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Europe

LONDON - Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government suffered a fourth defeat on its Brexit legislation when members of parliament’s upper chamber voted on Tuesday to ensure protections for child refugees after Britain leaves the European Union.

Johnson’s Conservatives won a large majority in the lower chamber, the House of Commons, in a Dec. 12 election and earlier this month lawmakers there quickly approved the legislation needed to ratify his exit deal with Brussels.

But the House of Lords, where Johnson’s government does not have a majority, made three changes to the legislation on Monday, including over the rights of EU citizens after Brexit.

On Tuesday, the Lords voted 300 to 220 to ensure unaccompanied child refugees can continue to be reunited with family in Britain, a promise made by Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May but stripped from his legislation.

“The signal the government is sending by this is a very negative one, it is not a humanitarian signal,” said Alf Dubs, an opposition Labour lord who fled to Britain as a child to escape the Nazis, and who proposed the change to the bill.

Johnson’s spokesman said the government would seek to overturn the changes made to the Brexit legislation when the bill returns to the House of Commons later this week.

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By Dmitry Zhdannikov and Simon Robinson

DAVOS, Switzerland - Activist Greta Thunberg said on Tuesday planting trees was not enough to address climate change, in an apparent rebuke to a pledge in Davos by U.S. President Donald Trump an hour earlier.

Trump dismissed “perennial prophets of doom” on climate change in his keynote address. While he did not directly name Thunberg, she was sitting in the audience for his speech.

Trump announced the United States would join an initiative to plant one trillion trees, but also spoke at length about the economic importance of oil and gas and called climate change activists the “heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune tellers”.

“Our house is still on fire,” Thunberg said in her speech, repeating her remarks at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum a year ago.

“Your inaction is fuelling the flames,” the 17-year-old added, in the latest to-and-fro with the 73-year-old president.

Their debate around climate change appears an attempt by both to frame the argument, with Thunberg calling for an immediate end to fossil fuel investments in front of a packed audience an hour after watching Trump make his keynote address in the Swiss ski resort.

Thunberg responded by referring to “empty words and promises” by world leaders. “You say children shouldn’t worry... don’t be so pessimistic and then, nothing, silence.”

She said: “Planting trees is good of course, but it is nowhere near enough of what is needed, and it cannot replace real mitigation and rewilding nature.”

Earlier, Thunberg called on world leaders to listen to young activists, who have followed her to Davos this year.

“I’m not a person that can complain about not being heard,” she said, prompting laughter from the audience on the first day of the annual WEF meeting.

“The science and voice of young people is not the center of the conversation, but it needs to be.”

Several young activists have traveled to Davos, which has chosen sustainability as its main theme this year.

Thunberg has inspired millions to take action on climate change. A video of her giving Trump what media described as a “death stare” at a U.N. climate summit in New York in September went viral on social media.

 

PARIS - Protesters opposed to the French government’s proposed changes to the pension system tried to force their way into a theater in Paris where President Emmanuel Macron attended a show with his wife.

A crowd gathered outside the Theater Des Bouffes du Nord on Friday evening after the couple had arrived to watch a performance of La Mouche (The Fly). Videos on social media showed protesters chanting “Macron resign” and at one stage trying to enter the venue near the Gare du Nord train terminus in northern Paris.

“There was an attempted invasion of the theater but the presidential couple was able to remain until the end of the play and left the venue by car around 10pm with a police escort,” a source close to Macron said.

The president’s presence at the theater was flagged on Twitter by journalist and political activist Taha Bouhafs, who was inside the venue. He was later detained by police, according to a judicial source.

Macron was previously targeted by “yellow vest” protesters in their year-long movement against the cost of living, accused of being arrogant and out of touch.

The president has mostly stayed on the sidelines during protests against his planned overhaul of France’s retirement system, leaving Edouard Philippe, his prime minister, to face unions during a month and a half of transport stoppages.

But with participation in rail strikes waning, opponents of the pension reform have staged more direct action.

The headquarters of the moderate CFDT union, which the government has been trying to win over, was invaded on Friday by activists from other unions, while the Louvre Museum was blocked by striking staff.

Macron, who included changes to the pension system in his 2017 election campaign, wants to replace dozens of existing schemes with a universal, points-based system.

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NEW DELHI - Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday the country’s 2015 nuclear deal signed with major powers - China, Russia, France, Britain, the United States and Germany - to curb its nuclear program is ‘not dead’.

“No, it’s not dead. It’s not dead,” Zarif told Reuters on the sidelines of an event in New Delhi.

U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018 abandoned the nuclear deal reached under predecessor Barack Obama, arguing it was too weak and that new sanctions would force Iran to accept more stringent terms. Iran says it will not negotiate with sanctions in place.

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Mediterranean

By John Irish

JERUSALEM - “Go outside,” French President Emmanuel Macron demanded in English in a melee with Israeli security men on Wednesday, demanding they leave a Jerusalem basilica that he visited before a Holocaust memorial conference.

The French tricolor has flown over the Church of St. Anne in Jerusalem’s walled Old City since it was gifted by the Ottomans to French Emperor Napoleon III in 1856.

France views it as a provocation when Israeli police enter the church’s sandstone complex, in a part of Jerusalem captured and annexed by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

Wednesday’s incident was a case of deja vu all over again. In 1996, former President Jacques Chirac lost patience with Israeli security agents at the same church, telling one of them that his treatment was a “provocation” and threatening to get back on his plane.

Chirac refused to enter St. Anne until Israeli security left the site.

Video showed Macron, jostled in the center of a crowded circle between his own protective detail and Israeli security personnel, including several paramilitary policemen in uniform, under an archway leading into the church.

Macron then stopped the shoving and shouted at the Israeli security guards in English: “I don’t like what you did in front of me.”

Lowering his voice, he then said: “Go outside. I’m sorry, you know the rules. Nobody has to provoke nobody.”

Asked about the incident, an Israeli police spokesman declined comment. An Israeli government spokesman did not immediately provide comment on behalf of the Shin Bet internal security agency, which also helps guard foreign dignitaries.

French diplomats had cautioned that they want to leave little room for mishaps on Macron’s trip. Earlier on Wednesday, a separate squabble ensued when Israeli police tried to enter St. Anne ahead of Macron’s visit.

Macron is one of dozens of world leaders due to attend Thursday’s World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem, which will commemorate the 75-year anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

The 42-year-old head of state had seen his visit to St. Anne as a symbolic stop underscoring Paris’ historical influence in the region.

Before heading to the church, Macron walked through the Old City, speaking to shopkeepers and stopping by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

He later visited the Muslim Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem that houses al-Aqsa mosque, a site revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, and Judaism’s Western Wall.


By Alasdair Pal and Devjyot Ghoshal

NEW DELHI - Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday Moscow has been urging Gulf countries to consider a common security mechanism for the region and it was time the world got rid of unilateral measures such as sanctions.

“We have been suggesting to the Gulf countries to think about collective security mechanisms ... starting with confidence building measures and inviting each other to military exercises,” Lavrov told a security conference in Delhi.

Tensions in the Gulf have risen following the U.S. killing of Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani and a retaliatory missile attack by Iran on U.S. forces in Iraq.

“Since I mentioned about Persian Gulf, we are very much concerned about what is going in there,” Lavrov said.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is also attending the conference in Delhi that comes just a day after Britain, France and Germany formally accused Iran of violating the terms of its 2015 agreement to curb its nuclear program, which eventually could lead to the reimposing of U.N. sanctions.

Iran’s Fars news agency quoted Zarif as saying overnight that the use of the dispute mechanism was legally baseless and a strategic mistake.

Lavrov said unilateral sanctions were a problem in today’s world.

“So the 21st century is the time when we must get rid of any methods of dealing in international relations which smack of colonial and neo-colonial times. And sanctions, unilaterally imposed sanctions, they are not going to work.”

After pulling out of the Iran deal, the United States slapped sanctions back on Iran and has gradually increased its “maximum pressure” campaign targeting the Islamic Republic’s revenues from oil, mining and other industries.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on Tuesday for U.S. President Donald Trump to replace the Iranian nuclear deal with his own new pact to ensure the Islamic Republic does not get an atomic weapon.

Trump said in a tweet he agreed with Johnson for a “Trump deal”.

U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger will also be addressing the Delhi meeting on Thursday.

THE UNITED NATIONS - Amidst concern for the safety and protection of more than three million civilians in Syria's last rebel-held enclave, the UN's most senior humanitarian and political affairs officials briefed the Security Council on Syria behind closed doors on Friday.

Following the recent escalation of hostilities on the ground in the country's northwest, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock and the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, painted a dire picture of the deteriorating conditions.

"Nearly 300,000 people have been displaced from southern Idlib since 12 December, according to current estimates, with children and women being the most affected", UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters in New York. "Over half of the displaced, at least 175,000, are children".

He spelled out that the city of Ma'arrat An-Numan and its surrounding areas are reported to be "almost empty of civilians as families flee north to safety".

The new displacements add to over 400,000 women, children and men who were displaced by hostilities between the end of April and early December, many of them multiple times.

Over that same period, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) recorded over 1,330 civilian deaths.

"Winter conditions are exacerbating the dire humanitarian situation", said Mr. Haq. "Families are fleeing in torrential rain and temperatures at night are close to freezing".

Moreover, the rain and cold are leaving those who had moved further north in an even worse situation, with many reported to be living in camps, unfinished or partially destroyed buildings, in tents, under trees and in the open.

Humanitarian agencies have provided emergency food and cash to over 180,000 of the newly displaced, according to the deputy spokesperson.

He also flagged that additional ready-to-eat rations for more than half a million people, for up to five days, had already been pre-positioned in anticipation of further displacement.


Situation deteriorating daily


At the media stakeout before the Council met, French Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière told reporters that the United Kingdom and France called for the session to "take stock on where we are".

"The situation in Idlib is deteriorating day after day", he said.

"We formally condemn indiscriminate bombing by the regime and its allies", such as civilian facilities that include a school and hospitals, and "it should stop", underscored the French Ambassador.

He also called for the preservation of humanitarian access in both the northeast and northwest of the country.

 

 

 

BETHLEHEM, West Bank - British street artist Banksy has brought a somber Christmas spirit to a hotel he founded in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, with a nativity scene evoking the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Dubbed “Scar of Bethlehem”, the display (pictured here) features a miniature Jesus, Mary and Joseph under a rendition of Israel’s concrete West Bank barrier punctured by bullet holes, the largest of which resembles a star over the manger.

It is located in The Walled Off Hotel, which abuts the real barrier, and which the secretive Banksy opened in 2017.

“Christmas (is) known (for) the Star of Bethlehem, that led people to the birthplace of Jesus,” said hotel manager Wisam Salsa. “You see there is a scar, there is a hole on the wall that marks the wall and the life in Bethlehem how it is today.”

Israel says the barrier that cuts through the West Bank is a bulwark against Palestinian suicide bombers. Palestinians see it as a symbol of oppression in Israeli-occupied land they want for a state.

Arnaud Lucien, a tourist from France, saw hope in the art.

“It’s a scene, a biblical scene which is turned political,” he said. “And the message is very interesting because the message of peace is done for Palestinians and Israelis, and I think it’s a very nice piece of art.”

In the center of Bethlehem, which is revered as the birthplace of Jesus, pilgrims and tourists from all over the world were flocking to Manger Square in the build-up to Christmas on Dec. 25.

Many posed for photographs in front of a large crib and Christmas tree erected in front of the Church of the Nativity, eating candy floss and buying red and white hats from a Palestinian dressed as Santa Claus.

Christians make up around 1% of the Palestinian population in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

North Africa

BENGHAZI, LIBYA - The Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar has managed to down a Turkish drone that was allegedly trying to hit LNA units in Tripoli, a spokesman for the LNA Air Defence Forces said Wednesday.

"The Air Defence Forces of the General Command of the Libyan Arab Armed Forces shot down a Turkish drone that took off from the Mitiga International Airport and was trying to raid the site of our military units in Tripoli," the statement published on Facebook reads.

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said as quoted by the country's media that Ankara hadn't sent any Turkish troops in Libya yet but only military advisers.

Turkey has yet to comment on the claims by the LNA.

The development comes nearly a week after Ankara announced that it would deploy troops to support the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli in its fight against its opponents in the country's east, the Libyan National Army, after ceasefire negotiations between the two in Moscow failed.

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ISTANBUL - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has called on Europe to support its work in Libya, where it is providing military support to the internationally-recognized government, if it wants to end the conflict there.

Erdogan made his remarks in a column published on the Politico website on Saturday, ahead of a summit in Berlin on Sunday that will try to stabilize the country.

At the meeting, Germany and the United Nations will push rival Libyan camps fighting over the capital, Tripoli, to agree to a truce and monitoring mechanism as first steps toward peace, diplomats and a draft communique said.

Turkey supports the government of Fayez al-Serraj in Tripoli and describes Khalifa Haftar, who heads the eastern Libyan National Army (LNA), as a coup plotter.

“Keeping in mind that Europe is less interested in providing military support to Libya, the obvious choice is to work with Turkey, which has already promised military assistance,” Erdogan wrote.

“We will train Libya’s security forces and help them combat terrorism, human trafficking and other serious threats against international security,” he added.

Sunday’s summit will put pressure on Haftar and the LNA to halt a nine-month offensive against Tripoli after a week-long lull in fighting. But it will not try to broker power-sharing between the two sides, said diplomats briefed on preparations.

Haftar and Serraj are both due in Berlin - along with Erdogan and the leaders of Russia, Egypt and other Western and Arab powers. Libya has been in turmoil since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Erdogan said that if Libya’s legitimate government were to fall Islamist militant groups such as Islamic State and Al Qaeda “will find a fertile ground to get back on their feet”.

Haftar is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Sudanese and Chadian fighters, and most recently Russian mercenaries. France has also given some support.

On the other side, Turkey has supported Serraj by sending troops to balance out recent gains by Russian snipers. Hundreds of pro-Turkey fighters from Syria’s war have also been deployed, diplomats say.

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ANKARA - President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey is starting deployment of troops to Libya in support of the embattled United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and in line with agreements relating to maritime border demarcation and enhanced security cooperation.

"We signed an agreement with Libya to delineate maritime borders. It is no longer legally possible to conduct exploration and drilling activities or to run pipelines in the region between the Turkish and Libyan coasts without the approval of both countries," Erdogan announced in the Turkish capital Ankara on Thursday.

He added, "In 2020, we are licensing these areas and starting the search and drilling as quickly as ever. After the licensing work, for the first time the Oruc Reis seismic research vessel will conduct seismic studies in the region. We are sending our troops to this country to ensure the survival and stability of the legitimate government in Libya."

Erdogan remarks came only two days after Libya's renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar left Moscow without signing a binding truce that would have halted his nine-month campaign to seize the GNA's base of Tripoli, and would have formalized a tentative ceasefire in the war-wracked North African country.

"The draft [agreement] ignores many of the Libyan army's demands," Haftar was quoted as saying by the Saudi-owned and Arabic-language al-Arabiya television news network.

Fayez al-Sarraj, the heads of the GNA, had already signed the truce proposal after indirect talks in the Russian capital on Monday.

Last week, Turkey and Russia urged Libya's warring parties to declare a ceasefire after a recent escalation in fighting around Tripoli and the strategic coastal city of Sirte.

Erdogan has said Turkey would not refrain from "teaching a lesson" to Haftar if his eastern-based forces continue attacks against the Tripoli-based GNA.

"If the putschist Haftar's attacks against the people and legitimate government of Libya continue, we will never refrain from teaching him the lesson he deserves," the Turkish president said in a speech to his AK Party legislators in parliament on Tuesday.

"It is our duty to protect our kin in Libya," he said.

Erdogan said Turkey had deep historical and social ties with Libya, asserting that Haftar would have taken over the entire nation if Ankara had not intervened.

Turkey will join Germany, the United Kingdom and Russia at Libyan peace talks in Berlin next Sunday, he said.

"The putschist Haftar did not sign the ceasefire. He first said yes, but later, unfortunately, he left Moscow, he fled Moscow," Erdogan said.

"Despite this, we find the talks in Moscow were positive as they showed the true face of the putschist Haftar to the international community," the Turkish president added.

On January 2, Turkey's parliament has approved a bill to deploy troops to Libya.

Parliament Speaker Mustafa Sentop said at the time that the legislation had been passed with a 325-184 vote.

Back in late November last year, Libya's GNA and Turkey signed security and maritime agreements in opening the path to the Turkish troop deployment. The accords also drew the ire of Mediterranean countries, including Greece and Cyprus, which were eyeing energy resources in the area.

Libya's eastern-based parliament later voted unanimously against the deals.

Libya plunged into chaos in 2011, when a popular uprising and a NATO intervention led to the ouster of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi and his execution by unruly fighters.

The North African country has since been split between two rival administrations based in the east and west amid a conflict drawing increasing involvement from foreign powers.

According to the latest UN tally, more than 280 civilians and roughly 2,000 fighters have been killed since Haftar launched his offensive in April to seize Tripoli. An estimated 146,000 Libyans have been displaced.

Erdogan is doubling down on support for the U.N.-backed government in Libya ahead of a Berlin conference aimed at ending the Libyan civil war.

Erdogan, who is set to attend the Sunday meeting, lashed out at Libyan rebel leader General Khalifa Haftar on Friday while announcing the deployment of Turkish forces to Libya.

"Haftar is a man I do not trust. … He continued bombing Tripoli yesterday," Erdogan said in a statement. Haftar is waging war against the Turkey-backed Government of National Accord.

A day earlier, Erdogan announced additional military forces would be deployed in support of the GNA. Earlier this month, Ankara sent a few dozen military personnel and equipment to Tripoli as part of a military agreement with the GNA.

Haftar infuriated Erdogan by refusing to sign a cease-fire agreement Wednesday brokered by Turkey and the Russian government. Russian mercenaries linked to the Kremlin are backing Haftar, although Russian President Vladimir Putin denies arming the militia.

"With these new developments, Turkey is getting more and more in a losing position," said international relations professor Huseyin Bagci of Ankara's Middle East Technical University. "Probably Tayyip Erdogan will face much bigger problems in Berlin than he assumed before. He [Erdogan] thought he would be in a stronger position, but with no cease-fire, he is in a much more difficult position."

Haftar and GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj are expected to attend the Berlin conference. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also confirmed his attendance.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met with Haftar on Thursday, claiming a breakthrough. Maas tweeted Haftar "has agreed to abide by the ongoing cease-fire" and that the Berlin meeting offered "the best chance in a long time" for peace.

But Turkey is voicing skepticism about the prospects for peace and has criticized the conference for excluding Turkish allies Qatar and Tunisia.

"He [Erdogan] will be taking a very hard position in Berlin," said Bagci. "I expect more, harsher words in Berlin – he is not going there to be soft, [he] is going there to be very hard."


Turkish oil interests


Ankara says the survival of the GNA is a strategic priority. Along with a security deal, Erdogan also signed an agreement with Sarraj that gives Turkey control of a large swath of the eastern Mediterranean. The area is believed to have vast potential reserves of hydrocarbons.

"We will start search and drilling activities as soon as possible in 2020 after issuing licenses for the areas," Erdogan said Friday, adding that a seismic exploration vessel would soon be deployed to this field.

Turkey's deal with the GNA is strongly condemned by Greece, which claims the contested region as part of its territorial waters.

The two countries are engaged in an increasingly bitter competition for resources in the eastern Mediterranean.

Analysts note Turkey is aware that if Haftar were to prevail in the Libyan civil war, all deals it made with the GNA likely would become null and void.

On Thursday, Haftar flew by private plane to Athens and was taken to a luxury hotel for two days of talks with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias.

In a move that could further complicate the Berlin talks, Mitsotakis underlined his determination to annul Turkey's Mediterranean deal with the GNA.

"Greece at the level of an [EU] summit meeting will never accept any political solution on Libya that does not include as a precondition the annulment of this agreement. To put it simply, we will use our veto," Mitsotakis said Thursday in a television interview.

EU officials are also set to attend the Berlin conference, and the EU is strongly opposed to Turkey's agreement with the GNA on the Mediterranean, saying it violates international law.

Turkey insists it's ready to negotiate. "The GNA deal aims to protect Turkish vital national interests and Turkey is not to remain isolated," said former Turkish Ambassador Mithat Rende. "Turkey has made it clear it's ready to talk."

In Cairo Thursday, the seven-member East Mediterranean Gas Forum pledged to strengthen cooperation, deepening Ankara's isolation. Turkey views the move by Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Egypt as an attempt to deny what Ankara sees as its fair share of Mediterranean energy resources.

Erdogan dismissed the Cairo agreement, saying, "They tried to implement a scenario to imprison our country in the Mediterranean Sea. We ended this game with the agreements we made with Turkish Cyprus and then with Libya."

Some analysts say Ankara's stance ultimately may prove counterproductive.

"Turkey wants to be in Syria, Libya and the eastern Mediterranean; it wants to be a player," Bagci said. "Turkey wants to get more and more involved in this region. But the problem is Turkey is not wanted because it creates an atmosphere of hegemony. So this is what Turkey faces, and this is why Erdogan's rhetoric is getting harsher."

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NEW YORK - The world should not accept the “dire and untenable” situation facing children in wartorn Libya the head of the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said on Friday.

“Children in Libya, including refugee and migrant children, continue to suffer grievously amidst the violence and chaos unleashed by the country’s longstanding civil war”, Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.

Since last April, when renewed hostilities broke out on the outskirts of the capital Tripoli, and western Libya, conditions for thousands of children and civilians deteriorated, with indiscriminate attacks in populated areas that have caused hundreds of deaths.

UNICEF has received reports of children being maimed, killed and also recruited to fight, said Ms. Fore.

Since the fall of President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been in the throes of ongoing instability and economic collapse, despite its large oil reserves.

Thousands have been killed in fighting between factions of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, based in the east, and the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, located in the west.

The UN Secretary-General will be at a major international summit due to take place in the German capital this coming Sunday, which both the Prime Minister of the UN-recognized Government and commander Haftar are due to attend, in the hope of establishing a permanent ceasefire.

Meanwhile, over the last eight months, more than 150,000 people – 90,000 of whom are children – have been forced to flee their homes and are now internally displaced.


Widespread destruction


Ms. Fore also flagged that under attack was the essential “infrastructure on which children depend for their wellbeing and survival”.

“Nearly 30 health facilities have been damaged in the fighting, forcing 13 to close”, she lamented, adding that attacks against schools and the threat of violence have led to closures and left almost 200,000 children out of the classroom.

Moreover, water systems have been attacked and the waste management system has virtually collapsed, greatly increasing the risk of waterborne diseases including cholera.

“The 60,000 refugee and migrant children currently in urban areas are also terribly vulnerable, especially the 15,000 who are unaccompanied and those being held in detention centres”, she continued. “These children already had limited access to protection and essential services, so the intensifying conflict has only amplified the risks that they face”.


Providing support


UNICEF and its partners on the ground are supporting the children and families with access to healthcare and nutrition, protection, education, water and sanitation.

“We are also reaching refugee and migrant children with assistance, including those held in detention centres”, she elaborated. “Sadly, attacks against the civilian population and infrastructure, as well as against humanitarian and healthcare personnel are seeking to undermine humanitarian efforts”.

Ms. Fore called on all parties to the conflict and those who have influence over them to protect children, end the recruitment and use of children, cease attacks against civilian infrastructure, and allow for “safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to children and people in need”.

“We also call on Libyan authorities to end the detention of migrant and refugee children and to actively pursue safe and dignified alternatives to detention”, said the UNICEF chief.

Ahead of the peace summit in Berlin, this Sunday, Ms. Fore also urged the conflict parties and those with influence over them to “urgently reach a comprehensive and durable peace agreement for the sake of each and every child in Libya.”

 

Research Papers & Reports

By Nicholas Norbrook, The Africa Report, 16 January 2020

 

Britain's exit from the European Union on 31 January creates an imperative for the UK to forge a new set of international alliances and trading arrangements.

The UK-Africa Investment Summit on 20 January is one chapter of this new economic diplomacy.

Standing outside Downing Street after winning the premiership in July 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson encouraged his government to “start now on those free trade deals – because it is free trade that has done more than anything else to lift billions out of poverty.”

There are also positive signals for those who want to see stronger links emerge between Britain and Africa. UK investment in Africa has risen by 61% since 2008, for example. UK officials promise to deliver “sustainable investment” that can help African countries break cycles of booms and busts.


It will be a challenge.


Companies from the UK could once rely on a deep network of contacts and knowledge that emerged from the days of empire. That ‘institutional memory’ has slowly unravelled – but not everywhere. In Kenya, for example, there are still about 60 large British companies active, including Barclays Bank, British Airways, BAT, Standard Chartered, Diageo, GlaxoSmithKline and BG Group – all of which can be found in many other African markets.


Trade not aid


But they are a dwindling band. By the late 1980s, the relationship between the UK and Africa had become negligible – just more than 3% of UK exports went to Africa and less than 2% of UK imports came from the continent. By the late 1990s, aid had displaced trade as the focus of the UK-Africa relationship. And UK companies now find themselves in a more crowded and competitive marketplace on the continent, too.


So can the UK shift back to a ‘trade, rather than just aid’ agenda? Will British business compete effectively?


Nick O’Donohoe, CEO of one of the world’s oldest development finance institutions, the UK’s CDC Group, argues that British companies are up to the challenge. “We have world-leading technology and expertise in building and executing complex projects, particularly in areas like infrastructure. We have export finance support, although we’re probably not as mobile or joined up [as China].”


He raises an important challenge. British companies will compete with Chinese firms, which often are backed by Beijing with solid vendor finance.

Recent joint roadshows of the continent undertaken by the CDC and UK Export Finance are attempts to demonstrate this new commitment to a ‘joined up’ approach. In 2017, the UK Government created a pan-African trade team led by Emma Wade-Smith with the ambition of helping UK companies large and small access markets across the continent.
Finance knowhow

Beyond seeking new contracts on the road, the UK is also trying to market its financial know-how. “The London Stock Exchange (LSE) has more bonds from African countries listed or trading than any other international stock exchange,” argues the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development Alok Sharma. “But we want to do more.”

In his role as the UK Prime Minister’s infrastructure envoy for India, Sharma was part of the team that developed the ‘Masala’ bond – a local-currency bond that helped Indian investors insulate themselves from the exchange rate risk inherent in borrowing in foreign currencies. He wants to bring more the UK’s expertise in the matter to Africa, too.

There is already work to build on, including the UK-backed GuarantCo, which helped the first Ghanaian cedi corporate bond from a non-financial actor to list on the Ghana Stock Exchange in May 2018. Six months later, Quantum Terminal Group listed the bond on the LSE. It was the first local-currency corporate bond from West Africa to list on the LSE.

A new trend emerging in development finance could be a win-win for the continent and the UK. In a world of negative rates and ageing developed-world populations, there is plenty of money searching for yield. Organisations such as the African Trade Insurance Agency, for example, are bringing in pension funds from the West and elsewhere that are keen to lend to African sovereigns but which are currently unable to because of their fiduciary rules. Might UK institutions follow their lead?

Finance is just the start. For the UK’s largest trading partner on the continent, South Africa, there are many avenues to explore. Marius Oosthuizen of the Gordon Institute of Business Science wrote in the Daily Maverick that there are three key areas of cooperation: mining, education and next-generation manufacturing.

Mining is perhaps the most obvious. While South Africa no longer has the deep gold reserves that brought British capital to South Africa in the first place, there remains strong potential for iron, chromium, coal and rare earth minerals, among others.

Education and next-generation manufacturing could also see a profitable partnership between South Africa and the UK, too. Both countries have a strong higher-education network, with South Africa home to five of Africa’s top 10 universities, a situation analogous to the UK’s own global higher-education role.


New partners on the horizon


As global innovation pushes at the frontier of high-tech manufacturing both countries are striving to maintain a toehold in the auto, pharmaceutical and chemicals segments, opening the possibility of partnerships between South African and UK companies wishing to set up manufacturing plants nearer to the 2 billion consumers Africa will have in the future.

And with South African firms often the spearhead for expansion to the rest of the continent, might that herald the growth of other UK-Africa partnerships, in industry or services?

That would require a shift in perception at the level of UK business, which occasionally has an out-of-date picture of opportunities on the continent. Take Morocco for example. “For years, my government saw Morocco as a bit of an exotic place,” the UK ambassador to Morocco, Thomas Reilly, told reporters.


But there are multiple areas the two countries could explore


Morocco now has a thriving aeronautical industry, for example, with more than 140 companies embedded in special economic zones. Morocco’s green energy sector is also a potential area for collaboration, and offshore finance centre Casablanca Financial City is a clear target for London’s deep bench of lawyers and financial professionals.

It is no surprise then that the UK has been keen to sign a ‘continuity agreement’ with Morocco. “My government sees Morocco as a gateway to Africa. Morocco really knows a lot about Africa, and we know some parts of Africa. So this deal is really about bringing our strategic relations to the next level,” said ambassador Reilly.

It is, however, too easy to hype potential in Africa. While ministers are keen to point out that by 2050, every fourth consumer in the world will be African, companies have had a more cautious approach.

Doing business in African countries comes with challenges, and even well-established multinationals struggle.

Anglo-Dutch giant Unilever issued a profit warning recently, which CEO Alan Jope put down to “challenges in certain markets” including West Africa. An executive at rival Nestlé – which likewise invested heavily between 2010-2014 – also raised doubts about the growth of Africa’s emergent middle classes.


But another Anglo-Dutch company, Shell, is not pulling in its horns


It recently announced a $15bn spending push in Nigeria, the highlight of which; Bonga Southwest.

Taken in the round, this perhaps acts as a roadmap for UK companies: there is still plenty of potential in commodities, some possibilities in manufacturing old and new, and new prospective markets to explore.

A strategic approach to consumer demand remains critical. And the need for local knowledge and partners, essential.

 

By Farid Alilat, The Africa Report, 15 January 2020

 

The unexpected death of Ahmed Gaïd Salah, chief of staff of the army and strong man of the regime since the fall of Bouteflika, changed the situation for the new president Abdelmadjid Tebboune and pushed him to play the appeasement card.

Abdelmadjid Tebboune is well known. As the minister of housing and urban planning from 2012 to 2017, he played a crucial role in the construction of millions of social housing units promised by then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. He was also responsible for the pharaonic mosque of Algiers (that grossly exceeded the €1.2bn [$1.3bn] budget).

In his brief stint as prime minister between May and August 2017, he tried unsuccessfully to limit the influence of company bosses in the conduct of public affairs. He will also be remembered as having met France’s prime minister on the sly in Paris without the authorisation of Saïd, Bouteflika’s brother and counsellor.
Strategist

During his brief time at the head of the government, Tebboune had the image of a politician capable of dazzling coups, ready to wage blitzkrieg wars. And as a strategist prepared to bide his time in silence (as he had for two years) to prepare for a winning return to El Mouradia.

Elected president of the Republic on 12 December 2019 after a widely contested election, he has five years to prove himself. The circumstances are not favourable, trapped as he is between an economic crisis and the prospect of chaos in neighbouring Libya. His first steps in the palace of El Mouradia will be analysed foremost in terms of his relations with the military, the backbone of power since 1962. The fact that the military called on Bouteflika to resign — and he did — illustrates its political weight.

The situation changed abruptly a few days after Tebboune’s investiture. On 23 December, a heart attack claimed the life of the army chief of staff and deputy defence minister, Ahmed Gaïd Salah, known as AGS. As a strong man of the regime since the fall of Bouteflika in April, he played a major role in Tebboune’s election.

It was Salah who, at the last minute quashed the option of Azzedine Mihoubi, of the National Democratic Rally (RND), a favourite of many in the army command. According to reports, on the day before the election, at 11 p.m., Mihoubi received a phone call from a high-ranking military official who told him to withdraw. AGS successfully vetoed an RND victory. The army finally supported Tebboune.
Release of prisoners of conscience

The disappearance of the new president’s protector has shuffled the cards, reconfiguring El Mouradia’s relations with the Tagarins, a district of Algiers where the defence ministry is located. Significantly, the post of deputy defence minister has not been filled in the bloated government presented by Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad on 2 January. Also, will the army withdraw from the political scene or is there a lack of consensus to designate the successor to AGS, who held the post since September 2013?

In addition, Said Chengriha, acting head of the general staff, does not sit on the new executive, and, at the time of publication, the 74-year-old military officer had not been confirmed as the permanent replacement. Considered more level-headed than AGS, more political and less divisive, yet unable to influence decisions, Chengriha may be the man of appeasement between the presidency and the military.

A return to the collegiality in decision-making within the army, which had prevailed in the military institution for three decades, has begun to take place behind the scenes. The influence and uncompromising nature of AGS, appointed to the general staff in 2004, had shattered this practice.

Unlike Bouteflika, Tebboune has no truck with the army and harbours neither rancour nor resentment towards the high-ranking officers. This is a major change, as the former chief maintained confrontational and often times rude relations with the generals, exacerbating the tensions between them in order to remain in power, and dismantling the intelligence services under the pretext of restructuring them. When the former president declared the need for establishing a civil state and requested the army to return to the barracks in 2019, Gaïd Salah, showed that the generals remained the sole makers – or unmakers – of presidents.

While it is still too early to measure the extent of the political consequences of AGS’s death, his disappearance frees Tebboune from the burden of prisoners of conscience. The former army chief had rejected all requests for the release of people imprisoned for their activism in the Hirak or for their opposition to the 12 December presidential election, for waving the Berber flag or criticising the army and its leading role in political or judicial decision-making.

Tebboune now has free rein on this issue. The release of 76 prisoners on 2 January is a sign of a desire for calm. A source close to the new government told us: “All the prisoners of conscience should have been released after the inauguration. Then the controversy broke out over ‘justice on the telephone’. Instructions were given to slow down the pace of releases. Eventually, all unjustly incarcerated detainees will be released.”
Dialogue with Hirak

Another poisonous legacy of the AGS era was his antagonistic stance towards Hirak. It is an understatement to say that the deceased chief of staff’s untimely intrusions into public debate and his inflammatory statements helped to blow the embers of protest. Since the beginning of the year, Tebboune’s advisers and emissaries have been busy sending out soothing messages, multiplying discreet meetings with members of the opposition and figures from the popular movement. The new presidency wants to convince people of its willingness to engage in dialogue, or even consultation.

For the time being, however, hostility and mistrust remain strong. “It is all very well to see each other and to exchange views, but no roadmap has been established. We’re navigating in a state of uncertainty, approximation and improvisation,” an opposition leader confided to us. “To make up for the lack of popular legitimacy with which he begins his mandate, Tebboune should, according to his entourage, quickly build new bridges towards Hirak and the opposition. This is an urgent matter.”

The appointment on 8 January of Professor Ahmed Laraba as head of the committee of experts working on the constitutional review was greeted with scepticism. Laraba had already been the architect of the 2016 reform, which was to be headed up by former prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia, sentenced at the end of 2019 on charges of corruption.

The composition of the Djerad government has also caused some gnashing of teeth. Eleven of its 39 members have already participated in the executive under Bouteflika. Belkacem Zeghmati, Minister of Justice remains. For some, this is a sign the Algerian “deep state” retains its power, despite the new configuration. This will be bad news for Tebboune, whose civil rights agenda is being closely monitored.

 

 

CARDIFF, WALES - A newly discovered type of killer immune cell has raised the prospect of a "universal" cancer therapy, scientists say.

Researchers at Cardiff University suggest the new T-cell offers hope of a "one-size-fits-all" cancer therapy.

T-cell therapies for cancer – where immune cells are removed, modified and returned to the patient's blood to seek and destroy cancer cells – are the latest paradigm in cancer treatments.

The most widely used is known as CAR-T and is personalised to each patient.

However, it only targets a limited number of cancers and has not been successful for solid tumours, which make up the majority of cancers.

But scientists have now discovered T-cells equipped with a new type of T-cell receptor (TCR) which recognises and kills most human cancer types, while ignoring healthy cells.

It recognises a molecule present on the surface of a wide range of cancer cells, and normal cells, and is able to distinguish between healthy and cancerous cells – killing only the latter.

Professor Andrew Sewell, lead author on the study from Cardiff University's School of Medicine, said it was "highly unusual" to find a TCR with such broad cancer specificity and this raised the prospect of "universal" cancer therapy.

He added: "We hope this new TCR may provide us with a different route to target and destroy a wide range of cancers in all individuals.

"Current TCR-based therapies can only be used in a minority of patients with a minority of cancers.

"Cancer-targeting via MR1-restricted T-cells is an exciting new frontier – it raises the prospect of a 'one-size-fits-all' cancer treatment; a single type of T-cell that could be capable of destroying many different types of cancers across the population.

"Previously nobody believed this could be possible."

Conventional T-cells scan the surface of other cells to find anomalies and eliminate cancerous cells, but ignore cells that contain only "normal" proteins.

The scanning recognises small parts of cellular proteins that are bound to cell-surface molecules called human leukocyte antigen (HLA), allowing killer T-cells to see what is occurring inside cells by scanning their surface.

But the study, published in Nature Immunology, describes a unique TCR that can recognise many types of cancer via a single HLA-like molecule called MR1.

Unlike HLA, MR1 is does not vary in the human population – meaning it is a hugely attractive new target for immunotherapies.

In the lab, T-cells equipped with the new TCR were shown to kill lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, bone, prostate, ovarian, kidney and cervical cancer cells, while ignoring healthy cells.

To test the therapeutic potential of these cells in vivo, the researchers injected T-cells able to recognise MR1 into mice bearing human cancer and with a human immune system.

Scientists say this showed encouraging cancer-clearing, comparable to the now NHS-approved CAR-T therapy in a similar animal model.

They were also able to demonstrate that T-cells of melanoma patients modified to express this new TCR could destroy not only the patient's own cancer cells, but also other patients' cancer cells in the laboratory, regardless of the patient's HLA type.

The researchers are now experimenting to determine the precise molecular mechanism by which the new TCR distinguishes between healthy cells and cancer.

They hope to trial the new approach in patients towards the end of the year.

Professor Awen Gallimore, of the University's division of infection and immunity, and cancer immunology lead for the Wales Cancer Research Centre, said: "If this transformative new finding holds up, it will lay the foundation for a universal T-cell medicine, mitigating against the tremendous costs associated with the identification, generation and manufacture of personalised T-cells.

"This is truly exciting and potentially a great step forward for the accessibility of cancer immunotherapy."

AB/

By Claudia Gazzini, Crisis Group, 18 January 2020

 

On 19 January, Berlin will convene the main parties in Libya’s conflict. This comes in the wake of the Moscow meeting between Libya’s two main rival leaders that failed to produce a ceasefire. Libya expert Claudia Gazzini discusses where the peace process may go next.

 

What happened in Moscow?


On Monday, Russian government officials hosted Libya’s two rival leaders, whose respective military forces have been at war for nine months, in a bid to usher them toward a ceasefire agreement. One is Faiez Serraj, who heads the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli; the other is Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, who leads a coalition called the Arab Libyan Armed Forces (ALAF), previously known as the Libyan National Army (LNA). Haftar’s coalition does not recognise the Serraj government, and in April launched an offensive to take control of the Libyan capital. Fighting has killed over 2,000 people, put Tripoli under siege by Haftar’s forces and sucked in several foreign powers.

The Russian initiative came on the heels of a sudden joint Turkish-Russian call for a ceasefire that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, issued on the margins of their 8 January meeting in Istanbul. The two leaders invited Libyan factions to stop military operations starting on 12 January and return to political negotiations. They made the call without first consulting with the factions they respectively support – Ankara backs Serraj, and Moscow, Haftar – but in subsequent days, both the ALAF and the Tripoli-based authorities publicly expressed support. When next they appeared to respect the de facto ceasefire, this raised hopes that they would also agree to formalise a ceasefire agreement in Moscow.

Events did not go as planned. On the government side, Serraj, as well as his political ally Khaled Mishri, head of the Tripoli-based High Council of State, signed the seven-point ceasefire agreement Turkish and Russian officials had prepared. But Haftar and his political ally, Aghila Saleh, who heads the Tobruk-based parliament that backs Haftar’s military campaign, refused. The Libyan delegations left Moscow Monday evening without meeting each other, and so the attempt to reach a ceasefire agreement fell apart. Yet the tenuous ceasefire in Tripoli appears mostly to be holding. Both sides have refrained from aerial strikes and have only exchanged minor artillery fire.


Did the Moscow meeting come as a surprise?


It is unclear what prompted this sudden move. Moscow and Ankara may have struck a mutually advantageous deal, sparing them (and their proxies) the need to fight, and potentially putting them in the driver’s seat to resolve a conflict from which Europe and the U.S. increasingly are absent. The surprise invitation came after two major developments in early January that, far from signalling opportunities for peace, suggested further escalation. The first was Turkey’s announcement it would send forces to Libya, and the second, Haftar’s takeover of Sirte, a coastal city in the centre of the country.

On 2 January, Turkey’s parliament authorised the deployment of troops and naval assets to prevent the collapse of the beleaguered Serraj government at the hands of Haftar-led forces. The latter had made gradual advances in Tripoli’s periphery in previous months, in large part thanks to Russian armed private contractors and aerial support from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). To date, Turkey reportedly has sent a few hundred allied Syrian fighters to Libya, as well as several dozen military experts from its own armed forces, and numbers are expected to increase. Turkish officials stated these deployments aimed to create conditions for a ceasefire by rebalancing power on the ground. Many feared, however, that direct Turkish involvement would trigger further escalation. Indeed, several pro-GNA officials suggested Turkish support would allow them to launch a counter-offensive and even strike Haftar’s forces in their rear bases in eastern Libya. On the opposite side, several Arab tribes across Libya called for a jihad against what they termed Turkey’s “colonial ambitions”.

Turkey reportedly has sent a few hundred allied Syrian fighters to Libya as well as several dozen military experts from its own armed forces
Notably, Ankara’s decision to intervene on Serraj’s behalf was preceded by, and to a large degree conditioned on, the Tripoli government’s agreement to sign a controversial maritime deal that Turkey has long sought. Ankara views the deal as key to blocking the development of an eastern Mediterranean gas hub from which it is excluded. The “delimitation of maritime jurisdiction areas” agreement, which Erdoğan and Serraj signed in late November and the Turkish parliament ratified on 5 December, establishes an 18.6 nautical mile (35 kilometre) line between Turkey and Libya that would form the outer boundary of an Exclusive Economic Zone. By transecting an area claimed by Greece and Cyprus, this line could jeopardise plans to build a gas pipeline from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe. Governments other than Ankara and Tripoli dispute the deal’s legality. The EU opposes it, and it has angered Tripoli’s opponents, not least Egypt, heightening geopolitical competition in the region.

The second event, Haftar’s sudden takeover of Sirte on 7 January – his first significant military advance in months – suggests he may want to use the town’s airbase to launch an offensive against Misrata, a key city whose fighters form the backbone of Serraj’s military coalition.

Overall, the fact that Moscow and Ankara took this initiative underscores what has been evident for months – that peace in Libya hinges as much on foreign actors’ willingness to exert leverage on their Libyan allies as on Libyan factions’ actual support for a political alternative to war. That Haftar so far has refused to sign a ceasefire agreement that one of his principal foreign backers put on the table moreover suggests he does not feel dependent on Russia alone, and that his other backers – the UAE most prominently – give him room for manoeuvre.


What were the terms of the ceasefire agreement and why did Haftar refuse to sign it?


The agreement contained seven points, most importantly the need for the two sides to “determine a line of battle contact to ensure a sustainable ceasefire”, appoint five representatives each to a military ceasefire monitoring commission, and appoint representatives to future economic, military and political negotiations under UN aegis. These last two points already form the backbone of a roadmap that foreign states agreed to support in the UN-backed Berlin process late last year, and will endorse again at the conference Germany will host this weekend. In other words, while the choreography of the Moscow meeting suggested Russia and Turkey were trying to carve out a deal bypassing or even undermining ongoing UN and German-led efforts, what Moscow and Ankara put on the table ultimately seems a tacit endorsement of these ongoing diplomatic initiatives.

Haftar may have refused to sign because the ceasefire terms were too vague, and could have been interpreted as requiring him to withdraw his forces from Tripoli and environs at a moment when he feels the balance of power is in his favour. This vagueness possibly suited Serraj: even though the ceasefire agreement did not make explicit the government’s request for a withdrawal of Haftar’s forces to their pre-April 2019 positions (i.e. a full retreat from western Libya), it gave him enough flexibility to persuade his home supporters that the withdrawal was still on the cards. Serraj also supported the other two key points – the joint ceasefire monitoring commission and the launch of UN-backed economic, political and military talks. Indeed, his government designated its representatives to the commission weeks ago.

In contrast, it would have been a u-turn for Haftar to accept these terms, which fly in the face of his perception that his forces have made significant gains and his insistence that the ALAF is Libya’s sole legitimate military force. He has been telling foreign leaders for some time that he refuses to appoint five representatives to the joint military commission because he does not consider the Serraj government, which depends on militia support, as a legitimate negotiating partner. Moreover, Haftar opposed the notion – implicit in the agreement – that Turkish forces would be allowed to remain in Tripoli, and that Turkish officers could join Russian colleagues in forming an international ceasefire monitoring team.

Haftar reportedly demanded that the agreement include explicit mention of the need for the Serraj government to disarm militias and hand over their weapons to the ALAF, and for elections to follow the formation of a unity government. Haftar’s emissaries had frequently raised these with diplomats.


In light of this failed Russia-Turkey attempt to mediate, what does the map of international alignments in Libya now look like?


The fact that Russia and Turkey agreed to work together suggests Libya’s conflict can no longer be seen strictly through a binary pro-Haftar or pro-Tripoli lens. Indeed, whereas Ankara firmly backs Serraj’s side militarily, strategically and ideologically, Moscow does not. Instead, it has provided Haftar’s camp with weapons and reportedly – despite Moscow’s denials – private military contractors, even as it has maintained relations with the Serraj government.

What exactly drives this new, apparent convergence between the two countries is still unclear. It could reflect their multiple overlapping geostrategic interests over which they value continued cooperation, despite being on opposite sides of the war. Both may be looking to model their dealings in Libya on their existing cooperation in Syria, where their positions are also misaligned. Moscow and Ankara also have congruent energy interests, with high hopes for the TurkStream gas pipeline that carries Russian gas to Turkey and neighbouring countries. Both may therefore want to limit development of any eastern Mediterranean gas hub, of which neither Ankara nor Moscow would be a part. To date, their growing partnership has manifested in military cooperation, most notably Ankara’s recent acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile system, a move that seriously damaged Turkey’s relationship with the U.S.

Their interests may also implicitly converge with regards to Libya: despite flexing its muscles, Moscow likely does not want to be dragged into the conflict too deeply, hoping Ankara can prevail on Serraj to soften his stance toward Haftar, in return for Haftar respecting Turkey’s claims on eastern Mediterranean gas. Should that be the case, however, it would be a tall order: Haftar and his Arab allies adamantly oppose both Turkey’s claims on the Mediterranean and Ankara’s military involvement in Libya.

For their part, Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia continue to support Haftar, although each state has a different level of involvement and exposure. Egypt, as a neighbouring country, is more concerned about potential fallout from the Libyan crisis and also directly affected by the maritime deal by virtue of being a key member of the eastern Mediterranean gas hub; it also is viscerally opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, which it accuses Serraj (and Turkey) of favouring. This last factor is the main driving force behind the UAE’s and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia’s stance. While officially recognising the Tripoli government, all three countries deal with it only infrequently and have repeatedly opened their doors to Haftar and Aghila Saleh, allowing them to use the high-level platforms their capitals provide to lash out against Serraj.

Qatar, while allied with Turkey and Serraj, has adopted a relatively low profile in Libya since its Gulf neighbours imposed a land, sea and air blockade in 2017. It has said it would seek to help the Serraj government and Turkey were Haftar to threaten to take over Tripoli, but its support is financial rather than military.

Libya’s western neighbours Tunisia and Algeria largely stand behind Tripoli. They fear the prospect of a Haftar victory, which they view as a vehicle for increased Egyptian influence along their border with Libya. That said, they are not in a position to markedly alter the course of the war, if only because of their fragile domestic situations.

The EU and members states form another group that takes the middle ground, maintaining contact with both Libyan factions and strongly supporting UN efforts for a political solution. Their ability to influence the course of events in Libya declined as others stepped in with significant military assistance to the warring sides. Still, they enjoy leverage over some of the Libyan factions’ outside backers. Germany has proved most willing to deal with them: Chancellor Angela Merkel reached out to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to ensure he supported the Berlin process, and to President Putin to ensure that the draft ceasefire agreement reflected steps discussed in Berlin.

Although belonging to this European group, France remains something of an outlier. Its relatively more pro-Haftar stance stems from its belief that the political process must better reflect the current balance of power, which favours Haftar (in part, of course, thanks to French support over the years). France’s approach also is informed by its close security ties with the UAE and Egypt, a Sahel policy strongly centred on supporting Chad (whose president is a Haftar ally), and its hostility to Turkey’s attempts to encroach on the eastern Mediterranean gas plans. Greece is also emerging as an EU outlier. While previously not a key player in the crisis, it became one almost overnight once Ankara and Tripoli signed their maritime deal. In early January, Greece responded by signing a deal with Israel and Cyprus to build an eastern Mediterranean gas pipeline, which Turkey said it would block. It also received Haftar on the eve of the Berlin conference, signalling it would support him in any EU deliberations.


In the wake of the failed Moscow meeting, what are the prospects for the Berlin Conference?


To an extent, the failure of Moscow does not necessarily affect the Berlin conference (scheduled for this Sunday), since its success does not hinge on a pre-existing ceasefire. Its final conclusions have already been drafted and revised during five preparatory meetings over the past months. Although last minute edits might still come (partly due to the late addition of new participants), if all goes according to plan, representatives of the U.S., EU, UK, France, Russia, China, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Egypt, the UAE, Algeria and Congo-Brazzaville, as well as the UN, Arab League and African Union, will sign a 55-point declaration. Key items include support for a ceasefire, a commitment not to violate the UN arms embargo on Libya, and a pledge to support a UN “operational” plan for political, security and economic consultations aimed at unifying the country. On the eve of the conference, diplomats inserted wording calling for “credible steps” toward dismantling armed groups and militias following the demand Haftar made to this effect in Moscow.

If the conference only included high-level representatives of foreign states, as originally planned, its outcome would have been predictable. Even those backing opposing Libyan factions almost certainly would have signed the conference’s pre-drafted final declaration. But the last-minute invitation of Serraj and Haftar – while understandable insofar as it gives the meeting more Libyan buy-in – adds a new level of unpredictability and, potentially, drama to the event. Furthermore, the alleged shipment of additional weapons to both Tripoli and Benghazi in recent days, and renewed calls among pro-Haftar tribesmen to close oil export terminals in their areas, make the situation inside Libya particularly tense. This, in turn, makes the conference’s outcome more uncertain.

In a best-case scenario, the Berlin conference could be a modest step forward in efforts to end the war and stabilise the country. Yet the risk remains that some participants will merely pay lip service to the diplomatic initiative, even as they continue to fuel a war from which they benefit.

 

 

Africa

ADDIS ABABA - Ethiopia’s electoral board said on Wednesday it expects to hold national elections on Aug. 16, 2020, the first vote under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who took office in 2018 and has directed political and economic reforms.

Birtukan Mideksa, the head of the electoral board, told Reuters that the date was tentative.

Abiy released political prisoners and appointed former dissidents to high-level positions.

But the reforms have also unleashed long-simmering ethnic divisions, and the electoral board said last June that the security situation could delay this year’s election.

But Abiy, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year, said last week elections would be held this year in May or June despite concerns over security and logistics.

AB/

GENEVA - The targeting of the Hema community in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with violence, including killings and rape, may amount to crimes against humanity, said the UN on Friday.

An investigation carried out by the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in the DRC, found that at least 701 people have been killed and 168 injured following attacks involving the Hema and Lendu communities in the country’s northeast province of Ituri, between December 2017 and September last year.

“In addition, at least 142 people have been subjected to acts of sexual violence” the report said, “most of them members of the Hema community.”

Since September 2018, Lendu armed groups have become increasingly organized in carrying out attacks against the Hema and members of other ethnic groups such as the Alur, the investigators said.

Among their objectives is to take control of the land of the Hema communities and their associated resources, they added.

The report documents numerous cases of women being raped, of children - some in school uniforms - being killed, and of looting and burning of villages.


Rape and beheadings


On 10 June last year in the district of Torges, a Hema man who was trying to prevent armed assailants from raping his wife witnessed his 8-year-old son being beheaded.

"The barbarity that characterizes these attacks, including the beheading of women and children with machetes, the dismemberment and removal of body parts of the victims as trophies of war, reflects the desire of the attackers to inflict lasting trauma to the Hema communities and to force them to flee and not return to their villages," the report said.

"The violence documented... could contain some elements of crimes against humanity through murder, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillage and persecution."

Schools and health clinics have been attacked and destroyed. The report said that most attacks occurred in June around the harvest period, and in December during the sowing season. "This makes it more difficult for the Hema to cultivate their fields and exacerbates their lack of food.”


Taking refuge


As the violence has intensified, for the past two years around 57,000 have taken refuge in neighbouring Uganda, and more than 556,000 have fled the territories of Djugu and Mahagi, in Ituri, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

Several camps and villages where the Hema have taken refuge, have been “stormed, burned and destroyed” by Lendu armed groups, the report details.

Investigators have also documented acts of reprisal by some Hema community members, including village-burning and “isolated attacks” targeting the Lendu.

Army and police units deployed since February 2018, have failed to stop the violence, the report states, adding that the security forces themselves have also committed abuses such as extrajudicial executions, sexual violence, arbitrary arrests and detention.

So far, two police officers and two soldiers, have been convicted in the Congolese courts.


UN recommendations


The joint rights office, UNJHRO, is recommending now that the DRC authorities properly address the root causes of conflict, including access to resources – including the contentious land issue – and that they maintain “ongoing reconciliation efforts between the two communities and their peaceful cohabitation.”

The report urges an independent and impartial investigation be carried out by the Government, into the years of violence, as well as “ensuring the right to reparation for victims and their access to medical and psychosocial care.”

AB/

KHARTOUM - An economic crisis in Sudan which has driven up food prices in the African country has contributed to an increase in the number of people needing aid; that’s according to the UN’s humanitarian affairs agency, OCHA.

Some 9.3 million people, nearly a quarter of the population, are expected to need humanitarian assistance in 2020, up from some 8.5 million this year.

In Kassala state, in the east of the country, more than 400,000 people suffer crisis levels of food insecurity and many cannot afford to buy the medicines they need when they fall ill.

The UN’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, visited Kassala in November and called on the international community to provide more aid, more quickly. 

 

 

 

 

By Ange Aboa

ABIDJAN - West Africa’s monetary union has agreed with France to rename its CFA franc the Eco and cut some of the financial links with Paris that have underpinned the region’s common currency since its creation soon World War Two.

Under the deal, the Eco will remain pegged to the euro but the African countries in the bloc won’t have to keep 50% of their reserves in the French Treasury and there will no longer be a French representative on the currency union’s board.

Critics of the CFA have long seen it as a relic from colonial times while proponents of the currency say it has provided financial stability in a sometimes turbulent region.

“This is a historic day for West Africa,” Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara said during a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron in the country’s main city Abidjan.

In 2017, Macron highlighted the stabilizing benefits of the CFA but said it was up to African governments to determine the future of the currency.

“Yes, it’s the end of certain relics of the past. Yes it’s progress ... I do not want influence through guardianship, I do not want influence through intrusion. That’s not the century that’s being built today,” said Macron.

The CFA is used in 14 African countries with a combined population of about 150 million and $235 billion of gross domestic product.

However, the changes will only affect the West African form of the currency used by Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo - all former French colonies except Guinea Bissau.

The six countries using the Central African CFA are Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo Republic, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, - all former French colonies with the exception of Equatorial Guinea.

The CFA’s value relative to the French franc remained unchanged from 1948 through to 1994 when it was devalued by 50% to boost exports from the region.

After the devaluation, 1 French franc was worth 100 CFA and when the French currency joined the euro zone, the fixed rate became 1 euro to 656 CFA francs.

The agreement follows talks in Nigeria’s capital Abuja on Saturday between West African leaders. Countries in the CFA bloc and other West African nations such as Nigeria and Ghana have for decades debated creating their own currency to promote regional trade and investment.

The CFA franc was born in 1945 and at the time stood for “Colonies Francaises d’Afrique” (French Colonies in Africa).

It now stands for “Communaute Financiere Africaine” (African Financial Community) in West Africa and in Central Africa it means “Cooperation Financiere en Afrique Centrale” (Financial Cooperation in Central Africa).