Weekly News 20th – 24th March 2017 | Mediterranean Affairs
Weekly News Monday 20th 2017
Brexit: Prime Minister Theresa May is to officially notify the European Union on March 29 that the UK is leaving.
Downing Street said she would write a letter to the EU’s 27 other members, adding that it expected negotiations to then begin as quickly as possible.
The move comes nine months after people voted 51.9% to 48.1% in a referendum. (The Independent)
Germany: Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) have voted overwhelmingly for former European parliament president Martin Schulz to become the party’s new head and the main challenger to Angela Merkel in September’s general election. Schulz secured all 605 votes at a special party conference in Berlin on Sunday. (The Guardian)
Germany: More than 30,000 Kurds marched through the streets of Frankfurt on Saturday calling for democracy in Turkey and a “no” vote in next month’s referendum on dramatically expanding Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers.
Under the slogan “No to dictatorship – Yes to democracy and freedom,” the rally was meant to mark the Kurdish New Year, or Newroz, traditionally celebrated on the first day of spring. (Deutsche Welle)
Italy: An Italian Coast Guard ship, the CP 940 Dattilo, has arrived at the Sicilian port of Augusta at 14:00 on Monday with 1,477 asylum seekers on board. The people were saved in seven separate operations in the Mediterranean. A group of 747 was rescued from one boat, another group of 82 were on a smaller boat and the other people were saved from five dinghies. (ANSAmed)
Syria: Syrian government jets bombarded opposition-held neighbourhoods of Damascus on Monday a day after opposition forces launched a surprise assault.
Rebel groups allied with former al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham attacked government positions in the east of the capital early on Sunday morning in a complex and co-ordinated operation.
But forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad drove them back by nightfall, a war monitor said, and began a fierce bombing campaign on Monday morning. (Al Jazeera)
Weekly News Tuesday 21st 2017
Brexit: Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon sought backing from the Edinburgh parliament on Tuesday for her proposal to hold a new referendum on independence from the United Kingdom, the first formal step in a process resisted by London.
The parliament started a two-day debate on Sturgeon’s proposal to hold a referendum in late 2018 or early 2019, with a vote expected on Wednesday. The current balance of power means Sturgeon is almost certain to win the chamber’s backing to formally ask London for permission to press ahead. (Reuters)
France: French centrist Emmanuel Macron has slightly increased his lead on far right leader Marine Le Pen in the first round of the French presidential election, an Elabe poll of voting intentions showed on Tuesday. (Reuters)
French Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux has resigned over a “fake jobs” row involving work he gave his two daughters when they were teenagers.
Mr Le Roux told a news conference that he felt it was his “responsibility”, but denied wrongdoing.
It is alleged that his daughters were being paid for work while involved in other activities.
The Socialist minister has repeatedly insisted that the summer jobs were legitimate.
French President Francois Hollande said he had accepted Mr Le Roux’s resignation and named Trade Minister Matthias Fekl as his successor. (BBC)
Syria: An unexpected rebel push on Damascus has brought Syria’s civil war to the heart of its capital for the first time in years, spreading panic among residents and serving as a reminder that the conflict is far from over. Streets emptied and many shops and schools were closed for a third day Tuesday as battles raged on the eastern edge of the city, where the rebels launched their surprise assault over the weekend. Mortar shells crashed into residential neighborhoods, jets streaked overhead, and the rattle of gunfire plunged Damascus back onto the front lines of a war that has raged since 2011. (The Washington Post)
Syrian rebels including a powerful alliance of jihadist groups said they launched a new offensive near the city of Hama in the central part of western Syria on Tuesday.
The rebels attacked government positions in the town of Soran and the village of Maardas, gaining control over parts of them, a monitor of Syria’s civil war said. (Reuters)
Turkey:Turkish leaders will hold no further campaign rallies in Germany before Turkey’s April 16 referendum, organizers said on Tuesday, after an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel said they were not welcome.
The announcement by the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD) underscored a sharp deterioration in relations between NATO allies Germany and Turkey ahead of the referendum on boosting the powers of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. (Reuters)
Weekly News Wednesday 22nd 2017
France:The French presidential candidate François Fillon has been hit by allegations he was paid $50,000 (£40,000) to arrange a meeting between a Lebanese billionaire and Vladimir Putin as prosecutors investigating whether his wife was paid for fake jobs widened their inquiry to look into whether she signed forged documents.
The latest accusations came a week after Fillon, 63, was formally put under investigation for a misuse of public funds over the €700,000 of taxpayers’ money British-born Penelope Fillon earned for acting as his parliamentary assistant. (The Guardian)
Syria: Dozens of people were killed earlier this week in a suspected US-led coalition air raid that hit a school sheltering displaced people near Raqqa, ISIL’s self-declared capital in Syria, according to a monitoring group.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Wednesday that its contacts had counted at least 33 bodies at the site near the village of al-Mansoura, west of Raqqa.
The group, which monitors Syria’s war via a network of contacts on the ground, said it believed the air raid at the school-turned-shelter had been carried out by the US-led coalition fighting ISIL, which stands for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and is also known as ISIS. (Al Jazeera)
UK: A police officer has been stabbed and at least one man has been shot in a “serious” incident outside the Houses of Parliament.
At least two gun shots were heard by those inside Westminster. Proceedings in the House of Commons have been suspended.
The deputy speaker of the Commons, David Lidington, announced the suspension, and said a police officer had been stabbed and the “alleged assailant shot by armed police”.
The police officer was wounded but moving, after falling to the ground clutching his arm or shoulder. At least one man was seen running towards the exit of New Palace Yard, underneath Big Ben.
Police were seen shouting at him, presumably to stop. Two shots were then heard. (The Independent)
Weekly News Thursday 23rd 2017
Belgium: A shotgun and several bladed weapons have been found in the car of a man who tried to drive at high speed through a busy shopping street in Antwerp, forcing pedestrians to jump out of the way.
The federal prosecutor’s office said the car was intercepted at the port docks and police arrested a man, identified as 39-year-old Mohamed R, who has been living in France.
Soldiers in the busy shopping street were immediately involved in trying to control and stop the car, which was moving away at high speed.
In the car, authorities said they found knives, a shotgun and a gas can with an unknown liquid. (The Independent)
UK: The suspect of a deadly attack outside the UK parliament in London was British, Prime Minister Theresa May said, as police arrested eight people after several overnight raids across the country. Police named the man as Khalid Masood on Thursday, saying he had a string of criminal convictions. Masood, 52, was born in Kent to the southeast of London and had been most recently living in central England, London police said. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group claimed responsibility on Thursday for the attack. (Al Jazeera)
Weekly News Friday 24th 2017
Egypt: Egypt’s ousted president Hosni Mubarak left a military hospital on Friday where he had spent much of his six-year detention, his lawyer said.
Mubarak had been cleared for release earlier this month after a top court finally acquitted him of involvement in protester deaths during the 2011 revolt that ousted him.
“Yes,” his lawyer Farid al-Deeb told AFP news agency when asked if Mubarak had left the hospital on Friday.
Mubarak was accused of inciting the deaths of protesters during the 18-day revolt, in which about 850 people were killed as police clashed with demonstrators. (Al Jazeera)
A bomb exploded on Friday in a residential area of the Egyptian capital, leaving one dead and at least four injured. A text message sent out by the MENA news agency said that the explosion had been of ”an unidentified object” in Maadi, while the Conflict News Twitter account reported that one person had been killed. Witnesses have also said that one person was killed. (ANSAmed)
France: The National Front (FN) leader called for closer French-Russian ties at a meeting in Russia’s lower house of parliament, the Duma.
She told its speaker sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea were counterproductive, Interfax reported.
Ms Le Pen has also met President Vladimir Putin.
He reportedly told her that Russia had no intention of interfering in the election, but had the right to meet any French politicians it wanted. (BBC)
Iraq: Iraqi forces are preparing a fresh push against Islamic State using new tactics, but operations to drive the militants out of their last stronghold in the country are on hold, military officials said on Friday.
Families streamed out of the northern Iraqi city during the lull in fighting, part of an exodus of people fleeing in their thousands each day, the United Nations says, heading for cold, crowded camps or to stay with relatives.
The U.S.-backed operation to drive Islamic State out of Mosul, now in its sixth month, has recaptured most of the city. The entire eastern side and around half of the west is under Iraqi control.
But advances have stuttered in the last two weeks as fighting enters the narrow-alleyed Old City, and the militants put up fierce resistance using car bombs, snipers and mortar fire against forces and residents. (Reuters)
Italy: Italy on Thursday raised security for Saturday’s EU summit in Rome marking the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome in light of Wednesday’s terror attack that killed three and injured 40 in London.(ANSAmed)