Weekly News 4 – 9 September 2017 

Monday, 4 September 2017

Germany: Angela Merkel clashed with her Social Democrat rival, Martin Schulz, in a lively television debate on Sunday evening. The candidates sparred over 90 minutes on topics ranging from migration and foreign policy to social justice and home security, in what was their only televised confrontation before Germans go to the polls on 24 September. (The Guardian) (BBC)

Turkey: The Turkish government has accused Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz of practising the politics of populism and exclusion after the German election frontrunners agreed that the EU should break off negotiations over future Turkish membership. İbrahim Kalın, a spokesman for Erdoğa, said Merkel and Schulz had focused on Turkey in their television encounter to divert attention from more pressing problems. In a televised debate on Sunday evening, the German chancellor said she did not believe Turkey should become a member of the EU, and that she would take up with her EU partners the issue of ending accession talks with Ankara. Schulz, Merkel’s social democratic rival,  said that as German chancellor he would break off EU accession talks with Ankara. (The Guardian)

Syria: Syrian government forces are closing in on the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, which has been besieged by so-called Islamic State (IS) for three years. A rapid advance through the desert on Sunday brought troops to within 10km (6 miles) of the government enclave in the city’s west, pro-government media said. (BBC)

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Azerbaijan: Azerbaijan’s ruling elite operated a secret $2.8bn (£2.2bn) slush fund for two years to pay off European politicians and make luxury purchases, according to investigations carried out by a consortium of European newspapers and published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)..

The money was allegedly channelled through four UK-based opaque companies. People said to have been paid include European politicians who adopted a favourable attitude to the government. (BBC)

Palestine: Palestinian security forces have arrested one of the most prominent human rights activists in the occupied territories after he criticised the arrest of a Palestinian journalist in a Facebook post.

Issa Amro, who lives in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, is the highest profile victim of a growing campaign by Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, against journalists and dissent on social media. (The Guardian)

Spain: This is the week of no-return for Catalonia with seccessionist lawmakers on Wednesday set to approve the law instituting the independence referendum on October 1, which Madrid considers to be unconstitutional. (Ansa)

Syria: The Syrian military has broken a siege of the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, surrounded for years by so-called Islamic State, state media say. Deir al-Zour’s surrounding province is the last major IS stronghold in Syria. (BBC)

Tunisia: Tunisia is pressing ahead with ambitious proposals to reform the country’s laws on marriage and inheritance, despite widespread resistance from inside and outside the predominately Muslim country.

Last month, president Beji Caid Essebsi announced his intention to allow women to marry outside the Islamic faith, and to give them equal rights under the country’s inheritance laws. (The Guardian)

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Migration crisis: The EU’s top court has rejected a challenge by Hungary and Slovakia to a migrant relocation deal drawn up at the height of the crisis in 2015. The numbers peaked in 2015, and in September that year, European leaders agreed to spread a total of 160,000 migrants “in clear need of international protection” among member states over two years.Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Romania voted against the quotas.Hungary was asked to take 1,294 asylum seekers, Slovakia 802.To date, Hungary has refused to take a single asylum seeker, along with Poland, while Slovakia has accepted only about a dozen. The Czech Republic has refused to take any for the past year. (BBC)

Spain: Catalonia on Wednesday announced a law to make formal its plans for an Oct. 1 referendum on whether to declare independence from Spain, a vote the government says is illegal and has said it will stop. Catalan lawmakers are due to vote later on Wednesday on the referendum law and the legal framework needed to set up an independent state. The laws will likely be approved because pro-independence parties have a majority in the regional parliament.The government on Wednesday said it had asked the Spanish constitutional court to declare the referendum law void as soon as it approved by the regional parliament. The Spanish constitution states that the country is indivisible. (Reuters)

Syria: Government forces have used chemical weapons more than two dozen times during Syria’s civil war, including in April’s deadly attack on Khan Sheikhoun, U.N. war crimes investigators said on Wednesday. The panel also said U.S. air strikes on a mosque in Al-Jina in rural Aleppo in March that killed 38 people, including children, failed to take precautions in violation of international law, but did not constitute a war crime. (Reuters)

Turkey: Turkey’s president said on Wednesday it was time for the EU to make up its mind whether it wants his country to join the bloc, a day after Germany’s Angela Merkel vowed to push her EU partners to consider suspending or ending its accession talks. Erdogan said Turkey had not abandoned its strategic goal of EU membership. But he has long signaled that his country has run out of patience with the EU over its languishing accession bid, launched in 2005, and the impasse has been brought into focus by a sharp deterioration in Turkey’s ties with Germany. (Reuters)

Thursday, 7 September 2017

France: France has offered Belgium a deal to purchase Dassault Aviation’s Rafale war planes, the French Defence ministry said on Thursday, as Brussels seeks to replace 34 of its Lockheed Martin’s F-16 planes. Dassault Aviation had no immediate comment. (Reuters)

Spain: Spanish prosecutors said on Thursday they would bring criminal charges against members of Catalonia’s parliament, as Madrid moved to crush the region’s plans for an independence referendum. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he had appealed to Spain’s Constitutional Court to declare the referendum illegal. (Reuters)

Syria: The Syrian army says Israeli jets have attacked a site in the west of the country where Western powers suspect chemical weapons are being produced. The Syrian army said rockets had struck the base near Masyaf, about 35km (22 miles) west of the city of Hama, at 02:42 on Thursday causing material damage and the deaths of two personnel. The attack comes a day after UN human rights investigators said they had concluded a Syrian Air Force jet had dropped a bomb containing the nerve agent Sarin on a rebel-held town in April (BBC)

Tunisia: Tunisia’s Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has replaced 13 ministers in a wide cabinet reshuffle that included the interior, defence and finance posts. Chahed described the newly-named cabinet as a “war government” that will continue to “fight against terrorism, corruption, unemployment and regional inequality”. Three of 11 new faces in the 27-member government served as ministers under the rule of former President Ben Ali. (Al Jazeera)

Turkey: A Turkish court has ordered a German citizen who was detained in southern Turkey last week to be released but banned from travel. The released person and their German spouse were detained while on holiday in Antalya. Dogan agency said they had both been held as part of investigations into a network of supporters of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. (Reuters)

Friday, 8 September 2017

Migration crisis: Italy is aiming to improve conditions in Libyan migrant detention camps working with NGOs, Deputy Foreign Minister Mario Giro told ANSA Friday. Italy’s aid department will launch a six-million-euro tender “very soon, before the end of September,” he said. (ANSAmed)

Spain: Spain’s constitutional court has suspended a referendum law passed by the Catalan parliament to hold a vote on independence next month. Despite the decision, Catalan leaders say the vote will be held as planned on 1 October. (BBC)

Syria:  The Syrian government has denied a U.N. report accusing it of a sarin attack in April that killed scores of people, state media said on Friday. U.N. war crimes investigators said this week that Syrian forces have used chemical weapons more than two dozen times during the six-year conflict. (Reuters)