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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

WWI Memorial;EU Scolds Turkey;Iran missile test;FYROM;Pakistan blasts US;Bosnian President;Serbian Church Gary,Indiana St.Varnava

America’s last surviving World War I veteran says Congress should pass legislation to build a long overdue memorial to his fellow soldiers in Washington, D.C. West Virginia’s Frank Buckles, of Charles Town, is honorary chairman of the World War I Memorial Foundation. He’s 109, and he says that’s old enough to know how the country should recognize the conflict and the generation that fought and died in it. Buckles issued a statement Wednesday, saying without the memorial, there will be no closure. He says it doesn’t have to be elaborate, but a World War I monument belongs alongside those commemorating other great conflicts. Buckles was 16 when he enlisted. The Navy and Marines rejected him, but he persuaded an Army captain he was 18. To read more about The World War I Memorial Foundation, please click here.

The European Union said two Balkan states were ready to advance their membership efforts, while it admonished Turkey to move faster to settle its border disputes and to normalize relations with Cyprus. The assessments came Tuesday from the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, in separate reports on the readiness of countries that aspire to join the 27-nation bloc. Turkey was further criticized for shortcomings in free speech and freedom of religion. Negotiations over Turkey's membership, which is opposed by powerful EU states such as France and Germany, have dragged on since 2005. The assessment said freedom of expression and of the media need "to be strengthened in Turkey both in law and in practice," while "shortcomings remain in the exercise of the freedom of religion." It said Turkey also needed to step up efforts to resolve disputes with neighbors, including with Armenia—with which it signed a 2009 agreement to normalize relations that hasn't been ratified. The EU also noted the lack of progress in normalizing relations with the Greek-Cypriot half of Cyprus, which has been an EU member since 2004. Egemen Bagis, Turkey's chief negotiator to the EU said, "After all, 17 [negotiating] chapters are blocked. I don't even have a clear date to end the negotiations. I have so many leaders saying Turkey shouldn't join at all. So why should I give up on Cyprus?" Turkish leaders, including Mr. Bagis, say EU membership remains their top foreign-policy objective, but there is a decline in popular Turkish interest in the EU. Turkish media widely noted Monday that Albanians and Bosnians gained visa-free travel to the EU's borderless Schengen zone, while Turks still are obliged to line up outside embassies—despite Turkey's full customs union with the EU since 1995, and although it is further advanced in the EU membership process. According to a recent survey by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a think tank, Turkish support for joining the EU has fallen to 38% from 73% in 2004.

Iran is set to test-fire a domestically-designed air defense system similar to the Russian S-300 after Russia refused to fulfill a delivery contract, the IRNA news agency said on Wednesday. Russia signed a deal to deliver five battalions of S-300PMU-1 air defense systems to Iran in 2007 but banned the sale in September, saying the systems, along with a number of other weapons, were covered by the fourth round of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council against Iran over its nuclear program in June. "We had plans to purchase the S-300 from Russia as part of our agenda to meet some of our security needs, but under pressure from the United States and Israel, [Russia] refrained from delivering the defense system to our country," Brig. Gen. Mohammad Hassan Mansourian said. "[Missile defense] systems similar to S-300 will soon undergo test firing and field modification while other long-range systems are also being designed and developed," Mansourian said. The general also said Iran's air defenses would soon be strengthened with a new generation of Mersad and Shahin missiles. The advanced version of the S-300 missile system, called S-300PMU1, has a range of over 150 kilometers (over 100 miles) and can intercept ballistic missiles and aircraft at low and high altitudes, making it an effective tool for warding off possible air strikes. Russia has delivered 29 Tor-M1 short-range air defense missile systems to Iran under a $700-million contract signed in late 2005. Russia has also trained Iranian Tor-M1 specialists, including radar operators and crew commanders. The S-300 system is significantly superior to the Tor-M1.

FYRMacedonia continues to sufficiently fulfil the political criteria. The European Commission highlights its recommendation that EU accession talks should be launched. However, the general opinion is that negotiated and mutually accepted solution to the name issue, under the auspices of the UN, is required to start the EU negotiations, said EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule at a news conference in Brussels, unveiling the progress reports for candidate countries and aspirant countries for EU membership in 2010. Following substantial reforms in 2009, further progress has been made, although at an uneven pace, reads the European Commission (EC) progress report for Macedonia in 2010. With regard to political criteria, the document says that the Government coalition is stable, while its political forces are fostering cooperation. Further progress have been made, although at uneven pace, as regards the reform of the parliament, the police, the judiciary, public administration and respect for and protection of minorities. "The country needs to make further progress in relation to dialogue among political actors, judiciary and public administration reform, the fight against corruption, freedom of expression and improving the business environment. Implementation of the legislation is essential. The Ohrid Framework Agreement is still the key element for democracy, rule of law and democracy," the EC document reads. The country, it adds, continued to fulfil its commitments under the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. The Commission has proposed moving to the second stage of the association as provided for by the SAA. It is emphasised that the Council of EU has not yet taken a position on the EC's recommendation from October 2009 to open accession negotiations. Maintaining good neighbourly relations, including a negotiated and mutually accepted solution to the name issue, under the auspices of the UN, is essential. "The name issue with Greece remains unresolved. The two countries are engaged in talks under the auspices of the UN on resolving it and a number of bilateral contacts, including at prime minister level, have taken place, although this momentum has not yet led to concrete results. Actions and statements which could adversely affect good neighbourly relations should be avoided. Maintaining good neighbourly relations, including a negotiated and mutually accepted solution to the name issue, under the auspices of the UN, is essential," reads the EC report. In terms of economic criteria, it is said that Macedonia continues to be well advanced. In some areas, it has made further progress towards becoming a functioning market economy, notably by reducing barriers to market entry and exit and improving the capacity of the courts to handle economy-related cases. It should be able to cope with competitive pressures and market forces within the Union in the medium term, provided that it vigorously implements its reform programme in order to reduce significant structural weaknesses. Monetary and fiscal policy became more stability-oriented during 2009. The country's external balances improved, reflecting a slight recovery in exports, a drop in imports due to weak domestic demand, and strong private capital inflows. Unemployment remained very high, especially amongst young people and those with low level of education. Progress has been made in addressing institutional weaknesses and reducing trade barriers, but some shortcomings in rule of law still have a negative impact on the business climate and foreign direct investments, the EC report says.

The Pakistani government on Wednesday condemned the US backing for a permanent seat for arch-rival India on the UN Security Council as "incomprehensible". A federal cabinet resolution "expressed its serious concern and strong disappointment on the decision of the United States to support a permanent seat for India on the UN Security Council," a foreign ministry statement said. "It is incomprehensible that the US has sought to support India, whose credentials with respect to observing UN charter principles and international law are at best chequered," the resolution said. Addressing the Indian parliament earlier this week, visiting US President Barack Obama received rapturous applause when he said he looked forward to welcoming India as a permanent member of a reformed UN Security Council. Islamabad and Washington are allies in the war against terrorism, but their relationship is strained, while nuclear-armed Pakistan and India are entrenched rivals. They have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed territory of Kashmir. The resolution passed by the cabinet at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, accused India of "disregard of Security Council resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir and gross and systematic violations of the fundamental human rights of the Kashmiri people". A string of decades-old Security Council resolutions call for a referendum to allow the Kashmiri people to choose between India and Pakistan, but have never been implemented. Obama on Monday backed India's quest for a permanent Security Council seat, inviting the world's largest democracy to take its "rightful" place at the summit of global power. Obama also said that the United States could not "impose" a solution on India and Pakistan's dispute over Kashmir -- the trigger for two wars between the South Asian rivals. India has an estimated 500,000 troops in Kashmir, which is split into Indian- and Pakistani-administered parts. There has been a separatist insurgency in the Indian zone for 20 years.

Bosnia inaugurated its new three-member presidency on Wednesday, and the leaders of the Bosniak, Serb and Croat communities remained deadlocked over key issues regarding the nation's future. Fifteen years after an ethnic war sparked the breakup of Yugoslavia, Bosnia is divided into two barely functioning administrative entities: a Bosnian Serb republic and a Bosniak-Croat federation. The two regions are loosely linked by a central government, parliament and the presidency. In separate speeches Wednesday, the three newly elected leaders continued to disagree over whether Bosnia should remain united and make membership in the European Union and the NATO alliance key goals. The Bosniak and Croat leaders believe the country should progress toward EU and NATO membership without delay. The Bosnian Serb leader asked for patience until an internal compromise is found, accused the EU of sending conflicting messages about its own conditions for membership, and called the EU position often "confusing." The European Union has made a reform of Bosnia's government a condition for membership. It wants more power to be given to the central institutions. But the Bosnian Serbs don't want to transfer any power from their mini-state to the central institutions, believing this would weaken the mini-state's authority. They also oppose joining NATO, still angry over the alliance's bombing of Bosnia in 1995 and neighboring Serbia in 1999. In addition, they know NATO membership would anger the Bosnian Serbs' key ally, Russia. In October's vote, Bosnians re-elected incumbent Serb representative Nebojsa Radmanovic and Croat Zeljko Komsic to four-year terms as president, and Bosniaks replaced their representative Haris Silajdzic with the son of the first Bosnian President, the late Alija Izetbegovic. Bakir Izetbegovic is expected to pursue his father's vision of a united, multiethnic country joining the EU and NATO — a political platform shared by his Croat colleague, Zeljko Komsic.

From his childhood in Gary to his death in Yugoslavia, St. Varnava always protected his faith and was dedicated to a Christian life. St. Varnava is the first American-born Serbian to be proclaimed an Orthodox saint, said the Rev. Thomas Kazich, who also is a Gary native. St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church will honor St. Varnava during a service at 6 p.m. Thursday at the church, 9191 Mississippi St., Merrillville. Kazich, with the Serbian Diocese of North America, and the Rev. Marko Matic, a priest at St. Sava, will be involved in the service. "Not that many people know we have a saint in our neighborhood," Matic said. Varnava was born in Gary in 1914 and lived at a home near 12th Avenue and Madison Street, Kazich said. Varnava, whose secular name was Vojislav Nastic, was the first person baptized at St. Sava when it was located in Gary. "He grew up in a very spiritual family," Matic said. He also served as an alter boy at the church. "He was at the services every Sunday," Kazich said. Varnava went to Froebel Elementary School while he and his family lived in Gary for about nine years. They moved Yugoslavia in 1923, Kazich said. When he finished the equivalent of high school, Varnava's father took him to see Bishop Nicholai Velimirovich to receive the bishop's blessing to study theology. "As (Varnava) wrote, 'Theology is the science of sciences,' " Kazich said. The bishop gave him his blessing, and he started his studies. Kazich said Varnava's family was influential in his upbringing in the church. He said everyone in the church has a spiritual guide, and "his spiritual father was his own father." Varnava was ordained a priest in the early 1940s, and the Serbian Church elected him to become a bishop in 1947, Kazich said. Varnava began to preach against the Communist way of life after becoming a bishop, and Yugoslavia's Communist government arrested him on treason charges. During his trial, Varnava wasn't allowed to deliver a final defense plea because "it was feared that he would expose and reveal the government's criminal, terroristic and tyrannical policies," according to a report written by Kazich. In 1948, Varnava was sentenced to 11 years at one of the worst prisons at the time in Yugoslavia, Kazich said. He spent about three years there, and the government intended to kill him when he was being transferred to another prison, Kazich said. He was placed on a train car with other prisoners, and the government ran another train into the car, he said. Varnava survived the crash, but his legs were broken. "And he suffered from that for the rest of his life," Kazich said. Due to health problems, Varnava was released from prison in 1951, but he always was under guard by the Communist government until he died in 1964. Kazich said Varnava died under suspicious circumstances, and many believe he was poisoned. He said an autopsy couldn't be conducted at the time. Kazich said Varnava's family knew he didn't have a history of illness. He also wrote letters to them about his good health prior to his death. No matter the circumstances, Varnava always remained "a follower of Christ," Matic said. "He became one of the strongest protectors of his faith," he said. Matic said Varnava remains an inspiration to many at the church. "People still talk about him," Matic said. St. Varnava was canonized about five years ago. Kazich said canonization in the Orthodox Church differs from the process used in the Catholic Church. The process "begins locally, at the grass-roots level, perhaps where the holy person was born, lived and worked," Kazich said. "The love and veneration of the faithful spread to other areas," he said. "The hierarchy of the local church then undertake to examine all records left by the person and if this proves satisfactory, then the last part of the act is performed and canonization is announced and a service of glorification takes place."