Middle East & Balkans News Brief – 22 July 2011


News Summary

MIDDLE EAST

Cairo (Egypt). Protests in Egypt continue despite the new Cabinet.

A new cabinet has been sworn in by Egypt’s ruling military council as it tries to appease protesters demanding faster reforms and a deeper purge of former President Hosni Mubarak’s allies, Al Jazeera reported.  More than half of the ministers have been changed, including those holding the foreign, finance and trade portfolios. Some of those removed were appointed by Mubarak. The new ministers, including the foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, took the oath of office in the presence of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling military council, official news agency MENA said.

Protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square continued their sit-in and they have reiterated their demand for rapid transition to a democratic civilian rule.

New Ministers

Deputy PM / Finance – Hazem El Beblawi

Deputy PM – Ali El Selmi

Foreign Affairs – Mohammed Kamel Amr

Trade and Industry – Mahmoud Issa

Military Production – Ibrahim Sabry

Religious Endowment – Mohamed el-Qoussy

Agriculture – Salah el Farag

Civil Aviation – Lotfy Mustafa Kamal

Communications & IT – Hazem Abdel Azim

Health – Amr Helmy

Higher Education – Moataz Khorshid

Transportation – Ali Zain Heikal

Water Resources & Irrigation – Hesham Qandil

Local Development – Mohammed Attiya

*Justice – Abdel Aziz al-Gindi

*Interior – Mansur Essawy

*Electricity – Hassan Yunis

*International Cooperation – Fayza Abul Naga

*Environment – Dr. Maged George

* – Ministers retained from Mubarak’s administration.

The voting of Egypt’s upcoming parliamentary elections will be held in October, Xinhua reported. Preparations for the elections will start in September and the polls will follow within 30 days.Voting for elections in the People’s Assembly, the lower house which has 504 seats, and Shoura Council, the upper house with 390 seats, will be held at the same time, Shahin said, adding that there will be three rounds of voting, with 15 days between each round.

Damascus (Syria). A National Dialogue Conference in Syria within One Month. 13 army troops killed in Homs; 8,000 Syrian refugees back from Turkey.

Syrian Vice President Faruq al- Sharaa is quoted by Xinhua as saying that the national dialogue would take place within one month. The national dialogue conference would take place in one month if the communication with various opposition figures continued, while the constitution amendments needed another three months, al- Sharaa said at a press conference.

At least 13 army and security personnel were killed and another 100 injured on 21 July in clashes with armed groups in the central city of Homs, Xinhua reported. The city of Homs has become the focal point of protests after bloody incidents were reported in the city.

The Syrian government said 1,200 members of security forces and army personnel had died since the eruption of protests. According to activists, more than 1,600 civilians have died and some 10,000 have been detained.

Around 8,000 Syrian refugees have returned home so far from Turkish camps, which were setup earlier to receive the Syrians who fled the violence in the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shghour, local daily al-Watan reported Thursday.

The residents of Jisr al-Shghour who took shelter in the Turkish camps are returning home gradually despite the difficulties, such as the lack of transportation, the paper said, adding that the overall number of those who took shelter in Turkey up-to-date is 15,000.

Gaza (Palestine).  A UN Agency threatens to stop provision of humanitarian aid in Gaza.

A UN agency which provides assistance to Palestinian refugees has threatened to suspend its activities in the Gaza Strip if protesters did not stop interfering with its work, local media cited by RIA Novosti reported. Dozens of local residents in Gaza have blocked the entrance to the headquarters of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in protest against the agency’s decision to cut some of its relief programs. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN member states.

UNRWA’s Chris Gunness called the protests irresponsible and irrational as the agency continued to offer Palestinian refugees some basic relief services, such as health care and education, despite a $35-mln budget deficit.

Radical Hamas movement, which controls Gaza, dismissed the UNRWA’s threats to stop the operations and called on the Palestinians to continue their sit-in protests at the UNRWA headquarters.

Tehran (Iran). Iranian President calls the West to take a step in resolving the nuclear issue.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran has already taken measures to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and now it is the world powers’ turn to “take step” to resolve Iran’s nuclear issue.

“You will take one step and we will take one,” Ahmadinejad was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying. Ahmadinejad made the remarks at a ceremony in Iran’s southeastern Kerman province in reaction to a Russian proposal to adopt a “phased” approach to settle Iran’s nuclear issue, IRNA said.

The “phased” approach called by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov proposed that Iran addresses the international concerns and questions raised by the IAEA about its nuclear activities in a staged schedule and in return the economic sanctions imposed on Iran would be removed in a staged manner over time.

Istanbul (Turkey). A rally demands solution of the Kurdish issue.

Thousands of Turks took to the streets of Turkey’s largest city of Istanbul on 21 July evening, calling for an end to violence and a solution to the Kurdish issue, Xihhua agency reported. The people marched down the city’s Istiklal Avenue, calling for end of conflict, referring to the Kurdish issue. The rally was held after 13 Turkish soldiers were killed on 14 July by members of the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir.

Listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, the PKK took up arms in 1984 to create an ethnic homeland in southeastern Turkey. Some 40,000 people have been killed in conflicts involving the PKK for the past over two decades.

Anakara (Turkey). Cyprus unification scenario’s strong economic upside.

Observers bring attention to the fact that unification will benefit both sides. The opening of Turkish ports to Greek Cypriot shipping is said to bring 111 million Euro to the entire island, something which will both help the ailing economy in the south while making the north less dependent on Turkey economically.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s severe remarks during his visit to northern Cyprus stirred up concerns among EU leaders that Erdoğan’s rhetoric may derail the ongoing negotiations between the Cypriot leaders, the Hürriyet Daily News reported. The Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders had reportedly made progress over the negotiating chapters at the Geneva meeting under the UN auspices early this month.

Observers say this may give the Greek Cypriots an excuse to leave the negotiating table considering the deteriorating economy in the south rising as a priority instead of reunification with the northern part of the island.

The Turkish side is pressing for a settlement before July 2012 when Greek Cyprus assumes a six-month rotating term presidency of the EU. Diplomats say the idea is to reach an agreement by October to be followed by an international conference involving Turkey, Greece, the UK, as well as the two Cypriot leaders and finally referenda on both parts of the island, so that a united Cyprus could be at the helm of the EU.

Aden (Yemen). Eighteen al-Qaeda militants killed in South Yemen.

At least 18 al-Qaeda militants were killed and dozens injured when the Yemeni army forces on 21 July launched artillery attacks against al-Qaeda group’s hideouts in the southern volatile province of Abyan, a local army officer told Xinhua.

A number of the al-Qaeda militants’ fortifications and ammunition storages were completely destroyed during the shelling on the terrorist members hideouts in al-Kud area, according to the officer.

BALKANS

Athens (Greece). After the 21 July Summit Greek government will compile a list of property that is for sale.

After the 21 July crucial summit Prime Minister George Papandreou welcomed the “support and collective will” shown by the eurozone leaders and the EU’s institutions. As per reports the new package will be worth 109 billion Euro and will include participation from the private sector worth 37 billion Euro.

Eurozone leaders agreed a deal in Brussels that will lead to Greece continuing to receive emergency loans but which also aims to reduce the debt burden on Athens and provide extra funding to stimulate growth in its depressed economy, Greece’s Ekathimerini newspaper writes. It was agreed that the maturities of the loans from the EU and the International Monetary Fund would be increased from 7.5 years to 15 years and the interest rate would be reduced from 4.5 to 3.5 percent. Also, Athens will be given a 10-year grace period on new loans.

The package, which European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso described as “very credible,” additionally seeks to prevent contagion of the debt crisis that has afflicted Greece, Portugal and Ireland. The European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) will have the flexibility to buy back bonds from Greece in a further bid to reduce the country’s debt load.

The involvement of private investors is likely to lead to credit rating agencies deeming Greece to be in selective default but the impact of such a development was dampened by European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet reversing the ECB’s position and agreeing to accept defaulted Greek bonds as collateral.

Мeanwhile, Greek government works around the clock in the process of selection of state properties in the huge public investment program, as the first package of real estate items to be sold should have been ready by the end of June. After the appointment of Costas Mitropoulos as managing director of the new privatizations fund, the next step concerns the compilation of a list of properties to be put up for sale, to be delivered to the Special Privatizations Committee in the coming days. Ekathimerini Newspaper reports that this package will include the Greek state’s biggest asset, the old international airport at Elliniko in southern Athens, as well as plots at Anavyssos in southeastern Attica, Mesolongi in western Greece, Vathy on the island of Samos, Kaiafas in the Peloponnese, Alykes on Zakynthos and Prasonisi island, close to Rhodes. This means that the first package will involve properties with a strong tourism interest

(Middle East & Balkans News, 22 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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