Weekly News 10 – 14 September 2018 | Mediterranean Affairs


Monday, 10 September 2018

Sweden: Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s Social Democrats remained the biggest party in Sunday’s (9 September) general election, as the anti-immigrant far right made gains and vowed to exert “real influence” in politics. With ballots in more than 95% of districts counted, the Social Democrats were on course to win 28.3% of the votes, down from 31% in the 2014 elections. It was uncertain however if Löfven, who heads one of the few left-wing governments in Europe, would be able to rustle up enough support in parliament to form a government. (EurActiv)

Turkey: Turkish prosecutors on Sept. 10 issued arrest warrants for 102 active serving and former soldiers over their alleged links to the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), the group behind the defeated coup of July 2016. According to a statement from the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in Istanbul, 89 suspects are accused of communicating with FETÖ members. Police have arrested 56 of the suspects in operations so far in Istanbul, the statement added. Separately, the Chief Public Prosecutor’s office in Ankara also issued arrest warrants for 13 colonels, including three in active service, another judicial source said. (Hurriyet Daily News)

Palestina: A U.N. agency that supports Palestinian refugees will target additional funding from Gulf states and European partners as it seeks to make up a $200 million shortfall caused by a U.S. aid cutoff, the agency’s head said on Monday. “We face an unprecedented financial crisis,” said Pierre Krahenbuhl, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in Cairo to try to drum up support at an Arab League meeting on Tuesday. (Reuters)

Spain: Spain said on Monday it would hold talks with Saudi Arabia over the sale of 400 laser-guided bombs to the Gulf kingdom, after confirming last week it was halting the shipment because of the Saudi role in the war in Yemen. (Reuters)

Libya: Gunmen stormed the headquarters of Libya’s national oil company in Tripoli on Monday, setting off explosions, taking hostages and spraying gunfire, leaving several people dead or wounded before forces aligned with the government took control of the building. The identity and motives of the assailants were not clear. The oil company said two of its employees had been killed, and there were reports of two gunmen killed, putting the total number of dead at four. But an employee who escaped the assault said he believed that as many as six people had been killed, including three of the assailants. (The New York Times)

Migration: More than 100 people, including 20 children, died in early September when their rubber boats were wrecked off the coast of Libya, according to the aid agency Doctors Without Borders (known by the French initials MSF). A pair of twins, about 17 months old, as well as their parents, were among the fatalities, MSF said in a statement on Monday, quoting a survivor. The two boats had set out from the Libyan coast early on September 1, each carrying scores of people, mostly from African countries such as Sudan, Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Libya, Algeria and Egypt. (Al Jazeera)

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Syria: More than 30,000 people have so far fled their homes in northwest Syria since Syrian government and allied forces resumed air and ground bombardments there last week, the U.N. agency coordinating relief efforts said on Monday. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said an all-out military assault on the last major stronghold of active opposition to President Bashar al-Assad could set 800,000 people to flight. (Reuters)

Libya: Masked gunmen have attacked the headquarters of the Libyan National Oil Corporation in Tripoli, setting off explosions and exchanging gunfire with security guards and forces from Libya’s UN-backed government. At least two NOC staff members were killed and 10 others injured. Two gunmen were also killed before security forces regained control of the building. The assault was thought to be the work of Islamic State, and not one of the feuding militias operating in Tripoli. (The Guardian)

Spain: Around one million people filled central Barcelona on Tuesday to celebrate Catalonia’s commemorative day and boost a bid for independence which has left deep divisions almost a year after it brought Spain to a constitutional crisis. The 11 September “Diada” celebration marks the fall of Barcelona to Spain in 1714, and has been adopted by independence activists in recent years. (EurActive)

Italy: A court on Tuesday reduced the jail terms of the two ringleaders of the huge ‘Mondo di Mezzo’ (Middle World) corruption case in Rome, while accepting prosecutors’ assertion that mafia association was among the felonies involved. The term of former gangster and ex-member of the NAR right-wing terrorist group Massimo Carminati was cut from 20 years to 14 years and six months. The term of leftwing cooperatives chief Salvatore Buzzi was clipped from 19 years to 18 years, four months. The sentences were cut even though the appeals court upheld the mafia association charge, overturning the first-instance ruling in which it was rejected. (ANSA)

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

European Union: The European Parliament passed a motion on Wednesday declaring that Hungary is at risk of breaching the EU’s core values, triggering a disciplinary process that could exacerbate deep divisions within the bloc. With 448 votes in favor, the Parliament decided for the first time to initiate a so-called Article 7 process, citing concerns about judicial independence, corruption, freedom of expression, academic freedom, the rights of minorities and migrants, and other issues. A total of 197 members of the European Parliament opposed the motion and 48 abstained. (Politico.eu)

The European Parliament backed the controversial copyright bill on Wednesday (12 September), drawing cheers of jubilation and howls of disapproval from MEPs in the Strasbourg hemicycle. Most notably, Articles 11 and 13 were both approved, with various amendments made to both articles from opposing parties rejected. Article 11 obliges internet platforms that post snippets of information to contract a license from the original publisher of the material, while, article 13 calls upon service providers to monitor user behaviour as a means to catch copyright infringements. (EurActiv)

The European Union took a stance against “killer robots” on Wednesday when the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for an international ban on the development, production and use of weapons that kill without a human deciding to fire. Autonomous weapons are machines programmed to select and attack targets using artificial intelligence, without human control. Opponents fear they could become dangerous in a cyber-attack or as a result of a mistake in their programming. (EurActiv)

Libya: Italy wants to organise a conference on Libya in Sicily in the first half of November, Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi said Wednesday. Briefing the parliamentary foreign affairs committees on Libya, he said Rome wanted to set up the conference there “symbolically”, in a “land that means to symbolise the hand outstretched over the Mediterranean”. Sicily has been one of the two suggested locations for the conference, along with Rome. The conference will be organised according to the “Rome format”, including not only the various actors on the Libyan scene but also European countries, neighbouring countries, the EU, the African Union, the Arab League and the UN, Moavero said. (ANSA)

Turkey: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has appointed himself chairman of the country’s sovereign wealth fund and completely changed its board, naming Finance Minister Berat Albayrak as his deputy, the country’s Official Gazette said on Wednesday. The revamp was the latest in a series of steps Erdogan has taken to assume new powers since he won a presidential election in June, heralding the move to an executive presidency which grants sweeping authority. (Reuters)

Serbia: Morocco’s Foreign Minister, Nasser Bourita, travelled to Belgrade to meet with his Serbian counterpart, Ivica Dacic. During the encounter, the minister said that diplomatic and economic ties between the two states were growing stronger, and promising fresh investments in Serbia’s agriculture, automotive industry and renewable energy. Bourita’s visit is the first a Moroccan Foreign Minister has made to Belgrade in 14 years. He said that, apart from economic cooperation, which includes growing investments, the two states should work to strengthen their ties in education, sports and culture. (ANSAmed)

Syria: The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR is expressing its concern for a “looming serious shortfall in financing” for its work and that of its partners to support millions of Syrian refugees and the internally displaced. “UNHCR needs 270 million US dollars to ensure that the most vulnerable Syrians uprooted by war do not go without vital protection and assistance this year,” it said in a statement. UNHCR’s total funding requirements for 2018 for protection and assistance in Syria total 1.97 billion dollars. In September, only 610 million dollars were received, which is 31% of the total need. Currently, 196.5 million dollars would allow UNHCR to continue its essential programmes through the end of the year for Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. This includes cash assistance, protection, health, and shelter activities. Overall, there are more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees registered across the region – 2.6 million of whom are children. (ANSAmed)

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Migration: Malta and Italy engaged in another spat over migration on Thursday, the second in as many days. Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini in a tweet insisted that Malta ‘must do its duty’ regarding several migrant boats found in waters controlled by Malta. But Malta retorted that since the boats were on the high seas and not in distress they had a right of passage and could not be intercepted. The Italian minister said that if Malta did not act, he would do whatever possible to ensure that the migrants did not land in Italy. But in a retort, the Maltese government said these were not search and rescue cases, as confirmed by Mr Salvini himself in his tweet. “The Maltese authorities will, as in every case, apply all applicable conventions. These conventions do not allow authorities to forcefully intercept boats transiting on high seas. Any interference with the right of passage would be considered as illegal interception. In his own tweet, Minister Salvini admits that the boats are not facing difficulties while navigating.” (Times of Malta)

War in Yemen: Saudi air forces intercepted a ballistic missile fired by the Houthi militias from Yemen towards the southwestern city of Najran on Thursday evening. The Houthis have stepped up missile attacks on the Kingdom in recent months. The total number of ballistic missiles launched by the Iranian-backed Houthi militias toward Saudi Arabia has so far reached 191. (Al Arabiya)

Libya: The UN Security Council has extended the mandate for the UNSMIL mission in Libya by another year, until September 15, 2019, but did not endorse a December 10 date for elections that were agreed to in a Paris meeting four months ago. France stuck to its position pushing for elections in Libya by the end of the year on Thursday, a day after Italy and the UN-backed government in Tripoli sowed doubts on the electoral calendar, citing a worsening security situation. (Al Jazeera)

Friday, 14 September 2018

Syria: Turkey said on Friday it was talking to all parties in the Syrian conflict to prevent a government offensive on Idlib ahead of talks between Russian and Turkish leaders, who support rival sides in the looming battle for the rebel-held region. (Reuters)

Italy: Former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon is helping to craft the curriculum for a leadership course at a right-wing Roman Catholic institute in Italy, stepping up his efforts to influence conservative thinking in the church. Benjamin Harnwell, director of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute based in a mountaintop monastery not far from Rome, told Reuters Bannon had been helping to build up the institute for about half of its eight-year life. Cardinal Raymond Burke, a leading Vatican conservative who is president of the Institute’s board of advisers, said Bannon would be playing a leading role there. Burke told Reuters he looked forward to working with Harnwell and Bannon “to promote a number of projects that should make a decisive contribution to the defense of what used to be called Christendom”. (Reuters)

Italian Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said Friday that Malta didn’t “give a damn” about its migrant rescue duties and was instead steering boats into Italian waters. Salvini also said migrants could be identified on board rescue ships to facilitate so-called “lightning repatriations”. Salvini added that Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn used “vulgar” language in a verbal spat with him earlier. “We are awaiting in a few minutes’ time the Luxembourg minister to continue the debate with calm tones, he was vulgar before,” said Salvini, flanked by Austrian counterpart Herbert Kickl. Earlier Salvini said “we don’t need to have new slaves to replace the children we no longer produce” and Asselborn swore “merde alors”, a vulgar expression meaning “drat”, before saying “deal with your money to help feed your children”. (ANSA)

Switzerland: Switzerland’s intelligence agency said on Friday it had worked with British and Dutch counterparts to foil a Russian plot which according to newspaper reports was targeting a Swiss laboratory testing nerve agent Novichok. Earlier on Friday a Swiss and a Dutch newspaper reported that authorities from the three countries had teamed up in an operation which resulted in the Netherlands expelling two suspected Russian spies in March. Citing unnamed sources the Tages-Anzeiger and NRC Handelsblad said the suspected agents were heading for the Spiez laboratory near Bern which analyses chemical and biological weapons, including the Novichok nerve agent. (Reuters)