Bosnian election commission annuls election of Federation's leaders

Sarajevo, 25 March 2011 (MIA) - Bosnia and Herzegovina's Central Election Commission (SIP) annulled last week's election of the president and the two deputy presidents of the Bosnian Federation (Croat-Muslim entity), SIP chairwoman Irena Hadziabdic said on Thursday, adding that the decision, which was not made unanimously, could be appealed, Hina reports.

The SIP has established that the election of Zivko Budimir as the president of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and of Svetozar Pudaric ad Mirsad Kebo as the two deputy presidents was unlawful, as their election was conducted in the Federation bicameral parliament's House of Peoples although that upper house was not founded in compliance with the election law.

"The election of deputies from all ten cantons to the House of Peoples has not been carried out in line with the election legislation, which means that conditions for the establishment of the House of Peoples have not been met. Our second decision is to annul the election of the president and the two deputy presidents of the Federation as a result of our conclusion that this procedure in the Federation's parliament has not been carried out in accordance with the election law of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our third decision is to order cantonal assemblies that have not yet appointed (their deputies for the House of Peoples) to immediately convene sessions and do it," Hadziabdic told reporters in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.

The rulings of the election commission will be officially forwarded to all concerned parties on Friday and they can lodge appeals with the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina within the next two days.

The Court's appeals chamber is expected to make a final and binding decision in three days' time after it receives the appeals.

Hadziabdic stressed that the decisions made by the SIP were not final.

The decisions were made after the Federation's outgoing President, Borjana Kristo, and the leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ BiH), Dragan Covic, appealed against the election of Budimir and his deputies.

Last week, a bloc led by the Social Democratic Party (SDP) saw to it that Budimir, Pudaric and Kebo be elected as the Federation's leaders so that the SDP-led coalition could continue with forming the new government.

The HDZ BiH and the HDZ 1990 parties challenged this election, as they insist that the SDP-led coalition ignored the will of the Croat electorate. A majority of votes from the Bosnian Croat electorate was mustered by those two parties but they are not included in the
formation of the new Federation government.

The SDP-led coalition has said that it will not respect the SIP's decisions, explaining that it will only abide by rulings to be made by the Federation's Constitutional Court.

The Court has not yet convened a session to consider the case. ik/fd/10:59


Tirana government to erase electricity bills' debts of 270,000 households

Tirana, 25 March 2011 (MIA) - The Albanian government has decided to erase debts from unpaid electricity bills of 270,000 vulnerable households, report Albanian media.

The debts, estimated at US$400 million, refer to the period prior to the privatization of the state power company (KESH), which was purchased by Czech company CEZ at the beginning of 2009.

"A total of 98 percent of unpaid bills come from poor families, which receive social aid", said Prime Minister Sali Berisha while elaborating the decision.

The opposition said the decision represented an attempt by the ruling authorities to gain votes in light of the May 8 local elections. ik/fd/9:19


Nationalists denounce NATO as Serbia marks 12th anniversary of air strikes

Belgrade, 24 March 2011 (MIA) - Serbian nationalists demanded that the government cancel plans to host a NATO conference later this year, as the country marked on Thursday the 12th anniversary of the start of the military alliance's bombing that ended Belgrade's rule in Kosovo.

Democratic Party of Serbia described the plan to hold the annual NATO event in Belgrade in June as "shameful for the country and the nation." The opposition party led by former Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica threatened to organize protests if the conference takes place, AFP reported.

"All the ruins and dead bodies that NATO left behind reflect the real nature or that organization," party official Milos Jovanovic said during an event dubbed "Never in NATO" in central Belgrade, marking the start of the air strikes on March 24, 1999.

Serbian nationalists have also criticized Western bombing of Moammar Gadhafi's forces in Libya, comparing it to the NATO bombing of Serbia.

An online pro-Gadhafi movement from Serbia gathered thousands of supporters on Facebook. The pro-Gadhafi movement called for a protest against the Libya strikes to be held this weekend in Belgrade.

Serbian officials lit candles and lay wreaths Thursday to commemorate hundreds of victims of the 78-day NATO bombing, launched to stop then-President Slobodan Milosevic's onslaught against the ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo. lk/fd/20:55



Bank robber in Bulgaria releases hostages after 19 hours

Sofia, 24 March 2011 (MIA)  - A bank robber in the Bulgarian city of Sliven on Thursday released five bank employees and an injured guard he held hostage for 19 hours but refused to leave the bank himself, demanding guarantees for his life, AP news agency reports.

The employees were released unharmed and a bank guard who was shot by the robber has also been released and taken to a hospital, police chief officer Kalin Georgiev told the media. The condition of the guard is stable, doctors said.

Georgiev identified the suspect as Stefan Petrov, 28, a local resident whose attempt to rob the bank was prevented by a bank clerk who managed to alert police.

Police cordoned off the area around the bank for a second day and were negotiating with the armed man, who had been in the bank for 24 hours.

Georgiev said that psychiatrists have joined the operation and are trying to persuade the assailant to surrender. "Our biggest concern now is that he could commit suicide," Georgiev said. ba/fd/16:40


Baltimore hosts US-Balkans Business Summit

Baltimore, 24 March 2011 (MIA) - A two-day US-Balkans Business Summit, aimed at boosting investments and strengthening business cooperation,  kicked off Thursday in Baltimore, Maryland.

Today's debates at the summit are focused on energy strategy, infrastructure needs of the Western Balkans and information technology.

Vice Premier for Economic Affairs Vladimir Pesevski is representing Macedonia to the event, accompanied by director of the Agency for Foreign Investments Viktor Mizo and several Macedonian businessmen.

In addition to Macedonia, the gathering has brought together representatives from Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia&Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo and Slovenia. Only Serbia is not taking part in the conference, pursuing the policy not to attend gatherings at which Pristina authorities are treated as representatives of an independent state.

The meeting has assembled close to 400 representatives of US, Balkan companies, including political leaders.  One of the organizers Charles Dillon said that the summit should have been organized a long time ago.

"Such a summit should have happened much earlier because the US is poorly represented in the region. The goal is to create an opportunity for the beginning of a dialogue, to establish trade and investment flow between the US and the region. We are late, but better late than never," he said.

The US officials were dissatisfied with Serbia's decision not to send its representatives to Baltimore.

"It's quite a disappointment. This is not a political conference, but economic one and I think that it would have been a great possibility for businesspeople and consumers in Serbia. Unfortunately, that was not possible due to politics," Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman stated.

He added that US officials had tried to make Belgrade change its decision.

The overall purpose of the first US – Balkans Business Summit is to help reinforce broad-based and effective cooperation amongst the countries in the Western Balkans, strengthen economic and commercial ties between the United States and the region, and assist in the mainstreaming of all the Western Balkan countries into Europe.

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