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Belgrade Media Report 26 March 2019

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Tuesday 26 March 2019
LOCAL PRESS

• Vucic: Elections in June or next year (RTS/Tanjug/Beta/Novosti/Politika)
• Paraguay remains firm on position of non-recognizing Kosovo (RTS)
• Kuburovic: Serbia makes progress in fight against corruption (RTS/Beta)
• SzS writes to Patriarch Irinej (Beta/Novosti)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• Dodik: Serbs should not pay attention to enemies of Republika Srpska (Srna)
• B&H Constitutional Court again to discuss 9 January – RS Day (Srna)
• Cooperation between RS and Serbs in Kosovo will be deepened (Srna)
• Russia respects Dayton Agreement, policy of reconciliation (Srna)
• Joint marking of Serbs suffering anniversaries important (Srna)
Croatia
• SDSS to stay on with the HDZ-led coalition government (HRT)
Montenegro
• DF offered new document (CDM)
• Europe has more important things to deal with, the region can wait (Pobjeda)
Republic of North Macedonia
• Parliament to decide on Wednesday on the laws that Ivanov refused to sign (Nezavisen vesnik)
• Siljanovska with 6% ahead of Pendarovski (Republika)
Albania
• DP calls for preparations for early election (ADN)
• Political crisis, CEC Chairman seeks protection by parliament (ADN)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

• Albania Opposition Leader Grilled Over US Lobbying Contracts (BIRN)
• The Latest: Montenegro arrests suspected migrant smugglers (Associated Press)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Vucic: Elections in June or next year (RTS/Tanjug/Beta/Novosti/Politika)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) Presidency didn’t make a final decision as to whether a new parliamentary election would be called. If called, the elections will take place in June, or in the spring of 2020, Vucic said after a session of the SNS Presidency. Vucic explained that all members of the Presidency, except for him, were in favor of a snap election, which was why the decision was closer than before. “I have abstained, and I’m given a very brief period of time to say what can be done about Serbia’s EU accession, Kosovo and Metohija and large-scale investment. Prime Minister Brnabic, who attended the session, is familiar with the decision,” Vucic said to reporters. Having recalled that the only way the opposition could make a difference was an election, not violence, Vucic said the opposition knows very well that it cannot rely on the citizens’ support. He announced that an internal party election would start on 1 September, ending by the close of the year. Vucic explained that the party vote was important insofar as it would lend support to the people who worked the hardest in the best interest of the citizens, but also to dismiss SNS officials who have failed to demonstrate sufficient energy and diligence, and whose performance failed to satisfy citizens.

He said the meeting mainly discussed Kosovo which the party sees as one of the most important issues. “We are interested in Kosovo, we look into that and it is one of the most important issues. I informed the SNS Presidency members about everything that is happening in talks and after the tariffs were imposed on our goods. The crucial thing for us is to save lives and preserve the safety of our people and I am convinced that we will have KFOR support but the Serbian state will not leave its people on their own,” Vucic said.

 

Paraguay remains firm on position of non-recognizing Kosovo (RTS)

 

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic and Foreign Minister of Paraguay Luis Alberto Castiglioni discussed on Monday in Asuncion the promotion of bilateral political dialogue between two traditionally friendly countries. Dacic, who is on an official visit to Paraguay, and Castiglioni agreed that between the two countries there is potential to improve cooperation in a number of areas, especially in the sphere of economics. Castiglioni underlined that Paraguay remains firm on its position of non-recognition of the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo and Metohija, and advocates respect for the principles of international law, noting that the doors of Paraguay are closed to Kosovo. Dacic spoke also with President of Paraguay Mario Abdo Benitez about bilateral relations of the two countries, which they described as friendly.

They discussed possibilities for improving cooperation in the areas of mutual interest, with the emphasis on the improvement of economic cooperation. Benitez underlined that Paraguay stands firm on its position of non-recognition of the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo and on the necessity of respect for international law.

 

Kuburovic: Serbia makes progress in fight against corruption (RTS/Beta)

 

Serbian Justice Minister Nela Kuburovic spoke with representatives of the EU Directorate-General for Enlargement Allan Jones and David Hudson about the results achieved in the fight against corruption and Serbia’s progress under the Action Plan for Chapter 23. Kuburovic recalled that as of 1 March 2018 a new organization of courts and prosecutor’s offices was established, which formed four new regional centers for the fight against organized crime and corruption. She pointed out that due to new legal solutions, the courts and prosecutors’ offices have achieved good results and added that more than 300 final verdicts for criminal offences with corruptive elements were passed. It was pointed out that it is necessary to carefully determine parameters according to which the results of implementation of laws will be followed, so that all the good effects of the new system could be recognized in the reports on Serbia’s progress on the EU road. She pointed out that the aim is to reduce the possibility of corruption, which will reduce the number of such cases in the prosecutor’s offices and courts. Representatives of the Directorate General for Enlargement said that the efforts and progress of Serbia in the fight against corruption have been recognized, but that a lot of work still needs to be done, especially when it comes to prevention.

 

SzS writes to Patriarch Irinej (Beta/Novosti)

 

In an open letter to Serbian Patriarch Irinej, the Alliance for Serbia (SzS) accused him of interfering in politics and supporting the government. In a reference to the anti-government protests in Serbia, the Patriarch said at a 24 March ceremony, commemorating the victims of the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia that what we can see in the streets today is not good, as it empowers our enemies. The SzS said that many citizens, churchgoers in particular, who attended the protests, were hurt by Irinej’s reaction, and the lack of understanding for our peaceful, non-violent struggle for core democratic values that have been challenged. “We couldn’t possibly understand why that tragic occasion was an opportunity for you to talk about citizens’ protests that have been going on across Serbia for a full four months. Your public, negative reaction to the protests is direct interference in daily political matters, and you’ve sided openly with the

government, which someone in your position should never do,” the opposition alliance wrote to Patriarch Irinej.

 

REGIONAL PRESS

 

Dodik: Serbs should not pay attention to enemies of Republika Srpska (Srna)


Reacting to recently increased questioning whether Republika Srpska (RS) should continue to exist, Dodik said that Serbs should no longer pay attention to the enemies of the RS. Chairman of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency said that Serbs should ignore such ideas and respond to them by contributing to the development of the entity. “RS exclusively depends on us, our will and ability to build it up as economically and institutionally strong, and those who don’t like it, they will stay trapped in their hatred,” Dodik said. “The fact that RS exists, an improving RS, where highways, hospitals, factories are being built and people are getting employed, is the best response to their hatred,” he added. RS is the result of the will of the Serb people and nobody should go against it, Dodik said, adding that “RS cannot and must not be abolished” and that he does not care what Bosniaks or anyone else thinks about that. He repeated that B&H is a dysfunctional country lacking perspective and that the Bosniak support for it is questionable too as their leaders have been “obstructing the forming of the state-level government for five months.” Bosniaks are obstructing the legitimate right of elected Serbs to represent Serb national interests in joint institutions, he said, referring to the support Serb officials from the opposition have from Bosniaks. “Our policy is clear and it is the strongest within B&H, and Bosniaks don’t like that. What they are doing now is seeking ways to weaken us,” he said, saying that if the will of the Serbs which they expressed at the last election is not respected, then Serbs should not view the joint institutions as legitimate. Currently, ministers from opposition parties in RS are representing the RS in the central government. According to Dodik, they never had the right to hold those posts and particularly not after the October 2018 election. Dodik emphasized that he enjoys the support of the president of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, saying that the relations he and Vucic developed make Serbs in B&H perceive Serbia as their own country.

 

B&H Constitutional Court again to discuss 9 January – RS Day (Srna)

 

The B&H Constitutional Court should, at a two-day plenary session that begins on Thursday, 28 March, consider the request of nine delegates from the RS Council of Peoples for the review of the constitutionality of Article 2, paragraph 1 of the RS Law on the Day of the RS which established 9 January as the National Day of the RS. The National Assembly of RS in its response to this request, requests that the Constitutional Court rejects the request as unfounded. The Team Coordinator for preparing the response and participating in the defense regarding this request, Rajko Kuzmanovic stated earlier, that it was proposed to the Constitutional Court of B&H, to strictly observe the legal approach, which is, in fact, its obligation. Team member Mile Dmicic said that, due to the non-argued request and formal legal reasons, there is a basis for the request to be rejected. “RS implemented the earlier decision of the Constitutional Court regarding the Day of the Republic, and thus we argued our positions in the response,” said Dmicic. The Council for the Protection of the Vital Interest of the Constitutional Court of RS at its session on 22 December, 2016, made a decision establishing that the Law on the Day of the RS, passed by the RS parliament on 25 October, 2016, did not violate the vital national interest of the Bosniak people. The B&H Constitutional Court of B&H will consider the request of the Court of B&H for assessing the compatibility of the Instructions on Amendments to the Instructions on the Procedure for Conducting Consequential Elections for B&H Authorities incorporated by the B&H Election Law, adopted by the Central Election Commission (CEC) of B&H on 18 December 2018. For this same decision of the CEC B&H, the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the B&H Parliamentary Assembly Borjana Kristo requested the B&H Constitutional Court to review the constitutionality. The CEC B&H adopted the Instructions according to which the delegates of the House of Peoples of the Federation of B&H parliament were elected in accordance with the results of the 2013 census according to the principle that at least one Bosniak, Serb and Croat from each canton, should they be elected. Kristo has previously stated that she believes that this decision of the CEC is completely contrary to the decision of the Constitutional Court of B&H on the legitimate representation of constituent peoples at all levels and contrary to the Constitution of B&H. “The CEC does not have a basis to make a decision on how many delegates are being given by the cantons to the House of Peoples of the Federation of B&H,” Kristo said.

 

Cooperation between RS and Serbs in Kosovo will be deepened (Srna)

 

Delegation of nine RS municipalities ended four-day visit to Kosovo and Metohija by visiting Gracanica Monastery. Trebinje Mayor Mirko Curic said that the Serb people in Kosovo must stay strong and endure everything that follows, and stressed that the Serbs, wherever they are, must stay together. “We are too small to be divided either in Kosovo, central Serbia or RS, because everything will go away, but what is preserved in unity will remain,” emphasized Curic. He said that as long as there is RS and the Serb people, the Serbs in Kosovo will not be alone. Jezero Municipality Head Snezana Ruzicic told Srna that Serbs from RS will be even more firmly linked to the Serb people and sanctities in Kosovo and Metohija in the future. “The Serbs from our small municipality of Jezero, which is located on the inter entity boundary line, suffered a lot, and I can freely say that we experienced similarly to what our people in Kosovo and Metohija is going through,” Ruzicic said. She announced the establishment of even closer ties between Jezero Municipality and Serb institutions in Kosovo and Metohija. “I want to tell the Serbs in Kosovo that they must be persistent and determined to stay and survive in their homes, because by defending this Serbian holy land, they defend the entire Serbian identity and faith,” said Ruzicic. Milorad Arlov, Head of the Committee for Assistance to Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, who is the organizer of the visit, told that a visit by the delegation of nine local communities from RS made a new beginning of the assistance to the Serbs in Kosovo and its most vulnerable category – children with disabilities. “We agreed to build a day-care center for special needs children in North Kosovska Mitrovica that will be financed by RS on the land plot we bought for EUR 35,000,” Arlov said and announced that approximately 1,050 students and teachers from Kosovo will stay in 18 municipalities and towns in RS as of mid-June. He says that the “Connecting Serb children from Kosovo and Metohija with children from RS” action is a confirmation of unity that is absolutely necessary. RS delegation attended the event marking 20 years since the NATO bombing of the FRY in Gracanica. The delegation of the Federation of Municipalities and Towns of RS visited Kosovo under the auspices of the Serbian Government’s Office for Kosovo and Metohija.

 

Russia respects Dayton Agreement, policy of reconciliation (Srna)

 

RS parliament speaker Nedeljko Cubrilovic told the member of the Russian State Duma Yevgeny Primakov that Russia has demonstrated its respect for the Dayton Peace Agreement and other international treaties and thanked the Russian Federation for its objective approach and support to the policy of dialogue and reconciliation in B&H and the region. Cubrilovic told Primakov, who is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, it was obvious that certain political parties from Sarajevo were intentionally obstructing the formation of the Council of Ministers and inflicting damage to the whole country, the NA reports. Russia and RS have firm economic, historical and institutional relations and more efforts should be invested in boosting their economic, parliamentary, educational and cultural cooperation, said the two officials.

Cubrilovic stated that the National Assembly had friendly cooperation with the Legislative Assembly of Saint Petersburg, and that interparliamentary cooperation improved after a visit by the Chairwoman of the Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko, which he qualified as very significant for the RS parliament. The meeting in Banjaluka was also attended by the Russian Ambassador to B&H, Petr Ivantsov.

 

Joint marking of Serbs suffering anniversaries important (Srna)

 

RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic and B&H Presidency Chairman Milorad Dodik said after the marking of NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, that it is important that RS and Serbia jointly mark all the anniversary of the suffering of Serbs. “We experienced it in RS and we are aware how severe these sufferings are. During the war in B&H, NATO was placed in one side. After the war, it literally always promoted something that did not get consent within B&H,” stated Cvijanovic. The President of RS emphasized that Serbia marking this date is good that having the top officials of RS attended it is very important. Dodik stated that Serbs in RS cannot accept B&H’s membership in NATO. “It’s an alliance that threw bombs containing depleted uranium and cluster bombs, which were prohibited by warfare conventions, we did not forget that. It’s impossible, our people live with it,” Dodik told reporters. A state ceremony over the 20th anniversary of the NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was held Sunday evening in Serbian town Nis and was attended by the top officials of Serbia and RS.

 

SDSS to stay on with the HDZ-led coalition government (HRT)

 

For the past three weeks the leader of the SDSS, a Serb minority political party in Croatia, has not been attending meetings of the coalition government. The leader of the Independent Democratic Serb Party, Milorad Pupovac met with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, following three weeks of speculation that he would leave the coalition government. Speaking to reporters after the meeting Pupovac said that the SDSS would stay on with the coalition government.

“We agreed that for all of those issues we agree on, and those we don’t, to create the necessary conditions for the continued work of the parliamentary majority and the SDSS within that parliamentary majority,” Pupovac said. Senior HDZ official Lovro Kuscevic made it clear when the speculation started some weeks ago, that no one member of parliamentary majority was so important that the coalition government couldn’t do without them.

 

DF offered new document (CDM)

 

After they had said to the organizers of the protest known as “97 000 Odupri se” that they wouldn’t accept any blackmailing platforms and rejected the Agreement on Future, DF offered the opposition a new document, or, to be more precise, a motion of joint action, in which they request that they all agree on several main items that refer to the resignation of the leading people in the country. This document doesn’t contain the items that existed in the document of the organizers of the protest referring to the foreign policy course of Montenegro. DF offered this document after they had spoken with the organizers and said clearly that they wanted to be the leaders of the process. They firmly believe that this document will contribute to overcoming misunderstandings and provide joint action in achieving proclaimed objectives. The document they have forwarded requests that the opposition agrees on several items referring to the resignations of Milo Djukanovic, Dusko Markovic, Ivica Stankovic, Milivoje Katnic, Sreten Radonjic and Bozidar Sundic. They also want the opposition to agree with the statement that they won’t accept next elections under such totalitarian circumstances, that they agree with the technical government and to express readiness for continuous communication and cooperation in the atmosphere of mutual trust, with no exclusivity and blackmails. DF decided to make this move stimulated by the fact that Montenegro is in deep political and social crisis that has escalated. The whole story started by “97 000 Odupri se” movement who sent Agreement on Future to the opposition and an ultimatum to the authorities. They hinted that items 3,4 and 5 weren’t subject to negotiation. The opposition accepted this Agreement. DF said that there couldn’t be ultimatum. Organizers of the protest gave in and several days afterwards, they said they were ready to talk.

 

Europe has more important things to deal with, the region can wait (Pobjeda)

 

The view of the European Parliament that Western Balkans is still far from the EU should be regarded as a message for their voters, taking into consideration the forthcoming elections to the EP, scheduled for May. During the public hearing held in the EP last week, several members of this body said that not a single WB country “is close to meeting the EU criteria”. “Let’s be honest, some progress has been made, but no WB country is close to meeting the requests and we are sorry to notice the stagnation,” said Christian Danielsson, Director – General of the Directorate for Neighborhood and Enlargement Policy at the EC. Marko Kmezic, lecturer at the Center Southeast European Studies within the University of Graz, points out that this can only mean one – a message for WB voters. “We also have to be aware that huge Euro-skepticism is currently popular. Besides, elections to the EP are approaching. Therefore, we should see that as a message,” says Kmezic. Momcilo Radulovic, President of the European Movement in Montenegro has similar opinion. Assessments and qualifications which are pretty negative should be interpreted in the context of the forthcoming elections. “Negative atmosphere is dominant in the majority of EU States and that’s a fact. Citizens and voters have negative view on the accession process. So, all those statements have been made in the context of the forthcoming elections, where WB appears to be some sort of collateral damage. Hopefully, this negativity will disappear after the elections,” says Radulovic. Asked about the real progress of the region, Mr. Kmezic points out that, last year, the EC characterized all WB countries as “enslaved countries”. Does Brussels want to stay tuned to the integration process until the very end? Do they have any obligation, or are they willing to do that? “This democracy problem is not present in the Balkan countries only. We’re not a phenomenon, it’s a global trend. And since we know that we aren’t the only ones, why would EU deal with that? If you ask people who deal with enlargement, they’ll tell you: You have clearly defined criteria. It’s up to you to meet them. Or not. If you want that, you will become EU Member State, guarantee. But if you don’t want it, we simply won’t do that for you,” says Kmezic. Balkan countries are grabbing formal democracy, and they neglect the essential. “We should have political elites that rule from the rule of law. As is seems to me, that doesn’t exist. There’s an ideology of European integration, and they are all elites that opt for integration and reforms with the aim of maintaining their own power,” says Kmezic. On the other side, Radulovic thinks that things have improved. “Except for the problem with Kosovo, considerable progress has been made in many countries. Of course, there are also shortcomings, but not everywhere”.

 

Parliament to decide on Wednesday on the laws that Ivanov refused to sign (Nezavisen vesnik)

 

Parliament on Wednesday will decide on part of the laws that President Gjorge Ivanov returned without his signature, stating that he has sworn to defend the interests of the Republic of North Macedonia. There are 27 laws on the 94th session so far, most of which have been vetoed by the head of state, so now they should be provided with 61 votes. Among the items on the agenda are the ratification of an agreement between Macedonia and Romania on cooperation in the field of culture and education, changes in the Law on OTA, amendments to the Law on Service in the ARM, the Law on Energy, etc. Ivanov returned three reform laws in the field of justice, which were adopted by a two-thirds majority, but parliament speaker Talat Xhaferi announced that they would be considered adopted and there will be no re-vote in parliament.

 

Siljanovska with 6% ahead of Pendarovski (Republika)

 

If presidential elections in North Macedonia were held tomorrow, 32.2% of Macedonian voters would vote for VMRO-DPMNE’s candidate, Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, while 26,1 for SDSM’s Stevo Pendarosvski, shows a poll conducted by M-Prospect for TV Telma. In the presidential elections, 25% of the citizens said they would vote for Stevo Pendarovski, and 22.4% for Gordana Siljanovska, and 10.9% would vote for the Alliance for the Albanians/BESA candidate, Blerim Reka. The M-Prospect agency says that the results of the poll are subject to a margin of error of 3.1 %. Experts say that when the difference between candidates is within the margin of error, then this is no difference, but it is more likely that the candidates are tied. According to this poll, 15.2 percent of ethnic Albanians said they would vote for the consensual candidate of SDSM and DUI.

 

DP calls for preparations for early election (ADN)

 

At a closed-door meeting with former MPs and members of the party leadership, regarding the protests organized by the opposition, DP leader Lulzim Basha has not spared the criticisms for low attendance and inactivity on the ground with the citizens, as the local media reported.

Reportedly, Basha called on DP exponents to prepare for early elections, as well as for a better organization for mass protests. The next opposition protest is expected to take place on Thursday in front of Parliament building, while the third national protest has been announced on April 13 in front of the Prime Minister’s Office. In addition to protests in the capital, the opposition leader requested that the protests extend throughout the country.

 

Political crisis, CEC Chairman seeks protection by parliament (ADN)

 

Chairman of Central Election Commission (CEC), Klement Zguri stated on Monday that the Parliament should protect this institution from being affected by the current political crisis.

During the presentation of the annual report of the Commission in Parliamentary Committee of Laws and Human Rights, Zguri stated that the political crisis in Albania will probably affect the CEC, so it is the Parliament’s duty to protect this institution. “The elections deserve a professional administration. Parliament should support CEC,” said Zguri.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

 

Albania Opposition Leader Grilled Over US Lobbying Contracts (BIRN, by Besar Likmeta, 25 March 2019)

 

Prosecutors in Tirana on Monday asked the head of the opposition Democratic Party to explain why the party did not declare having spent more than half-a-million US dollars on lobbying in US before the 2017 elections.

Albanian Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha was grilled by Tirana prosecutors on Monday over 2017 payments for lobbying in the US and related expenditures. The Tirana Prosecutorial Office said it questioned Basha and three others DP officials about the spending, which Basha later played down, saying it related only to whether some spending statements filed by his party to the Central Election Commission were correct. “The investigation has raised legitimate suspicions based on proof that there is a substantial difference between the official statements of expenditures from the DP and the real expenditures incurred,” the prosecutorial statement reads.

“The subject declared [payments of] only 25,000 US dollars, while it had not declared 650,000 US dollars in expenditures,” it added. After the meeting, Basha told journalists that no one from the party had broken the law. “We were summoned by prosecutors to provide information as persons that could have knowledge of the matter under investigation,” he said. “More than a year-and-a-half have passed since the investigation started, while the answers obtained … prove that neither the Democratic Party nor its officials broke any law,” he added. Basha had been taunted by the ruling Socialist Party over the lobbying contracts, while he is accusing the government of winning the 2017 elections in collusion with organized crime networks.

Tirana prosecutors started an investigation on November 2017 into suspected falsification or false statements in connection with consultancy contracts between the Democratic Party and US-based companies. Prosecutors stepped in after a BIRN investigation revealed that the party hid more than half-a-million US dollars in expenditures for a lobbying company in Washington and failed to disclose the cash spent to the Central Election Commission. Some of the transfers went through a shell company with unknown owners registered in a fiscal haven. The Democratic Party signed two consultancy agreements with Stonington Strategies, which is part of Muzin Capitol Partners, founded by Nicolas Muzin. A consultant and deputy chief-of-staff for US Republican Senator Ted Cruz during the 2016 US presidential campaign, Muzin has also worked as chief-of-staff for Senator Tim Scott. Just days before the 2017 parliamentary elections in Albania, Basha had a short meeting and a photo opportunity with US President Donald Trump, which Muzin showcased as a success for his company. Documents filed by Stonington Strategies at the US Justice Department show it received two payments for a total of 525,000 US dollars in 2017 and a third payment of 150,000 dollars through a company registered in Scotland, called Biniatta Trade LP. The Democratic Party’s submission to the Central Electoral Commission said that during 2017 it spent about 26.4 million leks on consulting work, of which 3.1 million lek [25,000 US dollars] was paid to Muzin Capitol Partners. Tirana’s Prosecutorial Office announced on Monday that documents requested from the US and Scotland show that the party did not declare the payments made to Muzin Capitol Partners or to Biniatta Trade LP. “We conclude that two payments totaling 650,000 US dollars for the purpose of lobbying in US have not been declared by the subject,” the prosecutorial office said. “One of these payments was made through a foreign company named Biniatta Trade,” it added. Keen to link themselves to the US, Albanian political parties have spent millions of dollars in recent years in lobbying in the US among government and other US institutions. In 2016, prosecutors in Tirana started a preliminary evaluation over a payment of 80,000 US dollars after Bilal Shehu, an Albanian-US citizen, pleaded guilty to making an illegal donation to the Obama Victory Fund for the US 2012 presidential elections. The funds were used to get Albania’s current Prime Minister, Edi Rama, into an Obama fundraising event in San Francisco, where Rama had a photo-opportunity with the then US president. Albanian prosecutors have never brought charges against Rama over this.

 

The Latest: Montenegro arrests suspected migrant smugglers (Associated Press, 26 March 2019)

 

ANKARA, Turkey — The Latest on migrants trying to get to Europe (all times local):

 

3:40 p.m.

Montenegrin police say they have arrested 17 people for smuggling migrants who are trying to reach Western Europe through the Balkans. Police said Tuesday the suspects include two police officers. All are charged with illegally transferring migrants in groups of five and 10 people from Albania through Montenegro and on toward Bosnia and European Union member Croatia since last May. Montenegrin police say one more person has been detained in Croatia and three in Bosnia. Thousands of migrants are stuck in the Balkans as they seek to move on toward wealthy European Union nations. In Bosnia, Klix.ba new portal said Tuesday that a demining team has discovered by chance a group of 10 migrants in the forest near the border with Montenegro, including women and children in bad condition from exhaustion.

 

___

12:15 p.m.

Spanish police say they have arrested 17 members of an alleged human trafficking network that threatened Moroccan migrants who sought a refund when attempts to reach Europe by sea failed.

The National Police said Tuesday the busted cell operated from Ceuta, a tiny Spanish enclave in northern Africa. The alleged traffickers charged between 1,500 and 4,000 euros ($1,700 to $4,500) for taking the Moroccan migrants across the Straits of Gibraltar in high-speed rubber boats. According to police, a hit man threatened the migrants who dared to ask for a refund if they failed to complete the trip. More than 5,500 migrants have reached Spanish shores this year and 121 have died trying to, according to the International Organization for Migration. Last year, a record 57,000 arrived and more than 800 died.

 

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10:35 a.m.

Turkish authorities say three women and an infant have died after a fiberglass boat carrying migrants to Greece sank off the Turkish coast. The coast guard said 11 other migrants were saved in an air and sea search mission launched early Tuesday off the town of Ayvacik, in northwest Canakkale province. The privately owned DHA news agency said the boat, carrying 15 migrants from Iran and Afghanistan, was heading to the Greek island of Lesbos. The three women and the infant who died were from Afghanistan, the report said. Migrants have been trying to get from Turkey into Greece, which is in the European Union, before heading to more prosperous European nations. A 2016 deal between Turkey and the EU significantly curbed numbers but migrants still attempt the perilous journey.

 

 

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