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Weekly News 13 – 17 November 2017 | Mediterranean Affairs

Monday, 13 November 2017 

Lebanon: Saad Hariri has pledged he will return to Lebanon from Saudi Arabia “very soon,” in his first television interview since his shock resignation as prime minister eight days ago. In an interview from Riyadh with his party’s Future TV on Sunday, Hariri brushed aside rumours that he was under de facto house arrest in Saudi Arabia. (The Guardian)

Iran: A powerful magnitude-7.3 earthquake has rocked the northern border region between Iran and Iraq, killing more than 400 people and injuring thousands more. Iran’s state-run Irna news agency has raised the death toll to 407 and said 6,700 people were injured after the quake that struck the country’s western provinces at 9.20pm local time on Sunday. Tremors were felt hundreds of miles away in both capitals, in Tehran and Baghdad. (The Guardian)

Slovenia: Slovenia’s President Borut Pahor won another four-year mandate on Sunday (12 November) despite a strong showing by a relatively unknown challenger in the presidential runoff vote.Pahor won 52.9% percent of the vote in the small Alpine eurozone country of two million people, against 47.1% for  Marjan Šarec. (Euractiv)

UE: Most of the European Union’s member states have signed up to a plan for closer defence co-operation. The UK and Republic of Ireland are among five states not participating. The other 23 are now committed to the permanent structured military co-operation (“Pesco”) plan to boost their defence budgets and joint capabilities. Under Pesco, each country has to provide a plan for national contributions.The participants will be backed by a European Defence Fund that should be worth €5bn annually after 2020. The money will be used for weapons research and equipment purchases (BBC)

UK: Brexit Secretary David Davis said the terms of the UK’s exit, such as money, citizen rights and any transition must become law via a new Act of Parliament.
While any deal would “only hold” if MPs approved it, he said it would not alter the fact the UK was leaving the EU.
It comes as MPs prepare to debate key Brexit legislation later this week with the government facing possible defeat on aspects of the EU Withdrawal Bill, which will convert EU law into UK law. (BBC)  

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Lebanon: Saad Hariri, the Lebanese leader at the centre of a diplomatic row in the Middle East over his unexpected resignation as prime minister, has said he will return from Saudi Arabia in the coming days. The announcement came in the form of a tweet on a day he met the visiting head of Lebanon’s Maronite Christian Church in Riyadh, Patriarch Beshara al-Rai. (Al Jazeera)

Migrant crisis: An exclusive CNN report revealed migrants in Libya being sold at auction as slaves. In the video, two migrants are sold by human traffickers who are heard calling out prices. One young man up for auction in the video, who CNN said is Nigerian, is described by the auctioneer as part of a group of “big, strong boys for farm work”. After CNN received the initial video, it travelled to Libya to verify the story and captured a dozen people on video being auctioned off in a matter of minutes. (CNN)

Turkey – Qatar: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Qatar on Tuesday to attend the third meeting of Turkey-Qatar Supreme Strategic Committee on Wednesday. (Al Jazeera)

UK: Concern about Russian influence in British politics has intensified as it emerged that more than 400 fake Twitter accounts believed to be run from St Petersburg published posts about Brexit. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh identified 419 accounts operating from the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) attempting to influence UK politics out of 2,752 accounts suspended by Twitter in the US. (The Guardian)

Yemen: Yemen’s Houthi rebels have accused the Saudi-led coalition of bombing the country’s main international airport, destroying a navigation station that is critical to receiving already limited aid shipments. (Al Jazeera)

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Lebanon: Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has for the first time publicly accused Saudi Arabia of detaining its prime minister, who resigned unexpectedly during a visit to Riyadh on 4 November. Mr Aoun said “nothing justified” Saad Hariri’s continued absence, and that it was a breach of his human rights. For his part, Mr. Hariri once again insisted on Twitter that he would soon return to Lebanon and that he was fine. (BBC)

Russia: Russia has moved closer to introducing a law that will allow the government to list any foreign media operating in the country as a foreign agent. The proposal, in retaliation for Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT being told to register as a foreign agent in the US, has been unanimously approved at the lower house of parliament. The bill was passed with 414 votes in favour. The result was then met by a short burst of applause from MPs. It now needs the approval of the upper house and President Vladimir Putin before becoming law. (BBC)

Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe army takes control of Harare but denies coup against Mugabe. Announcement by military on state broadcaster says President Robert Mugabe and family are safe but army is ‘targeting criminals around him’. (live on The Guardian)

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Afghanistan: A suicide bomb attack in the Afghan capital on Thursday near a gathering of supporters of an influential regional leader killed at least nine people and wounded many, the interior ministry said. Islamic State claimed responsibility, according to Amaq, its official news agency. The Taliban denied involvement. (Reuters)

Italy: Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka has announced the start of checks for migrants on good trains at the Brenner Pass at the border with Italy as part of the coming into effect of trilateral controls. (Ansamed)

Lebanon: The French foreign minister has said Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri can travel “when he wants” to France from Saudi Arabia, where officials in Beirut allege he is being detained. Jean-Yves Le Drian was speaking at a joint news conference in Riyadh after talks with his Saudi counterpart. Adel al-Jubeir said the claim that Mr Hariri was being held was “false” and he was in Saudi Arabia by his own will. (BBC)

Turkey: Turkish officials have banned a festival of German-language gay films due to be held in the capital Ankara, saying it could incite hatred or be targeted by terror attacks. The organisers Pink Life QueerFest Four had planned to screen four films at cinemas on 16 and 17 November. (BBC)

Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe’s long-time president Robert Mugabe is holding talks with South African negotiators over his future. Envoys from the the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) are trying to reach a deal on the future of Zimbabwe and the man who has led the country for 37 years. Zimbabwe’s opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai says Mr Mugabe must resign. (BBC)

Friday, 17 November 2017 

Italy: Totò Riina, Sicilian mafia’s ‘boss of bosses’, dies at 87. Riina was serving multiple life sentences after convictions for ordering 150 murders, though experts believe the true figure was much higher. He died while he was in a medically induced coma following cancer treatment. (The Guardian)

UK: Theresa May has been told she has two weeks to put more money on the table if the EU is to agree to begin Brexit trade talks before the end of the year. EU Council President Donald Tusk said he was “ready” to move onto the next phase of Brexit talks, covering future relations with the UK. But he said the UK must show much more progress on the “divorce bill” and the Irish border by early next month. Mrs May said “good progress” was being made but more needed to be done.
The talks are currently deadlocked over the UK’s financial settlement, citizens’ rights and Ireland with Irish PM Leo Varadkar accusing the UK of not “thinking through” the implications of Brexit for his country. (BBC)

Yemen: The UN said this week that hospitals in Yemen could run out of fuel in three weeks. The Saudi-led coalition has imposed a blockade on Yemen’s borders, ports and airports since 6 November in response to a missile attack by Houthi rebels that hit near Riyadh. (BBC)

Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has made his first public appearance since the army took over on Wednesday.
He attended a graduation ceremony in the capital, Harare, handing out degrees.
The military said on Friday it was “engaging” with Mr Mugabe and would advise the public on the outcome of talks “as soon as possible”.
Meanwhile Christopher Mutsvangwa – the leader of the influential war veterans’ association, once loyal to Mr Mugabe – said he should step down at once.
He called for a huge turnout in street protests on Saturday. (BBC)

Zimbabwe: By late Friday afternoon, all 10 of the country’s provincial Zanu-PF branches had passed motions of no confidence in the president. These could lead to Mugabe being stripped of his office of president of the party by Sunday (The Guardian)