Serbia To Impose Weekend Lockdown After COVID-19 Surge

Serbia will shut down all but essential businesses over the weekend to combat a spike in new coronavirus cases, the government-appointed crisis team said Friday.

Under the new measures only food stores, pharmacies and gas stations will be open from noon on Saturday until Monday morning.

While the Balkan state has become one of the world’s fastest vaccinators in recent weeks, it has nevertheless recorded a steep surge in infections, recording around 4,000 new cases daily this week.

Doctors on the government’s pandemic task force have been urging a longer lockdown, warning that the new cases are overstretching the health system to a “catastrophic” level.

The group’s leading epidemiologist Predrag Kon said that while he believes a weekend lockdown is “clearly insufficient”, it was a compromise with officials on the task force led by Prime Minister Ana Brnabic.

Serbia’s government has long resisted tougher measures that would inflict further damage on the economy or trigger the type of protests that erupted against a proposed lockdown last July.

“These are the decisions. What happened behind that door, I’ll leave it there”, Kon said after the crisis group meeting.

Serbia’s restaurants and bars have been packed in recent weeks, with 8 pm mandatory closures skirted by some underground party venues.

But the country has made major gains with its vaccine rollout, administering nearly 1.5 million doses — mostly of the Chinese-made Sinopharm jab — to its 7 million population.

-AFP

Dragan Stojkovic Appointed As Coach Of Serbia National Team

 

Serbia announced the appointment of Dragan Stojkovic as its new coach on Saturday, in the hope that the former player can lead the national team to qualification for the 2022 World Cup.

Stojkovic, 55, will succeed Ljubisa Tumbakovic who was sacked in December after Serbia failed to qualify for the delayed Euro 2020 tournament.

Marko Pantelic, the deputy head of the Serbian Football Federation (FSS),  told local media that although “technical issues are yet to be resolved”, Stojkovic would be officially presented next week.

“The deal has been struck, Dragan Stojkovic is the new head coach of Serbia’s national team”, Pantelic told Tanjug news agency.

Stojkovic made 84 appearances for the former Yugoslavia’s national team between 1983 and 2001, and was one of the first top-tier European players to venture into Japanese football.

The midfielder spent eight years at J-League side Nagoya Grampus Eight, where he played under Arsene Wenger.

Upon his retirement, Stojkovic briefly served as chairman of Red Star Belgrade, before turning to coaching. He returned to Nagoya as coach and between 2016 and 2020 he was in charge of Chinese side Guangzhou.

Serbia, who were eliminated in the group stages of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, face Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, Ireland, Azerbaijan, and Luxembourg in their 2022 qualifying group.

-AFP

EU Warns Serbia Over Jerusalem Embassy Move

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

 

The EU voiced “serious concern and regret” on Monday over Belgrade’s commitment to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, casting a shadow over the resumption of Serbia-Kosovo talks.

President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti are to meet in Brussels for a second round of EU-brokered face-to-face talks to resolve disputes two decades after clashing in war.

The meeting follows a high-profile summit at the White House where Vucic and Hoti signed statements agreeing to measures to improve economic relations — and in Serbia’s case, committing to moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The EU is still committed to the so-called “two state solution” in which Jerusalem will be the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state, and its own diplomatic mission is in Tel Aviv.

The bloc expects prospective members like Serbia to align with its foreign policy positions.

“In this context any diplomatic steps that could call into question the EU’s common position on Jerusalem are a matter of serious concern and regret,” EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano told reporters in Brussels.

Breaking with longstanding diplomatic practice, President Donald Trump’s administration in December 2017 recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US embassy to the city.

– Long-running dispute

Washington touted the agreements signed by Vucic and Hoti on Friday as a major breakthrough, but on Monday the two leaders issued a joint statement giving a far more cautious read.

“The recently agreed documents in Washington DC, building on previous dialogue-related commitments undertaken by the two parties, could provide a useful contribution to reaching a comprehensive, legally binding agreement on normalisation of relations,” the statement said.

In one of Europe’s most intractable disputes, Serbia has refused to recognise Kosovo’s declaration of independence since the province broke away in the bloody 1998-99 war that was ended only by a NATO bombing campaign against Serb troops.

Both Kosovo and Serbia are facing mounting pressure from the West to resolve the impasse which is seen as crucial to either side joining the EU.

More than 13,000 people died in the war, mostly Kosovo Albanians, who form a majority in the former province.

One key question is diplomatic recognition for Kosovo — five of the EU’s 27 countries do not acknowledge its independence.

The two sides have been in EU-led talks for a decade to normalise their relationship, but little progress has been made, with a raft of agreements concluded in 2013 yet to be fully implemented, and the previous round of negotiations broke down in 2018 after a series of diplomatic tit-for-tats.

Vucic and Hoti resumed face-to-face talks in Brussels in July but the effort got off to a frosty start, with the Serbian leader accusing Pristina of trying to “blackmail” Belgrade.

EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell, who is hosting the Brussels talks along with the EU’s special representative Miroslav Lajcak, said Monday’s meeting would focus on “non-majority communities and the settlement of mutual financial claims on property”.

“Both topics are very sensitive and very important for the future relationship between Kosovo and Serbia and for the everyday life of their people,” Borrell said.

AFP

Serbian President Claims ‘Historic’ Victory For His Ruling Party

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic addresses the media outside a polling station in Belgrade on June 21, 2020 during an election for a new parliament in Europe’s first national election since the coronavirus pandemic, though few expect major surprises with the ruling party poised to dominate a scattered opposition, some of whom are boycotting the ballot.
ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic claimed a landslide victory for his ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) Sunday, taking home more than 63 per cent of the vote in a parliamentary election marred by a boycott from parts of the opposition.

“I am grateful to the people for this historic support,” Vucic, who leads the SNS party, said in a victory speech.

Djokovic Leads Serbia Into ATP Cup Final

Novak Djokovic of Serbia hits a return in his men’s singles match against Daniil Medvedev of Russia at the ATP Cup tennis tournament in Sydney on January 11, 2020. William WEST / AFP

 

 

Novak Djokovic was at his battling best to topple gutsy fifth-ranked Daniil Medvedev on an epic Saturday and send Serbia into the inaugural ATP Cup final.

The world number two was given the ideal platform by a composed Dusan Lajovic, who ground down Russia’s Karen Khachanov in the opening singles 7-5, 7-6 (7/1) to hand his country a 1-0 advantage.

And the 16-time Grand Slam champion, who will be targeting an eighth Australian Open title this month, came through a top-draw contest 6-1, 5-7, 6-4.

It gave Serbia an unassailable 2-0 lead ahead of the doubles to set up a meeting with either the Nick Kyrgios-led Australia or Rafael Nadal’s Davis Cup champions Spain in the final on Sunday.

“It was an exceptional match. Lots of rallies and very exhausting. Daniil Medvedev is one of the best players in the world and he showed today why,” said Djokovic, who on Saturday pulled out of next week’s Adelaide International after a tough ATP Cup.

“He’s difficult to break from the baseline, he’s tall and has a good serve. This was the most difficult challenge I have had so far this year.”

Djokovic dropped a set for the first time in the tournament during his quarter-final encounter with Canada’s Denis Shapovalov, but quickly assumed control against Medvedev.

Playing in much cooler conditions than the heat and humidity that hit Nadal on Friday when he lost in the singles, Djokovic broke in the first set to go 3-1 up and never looked troubled.

He broke again for 5-1 and served it out in just 31 minutes.

The Russian, who had won their last two encounters, appeared in trouble when he was broken again in the opening game of the second set but then astonishingly roared back.

He lifted his level to create four break points in the next, converting when Djokovic misjudged a ball he thought was going out.

Another break put him 3-1 ahead and Djokovic smashed his racquet in frustration as Medvedev took the set to level the match.

A third set of long, high-quality rallies went with serve until Djokovic got the crucial edge in the fifth game, converting a volley to go 3-2 in front and Medvedev had no answer.

Lajovic, who won his first ATP title last year at Umag, took a 2-0 record into his showdown with world number 17 Khachanov.

In their first meeting on hard courts, he produced a performance that belied his ranking of 34, displaying composure and a fine array of shots.

Lajovic found a new gear during his thrashing on Friday of Felix Auger-Aliassime and said the vocal Sydney fans had fuelled him to deliver his best tennis.

They were back in full voice again at the Ken Rosewall Arena, getting him over the line.

“It was definitely one of the toughest matches for me in my career, concerning the situation, the tension and the importance of the moment,” he said.

“But the crowd carried me and my team was behind me.”

AFP

Davis Cup: Djokovic To Play For Serbia

Novak Djokovic of Serbia practices for the US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 22, 2019 in New York City. Matthew Stockman/Getty Images/AFP

 

World number one Novak Djokovic will compete with Serbia in the revamped Davis Cup this November in Madrid, the country’s tennis federation confirmed on Monday, ending doubts about the star player’s appearance.

“We have fantastic news: Novak will participate in the final tournament in Madrid. I had the opportunity to discuss it with him in New York,” Serbia’s team coach Nenad Zimonjic said in a statement.

The Serb is currently defending his title in New York at the US open.

“It’s a huge boost to have Novak. I am very happy to see him join the team after a long absence,” Zimonjic added.

The 32-year-old, who led Serbia to a maiden Davis Cup in 2010, hasn’t played in the tournament since 2017, when Serbia qualified for the semi-finals by defeating Spain 4-1.

Last year he did not show much enthusiasm for the new Davis Cup format, in which 18 teams will be split into three groups, with the winners and two best runners-up to reach the quarter-finals.

In October Djokovic said he was unsure about his participation given the competition’s proximity to the rival ATP World Team Cup at the start of the 2020 season.

“I just feel like the date of the Davis Cup is really bad, especially for the top players,” he said at the time.

Serbia will play their first Davis Cup match in Madrid against Japan on 20 November, before facing France the following day.

Before that, Djokovic is expected to play in the London Masters,the final of which is set for 17 November, according to the Serbian tennis federation.

AFP

Putin Receives Five-Star Welcome, Calls For Stable Balkans In Serbia

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin attend a welcoming ceremony prior to their talks in Belgrade. MAXIM SHIPENKOV / POOL / AFP

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday called for stability in the Balkans during a visit to Serbia, a key Moscow ally in the volatile region.

After arriving to a rousing red-carpet welcome in Belgrade, Putin said Russia would back efforts to maintain calm.

“Russia, like Serbia, is interested in the situation in the Balkans remaining stable and not dangerous,” Putin told reporters at a joint news conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

As part of the event, Vucic presented Putin with a puppy of the Sarplaninac breed, a shepherd dog from the region.

Meanwhile, Putin awarded his counterpart a Russian state honour.

The Russian president’s visit was marked by tens of thousands of Serbs who marched through the capital in a parade in his honour.

“Welcome honoured President Putin, a dear friend,” read one of many billboards around the city bearing a mix of Russian and Serbian flags.

The parade culminated at the massive Saint Sava church, one of Orthodox Christianity’s largest houses of worship.

In recent days vendors have been selling T-shirts, mugs and books bearing Putin’s face, while a central Belgrade fountain has been lit up with the red, white and blue colours of the Russian flag.

No solution without Russia 

Although Serbia aspires to join the European Union, it has kept up close ties with Russia, its historical “Orthodox big brother” whose people also share Slavic origins.

The affection for Moscow is fanned by its unyielding support on the emotive issue of Kosovo, a former Serbian province that broke away in a 1998-99 guerilla war.

Serbia has never accepted the split and Russia similarly rejects it, wielding its veto power at the United Nations to thwart Kosovo’s dreams of joining.

“Without Russia and due to Russia’s power in the UN Security Council it is clear that there will be no solution” over Kosovo, Vucic said.

EU-sponsored talks to normalise ties between Belgrade and Pristina have been stalled for months.

Putin said that to “achieve stability in the (Balkans) region, we have to find compromises and when they are found they should be respected.”

Before his arrival, Putin accused the West of “destabilising” the Balkans with efforts to expand NATO, an accusation that the United States often lobs in the direction of the Russian president.

‘Serbia’s salvation’ 

In return for Moscow’s support over Kosovo, Belgrade has refused to join international trade sanctions imposed on Russia over its 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Graffiti saying “Kosovo is Serbia, Crimea is Russia” can sometimes be spotted on Serbian streets.

Putin is “Serbia’s salvation,” said retired general Mitar Petkic, who had camped for hours in front of the Saint Sava church to welcome the Russian leader.

“The EU is falling apart, when we will join it will not exist anymore,” the 66-year-old told AFP.

Jelena Bogicevic, a pensioner, held a banner reading “Welcome Putin, the legend”.

But the fanfare does not mask what Russia considers recent setbacks in the Balkans, where the West has increased its influence.

Moscow was unable to prevent Montenegro from joining NATO in 2017, a goal which Macedonia is also moving towards after ratifying a name change deal to end a decades-long dispute with Greece.

If Macedonia succeeds, seven countries bordering Serbia — which does not aspire to join — will be in the NATO sphere. Only neighbouring Bosnia will also not be a member, due to the veto of its Serb population.

 ‘Energy, key area’ 

The relationship between Serbia and Russia is “more an emotional than a rational” one, explained Serbian economic analyst Biljana Stepanovic.

According to a 2017 Serbian government survey, a quarter of the population believes Russia and the EU were the country’s joint top donors for development aid.

In reality, 75 percent of donations came from the EU or its member states, while Russia did not make the top nine.

The West also outpaces Russia in terms of direct investment and trade.

Moscow does, however, have some stake in the region.

Serbia imports two-thirds of its natural gas and crude oil from Russia, while Russian giant Gazprom owns the Serbian oil company NIS.

“Energy is the key area of Russia-Serbia cooperation,” Putin told reporters.

He said Gazprom planned to increase its gas deliveries to the Balkans country by 2020.

AFP

After 15 Years, Thieves Behind French Heist Surface In Serbia

 

They believed they were safe but a few blood drops betrayed them. 15 years after a daring robbery at a French jewellery store, the four alleged perpetrators have been found — in Serbia.

The Belfort job had all the hallmarks of a “Pink Panther” operation, the modus operandi used by an international jewel thief network of Serbs and Montenegrins responsible for some of the most audacious robberies of the past two decades.

Between 1999 and 2015, these criminals are thought to have carried out at least 380 armed robberies, targeting high-end jewellery stores and snatching 334 million euros ($391 million) worth of loot, Interpol says.

One morning in September 2003, a group of masked men burst into a jewellery shop in Belfort, a town in eastern France just 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the Swiss border.

One pulled a handgun, while the others smashed open the glass cases, snatching 350,000 euros worth of jewellery and watches before fleeing — all within the space of a minute.

Police later managed to arrest their Serbian fences, one of whom had a stolen watch on his wrist.

But the thieves themselves were never caught.

Nor were they identified until 2013 following progress in a forensic investigation into traces of blood on one of the glass cabinets, on a cupboard and on a Cartier box.

By analysing the DNA, they identified two Serb nationals who were unknown in France but wanted in Austria: “Zica” and “Boka”, both of them 41 years old.

And by crosschecking their phone records, they also found the other two suspected of involvement in the robbery: “Sasa”, 37, and “Luka”, 48.

‘Cult of the criminal’

All four come from Uzice, a once prosperous industrial town some 150 kilometres (90 miles) southwest of Belgrade which has since fallen on hard times.

“Most of these criminals originate from Nis, Cacak and Uzice,” the town’s prosecutor Ljubisa Dragasevic told AFP, explaining that many in this western region end up turning to crime due to problems making ends meet.

But there is also “the cult of the criminal within society, the tough guys”, he said.

“In such circles, these activities overseas are a matter of prestige. They… see themselves as defenders of poor Serb victims of the West,” the prosecutor said.

Even though they have been identified, the four remain out of reach for the French justice system because Serbia does not extradite its citizens.

Over the past decade, France and Serbia developed close judicial ties following the 2009 murder of a French football fan in Belgrade, prompting a French judge to demand that the four be summoned to a hearing before a Serbia prosecutor.

Funding a luxury lifestyle

At the hearing in November, all four denied involvement in the robbery.

If they were in Belfort at the time, they were there for “techno music parties”, one claimed. Another said they were there “to buy second-hand cars”.

Boka had just been jailed over a fatal car accident, while shortly after the November hearing, Zica and Sasa began serving five years for stealing watches worth almost 950,000 euros from a Hamburg jeweller in 2014.

Several of them are also suspected of involvement in robberies in Switzerland and The Netherlands.

Such audacious robberies fund a lavish lifestyle back home, Dragasevic says, explaining that their takings are quickly spent “in bars and restaurants, taking cocaine, paying for prostitutes… buying luxury cars and expensive clothes” and often at expensive tourist sites.

“Such a lifestyle requires a lot of money, which they spend quickly and then return to their criminal activities,” he added.

Statute of limitations expiring

Their activities are not just limited to hitting jewellery stores, with one Serb investigator saying they also link up with Albanian gangs to smuggle drugs to the West.

The money is also used for loansharking, financing younger criminals, or investing in property, bars and restaurants, he said.

But they never stage robberies on home territory, their “refuge”.

With extradition out of the question, if France wants a trial to be held in Serbia over Belfort, as happened with the Hamburg heist, the justice system will need to transfer the case to Belgrade.

That would have to happen quickly, however, as the 15-year statute of limitations expires on September 19.

“Everything should be done quickly so we can prosecute the criminals,” Serbia’s deputy prosecutor Gordana Janicijevic told AFP.

If found guilty, the perpetrators could face up to 15 years behind bars.

Otherwise, French prosecutors will have to fall back on a conviction in absentia and the issuing of an international arrest warrant — which would mean the four thieves could no longer leave Serbia without risking arrest and extradition.

AFP

 

Brazil’s Marcelo Forced Off Injured Against Serbia

Brazil’s defender Marcelo (C) reacts after getting injured during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group E football match between Serbia and Brazil at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on June 27, 2018.
Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

 

Brazil left-back Marcelo was forced off in the 10th minute of his side’s crucial World Cup Group E clash with Serbia in Moscow on Wednesday with an injury.

Visibly struggling, the Real Madrid defender was initially reluctant to leave the pitch, before being replaced by his Atletico Madrid counterpart Filipe Luis. Marcelo was wincing and holding his head in his hands.

The five-time champions later took a half-time lead courtesy of a goal from midfielder Paulinho.

A point would secure Brazil’s place in the last 16 as they bid to banish the memories of their 2014 semi-final humiliation on home soil at the hands of Germany.

Serbia Coach Calls For Referee ‘To Be Tried In The Hague’

Serbia’s coach Mladen Krstajic gestures during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group E football match between Serbia and Switzerland at the Kaliningrad Stadium in Kaliningrad on June 22, 2018.
Patrick HERTZOG / AFP

 

Serbia’s coach has reacted to his team’s World Cup defeat to Switzerland by calling for the referee to be put on trial in the Hague, in a reference to the war crimes tribunal for the ex-Yugoslavia.

Serbia were furious when German referee Felix Brych failed to award a penalty in Friday’s game after Aleksandar Mitrovic was wrestled to the ground in the penalty area by Swiss defenders Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schaer.

Despite opening the scoring through Mitrovic in the fifth minute, Serbia lost 2-1 after Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri netted for Switzerland.

“We were robbed,” Mladen Krstajic told Serbian reporters on Saturday, when asked about Brych’s decision.

“I wouldn’t give him either a yellow or red card, I would send him to the Hague. Then they could put him on trial, like they did to us.”

The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is a UN body that prosecutes the perpetrators of war crimes committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

Krstajic also posted photographs from the match on his Instagram account, accompanied by the comment: “Unfortunately, it seems that only the Serbs are condemned to a selective justice, once (it was) the Hague and today in football the VAR…”

He was referring to the video assistant referee that is being used in the World Cup to check controversial incidents, but was not used on this occasion.

The match in Kaliningrad was played in a febrile atmosphere underpinned by Balkan politics because Xhaka and Shaqiri have roots in Kosovo, a former province of Serbia that has declared independence in a move not recognised by Belgrade.

Both players pointedly celebrated their goals by making a double eagle gesture with their hands to represent the Albanian flag, with which many people in Kosovo identify.

Shaqiri said his celebration was “just emotion”.

AFP

President Buhari Receives Letters Of Credence From Mali, Serbia Ambassadors


The New Ambassador, the Republic of Mali to Nigeria, Mr. Moustapha Traore inspects parade of Nigerian Army Guards Brigade unit during the presentation of his letter of Credence at the State House in Abuja. PHOTO; SUNDAY AGHAEZE.

 

President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday received Mali and Serbia ambassadors to Nigeria at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Mali’s envoy, Mr Moustapha Traore, presented his letter on credence to the President after which the duo engaged each other in a chat.

Also, Buhari received the letter of credence from the new Ambassador, the Republic of Serbia to Nigeria, Mr Djura Likar, at the State House.

See photos below:


The New Ambassador, the Republic of Mali to Nigeria, Mr. Moustapha Traore inspects parade of Nigerian Army Guards Brigade unit during the presentation of his letter of Credence at the State House in Abuja. PHOTO; SUNDAY AGHAEZE.

 

The New Ambassador, the Republic of Serbia to Nigeria, Mr. Djura Likar inspects parade of Nigerian Army Guards Brigade unit during the presentation of his letter of Credence at the State House in Abuja. PHOTO;SUNDAY AGHAEZE. MAY 31ST, 2018.
President Muhammadu Buhari receives a letter of credence from the New Ambassador from the Republic of Mali to Nigeria, Mr. Moustapha Traore during the presentation at the State House in Abuja. PHOTO;SUNDAY AGHAEZE. MAY 31ST, 2018.
President Muhammadu Buhari receives a letter of credence from the New Ambassador, the Republic of Serbia to Nigeria, Mr. Djura Likar during the presentation of his letter at the State House in Abuja. PHOTO; SUNDAY AGHAEZE. MAY 31ST, 2018.
President Muhammadu Buhari chats with the New Ambassador from the Republic of Mali to Nigeria, Mr. Moustapha Traore and his wife, Mrs. Nene Oumou Diallo Traore during the presentation of his letter of credence at the State House in Abuja. PHOTO; SUNDAY AGHAEZE. MAY 31ST, 2018.

Serbia Defeat Nigeria In Pre-World Cup Friendly

Serbia’s striker Aleksandar Mitrovic (2L) scores his team’s second goal during the match. Photo:  Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

 

Serbia have beaten Nigeria 2-0 in their second pre-world cup friendly played in London.

Newcastle striker, Aleksandar Mitrovic scored twice as the East European country earned a boost ahead of the tournament in Russia in June.

Serbia’s striker Aleksandar Mitrovic (L) and teammates celebrate after he scored the opening goal.
Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP
Nigeria’s midfielder Ogenyi Onazi (2R) shoots but fails to score past Serbia’s defender Matija Nastasic (L). DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP
Serbia’s defender Branislav Ivanovic (2L) vies with Nigeria’s striker Odion Ighalo.
Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP