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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Merkel,Cyprus,Oil exploration;Greece-Turkey;Hamas rockets;Kosovo elections;China's new jet;Met Jonah Enthronement Anniversary

German Chancellor Angela Merkel continued her two-day Mediterranean tour in Cyprus on Tuesday, with talks focusing on the conflict that has separated the island for more than three decades. After meeting with Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias, Merkel said it was up to Turkey to put more effort into resolving the situation. She praised the steps taken by the Cypriot government: "They've really proved their willingness to compromise, but unfortunately there hasn't been any response [from the Turkish side] so far," Merkel said after talks in the Cypriot capital. "We in Deutschland, and of course I personally understand what the division of a country means," Merkel added. The German chancellor grew up in the former East Germany. She pledged her support for peace negotations. Christofias said the visit was of "fundamental importance" for peace talks, which are now in their third year. It is the first ever visit to the eastern Mediterranean island by a German head of state. On Monday, Merkel held talks with politicians in Malta, where she discussed the state of the single euro currency... The visits are aimed at signaling the importance of good relations with the European Union's smaller member states. The island of Cyprus has been divided since 1974, after Turkey invaded the northern third of the country... The breakaway northern Turkish Cypriot region is only recognized by Turkey, whereas the Greek Cypriot south receives international recognition... Turkey still maintains 45,000 troops on the island, while 850 UN troops patrol the so-called Green Line, which divides North and South Cyprus. The capital, Nicosia, lies on the dividing line, and after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, became the world's largest divided capital city... During a trip to Turkey last year, the chancellor described Cyprus as a key issue preventing Turkish accession to the EU.

Cyprus said on Tuesday it would press ahead with plans for gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean regardless of disputes with its northern neighbour Turkey, with whom it has been at loggerheads for decades. European Union member Cyprus is planning a major push into oil and gas exploration this year, but Turkey has repeatedly said the move could upset reunification talks for the island. "It is the sovereign right of Cyprus to explore for natural gas. Turkey has no right, and nor does any other country, to tell us we do not have that right," Cypriot President Demetris Christofias told reporters. He was speaking at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Nicosia, Cyprus's ethnically-divided capital. Turkey and Cyprus have been at odds for decades over the ethnically split island, which is represented in the EU by its internationally-recognised government. Without a deal ending decades of estrangement between Cyprus's Greeks and Turks, Turkey is unlikely to succeed in its bid to join the EU. The island's estimated hydrocarbon reserves have come into sharper focus after neighbouring Israel discovered two large offshore gas fields in an area which abutts Cypriot sea territory. "Unfortunately Turkey is making things difficult, is harassing us in our attempts (at exploration)... while at the same time wanting to open the energy chapter in its accession talks," said Christofias. Cyprus had reported Turkey to the United Nations more than two years ago after what it said were Turkish gunboats harassing Cypriot-contracted exploration vessels. It was unclear if Christofias was referring to a new incident. "This logic of the absurd, this gunboat diplomacy must end by Turkey if it wants to be a modern state which wants to join the EU," Christofias said. Energy is one of some 35 chapters, or policy areas, which Turkey must conclude before joining the EU. Only one has been completed, 12 remain under disucssion and 18 have been frozen because of opposition by EU member states. Although the unresolved Cyprus question is complicating Turkey's EU entry talks launched five years ago, there is also resistence among EU member states, notably Germany and France.

Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas yesterday doused media speculation about Athens and Ankara jointly prospecting for oil in the Aegean and said that Greece’s priority remained the solution to bilateral disputes regarding the delineation of the continental shelf and the Cyprus problem. “We state outright that there is no discussion under way about the joint exploitation [of oil reserves],” Droutsas told Skai Television. “Some people want to create the impression that Greece has become Qatar overnight but we should not be deluding the Greek people at a time like this,” Droutsas said. Questioned about reports that last week’s visit to Turkey by Prime Minister George Papandreou was nearly canceled due to violations of Greek air space by Turkish fighter jets two days before, Droutsas said he was reassured by his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu when he contacted him to complain. “I was told what I deemed was necessary for the prime minister to visit Turkey,” he said. Droutsas stressed that Greece’s priority remained the full normalization of bilateral ties through the resolution of two thorny issues: the delineation of the continental shelf and the reunification of Cyprus. According to European Union law, Turkey must officially recognize Cyprus by receiving Cypriot aircraft and vessels. Droutsas suggested yesterday that it was no longer clear where the goalposts lay for Turkey’s accession prospects. “The European Union is giving out mixed messages regarding the prospects of Turkey joining the EU and this is being exploited by some,” he said. In a related development, Turkey’s Minister for European Union Affairs Egemen Bagis said the derailing of Turkey’s EU-bound course “would be a nightmare for Greek Cypriots.”

Hamas is trying to convince groups in Gaza to stop firing rockets at Israel, according to an Asharq Alawsat report cited by Israel Radio Tuesday morning. The report was published as a rocket from the Strip landed south of Ashkelon, causing no casualties or damage. According to the report, Hamas also deployed operatives along the border with Israel in order to maintain control over the Strip. Palestinian sources quoted by Asharq Alawsat said that representatives from the different Gaza groups refused to commit to a ceasefire with Israel or to prevent retaliation for Israeli actions. They did, however, agree not to initiate an escalation. On Monday evening, three Kassam rockets were fired into Israeli territory and exploded in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council. The rockets fell in an open area and did not cause any injuries or damage.

European Parliament (EP) Rapporteur for Kosovo Ulrike Lunacek says the recent elections in Kosovo were "manipulated". "These elections cannot be expected to bring about stable institutions, and the future Kosovo parliament should take into account that they were elected through an irregular process," Lunacek stated in an interview for the Priština-based daily Koha Ditore. "Certain people did not want for the Kosovo election process to be regular," Lunacek pointed out. "Not all of the Kosovo society, but rather a group of people who manipulated others, and who need to be held legally responsible," she added. Lunacek stressed that election fraud was not spontaneous, but was rather premeditated by organized groups. "Those groups should be legally held responsible, and they should realize that what they did was inadmissible and that the Kosovo citizens will not tolerate it," she stressed. The paper writes that EP observers assessed that the Kosovo elections were illegitimate, did not fulfill international standards, and damaged Kosovo's democracy and image. "I regret having to say this, but these two rounds of elections severely tarnish Kosovo's image which may negatively affect its EU integration," said Lunacek.

Chinese President Hu Jintao confirmed on Tuesday his country had carried out its first test-flight of a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet. Hu confirmed the flight during talks with visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The prototype Black Silk J-20 stealth fighter made the flight at around 1 p.m. on Tuesday, according to information posted by Chinese aviation enthusiasts on websites. The jet was tailed by two J-10 fighter chase planes during its 20-minute maiden flight. The J-20 is thought to be similar to the U.S. F-22 Raptor and the Russo-Indian T-50 jets, although imagery and video footage now appearing on the Internet suggests the Chinese model is larger, the Aviation and Aerospace website said. This means it could be capable of flying a longer range and carrying a heavier load. "The J-20 appears to be either a demonstrator or a prototype of a combat aircraft with low observable characteristics, particularly in the front quadrant," said Douglas Barrie, a senior fellow for military aerospace with the International Institute for Strategic Studies. China has been working on a future fighter program since the mid-1990s, and the J-20 is notionally anticipated to enter service around 2018-2020, he added. "The design, particularly the rear section and in plan-form is reminiscent of MiG's 1.42 fighter project, the program for which was cancelled in the latter half of the 1990s," Barrie said.

The second anniversary of the enthronement of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah as Primate of the Orthodox Church in America was celebrated at Saint Nicholas Cathedral here on Sunday, January 9, 2011. Among those concelebrating the Divine Liturgy with Metropolitan Jonah was His Eminence, Archbishop Justinian of Naro-Fominsk, Administrator of the Patriarchal Parishes in the United States. Archbishop Justinian relayed warm greetings from His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus, together with his personal greetings and words of encouragement for Metropolitan Jonah's ministry. He also presented a statue of Saint Tikhon of Moscow to Metropolitan Jonah. A photo gallery of the anniversary celebration is posted on OCA Facebook and can be seen by clicking here.