Weekly News 16 – 20 October 2017

Monday, 16 October 2017

Austria: Austria looks set to welcome a new leader, 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz.

Official results are not expected until the end of this week, but Kurz is said to be seeking a coalition with his country’s far-right, anti-immigration party, sending shockwaves around the European Union. (video) (Al Jazeera)

Austria: Sebastian Kurz is set to become the world’s first leader from the millennial age group of those born in 1981 onwards.

The 31-year-old led Austria’s centre right People’s Party to victory in the country’s parliamentary election at the weekend. Kurz moved his party for to the right on the election’s key issue, as immigration. He vowed to shut down migrant routes to Europe and restrict welfare benefits to refugees. (Quartz)

Malta: A prominent blogger in Malta, who had accused the island’s government of corruption, has died in a car bomb attack, according to police.

Daphne Caruana Galizia, 53, was reportedly killed when the car she was driving exploded shortly after she left her home in Bidnija, near Mosta.

Local media say one of her sons heard the blast and rushed outside.

PM Joseph Muscat, whom Caruana Galizia accused of wrongdoing earlier this year, denounced the killing. Caruana Galizia’s death comes four months after Mr Muscat’s Labour Party won an election he called early because of the blogger’s allegations linking him and his wife to the Panama Papers scandal. (BBC)

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Germany: A German city’s decision to ban refugees who are already recognised by the country is an infringement of human rights, according to the UN’s refugee agency and human rights groups.

The state government of Lower Saxony passed a decree last week instructing migration offices to prevent immigration to Salzgitter, citing the northern city’s “exceptionally high immigration” and “for reasons of integration”. Under the state order, refugees will need proof of employment or have close relatives already living in the city to be allowed settlement.

The new decree is based upon a federal law, which officials say is aimed at improving integration. (Al Jazeera)

Syria: The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces backed by the United States, have announced the capture of Raqqa after a four-month operation to drive out ISIL.

SDF spokesmen announced the takeover of the strategic Syrian city on Tuesday after a final battle at a sports stadium where Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) fighters made their last stand. (Al Jazeera)

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Israel: The Israeli army closed several Palestinian media companies in the occupied West Bank in a wave of raids overnight Tuesday, drawing criticism from the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The Israeli military authority in the occupied territories, COGAT, said in a statement that they raided eight Palestinian companies, accusing them of inciting violence against Israel. Israel also reportedly detained 14 Palestinians in overnight raids across the West Bank, according to Palestinian news agency Ma’an.

The raids came a week after Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah reached a deal to heal their decade-long rift and form a unity government. (Al Jazeera)

Iraq – Kurdish referendum: Peter Galbraith, a former US diplomat and author who is also an adviser to the Kurdistan Regional Government, believes Kurdish independence is inevitable and that the Iraqi government cannot prevent it from happening in the long term.

He argued that the takeover of Kirkuk by Iraqi troops served to simplify the case for Kurdish independence, not complicate it. (Al Jazeera)

Iraq – Kurdish referendum: The oil fields around Kirkuk were the source of billions of dollars of revenue for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Now with the area back under control of the Iraqi government forces, there questions are being asked about whether Baghdad will further punish the Kurds for holding the referendum on Kurdish succession from Iraq. (video) (Al Jazeera)

Portugal: Portugal’s interior minister has resigned after dozens of people died in a massive outbreak of forest fires.

In her resignation letter, Constança Urbano de Sousa said she was leaving to “preserve her personal dignity”.

The deadly wildfires killed at least 41 people and hundreds more were injured – the second such tragedy this year. Another four died in northern Spain.

Portugal’s president has also called on parliament to consider if the current government should continue in office. (BBC)

Thursday, 19 October 2017

 Iraq – Kurdish referendum: An Iraqi court has ordered the arrest of the vice-president of the Kurdistan Region for calling troops sent to Kirkuk this week “occupying forces”.

A Supreme Judicial Council spokesman said the court believed Kosrat Rasul’s remarks were an incitement to violence.

He made them in a statement condemning the withdrawal of Peshmerga fighters from Kirkuk and other disputed areas. (BBC)

Spain: Spain is to start suspending Catalonia’s autonomy from Saturday, as the region’s leader threatens to declare independence.

The government said ministers would meet to activate Article 155 of the constitution, allowing it to take over running of the region.

Catalonia’s leader said the region’s parliament would vote on independence if Spain continued “repression”.

Catalans voted to secede in a referendum outlawed by Spain. (BBC)

Palestine: The United States says the militant Islamist movement Hamas must lay down its weapons if it is to play a part in a new Palestinian government.

Hamas, which dominates the Gaza Strip, and the rival Fatah faction recently agreed to end years of bitter division.

US special envoy Jason Greenblatt said any Palestinian unity administration would need to recognise the State of Israel and disarm “terrorists”.

A Hamas official described the US demand as “blatant interference”.

Israel – which like the US considers Hamas a terrorist organisation – has said it will not deal with a Palestinian government that “relies on Hamas”. (BBC)

Friday, 20 October 2017

Afghanistan: Some 60 people have been killed in two separate attacks on mosques in Afghanistan, officials say.
A gunman entered a Shia Muslim mosque in Kabul before opening fire and detonating an explosive, killing at least 39 worshippers.
An attack on a Sunni Muslim mosque in Ghor province killed 20 people.
No groups have so far said they carried out the attacks but so-called Islamic State (IS) has previously targeted Shia mosques across Afghanistan.
The new attacks bring to at least 176 the number of people killed in bomb attacks across the country this week. (BBC)

Iraq: Iraqi forces say they have now wrested control of all areas of Kirkuk province from Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, following fierce fighting.
They say they have retaken Alton Kupri, the last Kurdish-held area. There has been no Kurdish confirmation. Army and allied militia launched an operation which saw Kurdish forces pushed back into the officially recognised autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). (BBC)

Serbia: Under a European Commission proposal, citizens of the western Balkans will in future have to apply for permission to travel within the borderless Schengen area even though their countries are part of the visa-free scheme. (ANSAmed)

Spain: Spain’s conservative government has agreed with the socialist opposition to hold regional elections in Catalonia in January.
The elections are part of a package of measures being put in place to suspend the region’s autonomy, as its leader threatens to declare independence.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will announce measures to impose direct rule after a cabinet meeting on Saturday. Catalonia’s government will be dissolved ahead of the vote, which is part of a package of extraordinary measures being imposed on the region.  (BBC)

UK:Reports of deadlock over Brexit negotiations may have been exaggerated, European Council President Donald Tusk has said after a Brussels summit.
Progress was “not sufficient” to begin trade talks with the UK now but that “doesn’t mean there is no progress at all”, he said.
EU leaders will discuss the issue internally, paving the way for talks with the UK, possibly in December.
Theresa May said there was “some way to go” but she was “optimistic”. (BBC)