Friday, July 31, 2015

Germany to Curb Mass Migration from Albania

Berlin and Tirana organised the repatriation of about 70 asylum-seekers and German police have been stationed at Albanian border posts in a bid to stop the flow of migrants.
Gjergj Erebara
One of the repatriated asylum seekers speaking to the media at Tirana International Airport on 29 July 2015. Photo: LSA / MALTON DIBRA
The two countries have stepped up joint efforts this week to stop Albanian migrants heading for Germany after more than 20,000 arrived over the past few months.
On Wednesday, about 70 asylum-seekers from Albania landed at Tirana International Airport after being deported from Germany.
Local media said that they were transported on a special free flight from the city of Essen and had agreed to return home voluntarily.
German Federal Interior Ministry said recently that in the first six months of 2015, about 22,000 Albanians had applied for protection under German law, a mechanism created to help those who are politically prosecuted in other countries or came from countries in a state of war.
Those who have applied for asylum in Germany get shelter and some financial help for several months while the authorities decide for their application. About 98 per cent of those who applied during 2014 were refused, data from the European Statistical Agency shows.
Meanwhile, Albania’s Interior Ministry announced that 12 officers from the German federal police have been stationed in Albania to work along Albanian border police officers in a bid to convince migrannts not to go.
In Germany, political tension has risen due to the large number of asylum seekers and the anti-migrant movement called Pegida, the BBC reported.
The German authorities are discussing whether to classify Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro as “safe countries”, which would speed up procedures for rejecting asylum-seekers’ applications. There have also been calls to reintroduce visa regimes for countries which are the source of increasing numbers of asylum seekers.

"70 percent of migrants take Western Balkans route"

70 percent of refugees are using the land route through the Western Balkan, says Minister without Portfolio in charge of EU integration Jadranka Joksimovic.
Source: Beta
(Beta, file)
(Beta, file)
She was referring to migrants from third countries who are passing through the Balkans in their bid to reach EU countries.
According to Joksimovic, the European Union is already helping Serbia to solve "the problem of migrations."

The minister told Serbia's state television RTS that the EU has "recognized the Western Balkans route" and that a conference on the top level will be organized in Budapest in September "where mechanisms of financial support will be crystallized."

She said that Serbia already received from EU pre-accession funds some EUR 2.5 million for the One-Stop Center in Presevo, and another 6 million for "persons from the process of readmission who are returning to Serbia."

Joksimovic added that Serbia asked for more funds to secure its borders and that the EU approved "EUR 2.5 to 3 million" for border control.

"Serbia has shown itself to be a responsible partner of the EU, but at the same time we are also fulfuling all those humanitarian standards, for our own sake" - said the minister.

Moscow clarifies who can enter Russia with Kosovo passport

Persons traveling with Kosovo passports can enter the Russian Federation only in special cases and in order to participate in sporting events.
Source: Tanjug
(Beta/AP, file)
(Beta/AP, file)
This has been announced by the Russian embassy in Belgrade.
Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in 2008 unilaterally declared independence - a move Serbia considers a violation of its territorial integrity, and which Russia also does not recognize.

On Friday, the embassy said that "passports of the so-called Republic of Kosovo" can only be used to travel to the Russian Federation to attend events under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee and international sports associations.

The embassy pointed out that, like a number of other countries that have not recognized the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo, Russia issues visas in the form of special forms inserted into Kosovo-issued passports.

These passports are not stamped upon crossing the Russian border, the statement added.

The procedure corresponds with the treatment of Kosovo documents by Serbia, the Russian embassy noted, adding it has been introduced with the knowledge of the Serbian side, which was informed about it in a timely manner.

The embassy said that the Russian Federation's principled position on Kosovo, based on international law and UN Security Council Resolution 1244, remains unchanged.

"It is only possible to enter the territory of the Russian Federation with passports of the so-called Republic of Kosovo in cases based on the fulfillment of international obligations of the Russian Federation as a side-recipient of an event, which is organized through multilateral structures, whose member or participant is the so-called Republic of Kosovo," the embassy said.

It adds that persons carrying passports of the "Republic of Kosovo" are allowed to enter Russia for participation in sporting events held under the auspices of the relevant international sports associations.

"For other purposes, the procedure of entry of persons with Kosovo passports to the territory of Russia has not changed. Namely, their entry is not possible," the Russian embassy in Belgrade stressed in its statement.

Muslims in Norway now demand a separate state, Greece will soon see similar!

Muslims of Norway are now demanding a separate Islamic state and threaten terrorist actions if their demands are not met. Norway has already completed phase 3 of Islamization. The following explains the three phases.
Phase 1: When muslims constitute 1-3% of the population. Their behavior in society is decent and non intrusive.
Phase 2: When Muslims constitute 4-20% of the population, political demands begin, such as building of mosques, minarets, bans on Christian ceremonies and events and celebrations Muslim holidays like Ramadan.
Phase 3: When muslims constitute over 20% of the population a holy war begins (jihad). Muslim areas of the city (ghettos) now become inaccessible to non-Muslims. Full implementation of ghetto Sharia laws begin, along with conducting terrorist attacks for secession and the creation of an Islamic state.
Norway, is already in phase 3. The terrorist organization Ansar al-Sunna threatens that if the capital Oslo is not recognized by the Norwegian State as a Muslim city and a Muslim nation they will declare a holy war, with all that this entails. The announcement of the Islamic terrorist organization states:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Varoufakis: my mother was a right-wing terrorist

First entry: 29 July 2015 - 15:26 Athens, 12:26 GMT
Last update: 29 July 2015 15:26 Athens, 12:26 GMTPolitics
Varoufakis: my mother was a right-wing terrorist
Former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis gave a lengthy interview to German magazine Stern, touching on many subjects: his parents, his political awakening, his specialization on parallel currencies, his relations with his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble and Social Democrat leader and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, as well as his views on Europe.
An excerpt from the interview follows:
Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has felt like a political animal since his early childhood.
"This has to do with my family," Varoufakis said in an interview with Stern. His father was imprisoned in a penal camp for four years at the time of the Greek civil war (1946-49) and been "brutally tortured repeatedly". "The reason: He had refused to denounce communists He was a liberal, educated in the spirit of the French Revolution.." An uncle of Varoufakis was "sentenced to death"
Varoufakis' mother was, however, after the World War, "a member of a right-wing terrorist organization. She hated all left." One of her duties as a member of this organization was to spy on Varoufakis' "(That's how) they met. "
Varoufakis has a close relationship with Germany. "When I was three years old, I began to learn German. And then, during the military dictatorship, I secretly listened to the broadcasts of Deutsche Welle under the blanket with my parents. That was our connection to freedom."
Every summer during the seven-year junta rule (1967-74) Varoufakis' family had "spent a holiday in southern Germany and Austria - it was a (temporary escape) from the dictatorship."

Bologna's Muslims: 'We are part of this city'

The number of Muslims has burgeoned in this Italian city, but plans to build a mosque have been contentious.

Sean O'Neill |
The Muslim community in Bologna is fighting for space and dignity [Sean O'Neill/Al Jazeera]
Bologna, Italy - On any given Friday on the outskirts of Bologna, where the tight porticoed streets give way to the lazy sway of golden wheat fields, you will see hundreds of Muslims making their way down what could be mistaken for a country road.
They converge on an old warehouse, which has been converted into the Islamic Cultural Centre of Bologna, the city's largest mosque.
On a recent Friday during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan, over 100 worshippers were on the gravel outside, the building being full.
Mohammed Redwan Altounj, president of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Bologna [Sean O'Neill/Al Jazeera] 
"We used to be tens praying at our centre," said Mohamed Redwan Altounji, president of the cultural centre. "Now we are thousands."
Altounji arrived in Italy from Syria as a medical student 49 years ago. He is now 71 years old. 
Bologna, nicknamed "The Red", is known for its university - the oldest in Europe - and its history of leftist politics.
From 2007 to 2009, it was the centre of a slowly unravelling political drama around plans to construct a mosque.
At one point in 2007, Roberto Calderoli of the far-right Lega Nord party, at the time vice president of the Italian Senate, called for a "Pig Day" during which opponents of the mosque would walk with pigs over the proposed site in an attempt to desanctify it.
"Because Bologna doesn't have much of a history of right-wing politics, city officials agreed to the project and never expected the opposition that followed," said Dino Cocchianella, director of Bologna's Institute for Social Inclusion, a branch of the local government.
Our office promotes a model of integration based on inclusion. This means each community learns from each other and is enriched by the other - as opposed to assimilation which says, I accept you if you become like me.
Dino Cocchianella, Institute for Social Inclusion
A coalition of Lega supporters, Catholic clergy, and civil society groups organised against the mosque.
"Our office promotes a model of integration based on inclusion," explained Cocchianella.
"This means each community learns from each other and is enriched by the other - as opposed to assimilation which says, I accept you if you become like me," Cocchianella said.
"I'm afraid the majority of Bolognans right now are not open to the inclusion model. There is a fear of immigration, a sense of being invaded," Cocchianella said.
According to city statistics, the percentage of Bolognans with foreign citizenship have tripled since 2002, to 15 percent of the population.
The city had given a building permit for a piece of property purchased by the Islamic Cultural Centre.
But it began to backtrack in the face of opposition.
There were rumours that the mosque would be a mega-mosque with the tallest minaret in Europe, and that the centre was affiliated with UCOII, a union of Italian Islamic centres. UCOII is not recognised by the Italian government and is variously described by mosque opponents as being close to either Saudi Arabia or the Muslim Brotherhood.
But, Altounji responded to the objections, saying they are "pure fantasy".
"I saw a woman interviewed on TV who said she'd heard we were building a minaret 35 metres tall. Where did she get such an idea? We proposed one, three or four metres tall," said Altounji.
Allegations that the mosque would be funded by Saudi money, are "an invention", Altounji stated.
"I swear to you, we have never received money or been in contact with any foreign country," he said.
The issue came to a head in 2008 when Virginio Merola, then a city councilman with the centre-left Democratic Party and now mayor, accused the city's contacts in the Muslim community of being "untrustworthy". 
Frustrated and offended, the Islamic Cultural Centre cut off communication with the city for the next six years.
A fresh beginning
The atmosphere has not improved much since, especially with the current influx of refugees from Africa and the Middle East and the rise of the xenophobic Lega Nord as the pre-eminent party of the Italian right.
Lega leaders marked the death this month of Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, the former archbishop of Bologna, highlighting his views of Islam as a threat to Christian Europe.
Alan Fabbri, the Lega leader of the Emilia Romagna region, where Bologna is located, called on Catholic Italians not to "surrender to do-goodery", and to defend their Christian identity in the face of an Islamic invasion. Lega Nord did not respond to requests from Al Jazeera for an interview.
This sort of rhetoric prompted the Muslim community of Bologna to break its silence.
"I would see Islam attacked in the press and I thought, it can't be that there's no one to answer for us," explained Yassine Lafram, 29, a member of the directorate of the Islamic Cultural Centre and founder and coordinator of the Islamic Community of Bologna (CIB), a union of eight of Bologna's 13 mosques.  
The inaugural press conference announcing the formation of CIB was held in the summer of 2014 at city hall, to stress the Muslim community's perception of itself as part of Bologna.
The first question from journalists was about building a mosque, but Lafram said this was not a priority.
"The goal now is to put a face on Islam in Bologna. We don't want the press to drive our agenda," he said. Since then Lafram, who was born in Morocco and has lived in Italy for 18 years, has participated in dozens of events around the city, including discussions on extremism and interreligious prayers.
Arman Tanna, 30, is CIB's coordinator in the Bangladeshi community, which accounts for six of Bologna's 13 mosques.
His mosque, the largest, can accommodate 250 worshippers and is on the second floor of a nondescript building under a bridge, above a bar that often hosts punk concerts.
"Right now, what we're missing is visibility for our community," Tanna said. "We have mosques, but they're invisible."
That said, he also stressed that the mission of CIB is community engagement, not mosque-building. "We want to be transparent to the outside community, because fear comes from ignorance," Tanna said.
A minaret in the sky?
Irene who asked that her surname not be used, is a 30-year-old religion teacher at an elementary school in Bologna and has organised visits to Lafram's mosque.
Nevertheless, the idea of minarets on Bologna's skyline or a call to prayer in its soundscape is unsettling to her.
Don Stefano Ottane, Catholic priest [Sean O'Neill/Al Jazeera] 
"I think it's an irrational fear that comes from the idea that the presence of the 'Other' signifies the weakening of the familiar," she explained.
Don Stefano Ottane, however, a Catholic priest who started a bimonthly interreligious dialogue in 2001, said that he could imagine a minaret in Bologna's skies in 10 years time.
"There are different opinions on the matter in the church," he added diplomatically. "The road to get there is through more interreligious prayer. That's how you move the church."
"I hope the issue is closed," said Cocchianella about any future move to build a mosque. "Both for Islam and for the city."
It is a safe bet that the Lega crowd will never be won over. But it's the Don Stefanos and the Irenes and the Dino Cocchianellas that the Muslim community hopes to work with.
"We want to arrive together with the community at the realisation that we, Bologna, need this as a city. Our need for a mosque has to become their perception of reality," Yassine said.
And for that, they see no need to hurry. After all, they are not going anywhere.
"We are Bolognans of Islamic faith. We are educating our community on both our duties and our rights. We are at home here, and we will endure."
Source: Al Jazeera

Tsipras to Syriza rebels: Government will fall if party votes against bailout

First entry: 29 July 2015 - 09:56 Athens, 06:56 GMT
Last update: 29 July 2015 23:30 Athens, 20:30 GMTPolitics
Tsipras to Syriza rebels: Government will fall if party votes against bailout
Alexis Tsipras has issued a dramatic warning to members of Syriza’s Central Committee that meet on Thursday as members of the Left Platform are urging the government not to agree to a bailout deal with the creditors.
According to an exclusive report on, Tsipras has signaled that if the party votes against a bailout agreement, the government “will fall”.
"It is time for all to assume their responsibilities. To consider the consequences of opposing an agreement”, the PM is expected to say on Thursday.
Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis gave a similar warning to dissenters within Syriza saying on Tuesday that if the party adopts a different decision from the government's policy, it will bring about its resignation.
The second meeting Tuesday of the political secretariat in two days resulted in a decision to call a gathering of the central committee after several Syriza officials belonging to the party’s radical left wing called for the government not to pursue negotiations with Greece’s lenders but to follow an “alternative” path.
Tsipras spoke at Monday’s meeting of the political secretariat and insisted that the government has no other viable option than to agree a new bailout with the institutions. He proposed holding an emergency SYRIZA congress, probably in September, to allow party members to debate the issue.
However, the party’s Left Platform, led by ex-Energy Minister Panayiotis Lafazanis is pushing for the congress to be held now, before a third bailout has been agreed.
The central committee members will have to decide whether they will accept either of these options or whether there should be a ballot of Syriza members to decide what should be done.
Sources:, ekathimerini

Russia blocks UN tribunal on MH17

Eleven of the 15 members of the UN Security Council voted in favour of the resolution that was vetoed by Moscow.

Russia is one of the five permanent UN Security Council members with veto powers [AP]
Russia has vetoed a United Nations resolution creating an international tribunal to prosecute those who shot down the Malaysian airliner MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
The lone "no" vote cast on Wednesday by Vitaly Churkin, Russian ambassador to the UN, effectively blocked the resolution. Russia is one of the five permanent UN Security Council members with veto powers.
Eleven of the 15 members of the council voted in favour of the resolution, which had been drafted by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine.
China, Venezuela and Angola abstained.

Related: Calls grow to prosecute those who shot down MH17

In his statement following the vote, Churkin accused other countries of politicising the vote, and accused Ukraine of blocking Moscow from being involved in the investigation.
Just an hour before the Malaysia-backed resolution was put to a vote, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he opposed the plan.
Ukraine and many Western countries had accused pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine of shooting down the plane with a Russian-made missile, charges Moscow denies.
All 298 people on board, the majority of them Dutch, were killed and the Netherlands is leading an international investigation into the incident.
"The Russian president confirmed the unchanging position that it is inexpedient to create such a judicial body," the Kremlin said in a statement following a phone call between Putin and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
'No to impunity'
The Dutch, along with Malaysia, Australia and most Western countries, are pushing for the tribunal, which they say would have the authority to investigate impartially and demand the extradition of suspects, whichever country might be harbouring them.
In his statement before the vote, Dato Sri Liow Tiong Lai, Malaysia's transportation minister, said the UN owes it to the families and loved ones of the victims to go after those who carried out the attack.
Ukraine town holds memorial for MH17 victims
"We want to ensure that the arms of justice will reach them and there will be no impunity," he said.
Russia has said setting up a tribunal before investigations are complete would risk further politicising the incident. Putin also regretted that Russia's own draft resolution, which demands justice for the victims but does not establish a tribunal, did not win the UN Security Council's backing.
The Netherlands said in a statement that it believed a tribunal would be the best way of achieving impartial justice.
The downing of the plane triggered a new round of Western economic sanctions against Russia over the conflict in Ukraine, and deepened the worst stand-off between Moscow and the West since the Cold War ended.
More than 6,500 people have been killed in more than 15 months of fighting in east Ukraine between the rebels and forces loyal to Kiev.
Source: Al Jazeera

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Party congress or refendum? Syriza decides Thursday

First entry: 28 July 2015 - 21:29 Athens, 18:29 GMT
Last update: 21:29 Athens, 18:29 GMTPolitics
Party congress or refendum? Syriza decides Thursday
The Central Committee of the ruling hard-left Radical Left Coalition (Syriza) party will convene Thursday to consider an array of options, from an emergency party congress in September to a party referendum on whether to proceed with the negotiations for a third bailout.
Both proposals were made, one as the alternative to the other, by the party's Political committee which met Tuesday.
If the Central Committee agrees on the referendum, it will take place this coming weekend. The emergency congress will be staged in September.
The Left Platform, Syriza's dissident wing, which is against the agreement provisionally signed with Greece's creditors and which calls for Greece to leave the euro, has called for a "standing congress" this weekend.
The difference is that a "standing congress" will be attended by the delegates elected to the party's last regular congress, while an emergency congress requires the election of new delegates. Also, in this case, asomeone has to be a party member for two months before voting for deklegates or standing for election as one.
Syriza president and prime minister Alexis Tsipras is expected to indicate his preference in a radio interview Wednesday to the party's radio station Sto Kokkino.
Sources: ANA-MPA,

Dodik: Referendum will be held

Serb Republic (RS) President Milorad Dodik said on Tuesday that a referendum planned in this Serb entity will go ahead.
Source: Tanjug
(Beta, file)
(Beta, file)
The RS should vote on the work of the Court and the Prosecution of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
"I have no dilemma about that, regardless of the efforts invested by a part of the international community," Dodik stressed in Banja Luka, adding that the RS "will fight against the legal violence of the high representative, and in favor of the Dayton Agreement," reported the FENA agency.

Dodik also said he was "not afraid of political traitors instructed by the international community, who are spreading fear of the referendum."

"The referendum is important. Unless we stand up and take up a position of defense with it, in a year or two the Serb Republic will become an empty tourist attraction," he has been quoted as saying.

Russian Ambassador to Bosnia Petr Ivantsov said after meeting with Dodik today that his country will continue to support the RS in those decisions that remain within the framework of the principles set out by the Dayton peace agreement.

Ivantsov added that the RS has a right to find those solutions that it considers good.

"I hope we will be looking for the final decision together and that we will try to resolve it and decide on it through dialogue," he said.

Thierry Mariani: "La Crimea è russa. Dal punto di vista storico, culturale e demografico".


© Sputnik. Yuriy Lashov
URL abbreviato

Un gruppo di parlamentari francesi incontrerà a Mosca il presidente della Duma statale Sergey Naryshkin, dopodichè i funzionari visiteranno la Crimea per la prima volta dopo l’introduzione delle sanzioni.

Parlamentari francesi visiteranno la Crimea. Alla volta della penisola partirà una delegazione di deputati francesi con a capo Thierry Mariani, deputato del partito "Repubblicani", guidato da Sarkozy:
"In realtà, è la prima volta che io vado in Crimea dopo che è diventata russa. Questa visita è stata organizzata perché alcuni parlamentari volevano vedere la situazione reale con i propri occhi. Lo sanno tutti  che parte dell'informazione viene presentata in Francia con un punto di vista unilaterale", ha detto Mariani a Sputnik.
Secondo Thierry Mariani, storicamente la Crimea è stata russa.
Thierry Mariani, deputato del partito “Repubblicani”
Thierry Mariani, deputato del partito “Repubblicani”
"Ci si può nascondere dietro qualsiasi slogan, fare qualsiasi dichiarazione, ma non si può lottare con la storia. La realtà storica è più forte delle posizioni politiche del momento. La Crimea è russa. Dal punto di vista storico, culturale e demografico. È russa nonostante per una ventina di anni sia stata parte dell'Ucraina. Penso che se non sia tornata nella Russia, oggi situazione nella regione sarebbe la stessa che nel Donbass. Credo che il ritorno della Crimea alla Russia sia un fatto storico e una realtà storica", ha detto Mariani.
La delegazione francese arriva nella Crimea tra l'altro per esprimere la propria posizione politica.
"Il governo ci ha chiaramente fatto capire che il nostro viaggio contrasta la posizione della Francia. Lo sappiamo. Ma in Francia ogni deputato può viaggiare e difendere il proprio punto di vista. La nostra opinione e quella del nostro governo sono diverse. La nostra posizione rispecchia il punto di vista di alcuni deputati e senatori francesi nonché quello di una gran parte dell'opinione pubblica", ha detto Mariani.
Dal 23 al 26 luglio la delegazione incontrerà rappresentati delle autorità e della popolazione della Crimea, visiterà le città di Jalta e Sebastopoli. Inoltre i deputati francesi intendono discutere delle sanzioni antirusse.
"Questo sarà il tema delle nostre discussioni. Tutti hanno già capito che le sanzioni non hanno nessun senso, la Crimea è tornata alla Russia per rimanervi a lungo. Penso che dobbiamo ricordare quello che è successo nei Balcani. La rinascita della Serbia è avviata dal giorno in cui essa ha preso la decisione finale su Kosovo, quando ha detto a se stessa (secondo me, è stato uno sbaglio), che il Kosovo non era più un suo territorio. Penso che la situazione in Ucraina sia la stessa. Ad un certo momento dovrà trarre le conclusioni dagli avvenimenti politici, dagli sbagli dei leader. E le sanzioni devono essere revocate il più presto possibile. È il modo migliore per rilanciare lo sviluppo della regione negli interessi della Russia, della Crimea a della Ucraina", dice Mariani.
Sebastopoli, Crimea
Sebastopoli, Crimea
Ha anche aggiunto che uno degli scopi del viaggio è discutere delle possibilità di attivizzare la cooperazione nell'ambito dell'embargo.
"Si sa bene che la pressione degli USA e di alcuni Paesi europei frena l'attivizzazione delle relazioni tra le aziende russe e francesi. Vediamo come si può rilanciare la cooperazione", ha concluso il deputato.
"La visita dei parlamentari francesi in Russia e nella Crimea aprirà una nuova pagina nel dialogo tra la Russia e l'Europa",
ha detto Leonid Slutsky, coordinatore del gruppo per i rapporti con il parlamento e il capo del comitato della Duma per i paesi CSI.
"Il 23 luglio, dopo l'incontro alla Duma la delegazione partirà per la Crimea", ha aggiunto il funzionario.
È la prima visita di una grande delegazione dall'Occidente a partire dalla "Primavera della Crimea". Nell'ambito della visita i parlamentari incontreranno il capo della repubblica Serghej Aksenov e il presidente del Consiglio di Stato Vladimir Konstantinov.

French MPs' Crimea visit condemned by France and Ukraine

French MP Thierry Mariani (left) and fellow MPs in Moscow, 23 Jul 15

  • 23 July 2015
  • From the section Europe
French MP Thierry Mariani (left) led the group to Moscow and Crimea
France and Ukraine have condemned a visit to Crimea by a group of French MPs in defiance of Western sanctions against Russia.
The sanctions were imposed after Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014. The peninsula is legally part of Ukraine.
Thierry Mariani and about 10 other centre-right Republican Party MPs arrived in Crimea on Thursday.
The French Foreign Ministry said it was a "violation of international law". Ukraine called the MPs "irresponsible".
The visit "shows disrespect for state sovereignty", the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying.
Western politicians have avoided visiting Crimea, to comply with the sanctions regime. But a few MEPs went there to observe the controversial 2014 referendum, after the Russian annexation.
All but one of the French MPs are Republicans. The opposition party - formerly called the UMP - is led by ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy.
They met Russian MPs in Moscow earlier on Thursday, including State Duma (lower house) speaker Sergei Naryshkin.
They will spend the rest of the day and Friday in Crimea, visiting Yalta, the regional capital Simferopol and the port of Sevastopol. It is described as a private visit.
Soldiers in unmarked camouflage blockading Ukrainian Perevalne base in Crimea, March 2014
Soldiers in unmarked camouflage - Russia's "little green men" - seized Crimean bases last year

French 'shock'

The pro-Russian leader in Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said the visit was "a recognition by the foreign MPs that the sanctions against Russia are ineffective".
He and other pro-Russian politicians, who ousted Crimea's former Ukrainian administration, are subject to Western visa bans and asset freezes.
Russia maintains that the 2014 referendum - held after Russia seized Ukrainian bases in Crimea - legitimised the region's "return" to Russia. It had been transferred to Soviet Ukraine in 1954, during Moscow's communist rule.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he was "shocked" by the MPs' visit to Crimea, the French newspaper Liberation reported.
Mr Fabius, a Socialist, said the visit "risks violating international law - entering Crimea without the Ukrainian authorities' permission means recognition of Moscow's claims".

Monday, July 27, 2015

Greek government sources deny existence of 'drachma plan'

First entry: 27 July 2015 - 21:20 Athens, 18:20 GMT
Last update: 27 July 2015 21:20 Athens, 18:20 GMTPolitics
Greek government sources deny existence of 'drachma plan'
"What is made abundantly clear by Mr. Varoufakis' announcement is that there was no plan or strategy for a return to the drachma," government sources commented on Monday, in response to the announcement posted by former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis on his website.
As also confirmed by the statements made by Professor James Galbraith, there was only a report on the possible repercussions of euro exit, in the case of attempts to blackmail Greece by forcing it out of the eurozone, the sources said.
The prime minister had referred to the existence of this report during a recent interview on state television, they added.
The sources were commenting on an announcement posted by Varoufakis concerning press reports that he had been planning to hijack and hack into Greek tax system software in order to set up a parallel payments system.

Albania: the best-kept secret in the Mediterranean?

Caroline Shearing steps back in time on a day trip to Albania, and finds a warm welcome, sublime seafood and Butrint, one of Europe's most important archaeological sites

Albania: the best-kept secret in the Mediterranean?
Butrint is widely regarded as one of the most important archaelogical sites in Europe Photo: ALAMY
Sunlight glinted off the water as pleasure boats bobbed in the bay and the carefree squeals of children launching into the sea from a nearby jetty carried on the breeze. “English?” A trio of waiters descended on our waterside table to top up glasses of the quaffable local wine and delight in our satisfaction with the grilled sea bass (sublime), selected on arrival from a bed of ice displaying that day’s catch. So far, so perfect day in the Med.
Except that as this lazy summer scene was playing out a lone man beaded in sweat was battling to contain a fire at a nearby property with little more than a dribbling hosepipe. The unfolding drama went largely ignored as plumes of acrid brown smoke poured forth. Indeed, as the air and throats thickened, the only crowd to congregate was a dozen plastic bottles and a clutch of bloated carrier bags at the water’s edge. Eventually, no sirens blaring, a fire engine trundled into view to extinguish the blaze.
Welcome to the seaside town of Saranda and the contradiction that is Albania.
It had been apparent on arriving some hours earlier at Qafe Bote, a coastal border crossing between Greece and Albania, that this was to be no ordinary day trip. The first glimpse of the mountains that back Qafe Bote had been sobering: verdant and lushly carpeted on the Greek side, but barren and devoid of vegetation on the Albanian. My guide, Vasiliki, explained that the communist regime that ruled Albania from 1945 to 1991 encouraged its citizens to chop the trees down in order to spot any Greeks sneaking into the country in search of a “better” way of life – the reality being that the authorities instead wanted to make it easier to catch any fleeing Albanians.

There was a sense of not just having crossed a geographical divide, but of stepping back in time
The stark mountains of the border soon gave way to a pastoral plain dotted with fig and olive trees. The hot air buzzed with bee-eaters as we passed a woman leading a reluctant goat. This was followed by the surreal sight of an open‑mouthed fish wobbling towards us as a man riding a bicycle struggled to keep a one-armed hold on his large, slippery companion.
The smooth, grey ribbon of road that had transported us to the Albanian border had now become a potted track, and there was a sense of not just having crossed a geographical divide, but of stepping back in time.
Epirus travel guide
We arrived at the banks of a river alongside which stood a hut proudly displaying a mural of the distinctive Albanian flag, a double-headed eagle set against a shock of red. The hut was the command post for a pulley system attached to a wooden platform, held together with planks and nails that looked as though they had seen better days, for the short journey across the water to Butrint, a Unesco World Heritage site dating from 8BC.

Virgil, the ancient Roman poet, wrote of Butrint: “I saw before me a Troy in miniature.” Today, with its ancient Greek theatre, Roman baths and Venetian tower, Butrint is considered a “microcosm” of Albanian history. I soon discovered, as I looked out across a green-blue lake to marshland and distant mountains, that it is also one of the best preserved – with much yet to be excavated – archaeological sites in Europe.
Sara, the charming guide we had hired on arrival, brought its history to life with pride and enthusiasm. Yet in the height of summer the site was far from overrun.

The ferry to Butrint is a primitive affair
On the journey from Butrint to Saranda we came across a different kind of ruin: unfinished buildings, their concrete frames contorted into twisted and toppled states. “Does Albania suffer a lot of earthquakes?” I asked Vasiliki as we passed the third such shell. She explained that it was likely the result of unauthorised building work.
Just 20 years ago Saranda was a fishing village dotted with traditional terracotta-topped stone houses. Today most of the stone houses are gone and in their place loom high-rise blocks that sprawl the length of Saranda’s crescent-shaped bay. Albania is, perhaps not unsurprisingly given its history, a country in a hurry, and nowhere was that more evident than in its glorious landscapes strung with concrete telegraph poles.
Albania on horseback: in the footsteps of Lord Byron
Much of the Albanian Riviera, enviably located at the mouth of the Adriatic, is still undeveloped, with a string of soft-sand beaches backed by towering mountains, but more needs to be done to protect the coastline if the country wants to avoid environmental and architectural disaster.
Saranda thrummed with Italians, Russians and moneyed Albanians – the town’s parking bays gleamed black with rows of Mercedes-Benz cars. But I also met a British couple at Butrint who cited the desire for a low-key European summer holiday with a difference as their main reason for choosing Albania. A difference that became even clearer when the bill for lunch arrived: a feast for four at just under €50 (£35).

High-rise blocks sprawl the length of Saranda’s crescent-shaped bay
Our final stop was Ciflik, a sleepy mountain village close to the border with Greece. I stepped from the car and a woman in a brightly-coloured headscarf appeared from the upstairs window of a house opposite. This was followed by three more similarly attired women from other stone houses lining the street, which was bedecked, like many of the towns and villages I had passed through, with the Albanian flag.
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I made for what would have once been the grandest house in the village, but was now in a state of disrepair, and was encouraged by way of pointing and nodding to step through its dilapidated gates. Inside I found an elderly woman watering a lovingly-kept vegetable garden. I immediately apologised for the intrusion and turned to leave but she beckoned me with a toothless smile and picking a tomato the size of a grapefruit, washed and dried it before handing to me. “Dhuratë.” Gift.
Shortly after leaving Ciflik the green mountains of Greece came into view once again. Arriving at the border the Greek passport official was indignant: “English? Why you come to Albania?!” (sic). He scanned my passport incredulously. I bit my tongue and savoured the sweetness of the perfectly ripe tomato that I had devoured en route from Ciflik. I wondered how soon it would be before I could taste Albania once more.
Caroline Shearing travelled with Simpson Travel (020 8003 6557; Seven nights’ b&b at White Orchid, in Sivota, Greece, from £946pp, including flights and car hire. Day trips to Albania can be arranged through Isabella Tours (0030 266 509 3317;; £21 per person.

Lenders, Athens Begin Talks on ESM Loans – European Commission

Headqurters of the European Commission in Brussels

© AFP 2015/ Emmanuel Dunand
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Press secretary for the European Commission said that talks between Greek authorities and the country's main creditors on the conditions for Athens to receive loans under the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) begin in Athens Monday.

BRUSSELS (Sputnik) Talks between Greek authorities and the country's main creditors on the conditions for Athens to receive loans under the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) begin in Athens Monday, a press secretary for the European Commission said. “Teams from the institutions are already on the ground in Athens and work is starting immediately, as we speak. So the negotiations on the memorandum of understanding should now progress as swiftly as possible,” Mina Andreeva said at a briefing.
She added that the lenders want Athens to conduct additional reforms in exchange for new credits — an issue currently under discussion.
Greece owes about $270 billion of its $350-billion debt total to its main creditors — the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and some eurozone nations.
On July 13, the eurozone leaders agreed on a new bailout plan for Athens that envisages providing the country up to $95 billion over the next three years in exchange for strict austerity measures.
Earlier, Greek media reported, citing officials in the ministry of finance, that technical negotiations with Greece’s creditors were to begin on Tuesday.
Last week, a source in the Greece government told journalists that the main aim of Athens at talks will be to avoid having to adopt additional austerity reforms in 2015, apart from those to which the country has already agreed.

Is Ugly Germany Back? Country Rocked by Increase in Anti-Refugee Violence

In this Friday, June 26, 2015 photo protesters demonstrate against the accommodation for immigrants in Freital near Dresden, eastern Germany.

© AP Photo/ Jens Meyer
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There is growing concern about the level of anti-refugee sentiment in Germany after a series of attacks over the weekend highlighted a worrying trend of increased violence towards asylum seekers, with reports of bashings, houses being set alight and even a car bomb explosion.

One of the most shocking incidents was seen in Brandenburg an der Havel on Saturday, when a family of asylum seekers with children aged two and five years old woke to find a fire in their apartment, after someone had doused a newspaper in fire accelerant and thrown it inside their flat, in what's thought to have been a targeted attack. Similar scenes of violence and intimidation were also witnessed in Dresden, when a group of 27 people attacked a refugee home with stones, while four Syrian asylum seekers were bashed by a group of men in Thuringia, with investigators not ruling out that xenophobia may have played a part in the assault.
These instances of violence were topped off on Monday by a car bomb explosion that blew up the vehicle of prominent Left Party politician Michael Richter.
No one was hurt in the incident as Richter was sleeping in his house when the bomb exploded just after midnight local time, however it has raised concerns about the danger of radical elements within German society.
"I have organized the pro-asylum seeker events in the town," he said. "I'm right at the top of the hit list," Richter added, saying that he believed the far right were responsible for the attack.
Attacks on Asylum Seekers Have Tripled 
The weekend's incidents have merely served as a timely reminder to what has been happening for the majority of 2015 in some parts of Germany.
During the first six months of the year, the German Interior Ministry recorded 173 incidents of right-wing criminal violence against asylum seeker accommodations — three times as many incidents as the same time last year.
The statistics indicate that attacks on asylum seekers are occurring on a daily basis, however refugee support groups say the real number of violent incidents is much higher, as many foreigners are afraid to report their experiences to police.
While the majority of Germans are generally regarded to be among the most sympathetic in Europe and supportive towards asylum seekers, there are major concerns about various extremist groups operating within the country, amid fears they may be increasing in popularity.
Officials have stated that various far right groups and neo-Nazi supporters have been responsible for the race-related attacks, while groups such as Pegida and Germany's National Democratic Party (NPD) have also gained support through a strong anti-immigration message.
The increase in attacks on refugees and the rise in anti-immigration rhetoric has led many within the German media to ask whether the racist elements of the country's past are experiencing a revival of sorts, with newspaper Der Spiegel posing the question:
"Has the 'ugly Germany' returned?"

FM sends letter about Pristina's UNESCO bid to UN chief

Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over the intention of Kosovo to become a member of UNESCO.
Source: Tanjug
(Tanjug, file)
(Tanjug, file)
In it, he underscored that this would be unacceptable for Serbia because Kosovo cannot be considered a state.
Serbia has not changed its position concerning the status of its southern province although it is faced with requests and efforts by Pristina to get involved in the work of international institutions outside the context of the agreement on regional representation and cooperation, Dacic said in a letter which Tanjug said it saw.

This is unacceptable for Serbia, Dacic underscored and pointed to the latest example embodied in the efforts by Kosovo to become a member of UNESCO.

It is obvious that such a request was filed with the intention of confirming the "statehood" of Kosovo, which oversteps the frameworks of the UNMIK mandate and special representative of the UN secretary general, he noted.

UNMIK cannot interpret this issue in any different way except as abandonment of the principle of status neutrality and reaffirmation on the wider international scale of Kosovo's unilaterally declared independence, the Serbian foreign minister said.

"As a territory, Kosovo is under the administration of the UN in keeping with the valid and binding UNSC Resolution 1244 from 1999 and in this context it cannot be considered a country as subject to international law, and it therefore does not qualify for UNESCO membership," Dacic underscored. (end) bs/ak

In the letter to Ban, Dacic said that ignoring such a fact would constitute a violation of legal regulations drafted under UN auspices which aim to preserve international peace and stability.

He recalled that since June 1990 to date, a total of 236 churches, monasteries and other facilities owned by the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as cultural and historical monuments were targeted by attacks in Kosovo, 61 of which has the status of monument of culture and 18 are marked as sites of exceptional importance for the Republic of Serbia.

A total of 174 religious facilities and 33 cultural and historical monuments were destroyed and over 10,000 icons and other objects were stolen.

A total of 5,261 tombstones on 256 Serb cemeteries were destroyed and on over 59 cemeteries not a single tombstone is left intact, Dacic said.

The painful evidence makes me wonder whether the arguments recommend Kosovo for membership in the organization with the mission to help protect and preserve world cultural heritage, Dacic said.

He recalled that the Kosovo parliament is to adopt a law on cultural heritage which will deny private ownership rights to the Orthodox Church over monasteries and churches, with the explanation that these are all property of the "republic of Kosovo."

Afghan man killed, two wounded as migrants clash near border

An Afghan man has been killed and two others wounded when migrants clashed in Backi Vinogradi, near Serbia's northern border with Hungary.
Source: Tanjug
(Tanjug, image made from video)
(Tanjug, image made from video)
The Serbian Interior Ministry (MUP) has confirmed that the incident took place.
Tanjug is reporting on Monday that the injured men have been taken to the hospital, one of them with stab wounds to his left arm and hip.

The agency said that the incident happened in an orchard in the village, near the border with Hungary.

The scene was investigated this morning, with members of the police, the border police, and a court with jurisdiction in the case all present.

According to unofficial information, the fight, during which knives were used, took place at around 05:00 hours CET on Monday.

NATO to Hold Emergency Security Meeting Over Turkey's Terrorist Attacks

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

© AFP 2015/ Brendan Smialowski
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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will hold an emergency ambassadorial-level meeting following a request by Turkey.
BRUSSELS (Sputnik) – The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) announced Sunday it will hold an emergency ambassadorial-level meeting at Turkey’s request in connection with the recent terrorist attacks in the country. "The North Atlantic Council, which includes the ambassadors of all 28 NATO Allies, will meet on Tuesday 28 July, following a request by Turkey to hold consultations under article 4 of NATO's founding Washington Treaty," it stated.
Article 4 allows a NATO ally to request consultations in the event that it deems its security, independence or territorial integrity threatened.
"NATO Allies follow developments very closely and stand in solidarity with Turkey," the communique concluded.
This week has seen a spike in violence in Turkey, which shares southern borders with war-torn Syria and Iraq, stretching 510 miles and 220 miles respectively.
The attacks included a suicide bombing in the Turkish border town of Suruc that killed 32 people and injured over 100, some of them Kurds, and the killings of two police officers in the southern city of Ceylanpinar. The Suruc suicide bomber was reportedly affiliated with Islamic State (ISIL) jihadist group, which had captured vast Syrian territories. Iraq-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) claimed responsibility for the Ceylanpinar killings, saying it was in retaliation for the Suruc suicide bombing.
Ankara launched a two-front assault on ISIL and PKK targets in both countries on Friday, marking Turkey's first military involvement in the US-led campaign against ISIL.