Weekly News 23 – 28 October 2017 | Mediterranean Affairs


Monday, 23 October 2017

Czech Rep.: The Czech president, Miloš Zeman, has said he will name Andrej Babiš as prime minister, the tycoon leader of the anti-establishment ANO party.  ANO won 29.6% of the vote in the election on Friday and Saturday, nearly three times as much as its closest rival, but many parties expressed reluctance about forming a coalition with it while Babiš fights off fraud charges, or rejected the idea outright. Babiš has promised to keep the Czech Republic out of the eurozone and pressure the EU to reduce immigration, but also to keep the country firmly in the EU and Nato. (The Guardian)

Italy: The people of Italy’s northern region Veneto and Lombardia  on Sunday voted overwhelmingly in favour of greater autonomy. Turnout was projected at around 58% in Veneto, where support for autonomy is stronger, and just over 40% in Lombardy. The presidents of each regions said more than 95% of voters who had cast ballots had, as expected, voted for greater autonomy.

The votes are not binding but they will give the right-wing leaders of the two regions a strong political mandate when they embark on negotiations with the central government on the devolution of powers and tax revenues from Rome. (The Guardian)

Syria: Russia has accused the US-led coalition of bombing the Syrian city of Raqqa “off the face of the earth” during the fight against so-called Islamic State. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, took Raqqa last week. Syrian activists say between 1,130 and 1,873 civilians were killed and that many of the civilian casualties were the result of the intense US-led air strikes that helped the SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, advance. (BBC)

Spain: The Catalan parliament will meet over the coming days to agree its response to the Spanish government’s unprecedented decision to impose direct rule as speculation mounts that the regional president, Carles Puigdemont, is planning to press ahead with a unilateral declaration of independence.

On Saturday night, Puigdemont described Madrid’s move as the worst attack on Catalonia’s institutions since General Franco’s dictatorship. The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said on Saturday that his government was taking the dramatic step of invoking article 155 of the constitution to “restore the rule of law, coexistence and the economic recovery and to ensure that elections could be held in normal circumstances”. (The Guardian)


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Austria: Austria’s conservative leader says he has invited the far right for talks to form a coalition government. Sebastian Kurz said his People’s Party and the Freedom Party (FPÖ) had similar positions on tax cuts and immigration controls. The step paves the way for the FPÖ’s return to government after more than a decade in opposition. The only other option available to Mr Kurz to form a majority government is a coalition with the Social Democrats. (BBC)

Kuwait: The emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, warned of the collapse of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – an alliance of Gulf countries – should the crisis with Qatar remain unresolved. In a statement at a Kuwaiti parliament session on Tuesday, the emir warned GCC leaders of the potential dangerous military and political intervention that may ensue as a result of the political deadlock. The GCC is a political and economic alliance of countries in the Arabian peninsula, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. (Al Jazeera)

Italy: Italian police say they have opened an investigation after Lazio supporters posted stickers of Holocaust victim Anne Frank wearing the jersey of rivals Roma alongside anti-Semitic slogans. The material was found in an area of Rome’s Olympic Stadium occupied by hard-core Lazio fans known as “ultras”. Local rivals Lazio and Roma share the stadium, and the “ultras” – known for their racist chants and often violent behaviour – left the stickers and anti-Semitic slogans such as “Roma fans are Jews” during a match on Sunday. (BBC)

Malta: There are possible links between the murder of the investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed by a car bomb in Malta last week, and an Italian investigation into an illicit fuel-smuggling network, according to Carmelo Zuccaro, a chief prosecutor in Sicily who is leading the fuel-smuggling inquiry. (The Guardian)

Migrant crisis: The number of people crossing the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa to southern Europe has been steadily increasing since the defeat of armed groups which combated illegal migration in the western coastal city of Sabratha.Refugees and migrants are fleeing onwards to Europe to escape life-threatening dangers and difficult economic conditions plus widespread exploitation and abuse in Libya. (video) (Al Jazeera)

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia’s crown prince promises country will return to ‘moderate, open Islam’. Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud made the announcement at the beginning of the landmark Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh on Tuesday. The kingdom would also do more to tackle extremism in the country, the prince said. (The Independent)


Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Iraq:  The Kurdish government has offered to freeze the results of the recent independence referendum and begin talks with the Iraqi government. Kurdish Rudaw website on 24 October quoted a statement by the Kurdish government which said that “it does not want war and bloodshed to continue between the Kurdish and Iraqi forces”. (BBC)

Kenya: The Supreme Court is due to hear and rule on whether tomorrow’s repeat presidential election will go ahead. Three activists went to court yesterday arguing that the electoral commission is unfit to oversee a legitimate vote. Chief Justice David Maraga said the 8 August election had not been “conducted in accordance with the constitution” and declared it “invalid, null and void”. This was the first time in Africa that an opposition court challenge against a presidential election had succeeded.  (BBC)

Russia: Russia has vetoed a US-drafted resolution that would have extended by a year an investigation of who is behind chemical weapons attacks in Syria. It was the ninth time Russia has used its veto power at the security council to block action targeting its ally, Syria. Russia opposed renewing the mandate of the joint UN organisation for the prohibition of chemical weapons (OPCW) panel before it releases a report on a sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhun expected on Thursday. After Russia used its veto the US ambassador, Nikki Haley, said Moscow was “once again” siding “with the dictators and terrorists who use these weapons. (The Guardian)

Ukraine: Georgia’s former President Mikhail Saakashvili, who is also a former governor of Odessa region turned a fiery political oppositionist, will most likely be deported from Ukraine for political reasons, not in connection with whatever encroachments on law, political analyst Alexander Kochetkov said on Tuesday. (TASS)


Thursday, 26 October 2017

Iraq – Kurdish referendum: Iraq’s prime minister has rejected an offer from the Kurdistan Region to “freeze” the result of last month’s independence referendum and hold talks. “We won’t accept anything but its cancellation and the respect of the constitution,” Haider al-Abadi said. The Arab-led central government insists the vote, in which people decisively backed secession, was illegal. (BBC)

Kenya: Voting is under way in Kenya amid tight security in a re-run of the presidential election, which is being boycotted by the main opposition.

Police have clashed with opposition supporters, some of whom have been blocking access to polling stations. President Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner in an August vote, but it is being held again over “irregularities”. Mr Kenyatta is seeking a second term. Opposition leader Raila Odinga has pulled out of the contest. (BBC)

Spain: Pressure is rising on Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont over his regional government’s drive for independence from Spain.

He had been due to make a statement to clarify his position, but the move has been suspended, officials said. In a letter to Spain’s Senate on Thursday, the Catalan leader said that the Spanish government “would create an even more serious, extraordinary situation by seizing Catalonia’s political autonomy”. The Spanish Senate is set to vote on the Article 155 measures on Friday. (BBC)


Friday 27 – Saturday 28 October 2017

Iraq- Kurdish referendum: Iraqi and Kurdish forces must focus on dialogue and reducing internal tensions in order to combat a larger enemy, according to US-led coalition spokesperson Colonel Ryan Dillon, in a video interview posted by Rudaw, a news agency in Iraq’s Kurdish region. (Al Jazeera)

Israel:Israeli settlers injured three Palestinian farmers as they tried to harvest their olives.
It is the latest incident in a harvest season beset by harassment around illegal settlements, where Palestinian farmers need special military permission to reach their land. (video) (Al Jazeera)

Spain: The Catalan regional parliament has voted to declare independence from Spain, just as the Spanish government appears set to impose direct rule.
The move was backed 70-10 in a ballot boycotted by opposition MPs. (video) (BBC)

Spain: The Spanish government has stripped Catalonia of its autonomy and taken charge of its government.
The measures early on Saturday came after the Catalan parliament voted to declare independence on Friday.
An official state bulletin dismissed Catalan leaders and handed control of Catalonia to Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria.
Earlier, Catalonia’s most senior police officials were dismissed by the Spanish government.
On Friday, PM Mariano Rajoy announced the dissolution of the regional parliament and the removal of the Catalan leader, and called snap local elections.
Demonstrations for and against independence went on into the night. (BBC)

Turkey: Meral Aksener, a prominent right-wing politician and former interior minister, has launched a new political party with a promise to shake up the country’s politics. Aksener rallied against constitutional changes narrowly passed in a referendum last April, which changed Turkey’s parliamentary system to an executive presidency.
Under the changes, the person who will be elected as president in 2019 will have new powers to appoint vice presidents, ministers, high-level officials and senior judges. The president will also be able to dissolve parliament, issue executive decrees and impose states of emergency. (Al Jazeera)

Qatar: The Qatari emir says the US president has offered to hold a meeting at his retreat in Camp David to put an end to the Gulf diplomatic crisis. (Al Jazeera)