Thursday, June 18, 2009

NATO chief urges Macedonia to solve name row with Greece

NATO Secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on Friday urged Macedonia to solve its name row with Greece, saying it's the only obstacle on its way to NATO.

"Unfortunately NATO can't play any role in this matter. We wish to see it settled as soon as possible," de Hoop Scheffer, who is on a farewell visit to Macedonia, said after meeting with the country's leaders.

According to reports reaching here from Skopje, the NATO chief reaffirmed that NATO's door is always open to western Balkan countries, because the region's integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions is the only recipe for its lasting stability and security.

Macedonia's NATO bid was thwarted by Greece over the 19-year-long name dispute between the two neighbors at the alliance's summit in Bucharest last April.

Athens has contended that the former Yugoslav state's determination to call itself Macedonia has concealed territorial ambitions over its own northern province of the same name.

De Hoop Scheffer expressed satisfaction with the fact that nine new members joined NATO on his watch as Secretary-general, hoping for Macedonia to become the 10th.

His mandate as NATO chief will soon come to an end. He will be succeeded by former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who is going to take office on Aug. 1.

Albanian diplomat arrested in Turkey on suspicion of drug trafficking

Turkish police had arrested Agim Haxhia, deputy secretary of the Albanian Embassy in Skopje, Macedonia, in western Turkey on May 2, AP quoted the Albanian Foreign Ministry statement as saying in a statement.

Haxhia, being held in a prison near Istanbul, has been stripped of his immunity and will face prosecution in Turkey, the agency added.

He was arrested after police found 65 kilograms of heroin in his car, which carried diplomatic plates, AFP reported, citing Albanian television station Top Channel.

Until three years ago, Haxhia had worked as a journalist, the station reported.

Haxhia entered Turkey via neighboring Macedonia and Bulgaria without being stopped by customs or police officials in either country, Albanian police sources told AFP.

Macedonia turns to universal health insurance

Thousands of Macedonian citizens, who previously had access only to emergency health care and certain hospital services, are now eligible to receive free primary care through the government. Coverage now extends to vulnerable segments of the population, such as the homeless, the elderly and the unemployed.

The change stems from an amendment to the Law on Public Health that went into effect last month. The new law targets these "marginalised groups", Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said.

Minister of Health Bujar Osmani affirmed that, with these reforms, the government for the first time has satisfied a main principle of the Macedonian Constitution: coverage and protection of the health of all citizens.

The government will underwrite the newly eligible patients' coverage, enabling them to receive health care services on the same footing as those who are employed and pay for health insurance.

Universal health insurance covers unlimited visits to a personal primary care physician, preventive care and examinations and treatment abroad. Patients with specific contagious diseases will also be able to receive treatment under the plan, unless they have other insurance. They still have to pay for any medications.

Deputy Health Minister Vladimir Popovski explained that the new law harmonises even the terminology with that of the EU member states. Macedonia's federal Department for Public Health will now be called the Institute for Public Health and its regional offices centres of public health.

According to initial financial projections, this new health care system will cost more than 5m euros to implement.

While society generally welcomed the expansion of medical care, some doctors criticised the impending burden on the federal budget. Funds, they say, should also go to many dilapidated hospitals that lack adequate medical supplies or equipment.

According to Dr Gjorge Jovanov, "With the funds that the government is now providing, many of the patients who were not able to receive health care will have coverage, which is a very good thing. On the other hand, part of this money can be used to improve conditions for patients who already have insurance."

Congressmen push US on Macedonia

Fifteen members of the US Congress have appealed to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to help break the deadlock in the dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the latter’s name so that the tiny Balkan state can join NATO, it was revealed yesterday.

In a joint letter the 15 senators, led by Democrat Bill Pascrell of New Jersey and Republican Mark Souder of Indiana, urged Clinton to recognize FYROM as “a staunch ally and trusted partner” and to review the state’s “contribution to stability in the southern Balkans and its contribution to America’s foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan, Kosovo and the Middle East.”

The Congressmen also appear to press Clinton to take a stand on the name dispute. “We look forward to working with you... to reach a speedy and equitable resolution on issues such as the name dispute,” the letter said.

Greek diplomats said yesterday that they believed the FYROM lobby in the US had prompted the initiative in a bid to revive interest in stalled talks on the name issue.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Switzerland will respect free visa regime for Macedonia

Switzerland will apply a possible decision of the European Commission (EC) on annulment of visa requirements for the citizens of Macedonia, as although non EU country it is a member of the Schengen visa system, Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki said Monday after meeting his Swiss counterpart Micheline Calmy-Rey.

Milososki briefed his counterpart on Macedonia's progress in the visa liberalization process and the country's expectations for the desired result to soon enter into effect, local media reported from Bern.

- We have pointed out that Macedonia is a leader in the region in terms of meeting the visa liberalization criteria, which if approved by the EC and other European institutions, will be applied by Switzerland - very significant move for Macedonian citizens living there and for the communication of the peoples of both countries, Milososki said.

Milososki and Calmy-Rey expressed satisfaction with the solid political relations of the two countries and urged for boosting of the economic cooperation.

The Ministers also discussed on developments in the Balkan region, its European prospect, as well as forthcoming engagements of Switzerland and Macedonia as holders of the Council of Europe Presidency.

They shared opinions on possibilities for revising the 1996 bilateral agreement on air-traffic that would offer better services and prices.

Macedonian snipers third best in the world

1.Russia, 2. Ukraine, 3. Macedonia.

These are the top three countries at the latest Sniper World Cup for Police and Military held in Budapest, Hungary. Eagle eye, nerves of steel ... is something that best describes a snaperist. Mistakes aren't allowed, the tiniest of mistakes can be very costly.

Macedonian elite police and military sniper units have been competing at the Budapest sniper world cup since 2004. For six years in a row Macedonian elite unit "Tigers" have placed in the top 10 in the world.

In 2008, the Tigers placed third in the world, right behind the Russians and the Ukrainians (Berkuti). The Tigers are known as the toughest unit for urban fighting in Macedonia, though some may have arguments for the Wolves and the Red Scorpions. They are not the same. The Wolves and Red Scorpions belong to the Army, while the Tigers are a police commando unit.

Each day of a "Tiger" member is planned out from morning to evening. Every minute of the day, including meals, training and tasks are planned months ahead. Their primary duties are to cover VIP persons, free hostages, deal with criminals and terrorists on moments notice etc.

The Tiger's sniper unit is also known in being able to take out targets at 1,500 meters distance with 100% accuracy which makes them one of very few units in Europe and the only ones in the Balkans that can do that.

"Suitcase Trade" on Bulgarian border with FYROM increases

The cases of suitcase trade at the Gueshevo checkpoint on the Bulgarian border with FYRMacedonia, has increased, the chief of the customs at the checkpoint, Georgi Vladimirov, told Focus on Friday.

According to him it comes down to small traders who cross several times a day the limit for imported food. The reason is that prices of many goods in Macedonia are still lower.

‘The phenomenon cannot be stopped, as it exists everywhere. It is a time of crisis and everyone seeks a cheaper deal – Bulgarians shop in FYRMacedonia, Greeks shop in Bulgaria, Englishmen shop in France, Italians in Switzerland…’

As long as the imported goods are not in big quantities they cannot be handled by the customs officers. Even so, since the beginning of the year some 180 kilos of chicken legs have been confiscated.

Fines for companies without HACCP system as of May

No concrete data on the number of domestic companies that have implemented the HACCP food safety system, a legal obligation since January, are available yet. It is being considered so far that about three, five or ten percent of the total number of registered capacities have met the obligation, even though experts deem the figures are inaccurate.

Inspection teams in the first four months were mainly tolerable towards food operators, giving advices without fining them. Rigid control and fines amounting between Euro 500 and 5.000 and even closure of production plants or stores will be introduced as of May.

All large industrial capacities involved in food and beverages production that place their products abroad have already implemented the HACCP system. The sales benefit is obvious not only abroad but also at home because its has boosted their competitiveness, the Food Directorate says.

FYRMacedonia's legislative defines that producers, salesmen, restaurant owners, hotel-keepers and artisans, who are in any way involved in the production, transportation and commerce chain of food and beverages, are bounded to observe and apply provisions stemming from the rulebook on hygiene-sanitary conditions of food safety and the law on food safety, based on the HACCP system.

Macedonia's journalists to stage protests

The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM) will organize protest Monday in downtown Skopje on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day, May 3.
The protest will begin at 11:30 hrs at the AJM's premises and later the journalists will march across the streets to the city's central square "Makedonija".
The aim of the protest is to raise the voice against the bad situation that Macedonian journalism is undergoing, convictions for journalists, pressures, political influence, journalists' salaries etc.
In the media freedom report by Freedom House, Macedonia was ranked 98th in the group of partly free countries in terms of freedom of the media.