Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 15 July 2011

News Summary


Tripoli (Libya). Gaddafi’s suicidal plan for Tripoli denied as the Fourth Meeting of Libya’s contact group starts in Turkey without the involvement of Russia and China

Mikhail Margelov, the Russian president’s special envoy to Africa, said in an interview with the Russian Izvestia newspaper that the regime of Muammar Gaddafi has “a suicidal plan” in place if rebels move to seize Tripoli.

Libyan Premier Baghdadi al-Mahmudi denied the media reports which said he talked about the plan to destroy the capital if it is under rebels’ attack while meeting Mr. Margelov. Mahmoudi said it was “pure fabrication” and “totally untrue,” the Libyan News Agency reported.

Russia, which is critical of the NATO-led strikes in Libya, turned down Turkey’s invitation to participate in the contact group, while China, which has maintained a policy of non-interference in the conflict, has not said it will attend the meeting, Hürriyet Daily News writes.  Turkey is expected to propose a “road map” for discussion in the meeting that aims to find a political settlement between the representatives of the Libyan regime, excluding Gaddafi and his inner circle, and the opposition in the North African country. A key issue will be the Libyan opposition’s demand for access to the regime’s frozen assets. There is expected to be discussion on a formula of giving the opposition loans using the frozen assets as a guarantee.

The Libya Contact Group was established in March at a London conference to solve the Libyan crisis and coordinate international efforts in this direction. The fourth meeting of the group, to be held in Istanbul, will take place under the co-chairing of Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. High-level officials from 40 countries are expected to attend.


Jerusalem (Israel). Israeli planes target Hamas’ sites as cross-border tension grows

Israeli airplanes attacked two military sites of Islamic Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip late on 14 July, security sources said. The attacks caused damage in the training sites but there have been no reports on casualties, the sources said.

One of the sites is located in eastern Gaza City and the other in the middle of the coastal enclave. Cross-border violence has been high for two days as Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israel from the Hamas-controlled territory.

No Palestinian groups have claimed responsibility for the rocket fire, which renewed three months after Hamas persuaded militant factions to halt attacks following a few days of cross-border violence that left 19 Palestinians dead.

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

Armed men abducted two police officers and a high school student on 14 July in the city of Hama, Syria’s official SANA news agency reported. The private al-Watan newspaper said earlier that rioters in Hama had barricaded streets with piles of burning tyres and stones, adding that local authorities are trying to reach a common ground with those rioters, who attacked some Syrian tanks with Molotov cocktails. The paper said residents in Hama are fed up with the unbearable situation, citing the locals resentment over the economic standstill, which is caused by the closure of most of the markets in the city.

Hama has been under a self-declared general strike since two weeks.

Sanaa (Yemen). One anti-government tribesman killed and three others were wounded in clashes between armed insurgents and Yemen’s elite Republican Guards. Yemeni President Saleh makes his first televised address to the nation

Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh has made his first public appearance since being injured in a bomb blast at his palace last month, Hurryiet Daily News reported. The Yemeni president appeared on TV on 15 July, his face burned and his hands covered with bandages, for the first time since he sustained injuries in a bomb attack on his palace in Sanaa.

He said he had undergone “more than eight successful operations.” In his brief address he underscored that those who have sought to take him out of him from power had an incorrect understanding of democracy.

Meanwhile, at least one anti-government tribesman was killed and three others were wounded in clashes between armed insurgents and Yemen’s Republican Guards in northern Arhab district of Sanaa province on 14 July, Xinhua reported. The clashes broke out on in Sama area of Arhab.

Arhab, about 60 km north of the capital Sanaa, witnessed sporadic clashes between a brigade of the Republican Guards stationed in the district and opposition-backed insurgents since late May, leaving dozens of both sides dead and forced hundreds of families to flee the area.

The ministry announced an award of 3 million rials (about 14, 100 U.S. dollars) for the one who provides information leading to the arrest of any one of the 59 wanted opposition members.

Tehran (Iran). Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi said Tehran is determined to improve ties with European countries, the English language satellite Press TV reported after Salehi’s tour of Slovenia and Austria earlier this week.

He said that mutual relations, regional developments, human rights, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons were among topics raised during his talks with Slovenian and Austrian officials, according to the reports.

On 14 July, Salehi said in Vienna that Iran is ready for new talks on its disputed nuclear program and alleged nuclear weapons studies, but he added that his country will not give up its nuclear rights. Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano did not make any comment after his meeting with the Iranian diplomat at IAEA headquarters in Vienna.

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 and the United States and France over protesters’ attack on the two’s embassies. The Arab League unlikely to intervene in the solution of the Syrian crisis.

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’.

Beirut (Lebanon) Lebanon’s new cabinet held its first session after winning a no confidence vote.

Exactly one week after it won a confidence vote in Parliament, the Lebanese government held its first meeting, Xinhua reported. The new government headed by Prime Minister Najib Mikati and dominated by Shiite armed group Hezbollah and its allies has come under scathing criticism from the western-backed March 14 coalition, which is headed by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The March 14 alliance said the policy statement of the Mikati Cabinet has failed to make a serious commitment to maintain ties with a divisive UN-backed court probing the 2005 assassination of Saad’s father Sunni former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The first batch of indictments issued by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) accused four Hezbollah members of involvement in the Hariri killing. Hezbollah has repeatedly denied involvement and called for severing ties with the Netherlands-based court.

Baghdad (Iraq). Saddam Hussein’s brothers to be executed within a month.

Five members of the regime of former Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein, including two of his half – brothers, will be executed within a month, AFP reports. All five has been issued death sentences, which will be carried out after they аre handed over by the US to the Iraqi authorities.

Ankara (Turkey). The Kurdish Democratic Society Congress (DTK) declared “democratic autonomy” in Diyarbakır while 13 Turkish military killed in an ambush in Diyarbakır.

Hurriyet Daily News reports that the Democratic Society Congress, or DTK, an alleged front organization for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, meanwhile met with 850 of its delegates in Diyarbakır on 14 July and announced the decision to start the process of what the group called a “democratic autonomy.” The ambush in Silvan was reportedly set up by the PKK, whose imprisoned leader has been discussing an extended truce with the government. As a first reaction to the incident, Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek said it was “Time for everyone to determine which side they are on: democracy or bloodshed.”

The Turkish security forces killed one militant of the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in the eastern province of Bingol on 15 July, Bingol Governor’s Office said in a statement. A group of PKK militants opened fire when the security forces warned them to stop in Karliova town of Bingol, the statement said. One militant was killed in the clash and the military operations are under way in the region, it added.

The events follow the new Turkish government winning a vote of confidence on July 13.

(Turkey’s 61st government won 322 votes in the 550-seat Turkish parliament, with 173 lawmakers voting against it while 55 lawmakers absent.)

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after the voting “Our solidarity and unity here will be an important test for us to carry our country beyond the level of contemporary civilization. We will pass this test together”


Athens (Greece). Greece’s government called a meeting to discuss selective default

For the first time since Greece’s credit crisis began, the Cabinet met to discuss how the government would manage the public impact of a selective default on its debt, a development which now seems inevitable, Greek Ekathimerini newspaper reports. Prime Minister George Papandreou told his ministers that they have to be properly briefed on the meaning and implications of a selective default, which is likely to come about as a result of the involvement of the private sector in the country’s second bailout.

Help is expected to come in the form of extended bond maturities or lower interest rates, as well as a bond buyback scheme, it is almost certain that at least one of the three rating agencies will think that Athens has, in part, defaulted on its debt.

Papandreou said it was important for the government to make it clear that being classified as being in selective default was not the same as Greece defaulting and going bankrupt. This would not create problems for Greek banks either.

According to rating agency Standard & Poor’s, a debtor is in selective default when “payments may not be made on some financial obligations.” This, the government stresses, is not the same as a recognition that Greece cannot pay back any of its debts.The interpretation of the term has gained utmost significance in terms of PASOK’s tussle with New Democracy over the handling of the economy.

Officials from the European Central Bank, the European Commission and private lenders met in Rome on Thursday to discuss a second rescue plan for Greece. European Union leaders are expected to meet on the same issue next week.

Sofia (Bulgaria) Human Rights’ observance questionable in Bulgaria. Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court responds to UN Human Rights Committee that the international covenant on human rights is not binding on Bulgaria’s judiciary.

Bulgaria needs to address the gap between the human rights rhetoric and reality, the UN Human Rights Committee has stated reviewing the country’s third periodic report on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Bulgaria’s Novinite.com reports.

The Committee said it identified a range of concerns, from systematic issues effecting the general implementation of the ICCPR to detailed substantive points. They were disturbed by the declaration of the Supreme Administrative Court on 7 July 2011 that the ICCPR was only binding on the State, not on the judiciary, the Committee pointed out in a press release.

The Committee also noted that a number of recommendations from other UN bodies have not yet been implemented. These include recommendations from the Committee against Torture on issues related to the concerns of the Human Rights Committee, such as the definition and criminalization of torture, as well as the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s recommendations on the elimination of all corporal punishment of children.

As a conclusion, the UN Human Rights Committee has declared that, although the Bulgarian state can point to a number of new policies, programs and action plans, questions remain about the implementation of these programs and human rights standards on the ground.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 15 July 2011)


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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