The National Today

Oliver Ivanovic's assassination derails Serbia-Kosovo talks

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

Flowers, candles and a picture of Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic mark the scene of his murder on Tuesday in front of his office in the northern Serb-dominated part of Mitrovica, Kosovo. (Bojan Slavkovic/Associated Press)

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  • Oliver Ivanovic's assassination throws peace process into turmoil
  • Time running out for U.K. to reconsider Brexit
  • Something's putting a damper on U.S. tourism

Kosovo killing shatters peace

A top leader of Kosovo's Serb minority was assassinated in front of his offices this morning, derailing ongoing peace talks.

Oliver Ivanovic was the head of the Kosovo Serb Freedom, Democracy, Justice Party. He was shot at least five times as he arrived for work in the Serb-controlled portion of the city of Mitrovica, in Northern Kosovo.

The 64-year-old died of his wounds a short time later in hospital.

A leading Kosovo Serb politician, Oliver Ivanovic was facing a retrial on war crimes charges over the 1990s Kosovo conflict. (Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images)
The shooters escaped and their burned-out getaway car was later found by police.

Considered a moderate, pro-democracy force, Ivanovic had been a key player in the EU-mediated talks that aim to normalize relations between Serbia and Kosovo. The ethnic Albanian region of the former Yugoslavia declared independence in 2008, a decade after a bloody civil war, and is recognized by 115 countries, including Canada, but not its neighbour.

However, Ivanovic was also afigure of controversy.

A poster of Ivanovic hangs on the exterior wall of his office, seen here through police tape, after he was assassinated by gunmen on Tuesday. (Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images)
In January 2014, he was arrested and charged with war crimes by the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX), a body created to take on cases deemed "too sensitive" for local authorities.

Ivanovic, who was in charge of a police paramilitary unit in 1999, was accused of being an organizer of a Serb vigilante group known as the Bridge Watchers, which tortured and murdered ethnic Albanians.

The tribunal convicted him in January 2016. Its president found that Ivanovic was aware of the coordinated "expulsions and killings of Albanians" in Mitrovica during the course of NATO's 1999 air campaign, and that he "encouraged paramilitaries to commit this crime."

Ivanovic was sentenced to nine years in jail, but the verdict was overturned and a new trial ordered last February.

People light candles at the scene of Ivanovic's shooting. (Bojan Slavkovic/Associated Press)
The Serb walkout from the Brussels negotiations, which were just resuming after a long break, is a major setback. There are fears that Ivanovic's murder will lead to renewed violence.

Jan Braathu, Kosovo mission head for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, called the assassination a "major test for the rule of law in Kosovo."

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic says Ivanovic's killing threatens the stability of Kosovo and the entire Balkan region. (Savo Prelevic/AFP/Getty Images)
"To see that a politician can be murdered in cold blood in 2018 in Kosovo is a devastating thought," he added.

Serbia is demanding a role in the investigation. Its foreign minister, Ivica Dacic, has warned reporters that the killing threatens the stability of Kosovo and the entire Balkan region.

Brexit regrets

The divorce deal is almost done, but Europe still has feelings for Britain.

At least, that seemed to be the message European Council PresidentDonald Tusk was sending today when he suggested that the door is still open for the U.K. to remain part of the EU.

President of the European Council Donald Tusk suggested Tuesday that the door is still open for the U.K. to remain part of the EU. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
"We haven't had a change of heart. Our hearts are still open for you," Tusk told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

But time is running out, he warned. "If the U.K. government sticks to its decision to leave, Brexit will become a reality - with all its negative consequences - in March next year."

In December, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, finally arrived at a preliminary agreement on Britain's exit from the trading bloc. They settled contentious issues like the rights of citizens who remain behind, future payments and Northern Ireland's border.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, left, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker address a press conference in Brussels on December 8, 2017, after hammering out a preliminary Brexit deal. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
But there have been growing calls for a second referendum on the pullout — some from unlikely sources.

Last week, Nigel Farage, former leader of the U.K. Independence Party and one of the main faces of the Brexit campaign, declared that another vote might well be needed — if only to shut up the people he calls "remoaners."

The June 2016 referendum was a tight Brexit victory, 52 per cent to 48 per cent. And polls since suggest that the sentiment has reversed itself, with a majority of Britons now favouring continued EU membership —especially if May can't cut a favourable final deal.

Nigel Farage, former leader of the U.K. Independence Party, declared last week that another vote might be needed on Brexit. (Virginia Mayo/Associated Press)
The supposed benefits of the U.K. going it alone —350 million pounds a week ($600 million CDN) in recouped payouts to the EU — have so far proven more elusive than promised. Boris Johnson, May's foreign secretary, today doubled-down on the  controversial claim, saying the figure was "too low," and the actual amount will be closer to 438 million pounds ($750 million).

And even the easier-to-accomplish tasks, like changing the U.K.'s passport colour back to blue instead of the EU's burgundy, are creating political headaches.

Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate opposite the Houses of Parliament in London on Tuesday. The June 2016 referendum was a tight Brexit victory, 52 per cent to 48 per cent, and polls since suggest that the sentiment has reversed itself. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)
Shortly after Tusk delivered his please-stay valentine, another member of the European Parliament stood to point out that the trading block actually doesn't have any rules on passport colours. Croatia's travel documents remained blue after it joined the EU in 2013.

Hell hath no fury like a technocrat scorned.

Scaring off the tourists

Donald Trump came to power vowing to place "America First." But the latest figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organization suggest his country is headed in the other direction.

The U.S. has slipped from the second-most-popular foreign destination to third, behind France and Spain, in the annual UN tourism report.

Since Donald Trump became president, the U.S. has slipped from the second-most-popular foreign destination to third in the UN's global tourism rankings. (Associated Press/Scott Heppell)
In 2016, Spain and the U.S. were virtually tied, each attracting around 76 million international visitors. But some 82 million people travelled to Spain this year, an increase of almost eight per cent, while visits to America fell.

The UNWTO didn't release a full breakdown — it's still considered a "preliminary analysis" — but U.S. government statistics for the first seven months of 2017 showed a four per cent drop in international tourism.

Just over 41 million tourists entered the United States between the beginning of January and the end of July last year. The only region that showed growth were visits from Canada, which were up 4.6 per cent to 11.6 million.

Tourist entries from Mexico, on the other hand, dropped 8.5 per cent to 9.6 million. Visits from Europeans declined 2.7 per cent, and the number of other overseas travellers decreased by 6.4 per cent.

Japanese tourists pose in front of the Statue of Liberty. In 2016, travel and tourism contributed $1.5 trillion to the U.S. economy. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
Of course, there's no definitive proof that the decline is tied to Trump or his much-publicized travel bans. Factors such as the rise in the U.S. dollar have presumably played a part.

But the people who pay the most attention — the tourism and trade agencies — have already adjusted their messaging to try and downplay, or even counteract, the divisive president.

Last April, Los Angeles debuted a new slogan: Everyone is Welcome. The accompanying advertising spots are heavy on diversity, showcasing happy visible minorities and gay and lesbian couples with a catchy Father John Misty soundtrack.

In November, New York City launched a $15.6 million US "True York City" campaign in 17 countries including Canada, with an emphasis on the diverse residents and cultures of America's biggest metropolis.

And this week, the U.S. Travel Association is set to announce a new coalition with the American Gaming Association, hotel and lodging groups, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that will try and halt the tourism slump. Their first effort will be a 40-minute film focusing on American music history that will be shown in overseas museums and galleries.

They have good reason to be concerned. In 2016, travel and tourism contributed $1.5 trillion to the U.S. economy — 2.7 per cent of overall GDP — and even a small drop in tourism can cost billions.

A decrease of 700,000 visitors over the first three months of the Trump presidency, for example, came with an estimated $2.7 billion price tag.

Tourists snap pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge from a bus in San Francisco. In 2016, tourism in the United States represented 2.7 per cent of overall GDP. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)
But the most notable thing about the new UN figures might be that overall, global tourism was up seven per cent in 2017, hitting a record 1.3 billion travellers.

Europe saw an eight per cent increase, Asia and the Pacific was up six per cent and Africa eight per cent. Visits to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean all rose. It was only the United States that saw a decline.

Which represents an awful lot of money headed for less turbulent climes.

Quote of the moment

"They were very protective of the kids."

Louise Anna Turpin, left, and David Allen Turpin. (Riverside County Sheriff's Department/Associated Press)

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Today in history

Jan. 16, 1991: The Gulf war begins

America's first tilt at Saddam Hussein is marked in the most Canadian way possible — with parliament still hotly debating the UN resolution backing the war as the bombs began to fall.

"I've just been handed a note Mr. Speaker, and the White House has now confirmed, the war has started." - MP Lynn Hunter 4:45

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.