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Protests and integration

This article has been written for Albanian Free Press newspaper and www.albanianfreepress.al

By Plator Nesturi

This week’s parliamentary session was divided into different parts. There was no single tribune where the sides could debate with each other as they usually do. As it was expected, the protest about the highway toll charge and the arrest of several citizens from Kukes for burning the toll payment wickets in the highway, was the focus of the political discourse. But not in Parliament. While PM Rama was holding a long speech in Parliament concerning the issue of the toll charge, where he admitted that there hadn’t been adequate transparency while communicating with the citizens of Kukes, the opposition’s replies came from somewhere else. Basha and Kryemadhi were leading the protests organized with the aim of blocking roads in Vora and Elbasan.

But these were not the only protests. While public opinion was focused on the toll charge of the Nation’s Road highway, which the opposition made it its motive to launch an action of civil disobedience, other protests were organized in several cities of the country. The decision of the Association of Small Businesses led to many shops in Fier, Tirana and Korca to close for several hours to express their discontent about the VAT tax which affects them.

So, there were several protests. In some of them, the main protagonist was the political class, while in others, it was the citizens who were protesting against tax increases. In his speech in parliament, PM Rama said that the government has reflected on the charge that citizens of Kukes should pay in this highway. More than a comeback to the previous state, this looks like a tactical withdrawal while protests were being held on the road. Even inside parliament, that the opposition had abandoned, there were socialist MPs such as Mimi Kodheli who criticized the government for the lack of transparency for the tariff that was imposed and supported the right of the people to protest when the poverty that exists in the area makes this charge unaffordable. Did Edi Rama withdraw from the declarations that he made in the recent days? It seems not and he showed this in the video conference with councilors and citizens of Kukes. The Prime Minister admitted that the charge was going to be reviewed following a study on the frequency of the movements that the residents of the area make and this could lead to a lower charge about them. But, others who will use the Nation’s Road will still have to pay the same charge. In the midst of all this, Rama accused the opposition of causing this miserable financial situation for the country through its policies when it was in power. Instead of focusing the debate on the topic that caused the protest of the resident of Kukes, the majority decided to once again confront the opposition. Nevertheless, attacking political opponents and the several millions that the government says that it needs to maintain the road, do not provide transparency for the public. Common people do not receive answers through the attack being made to Basha. They will only receive answers once the government will address to different categories of society about specific problems that they have.

In this climate of antagonism, where the political temperature has risen, the Rapporteur for Albania in the European Parliament, Fleckenstein, has arrived in Tirana. After meeting political leaders and the Interior minister, Xhafa, the EU’s rapporteur said that he was against violent protests and his criticism was addressed toward the opposition, which had blocked the roads. Then, Fleckenstein also talked about the process of integration, saying that Albania should not be imposed extra conditions for the launch of EU accession talks. While the country is expecting the progress report, the Rapporteur expresses his optimism that Albania may receive good news in September.

Although these declarations may suit to some politicians and not suit to others, besides the daily problems such as poverty, asylum seekers, taxes and civil disobedience, there is also another issue which I think interests us all and this is the issue concerning the integration of the country in the EU. Despite the numerous flaws that governments have had, integration in the European Union naturally imposes several obligations on the political class. The added attention that the EU will show toward a country that wants to join the European family, will bring a more favorable climate in reducing government arrogance, it will bring more European laws and reforms and stronger, more independent and more credible institutions. So, we’re at a special moment when we should assess every political move which may contain confrontation. Civil disobedience that the opposition has recently launched, does contain confrontation, because it is a sort of rebellion against the laws and the decisions of the government. But this type of rebellion comes at a special moment, when the country is waiting to see if the talks for the process of integration will open or if we fail the class once again. Civil disobedience becomes a hurdle despite the opposition’s declarations that it favors the launch of negotiations with Brussels. But nobody wants a country where there is no political stability.

Thus, this is a key moment where the sides should either decide to continue their confrontation, or enter a new political pact. A pact which is not similar to those agreements made before elections, which are mere bargaining agreements, but pacts for the future of the country in Europe. But this does not only require the opposition to withdraw from its incentives for civil disobedience, but it also requires the majority to launch concrete steps to calm the situation down and behave in a less arrogant way. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s Rama or Basha who win out of these clashes, because the rest only lose. This way, we will once again miss the train bound for Europe.

Note: The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Albanian Free Press’ editorial policy

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FYROM-Macron: The agreement is crucial for your country’s future, I am FOR

In a video message to the citizens of fYRO Macedonia ahead of upcoming referendum, French President Emmanuel Macron said that agreement with Greece secures the future of the country and believes in wisdom of the citizens.

“Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, I will take up a little of your time to address you directly. Our two countries have fostered diplomatic relations for 25 years. Twenty-five years of common past and linked destinies among our nations, whose roots are deeply embedded throughout the centuries.

In this regard, a lot of things have been done in recent years, however a major step forward was made on June 17, 2018. The step was made with the courage of your leaders, between your country and Greece, which ended the 27-year-old dispute.

The “Prespa Agreement” of June 17, 2018 ensures progress and preparation of the future. September 30 referendum refers precisely to this agreement.

I am acquainted with all the controversies that are taking place and are part of the democratic debate in the country. But from here, because I believe in our continent, in the power of Europe in the power of collective strength and in mutual cooperation, I would like to tell you what I believe. I know that there is perfect agreement. I know that for one it is not enough long-term, and for others that they would otherwise negotiated it. I hear all the criticisms that have been said.

Nobody hoped this deal would be reached until a several months ago. But, this agreement has been waiting for 27 years. This agreement was achieved because of the courage of your and the Greek leaders. That's why I support it. Totally! Strongly!

I consider that agreement has a central place in the plans for the country's future. It is also the essence of the ambitions of your young people and what we can do together in the years to come" said French President.

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Mass arrests in the Turkish Air Force

Fifty months after the attempted coup against Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which, according to the Turkish government, was a work of the Guilenists (FETO), the cleansing within the Turkish armed forces is proceeding at unimpeded pace.

On Friday, arrest warrants were handed over to 110 Turkish Air Force officers on duty, accused of being affiliated with Imam Gülen, who lives in self-exile in the US. The Turkish authorities argue that even today there are nuclei of the "Fethullah Gülen (FETO) terrorist organization, and this is the reason for the continuation of the operations. Among the arrested are three policemen and five pilots, as well as officers serving at Incirlik air base.

By Friday night, 85 officers had been arrested and the authorities were looking for the rest in 15 Turkish cities.

Since July 2016, when the coup against the Turkish president was attempted, more than 77,000 people have been arrested and 150,000 have been removed from office or have been suspended indefinitely, in the context of these operations of the Turkish authorities which, according to Ankara, are necessary to eliminate any risk of mutiny. Among the arrested are also many journalists.

"We'll hunt them wherever they are"

Turkish Presidential Speaker, Ibrahim Kalin, spoke of the continuation of the abductions of Gulenists in foreign countries, by the Turkish secret services, and stressed that Turkey is determined to punish them.

"The operations of Turkish intelligence services (MIT) and the Armed Forces abroad will continue with the same determination. Those who have committed crimes against Turkey know that they will be brought to justice and, whether in a year or five years, will be punished.

The Republic of Turkey will not allow the members of the FETO (Gulenists) to draw breath. All of them will feel the breath of Turkey on their neck", Kalin said.

MIT has made kidnaps in 18 countries and has captured 80 FETO members, whom they have brought back to Turkey./IBNA

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fYROM: Gjorge Ivanov will abstain from the referendum

His decision to abstain from the referendum about the name issue announced the President of fYROMacedonia, Gjorge Ivanov.

The country's president, speaking at a rally in New York, reiterated the claim that the Prespes Agreement is detrimental to the national interests of the country and added that in assuming his duties he has vowed to abide by the Constitution and the laws.

"The mandate I received from the citizens of the country, twice, is to prevent a change of the Constitution in order to change the constitutional name and not to accept ideas and suggestions that will threaten the Macedonian national identity, the Macedonian language and the Macedonian cohabitation model. I will keep these promises in full, and for this reason I will not vote", Gjorge Ivanov said.

The President of fYROMacedonia is in New York to take part in the works of the 73rd UN General Assembly.

The question of the referendum to be answered on September 30 by the voters of fYROMacedonia will be worded as follows: "Are you in favor of joining the EU and NATO by accepting the Agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and Greece?"./IBNA

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Cyprus lures London investors as ExxonMobil stands defiant in face of Turkish warnings

A full spectre of opportunities and incentives that Cyprus is offering investors were presented at Bloomberg’s London headquarters on Friday at an event organised by the Cyprus Investment Promotion Agency.

The lead speaker was the President of the Republic Nicos Anastasiades, in London on a stopover on his way to the New York UN General Assembly.

His speech focused on the “comparative advantages” Cyprus is offering. He said that along with “the positive repercussions of an ambitious reform programme and the careful management of state finances”, these advantages have already resulted in renewed substantial investments in a wide range of sectors.

He added that a testament to the fruit borne by his government’s efforts and “a confirmation of our economic management, with obvious positive repercussions as regards the country’s financial potentials and the investors trust in Cyprus” is the return of the country’s economy to investment grade ratings.

“The challenge now is to keep up the momentum and ensure that Cyprus remains on the path of sustainable growth,” commented President Anastasiades, pledging to continue with the sound governance of public finances.

Finance Minister Harris Georgiades followed suit, saying that “Cyprus has recovered, but we are not complacent.”

The well-attended forum stroke a chord with potential investors and brought smiles to the Cypriot officials’ faces as big names like ExxonMobil, Melco and Columbia Ship Management described in enthusiastic tones how easy and rewarding is to do business in Cyprus.

ExxonMobil Exploration’s Vice-President for Europe Tristan Aspray also provided the quote of the day, making clear that the energy giant soon to drill on Block 10 of Cyprus’s EEZ is “happy to be in Cyprus” despite Turkish noises.

He added that ExxonMobil was aware of the “particular” geopolitical conditions from the beginning and that dealing with Turkey’s reactions is a matter for governments, not for a commercial entity…. / IBNA

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Athens is looking forward to an energy co-operation between Greece and fYROMacedonia

Next week, the Greek Minister of Environment and Energy, Giorgos Stathakis is expected to visit the fYROMacedonian capital Skopje with the purpose of his visit being an energy co-operation between Greece and fYROMacedonia.

"There is a framework of agreements and prospects for the energy sector that are absolutely beneficial for both countries", the Greek minister noted, considering that new important energy agreements between the two sides will follow.

The construction of a natural gas pipeline from the Thessaloniki region to Negotino is underway on the initiative of the National Gas Transmission System Operator (DESFA).

Athens and Skopje have been in contact since October 2016 for the interconnection of the two countries' Natural Gas Systems.

The two sides had even signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to promote this project. DESFA's goal, as pointed out, is to create an "energy bridge of co-operation" with fYROMacedonia, while creating new jobs in both countries.

At the same time, priority is given to diversifying sources of gas supply and opening new gas routes in the Balkans and Southeast Europe.

The project of interconnection with fYROMacedonia is included in the DESFA Development Programme 2017-2026 under approval.

Meanwhile, in April, PPC's Board of Directors approved, after the completion of all the necessary financial and legal actions, the acquisition of EDS Electricity Trading and Supply Company in fYROMacedonia, at a price of € 4.8 million.

"This acquisition, as the company said in a statement, is part of the PPC business strategy in the Balkan region and the forthcoming integration of the energy markets promoted by the European Union."

The EDS Group was established in 2012 and has subsidiaries in Serbia, Slovakia and Kosovo.

It is a member of the Hungarian Electricity Exchange (HUPX) and holds electricity trading licenses in Serbia, Kosovo, Croatia, Bulgaria and Hungary….. / IBNA

Main Photo (File): Environment and Energy Minister, Giorgos Stathakis

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