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October 13, 2017

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia’s left-wing government faces a strong test in this weekend’s municipal elections, five months after it came to power during an acute political crisis following a decade of conservative rule.

The first round of the vote is scheduled for Sunday, with over 1.8 million registered voters choosing local officials in the capital, Skopje, and another 80 municipalities. The re-run is on Oct. 29. Opinion polls show a slight advantage for the governing Social Democrats, particularly in the capital, Skopje, where the party’s candidate mayor is 2.6 percent ahead of the conservative incumbent.

The conservative VMRO-DPMNE main opposition party is seeking to defend its dominance on a local level. It won 56 of 81 municipalities in the last elections in 2013 against the Social Democrats’ four. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has sought to get Macedonia to join NATO and the European Union, and to see through criminal investigations into conservative officials over a 2015 wiretapping scandal.

Zaev has urged voters to “free the country from the remnants of the VMRO-DPMNE criminal regime.” Zaev’s ascent followed a protracted political crisis triggered by the wiretaps, for which he blamed the then-ruling conservatives. They denied wrongdoing and blamed unspecified foreign spies.

On the streets of Skopje, many voters seem disenchanted with politics. “After every election, I’m poorer and more miserable. It is just a show for politicians and their greed for more power and money,” 36-year-old dentistry technician Dijana Stojanovska told the Associated Press.

VMRO-DPMNE campaigning has focused on what it calls “national issues,” claiming that the Social Democrats plan to change the country’s name — over which Macedonia has a decades-long dispute with southern neighbor Greece — to join NATO and the EU.

VMRO-DPMNE also accuses Zaev’s government of treason, for proposing to make Albanian Macedonia’s second official language, and signing a friendship pact with neighboring Bulgaria. Albanians form a quarter of Macedonia’s 2.1-million population, and ethnic tensions boiled over in 2001 when an ethnic Albanian uprising brought the country to the brink of civil war.

The local elections were delayed for five months due to a new crisis after VMRO DPMNE came first in parliamentary elections last year but was unable to secure a governing majority. Second-placed Zaev was eventually able to form a coalition with the ethnic Albanian DUI party.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has over 300 observers to monitor the voting. Preliminary results are expected Monday.

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October 12, 2017

ROME (AP) — Backers of Italy’s populist 5-Star Movement are protesting the initial passage of revised election rules they contend are designed to foil their bid to gain national power for the first time.

The Chamber of Deputies — the lower chamber of the Italian Parliament — approved the rules late Thursday despite defections by some lawmakers from parties that are officially backing the changes. Supporters include the main governing Democratic Party, loyalists of center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, and the Northern League, a right-wing party gaining ground in opinion polls.

The Senate now takes up the bill. The 5-Star Movement, Parliament’s largest opposition party, opposes the changes, which reward parties in election coalitions. The Movement refuses to participate in coalitions and hopes to win Italy’s premiership in elections due by early 2018.

October 12, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary will continue to withhold its support for Ukraine’s further integration with the European Union as long as a new Ukrainian education law remains unchanged, Hungary’s foreign minister said Thursday.

The education law passed last month specifies that Ukrainian will be the main language used in schools, rolling back the option for lessons to be taught in other languages. Ukraine has some 150,000 ethnic Hungarians, mostly in the country’s west.

“We consider the new Ukrainian education law a stab in the back of our country,” Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said, speaking after a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Klimkin. Ethnic Hungarians in Transcarpathia, as Hungary calls western Ukraine, fear that the 71 Hungarian schools there could be at risk of having to close, Szijjarto said.

He said relations between neighbors Hungary and Ukraine are “at their most difficult period” since Ukraine declared independence from the collapsing Soviet Union in 1991. Russia, Romania and Moldova have also expressed concerns about the new language law.

Klimkin said not knowing the native language made it hard for minorities to be successful in Ukraine. He said 75 percent of students in an area with a large Hungarian minority failed their high school exit exams.

“Everyone needs the opportunity to fulfill themselves in their country of citizenship,” Klimkin said. “But this is not possible without knowing the language.” However, he said “not a single school” would be closed or “a single teacher” dismissed because of the new language requirement.

Klimkin said Hungary’s move to grant Hungarian citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine would not benefit those people. He also alleged that Russia was using the language issue to “manipulate” and “provoke” in Ukraine, including “directly and indirectly” in the Transcarpathia region.

In reply, Szijjarto said ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine “don’t need any incitement from anyone to stand up for their own rights.” “As long as the Hungarians of Transcarpathia ask us to fight on this issue and not back down, we will fight and not back down,” Szijjarto said.

October 13, 2017

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Former international soccer star George Weah has taken an early lead in Liberia’s presidential election as the West African nation begins releasing provisional results. The National Election Commission data shared late Thursday show Weah ahead in 14 of Liberia’s 15 counties while Vice President Joseph Boakai leads in his home county, Lofa. With 20 candidates in the race, observers expect a runoff election.

Commission Chairman Jerome Korkoya warned that the early results represent a small portion of the total vote, and he cautioned candidates’ supporters against declaring victory. Liberia seeks a successor to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who led the country as it recovered from civil war and the Ebola outbreak that killed nearly 5,000 Liberians.

One of the largest political parties called for a halt to vote-counting Thursday, alleging voting irregularities and fraud. Angry Liberty Party supporters claimed that polls opened late and that ballot-tampering occurred in at least one location in the capital, Monrovia.

“These people stood in the rain and under the sun. These people sacrificed,” the party’s vice chairman for political affairs, Abe Darius Dillon, told The Associated Press. The Liberty Party’s candidate is Charles Brumskine, a corporate lawyer who placed third in 2005 elections and fourth in 2011.

The election commission is ready to listen to official complaints but the vote-counting will continue, spokesman Henry Boyd Flomo said. “The constitution mandated us to conduct elections and declare results therefore in 15 days,” Flomo said. “We’ve got no option but to live with that.”

He said he could not address the accusation of ballot-tampering but acknowledged that many voters found it difficult to find their voting station. Everyone was allowed to vote, he added. The Carter Center, which observed elections, commended Liberians “for the calm and peaceful atmosphere” of the vote. It noted difficulties with long lines and management of voter lists but said it could not give a final assessment until vote counting is complete.

“No matter the outcome of this election, it will result in a transfer of power from one democratically elected government to another for the first time in the lives of many Liberians,” it said in a statement.

October 13, 2017

PARIS (AP) — The United States announced Thursday it is pulling out of the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural agency because of what Washington sees as its anti-Israel bias and a need for “fundamental reform” in the agency.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel plans to follow suit. While the Trump administration had been preparing for a likely withdrawal from UNESCO for months, the timing of the State Department’s statement was unexpected. The Paris-based agency’s executive board is in the midst of choosing a new chief — with Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari leading the heated election heading into Friday’s final vote.

Outgoing Director-General Irina Bokova expressed “profound regret” at the U.S. decision and tried to defend UNESCO’s reputation. The organization is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions, but also works to improve education for girls, promote understanding of the Holocaust’s horrors, and to defend media freedom.

Bokova called the U.S.’s planned departure a loss for “the United Nations family” and for multilateralism. The U.S. and UNESCO matter to each other more than ever now with “the rise of violent extremism and terrorism,” she said.

The U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011, but the State Department has maintained a UNESCO office and sought to weigh in on policy behind the scenes. The U.S. now owes about $550 million in back payments.

In a statement, the State Department said the decision will take effect Dec. 31, 2018, and that the U.S. will seek a “permanent observer” status instead. It cited U.S. belief in “the need for fundamental reform in the organization.”

Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel also plans to withdraw from the agency, saying it had become a “theater of the absurd because instead of preserving history, it distorts it.” Israel has been irked by resolutions that diminish its historical connection to the Holy Land and have instead named ancient Jewish sites as Palestinian heritage sites.

Praising Trump’s decision as “brave and moral,” Netanyahu said he has ordered Israeli diplomats to prepare for Israel’s withdrawal from the organization in concert with the Americans. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, also praised Washington’s move as heralding “a new day at the U.N., where there is a price to pay for discrimination against Israel.”

“The United States stands by Israel and is a true leader for change at the U.N,” Danon said. “The alliance between our two countries is stronger than ever.” U.S. officials said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the decision and it was not discussed with other countries. The officials were not authorized to be publicly named discussing the issue.

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called UNESCO’s July designation of Hebron’s Old City and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as Palestinian territory the latest of many “foolish actions” that had made the agency “a chronic embarrassment.”

Haley also criticized UNESCO for “keeping Syrian dictator Bashar Assad on a UNESCO human rights committee even after his murderous crackdown on peaceful protesters” The United States has pulled out of UNESCO before. The Reagan administration did in 1984 because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests. The U.S. rejoined in 2003.

The State Department informed Bokova it intends to stay engaged at UNESCO as a non-member “observer state” on “non-politicized” issues, including the protection of World Heritage sites, advocating for press freedoms and promoting scientific collaboration and education.

“We will be carefully watching how the organization and the new director-general steers the agency,” Charge d’Affaires Chris Hegadorn, the ranking U.S. representative to UNESCO, told The Associated Press. “Ideally, it steers it in way that U.S. interests and UNESCO’s mandate will converge.”

UNESCO’s 58-member executive board plans to select Bokova’s successor from among three finalists remaining from the field of seven candidates under consideration at the beginning of the week. Along with al-Kawari, Qatar’s former culture minister, the finalists are Audrey Azoulay, a former culture minister in France, and former Egyptian government minister Moushira Khattab. The board’s pick then goes to the full UNESCO general assembly next month for final approval.

Lee reported from Washington. Edith M. Lederer in New York, Aron Heller in Jerusalem and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

2017-10-11

CASABLANCA – Rabat rejected Catalonia’s secession bid and expressed its commitment to Spain’s sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity, according to statement issued Wednesday by Morocco’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Morocco called Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont’s decision to proceed with the secession “a source of instability and division not only in Spain but throughout its European neighborhood.”

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took the first step on Wednesday towards suspending Catalonia’s political autonomy and ruling the region directly to thwart a push for independence.

He demanded that the regional government clarify whether it now considered itself independent following a speech by Puigdemont on Tuesday night during which he said that he would proceed with the secession but would suspend it for a few weeks to facilitate negotiations.

This requirement is a necessary step before triggering Article 155 of the constitution, which would allow Madrid to suspend the region’s political autonomy.

“Morocco is confident in the ability of the Spanish government to wisely manage this situation with a view to preserving the constitutional order and to act in the supreme interest of the Spanish Nation and the European Continent,” said the statement.

“Consequently, Morocco does not recognize this unilateral process which runs against the international legality,” it added.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85347.

October 11, 2017

Libya’s Mufti, Al-Sadiq Al-Gharyani, has said that Skhirat-signed Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) is not a luxurious privilege for Libyans.

“That agreement has not even brought stability or accord to Libya.” the Mufti remarked.

In an article posted on the Fatwa House website and titled “Does the UN really want stability in Libya?” the Mufti indicated Tuesday that Libya has gone through tough times after it gave up its own fate to the hands of the UN, adding that the experience was a lesson to all those who believe that the UN’s project was aimed to stabilize Libya.

“The UN’s project fueled conflicts in Libya and did not aim to bring about accord.” The Mufi adds.

Sheikh Al-Gharyani also referred to the fact that Derna has a population of over 120.000, yet it is still deprived of necessary living items while the international community and the UN are watching, according to his article.

“Being the first city to defeat terrorism on its own without support did not help Derna much, but rather it was awarded by a siege that led to the starvation of the civilians.” He indicated, pointing out that the same strategy had been adopted in Ganfouda, Benghazi, before Derna.

The Mufti also lashed out at the parties that selected the dialogue committees, asking himself and the Libyans if those parties still believe the lie of fighting terrorism, which he said had been scandalized in Sabratha and in Benghazi.

“The international community knows very clearly that Haftar had never fought terrorist before, yet no action.” The Mufti added.

Source: Libya Observer.

Link: https://www.libyaobserver.ly/news/libyas-mufti-libyan-political-agreement-lie-luxury-truth-misery.

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