Weekly News 8 – 12 April 2019 | Mediterranean Affairs


Monday, 8 April 2019

Libya: A warplane has attacked the only functioning airport in Tripoli as fighting between forces loyal to the Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar and rival militias escalated and EU foreign ministers met in Brussels to try to de-escalate the violence. Mitiga airport, in an eastern suburb of the capital, was closed after it was hit in an airstrike by pro-Haftar forces. Fighting was also under way at Tripoli’s international airport, 15 miles from the city centre, which has not been functioning since fighting destroyed much of it in 2014. The UN said 2,800 people had been displaced in an upsurge in violence that broke out after Haftar ordered fighters in his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), to march on the capital on Thursday. (The Guardian)

Turkey: Turkish President Erdogan has defended his party’s plans to demand a full recount of votes cast in mayoral elections in Istanbul, claiming that “almost all” of the voting was marred by irregularities. Erdogan and his Justice and Development (AK) Party suffered a major setback in last week’s local elections after the opposition took control of the capital, Ankara, and won a tight race for Istanbul, after nearly 25 years of rule. (Al Jazeera)

Syria: Many displaced from the camp had been told that they will lose their homes for good because of Law 10, the Syrian government’s controversial programme allowing local authorities to take possession of properties in the areas worst affected by the war. Law 10, which was passed a year ago in April 2018, was widely criticised because it initially gave people from affected areas just one month to prove ownership of their homes and prevent their expropriation. In November, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued an amendment to Law 10, extending the deadline for homeowners to one year. (Middle East Eye)

Iran: President Donald Trump announced on Monday that the United States is designating Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign “terrorist organisation”, marking the first time Washington has formally labelled another country’s military a “terrorist group”. Responding to the move, Iran immediately declared the US as “state sponsor of terrorism” and US forces in the region “terrorist groups”. (Al Jazeera)

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Sudan: At least two army soldiers have been killed by Sudanese security forces in the capital Khartoum while they attempted to protect protesters in front of the defence ministry, according to an opposition-linked group. The Sudan Doctors’ Committee, a group affiliated with the opposition, said the two soldiers were shot dead early on Tuesday as clashes erupted between government security forces and Sudanese soldiers – many of whom had responded to calls from the people to join anti-government demonstrations. (Al Jazeera)

Palestine: Dozens of Palestinians began hunger strikes in Israeli prisons on Monday, protesting about poor conditions in the country’s jails. According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, around 40 inmates were involved in what they termed the “Dignity Strike” were refusing food, after negotiations with prison officials had broken down. They added that all the major political factions supported their move, including Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah. (Middle East Eye)

Lybia: The United Nations has evacuated 150 refugees from a detention centre in Tripoli, as fierce clashes for control of the Libyan capital led to the postponement of a peace conference planned for next week. In recent days, forces loyal to renegade General Khalifa Haftar have advanced on the city, the base of the country’s internationally-backed government. At least 47 people, including nine civilians, have been killed in the fighting since the launch of the offensive on Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday. (Al Jazeera)

Croatia, Slovenia: Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Šarec convened an emergency session of the National Security Council for Tuesday afternoon because of the alleged operation of the Croatian intelligence service SOA in Slovenia, which was reported by a Slovenian television channel. The Croatian ambassador was promptly summoned to the ministry of foreign affairs in Ljubljana. The scandal revolves around an international arbitration Croatia and Slovenia agreed in 2009, meant to resolve their row over a sliver of land and sea border in the northern Adriatic and unlock Croatia’s EU accession talks. (Euractiv)

Algeria: The Parliament has officially confirmed Senate President Abdelkader Bensalah as acting head of state for the next 90 days, replacing Abdelaziz Bouteflika who ruled the country for nearly two decades. (Al Jazeera)

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Israel: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to win re-election after his main rival conceded defeat. With more than 99 percent of votes counted, Netanyahu’s Likud party was set to lead a right-wing bloc with 65 of the 120 seats in parliament. His main challenger, Benny Gantz, accepted the result on Wednesday, acknowledging that he had failed to unseat the prime minister. Although Gantz’s Blue and White Party was set to win a similar number of seats to Likud, there was no obvious path for its leader to find a parliamentary majority. (Al Jazeera)

Turkey: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said electoral authorities should annul Istanbul’s local elections due to irregularities, notably over the appointment of ballot box officials. (Reuters)

Iran: Authorities ordered tens of thousands of residents of the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz to evacuate immediately as floodwaters entered the capital of oil-rich Khuzestan province. The province’s governor, Gholamreza Shariati, said he ordered the evacuation on Wednesday for five districts as a “precautionary and preventive move to avert any danger”. Residents in two of the districts expressed reluctance to leave, preferring to stay and battle the rising waters. (Middle East Eye)

UK: European leaders were expected to postpone Brexit once again on Wednesday, when Prime Minister Theresa May attends another last-ditch summit still without a ratified divorce deal. May wants to push back Brexit from 12 April to 30 June to arrange Britain’s orderly departure but Brussels fears that will not be long enough, and EU leaders are expected to offer a delay of up to a year. (Euractiv)

Space: Researchers unveiled the first image of a black hole silhouette, giving scientists a chance to test Einstein’s theory of general relativity and Brussels room to pull out of the orbit of the hulking U.S. space industry. The image was of a halo of matter circling a black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy, 55 million light years away. The black hole itself, where there is such a powerful gravitational force that even light cannot escape and the laws of physics break down, cannot be seen directly. (Politico)

Sudan: Eleven people were killed in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on Tuesday, including six members of “state forces”, the government’s spokesman said on Wednesday, as protesters pushed for an end to President Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule. (Reuters)

Thursday, 11 April 2019

EU: Uncertainty on Brexit is conspiring with wider factors to weaken the EU economy, European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi said Wednesday. He kept interest rates at a record low to prompt people to spend money on investment instead of hoarding it in banks. “The whole discussion on Brexit, which has lasted many years, really, is part and parcel of the overall uncertainty hanging over our continent,” Draghi said. (EU observer)

Sudan: Government sources say Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has stepped down but protesters, waiting on army announcement to confirm Bashir exit, insist power is handed to the people All political prisoners have been ordered released by Sudan’s security forces, Sudan’s state news agency announced. Meanwhile, opposition leader Sadig al-Mahdi told Al-Hadath TV that Omar al-Bashir and members of his government are under house arrest. (Middle East Eye)

Wikileaks: Julian Assange, the controversial founder of Wikileaks, was arrested by British police in London Thursday morning. He is being held at a police station in the capital, pending a court appearance. Assange had been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since August 2012. He was wanted by Swedish authorities on a — since dropped — sexual assault charge. Ecuador withdrew its asylum status for Assange Thursday, accusing him of “repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols.” (Politico)

UK: European Union leaders have granted the UK a six-month extension to Brexit, after late-night talks in Brussels. The new deadline – 31 October – averts the prospect of the UK having to leave the EU without a deal on Friday, as MPs are still deadlocked over a deal. European Council President Donald Tusk said his “message to British friends” was “please do not waste this time”. Theresa May, who had wanted a shorter delay, said the UK would still aim to leave the EU as soon as possible. The UK must now hold European elections in May, or leave on 1 June without a deal. (BBC)

Friday, 12 April 2019

Sudan: Sudan’s newly appointed military council said on Friday that deposed President Omar al-Bashir will not be handed over to other countries under its watch, but will be tried at home. The former president, who ruled Sudan for 30 years and also came to power through a military coup, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague over allegations of genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region. The chairman of the council’s political committee, Omar Zein Abedeen, also tried to assuage public fears that the military intended to seize permanent power in the country. (Deutsche Welle)

Israel: An Israeli spacecraft has crashed into the moon moments before touchdown, failing in an ambitious attempt to make history as the first privately funded lunar landing. Around 20 minutes before the scheduled landing on Thursday, engine firings slowed the Beresheet’s descent. The spacecraft lost communication with ground control during its final descent. Moments later, the mission was declared a failure. (Al Jazeera)

Sudan: Defiant crowds have spent the night on the streets of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, ignoring a curfew declared by the military. Long-time President Omar al-Bashir was overthrown and arrested on Thursday after months of street protests. But demonstrators say the military council which has taken power is part of the same regime. The fresh stand-off has raised fears of a violent confrontation between protesters and the army. There is also a real danger that different elements of the security forces and militia could turn their guns on each other. (BBC)

Afghanistan: The Taliban on Friday announced the opening of their annual spring offensive, saying they would continue fighting as long as foreign forces remained in Afghanistan. A Taliban statement said the objective of the “Al-Fath” (“Victory”) operation was that of “eradicating occupation, cleansing our Muslim homeland from invasion and corruption, establishing an Islamic system along with defending and serving our believing fellow countrymen.” “Even as large parts of our homeland have been freed from the enemy, yet the foreign occupying forces continue exercising military and political influence in our Islamic country”. Deutsche Welle