Monday, April 21, 2014

SYRIA – Syria has called a presidential election for 3 June, preparing the ground for Bashar al-Assad to defy widespread opposition and extend his grip on power days after he said the war was turning in his favour. The three-year-old rebellion against Assad’s rule has killed more than 150,000 people, forced millions to flee their homes and seen the government lose control over swaths of territory. Hundreds more died on Sunday and Monday. Western and Gulf Arab countries that back Assad’s opponents had called plans for the vote a “parody of democracy” and said it would wreck efforts to negotiate a peace settlement. (The Guardian)

YEMEN – At least 55 al-Qaida militants have been killed in Yemen, the country’s interior ministry claimed after an intensive weekend air offensive in which US drones are believed to have been involved. The operation, which started on Sunday and continued into Monday, focused on a rugged mountain area in the central and southern provinces of Yemen, where al-Qaida has been operating camps. Several air strikes – presumed to be carried out chiefly by US drones – were launched against targets in the Mahfad region, between Abyan, Shabwa and al-Bayda provinces. (The Guardian)

RUSSIA/UKRAINE – The Russian foreign minister Lavrov has said that a deadly gun battle in east Ukraine is proof that the Ukraine government is “crudely violating” a deal struck in the Swiss city of Geneva to ease tensions. Sergey Lavrov’s comments came after three pro-Russians were killed on Sunday in an exchange of fire with unknown attackers at a checkpoint set up by pro-Russians near the town of Slovyansk. “Steps are being taken – above all by those who seized power in Kiev – not only that do not fulfil, but that crudely violate the Geneva agreement,” he said in Moscow on Monday. Lavrov said the attack showed showed the Ukraine government did not want to control “extremists”. (Al Jazeera)

 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

LEBANON – Lebanon’s parliament has failed to elect a new president, in what is set to be a prolonged saga closely linked to Syria’s upcoming election in June, political analysts say. The parliamentary session began at noon on Wednesday. No candidate succeeded in getting the minimum 86 votes, or a two-thirds majority, needed to win the presidency. All the MPs filed out after the ballots were counted, preventing a quorum for a second round of voting. According to the Lebanese constitution, a candidate needs only 51 per cent of votes in the second round to win the presidency. The next session to elect a president will be held on April 30. (Al Jazeera)

GREECE/PORTUGAL – Europe’s recovery from its debt crisis took two significant steps forward on Wednesday as Greece posted a primary budget surplus and Portugal made a successful return to the bond markets for the first time in three years. The European commission paved the way for Greece to begin debt relief talks with its creditors. Portugal’s hopes of avoiding a second bailout were bolstered when investors showed solid interest in its first debt sale since 2011. It sold €750m of 10-year bonds at an interest rate of 3.5752%, the lowest in eight years, in an auction that was more than three times oversubscribed. The sale boosted hopes that Lisbon can follow Ireland and make a clean return to the financial markets when its €78bn bailout ends this year. (The Guardian)

LIBYA – A liberal politician and minister in the 2011 Libyan National Transition Council, Ali Tarhuni, has been elected head of the Constituent Assembly sworn in on Monday, reports the Libya Herald website. Opposition figure who worked against Muammar Gaddafi’s former regime, he returned to Libya after 31 years in exile to take part in the 2011 uprising against the ‘Colonel’. Economist and politician, Tarhuni founded the National Centrist Party, part of the liberal National Forces Alliance. (ANSAmed)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

GREAT BRITAIN/RUSSIA – RAF fighter jets were scrambled on Wednesday afternoon to head off two Russian bombers heading for British airspace. The Typhoons, based at Leuchars in Fife, intercepted the two Tupolev Tu-95s off the north coast of Scotland. The incident is not regarded as being related to the Ukraine crisis but a relatively routine one. Russian military planes test British responses every few months. (The Guardian)

TURKEY/ARMENIA – The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has offered his condolences to the families of more than 1 million Armenians who were massacred during the first world war, in Turkey’s most conciliatory remarks yet over the highly contested episode. Speaking on the eve of the 99th anniversary of the start of mass deportations of Armenians, Erdogan said the mass killings by Ottoman forces – seen by many as the first genocide of the 20th century – were “inhumane”. Despite his conciliatory tone, Erdogan also said it was “inadmissible” for the events of 1915 to be used as an excuse today for hostility against Turkey. (The Guardian)

IRAN/USA/UN – Iran asked the United Nations on Tuesday to demand that the United States grant a visa to Tehran’s proposed new U.N. envoy, while Washington stood firm on its decision to deny entry to Hamid Abutalebi over his suspected links to hostage-takers. The United States has said it would not grant a visa to Abutalebi because of his connection to the 1979-1981 Tehran hostage crisis when Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. Abutalebi has said he acted only as a translator. (Reuters)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

SPAIN – The Spanish government is using fines, harassment and excessive police force to limit the right to protest, Amnesty International warned in a new report released on Thursday. Against a backdrop of chronic unemployment and shrinking public funds for education, health and social services, a growing number of Spaniards have taken to the streets in recent years. The report paints a stark picture of a heavy-handed government response to the country’s growing social movements. (The Guardian)

ISRAEL/PALESTINE – Israel has hit back hard following an agreement on Palestinian unity by suspending already faltering peace negotiations just days before the expiry of a deadline for the US-brokered process. The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, accused the western-backed Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, of forming an alliance with Hamas, which he called “a terrorist organisation that calls for the destruction of Israel” – and hinted at further retaliatory measures. But there was confusion about whether the decision to suspend talks was taken by Netanyahu or the Israeli security cabinet. Palestinian officials said they would now be considering “all options”. (The Guardian)

FRANCE – In its campaign platform for European parliamentary elections, France’s main centre-right party, the UMP, said it intends to propose establishing a “European Immigration commissioner, who would head a European agency for the Schengen area in charge of the harmonization of visa policies, information exchange and the right to asylum”, reported French newspaper Le Figaro. (ANSAmed)

Friday, April 25, 2014

UKRAINE – Seven people were injured overnight at a pro-Ukrainian checkpoint near Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odessa when an explosive device blew up, local police said. Residents in the town have built several such checkpoints near the town aimed at stopping pro-Russian separatists entering from Moldova’s breakaway territory of Transdniestria. Interfax news agency quoted witnesses as saying a bomb was thrown at the checkpoint from a passing car, though this was not confirmed by police. (The Guardian)

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry says armed separatists in the eastern city of Slovyansk, may have seized a bus carrying Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors. “In Donetsk region communication has been lost with members of the OSCE military verification mission. According to preliminary reports, they could be captured by terrorists,” the ministry’s information policy department director Yevhen Perebyinis announced during a briefing on Friday. (Voice of America)

IRAN – Petrol prices in Iran have leapt by up to 75 percent, after state subsidies were cut, in a risky move that President Hassan Rouhani hopes will improve an economy battered by Western sanctions. The price hikes, which began at midnight on Thursday, will test Rouhani’s support among a population fed up with the high inflation that he has pledged to reduce, as he pursues talks with world powers aimed at ending sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear programme. (Al Jazeera)