Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 14 July 2011


News Summary

NORTH AFRICA

Tripoli (Libya). France’s extends its mission in Libya. US State Secretary Hillary Clinton reiterates Gaddafi’s days are counted as Libyan rebels claim they have retaken the village of El-Gawalish from Gaddafi’s forces.

French Senate, the upper house, approved to prolong the military intervention in Libya with 311 votes for and 24 against the bill proposed by the government. Earlier in the afternoon, deputies of the lower house (the National Assembly) gave a nod to the bill with 482 votes in favor and 27 against.

The successful counter-attack of the rebels was launched shortly after the rebel loss of the key village, some 150 kilometers from the capital Tripoli. The rebels lost the village on Wednesday and pulled back to the nearby town of Zintan. Rebel forces had planned to use El-Gawalish as a staging ground to capture the nearby town of Garyan, which controls access to the main highway heading north to Tripoli.

“Although neither of us can predict to you the exact day or hour that Gaddafi will leave power, we do understand and agree that his days are numbered,” Clinton said at a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the State Department, Xinhua writes. The top U.S. envoy will attend a Libya Contact Group meeting in Turkey on 15 July, an event that brings together foreign ministers from Western powers and Arab nations as well as Libyan opposition leaders over the next steps to be taken in Libya.

MIDDLE EAST

Cairo (Egypt). Egypt postpones elections and fires 600 officers in an attempt to meet protesters demand.

Egypt’s state news agency reported that parliamentary elections that had been widely expected to be held in September will now take place a month or two later. The military, which took over power from Mubarak, effectively announced a delay of the elections when it said preparations for the vote would start 30 September. Many of the political parties that arose from the uprising wanted to have the vote delayed so they could compete more effectively against better prepared and financed parties like the Muslim Brotherhood ‘s Freedom and Justice party. The authorities also revealed that they would draft a set of regulations for selecting the 100-member assembly that will write a new constitution.

Egypt has fired almost 600 top police officers in an attempt to clean up the discredited and widely unpopular police force, Al Jazeera reports. Among those dismissed were 505 major-generals and 82 brigadiers, Egyptian state television reported. The protesters want the police force to be purged of Mubarak loyalists and officers involved in the killing of nearly 900 protesters during the 25 January  crackdown.

Sanaa (Yemen). US urges Yemeni President to step down. Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is being treated in a Riyadh hospital for wounds sustained from an attack last month, will return to Yemen within a few weeks and will resume his duty as the president of the country.

“President Saleh will come back to Sanaa within the next few weeks after he fully recovers and will resume his duty as President of Yemen and he will not give up his constitutional rights,” Saleh’s press secretary Ahmedal-Soufi told Xinhua. Sixty-nine-year-old Saleh, who has faced six-month-long protests demanding his immediate ouster, was hospitalized in Riyadh along with 87 government and military officials after they were injured in the  attack on 3 June that targeted the presidential palace in Sanaa.

Damascus (Syria). Four people killed in protests as pressure for UN action grows. First attack on infrastructure results in an explosion of a pipeline in the Northeast.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al- Moallem promises solution of the recent crisis that has erupted between his country, the United States and France over protesters’ attack on the two’s embassies within the framework of the Vienna Conventions. The Arab League is unlikely to intervene in the solution of the Syrian crisis.

“I believe that demonstrators shouldn’t bypass the boundaries of the two embassies,” Moallem told a joint press conference with the Arab League (AL) chief Nabil el-Arabi.

Syrian security forces killed four people in the Jebel al-Zawiya region on 13 July. The pressure in favor of UN Security Council action against Damascus grows as France has slammed China and Russia’s opposition.

An explosion, meanwhile, hit a pipeline in northeastern Syria in the first attack on the energy infrastructure since the revolt against the Syrian President has started.

According to human rights groups’ reports Syrian security forces have killed at least 1300 civilians and arrested more than 12,000.

President Assad held talks in Damascus with the new Arab League chief, Nabil al-Arabi, on ‘developments in Syria’, state television said. Arabi told reporters the League “rejects any interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries and nobody can withdraw the legitimacy of a leader because it is up to the people to decide”.

Tehran (Iran). The Iranian Navy will fight maritime terrorism, pledges Navy Commander Habibollah Sayyari.

“Iran Navy’s mission to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden and in the northeast of the Indian Ocean will continue,” Rear Admiral Sayyari told IRNA news agency. The reason is to safeguard trade vessels sailing in those areas and Iran’s Navy will be present in international waters including the Indian Ocean until maritime terrorism is eradicated.

Ankara (Turkey). Turkey sets an ultimatum to the EU in respect of the possibility of Greek Cyprus taking over the rotating EU presidency. The EU Enlargement Commissioner responds that the timing of Turkey’s warning was not right.

Allowing Greek Cyprus to take over the rotating EU presidency in July 2012 without a unification deal for the divided island would “freeze” relations between Turkey and the EU, the Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is quoted by Huryiet Daily News. In Davutoğlu’s view, it is out of question for Turkey to accept the Greek Cypriot administration as its EU interlocutor. EU Commissioner Stefan Fuele said it was “not the right time to make these sorts of statements.”

“This term is the right time to accelerate Turkey-EU relations, the reform process and membership negotiations,” he said. Turkey’s chief EU negotiator took a softer tone, saying the situation would not be so different from it is currently even if a divided island takes over the EU presidency.

Kabul (Afghanistan). Bombing continues at the funeral service of Afghan President’s brother. Two hours after the funeral the Afghan President appoints his other brother for leader of Popalzai tribe.

A senior cleric has been killed in an apparent suicide bombing at a mosque in Kandahar during a memorial service for Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghan president Hamid Karzai who was shot dead on 12 July. Taliban claimed responsibility for the most high-profile assassinations of the last decade. Hikmatullah Hikmat, the head of the Provincial Ulema Council, died along with three others while 13 others were wounded, Al Jazeera reports. Karzai was not at the service in Kandahar, according to his spokesman Waheed Omer.

The governor of Helmand province, Gulab Mangal, escaped an explosion near his car on the way to the funeral, while two explosions were reported in Kandahar shortly after the funeral.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai wept and kissed the face of his dead brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, unofficially the most powerful man in Kandahar, at a burial in their ancestral village attended by thousands. Only hours after the body was lowered into the ground, the president appointed another brother, Shah Wali Karzai, as de facto leader of the Popalzai tribe to which the Karzai family belongs, Hurryiet  reports. Two explosions were heard in Kandahar city by a witness soon after the burial.

BALKANS

Athens (Greece). Greece faces a selective default. Prime Minister Papandreou fires back at the IMF that they scare investors off.

Greece is heading for selective default and its debt is likely to rise to 172 percent of GDP by next year if it opts for a rollover, the International Monetary Fund said in its latest report. In its report, the IMF revises the level of the Greek debt from 153 percent of GDP as previously seen to 166 percent this year, and says it expects it to peak at 172 percent next year, up from March estimates for 159 percent. As a result, the debt is only seen going down to 159 percent by 2020, and not 130 percent, as originally estimated.

The reason for this major increase is that by the end of 2012 the state will have to grant banks 23.7 billion Euro, of which 19.5 billion will be needed in the last quarter of 2011. This capital boost is a cover for the banks’ participation in the private sector’s contribution to the new package supporting Greece. As a result, the first installment of the loan to be agreed for the country’s second bailout package will amount to 24.7 billion Euro, according to the IMF. This capital should be adequate to cover the fiscal needs of the state in the last quarter of the year and to fund Greek banks.

In its quarterly report, which explains its decision to release the fifth tranche of its joint rescue package with the EU, the Fund deems almost certain that Greece will be forced into “selective default” regardless of the exact contribution of the private sector to a second bailout package.

Prime Minister George Papandreou turned his fire on the International Monetary Fund and the EU in particular for failing to agree on the details of a second bailout for Greece and allowing the uncertainty within the Euro zone to exacerbate the debt crisis, Ekathimerini newspaper writes. Speaking to the German online edition of the Financial Times, Papandreou said that the lack of agreement within the EU over what elements would make up the new loan package for Greece due to an ongoing debate about private sector participation was having a damaging effect.

“This uncertainty is scaring off investors,” he said. “The more decisive the signal given now… the quicker we will be able to return to the markets.”

ELSEWHERE

Nicosia (Cyprus). Protesters besiege president’s building in Cyprus amid escalation of anger at the national tragedy caused by negligence of the government.

Police used teargas and stun grenades to disperse angry crowds protesting outside Cyprus’s presidential palace over the death of 12 people in a massive munitions dump blast, Greece’s Ekathimerini newspaper reports. Chanting slogans demanding the resignation of the president, some demonstrators, including right-wing nationalists, threw stones at police guarding one compound exit. Some reports put the number of protesters at about 2,000. Youths later set fire to rubbish bins outside the palace grounds. Police made several arrests but no injuries were reported.

It was unclear whether President Dimitris Christofias was in the building. The protest followed a peaceful march by some 10,000 people shouting slogans and carrying placards reading “Negligence is criminal”. The rally was organised online and spread through social media and mobile phone text messages against the irresponsibility of the government. Dozens of containers with munitions  confiscated from a ship sailing from Iran to Syria in 2009 exploded at a military base on 11 July, killing 12 people and destroying Cyprus’s largest power station, which is close to the military base where the munitions were stored.

Authorities have ordered a criminal inquiry into the blast. The probe comes amid a torrent of criticism over how the 100 containers – most of them filled with gunpowder – had been stored. Military officials had previously expressed fears of what exposure to the elements would have on the containers and the gunpowder in letters to the Defence Ministry.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 14 July 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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