International Information Centre for Balkan Studies

Democracy watchdog appeals for election postponement in Serbia, stops monitoring

March 16, 2020

Serbia’s CRTA, a democracy watchdog, said on Monday it had withdrawn its 120 monitors across the country because of the severity of the situation with coronavirus pandemic and appealed with the state institutions to delay the election process until the limits of human and civil rights were not imperilled, N1 reported.

"Since the safety of the people is our first concern, we believe that in this situation this is the only right and responsible decision," CRTA said in a statement.

Serbia has declared the state of emergency on Sunday, and Prime Minister Ana Brnabic even suggested a curfew might be introduced.

Brnabic said she suggested to President Aleksandar Vucic to delay the April 26 elections.

"CRTA’s members started long-lasting monitoring of the pre-election process in Serbia in line with the international standards for independent civil monitoring of the elections three weeks before they are called. Out 120 people-strong team was on the ground since February 11, monitoring all the aspects of the election process: from the election administration’s work, parties’ communication with potential voters, functionary campaign and abuse of public resources, potential bribing and pressures on voters. CRTA’s monitors will continue to oversee the media reporting about the campaign and the campaign on social networks," the watchdog said in the statement.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a578637/CRTA-Serbia-s-democracy-watchdog-stops-monitoring-election-process.html

RIK: All election activities cease during state of emergency in Serbia

March 16, 2020

Serbia’s Election Commission (RIK) decided on Monday to cease all election activities regarding then vote called for April 26, in line with the Decree on State of Emergency Measures, Vladimir Dimitrijevic, the head of the Commission, said.

The decision was brought with the majority of votes.

"RIK’s decision means that after the lifting of the state of emergency new deadlines for elections’ process will be set and that all the activities that have been undertaken until now will be valid in the resumption of the process," Bojan Clacar, from the centre for Free Elections and Democracy (CESID), told N1.  

Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic declared the state of emergency for the whole of the country due to the. coronavirus pandemic.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a578677/Election-Commission-stops-all-activities-during-state-of-emergency-in-Serbia.html

Montenegro closes borders over coronavirus pandemic

March 16, 2020

Montenegro on Monday temporarily banned foreign nationals from entering the country if they are not permanent residents or bringing in goods, the Beta news agency said citing a statement from the National Coordination Body for Infectious Diseases.

The government has ordered all clubs, restaurants and bars closed as well as playrooms and fitness centers for at least two weeks but did not shut down food deliveries.  

So far, Montenegro is the only European country which has not reported any coronavirus cases but 638 people are being monitored according to the Public Health Institute.  

The government Coordination body has also limited the number of shoppers in a store at any one time to 50 and the number of people at open air markets to 100. Anyone allowed into the country will be ordered into home quarantine for two weeks.  

Earlier, the government closed schools and universities, banned public gatherings and visits to hospitals and jails as well as travel to seven countries in Europe.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a578377/Montenegro-closes-borders-over-coronavirus-pandemic.html

March 16, 2020

Montenegro on Monday temporarily banned foreign nationals from entering the country if they are not permanent residents or bringing in goods, the Beta news agency said citing a statement from the National Coordination Body for Infectious Diseases.

The government has ordered all clubs, restaurants and bars closed as well as playrooms and fitness centers for at least two weeks but did not shut down food deliveries.  

So far, Montenegro is the only European country which has not reported any coronavirus cases but 638 people are being monitored according to the Public Health Institute.  

The government Coordination body has also limited the number of shoppers in a store at any one time to 50 and the number of people at open air markets to 100. Anyone allowed into the country will be ordered into home quarantine for two weeks.  

Earlier, the government closed schools and universities, banned public gatherings and visits to hospitals and jails as well as travel to seven countries in Europe.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a578377/Montenegro-closes-borders-over-coronavirus-pandemic.html

Kosovo government declares public health state of emergency

March 16, 2020

The Kosovo government met in telephone session to declare a public health state of emergency over the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic as proposed by Health Care Minister Arbeni Vitia.

A statement said that the Health Care Ministry is in charge of implementing the state of emergency in line with national reaction plan and emergency measures.  

The minister said that four new cases had been confirmed bringing the total to nine. He called the public to stay at home and follow the recommendations of the ministry and National Public Health Institute.  

The first coronavirus cases in Kosovo were confirmed last Friday in the towns of Klina and Vitina and two more cases on Saturday one of which was in the town of Malisevo. All three towns have been quarantined and the government is expected to quarantine the town of Podujevo which is on the road to the Merdare border crossing with Serbia proper.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a578367/Kosovo-government-declares-public-health-state-of-emergency.html

State of emergency introduced in Serbia after 48 people contracted coronavirus

March 15, 2020

Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic said on Sunday night that the state of emergency was introduced in the whole of the country due to the coronavirus pandemic, N1 reported.

The Government, Vucic said, would precise the set of measures,He pleaded with the older population to stay at home and younger relatives not to visit them for the time being.

As of Monday, all pre-school institutions, schools and the faculties will be closed until the end of the school year.

Also, there wouldn’t be any practices and gyms would be closed as well. The army will be on guard outside the hospitals and will be deployed on the borders.

Vucic warned that the European Union’s promise to help was just a promise, and the only country which aided Serbia was China.

He said that five million masks were to arrive from China, and a new quantity of respirators was also on their way to Serbia. He added that the measures would be adjusted daily and that those who violate the rules of the state of emergency would immediately be sentenced to three years in prison.

Vucic said that only Serbs and Chinese doctors and others who could help would be allowed to enter Serbia.

He warned the Serbs living abroad not to come for the Easter holiday, saying they would have to be in isolation if came.

Those coming from the most hit countries would have to be in 28 days of isolation. Depending on their health situation, it could be either quarantine or home isolation.

The President said that two people were on respirators with worsening health situation.

Earlier, the Government of Serbia decided to halt the export of basic groceries and sanitizers, telling citizens that there is sufficient stock and that they do not need to stockpile the groceries at home.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a578298/Serbia-declares-state-of-emergency-due-to-coronavirus-pandemic.html

Kosovo adopts budget for 2020 and resolution on Belgrade-Pristina dialogue

March 15, 2020

The Kosovo Assembly passed the Law on Kosovo Budget for 2020 on Sunday, which stipulates the revenues in the amount of 2.02 billion Euro and 2.37 billion Euro expenditures. The parliament also adopted a resolution on the continuation of Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.

The resolution that was put on agenda at a request of Kosovo Democratic Alliance caucus chief, Arben Gashi, got the support of 57 MPs, while five abstained from the vote.

The Law on the Budget for 2020 stipulates 4.2 percent growth, based on the calculations drafted prior to the coronavirus outbreak, which might be affected due to the measures that authorities took.

Opposition MPs and the Serb List MPs did not attend the session.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a578268/Kosovo-adopts-budget-for-2020-and-resolution-on-Belgrade-Pristina-dialogue.html

Kurti apologises for not revoking import tariffs for Serbia

March 15, 2020

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti apologised to Kosovo citizens because the authorities did not start applying the measures of partial or gradual revoking of import tariffs for Serbia and because of the fact he did not support the Kosovo Government’s measures towards the prevention of COVID-19 virus spread.

“Today, March 15, 2020, the 100% tariff on raw materials imported from Serbia had to be abolished.  This will not happen because my position on February 26, 2020, meanwhile, was not made a decision.  I am sorry for this.  I still have not managed to convince our ruling coalition partner, LDK, of what I am convinced: gradually replacing the tariff with reciprocity is the best, fairest and most useful way,” Kurti wrote on his Facebook wall.

Concerning the novel coronavirus measures, Kurti said the Assembly failed to back the measures on this matter.

“Yesterday's session of the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo, which started in the afternoon and ended after midnight, did not respect the orders for physical distance above one meter between people at the time of the Corona virus pandemic.  With my deputy prime ministers, I was all the time closer, and sometimes during various conversations as we discussed the 2020 budget that we approved last night.  I'm sorry about that and apologize,” he wrote.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a578194/Kurti-apologises-for-not-revoking-import-tariffs-for-Serbia.html

US aid agency suspends program in Kosovo over tariffs

March 13, 2020

The US Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) said on Friday that was suspending its development program in Kosovo until the tariffs on Serbian goods are revoked.

“The US position regarding Kosovo’s tariffs against goods from Serbia is clear. Lifting these tariffs will improve Kosovo’s economy and help reduce poverty through economic growth. Until Kosovo’s tariff issue is resolved, MCC will pause implementation of the threshold program and development of the proposed compact program in Kosovo,” the statement said.

The MCC expressed the hope that the Kosovo government will “choose to resolve this tariff issue quickly in order to proceed with MCC programs”, and added that the organization will resume operations once a resolution is reached.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is an independent US foreign assistance agency created by Congress in January 2004 that is helping lead the fight against global poverty.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a577842/US-aid-agency-suspends-program-in-Kosovo-over-tariffs.html

Borell proposes Lajcak to mediate Kosovo dialogue

March 13, 2020

European Union High Representative Josep Borell has proposed former Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak for mediator in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, Pristina daily Gazetaexpress said on it web site on Friday.

The daily said that Lajcak would take up the post of EU mediator on April 1 and would remain in office up to March 1, 2021.  

Gazetaexpress said that it had been granted access to Borell’s proposal which lists four goals: reaching an agreement to normalize relations, achieving good neighbor relations and promoting reconciliation, raising the visibility and efficiency of the EU through public diplomacy and providing support to regional efforts on the European path.  

The proposal says that Lajcak has a mandate to facilitate the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue on behalf of the High Representative and work on a comprehensive normalization of relations through a legally binding agreement which would resolve all open questions.  

Gazetaexpress said that Lajcak’s appointment is being opposed energetically by Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, claiming that he is unreliable and from a country which has not recognized Kosovo. On the other hand, Prime Minister Albin Kurti said in a letter to Borell that he would cooperate with EU envoys.  

Prime Minister Kurti said that the 100 percent tariffs on Serbian goods would remain in force until he reaches an agreement with his party’s coalition partner the Democratic Alliance of Kosovo. Kurti wants the tariffs lifted gradually while his coalition partners want them lifted immediately in line with US requests.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a577704/Borell-proposes-Lajcak-to-mediate-Kosovo-dialogue.html

Borell to Kurti: lift tariffs completely

March 12, 2020

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti confirmed that he had received a letter from European Union High Representative Josep Borrell who said that the 100 percent tariffs on Serbian goods need to be revoked completely, Pristina media reported.

"I welcomed your statement about the tariffs last week as a good first step in the right direction. We need to have the tariffs revoked fully,” Borell is quoted as saying. He added that Serbia, like Kosovo, has to meet its commitments and implement earlier agreements.

Borell’s letter recalled that the EU feels that the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue should be resumed urgently but that this requires the lifting of the tariffs. “We expect Serbia to do its fair share,” it added.  

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a577414/Borell-to-Kurti-lift-tariffs-completely.html

State Department warns of human rights problems in Serbia

March 13, 2020

The State Department warned of significant human rights problems in Serbia, including allegations of torture by police, restriction of freedom of expression threats against journalists, government corruption and crimes.

“Significant human rights issues included: allegations of torture by police; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence and threats of violence against journalists; numerous acts of government corruption; and crimes, including violence, targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals,” the State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Serbia said.

It added that the government “took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses (and punish them, if convicted), both in the police force and elsewhere in the government, following public exposure of abuses”.

“Nevertheless, many observers believed numerous cases of corruption, social and domestic violence, and other abuses went unreported and unpunished,” it said.

“Police corruption and impunity remained problems, despite some progress on holding corrupt police officials accountable. There was no specialized governmental body to examine killings at the hands of the security forces,” the report said. It warned that courts remained susceptible to corruption and political influence and of reports that the government failed to respect prohibitions on interfering with correspondence and communications.

“The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but threats and attacks on journalists, a lack of transparency of media ownership, and the oversized role of the state in the country’s oversaturated media sector undermined these freedoms,” it added.

“There were reports that the government actively sought to direct media reporting on a number of issues. Economic pressure sometimes led media outlets to practice self-censorship, refraining from publishing content critical of the government, based on a fear of government harassment or economic consequences, according to media association representatives,” the report said.  

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a577112/State-Department-warns-of-human-rights-problems-in-Serbia.html

Kurti says Thaci, Vucic have Kosovo agreement prepared

March 11, 2020

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on Wednesday that he is sure that the presidents of Kosovo and Serbia have reached some sort of agreement which is why they are demanding the removal of tariffs on Serbian goods.

Speaking in parliament, Kurti said that the tariffs won’t be revoked completely without reciprocal measures. “This is not about the revoking of the tariffs to start the dialogue, that is a lie. This is about revoking the tariffs to end the dialogue with an agreement prepared earlier. I am convinced that the two presidents have an agreement ready and what they want is to topple the government and myself as prime minister,” Kurti said.

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a577046/Kurti-says-Thaci-Vucic-have-Kosovo-agreement-prepared.html

Kosovo's PM refuses to meet President again, doubts US will withdraw troops

March 11, 2020

Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci told reports on Wednesday that Prime Minister Albin Kurti again rejected to meet with him and discuss the harmonisation of the state politics, adding the good maintaining relations with the US was necessary, the FoNet news agency reported.

The President offered three dates for the meeting, but Kurti did not respond.

He and Thaci disagree on the issue of revoking the 100 percent import tariffs on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina imposed in November 2018.

While Thaci agrees with the US that all taxes should be revoked at once, Kurti insists on partial lifting pending Belgrade's reciprocal measures. 

Thaci stressed the importance of Pristina's strategic partnership with the US and called on Kurti to bring the decision in the interest of Kosovo.

In the meantime, regarding the US messages that Washington might cut off aid to Kosovo and withdraw its troops because Pristina refused to comply with the US demand to revoke the whole tariffs, Kurti said he did not believe that would happen.

He also said he was sceptical about the troops' withdrawal.

Even if Washington withdraws its soldiers, that won't be because of the taxes, Kurti has said but added that the US KFOR should not leave Kosovo.

"On the contrary, I believe they won't leave Kosovo… But (if that happens) that has nothing to do with taxes. If the US President (Donald Trump) decides to do that it will be because the reduction of the number of US troops already done in Afganistan and Syria," Kurti told his party rally in Pristina's district of Podujevo, ahead of the election for a mayor there.

Some US politicians agreed their troops should be withdrawn, but Lieutenant General Ben Hodges considered the potential move as a mistake.  

Source:  http://rs.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a576894/Kosovo-PM-doesn-t-believe-US-will-pull-out-troops.html

Minister: If other countries deploy armies to borders, Bosnia could follow suit

March 4, 2020

Bosnia has the right to defend and protect itself and if other countries deploy armies to their borders, there is no reason why Bosnia would not do the same, Defence Minister Fahrudin Radoncic said Wednesday, following Croatia's announcement that they might deploy the army to control the migrant situation.

“If other countries deploy their armies along the borders, I see no serious reason why Bosnia wouldn't do the same. We can use the army for logistics needs but the key is that the Presidency adopts a united decision that Bosnia should deploy its armed forces in a worst-case scenario,” Radoncic said.

Bosnia's Presidency consists of three members, coming from the three constituent peoples – Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. The Serb Presidency member Milorad Dodik's position on this issue was that Bosnia's Armed Forces cannot be deployed to the border, but Radoncic sees things differently:

“In the end, we might be forced to do this. I think we have a legitimate right to use all our potentials in defending our way of life, our sovereignty and our citizens.”

Radoncic reiterated that Bosnia does not have the capacity to accommodate 10,000 migrants daily, the number estimated by international experts following the Turkish announcement that they would open their borders and let migrants continue their journey towards the EU.

Radoncic concluded that Bosnia is barely coping with the migrants already staying in the country.

Source:  http://ba.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a413968/Minister-If-other-countries-deploy-armies-to-borders-Bosnia-could-follow-suit.html

Main Bosniak party accuses Russia of interfering in Bosnia's internal matters

March 4, 2020

Although Russia used to support constructive efforts in the Balkans, now it has the goal to destabilize the region and use it strategically as a bargaining chip in international relations, the main Bosniak party in the country said following a statement by Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry which expressed support on Wednesday for removing foreign judges from Bosnia’s Constitutional Court.

MPs from the strongest Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat parties in the country have on recently submitted a proposal for a law that would remove foreign judges from the country’s Constitutional Court.

According to Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, the adoption of the law is a condition for ending the latest political crisis that emerged in Bosnia following a Constitutional Court ruling.

Last month, the parliament of the Serb-majority semi-autonomous part of Bosnia, Republika Srpska (RS), instructed RS representatives in state institutions to stop participating in any decision-making processes until a law removing the foreign judges from the Constitutional Court is adopted.

This means that state institutions will effectively be blocked.

The move came after the Constitutional Court declared that public agricultural property in Republika Srpska should be owned by the state and not by the RS.

According to the Constitution, which is part of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, the Constitutional Court is composed of nine judges - two Bosniaks, two Croats, two Serbs and three foreigners. The foreign judges are named by the President of the European Court of Human Rights.

Dodik has been accusing the institution of working against Republika Srpska, arguing that the three foreign judges frequently side with the Bosniaks and outvote the Croats and the Serbs.

According to the new proposal, the tripartite Presidency would name three Bosnian nationals to serve as judges in the Constitutional Court. Two would come from the Federation (FBiH) and one would come from the Republika Srpska.

The three judges would have to be members of different ethnic groups and the House of Peoples would then have to confirm their appointment - with more than half of the MPs in each of the three constituent people’s groups voting in favor.

According to Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, Bosnia’s peoples should resolve their issues on their own without any foreign interference. The proposed changes of the Constitutional Court are “fully in accordance with the Dayton Agreement,” the Ministry said.

“We count on all leading political forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina to contribute to this legislative initiative which is focused on strengthening the integrity and the democratic potential of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” it said.

The Party for Democratic Action (SDA) criticized Russia for, “on the one hand, declaring that they are opposed to foreign interference in Bosnia’s internal issues, while at the same time they took a stance on ongoing issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina, continuously supporting anti-Dayton (Agreement) requests and ultimatums coming from the RS entity.”

Such a stance has been an obstacle to finding a compromise in Bosnia as it encourages Milorad Dodik to continue his activities, the party said.

“The Russian Federation has for decades constructively contributed through the Security Council and the Peace Implementation Council, supporting the establishment and the work of the Hague tribunal and the use of the Bonn powers, but that policy has obviously changed and now its goal is to destabilize Bosnia and the region in order to make trades in geopolitical relations,” it said.

“Considering that Russia’s interference is open and direct, this represents a clear message to our partners, most of all to Washington but also to Brussels, that they must not allow Moscow to damage the strategic interests of the region - stability and progress toward NATO and the EU - through local anti-European and anti-NATO political parties,” the party concluded.

Source:  http://ba.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a414050/Main-Bosniak-party-accuses-Russia-of-interfering-in-Bosnia-s-internal-matters.html

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