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Balkans: King Zog Returns
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December 20, 2012: Greece has received a small credit rating upgrade. Greece’s credit now rates a B- (B minus). The Greek government says this is good news. However, the government acknowledged that 2013 will be a critical year for Greece. Greece’s finance minister said that the country must stick to guidelines set by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Opposition leaders have attacked the government, contending that the government has sold out the Greek people to foreign interests. That isn’t true. Greece and plenty of individual Greeks borrowed foreign money they could not afford to pay back but that kind of populism plays well with a large segment of the Greek public. Being a victim is more popular than taking responsibility.

December 18, 2012: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, the UN’s main refugee relief agency) reported that Turkey now hosts 136,319 Syrian refugees. Turkey says the figure is higher since several thousand more refugees are not living in refugee camps but have moved into private homes or apartments inside Turkey.

December 13, 2012: Eurozone finance ministers agreed to give Greece another 49.1 billion euros ($57 billion).  Greece had been waiting for the funds since June 2012. Though the Greek government has implemented some very tough austerity measures, the expected Greek deficit for 2013 will not quite meet lending requirements. However, major lenders said that continual structural reforms in Greece were a positive sign. The reforms are a positive but no one should underestimate the problems Greece continues to face. Greek debt continues to climb. Unemployment in Greece is also increasing. Earlier in the week the government reported that the unemployment rate in September was 26 percent. In August it was 25.3 percent. A century ago Turkey was the “weak man of Europe,” but now Greece owns that dubious honor. Turkey has turned itself around, something which rankles Greeks, who have been fighting the Turks for over a thousand years (and usually losing). It’s time for the Greeks to stop the war and get their act together.

Several thousand Turkish demonstrators gathered outside a court house in Istanbul to protest the Ergenekon conspiracy trial. Turkish media described the demonstrators as Turkish secularists who believe the current government has fabricated the charges of conspiracy to stage a coup. The government is expected to conclude presentation of its case soon. Then the defendants will have an opportunity to answer the charges.

December 12, 2012: The UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted former Bosnian Serb general Zdravko Tolimir of war crimes related to the 1995 massacre of Bosniak men in the town of Srebrenica. Tolimir was sentenced to life in prison. The court ruled Tolimir supervised the execution of around 8,000 Bosniak Moslem men and boys.

December 8, 2012: Approximately one thousand self-described anarchists demonstrated in Athens, Greece. The demonstration was held to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the killing of a Greek teenager by Greek police. A second protest drew 2,000 demonstrators, many of them belonging to the far left Syriza party’s youth wing. The government deployed 6,000 policemen to handle the demonstrations.

December 6, 2012: A Bosnian court convicted an Islamist militant of firing at the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia on October 28, 2011. The accused, Mevlid Jasarevic, shot at the U.S. embassy and during the attack wounded a Bosnian policeman. Jasarevic is a member of a Wahabi Moslem sect active in Bosnia. He claimed he fired at the U.S. embassy because he wanted NATO to leave Afghanistan. He also had a beef with the Bosnian government, which he claims oppresses the Wahabi sect. The court sentenced Jasarevic to 18 years in jail after convicting him of terrorism for shooting at the U.S. Embassy.

December 4, 2012: The Montenegrin parliament voted to re-elect Milo Djukanovic as prime minister. This will be Djukanovi’s seventh term as prime minister of the former Yugoslav republic.

December 3, 2012: The government of Moldova said that it is seeking Romania’s advice on how to meet European Union accession requirements. Moldova began discussing joining the EU in 2010, and hopes to begin the accession process in 2013. Russia, however, objects strongly to any move by Moldova to join the EU. Until the Soviet Union fell apart, Moldova was a Soviet socialist republic (SSR, a province). Moscow is also suspicious of any cooperation between Moldova and Romania. Prior to being forced to join the Soviet Union, Moldova was known as Bessarabia and was part of Romania. Romania ceded Bessarabia to the Soviet Union in 1940. Stalin demanded it as part of the Ribbentrop-Molotov treaty (also called the Hitler-Stalin pact).

November 29, 2012: The UN’s ICTY acquitted former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj of war crimes charges. Haradinaj faced charges that he committed war crimes during the 1998-1999 Kosovo War, pitting Kosovar Albanian rebels against Serbia. Haradinaj and two co-defendants faced charges of murder and torture. Both co-defendants were also acquitted.

November 27, 2012: A critical study of Serbia’s economy has concluded that endemic corruption costs Serbia several billion euros a year. Moreover, corruption has contributed to the current economic crisis which has brought the government to near bankruptcy. One senior Serbian leader said that an investigation of public procurement policies had led him to conclude that the procurement process is where the greatest abuse and theft occurs. Meanwhile, Serbia’s main anti-corruption institution, the Serbian Anti-Corruption Agency Committee, is confronting a major scandal. Its current director was relieved of her duties because she is under investigation for corruption. She allegedly tried to give herself a state-owned apartment.

November 26, 2012: The Turkish government has put ten people on trial for terrorism (attacking government websites, including police websites). The ten belong to a group called RedHack, and the government contends the hackers have ties to a terrorist organization.

November 23, 2012: Cyprus, which is gripped by a financial crisis and is seeking bailout money, announced that recent natural gas discoveries could begin production by 2015. Some private agencies estimate that Cyprus could earn $25 billion a year from natural gas exports. However, Turkey objects to Cyprus being permitted to drill for natural gas until Greek and Turkish Cypriots reach a settlement, which will unify the island. Turkey also claims that several offshore drilling blocks to the west of Cyprus lie on Turkey’s continental shelf

November 21, 2012: Turkey has asked NATO for Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile missiles. The Patriots would be deployed near the Turkey-Syria border. Turkey is worried that Syrian missiles armed with chemical warheads could be fired either at Turkey or at Syrian rebel targets in the border area.

November 15, 2012: The body of former Albanian ruler King Zog was returned to Albania. His remains were exhumed from a cemetery in France. The body may lie in state before being placed in a mausoleum.  Zog proclaimed himself king in 1928. He fled the country when Italy invaded in 1939. He died in France in 1961.

November 10, 2012: Turkey reported that 17 soldiers (special operations commandos) died in a helicopter crash in Siirt province (southeastern Turkey) because of bad weather (fog) in the mountainous area.

November 7, 2012: International lending agencies met in Cyprus to discuss conditions for a financial bailout of the Cypriot government. Cyprus is suffering from a deep recession and its banks are closely tied to already stressed Greek banks. In June, Cyprus asked the European Union for a bailout.

November 6, 2012: A Turkish court approved a request to identity a special secret witness in Turkey’s Ergenekon conspiracy trial. The witness turned out to be a senior member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Semdin Sakik.  Several defendants in the trial immediately accused the government of using an enemy agent and convicted terrorist to attack military officers who defended the country against the witness’s illegal organization.

October 31, 2012: The Greek government revealed that it expects Greece’s economy to do very poorly in 2013. Greece will also try to raise 2.5 (or more) billion euros by selling government assets during the next fiscal year. The U.S. State Department said that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia was not open for debate. The statement was directed at Serbia, which refuses to accept Kosovar independence.

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