News & Current Affairs

September 7, 2008

Serb opposition leader resigns

Serb opposition leader resigns

Tomislav Nikolic

Tomislav Nikolic went too far for party hardliners

The head of the main opposition party in Serbia has resigned after senior colleagues refused to back the country’s efforts to join the EU.

Tomislav Nikolic had recently persuaded his Serbian Radical Party to approve the ratification of an important agreement with the European Union.

But there was a party revolt over the issue, with critics saying it meant abandoning Serbia’s claim to Kosovo.

Kosovo unilaterally declared itself independent from Serbia this year.

Mr Nikolic had steered his party towards the centre of Serbian politics, focusing on social issues such as unemployment and poverty, rather than the militant nationalism of the past.

Mr Nikolic is officially the deputy president of the party as its leader, Vojislav Seselj is facing charges at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

His endorsement of the Stability and Association Agreement, signed earlier this year but still awaiting ratification by the Serbian Parliament, was a bridge too far for many of his party colleagues, our correspondent says.

A meeting of the party leadership on Friday night reversed the decision to endorse the agreement with Brussels.

Mr Nikolic resigned in protest, both from his position as de facto leader of the party, and as the head of its group in parliament.

The parliamentary vote on the agreement with the European Union is expected next week.

August 8, 2008

Kosovo lives: Not gone with the wind

Kosovo lives: Not gone with the wind

Courtesy BBC

Sani, Lili and Dani Nikolic in their room at the Greek K-For camp

The three women thought they would be left alone in Urosevac after the war because there were no men in their house

In the fifth and final piece by BBC journalists on life in Kosovo today, Patrick Jackson meets three Slovenian-Serb women who intend to be the bane of K-For’s life until they regain their ancestral home.

Their great-grandfather built Urosevac, the Nikolic daughters like to say, so how can they leave it now?

Sani (Santipa), the very image of mildness and physical slightness, beams mischievously at the memory of how she floored a US soldier with her karate skills, the day K-For came to evacuate her family.

I am not saying she is over 60, because her disabled younger sister Lili (Liljana) reminded me, when I inquired, that you must never ask a lady her age. A smile of assent crossed the mask-like face of their blind mother Dani (Daniela).

However, the soldier’s commanding officer was certainly impressed by Sani’s resilience, telling her she was “as tough as a Texan lady”, according to Lili.

The Americans evacuated them from Urosevac (Ferizaj in Albanian) on 18 March 2004, to save them from Albanian rioters, who then destroyed the house.

But the Nikolic women have refused to join the thousands of other non-Albanians who fled (most of them in June 1999).

They argue that K-For failed to defend their property and removed them against their will, so it should take them back.

And that is how they come to be living today inside a Greek army base outside Urosevac.

Sickbay

The sole civilians to live on a base in K-For’s eastern sector have a medical ward to themselves at Camp Rigas Fereos.

The Nikolic family's cooking arrangements in the camp

The facilities in the room meet the family’s basic needs

It is a large, spotlessly clean room equipped with the bare essentials such as a fridge and a microwave oven, but no television set or radio.

From the window they can see only the camp and the mountains in the distance. Some paper religious icons are stuck to the blank white walls.

What personal effects they have seem all to come from charity.

Asked what she misses most from her home, Daniela says her family photographs and her jewellery, including her wedding ring from her husband who died before the war (she had taken it off to wash her hands the morning they were evacuated).

There is also the antique furniture, her library of 1,800 “beautiful books in five languages” and her paintings, especially a 17th-Century Italian Madonna she brought with her from her native Slovenia when she married her Serb husband.

Theirs was a wealthy family in its time, Lili explains. Their great-grandfather helped found Urosevac, a late 19th-Century town that arose around the new Belgrade-Thessaloniki railway, after he persuaded the Turkish authorities to let him build there.

Thessaloniki played a new role in the Nikolic family’s history in 2004, when Greek K-For, having sheltered the evacuees at Camp Rigas Fereos for four months, transferred them to its military hospital.

All three women needed specialised medical help.

A military ambulance parked outside the family's room

Life for the women at the base is punctuated by bugle calls

During the evacuation, Lili, paralysed in one leg since a car crash in her youth, was struck by a rioter’s stone, which broke her bad knee.

Daniela was already going blind and Sani suffered from arthritis.

Nearly five years of constant stress had also taken its toll.

Their house was placed under 24-hour K-For guard in the summer of 1999 after intruders robbed and beat them.

The last time Sani had left the building was in October 2000, when she slipped past the guards to go to the nearby market.

Some teenage boys recognised her as a Serb and started to beat her. She fought back with her karate, but she says she “did not want to hurt them”. She returned home covered in blood.

The boys told the police she had fired a gun at them, she adds, and an Albanian policeman turned up at the house. But when he saw the K-For guards, he just said “no problem” and left, Sani says.

In November last year, the women left the hospital in Thessaloniki and returned to Camp Rigas Fereos at their own request.

Private property

While they were in Greece, new buildings were erected illegally on the site of their property, a prime location in the centre of Urosevac.

Sani Nikolic in her room at the Greek K-For camp
We have just this one card left to play, and we are playing it now. We have nothing else to lose
Sani Nikolic

Sani says she was phoned by an Albanian when she was still in Thessaloniki, and advised not to try to come back because there was “no room” in the town for her family now.

“I said to him: ‘You Albanians want to join the EU and from what I know, the English and the Americans respect private property very much. I don’t want yours, I just want my own back. And nobody can deny me that’.”

The UN refugee agency has offered them a new home in a village enclave near Urosevac but they are refusing.

“What would I do in a village?” asks Sani, an architect by profession.

“I have never lived in a village. I know nothing about agriculture. I am ill.

“If we agreed to be relocated to a village enclave somewhere, we know that we, like the other IDPs [internally displaced persons], would never get our home back.”

The newly elected mayor of Urosevac has taken an interest in their case and visited them at the camp this June. They gave him a file of property deeds.

The mayor pledged to ensure their information was processed through the legal system, K-For says.

Last card

K-For also says the Nikolic family cannot stay on the base indefinitely.

After all the family has suffered, and given their ill-health, age and isolation from other Serbs, I ask the women if it is not better to yield and accept a peaceful existence somewhere other than Urosevac – perhaps in Greece, which has they say, offered them asylum.

How can these three women, so proud and outspoken about their Serbian identity, even think of living again in a town that war turned against them?

They admit themselves that they feel uncomfortable in the camp, ever grateful to the Greek army for its hospitality and ever embarrassed about getting in the soldiers’ way.

Sani accepts the difficulty of returning now but her sense of grievance is greater.

“I will be frank,” she says.

“We know that we are like a thorn in the side for the Greek camp because as long as we are here, we are a problem they have to resolve.

“But this is the last card we have to play. We have nothing else to lose.”

August 4, 2008

Superb Murray wins Masters title

Andy Murray won his first title at the elite Masters Series level with a stunning victory over world number three Novak Djokovic in Cincinnati.

Courtesy BBC

Murray repeated his defeat of the Serb at last week’s Toronto Masters, beating his fellow 21-year-old 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-5) in two hours and 23 minutes.

He needed six match points to seal victory after failing to serve out the match at the first attempt.

The win will see Murray ranked at a career high six in the world on Monday.

“It’s huge because to win these tournaments is tough nowadays,” said Murray afterwards.

“I’ve played five days in these conditions and had eight or nine matches in the last couple of weeks. But I’ve put in the physical work and it’s paid off.”

Djokovic enjoyed a fantastic win over world number one in waiting Rafael Nadal in the semis and went into the final with a 4-1 record against Murray.

I got very nervous and he was hitting the ball really big but I hung in well
Andy Murray

But that solitary win for the Scot came only nine days ago and was evidence of the significant leap he has made in recent months.

It was the Briton who started the better and he cranked up the pressure in game five, forcing a break point, before earning another chance two games later.

The Serb held him off but as the set progressed it seemed a matter of when, rather than if, Murray would force the break, all the while holding his own serve with ease.

Despite not being taken past 30 on serve the Scot still required a tie-break but he remained ice cool, breaking immediately and consolidating with a huge ace.

A couple of wild Djokovic forehand errors saw Murray reach the changeover at 5-1 and he wrapped up a commanding set when the Serb sent a backhand long.

Murray finally let his level slip at 1-1 in the second set and, after two crunching forehand winners saw off the immediate danger, he went long with a backhand on the third break point to hand Djokovic the lead.

It did not last long.

The Australian Open champion double-faulted on the first point of the following game and immediately handed back the break, looking suitably disgusted with himself.

606: DEBATE
BBC Sport’s Piers Newbery

Murray stepped up a gear in game eight, moving to break point with a forehand winner and taking it when Djokovic netted a smash after some breathtaking scrambling from the Scot.

But with the title in his sights, Murray played his first edgy game of the day, throwing in two double-faults and missing four match points before Djokovic broke back.

It could have been a shattering blow for the Briton but he held on as the confidence flowed through Djokovic and managed to force a second tie-break.

Murray led 4-2 at the changeover after Djokovic double-faulted but was pegged back to 4-4, at which point the Scot won an epic rally with a fizzing backhand winner.

He finally earned a fifth match point with following another Djokovic double-fault but failed to make a return.

The sixth chance to seal victory came on his own serve and, finally, Murray secured a landmark win with a thumping volley.

“I got very nervous and he was hitting the ball really big but I hung in well,” said Murray.

“It was tough for both of us and there were a lot of long rallies. Your legs really burn out there and they were some of the hardest conditions of the year.

“But I stayed calm throughout and didn’t waste any energy – especially when I went behind in a couple of matches.

“In the past maybe I’d have let that get to me but now I’m playing top players on a regular basis and I’m better equipped.”

The Scot now heads to Beijing to represent Great Britain in the Olympic Games before moving on to the US Open.

July 30, 2008

Radovan Karadzic extradited to The Hague

Radovan Karadzic extradited to The Hague

BELGRADE, Serbia – Authorities extradited ex-Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to the Netherlands to face genocide charges before the U.N. war crimes tribunal on Wednesday, hours after a violence-tinged protest by thousands of his supporters in downtown Belgrade .

U.N. spokesman Liam McDowall confirmed Karadzic was transferred to the U.N. detention center near The Hague, where he will stand trial.

A jet with Serbian government markings landed at the Rotterdam airport Wednesday morning, AP Television News footage showed. The plane with Serbian government markings taxied into a hangar, out of view of reporters and television cameras before anyone disembarked.

Less than an hour later, a helicopter landed behind the high wall of the detention center while another helicopter hovered overhead. Two black minivans drove through the prison gates moments earlier.

The Serbian government said in a statement issued early Wednesday that its justice ministry had issued a decree that allowed his handover to the U.N. court, despite a violence-tinged protest hours before by thousands of his supporters.

Karadzic is accused by the tribunal of masterminding the 1995 slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian city of Srebrenica, Europe’s worst massacre since World War II. He is also charged with spearheading the three-year siege of Sarajevo that left 10,000 people dead.

Karadzic spent nearly 13 years on the run before being arrested last week in Belgrade, where he lived under the assumed identity of a health guru — sporting a long white beard and hair, and large glasses.

He is expected to be summoned before a judge within a day or two and will be asked to plea to each of the 11 charges he faces, including genocide and conspiracy to commit genocide. He may postpone his plea for up to 30 days.

Karadzic’s lawyer, Svetozar Vujacic, said his client will not enter a plea but will instead ask for the full 30-day period.

Vujacic also acknowledged Wednesday that he has never filed an appeal against Karadzic’s extradition. Vujacic had claimed he sent the appeal by registered mail from Bosnia before a midnight Friday deadline.

The days-long uncertainty over the appeal helped stall Karadzic’s handover, Vujacic said.

Despite the war crimes allegations, Karadjic is still revered by many as a wartime hero for helping to create the Bosnian Serb mini-state.

Hours earlier, a demonstration against Karadzic’s extradition turned violent on its fringes as stone-throwing extremists clashed with police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

While most of the 15,000 demonstrators sang nationalist songs and waved posters of their “Serb Hero,” a few hundred hard-liners broke away from the gathering and threw rocks and burning flares at police in downtown Belgrade.

Later, police fired tear gas at large groups of protesters while pushing them from the square after the rally. Police blocked off several neighborhoods, stopping traffic and the passage of the demonstrators.

Belgrade’s emergency clinic reported 46 people injured, including 25 policemen and 21 civilians. Most were lightly injured, doctors said, adding that only one civilian and one policeman were hospitalized.

Streets looked like battlefields, with smashed shop windows and overturned garbage cans. Ambulance sirens blared through downtown. Police Chief Milorad Veljovic said the area was “under control” by midnight.

Riot police had taken up positions across the capital and heavily armed anti-terrorist troops guarded the U.S. Embassy as busloads of ultranationalists arrived from all over Serbia and Bosnia for the anti-government rally dubbed “Freedom for Serbia.”

Many protesters carried banners and wore badges with Karadzic’s name and picture. Some chanted slogans against President Boris Tadic and called for his death.

“Thank you for showing that Serbia is not dead, although it is being killed by Boris Tadic,” said Aleksandar Vucic, leader of the Serbian Radical Party, which organized the rally. “Thieves and bandits are ruling Serbia.”

“We will fight for Serbia and Serbia will be free,” he added, setting off thunderous applause and chants of “Uprising! Uprising!”

Still, police estimated the turnout at only 15,000 people — far fewer than expected. The last major nationalist rally, in February after Kosovo’s declaration of independence, drew 150,000 people and led to an attack on the U.S. Embassy amid a violent looting spree.

Tuesday’s protest was seen a test for Tadic’s government, which is much more pro-Western than its predecessor. The president warned the right-wing extremists to remain peaceful.

“Everyone has the right to demonstrate, but they should know that law and order will be respected,” Tadic said.

The U.S. Embassy had predicted that up to 100,000 protesters could show up and advised Americans to avoid downtown Belgrade. The embassy was heavily guarded during the rally by special troops armed with machine guns wearing masks.

After February’s mass rally, the U.S. Embassy was partly burned and protesters went on a looting spree, smashing shops and McDonald’s restaurants. McDonald’s was targeted again Tuesday night, and three people were arrested for smashing windows at one of its hamburger shops, police said.

Serbia’s new, pro-Western government hopes Karadzic’s arrest will strengthen the country’s bid for membership in the European Union. Serbia had been accused of not searching for war crimes fugitives sought by the U.N. tribunal.

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