Weekly News 5th- 9th December

Monday 5th

Austria: Alexander Van der Bellen won the Austrian presidential elections. Die Grüne – “the greens” – won the elections against the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer of the Freiheitliche Partei Österreich (FPÖ). Many observers see the elections’ results as good news for Europe and for Austria. The FPÖ has supported a strong euro-sceptical position alongside a very negative approach towards migrants. Nevertheless, Hofer’s defeat is not the end of the populist wave in Austria, however Van der Bellen’s victory has shown that a person’s values can play a strong role against nationalism. (Süddeutsche Zeitung)

Italy: Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigns after heavy defeat in the constitutional referendum. With a turnout of around 65%, the No vote has obtained 59,11% against a 40,89% of the Yes vote resulting in a rejection of the constitutional reform proposed by Renzi’s government. Opposition parties called for elections as soon as possible, however the decision remains in the hands of the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella, who will meet Renzi on Monday evening. (Ansa)

Libya: the coastal city of Sirte has been taken from the so-called IS and loyalist troops by pro-government forces after months of fighting. The city was the last important territory controlled by IS and the fighting saw many militants die or give themselves to pro-government forces. The battle for the control of the city has lasted seven months and provoked 711 casualties between pro-government troops. In addition, it has been hindered by the split between the eastern and western governments of the country. Although so-called IS does not control any town in the country anymore, many of its fighters are still present in southern and eastern Libya. Furthermore, the division between the UN-backed Unity Government and the parliament in Tobruk is far from reaching an accord. (Al Jazeera)

Syria: the Syrian army carries on its large-scale offensive on the rebel-controlled eastern Aleppo and has taken control of many new districts. If confirmed, that would mean the army forces had recaptured about 70% of eastern Aleppo in just a week. Meanwhile, according to the UN, about 30,000 civilians had to leave the city due to fighting and more than 100,000 are still under siege without food supplies or functioning hospitals. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that talks with the US for an agreed withdrawal of the rebel fighters could start in Geneva on Wednesday or Thursday, he also rejected the idea of a UN call for a ceasefire. (BBC)

The UN Security Council resolution for a ceasefire in Aleppo was hindered by Russian and Chinese veto. While Russia claimed that the resolution infringed the council rule allowing countries 24 hours to consider the final wording, the US dismissed such an excuse by affirming that Russia is only interested in preserving its military advantage in the city. The draft of the resolution was submitted to the Council by Egypt, New Zeland and Spain and was rejected also by Venezuela. The document called for a ceasefire to allow aid delivering to more than 100,000 people left without food or medical supplies. (BBC)

Tuesday 6th

Germany: Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her intention to forbid the full-face veil affirming that it collides with German culture. This has been met with applause by the members of her party in Essen. Mrs. Merkel has articulated her views on integration and against “parallel societies”; also, she stressed that rights and laws are always superior to religion. A further problem of the full-face veil, according to her, lies in the communication with humans: “we show our face”, she said. The debate about full-face veil is being discussed in Merkel’s party since years. (Reuters Deutschland)

Israel: The parliament has voted to retroactively legalise thousands of illegal settler homes in outpost built on private Palestinian land, in a highly controversial move described by critics as a “land grab”. The vote comes after the request by the US secretary of state, which requires Israel to rein in the construction of settlements on West Bank land. The vote was proposed by a far right leader of the Jewish Home Party. Netanyahu warned that such a legislation could put Israel’s political leaders in the dock of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. This vote will hamper the prospect for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (The Guardian)

Italy: Mr. Renzi met with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who asked him to delay resignation date after the approval of the 2017 budget, which is planned for December 7. After that day, Mr. Renzi will resign and President Mattarella will meet with the representatives of parliamentary groups in order to take a decision on what to do next. According to some observers, Minister of Economics and Finance Mr Pier Carlo Padoan or Culture Minister Dario Franceschini may take the lead of the government until new elections. However, this would be a temporary government with the main task of concluding the electoral reform started by Renzi’s government.(Internazionale)

Syria: While the Syrian army advances in the eastern part of Aleppo and took control of about two-third of rebel-held territories, Russia pledges to “destroy” opposition fighters who are not intended to leave. The statement was backed by the Syrian Foreign Ministry, who said on the state SANA news agency that the government would not allow rebels a chance to “regroup and repeat their crimes”. Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights affirmed that if the news about the retaking of the Shaar district is confirmed, the opposition troops would be reduced to a “war of attrition” with the army. (Al Jazeera)

Wednesday 7th

Egypt: The arrest of prominent women’s rights advocate Azza Soliman, founder of the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA), has sparked the anger of human rights activists. During the last days her assets and the ones of her group have been frozen and she has been prevented leave the country. On Wednesday, the investigative judge has issued an arrest warrant against her for unknown reasons. Egyptian human rights activists affirm they are being subjected to a severe government repression with the accusation of contributing to the unrest of 2011 uprisings. Many non-governmental organisations involved in rights work have been recently accused of receiving “illegal” foreign funding. (The Guardian)

Syria: The opposition forces have called for a ceasefire in order to allow the evacuation of civilians after withdrawing from their last stronghold in Aleppo’s old city. Meanwhile, the US together with five Western leaders made a joint call for an immediate truce to allow aid into rebel-held areas. However, the Syrian government together with its Russian ally have singled out the option of a ceasefire; Russia also addressed to rebels remaining in eastern Aleppo as “terrorists”. (BBC)

Turkey: After a statement on Tuesday made by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, according to which Turkish snipers killed 163 refugees on the Syrian border, Turkish officials rejected the accusations. Yasin Aktay, vice chairman of the AK party, affirmed that such claims were “fabricated”. However, similar allegations were made by a Syrian activist in Idlib reporting of a family from Raqqa shot dead after crossing the Turkish border and by Human Rights Watch in May. (Al Jazeera)

United Kingdom: While addressing the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) annual summit British Prime Minister Theresa May has said that she wants to reinforce defence cooperation and trade agreement with Gulf countries. May spoke about reinforcing British commitment to the long-term security of the Gulf by investing more than three billion pounds in defence spending in the region over the next decade. Furthermore, May wishes to improve trade ties in order to find an alternative economic stability “that the EU provided for the UK before the Brexit vote”. Settling such trade agreements with the GCC represents a bald move in order to create ties with a multitude of states, which already share trade ties between one another. (Al Jazeera)

Thursday 8th

Iraq: An air strike has hit a civilian-populated area in a city controlled by so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq. Some observers attribute this attack to a mistake by the Iraqi army, however Iraqi officials deny such allegations. A statement from an army spokesperson declares that they did strike in and around the city but it did not cause any dead in civilians. The bombing hit a market in the city of Qaim, a city on the border with Syria. There is an ongoing dispute between Iraqi officials and the local Anbar Governing Council, which affirms that residents reported more than 100 civilians dead and the same number of wounded. (NBC News)

Migrant crisis: While the Dublin Regulation was suspended in the recent years due to the bad living conditions of Migrants in the debt-affected Greece, the EU Commission has required member states to resume returning migrants to Greece from March 2017. Amnesty International condemned this choice from the EU executive stating that it is “outrageously hypocritical to insinuate that Greece alone is to blame” for the bad living conditions in which migrants live; in addition Amnesty accused the EU-Turkey deal and the lack of solidarity from other EU countries to relocate people. (Deutsche Welle)

Syria: Russia and the US did not reach any solution in the deal for a ceasefire in Aleppo in order to allow evacuation of civilians. Although on Wednesday both parts were “close” to reaching an agreement, the phone call between Lavrov and Kerry did not take to any solution, according to the US State Department. (Al Jazeera)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with al-Watan newspaper that the victory in Aleppo does not sign the end of the war. He affirmed that “terrorists” are still everywhere in the country and thus a ceasefire is to be excluded.  (BBC)

Friday 9th:

Netherlands: the populist and anti-Islam political leader Greet Wilders has been convicted of insulting a group and inciting discrimination. Mr. Wilders was already acquitted in 2014 over telling supporters he would ensure there were fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands. At the trial, prosecutors took testimony from Dutch-Moroccans who affirmed his comments made them feel like “third-rate citizens”. Wilders’ party is one of the favourites for the elections to be held in March 2017. (BBC)

Syria: UN reported that hundreds of men aged between 30 and 50 have gone missing after entering the government-controlled areas while fleeing from eastern rebel-held Aleppo. The Syrian regime is known for arbitrary detentions, tortures and killings and there is fear that this might be the case. The army controls now 85 percent of the eastern part of the city and the attack caused the displacement of 80,000 people.  (Al Jazeera)

Meanwhile, Russia affirms that bombing will not halt until all rebels have left the eastern part of the city. This statement comes a day after Russia and Syrian military have agreed for a truce to allow evacuation of civilians. Air strikes have continued throughout the night between Thursday and Friday despite Lavrov’s claims of a humanitarian pause. This raises questions about Russian leverage over President Bashar al-Assad. Residents have reported relentless bombardment including rocket attacks, helicopter bombings and gunfire. (The Guardian)

Turkey: the Council of Europe declared that the purge going on in Turkey is against international law and the Turkish constitution. After the attempted coup in July, Turkey has imprisoned about 36,000 people and has dismissed more than 100,000 state personnel; experts from the Council of Europe affirmed that the methods of purging show strong elements of arbitrariness and judged wrong the decision to dismiss personnel rather than suspend it.  (The Daily Star)

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