek shipping companies

An estimated 804,465 refugees (mostly from Syria) have arrived in Greece since the start of the year

Thursday, December 27, 2015
Refugees bring back smiles to Greek shipping companies
The refugee crisis has caused major problems in Greece, as authorities and local communities struggle to manage the problem, however it has also benefited certain sectors in the economy.
The Coast Guard recently revealed that since the start of the year and until the 21st of December, an estimated 804,465 refugees have arrived in Greece, with about half of them (457,149) being from Syria.  Refugees from 77 different counties have arrived in Greece.
Shipping in particular has benefited from the migration wave, particularly after the summer, at which point many ferry boats limit their services. Thousands of refugees and migrants arrive on the Greek islands on a daily basis and the ferry boats transporting them to Piraeus tend to be full.
Although there have been claims of inflated ticket prices, shipping companies have responded that since their ferry boats leave Piraeus for the islands empty, they must cover their losses.
Meanwhile, the Cost Guard also revealed that 468 human traffickers have been arrested since the start of the year, with the majority being Turkish (157) and Syrian (140) nationals. The Coast Guard also arrested 12 Greeks.

Where America Fights Next Is VERY Predictable

The National Interest.

Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania are the US Military actions for the next year in Balkans. 

Printer-friendly version Recently, Aaron Bazin published seven charts that explain the American way of war. Expanding on his work, I offer the single graphic that displays the United States military’s activities over the past thirty-five years, a chart that suggests some insights for how the United States might re-organize its forces and capabilities. Importantly, this analysis moves beyond major combat operations such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, and includes others in the range of military operations, including actions as diverse as non-combatant evacuation missions in Africa and firefighting relief in the homeland.

Since 1980, the United States has fought in seven major combat operations: Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom/Inherent Resolve, Enduring Freedom, Odyssey Dawn/Unified Protector, Allied Force, Urgent Fury and Just Cause. Further, major peacekeeping operations occurred in Kosovo and Bosnia, requiring significant forces to conduct said missions. Beyond these combat and peacekeeping missions, the overwhelming majority of U.S. military operations since 1980 have been humanitarian assistance or disaster relief operations, to include those conducted in the homeland. In addition to humanitarian assistance missions, the United States executed multiple non-combatant evacuation missions as well as punitive and global strike missions.
Other continuing efforts include theater security cooperation missions conducted by the combatant commands. Further, the U.S. military conducts continuous strategic deterrence missions with its nuclear capabilities. And intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions in support of these operations and other persistent requirements are a constant requirement for national and military leadership. These mission sets, although paramount to U.S. and global security, are outside the realm of contingency operations. It is on these contingency operations, and how the U.S. military can best posture itself to meet the associated demand, which this analysis is focused.
Missions and Regions

If recent history is a guide to the future, the next major combat operation will likely occur in either the Middle East or the Balkans. Indeed, the current crisis in Syria and Iraq lend a degree of confirmation to this prediction. However, the United States military, as it looks to establish its capabilities for the mid- to long-term future should seek to find a balance between the most dangerous and the most likely missions. This requires balancing risk associated with major combat missions and humanitarian assistance. There is, of course, risk in using this model, since a major change in the focus of U.S. foreign policy would invalidate its assumptions. Prior to the outset of World War I, for example, an analysis of the previous fifty years of U.S. military experience would have focused efforts on operations within North America, and occasionally in the Pacific, missing entirely the European focus that would emerge. With this caution in mind, however, we can perhaps learn something by treating the past as prologue.
CENTCOM: The Middle East remains the most likely location for major military operations. Since 1980, operations in the CENTCOM area of operations (AOR) include the Tanker Wars, Lebanon peacekeeping, Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom (with associated persistent obligations such as Northern and Southern Watch), Enduring Freedom and the Multinational Force Observer mission in the Sinai. Today’s ongoing missions also include support to nations who seek protection from adversaries such as Iran. There is no shortage of demand for missile defense capacity in this environment, and investment in and forward presence of missile defense capabilities at the expense of ground combat vehicles can serve to both assure allies and dissuade adversaries.
Other missions in the CENTCOM AOR include global strike or punitive strike operations. These missions range from El Dorado Canyon to the continuing drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen since 9/11. Further, counter-terrorism missions remain a paramount concern throughout the Middle East.
AFRICOM: Non-combatant evacuation (NEO) remains a serious concern in areas of the globe where governments are historically weak. Over time, NEO operations have frequently occurred in the unstable West Coast of Africa. In the design of regionally aligned forces, the Army should consider what specific capabilities each region traditionally requires. Forces aligned to AFRICOM should be focused on the execution of a NEO, in lieu of major combat operations on the continent. This does not lend itself to forces optimized for building partnership capacity, but could include forces required to occupy ports and airfields to move citizens off the continent.
PACOM: The necessity for strategic lift in the PACOM area of responsibility is paramount. As in the AFRICOM AOR, the demands of NEO often require aircraft to travel great distances over the Pacific Ocean. Further, the ability to deliver humanitarian assistance to nations in the Pacific such as the Philippines and Indonesia require aircraft that can deliver supplies and equipment over long distances into remote areas. Moreover, from an interagency perspective, aligning USAID stockpiles with the modes of transport in these regions could enhance the immediate effectiveness of HADR operations.

Angry Athens Rejects Ankara's Aegean Sea Airspace Claim

© Sputnik/ Tatyana Chukhrova

Greece's aviation authority has rejected Turkey's announcement of restrictions to airspace over Greek territory in the Aegean Sea.

Greece's civil aviation authority has rejected announcements from Ankara, which seeks to restrict flights over Greek islands in the Aegean Sea for 12 months so that Turkey can carry out military training, Greece's reported on Sunday.
"The Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority has issued a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) to [nullify] and void three Turkish NOTAM, which provocatively and brazenly restrict flights in large areas of the Aegean for even 12 months," wrote pronews.
A NOTAM is a notice filed with an aviation authority that alerts aircraft pilots to potential hazards in an area which could affect the safety of a flight.
Pronews reported that on December 23, Ankara issued NOTAM Α5885/15, Α5884/15 and Α5881/15, which announced restrictions on aviation in the northern, central and southern areas of the Aegean Sea.
The area Turkey wanted to use includes the Athon peninsula in the northern Aegean and the Greek islands of Lemnos, Patmos, Tinos, Mykonos and Skyros among others.
Skyros is among the sites where Greece has a Patriot anti-aircraft missile system installed, while the northern Aegean contains valuable Greek oil and gas reserves, the newspaper noted. In response, the Greek aviation authority issued NOTAM A2642/15, A2641/15 and A2640/15, which asserted that only Greece has the right to issue an announcement that restricts Greek airspace.
"The coordinates given by Ankara cover a region over which Greece has national sovereignty," said Athens.
As well as Greece's internal air traffic, Turkey's attempt to restrict airspace has also interfered with the R19 and L995 international aviation corridors, the aviation authority stated.

Greece adds to the ranks of the Army, up to 50.000 Albanians, coming years

Greeks and Albanians more together than ever, nearly over 1 million Albanians and Northern Epiriotes, will receive Greek nationality in the next years.

Very interesting the Albanian Army, composed of 10. 000 soldiers in total, when in addition in the Greek army will raise of 50 thousand soldiers, from Albanian origin. The Greek Army has 180. 000  solders active.

Athens has applied the law to the Greek citizenship for children born in Greece. Benefit to all Albanian immigrant family reunion in Greece, who have many years living and working.

With the new law for children born in Greece, for 25 consecutive years, it is thought that about 50 thousand Albanians, were aged to obtain Greek citizenship, which necessarily accompanied with military service.

Source for SManalysis shows that started the application method for 9 months military service in the Greek army, for all Albanians born in Greece, who are obliged by law to respect the country's constitution.

The decision greeted with enthusiasm by Albanian immigrants in Greece, it seems like not a positive development in Tirana, for which nearly 1/3 of the population of Albania, Greek civil done .. But what are the consequences by some Albanian analysts?

In Tirana, many analysts believe it is clear policy of creating conditions to increase the Greeks in Southern Albania, and tomorrow, the Albanian population, in whole become bilingual citizens, Greek and Albanian. They will have the right for self determination or will unite with Greece. This is the precedent if Kosovo will call for referendum with Albania, the country will divide in tow.

Just the thought that the Albanian army, composed of 10 thousand soldiers, the addition of the Greek army of 50 thousand soldiers, who come originally from Albania but born in Greece, is the capitulation of the Albanian state, say some voices. There is also another issue. Albanian immigrants, do not want the army in Albania and pay officials, and are willing to make the army in Greece, as their families live and work for decades.

Albanians and Northern Epiriotes together constitute about 10% of the population of 11 million in Greece, who are in the process of obtaining the Greek citizenship. So far, about 400 thousand Northern Epiriotes, received Greek citizenship.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Officials react to diplomat's statement about "Kosovo in UN"

"Serbia respects the policy of the United States, but has its own policy," Prieme Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Friday.
Source: Tanjug
(Tanjug, file)
(Tanjug, file)
He in this way reacted to U.S. ambassador to Serbia's statement that "Kosovo should join the UN as part of normalization process" - something that, according to the Serbian prime minister, is "never easy to read."
"All I can say this morning is that it is not easy for us as a small country to provide an answer to what (Michael) Kirby has said, all I can say and respond to that I is - Serbia has its own policy. We respect the policy of the United States, they are the world's superpower, but we have a policy and stick to our policy," said Vucic.

He added that Kirby's stance does not come as "particularly big news" since the United States recognized Kosovo in 2008 - however, it is something "we never find easy to read," said to Vucic.

Reacting to the same statement made by the U.S. diplomat, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic on Friday said, "Serbia, of course, will not support Kosovo's membership in international organizations that would mean legalization of the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo, including in the United Nations."

Dacic said that dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is "status neutral," and reminded that the U.S. and Serbia have "a different view of the issue of the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo" - which, he added "could also be seen when Kosovo's request to join UNESCO was considered."

Dacic, however, pointed out that "as the ambassador said himself, there are also differences on this issue between the United States and the European Union, where five countries have not recognized the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo."

"Serbia will not change its principled policy, with full commitment to dialogue as the only way to resolve all outstanding issues," he has been quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Russian Welcome for Turkey's Kurdish Leader Turns Up Heat on Erdogan

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Co-Leader of Peoples' Democratic Party of Turkey Selahattin Demirtas meet in Moscow

© Sputnik/ Alexey Kudenko

The invitation from Moscow to Turkey's pro-Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas is a demonstration of Russia's belief in the Kurds as a vital ally in the fight against Daesh, writes the German press.

Moscow's invitation to Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), is a challenge to the Turkish government, which seeks the political marginalization of the Kurds in Turkey, wrote German Economic News (DWN) on Friday. "Demirtas is the first influential politician from Turkey to travel to Russia since the Turkish air force shot a Russian fighter jet at the Syrian border on November 24," wrote DWN, which also remarked on the reaction to his visit from Turkey's government.
On Tuesday Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu accused the HDP of "treason" because Demirtas called the downing of Russia's Su-24 bomber a mistake during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday.
The HDP leader also remarked on the importance of maintaining dialogue between the two countries, which he said have a very important relationship.
"At the moment we are experiencing a worsening of Russian-Turkish relations, and in parallel, a time when we have to look for very important solutions in the Middle East. We are a political party which in our own country fights for pluralism. We attach a great deal of importance to Russian-Turkish relations, and it is a cause of sadness to us that a situation has occurred, as a result of which relations have soured," Demirtas told Lavrov at the meeting.
In turn, Russia's Foreign Minister told Demirtas that Moscow wants the cooperation of all parties who are committed to fighting terrorism.
"We know that among those who, weapons in hand, fight on the ground against the danger of Daesh, against extremist groups, are the Iraqi and Syrian Kurds," said Lavrov.
"They, together with the Iraqi and Syrian armies fight for their homes, for the right to live on their land. That is their inalienable right, like the right of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities to remain on the land of their ancestors and not be subjected to the lethal danger of terrorists." The meeting in Moscow between the politicians was a signal to Ankara of Kurdish power, and Russia's support for the Kurds, remarked DWN.
"Strengthening the Kurds would really be a problem for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan," wrote the newspaper. "A few days ago Demirtas signaled the wish to proclaim autonomy."
Prior to his Moscow visit, Demirtas announced his support for the idea of autonomy for the southeastern Anatolia region, where he said local people had "embraced autonomy" in opposition to "dictatorship" imposed from Ankara. The AKP held a snap election on November 1 after losing majority rule in the June election, largely thanks to gains by the HDP, which received 13.2 percent of the votes.
"They made a coup after June 7," said Demirtas.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Albania Claims Deal Will Allow Low-Cost Flights

Officials claim they have reached an agreement with Tirana airport's shareholders to end their monopoly on international flights - but some experts are sceptical.

Fatjona Mejdini

Albania officials says that they have reached an agreement with the shareholders in Tirana International Airport, TIA, to end its exclusive right to host international flights and build new airports that will host low-cost flights.

Tirana Airport | Photo: BIRN/ Ivana Dervishi

The centre-left government led by Edi Rama pledged in the 2013 election campaign to reconsider the concession with TIA shareholders and liberalize the market to open up the way for low-cost flights.Under a concession agreement signed in October 2004, TIA holds the right to manage Tirana's Mother Teresa airport for 20 years with a monopoly on all international flights to and from Albania.

The Minister of Economy, Arben Ahmetaj, told a meeting on Tuesday with tourist operators that they had agreed with TIA concession holders to end the monopoly on international flights and open the way for building airports in southern Albania that will carry low-cost flights.

"We have agreed with the TIA concession shareholders to liberalize international flights and we have concrete offers to build airports that will carry low costs flights from Vlora and Saranda [resorts in southern Albania]," Ahmetaj said.

He added that the agreement with TIA will soon be passed by the government and parliament, opening the way for lower flight taxes that will make tickets cheaper.

Some economic experts detect a lack of transparency in the agreement that the minister claims to have achieved with the TIA shareholders, led by AviAlliance company of Germany, however.

Zef Preci, director at the Albanian Center for Economic Research, told BIRN that the government has a duty to tell Albanians about the negotiations and the exact terms.

"If the minister claims he has found an agreement to end TIA's exclusivity in flights we have to know what the terms are," he said.

"It doesn't make sense for a foreign company to give up its revenue so easily. Citizens have a right to know the details of what is going on," Preci added.

Although Preci said the concession agreement with TIA is considered one of the best, since it had given the Tirana airport a new face, Albanian citizens have paid for it the hard way through expensive flight tickets.

He said that despite its promises this government has done nothing to liberate Albanian markets generally from monopolies, and no success had been reached in establishing free and fair competition.

Albania Claims Deal Will Allow Low-Cost Flights

Officials claim they have reached an agreement with Tirana airport's shareholders to end their monopoly on international flights - but some experts are sceptical.
Fatjona Mejdini
Albania officials says that they have reached an agreement with the shareholders in Tirana International Airport, TIA, to end its exclusive right to host international flights and build new airports that will host low-cost flights.
Tirana Airport | Photo: BIRN/ Ivana Dervishi
The centre-left government led by Edi Rama pledged in the 2013 election campaign to reconsider the concession with TIA shareholders and liberalize the market to open up the way for low-cost flights.Under a concession agreement signed in October 2004, TIA holds the right to manage Tirana's Mother Teresa airport for 20 years with a monopoly on all international flights to and from Albania.
The Minister of Economy, Arben Ahmetaj, told a meeting on Tuesday with tourist operators that they had agreed with TIA concession holders to end the monopoly on international flights and open the way for building airports in southern Albania that will carry low-cost flights.
"We have agreed with the TIA concession shareholders to liberalize international flights and we have concrete offers to build airports that will carry low costs flights from Vlora and Saranda [resorts in southern Albania]," Ahmetaj said.
He added that the agreement with TIA will soon be passed by the government and parliament, opening the way for lower flight taxes that will make tickets cheaper.
Some economic experts detect a lack of transparency in the agreement that the minister claims to have achieved with the TIA shareholders, led by AviAlliance company of Germany, however.
Zef Preci, director at the Albanian Center for Economic Research, told BIRN that the government has a duty to tell Albanians about the negotiations and the exact terms.
"If the minister claims he has found an agreement to end TIA's exclusivity in flights we have to know what the terms are," he said.
"It doesn't make sense for a foreign company to give up its revenue so easily. Citizens have a right to know the details of what is going on," Preci added.
Although Preci said the concession agreement with TIA is considered one of the best, since it had given the Tirana airport a new face, Albanian citizens have paid for it the hard way through expensive flight tickets.
He said that despite its promises this government has done nothing to liberate Albanian markets generally from monopolies, and no success had been reached in establishing free and fair competition.
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