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Archive for June, 2018

Qatar signs Turkey naval military base agreement

March 14, 2018

Qatar has signed an agreement with Turkey to establish a naval base, Khaleej Online reported today.

The agreement came during the Doha International Maritime Defense Exhibition and Conference (DIMDEX) 2018, which ends today, which was attended by international investors from the US, Europe and China for potential ventures.

Turkey has won a tender to establish the base in northern Qatar, general Hamad Bin Abdullah Al-Futtais Al Marri, commander of Qatar’s joint special forces said. The naval base will include a training center that will primarily take on maritime patrols and monitoring. No other details of the base were revealed.

Turkey will also export six armed, unmanned aerial vehicles or drones to Qatar’s armed forces, and give training services to Qatar’s forces by next year. Qatar wishes to purchase the drones for its own surveillance and tactical reconnaissance needs. Turkey will be assisting a long-term strategy to harness defense knowledge with an agreement to establish an academy for Qatar in association with Turkey’s Piri Reis University.

Qatar has taken a strategic decision to increase its defense and regional security amid an ongoing air, land and sea blockade led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The blockade was levied over extremism and terrorism allegations, which Qatar categorically denied as baseless.

Turkey stepped in, providing Qatar with food and medicine essentials.

In early 2018, the Turkish National Security Council finalized a plan to deploy 60,000 armed soldiers to Qatar in accordance to a 2022 defense plan. Some one hundred soldiers are currently based in Qatar’s Al-Udeid military base since the Saudi-led blockade.

Some 30 Turkish companies are participating in Qatar’s DIMDEX exhibition, showcasing modern military technology.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Spain feels the heat as migrants shift route into Europe

June 29, 2018

TARIFA, Spain (AP) — Askanda Fopa Ponye was jubilant as he stepped off an orange rescue ship onto Spanish soil, one of the latest arrivals amid a wave of migrants that has turned the shortest route from North Africa to Europe into the most popular one.

The 24-year-old Cameroonian survived a 9-month trip across the African continent and a 10-hour overnight ordeal on the Mediterranean Sea, paddling north from Morocco in a fragile inflatable boat that he bought along with seven other people.

Rescued at sea, he and 74 others finally disembarked in the southern city of Algeciras. Fopa Ponye carried nothing but his wet clothes, his determination to find a job in Barcelona and a message for European Union leaders who want stricter policies to curb the numbers of those seeking a better life in Europe.

“Migrants are not coming here to do bad things. I don’t come here looking for trouble,” Fopa Ponye said, speaking as the British outpost of Gibraltar and its famous Rock towered across a bay filled with luxury yachts.

The U.N. refugee agency says 17,781 people have made it to Spain so far this year, both by land and by sea, outpacing the arrivals by boat to Italy (16,452) or Greece (13,120). The arrivals this year to Spain’s southern coast are already the highest for the past decade. Although far from the flows seen in Greece in 2015, and Italy over the following two years, they show how routes are shifting westward as policies are adjusted.

Of the 973 who lost their lives in the Mediterranean so far this year, nearly a third (293) died trying to reach Spain, the International Organization for Migration said. That figure does not include an estimated 100 migrants who were missing at sea and feared dead Friday off the Libyan coast when their smuggling boat sank.

Despite a sharp decline from 2015 peak levels of economic migrants and asylum-seekers arriving in Europe, the renewed popularity of the Western Mediterranean route is straining Spain’s security forces and social safety networks.

With police stations and juvenile facilities overflowing in Cadiz, Spain’s southernmost province, authorities are setting up makeshift housing in sports facilities, rented hostels or even ferry terminals.

On Tuesday, the day Fopa Ponye was rescued, the sports complex in Tarifa held more than 600 people, some who came all the way from Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. Women, some of them pregnant and others with newborns, slept on the floor of a basketball court, sharing it with dozens of unaccompanied teenagers.

By Wednesday, authorities stopped receiving more people in Tarifa, and a new facility had to be opened in the nearby coastal town of Barbate. There were moments of tension Thursday when dozens of Moroccans stormed an exit and managed to escape police.

Spain has bilateral agreements with Morocco, Algeria and other African countries to return their citizens, making it nearly impossible for any arrivals from there to get asylum. But most sub-Saharan Africans and others arriving in the country are given an expulsion order that authorities are rarely able to execute.

Most are released and continue north into France and beyond. Among those who stay — awaiting asylum and unable to work — a small number receive public assistance for up to two years. But many end up homeless or at the mercy of criminals. Local governments, especially in cities like Madrid or Barcelona, offer limited accommodations and assistance, relying frequently on charities.

Aid groups say the approach needs to be rethought. The early summer surge in arrivals is exposing Spain’s response as ill-equipped, underfunded and too reliant on improvisation. The increase also comes as a divisive debate over migration has re-emerged in Europe. At an EU summit on Thursday and Friday in Brussels, the 28 leaders of the bloc agreed on several measures to better manage migration into Europe.

In 2006, offering funds and training to the coast guard and security forces in Senegal reduced a wave of nearly 32,000 arrivals in the Canary Islands. But Spain’s approach also has been marred by an asylum system that has more than 43,000 unsolved petitions — last year only 4,670 people were granted protection — and controversial, on-the-spot returns of migrants caught entering the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla over a fence in North Africa.

The Rev. Josep Buades, a Jesuit priest who visits migrants weekly at some of the detention centers known as CIEs, said “Spain’s past experience should be seen as a showcase of the challenges that lie ahead for the European Union, rather than a path to success.”

The Associated Press was denied access this week to visit CIEs in Tarifa and Algeciras, the latter a former prison that Spain’s Ombudsman Office said should be closed due to poor conditions. Run by Spain’s police with little public supervision, these centers also seem to be models for similar facilities being proposed either on European soil or abroad.

Jose Villahoz, head of the local aid group Algeciras Acoge, said the EU shouldn’t be looking for ways to deprive migrants of their freedom. “If the rights of the nationals of the transit countries are not even respected, it’s going to be even worse for those coming from sub-Saharan countries,” said Villahoz, adding it was “deplorable to make those countries in northern African responsible” for the migration flows into Europe.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said he will look into how to improve the CIEs, but there are no plans to close them. After winning praise earlier this month for taking in 629 migrants on the Aquarius rescue ship that Italy and Malta rejected, Spain’s new center-left government is under pressure to deliver an equivalent response to the migrant arrivals on the southern coast.

But the European debate feels far away in the EU’s “south of the south,” as Villahoz calls Spain’s neglected Andalusian coast. Instead, all eyes are on negotiations with Morocco, which many in Spain blame for opening or closing the valve of departures from its shores, ahead of talks with the EU on fishing, agricultural and other topics.

On Thursday, Sanchez sent Spain’s interior and foreign ministers to Morocco for meetings with their counterparts. Sanchez himself is planning a visit there this summer. Khalid Zerouali, Morocco’s director of migration and border surveillance, said his country is under new pressure amid the clampdown on the sea migration route between Libya and Italy.

He also told the AP that Morocco isn’t interested in trying to determine which migrants are eligible for asylum in Europe. The plan to make such decisions in some African countries is being discussed by the EU as one way to tamp down arrival numbers.

“That’s not the solution,” Zerouali said, because people often use Morocco as a departure point for Spain, adding that about 25,000 migrants have been stopped this year. Buades, the Catholic priest, says Europe should explore policies that favor legal migration while rethinking its overall asylum system and its treatment of arrivals. But that is difficult in the current climate, he added.

“The Europe that we live in has dived into a populist and xenophobic discourse that makes it nearly impossible to improve the current system,” Buades said.

Amira El Masaiti in Rabat, Morocco, contributed to this report.

King and queen of Spain wrap up visit to San Antonio

June 19, 2018

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia visited a museum exhibit featuring Spanish masterpieces on Monday as they wrapped up their visit to San Antonio. The royal couple came to San Antonio to celebrate the Texas city’s 300th anniversary and its roots as a Spanish colonial village. On Monday they inaugurated an exhibit at the San Antonio Museum of Art that features masterpieces from museums in Madrid, including works by El Greco, Diego Velazquez and Francisco Goya.

Also on Monday, the royal couple attended a summit featuring young Hispanic leaders. The king and queen arrived in San Antonio on Saturday, after visiting New Orleans for its tricentennial. The king and queen will meet Tuesday with President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump at the White House.

What became San Antonio originally was founded as Mission San Antonio de Valero on May 1, 1718, by Spanish Franciscan missionaries backed by the Spanish monarchy and government during the colonization of New Spain.

The royal couple’s activities on Sunday included attending a welcoming ceremony before touring the San Jose Mission site.

King and queen of Spain visit 300-year-old San Antonio

June 18, 2018

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia are in San Antonio to celebrate the city’s tricentennial and its roots as a Spanish colonial village. The royal couple attended a welcoming ceremony Sunday hosted by Mayor Ron Nirenberg and other city officials at the Spanish Governor’s Palace before touring the San Jose Mission site and then visiting an historical exhibit. An evening dinner with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also was planned.

What became San Antonio originally was founded as Mission San Antonio de Valero on May 1, 1718, by Spanish Franciscan missionaries backed by the Spanish monarchy and government during the colonization of New Spain.

The king and queen are to meet Tuesday with President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump at the White House.

Court gives Spanish princess’ husband 5 days to go to prison

June 13, 2018

MADRID (AP) — Judicial authorities on Wednesday told the brother-in-law of Spain’s King Felipe VI that he must report to a prison within five days in order to serve five years and 10 months for fraud and tax evasion, among other crimes.

Inaki Urdangarin, a former Olympic handball medal winner who has been married for two decades to the king’s sister, Princess Cristina, is the closest person to the ruling family of the Bourbons to be convicted and imprisoned.

The case was seen as instrumental in prompting the abdication in 2014 of Juan Carlos I, who passed on the throne to Felipe. Public broadcaster TVE showed Urdangarin and his lawyer arriving Wednesday by car at the Palma de Mallorca court after landing on a commercial flight from Geneva, where the 50-year-old lives with his wife Cristina.

He left minutes later, without making any remarks to the crowd of reporters and cameras awaiting him. The provincial court ruled last year that Urdangarin embezzled about 6 million euros ($7 million) between 2004 and 2006 by exploiting his “privileged status” in the royal family to obtain public contracts related to sports events.

Spain’s Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the lower court’s decision, but acquitted him of forgery and reduced his prison sentence by five months. Cristina, who became the first member of the Spanish royal family to face criminal charges, was acquitted for aiding her husband’s crimes and only fined as a beneficiary in the scheme. She had already paid a 265,000-euro fine ($311,500), but Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling on the appeal halved the amount.

It wasn’t immediately clear where the former duke will serve the prison sentence, although in theory he has the right to choose any of the facilities in Spanish territory. Urdangarin could still appeal to the Constitutional Court, but experts say that would be futile because the country’s top court has not taken in any appeals for imprisonments beyond the five year mark in the past.

Cristina and her husband were stripped of their titles of the Duke and Duchess of Palma after the initial court verdict. The couple has been living in Geneva with their four children since the first allegations of wrongdoing emerged in 2012.

Spain: Thousands form human chain for Basque secession vote

June 10, 2018

MADRID (AP) — Tens of thousands of Spaniards from the northern Basque Country have formed a line that stretched over 200 kilometers (124 miles) to demand a ballot on secession for the wealthy region. Protesters held hands or extended scarves between themselves to form the human chain, which connected the cities of San Sebastian, Bilbao and regional seat Vitoria.

The scarves bore the slogan “It’s in our hands” written in Basque. Organizers say 175,000 people participated, including Basque and Catalan pro-secession politicians and activists. Basque police did not give an official count.

The demonstration took place just over a month since Basque militant group ETA announced its dissolution. Spain has refused to allow an official referendum on secession by the Catalonia region, whose leaders tried and failed to declare independence last year.

Spain rescues 334 migrants from Mediterranean, finds 4 dead

June 10, 2018

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s maritime rescue service has saved 334 migrants and recovered four bodies from boats it intercepted trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. The rescue service says its patrol craft reached nine different boats carrying migrants that had left from African shores throughout Saturday and early Sunday.

One boat found Sunday was carrying four dead bodies along with 49 migrants. The rescue service said the cause of death has yet to be determined. Driven by violent conflicts and extreme poverty, tens of thousands of migrants attempt to reach southern Europe each year by crossing the Mediterranean in smugglers’ boats. Most of the boats are unfit for open water, and thousands drown annually.

The U.N. says at least 785 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean so far this year. Through the first five months of 2018, a total of 27,482 migrants reached European shores, with 7,614 of them arriving in Spain.

Further to the east, Libya’s coast guard intercepted 152 migrants, including women and children, in the Mediterranean Sea, from two boats stopped Saturday off the coast of the western Zuwara district and the capital, Tripoli.

The migrants were taken to a naval base in Tripoli. Libya was plunged into chaos following a 2011 uprising and is now split between rival governments in the east and west. The lawless in Libya has made it a popular place to head off to Europe for migrants fleeing poverty and conflict.

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