Tag Archives: European Union

45 killed as Islamists raid Tunisian town on Border With Libya

At least 45 people, including civilians, have been killed in clashes between Islamist fighters and security forces during an insurgent attack on a Tunisian border town not far from a popular resort.

The town that came under attack, Ben Guerdan, is just 65km northeast of the island resort of Djerba. The Tunisian Army sealed off the resort and two border crossings with Libya, which is about 30km east of Ben Guerdan, the TAP state news agency said.

According to the Interior Ministry, among the dead were 28 militants, 10 members of the security forces and seven civilians.

It was not immediately clear whether the attackers came across the border, but the assault on Monday is sparking fears of violence spilling into Tunisia from Libya, which remains in chaos since the NATO-backed overthrow of its government in 2011.

The attack apparently targeted army and police barracks in Ben Guerdan. Footage shown by local TV showed Tunisian troops crouched in doorways and on rooftops, with gunshots audible in the background. Local residents said the bodies of slain militants were lying in the streets.

“I saw a lot of militants at dawn, they were running with their Kalashnikovs,” Hussein, a resident, told Reuters by telephone. “They said they were Islamic State (US, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and they came to target the army and the police.”

IS, which has its powerbase in Iraq and Syria, advanced into turbulent Libya last year. The terrorists, eyeing up the territory’s oil riches, took over the city of Sirte in the east and the surrounding areas.

It also claimed responsibility for high-profile terrorist attacks in the region last year, including a gun assault on the Bardo National Museum in Tunisia’s capital in March, a deadly gun attack on a beach in the resort city of Sousse in June, and bombing a presidential convoy in November.

Security concerns have dealt a serious blow to Tunisia’s tourist trade, which was a major source of income for the country.

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Two Hostages Freed in Libya Return to Italy

Two Italian hostages who were captured in Libya returned in Italy, according to media reports.

Two of the four Italian construction workers abducted in Libya last year arrived in Rome early Sunday, days after news of their release and the deaths of the other two.

Gino Pollicardo, 55, and Filippo Calcagno, 65, touched down at Ciampino airport before meeting officials and family, then giving evidence to prosecutors in Rome, Italy’s Ansa news service reported.

The two were not available to speak to the press neither after their release, nor on their return to Italy.

Pollicardo’s and Calcagno’s release was announced on Friday, a day after confirmation of the deaths of Salvatore Failla, 47, and Fausto Piano, 60.The four Bonatti construction company employees were kidnapped from an oil and gas site in western Libya in July 2015.

Failla and Piano are believed to have fallen victim to clashes between Islamist extremists and local militias as the security situation in the North African republic continues to deteriorate.

Pope Francis says ‘Arab invasion’ is social fact … and a good thing

Europe is facing an ‘Arab invasion’, Pope Francis mused while addressing a French Christian group, adding that the trend is actually a positive one.

We can speak today of Arab invasion. It is a social fact,” the pontiff said, according to extracts from his address earlier this week which were published by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano on Thursday.

He then added: “How many invasions has Europe experienced in the course of its history! But it’s always been able to overcome them and move forward, finding itself complimented and improved by the cultural exchange they brought about.

The Pontiff also reflected on the history of migration into Europe and the positive impact it has had on European culture as we now know it.

The Pope also declared that Europe is “the only continent that can bring some unity to the world”. He then added, that in order to fulfill its “universal role”, Europe must “rediscover its cultural roots”.

Europe continues struggling with an unseen influx of asylum seekers. The number of Syrians seeking asylum doubled to 362,800 last year and the number of Iraqis jumped to 121,500, as the European Commission said Friday.

This news came after Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accused Austria and other Balkan countries of “killing Europe” by imposing border restrictions in a move that’s led to an approximate 30,000 asylum seekers now being stranded across Greece.

What those countries agreed on and decided goes against all of the rules and against the whole of Europe and we regard it as an unfriendly move,” Tsipras said in an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper. “It cannot be that after something is adopted at an EU summit, some decide to simply close their borders. These countries are killing Europe!

In the course of the past 2 weeks, an enormous makeshift refugee camp has sprung up on the Greek border with Macedonia, after the latter stopped letting in migrants following the so-called ‘Balkan route’ into Europe.

Over 11 thousand people are now waiting for Macedonia to reopen its border so they could move forward into Europe and seek asylum there, the most craved destination being Germany. The country, which has accepted over one million refugees in 2015, has been an outspoken supporter of mandatory migrant quotas for EU member states.

 

Moyen-Orient – Riyad ou Téhéran ? Entre les deux rivaux, les intérêts de la France balancent

AFP (archives) | Le roi Salmane et le président François Hollande, à Riyad, en mai 2015.

Le prince héritier d’Arabie saoudite s’est entretenu avec François Hollande, vendredi, à l’Élysée. L’occasion de rassurer le précieux partenaire saoudien, après l’ajustement de la diplomatie française en faveur de l’Iran.

Mohammed ben Nayef, le prince héritier du royaume d’Arabie saoudite, s’est entretenu vendredi 4 mars à l’Élysée avec le président François Hollande, qui avait, au début de son mandat, fait de la pétromonarchie wahhabite le pilier de la diplomatie française au Moyen-Orient.

Officiellement, il était prévu qu’ils discutent de la situation régionale, notamment des guerres qui font rage au Yémen et en Syrie, dans lesquelles les Saoudiens jouent un rôle majeur. Mais le Président français aura surtout eu à cœur de rassurer la famille royale saoudienne, qui n’a pas vraiment apprécié de voir Paris recevoir avec les honneurs, fin janvier, Hassan Rohani, le président de l’Iran, grand rival chiite honni par Riyad.

Cette visite avait été suivie par la proclamation, fin juillet, “d’une relation nouvelle” entre Paris et Téhéran à la faveur de la signature de l’accord sur le nucléaire en juillet.

Ce dégel franco-iranien a jeté un doute sur l’idylle diplomatique, militaire et économique en vigueur entre Paris et Riyad depuis l’arrivée au pouvoir en mai 2012 de François Hollande. À l’époque, ce dernier avait décidé de miser sur un partenariat franco-saoudien, rompant ainsi avec la politique arabe de son prédécesseur, Nicolas Sarkozy, très alignée sur celle du Qatar. Symboliquement, François Hollande avait d’ailleurs effectué son premier voyage dans la région en tant que chef d’État en Arabie saoudite.

Un rapprochement scellé sur fond de contrats juteux

Mais c’est surtout la reculade de son allié historique américain sur la question des armes chimiques syriennes, en 2013, doublée de la main tendue de l’administration Obama à Téhéran dans le cadre des négociations sur le nucléaire iranien, qui avaient poussé Riyad à se rapprocher encore plus de la France, qui était prête à frapper le régime de Bachar al-Assad, l’allié de l’Iran chiite.

Cette alliance a fait alors les affaires, au sens propre et figuré, de Paris, qui multiplie les contrats avec l’Arabie saoudite, devenu “le premier client de la France au Moyen-Orient” selon les propres termes du président français. En 2013, les échanges entre les deux pays ont dépassé les 8 milliards d’euros. En novembre 2014, un contrat de livraisons d’armes françaises au Liban d’un montant de 3 milliards de dollars est signé, avant d’être suspendu par Riyad le mois dernier.

Autre conséquence de cette logique d’alliances : en février 2015, l’Égypte du président Sissi, forte d’un budget généreusement alimenté par les pétrodollars de son allié saoudien, commande 24 Rafale ainsi qu’une frégate pour 5 milliards d’euros à la France. En octobre de la même année, une série d’accords, de contrats et de lettres d’intention représentant 10 milliards d’euros est signée par le royaume, à l’occasion de la visite à Riyad du Premier ministre Manuel Valls.

En retour, coïncidence ou pas, le gouvernement français ne décevra pas le royaume saoudien. Sur le dossier syrien, la France affiche les mêmes positions que Riyad en réclamant le départ du président Assad. De même, sur le volet du nucléaire iranien, elle adopte, avant la signature de l’accord, les positions les plus intransigeantes à l’égard de Téhéran, non sans agacer au passage ses partenaires occidentaux pressés de clore le dossier. Enfin au Yémen, Riyad, qui conduit une coalition arabe contre la rébellion chiite houthie, a toujours pu compter sur le soutien de la France.

Une idylle très critiquée

En janvier 2015, l’arrivée sur le trône du roi Salmane pour succéder au roi Abdallah ne change pas la donne, au contraire. En mai, les pétromonarchies de la région déroulent le tapis rouge au président Hollande, invité d’honneur d’un sommet extraordinaire du Conseil de coopération des États arabes du Golfe (CCG) réunissant l’Arabie saoudite, Bahreïn, les Émirats arabes unis, Oman, le Koweït et le Qatar. C’est une première pour un chef d’État occidental.

Depuis, les critiques n’ont cessé de pleuvoir au sujet sur cette relation privilégiée entre un pays qui se veut le champion des droits de l’Homme dans le monde et une pétromonarchie wahhabite qui applique implacablement la charia et qui finance le salafisme depuis plusieurs décennies, ainsi que les mouvements islamistes, armés ou pas, les plus sectaires. Mais confronté à la crise économique, le gouvernement français, qui n’est pas dupe, préfère placer ses considérations géostratégiques et économiques au-dessus d’autres principes.

La donne va changer après les attentats de Paris. Alors que la France déclare la guerre au terrorisme islamiste, des voix s’élèvent à nouveau pour dénoncer les liens entre la France et l’Arabie saoudite, et le Qatar, fréquemment accusés de soutenir financièrement le terrorisme en Syrie et de propager sa vision fondamentaliste de l’islam. “La France n’est pas crédible dans ses relations avec l’Arabie saoudite”, avait notamment protesté l’ex-juge antiterroriste Marc Trévidic, interrogé par les Échos. “Nous savons très bien que ce pays du Golfe a versé le poison dans le verre par la diffusion du wahhabisme. Les attentats de Paris en sont l’un des résultats”, avait-il asséné.

Manuel Valls avait alors assuré qu’il n’avait aucune “raison de douter aujourd’hui de l’engagement” de Riyad et de Doha, qui luttent de manière “incontestable” contre l’organisation de l’État islamique. Toujours est-il que peu après le 13-Novembre, au nom de la guerre contre le terrorisme, la France s’est rapprochée de la Russie, l’autre allié indéfectible de Damas.

Par conséquent, d’aucuns pourraient penser que la suspension du contrat de vente d’armes françaises au Liban est une sorte d’avertissement saoudien, par ricochet, au rééquilibrages diplomatiques de la France. Même si, officiellement, Riyad assure avoir pris cette mesure pour protester contre des prises de position “hostiles” par le Liban, inspirées selon elle par le Hezbollah, le mouvement chiite pro-iranien. Toujours est-il qu’au final, c’est une belle opportunité qui risque de s’envoler pour la vingtaine de sociétés françaises qui étaient censées participer à ce contrat qui portait sur des équipements terrestres, maritimes et aériens.

 

‘Inhumane’: Europe Yanks Welcome Mat Out From Under Its War Refugees

On Thursday, European Council President Donald Tusk, dismissing refugees fleeing war-torn Syria as “economic migrants,” stated, “Do not come to Europe.” Middle East analyst Hafsa Kara-Mustapha sat down with Sputnik’s Brian Becker to discuss the dire status of Middle Eastern refugees in Europe.

What will be the impact of European Council President Tusk’s Statements?

“First of all, I have to talk about the wording he used,” Kara-Mustapha told Loud & Clear. “He insisted on using the word migrant and specifically using the phrase ‘economic migrant’ when all the people presently coming into Europe are actually war refugees fleeing conflict.”

Kara-Mustapha expressed concern that by rebranding the refugees as economic migrants, the EU aims to alter the requirements of member states to provide asylum.

“In effect, when he says that Europe should stop welcoming economic migrants he is actually changing the whole subject and making the issue about economy and migration when simply it is about refugees,” she noted, adding that, “if you insist that these people are refugees then you have a duty to welcome them under all EU constitutions.”

By contrast, “if you refer to them as migrants then you have no duty towards them because these people are just coming for financial gain and nobody owes them anything,” observed Kara-Mustapha. In reality, however, “these people are coming to Europe for safety and to avoid the horrors of war.”

She also noted that the current aim of European leadership appears to be to fundamentally change public opinion toward refugees by referring to them as “migrants.” The wording, she said, “makes the topic less acceptable to ensure people turn against these refugees… the underlying meaning is that they are coming here for the benefits, to raid the welfare system, and to make money.”

The burden placed on cash-strapped Greece is worse than others — why is that?

“Greece is geographically very close to the warzone, it is close to Syria, and close to Turkey, where most of the refugees are coming from, so it is geographically bearing the brunt as the natural gateway to Europe,” explained Kara-Mustapha. “The moment they set foot in Greece they can actually claim asylum legally, but Greece is also geographically close so it is the first port of call for most refugees.”

The Greek social infrastructure, however, is ill-equipped to take on the pressures of the burgeoning refugee influx in light of austerity measures and a crippled economy. “The problem, of course, is that Greece is already a struggling country facing a difficult financial situation, it faces a lot of problems irrespective of the refugee crisis, and the fact that they have to cater for, at minimum, 2,000 people coming through its border means an extra burden on Greece’s finances.”

Despite Greece facing acute financial difficulties, largely as a condition of maintaining EU membership and managing an onerous debt, their European colleagues have largely turned their backs on the Athens government. Kara-Mustapha noted that, “sadly, Greece has to face up to the refugee crisis almost on its own because, despite repeated requests that other EU nations accept strict quotas to help Greece cope with the situation, the other EU nations continue to pass the buck and refuse to take responsibility.”

What will happen with the 10,000 refugees stuck at the Greek-Macedonian border?

“The situation is dire and the refuges don’t know what will happen next,” said Kara-Mustapha. “The countries where they are stranded cannot afford to keep them so it is a very difficult and inhumane situation.” She believes that the refugees have been stranded on purpose as a means to slant public opinion. “Europe is leaving a humanitarian crisis on the Greek-Macedonian border to fester because the more it festers the more local populations will turn against these refugees, the more it will impact local governments, and the more borders will close.”

“I believe there is a concerted effort to allow the situation on the Greek-Macedonian border to fester in order to poison the refugee crisis further to make it far more difficult for public opinion to accept the idea of welcoming more refugees,” she stated.

Will the situation trigger the collapse of the European Union?

“Yes,” Kara-Mustapha noted, suggesting that, “all it would take is for one country to close its borders and say that they do not sign up to the Schengen Agreement anymore for all of the others to say ‘well, why should I respect the deal?’”

This existential threat to European unity, however, did not begin with the Syrian crisis. “This is something that has been happening for a while with the scourge of Islamophobic sentiments brewing throughout Europe since the 9/11 attacks in the United States.”

Kara-Mustapha believes the situation in Europe has only become more untenable since the Paris attacks only months ago. “You have some European countries now saying that specifically they do not want Muslim refugees, that they’ll accept Syrian Christians but that they do not want any part of Muslim refugees.”

What has the impact of the refugee influx been on domestic politics in Germany?

“About a year ago, Angela Merkel, had an approval rating of 75%, today it is down to 47%, so the current public opinion polls show that the German people have turned against her due to her decision to welcome refugees.”

Specifically, while other European countries remained reticent about accepting refugees, Merkel’s administration committed the German people to taking in over 1 million asylum-seekers.

“Perhaps the decision came from a genuinely good place, she saw the humanitarian crisis and felt her country could lend a helping hand,” commented Kara-Mustapha. She added that, “there is also the stain of Nazi Germany and this was also an opportunity for Germany to correct a previous wrong.”

Nonetheless, despite “Nazi Germany’s impacts on the national psyche of the German people,” Kara-Mustapha sees the decision by Merkel as one that has been increasingly unpopular with the German people. The analyst cites the growing influence of many German neo-fascist groups, as well as those throughout Europe, as an increasingly vocal influence attempting to steer public opinion against pro-refugee policies.

How did the situation devolve to the worst humanitarian crisis in 70 years, and how do we fix it?

Kara-Mustapha sees the Syrian refugee crisis, as well as preceding refugee crises related to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as a consequence of Western neoconservative policy. The key, in her opinion, is to create stability in the region by defeating Daesh and ending the fascination with deposing Middle East leaders who are not friendly to multinational petroleum corporations. She suggests that this will stop the flow of Syrian refugees and allow people to return to their countries.

Kara-Mustapha calls on the West to accept that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is the legitimate leader of the Syrian people and to help his government in the fight against Daesh, rather than continue the increasingly futile attempts to depose the Syrian President by funding anti-government extremist militias.

 

Tripoli Endorses Possible Italy-Led Anti-Terrorist Operation in Libya – FM

Tripoli endorses the fact that Italy might take a leading role in the international fight against Daesh terrorist organization in Libya, Foreign Minister of the Tripoli-based General National Congress, Ali Ramadan Abuzaakouk, said Thursday.

ROME (Sputnik) — There are currently two rival governments in Libya: the internationally-recognized Council of Deputies (House of Representatives) based in Tobruk and the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC).

“We endorse the fact that Italy might assume the role of international intervention leader in the war against the growing IS forces in Libya,” Abuzaakouk told the Italian Corriere della Sera newspaper.

The foreign minister underscored that it was necessary for Italy to carefully coordinate with the Tripoli government and military forces, to avoid any potential operation changing from a legitimate fight against terrorism into an open violation of Tripoli sovereignty.

In 2011, as civil war broke out in Libya, a multi-state coalition, consisting mostly of NATO members, began a military intervention in the country with the declared aim of establishing an immediate ceasefire.The operation ended with a decisive NATO victory, which led to the escalation of the conflict in the country and the subsequent killing of the country’s long-standing leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Earlier, in December 2015, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said that the issue of an international military operation in Libya was not on the agenda.

According to the newspaper, on February 10, the Italian Council of Ministers allegedly decided to send 50 soldiers to Libya.

 

Zimbabwe’s Mugabe says government will take over all diamond operations

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe (R) shares a joke with his vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa during Mugabe’s birthday celebrations at Great Zimbabwe in Masvingo, February 27, 2016

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe said on Thursday that his government would take possession of all diamond operations because existing miners had robbed the country of its wealth.

Mugabe’s comments came a week after the ministry of mines ordered all mining companies to halt work and leave the Marange fields, saying they had not renewed their licenses. At the time it denied it was seizing the mines.

“The state will now own all the diamonds in the country,” Mugabe said during a two-hour interview with state broadcaster ZBC TV.

“Companies that have been mining diamonds have robbed us of our wealth. That is why we have now said the state must have a monopoly,” Mugabe said.

The largest diamond mine in Marange, Mbada Diamonds, on Monday sued the government at the High Court and was allowed to take control of its mining assets.

Chinese-run Anjin Investments also challenged the government ban at the same court on Wednesday, according to a court application seen by Reuters on Thursday.

Mugabe said he had told Chinese President Xi Xinping during his visit to Zimbabwe last December that his government was not getting much from Chinese-owned mining companies.

“I suspect this won’t really have broad implications across the industry because Zimbabwe is a known, risky jurisdiction to operate in,” said John Turner, head of the mining group at law firm Fasken Martineau, which does a considerable amount of work with miners in Africa.

“In the last several years, though, a number of people have been saying it is time to get back into Zimbabwe because things will change and get better, so to the extent that private firms were looking at Zimbabwe thinking they were ahead of the curve, this may give them pause for thought,” said Turner, who has worked on some major asset expropriation cases in Africa.

Zimbabwe was the eighth largest diamond producer in the world with 4.7 million carats in 2014, according to industry group Kimberly Process.

However, independent diamond analyst Paul Zimnisky said Zimbabwe’s significance in the global diamond industry has been waning.

In 2013, Marange production accounted for over 10 percent of global supply, but with easily reachable material having already been tapped and firms there unwilling to commit funds for further exploration, Zimbabwe is expected to account for less than 3 percent of global supply this year, said Zimnisky.

REUTERS

 

US Police Fatally Shot Almost 1,000 Civilians in 2015 – Report

US law enforcement has mortally wounded nearly 1,000 civilians this year, according to a recent study by local media.

Some 965 US citizens were fatally shot by US policemen, 564 of whom were armed with a gun, The Washington Post study published Saturday revealed.

According to the newspaper, almost 100 people did not have weapon of any kind during a confrontation with police.

The study also suggested that race remains one of the main reasons of police brutality, as 40 percent of fatal police shootings were aimed at unarmed black men.

Overall, people who died from a bullet fired by policemen were either bearing arms, suicidal, mentally troubled, or refused to halt at police’s request and ran, the report said.

Over the past year, the United States has seen numerous protests following high-profile cases of police brutality around the country. The incidents have set off mass protests around the country and triggered a national debate about racial inequality and police violence in African-American communities.

 

Daesh Leader’s Mobile Phone Holds Proof of Turkey’s Support

An Iraqi volunteer force commander said a mobile phone found on the person of a deceased Daesh militant proves that Turkey’s intelligence agency is providing support for the group.

“The mobile phone was found with one of the killed ISIL leaders in the Northern parts of Salahuddin province two days ago,” Jabbar al-Ma’mouri told Soumeriya news on Monday.

He said the phone contains messages from Turkish intelligence proving that Ankara supports Daesh, also known as ISIL/Islamic State, by providing security at the points used by militants traveling from Turkey to Iraq.

“The mobile phone also contains other important information which cannot be disclosed now, and it has been delivered to the specialized security groups for further scrutiny,” Ma’mouri said.

Russian Ambassador to France Alexander Orlov in November revealed that Turkey has played an “ambiguous” role in the campaign against Daesh while acting as an accomplice to the terrorist group’s activities.

Last month, former US State Department senior advisor David Phillips said Turkey provided material support to Daesh because Ankara shares an ideological connection with the group, along with a mutual enemy in Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“Turkey’s role has not been ambiguous – it has overtly supported the ISIL,” said Phillips, who currently serves as director of Columbia University’s Peace-building and Rights Program. “It has provided logistical support, money, weapons, transport and healthcare to wounded warriors.”

Phillips said Turkey has been supporting Daesh to remove Assad from power and because of a “spiritual bond” that exists between Turkey’s governing party and the jihadists.

This is the End: Outer Space Comets Could Destroy Humanity

Astronomers warn that a threat from outer space is more possible than expected, and the sudden end of humanity may be caused not by climate change or space rocks regularly sailing by the Earth, but by a random escapee from the huge distant space bodies orbiting in the Oort Cloud, far beyond Neptune, currently the most distant planet from our Sun.

Centaurs, massive space rocks orbiting on the outskirts of our Solar System, could be very hazardous to the Earth, a group of astronomers said Tuesday, as reported by Phys.org.

These space bodies, composed of ice and dust, and being up to some 50-100 kilometers wide, were discovered several decades ago. Astronomers state that centaurs should be counted as a greater threat than comets, as the “assessment of the extraterrestrial impact risk, based solely on near-Earth asteroid counts, underestimates its nature and magnitude.”

Bill Napier, an astronomer from the University of Buckingham, said that scientists have been thoroughly analyzing the possibility of a collision between the Earth and asteroids for the last 30 years, and have included distant celestial bodies, including centaurs.

“If we are right, then these distant comets could be a serious hazard, and it’s time to understand them better,” Napier claimed.

The centaurs’ orbits, believed to be extremely unstable, cross inside the orbits of enormous gas giants like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, about once every 40,000-100,000 years. When it happens, scientists say, the planets’ powerful gravity fields can deflect the centaurs toward the Sun.

On their way to the Sun asteroids begin to fracture, ultimately turning into cometary debris which makes “impacts on our planet inevitable.” Individual centaurs, they point out, can have an estimated mass higher than that of all the comets documented to date.

“The disintegration of such giant comets would produce intermittent but prolonged periods of bombardment lasting up to 100,000 years,” researchers wrote in Astronomy and Geophysics, the journal of the Royal Astronomical Society.

If comet debris enters the Earth’s atmosphere, astronomers suggest, it would cause a heavy meteor shower and trigger dramatic climate change, threatening life on the planet.

“A centaur arrival carries the risk of injecting, into the atmosphere… a mass of dust and smoke comparable to that assumed in nuclear winter studies,” scientists said.

Under that scenario, humanity would follow in the footsteps of dinosaurs, believed to have died out as a result of an asteroid strike. And despite that there is no proof that a collision is imminent, “its ranking among natural existential risks [for humanity] appears to be high,” some astronomers suggested.