Belgrade, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — French President Emmanuel Macron vowed Monday to help jumpstart stalled negotiations to resolve Serbia's independence dispute with former province Kosovo so a lasting solution can be found for the decades-long Balkan crisis.
Macron, making the first visit to Serbia by a French president since 2001, also expressed support for the country's stated goal of joining the European Union even as he reiterated his belief that the EU must adopt reforms before adding more members.
His two-day trip was intended to rebuild relations between Serbia and France. Their historically close ties were damaged when NATO forces bombed Serbia in 1999 over the country's actions in Kosovo and by France's recognition of Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence.
Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as a country. But the EU has set normalized relations between the two countries as a condition for advancing to EU membership. But talks mediated by EU officials have been stalled for months.
Macron said France and Europe would get more engaged in facilitating an end to the bitter rift, which stems from the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s.
"Whoever believes in Europe cannot accept the inevitability of never-ending and inextricable conflicts in Europe," Macron said at a news conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. "Our commitment is the reflection of a European sovereignty in which we believe and that will stand by your side."
Serbia has officially been on the path to becoming an EU member since 2008. The country also maintains close ties with Russia and China, whose mounting influence in the Balkans has raised Western concerns.
Macron urged Belgrade to keep making the reforms it needs for EU membership, saying Serbia's candidacy could progress in parallel to the EU's own improvement process.
"It's a process that's been started but it must be kept in check on both sides," he said. "I think it's a good thing."
Serbia's president said a compromise in the Kosovo dispute was "the only possible solution."
"I urged France to help us on our European road and in solving the Kosovo crisis," Vucic said of his meeting with Macron.
Macron's visit originally was planned for December and postponed amid massive street protests in Paris.
Brussels, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — European Union foreign ministers on Monday turned up the pressure on Turkey after approving an initial batch of sanctions against the country over its drilling for gas in waters where EU member Cyprus has exclusive economic rights.
The ministers said in a statement that in light of Turkey's "continued and new illegal drilling activities," they were suspending talks on an air transport agreement and would call on the European Investment Bank to "review" it's lending to the country.
They also backed a proposal by the EU's executive branch to reduce financial assistance to Turkey for next year. The ministers warned that additional "targeted measures" were being worked on to penalize Turkey, which started negotiations to join the EU in 2005.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu issued his own warning last week that his country would step up drilling activities off Cyprus if the EU moved ahead with sanctions.
Two Turkish vessels escorted by warships are drilling for gas on either end of ethnically divided Cyprus.
The EU ministers repeated the "serious immediate negative impact" that Turkey's illegal actions are having on EU-Turkey relations and called on Ankara to respect Cyprus' sovereign rights in line with international law.
They also welcomed the Cypriot government's invitation to Turkey to negotiate the borders of their respective exclusive economic zones and continental shelf.
Turkey doesn't recognize Cyprus as a state and claims 44% of Cyprus' exclusive economic zone as its own, according to Cyprus government officials. Turkish Cypriots in the east Mediterranean island nation's breakaway north claim another 25%.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey, which keeps more than 35,000 troops in the breakaway north. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the internationally recognized south enjoys full membership benefits.
Turkey contends that it's protecting its rights and those of Turkish Cypriots to the area's hydrocarbon deposits. Cypriot officials, however, accuse Turkey of using the minority Turkish Cypriots in order to pursue its goal of exerting control over the eastern Mediterranean region.
The Cypriot government says it will take legal action against any oil and gas companies supporting Turkish vessels in any repeat attempt to drill for gas. Cyprus has already issued around 20 international arrest warrants against three international companies assisting one of the two Turkish vessels now drilling 42 miles (68 kilometers) off the island's west coast.
The Cyprus government has licensed energy companies including ExxonMobil, France's Total and Italy's Eni to carry out gas drilling in blocks, or areas, off the island's southern coastline. At least three significant gas deposits have so far been discovered there.
Meanwhile, Cyprus' Greek Cypriot President NIcos Anastasiades will chair a meeting of political leaders Tuesday to discuss a renewed proposal by Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa AKinci to establish a joint committee with Greek Cypriots on managing offshore gas drilling activities.
Akinci has repeatedly called for the creation of such a committee that he says would give his community a say in how newly found gas deposits off Cyprus' southern coast are managed and future proceeds are divvied up. A similar proposal was made by Akinci's predecessor Dervis Eroglu in 2011.
The Cypriot government says energy discussions with Turkish Cypriots should be part of overarching reunification talks, adding that Turkish Cypriot rights to the island's energy reserves are assured. The government says future gas proceeds that will flow into an established hydrocarbons fund will be shared equitably after a peace deal is signed.
London, Jul 14 (AP/UNB) — An anti-Brexit activist who won a major legal case against the British government says she will go to court again if the country's next prime minister tries to force the country out of the European Union without a deal.
Businesswoman Gina Miller says she has instructed her lawyers in anticipation of Boris Johnson winning a Conservative Party leadership contest this month that would make him the next prime minister.
Johnson refuses to rule out suspending Parliament if lawmakers try to block Britain from leaving the EU on Oct. 31, as scheduled.
Miller said Sunday "it would be an abuse of his powers to close Parliament ... to limit the voice of the representatives that we all elect."
In 2017, Miller stopped the government from triggering the countdown to Brexit without a vote in Parliament.
Moscow, Jul 14 (AP/UNB) — Around 1,000 people have gathered in central Moscow to demand that opposition candidates be included on ballots for an upcoming city parliament election in September.
The rally was billed as a meeting between opposition leaders and their voters after signatures sponsoring several candidates were rejected by the Moscow election commission. Demonstrators on Sunday chanted "We are the authority here!" and "Putin is a thief."
Alexei Navalny, Russia's most famous opposition leader, has not yet arrived at the meeting, which has not been sanctioned by Russian authorities.
Ilya Yashin, one of the candidates who saw signatures invalidated, has called on demonstrators to march with him to the mayor's office to state their election demands.
No arrests have been reported so far.
London, Jul 14 (AP/UNB) — A newspaper in Britain has published more leaked memos from Britain's ambassador in Washington, despite a police warning that doing so might be a crime.
In one cable published by the Mail on Sunday, U.K. ambassador Kim Darroch says President Donald Trump pulled out of a nuclear deal with Iran as an act of "diplomatic vandalism" to spite his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Darroch resigned last week after the newspaper published cables in which he'd branded the Trump administration dysfunctional and inept. The White House responded by refusing to deal with him.
U.K. police are hunting the culprits behind the leak — and, contentiously, warned journalists that publishing the documents "could also constitute a criminal offence."
Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson, who are competing to become Britain's next prime minister, both defended the media's right to publish.