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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

IHH-Gaza flotilla;Georgia,NATO;FYROM;Acropolis Museum;Belarus blast;European shopping;Serb Nuns learn Albanian

The Turkish IHH organization has said that it will delay its participation in the upcoming flotilla to Gaza scheduled for June until after elections in Turkey. the group will wait to see if Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan will be reelected during the June elections before it decides to send the Mavi Marmara ship back to the Gaza Strip. A Turkish representative from the organization told Israel Radio that the decision was not made as a result of international pressure. At the beginning in of April, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke on with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, asking him to work toward stopping the planned flotilla. Netanyahu told Ban that the flotilla was being organized partly by radical Islamists, whose aim is to provoke and cause violence.

Georgia is taking part in computer-assisted war games as part of the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) program. The VIKING-2011 is the 6th in a series of major joint peacekeeping exercises that brings together military and civilian personnel from 24 NATO and partner countries. The drills started last week and will continue until April 15. Georgia is hosting the VIKING-2011 at the Vaziani military base near the capital, Tbilisi, while the main coordination center of the exercise is located in Sweden. All activities in the exercise are simulated through computers and role-played by personnel via the PfP Simulation Network. Georgia has long been pursuing NATO membership, but its bid to get a Membership Action Plan - an essential step on the path to membership - at the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008 was rejected due to pressure from Germany and France. Instead, the alliance merely stated that the country would join at an unspecified date in the future.

FYROMacedonian President Gjeorge Ivanov said that the Danube countries will be the first to feel the impact of the stability in the Balkans, and that is why they are advocating EU enlargement. The time has come for political and economic unification of Europe. Ivanov spoke out against "Greek nationalists who want Macedonia to change its constitutional name". The dispute between Skopje and Athens over the name of FYROMacedonia will certainly be on the agenda in the meetings with Hungarian officials. The Greeks claims that the name the Republic of Macedonia shows Skopje's territorial pretensions, as this has been the name of a northern Greek province since ancient times. Greece has blocked Skopje from joining NATO and from starting EU accession talks despite having been a membership candidate since 2005.

The Acropolis Museum was Greece's top tourist draw in 2010, eclipsing for the first time the ancient Athens citadel whose sculptures it showcases. Over 1.3 million people queued to visit the country's newest museum between January and December last year. By comparison, the Acropolis citadel itself drew just over 990,000 people last year after being hit with several strike shutdowns in a broader protest movement against unpopular austerity cuts imposed by the debt-hit government. Inaugurated in June 2009, the new museum includes a section reserved for the disputed Parthenon Marbles, currently at the British Museum in London.

On Tuesday, Belarusian authorities have detained several people over Monday's deadly bomb attack on the Minsk subway which killed 12 people and wounded 126. The suspects were rounded up after investigators came out with images of two men believed to have carried out the blast. It was during evening rush hour that the bomb, packed with nails and ball bearings, exploded at Oktyabrskaya station and police say it may have been remote-controlled. The blast occurred at around 5.55 p.m. local time as commuters were alighting from a train. Oktyabrskaya station is a major railhead in the former Soviet Republic connecting two metro lines in the capital Minsk. It is located hardly 100 meters away from the main presidential office and residence. Following the blasts, authorities have installed metal detectors at some of the capital's metro stations.

Czechs tied with Romanians for the most time in Europe spent shopping per week according to a Eurobarometer report on consumer empowerment released April 11. The Eurobarometer report issued by the EU statistical arm Eurostat noted that "On average consumers in the Czech Republic and Romania spend most time shopping (3.8 hours per week), though it should be noted that 10 percent of Czechs and 17 percent of Romanians don’t know how much time they spend shopping. The average time spent shopping per week is also relatively high in Bulgaria, Austria and the UK (3.7 hours each)." There was also a divide between new and old EU members, with respondents in the 12 states that joined in 2004 and 2007 spending more time shopping, 3.6 hours on average, than those in EU-15, at 3.2 hours. As might be expected, across the EU women spend more time shopping, some 3.7 hours in a typical week, than men who racked up 2.8 hours.

Serb Orthodox monastery in religiously polarised Kosovo is breaking stereotypes by making its nuns learn Albanian so they can talk to Muslim villagers who come to pray at a statue of the Virgin Mary. Muslims from all over Kosovo flock to the Sokolica monastery because they believe its 14th-century sculpture of the Virgin with Christ can cure deaf-mute children and help childless couples fall pregnant. The famous sculpture, known as the Sokolac Virgin, is adorned with gold necklaces, bracelets and strings of pearls from grateful visitors -- Christians and Muslims. "When they ask how to pray, we tell them to pray in their own language and in the way they are taught to...," the 67-year-old head of the monastery, Mati Makarija, told AFP. The monastery is settled in rugged volcanic mountains that overlook the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica, where relations between Serb Orthodox Christians and Albanian Muslims are tense. Sokolica is surrounded by the Muslim village of Boletin whose residents are regular visitors. "Our door is open for them. If they think our sacred sculpture can help them, then they are welcome," said Makarija. As part of her effort to welcome all faiths, Makarija has instructed her nuns to learn Albanian, which is vastly different to Serbian and spoken by very few Serbs. "Speaking languages of each other is a must," Makarija said. "I don't want them to talk to the neighbours and Albanians who visit the monastery in English but in Albanian." "I am always looking for (Albanian) textbooks. I might be too old for it already but my nuns have to learn Albanian," insisted Makarija, who speaks English, German and Greek.