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Serbs In North Kosovo Stuck In Simmering Dispute

Dani Davis



In Kosovo’s Mitrovica, Serbian flags and nationalist murals blanket the streets of its Serb enclave — where the community effectively oversees a state within a divided city that is a symbolic flashpoint.

For the past two decades, Mitrovica in northern Kosovo has straddled a simmering fault line between Serbs in the north and ethnic Albanians in the south.

NATO underwrites the uneasy peace and the Ibar River effectively partitions the two communities.

The city is a microcosm of tensions, with Belgrade refusing to acknowledge Kosovo’s 2008 independence declaration and rioting last month reigniting fears that clashes in the hotspot could inflame relations.

A Kosovo Albanian man crosses the Ibar bridge in Mitrovica which divides his community and the Serbian minority Photo: AFP / Armend NIMANI

“There is a general opinion that a conflict is imminent,” Jovana Radosavljevic, the director of local non-profit the New Social Initiative told AFP, saying tensions were at their highest levels in a decade.

The 33-year-old activist blames the rising temperature on populist rhetoric from Kosovo’s new government led by Prime Minister Albin Kurti as well as distrust sown by officials in Belgrade.

“We are pawns in the game,” she says.

Mitrovica’s proximity to the Serbian border to the north has transformed the city’s Serbian enclave into an instrument of Belgrade where unrest can be stirred and indirect pressure applied on Kosovo.

Nationalist murals blanket the streets of Mitrovica, the Serb enclave where the community effectively oversees a state within a divided city Nationalist murals blanket the streets of Mitrovica, the Serb enclave where the community effectively oversees a state within a divided city Photo: AFP / Armend NIMANI

On and off EU-brokered talks have yielded little progress in recent years, while distrust persists between Kosovo Albanian and Serb communities following the Yugoslav wars in the late 1990s.

For centuries, Serbs have viewed Kosovo as the cradle of its culture and Orthodox faith, complicating efforts to strike a compromise deal.

Along Mitrovica’s main thoroughfare, a towering statue of the medieval Serbian king Lazar points a defiant finger south where most of the city’s 70,000 Albanians live.

“Kosovo is ours and will remain ours,” says Serb resident Stefan Miljkovic, 28.

US troops part of a NATO force patrol the Ibar rover bridge which divides Mitrovica US troops part of a NATO force patrol the Ibar rover bridge which divides Mitrovica Photo: AFP / Armend NIMANI

The Serbs in Mitrovica and a smattering of other northern enclaves have steadfastly refused to acknowledge Kosovo’s independence.

Community members express defiance through civil disobedience — everything from refusing to pay utility bills and taxes to declining to cross Mitrovica’s bridge to interact with their Albanian neighbours.

Locals use Serbian dinars in shops and pupils study Belgrade-approved curriculum in schools.

Statue of the medieval Serbian king Lazar in the main square ofn the Serb-majority section of Mitrovica Statue of the medieval Serbian king Lazar in the main square ofn the Serb-majority section of Mitrovica Photo: AFP / Armend NIMANI

“It’s the Wild West here,” says Dejan Nedeljkovic, a 38-year-old economist, who said he was once fired after a dispute with local Serb powerbrokers.

With an estimated Serb population of 12,000 Mitrovica, the enclave and other northern Serb areas are closely controlled by a party linked to the Serbian Progressive Party of President Aleksandar Vucic.

Most of the city’s Serb minority works for Belgrade-funded institutions — with employment prospects often linked to the individual’s allegiance to the ruling Srpska Lista (SL) party, according to several local accounts.

“You can be as smart as you want, have gone to all the universities you want, if you are not a member of this political group, you have zero chance of getting a job in a public company,” said Nedeljkovic.

Kosovo prosecutors suspect a criminal group led by senior SL officials masterminded the 2018 murder of opposition leader Oliver Ivanovic.

The slain politician was one of the few voices critical of both Belgrade and organised crime syndicates, while also pushing for cooperation between communities.

“We had a lot of problems after the murder. The pressure was unbearable,” says Ksenija Bozovic, a close advisor to Ivanovic.

“We had tried to run for office on our own and look what happened… a champion of democracy and dialogue, was assassinated in broad daylight.”

She nonetheless joined forces with the ruling SL party during recent elections, saying Serbs needed to be united.

Limited prospects in Mitrovica have pushed many young and ambitious Serbs to leave.

“I don’t see any prospects for my children in Kosovo,” says Nedeljkovic. “When they finish high school at 18, I will send them to central Serbia and then they will have to manage, probably in Western Europe.”

In the years following the war, the deep divisions separating Albanians and Serbs have calcified, leaving little room for dialogue with few able to speak the other’s language.

But before the conflict, the city’s residents lived in mixed neighbourhoods, recalls Naser Dribani — a 52-year-old Roma who left Mitrovica in 1999 and now lives in France.

“Before, there were no races,” he laments, saying he had recently travelled back to the city to sell his home.

“This is not a life. We can’t go back to living here.”

Business & Finance

Kazakh President Fires Rare Criticism At Predecessor After Unrest

Dani Davis



Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued rare criticism of his long-ruling predecessor Tuesday, and said he expected Russian-led forces to leave the troubled Central Asian country in the next 10 days.

The oil-rich country’s descent into chaos has laid bare infighting at the top of a government once dominated by Tokayev’s mentor, 81-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The older man retains the constitutional status of “Leader of the Nation” despite stepping down from the presidency in 2019.

Addressing lawmakers in a video conference broadcast live, Tokayev fired an eyebrow-raising broadside at Nazarbayev as the post-Soviet country reels from unprecedented violence that began with peaceful protests over an energy price hike.

Tokayev, 68, said Nazarbayev’s rule had created “a layer of wealthy people, even by international standards”.

Dozens died in the unrest and 10,000 people have been arrested Photo: AFP / Alexandr BOGDANOV

“The time has come to pay tribute to the people of Kazakhstan and help them on a systematic and regular basis,” Tokayev added, noting that “very profitable companies” would be asked to pay money into a state fund.

“The current system is oriented towards major structures and is based on the principle: ‘everything for friends and laws for everyone else’,” he said.

Both Kazakhstan and Russia have framed last week’s unrest that left dozens dead and almost 10,000 people arrested as a coup attempt assisted by foreign “terrorists”, but have provided little supporting evidence.

Tokayev blamed his predecessor for creating a rich elite Tokayev blamed his predecessor for creating a rich elite Photo: SPUTNIK via AFP / Yevgeny BIYATOV

Following a request from career diplomat Tokayev, the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) deployed troops to bring about order and shore up the authorities.

On Tuesday, Tokayev announced “a phased withdrawal” would begin in two days and take “no more than 10 days”.

“The main mission of the CSTO peacekeeping forces has been successfully completed,” he said.

The CSTO mission of more than 2,000 troops was deployed at the peak of the crisis, after armed clashes between government opponents and security forces and a looting spree trashed parts of the largest city Almaty.

The decision was a first for the CSTO, often touted by Moscow as a NATO equivalent but previously reluctant to interfere in unrest in Central Asia, a region with long historical ties to Russia.

Nursultan Nazarbayev retains the constitutional status of 'Leader of the Nation' Nursultan Nazarbayev retains the constitutional status of ‘Leader of the Nation’ Photo: AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM

Concern has mounted that Moscow could leverage the mission to entrench its influence in Kazakhstan and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that “once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave”.

Tokayev appeared to further bolster his position by backing acting prime minister Alikhan Smailov to take on the job permanently on Tuesday — a nomination that won the unanimous support of lawmakers.

Former national security committee chief Karim Masimov — a key Nazarbayev ally viewed as perpetuating the retired president’s influence over the government — was arrested on treason charges Saturday in connection with the unrest.

Even if Nazarbayev — the son of shepherds who rose through the communist party’s ranks — is now being sidelined politically, dislodging his family’s extensive interests in Central Asia’s largest economy may take time.

In a significant move Tuesday, Tokayev announced plans to bring an end to a widely criticised private recycling monopoly linked to Nazarbayev’s youngest daughter, Aliya Nazarbayeva, 41.

“This should be done by a state organisation, like in other countries,” he said of the scheme.

But middle daughter Dinara and her husband Timur Kulibayev control Halyk, the largest commercial bank, and are among the richest people in the country. Kulibayev is moreover a key player in the flagship oil sector.

Oldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva’s political career, mainly in the rubber-stamp legislature, has been marked by a series of controversial statements and perceptions of an abrasive style.

The 58-year-old’s reported business interests are also rumoured to be extensive.

Leaks of offshore financial data and a High Court challenge in London have meanwhile revealed the extent of her family’s foreign property holdings — part of a trend of capital leaving that country that Nazarbayev officially discouraged while president.

Many residents of Almaty credited the CSTO as a stabilising force that had helped Tokayev gain control over the situation after spending several days inside as gunfire echoed around the city.

Roza Matayeva, a 45-year-old English teacher, got used to tuning in to her radio during the five-day internet blackout in Kazakhstan’s financial hub that ended briefly Monday morning before the city of 1.8 million went offline again at lunchtime.

News that the Moscow-led bloc had agreed to Tokayev’s request to send a detachment “brought relief and hope that the situation will be decided for the best in the near future,” she told AFP.

“I welcome cooperation with Russia. I think there is no threat to our sovereignty.”

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Business & Finance

Here’s How Apple CEO Earned 500% More In 2021

Dani Davis




  • Tim Cook received $98.73 million in total compensation in Apple’s fiscal 2021
  • The sum included $82.35 million in stock awards, a $12 million bonus tied to performance targets and a $3 million base salary
  • He reportedly earned $14.8 million in salary in 2020

Apple CEO Tim Cook’s compensation ballooned to nearly $100 million in 2021, a sixfold increase from the prior year.

The 61-year-old executive, who reportedly earned $14.8 million in 2020, received $98.73 million in total compensation in Apple’s fiscal 2021, according to an SEC filing published Thursday. The company’s fiscal year began in September 2020 and ran through September 2021.

Of this amount, $82.35 million came from stock awards. The sum also included a base salary of $3 million and a $12 million bonus for hitting Apple’s performance targets.

Cook also received $1.39 million in other compensation, including $712,488 in personal air travel, $630,630 in security, a $17,400 contribution to his 401(k) plan, $2,964 in life insurance premiums and $23,077 in vacation cash-out.

Despite the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues, Apple reported 33% revenue growth and more than $365 billion in sales. The increase in annual sales reportedly stemmed from the strong demand over the past two years as consumers working from home splurge on upgrades. 

Cook became CEO of Apple in August 2011 after the company’s late founder Steve Jobs stepped down. Jobs died of pancreatic cancer that October.

In 2021, Apple marked the 10th anniversary of Cook’s leadership as CEO.

In September last year, Cook reportedly received 333,987 restricted stock units, in his first stock grant since 2011 as part of a long-term equity plan. He will be eligible to receive additional units in 2023.

A report by Reuters noted that Cook’s 2021 pay was 1,447 times that of the average Apple employee. 

In 2021, the median pay for employees was $68,254. In 2020, the median pay was $57,783, 256 times Cook’s salary, according to the publication. 

Cook, who has already donated tens of millions of dollars to various charities, previously stated he plans to give away most of his fortune before he dies.

Cook’s net worth was $1.5 billion as of Tuesday, according to a Forbes estimate.

Prior to being named CEO, Cook was Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide operations. At the time, he was earning $500,000 per year. When he became CEO of Apple in 2011, Cook’s salary increased to $900,000 per year. 

Between 2011 and 2020, Cook reportedly received $963.5 million in total compensation.

Apple CEO Tim Cook attends Apple’s “Ted Lasso” season two premiere event red carpet at the Pacific Design Center, in West Hollywood, California, July 15, 2021 Photo: AFP / VALERIE MACON

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UN Wants $5 Bn Aid For Afghanistan In 2022

Dani Davis



The United Nations said Tuesday it needed $5 billion in aid for Afghanistan in 2022 to avert a humanitarian catastrophe and offer the ravaged country a future after 40 years of suffering.

In its biggest-ever single-country appeal, the UN said $4.4 billion (3.9 billion euros) was needed within Afghanistan, while a further $623 million was required to support the millions of Afghans sheltering beyond its borders.

The UN said 22 million people inside Afghanistan and a further 5.7 million displaced Afghans in five neighbouring countries needed vital relief this year.

“A full-blown humanitarian catastrophe looms. My message is urgent: don’t shut the door on the people of Afghanistan,” said UN aid chief Martin Griffiths.

“Help us scale up and stave off wide-spread hunger, disease, malnutrition and ultimately death.”

Since the Taliban hardline Islamist movement seized control of Afghanistan in mid-August, the country has plunged into financial chaos, with inflation and unemployment surging.

Washington has frozen billions of dollars of the country’s assets, while aid supplies have been heavily disrupted.

Afghanistan also suffered its worst drought in decades in 2021.

Without the aid package, “there won’t be a future”, Griffiths told reporters in Geneva.

The Taliban authorities said the aid appeal for suffering Afghans was “very needed”.

“But at the same time I would like to say the need is for all this assistance approved in the past to be delivered during this harsh winter,” senior Taliban leader and the group’s designated UN representative, Suhail Shaheen, told AFP.

He said the inflow of funds would also help in the functioning of the now dilapidated banking system, adding that any cash coming into the country will help rein in the inflation.

The UN said $4.4 billion (3.9 billion euros) was needed within Afghanistan to avert humanitarian disaster Photo: AFP / Mohd RASFAN

“The banks are not working properly so there is also a need to control the inflation and that can be controlled when dollars … hard currency come to Afghanistan,” Shaheen said.

Griffiths said the appeal, if funded, would help aid agencies ramp up the delivery of food and agriculture support, health services, malnutrition treatment, emergency shelters, access to water and sanitation, protection and education.

An estimated 4.7 million people will suffer from acute malnutrition in 2022, including 1.1 million children with severe acute malnutrition.

Griffiths said that without humanitarian aid, distress, deaths, hunger and further mass displacement would follow, “robbing the people of Afghanistan of the hope that their country will be their home and support, now and in the near term”.

However, if international donors come forward, “we will see the opportunity for an Afghanistan which may finally see the fruits of some kind of security.”

Griffiths said the security situation for humanitarian organisations in Afghanistan was probably better now than for many years, adding that the staff in the ministries in Kabul largely remained the same as before the Taliban takeover.

He said the UN Security Council’s move in December to help humanitarian aid reach desperate Afghans, without violating international sanctions aimed at isolating the Taliban, had made the operating environment for donors and humanitarians on the ground much more comfortable.

The money will go to 160 NGOs plus UN agencies delivering aid. Some will be used to pay frontline workers such as healthcare staff — but not via the Taliban administration.

Around eight million children could miss out on their education because teachers largely have not been paid since August, Griffiths said.

UN refugees chief Filippo Grandi said the aid package’s goal was to stabilise the situation within Afghanistan, including for internally displaced people, thereby preventing a further flood of migrants fleeing across the country’s borders.

“That movement of people will be difficult to manage, in the region and beyond, because it will not stop at the region,” he said.

“If those efforts are not successful, we will have to ask for $10 billion next year, not $5 billion.”

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