Weekly News 11 – 16 June 2018 | Mediterranean Affairs


Monday 11 June 2018

Afghanistan: At least 12 people have been killed, and more than 30 others wounded after a suicide bomber targeted an Afghan ministry building in Kabul, a government spokesman said.
The attacker blew himself at the entrance of the Rural Rehabilitation and Development Ministry in the west of the capital of Afghanistan, interior ministry spokesman, Najib Danish, said on Monday. No group has claimed responsibility for the deadly attack. (Al Jazeera)

Jordan: For Bani-Melhem, a pledge by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to provide Jordan with $2.5bn in aid is not going to solve the kingdom’s unemployment problem, nor will it achieve social justice. Thousands of other Jordanians also protested against price hikes and an income tax reform bill last week. They say the incoming aid will not “save” the country from its structural economic problems and crippling public debt, currently close to $40bn. The protesters called for a long-term fiscal plan, more transparency, an end to corruption and, crucially, a complete overhaul of the government’s approach to economic and social policies. (Al Jazeera)

Iraq: An Iraqi court has ordered the arrest of four people accused of setting fire to a storage site housing ballot boxes from a May parliamentary election, state media said.
Three of the suspects are policemen and the fourth is an employee of the Independent High Elections Commission, state television said on Monday. (Al Jazeera)

Spain: Spain’s prime minister has said the country will take in a rescue ship stranded in the Mediterranean, to help avoid a humanitarian disaster. Pedro Sánchez said he would give “safe harbour” to the Aquarius and the 629 people on board, after Italy and Malta both refused to let the ship dock.
The UN refugee agency and the EU had both called for a swift end to the stand-off between the two countries. “It is our duty to help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a safe port to these people, to comply with our human rights obligations,” Mr Sanchez’s office said.
Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted his gratitude to Spain, saying Italy had broken international rules and caused a standoff. Italy’s new Interior Minister Matteo Salvini refused to let the ship in, saying: “Saving lives is a duty, turning Italy into a huge refugee camp is not.” (BBC)

Turkey: Two weeks ahead of the crucial June 24 early elections, which will for the first time introduce new powers for the president as a result of a 2017 referendum, polls say that incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan will likely fall short of a first-round victory. At the moment he does not seem to have the support of over 50% of voters. The parliamentary elections are less clear, with the media and polls saying that Erdogan’s AKP with MHP nationalists are expected to get 44-45% of the vote, while the CHP, Iyi and others are expected to get around 39-40%. Decisive for the equilibriums of the parliament will be HDP’s performance. (ANSAmed)

Tuesday 12 June 2018 

France: French President Emmanuel Macron has accused the Italian government of “cynicism and irresponsibility” for refusing to let a stranded rescue ship packed with migrants dock in Italy.Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte hit back on Tuesday at sharp criticism from France over Italy’s handling of the Aquarius, accusing Paris of being hypocritical, cynical and rigid.  (BBC)

FYROM:  Greece has reached a deal on the future name of its northern neighbour, which called itself Macedonia at the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
After years of protests and seemingly endless diplomacy, they have settled on the name Republic of North Macedonia, or Severna Makedonija in Macedonian.
The aim of the deal is to remove Greece’s block on its neighbour’s bid to join Nato and the European Union. But first it will need to be approved by the Macedonian people and Greek parliament. The aim is to get Macedonia’s parliament to back an agreement before EU leaders meet for a summit on 28 June. Greece will then send a letter to the EU withdrawing its objection to accession talks and a letter to Nato too.
That will be followed by a Macedonian referendum in September or October.
If Macedonian voters back the deal, their government will then have to change the constitution. The Athens government is also adamant that the new name, rather than Macedonia, is used by everyone, nationally and internationally. That idea may be beyond its control. The deal will finally have to be ratified by the Greek parliament.(BBC)

Migration crisis: Hundreds of the migrants and refugees onboard the Aquarius rescue ship are being transferred to Italian coastguard and naval vessels to begin their journey to Spain, despite pleas for them to be allowed to recuperate in the nearest port.
On Tuesday afternoon, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said the crew of the Aquarius had been instructed by the maritime rescue coordination centre in Rome to transfer 400 of the 629 people onboard to the two vessels, which will then sail for Valencia. (The Guardian)

Wednesday 13 June 2018

Austria: Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz has called for the formation of an anti-migration “axis of the willing” with Germany and Italy, to push for more restrictive border policies at an EU level and to increase cooperation between Rome, Vienna and Berlin on the issue of illegal immigration. The formation of an anti-immigration Axis between the core EU states would build on the work of the Visegrad group. The V4 countries of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have been resistant to migration, and led opposition to EU quotas to take pressure off southern European countries. (Independent)

Israel: The UN General Assembly voted to condemn Israel for excessive use of force against Palestinian civilians, in a vote of 120 in favor and 8 against. (Associated Press)

Thursday 14 June 2018

France: Children as young as 12 are being abused, detained and illegally returned to Italy by French border guards, according to a new report by Oxfam. The report, ‘Nowhere but Out’, details how Italy’s overstretched and bureaucratic reception system is leaving vulnerable refugees and other migrants living under the radar in dangerous conditions. It describes how French police routinely stop unaccompanied children and put them on trains back to Italy after altering their paperwork to make them appear older, or to make it appear that they want to be sent back.
Children report being physically and verbally abused, and detained overnight in cells without food, water or blankets and with no access to an official guardian – all contrary to French and EU law. Oxfam staff and partners recount cases where border guards have cut the soles of the shoes of child migrants or stolen their phone SIM cards. In one case, a very young Eritrean girl was forced to walk back across the border along a road with no pavement carrying her 40-day-old baby. (OXFAM)

Germany: A major rift has opened up between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her interior minister over migrant policy, threatening her coalition government. The minister, Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union (CSU), wants police to have the power to turn away undocumented migrants at the border. Mrs Merkel has held emergency talks with her Christian Democrat (CDU) MPs. She wants a new deal at EU level over migrants. While Mrs Merkel’s CDU MPs gave her their support on Thursday, their Bavarian colleagues from the CSU decisively backed their leader, Mr Seehofer. There is a risk that the CSU could break away.An immigration master-plan drawn up by Mr Seehofer was due to be published on Tuesday but was delayed, reportedly after opposition from Ms Merkel. A session of the Bundestag was interrupted on Thursday morning so that CDU and CSU MPs could hold separate meetings amongst themselves to discuss the policies. Mr Seehofer wants border states like Bavaria to be allowed to refuse asylum-seekers trying to enter Germany if they have already registered in another EU state. But Ms Merkel says any policy on the issue must be coordinated at an EU level.  (BBC)

 Turkey: Four people are dead and eight wounded in southern Turkey, after election campaigning descended into violence. The incident has heightened tensions ahead of the 24 June vote, in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is aiming for a second term.
The clash broke out in the mainly Kurdish town of Suruc, when an MP from the ruling AKP, Ibrahim Halil Yildiz, was touring some shops. (BBC)

Friday 15 June 2018

Denmark: A court in Denmark has ordered the government to compensate 18 civilians who were tortured during the Iraq war in an operation carried out by Iraqi security forces along with a Danish battalion. In total, 23 plaintiffs had sued Denmark after they were arrested and subjected to “torture and inhumane treatment” in 2004 during operation ‘Green Desert’ near Iraq’s main port city of Basra. (Al Jazeera)

France: Paris is to unveil its newly built perimeter defences around the Eiffel Tower to protect against terror threats. Temporary barriers were placed around the tower in June 2016, and are now being replaced with more permanent measures. Set to be completed in mid-July, the fences cost nearly €35 million. Yet residents are not happy about the added security features. (BBC)

Migration crisis: Italy and France have jointly expressed support for EU “asylum centres” to be set up in countries where many migrants begin their journeys to Europe.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and French President Emmanuel Macron met in Paris after a days-long row over the fate of the rescue ship Aquarius. Mr Macron proposed building migration centres in countries of departure, including Libya, from which many people attempt a dangerous sea crossing to Europe. Mr Conte agreed with the plan, calling for widespread reform of the current system. (BBC)

Turkey: Four people are dead and eight wounded in southern Turkey, after election campaigning descended into violence. The incident has heightened tensions ahead of the 24 June vote, in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is aiming for a second term.
The clash broke out in the mainly Kurdish town of Suruc, when an MP from the ruling AKP, Ibrahim Halil Yildiz, was touring some shops.

Saturday 16 June 2018

Vatican city: Pope Francis on Saturday called the practice of having an abortion after pre-natal tests have discovered possible birth defects a version of Nazi attempts to create a pure race by eliminating the weakest. (Reuters)

Austria: Austria called on Germany to fully clarify allegations that German intelligence agents systematically spied on politicians, international organisations and companies on Austrian territory, as reported by two newspapers on Saturday. Between 1999 and 2006, Germany’s federal intelligence service BND spied on around 2,000 targets at political institutions, international organisations, banks, companies and weapons producers in Austria, said daily Der Standard and weekly Profil.(Reuters)

Italy: Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Rome on Saturday calling for greater rights for migrant workers. The rally was called by the USB labor union after the death of one of its activists, Soumayla Sacko, a 29-year-old legal migrant from Mali. He was allegedly murdered earlier this month as he helped fellow migrant workers build shelters in southern Italy’s Calabria region. A local farmer has been arrested in connection with the killing. (euronews)

In the meantime, Italy’s interior minister told more foreign non-government organisations operating migrant rescue ships in the Mediterranean on Saturday that they could not dock in Italian ports and blasted one of them for calling him a fascist. Matteo Salvini, who is also leader of the right-wing League and deputy prime minister, posted remarks on Facebook and Twitter in an escalating row with NGOs as one ship, the Aquarius, headed to Spain after being banned from Italian ports. (Reuters)

Greece: Angry crowds in Greece tried to break into the parliament building in an unsuccesful attempt to force MPs to vote “yes” in a no confidence vote. They called Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras a traiter as they fear the Government will surrender in a dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia about its name. The government survived the vote but people aren’t happy. (euronews)