Weekly News 6 – 9 November 2017 | Mediterranean Affairs

Monday, 6 November 2017

Italy: Silvio Berlusconi looked poised for a stunning political comeback as his rightist bloc claimed victory in an election in Sicily that puts it in pole position for a national vote due by next May. The regional Sicilian ballot, held on Sunday, was seen as a dry run for the nationwide election, with many of the island’s problems reflecting those of the country as a whole: high unemployment, a debt mountain and sluggish economic growth. Nello Musumeci, the centre-right’s candidate for governor of the island, had 39.9% of the vote, while M5S’s Giancarlo Cancelleri had 34.6%. The centre left’s Fabrizio Micari was lagging on 18.5%.

The result puts Berlusconi back on the political map after years of sex scandals and graft allegations which seemed to have reduced the billionaire media mogul to a spent force. (The Guardian)

Lebanon: Lebanon’s Justice Minister Salim Jreissati says there will be no action taken on the resignation of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, until he returns from Saudi Arabia. Hariri has been meeting King Salman in Riyadh after announcing his resignation in the capital just two days earlier, citing Iran’s meddling in Arab countries and fears of an assassination threat. (Al Jazeera)

Paradise Paper: A massive leak of more than 13 million files reveals the hidden wealth of some of the world’s richest people including sport stars, celebrities and heads of state. The Paradise Papers show how complex schemes set up in offshore islands can help the super-rich avoid billions in tax. The data was obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists with the Guardian, the New York Times, the BBC and media organisations in 67 countries. At the centre of the leak is Appleby, a law firm with outposts in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. Appleby prides itself of being a leading member of the “magic circle” of top-ranking offshore service providers. (ICIJ – International Consortium of Investigative Journalists)

Saudi Arabia: Mohammed bin Salman, the ambitious 32-year-old crown prince of Saudi Arabia, is rounding up the opposition — specifically, the opposition inside his own royal family. Over the weekend, Saudi police arrested an astonishing 11 princes, along with dozens of other officials and businessmen, at the direction of bin Salman and his father, King Salman. Nominally, the arrests are part of an anti-corruption drive spearheaded by the prince, widely known as MBS, but many experts say what’s really happening is the crown prince and heir to the throne jailing potential rivals to cement his own power. (VOX)

Spain: Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and four former ministers have been freed with conditions by an investigating judge in Belgium. The judge said they could not leave the country without permission and had to give details of their accommodation. They had handed themselves in to Belgian police following an EU arrest warrant issued by a Spanish judge. They are now expected to appear in court in Belgium within 15 days. Belgium has a maximum of 60 days to return the five to Spain but, if they do not raise legal objections, a transfer could happen much sooner. (BBC)

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Afghanistan: Isis has said it is behind a suicide bombing and gun attack on a prominent TV station in the Afghan capital Kabul, claiming to have killed as many as 20 security workers and staff, without providing evidence. Officials confirmed a gun battle was still going on inside the compound of the Shamshad TV station after it was attacked by three people including a suicide bomber. (The Independent)

UK: An ex-Welsh Labour minister who faced a party investigation into allegations about his personal conduct has taken his own life. Carl Sargeant, 49, lost his ministerial job as cabinet secretary for communities and children last Friday. He was suspended from Labour after the first minister learned of a number of alleged incidents involving women. (BBC)

Paradise Paper: The Paradise Papers reveal how Apple sidestepped a 2013 crackdown on its controversial Irish tax practices by actively shopping around for a tax haven. It then moved the firm holding most of its untaxed offshore cash, now $252bn, to the Channel Island of Jersey. Apple said the new structure had not lowered its taxes. It said it remained the world’s largest taxpayer, paying about $35bn (£26bn) in corporation tax over the past three years, that it had followed the law and its changes “did not reduce our tax payments in any country”. (BBC)

Spain: Catalonia’s deposed president, Carles Puigdemont, and four of his colleagues are set to appear in a Belgian court next week. It’s the start of proceedings to decide if they’ll be sent back to Spain, where they face charges of sedition and rebellion. (Al Jazeera)

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has accused Iran of an act of “direct military aggression” by supplying missiles to rebels in Yemen. On Saturday, a ballistic missile was intercepted near the Saudi capital. Iran has denied arming the Houthi movement, which is fighting a Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s government. Houthi-aligned media reported that the rebels had fired a Burkan H2 ballistic missile at King Khaled International Airport, which is about 850 km (530 miles) from the Yemeni border and 11km north-east of Riyadh, on Saturday evening. (BBC)

Turkey: A Turkish court rejected on Tuesday an appeals court order to retry a lawmaker from the main opposition party, upholding his 25-year jail term. Enis Berberoglu became a symbol for more than 50,000 people detained in the wake of a failed coup in July 2016. (Al Jazeera)

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Germany: The highest court in Germany has ruled that a third gender must be included on official documents. The Federal Constitutional Court has ordered the creation of a new term covering intersex people, using the term or another “positive name for the sex” for birth certificates by the end of next year. (The Independent)

Spain: A general strike in Catalonia on Wednesday saw crowds taking to the streets in defiance of Madrid on the same day that Spain’s Constitutional Court officially annulled the Catalan parliament’s independence declaration. (Al Jazeera)

Spain: Spain’s Constitutional Court has annulled Catalonia’s unilateral declaration of independence, which the court described as “a serious attack on the rule of law”. The Catalan parliament should note that the right to autonomy “is not and can not be confused with sovereignty,” the court said on Wednesday, according to Spanish newspaper El Pais. (Al Jazeera)

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Egypt: Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi said on Thursday he wants to “find those guilty” for the death of Cambridge University researcher Giulio Regeni, 28, an Italian who was tortured and murdered in Cairo early last year. El-Sisi said he believes the murder was an attempt to frustrate Italian investment in Egypt. (ANSAmed)

Saudi Arabia – Lebanon: Saudi Arabia has advised its citizens not to travel to Lebanon and asked those who are in the country to leave as soon as possible. Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri may be under house arrest or temporarily detained in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Reuters news agency reported on Thursday, citing a senior Lebanese official, that the Lebanese government has not received Hariri’s official resignation papers, and as such still considers him as prime minister. (Al Jazeera)

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia’s attorney general says at least $100bn has been misused through systemic corruption and embezzlement in recent decades. Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said 199 people were being held for questioning as part of a sweeping anti-corruption drive that began on Saturday night. He did not name any of them, but they reportedly include senior princes, ministers and influential businessmen. He also stressed that normal commercial activity in the kingdom had not been affected by the crackdown, and that only personal bank accounts had been frozen. (BBC)

Spain: The former speaker of the Catalan parliament is appearing at Spain’s Supreme Court over her role in the region’s push for independence. Judges may decide to remand Carme Forcadell and five former lawmakers in custody on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds. A Spanish judge is also seeking the extradition from Belgium of five others – including the former Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont. A Belgian judge has yet to decide whether to execute an EU arrest warrant. (BBC)

Friday, 10 November 2017

Afghanistan: Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan, has accused the US of working with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in his country. Karzai said the US administration of President Donald Trump made ISIL as an excuse to drop a massive bomb in Afghanistan on April 2017. Karzai also acknowledged that there were human rights violations during his government, and possibly on his watch. Karzai said he would help with any investigation, even into his own potential complicity. (Al Jazeera)

Lebanon: The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has declared that the country’s prime minister Saad Hariri is currently detained in Saudi Arabia and that his “forced” resignation is unconstitutional because it was done under pressure. He said US President Donald Trump must have known of the plans to force Hariri’s resignation. (Al Jazeera)

Syria: US President Donald Trump and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have agreed to defeat so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria, the Kremlin says.
It said a statement was prepared by experts after they met briefly on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in Vietnam on Saturday.
There has been no official confirmation from the US about the statement so far.
The Kremlin say they also agreed there was no military solution to the conflict in Syria. They also confirmed their “determination to defeat Isis and called on all parties to take part in the Geneva peace process.
According to Russia’s Interfax news agency, they promised to maintain existing Russian-US military channels of communication to prevent “serious incidents involving the forces of partners combating IS”. (BBC)

UK:The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has set the British government a deadline of two weeks to give “vital” clarification on the financial commitments it is willing to honour, at the end of a sixth round of Brexit talks that offered scant evidence of any progress. (The Guardian)