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September 28, 2016

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov announced Wednesday that the government is nominating its European commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, as a candidate to be United Nations Secretary-General, replacing its previous candidate, UNESCO chief Irina Bokova.

The decision came two days after Bokova, came in sixth of nine candidates in the Security Council’s latest informal poll to succeed Ban Ki-moon on Jan 1. Earlier this month, Borisov said his government would continue backing Bokova’s candidacy only if she was among the top two candidates in the fifth “straw” poll on Sept. 26.

“We made huge efforts, not only the government, but also the president, the foreign ministry and Irina Bokova herself, but you see the result,” Borisov said at the government meeting. In order to be replaced, however, Bokova would need to file a letter announcing her withdrawal. She said she sees no reason to do that.

“None of the other candidates, even those with worse results, is doing it because the real race is still ahead,” Bokova said in an interview for the daily 24 chasa on Wednesday, before the prime minister’s announcement.

Under the U.N. Charter, the secretary-general is elected by the U.N. General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council. In practice, this means the votes of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N.’s most powerful body — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — are critical.

By tradition, the job of secretary-general has rotated among regions. Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe have all held the post. East European nations, including Russia, argue that they have never had a secretary-general and it is their turn.

There has also never been a woman secretary-general and more than 50 nations are campaigning to elect the first female U.N. chief, along with many organizations. In Monday’s informal poll, Portugal’s former Prime Minister Antonio Guterres retained first place and was the only candidate to get the minimum nine required “yes” votes.

The key question for Guterres is whether one of the permanent members opposes his candidacy. That should become clear in the sixth straw poll expected next week which will be the first to distinguish the votes of the permanent and non-permanent council members.

One of the big question marks is who Russia will support. Borisov spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, before he announced the government’s support for Georgieva. Bokova said in the interview that calls for her to leave the race are undignified. She added that “with a second candidate, Bulgaria will become a laughing stock.”

Since entering the race, Bokova has been a controversial candidate in Bulgaria because of her communist past. “It appears that my successful start was not liked by certain circles in Bulgaria and outside Bulgaria. They saw that I have a chance to win and launched a negative campaign against me,” she said.

“Regretfully, I am the only candidate facing a hysterical campaign of name-calling and slander in my own country.” In Brussels, Georgieva’s boss, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, has granted her an unpaid leave of absence for the month of October to stand for the U.N.’s top post.

Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the EU’s executive arm will “ensure a strict separation between activities relating to her candidacy and her work” at the commission, where she has the portfolio in charge of budgetary affairs and human resources.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov said the government will be seeking support for Georgieva from neighboring countries. “I want to thank Ms Bokova, but we must transfer our support to Kristalina Georgieva,” Mitov said.

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the U.N. contributed to this report.

September 24, 2016

VIENNA (AP) — Austria’s chancellor vowed Saturday to better protect the European Union’s outer borders to curb illegal migration, as he held a summit with his German, Greek and west Balkans counterparts to debate strategies to deal with Europe’s migrant crisis.

“We need to regain control over our external border,” Chancellor Christian Kern said at a press conference after the Vienna summit. “We need to decide who gets to come to Europe,” not the traffickers.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a speedier return of migrants who didn’t get asylum status is another important goal. “We therefore talked today about the necessity of quickly finishing agreements with third countries, especially with Africa, but also Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Merkel said. “So that those who cannot stay for humanitarian reasons will be returned to their home countries.”

Both Merkel and Kern stressed that the migrants’ situation in Europe was better than a year ago, when thousands crossed the Mediterranean Sea each day from Turkey to Greece then trekked up the Balkans to northern Europe. About one million migrants entered Europe last year, the majority from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other crisis-torn countries.

The closing of Balkans migrant route in the spring and the March EU-Turkey agreement to reduce migration have led to a dramatic reduction of the number of people reaching northern Europe. Still, both leaders pointed out that they were considering strengthening the EU’s border agency Frontex not only along the continent’s sea borders, but also to help protect inner European borders, for example at the border between Greece and Macedonia.

“We need to make sure, practically and politically, that the west Balkans route will remain closed to illegal migration for good,” EU Council President Donald Tusk said. Merkel also offered support for Greece and Italy and said Germany would take in several hundred migrants from both countries every month, the German news agency dpa reported.

Grieshaber contributed from Berlin.

September 20, 2016

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Ahead of a major European meeting on the refugee crisis convened by Austria, the country’s chancellor and foreign minister on Tuesday urged joint EU action on tightening up Europe’s external borders and a “Marshall Plan” for countries responsible for most of the migrant influx to the continent to reduce incentives to leave.

Austria is governed by a coalition of Social Democrats and the center-right People’s Party. At a time of increased tension between the two parties, comments by Chancellor Christian Kern and Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz reflected attempts to stake out political positions that will appeal to their voter base. Kern, a Social Democrat, focused on the need to reduce the migrant influx by improving the lives of those most likely to leave their home countries. Kurz, of the People’s Party, hit hard on the need to secure border controls.

But both strove to reduce fears of a rightward lurch by Austria, through increasingly restrictive border policies and amid projections that Norbert Hofer of Austria’s xenophobic Freedom Party has the edge in delayed presidential elections now scheduled for December.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Kern avoided directly responding when asked if that perceived rightward shift had been raised by other leaders attending the session. “Even in case Mr. Hofer would win the election, life would go on,” he said. “We have a stable government, and we are part of the European Union representing the values of its foundation.”

Kurz’s party has moved further right on refugees than Kern’s, opening it up to criticism that its policies are not much different from those of the Freedom Party. But Kurz said Austria is not alone in its switch this year from open to tight borders.

“There is now an understanding in the European Union that we have to stop the flow of illegal migrants, and that we need border controls to our external borders,” he said. “I don’t think this is a far-right position. It’s a necessary position.”

The two spoke ahead of a regional refugee summit in Vienna on Saturday, convened by Kern to try and harmonize policies — a difficult proposition considering that those attending will include German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who lead opposing camps on the issue.

Kern saw no problem, saying the two often meet at summits. Still, their encounters have been bumpy. At a summit of EU leaders on Friday in Slovakia, Orban again criticized Germany for refusing to set limits on migrant arrivals. Unless Berlin caps arrivals, he said, the flood will continue “because everyone sees … that there is a place in Europe where the good life can be achieved, where they are welcomed and where their needs are taken care of.”

He said Hungary’s razor-wire barrier is meant ‘to stop at the Hungarian border the negative consequences of the suction effect of German domestic politics.”

Stockholm (AFP)

Sept 28, 2016

Sweden said Wednesday it would reintroduce compulsory military service from 2018, eight years after it was abolished.

The Scandinavian nation, which has not seen armed conflict on its territory in two centuries, ended conscription in 2010 after it was deemed an unsatisfactory way of meeting the needs of a modern army.

“I hope that we are going to find a path to a more stable, robust and functional means of recruitment,” Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told a news conference.

The new policy will affect Swedes born after 1999, according to a report by a former member of parliament for the defense ministry.

The measure is expected to be adopted by parliament, subject to agreement between the leftist government and the center right opposition.

Around 4,000 young Swedes, 18-year-olds of both sexes, are expected to be called up each year.

The move was “an intelligent proposal given that we have seen for a number of years now that volunteers are not sufficient to supply either the quality or quantity of soldiers” needed, Johan Osterberg, a researcher from the School for Advanced Defense Studies, told news agency TT.

Sweden is not a NATO member but has signed the body’s Partnership for Peace program launched in 1994 to develop military cooperation between NATO and non-member countries.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Sweden_to_reintroduce_military_service_999.html.

September 23, 2016

STOCKHOLM (AP) — A Norwegian man who was freed by militants in the Philippines has returned home after a year of jungle captivity. Kjartan Sekkingstad arrived in Oslo on Friday, six days after being released by Abu Sayyaf extremists who had kidnapped him along with two Canadians who were later beheaded and a Filipino woman.

The 57-year-old Norwegian told reporters he had experienced “a year of terror,” with little food, long jungle treks and a constant fear of being killed. He recalled feeling “helpless” seeing his captors take away the first Canadian hostage to be executed “but there was nothing you could do.”

Abu Sayyaf released Sekkingstad last Saturday to a rebel group, which handed him over to Philippine authorities. Sekkingstad was kidnapped from a yacht club he helped manage in September 2015.

September 20, 2016

UC Berkeley has reinstated a course on Palestinian history which was suspended last week.

The school’s dean announced the decision after the teacher revised the course description.

“Palestine: A Colonial Settler Analysis” course was suspended by social science dean Carla Hesse after receiving a complaint from Jewish and civil rights groups that the course syllabus appeared to describe a politically motivated, anti-Semitic class.

Activists protested against the decision saying it threatened academic freedom.

Paul Hadweh, a student who teaches the one unit course, said he wasn’t told that it had been suspended.

“The university threw me under the bus, and publicly blamed me, without ever even contacting me,” Hadweh said. “To defend the course, we had to mobilize an international outcry of scholars and students to stand up for academic freedom. This never should have happened.”

The dean said she suspended the class for review after discovering that neither she nor the chair of the ethnic department had seen or approved the course syllabus.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160920-uc-berkeley-reinstates-palestine-course/.

September 24, 2016

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — A top South Sudanese opposition leader called Saturday for armed resistance to the government in Juba — a stance that suggests the troubled Central African nation could face a renewed civil war in the near future.

Leader Riek Machar and top officials of the opposition SPLM-IO party issued a statement saying their forces would reorganize to “wage a popular armed resistance against the authoritarian and racist regime of President Salva Kiir.” It’s the first political statement by Machar since he fled South Sudan in August.

The statement, obtained by The Associated Press, came after a meeting Saturday of Machar and his supporters in Khartoum, Sudan. His call for armed resistance adds to South Sudan’s spiraling problems. South Sudan gained independence in 2011 but fell into a civil war in 2013 in which at least 50,000 civilians died and more than 2 million were displaced. A peace deal was forced on both Kiir and Machar last August, but fighting in the capital, Juba, in July put that deal in doubt.

“We have been driven back to the bush,” James Gadet, a spokesman for Machar, told the AP on Saturday in a call from Nairobi, Kenya. Gadet called for the removal of Taban Deng Gai, who was controversially named to replace Machar as the country’s First Vice President. He says the South Sudan government must stop attacking civilians and a regional protection force must be deployed in the country or there will be “an escalation of the civil war,” which he says began again on July 8.

“(We) call on the international community to declare the regime in Juba a rogue government,” the document says, adding that international agencies monitoring the peace deal should “suspend their activities” until the agreement is “resuscitated.”

Some critics blame American foreign policy in South Sudan, saying the U.S. has given Kiir a “blank check” to pursue a militant policy. “It’s not at all surprising to see Machar call for continued armed struggle, in light of the U.S. policy to back Taban Deng as First Vice President and the clear absence of a viable political process,” Kate Almquist Knopf, director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, told the AP.

Machar has demanded that the government accept the U.N. Security Council’s decision to send an additional 4,000 peacekeepers to increase the size of the existing U.N. force of 12,000 in South Sudan. The Kiir government has resisted the U.N. decision, saying it violates South Sudan’s sovereignty. State Department officials say if South Sudan doesn’t accept the additional peacekeepers, the U.S. would support an arms embargo on the country.

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