Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 25 June 2011


News Summary

MIDDLE EAST

Beirut (Lebanon). Two Hezbollah members have confessed to be working for the US Central Intelligence Agency and a third is still under interrogation, the militant group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah is quoted by AFP.

“When the Israeli enemy failed to infiltrate Hezbollah, it turned to the most powerful intelligence agency,” Nasrallah said in a closed-circuit television speech broadcast in Lebanon, referring to the CIA.
“Our investigation has found that… intelligence officers (in the CIA) have recruited two of our members separately, whom we shall not name out of respect for the privacy of their families,” he added. Nasrallah also mentioned that the group was investigating whether a third member of the party had been recruited by the CIA, Israel’s Mossad or the intelligence service of a European country. The United States blacklists Hezbollah, arguably the most powerful armed force in the Arab world, as a terrorist organisation.

Cairo (Egypt). Dozens of people were injured in clashes between two groups of protesters, for and against putting former president Hosni Mubarak on trial, Egypt’s official news agency MENA reported. Mubarak, 83, is due to stand trial on 3 August for the killing of protesters and abuse of power. The agency said the clashes erupted after anti-Mubarak protesters arrived in an area where hundreds of Mubarak’s supporters were staging a rally.

“The situation then developed into clashes between the two groups who threw rocks at each other,” the agency said adding that security forces separated the two groups.

Tehran (Iran). Afghan President Hamid Karzai said at a counterterrorism summit in Tehran that despite his government’s efforts, militancy was on the rise in both his country and the region.

“Unfortunately, despite all the achievements in the fields of education, infrastructure and reconstruction, not only has Afghanistan not yet achieved peace and security, but terrorism is expanding and threatening more than ever Afghanistan and the region.” The two-day summit is being attended by the heads of state of six regional countries, including Afghan neighbours Iran and Pakistan.

Pul-i-Alam (Afghanistan). Meanwhile, thirty people were killed and 45 more injured in a suicide car bombing targeting a hospital in Afghanistan’s Logar province, just south of the capital Kabul.

“A suicide car bomb attacker targeted a hospital in Azra district of Logar province,” Din Mohammad Darwaish, the Logar provincial official, said. “The target of the blast is not clear but what is obvious is that a hospital was attacked and civilians were killed,” he added

Damascus (Syria). Syrian security forces shot dead 15 protestors and injured dozens as tens of thousands of anti-regime demonstrators took to the streets, prompting Europe to blast the “shocking” crackdown, AFP reported. 24 June’s demonstrations were a response to a call by the Facebook group Syrian Revolution 2011, a driving force behind three months of protests against the autocratic rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Five people died in Damascus, another five in the town of Kiswah south of the capital, three in Homs and two others near the central city, activists said. “Security forces tried to break up a rally calling for the fall of the regime with tear gas before opening fire,” killing five and wounding 25 others, said an activist in the Damascus neighbourhood of Barzeh.

Sanaa (Yemen). Yemen’s Interior Ministry published the names of 43 members of the opposition it accuses of blowing up oil pipelines and attacks on power pylons. According to Saga news agency, the Ministry of Interior blames members of the Joint Meeting Party coalition for the pipeline attacks in Maarib province and the attacks on pylons, causing a fuel crisis and power cuts. Months of protests by hundreds of thousands of Yemenis demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down after 33 years in power have taken their toll on the country’s infrastructure and public services.

A senior official said Yemen had lost nearly $1 billion in revenues since the blast. Earlier this month, the 150,000 barrels-per-day refinery received a 600,000-barrel shipment of crude from top oil exporter Saudi Arabia as part of a promised 3 million barrels. The source quoted by Saba said the ministry would engage all security agencies, including the national security and the security departments of the governorates, to arrest them.

The fate of Saleh, who is recovering from a surgery in Saudi Arabia after an attack on his palace on 3 June, is at the center of a political crisis that has paralysed Yemen and threatened to tip it into civil war.

Tunis (Tunisia). Tunisia, whose demonstrations inspired the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings across the region, became the first North African state to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 24 June, Reuters reported. Tunisia is the 116th country to sign the Rome Statute, which established the world’s first permanent war crimes court in The Hague. Having signed the necessary documents to join the ICC, Tunisia will become a party to the treaty on 1 September, which will subject it to the court’s jurisdiction.

It said Tunisia, whose ‘Jasmine Revolution’ earlier this year inspired pro-democracy demonstrations and uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East, was the first North African country and the fourth member of the Arab League to become an ICC member. Other Arab and Muslim states have been suspicious of the court, concerned that it is a tool of the Western powers.

Tripoli (Libya)/Brussels (Belgium). France rejected  U.S. criticism of Europe’s performance in the NATO operation against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi while the U.S. administration survived Congressional anger in a funding vote, Retuers reported.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy assailed outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates for remarks earlier this month criticising EU nations for lacking military muscle. “It was particularly inappropriate for Mr. Gates to say that, and what is more, completely false, given what is going in Libya,” Sarkozy told reporters at an EU summit in Brussels.
While the United States has stepped back from a leading role in the strike mission NATO took over on 31 March, it has continued to provide essential assets, including reconnaissance planes, air-to-air refueling planes and armed drones. Discord among the Europeans over the NATO operation spilled into the public arena earlier this week when Italy called for a suspension of hostilities to allow humanitarian access and Britain, France and others loudly rejected the idea. Western governments are also concerned about the financial cost of the NATO operation and even its impact on world oil supplies with Libyan exports cut off.
BALKANS

Sofia (Bulgaria). Yet another fiasco has taken place to signal the lack of hope for the Belene nuclear power plant. Rosatom’s President announced that they had not received a letter from the Bulgarian government asking for another freezing of talks. At the same time Bulgaria’s Energy Minister Traykov persisted that the letter had been sent and even a reply was received though it had not answered any of the questions posed by Bulgaria. A week ago the Bulgarian  Minister has said that a new freeze in the negotiations with Russia would be requested  and reasoned the move with the necessity for British consultant HSBC to have more time for its report. Earlier Traykov hinted that Bulgaria had set new conditions to Russia.

“We have not received from the Bulgarians any proposal,” Rosatom’s President Sergei Kiryienko told RIA Novosti.

Sofia (Bulgaria), Bucharest (Romania). Bulgaria and Romania have largely been seen as “victims” to the tensions within the Schengen Area  and it is still unclear when the two Balkan states will join. Schengen. They face political opposition on part of several EU member states including France and Germany, which have insisted on tying their Schengen entry with their progress on corruption and judicial reforms in the two countries.

On 24 June the leaders of the EU member states have agreed to reform the borderless Schengen Area with a “safeguard mechanism” to allow for reintroduction of internal border checks by member nations. The reform motion was approved by the EU Council after the 25-member Schengen Agreement has been under strain from migration pressures for months. While providing for the wider use of border checks by member states, however, the reform is also expected to require that any reintroduction of controls be coordinated on the EU level.

The Schengen system has been under pressure after a rise in the number of illegal migrants from Arab countries in North Africa flooded Italy, and led to a conflict between Italy and France, leading to calls to make it easier to reintroduce internal border controls. Checks are currently allowed for up to 30 days in case of threats to national security.

Sofia (Bulgaria), Bucharest (Romania), Athens (Greece). An agreement was reached late on between Greece and its lenders on the austerity plan for rescuing the Balkan country from default. Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou must now push through Parliament in order for Greece to stave off default.The new bailout package, to be outlined by early July, will include loans from other Euro Zone countries. It will also feature a voluntary contribution from private investors, who will be invited to buy up new Greek bonds as old ones mature.

Romanian and Bulgarian subsidiaries of Greek banks have been funding their parent companies in the local market, analysts at Nomura Research Institute said, quoted by novinite.com. The share of Greek banks in the Bulgarian bank system is about 30%.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 25 June 2011)

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About Johann Brandstätter

Photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Bulgaria, working mainly in the Balkans and the Middle East. Conflicts & crises, social and environmental issues, defense & military, travel, transportation.
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