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Friday, May 29, 2009

Michael's Afternoon 7 - 29 May

Cyprus has authorized U.S. firm Noble Energy to start searching for oil and gas deposits off the island's southern coast by the end of the year, a top energy official said Friday, in a move that could stoke tensions with regional rival Turkey. the government granted a license to the Houston, Texas-based company last year to explore one of 11 blocks inside the island's exclusive economic zone. The block is close to a large undersea gas deposit that Noble located off Israel, which according to the company's Web site is estimated at 5 trillion cubic feet. "Turkey has some fundamental rights and interests acknowledged by the United Nations in (those) marine areas. Turkey will naturally protect its rights," Turkey's semiofficial Anatolia News Agency quoted Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Burak Ozugergin as saying on Friday. Cyprus government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said the island adheres to international law and would defend its rights "calmly, but with much determination and vigor." "It's others [Turkey] who are violating the law," he said.

There is no country in the Middle East as fragmented and full of contradictions as Lebanon, yet it is perhaps the most pluralistic society in the Arab world. With a few days left before the parliamentary election due to be held on June 7th, Lebanese emotions have been running high. At stake are 128 parliamentary seats. Competing parties have been fighting for them more fiercely on satellite television networks than in the crowded streets of Beirut. To understand politics in Lebanon is to understand the Lebanese satellite television landscape in a small country of approximately 4,000 square miles and 4 million people with more than a dozen satellite television networks divided, as is the case with the population and government, across sectarian lines. Future TV (Al Mustaqbal), sometimes referred to as Hariri television, is the outlet of the Sunni community, and part of the media empire owned by the late Sunni Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) projects the perspective of the Maronite Christian community, and is run by Sheikh Pierre Daher and owned by a group of Lebanese-Saudi investors. Al Manar television is known as the Hezbollah channel. The National Broadcasting Network (NBN) is known on the street as the Nabih Berry television, after the Speaker of the Parliament. Then you have the newly resurrected Murr TV a.k.a MTV named after Gabrial al-Murr, a Greek Orthodox opposition figure. OTV is affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement headed by General Awn. New TV claims no political affiliation but is owned by a man with strong ties to Qatar and vehemently opposed to the Saudi-backed Hariri clan. The list goes on.

Citizens of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, the Bahamas and St Kitts and Nevis are now able to travel to 25 countries in the European Union (EU) without a visa. The four Caribbean nations were among six countries that yesterday signed a short-stay visa waiver agreement with the European Community (EC). The agreement, which took immediate effect, allows persons from those Caribbean states, as well as Mauritius and Seychelles, to visit countries in the EU's Schengen area - Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Greece, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Malta, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria - for up to three months in any six-month period without a visa.

The Serbian government has signed an agreement to allow their nationals to enter Russian without a Russian visa for up to 30 days, reports the Balkan Insight. The Russian visa agreement is a reciprocal negotiation between the two countries so that nationals can easily move between the borders for short-term visits. "The agreement signed on February 20 in Moscow will make travel from one country to the other easier for citizens with valid passports. They will be able to enter and remain on the territory of the other country for up to 30 days without a visa," the ministry said in a statement.

Czech Defence Minister Martin Bartak said today the Czech military "is well established in Kosovo and it wants to be further active" in the area.  the Czech Republic will only react to a plan to gradually decrease the number of KFOR units in Kosovo which NATO defence ministers should discuss within two weeks. "It is most important now to create the best possible conditions not only for Serbs, but also for all other minorities to understand that they should shoulder responsibility on the basis of local self-rule bodies within (administration) decentralisation." Three quarters of the Czech KFOR soldiers' work rest in patrolling the border with Serbia, the rest is devoted to certain Serb-populated areas. The Czechs are responsible for an area of about 700 square kilometres and 85 kilometres of the border.

Russia will continue negotiations with Japan over the South Kuril islands, President Dmitry Medvedev said Friday. The four islands, which have been in Russian hands since the end of World War II, have been a stumbling block to a formal peace treaty for the past 64 years. Medvedev said Japan has impeded progress recently by suggesting the islands, former Japanese territory, do not belong to Russia. The Soviet Union declared war on Japan in 1945 just before the Japanese government surrendered to the United States. "We will proceed with dialogue to find a mutually acceptable solution to the peace treaty problem, however we cannot but notice attempts by our Japanese partners to doubt Russia's sovereignty of the Kuril Islands," Medvedev said. He called cooperation between the two countries "an important factor in maintaining stability and security in the Asia-Pacific region."

Muslim immigrants and rights advocates gathered in central Athens for a demonstration to protest a police officer’s alleged defacement of an extract of the Quran during an identity check on an Iraqi man. Immigrant groups and human rights organizations scheduled the rally in central Omonia Square for Friday evening, a week after a similar demonstration degenerated into clashes with police, leaving 14 people injured, dozens of cars smashed and 46 people arrested. Illegal immigration is a pressing problem for the Greek government. In 2008, authorities arrested 146,337 illegal immigrants, a 30 percent increase from the previous year and a 54 percent jump from 2006, Interior Ministry figures show.  Dozens of police deployed to prevent possible clashes with far-right protesters gathering nearby for a separate demonstration to mark the May 29, 1453, fall of Constantinople — modern-day Istanbul and then the capital of the Byzantine Empire — to the Ottomans.