Saturday, January 9, 2016

Haradinaj proud to be pro-U.S., rejects deal on ZSO

Ramush Haradinaj says he is "proud to be representing pro-American positions" but that he "cannot accept the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO).
Source: Tanjug
(Beta/AP, file)
(Beta/AP, file)
Belgrade and Pristina reached agreement to set up this community during the EU-sponsored negotiations held in Brussels.
According to Albanian language newspaper Zeri, published in Pristina, the leader of the opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovo said that "Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo have special relations with the United States," and that "one should be sincere with America."

"A friend should hear one's complaints, it's only human to ask a friend for something. We need help to annul the agreements signed by the worst (people) in Kosovo, the prime minister and his deputy," Haradinaj stated, adding that the ZSO "is not wanted in Kosovo."

As he said, "there is no reason not to tell Americans that nobody wants Serbia in Kosovo."

Haradinaj expects a large turnout for an opposition protest planned for January 9, because residents of Kosovo "recognized the amount of damage brought on by the Brussels agreements."

Belgrade blasts Croatian minister's "warmongering" statement

Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has described as "scandalous and warmongering" a statement made on Tuesday by Croatia's outgoing defense minister.
Source: Tanjug
(Tanjug, file)
(Tanjug, file)
Ante Kotromanic said earlier in the day that his country "has no hostile intentions toward Serbia" and advised Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic he had "no reason to be nervous" because of Croatia's intention to acquire ballistic missiles.
"At a time when Serbia and her prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic, as well as the whole region stand for peace, stability, and reconciliation, we are shocked that Croatian Minister of Defense speaks about uncontrolled arming, by which a direct threat is being sent to Serbia," a statement issued by the MFA said.

It added that Serbia was "neither nervous nor scared, while it is our hope that Croatia will not be, either, once Serbia takes appropriate protective and defensive measures."

In his statement quoted by Croatia's Hina agency, Kotromanic also said that Croatia considered Serbia a neighbor it takes into account and one whose bid to join the EU it supports - but added that his country "as a NATO member has the right to its own defense and development of its system and its means."

At the same time, Croatia-based magazine Defender reported that Croatia was in negotiations with Norway to buy NASAMS missile systems.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Russian President Has 'Card Up His Sleeve' to Resolve Saudi-Iranian Row

Amid the ongoing political crisis between Saudi Arabia and Iran, everyone is trying to reconcile the two countries; but neither the United States nor France have enough diplomatic resources to do so. As things stand right now, Moscow can be the only one to solve the crisis between Riyadh and Tehran, Slate Magazine reported.

© Sputnik
Middle East

Amid the ongoing political crisis between Saudi Arabia and Iran, everyone is trying to reconcile the two countries; but neither the United States nor France have enough diplomatic resources to do so. As things stand right now, Moscow can be the only one to solve the crisis between Riyadh and Tehran, Slate Magazine reported.

Unlike Western countries, Russia has good working relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran. This makes Putin the most suitable candidate for the role of a mediator in this conflict.
"This could be Vladimir Puin's special card up his sleeve," Daniel Vernet said, according to Slate.
Things between Saudi Arabia and Iran have dramatically escalated following the execution of prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Riyadh last week.
The execution of the Shiite cleric sparked significant outrage among Shiites around the world. In Iran, protesters stormed the Saudi Embassy and set it on fire. Riyadh immediately severed its diplomatic ties with Tehran following the incident. Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Djibouti have also called back their ambassadors from Iran. As the Saudi-Iranian diplomatic row was developing during the first days of 2016, all major powers urged the two sides to "ease tensions." The United States stressed the importance of maintaining negotiations, Federica Mogherini expressed a serious concern on behalf of the European Union, while France called for "de-escalation," the author said.
As much as Western countries want to reconcile Saudi Arabia and Iran, they simply don't have enough diplomatic ties with Tehran to make them need their advice. For example, in recent years France has worked closely with Saudi Arabia on a number of strategic and trade issues. Thus, Tehran has long lost trust in Paris.
Although the United States managed to successfully work with Iran over the issue of its nuclear program last year, the fact that Washington has been a long-time ally of the Saudi government makes it an "unreliable" partner in the eyes of Iran, Vernet explained.
As for Russia, it has had good relations with Iran. In Syria, Russia and Iran have the same goal of supporting the government of Bashar al-Assad. However, despite its friendship with Tehran, Moscow has also managed to keep in touch with Saudi Arabia. Putin met Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman last summer during the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum to discuss how the two countries could work together in the future.
Considering that Moscow and Riyadh have opposing interests in Syria, some might think it would be difficult for Putin to find common ground with the Saudi royal family. It certainly will not be walk in the park for Putin, but the Russian president has already showed his willingness to work out political differences and come up with working solutions time and again, Vernet said.

Greece debt crisis: Scuffles at pension reforms protest

Protestors of the Communist-affiliated trade union PAME shout slogans during a protest against the new pension system reforms, outside the Maximos Mansion, in Athens, 8 January 2016

  • 1 hour ago
  • From the section Europe
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Protesters from the Communist-affiliated trade union PAME apparently clashed with police
Scuffles broke out in central Athens during a protest against the Greek government's proposed pension reforms.
Tensions reportedly flared when demonstrators from the Communist-affiliated PAME union broke past a line of riot police near the prime minister's office.
The next stage of Greece's bailout from the EU and the IMF is dependent on huge savings from the pension system.
Representatives of the creditors are due to begin a review later this month.
Pensions have been one of the main obstacles in the Greek debt crisis negotiations.

'About to become beggars'

About 100 protesters supporting the PAME workers' union displayed a huge banner outside the office of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Friday demanding the proposals be scrapped.
Riot officers fired tear gas after demonstrators broke a police line.
Earlier, hundreds more public sector workers and pensioners marched in the city centre, Reuters reports.

In order to find savings worth €1.8bn or 1% of GDP in 2016, the Greek government is proposing increasing employer contributions and merging pension funds among other measures.
Although the plans do not involve any immediate cuts to pensions, they have angered trade unions and failed to draw support from opposition parties.
"The government tricked the workers and the farmers into thinking that it will create a better society with more justice and less unemployment," Reuters quotes 74-year-old protester Babis Kattis as saying.
"Pensioners are about to become beggars."
Alongside shrinking pensions, the elderly have already been hard hit by high unemployment, increases in VAT and rising taxes.
Before winning last January's election, Alexis Tsipras campaigned with a promise not to cut pensions again.
He said on Sunday that his government would not give in to "unreasonable" demands from creditors, but admitted the pension system was "on the brink of collapse" and needed to be overhauled.
His government aims to submit the pension reforms bill to parliament by mid-January and have it voted into law by early February, reports say.
It hopes to secure talks on debt relief after creditors have evaluated the progress on the bailout programme, with a review starting this month.

Opera star Ermonela Jaho: from communist Albania to New York

The soprano recalls the hardships of growing up in Tirana under Enver Hoxha’s rule and how she began a new life in the US
Ermonela Jaho at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York©Alexander Welsh
Ermonela Jaho at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York
Her voice precedes her, notes plangent and impassioned soaring from the rehearsal room. Ermonela Jaho is in London, preparing for Leoncavallo’s opera Zazà, whose title role she is recording for a new CD. “It is very sad,” the soprano says later. “When Zazà sings of her childhood without mother or father, it reminds me of my own mother’s experience.”
Jaho was born in 1974 in Enver Hoxha’s Albania, and moved with her family to the capital Tirana when she was two. Her mother — who was abandoned by her parents and raised by her grandmother — had wanted to be a singer and secretly auditioned for the Tirana Conservatoire, where she was offered a place. “But her family was furious, and wouldn’t let her go,” says Jaho. “As a child, I would see that pain of unfulfilment in her eyes, but did not understand the cause of her sorrow.”
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Jaho inherited not only her mother’s love of music, but her sense of melancholy. Albanians, she says, are generally loud and passionate but she was a timid child. “I kept everything inside”. Her older sister, who has a disability, was her best friend, and children made fun of her at school. “The only time I felt free was when I was singing. It was my therapy,” she says.
Encouraged by her father, “a military man who studied philosophy”, Jaho entered the Conservatoire aged 17 after gaining top marks in the entry exam. There, she attended a masterclass with Italian soprano Katia Ricciarelli, who invited her to study in Mantua, Lombardy, for two months. Jaho went to Italy in 1993 and would remain there for the next 10 years.
“I didn’t want to go back,” she says. “Italy is the home of bel canto. In Albania, under communism, everything was sung in Albanian — you could go to prison for speaking another language. My father taught me a little English when I was little, but in secret.”
Jaho entered Rome’s prestigious Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. To sustain herself during her studies, she worked as an au pair and then, using the prize money from a singing competition, moved into a hostel run by nuns. “Sometimes, I had no money for food, but I never told anyone,” she says. “I realised that, to achieve my dream to sing opera, I had to make sacrifices. ‘Ermonela’, I told myself, ‘you must overcome these obstacles’.”
Another obstacle was being Albanian. “You were made to feel like a third-class citizen.” After she became famous, she notes, things were different: “Everyone wants to be your friend”.
Jaho’s break came when she was offered the part of Mimi in a production of La bohème in Bologna. Roles started coming in and, after completing her studies in 2000, she decided to move to the city. It was around this time that her childhood friend, Ervin Stafa, came to visit from New York and asked her to move to the US with him.
“I grew up with Ervin in Albania,” she says of her now husband. “He was the only person I could talk to, who never judged me. When I left for Italy I told him: ‘If I ever marry anyone, it will be you’. I think it scared him, coming out of the blue like that. Then he won a lottery for a green card to the US and I’d find any excuse to write to him from Italy.”
Jaho was initially wary about moving to New York. “I’d fought so hard to establish a career, I was afraid of losing it,” she says. Then Alan Green, who at the time worked for the New York talent agency Columbia Artists Management, came to hear her in Carmen. Jaho had been cast in several Baroque and comic operas and was seeking a more romantic repertoire. Green offered to manage her and achieve the roles she wanted. “He gave me hope that I would not have to start again from zero in New York.”
Jaho made the transatlantic crossing in 2003, initially dividing her time between New York and Italy. Travel was difficult with her Albanian passport, so the couple decided to get married. In 2005, they bought a house on Long Island, where they still live, with Ervin’s parents. (“It is the tradition in Albania, for parents to live with their son, and I am very respectful,” she says.)
Sometimes, I had no money for food, but I never told anyone . . . I had to make sacrifices to achieve my dream - Ermonela Jaho
Jaho still visits her family in Albania, giving fundraising concerts for children with disabilities “because I felt guilty I couldn’t help my sister when we were growing up”. Her greatest regret is that her mother never heard her sing live. “I would come to Albania, but her seat was always empty.” Jaho thinks her mother might have found it too painful to watch her on stage because of her own unrealised ambitions, but she missed the opportunity to inquire. “I tried to write and ask her why, tell her how much I loved and missed her, but she died before I could send the letter.”
When in the US, she relishes family life and loves to cook, preferring to stay at home rather than go out. “I can’t say I have made many friends in America, outside of work,” she says, attributing this to her frequent absences. “Long Island is a world apart, so peaceful. You have the ocean, and all the colours of nature. With all the [international engagements], I can only spend a couple of months a year there — but it’s home, and Ervin is waiting for me.”
In the US, she says, “people are more detached — they live like islands. In Europe, and especially in the Balkans, people are more open and emotional. But human beings are basically the same everywhere. I take the best from each country, and live life to the full.”
Ermonela Jaho appears in ‘Suor Angelica’ at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London, from February 25 to March 15

Turkish Fighter Jets Violate Greek Airspace Over Aegean Sea… Again

Turkish Air Force F-16

© Flickr/ UK Ministry of Defence

A formation of four Turkish fighter jets violated Greek air space in the northeastern Aegean Thursday, the Greek Defense Ministry said, adding that two of the aircraft were armed.

The intruders strayed into Greek airspace three times and on each occasion Greek air defenders scrambled interceptors to identify the Turkish jets and chase them off, the Athens-based daily newspaper Kathimerini reported on Friday.
“Ankara’s provocative actions are meant to tell the world that Turkey does not recognize the existing air and sea borders in the Eastern Mediterranean,”Greece’s former deputy military chief of staff Frangoulis Frangos told the Moscow-based newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta.
Turkey refuses to recognize a 10-mile airspace zone around Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, which led to at least 1,300 airspace violations in 2015, 31 of which took place over Greek territory.
Turkey has a long history of straying into Greek airspace, with incidents rising over the past several years to 2,224 in 2014.
Intruding flights over Greek territory more than doubled in 2015, compared to the previous year.

Floods in Albania Force Hundreds of Evacuations

Albania FloodingThe Associated Press
Flooded Lana river flows past homes in the Albanian capital Tirana following a heavy rain on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. Scores of families have been evacuated after heavy rainfall has flooded their homes and temporarily blocked roads in several places throughout the country. (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)more +
       About 500 families have been evacuated in western Albania after a river broke its banks       following heavy rain, flooding thousands of hectares, damaging homes and roads and killing livestock.
      Police and soldiers have been deployed to Lushnje, 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of capital   Tirana, where the Shkumbini River flooded early Thursday.
      Hundreds of other families have been evacuated in other areas over the past two days and many    areas, including of the capital, Tirana, have suffered flooding, and landslides have blocked some main roads. No deaths or serious injuries have been reported so far.

Dodik refers to Serb entity in Bosnia as "state"

RS President Milorad Dodik has said that the Serb Republic (Republika Srpska, RS) - the Serb entity in Bosnia - is "a state."
Source: Beta
(Tanjug, file)
(Tanjug, file)
The fact it is "being denied" speaks to its actual importance, he asserted, and added:
"Without that state, Serbs in these areas, whose desire is to live in peace, stand no chance."

"Serbs would not have stayed here for more than 20 years without the RS, because majority of them would not have accepted Bosnia-Herzegovina. For that reason the fight for the RS is the basic interest of all of us who live here," Dodik told Banja Luka daily Glas Srpske, adding that the entity "must be loved even when not everything in it is exactly the greatest."

Speaking about the Constitutional Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina decision regarding RS Day, January 9, he asked "who gave the right to a court to, with three votes of foreigners and two of Bosniak (Muslim) judges, outvote other judges and make a ruling."

The court said in November that January 9 cannot be a state holiday because it is also a Serbian Orthodox feast and patron saint day (slava).

"The essence is that we must have a law on the Constitutional Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina, because without it it is a caricature. I am not ready to accept three foreigners and two Bosniaks making decisions for the Serb Republic. This fight is yet to be continued," he announced.

Commenting on international community representatives who said his activities were undermining the Dayton peace agreement, and in that way the RS, Dodik said this was "a fabricated story, where those who have undermined the Dayton agreement massively, by imposing laws, now want to say they must deal with him (Dodik) because he is allegedly undermining Dayton."

"I am not undermining Dayton, they've already done it to a considerable degree. I fight for Dayton and will persevere in that fight. Bosnia-Herzegovina cannot exist based on the violence of international representatives. As long as I live, I will fight for the RS," said Dodik.

He then appraised that Bosnia-Herzegovina cannot survive as a country in the long term, "because its survival has no realistic basis."

"Bosnia-Herzegovina is not a framework within which the RS can be free and develop. The strengthening of the centralist model of Bosnia-Herzegovina means a direct undermining of the RS, and I will never agree to that. Many people here don't understand nuances, and the nuance is precisely in that Bosnia-Herzegovina is not a state," the RS leader said.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

"Pope wants to know why Serbs and Croats hate each other"

Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej has said that he is not against Roman Catholic Pope Francis visiting Serbia.
Source: Tanjug
In a Christmas interview for Russia's Sputnik agency, Irinej noted that it will be important whether Francis planned to arrive here "as a statesman, or as the Roman pontiff."
"It is known how the Church prepares for either, and what happens. From the point of view of the Church and from my personal point of view, a visit by a representative of a church is a big, important event, and I see nothing bad in it," the partriarch said.

Speaking about the letter that the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) sent to the pope last summer, addressing the attempts to canonize Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, who was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Zagreb during the Second World War and the genocide against Serbs in Croatia, Irinej said the letter stated "what the SPC knows about Stepinac," and that the pope "proposed to set up a commission that will deal with the case."

"He personally cares about finding out the reasons for such hatred and hostility between two Christian peoples that are so close (Serbs and Croats), that has manifested in the past times, and about forming a commission that will investigate the roots of all that," said the patriarch, noting at the same time that the crimes committed against Serbs in Croatia are one of the reasons the pope's visit to Serbia "has been pushed back to a later time."

Speaking about Kosovo, the head of the SPC said that Serbs there continue to suffer, and that many who had to escape want to return to their towns, but cannot because their homes have been demolished and their land usurped.

"Those who returned have not been (well) received, rather, everything is being done to make their survival impossible, and many crimes and misdeeds are happening even now and remain undiscovered and unpunished," he said, adding that many who are controlling the destinies of others "see that, they pretend not to see and not to know, but they know everything."

According to Irinej, the Serbian Church is the only one guarding the holy places in Kosovo and Metohija from destruction, while the issue of its position and property there "should be solved in some forums, should be presented either in Europe or in the United Nations."

"We hope that the conscience of many will awaken, the awareness that this has always been Serbian. Those who made it possible for us to be driven out are to blame for the fact we are not there today, and especially, for not making it possible for us to return," said the patriarch.

The Opposite in Albania accuses PM Edi Rama for selling Pashaliman Marine Millitary Base?!

Edi Rama beginning and concluding by a friendly visit to the US for the six time, without met US officials

rama rusi basket

Prime Minister Edi Rama and the businessman Selim Russi, follow NBA game in Miami

Rama was photographed in Miami in the presence of Albanian businessmen and American investors Selim Russi, along with his wife Linda and he was photographed in the final match of the NBA in the US.

The press office of the government hastened to clarify that the visit was quite private and Rama went as a guest of some of his friends. Friends, who actually are not unknown. Selim Russi is one of the persons who  stressed businessman and investor in the US, active in Albanian - American community.

But this lack of specification of some questions and casts serious doubt for the visit of Rama. That in fact give more voice to the words of the political circles and media.

Selim Russi or as known shortly Sul Russi from Kosovo origin, could be one of the persons concerned to receive in use Pashaliman Millitari Base under concession basis, said resources citynews .

This military base which was once the pride of Albania, with a government decision of Edi Rama, has returned to a state-run company called "Yard construction and repair of vessels" under the Ministry of Defence.

According to the government's decision of May 2015, the site has its headquarters (HQ) in Pashaliman, Vlora, and scope of activity of shipyard is building and repairing vessels and military equipment of the Armed Forces, the vessels civil, such as ships, boats, small sailing motorboat, boat etc., as well as the performance of works and services for third parties in accordance with the technical capabilities of the enterprise. Also, the new company has defined a project territory, as well as the inventory of buildings. Regarding the ownership of buildings and surrounding land has become an evaluation report by auditors and evaluation of real estate.

The same sources pointed out that Selim Russi could be one of the people to take Pashaliman Millitary Base in concession. Sources notes field where Russi can act, but not the land. Currently in this company after training and preparations made by foreign experts and the Albanian government, it can be repaired and reconstructed ship, wich means floating. Its capabilities can be a "stream" of revenue for the government, noted City News..

Prime Minister Rama was in Miami, just when Selim Rusi one of the people that could take Pashaliman Base. The presence of Rama in public with Russia may be a maneuver head of government to avoid the Albanian-American businessman, to bring this Base and undertake the hands that may be safe and reliable for Rama. / Citynews

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

3 Convicted in Fort Dix Plot Want Life Sentences Thrown Out


 By maryclaire dale, associated press 

CAMDEN, N.J. — Jan 6, 2016,

Three Albanian-born brothers serving life for plotting to kill U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey, insist they were barred from testifying at their 2008 terrorism trial and asked a judge Wednesday to throw out their life sentences.
Dritan "Tony" Duka, 37, said his lawyer thought he would come across as a Muslim extremist and therefore didn't prepare for him to testify.
"It shouldn't matter what I believe. It should matter whether I'm in the conspiracy or not, whether I'm involved in what the government is charging," Duka said.
Duka and his brothers, Eljvir and Shain Duka, have lost their appeals, but argue in post-conviction petitions that they were denied the right to testify. Their trial lawyers deny the accusations and are testifying for the government Wednesday.
Dritan Duka's trial lawyer, Michael Huff, said he feared his client's desire to express religious views and his suspicion that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks might be "an inside job, in order to persecute Muslims" would prove damaging.
"Within five words, coming out of Mr. Duka's mouth, he wanted to talk about the anti-Christ," Huff said, recalling their trial preparations. "I'm not judging those thoughts, but I would have to think about ... how a jury might perceive those beliefs.
"I think he could have done nothing but hurt himself," Huff testified.
The Dukas were convicted with two others of plotting an attack at military sites at Fort Dix and elsewhere.
Dozens of supporters gathered in the courtroom and outside the courthouse to support them.
A federal appeals court rejected their appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Critics of the case believe an FBI informant entrapped the men and say the sentence reflects overzealous efforts to protect the country after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The defendants' parents have been among supporters who have held regular vigils outside the federal courthouse in Camden, where they were convicted after a three-month trial and six days of deliberations.
U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler, who presided at trial, is hearing the Dukas' claims of ineffective counsel.

US Diplomat Urges Albania to End Judicial Corruption

The US ambassador to Tirana told BIRN that a proposed overhaul of Albania’s corruption-riddled justice system was the most important reform since the fall of Communism.

Fatjona Mejdini

US ambassador to Tirana, Donald Lu speaking about judicial reform | Photo: LSA/Malton Dibra

The US ambassador to Tirana, Donald Lu, told BIRN in an interview that the proposed reform of the Albanian judicial system is crucial for the country’s hopes of EU membership.

Lu described it as "the most important reform in the 25 years since the fall of communism".

"It has the possibility of ridding the Albanian judicial system of corrupt judges and prosecutors who steal the money of ordinary citizens and allow organized crime figures, murderers and corrupt politicians to buy justice," he said.

The call for the reform has not been led by Albanian political party leaders, but by diplomats in Tirana like Lu.

Many Albanians have seen Lu’s commitment to the reform as a guarantee that it will be implemented; some have even described him as the potential saviour of Albania at a time when corruption is rampant and impunity has been institutionalized.

But he explained that the reason for his involvement in pushing for the reform was simple: "We are just doing our jobs," he said.

"All of us in the US Embassy are focused on judicial reform because of the direct instruction of senior officials in the White House and the State Department. They have told us clearly that the number one priority of the US Government in Albania is to support the reforms necessary for Albania's EU accession," he explained.

Lu said that Albania has the lowest rate of serious crime prosecution in Europe and that this must be increased in order to hold politicians accountable and improve the economy.

He said he believes that judicial reform will fix this problem through the creation of a mechanism to vet and remove corrupt and incompetent judges and prosecutors.

It will also establish a better system to discipline judges and prosecutors for any wrongdoing and reorganize the prosecutorial system to improve its effectiveness, particularly in cases of high-level corruption.

Lu warned that the planned reform also has many enemies, and called on the country’s political parties to stand together and back it.

"Now is the time for Albania's political leaders to show courage in the face of those seeking to undermine or dilute this reform," he said.

The constitutional changes required for the judicial reform need the support of 93 of the 140 Albanian MPs in parliament - a majority that can be achieved if the country’s main parties unite to vote in favour.

Cross-party support is also important during the implementation phase if the reform is to be successful.

But although foreign diplomats have been the most vocal supporters of the reform, Lu said he doesn't think that he and his colleagues are alone in the struggle.

"In the past weeks, I have been impressed by the unity of the leaders of the Socialist Party, the Democratic Party and the Movement for Socialist Integration in favour of a reform that endorses a full implementation of the Venice Commission recommendations," he said.

The Venice Commission has asked the parliamentary commission that drafted the reform to review some of the proposed constitutional changes. The commission met on January 4 to discuss the recommendations before the process moves forward again.

Lu said that he is convinced that the reform has the potential to end the impunity of senior officials and tackle political corruption, but he warned the Albanian people that they "must not expect a miracle overnight".

"Vetting and removing prosecutors and judges could take three years or more. Recruiting and training the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct anti-corruption investigations will require more than a year. Establishing judicial appointments councils and disciplinary bodies will take several months," he explained.

The goal of the reform is a judicial system free from corruption and incompetence, he said.

"It will be a system that will hold judges and prosecutors accountable. It will also hold senior government officials, parliamentarians and local officials accountable as well," he argued.

The US, Lu insisted, will "not rest" until the process is complete.

"We will continue to speak out publicly and privately in favour of this reform. We encourage all Albanians to join in the public debate about the substance and ideas of this reform," he said.
- See more at:

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Greece on a collision course with creditors after vowing not to slash pensions


Athens maintains it will not cut pension spending as part of reforms demanded by the Troika

Greeks have seen a 40pc fall in their pension provision over five years  
Greece has promised not to implement controversial cuts to pensions, putting the indebted nation on a collision course with creditors months into a new bail-out programme.
Athens' left-wing Syriza government said it would not slash expenditure on its main and supplementary pensions as part of a reform plan submitted to international lenders on Monday night.
The reforms have been demanded by lenders in return for the latest release of bail-out cash.
But pensions spending has proven to be the main sticking point for Greece and its Troika of creditors - the European Commision, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund - during nearly a year of tortuous negotiations.
The IMF has pushed hardest for bold cuts to the govenment's pensions outlay, leading to Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras demanding that the Fund take no further part in the country's bail-out deal.
Greeks have seen a 40pc fall in their pension provision over the last five years - a shrinkage that has been ruled unconstitutional by the country's highest administrative court.
• The fight to end Greece's Great Euro Depression

Olga Gerovasili, a Syriza government spokeswoman, said there would be no immediate pension cuts to those who have already retired, and expenditure would begin to rise when the economy grows after 2018.
Instead, Athens has proposed an increase in employee and employer contributions and will reduce the amount people will receive in future pensions by up to 30pc.
Pensioners hold a sign saying 'Keep your hands off our funds' at a protest in Greece  Photo: Reuters
The reforms will be discussed with creditors ahead of a bail-out review to be concluded later this month, the European Commission said.
Mr Tsipras has warned that he will not submit to "unreasonable demands" having signed up to an onerous €86bn bail-out in August.
His government is hoping to satisfy lenders' demands by carrying out reforms of "equivalent fiscal impact" in a bid to protect pensions for the poorest in society.
Syriza argues that its social security system is one of the last safety nets in a country where unemployment stands at over 20pc.

The New Year starts with serious crimes in Albania, they prompt a political debate

January 4, 2016
The early hours of the New Year 2016 started with a number of killings and fatal accidents in Albania, including robberies of unprotected people inside of their homes.
These events have turned into an object of political debate. Opposition accuses the government of being unable to maintain order and protect the life of the citizens. Ministry of Interior says that the opposition is slandering.
Killings and violent robberies
The first day of 2016 started with a domestic crime. In Saranda, the husband killed his wife in front of their 22 year old daughter and then killed himself. This scene shocked the daughter who ended up in hospital in a true state of depression.
The 20 year old brother ended up in the same situation when he learned about the scary event.
The murdered woman had taken out a restraint order from the court against her husband as a result of the violence that he exerted on her. But this didn’t prevent the husband to take her life in front of the children.
A few hours later in Shkoder, a man executes two brothers, one of who had just returned from abroad. Police tried to arrest him, but to no avail. While special forces are looking for the armed man, in Tirana, a member of these forces saw his house take fire in what is believed to be intentional arson.
At the same time, in Lezha, a former road police officer was gunned down. Police said that they have not arrested the perpetrators of this crime.
Two days into the New Year, in the center of the city of Elbasan, an elderly couple who had been working in their bakery for many years, were slaughtered in their home by two robbers who stole one thousand euros from them.
In Kavaja, a 31 year old man lost his life, after being gunned down in circumstances which are not yet clear. Meanwhile, in Korca, a young woman was kidnapped and was held under captivity several days. The captor aimed at having his son released from prison in exchange of her freedom. According to him, this could be done if the girl withdraw her charges for his son.
In the meantime, in the early hours of the New Year, seven people lost their life and several others remained wounded in several road accidents.

Forget World War III, but Avoid These Three Conflicts – Italian Media

The sign, a reminder of Islamic extremists, reads  Al Hesbah, together for the pleasure of God almighty and the struggle against sins.

© AP Photo/ Jerome Delay

Although everyone is talking about a potential Third World War, the chance of that happening is pretty slim; instead, the world is currently facing three separate conflicts which could escalate and lead to several big wars across the world, political journalist Francesco Alberoni wrote for the Italian newspaper Il Giornale.

Humanity should worry about a world "filled with wars," instead of a world with one big global war, akin to World War I and World War II. In the first half of the 20th Century when the world went through the chaos of the two major wars, countries were divided between two coalitions which fought against each other.
"[But] today we don't see a similar clash between two hostile coalitions," Alberoni said, as cited by Il Giornale.
Instead, right now, there are three conflicts which could lead to more wars.
One of them is a potential confrontation between Russia and the United States. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States feared that an economic union between Europe and Russia could undermine Washington's global hegemony. To prevent this, the United States did everything it could do cut Europe's ties with Russia, Alberoni argued.
The second potential conflict could be caused by the rise of revolutionary sentiments in the Islamic world. In many Muslim countries — from Afghanistan to Algeria — there has been the rise of radical Islamic movements that are seeking to return to the times when the armies of Muslim nations conquered the world, imposing Islam and Sharia Law to the whole world, including the West. According to the Italian journalist, the second military conflict could be caused by the rise of one of murderous groups, raging in the Philippines, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya and other countries. And the last conflict is taking place within the Islamic world itself, a clash between Shiites and Sunnis. Major Sunni states — Saudi Arabia and Turkey — are in violent opposition against Iran and Shiites in Iraq and Syria. The current Sunni-Shiite conflict is currently being waged across Iraq, Syria and Yemen, Il Giornale said.
Where does Europe fit in this world? It's simple: Europe follows Washington's orders. If the United States says impose sanctions against Russia, the EU does it; when Washington orders the EU to take in all the refugees arriving from the Middle East and Africa — Europeans follow orders, Alberoni said.

Albanian Land Grab Victims Renew Compensation Bid

People whose land was expropriated under Communism say a proposed new law will not give them the compensation they deserve - and Albania’s president agrees.

Fatjona Mejdini

The former landowners renewed their challenge to the new law after President Bujar Nishani refused to sign it at the end of December, returning the legislation to parliament.

The law, which aims to end the compensation process within the next 10 years by paying out around 363 million euros to former landowners, was passed by parliament earlier in December.

But Nishani said it contravened the Albanian constitution, the European convention on human rights and European human rights court decisions on the issue.

The president’s move came after a campaign of opposition by seven associations representing former landowners.

“We strongly oppose this new law since it doesn't provide the exact sum that the state owns to former landowners. If this law enters into force, it will further prolong the process of financial compensation and reduce the amount of money that we as landowners will get,” one of them, Myrshit Vorpsi of the Property with Justice association, told BIRN.

He said that the association would take the law to the constitutional court if the government doesn't change it.

"We trust that any court is going to disavow this law, so the best solution is to withdraw and amend it," Vorpsi said.

But Prime Minister Edi Rama said on December 30 that the parliamentary majority would vote the law through again the law, despite the president’s stance.

"The properties law is not an ideal one. But is the only one that gives a solution to this problem after 25 years of chaos in this field," Rama said.

Albania has been ordered in various different cases at the European human rights court in Strasbourg to pay millions of euros to landowners expropriated by the Communists.

At the end of the 1940s when the Communists took over the country, hundreds of thousands of landowners’ properties were seized.

But more than two decades after the fall of Communism, the state has yet to compensate 26,000 families who have already won the right to payouts and make decisions in the cases of 11,00 others who are still waiting for official recognition of the fact that their holdings were seized.

US Military Chief Seeks Face to Face Meeting With Russian Counterpart - DoD

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford arrives at the Senate Armed Services committee nomination hearing to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Capitol Hill in Washington July 9, 2015

© REUTERS/ Yuri Gripas
Military & Intelligence

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford is seeking regular communication with his Russian counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov, including a face-to-face talk, US Department of Defense News reported on Monday.

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — Earlier on Monday, a Department of Defense News report said one purpose of Dunford’s visit is to assuage concerns of Russia’s European neighbors over Moscow’s plans in the region.
Since taking office, Dunford has spoken twice with Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, according to Department of Defense News.
"I’ve spoken with him a couple of times and plan to do that routinely," the report quoted Dunford as saying during a visit to Germany on Monday. "We talk about a wide range of issues."
Dunford would like to have "a face-to-face meeting" with Gerasimov in the context of military-to-military relations, according to the report. "No matter what the relationships are between states, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open," he said.

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Perilous Year for European Unity


Terror threat and migrant crisis are just two of many challenges confronting the bloc in 2016

Troubles crowded in on Europe in 2015. In 2016, they could shake the foundations of European economic and political integration.

The conflict in Syria has blown back devastatingly into Europe, spurring terror attacks and a refugee crisis over which policy makers appear to have little influence.
Border controls, viewed as a thing of the past across much of the continent, have been raised at many national frontiers, and leading politicians have acknowledged that the Schengen passport-free travel zone, one of the great successes of European integration, is under threat.
To the east, the Ukraine conflict remains unresolved and Russia’s foreign-policy posture more aggressive than at any time since the end of the Cold War.
Meanwhile, the recovery of the eurozone economy has been faltering and economic vulnerabilities remain in some countries in the form of high debts and weak banks, even with official interest rates close to zero.
Added to that, the U.K. could deliver a blow to the European Union in a referendum, likely to be held in 2016, over whether the country should become the first ever to leave the 28-nation bloc.
If it does, a period of economic and political uncertainty is likely to ensue for the U.K. but also for the entire bloc. If one country can leave, others might be tempted, eventually, to follow.
“An existential crisis for the EU” is going to be “the big geopolitical event in 2016,” said James Stavridis, who retired in 2013 as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s top military commander and is now dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University.
For Mr. Stavridis, how Europe handles its challenges will be more critical to the world than Syria, Ukraine, the territorial disputes in the South China Sea or any other global strategic question.
Mainstream politicians in Europe, still reeling from the economic crisis, can be expected to struggle. As the crises multiplied, nationalist politicians reaped the benefits, often succeeding in depicting the EU as an undemocratic and cozy establishment club uninterested in ordinary people.
That has narrowed the space for European policy action even as the scale of the problems appears to demand concerted solutions.
“The difficulties we are facing collectively make the need for European cooperation all too clear,” said Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, which takes over the rotating EU presidency on Jan. 1.
For Mr. Rutte, speaking recently to a small group of Brussels-based journalists, the “overarching issues” for 2016 will be fighting terrorism and stemming the flows of migrants. “We should not combine these two issues,” he said, even as he acknowledged that separating them won’t be easy.
The response to the economic crisis has shown, he said, that Europe can eventually find solutions, if not always in the smoothest way.
Mr. Stavridis said the “good news” is that in German Chancellor Angela Merkel Europe has a strong “world-class leader.” But even she has suffered a setback in her handling of the refugee crisis, and her relations with other EU governments, particularly those in Central and Eastern Europe, have frayed.
One possibility is that, with the twin crises of migration and terrorism, Europe would take a more assertive foreign-policy posture. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said Wednesday that the terror attacks had turned “a new page in the history of Europe.”
France and the U.K. both escalated their military campaigns against the Islamic State terror group following the Paris attacks in November. Mr. Stavridis said Europe’s reliance on soft power—using aid and trade to encourage democracy and justice—would need to be paired with a hard-power strategy if the continent is to become effective in dealing with the challenge it now faces.

Breaking the Silence: Turkish Leadership Waging a War Against Its People

Riot police use a water cannon to disperse stone throwing Kurdish demonstrators during a protest against the curfew in Sur district, in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Turkey, December 22, 2015

© REUTERS/ Sertac Kayar
Middle East

The Turkish government is waging a war against its own people, deploying tanks against civilians, MP says.

On January 3, a rally held by pro-Kurdish activists in Istanbul ended in clashes with the police; numerous protesters were arrested by the authorities, according to RT. The protesters gathered to express their dissatisfaction with the government’s heavy-handed activity in the southeastern part of the country, which is populated predominantly by Kurds. The Turkish military has launched a so called 'anti-terrorist operation' in that region, having deployed about 10,000 servicemen supported by armored units and attack helicopters.
About 100 civilians have already been killed during this campaign, according to media reports.
President Erdogan also accused Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, of committing a constitutional crime after the latter reportedly advocated granting more autonomy to the restive region in hopes of resolving the conflict peacefully.  Demirtas and his colleague, Figen Yuksekdas, are currently facing an investigation launched by the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in Diyarbakir for "inciting people to revolt," "propaganda for a terrorist organization" and "attempting to disrupt the unity of the state and the country". All in all, the situation in the country continues to deteriorate, according to Feleknas Uca, a Turkish MP of Yazidi descent representing Diyarbakir, and member of the HDP.
"I’m currently in the city of Diyarbakir, where the police are using tear gas against civilians every day. There are dead bodies lying in the streets," she told RT. "A 16-years old kid was killed only a few days ago. The families of the victims went on a hunger strike in protest."
Uca said that the Turkish government must put an end to these reprisals against civilians, and that Europe should provide assistance in that matter.
"This country wants to join the EU, while Europe wants Turkey to become a safe place for the refugees. But when a government deploys tanks and armed forces against its people, I call it a war. This is why I call upon Europe to break the silence. The people must open their eyes to what’s happening here, to see how civilians are being killed," she said.

Η Χιμάρα σε Κρίσιμη Κατάσταση – Οι Έλληνες υπό Διωγμό …



Γράφει ο Χρήστος Βαλκάνιος

Η Χιμάρα διέρχεται μια από τις πιο κρίσιμες καταστάσεις της κάτι που ξεκίνησε μετά την εδαφική διαίρεση τον Ιούλιο του 2014, που υπήρξε μια  αυθαίρετη ενέργεια της κυβέρνησης της Αλβανίας, δημιουργώντας μια αβεβαιότητα και μια σοβαρή απειλή για το μέλλον της περιοχής και των ανθρώπων της Χιμάρας.

Οι Έλληνες της περιοχής βλέπουν πλέον να χάνουν τις περιουσίες τους, όπως έχουμε  επισημάνει και σε σειρά άλλων άρθρων μας και αυτές να χαρίζονται σε Αλβανούς αλλά και στο Αλβανικό Κράτος.

Η τοπική κοινωνία εδώ και καιρό έχει υψώσει τη φωνή της για μαζική κλοπή ακινήτων περιουσιών από το αλβανικό κράτος, το οποίο σύμφωνα με τον τύπο της Ελληνικής μειονότητας, δημιούργησε ειδικούς Νόμους κατά παράβαση των ανθρωπίνων δικαιωμάτων και ενίσχυσε τις ομάδες συμφερόντων με αυθαίρετες πράξεις, για να χτίσουν τουριστικά θέρετρα, με ανεξέλεγκτη μετακίνηση του πληθυσμού, αυξάνοντας την αντιπαράθεση, και στοχεύοντας παράλληλα στην αλλαγή της ισορροπίας εθνοτήτων και θρησκειών.

Για το τόσο σοβαρό θέμα και υπό αναμονή … της παρέμβασης του επίσημου Ελληνικού κράτους το λόμπι των Χιμαραίων των ΗΠΑ και της Διασποράς, προγραμματίζει παγκόσμια συνέλευση των Χιμαραίων που θα πραγματοποιηθεί στις 19 – 22 Φεβρουαρίου 2016 στο Maryland των ΗΠΑ, με τη συμμετοχή προσωπικοτήτων από τη Χιμάρα σε ολόκληρο τον κόσμο, καθώς και εκπροσώπους πολιτικών κομμάτων, διπλωματών και επενδυτών.

Θεωρούμε ότι κάθε παρέμβαση είναι σημαντική είτε προέρχεται από την τοπική κοινωνία είτε από το λόμπι των Χιμαραίων, αλλά τελικά πιστεύουμε ότι το Αλβανικό κράτος δεν καταλαβαίνει από τέτοια.

Αυτό που χρειάζεται είναι η επίσημη παρέμβαση του Ελληνικού κράτους προς την Αλβανία, την ΕΕ και όλους τους διεθνείς Οργανισμούς καταγγέλλοντας το γεγονός και απαιτώντας την επιστροφή των περιουσιών στους νόμιμους ιδιοκτήτες και μάλιστα αυτό να αποτελέσει ένα από τα προαπαιτούμενα για την συνέχιση των διαδικασιών ένταξης της Αλβανίας στην ΕΕ.

Χρήστος Καλογερόπουλος – Βαλκάνιος

Στρατηγικός Αναλυτής

Εξειδικευμένος σε Θέματα Διεθνούς Ασφάλειας

στη ΝΑ Μεσόγειο


Serbia Shows Interest in Russia's Thermal Weapon Sights

Thermal weapon sight attachment IT-1TCWS

© Photo: Wikipedia

Director general of Argus-NV developer company said that Serbian company, supplying the country's security services, is interested in Russia-made Infratech thermal weapon sights.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) A Serbian company, supplying the country's security services, is interested in Russia-made Infratech thermal weapon sights, the director general of Argus-NV developer company, said Monday.
"Serbia expresses interest in our thermal weapon sights. We have been invited to Belgrade to make a presentation and demonstration of our developments," Anton Sofin told RIA Novosti.
Sofin said Vietnam and India were also among the countries interested in equipment produced by the company.
He added that the most significant advantage of Infratech thermal weapon sights was small size and light weight combined with high performance.
Argus-NV was created in 1997, and specializes in optical devices designed to operate in the dark. The company's devices are fully designed and manufactured domestically.

Corsicans Want to Secede From France, Say Authorities 'Frenchify' Island

Some 300 people supporters of the Ghjuventu Indipendentista (Youth Independence) movement hold a banner that reads Ghjuventu Indipendentista during a protest in Corte,Corsica, on April 22, 2015


An emotional yet purposeful fight for independence shows no sign of abating in Corsica, RT correspondent Daniel Bushell reported.

More and more Corsicans have come to realize the necessity of their island's secession from France, according to RT's Daniel Bushell. He referred to recent opinion polls, which showed that at least two thirds of Corsicans support the idea of holding a referendum on the independence of Corsica, which France annexed back in 1768.
Ironically, one third of Frenchmen also call for Corsica to leave their country, Bushell said, adding that Corsica has the highest level of violence in Western Europe, according to some estimates.

Some two thousands people hold a banner that reads "Amnistia" during a protest organized by the "Ghjuventu Indipendentista" (Youth Independence) movement in Ajaccio, Corsica, on June 13, 2015
Advocating an independent state on this Mediterranean island is the National Liberation Front of Corsica (NLFC), a militant group that is seen by Paris as a terrorist organization. In 2014, the NLFC announced the definitive cessation of its armed struggle.
Corsican nationalists won the Island's French regional elections in December 2015, adding further to Corsica's push for independence, Bushell said.
At the time, the Pe a Corsica (For Corsica) bloc gained more than 35 percent of the votes in the second round of polls, giving it 24 of the 51 seats in the local authority council. The Pe a Corsica's main demands include giving the Corsican language official status, a special tax regime for local residents and amnesty for political prisoners.
According to nationalist leader Gilles Simeoni, who is also the mayor of Bastia, the island's second-largest city, "if the Corsicans want independence, no one will stop them." He was echoed by a Corsican who spoke to RT on the condition of anonymity. "Corsican people are being systematically destroyed. About 5,000 people, mostly French, come to Corsica annually to but land there. Only 23 percent of our students study our language. The country's authorities continue to frenchify Corsica, and our culture goes into oblivion," he said.