Weekly News 5 – 9  March 2018 | Mediterranean Affairs

Monday 5 March 2018

Italy: Italy’s voters have turned to right-wing and populist parties in an election that is set to leave the country with a hung parliament.
The Eurosceptic, anti-establishment Five Star Movement was the biggest single party with a third of the vote.
But a coalition of the far-right League and ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s party is set to win most seats in the lower house of parliament.
Forming a government could take weeks of negotiation and coalition-building. (BBC)

Italy: A majority of Italian voters have supported Eurosceptic candidates in the national election, preliminary results showed, after decades in which Italy has steadfastly championed the European project.
Early results released by the interior ministry on Monday morning, as ballots continued to be counted, pointed to a hung parliament, though there was still a possibility that the centre-right coalition, with about 37% of the vote, could secure a majority once parliamentary seats are allocated. (The Guardian)

Germany: Angela Merkel has said it is important that a new government gets to work quickly after the longest period of coalition-building in post-war Germany.
She said she would work to secure jobs and prosperity, and promised to provide a strong voice for Germany in the EU.
The chancellor is set to form her fourth government after the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) voted in favour of another grand coalition on Sunday.
Two thirds of SPD members backed the deal, despite the threat of veto.
The SPD had been split between the party’s leadership, which backed joining the coalition, and its radical youth wing, which did not. (BBC)

Syria: An aid convoy of lorries carrying urgently needed humanitarian supplies has entered the rebel-held Syrian area of the Eastern Ghouta.
The 46 trucks are the first to reach the besieged enclave since mid-February, despite a recent UN-backed ceasefire and short, daily truces ordered by Russia. A World Health Organization official told Reuters that Syrian government officials had removed 70% of the supplies, which included surgical materials and trauma kits, from the trucks before they had left warehouses. This is believed to be part of the government’s efforts to ensure rebels are not treated. (BBC)

Tuesday 06 March

Czech Republic: Thousands of demonstrators brought the centre of Prague to a standstill on Monday night in a display of anger over the appointment of a communist-era riot squad officer to head the Czech parliament’s police watchdog.

Chanting “communists are murderers” and “we have had enough”, protesters held sheets of paper rolled up to resemble police batons in an expression of indignation over the installation of Zdeněk Ondráček, a Czech Communist party MP, as chair of the parliament’s general inspection of security forces commission.
The choice of Ondráček to head a sensitive committee overseeing police wrongdoing was confirmed in a parliamentary vote last week despite objections that he had served in a unit that beat up pro-democracy demonstrators in the 1989 Velvet Revolution before the fall of communism in what was then Czechoslovakia.
Monday’s protest coincided with simultaneous demonstrations in 10 other Czech cities and towns, including the second largest city, Brno. (The Guardian)

France:  France plans to fix the legal age of sexual consent as 15, so an adult having sex with someone younger than that will be considered rape.
Currently, prosecutors must prove sex with someone under-15 was forced in order to bring rape charges.
Under the existing legislation, if there is no violence or coercion proved, offenders may only be charged with sexual abuse of a minor and not rape. This has a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of €75,000 (£66,000; $87,000).
Sentences are the same for sexual assaults of minors and non-minors, but rape convictions carry much harsher punishments. (BBC)

Greece: Greece’s counter-terrorism squad on Tuesday announced that its investigations have led to the discovery of a criminal organisation allegedly linked to the extreme right that may be involved in explosions, raids and arsonist attacks. It announced that coordinated operations were launched on Tuesday morning in Attica and other areas of Greece.
According to the police, quoted by the Ana-Mpa agency, six persons were detained and will later be placed under arrest as suspected members of the organisation, as well as for their suspected participation in a series of attacks involving explosions, firebombs and raids on locations frequented by migrants and members of anti-establishment groups. (ANSAmed)

Poland: A campaign group with close ties to Poland’s ruling rightwing Law and Justice party has filed charges of defamation against a newspaper in Argentina, in the first case to be brought under controversial legislation criminalising any suggestion of Poland’s complicity in the Holocaust on its soil.
The Polish League Against Defamation (RDI) filed the motion in response to an article in Argentinian newspaper Página/12 published in December 2017 – before the new law existed – that accompanied a discussion about the massacre of Jews in the Polish village of Jedwabne in 1941 with a picture of anti-communist Polish partisans. Página/12 said in a statement published over the weekend that it had not received official notification of the legal action, which it had learned about through the international media. (The Guardian)

Syria: A Russian military plane has crashed in Syria killing 26 passengers and six crew members, the defence ministry says.
The transport plane crashed during landing at Khmeimim air base, near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, Ria Novosti news agency reports.
The defence ministry is investigating the crash, but preliminary data suggests it could be a technical malfunction, it adds. (BBC)

Syria: Medics in the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area of Syria say they have been treating people with breathing problems after a suspected chlorine attack.
The reports follow government air strikes and shelling just hours after the last UN aid envoy left the enclave following a supposed five-hour truce.
Syria has previously been accused of chlorine attacks on Eastern Ghouta – a charge it strongly denies.
Russia meanwhile has offered rebels safe passage out of the area.
The latest suspected chemical attack targeted the town of Hammoria and led to the evacuation of dozens of civilians, according to the Syrian Civil Defence, whose volunteer rescue workers are widely known as the White Helmets. (BBC)

 Wednesday 07 March

 Israel: Israeli daily Haaretz on Wednesday said there has been a deterioration in the health of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and that information about his health has been submitted to Israeli political and security officials.
It said Israel fears a “continued worsening of Abbas’ health” could cause a succession fight that could destabilise the West Bank. (ANSAmed)

 Syria: Medics in the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area of Syria say an attack on Sunday initially suspected to have involved chlorine did not use toxic gas.
Several people were treated with breathing problems following government air strikes and shelling just hours after a UN aid envoy left the enclave.
Syria had denied initial allegations that it carried out a chemical attack.  The attack targeted the town of Hammoria and led to the evacuation of dozens of civilians, according to the Syrian Civil Defence, whose volunteer rescue workers are widely known as the White Helmets. (BBC)

Syria: Syrian government forces pounded eastern Ghouta with air strikes on Wednesday in an effort to slice the rebel enclave in two as they intensified a campaign to deal the opposition its biggest defeat since 2016. Live footage broadcast by Syrian state TV from the outskirts of the town of Mesraba showed enormous clouds of smoke rising into the sky. The sounds of explosions and jets could be heard. (Reuters)

Palestine: Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are planning a six-week-long tent city protest near the Israeli border starting on March 30 to demand Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to what is now Israel, organizers said on Wednesday. It will end, the organizers said, on May 15, the day Palestinians call the “Nakba” or “catastrophe”, marking the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the conflict surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948. (Reuters)

UK: Theresa May says she will be “raising concerns about human rights” in Saudi Arabia as she begins talks with the country’s crown prince.
Mohammed bin Salman is starting a three-day visit to the UK amid protests planned against his country’s role in the war in Yemen.
Jeremy Corbyn accused the government of “colluding” in war crimes by selling arms to Riyadh.
But the PM said ties between the two nations had saved hundreds of lives.The UK hopes to capitalise on the Saudi economy’s opening-up, but demonstrators are expected to protest outside Downing Street against the killing of Yemeni civilians in air strikes by a Saudi-led multinational coalition – backed by the UK and US – that is battling the rebel Houthi movement.  (BBC)

Thursday 08 March

Iran: An Iranian woman who publicly removed her veil to protest against a mandatory hijab law has been sentenced to two years in prison, prosecutors say.
The woman, who has not been officially named, was found guilty of “encouraging moral corruption”, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi said.
He added that 21 months of the woman’s sentence had been suspended and that she was in need of medical treatment. The woman sentenced in the capital, Tehran, on Wednesday was jailed for three months without parole.
It follows dozens of similar arrests of Iranian women in recent weeks. (BBC)

Friday 09 March

 Italy: Matteo Salvini of the anti-illegal migrant League promised to defy Brussels by cutting taxes and a top figure in the anti-establishment Five Star Movement also mooted tax cuts. (BBC)

Slovakia: Tens of thousands of Slovaks joined an anti-government protest in the capital Bratislava.

Estimates of the crowd’s size were more than 40,000 people, in what is thought to be the largest demonstration in the country since the fall of Communism.
The mass action was prompted by the murder of a journalist investigating alleged corruption.
Jan Kuciak was killed while working on a story linking political corruption to the Italian mafia. (BBC)

Palestine: Israeli forces have killed a mentally disabled Palestinian man during clashes in the Bab al-Zawiya area of Hebron city in the occupied West Bank, according to a family member and officials.
The Palestinian health ministry identified on Friday the slain man as Mohammad Zain al-Jabari.
The 24-year-old was shot in the chest by Israeli forces earlier in the day during protests against US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. (Al Jazeera)

Syria: Syrian government forces have surrounded the largest town in the besieged enclave of eastern Ghouta, in a prelude to a possible ground assault that could further inflame a dire humanitarian crisis.
Forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad have essentially split off Douma from the rest of eastern Ghouta, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a day after a Red Cross and UN aid convoy arrived in the town to unload food supplies to thousands of civilians in desperate need. Douma was once one of the largest cities in Syria. More than 1,000 people have been killed in the last two weeks of violence in eastern Ghouta, which borders the capital Damascus, according to Médecins sans Frontières, which has gathered data from hospitals in the area that it supports. (The Guardian)

Turkey: Turkish armed forces are besieging the Syrian Kurdish-controlled district of Afrin in northern Syria, Turkey’s president has said.
In a televised statement on Friday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army fighters and Turkish troops were 6km from the centre of Afrin. However, a spokesperson for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) troops contradicted the claims.
“The forces of Erdogan’s Turkish army … are 10 to 15km away from it [Afrin],” Nouri Mahmoud said to Al Jazeera. (Al Jazeera)