Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

Fresh controversy as Italy bans another migrant ship

August 19, 2018

Italy’s populist government has taken a hard line on immigration. In the latest controversy, its transport minister said that although the coast guard had partially aided a migrant ship to save lives, Malta still deserved sanctions for not helping.

© Alberto Pizzoli / AFP, archives | Migrants and refugees, wait to be rescued at sea and transported to the German navy frigate ship Werra, a part of the European external action service Eunavfor-med, on September 27, 2015.

US creates ‘action group’ to up pressure on Iran

August 17, 2018

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a new high-level team to focus US and international efforts to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran.

The Iran Action Group will drive Washington’s “maximum pressure” strategy to change Tehran’s behavior, including potentially sanctioning other countries which trade with the country.

The group will be headed by Brian Hook as the State Department’s Special Representative for Iran.

© Rod Lamkey / Getty Images / AFP | US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gives a press conference in Washington DC on Thursday, August 16 2018.

Hook, currently director of policy planning at the State Department, was in charge of the failed effort to get support from US allies for Washington’s decision in May to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.

“For nearly 40 years the regime in Tehran has been responsible for a torrent of violence and destabilizing behavior against the United States, our allies, our partners and indeed the Iranian people themselves,” said Pompeo.

“Our hope is that one day soon we can reach a new agreement with Iran. But we must see major changes in the regime’s behavior both inside and outside its borders.”

The US has laid out a long list of activities it demands Tehran changes, including halting support for the Syrian government and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, shutting down its nuclear development program, and freeing detained Americans.

“This team is committed to a strong global effort to change the Iranian regime’s behavior,” Hook said.

“We want to be closely synchronized with our allies and partners around the world.”

Hook, who met with officials from Britain, France and Germany on Iran policy in London on Wednesday, held out the possibility of the US engaging directly with Iranian leaders if they demonstrate a “commitment” to changing their behavior.

But he was not specific on what would be the minimum required to make that impression.

He also said that Washington is stepping up its effort to get other countries to fall in line with economic pressure on Tehran, including the crackdown on Iran’s oil trade, financial sector and shipping industry announced for early November.

“Our goal is to reduce every country’s import of Iranian oil to zero by November 4.”

“We are prepared to impose secondary sanctions on other governments that continue this sort of trade with Iran.”

Last week Trump warned the world about doing business with Iran, as European allies continued to grumble about the US policy and China, India and Turkey appeared poised to continue importing Iranian oil, providing the Iranian government crucial foreign exchange.

But the US sanctions appear to have had effect, tightening the country’s supply of dollars and sending its currency in a tailspin — with the result a jump in inflation that has hurt Iranian consumers.

In Monday Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s said there would be neither war nor negotiations with the United States, and put the blame for mounting domestic economic turmoil on the shoulder of President Hassan Rouhani.

US officials have repeatedly said they only pressuring for a change in Iranian behavior and not change in the regime itself.

Asked whether the announcement of the Iran Action Group was purposely timed with 65th anniversary of the CIA-engineered overthrow of ex-prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh — which took place in mid-August 1953 — Hook labelled it “pure coincidence.”


Date created : 2018-08-17

Erdogan Moves to Shore Up Alliances as U.S. Standoff Deepens

August 16, 2018
  • The president spoke with Merkel, got aid pledge from Qatar
  • Turkey’s finance minister will hold a call with investors
A trader watches a speech by Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s finance minister, broadcast on a digital screen at the Borsa Istanbul SA stock exchange in Istanbul, Turkey.  Photographer: Ismail Ferdous/Bloomberg

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan moved to shore up alliances in Europe and the Middle East, easing pressure on the battered lira, as the standoff between Turkey and the U.S. deepened.

Efforts to rally support and bolster domestic markets include a call between Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak and international investors. Erdogan was set to speak with French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday, a day after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a $15 billion pledge of support from Qatar.

The lira climbed for a third day along with emerging-market currencies even after the White House said new tariffs on Turkish goods would remain regardless of whether Andrew Brunson, an American pastor detained in Turkey, was freed. Helping support the currency, the central bank didn’t offer any funding through its one-week repo rate at 17.75 percent for a fourth day, forcing lenders toward its more expensive overnight rate of 19.95 percent.

“The bigger issue for markets is this constant politicization of economic and financial issues,” said Mohieddine Kronfol, the Dubai-based chief investment officer for global sukuk, Middle East and North Africa fixed income at Franklin Templeton Investments.

Erdogan’s overtures to Europe suggest he’s prepared to mend ties strained by past diplomatic clashes — he accused Merkel’s government of engaging in “Nazi practices” last year — in an attempt to weather the U.S. pressure. The pledge by Qatar, on the other hand, rewards the president for standing by the gas-rich Gulf country against a Saudi-led boycott backed by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Read More: Erdogan Cast Aside as Trump Favors Other Mideast Strongmen

Qatar said the financial package would come in the form of “projects, investments and deposits.” It didn’t give details. The lira, one of the world’s worst-performing currencies this year, advanced 2 percent to 5.8268 per dollar at 11:45 a.m. in Istanbul, paring its loss for the year to about 35 percent.

The plight of Brunson has dominated the Trump administration’s strategy toward its NATO ally, even as the dispute roiled currency markets. Brunson, who Turkish officials say had links to a failed 2016 coup, is being held under house arrest. An appeals court is due to rule on his fate this week. A lower court already turned down his lawyer’s request to free him and the U.S. has said it won’t negotiate until he’s released.

Erdogan said the standoff would push Turkey to forge other alliances. Shortly afterwards, his government said it would not comply with U.S. sanctions against Iran, a key oil supplier to Turkey.

Investors and analysts say the support from the likes of Qatar will help Turkey buy time but doesn’t replace the need for policy actions to contain double-digit inflation and a mass of foreign-currency debt. That’s why the upcoming presentation by Albayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law, is so critical.

Read More: Turkey Returns to ‘Stealth’ Tactics to Raise Borrowing Costs

“I would ideally need to hear a more substantiated fiscal plan,” Esther Law, an emerging-market debt manager at Amundi SA, said on Bloomberg TV. “Give me some numbers. Will there be any fiscal rule? How are they going to achieve, let’s say, a budget deficit not much worse than where we are without compromising growth too much. This is exactly what I’m after.”

Turkey’s effort to bolster its political alliances came in tandem with steps taken by authorities to support the banking system and curb short selling of the lira.

Ehsan Khoman, head of MENA research and strategy at MUFG Bank, said he expects that the currency’s relief to be short-lived, prompting the central bank to hike borrowing costs “imminently in order to rebuild credibility.”

— With assistance by Constantine Courcoulas

Europe must stand behind Canada in Saudi row or risk its own values

August 14, 2018

In its response to Ottawa’s row with Saudi Arabia, the EU is repeating past mistakes


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The Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland, left, with prime minister Justin Trudeau, has called for the release of Samar Badawi, a leading Saudi women’s rights activist

Saudi Arabia’s reaction was swift last week when Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, called in a tweet for the release of Samar Badawi, a leading Saudi women’s rights activist. It dumped assets, expelled the Canadian ambassador and told the 10,000 Saudi students studying in Canada to pack their bags.

This was a test case for the west’s commitment to defending human rights activists in semi-democratic and authoritarian countries. But instead of standing up for Canada, Europe backed away from a Nato ally and a country that recently forged a major trade deal with the EU.

A spokesperson for the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Brussels was seeking clarification from the Saudi authorities about Ms Badawi’s arrest. The UK said both Canada and Saudi Arabia “are close partners” and urged “restraint during the current situation”. Britain and Saudi Arabia recently set a target of $90bn in trade and investment deals over the next decade.

From Germany there was silence. Berlin had its fingers burnt last year when Sigmar Gabriel, the former foreign minister, criticised Saudi Arabia’s “adventurism” in Lebanon and Yemen. Since then, Daimler, Siemens, Deutsche Bank and other companies have been cold-shouldered by Riyadh.

As it did before the Arab uprisings of 2011, the EU is putting economic interests and stability before human rights and the rule of law.

Take Iran. The EU is determined to save the nuclear deal that Mr Trump has disowned. His recent decision to impose new sanctions on Iran has horrified the Europeans. Their fear is that hardliners will become emboldened and walk away from a nuclear deal that had put the non-proliferation regime back on the agenda.

Meanwhile, inside Iran there is increasing opposition to widespread corruption, economic mismanagement and the abuse of human rights. The stability of the regime cannot be taken for granted.

Yet the EU has been silent over the corruption and rights abuses. Furthermore, European leaders have turned a blind eye to Iran’s support for terrorist movements, its interference in Syria and Yemen, and its stance on Israel. Defending the nuclear deal takes precedence.

Then there is Egypt. The EU has stood behind Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. It has done so despite the fact that he has imprisoned thousands of journalists, activists, women’s rights campaigners and other dissidents.

Closer to home, the EU could be much more active in supporting human rights activists and movements in Russia. Sanctions are all very well, but they should be part of a long-term strategy for relations with a post-Putin Russia.

Inside the EU, the bloc’s commitment to values is half-baked. This past weekend, tens of thousands of Romanians took to the streets of the capital Bucharest to protest against rampant corruption and cronyism. Civil society yearns for robust support from the EU, but it seems reluctant to tackle the decades-old scourge that has paralysed Romania’s state institutions.

The same could be said about Hungary, where non-governmental organisations are being targeted. The EU has been shamefully ineffective. And the European People’s party, the conservative grouping in the European Parliament, refuses to expel prime minister Viktor Orban’s rightwing Fidesz party for fear of no longer being the biggest grouping after next year’s elections.

Authoritarian regimes and populist leaders in Europe draw succour from the EU’s pusillanimity. Meanwhile, the activists who still look to Europe as the guardian of values and decency are not the only losers. The EU itself risks the very principles on which it was built.

The writer is a non-resident senior fellow at Carnegie Europe and editor of Strategic Europe



French rescue vessel Aquarius stranded again, seeks port

August 13, 2018

The operators of the migrant ship Aquarius on Monday called on Europe to find a safe haven for 141 people rescued in the Mediterranean, saying Italy and Malta had again refused to let it dock.

The Aquarius, which was left stranded with 630 migrants aboard in June after being turned away by Rome and Valletta, resumed rescue operations off the Libyan coast last week.

On Friday, it picked up 141 people in two separate operations, half of them children, but it has again struggled to find a port to bring them ashore.

© AFP/File | The Aquarius is a 77-metre (250 foot) rescue boat which has the capacity for carrying between 200 and 500 people

Sophie Beau, president of the vessel’s operator SOS Mediterranee, said the ship, which is currently situated between Malta and the Italian island of Lampedusa, had again received “official negative replies” from the two countries.

“We’re asking all European countries to find a solution. We’re asking them to be responsible and find a safe port in the Mediterranean,” she said, accusing Italy and Malta of flouting international maritime law.

Tove Ernst, a spokesman for the European Commission, said it was in contact with “a number of member states that have approached us regarding the incident” to try to find a “swift resolution” to the standoff.

Since June, Italy’s new far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has regularly turned away rescue ships operated by foreign NGOs such as the Aquarius, accusing them of playing into the hands of people smugglers.

On Saturday, he said the Aquarius would “never see an Italian port” again.

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His hardline stance has sparked a row among EU members, underscoring their failure to come up with a common approach to the influx of people trying to escape conflict, persecution or poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

In June, Spain stepped in and welcomed the Aquarius.

France, which was within closer range but did not allow the boat access, took in 78 of the migrants after they landed.


China Seeks Influence in Europe, One Business Deal at a Time

August 13, 2018

When Xi Jinping became the first top Chinese leader to visit the Czech Republic, he was accompanied by a mysterious Chinese tycoon with big political ambitions, money to burn and strong ties to the Czech president.

Ye Jianming was the sole businessman among the group of Chinese and Czech government officials who gathered two years ago outside the presidential summer residence where Mr. Xi and Milos Zeman, his Czech counterpart, planted ginkgo trees. For Mr. Ye, it was recognition of his role as a major power broker in Prague, having bought landmark properties, a local brewery and a much beloved soccer team.

The meeting — and the presence of Mr. Ye — cemented China’s newfound influence on politics and business in Mr. Zeman’s Czech Republic and signaled its broader ambitions in Europe.

In just two years Mr. Ye’s company, CEFC China Energy, had spent more than $1 billion on deals in the Czech Republic. He hired former Czech officials, including a onetime defense minister. Mr. Ye was even named a special economic adviser to Mr. Zeman.

By  David BarbozaMarc Santora and Alexandra Stevenson
The New York Times

The Chinese president Xi Jinping, center right, welcoming Milos Zeman, his Czech counterpart, center left, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in 2015. Ye Jianming, far left, headed CEFC China Energy, which spent more than $1 billion on deals in the Czech Republic. Credit Lucie Mikolaskova/Czech News Agency, via Associated Press

Mr. Zeman, in turn, became a big backer of Beijing, tamping down domestic opposition to Chinese influence and taking up Chinese causes. He publicly supported China’s claims over Taiwan, the democratic island that Beijing claims as its territory. When Mr. Xi visited, police tried to keep protesters out of sight; some later accused the police of using violence to suppress them. The family of a prominent Holocaust survivor said Mr. Zeman withdrew a proposed medal for the man after his nephew met with the Dalai Lama, an exiled spiritual leader whom China considers a rebel.

Supporters of Mr. Xi demonstrated during his visit in Prague in 2016. Credit Filip Singer/EPA, via Shutterstock

For China, the Czech courtship was an unqualified victory: It had won a sure friend in Europe, an American military ally and a country once seen as a bulwark for liberal democracy in a strategically important region. As Mr. Zeman declared, the Czech Republic hoped to become “an unsinkable aircraft carrier of Chinese investment expansion” in Europe.

Then, Mr. Ye was detained in China this year, exposing the Czech Republic to the perils of this new relationship and forcing the president to defend his quick embrace of the Chinese deal maker. While the reason for Mr. Ye’s detention was never made public, critics of the Czech president saw Mr. Ye’s disappearance as proof that the country shouldn’t have tied its future and its fortune to the Chinese.

An emboldened, globally ambitious China is using money, business deals and other incentives to extend its power abroad. The pitch can hold great appeal in a world shaken by Washington’s growing disengagement and Europe’s struggles.

Read the rest:

Humanitarian ship seeks European port for rescued migrants

August 13, 2018

Human rights groups called on European governments on Sunday to tell a charity ship where it can dock and let more than 140 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean disembark in safety.

e lessons from anyone.”

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NGO migrant resue boat Aquarius

Migrants are seen on board a fiberglass boat in the Mediterranean Sea, off the Libyan Coast, August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

The Aquarius, run by Franco-German charity SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders (MSF), rescued 141 people in two separate operations off the Libyan coast last week.

The boat had just started heading north on Sunday toward Europe when Libyan coastguards called it back to pick up 10 migrants spotted aboard a small fiberglass boat.

As that rescue was underway, SOS Mediterranee and MSF asked for guidance on where to take those they had saved.

“What is of utmost importance is that the survivors are brought to a place of safety without delay, where their basic needs can be met and where they can be protected from abuse,” said Nick Romaniuk, search and rescue coordinator for SOS Mediterranee.

The Aquarius has operated in the central Mediterranean since early 2016 and says it has helped more than 29,000 people in distress, many of them African migrants, who, until this summer, were brought swiftly to Italy without any incident.

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File photo of migrants and refugees from Africa trying to reach Europe

However, when a populist government took office in Rome in June, it immediately shut its ports to all NGO boats, accusing them of encouraging illegal immigration and helping human smugglers — charges the charities deny.

In June, the orange-hulled Aquarius picked up 629 migrants, including scores of children and seven pregnant women, but first Italy and then Malta refused to let it dock, provoking a row within the heart of the European Union over immigration policy.

Spain eventually agreed to take in the boat, but there was no indication of where the Aquarius might head on Sunday, with Malta immediately refusing it access and Italy saying at the weekend it would not be welcome at any of its ports.

SOS Mediterranee and MSF accused the Libyan coastguard on Sunday of endangering lives by not telling the Aquarius there were boats close to it that were in distress. They also said other ships in the area had apparently ignored the migrants.

“Ships might be unwilling to respond to those in distress due to the high risk of being stranded and denied a place of safety,” said Aloys Vimard, MSF’s project coordinator on board the Aquarius.

“Policies designed to prevent people from reaching Europe at all costs are resulting in more suffering and forcing those who are already vulnerable to take even riskier journeys to safety.”

More than 650,000 migrants have come to Italy’s shores since 2014, but the numbers of new arrivals have plunged over the past year, with Rome encouraging the Libyan coastguard to carry out most of the rescues.

Writing by Crispian Balmer; editing by David Stamp

U.S. encourages Britain to back Trump on Iran sanctions

August 12, 2018

The United States is calling on Britain to side with President Donald Trump rather than the European Union over Iran as tensions escalate over the US’s reimposition of stringent sanctions on the theocracy.

By Ben Riley-Smith & Christopher Hope
Sanctions reinstated on Iran

President Trump has issued an executive order reinstating sanctions on Iran that were dropped following the 2015 nuclear deal.

Ambassador Woody Johnson has challenged the UK to abandon its European neighbours who back the 2015 international deal to constrain Iran’s development of nuclear capabilities in return for  trade with Iran. Johnson said on Sunday that Britain should join forces with America to enforce the US president’s hard-hitting sanctions. He also delivered an explicit ultimatum to British companies, telling then to stop doing business with Iran or face “serious consequences” for their trade with the US.

The comments are a direct challenge to Prime Minister Theresa May’s minority Conservative government, days after a minister point-blank refused to go along with Trump’s sanctions on Tehran and keep the nuclear agreement alive.

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US President Donald Trump leaves Winfield House, residence of the US Ambassador Woody Johnson, left, during his visit to the UK in July.Photo: AP

They also come six days after Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, signed a joint statement with the EU which promised to push ahead with blocking the impact of the sanctions on European businesses. Johnson’s comments escalate the tensions over what is the first test of the so-called special relationship between the US and UK since Trump’s visit to the UK last month.

Britain negotiated the original Iran deal in 2015 with France, Germany, China, Russia and the US in a process coordinated by the European Union. The Tehran regime agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.

But Trump pulled out of the deal, which was struck by his predecessor Barack Obama, three months ago because Trump believes it is not stopping Iran from meddling the Middle East. Hard-hitting economic sanctions were reimposed last week with more to come in November.

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Visitors shop for goods at retail stores lining an arcade inside the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Iran, last week.Photo: Bloomberg

“America is turning up the pressure and we want the UK by our side,” Johnson said.

“It is time to move on from the flawed 2015 deal. We are asking global Britain to use its considerable diplomatic power and influence and join us as we lead a concerted global effort towards a genuinely comprehensive agreement.

“Together, we can help bring about the peace and prosperity in Iran that the whole world wants to see.”

Johnson urged British businesses to cut ties with Iran. The UK’s trade with Iran was £365 million ($640 million) in 2016.

“The President has been explicit: any businesses which put their own commercial interests in Iran ahead of the global good will risk serious consequences for their trade with the United States,” Johnson said.

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US President Donald Trump, left, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on right.Photo: AP

“Only by presenting a united front can we exert the maximum possible pressure on the Iranian regime and get them to finally change course and put an end to their malign and reckless activities both at home and abroad.”

The call amounts to a plea for Britain to break with its European Union partners over Iran and adopt Trump’s strategy.

The UK is set to be formally out of the EU in April 2019, assuming a Brexit deal can be arrived at. But on Sunday  senior UK government figures rejected the demands, further deepening the policy rift between the two traditional allies.

One minister said Trump was simply throwing “red meat” to his support base, and his strategy would be counter-productive, while a Foreign Office source reiterated the UK’s support for the agreement.

The minister added: “The trouble is with this approach is that it plays into the hands of the hardliners [in Tehran]. They court this. The whole purpose of the deal was to allow big companies to go into Iran – which is crying out for infrastructure improvement.

“It is all ratcheting slightly out of control – I can’t see Britain wanting to join in with that because where it takes you into a more hardline position.

“We pride ourselves on having a better understanding of the world than most – we would urge absolute caution on this. This is not the direction of travel you want go in.”

A Foreign Office source said: “We remain committed to the deal and are open to talking with the US administration and Congress about ways we can work together to address our shared concerns about Iran’s regional activity.”

In recent months Britain has thrown its support behind a so-called “blocking statute”, implemented in the EU headquarters of Brussels, which will protect European business from America’s Iran sanctions. The move is an attempt to keep European companies trading with Iran – seen as a critical factor in keeping the agreement alive.

Iran has said it will stick with the deal only if it continues to enjoy the economic benefits it was promised.

Why Iran matters

In the statement signed on Monday by Foreign Secretary Hunt, his French and German counterparts Jean-Yves Le Drian and Heiko Maas, and Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, they say they “deeply regret” the US sanctions and “are determined to protect European economic operators engaged in legitimate business with Iran.”

Asked the following day if Britain would “go along with the US” on Iran, Alistair Burt, a Foreign Office minister, said: “We made it clear that we regard the nuclear deal as an important part of the region’s security.

“We think this is really important, sticking to a deal a number of partners have agreed to.”

Asked how British companies could protected from US sanctions, he added: “If a company fears legal and enforcement activity, they can be protected by EU legislation. But the practicalities might be different. Many companies won’t be affected.”

Challenged over whether the UK would “stand up” to President Trump, Burt said: “They can expect us to do that – yes. Sometimes you need to take a stand against friends.”

Telegraph, London

Migrant rescue ship docks in Spain again after Italy refusal

August 9, 2018

An NGO ship which saved 87 migrants in distress off Libya docked in Spain on Thursday after roaming the Mediterranean for days, the third such vessel to be allowed in the country in two months after Italy refused to take them in.

The white ship belonging to Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms arrived in the southern port of San Roque, just over the bay from Gibraltar, at 9:20am (0720 GMT).

The migrants, nearly all from Sudan including Darfur, had spent 50 hours at sea on board an inflatable boat, without drinking water, and many suffered burns from a mixture of fuel and salt water before they were rescued on August 2.

Migrant rescue ship docks in Spain again after Italy refusal
The Proactiva Open Arms pulls into port. Photo: AFP

There were 75 men and 12 boys.

The NGO says many of them were “repeatedly abused in Libya.”

San Roque is where Spain hastily opened a new migrant reception centre as hundreds of migrants make the perilous sea crossing to the southern coast of Andalusia every week.

Faced with a crackdown by Libyan authorities and Italy’s hardline approach to the arrival of migrants, Spain has now become the main destination for those trying to get to Europe from Africa.

More than 23,700 people have arrived in Spain by sea so far this year with 307 dying in the attempt, according to the International Organization for Migration — more than during all of last year.

The country’s new Socialist government has also allowed the docking of three NGO rescue ships since June after Italy and Malta refused access.

In June, the French NGO Aquarius ship, which had picked up 630 stranded migrants off Libya, was allowed to dock in Spain’s eastern port of Valencia.

Then on July 4, Proactiva Open Arms’ ship docked in Barcelona with 60 migrants.

This time round though, the Spanish government has said the 87 migrants who have arrived in San Roque will be treated in the same way as the hundreds who arrive every week on Spanish shores.

When the Aquarius docked, Madrid had given each migrant a 45-day residency permit for humanitarian reasons.

Those brought back to Barcelona had also been given special treatment.




China opposes any unilateral sanctions against Iran

August 8, 2018

China’s business ties with Iran are open, transparent and lawful, its foreign ministry said on Wednesday, after US President Donald Trump said companies doing business with Iran would be barred from the United States.

China has consistently opposed unilateral sanctions and “long-armed jurisdiction”, the ministry said in a statement faxed to Reuters.


China has consistently opposed unilateral sanctions and “long-armed jurisdiction”, the ministry said. (File photo: AFP)