Weekly News 18 – 22 December 2017 | Mediterranean Affairs


Monday, 18 December 2017

Austria: Police estimated that around 5,500 people attended protests in Vienna on Monday, a far lower number than the tens of thousands who turned out the last time the Freedom party entered government. On 19 February 2000, 150,000 Austrians took to the streets of Vienna to protest against the incoming government.
On Monday, a heavy police presence of about 1,500 officers, helicopters and water cannon trucks blocked off the area around Hofburg Palace in the run-up to the swearing-in ceremony conducted by the Austrian president, Alexander Van der Bellen. At the weekend the new chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, of the Austrian People’s party, struck a deal with the Freedom party, a nationalist group founded after the second world war by former members of the Nazi party and now headed by Heinz-Christian Strache. (The Guardian)

Israel: Israel said it believes its longtime ally the United States will veto a United Nations Security Council on Monday that would call on U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (Reuters)

UK: A senior member of Nigel Farage’s parliamentary group staff in Brussels was known for making trips to the Russian embassy in Belgium and was accused of orchestrating a smear campaign against a critic of the Kremlin. The senior member of the group’s staff is a native of Malta named Kevin Ellul Bonici and he was known to have a relationship with the Russian embassy. Farage, a leading force behind the vote to leave the EU, has ridiculed the suggestion. He has also denied taking money from the Kremlin. There is no evidence that Ellul Bonici was ever involved in Farage’s pro-Brexit campaign. (The Guardian)

Yemen: Saudi Arabia has “no excuse” for blocking aid to Yemen, the international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, said as she warned that “using starvation as a weapon” was a breach of humanitarian law. On a visit to Djibouti and Saudi Arabia, Mordaunt promised food vouchers for 3.4 million Yemenis for one month, 106,000 tonnes of grain, and fuel to keep hospitals running and pump clean water. (The Guardian)

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Israel: Israeli police and army personnel arrested overnight a young Palestinian woman who – according to images from a video that went viral – provoked and repeatedly hit an Israeli soldier who did not react last Friday in Nabi Salih, in the West Bank. (ANSAmed)

Saudi Arabia: The Saudi-led coalition battling Yemen’s Houthi rebels says it has intercepted a ballistic missile near Riyad. There were no reports of any damage. The Houthi movement’s al-Masirah TV said rebel fighters had fired a Burkan-2 missile at the al-Yamama Palace. (BBC)

Spain: Political rivals in Catalonia are wooing voters on the last day of campaigning before Thursday’s regional election called by Spain. Opinion polls suggest that pro- and anti-independence parties are neck-and-neck, meaning the Catalan political crisis is unlikely to be resolved. An aggregate of polls published by the daily El Pais suggests that the pro-independence Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) will come top, winning 33 seats, with one or two seats more than Ciudadanos (Cs), which wants unity with Spain. Mr Puigdemont’s pro-independence JxCat party is predicted to come third, getting about 27 seats. This would mean no parliamentary majority in favour of independence. (BBC)

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Czech Republic: The unprecedented appointment of Zdenĕk Ondrácĕk as chair of parliament’s general inspection of security forces commission appeared to be part of complex manoeuvring by billionaire businessman Andrej Babiš and his ANO party to get backing for a minority government. The secret ballot on Tuesday to appoint Ondrácĕk was the first time the Communist party had gained such a post in the nearly three decades since the fall of communism. (The Guardian)

Iran: Iran says accusations by Saudi Arabia and the US that it supplied the missile fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels at Riyadh on Tuesday are “baseless”. The Saudi military said it intercepted the missile south of Riyadh. There were no reports of any damage or casualties. The Houthis’ Missile Forces announced they fired a Burkan H2 missile at the al-Yamama Palace in Riyadh on Tuesday afternoon “in response to the heinous crimes committed by the US-Saudi aggression against the people of Yemen”. (BBC)

Italy: Romans are up in arms over the city’s Christmas tree that has been dubbed “Spelacchio”. The tree, which died and lost its needles two weeks after being erected in the capital’s Piazza Venezia, has become a symbol of what many see as the eternal city’s eternal decay. Many Romans on social media have pointed a finger for the embarrassment at Mayor Virginia Raggi, a leading light in the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, who has been criticised over the dire state of the city. Codacons called for investigation into why nearly €50,000 was spent to transport the sickly tree to Rome from a forest near the Austrian border 700km away. (The Guardian)

Poland: The EU is widely expected to trigger a process that could ultimately see Poland stripped of its voting rights in Brussels, with patience wearing thin over reforms that are said to be a threat to the independence of the country’s judiciary. If a first step in the shape of a formal warning is taken against Poland’s rightwing government on Wednesday, it will be an unprecedented act against a member state and exacerbate a growing sense of crisis over the country’s membership of the bloc. A row over the Polish government’s reforms to the country’s judiciary has been rolling on for two years but appears to have come to a head in the wake of the Polish senate’s decision last Friday to approve legislation giving the executive greater control of the supreme Court andnational council of the judiciary, which appoints judges. (The Guardian)

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Egypt: Rome prosecutors Giuseppe Pignatone and Sergio Colaiocco left for Cairo on Thursday to meet with Egyptian prosecutor general Nabil Sadeq. They will be taking stock of the investigations conducted thus far into the murder of the Italian researcher Giulio Regeni, whose body was found with signs of sever torture on February 3, 2016, after he had disappeared on January 25, 2016. (ANSAmed)

Spain: Catalan pro-independence parties have held their absolute majority in snap regional elections, dealing a severe blow to the Spanish government, which had called the polls in the hope of heading off the secessionist push. The three separatist parties won a total of 70 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament even though the centre-right, pro-unionist Citizens party was the single biggest winner, taking 36 seats. Together for Catalonia – the party led by deposed Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont – took 34 seats, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) took 32 and the far-left, anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy took four. On Thursday night, a jubilant Puigdemont termed the results a victory for “the Catalan republic”. (The Guardian)

Sweden: Sweden is moving closer to making changes to its rape laws that would require people to get explicit consent before sexual contact. Under current Swedish law someone can be prosecuted for rape only if it has been proved that they used threats or violence. Under the proposal, rape could be proved if the accuser hadn’t given their explicit verbal agreement or clearly demonstrate their desire to engage in sexual activity. If the bill is approved, it would go into effect on 1 July. (The Guardian)

Yemen: The number of suspected cholera cases in Yemen has reached one million, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says. At least 2,226 people are believed to have died of the disease since April, although the number of new cases has declined for 14 consecutive weeks. (BBC)

Friday, 22 December 2017

Spain: Spain’s prime minister has defended his handling of the Catalan crisis after the snap election he called in an attempt to settle the secessionist challenge resulted in pro-independence parties holding on to their absolute majority in parliament. Speaking the day after the three Catalan separatist parties won a total of 70 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament, Mariano Rajoy stood by his strategy of taking control of the region in response to an illegal independence referendum and subsequent declaration of independence. (The Guardian)

UK-Russia: Boris Johnson has clashed publicly with his Russian counterpart in Moscow, who criticised the Foreign Secretary for his outspoken attacks on Vladimir Putin’s regime. Describing relations between the UK and Russia as “at a low point” Sergei Lavrov said their differences should be aired privately, not to the media. (The Independent)

The arrest of an alleged spy in Ukraine risks straining UK-Russia relations even further. Stanislav Yezhov worked as an interpreter for Ukraine’s Prime Minister Volodmyr Groysman and sat in on meetings with international leaders, including with Britain’s prime minister. “This official had access to rather specific inside government information, he was well-respected, and at the same time worked responsibly, accurately and creatively for the Russian intelligence services,” said General Olexiy Petrov, the head of the counter-intelligence department of the security service. (Euronews)

UN: The United Nations Security Council imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Friday that significantly choke off new fuel supplies and order North Koreans working overseas to return home within two years, in what may prove the last test of whether any amount of economic pressure can force it to reverse course on its nuclear program. (The New York Times)

Gaza: At least two Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli troops, as protests raged over the US’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. A day after the UN voted to condemn the US’s unilateral action, thousands of Palestinian protesters confronted Israeli forces, many of them carrying rocks, along the Gaza fence in all seven cities in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. (The Independent)

Greece: A makeshift bomb exploded outside a Greek court in Athens early on Friday shattering windows and damaging the facade of the building, police officials said. Shots were also fired at a person guarding the Athens Appeal Court building, Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis told state TV. The Justice Ministry suspended the court’s operation for one day. There were no reports of injuries. (Reuters)