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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

Is Qatar taking advantage of Somalia – UAE dispute?

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As Somalia seeks to ease tensions with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar which is seen to be at the center of the fallout of the two nations, has donated 30 buses and two cranes to Mogadishu regional officials.

Relations between UAE and Somalia have been steadily declining since the latter’s decision not to cut ties with Qatar, preferring to take a neutral position in the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

In March, Somalia banned UAE’s DP World from doing business in the country after it nullified an agreement the company had entered into with Ethiopia and Somaliland for the management of Berbera port.

Diplomatic row

One week ago, Somalia intercepted a plane chartered by UAE diplomats and confiscated $9.6m cash, saying it would investigate the intended purpose of the funds.

UAE retaliated with a scathing statement describing the seizure of the money as a breach of diplomatic protocols.

Both countries have separately issued statements ending a military cooperation program that was started in 2014, where UAE was training and paying some members of the Somali army.

Voice of America (VOA) journalist, Harun Maruf also reported that the UAE-run Sheikh Zayed hospital in Mogadishu had suspended its operations until further notice.

On Monday, it was reported that another UAE plane had been prevented from leaving Bosaso airport by Somali officials after Emirati military trainers refused to hand over their luggage to be scanned and searched.

Reconciliation talks
VOA has also reported that the Somali government on Monday opened conciliatory talks with UAE leaders.

Somali Foreign Minister Ahmed Isse Awad is quoted to have said that ‘talks have begun between the top leadership from the two countries and are progressing well.’

According to the minister, UAE had explained the purpose of the funds and will work with federal government of Somalia on their utilisation.

Mohamed Moalimuu, Secretary General of National Union of Somali Journalists, tweeted on Tuesday evening that the country’s legislators had been summoned to return to duty, supposedly to discuss the UAE dispute.

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Briefing Room

Diplomatic leaks: UAE dissatisfied with Saudi policies

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AL JAZEERA — Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) is working on breaking up Saudi Arabia, leaked documents obtained by Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar revealed.

Al Akhbar said that the leaked documents contained secret diplomatic briefings sent by UAE and Jordanian ambassadors in Beirut to their respective governments.

One of the documents, issued on September 20, 2017, disclosed the outcome of a meeting between Jordan’s ambassador to Lebanon Nabil Masarwa and his Kuwaiti counterpart Abdel-Al al-Qenaie.

“The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is working on breaking up the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Jordanian envoy quoted the Kuwait ambassador as saying.

A second document, issued on September 28, 2017, reveals meeting minutes between the Jordanian ambassador and his UAE counterpart Hamad bin Saeed al-Shamsi.

The document said the Jordanian ambassador informed his government that UAE believes that “Saudi policies are failing both domestically and abroad, especially in Lebanon”.

“The UAE is dissatisfied with Saudi policies,” the Jordanian envoy said.

The Qatar vote
According to the leaks, UAE ambassador claims that Lebanon voted for Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari in his bid to become head of UNESCO in October 2017.

“[Lebanese Prime Minister Saad] Hariri knew Lebanon was voting for Qatar,” the UAE ambassador said in a cable sent to his government on October 18, 2017.

In November last year, Hariri announced his shock resignation from the Saudi capital Riyadh.

He later deferred his decision, blaming Iran and its Lebanese ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, for his initial resignation. He also said he feared an assassination attempt.

Officials in Lebanon alleged that Hariri was held hostage by Saudi authorities, an allegation Hariri denied in his first public statement following his resignation speech.

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Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s Web Blackout Ends, Raising Hopes of Reforms Under New PM

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REUTERS — ADDIS ABABA — Internet users in Ethiopia said on Monday the government appeared to have ended a three-month online blackout, raising hopes of a relaxation of restrictions after the arrival of a new prime minister who promised reforms.

Mobile and broadband internet services shut down in December in many regions outside the capital that were hit by unrest that threatened the ruling coalition’s tight hold on country.

Rights groups accused the government of trying to stop them spreading news online and organizing rallies calling for land rights and other freedoms – charges the government denied. But internet users said they had noticed services returning following the April 2 inauguration of Abiy Ahmed.

The communications minister and the state-run telecoms monopoly did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

“We are very happy that it is back to normal,” said Hassan Bulcha, who runs an internet cafe in Shashemene, a town in the state of Oromiya which has seen some of the worst violence since protests erupted in 2015.
Groups that monitor internet usage in Ethiopia – one of the last countries on the continent with a state telecoms monopoly – gave the news a guarded welcome.

“Restoration of Ethiopia’s internet is a short-term win in a long-term struggle,” said Peter Micek of Access Now, a group that said it recorded two large-scale internet shutdowns in Ethiopia in 2017 and three in 2016.
The move was a step forward, but worries remained about the government’s wider commitment to freedoms, said CIPESA (Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa), a Uganda-based body that lists Britain among itsfunders.

“Too optimistic”

“It would be too optimistic to expect that the new prime minister’s government will overnight dismantle all the layers of authoritarian control that have for decades been at the center of state power in Ethiopia,” said Juliet Nanfuka from CIPESA.

The government has denied accusations that it abuses protesters’ rights and said it has only acted to keep order.

The new prime minister, a 42-year-old former army officer from Oromiya, has travelled to several areas of the country, promising to address grievances strengthen a range of political and civil rights.

But the country remains under a state of emergency imposed a day after Abiy Ahmed’s predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn resigned in February.

Since 2015, hundreds have died in violence triggered by demonstrations over land rights in Ethiopia’s Oromiya region.

The protests broadened into rallies over freedoms that spread to other regions.

Unlike in other African countries where the majority of internet users access the web through mobile phones, internet cafes are still widely used in Ethiopia because smartphones remain expensive and mobile data costs are high.

Africa’s second-most populous nation has clocked the region’s fastest economic growth rates over the past decade but it has among the region’s lowest internet penetration rates.

People in Oromiya, which surrounds the capital, in the Amhara region, and in the eastern city of Harar and nearby Dire Dawa, told Reuters internet access and mobile 3G servicesresumed about a week ago.

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