US defense chief to visit Macedonia, concerned about Russian ‘mischief’

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis holds a press conference at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on August 28, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 12 September 2018
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US defense chief to visit Macedonia, concerned about Russian ‘mischief’

  • NATO invited Macedonia to begin accession talks with the alliance, but said it would have to change its constitution and adopt the new name first

WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday he would visit Macedonia before a Sept. 30 referendum on changing the country’s name, also expressing concern about suspected Russian interference in the vote, which Moscow denies.
Macedonia scheduled the referendum on the government’s deal in June with neighboring Greece to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia which would open the door for it to join NATO and the European Union.
“I am concerned about it... The kind of mischief that Russia has practiced from Estonia to the United States, from Ukraine and now to Macedonia, it always has adapted to the specific situation and it’s always beyond the pale,” Mattis, who will visit Macedonia over the weekend, told reporters.
Mattis said he wanted to make it clear the United States supported the Macedonian people.
NATO invited Macedonia to begin accession talks with the alliance, but said it would have to change its constitution and adopt the new name first. The EU has also said it would set a date for Macedonian accession talks pending implementation of the name deal.
Moscow’s ambassador to Skopje has criticized Macedonia’s ambitions to join NATO, saying it could become “a legitimate target” if relations between NATO and Russia deteriorate further.
Greece, a member of both NATO and the EU, has refused to accept the Balkan country’s name, saying it implies territorial claims on the Greek province of Macedonia and amounts to an appropriation of its ancient civilization.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s government, elected in 2017, pushed for an agreement with Greece. Nationalists, including President Gjorge Ivanov, oppose the deal saying it is against the constitution.
In July, Greece expelled two Russian diplomats and barred two other people from entering the country, accusing them of having meddled by encouraging demonstrations and bribing unidentified officials to thwart the Macedonia agreement.
Russia has denied wrongdoing and responded in kind with expulsions of Greeks.


44 dead as Tanzanian ferry capsizes on Lake Victoria

Updated 57 min 41 sec ago
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44 dead as Tanzanian ferry capsizes on Lake Victoria

  • Thirty-seven people were rescued after the sinking Thursday afternoon
  • Accidents are often reported on the large freshwater lake surrounded by Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda

KAMPALA, Uganda: At least 44 people died when after a passenger ferry capsized on Lake Victoria, a Tanzanian official said late Thursday, and the death toll was expected to rise when rescue efforts resumed at daybreak.
Thirty-seven people were rescued after the sinking Thursday afternoon, Mwanza regional commissioner John Mongella told The Associated Press.
“I cannot speculate” how many people had been on board, he said. “Right now our focus is on rescue.”
Such ferries often carry hundreds of people and are overcrowded.
The Tanzania Electrical, Mechanical and Electronics Services Agency, in charge of servicing the vessels, urged patience in a statement as rescue efforts began.
The ferry was traveling between Ukara and Bugolora and capsized near the area of Mwanza, the agency said.
Accidents are often reported on the large freshwater lake surrounded by Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.
Some of the deadliest have occurred in Tanzania, where passenger boats are often said to be old and in poor condition.
In 1996, more than 800 people were killed when the passenger and cargo ferry MV Bukoba sank on Lake Victoria.
Nearly 200 people died in 2011 when the MV Spice Islander I sank off Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coast near Zanzibar.