Croatia’s tourist industry appears to be recovering after the hammering it took in 2020, with 2.6 million visitors arriving in the country so far this year, according to figures published this week by the Croatian National Tourist Board. The number represents a 54 per cent increase on the same period of last year. In June alone, there were 1.5 million arrivals, an increase of 62 per cent on 2020. “We can be satisfied with the results achieved so far, but at the same time we must remain cautious, because a favourable epidemiological situation is a prerequisite for the normal course of the season,” said Kristjan Staničić, director of the Croatian National Tourist Board.
Poland’s governing right-wing coalition lost its slim majority in parliament last Friday after three lawmakers left it amid criticism over the government’s decision to phase out coal as well as the country’s pandemic recovery plan. But the move is not expected to bring down Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s government — in which the Law and Justice party is the strongest partner — as it can count on support from some small aligned or opposition parties in crucial votes. A spokeswoman for Law and Justice, Anita Czerwinska, said recent votes in parliament in which opposition motions against cabinet members were rejected showed that the government has sufficient backing among lawmakers.
The European Union’s executive meanwhile is considering legal action against Poland over “LGBT-free” zones set up by some local authorities there, two officials told Reuters on Wednesday. The EU says LGBT rights must be respected in all member states, but Poland’s ruling nationalist party has made anti-gay policies part of its governing platform. In March it explicitly banned same-sex couples from adopting children, while more than 100 towns and areas have declared themselves “LGBT-free”. “We are checking if there is a violation of EU treaties” in the creation of those zones, said one EU official, adding the process has not yet been completed. A second official confirmed the Brussels-based executive is looking into the issue.
In a tirade against LGBT+ rights, Czech President Miloš Zeman last Sunday called transgender people “disgusting” during a television appearance. “If you undergo a sex-change operation you are basically committing a crime of self-harm,” Zeman said in the conversation with CNN Prima. “Every surgery is a risk and these transgender people to me are disgusting.” His comment came during a discussion about a new and widely condemned anti-LGBT+ law passed in Hungry that bans LGBT+ content in schools and on television. Czechia was not one of 16 EU member states to publicly voice opposition to the law.
Romania has agreed to sell 1.17 million doses of excess Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines to Denmark, the Danish health ministry said on Tuesday. “We can do this deal because Romania is experiencing low vaccination backing and therefore wants to sell excess vaccines which they won’t be able to use,” Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said in a statement. Romania has missed a goal to vaccinate five million people by the end of May, with just over a fifth of the population – 4.47 million people – inoculated. Vaccine hesitancy is spreading amid entrenched distrust in state institutions, misinformation campaigns and weak vaccine education.
Bulgaria is sticking to its target to adopt the euro currency from January 1, 2024 and plans to start payments in euros without any transitional period once it joins the euro zone, government and central bank officials said on Wednesday. Bulgaria, one of the European Union’s poorest member states, was admitted together with Croatia to the ERM-2 mechanism, a mandatory stage for joining the euro, last July. According to a draft national plan for Bulgaria’s euro zone entry approved on Wednesday, Bulgarians will be able to pay also in the national lev currency a month after the adoption of the single currency.
Ukrainian lawmakers on Tuesday approved a much-anticipated judicial reform, a move long sought by the West. The Ukrainian parliament, Verkhovna Rada, voted to endorse a bill that sets up an independent panel to appoint judges. It includes a provision that gives international experts a decisive voice in selecting the nominees. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the bill’s approval and promised to quickly sign it into law. He emphasised that the High Qualification Commission to be created to appoint judges would be formed in a way that would exclude any candidates tainted by corruption. “The Verkhovna Rada has empowered a key instrument to ensure justice in the judicial system,” Zelensky said in a statement on Facebook.
EU sanctions designed to punish veteran Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko for a sweeping political crackdown will leave him largely unscathed and able to continue financing the economy and his security forces, rating agencies and analysts said this week. The European Union imposed wide-ranging sanctions on Belarus last week in response to Lukashenko’s grounding in May of a Ryanair plane flying over Belarus and the arrest of an opposition journalist and his girlfriend who were on board, a move some EU politicians likened to air piracy. “The (sanctions) package is very serious, but it could have been much more harmful, both for bonds … and on the financial and trading side,” said Alexey Bulgakov, head of fixed income research at Renaissance Capital.
Azerbaijan has turned down an offer of 95 million US dollars from the World Bank to support Baku’s fight with coronavirus. Finance Ministry Spokesman Mais Aghayev told the APA news agency that initially Baku had shown an interest in the loan and begun negotiations, but had soured on the terms. “The directions, conditions, and procedures of the issuance of the loan did not satisfy our side and the negotiations stopped accordingly,” Aghayev said without elaborating. Offered under the bank’s Covid-19 Fast-Track Facility, the money was earmarked for the state health insurance agency and the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, which has faced criticism recently for failing to support disabled veterans.
Armenia’s private sector will benefit from new resources for green financing thanks to a 10 million US dollars financial package put together by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in cooperation with the European Union (EU) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to facilitate the private sector’s transition to more sustainable, low-carbon and climate-resilient practices. The package is being provided to ACBA Bank under the EBRD’s Green Economy Financing Facility (GEFF) programme and the EU4Business-EBRD credit line with incentives for on-lending to local enterprises for investments in climate-change mitigation and adaptation as well as for upgrading technologies and services to EU standards while promoting the use of green technologies. It is the first project to be signed in Armenia under the EU4Business-EBRD Credit Line, paving the way for more banking clients to join this new framework.
North East Europe
Estonia’s president, Kersti Kaljulaid, said this week that European Union leaders should only meet with Vladimir Putin bilaterally, rejecting a Franco-German proposal for a summit between the bloc and the Russian president. Summits should be withheld because “Georgia is partially occupied and Ukraine is partially occupied,” Kaljulaid, told Bloomberg TV in an interview on Tuesday in New York. “Nothing has changed,” while a summit would “give an image as if things have returned to business as usual.”
Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite said Belarusian officials were behind the surge in migrants this year into the Baltic, calling it a “well-organised” plan. In an interview with the popular Baltic news portal Delfi published on Sunday, Bioltaite said immigrants are paying as much as 15,000 US dollars to be transported over the border. “We really have evidence of the involvement of Belarusian border guards in this process, this is a fact. This is an organised activity, a certain scheme – well-organised, planned. This is a lot of money,” she said. More than 550 people have been caught so far this year illegally entering Lithuania from neighbouring Belarus more than seven times the figure for all of 2020 and more than 12 times the number for 2019.
South East Europe
A former chief of Serbia’s state security service and his deputy have been jailed for training Serbian forces that carried out murder and ethnic cleansing in the 1990s Balkans war. Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic were both given 12 years. Prosecutors at The Hague argued that the case proved the government of Slobodan Milosevic was directly linked to atrocities in Bosnia and Croatia The court ruled they had aided and abetted crimes against humanity. It was convinced that “a joint criminal enterprise” had existed from August 1991 to remove most non-Serbs from many areas and that plan was shared by senior political, military and police leaders in Belgrade. However, it did not find enough evidence to confirm that the two men on trial were behind atrocities across Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.
Montenegrin Supreme State Prosecutor Lidija Vukcevic warned on Wednesday that there is a lack of political will to prosecute war crimes, stressing that the prosecution needs the support of the authorities to bring cases to trial. “The Special State Prosecutor’s Office, which is responsible for prosecuting perpetrators of war crimes, should be supported by all other relevant authorities. There should also be even stronger political and public will when it comes to this area,” said Vukcevic. Since Montenegro became independent in 2006, it has held just eight trials for war crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. But only low-level perpetrators have been tried.
North Macedonia will be the first country in the Western Balkans to quit coal. The country will close its two coal plants by 2027, a date that is compatible with the UN Paris climate agreement. North Macedonia signed up to the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA) on June 30, a coalition of national and sub-national governments, businesses and organisations working to advance the transition from coal power generation to clean energy. Another Western Balkans country, Montenegro, has also joined the alliance, but its 2035 phase out plan overshoots UN Paris climate agreement compatibility by five years. North Macedonia is one of the countries most affected by air pollution, and the rate of premature deaths is higher than in most European Union states.
More activists have been jailed in Kazakhstan’s capital, Nur-Sultan, as police keep on rounding up activists amid preparations to mark the 81st birthday of former President Nursultan Nazarbaev. A court in Nur-Sultan late on Tuesday sentenced activists Nurlan Altynbaev and Aidar Syzdyqov to 10 days in jail each, and Aizhan Abenova to 15 days in jail after finding them guilty of violating laws on holding public gatherings earlier in the year. The activists rejected the charges. A day earlier, two other activists, Marat Musabaev and Qaiyrgeldy Nurghaliev, were sentenced to 20 and 15 days in jail respectively on the same charges. Local activists say that the incarcerations are connected to the call by Mukhtar Ablyazov, the leader of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement, for a demonstration on July 6, the day the country’s capital, Nur-Sultan, is celebrated in tandem with Nazarbaev’s birthday.
Dozens of civil rights activists and public figures have rallied in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek, protesting a controversial bill on the “prevention of the proliferation of false and unconfirmed information,” legislation they say will stifle freedom of speech. Some 50 protesters picketed the parliament building on Wednesday, holding posters, saying “Hands Off Freedom Of Speech,” “Lawmakers, Do Not Touch My Right To Speak Up,” and “Freedom of Speech Is Guaranteed by the Constitution.” A steering committee of the Kyrgyz parliament on Tuesday adopted an updated version of the bill amid ongoing protests. Civil rights organisations and media groups in the Central Asian nation have criticised the bill, saying it contradicts the constitution, Kyrgyzstan’s international commitments and agreements, and violates human rights and freedom of speech.
Uzbekistan’s Electricity Sector Transformation and Resilient Transmission Project has been approved by the World Bank. The project will improve the performance of the National Electric Grid of Uzbekistan to ensure reliable energy supplies to millions of households and businesses across the country. The project will be supported by 380 million US dollars in credit from the International Development Association, and a 43 million US dollars loan from the Green Climate Fund under the Sustainable Renewables Risk Mitigation Initiative Facility. Electricity demand in Uzbekistan is expected to grow to over 100 TWh by 2030, a significant increase from 61 TWh in 2018.
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