Weekly News 19 – 23 June 2017 | Mediterranean Affairs
Weekly News 19 – 23 June 2017
Monday, 19 June 2017
Brexit: Brexit talks have begun in Brussels. The lead negotiators, David Davis and Michel Barnier, representing the UK and the European commission respectively, posed for the cameras before several hours of initial discussions.
Amid concerns that political uncertainty in Britain could delay meaningful negotiations, the two leaders stressed their opening day on Monday would mainly deal with the timing and structure of the divorce talks, which the EU insists cannot yet deal with issues of trade. (The Guardian)
France: The French president Emmanuel Macron’s new centrist movement has won a large majority in the French parliament, taking 351 out of 577 seats.
But the results were tempered by a record low turnout of around 43%. Abstention was particularly high in low-income areas, reopening the debate about France’s social divide.
The Socialist party was the biggest loser, expecting to shed more than 200 seats and hold only around 34 seats. The far-right Front National, which currently has two seats in parliament, was predicted to win up to eight seats, better than its first-round showing had indicated. (The Guardian)
A French police vehicle was hit on Monday by a car on Paris’ Champs Elysees avenue and the driver was arrested, police said, adding that no officers or bystanders were injured and the situation was under control. (Reuters)
Italy: Thousands of migrants have arrived in recent days and even in the last hours on the Italian shores in Sicily, Calabria and Campania.
In particular, in Palermo, the Italian Coast Guard ship Diciotti arrived with 1,096 migrants who had been saved in various rescue operations in the Mediterranean. There were 751 men, 160 women (11 of whom were pregnant), and 185 children aboard. A task force coordinated by the local prefecture was present at the ship’s arrival in port, made up of health workers, law enforcement, Caritas Catholic charity and the Red Cross. (ANSAmed)
Syria: Russia, Iran and the United States are drawing new red lines for each other in Syria, with Moscow warning Washington on Monday it would treat any U.S.-led coalition planes in its area of operations as potential targets after the U.S. air force downed a Syrian jet.
Tensions escalated on Sunday as the U.S. army brought down the jet near Raqqa and Iran launched missiles at Islamic State targets in eastern Syria – the first time each state has carried out such actions in the multi-sided Syrian war. A pro-Damascus commander said Tehran and Washington were drawing “red lines”. (Reuters)
Qatar: Qatar will not negotiate with Arab states that have cut economic and travel ties with it unless they reverse their measures and lift the blockade, its foreign minister said, ruling out discussions over Qatar’s internal affairs including Al Jazeera TV. (Al Jazeera)
UK: A van plowed into worshippers near a London mosque in the early hours of Monday, injuring 10 people, two of them seriously, in what Prime Minister Theresa May said was a sickening, terrorist attack on Muslims.
The vehicle swerved into a group of mainly North and West African people shortly after midnight as they left prayers at the Muslim Welfare House and the nearby Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, one of the biggest in Britain.
The driver, a 48-year-old white man, was grabbed at the scene by locals and pinned down until police arrived. He was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. (Reuters)
Tuesday 20 June 2017
Belgium: Belgian soldiers have shot a man suspected of being a would-be suicide bomber at Brussels Central Station, officials say.
He was shot after reportedly setting off a small explosion and no-one else is believed to have been injured. The man who was shot was wearing a rucksack and a bomb belt.
He detonated a device when he attracted the attention of soldiers in the station. Prosecutors say they are treating the incident as a terrorist attack. (BBC)
France: France’s newly appointed defence minister Sylvie Goulard has resigned from government after a magistrate launched a preliminary investigation into allegations her party misused European parliament funds.
Goulard, who only took up her post in Emmanuel Macron’s administration a month ago, stepped down on Tuesday. She is the second high-profile minister to go in less than 24 hours. (The Guardian)
Migrant crisis: Nearly 2,000 migrants and refugees have died in the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of 2017, according to figures released in a statement Tuesday by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Since the beginning of the year through June 18, IOM has recorded a total of 81,292 arrivals by sea to Europe (about 85% of which were in Italy) and 1,985 deaths. (ANSAmed)
Russia: Russia’s “gay propaganda” law is discriminatory and encourages homophobia, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.
The Strasbourg judges said Russia had discriminated against three gay rights activists who opposed the law. It was adopted in 2013, banning promotion of homosexuality among people under 18. The Strasbourg court said the fines imposed on three Russian gay rights activists violated Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights. (BBC)
Syria: Government air and artillery bombardments hit rebel-held areas of the Syrian city of Deraa, on the border with Jordan, on Tuesday after a two-day ceasefire expired, witnesses and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
A witness and two rebel fighters in Deraa said the army and its allies had resumed air and artillery bombardments in the city and the narrow strip of countryside separating it from the border. (Al Jazeera)
A US jet has shot down an Iranian-made drone operated by forces backing the Syrian government in the south of the country, American officials say.
The F-15 plane downed the drone around 00:30 on Tuesday (21:30 GMT Monday) north-east of Tanf, according to a US military statement.
The drone was thought to be armed and threatening US troops on the ground, officials said. (BBC)
Australia has suspended air combat missions over Syria after Russia threatened that it would treat any plane from the US-led coalition flying west of the Euphrates river as a potential target.
Russia said it was responding to US planes shooting down a Syrian air force jet on Sunday. The US said its planes had acted to defend US-backed forces seeking to capture Raqqa, the Islamic State (Isis) stronghold in north-east Syria. (The Guardian)
Wednesday 21 June 2017
France: France’s Justice Minister, François Bayrou, resigned on Wednesday hours before President Emmanuel Macron announced his new government line-up.
It meant that Mr Bayrou’s centrist party, MoDem, surrendered all three of its cabinet posts within 24 hours.
President Macron came to power with a promise to fight political sleaze.
MoDem, allied to Mr Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) party, is facing an inquiry into claims that it used EU funds to pay party workers.
Defence Minister and ex-MEP Sylvie Goulard was the first MoDem minister to hand in her resignation on Tuesday.
After Mr Bayrou said he was standing down early on Wednesday, it became clear that Marielle de Sarnez, European affairs minister, was also leaving the government to take over as head of MoDem in the National Assembly. (BBC)
Romania: Romanian Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu has been forced from power after only six months by his own party, in a no-confidence vote in parliament.
His left-wing Social Democrat party (PSD) had accused him of failing to carry out necessary economic reforms.
The prime minister was involved in a power struggle with party leader Liviu Dragnea, who was barred from office after a conviction for voter fraud. (BBC)
Turkey: Germany’s parliament has approved plans to move aircraft and military personnel out of Turkey’s Incirlik airbase after Turkey refused to allow visits by German MPs.
Six Tornado aircraft, a tanker plane and about 280 personnel will be relocated to Jordan’s Azraq airbase.
The planes are engaged in the campaign against so-called Islamic State (IS).
The German decision comes after a long-running diplomatic row between the two Nato allies.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was furious when his ministers were prevented from campaigning in Germany, where many Turks live, for an April referendum that broadened his constitutional powers. (BBC)
Thursday 22 June 2017
Afghanistan: At least 15 people have been killed in suicide car bombing in the capital of Helmand province in Afghanistan.
A powerful explosion struck a bank in Lashkar Gah city while civilian and military government employees were queueing to withdraw their salaries, officials said on Thursday.
At least 50 wounded people were taken to hospital, Omar Zwak, a government spokesman, told Agence France-Presse (AFP), and other officials said the death toll would rise.
No group has claimed responsibility for the latest in a series of brazen attacks during the holy month of Ramadan, but it came as the Taliban intensify their annual spring offensive. The insurgents control swaths of Helmand. (The Guardian)
Brexit: EU leaders are heading to a Brussels summit amid heightened security after Tuesday’s foiled bomb attack at the Belgian capital’s main railway station.
Security will be high on the summit agenda, not least because London and Paris were shaken by more jihadist terror attacks recently.
The leaders will also be focused on Brexit and are expected to arrive in buoyant mood. (BBC)
Iraq: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says the destruction of an ancient mosque in the city of Mosul is “an official declaration of defeat” by so-called Islamic State (IS).
Iraqi forces say IS blew up the Great Mosque of al-Nuri and its famous leaning minaret as jihadists battled to stop advancing pro-government troops.
IS said American aircraft had destroyed the complex, a claim denied by the US.
The mosque, which was more than 800 years old, was where in July 2014 IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi demanded allegiance in his first and only public appearance following the declaration days earlier of a “caliphate”. (BBC)
Syria: Australia has said it will resume its military air operations over Syria.
A temporary suspension was declared on Tuesday after Russia warned it would treat aircraft from the US-led coalition as potential targets.
That warning came after the US shot down a Syrian military plane. (BBC)
Friday, 23 June 2017
Brexit: German Chancellor Angela Merkel has described UK plans to ensure the rights of EU citizens in Britain after Brexit as “a good start”.
However, she said there were “many, many other questions” about Brexit and there was “still a lot to do”.
The UK proposal was unveiled by Prime Minister Theresa May at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday.
It would grant EU migrants who had lived in the UK for five years at the cut-off date new “UK settled status”.
Those who qualify for settled status will be allowed to stay in the country and access health, education and other benefits.
The plan would affect 3.2 million EU citizens now living in the UK, around a million of whom have lived in the country less than five years. (BBC)
EU leaders have described the UK’s opening offer to protect EU citizens’ rights as vague and inadequate, suggesting the British government needs to go further.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, struck a dismissive note as he arrived at an EU leaders’ summit on Friday. “That is a first step but this step is not sufficient,” he said. (The Guardian)
Migration crisis: France’s interior minister rejected calls from charities for a new migrant reception center in the northern port of Calais, where hundreds who have fled war and poverty are again roaming the streets in search of food and shelter.
The minister, Gerard Collomb, visited the port city on Friday and earlier said extra police would be drafted into the area. (The Guardian)
Syria: Missiles launched from Russian military vessels deployed in the eastern Mediterranean have destroyed ISIS command posts and weapons and ammunition stores near Akerbat in the province of Hama in Syria, the Russian defence ministry said on Friday. (ANSAmed)
Qatar: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have sent Qatar a list of 13 demands it must meet if it wants them to lift their sanctions, including shouting its broadcaster, Al Jazeera.
They are also asking Qatar to reduce ties with Iran and close a Turkish military base – all within 10 days.
Qatar, which sought to raise its profile in recent years, denies funding terrorism and fostering instability. (BBC)