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March 3, 2014

International Paralympic Committee comments on Russian adherence to Olympic Truce

International Paralympic Committee comments on Russian adherence to Olympic Truce

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Monday, March 3, 2014

The Olympic Truce wall at the 2012 Summer Paralympics
Image: P.Kurmelis.

In a response published Saturday by The Associated Press, the International Paralympic Committee commented on Russian adherence to the Olympic Truce in regards to the country’s actions in the Ukraine, saying “As with situations around the world, we hope a peaceful resolution can be found in the spirit of the Olympic Truce, which has covered the Paralympic Games since 2006. […] We want the story here to be the great festival of sport that has already taken place in Sochi and will continue now that athletes are arriving for the start of the Winter Paralympics.”

In the past few days, Russian troops entered the Ukrainian Crimea and took control of a number of strategic locations, including an airport and a regional parliament. Yesterday, Russian forces surrounded a Crimean Ukrainian military base.

While the Russian-hosted Olympic Games officially ended on February 23, the Olympic period officially concludes on March 16 at the closing ceremony for the 2014 Winter Paralympics.

The Olympic Truce and its extension to the Paralympic Games is recognized by the United Nations, who did so in A/65/270, para.7, an addition recognised by the United Nations General Assembly in August 2010.

The Crimea region of the Ukraine is located less than 500 kilometers (less than 300 miles) away from Sochi. The British Paralympic team have said they are continuing to monitor the situation, but has no current plans to make changes regarding their participation at the Games. The United States Paralympic team has said they haven’t made any changes to their plans in response to the situation.

Yesterday, the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister David Cameron said on Twitter, “Because of the serious situation in Ukraine, @WilliamJHague & I believe it would be wrong for UK Ministers to attend the Sochi Paralympics.”



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November 25, 2013

Iran to reduce nuclear enrichment in exchange for sanctions reduction

Iran to reduce nuclear enrichment in exchange for sanctions reduction

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Monday, November 25, 2013

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The negotiations in Geneva on Sunday.
Image: US Department of State.

Yesterday in Geneva, Iran and the P5+1 nations — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council; United States, United Kingdom, China, France, and Russia; plus Germany — reached a six-month deal over Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme. Iran is to reduce its nuclear activities in return for a lifting of some economic sanctions.

Iran has agreed to not build any new enrichment facilities, to halt enrichment of uranium past a purity of 5%, to “neutralise” a stockpile of nearly 200kg of enriched uranium of a purity of nearly 20%, to not install new centrifuges, and to disable a number of existing centrifuges. They also have to allow access for inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to a number of sites including Natanz and Fordo, as well as information on the reactor at Arak.

In return, the P5+1 is to provide “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible” relief from economic sanctions including removal of specific trade sanctions on precious metals, including gold; the automotive sector; and oil. The sanctions relief is worth around US$7 billion (about 5 billion).

In Tehran, Iran’s negotiators were welcomed home at the airport by a gathering of supporters holding placards. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians reportedly watched coverage of the negotiations through the Iranian night.

Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, told reporters, “[i]n this agreement, the right of [the] Iranian nation to enrich uranium was accepted by world powers”. The United States contests this.

US president Barack Obama welcomed the deal: “For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back.” He said the provisions of the deal “cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb”.

British prime minister David Cameron said the deal was an “important first step” and Iran was “further away from getting a nuclear weapon”.

John Kerry, the United States Secretary of State, appeared with British foreign minister William Hague at a press conference in London. Kerry told reporters: “Now the really hard part begins, and that is the effort to get the comprehensive agreement, which will require enormous steps in terms of verification, transparency and accountability”.

Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, said the deal was a “historic mistake” and said the Iranians had agreed only to “cosmetic concessions” that “can be undone by the Iranians within weeks”. “Israel”, he said, “is not bound to this agreement while Iran is committed to the destruction of Israel. Israel has the right to protect itself in the face of any threat. I wish to reiterate that as the prime minister of Israel — Israel will not allow Iran to develop nuclear military capabilities.” He also said: “Iran is receiving billions of dollars in relief in the sanctions without paying any sort of price. Iran is receiving written approval to violate UN Security Council resolutions”.

Naftali Bennett, the Israeli economic minister, warned of the prospects of a nuclear Iran: “If in another five or six years a nuclear suitcase explodes in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the agreement that was signed this morning”.

A spokesman for President Obama stated: “the United States will remain firm in our commitment to Israel, which has good reason to be skeptical about Iran’s intentions”. Obama phoned Netanyahu on Sunday to try and reassure him.



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July 9, 2013

Mansour announces election plans for Egypt after violence and protests

Mansour announces election plans for Egypt after violence and protests

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

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Egyptians in Tahrir Square celebrating the removal of President Morsi on Sunday.

Last night, Adly Mansour, the interim leader of Egypt, announced plans to reform Egypt’s constitution and hold a new round of parliamentary and presidential elections. The interim president also announced a judicial investigation into yesterday’s shooting of at least 51 supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi.

Mansour plans to form a panel within fifteen days to review and suggest changes to the now-suspended constitution. Those amendments would be voted on in a referendum within four months. Parliamentary elections would then be held, perhaps in early 2014, followed by presidential elections upon the forming of a new parliament.

Yesterday in Cairo, protestors supporting Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were shot outside the Presidential Guard barracks, where pro-Morsi supporters believe the former president is being kept under arrest. The Muslim Brotherhood claim 53 people died, while the health ministry claim 51 people died and 435 were injured. The Muslim Brotherhood claim the attack was unprovoked and those gathered were praying. Colonel Ahmed Mohammed Ali, spokesman for the army, said the group had attacked security forces and were armed with “large quantities of firearms, ammunition and Molotov cocktails”. The Muslim Brotherhood claimed children were killed in the conflict but Colonel Ali claims the photos being used by the Muslim Brotherhood are actually photos from Syria in March. Colonel Ali also stated two policemen and a soldier were killed.

One of the survivors, Mohamed Saber el-Sebaei, told journalists he was praying when the confrontation started: “Just before we finished, the shooting started. The army units that were standing in front of the Republican Guard headquarters first started shooting teargas, then live ammunition above people’s heads […] I was taking cover with another guy behind some rubble and I felt something hit my head. I held my prayer mat in my hand and I started to cover my head with it. But I couldn’t stop the bleeding because there was so much blood.”

The shooting of 51 people on Monday follows violence last week which killed 36 people in Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood have asked supporters to protest non-violently and support peaceful vigils. Some within the Muslim Brotherhood movement have suggested they may be outlawed, as they were under Hosni Mubarak.

British Foreign Sectretary William Hague said: “It is crucial that there is a swift return to democratic processes in Egypt. All sides of the political spectrum should work together for the sake of the country’s political and economic future.”

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the intervention by the army was necessary to prevent “chaos”, and said the protests that led to the downfall of Morsi are due to dissatisfaction with the efficacy of government: “When governments don’t deliver, people protest. They don’t want to wait for an election.” Blair also blamed the “ideology and intolerance of the Muslim Brotherhood”: “People felt that the Brotherhood was steadily imposing its own doctrines on everyday life”. Blair advised Western governments to “engage with the new de facto power and help the new government make the changes necessary, especially on the economy, so they can deliver for the people. In that way, we can also help shape a path back to the ballot box that is designed by and for Egyptians”.



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March 3, 2013

UK Foreign Secretary does not rule out arming Syrian opposition

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William Hague, the Foreign Secretary for the United Kingdom, has said the country’s government cannot reject the idea of providing arms to opposition forces in Syria. The Foreign Secretary has also criticised comments made by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in a recent interview as “delusional”.

In a BBC interview, Hague said: “We will not be announcing this week arms to the Syrian opposition and we’ve agreed in the European Union last week amendments to the arms embargo to allow us to send a wider range of non-lethal equipment that will do more to save lives”.

During an interview with UK newspaper The Sunday Times, the Syrian President said “Britain has played a famously unconstructive role in our region on different issues for decades, some say for centuries … The problem with this government is that their shallow and immature rhetoric only highlights this tradition of bullying and hegemony”. He asked: “How can we expect them to make the violence less while they want to send military supplies to the terrorists?”



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June 25, 2012

EU condemns Syria for shootdown, urges Turkish restraint

EU condemns Syria for shootdown, urges Turkish restraint

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Monday, June 25, 2012

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A regular conference of European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg today issued condemnation of Syria’s recent shootdown of a Turkish fighter jet, but also sought restraint from Turkey in its response.

A Turkish F-4 Phantom jet, from file.

Catherine Ashton, head of EU foreign policy, said the bloc is “very concerned” by the situation “and very concerned for the family of the two pilots who are missing”. She speaks ahead of a NATO meeting called by Turkey under provisions allowing members to seek urgent talks if they perceive themselves under threat. Turkey is a NATO member, and an EU membership candidate.

The disputed incident saw a Turkish F-4 Phantom jet destroyed on Friday, with Syria claiming they were unaware of the aircraft’s origin and merely defending themselves. The Turks claim the jet mistakenly entered Syrian airspace, but had left again after a warning and was in international airspace when it was attacked.

The EU has today announced fresh sanctions against Syria: Another person and six organisations were added to the EU’s sanctions list, which now imposes asset freezes on 43 groups and over 100 people; the individuals also face travel bans. The growing list is in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s violent suppression of an uprising against his rule. China and Russia consistently use their vetoes as permanent UN Security Council members to prevent calls for al-Assad to step down.

The UN puts deaths at the hands of Syrian government forces at 10,000; Syria attributes 2,600 government and security forces deaths to “terrorists” with foreign assistance. Turkey and the West are uncertain if removing al-Assad would simply make Syria even more fractured and volatile.

Cquote1.svg This plane was not carrying arms and was on a routine flight Cquote2.svg

—Laurent Fabius

Giulio Terzi, foreign minister of Italy, said the shootdown highlighted the need for an end to violence in the region and “illustrates how the Syrian crisis is escalating”. His UK counterpart, William Hague, said “I don’t think it illustrates a different phase” but agreed it was “important that we increase the pressure with additional sanctions”. He predicts some nations “will be very active in arguing for a new resolution from the Security Council.” Their French colleague, Laurent Fabius, said the destruction with “no prior warning” of an aircraft that “was not carrying arms and was on a routine flight” is “completely unacceptable.”

A Turkish cabinet meeting is due today to examine the shootdown, with Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal telling al-Jazeera the attack was “a hostile act”. Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been more measured in his response, and has avoided calling for military intervention.

“Military intervention in Syria is out of the question,” according to Uri Rosenthal, foreign minster of the Netherlands, for either “the Dutch government… [or] in the… context of NATO.” NATO’s North Atlantic Council meets tomorrow to discuss Turkey’s concerns, with any action needing unanimous approval from ambassadors representing all 28 member states.



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February 20, 2012

UK politician foresees nuclear Iran triggering new Middle Eastern cold war

UK politician foresees nuclear Iran triggering new Middle Eastern cold war

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Monday, February 20, 2012

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British Foreign Secretary William Hague has described a possibility of a new cold war in the Middle East due to the Iranian nuclear programme. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggests negotiating with Iran by asking it to disprove the allegations of developing nuclear weapons.

The comments were made by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, pictured here in 2010.

“If [the Iranians] obtain nuclear weapons capability, then I think other nations across the Middle East will want to develop nuclear weapons,” Hague said. “The most serious round of nuclear proliferation since nuclear weapons were invented would have begun.” Ex-UK diplomat Sir Richard Dalton rules out the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile Ki-moon dismissed US and Israeli suggestions of attacking Iran, saying that “all these issues should be resolved peacefully through negotiations, through dialogue.” He said so after attending anniversary ceremonies of an agency to detect secret nuclear weapon tests, called the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation. Hague has also urged Israel not to strike. He said, “All options must remain on the table but a military attack would have enormous downsides.” He insisted on giving sanctions to Iran instead.

However, some US officials extrapolated that Iran is determined about the nuclear programme as the nation threatened to disrupt oil supply to six European nations earlier this week. A number of US officials now believe that attacking Iran is the only way out.

Dalton stated, “There are many signs, as reported by the International Atomic Energy Agency, that some research and development relevant to the development of nuclear weapons may still be going on. But it is wrong to say that Iran is rushing towards having a nuclear weapon.”

Iran organised a ceremony which revealed its nuclear programme on Wednesday. It stated that the programme is only about generating nuclear power. Iran also loaded its first domestically created fuel into the reactor last week.



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May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden killed in U.S. operation in Pakistan, White House says

Osama bin Laden killed in U.S. operation in Pakistan, White House says

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Monday, May 2, 2011

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File photograph of Osama bin Laden.
Image: FBI.

U.S. officials last night said Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader and orchestrator of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and embassy bombings in 1998, had been killed by U.S. special forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan near the capital Islamabad.

White House officials say that four others were killed in the forty-minute raid that began at 2000 UTC yesterday—including a woman said to have been used as a human shield. One of those shot is thought to be bin Laden’s son. An American helicopter was lost due to mechanical failure, but no U.S. forces or civilians were killed.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced the news in a statement late last night. “I can report to the American people and to the world, that the U.S. has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden,” Obama said. He confirmed he had been told in August of a lead to the location of bin Laden, and approved the operation last week. The operation involved a “small team of Americans”, Obama said.

The operation, led by the CIA, occurred nearly ten years after the 9/11 attacks. CIA director Leon Panetta notified U.S. legislators Sunday about the news. His body was verified using several methods, including DNA testing with DNA from a dead sister’s body, stored in a Boston, Massachusetts hospital, as well as facial recognition. However, staff at the hospital in question—Massachusetts General Hospital—have not been able to “find any evidence” of the body ever being stored there. U.S. officials said his body was then buried at sea at around 0600 UTC today, “in accordance with Islamic law and traditions” and because of the difficulty of finding a country that would accept the remains of the world’s most wanted man. Saudi Arabia, the country in which Osama bin Laden was born, refused a U.S. offer to take the body.

Celebrations in U.S.; European Parliament says world is ‘safer’

Following the President’s announcement, people started gathering in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., Times Square and Ground Zero—the site of the World Trade Center—in New York, to celebrate; singing the national anthem. Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, said he hoped the death of bin Laden would “bring some closure and comfort to all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001”.

The U.S. government is reportedly expecting al-Qaeda to soon release what they are likely to call a “martyr tape”—an audio recording made by bin Laden to be broadcast after his death.

Although the death of the 54-year-old bin Laden, who was the most wanted person in the world, was greeted with celebration in the U.S., analysts have warned that al-Qaeda will “undoubtedly” launch a retaliatory attack. “I think the significance of what has happened cannot really be overstated,” John Gearson, director of the Centre for Defence Studies at King’s College London, said.

President Obama’s announcement of the news.

“There will be concerns that there could be some sort of retaliation, that al-Qaeda may well want to demonstrate that they are still strong and still in the game.” He warned that U.S. officials may “lose their focus” after such a major victory, “and that will provide an opportunity for the remnants of al-Qaeda to reform and grow stronger.”

Cquote1.svg I can report to the American people and to the world, that the U.S. has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden. Cquote2.svg

—Barack Obama

Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, appealed to Islamic militant fighters to use the opportunity of bin Laden’s death to abandon their groups. “Our message to the Taliban remains the same, but today it may have even greater resonance: you cannot wait us out,” she said. “You cannot defeat us. But you can make the choice to abandon Al Qaeda and cooperate in a peaceful political process.”

The president of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, said that “we have waken up in a safer world”, with the news bringing “safety to millions of people”, whilst U.S. senator John McCain sought to remind the American people to “be mindful that al-Qaeda and its terrorist allies are still lethal and determined enemies”. The Kremlin reiterated that “revenge is inescapable for all terrorists”, and that “only a joint struggle against global terrorism can bring a result”.

The United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, sought to remind people bin Laden was “the world’s most prominent leader”, going on to say that “it was of great importance that he was still alive and active, and it is unequivocally a good thing that he is no longer able to pursue terror, murder and mayhem in the world”. Mentioning that security at British embassies worldwide have been increased in the wake of the news, he reiterated that the death of the al-Qaeda leader was a “serious blow”, and that, “like any organisation that has suffered a serious blow, they will want to show in some way that they are still able to operate”.

Americans gather at Ground Zero—the site of the World Trade Center—in New York to celebrate the death of bin Laden.
Image: rxb.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, welcomed the news, along with many other European countries. He praised the “tenacity” of the U.S. attack, congratulating the “major blow” the move dealt to al-Qaeda. Eight French citizens were killed last week in a bomb blast in Marrakesh, and, although no group has yet claimed responsibility, it is speculated that al-Qaeda were behind the attack. Sarkozy paid homage to them, as well as other around the world, saying the “victims received justice today and France has thoughts for them and their families”.

Cquote1.svg It is unequivocally a good thing that he is no longer able to pursue terror, murder and mayhem in the world. Cquote2.svg

—William Hague, British Foreign Secretary

Pakistani involvement

Pakistani officials were not informed of the planned raid, with the White House saying this was “essential to the security of the operation and our personnel”. However Obama emphasised that cooperation with Pakistan had helped in finding bin Laden. The operation, described by one senior White House official as “a surgical raid by a small team designed to minimise collateral damage”, was not intended to take bin Laden alive. “It was a kill mission”, said one security official. Bin Laden died after being shot in the head.

Witnesses in Abbottabad have described how the U.S. forces carried out the raid on the compound, which had significant security features, including walls up to 18-foot high topped with barbed wire. “We saw four helicopters at around 2am. We were told to switch off lights of our homes and stay inside,” one witness, who lives in the town of Bilal in Abbottabad, said. The man confirmed he had seen the wreckage of the U.S. military helicopter which crashed after experiencing mechanical difficulties.

Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the U.S. “operation was conducted [by] U.S. forces in accordance with declared U.S. policy that Osama bin Laden will be eliminated in a direct action by the U.S. forces, wherever found in the world”, noting that almost “30,000 Pakistani civilians” had been killed in terrorist attacks in recent years, with the “nation fully united in [its] resolve to eliminate terrorism”.

Cquote1.svg We saw four helicopters at around 2am. We were told to switch off lights of our homes and stay inside. Cquote2.svg

—Witness in Abbottabad, Pakistan

However, Pervez Musharraf, a former president of Pakistan, criticised the U.S. involvement, describing the operation as a “violation of [Pakistani] sovereignty,” and saying the raid was a “a failure of both Pakistani and U.S. intelligence”; he stressed it would have been “far better” if the Pakistani Special Services Group had carried out the attack. Musharraf went on to say he was “surprised” bin Laden was found in Abbottabad, but added the terrorist leader “had declared war against Pakistan”, and that the news came as a “victory for the people of Pakistan and all the peace loving people of the world”.

The news that bin Laden was hiding just a few hundred metres from Pakistan Military Academy, a similar institution to the U.S. West Point Academy or the UK Sandhurst, has been met with embarrassment on behalf of the Pakistani government, and scepticism from others. “This is a serious blow to the credibility of Pakistan”, according to one Pakistani security analyst. Earlier today, Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai maintained he knew bin Laden was in Pakistan: “For 10 years we told NATO and the world community but for ten years they didn’t listen to our voice. They burned Afghanistan for ten years but Osama was in Islamabad.”

Photograph of Obama and his national security team awaiting updates on the strike mission, yesterday.
Image: The White House.

Whilst many governments worldwide welcomed the death of bin Laden, more than 800 people marched in the Pakistani city of Quetta, paying homage to bin Laden and burning a U.S. flag. According to the organizer, “Bin Laden was the hero of the Muslim world and after his martyrdom he has won the title of great mujahed“. At the march, pro-Taliban and anti-United States sentiments were chanted, before the protesters dispersed peacefully.

Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan have denied that bin Laden has been killed, although in a conference call to several Pakistani media outlets, a rebel spoksperson threatened to seek revenge: “If Bin Laden attained martyrdom, then we will avenge his death and we will attack the governments of Pakistan and the United States and their security forces”.

Although no images of bin Laden’s body have been released, the Obama administration is, according to ABC News, in possession of gruesome photographs: a “massive head wound” where he took a bullet, with “blood and brains clearly visible”.

The price of oil has dropped following the announcement after speculation that the death of bin Laden will lower the risk of supply disruption in the Middle East, with a barrel of crude oil for June delivery falling by $1.92.



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  • “”Osama to Obama”: Bin Laden addresses US President” — Wikinews, January 25, 2010
  • “Pakistani prime minister says Osama Bin Laden not in the country” — Wikinews, December 3, 2009

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March 25, 2011

NATO to take control of Libyan no-fly zone

NATO to take control of Libyan no-fly zone

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Friday, March 25, 2011

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NATO has agreed to take control of the no-fly zone in Libya as early as this weekend, after a unanimous vote to do so by all 28 member states.

Only the no-fly zone will be the responsibility of NATO forces; other military operations in Libya will remain under the control of the group of nations already involved. A two-level command system will be put in place, with political oversight being the responsibility of a new committee headed by NATO but also including other countries that are engaged in military operations in Libya. Deployment of military assets will fall under the purview of NATO alone.

An agreement was reached on Wednesday afternoon, after a conference call between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British foreign secretary William Hague, French foreign minister Alain Juppe, and the Turkish foreign minister. This was proposed to the North Atlantic Council, and NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen later confirmed that all NATO members had agreed to implement it.

Turkey and France had previously disagreed over the issue of NATO control, with France opposed and Turkey in favor of having NATO command of military forces.

Hague said of the agreement that “this is a new coalition, put together very quickly for obvious reasons last week, and so there are bound to be issues to sort out in its management. But we are getting through those pretty well.”


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March 11, 2011

France first to recognise Libyan rebels as \”legitimate representatives of the people\”

France first to recognise Libyan rebels as “legitimate representatives of the people”

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Friday, March 11, 2011

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France became the first country to formally recognize a newly formed Libyan opposition council as the “legitimate representative of the Libyan people.” The office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Thursday it will send ambassadors to the rebel stronghold in Benghazi, and in return the Libyan opposition council will set up an embassy in Paris.

The decision was made after President Sarkozy met with two representatives of the opposition group, the National Transitional Council, in Paris. Mustafa Gheriani, a representative for the Libyan opposition, said he expected other EU members to follow Sarkozy’s lead. Other EU members expressed uneasiness, and declined to meet with the two representatives.

Although the EU has approved tighter sanctions in response to Muammar Gaddafi’s bloody crackdown on the opposition, EU members held back from endorsing a specific opposition group. Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal, whose government still maintains an embassy in Tripoli, cautioned, “There is not yet enough clarity about these opposition groups in and around Benghazi”. Baroness Ashton, spokesman for the EU foreign affairs chief, stated: “We cannot unilaterally rush into recognising groups.” Other members expressed the need for the EU to speak in a unified voice.

Contact between EU officials and opposition leaders is occurring. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had spoken by telephone with Mahmoud Jabril, special envoy of the Libyan Transitional National Council, before he left for NATO talks in Brussels on the Libyan situation. The talks planned to include a discussion of a no-fly zone over Libya.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she plans to meet with Libyan opposition members on her trip to Egypt and Tunisia next week.



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May 31, 2010

Nineteen activists killed by Israeli commandos aboard aid convoy bound for Gaza

Nineteen activists killed by Israeli commandos aboard aid convoy bound for Gaza

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Monday, May 31, 2010

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Freedom Flotilla banner.
Image: Freegazaorg – Flickr.

Between nine and nineteen Free Gaza Movement activists died today in international waters when Israeli Defense Force commandos boarded vessels attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Benjamin Netanyahu gave the death toll to be at least 10. Israeli television says that 19 people were killed and 36 were wounded in the confrontation.

The six vessels, called the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, were carrying 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid destined for the Gaza Strip, including water purifiers, prefabricated homes and medical equipment. Passengers include several European members of parliament and MPs from Germany, Belgium, Algeria and Israel.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said that “the organizers are well-known for their ties with global jihad, al-Qaida and Hamas. They have a history of arms smuggling and deadly terror.” The Israeli military had declared it would not allow the ships to reach Gaza and said the activists were a “provocation intended to delegitimise Israel”. The Israeli Navy had been transmitting messages throughout the night ordering them to turn back, stating: “If you ignore this order and enter the blockaded area, the Israeli navy will be forced to take all the necessary measures in order to enforce this blockade,” and that the Gaza region was a protected military zone.

Huwaida Arraf, one of the organizers, had said that the flotilla was “fully prepared for the different scenarios” that might arise, and organizers were hopeful that Israeli authorities would “do what’s right” and not stop the convoy. She said, “we fully intend to go to Gaza regardless of any intimidation of threats of violence against us,” and that “they are going to have to forcefully stop us.”

The pre-dawn boarding took place in international waters around 150 kilometres (90 miles) off the coast of Gaza. Footage from on the flotilla’s lead vessel, the MV Mavi Marmara, and video released by the IDF, showed armed Israeli commandos boarding the ship from helicopters and fighting with activists. According to the Israel Defense Forces, the activists attacked the commandos with batons, knives and axes. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said;

Cquote1.svg They were mobbed. They were clubbed, they were beaten, stabbed. There was even a report of gunfire and our soldiers had to defend themselves, defend their lives or they would have been killed. Cquote2.svg

A spokesman for the flotilla, Greta Berlin accused Israeli troops of indiscriminately shooting at “unarmed civilians”. Israel said troops found weapons aboard the Gaza flotilla which were used against the IDF. The allegations were rejected by both the Free Gaza Movement, IHH and Egypt’s foreign minister, who said the boats had been searched before they left port.

Cquote1.svg The images are certainly not pleasant. I can only voice regret at all the fatalities Cquote2.svg

—Binyamin Ben-Eliezer Israeli trade and industry minister.

Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon said he was “shocked by reports of killings and injuries of people on boats carrying supplies for Gaza” and called for “a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place” and urged Israel to “urgently provide a full explanation”. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ called for three days of mourning to commemorate what he called the “massacre” of protesters. Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader in Gaza, has dubbed the Israeli action as “a crime”.

Turkey’s prime minister describes Israeli raid as ‘state terrorism’ and said Israel violated international laws. Some of the ships were sailing under Turkish flags and media reports indicate that Turkish nationals are among the dead. Turkey demanded an “urgent explanation” from Israel and warned of “irreparable consequences” after the incident. Netanyahu said the raid was self defense. Turkey is withdrawing its ambassador to Israel and is calling on the U.N. Security Council to convene in an emergency session about Israel.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has called on Israeli authorities to launch a “full inquiry” into the killing. She “reiterates the European Union’s position regarding Gaza – the continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counterproductive.” Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he was “deeply concerned” and France said “nothing can justify” the incident. Sweden, Austria, Greece and Spain have said it was important to “quickly establish” what happened, and have summoned the Israeli ambassadors.

Gaza flotilla clash demonstration in Belfast.

The British Foreign Secretary William Hague has called on the Government of Israel to open all crossings for aid to enter Gaza and said Israel should “address the serious concerns about the deterioration in the humanitarian and economic situation and about the effect on a generation of young Palestinians‪.” Russia calls attention to the fact that the Israeli interception of a Gaza-bound international aid flotilla took place in international waters, which it said represents a gross violation of international law.

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek has urged the international Middle East mediators Russia, the United States, the United Nations and the European Union to persuade Israel to end its blockade of Gaza. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Europe. In Greece and France there was clashes with police. There were protests in cities around the Ireland, UK and Italy. In the Middle East there were protests in Turkey, Lebanon and Iran.

The White House said that the United States “deeply regrets” the loss of life and injuries and was working to understand the circumstances surrounding this “tragedy”. The Organization of the Islamic Conference, comprising of 57 countries, described the flotilla incident as “a serious escalation and a flagrant violation of the international law and human values.”

The media has not been given access to the politicians, activists and journalists who were in the convoy or information about deaths and injuries. Israeli Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld police say it will deport the roughly 50 of the 671 activists in the flotilla except those who refuse to cooperate. The other activists have been sent to jail in the southern desert town of Beersheba after refusing to identify themselves and will remain in detention.

Irishman Dennis Halliday, a former assistant secretary general of the United Nations and the Northern Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, are aboard the only boat left in the convoy, the Irish MV Rachel Corrie vessel, named after Rachel Corrie. The vessel is now on the way to the Gaza Strip. The Irish Prime Minister Mr Cowen said he believed Israel’s blockade of humanitarian assistance to Gaza was illegal under international law.



Sources

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