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Egypt: Anger at closure of country's largest coke factory ahead of UN climate summit

Thu, 09/08/2022 - 12:19
Egypt: Anger at closure of country's largest coke factory ahead of UN climate summit
Despite it citing environmental concerns, government accused of undermining nationally owned businesses for benefit of the private sector
Amr Emam Thu, 09/08/2022 - 13:19
Dozens of industrial facilities, especially cement and brick factories, are located in Helwan (AFP)
Dozens of industrial facilities, especially cement and brick factories, are located in Helwan (AFP)

The machines of Egypt's largest coke factory, one of the biggest causes of pollution in Cairo, have stopped whirring and its doors firmly shut. 

The closure of the El Nasr Coke Factory earlier this week comes as Egypt prepares to host world leaders, United Nations officials and hundreds of environmentalists, business executives and climate activists at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh in November. 

'There could have been solutions to the problems of the factory other than the closure, including relocating it to the desert'

- Ibrahim Adel, Workers' Union

However, the shutting of the factory, the latest in a series of closures of state-owned factories, has stirred up a wave of anger, with critics arguing the government, which owns the factory, is closing key businesses needed by the economy. 

The government has also been accused of undermining the nationally owned businesses for the benefit of the private sector. 

Commenting on the factory's closure, MP and TV host Mustapha Bakri spoke of "blatant corruption" and a "conspiracy" against national industries, calling on President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to intervene to protect the factory.

Workers at the factory, now without employment, also fear for their futures.

Ibrahim Adel, a member of the workers' union of the factory, told Middle East Eye: "All the workers and I feel so sad and angry at this closure.

"There could have been solutions to the problems of the factory other than closure, including relocating it to the desert."

Nasser initiative

The El Nasr Coke Factory was established in 1960, together with dozens of others, by the late revolutionary leader President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who wanted to turn Egypt into a major industrial and agricultural force. 

The factory used to produce 1.6m tonnes of coke annually, some of which was used in the local market, with the remainder exported to other countries, including some in Europe. 

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The business was primarily established to produce the coke required for the operation of the iron and steel factory, another major industrial production hub in the southern Cairo industrial neighbourhood of Helwan. 

The coke factory had more than 1,000 workers, who were specialised in the different stages of coke-making. 

The workers, most of them in their most productive years, now face an uncertain future.

Ahmed Abdel Hamid, a technical worker at the factory, told MEE: "The closure of the factory also comes at a time of major recession, which means that none of its workers will be able to find work anywhere else."

The government has said it will financially compensate the workers.

The general assembly of the El Nasr Coke and Chemicals Company, the holding company which owns the coke factory, decided to close it down, along with the other three factories owned by the company, during a meeting on Monday.

The assembly members cited a preliminary assessment of the conditions of the factory by international consulting services' provider, DMT. 

In its review, DMT referred to several issues, including environmental risks and the age of the factory's machines. 

It estimated the cost of overhauling the factory at €750m ($750m).

'Badly in need of an upgrade'

Instead of providing advice on solving the problems of the factory, the DMT assessment, which was commissioned by the government, provoked angry exchanges between the factory's workers and members of the general assembly, who the workers accused of kowtowing to the government.
 
Factory manager al-Sayed al-Tayeb accused the government of having harboured intentions to close down the factory for a long time.

"The government resisted all attempts to overhaul the coke factory for years," he told a local channel. 

'The government resisted all attempts to overhaul the coke factory for years'

al-Sayed al-Tayeb, factory manager

Nevertheless, he conceded that the factory's current operations were not compatible with environmental standards. 

Mohamed Saadawi, a member of the general assembly, said the coke factory had been running at a loss for the past three years, estimating the losses at 350m Egyptian pounds ($17.5m) a year. 

The factory, he said, also faced technical and environmental challenges. 

"The machines of the factory are badly in need of an upgrade, which will be very costly," he told the Saudi MBC channel.

Bad timing

The shutting down of the coke factory is just the latest in a series of closures of state-owned factories, sparking accusations that the government is closing businesses at a time when it should be widening the scope of local production to reduce the country's dependence on imports. 

Last year, the government closed down the Iron and Steel Company, by far the largest in Egypt and a remnant of the industrial reawakening of the 1960s.

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In 2018, it closed the National Cement Company, which owned a large number of cement factories across the country, against a background of hundreds of millions of Egyptian pounds in losses. 

Egypt has multiple cement companies that combined produce 84.5m tonnes annually - a total twice the national consumption, even as major construction projects are being launched across the country, including a new capital in the vast Egyptian desert. 

The nation's steel factories also produce around 10.3m tonnes of steel annually, which also covers national consumption.

The factories closed were part of hundreds that used to be owned by the Egyptian government but that have now been lost, either to privatisation or mismanagement.

Major pollutant

The El Nasr Coke Factory was one of dozens of industrial facilities, especially cement and brick factories, located in Helwan.

The facilities used to spew out hundreds of tonnes of pollutants into the air of the capital, making Cairo one of the most polluted cities in the country.

The coke factory alone was responsible for five percent of pollution in the capital.  

In August of 2021, the Ministry of the Environment handed the factory's management a list of modifications to introduce to reduce harmful emissions from the facility, according to the factory's administration. 

This came months after the ministry imposed a ban on the import of coal for the factory.

Nevertheless, none of these recommendations was put into action, pitting the administration against environmental authorities. 

"The coke factory contributed to pollution in Cairo," Hossam Mehrem, a former adviser to the minister of the environment, told MEE. 

"The factory depended on very old machines and production equipment." 

'Prime victims of climate change'

Despite the complex nature of Egypt's economic life and objections to some of the fiscal moves of the government, the closure of the coke factory cannot be viewed in separation from ongoing preparations for COP27.

Egypt is responsible for a third of fossil gas consumption in Africa and is the continent's second-largest gas producer.

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In June, Egypt joined the Global Methane Pledge. Under its nationally determined contributions, it pledged to reduce emissions from gas flaring in the oil and gas sector to less than half of 2015 levels. 

Apart from taking measures to ensure that its industrial facilities are reducing emissions, Egypt has said it is working hard to improve its air quality through a series of projects included in its national strategy for a green economy.

On Wednesday, Sisi claimed that 40 percent of investments in his country were green, adding that green investments would make up 50 percent of overall investments in Egypt by 2053. 

Egypt says it wants to use COP27 to push for fulfilling the pledges made by advanced states during previous COPs, especially concerning the required financing for developing countries in Africa to adapt to climate change.

It says it also wants to use the conference to showcase the efforts it has made in past years to mitigate the effects of global warming, including some of the measures taken to protect Egyptian coasts from rising sea levels and the environment-friendly projects it has launched. 

"The conference will be a good opportunity for Egypt to invite the world's attention to the importance of backing Africa's climate action, given the fact that the continent will be among the prime victims of climate change," Mehrem said. 

"This is why Egypt takes the conference very seriously by making good preparations for it."

Cairo
Anger at closure of Egypt's largest coke factory ahead of UN climate summit

Iranian press review: Iran bets on a freezing winter in Europe

Thu, 09/08/2022 - 11:11
Iranian press review: Iran bets on a freezing winter in Europe
Meanwhile, legislator reveals details of draft nuclear agreement in Vienna, conservative government attacks conservative media, and deliberate arson burns 50 hectares of protected Anzali wetland
MEE staff Thu, 09/08/2022 - 12:11
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani waves as he leaves after talks at the Coburg Palais, the venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna on 4 August 2022 (AFP)

Officials in Tehran hope Europe has a cold winter

Officials in Tehran have jibed that any delay in finalising an agreement to revive the 2015 nuclear deal would hurt European countries as winter looms, after Russia dramatically reduced gas exports to the EU.

Since August, Washington and Tehran have traded three responses and suggested their demands regarding a draft of a "final text" in Vienna talks; however, on 2 September, the US said that Iran's last negotiation response was "not constructive".

'Iran is ready to provide parts of European countries' requirement, but they themselves cause torment to their own people'

- Iranian Petroleum Minister Javad Owji

Since then, several officials and advisors to Iran's negotiating team have warned the EU about a "cold winter".

"Iran will be patient …winter is approaching and the EU is facing a crippling energy crisis," Mohammad Marandi, a top media advisor to the Iranian negotiating team, told Al Jazeera.

His comments were acclaimed by conservatives and widely published in Farsi outlets inside the country.

On Twitter, Marandi wrote that Tehran's reasons for not accepting the EU's recommended text were the ambiguities and loopholes that the US left in the text on purpose.

Under the headline "winter will bring the West to its senses", the Iran Daily, which belongs to President Ebrahim Raisi's administration, echoed the same idea.

The daily quoted Iran's Petroleum Minister Javad Owji, as saying: "This will be a difficult winter for the countries importing energy… Iran is ready to provide parts of European countries' requirement, but they themselves cause torment to their own people."

MP reveals details of potential deal in Vienna

Conservative legislator Ali Khezrian has revealed some details of the latest text from nuclear talks in Vienna over which Iran and the US have been trading responses.

In an interview with the Etemad daily, Khezrian criticised the text, saying that the new agreement would be against Iran's interest.

"According to the text, Iran should take steps [in reducing its nuclear activities] before the US removes all sanctions [against Iran]," Khezrian said.

Iran: Two women sentenced to death over LGBTQ+ links
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He referred to the third appendix of a draft of the agreement and stressed that after signing the deal, Iran must stick to its commitments -  however, the US would only "end three executive orders, none of which are related to the sanctions on Iran's petroleum".

Khezrian added that 60 days after the beginning of the agreement, Iran would be allowed to sell up to 50m barrels of oil, "but only to the countries that the US would consent to".

He also said that according to this agreement, over 1,600 Iran business persons and companies would still remain under US sanctions.

Since April 2021, Iran and world powers have held talks in Vienna over a potential revival of the 2015 nuclear deal.

In 2018, Washington withdrew from the accord unilaterally and imposed harsh economic sanctions on Iran. One year later, Iran gradually reduced its commitment to the agreement and returned to its nuclear programme.

Inter-conservative row heats up

A year after the conservative Raisi took office, the first serious conflict has surfaced among conservatives who supported him, as the government began threatening pro-conservative outlets.

The incident came after when the state-run IRNA news agency accused the pro-conservative Khorasan daily of being at the frontline of criticising the Raisi administration.  

The Khorasan daily responded to IRNA's report by accusing the government of silencing its critics.

"This type of report is more political than media analysis, showing the dangers of [a future] suppression of criticism against the government," the daily added. 

Deliberate arson in Anzali Wetland

Over 50 hectares of Anzali Wetland in northern Iran were burnt in a day-long fire that Farsi outlets have reported was a deliberate arson.

The wetland covered over 15,000 hectares south of the Caspian Sea and was designated as a protected area under international Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in 1975. However, in recent years, large parts of the wetland have been burnt and dried up.

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Since June, this was the fifth deliberate fire in the wetland, the Aftab daily reported.

According to the daily, local people set fire to the lands on the lagoon's edge to burn the dried wild plants and expand their private properties.

"Some people burn the wetland to add parts of the lagoon to their property," wrote the daily.

Wetlands are protected areas in Iran, yet, due to the authorities' failure to enforce the rule of law, local and well-connected elites have destroyed hectares of nature reserves.

Meanwhile, the Shahrvand daily wrote that farmers owning rice paddies around Anzali Wetland were one of the sources of this year's five fires.

"Since the water level decreased in the lagoon, people's greed increased, and some locals thought of attaching parts of the wetland to their rice paddies," the daily concluded.

Iran: Two women sentenced to death over LGBTQ+ links

Thu, 09/08/2022 - 10:39
Iran: Two women sentenced to death over LGBTQ+ links
Court in the Iranian city of Urmia accused the women of spreading 'corruption on Earth' by promoting homosexuality
MEE staff Thu, 09/08/2022 - 11:39
Zahra Sediqi Hamedani, one of the women sentenced to death by Iran's Urmia court (Twitter/@IranHrm)
Zahra Sediqi Hamedani, one of the women sentenced to death by a court in Iran (Twitter/@IranHrm)

Iran has sentenced two women to death on charges of links to the online LGBTQ+ community, according to human rights organisation Hengaw.

Activists Zahra Sediqi Hamedani, 31, and Elham Chubdar, 24, are both accused of “corruption on Earth” for “promoting homosexuality”, "promoting Christianity", "communicating with the media opposing the Islamic Republic" and sex trafficking in a joint case by a court in the western Iranian city of Urmia.

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The two women were sentenced on 1 September, but the details have only been revealed this week in a statement released by Hengaw on 4 September.

Hamedani appeared in a BBC Persian service documentary in May 2021, speaking about the abuse LGBTQ+ people faced in Iraq’s semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, where she had been based.

She was detained for 21 days by Kurdistan’s regional government’s intelligence and security agency, where she was tortured and placed in solitary confinement, according to an Amnesty International report.

Amnesty said that she was being detained “due to her real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity as well as her social media posts and statements in defence of LGBTI rights”.

'We will remain true to ourselves'

Hamedani has been held in Iranian custody after she was arrested at Iran’s border on 27 October last year, while trying to escape and claim asylum in neighbouring Turkey.

Before she attempted to cross into Turkey, Hamedani recorded a video she sent to 6Rang, a Germany-based Iranian lesbian network. In the video, she warned that she “may be arrested at any moment” and that she was recording the message to make people understand how much the LGBTQ+ community is suffering.

'We resist to the end of our feelings, whether with death or freedom'

- Zahra Sediqi Hamedani

“We resist to the end of our feelings, whether with death or freedom, we will remain true to ourselves,” she said.

After she was detained at the border, she was transferred to the women’s ward of Urmia’s central prison after being held in solitary confinement by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Urmia branch, according to Hengaw.

The rights group says Hamedani was deprived of her right to access legal counsel while detained. The group has given no additional details about Chubdar's case.

Hengaw said that Urmia’s Prosecutor’s Office and Revolutionary Court are “the most notorious courts regarding political, ideological, and LGBT defendants, which generally do not meet the standards of a fair trial and do not respect the rights of the defendants”.

Under Iran’s sharia penal code, same-sex relations are illegal and punishable by death.

Iran sentences two women to death over LGBTQ+ links

Egypt demands Netflix and Disney conform with its 'social values'

Thu, 09/08/2022 - 10:33
Egypt demands Netflix and Disney conform with its 'social values'
Threat against streaming platforms comes after Gulf countries release similar statement and Saudi media single out LGBTQ references in films
MEE and agencies Thu, 09/08/2022 - 11:33
In recent years, films referencing same-sex relationships have been banned across several countries in the Middle East (AFP/File photo)
In recent years, films referencing same-sex relationships have been banned across several countries in the Middle East (AFP/File photo)

Egypt’s media regulator has demanded that streaming platforms such as Netflix and Disney+ conform to the country’s “social values” – a day after Gulf states issued a similar joint statement. 

"Regulatory and licensing rules for digital platforms like Netflix and Disney+ will be put in place that will include their commitment to respect the norms and social values of the state," Egypt's Supreme Council for Media Regulation said in a statement on Wednesday. 

The announcement came after Saudi Arabia’s media regulator and the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) threatened Netflix with legal action if it did not remove content that “contradicts Islamic and societal values”. 

Both the Egyptian and GCC statements did not specifically identify the material in question, however Saudi state media highlighted movies and TV shows featuring LGBTQ characters. 

In a programme discussing the issue, Saudi state-run Al Ekhbariya TV showed blurred-out animation clips from Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous that appeared to show two girls embracing. 

In an on-air interview on that channel, a lawyer said that these were "very unfortunate and painful clips for our children, grandchildren and the next generation".

LGBT references censored 

In recent years, films referencing same-sex relationships have been banned across several countries in the Middle East, including Disney Pixar films Lightyear and Onward, and Marvel’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

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Saudi Arabia had asked Disney to cut “LGBTQ references” in the latter - a request the streaming platform did not comply with. 

Earlier this year, Netflix’s first Arabic language feature Perfect Strangers sparked a national debate in Egypt after it touched on issues including homosexuality and infidelity. 

Egyptian law punishes alleged homosexual activity with prison sentences ranging between one and five years. 

Al-Nour, the country's leading Salafist party, vowed to prepare legislation to toughen penalties for those involved in promoting homosexuality following the release of the film. 

Egyptian lawmaker Mustafa Bakri called for Netflix to be banned in Egypt, but the country’s Syndicate of Artists defended what it called the “freedom of innovation”. 

Egypt: Mada Masr journalists charged with spreading 'false' news

Thu, 09/08/2022 - 10:02
Egypt: Mada Masr journalists charged with spreading 'false' news
Four journalists are accused of harassing members of a political party and publishing information intended to disturb the public
MEE staff Thu, 09/08/2022 - 11:02
(R-L) Mada Masr Editor-in-Chief Lina Attalah, journalists Beesan Kassab, Sara Seif Eddin and Rana Mamdouh pose in front the Cairo Appeals Prosecution after being released on bail (Mada Masr)
(R-L) Mada Masr editor-in-chief Lina Attalah, journalists Beesan Kassab, Sara Seif Eddin and Rana Mamdouh pose in front of the Cairo Appeals Prosecution after being released on bail (Mada Masr)

The editor-in-chief and three journalists from independent Egyptian news outlet Mada Masr were interrogated by judicial officers on Wednesday for allegedly "spreading false information", the publication said in a statement.

Mada Masr editor Lina Attalah and journalists Rana Mamdouh, Sara Seif Eddin and Beesan Kassab were released on bail on Wednesday evening after being questioned at the Cairo Appeals Prosecution.

They were summoned following dozens of complaints from members of the pro-government Future of a Nation, the largest party in parliament, over an article published on 31 August accusing them of "serious financial infractions" that "should lead to their departure from the political scene".

The journalists were charged with slander and defamation, using social media to harass the party members, and publishing false news intended to disturb the public peace and cause damage to the public interest, according to Mada Masr.

Attalah also faces charges of operating a website without a licence.

Mada Masr said in its statement that it has been trying to obtain a licence since 2018, including submitting paperwork on several occasions and making official inquiries, but it still has received no response regarding its legal status.

'Bastion of free press'

Mada Masr has been described as Egypt's "last bastion of free press" and has published reports and investigations critical of Egypt's government. Like hundreds of news outlets, the website is blocked inside Egypt and can only be accessed with a VPN. 

In late 2019, police raided its offices in Cairo and arrested three journalists, including Attalah, who was briefly detained again in May 2020.

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International NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Wednesday that it was "extremely concerned by this threat to one of the few remaining Egyptian media outlets not to have been brought under the government's control.

"The constant harassment, intimidation and arrests of journalists by Egypt's government are reaching dangerous heights and must cease at once."

In 2021, Egypt ranked as the third-worst jailer of journalists, with 25 journalists in prison, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. 

Since Sisi came to power in a military coup in 2013, his government has been accused of overseeing the worst crackdown on human rights in the country's modern history. Thousands have been jailed, tortured and forcibly disappeared, while others have been forced to live in exile for fear of repression. 

Around 65,000 political prisoners are estimated to be languishing in jail, with at least 26,000 of those held in pre-trial detention, according to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.

Four Mada Masr journalists charged with spreading 'false' news

Palestinian teenager shot dead by Israeli forces near Ramallah

Thu, 09/08/2022 - 07:12
Palestinian teenager shot dead by Israeli forces near Ramallah
Israeli army claims Haitham Mubakar, 17, had attacked a soldier with a hammer, injuring him in the face
MEE and agencies Thu, 09/08/2022 - 08:12
The Palestinian health ministry said Mubakar was killed 'by the Israeli occupation army’s bullets' (Wafa)

A Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli forces on Thursday near Baytin, close to the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. 

The Palestinian health ministry said Haitham Mubakar, 17, was killed "by the Israeli occupation army’s bullets". 

The Israeli army claimed Mubakar had "attacked a soldier with a hammer, injuring him in the face". 

It said the soldier responded with live fire killing the teenager.

The Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that six Palestinians had been arrested in overnight raids in Jenin refugee camp, in the north of the West Bank.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said it had treated 12 people for injuries following a separate raid by the Israeli army in Nablus.

The Israeli army has been conducting near-daily raids in the West Bank since the start of the year during which around 100 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Palestinian health ministry. 

Greece warns of Ukraine-style war with Turkey in East Mediterranean

Wed, 09/07/2022 - 19:38
Greece warns of Ukraine-style war with Turkey in East Mediterranean
Tensions between Mediterranean rivals escalate, with Athens and Ankara trading barbs over islands and airspace
Sean Mathews Wed, 09/07/2022 - 20:38
Erdogan
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks during his meeting with his counterpart Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade on 7 September 2022 (AFP)

Tensions are boiling in the Eastern Mediterranean, with Greece saying the region risks falling into a war similar to that seen in Ukraine after Turkey raised the spectre of military action against its neighbour.

Turkey and Greece have long been enmeshed in a series of disputes, including over maritime rights, the sovereignty of Aegean islands, natural gas and airspace boundaries.

The Nato allies had a brief rapprochement after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis making a rare visit to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul. Relations have, however, since plummeted.

On Tuesday, Erdogan reiterated a veiled threat, stating Turkey could "come all of a sudden one night," in response to what he claimed were hostilities emanating from Greece.

"What I'm talking about is not a dream," he said at a press conference in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo. "If what I said was that we could come one night all of a sudden [it means] that, when the time comes, we can come suddenly one night."

'Vertical escalation'

The comments sparked an outcry in Greece, a country of 10 million people which fought a brutal war of independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. Many parts of Greece remained under Ottoman control before the empire's collapse after the First World War.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Greek-Turkish war of 1919-1922 and, on 30 August, Turkey celebrated Victory Day, when it drove Greek forces from Anatolia.

The war culminated in the population exchanges between the two countries known in Greece as the Catastrophe, and the battle over Greek-majority cities along the Anatolian coast, such as Smyrna, which is today the city of Izmir.

On Saturday, Erdogan made a pointed reference to the city, stating "Greece, look at history, go back in time; if you go too far, the price will be heavy. We have one thing to say to Greece: Remember Izmir."

In response, Athens sent letters to Nato, the European Union and the United Nations slamming what it called Erdogan's "openly threatening" and "inflammatory" statements.

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The letters called for the organisations to condemn Erdogan's statements, which they said "imbue the Turkish people with hatred, enmity and contempt towards their Greek neighbors".

"By underestimating the seriousness of the matter, we risk witnessing again a situation similar to that currently unfolding in some other part of our continent," the letters added, in reference to the war in Ukraine.

Some analysts caution that the war of words risks catapulting Greece and Turkey back to the tensions of 2020, when their warships collided and the two were on the verge of conflict.

"We have a vertical escalation here, and a dangerous incident could occur at anytime," Zachariah Micha, director of studies at the Institute for Security and Defence Analysis in Athens, told Middle East Eye.

"Turkey has a history of announcing what it is going to do, as it did with invasions in Syria. Erdogan may be preparing the international audience for something that is going to happen."

'Maximalist positions'

Unchecked tensions between the two have a history of spiralling out of control. Greece opposed Turkey's 1974 invasion of Cyprus and the two almost went to war in 1996 over an uninhabited Aegean island.

The letters sent by Greece come less than a week after an appeal from Turkey to the same organisations laying out its arguments over the countries' bilateral disputes.

Last month, Turkey accused Greece of harassing one of its F-16 fighter jets over international waters with a Russian-made S-300 missile system based on the island of Crete. Greece has rejected the allegation.

Ankara has long been frustrated by Greece's ownership of Eastern Mediterranean islands which it says box in its coastline, the longest in the region. Turkish fighter jets often fly over Greek islands and the two countries' air forces frequently engage in mock dogfights.

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Turkey has threatened war should Greece extend its eastern islands'’ territorial waters to 12 nautical miles, as it is entitled under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Turkey is not a signatory to the treaty.

On-and-off talks to resolve differences have been hamstrung over parameters for negotiations.

Athens says discussions should be limited to the issue of maritime demarcation and exclusive economic zones (EEZs), while Ankara has called for broader discussions to include topics such as the demilitarisation of Greece's Aegean islands, which it says is in violation of First- and Second World War-era treaties.

"Turkey and Greece have both decided to adapt a maximalist position in the Aegean, and that follows with escalating rhetoric," Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish research programme at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told MEE.

Cold War 2.0

The tensions have been turbocharged by the discovery of potentially lucrative gas deposits in the disputed waters.

In 2019 Turkey signed a controversial maritime accord with the Libyan government that ignored Greece's claim to an exclusive economic zone via the islands of Crete and Kastellorizo. Greece subsequently signed a similar maritime deal with Egypt.

Rising natural gas prices as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine have added a new layer to the feud. Last month, Turkey dispatched a seismic research vessel into the Eastern Mediterranean for the first time in two years, while Greece has pledged to increase exploration.

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In some ways, the war has also revived the Cold War-era tussle that played out between the two Nato countries on the edge of Europe. Greece has seen its importance to the alliance grow, with US troops and supplies destined for Eastern Europe flooding into the port city of Alexandroupoli.

Ties between Athens and Washington have deepened as Turkey continues to vacillate with the West. While it has supplied armed drones to Ukraine, Ankara has also extended a hand to Russia, agreeing to price some oil sales in Roubles.

Ankara has also attempted to bill itself as a meditator in the conflict in Ukraine, helping to seal a UN-backed deal unblocking Black Sea grain supplies, but it is also pushing key policy priorities of its own, such as a crackdown on Kurdish militants in Nordic countries looking to join Nato, and the purchase of F-16 fighter jets from the US.

'The last straw'

Murat Aslan, a former Turkish military professional now with Seta, a think-tank with links to Erdogan's government, told MEE the downward spiral in ties began with the Greek prime minister's trip to Washington in May, where he lobbied against arms sales to Turkey. Erdogan severed all bilateral talks with Greece after the visit.

"Erdogan's comments are a reflection of how Turks are really tired and bored of the Greeks' attitude," Aslan said.

"Mitsotakis going to the US and complaining about Turkey behind its back was the last straw. There is no sense of trust [after that]."

Both Greece and Turkey are entering elections next year, which analysts warn could prolong the period of instability.

Turkey's economy has been battered by an economic crisis, with inflation shooting above 80 percent. While Erdogan has sought to patch up ties with some regional states such as Israel and the UAE, his comments on Greece appear to indicate a hardening of his position, claiming Greece was "occupying" islands in the Aegean.

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"Such a comment has never been told by a Turkish leader before. Erdogan is implying that the Aegean islands are not legitimately Greece's, he's upping the ante and betting that Greece will not keep up," Cagaptay said. "I can't see Mitsotakis saying 'Constantinople is occupied and it's ours'."

Some longtime observers of Greek-Turkish relations say the current tensions are likely to remain a war of words.

Panayotis Tsakonas, head of the security programme at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, primarily funded by the European Commission, told MEE that he saw an "asymmetry" between Turkey's rhetoric and its actions. He believes Ankara still hopes to maintain calm in the Eastern Mediterranean as it pursues the modernisation of its F-16 fleet from the US:

"Erdogan is calibrating between not taking an aggressive stance in the Eastern Mediterranean because of negotiations with the US, and at the same time appeasing nationalists in his domestic audience."

Tsakonas said Athens' claim war could break out in the Eastern Mediterranean was likely "an exaggeration" in order to garner the support of an international audience over what Greek leaders continue to see as a serious security risk. 

Athens, Greece

US senator dismisses Israeli report on Shireen Abu Akleh's killing

Wed, 09/07/2022 - 16:55
US senator dismisses Israeli report on Shireen Abu Akleh's killing
Chris Van Hollen says there was no evidence to show Israeli military was returning fire when journalist shot
MEE staff Wed, 09/07/2022 - 17:55
A portrait of slain Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh during a demonstration in front of the Israeli embassy to support Palestinians, in Athens, on 16 May 2022 (AFP)

US Senator Chris Van Hollen on Wednesday rejected an Israeli army report that said a soldier likely killed Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by accident during a gun battle with armed Palestinians. He said the claim was not supported by evidence.

"The crux of the 'defence' in this IDF report is that a soldier was 'returning fire' from militants," he tweeted. He added that investigations by the New York Times, the Associated Press, CNN, the Washington Post, and the United Nations found "no such firing at the time".

"This underscores need for independent US inquiry into this American journalist's death."

Shireen Abu Akleh: Israeli army admits 'highly probable' it killed journalist
Read More »

On Monday, an Israeli army investigation into the killing of the veteran Al Jazeera journalist concluded she was likely to have been unintentionally shot by an Israeli soldier - but was not deliberately targeted.

Abu Akleh was shot dead by Israeli forces on 11 May while covering an Israeli military operation in Jenin in the occupied West Bank. Her colleague Ali al-Samoudi was also shot and injured. 

A statement on the investigation published on Monday said "there is a high possibility that M Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF [Israeli army] gunfire that was fired toward suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen".

The Israeli Military Advocate General's Office said it would not open an investigation into any soldiers involved in the incident as "there is no suspicion that a criminal offence was committed".

The army investigation also said it was possible that she was shot by Palestinian gunmen.

Back in June, two dozen US senators called on President Joe Biden to ensure Washington was "directly involved" in investigating Abu Akleh's killing.

In a letter sent to Biden, senators called for the State Department and FBI to launch an "independent investigation under US auspices to determine the truth" about the Palestinian American's death. 

Hollen led the efforts saying: "The US government has an obligation to ensure that a comprehensive, impartial, and open investigation into her shooting death is conducted - one in which all parties can have full confidence in the ultimate findings."

Libya: Hundreds of Egyptians, including 90 children, detained en route to Europe

Wed, 09/07/2022 - 15:43
Libya: Hundreds of Egyptians, including 90 children, detained en route to Europe
Some 287 people were found hiding in a warehouse following a raid on a farm near Tobruk last week, and are due to be deported to Egypt, says local media
MEE staff Wed, 09/07/2022 - 16:43
Children were among Egyptian migrants caught inside a warehouse in Libya (Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor)

Rights groups have called for action after hundreds of Egyptians were taken from their hiding place in a warehouse in eastern Libya and detained.

Some 287 Egyptians, including 90 children, were detained following a raid on a farm south of the city of Tobruk on Sunday evening.

'It is shocking and unfortunate to see children under the age of 12 in such a complicated situation'

- Nour Alwan, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor

According to accounts given to the Libya24 website, some of the detainees paid sums amounting to 170,000 Egyptian pounds ($8,800) to smugglers in order to attempt to reach Europe.

Some said they had walked tens of kilometers across the desert to arrive at the warehouse.

Local security officials said the detainees would be transferred to an emergency centre in Tobruk, and would then be deported to Egypt through the Salloum border within the next two days.

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said in a statement on Tuesday that the incident highlighted the need for authorities to tackle smuggling networks that were exploiting migrants.

"It is shocking and unfortunate to see children under the age of 12 in such a complicated situation," said Nour Alwan, a spokesperson for the organisation.

"In any case, they cannot be held responsible because they are still unable to make decisions and assess matters."

Alwan added that states needed to spend more resources on thwarting "any similar attempts, whether targeting children or adults, in addition to intensifying efforts to create job opportunities and improve the standard of living in the country".

Tense calm returns to Libya's capital a week after deadly clashes
Read More »

The chaos that erupted after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's government in 2011 made Libya a preferred stop for tens of thousands of people from sub-Saharan Africa, Arab states, and south Asia, mainly seeking to reach the Italian coast in Europe.

Thousands remain stranded in the north African state.

Last week, a dinghy boat carrying 27 Egyptians sank off the coast of Libya, leaving two dead and 19 missing.

According to Libyan authorities, the Egyptians were on their way to Italy via the Mediterranean.

In April, a boat sank off the coast of Tobruk in Libya, carrying more than 28 Egyptians and four Syrians. At least 22 have been reported dead, and the Libyan coast guard is still attempting to recover bodies.

According to UNHCR, more than 18,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe in the first quarter of 2022. In total, 2.3 million have taken this same journey in the past eight years.

Libya, according to UNHCR, has witnessed the vast majority of reported incidents of abuse of refugees at the hands of smugglers, while those detained by authorities are also exposed to inhumane detention conditions.

Since 2014, the International Organisation for Migration has reported that 24,495 people have died or gone missing while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

James Cleverly: The UK's new foreign secretary accused of ignoring Gulf abuses

Wed, 09/07/2022 - 15:27
James Cleverly: The UK's new foreign secretary accused of ignoring Gulf abuses
Liz Truss appoints staunch ally to succeed her in top foreign role, who has been criticised over cutting aid to Yemen and UK arms dealings
Rayhan Uddin Wed, 09/07/2022 - 16:27
Britain's Foreign Secretary James Cleverly leaves 10 Downing Street after a meeting with new Prime Minister Liz Truss on 6 September 2022 (AFP)
Britain's Foreign Secretary James Cleverly leaves 10 Downing Street after a meeting with new Prime Minister Liz Truss on 6 September 2022 (AFP)

James Cleverly, the former minister of state for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), has been appointed as the new UK foreign secretary. 

Downing Street announced on Tuesday that Cleverly, who was most recently education secretary, would lead the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) as part of new Prime Minister Liz Truss's cabinet reshuffle. 

Truss, who defeated rival Rishi Sunak on Monday in the final round of the Conservative leadership election, was herself the foreign secretary since September 2021. 

Cleverly, 53, is a staunch supporter of the new prime minister, throwing his weight behind her leadership bid in the early stages of the process. 

He served as the minister for the MENA region from February 2020 until the role was axed in February 2022. The new government is set to restore the ministerial post, a foreign office source told The National on Tuesday. 

As Middle East minister, Cleverly met with Iranian officials in November 2021 to discuss a return to the 2015 nuclear deal and negotiate the release of British-Iranian nationals Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Anoosheh Ashoori and Morad Tahbaz.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori have since been released and returned to the UK, with Tahbaz released temporarily on furlough in July. 

Liz Truss and the Middle East: Where new UK PM stands on key issues
Read More »

During the Gaza war in May 2021, the new foreign secretary told parliament that "Israel has a legitimate right to self-defence and to defend its citizens from attack". 

The Israeli bombardment of Gaza left 256 people dead, including 66 children, while rockets from the besieged enclave killed 13 in Israel.

Following the war, Cleverly would not say whether British arms sold to Israel were used in Gaza. 

He told parliament: "The UK has a robust arms export licensing regime and all export licences are assessed in accordance with it."

In line with UK government policy, Cleverly has criticised the building of illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, but suggested last year that the recognition of a Palestinian state was not a "priority issue".

Yemen aid cut and Bahrain rights abuses

Cleverly was heavily criticised last year after announcing that the UK would halve its foreign aid to Yemen, as part of the government's controversial pledge to slash its foreign aid budget from 0.7 percent of the GDP to 0.5 percent.

The decision came at a time when the UK government confirmed that it would continue selling arms to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, which has been accused of killing thousands of civilians. 

The former MENA minister maintained a close relationship with Gulf nations, visiting Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

He was in Bahrain when the country appointed its first ambassador to Israel following former US President Donald Trump's conclusion of normalisation deals with several Arab countries. 

Cleverly has been criticised by human rights activists for appearing to justify the arbitrary detention of six children by Bahraini authorities, and was urged by MPs to sanction Bahrain officials accused of torturing political prisoners. 

In response, he said: "We are better able to influence change through engagement, dialogue and cooperation.

"Our close relationship with the Bahraini government and civil society, including non-governmental organisations, gives the UK a privileged position to positively influence developments on human rights."

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, advocacy director at the Bahrain Institution of Rights and Democracy (BIRD), told Middle East Eye that Cleverly had "failed" on human rights issues. 

"Having witnessed James Cleverly's responses to parliamentary questions related to Bahrain in his role as MENA minister, his failure to acknowledge human rights challenges in the country was a major issue," Alwadaei said. 

"He repeatedly misinterpreted the grave reality of the rights landscape on the ground in Bahrain, in desperate attempts to justify UK taxpayer-funded programmes to Bahraini institutions shown to be implicated in serious human rights abuses."

The campaigner added that there was a "lack of transparency" over the Gulf Strategy Fund, a secretive fund through which the UK doubled money to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as revealed last month

"We hope to see a shift in the Government's handling of the fund, and wider questions of rights in the Gulf, under [Cleverly's] leadership," said Alwadaei.

London

Israel: Seven Palestinian citizens indicted over May 2021 riots

Wed, 09/07/2022 - 14:56
Israel: Seven Palestinian citizens indicted over May 2021 riots
Since April, Israel's state attorney's office has filed 397 indictments against 616 defendants, 545 of whom are Palestinian citizens of Israel
MEE staff Wed, 09/07/2022 - 15:56
Israeli forces detain a group of Palestinian citizens of Israel in Lydd on 13 May 2021 after riots rocked the city (AFP)
Israeli forces detain a group of Palestinian citizens of Israel in Lydd on 13 May 2021 after riots rocked the city (AFP)

Israeli police arrested and charged five Palestinian citizens for alleged involvement in inter-communal violence during nationwide riots in May last year, the country’s internal intelligence agency said on Wednesday. 

The agency, known as Shin Bet, accused the five men of involvement in an attack “with a nationalist motive” against a Jewish Israeli civilian on 12 May in the northern city of Acre. 

During 11 days of violent riots, which coincided with Israeli attacks on Gaza and assaults on Muslim worshippers at al-Aqsa Mosque, two Palestinians citizens of Israel and one Jewish Israeli were killed. 

In the aftermath of the unrest, in which police seemed to lose control of the streets, hundreds of Palestinian citizens were rounded up in a mass arrest campaign dubbed "Law and Order" by police.

'The majority of the evidence possessed by the investigators is confessions, and unfortunately, the judge did not give much weight to the argument that these were taken under pressure' 

- Palestinian laywer

By 10 June, Israel arrested more than 2,150 people, 91 percent of whom were Palestinian citizens of Israel. Arrests and investigations are still ongoing. 

Shin Bet said the five men, along with two more detained last year, were arrested after months of interrogations with them. 

The seven men are accused of throwing rocks at a vehicle, causing the driver to lose control and hit a wall, before beating him severely. 

Muhammad Haj, a lawyer who represented dozens of detainees of the "Law and Order" campaign, said police relied mainly on confessions taken under “unbearable pressures and harsh interrogations".

“The majority of the evidence possessed by the investigators is confessions, and unfortunately, the judge did not give much weight to the argument that these were taken under pressure from investigators because police interrogations are not recorded,” Haj told news website Arab48. 

'Discriminatory repressive campaign'

Human rights groups have accused Israeli authorities of discriminatory policing and the disproportionate targeting of Palestinian citizens since the 2021 events.

In June last year, Amnesty International said Israeli forces carried out a "discriminatory repressive campaign" against Palestinians in Israel in Jerusalem, targeting them with "arrests, torture and unlawful force" during and after the riots. 

Human Rights Watch echoed similar criticism in December, accusing Israeli police of at times appearing to “react half-heartedly and unevenly to violence against Palestinian citizens of Israel committed by Jewish ultra-nationalists".

How Israel waged judicial war against Palestinian citizens after the May 2021 uprising
Janan Abdu
Read More »

Since April, Israel's state attorney's office has filed 397 indictments against 616 defendants, 545 of whom are Palestinian citizens of Israel, including 161 children, in connection with the May 2021 riots. 

There are at least 33 that were charged from Acre alone, a binational city that witnessed much of the violence, along with Lydd, Haifa, and Jaffa. 

Janan Abdu, a Haifa-based lawyer who represented some of the detainees in these trials, said several rights were violated in the ongoing campaign.

These include "confiscation of personal cellular phones; assaulting journalists and activists who were filming and documenting attacks; kidnapping of children by special forces of undercover teams; using excessive force during arrests and transfers to detention centres; inhumane prison conditions; and postponing urgent medical treatment for detainees until taking their statements".

Meanwhile, no one has been charged for the murder of Moussa Hassouna, a Lydd-native Palestinian who was shot dead by four Israelis.

Police closed the investigation into his killing saying the suspects opened fire in "self-defence".

CNN hires retired police official accused of lying about Muslim surveillance

Wed, 09/07/2022 - 14:45
CNN hires retired police official accused of lying about Muslim surveillance
John Miller faced criticism over his comments saying there was 'no evidence' the New York Police Department ever surveilled Muslims
MEE staff Wed, 09/07/2022 - 15:45
CNN headquarters in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, on 16 October 2021 (AFP)

CNN announced its newest hire, a retired New York Police Department top official who faced criticism after claiming that the agency did not spy on Muslims post 9/11. 

John Miller has been brought on as CNN’s chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst. At an eight-hour city council hearing on public safety in March, Miller claimed years-long surveillance of neighbourhoods and mosques was just a “perception”.

Following his comments and calls for him to be fired, Miller retired from the NYPD in June. 

“John will help deliver on CNN’s commitment to tackle complex issues while presenting audiences with independent, objective news and meaningful analysis across platforms,” the press release by CNN said. “As both a brilliant journalist and experienced, compelling subject matter expert, he brings to the network an incredible breadth of knowledge.” 

New York police to stop forcing Muslim women to remove hijab during arrest
Read More »

In March, Shahana Hanif, the first and only Muslim NYC council member, asked Miller if the NYPD could commit to fully disclosing the extent of its Muslim surveillance programme and if the law enforcement agency could also issue a formal apology or public acknowledgement to Muslim New Yorkers for the "discriminatory, fruitless, and damaging programme".

He answered: “Perception allowed to linger long enough becomes reality. I know from my own conversation with Muslim members of the community and Muslim community leaders, that there are people… who will believe forever… [that] there were spies in their mosques who are trying to entrap people," he said.

"There is no evidence that that occurred based on every objective study that's been done."

Yet according to reports, including from the Associated Press and NYPD’s own internal documents, the NYPD did spy on Muslims. 

The AP investigation found that the NYPD profiled and surveilled New York City's Muslims in an attempt to find "radicalisation", by mapping out communities, conducting video surveillance, recruiting informants, and generating intelligence databases.

A year later, the NYPD acknowledged in a testimony that the unit in charge of the surveillance - the demographics unit- never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation. In 2014, the unit was discontinued. 

“The nearly decade-long surveillance, harassment, and intimidation of the New York City Muslim community under the post-9/11 surveillance program has left deep scars, some of which have yet to heal. Knowing this full well, John Miller had the audacity to lie under oath about the nature of this program to my face,” Hanif told Gizmodo.

“Someone like John Miller should not be in public service nor should they be given a platform on a mainstream cable news network.”

Iran nuclear: Israeli spy chief to meet US officials, push against deal with Tehran

Sun, 08/28/2022 - 17:51
Iran nuclear: Israeli spy chief to meet US officials, push against deal with Tehran
Mossad chief David Barnea is set to take part in a series of closed-door meetings in Congress with hopes to disrupt a nuclear deal with Iran, says a senior Israeli official
MEE and agencies Sun, 08/28/2022 - 18:51
The head of Israel's Mossad spy agency will visit Congress in early September (AFP/File photo)

The head of Israel's Mossad spy agency will visit the United States in early September for talks on the possible revival of the Iran nuclear deal, an official said Sunday.

The announced visit is the latest in Israel's push to sway Western powers away from a return to the landmark 2015 deal with Tehran.

Israel says a new pact would facilitate the funding of Iran-supported militants, while not preventing Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon - a goal Iran has always denied.

Israel tells West it's time to 'walk away' from nuclear talks
Read More »

Mossad chief David Barnea will "be visiting Washington in a week to participate in closed door meetings in Congress on the Iran deal," a senior Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity, without providing further details.

Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that Israel's "diplomatic fight" against the nuclear pact included its national security advisor and defence minister holding recent meetings in the United States.

"We are making a concerted effort to ensure the Americans and Europeans understand the dangers involved in this agreement," Lapid said, stressing what was signed in 2015 was "not a good deal," and that the one currently being formulated entails "greater dangers". 

In 2018, then-US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the agreement designed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

His successor Joe Biden has sought to return to the deal, and after almost a year-and-a-half of talks, recent progress has put Israel on edge.

According to Lapid, a new agreement would have to include an expiration date, and tighter supervision that would also "address Iran's ballistic missile program and its involvement in terrorism throughout the Middle East".

"We can reach such an agreement if a credible military threat is put on the table, if the Iranians realise that their defiance and deceit will exact a heavy price," Lapid said, adding that the army and Mossad had "received instructions from us to prepare for any scenario".

On Wednesday, Lapid said a new deal would "give Iran $100 billion a year" that would be used by Iran-backed groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad, and noted he was holding talks with the leadership of Britain, France and Germany on the issue.

Sudan: Journalists form first democratically elected union in decades

Sun, 08/28/2022 - 15:12
Sudan: Journalists form first democratically elected union in decades
Vote for syndicate leadership went ahead with 'high turnout and excitement' despite attempts by Bashir-era journalists to halt election
MEE and agencies Sun, 08/28/2022 - 16:12
A Sudanese journalist casts her vote in the election of a syndicate leader and executive committee in Khartoum on 27 August 2022 (AFP)

Sudanese journalists have created an independent union, the first of its kind in the country for more than three decades. 

Campaigners said the move was an important step towards re-establishing freedoms after the country's military coup last October.

The union consists of 1,164 members, of whom 659 took part in a vote on Sunday to elect its leadership. 

"The victory is to regain our syndicate after more than 30 years in order to defend the freedom and professionalism of the press," journalist Waleed Alnour told Reuters. 

Under the three-decade rule of former president Omar al-Bashir, who was toppled in the country's 2019 revolution, unions were often packed with members friendly to the government. 

Shadow unions that sprang up in opposition to Bashir were instrumental in his overthrow.

Journalists aligned with Bashir attempted to stop Sunday's syndicate election, raising a legal complaint that it could not replace the pre-existing union under the former ruler. 

But the vote was "executed in a completely democratic way... smoothly and with a high turnout and excitement among the journalists," according to election committee head Faisal Mohamed Salih. 

Coup failure

Salih was information minister in the civilian-led government that emerged following the 2019 uprising, until the coup last year ended a power-sharing arrangement between civilians and the military. 

Abdelmoniem Abu Idrees, a journalist for the AFP news wire, was elected head of the syndicate. 

Sudan: Coup leader says country became worse after takeover
Read More »

Sunday's election has laid "the groundwork for one of our uprising's core demands, and that is democracy," the Bahari resistance committee, a leading group protesting against the coup, said in a statement. 

Earlier this month, General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, widely known as Hemeti and one of the leaders of last year's coup, said the military takeover had failed to bring about change and the country had become worse. 

Near-weekly anti-coup protests have been held across Sudan, and demonstrators have been met with violent crackdowns, which have killed at least 114 people since October.

Sudanese journalists form first democratically elected union in decades

Turkey accuses Greece of 'hostile action' against its fighter jets

Sun, 08/28/2022 - 13:19
Turkey accuses Greece of 'hostile action' against its fighter jets
Ankara says fellow Nato member used Russian-made air defence system to harass its jets on a reconnaissance mission west of Rhodes
MEE and agencies Sun, 08/28/2022 - 14:19
Long-standing sea and air boundary disputes lead to near-daily air force patrols and interception missions mostly around Greek islands near Turkey's coastline (File pic/AFP)

Turkey on Sunday said fellow Nato member Greece had used a Russian-made air defence system to harass Turkish jets on a reconnaissance mission in what it termed a "hostile action".

The incident took place on 23 August when Greece's S-300 missile system on the island of Crete put a lock on Turkish F-16 jets flying at 3,000 metres west of Rhodes, Turkish defence ministry sources said. 

That was "incompatible with the spirit of [the Nato] alliance" and amounted to "hostile acts" under the Nato rules of engagement, the sources added.  

"Despite this hostile action, [Turkish] jets completed their planned missions and returned to their base safely."

Greek defence ministry sources dismissed the allegations.

"Greece's S-300 missile system has never put a lock on Turkish F-16 jets," the sources said, according to state-run Ert television. 

Turkey has in recent months complained of what it calls provocative actions by Greece.

The two uneasy Nato neighbours have long-standing sea and air boundary disputes that have led to near-daily air force patrols and interception missions mostly around Greek islands near Turkey's coastline. 

Athens accuses Ankara of overflying Greek islands.

Turkey says Greece is stationing troops on islands in the Aegean Sea in violation of peace treaties signed after World Wars I and II.

Two-sided policies

Earlier this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cut off dialogue with Greece after charging that Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis lobbied against US arms sales to his country.  

Washington has sanctioned Ankara for taking delivery in 2019 of the same advanced Russian missile defence system Ankara has accused Athens of deploying against its jets.

Erdogan says Turkey 'not joking' over warning to Greece to demilitarise Aegean islands 
Read More »

The purchase by Ankara saw the United States drop Turkey from the F-35 joint strike fighter programme.

However, US President Joe Biden's administration has signalled it may be willing to move past the dispute and there have been talks about F-16 purchases. 

Turkish defence ministry sources said Greece had purchased the same Russian-made air defence system and accused western countries, without naming them, of pursuing two-sided policies.  

Athens is also eyeing US weaponry in an attempt to bolster its air force amid tensions with Ankara. In June, Greece formalised a request for US-made F-35 fighter jets.

Algeria trip: Turkey condemns Macron for accusing it of anti-French propaganda

Sun, 08/28/2022 - 09:58
Algeria trip: Turkey condemns Macron for accusing it of anti-French propaganda
French president warns African youths of 'immense manipulation' by Turkey, Russia and China during visit to Algeria
MEE and agencies Sun, 08/28/2022 - 10:58
French President Emmanuel Macron, left, and Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune attend a signing ceremony at Algiers airport on 27 August 2022 (AFP)

Turkey has denounced French President Emmanuel Macron after he accused foreign powers, including Ankara, of spreading anti-French propaganda in Africa. 

Speaking during a three-day visit to Algeria, Macron warned African and Algerian youths against "networks" presenting France as an "enemy". 

"There is immense manipulation," he told reporters on Friday.

"Many political Islam activists have an enemy: France. Many of the networks that are covertly pushed - ... by Turkey... by Russia... by China - have an enemy: France."

Turkish foreign ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgic said in a statement: "It is unacceptable that... Macron, who has difficulties in confronting his colonial past in Africa, especially Algeria, tries to get rid of his colonial past by accusing other countries, including our country.

"We hope that France will reach the maturity to face its colonial past without blaming other countries, including our country, as soon as possible."

Macron's visit to the former French colony was aimed at easing recent diplomatic tensions and mending what he called a "painful" history between the two countries. 

On Saturday, the 44-year-old president and his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, signed a joint declaration committing to a "renewed, concrete and ambitious partnership". 

Rocky relations 

Earlier this year, Algeria marked 60 years of independence following 132 years of French rule that culminated in a brutal war between 1954 and 1962. 

In 2017, Macron described the conflict, which killed hundreds of thousands of Algerians, as a "crime against humanity". 

Why Macron ditched efforts to heal colonial wounds with Algeria
Read More »

But last year he caused outrage in the north African country after he was quoted as suggesting that Algerian national identity did not exist prior to French rule, and accused Algerian leaders of rewriting the struggle for independence based on anti-France hatred. 

The remarks led to Algiers closing its airspace to French planes and withdrawing its ambassador for consultations. 

On Thursday, Macron announced that a joint committee with French and Algerian historians would be set up to study the archives on the colonial period. 

Ties with Algeria have become a priority in recent months, following  increased demand for North African gas after the onset of the Russia-Ukraine war and growing migration across the Mediterranean. 

Macron was filmed smiling and waving at crowds in the northwestern city of Oran on Saturday, despite many of those gathered appearing to be insulting him and chanting "One two three, viva l'Algérie". 

The president was in the city visiting Disco Maghreb, a celebrated record shop that found renewed interest this year after French-Algerian producer DJ Snake released a single named after the store. 

Turkey blasts Macron for accusing it of anti-French propaganda during Algeria trip

US voices concern over censorship, judicial harassment after Turkish pop star's arrest

Sat, 08/27/2022 - 17:27
US voices concern over censorship, judicial harassment after Turkish pop star's arrest
Pop singer Gulsen was recently jailed and charged with 'incitement to hatred' over a months-old quip about religious schools was broadcast by a pro-government media outlet
MEE and agencies Sat, 08/27/2022 - 18:27
Turkish pop star Gulsen performs during a concert in Aydin, Turkey 27 March (Reuters/File photo)

The United States remains concerned about efforts in Turkey to restrict expression via censorship and judicial harassment, according to a State Department spokesperson, following the arrest of a Turkish pop star for on-stage remarks.

Pop singer Gulsen was jailed on Thursday and charged with "incitement to hatred" after video of a quip she made on stage in April about religious schools was broadcast by a pro-government media outlet.

"He studied at an Imam Hatip [school] previously. That's where his perversion comes from," Gulsen says in a light-hearted manner in the video, referring to a musician in her band.

Comedian Lotfi al-Abdali flees Tunisia citing lack of freedoms
Read More »

President Tayyip Erdogan, whose Islamist-rooted AK Party first came to power some 20 years ago, himself studied at one of the country's first Imam Hatip schools, which were founded by the state to educate young men to be imams and preachers.

Sabah, a pro-government newspaper, published the video on Wednesday, saying Gulsen had previously drawn criticism for "actions she displayed on stage, extremely low-cut dresses and holding up an LGBT flag".

Several ministers reacted to Gulsen's words on Twitter, with Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag condemning what he called "primitive" remarks and an "antiquated mentality".

"Inciting one part of society towards another using begrudging, hateful and discriminating language under the guise of being an artist is the biggest disrespect to art," he wrote.

On Thursday, Gulsen apologised to anyone offended by her remarks, saying they were seized upon by some who want to polarise society.

Support for Singer

Gulsen's lawyer, Emek Emre, told Reuters her legal team had filed a challenge to the formal arrest decision on Friday, saying the process of her detention had been illegal and irregular from the start.

"We expect everything to be done as required by law. My hope and expectation is that this [arrest] decision will be overturned," he said.

'Are we going to jail pending trial anyone who speaks nonsense? Let society dole out her punishment'

- Mehmet Barlas, pro-government columnist

Thousands on social media spoke out in support of Gulsen, saying she was being targeted for her liberal views and support for LGBT+ rights.

"I think she is under arrest because she is a figure representing secular Turkey and an artist sensitive to giving support to the LGBTI movement," said Veysel Ok, a lawyer and co-director of the Media and Law Studies Association.

"I think they were looking for an excuse to arrest her and found it with the quip four months ago," he told Reuters in an interview in his Istanbul office.

In a rare move, several staunchly pro-government columnists criticised Gulsen's arrest. 

"Are we going to jail pending trial anyone who speaks nonsense? Let society dole out her punishment," said Mehmet Barlas in his column in Sabah.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), said the arrest was aimed at polarising society to keep Erdogan's AK Party in power.

Erdogan and the AK Party say Turkish courts are independent.

The lawyer Ok said the case showed that, on the contrary, the country's judiciary is not independent, referring to the imprisonment of philanthropist Osman Kavala, pro-Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas and many other politicians and journalists over recent years.

"The Gulsen case has shown again that the Turkish judiciary is the biggest weapon of the government," he said. "It makes you feel that if you live in a way other than that of those in power your life and freedom is in danger." 

Netherlands: Asylum seekers evacuated from 'inhumane' Ter Apel shelter

Sat, 08/27/2022 - 10:52
Netherlands: Asylum seekers evacuated from 'inhumane' Ter Apel shelter
Hundreds leave country's main asylum centre, just hours after people there told MEE of 'living like dogs' in crisis-hit facility
MEE staff Sat, 08/27/2022 - 11:52
Hundreds of asylum seekers sleep outside the gate at the application centre in Ter Apel on 25 August 2022 (AFP)

Hundreds of asylum seekers were evacuated late on Friday from the Netherlands' main asylum centre, where overcrowding and harsh conditions have been described as "humiliating" and "inhumane". 

More than 700 people have been sleeping in the open for days at the facility in the northern town of Ter Apel, prompting Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to send in a team to assist with medical needs. 

It marks the first time MSF, which is mostly active in poorer nations, has worked in the Netherlands.

"Several hundred people were taken by bus late last night to other reception locations across the country," Leon Veldt, spokesman for the Dutch government's refugee organisation COA, told AFP on Saturday. "We hope to slowly normalise the situation at Ter Apel."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said there were "shameful scenes at the centre" and admitted to mistakes being made, promising a "structural solution". 

His government announced a number of measures on Friday to deal with the crisis, including opening more centres and a new registration location at a military base. 

It also pledged to temporarily suspend accepting 1,000 asylum seekers annually under an EU migrant deal with Turkey, and only bring over the families of successful asylum applicants once they have confirmed housing in the country. 

Earlier on Friday, Middle East Eye spoke to asylum seekers at the centre who said they were forced to sleep on muddy ground because they could not get access to safe shelter due to overcrowding. 

"We don't want money, we only want to sleep,'' one asylum seeker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told MEE

"After all the suffering we've been through, we've experienced three storms, our clothes got wet from the rain," a Palestinian refugee said. "That alone had me go back to [the Nakba] 1948."

The Nakba, or "the catastrophe", is the name Palestinians give to the massacres and forced expulsion they endured at the hand of Zionist militias in 1948.

'Living like dogs'

The asylum seekers at the facility come from several countries, including Syria, Nigeria, PalestineMorocco, Eritrea and Tunisia.

"I regret that I came to Europe... if I knew it was this undignified and humiliat[ing],"  a  Kurdish refugee told MEE. "We are living like dogs. I've been here for 10 days and I have not even had one shower yet.”

Netherlands: Asylum seekers ‘living like dogs’ at Ter Apel shelter
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A Syrian asylum seeker at the facility said: "If there is a process, it should be applied to all.

"We fled from corrupt countries. We didn't come here for the same treatment."

Earlier this week, the Dutch government opened an investigation into the death of a three-month-old baby by "unknown causes" at a sports gymnasium in Ter Apel.

The gymnasium had been converted into an emergency shelter after the main refugee centre ran out of room. MSF described the conditions as "inhumane", with no showers and no clean toilets.

MSF nurse and midwife Ruth Kauffman told MEE that many people at Ter Apel had run out of medication for chronic diseases. 

"We had to send three people to the hospital by ambulance for heart conditions and diabetes," she said. 

"We have a lot of people who have skin infections from being outside, infected wounds, respiratory tract infection, and gastrointestinal problems."

Asylum seekers evacuated from 'inhumane' Ter Apel shelter in Netherlands

Libya: Deadly clashes shake Tripoli, sparking fears of new war

Sat, 08/27/2022 - 10:42
Libya: Deadly clashes shake Tripoli, sparking fears of new war
Health ministry says 32 people killed during fighting, including several civilians, along with 159 injured
MEE and agencies Sat, 08/27/2022 - 11:42
A damaged vehicle is pictured in a street in the Libyan capital Tripoli following clashes between rival local groups on 27 August 2022 (AFP)

Rival Libyan groups exchanged gunfire in the Libyan capital on Saturday, leaving nearly two dozen people dead and scores more injured, raising fears of all-out conflict in a country facing a grave political crisis.

A health ministry source said 32 people were killed in Saturday's fighting, including several civilians, with a further 159 injured.

Six hospitals were hit and ambulances were unable to reach areas affected by the clashes, the ministry had said earlier, condemning "war crimes".

A cautious calm appeared to have returned on Saturday night, an AFP correspondent said.

The head of the government in Tripoli, Abdulhamid Dbeibah, posted a video of himself surrounded by bodyguards and greeting fighters supporting him

The Libyan Red Crescent has called for calm in order to evacuate civilians stuck in the areas of fighting.

Earlier, news agency Lana said actor and comedian Mustafa Baraka had been killed in one of the neighbourhoods hit by fighting, sparking anger and mourning on social media.

Images on social media showed cars burnt out in the fighting and bullet-riddled buildings, as well as a mosque and a health clinic on fire.

The UN's Libya mission called for "an immediate cessation of hostilities", citing "ongoing armed clashes including indiscriminate medium and heavy shelling in civilian-populated neighbourhoods".

The US embassy in Libya said it was "very concerned" about the clashes.

Bashagha militia turns back

The crisis pits groups that back the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU), led by Dbeibah, against supporters of a rival government led by former interior minister Fathi Bashagha.

The fighting broke out in various districts of Tripoli between groups armed with both heavy and light weapons, as the two rival governments yet again vie for power in the oil-rich but impoverished North African country.

Libya crisis: Is Tripoli at the brink of another war?
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The GNU said fighting had broken out after negotiations to avoid bloodshed in Tripoli collapsed.

According to local media, two influential armed groups faced off against one another in the capital, where divisions have deepened among militias on opposing sides of the political divide.

Local media reported later on Saturday that a group of pro-Bashagha militias that had been making their way to the capital from Misrata had turned back.

Bashagha was appointed in February by a parliament elected in 2014 and based in the eastern city of Tobruk, but he has been unable to impose his authority in Tripoli.

Initially ruling out the use of violence, the former minister has since hinted that he could resort to armed force.

Last week, he called on "Libyan men of honour" to drop their support for Dbeibah's "obsolete and illegitimate" administration.

Violence could strengthen Haftar

Bashagha is supported by eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar, who launched an unsuccessful offensive on the capital between 2019 and 2020.

Last month, a federal US judge issued a default judgement against Haftar, finding him liable for war crimes against several Libyan families who have accused him of extrajudicial killings and torture.

Emadeddin Badi, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, warned that the violence could quickly escalate.

"Urban warfare has its own logic, it's harmful both to civilian infrastructure and to people, so even if it isn't a long war, this conflict will be very destructive as we have already seen," he told AFP.

He added that the fighting could strengthen Haftar and those close to him.

"They stand to benefit from western Libya divisions and have a better negotiating position once the dust settles."

Dbeibah, appointed last year as part of a United Nations-backed peace process to end more than a decade of violence in the country, has refused to hand over power before elections.

The UN on Tuesday voiced "deep concern" over growing tensions between the rival Libyan forces, calling for "immediate" moves to calm the situation.

Last month, the deadliest clashes between rival groups in Tripoli since 2020 left 16 people dead, including a child.

Deadly clashes shake Tripoli sparking fears of new war in Libya

US judge say 9/11 victims not entitled to seize Afghan central bank assets

Sat, 08/27/2022 - 09:28
US judge say 9/11 victims not entitled to seize Afghan central bank assets
Manhattan magistrate said allowing seizures would effectively acknowledge Taliban as the Afghan government
MEE and agencies Sat, 08/27/2022 - 10:28
Nearly 3,000 people died on 11 September 2001, when planes were flown into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon in northern Virginia, and a Pennsylvania field (AFP)

A US judge has recommended that victims of the 11 September 2001 on the United States should not be allowed to seize billions of dollars of assets belonging to Afghanistan's central bank to satisfy court judgements they obtained against the Taliban.

US Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn in Manhattan on Friday said Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) was immune from jurisdiction, and that allowing the seizures would effectively acknowledge the Taliban as the Afghan government, something only the US president can do.

"The Taliban's victims have fought for years for justice, accountability, and compensation. They are entitled to no less," Netburn wrote. 

"But the law limits what compensation the court may authorise and those limits put the DAB's assets beyond its authority."

Netburn's recommendation will be reviewed by US District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan, who also oversees the litigation and can decide whether to accept her recommendation.

The decision is a defeat for four groups of creditors that sued a variety of defendants, including al-Qaeda, they held responsible for the 11 September attacks, and obtained default judgments after the defendants failed to show up in court, Reuters reported.

At the time of the attacks, the ruling Taliban allowed al-Qaeda to operate inside Afghanistan.

The United States ousted the Taliban and al-Qaeda in late 2001, but the Taliban returned to power a year ago when US and other western forces withdrew from the country.

Lawyers for the creditor groups did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

'Right thing'

The groups have been trying to tap into some of the $7bn of Afghan central bank funds that are frozen at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York.

In an executive order in February, US President Joe Biden ordered $3.5bn of that sum set aside "for the benefit of the Afghan people", leaving victims to pursue the remainder in court.

Afghanistan: Taliban stops scores of female students from flying to Qatar
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The US government took no position at the time on whether the creditor groups were entitled to recover funds under the Terrorist Risk Insurance Act of 2002.

It urged Netburn and Daniels to view exceptions to sovereign immunity narrowly, citing the risks of interference with the president's power to conduct foreign relations and possible challenges to American property located abroad.

Other countries hold about $2bn of Afghan reserves.

Shawn Van Diver, the head of #AfghanEvac, which helps evacuate and resettle Afghans, said he hoped the frozen funds could be used to help the struggling Afghan economy without enriching the Taliban.

"The judge has done the right thing here," he said.

Nearly 3,000 people died on 11 September 2001, when planes were flown into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon in northern Virginia, and a Pennsylvania field.

US sanctions ban doing financial business with the Taliban but allow humanitarian support for the Afghan people.

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