Weekly News 9 – 13 October 2017 | Mediterranean Affairs

Monday, 9 October 2017

 Iran – Kurdish referendum: While Iraq has taken measures against its semi-autonomous Kurdish region for last month’s secession vote, Kurdish farmers say they’re also being punished by neighbouring Iran. They say Tehran has restricted the flow of water to border towns. (video) (Al Jazeera)

Spain: France has said it will not recognise Catalonia if the regional government presses ahead with a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain, and urged both sides to negotiate their way out of the crisis triggered by last week’s referendum. On Monday morning, Spain’s deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, said the government would act if Puigdemont declared independence on Tuesday. “It won’t go unanswered,” she said, but did not specify whether the government would move to take control of Catalonia by invoking article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which has never been used. Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has said he is prepared to suspend the region’s autonomy to stop it splitting from the rest of the country. The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, is due to bring the results of the referendum before the regional parliament on Tuesday. (The Guardian)

Saudi Arabia: Police in Saudi Arabia have penalised a woman filmed driving a car, according to a spokesman, who warned against violations of a ban on female motorists to be lifted in June.

Authorities summoned the woman for flouting traffic regulations after she appeared in a video driving out of a hotel in Riyadh.

The police spokesman did not specify the nature of the penalty, but added that the woman filmed leaving the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the capital had not been arrested. He said the owner of the car was also booked for violating traffic rules. (The Guardian)

Spain: Spain’s government insists the country will not be divided as pressure grows on the Catalan regional government after a massive march in Barcelona against secession. Besides arrest, Puigdemont risks prompting the Madrid government into triggering Article 155 of the constitution, which would allow it to take the unprecedented step of suspending Catalonia’s home-rule prerogatives. (Al Jazeera)

Turkey: The United States embassy in Ankara says it is suspending, with immediate effect, all non-immigrant visa services at its diplomatic facilities in Turkey.

The move on Sunday means that Turks will not be given visas to visit the US unless they are planning to move there. Ankara retaliated later on Sunday, saying it will cease issuing non-immigrant visas to US citizens. (Al Jazeera)

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Austria: More than 2,000 people without Austrian citizenship have voted in cities across the country in symbolic elections as part of an effort to push back against a surge in far-right sentiment.

Organised by “SOS Mitmensch”, a Vienna-based human rights group, Tuesday’s symbolic vote comes five days before Austrians cast their ballots in legislative elections that could launch the country’s far-right party into government. (Al Jazeera)

Spain: Puigdemont ended up not asking the autonomous region’s parliament to pursue an immediate vote on secession.

Instead, Puigdemont said that although he has a mandate to declare independence, he is requesting that Catalan parliament suspend the results of its Oct 1. independence referendum to allow time for talks with Spain’s government. He added that he supports a Catalan state, but said he is delaying a formal declaration in favor of dialogue.

The announcement was originally slotted for 6 p.m. local time, but was delayed for over an hour as last-minute deliberations took place. (Huffington Post)

Spain: Catalonia’s leader has said he accepts the “mandate from the people” to “become, an independent state”, but has stopped short of declaring independence as he seeks dialogue with Spain. Puigdemont then asked parliament to suspend its mandate to immediately declare independence so that dialogue could begin.

Reports said Catalan leaders signed a “symbolic” declaration of independence on Tuesday but immediately put it on hold and called for talks. Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister, is to chair an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday to discuss the central government’s response. (Al Jazeera)

UK: A report from the British government has found deep-seated inequalities in all sectors of UK society. The Racial Disparity Audit was started in 2016 by Theresa May, UK prime minister, to examine how people of different races and backgrounds are treated in Britain. (video) (Al Jazeera)

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Greece: The coalition government in Greece has voted to allow people to change their gender identity without medical treatment. A bill became law by a narrow majority. It allows people to make their choice on gender from the age of 15. The move has divided public opinion in Greece. (video) (Al Jazeera)

Iraq – Kurdish referendum: The governments of Iraq, Turkey and Iran have joined ranks in announcing new measures against Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG.

This follows last month’s controversial referendum on the future Kurdish secession from Baghdad. (video) (Al Jazeera)

Iraq – Kurdish Referendum: An Iraqi federal court has ordered the arrest of Kurdistan officials involved in overseeing a referendum last month on the region’s independence.

The arrest warrants, issued by Baghdad’s Rusafa investigation court, apply to members of the Kurdistan Region’s electoral commission.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi last month demanded the suspension of the controversial vote.

Kurdish leaders later insisted the referendum was legitimate. (BBC)

Spain: Spain’s prime minister has demanded Catalan leaders clarify whether they have formally declared independence before he invokes a constitutional article that would strip the region of its autonomy.

Addressing deputies in parliament on Wednesday, Mariano Rajoy said Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont’s response would determine “future events”. Article 155 of the Spanish constitution allows the central government in Madrid to take direct control of regions, if they fail to comply with their legal obligations.

The previous evening, Puigdemont’s said Catalonia has a mandate to declare independence but would suspend it pending the outcome of talks with Spain. (Al Jazeera)

UK: The government will spend whatever is necessary to make sure the UK is ready for Brexit, Downing Street has said.

A No 10 spokesman said £250m of new money had been allocated this year to prepare for leaving the EU, “including the possibility of a no-deal scenario”. Earlier, Chancellor Philip Hammond said funding for a no-deal plan would not happen “until the very last moment”. (BBC)

Thursday 12 October 2017

UE: European Affairs Undersecretary Sandro Gozi told ANSA during a forum Thursday “the federal European solution is the right one” and said he’s “not sure this European phase that’s opening following Brexit is so negative”.

Gozi said Europe has to “give citizens the answers they expect on key themes such as defence, the creation of a true European policy on migration, reforming the Eurozone, and focusing on a policy of growth”. (ANSAmed)

Iraq – Kurdish referendum: Kurdish Peshmerga forces blocked roads from the Iraqi Kurdish region to the country’s second city Mosul for several hours in response to Iraqi troop movements, a senior Kurdish military official said. Hours later, the barriers were removed and “the situation returned to normal,” he said.

The move came after Kurdish authorities said late on Wednesday they feared Iraqi government forces and allied paramilitary units were preparing to launch an assault on the autonomous northern region. (Al Jazeera)

Israel: Israel has said it will join the US in pulling out of the UN’s cultural organisation Unesco, after US officials cited “anti-Israel bias”. Unesco head Irina Bokova earlier called the US withdrawal a matter of “profound regret”. The US withdrawal will become effective at the end of December 2018 – until then, the US will remain a full member. The US will establish an observer mission at the Paris-based organisation to replace its representation, the state department said. (BBC)

Spain: Spain’s royal family has attended a National Day military parade amid a political crisis sparked by Catalonia’s disputed independence referendum. The National Day is a public holiday and commemorates the Christian reconquest of Spain and Christopher Columbus’s first arrival in the Americas in 1492.

Several thousand supporters of Spanish unity, including members of a far-right nationalist group, rallied in Barcelona, waving Spanish and Catalan flags. (BBC)

Spain: The Catalan president has accused the Spanish government of ignoring his calls for negotiations after it warned him on Wednesday to abandon his push for independence or face the suspension of regional autonomy. He said the move was intended to provide time for dialogue on the issue that has plunged Spain into its worst political crisis for 40 years.

The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, responded by asking Puigdemont whether or not independence had been declared and gave him eight days to drop his independence plans and return Catalonia to “constitutional order”.

If he failed to do so, Rajoy added, the government would use article 155 of the constitution, which permits the imposition of direct rule on autonomous regions. (The Guardian)

Palestine: Hamas and Fatah have signed a reconciliation deal in Cairo, ending a decade-long rift between the two Palestinian factions.

The deal is believed to cover security, administrative and border crossing arrangements in the Gaza Strip. While the full details of Thursday’s agreement have yet to be announced, negotiators from both groups said that the security changes include the handing over of control of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt to a unity government.

Hamas also agreed to hand all administrative responsibilities in the Gaza Strip to the Fatah-backed government by December, according to an official statement released by Egypt. (BBC)

UK: The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier says there has not been enough progress to move to the next stage of Brexit talks as the UK wants.

He said there was “new momentum” in the process but there was still “deadlock” over how much the UK pays when it leaves, which he called “disturbing”.

Mr Davis said the UK still wanted to be given the green light for trade talks when EU leaders meet next week.

The pair were speaking after the fifth round of Brexit talks in Brussels. (BBC)

Friday 13 October 2017

Austria: Austrian party leaders took part in a final TV debate on Thursday, with conservative hardliners on immigration tipped to win an election on Sunday. The spotlight was on Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, just 31 years old, whose People’s Party has a strong lead in opinion polls. The nationalist Freedom Party and centre-left Social Democrats are neck-and-neck behind it, polls say. Despite the differences, the debate was relaxed with some laughter. In the debate, which covered five areas selected by candidates, all three main candidates called for fewer business regulations. (BBC)

Romania: A referendum on banning same-sex marriage has drawn international anti-gay marriage campaigners to Romania including Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk briefly jailed for refusing to issue marriage licences to gay couples.

Davis is on a nine-day tour of Romania before a referendum to be held before the end of the year on a proposed amendment to the country’s constitution, which would rule out any possibility of legalising same-sex marriage.

Liberty Counsel, an Orlando-based anti-LGBT Christian group that represented Davis in her 2015 court battle, said she and another group member were speaking in two major Romanian cities and had met Orthodox church archbishops.

Romania’s civil code prohibits same-sex partnership and civil partnerships are not recognised, but the constitution – which defines marriage as “between spouses” – is gender neutral so could in theory allow gay unions at some future stage. (The Guardian)

Russia: Russia and Saudi Arabia are on track to sign a contract on supplies of Russia’s advanced S-400 air defense missiles to Riyadh, the Interfax news agency cited an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin as saying on Friday. (Reuters)

Turkey: Turkish forces that entered Syria’s Idlib province late on Thursday have started setting up observation positions that appear aimed at containing a Kurdish militia. President Tayyep Erdogan announced the deployment on Saturday, saying Turkey was conducting a “serious operation” with rebel groups it supports, as part of a “de-escalation” deal it agreed last month with Iran and Russia in Kazakhstan. (Reuters)

UK: David Davis, the Brexit secretary, has been threatened with legal action over his refusal to publish 50 secret studies commissioned on the impact of Brexit.

Lawyers acting for the Good Law Project, which is bringing the action jointly with the Green party MEP Molly Scott Cato, wrote to the Brexit department and Treasury on Thursday demanding the release of the documents. They said that failure to do so within 14 days would result in the issue of judicial review proceedings before the high court in an attempt to force their release.

The 50 studies into the impact of Brexit on different industries were commissioned earlier this year but the government has argued that publishing them could damage the UK’s negotiating position with Brussels. More than 120 MPs have signed a letter demanding that Davis publish the findings. (The Guardian)