Weekly News 15 – 19 April 2019 | Mediterranean Affairs


Monday, 15 April 2019

Syria: The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has appealed for information about three of its staff members abducted in Syria more than five years ago. The ICRC said on Sunday that Louisa Akavi, Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes were kidnapped in the northwestern state of Idlib in late 2013, revealing their identities for the first time in the hope of securing their release. (Al Jazeera)

Sudan: Sudan’s Transitional Military Council (TMC) said the former ruling National Congress Party (NCP) will not participate in the interim government. Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, the TMC spokesperson Shams al-Din Kabashi pointed out that a special committee has been formed to receive the premises and assets of the NCP. Commenting on the presence of some NCP members at a meeting between the TMC and the political parties, Kabashi said the participation of the former ruling party officials underscores that the political consultations wouldn’t exclude any party. (Sudan Tribune)

Wikileaks: Julian Assange repeatedly violated his asylum conditions and tried to use the Ecuadorian embassy in London as a “centre for spying”, Ecuador’s president has said in an interview with the Guardian. Lenín Moreno also said he had been given written undertakings from Britain that Assange’s fundamental rights would be respected and that he would not be sent anywhere to face the death penalty. (The Guardian)

Bahrain: 138 people has been sentenced to jail on “terror-related” charges. Their jail term varies between three years and life term. The defendants were convicted of establishing a “terror” cell with links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. A judicial source said they are members of the Shia community in the Sunni-ruled Gulf state. The High Criminal Court handed out life jail terms to 69 of the defendants, the prosecutor said, adding they were sentenced for crimes including joining a “terrorist” group, bombings, attempted murder and receiving arms and explosives training. (Al Jazeera)

Finland: Finland’s center-left Social Democratic Party was on pace to narrowly win parliamentary elections on Sunday, according to preliminary results after more than 99% of votes were counted. The outcome gives Social Democratic leader Antti Rinne (pictured), a former finance minister, the task of finding coalition partners to form the first left-leaning government in two decades.  (Deutsche Welle)

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

France: Hundreds of millions of euros have been pledged to help rebuild Notre-Dame after a devastating fire partially destroyed the French cathedral. The fire, declared fully extinguished some 15 hours after it began, ravaged the 850-year-old building’s roof and caused its spire to collapse. But firefighters who worked through the night managed to save the Paris landmark’s main stone structure, including its two towers. The cause of the fire is not yet clear. (BBC)

Spain: Spain’s election board has banned the far-right Vox party from participating in the only confirmed debate for the April 28 election. Spain’s Atresmedia network chose it to join the four major national parties for a debate on April 23. However, the electoral commission ruled that Vox’s inclusion would be a violation of electoral law. The network said it would respect the ruling but stood by its decision to include Vox in the debate. (BBC)

Egypt: The Egyptian parliament has voted in favour of a number of constitutional amendments that would extend the rule of president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi until 2030. The 596-member parliament is dominated by Sisi supporters. Tuesday’s vote paves the way for a referendum to be held within the next 30 days in accordance with Egypt’s 2014 constitution. Lawmakers approved with a two-thirds majority amending article 140 of the 2014 constitution to extend the presidential term to six years instead of four. They also voted in favour of article 241 that would allow Sisi to run for another term in 2024. (Middle East Eye)

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Yemen: US President Donald Trump has vetoed a bill passed by Congress to end support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Mr Trump described the resolution as an “unnecessary” and “dangerous” attempt to weaken his constitutional powers. (BBC)

Libya: At least four people have been killed, and 20 wounded, in heavy shelling in the Libyan capital Tripoli. Nearly two weeks into the assault to seize the city, Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) is stuck in the city’s southern outskirts battling armed groups loyal to the UN-recognised Tripoli government. But the southern district of Abu Salim got shelled late on Tuesday with explosions heard even in the city centre where life had been going on largely untouched by the violence in Libya. (Al Jazeera)

France: French President Emmanuel Macron says Notre-Dame cathedral will be rebuilt “even more beautifully” – and that he wants the work done within five years. But despite Mr Macron’s pledge experts say its reconstruction could take decades. (BBC)

Libya: As fighting between forces loyal to rival Libyan governments rages on in Tripoli’s outskirts, the capital’s residents fear they are facing the grim prospect of a long, bloody war. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday that 205, including 18 civilians, had been killed in the two weeks of fighting outside Tripoli with more than 16,000 having already fled the capital. Now living with extended family members in downtown Tripoli, Salim is making plans to try and leave Libya. But his family is large and getting everyone out and paying for rented accommodation in, for example Tunisia, is an expensive option, and one that is beyond the finances of most ordinary civilians. (Middle East Eye)

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Portugal: At least 28 people are dead and another 28 are injured after a tour bus crashed on Portugal’s Madeira Island. Most of the casualties were German, Carmo Silva, a press officer for the Regional Health Department told CNN. In total, 56 people were on board the bus when it crashed, she said. (CNN)

France: A temporary wooden cathedral should be built in the shadow of Notre-Dame’s famed towers while the building is being repaired. The structure would serve as a home for worshippers and tourists alike, the rector of the Paris landmark, Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, suggested. The 850-year-old Gothic cathedral has been closed after a fire tore through its roof and destroyed its spire. (BBC)

Sudan: Sudan’s army-led transitional council announced on Wednesday that they have arrested two of ousted president Omar al-Bashir’s five brothers as part of a continuing campaign of arrests against “symbols of previous regime”. Earlier on Wednesday, Bashir was moved to Khartoum’s grim high-security Kobar prison from the presidential residence, family sources said, as military rulers announced steps to crack down on corruption. (Middle East Eye)

UK: one of the European Commission’s most powerful officials has said that a no-deal Brexit would mean a hard Irish border. The comments from Martin Selmayr feature in a documentary made by ARTE, the Franco-German broadcaster. The secretary-general of the European Commission was filmed in a meeting with senior MEPs in late 2018. “Let’s be very clear – if there is no withdrawal agreement there will be a hard border,” he told them. (BBC)

Friday, 19 April 2019

Northern Ireland: A police hunt is under way in Derry for the dissident republican gunman who killed journalist Lyra McKee in an attack that immediately prompted warnings that political violence must not be allowed to take hold in Northern Ireland again. As family, friends and supporters gathered on Friday at a vigil to mourn the 29-year-old investigative journalist and activist, police said dissident republicans from a group known as the New IRA were likely to be responsible for the killing and launched a murder investigation. McKee was shot during rioting in Derry on Thursday while standing near a police Land Rover. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said the shooting was part of an orchestrated attack on its officers and described it as a terrorist incident. (The Guardian)

Sudan: Huge crowds formed outside Sudan’s defence ministry to demand the country’s transitional military council hand over power to civilians. Hundreds of thousands packed the streets by early evening on Thursday – the largest crowds to gather in the centre of the capital since last week, when the former president Omar al-Bashir was ousted and the military council took over. Giant screens showed a film documenting apparent abuses by the security services. (The Guardian)

France: Emmanuel Macron’s approval ratings have risen to levels not seen since before the “yellow vest” revolt erupted last autumn with most French feeling he “rose to the occasion” over the Notre-Dame fire, a poll out on Friday suggests. President Macron’s popularity plummeted last September following a tax rise on pensioners and a backlash over plans to raise fuel taxes. According to BVA, Mr Macron has clawed back three points in the past month and is now on 32 percent with six out of ten French feeling he did a good job handling the Notre-Dame inferno. (Telegraph)