Weekly News 25 – 29 September 2017| Mediterranean Affairs

 

Monday, 25 September

Germany: The German chancellor’s centre-right Christian Democrat-led alliance took 33% of the vote in Sunday’s election – its worst result since 1949 but enough to remain the largest force in parliament. The centre-left Social Democrats – Merkel’s government partners since 2013 in a “grand coalition” – also suffered their worst post-war result, taking 21%. Alternative für Deutschland secured 13%, marking the first time in almost six decades that an openly nationalist party will enter the Bundestag.

The elections have left an unprecedented number of parties jostling for influence in the next parliament. The pro-business FDP, leftwing Die Linke and the Green party will also crowd into the Bundestag’s plenary chamber – a first since the introduction of a 5% hurdle for parliamentary seats in 1953. Merkel’s CDU needs to find one or more coalition partners in order to form a governing majority, or pursue a minority government. A continuation of the CDU-SPD coalition would have guaranteed 53% of the vote, but was ruled out by the SPD’s lead candidate, Martin Schulz, as he conceded defeat on Sunday night. (The Guardian)

Iraq: People are voting in a landmark referendum on independence for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq – a move which has been criticised by foreign powers. Polls are open in the three northern provinces that make up the region, as well as disputed areas claimed by the Kurds and the government in Baghdad.Iraq’s prime minister has denounced the referendum as “unconstitutional”. Neighbouring Turkey and Iran also vehemently object to the referendum, fearing it will stoke separatist feeling among their own Kurdish minorities.On Monday, Tehran called the vote “illegal and illegitimate” and said it had closed its borders with the Kurdistan Region.Ankara said it would consider the result of the referendum “null and void” and intended to form closer ties with Iraq’s central government. Kurdish leaders say an expected “yes” vote will give them a mandate to start negotiations on secession. (BBC)

Lybia: European leaders are embracing a Libyan general who has ordered his soldiers to commit war crimes, according to new evidence that has been analysed by senior legal experts. The allegation of human rights abuses by Gen Khalifa Haftar, a former CIA asset who controls nearly half of Libya from his base in the east, comes as the general is due to arrive in Rome on Tuesday, where he will be received by Italian officials. The two experts, a former top Pentagon attorney and a former official at the international criminal court, said that newly unearthed video evidence suggests that Haftar has been complicit in calling for extrajudicial killings and the unlawful siege of the eastern port city of Derna. In one case, he is believed to have called for the “choking” of Derna just a day after he met Boris Johnson, the UK foreign secretary, in Benghazi. (The Guardian)

Spain: Catalan independence campaigners have held rallies across the region, distributing 1m ballot papers a week before people are due to vote in a sovereignty referendum that the Spanish government has vowed to stop. Thousands of people congregated in town squares around Catalonia on Sunday to show their support for the vote as tensions between the pro-independence regional government and the Spanish state continued to rise. (The Guardian)

Tuesday, 26 September

Kurdish Referendum – Iran: Thousands of Iranian Kurds marched in the streets to show their support for an independence referendum staged by Kurdish authorities in neighboring Iraq, defying a show of power by Tehran which flew fighter jets over their areas. Iranian officials and media have denounced Monday’s vote as a threat to regional stability, adding to pressure from Baghdad, threats from Iran and Turkey, and international warnings that it may ignite yet more conflict in the Mideast. (Reuters)

Kurdish Referendum – Russia: The Kremlin on Tuesday signaled its opposition to Kurdish-held parts of northern Iraq breaking away, saying Moscow backed the territorial integrity of countries in the region. (Reuters)

Kurdish Referendum – Turkey: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Iraqi Kurds would go hungry if his country halts the flow of trucks and oil across the border with northern Iraq and warned that all military and economic measures were on the table against its neighbor. The comments, some of the harshest yet from Erdogan about Monday’s referendum in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, came as Iraqi troops joined the Turkish army for military exercises near Turkey’s border with northern Iraq. While initial results indicated overwhelming support for independence, Turkey – long northern Iraq’s main link to the outside world – sees the referendum as a threat to its own security, fearing it will inflame separatism among its Kurdish population. (Reuters)

Israel: A Palestinian man with security clearance to work at a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank opened fire at a checkpoint on Tuesday, killing two Israeli security guards and a paramilitary policeman. The assailant, who was armed with a pistol and also seriously wounded a fourth Israeli, was shot dead, police said. (Reuters)

Migrant crisis: Maritime Rescue forces in Spain at sunrise Tuesday rescued about 60 migrants – including 20 minors – who were trying to reach the country’s coast aboard two boats. The migrants were rescued at four and eight miles southwest of Barbate, in the province of Cadiz in Spain’s Andalusia region. (ANSAmed) 

Syria: Russian Tu-95 strategic bombers have fired cruise missiles at Islamic State targets in Syria’s Deir al-Zor and Idlib provinces. (Reuters)

Wednesday, 27 September

Afghanistan: US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis is in Afghanistan – in his first visit since Donald Trump announced his commitment to the Afghan conflict. The US recently confirmed it would send 3,000 extra troops to the country, to help local forces struggling against a resurgent Taliban. Sixteen years after the US-led invasion, the Afghan government still only controls about 60% of the country. Several rockets were fired near Kabul airport hours after Gen Mattis arrived. Five civilians were wounded in the attack. The rocket attack was claimed by both the Taliban, which said they had targeted Gen Mattis’s plane, and their rival, the Islamic State group. (BBC)

Brexit: Emmanuel Macron suggested Britain could rejoin the EU at a later date as he set out an ambitious vision for a “profound transformation” that would boost integration between EU countries.

The French President called for the introduction of EU identity cards, a shared defence budget and a European military intervention force. Speaking at Paris-Sorbonne University, he also proposed a shared budget for eurozone countries and an EU-wide asylum agency to help tackle the migration crisis. (The Independent)

Iraq – Kurdish Referendum: Iraq’s prime minister has demanded the Kurdistan Regional Government “cancel” the outcome of the referendum on independence that it held on Monday. Haider al-Abadi said he would “never discuss” the result and called on the Kurds to initiate dialogue “in the framework of the constitution”. He also vowed to “impose Iraq’s rule” in all parts of the Kurdistan Region. (BBC)

Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel has been warned by potential coalition partners she faces a tough task in pulling together a workable German government. In a separate, dramatic development, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble was reported to have lost his job,

He will take on the role of president of the Bundestag, sources say. Mr Schäuble, 75, has long been seen as an influential figure in the eurozone and a leading advocate of austerity measures. Choosing his successor will now become an important part of coalition talks. The finance ministry is known to be coveted by the FDP, and could be filled by Mr Lindner. Meanwhile, German commentators suggested Mr Schäuble could use his political experience to control heated debates in parliament involving the right-wing nationalist AfD. (BBC)

Migration crisis: The EU Commission has proposed a new two-year programme to bring at least 50,000 asylum seekers into Europe. The issue has soured relations in the 28-country European Union. A two-year programme which finishes on Wednesday relocated less than a fifth of a planned 160,000 asylum seekers. (BBC)

Palestine: The International Police Organization (Interpol) voted to accept “Palestine” as a full member state.

The move at Interpol’s annual General Assembly meeting, held this year in Beijing, came despite furious Israeli efforts over the last few weeks to thwart it. The US was also actively involved up until the last minute in trying to stop the move. The move passed in a secret ballot by a vote of 75 to 24, with 34 abstentions. The Palestinians needed more than two-thirds of the yes-or-no votes counted, and passed that threshold handily. Israel is adamantly opposed to Palestinian admission to all international organizations, arguing that a state of Palestine does not exist and, therefore, it cannot be accepted as a state in international organizations. A Palestinian bid to join the organization fell short last year. (The Jerusalem Post)

Saudi Arabia: Campaigners in Saudi Arabia have hailed King Salman’s decree allowing women to drive for the first time. One female activist called it a “great victory”, while another said things would “never be the same again”. The country’s US ambassador has described the move as “the right decision at the right time”. The Gulf kingdom is the only country in the world that bans women from driving – and women are still subject to strict dress codes and gender segregation. Until now, only men were allowed licences and women who drove in public risked being arrested and fined. (BBC)

Thursday 28 September

DAESH: Daesh has released an unverified audio recording that it said was by its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who called on the armed group’s followers to “resist the infidels”. The date of the 46-minute recording, released on Thursday via the ISIL-linked Al-Furqan news organisation, was not clear. But in it, the apparent leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group referred to the North Korean threats against Japan and the United States. (Al Jazeera)

Israel: Israel has hosted a ceremony marking 50 years of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed the settlements would never be removed, even though they are illegal under international law. On Wednesday, Netanyahu had promised that a further 3,300 settlement units would be approved next month, bringing the total number of settlement units constructed to 7,000 in the year 2017 alone. (Al Jazeera)

Migration crisis: Italian foreign minister Angelino Alfano met with Libyan president Fayez Al-Serraj on Thursday. Alfano noted on Twitter that ”after a year of government in Libya, there is greater security and fewer migrants. Now the time has come to focus on growth”. (ANSAmed)

Spain: Barcelona police have sealed off a warehouse said to be stocking ballot boxes, as Spain seeks to obstruct a Catalan independence referendum. The Guàrdia Urbana force was obeying an order from prosecutors to prevent the Catalan vote being held on Sunday. About 16,000 school and university students marched through Barcelona demanding that the vote go ahead. Spain is deploying thousands of extra police in the region. Madrid has ruled out talks on a vote it sees as illegal. Some 10 million ballot papers have been impounded, and websites informing Catalans about the referendum have been shut down. (BBC)

Friday, 29 September

Azerbaijan: Authorities in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, have begun a vicious crackdown on the city’s LGBT community, according to activists in the country. Reports suggest that over the past 10 days dozens of gay and trans people have been arrested. One person the Guardian contacted said he had been beaten in police custody. It was not immediately clear what prompted the Baku raids, or what the authorities’ end goal might be. (The Guardian)

UK: The UK is unconditionally committed to the defence and security of Europe, Prime Minister Theresa May has said. She was speaking to British troops based in northern Estonia with Nato, ahead of an EU summit in the country. Mrs May is hoping to build a new security partnership with Brussels and offer UK expertise in combating cyber threats as Brexit preparations continue. Some 800 troops have been in Tapa since April, alongside Estonian and French forces, as part of a Nato effort to reassure eastern European nations fearful of Russia’s increasing assertiveness. Later, she will make it clear to EU leaders that the UK is ready to continue contributing troops, equipment, expertise and money to EU operations, and to align foreign policy with Brussels where appropriate. (BBC)

Turkey: Turkey has threatened potentially crippling restrictions on oil trading with Iraqi Kurds after they backed independence from Baghdad in a referendum that has alarmed Ankara as it faces a separatist insurgency from its own Kurdish minority. Most oil that flows through a pipeline from Iraq to Turkey comes from Kurdish sources and a cut-off would severely damage the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which relies on sales of crude for almost all its hard currency revenues. (Al Jazeera)