Greek authorities say a pro-Kurdish politician from a party banned in Turkey has been detained after entering Greece with false papers. Forty-six-year-old Mustafa Sarikaya — a former deputy chairman of Turkey's Democratic Society Party — was stopped last week at the airport in Thessaloniki, a city in northern Greece. Police said he flew in from Cyprus with a fake Bulgarian passport and requested political asylum. Under EU asylum rules, the request must be handled by Cyprus, where Sarikaya entered the EU. On Wednesday, a Thessaloniki court cleared Sarikaya of illegally entering Greece, accepting that he faced political persecution in Turkey. But he will be held pending the asylum process. Turkey shut down the Democratic Society Party in 2009 over alleged ties with Kurdish rebels.
II. VOANEWS - Tests Show Big Natural Gas Find Off Israeli Coast
Israel is hailing a recently discovered natural gas field off the Israeli coast, saying it could turn the country into a major exporter. U.S.-based Noble Energy Wednesday confirmed that the so-called Leviathan gas field contains an estimated 450 billion cubic meters of natural gas. Noble said the field represents its biggest find ever, while Israeli Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau called the discovery "the most important energy news since the country was founded." Some analysts say the find could be worth as much as $95 billion. The undersea field covers an area of about 325 square kilometers, and is located about 130 kilometers off the coast of the port city of Haifa. Noble Energy President David Stover said the Leviathan field could "position Israel as a natural gas exporting nation." Noble plans to develop the field along with several Israeli companies and plans to do additional appraisals to determine how much natural gas is available. Noble has also been exploring a separate undersea natural gas field nearby, called Tamar. Tamar was the largest gas find in the world in 2009, but Leviathan is almost twice as big. Noble Energy is also working with the Mediterranean island of Cyprus to tap natural gas reserves off its shores. Earlier this month, Israel and Cyprus signed a deal defining the sea border between the two nations.
Kosovo Deputy Foreign Minister Vlora Citaku said on Dec. 28 that Dick Marty's report would negatively affect Kosovo's admission to the Council of Europe and its efforts to garner recognition for its independence, which she described as unsuccessful. The independence recognition process has been unsuccessful because Kosovo was recognized by only eight states in 2010, Citaku told an annual media conference in Pristina. "This is an inadequate number relative to the effort invested," she said, and announced more forceful lobbying for Kosovo's independence. She said that the report would negatively impact on the five EU member states that had not yet recognized Kosovo. Citaku also said that the first negative consequences of Marty's report were already visible. "Our office for bilateral relations has readied documents for Kosovo's application to the Council of Europe, since we had a majority for membership. This kind of a report [Marty's] will definitely have a direct effect on postponing our applications to the CE," Citaku said.
IV. NYTIMES - Germany’s Responsible Military Reform
Germany, like most European countries, is under pressure to cut military spending. But instead of slashing and burning, it has developed a sensible plan that links reduced spending with modernizing reforms that will let it contribute more troops to NATO operations. The proposed reforms would yield more than $13 billion in savings over the next three years (Germany currently spends about $42 billion a year on defense). They would reduce force levels from 250,000 to 185,000, cut the Defense Ministry staff in half, eliminate duplicative weapons programs and save billions more by buying helicopters and other systems “off the shelf” from American, British and European manufacturers. At the same time, the plan calls for creating better-trained, more-professionalized and increasingly robust combat and peacekeeping forces. When the transition is complete, Germany will have at least doubled the number of troops it has available for long-term duty abroad — from roughly 7,000 today to at least 14,000 — and will be able to send them on more challenging missions. Given the multiple challenges now facing NATO, even more would be better. But this is a strong start... Germans, understandably, are wary of professional armed forces and far-flung combat missions. But military meddling is no longer a problem in Germany’s vibrant democracy. The territorial defense mission lost its rationale when the Berlin Wall fell. Since then, the primary threats faced by Germany and NATO have come from aggressive nationalism in the Balkans and terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
V. RIANOVOSTI - Russia sends humanitarian aid to flood-hit Colombia
A Russian emergencies ministry plane has delivered 26 tons of humanitarian aid to Columbia to help the country tackle the consequences of heavy rains that killed and injured hundreds, local RCN Radio reported. The Il-76 plane carrying 50 tents, 2,000 blankets, two portable electrical power plants, five pumps and more than 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) of medicines landed in Colombia on Wednesday, the Russian ambassador, Vladimir Trukhanovsky, said in an interview with the radio station. The humanitarian aid sent to the Latin American country is a "sign of the Russian people's readiness to extend a helping hand to Colombia in this difficult period," he said. A total of 301 people have been killed and 292 have been injured as a result of massive landslides caused by downpours, and 62 people remain unaccounted for. The disaster destroyed more than 5,000 houses were damaged other 324,000. A total of 1.32 million hectares of agricultural land have been flooded. The damage from the flooding, the worst to hit Colombia in 40 years, is estimated at $518 million. The country's government has already spent $5.3 million to eliminate the consequences of the disaster.
VI. FORBES - U.S. revokes Venezuelan envoy's visa
The Obama administration has revoked the visa of the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States in a tit-for-tat diplomatic response to Venezuela's rejection of the U.S. choice to be the next envoy to the South American country. Diplomats familiar with the situation said the decision to revoke Bernardo Alvarez Herrera's visa came after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez withdrew his approval of the administration's choice to represent the U.S. in Caracas, Larry Palmer. The diplomats said Alvarez is currently not in the U.S. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. has taken "appropriate, proportional and reciprocal action."
VII. SOFIAECHO - Bulgarian Orthodox priests outraged by Sozopol’s plan for 13 meter statue of Apollo
A decision by Sozopol municipality to erect a 13-metre statue of Apollo at the entrance to the Bulgarian Black Sea town’s seaport has outraged Bulgarian Orthodox Church leaders in Sliven, who say that the plan is an attempt to revive the cult of the pagan god and will cause "irreparable moral and spiritual damage" to the people of Sozopol. It is believed that in ancient times, the seaside town had such a statue, in the days it was called Apollonia Pontica. The Eparchial Council of Sliven called on Christians to oppose the construction. Metropolitan Yoaniki of Sliven was quoted in Bulgarian-language media reports as saying that Sozopol had been Christian for more than 1000 years and current residents had nothing to do with the ancient pagan settlement of Apollonia Pontica. "The comparison by the mayor of Sozopol, that such a statue will make Sozopol like Rio de Janeiro or Barcelona, is untenable because those cities have statues of Christ the Saviour, not some pagan god." Sozopol’s plan is for the statue to be put at the entrance of the port nearby the island of St Kirik. Costs are estimated at half a million leva, to be raised from an allocation in the 2011 municipal budget and from donations. Sozopol municipality’s hope is to have the Apollo statue in place by summer. In 2010, Sozopol made the news in connection with another religious issue – the purported discovery on an island near the town of relics that some claim to be of John the Baptist. At the time of the discovery, then-cabinet minister Bozhidar Dimitrov said that the relics would make Sozopol a "second Jerusalem".