Weekly news 15 – 19 January 2018 | Mediterranean Affairs


Monday, 15 January 2018

Iraq: Suicide bombers reportedly killed dozens of people and injured over 100 in a busy market in the Iraqi capital. The bombers struck during rush hour on Monday morning in a commercial area. The interior ministry said two men detonated vests packed with explosives. (Euronews)

Palestine: Mahmoud Abbas has sharply criticised Donald Trump, saying the Palestinian Authority (PA) will never accept the US president’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “Politically, Jerusalem is our capital; in our religion, it is our capital; geographically, it is our capital,” said Abbas. “But it was removed from the map with a tweet from Mr Trump,” he added.  “Now we say ‘No’ to Trump, we won’t accept his plan – we say the ‘deal of the century’ is the slap of the century,” noted Abbas, referring to the US president’s pledge to achieve the “ultimate deal” – peace in the Middle East. (Al Jazeera)

Turkey: The United States is “playing with fire” by setting up a Syrian border security force including Kurdish militia forces, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Monday. The U.S.-led coalition said on Sunday it was working with its Syrian militia allies to set up a new border force of 30,000 personnel. Turkey regards the Kurdish YPG militia, which will form part of this force, as a terrorist group. (NYT)

Greece: An estimated 20,000 people protested outside the Greek parliament on Monday where lawmakers passed a package of reforms demanded by international lenders in exchange for new bailout funds. (Euronews)

Romania: Prime Minister Mihai Tudose has been forced out by the PSD as he lost a power struggle with the party boss. Liviu Dragnea rules over the party but is barred from political office because of a criminal conviction. (Deutsche Welle)

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Kosovo: Oliver Ivanović, a prominent Kosovo Serb politician, has been gunned down outside his party headquarters on the day that Belgrade and Pristina started talks on normalising ties after a break of more than a year. Ivanović was shot six times by unknown assailants in a drive-by shooting in the divided city of Mitrovica. The popular former secretary of state for Kosovo and Metohija in the Serbian government was an opponent of the Belgrade-backed Serb party in Kosovo. (The Guardian)

Turkey: U.S.-based non-governmental organization Freedom House has reduced Turkey’s status from “partly free” to “not free” in its latest annual report. The “Freedom in the World” 2018 report, published on Jan. 16, ruled that Turkey’s “political rights rating” had declined from 4 to 5 and its “civil liberties rating” had declined from 5 to 6. Specifically referring to the “deeply flawed” April 2017 referendum on shifting to an executive presidential system, the report also blasted the mass dismissals of state employees, “the mass replacement of elected mayors with government appointees, arbitrary prosecutions of rights activists and other perceived enemies of the state.” (Hurriyet Daily News)

European Union: Brussels wants to create an EU market for waste plastic and make all such packaging in the bloc recyclable by 2030 to encourage a so-called circular economy. Jyrki Katainen, the European Commission’s vice-president for jobs and growth, said only 6 per cent of plastics in the bloc were recycled and that common quality standards would increase the amount of material that industry could reuse. (Financial Times)

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Spain: In a sign of strength for the parties seeking a split from Spain, Catalan lawmakers on Wednesday elected pro-independence politician Roger Torrent as speaker of the regional parliament. Torrent was the preferred candidate for speaker of the two main pro-independence parties, Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia). (Euronews)

Israel: At 16, Ahed Tamimi is now a famous Palestinian prisoner, arrested by Israel in December on charges of assaulting a soldier and incitement to violence. On Wednesday, a judge ordered her continued detention until her trial before an Israeli military court. The primary evidence against her is an online video filmed on 15 December, which went viral and has been repeatedly aired and discussed by mainstream media. In it, Ahed confronts two Israeli soldiers outside her family home in the occupied West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, demanding they “get out”. (BBC)

Syria: The US intends to maintain an open-ended military presence in Syria, not only to fight Isis and al-Qaida but also to provide a bulwark against Iranian influence, ensure the departure of the Assad regime and create conditions for the return of refugees, the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said on Wednesday. The new Syria policy, outlined by Tillerson in a speech at Stanford University, represents a significant expansion of US aims in the country, which the Trump administration had previously restricted to counter-terrorism throughout its first year in office. (The Guardian)

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Romania: Viorica Dancila has been named as Romania’s first female PM following the sudden resignation of Mihai Tudose. Ms Dancila, a member of the European Parliament, is regarded as an ally of the governing Social Democratic Party (PSD) leader Liviu Dragnea. President Klaus Iohannis says he wants her appointment approved quickly by parliament and a new government in place by 1 February. Ms Dancila, 54, is Romania’s third prime minister in seven months. (BBC)

Italy: Thirty-three people have been arrested in Italy on suspicion of being members of the Chinese mafia, police say. The early morning raids targeted a group accused of controlling the transport across Europe of products made in China and by Chinese in Italy. The “China Truck” operation was part of an investigation which started in 2011. The arrested suspects are accused of links to a criminal organisation. Police say 21 other people are under investigation. (BBC)

Syria: Turkey has asked Russia’s permission to begin an air-campaign in Syria’s Afrin region. In response Syria says it is prepared to shoot down any planes which enter its airspace.  Amid rising tensions Turkey has send reinforcements to its border with Afrin. The region is controlled by Syrian-Kurds who have strong support from the US military. But Turkey is Washington’s main Muslim ally within NATO. (Euronews)

Egypt: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pledged on Thursday not to let differences over a dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile river ruin relations with Addis Ababa. Ethiopia hopes the hydroelectric Grand Renaissance Dam will make it Africa’s largest power exporter. Egypt says it threatens its water supply which relies almost exclusively on the Nile that runs from Ethiopia through Sudan and Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea. Addis Ababa says it will have no impact. (reuters)

UK: “Be my guest,” French President Emmanuel Macron told Britain on Thursday, saying he would welcome any move by Prime Minister Theresa May to stay in the European Union’s single market. But he added a warning – London’s prized financial centre could not enjoy the same level of access to the EU under May’s current Brexit plan. “The choice is on the British side, not on my side,” Macron told a news conference after being asked why he was opposed to Britain’s financial sector being included in any agreement on future trade between the two sides.  “They can have no differentiated access to the financial services. If you want access to the single market, including the financial services, be my guest. But it means that you need to contribute to the budget and acknowledge European jurisdiction.” (Reuters)

Friday, 19 January 2018

Serbia: Serbia and Montenegro are likely to be the next countries to join the European Union, possibly by 2025. After years of stop-start progress, the EU is making a new push to bring in the Western Balkan nations. (Euronews)

Syria: Turkish artillery fired into Syria’s Afrin region on Friday in what Ankara said was the start of a military campaign against the Kurdish-controlled area. The cross-border bombardment took place after days of threats from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to crush the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin in response to growing Kurdish strength across a wide stretch of north Syria. (Reuters)

UN: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that the United States, despite denying setting up local forces in northern Syria, is trying to form “alternative bodies of authority” that contradict a commitment to Syrian territorial integrity. “The U.S. are trying to form … alternative bodies of authority on vast … parts of the Syrian territory,” Lavrov, speaking through an interpreter, said in a news conference at the United Nations. “That is a fact and that does contradict their own obligations … to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria.” (Reuters)

Egypt: Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has announced he will run for a second, four-year term in elections due in March. The former general made the announcement in televised comments carried live on Friday. Winning the election is virtually a foregone conclusion for el-Sissi, who led the military’s ouster in 2013 of Egypt’s first freely-elected leader, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, before becoming president a year later. None of those who declared their intention to challenge him in the March vote are likely to pose any serious threat to his re-election. (The Washington Post)

Turkey: Turkey would reject any offer of partnership with the European Union that falls short of membership, Ankara’s minister for EU affairs said, warning that the current impasse gave Turkey no reason to maintain its migrant deal with the bloc. In an interview with Reuters, Omer Celik batted back recent comments from French president Emmanuel Macron, who has mentioning the possibility of a partnership rather than full EU membership. Developments in Turkey did not allow for progress in its decades-long push to join the bloc, Macron has said. (Reuters)