Weekly News 1 – 5 October 2018 | Mediterranean Affairs

Monday, 1 October 2018

Spain: Catalan separatists are staging demonstrations, marches and road blocks to mark the anniversary of the separatist referendum which was not recognized by Madrid. In Girona, the website of La Vanguardia reports, some militants broke into the local headquarters of the Generalitat, the institution at the helm of Catalonia recognized by Madrid, with the intention of ripping the Spanish flag. Demonstrations are also ongoing in Barcelona. (ANSAmed)

EU Enlargement: Macedonian voters backed a plan to rename the country aimed at ending a decades-long spat with Greece and unlocking a path to NATO and EU membership, with the West welcoming the result although the referendum was marred by low turnout. With ballots from 93% of polling stations counted, 91.3% of votes cast Sunday favoured the deal with Greece to change the name of the Country to North Macedonia, compared to 5.7% opposed, according to the electoral commission’s official count. (EurActiv)

Italy: Eurozone finance ministers and the European Commission called on the Italian government on Monday (1 October) to respect the EU’s fiscal rules, as the “non-compliant” budgetary plan announced by the third largest eurozone economy could destabilise the region. The cascade of warnings followed Rome’s announcement last week that it would miss the fiscal targets set by the Commission in order to reduce its massive pile of debt. Italy said its deficit would reach 2.4% of GDP next year, compared with 0.8% targeted by the previous centre-left government to reduce its public debt of 132% of its GDP. (EurActiv)

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

France: French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday asked his prime minister for names to replace Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, whose resignation Macron had turned down less than 24 hours earlier, a presidency official said. Collomb, a former Socialist party stalwart who became one of Macron’s earliest backers in his presidential campaign, told Le Figaro newspaper on Tuesday he still wanted to step down to run for mayor of the city of Lyon. (Reuters)

Migration: At least 34 migrants have died in a shipwreck in the western Mediterranean, which 26 people survived, the U.N. migration agency said on Tuesday, citing the Moroccan navy and a Spanish aid agency. Joel Millman, spokesman of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told Reuters: “The boat was adrift since Sunday with 60 people aboard. At least 34 have drowned, it looks like there were 26 survivors.” The information came from the Moroccan navy and a Spanish non-governmental organization Caminando Fronteras, he said. (Reuters)

Spain: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Tuesday called for Catalan politics to “return to parliament” from the streets, following violent clashes between separatists and police forces in Barcelona. “President [Quim] Torra must fulfil his responsibilities and not jeopardize political normalization by encouraging radicals to besiege the institutions that represent all Catalans,” Sánchez wrote on Twitter. “Violence is not the way.” (POLITICO.eu)

Italy: Riace Mayor Domenico Lucano was put under house arrest on Tuesday in relation to allegations of aiding illegal immigration, prosecutors said. The arrest warrant, performed by finance police, also referred to alleged wrongdoing over the direct assignment of trash-collection services without a public tender. Lucano’s administration of the town in the southern region of Calabria has been frequently lauded by commentators for the way migrants were integrated into the local community and made a positive contribution to it. Lucano’a partner, Tesfahun Lemlem, is accused of the same charges and has been banned from living in the area. (ANSAmed)

Iraq: Iraq’s legislators have elected veteran Kurdish politician Barham Salih as the country’s new president, the state television reports. Salih is a former prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government and a former deputy prime minister of the Iraqi federal government. Salih has named veteran Shia politician Adel Abdul Mahdi as prime minister-designate and tasked him with forming a new government. According to Iraq’s constitution, Abdul Mahdi now has 30 days to form a government and present it to parliament for approval. (Al Jazeera)

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Italy: Moscovici meanwhile blasted what he termed the “resolute euroscepticism and xenophobia” of Italy’s populist government, whose emergence was one political spinoff of the crisis. “The Italians have… chosen a resolutely eurosceptic and xenophobic government that, on issues of migration and budget, is trying to get out of its European obligations,” he told Wednesday’s forum. Moscovici angered Rome earlier this week by urging it to tell Italian people the truth about the need for sound spending — a comment which drew the ire of Italy’s deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio who heads the populist Five Star Movement.

Italy caused concern last month by unveiling a budget raising spending and pushing the public deficit to around 2.4 percent of gross domestic product, hiking public debt above its already sky high level of 131 percent of GDP. (France24)

A Macerata court on Wednesday handed down a 12-year jail sentence for rightist militant Luca Traini, 29, for shooting and wounding six African migrants in Macerata on February 3 in ‘revenge’ for the murder and dismemberment of a Roman woman allegedly by a Nigerian drug pusher. (ANSA)

Syria: Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Moscow wanted all foreign forces, including the Russian military, to eventually withdraw from Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that the demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib was effective and no major military actions are planned in the region. (Reuters)

Gaza: A Palestinian teenager was killed on Wednesday when a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during a border protest hit him in the head, Gaza health officials said. A Gaza health ministry spokesman said the incident had occurred close to the border fence in the northern Gaza Strip and that 24 people had been wounded. An Israeli army spokesman said about 1,000 Gazans had gathered near the border, close to the Erez passenger crossing, and hurled rocks and other objects at troops and burned tyres. (Reuters)

Egypt: Egyptians living in areas marked for urban development projects should have a right to remain in their homes if they wish to do so, a U.N. special rapporteur said during a rare visit to Egypt on Wednesday. Egypt has launched a series of housing projects in recent years and is developing 42 new cities, including a new capital east of Cairo. (Reuters)

Egyptian security forces have killed 15 suspected militants in a shootout during a raid on their hideout near al-Arish, the capital of North Sinai province, state news agency MENA and security sources said on Wednesday. The men were suspected of planning attacks on security checkpoints ahead of the 45th anniversary of Egypt’s October 6 1973 war with Israel, the sources and MENA said, quoting an interior ministry statement. (Reuters)

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Turkey: Four Turkish soldiers were killed and five others were wounded after a roadside bomb in the southeastern province of Batman was detonated by Kurdish militants, the local governor’s office said on Thursday.

In a statement, the governor’s office said Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants detonated the an improvised explosive during the passage of a military convoy in the Gercus region of the province. It said an operation was launched to capture the perpetrators. (Channel News Asia)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his country will not leave Syria until a general election is held in the war-torn Middle-Eastern nation. “Whenever the Syrian people hold an election, we will leave Syria to its owners,” Erdogan said at the TRT World forum in Istanbul on Thursday. Turkey sent troops to Syria in August 2016 to clear a border area of fighters belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. (Al-Jazeera)

Erdoğan said on Thursday (4 October) he would consider putting Turkey’s long-stalled bid to join the European Union to a referendum, signalling exasperation with a process he says has been waylaid by prejudice against Muslims. A direct vote on whether to continue Turkey’s candidacy for EU membership could potentially end Ankara’s negotiations for accession, which formally began in 2005, and increase its distance from the West. EU countries, particularly Germany, have been critical of Turkey and Erdoğan in the aftermath of an attempted coup in 2016. The sweeping security crackdown that followed the failed putsch has seen more than 100,000 people jailed and dozens of media outlets shut down. Erdoğan has fumed over what he sees as a lack of support from the West. (EurActiv)

Israel:  Germany has the ”responsibility to remember the crimes of the Holocaust and fight antisemitism, xenophobia, violence and hatred”, German chancellor Angela Merkel wrote on the book of honor of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem which she visited on Thursday. After the visit Merkel – who arrived last night in Israel – is scheduled to meet with President Reuven Rivlin and then Premier Benyamin Netanyahu. (ANSAmed)

Germany and Israel agree that Iran should never be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons but they differ on how to achieve this goal, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday at a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We are very convinced and strongly share Israel’s position that everything must be done to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Where we are not always united is on the path to this goal,” Merkel said. She added that Iran’s military presence in Syria and Lebanon was a threat to Israel. (Reuters)

Bosnia and Herzegovina: he run-up to Bosnia’s Oct. 7 election has seen an unprecedented spate of campaigning violations, abuse of public funds and hate speech, anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) said on Thursday. The campaign has been awash with the sort of divisive ethnic rhetoric that helped trigger Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, raising doubt whether the country will be able to pursue a path toward European Union and NATO membership after the vote. (Reuters)

Syria: A senior U.S. general on Thursday sharply criticized Russia’s deployment of the S-300 surface-to-air missile system in Syria, saying it was a needless escalation and a knee-jerk response to last month’s downing of a Russian military aircraft there. (Reuters)

Cyber Attacks: Western countries issued coordinated denunciations of Russia on Thursday for running what they described as a global hacking campaign, targeting institutions from sports anti-doping bodies to a nuclear power company and the chemical weapons watchdog. In some of the strongest language aimed at Moscow since the Cold War, Britain said Russia had become a “pariah state”. The United States said Moscow must be made to pay the price for its actions. And their allies around the world issued stark assessments of what they described as a campaign of hacking by Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency. (Reuters)

Friday, 5 October 2018

Brexit: The European Union’s Brexit negotiators told national diplomats in Brussels late on Thursday that a divorce deal with Britain was “very close”, according to two sources present at the meeting. The EU signaled on Thursday that it was engaging with new proposals emerging in Britain on how to avoid extensive checks on the Irish border after Brexit, a key potential deal-breaker in the unprecedented talks. (Reuters)

Spain: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez faces growing pressure from within his Socialist Party to call an early election, before scandals besetting his four-month-old minority government undermine a surge in voter support. Riding high in the polls, Sanchez aims to serve a full term to mid-2020 as he focuses on approving next year’s budget and countering renewed independence moves in the Catalonia region. But last week his science minister was forced to deny media reports he cheated on his taxes, days after a recording emerged of the justice minister using a homophobic slur. (Reuters)

Israel: Israeli police are questioning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a 12th time as part of their investigations into corruption allegations. Investigators arrived Friday at Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem as protesters gathered outside with a large banner bearing Netanyahu’s face and the words “crime minister” and chanting slogans calling for justice. Media reported that Netanyahu is to be questioned concerning two corruptions cases in which police have already recommended indictments. One involves allegedly taking gifts from billionaires, and the second involves trading positive media coverage for legislation to weaken a free daily newspaper. (CBS News)

France: French police are investigating the disappearance of the president of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, who was reported missing after traveling from France to his native China. Meng’s wife contacted police in Lyon, the French city where the international police agency is based, after not hearing from him since his departure on Sept. 29, police sources said. A person familiar with the investigation into the disappearance said the initial working assumption of Western investigators was that Meng had antagonized Chinese authorities in some way and had been detained as a result. (Reuters)