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Renzi ally Gentiloni named as new Italy PM

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AFP — With a brewing banking crisis as a backdrop, Paolo Gentiloni was named Italy’s new prime minister on Sunday, filling a void left by close ally Matteo Renzi, who quit after a crushing referendum defeat.

Renzi’s softly-spoken foreign minister, Gentiloni, 62, was asked by President Sergio Mattarella to form a new centre-left government that will guide Italy to elections due by February 2018.

Opposition parties demanded an immediate vote, claiming Renzi would continue to pull the strings from behind the scenes.

“Gentiloni is Renzi’s avatar,” said Luigi Di Maio, one of the leaders of the populist Five Star Movement.
Far right leaders Matteo Salvini and Georgia Meloni dismissed the new premier as, respectively, “a Renzi photocopy” and “a puppet.”

The silver-haired, grey-suited Gentiloni, a one-time student radical from an aristocratic family, will mark a distinct change in style from the ebullient, hyper-active Renzi.

He began consultations on his new cabinet Sunday and is hoping to have finalised his line-up by lunchtime Monday, before seeking parliamentary approval of his new government, probably on Wednesday.

In a brief statement after meeting Mattarella, he said there was an “urgent need for a fully functioning government” to address several pressing issues.

Chief among those is the fate of Italy’s third largest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS), whose board was locked in crisis talks Sunday about whether to request a state-funded and politically complicated rescue package.

Mattarella turned to Gentiloni after opposition parties rebuffed overtures about a possible national unity government.

– Renzi vows return –

Renzi, who had been in power for two years and 10 months, resigned last week after voters overwhelmingly rejected a package of constitutional reforms in a referendum he had inadvertently turned into plebiscite on his own record.

In his first explicit confirmation that he plans to try and mount a comeback, he admitted on his Facebook page Sunday that he had found it a wrench to leave office.

“It was painful to pack the cartons yesterday evening, I’m not ashamed to say: I’m not a robot,” the 41-year-old wrote.

“Only those who try to change things can help a country as beautiful and difficult as Italy.”

Five Star, Italy’s biggest opposition party, and Salvini’s Northern League are demanding a vote as early as possible.

But Mattarella, who enjoys extensive executive powers during government crises, has ruled that the current electoral laws must be revised first.

Theoretically that could happen quickly but the process of harmonising the rules governing elections to the two houses of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, could also drag on for months.

– Bank on the brink –

As things stand, the lower house would be elected by a system under which the largest party is guaranteed a majority of seats while the Senate would be voted in under a proportional representation system.

Most observers agree that this is a recipe for chaos but the situation could be simplified at the end of January, when the constitutional court is due to rule on the legitimacy of the new winner-take-all system for the Chamber of Deputies.

Before then, Gentiloni will have to handle a long-feared banking crunch centred on the ailing BMPS.

The bank’s share price has fallen by 85 percent this year after another slide on Friday, when it emerged that the European Central Bank (ECB) is refusing to grant any more time for it to raise badly-needed new capital from private investors.

Analysts see a state financed rescue as inevitable but, under EU rules, that can only happen if private investors also take a hit.

The issue is difficult politically with BMPS because of the large number of small investors who hold the bank’s junior bonds.

Imposing losses at smaller banks last year caused outrage in Italy and damaged Renzi’s standing.

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Middle East

Russia’s Putin visits Syria airbase and orders start of pullout

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BBC — President Vladimir Putin has ordered the partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria, during an unannounced visit there on Monday.

Mr Putin was met by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as he arrived at the Russian Hmeimim airbase, near Latakia.

Russian military support has been crucial in turning the tide of Syria’s civil war in Mr Assad’s favour.

Mr Putin made a similar withdrawal announcement last year, but Russian military operations continued.

“I order the defence minister and the chief of the general staff to start withdrawing the Russian group of troops to their permanent bases,” Mr Putin said on Tuesday, according to the Russian RIA Novosti news agency.

“I have taken a decision: a significant part of the Russian troop contingent located in Syria is returning home to Russia,” he added.

Mr Putin said that if “terrorists raise their heads again”, Russia would “carry out such strikes on them which they have never seen”.

“We will never forget the victims and losses suffered in the fight against terror both here in Syria and also in Russia,” he said.

He told President Assad that Russia wanted to work with Iran, the government’s other key ally, and Turkey, which backs the opposition, to help bring peace to Syria.

Last week, Mr Putin announced the “total rout” of jihadist militants from so-called Islamic State (IS) along the Euphrates river valley in eastern Syria.
Russia launched an air campaign in Syria in September 2015 with the aim of “stabilising” Mr Assad’s government after a series of defeats.

Officials in Moscow stressed that it would target only “terrorists”, but activists said its strikes mainly hit mainstream rebel fighters and civilians.

The campaign has allowed pro-government forces to break the deadlock on several key battlefronts, most notably in Aleppo.

The Syrian and Russian air forces carried out daily air strikes on the rebel-held east of the city before it fell in December 2016, killing hundreds of people and destroying hospitals, schools and markets, according to UN human rights investigators.

Moscow has consistently denied that its air strikes have caused any civilian deaths.

However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Sunday that Russian air strikes had killed 6,328 civilians , including 1,537 children.

The UK-based monitoring group has documented the deaths of 346,612 people in total since the start of the uprising against Mr Assad in 2011.

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Middle East

US Jerusalem move: Fury spreads from Jakarta to Rabat

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AL JAZEERA — A wave of anger against a US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has spread from Asia, through the Middle East, to North Africa, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets to denounce the controversial move.

Protesters filled central avenues and squares in a number of major international cities on Sunday, waving the flag of Palestine and shouting slogans to express their solidarity with the Palestinians, who see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

US President Donald Trump’s announcement on Wednesday drew near-universal condemnation from world leaders and inflamed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with violence flaring up in the occupied Palestinian territories for a fifth day.

According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, 157 people were injured on Sunday in confrontations with Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.

At least four Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the US declaration.
Clashes also erupted on Sunday at a protest in Beirut, where demonstrators fought with security forces outside the US embassy in the Lebanese capital.

Demonstrators set fires in the street, torched US and Israeli flags and threw stones at police officers, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.

Adnan Abdullah, a protester in Beirut, said Trump’s Jerusalem decision “will not happen as long as there are people like us”.

Another demonstrator, whose face was hidden behind a black mask, held up a tear gas canister and condemned Lebanese forces for “defending America”.

He went on to add, “There is no one by our side. None of the Arab countries. Oh God, we will raise the Palestinian flag”

Arab foreign ministers, in a resolution on Sunday, urged Trump to rescind the decision and have called for a UN Security Council condemnation of the shift in US policy.

Meanwhile, more than 5,000 Indonesians rallied outside the US embassy in Jakarta to vent their anger for a second day. Protesters carried Palestinian flags and banners saying “Pray for Palestine”.

“We are not satisfied with just official statements,” said Nurjannah Nurwani, one of the lead organisers of the gathering. “We need follow-up, international lobbying which could pressure them into withdrawing their decision.”

Another female protester in Jakarta urged Trump to “use his brain” and “withdraw from Jerusalem”.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has condemned Trump’s decision. On Thursday, he ordered the US ambassador in Jakarta to be summoned over the move.

In Turkey’s Istanbul, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets again, transforming the city’s Yenikapi Square into a sea of Turkish and Palestinian flags.

“I feel like I should defend Palestine because I don’t know any other way to defend them,” said Ananda Sereka, who was at the protest. “So this is what I can do. This is the least I can do.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one of the most vocal critics of Trump’s move, has called the declaration “null and void” and vowed to fight it.

He has also called a summit of Islamic countries to discuss the move on Wednesday.

In Rabat, Morocco’s capital, protesters yelled slurs against Trump and carried banners saying Jerusalem belonged to Palestine.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Rabat, said the protest was “a show of solidarity with the Palestinian people but also an opportunity to express anger” over Trump’s decision.

“The protesters came from all walks of life,” he said. “Government officials, members of the opposition, seculars and conservatives – all denouncing what they consider to be a decision that could destabilise the region.”

Mohamed Boussaid, Morocco’s finance minister, said the demonstration was a way “to express our indignation and un-satisfaction” and to show that “we refuse completely the decision taken by the president of the US”.

Protester Mohamed Alghram agreed.

“We totally reject the decision that targets the most sacred place for us and we say no,” he said. “Jerusalem is a red line.”

Jerusalem is home to Islam’s third holiest site and its status is deeply sensitive for Muslims.

In Indian-administered Kashmir, protesters took a different approach.

Residents of the capital Srinagar, home to 1.1 million people, closed their shops and abandoned the streets in protest. Salman Khan, a Srinagar resident, told the ANI news agency that Trump’s decision was “completely unjust”.

Muslim solidarity with Palestine also spread to the war-torn nations of Yemen and Syria.

Further protests were held in Egypt, where students and professors demonstrated at the Al-Azhar university.

In Pakistan’s Karachi, hundreds of protesters marched towards the US Consulate in the city, but were turned back by riot police.

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Diaspora

U.S. Put 92 Somalis on a Deportation Flight, Then Brought Them Back

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Ninety-two Somali citizens were flown out of the United States under orders of deportation on Thursday, but their plane never made it to Somalia. The flight landed in the West African country of Senegal and, facing logistical problems, was rerouted back to the United States.

It was an unexpected, 5,000-mile backtrack for the migrants, some of whom have lived in the United States for years, or even decades, while on a list for deportation because they had entered the country without proper documentation.

In recent weeks, dozens of Somali citizens were transported from their homes in the United States — many were living in Minnesota — to Louisiana in preparation for the flight. A few, with the help of lawyers, managed to secure stays of removal.

The 92 on the plane got only as far as Senegal’s capital, Dakar, according to United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In an emailed statement on Friday, the agency said it was notified that a relief flight crew was “unable to get sufficient crew rest due to issues with their hotel in Dakar,” so the aircraft and detainees spent time parked at the airport there. It added that “various logistical options were explored, and ultimately ICE decided to reschedule the mission to Somalia and return to the United States with all 92 detainees.”

Civilians helping a man who was injured in a suicide car bomb explosion in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, in October. Credit Feisal Omar/Reuters

War, famine and disease have killed hundreds of thousands of people in Somalia since the central government collapsed in 1991. Militants, including members of the Shabab, an Islamist terrorist group, are still carrying out deadly attacks in the Horn of Africa country. A pair of truck explosions killed hundreds of people on one of the busiest streets in Mogadishu, the capital, in October. It was the deadliest attack the city had experienced in decades.

Kim Hunter, a lawyer whose firm represents two men who were on the flight, said it did not make sense to send her clients back to such a dangerous country.

“The security situation is abysmal,” she said on Thursday. “I, apparently, was naïve because I actually believed that following the Oct. 14 bombing, this flight might be suspended.”

Ms. Hunter learned on Friday that the flight had turned around and her clients’ deportations had been rescheduled, though it was unclear for when. An ICE spokeswoman said the agency does not provide that information in advance.

Ms. Hunter said she also had no advance notice when immigration officials recently transported five of her clients from their Minnesota homes. (They were first taken to Louisiana to prepare for their deportation.) Her law firm scrambled to secure stays of removal for the men and helped three avoid the flight.

Now that the other two have had their deportations delayed, Ms. Hunter said she would keep working to prevent their removal. Neither client has a criminal record, and both have been in the United States for more than a decade. One is married to a permanent resident and has children who are United States citizens.

“We’re inclined to think that this sort of failed flight reflects on the fact that more deportations are being carried out in haste and are perhaps not as well-planned as they might have been previously,” she added.

One Somali woman in Minnesota, who did not want to give her name for fear of getting her family in trouble with the authorities, said in a phone interview on Friday that her cousin was among those on the flight.

She said she had been desperate for answers since Wednesday, when her cousin called from Louisiana saying he was about to be deported. “I was very sad. I cried, and he told me not to make him cry,” she said, adding that it would be dangerous for him to land in Mogadishu because he had no connections there. “He hasn’t seen Somalia for the last 20 years.”

Many Somali citizens who are in the United States without documentation have been able to stay for years despite deportation orders because Somalia would not grant them the necessary travel documents. Mogadishu, which opened an embassy in Washington in 2015, appears to be cooperating with American officials to accept more of its citizens back.

The number of Somali people being deported from the United States has risen since 2014. During that fiscal year, 65 Somali citizens were removed from the United States. That number jumped to 120 the next year, and 198 the year after that.

In the fiscal year 2017, 521 Somali citizens were deported, according to the most recent report from ICE. A spokeswoman for the agency said there were five chartered flights to Somalia that year.

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