Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

Catalonia on knife-edge as pivotal elections loom

December 17, 2017

 

Ines Arrimadas, center-right party Ciudadanos (Citizens) candidate for the upcoming Catalan regional election, left, leader of Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera, center, and Jose Manuel Villegas attend a campaign meeting in L’Hospitalet del Llobregat on Sunday. (AFP)

BARCELONA: Catalonia is in the final stretch before pivotal elections Thursday that could determine the course of a secession crisis that has thrown Spain into turmoil and rattled the European Union.

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It is a campaign where the star candidates are in exile or in jail and where pro- and anti-independence parties for the Dec. 21 polls are still neck-and-neck.
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The upcoming vote has also been closely scrutinized in neighboring countries and the EU as a whole, with the bloc still reeling from Britain’s shock decision to leave.
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“We have never seen so much interest from Spain or from the world in elections of a regional nature,” Narciso Michavila, head of the GAD3 polling firm, told the FAES think tank Friday.
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In the polls Catalans will elect 135 lawmakers in the regional parliament, which has been dominated by pro-independence parties since 2015.
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All eyes are on whether the three separatist parties will maintain their absolute majority, and if they do, whether they will make another bid to break from Spain after their first attempt failed.
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The Catalan Parliament voted to declare unilateral independence on Oct. 27. But it was short-lived as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy sacked the regional government, dissolved the assembly and called snap elections to try and nip separatism in the bud.
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Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont promptly fled to Belgium knowing he would likely be charged for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, while his deputy Oriol Junqueras remained in Spain, only to be jailed pending an investigation into the same charges.
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As such, their campaigning has been surreal.
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At the head of a list called Together for Catalonia, Puigdemont has campaigned from afar, using video appearances and social media.
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Some 45,000 supporters even traveled to Belgium to see him on Dec. 7.
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He claims the elections are the “second round” of an independence referendum held on Oct. 1 despite a court ban, in which Catalan leaders said 90 percent voted to break from Spain, although only 43 percent turned out in a vote marred by police brutality.
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Junqueras, meanwhile, is behind bars but remains the chief candidate for his Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) party, which is favorite in many opinion polls.
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The separatists’ campaign is centered on denouncing alleged rights violations and “repression” by the central government, but it is unclear what stance they will take if they win.
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Some want to engineer another breakaway from Spain, while others say Catalonia is not ready and needs more time.
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For their part, the parties that back staying with Spain accuse the separatists of damaging Catalonia, one of the country’s economic powerhouses.
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“The harm has been done and it was very big,” Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said last week, pointing to a drop in tourism.
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Ines Arrimadas, the head of center-right, anti-independence party Ciudadanos in Catalonia, has promised to bring Catalans back together by focusing on crucial issues such as unemployment, investment and tourism.
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It is an argument that has drawn support from prominent European figures such as former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
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Speaking at a campaign meeting Saturday alongside Arrimadas, he insisted “the future of Europe is at stake.”
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“If Spain were to break up… then the future of Europe would collapse,” he said.
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Opinion polls show ERC and Ciudadanos neck-and-neck as favorites to win the most seats.
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Voters are highly mobilized, and a record turnout is expected.
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But neither separatist nor pro-unity parties are predicted to get a decisive majority in parliament, which could lead to lengthy negotiations to form a regional government.
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“Forming a government will be very complex, even if the pro-independence bloc wins the election,” said political analyst Pablo Simon.
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Unlike elections in 2015 when they joined forces, ERC and Puigdemont’s PDeCAT party are running on separate tickets as rifts have emerged between them.
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But opinion polls still suggest the most likely scenario is for a separatist coalition to remain in power in Catalonia, even if weakened.
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And the elections could even lead to a surreal situation where an exiled or jailed Catalan leader is sworn in.

 

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Spain beefs up border security as it fears Carles Puigdemont may stage surprise return

December 15, 2017

The Telegraph

By 

Spain’s security forces are reinforcing the borders to prevent a possible surprise return by ousted pro-independence leader Carles Puigdemont ahead of next week’s crucial elections in Catalonia, it was reported on Thursday.

Mr Puigdemont is campaigning to be re-elected president from Belgium, where he fled with four cabinet members to avoid sedition and rebellion charges following Catalonia’s unilateral independence declaration in late October.

Despite facing arrest the moment he steps on to Spanish soil, Mr Puigdemont insists he will take office if he is victorious.

But he has also eyed the possibility of returning before the December 21 election – a move which could boost his poll numbers to secure a win.

Faced with that prospect, the Interior Ministry is deploying extra security agents to points of entry, in particular the Spanish border with France, across which Mr Puigdemont made his dramatic escape.

The deployment is to be formed of multiple police agencies and will be tasked with detaining the ex-president if he crosses the frontier, police sources told the Barcelona-based paper La Vanguardia.

Mr Puigdemont’s Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) platform has risen in the polls since he vowed to return, but the vote remains on a knife-edge.

On Tuesday, he told press in Brussels that he was ready to “run the risk” of taking up office, but was more ambiguous about a pre-election return.

“I would like to, above all to exercise the right to vote, but it doesn’t depend on me,” he said.

He has not registered to vote from abroad, and neither have his ex-cabinet members.

There have been persistent rumours that Mr Puigdemont might attempt a surprise appearance in Girona, his home city and a pro-independence stronghold which lies less than 40 miles south of the French border.

It was to Girona – which this week renamed its central square after the illegal October 1 independence vote – that Mr Puigdemont retreated after being removed from office as Madrid imposed direct rule.

There, he received a hero’s welcome before fleeing by road to Marseilles, where he boarded a flight to Belgium.

Earlier this month, Spain’s Supreme Court withdrew its European Arrest Warrants for Mr Puigdemont and his colleagues, ending the extradition process under which he was required to remain in Belgium.

The move has left him with a stark choice – return as promised and face arrest, or remain free but in endless exile.

Failing to return at least after the vote would hugely undermine his image as a persecuted hero, particularly as other pro-independence figures – notably Oriol Junqueras, the former VP and now presidential rival – are fighting the same charges from Madrid jail cells.

The Interior Ministry did not respond to an inquiry from The Telegraph, while the National Police declined to comment.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/14/spain-beefs-border-security-fears-carles-puigdemont-may-stage/

Outrage in Spain after man murdered for wearing ‘colours of Spanish flag’

December 15, 2017

AFP

Outrage in Spain after man murdered for wearing 'colours of Spanish flag'

Outrage in Spain after man murdered for wearing ‘colours of Spanish flag’
A man holds an umbrella at a recent pro-unity demonstration in Barcelona. Photo: AFP

Catalonia’s election campaign has been shaken up by the murder of a man wearing the colours of the Spanish flag by a far-left supporter who had previously been jailed for a vicious assault of a policeman.

The assault came amid simmering tensions over Catalonia’s independence drive, with many supporters of Spanish unity alleging they are the target of a “hate campaign” by secessionists.

Some separatists, meanwhile, say they have been assaulted by their opponents.

A 55-year-old man, Victor Lainez, died on Tuesday four days after he was hit on the head with a metal bar outside a bar in the northeastern city of Zaragoza, the capital of the region of Aragon, which neighbours Catalonia.

Lainez, who was wearing suspenders bearing the red and yellow colours of the Spanish flag, got into an argument with the alleged attacker, Rodrigo Lanza, and three other people, a police spokesman said.

Witnesses told local media that Lanza and the three others began yelling at Lainez and calling him a “facha”, or fascist, because of his suspenders.

When Lainez left the bar, Lanza, 33, allegedly ran after him and hit him from behind with a metal bar before running away, leaving him unconscious, according to local media reports.

The Falange, a far-right party that was dominant under dictator Francisco Franco, said later that Lainez, who was from Catalonia, was a supporter.

READ MORE: Is Spain still living under Francoism

His death comes just days ahead of a knife-edge election in Catalonia on December 21st which will chart the course of Spain’s secession crisis, and it has sparked angry denunciations on the campaign trail from across the political spectrum.

Gabriel Rufian, a member of Spain’s parliament for the far-left, pro-independence ERC party, said the murder was “intolerable”, adding that people should be free to think and wear whatever they wanted.

Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido of Spain’s conservative Popular Party, said “I want to live in a country where nobody is assaulted or insulted for wearing a flag.”

A judge on Thursday ordered that Lanza be remanded in custody without bail pending a homicide investigation.

Lanza served five years in jail for throwing a rock at a Barcelona municipal police officer who was trying to evict him and other squatters from a building in 2006.

The policeman suffered spinal injuries that left him a quadriplegic.

2017 Was Bad for Facebook. 2018 Will Be Worse. — “Ripping apart the social fabric.”

December 14, 2017

Bloomberg

By Leonid Bershidsky

The tech giant’s carefree years of unregulated, untaxed growth are coming to an end.
Now trending.

 Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Facebook is projected to boost sales by 46 percent and double net income, but make no mistake: It had a terrible year. Despite its financial performance, the social media giant is facing a reckoning in 2018 as regulators close in on several fronts.

The main issue cuts to the core of the company itself: Rather than “building global community,” as founder Mark Zuckerberg sees Facebook’s mission, it is “ripping apart the social fabric.” Those are the words of Chamath Palihapitiya, the company’s former vice president of user growth. He doesn’t allow his kids to use Facebook because he doesn’t want them to become slaves to “short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops.”

Palihapitya’s criticism echoes that of Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker: “It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

Facebook has reacted nervously to Palihapitya’s accusations, saying he hadn’t worked at the company for a long time (he left in 2011) and wasn’t aware of Facebook’s recent initiatives. But I can’t see any practical manifestations of these efforts as a user who has drastically cut back on social networking this year for the very reasons cited by Parker and Palihapitya.

To outsiders and regulators, Facebook looks like a dangerous provider of instant gratification in an space suddenly vital to the health of society. It’s also making abuse and aggression too easy — something the U.K. Committee on Standards in Public Life pointed out in a report published on Wednesday. Sounding one of the loudest alarm bells on social media yet, the panel urged the prime minister to back legislation to “shift the balance of liability for illegal content to the social media companies.”

While Facebook remains the biggest platform, Google and Twitter are facing similar pressure from governments in the U.S. and in Europe. Germany enacted a law requiring the social networks to remove hate speech promptly or face fines. In the U.S., the activities of a Russian troll farm during the 2016 election campaign prompted scrutiny of Facebook’s ad selling practices and a (rather ham-handed) legislative attempt to force some transparency.

Taxation is another area that regulators, especially in Europe, are targeting. Facebook, like Google, books almost all its non-U.S. revenue in Ireland with its low corporate tax rate — and pays most of it to a tax haven for the use of intellectual property rights. The practice resulted in a 10.1 percent effective tax rate for Facebook in the third quarter of 2017.

This year, the top European economies, led by France, Germany, Italy and Spain, called for a turnover tax on the U.S. tech companies to compensate for their tax avoidance. This angry move failed to get enough traction on the European Union level thanks to Ireland and other nations that fear the economic fallout. But individual nations are taking action — Italy’s ruling party backed a plan to withhold 6 percent of any digital advertising purchase in the country.

On Tuesday, Facebook announced that it will stat booking revenue from large ad sales in the countries they occur, not Ireland. But when Facebook and Google tested this approach in the U.K., it didn’t result in a significantly higher tax bill, according to Irish economist Seamus Coffey. Last year, Facebook U.K. paid 2.6 million pounds ($3.5 million) in taxes while booking 842 million pounds in revenue. Regardless of where the company books sales, it still has to pay for the intellectual property rights held far from European shores, likely in the Cayman Islands. Coffey doubts that the new scheme will significantly change Facebook’s overall tax bill. Instead, it will create insultingly small revenue streams to more countries.

Facebook’s also trying to pre-empt concerns about problematic advertising and offensive content by hiring 1,000 reviewers. But even if Facebook hired in 100,000 people, they’d have trouble policing the sea of effectively anonymous content produced by 2 billion users, an unknown number of which are bots and paid trolls. The obvious solution is to enforce Facebook’s user policy (which says people can only post under their real names) and hold them responsible for what they publish. But that would cause Facebook’s user base to shrink, which would alarm investors.

A third line of attack is likely to become important soon, perhaps as soon as next year. Former Facebook executive (yes, another dissident insider) Antonio Garcia-Martinez argued earlier this year that Facebook’s ad targeting based on data collected from users is essentially unethical (and also that Facebook oversells its targeting ability). This resonates with politicians — who worry about the social networks’ voter manipulation potential — and privacy advocates. Even if new legislative curbs on data gathering and ad targeting don’t arrive soon, standards may start shifting thanks to the efforts of people such as Brendan Eich, the creator of Javascript and the Firefox browser. Eich’s latest start-up produces a browser that effectively blocks all ads — and that will next year offer an entirely new advertising model built on revenue sharing with consenting users.

The social networks’ carefree years of unregulated, untaxed growth are coming to an end. Facebook will probably remain a major force in the attention market, especially given its foothold in the messenger app market and the popularity of Instagram with young people. It may keep rowing against the tide and offering meaningless concessions, but that’s not an endless path. Eventually — likely soon — it’ll have to submit to rules and popular attitude changes that will cut its ambition down to size and perhaps force it to rethink its business model.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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To contact the author of this story:
Leonid Bershidsky at lbershidsky@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Mike Nizza at mnizza3@bloomberg.net

Net giants ‘must pay for news’ from which they make billions — European press agencies say

December 13, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | European press agencies say internet giants such as Google reap vast profit from “from other people’s work” by soaking up between 60 and 70 percent of advertising revenue
PARIS (AFP) – Nine European press agencies, including AFP, called Wednesday on internet giants to be forced to pay copyright for using news content on which they make vast profits.The call comes as the EU is debating a directive to make Facebook, Google, Twitter and other major players pay for the millions of news articles they use or link to.

“Facebook has become the biggest media in the world,” the agencies said in a plea published in the French daily Le Monde.

“Yet neither Facebook nor Google have a newsroom… They do not have journalists in Syria risking their lives, nor a bureau in Zimbabwe investigating Mugabe’s departure, nor editors to check and verify information sent in by reporters on the ground.”

“Access to free information is supposedly one of the great victories of the internet. But it is a myth,” the agencies argued.

“At the end of the chain, informing the public costs a lot of money.”

News, the declaration added, is the second reason after catching up on family and friends for people to log onto Facebook, which tripled its profits to $10 billion (8.5 billion) last year.

Yet it is the giants of the net who are reaping vast profits “from other people’s work” by soaking up between 60 and 70 percent of advertising revenue, with Google’s jumping by a fifth in a year.

Meanwhile, ad revenue for news media fell nine percent in France alone last year, “a disaster for the industry”.

– ‘Pillar of democracy at risk’ –

“Years have passed (without anything being done) and free and reliable newsgathering is now threatened because the media will simply no longer be able to pay for it,” the news agencies added.

“Diverse and reliable news sources, a pillar of democracy, risk being undermined.”

Attempts by news outlets in France, Germany and Spain to force internet giants to pay have only resulted in them coughing up a “few symbolic crumbs”, they added.

The press agencies insisted that some of the vast imbalance could be rectified if the EU gives them and other media “related rights” copyright to their work.

However, some European Parliament members were worried that the proposed directive would threaten free access to news for internet users.

But that would not be the case, the agencies insisted.

“Internet users would not be touched… simply those who now pocket a disproportionate part of advertising revenue would have to share a significant part of it with those who actually produce the information” on which the money is made.

The appeal was signed by AFP; the German agency DPA; Britain’s Press Association; the Spanish agency EFE; Italy’s Ansa; the Swedish agency TT; Belga of Belgium, Austria’s APA, and the Dutch agency ANP.

Huge Catalan march in Brussels to ‘wake up Europe’ — As many as 45,000 pro-Catalonia protesters demonstrated in Brussels on Thursday

December 7, 2017

AFP

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© AFP | Supporters of Catalan independence began gathering Wednesday evening ahead of a major rally Thursday

BRUSSELS (AFP) – A sea of around 45,000 pro-Catalonia protesters demonstrated in Brussels on Thursday to show support for the region’s deposed president Carles Puigdemont and urge the EU to support its drive for independence from Spain.Demonstrators chanted “Wake up Europe!” and waved Catalonia’s red, yellow and blue Estelada separatist flag as they marched past the European Union headquarters in the Belgian capital.

“We cannot abandon our president, who is in exile here,” Antoni Llenas, 59, a protester wearing a flag over his shoulders, told AFP. “We are here to continue the struggle for our independence and to ask for the freedom of our political prisoners.”

Belgian police said on Twitter that there were an estimated 45,000 protesters, more than double the 20,000 that organisers said they originally expected. The rally began peacefully, according to AFP reporters on the scene.

Puigdemont and four former ministers fled to Brussels in November, saying they wanted to take their cause to the European level after Spain charged them with sedition and rebellion over Catalonia’s independence referendum in October.

On Monday, the Spanish government dropped a European arrest warrant for the five, but Puigdemont said he would stay put for now as they still face arrest in Spain if they return for regional polls in Catalonia that Madrid has called for December 21.

Protesters arrived in a stream of coaches and camper vans with Spanish registration plates, and gathered in the Cinquantenaire Park in the city’s European quarter before the start of the march at 1030 GMT.

Children and families were among those who began the march in high spirits despite the cold and rain.

Their route is taking them past the headquarters of the European Commission and they will end up in a square between the European Council and European Parliament.

The EU has strongly backed the Spanish government over the Catalan issue, saying that it is an internal matter for Madrid.

Spain drops international arrest warrant for Catalonia ex-leader Puigdemont

December 5, 2017

AFP

© Aurore Belot, AFP | Catalonia’s dismissed leader Carles Puigdemont, along with other members of his dismissed government, arrives to address a press conference at The Press Club in Brussels on October 31, 2017.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-12-05

Spain’s Supreme Court said on Tuesday it had withdrawn an international arrest warrant for Catalonia’s former leader Carles Puigdemont and four of his cabinet members saying the politicians had shown willingness to return to Spain.

All five travelled to Belgium following a unilateral declaration of independence in the Catalan parliament on Oct. 27, considered illegal by Spanish courts.

The withdrawal of the arrest warrant also prevented more than one European jurisdiction overseeing the case, the court said.

(REUTERS)

Catalan ex-VP, three other separatist leaders remain jailed as six to be freed on bail

December 4, 2017

AFP

 

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-12-04

Catalonia’s sacked vice president and three other separatist leaders will remain in prison pending a probe over their role in the region’s independence drive, a Supreme Court judge decided Monday.

 Image result for catalonia, photos

Oriol Junqueras, who was sacked as vice-president when the Catalan parliament declared independence on October 27, Joaquim Forn, who used to be in charge of interior matters in Catalonia, and the leaders of two pro-independence associations will stay in prison, the court said.

Six other former ministers who were also remanded in custody will be released on bail as an investigation into charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds continues, it added in a statement.

Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena, who had taken on their case late last month, said he believed there was a risk that Junqueras and the three others would repeat their alleged offences.

This, he added, meant there was a “possibility that acts could happen again with serious, immediate and irreparable consequences for the community.”

He noted as an example a demonstration in Barcelona in September called when police raided a building in a probe into the upcoming banned referendum.

The protest saw angry demonstrators gather outside the building in the city centre late into the night, trapping police inside for hours.

Independence supporters had hoped that all 10 leaders would be released on Monday just as the official campaign for Catalan elections on December 21 is due to kick off at midnight.

The decision comes as former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four other ex-regional ministers face an extradition hearing in Belgium where they fled to after Catalonia declared unilateral independence.

(AFP)

Israel Wants U.N. Peacekeepers To Do More In Monitoring Hezbollah — Hezbollah says future Israel war could draw more fighters

November 28, 2017

 BY HERB KEINON

 NOVEMBER 28, 2017 02:19

 

Israeli officials acknowledged that Israel and the UN do not see eye to eye on the effectiveness of the UNIFIL force.

UN rejects Israeli claims of Hezbollah operating under guise of fake NGO

 Haley demands UNIFIL changes, levels harsh criticism against commander

A PEACEKEEPER of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) stands at a lookout point

A PEACEKEEPER of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) stands at a lookout point in the village of Adaisseh near the Lebanese-Israeli border.  (photo credit: REUTERS/KARAMALLAH DAHER)

Israel made its case on Monday to countries that contribute troops to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), saying they have to do much more to both inspect for, and report on, Hezbollah arms violations in southern Lebanon.

Foreign Ministry deputy director-general for diplomacy Alon Ushpiz and deputy director-general for the United Nations and International Organizations Alon Bar briefed a number of ambassadors from states contributing to UNIFIL to voice Israel’s expectations before a discussion on UNIFIL scheduled for the Security Council on Wednesday.

Israel’s position is that while UNIFIL plays an important role, it needs to do more to implement UNSC Resolution 1701, by inspecting sites where there are suspicions that Hezbollah has stored weapons, and reporting to the UN on Hezbollah violations.

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Image may contain: 1 person, beard, hat and outdoor
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Hezbollah fighters take an oath during a parade to continue the path of resistance against Israel and the U.S.

The resolution, which put an end to the Second Lebanon War in 2006, increased the size of UNIFIL and mandated it with ensuring that arms are not transferred to Hezbollah in south Lebanon.

Israel does not expect UNIFIL to confront the terrorist organization militarily, but it wants there to be a better record of violations, one diplomatic official said. Jerusalem has complained in recent months that it has provided information to UNIFIL about Hezbollah establishing outposts along the border with Israel, but that these complaints were summarily dismissed without serious investigation or inspection.

Among the states contributing the most troops to UNIFIL are, in descending order: Indonesia, Italy, India, Spain, Ghana, Nepal, Malaysia, France, Finland and Ireland.

Neither Indonesia, with 1,288 soldiers in the force, nor Malaysia, with 829, have diplomatic relations with Israel. The force has some 10,700 military personnel from 41 countries.

The meeting at the ministry came just days after senior UNIFIL officials briefed the same ambassadorial delegation about the situation, but from UNIFIL’s perspective.

Image may contain: 1 person, beard
 Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah

Hezbollah says future Israel war could draw more fighters than in 2006 (credit: REUTERS)

According to Israeli officials, Israel’s call for more reporting of Hezbollah violations of 1701 stems from the belief that both Hezbollah and its Iranian backers are sensitive to international opinion and do not want to have to deal with reports of violations.

Israeli officials acknowledged that Israel and the UN do not see eye to eye on the effectiveness of the UNIFIL force.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a report on Friday saying the UN was unable to confirm Israel’s claims that the terrorist organization was arming itself in southern Lebanon, in violation of 1701.

He said that although there are regular allegations of arms transfers to Hezbollah, the UN “is not in a position to substantiate them independently.”

Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said in an interview in September that UNIFIL “needs to do more,” including reporting on arms that are being transferred to Hezbollah.

UNIFIL, Danon said, claims the situation in the south is “excellent” and quiet, “although we know that it is not quiet, and they are arming along the border.”

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley concurred in August, slamming the Irish head of UNIFIL, Maj.-Gen. Michael Beary, for ignoring Iran’s covert arming of Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah openly brags about their weapons. They parade them before TV cameras. The secretary-general’s reports have confirmed this. For the UNIFIL commander to deny it… shows that we need to have changes in UNIFIL,” Haley said.

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Sacked Catalan leaders get pride of place in electoral lists

November 18, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Carles Puigdemont (right) and Oriol Junqueras during a session of the Catalan parliament on October 26, 2017

MADRID (AFP) – 

Jailed and exiled figures from Catalonia’s separatist movement feature prominently in party lists unveiled by the region’s pro-independence factions, ahead of elections called for December 21.

Of the 14 members of the Catalan government who were dismissed by the central government in October, 12 are on the two main separatist lists, the “Together for Catalonia” group of sacked president Carles Puigdemont and the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), led by his vice president Oriol Junqueras.

Seven of the former officials, including Junqueras, are currently jailed pending an investigation into charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, while Puigdemont and four others are in Belgium fighting an extradition request filed by Spain.

Prosecutors in Brussels asked a judge Friday to extradite Puigdemont and the others, and a new hearing has been set for December 4.

But a final decision could still be months away, as both sides are expected to appeal if the judge rules against them, which means Puigdemont might be out of the country when the Catalonia vote is held.

Junqueras and the others being held may be released before the election.

Puigdemont presented on Twitter the lists backed by his conservative PDeCAT party, saying the candidates supported “independence, the republic and freedom”, as well as the restitution of the regional government and “a return of political prisoners and exiles”.

He had hoped to form a united separatist front for the new elections, as was the case in the region’s last elections in 2015, when the pro-independence camp secured a majority of 72 seats in the 135-seat parliament.

But the ERC rejected a joint ticket, and opinion polls suggest that while it is leading in the current campaign, which officially opens on December 5, the independence coalition as a whole could lose its absolute majority.

The polls indicate a tight race against the “Constitutionalist” bloc which favours Spanish unity, which includes Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP), the centrist Ciudadanos and Catalonia’s Socialist party.

Madrid has imposed direct rule on the once semi-autonomous region since the independence declaration made after a banned referendum on October 1, and called the new elections in a bid to “restore normality”.

Regional authorities said 90 percent chose to split from Spain, though less than half of eligible voters turned out in a region deeply divided on independence.