Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 18 July 2011


News Summary

NORTH AFRICA

Tripoli (Libya). Libya’s ruler vows never to give up.

“They are asking me to leave. That’s a laugh. I will never leave the land of my ancestors or the people who have sacrificed themselves for me,” Muammar Gaddafi said in a loudspeaker address to supporters in Zawiyah, west of the capital. “I’m ready to sacrifice myself for my people, and I will never quit this land sprinkled with the blood of my ancestors who fought Italian and British colonialists,” Gaddafi was quoted by Hürriyet Daily News. “These rats have taken our people hostage in Benghazi, Misrata and the western mountains, using them as human shields,” the Colonel referred to the rebels’ eastern stronghold and their two enclaves in the mainly government-held west. New blasts rocked Tripoli on 17 July after the veteran Libyan leader vowed never to give in to mounting calls to go into exile despite a new offensive by rebels seeking to oust him.

State television reported that “the colonialist crusader aggressor” had raided civilian and military sites in the Ain Zara district and in Tajoura in the eastern suburbs.

Libya’s rebels suffered their bloodiest day – 16 July in the offensive to wrest control of the oil town of Brega from Gadhafi’s troops, as medics said the death toll had risen to at least 12.  Rebels said their steady advance on the key refinery town was slowed by the discovery of defensive trenches that had been filled with flammable chemicals by the retreating loyalist forces.

MIDDLE EAST

Ankara (Turkey). Libya’s Contact Group calls for Gaddafi’s Exit; Moscow Agrees Gaddafi’s days are counted. G 8 leaders pledge to provide $ 40B for Arab Nations

An international contact group meeting in Istanbul discussed Libya’s future and sketched out a road map for the North African country that calls for Gaddafi ’s exit, political transition and the continuation of military operations throughout Ramadan.

The Libyan Contact Group, co-chaired by Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, stepped up pressure against the Gaddafi regime to reiterate support for the National Transitional Council (NTC) – the rebel authorities who are based in Benghazi – as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people, the Hürriyet Daily News reported.

In addition to demanding Gaddafi’s departure, the road map is expected to call for a solution to the Libyan crisis as soon as possible; announce that NATO-led operations would continue to protect civilians – including operations during Ramadan – based on requests from the Libyan opposition; encourage a political transition process; call for humanitarian assistance to Libya to be coordinated and delivered to all Libyans rapidly; “note” the Libyan opposition’s demand that scholarships obtained by Libyan students abroad should not be cut as part of the decision to freeze Libyan funds abroad; and make “note” a demand by the Libyan opposition for access to frozen Libyan state funds.

Meanwhile, a change of stance was also seen from Russia, who had been an advocate of negotiations between the warring sides, Xinhua Agency notes. Moscow now agrees with Washington that Gaddafi’s “days are numbered” and that the crisis should end with his ouster.

Rich countries and international lenders are aiming to provide $40 billion in funding for Arab nations trying to establish free democracies, officials said at a Group of Eight summit IN Normandy on 15 July, Hürriyet reported.

Cairo (Egypt. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Resigns. The new cabinet will be in place by 18 July.

Egypt’s foreign minister Mohammed al-Orabi resigned as Prime Minister Essam Sharaf appointed two deputies in an attempt to meet protesters’ demands by initiating a Cabinet reshuffle.

Sharaf, who heads the caretaker government after a revolt toppled president Hosni Mubarak in February, is expected to unveil a new cabinet by 18 July. He hopes to put an end to a week-long sit-in in central Cairo. The announcement of Orabi’s resignation on state media came hours after Sharaf appointed veteran economist Hazem Beblawi and Ali al-Silmi, a leader of the liberal Wafd party, as his deputies, Hürriyet Daily News reports.

A member of Egypt’s ruling military council briefly visited a protest camp in a central Cairo square on 16 July, but left after protesters, some holding up shoes in anger, booed him off a stage. Maj. Gen. Tarek el-Mahdi had come to Tahrir Square to persuade a dozen demonstrators to end a hunger strike they began several days ago, but was forced to cut short his visit because of the heckling.

Many Egyptians are growing impatient with the military council that took over from Mubarak, saying change is not coming quickly enough. Protesters returned to the square last week, demanding speedy trials for members of the security forces suspected in the killing of nearly 900 activists during the uprising.

Official media said up to 15 ministers may be replaced in the new cabinet, with a focus on those with ties to Mubarak’s three-decade rule.

Egypt has seen a sharp decline in tourism and increased unemployment since the revolt, and investors remain jittery over sporadic and sometimes deadly unrest in the Arab world’s most populous country. Tensions are also mounting between the military, initially hailed for not siding with Mubarak, and groups that spearheaded the revolt.

Damascus (Syria). Exiled Syrian dissidents held a conference in Turkey amidst ongoing battles between troops and insurgents.

Syrian troops backed by tanks have stormed the town of Zabadani and rounded up more than 500 people, including Ali Abdullah, a leading opposition figure, amid reports of more deaths in the central city of Homs, Xinhua Agency informs. Government forces entered Zabadani, near the border with Lebanon and about 40km northwest of Damascus. Authorities have reportedly detained more than 500 people since 15 July, when hundreds of thousands of Syrians turned out for the largest protests since the revolt began in mid-March.

On 17 July at least 30 people had been killed in Homs in 24 hours during clashes between supporters and opponents of Bashar al-Assad.

The developments come a day after exiled Syrian dissidents met in Turkey to urge their countrymen to launch a campaign of civil disobedience to try to force Assad from power. Syria’s political opposition elected part of a standing committee to push for Assad’s removal, but failed to create a shadow government at Saturday’s conference. The gathering of some 350 mainly expatriate Syrians, called the National Salvation Congress, elected a 25-member board late on 16 July in Istanbul.

Kabul (Afghanistan). 15% more civilian tolls in Afghanistan in the first half of 2011. An advisor to Afghan President Hamid Karzai killed

The number of civilians killed in the Afghan war in the first half of 2011 rose by 15 percent, the UN informed, putting the year on track to be the deadliest in a decade.

Jan Mohammad Khan, an advisor to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was killed late on Sunday when gunmen stormed his residence in capital city of Kabul, an interior ministry official was quoted by Xinhua. “On 17 July night at around 08:00 p.m., two terrorists attacked the residence of the former governor of Uruzgan province and an aide to the president of Afghanistan. As a result of this attack, Jan Mohammad Khan and Hashim Watanwal, a member of the parliament who was also there, have been martyred,” Interior Ministry said in a statement issued here.

Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Meanwhile, General David Petraeus the commander of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) handed over the command to his successor, U.S. Marines General John Allen in Afghan capital Kabul on 18 July. In a ceremony held in ISAF headquarters amid tight security, General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander of over 140,000-strong NATO-led troops, handed over the command to his successor General John Allen.

Before assuming the command of NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, General Allen had served as deputy commander of U.S. Central Command from July 2008 to June 2011.

Ankara (Turkey). US Secretary Hillary Clinton calls on Turkey to address human rights and media freedom.

The top U.S. diplomat extended full support to Turkey in its fight against terrorism and praised its role in modernization efforts across region, but warned Ankara to clean its own house first. In her comments, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Turkey to address concerns over ailing human rights and freedom of expression issues by adopting a new constitution. Clinton joined the Libya Contact Group meeting in Istanbul on 15 July and then held bilateral talks with Turkish government officials and opposition party representatives. She met separately with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and held a joint press conference with Davutoğlu where she voiced her concerns about deteriorating Turkish democracy.

Hürriyet Daily News reported that the U.S. condemned the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, on every occasion and had extended strong support to the Turkish government to eradicate “PKK terrorism.” Clinton also emphasized that Washington had included the PKK on its list of terrorism organizations. “

Sanaa (Yemen). The Yemeni President visits officials in Saudi Arabia hospital.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is being treated in Saudi Arabia for bomb injures, paid visits to some other wounded Yemeni officials in the Saudi Military Hospital in Riyadh, the state-run Saba news agency reported. The officials were wounded along with Saleh in a bomb attack on 3 June on Sanaa presidential palace and were hospitalized in Riyadh.

BALKANS

Athens (Greece). US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton believes the “chemotherapy” will help Greece’s economy viability.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced strong U.S. support for Greece’s battle to overcome its debt crisis, saying it was taking the difficult steps required for future growth, Hürriyet Daily News reports. Clinton’s visit to Athens was intended to signal Washington’s backing for Prime Minister George Papandreou ahead of a meeting of Euro zone leaders in Brussels to decide on a new bailout package for Greece amid fears the debt crisis could spill over to Spain and Italy. Athens had wanted an endorsement from Clinton to help ease concern in international markets about Greece’s future, Ekathimerini newspaper writes. Clinton recognized the difficulties that the austerity measures are causing, likening it to “chemotherapy,” but said that Washington believes they will help secure the viability of Greece’s economy.

U.S. officials said Clinton also discussed several of Greece’s diplomatic priorities including remaining strains in its relationship with Turkey and slow reunification talks on the ethnically split island of Cyprus.

Athens (Greece). A single boat represents Gaza Flotilla II.

Despite the recent Gaza-bound flotilla’s failure to set sail en masse from several Mediterranean ports, one of the boats left Greek territorial waters in the evening, 16 July, and headed to the coastal strip, with its crew saying they represent the whole flotilla. The Dignite-Al Karama, which reached the eastern Greek island of Kastellorizo last week carrying a crew of pro-Palestinian activists is set to arrive in Gaza between 18 July and 19 July in a symbolic act of protest against what the activists called “Israel’s illegal blockade” on the Gaza Strip. Aboard the vessel are six French activists, one Canadian, one Tunisian and one Swedish citizen, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported.

ELSEWHERE

Eurozone. The stress-tests results of the European banks raise additional questions about the secondary effect of sovereign crisis on funding.

Euro-area government leaders will hold a special summit on 21 July, focusing efforts on stemming the contagion from Greece. Leaders are at odds with one another and with the European Central Bank over demands by Germany and Finland that private investors bear some of the burden for a second Greek bailout.

European banks may have to raise as much as 80 billion euros ($113 billion) of additional capital as the stress tests failed to allay investor concern about a Greek default and governments’ ability to bail out their lenders, Ekathimerini newspaper quotes a publication of Bloomberg. The eight banks that failed out of the 90 tested on July 15 had only a combined capital shortfall of 2.5 billion Euros, the European Banking Authority said 15 July. As many as 20 banks need to bolster capital, JPMorgan Cazenove analysts led by Kian Abouhossein wrote in a report after the results were published.

Greece’s EFG Eurobank Ergasias SA (EUROB) and Agricultural Bank of Greece (ATE) SA, Austria’s Oesterreichische Volksbanken AG (VBPS) and Spain’s Banco Pastor SA (PAS), Caja de Ahorros del Mediterraneo (CAM), Banco Grupo Caja3, CatalunyaCaixa and Unnim failed this year’s tests. As many as 16 more will need to bolster capital after their core Tier 1 ratio dropped below 6 percent, little more than the assessment’s 5 percent pass-mark, the EBA said.

About 20 banks would have failed had they not raised capital through April, the EBA said. The shortfall would have totaled 26.8 billion euros without the extra money, the EBA said. In all, European lenders raised 50 billion euros from January to April, according to EBA Chairman Andrea Enria. UniCredit SpA (UCG), Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas (BNP) SA, Credit Agricole SA (ACA), Societe Generale, Banco Santander SA (SAN) and Credit Suisse Group AG are among banks that may have to raise a combined total of about 62 billion Euros in additional capital. All the banks passed the EBA’s tests.

(Middle East & Balkans News, 18 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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