Monday, April 14, 2014

SYRIA – Syrian government troops seized two towns, one of them an ancient Christian hamlet north of Damascus, as part of the military’s relentless offensive along the rugged frontier with Lebanon, state media and activists said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists on the ground, confirmed that Sarkha and Maaloula had fallen to government forces. The seizure of the towns comes a day after Syrian troops backed by fighters from Lebanon’s Shia Muslim group Hezbollah captured the nearby town of Rankous. (Al Jazeera)

UAE/SPAIN – King Juan Carlos of Spain began a visit to the Persian Gulf region on Monday by telling United Arab Emirates officials that deepening ties with their oil-rich country was a top priority, highlighting the role wealthy Arab states could play in shoring up the battered Spanish economy. The visit to the OPEC member nation is expected to focus in large part on boosting trade and investment as Spain struggles to grow its economy and generate much-needed jobs after emerging from a double-dip recession last year. (Associated Press)

NIGERIA – Police say an explosion that ripped through a busy bus station in Nigeria’s capital has killed at least 71 people and wounded 124. There was no immediate claim for the rush-hour blast, though the Boko Haram terrorist network has been threatening to attack the capital. (Associated Press)

GIBRALTAR/SPAIN – Eleven migrants of sub-Saharan origin, who were trying to cross the Gibraltar Strait by boat, have been rescued at 6.30 this morning by Maritime Rescue boat of Spanish, ten miles to the south-east of Tarifa (Cadiz). The migrants have been transferred to a temporary detention center awaiting repatriation procedures. (ANSAmed)

EGYPT – Egypt’s ex-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi officially submitted his bid to run for president, with his lawyer handing over the required documents to the authorities, a spokesman said. The electoral commission is to announce the final field of candidates on May 2, and official campaigning starts a day later. European Union monitors will supervise next month’s election. (Your Middle East by AFP)

LIBYA – A trial against 37 top Gaddafi-era officials, including two of the ex dictator’s surviving sons, Saif al-Islam and Saadi al-Islam, resumed Monday in Tripoli’s Hadb prison but was immediately adjourned to April 27 after just 23 defendants showed up. Several journalists, relatives of the defendants, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) activists were denied access to the proceedings today, HRW made known. (ANSAmed)

 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

MACEDONIA – Incumbent President Gjorge Ivanov, from the ruling VMRO DPMNE party, has declared victory at Macedonia’s presidential elections. Ivanov is however not the outright winner, because although he received 51.65% of the votes, the low turnout means he gathered support from barely one-fourth of the population. He will have to face the runner-up, socialist Stevo Pendarovski (37.56%), at a second round scheduled for April 27, the country’s Kurir newspaper has reported. (Novinite)

CYPRUS/UAE – Cyprus’ President Nicos Anastasiades, on an official visit to Abu Dhabi, will be officially welcomed on Tuesday by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The formal ceremony, as Cna reports, will be followed by talks between the two delegations and the signing of bilateral agreements. (ANSAmed)

GERMANY/UKRAINE –  German utility company RWE said Tuesday it has started sending natural gas to Ukraine, a move that could support the country if Russia acts on its threat to cut off supplies because of a massive debt for past deliveries. Analyst Arno Behrens, head of energy at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels, said the RWE gas supply “could certainly help alleviate hardships” in the short term, but could not on its own make up for a potential shut-off in Russian gas supplies to Ukraine. (Associated Press)

JORDAN/LIBYA – Jordan’s ambassador to Libya has been kidnapped in Tripoli by masked armed men who attacked his car and shot his driver. A spokesman for Libya’s Foreign Ministry said that Fawaz al-Aitan was abducted in Tripoli’s Mansour neighbourhood on Tuesday. Masked men in civilian clothes driving a BMW and a pick-up vehicle surrounded the ambassador’s car, immediately opening fire. The Libyan government has not discussed who it thinks may be behind the attack. (Al Jazeera)

 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

NATO/UKRAINE – Nato has announced it has decided on a series of immediate steps to bolster its forces in eastern European as pro-Russian militia rolled into towns across eastern Ukraine in armoured vehicles. Nato fighter aircraft will fly more sorties over the Baltic region, allied ships will deploy to the Baltic Sea, the eastern Mediterranean and elsewhere, and allied military staff will be sent out to improve Nato’s preparedness, training and exercises, the Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen said. (The Guardian)

UKRAINE – Activists of the public association Oplot (Pillar), which is based in the city of Kharkiv, on Wednesday seized the building of the town hall in Donetsk, the local mass media said. Reports said about twenty people armed with rifles, automatic rifles and bats occupied all the floors of the building. Oleksandr Zakharchenko, the chairman of Oplot’s regional department told reporters the objective of the action was to press the self-appointed authorities in Kiev into holding a referendum on the territorial status of the Donetsk region. (ITAR-TASS)

YEMEN – A video that recently surfaced on Islamist militant Web sites shows a large group of al-Qaeda fighters — including the terrorist network’s second in command — taking part in a brazen open-air gathering, apparently unconcerned about the prospect of being struck by a U.S. drone.The al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen is regarded by U.S. counterterrorism officials as the network’s most potent threat to the United States. The group has been responsible for a series of attempted attacks, including a failed effort to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day in 2009. (Washington Post)

 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

ALGERIA – Algerians are voting in elections in which incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seeking a fourth term. The 77-year-old leader, who suffered a stroke last year and rarely appears in public, cast his vote in a wheelchair. Despite not personally campaigning, Mr Bouteflika is expected to beat his five other opponents. A coalition of Islamist and secular opposition parties have called for a boycott, describing the presidential election as a sham. (BBC)

EU/ITALY – European operations to combat illegal immigration in Italian waters have been allocated 7.1 million euros for the period May-September, sources close to the European Union agency for external border security FRONTEX said Thursday. There are currently two Frontex operations underway in Italy: Hermes and Aeneas, respectively covering the southern Mediterranean between Italy and North Africa and the Adriatic and Ionian seas. On Tuesday Interior Minister Angelino Alfano told parliament over 20,500 migrants had landed on the Italian coast so far this year, as compared to 2,500 during the same period in 2013. (ANSAmed)

UKRAINE/EU/USA/RUSSIA – The US, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union have agreed a plan aimed at defusing the gathering conflict in eastern Ukraine. At a meeting in Geneva which began with low expectations but led to seven hours of intense negotiations, foreign ministers agreed a series of “concrete steps” to be taken by all sides. The participants strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including antisemitism. The deal represents a far better outcome than appeared possible when the four foreign ministers met on Thursday morning. (The Guardian)

 

Friday, April 18, 2014

SOUTH SUDAN – A mob of armed civilians pretending to be peaceful protesters delivering a petition to the United Nations in South Sudan forced their way into a UN base sheltering some 5,000 civilians and opened fire, the world body said. A UN source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at least 20 people had been killed and 60 wounded in the attack on Thursday on the base in Bor in northern Jonglei state, where there are Indian and South Korean UN peacekeepers. The source warned that the death toll was likely to rise. (Al Jazeera)

QATAR – Gulf foreign ministers have agreed to a deal to end months of unprecedented tension between Qatar and other members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council over the Muslim Brotherhood. At an extraordinary meeting in Riyadh on Thursday, the ministers agreed that the policies of GCC member states should not undermine the “interests, security and stability” of each other, a statement said. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar last month, accusing it of meddling in their internal affairs and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. (Al Jazeera)

TURKEY – Turkey’s Parliament yesterday approved a controversial law increasing the powers and immunities of the National Intelligence Agency (MIT), a move seen by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s critics as a bid to tighten his grip on the state apparatus as he wages a bitter power struggle. As daily Hurriyet reports, the changes ratified by Parliament, which is dominated by Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), give the MIT more scope for eavesdropping and foreign operations, as well as greater immunity from prosecution for top agents. Parliament approved the bill amid a widespread corruption scandal hitting the government. (ANSAmed)

TUNISIA – National Dialogue sessions resumed with Tunisian political entities on Thursday in Tunis. National Dialogue is a forum that includes the work of various committees according to a predetermined agenda by the Quartet (Tunisian UGTT labor union, the UTICA business and professional lobby, the Tunisia League for the Defense of Human Rights, and the Lawyers Guild), in consultation with representatives of the parties represented in the National Constituent Assembly, a tool that has the purpose of preventing conflicts and speeding up work in the meeting room, and has allowed the adoption of the Constitution and the formation of a technical government in a timely fashion. The final mission, after the definition of the fundamental laws including of course electoral law, is a call for new elections to happen later this year. (ANSAmed)