France calls for emergency session of chemical weapons watchdog

"We regret that no measure has so far been adopted by key international bodies to hold to account the perpetrators involved in chemical attacks," said a final communique from 33 nations from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.The move comes in the wake of a suspected poison gas attack by Syrian government forces east of Damascus in April. Syria and its ally Russia denied that any attack had taken place and that they were holding up inspections or had tampered with evidence at the site.Urging Russia to reconsider its opposition to establishing a new attribution mechanism, the 33 countries called for a special meeting of all 192 parties to the 1997 global Chemical Weapons Convention in June. "We call on all States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention to support the holding of this meeting and to work together to strengthen the ability of the OPCW to promote the implementation of the Convention, including exploring options for attributing responsibility for chemical weapons attacks," the statement said.The new mechanism designed by France will be proposed at the special session, a diplomatic source said. They both survived.Currently, the OPCW in The Hague only determines whether chemical attacks have taken place, not who carried them out.The Chemical Weapons Convention has been violated repeatedly in Syria by the use of sarin, chlorine and sulphur mustard gas. Recent initiatives at the OPCW to condemn Syria for using chemical weapons have not garnered enough support.The alternative is to go to the full 192-seat conference of states, which can intervene to ensure compliance with the convention.

Source:Egypt Today

May 18, 2018 17:26 UTC

EU launches steps to fight US sanctions on Iran

The EU launched formal steps aimed at sparing European firms fallout from US sanctions on Iran as part of efforts to preserve the nuclear deal with TehranCAIRO - 19 May 2018: The European Union took steps Friday to avoid reimposed US sanctions on Iran and save the international nuclear deal as a rift with Washington widened.The European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, moved to help EU firms skirt US penalties and have member governments directly pay Iran's central bank for oil.The commission, which took two other steps, said it was acting on a "green light" EU leaders gave at a meeting in the Bulgarian capital Sofia on Thursday.The commission "launched the formal process to activate the blocking statute by updating the list of US sanctions on Iran falling within its scope," it said.The executive said it hopes the statute will be in force before August 6 when the first batch of reimposed US sanctions take effect.President Donald Trump last week pulled Washington out of the 2015 international deal with Iran to curb its nuclear programme in return for easing sanctions.The statute, which the 28 EU member states and the European Parliament must endorse, is aimed at reassuring European firms that invested in Iran after the deal. "The blocking statute forbids EU companies from complying with the extraterritorial effects of US sanctions," the commission said.It also "allows companies to recover damages arising from such sanctions from the person causing them, and nullifies the effect in the EU of any foreign court judgements based on them," the executive added.The "blocking statute" is a 1996 regulation originally created to circumvent Washington's trade embargo on Cuba, which prohibits EU companies and courts from complying with specific foreign sanction laws.However, the Cuba row was settled politically, so the blocking regulation's effectiveness was never put to the test, and its value may lie more in becoming a bargaining chip with Washington.Since the US withdrawal, the remaining parties have all pledged to stick to the deal if Tehran respects its terms.- 'Confidence-building measures' -Tehran has warned it is ready to resume no-holds-barred "industrial-scale" uranium enrichment unless Europe can provide solid guarantees to preserve Iran's economic benefits under the deal.During talks in Brussels on Tuesday, Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said efforts to save the deal were on the "right track".The commission said the political directors or deputy foreign ministers from the EU, Britain, France and Germany will meet on May 25 in Vienna with their counterparts from China and Russia.EU officials said it will be their first such meeting with envoys from Beijing and Moscow -- which are also trying to save the deal --since Washington pulled out.On a second front, the commission said it is encouraging EU member states to explore the idea of "one-off bank transfers" to the Central Bank of Iran.The approach, it said, could ensure Tehran receives its oil-related revenues if US sanctions target EU firms active in oil transactions with Iran.The commission also moved Friday to remove hurdles for the European Investment Bank (EIB) to finance activities outside the EU, such as in Iran.It said the move will "allow the EIB to support EU investment in Iran," particularly involving small and medium-sized companies.On a fourth front, the commission called for doing more to help Iran's energy sector and small and medium-sized companies, as part of "confidence-building measures. "It added that EU energy and climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete will travel to Tehran at the weekend.In pulling out, Trump complained the nuclear deal does nothing to stop Iran's ballistic missile programme or its interference in conflicts across the Middle East from Syria to Yemen.

Source:Egypt Today

May 18, 2018 16:52 UTC

Italy awaits PM nominee after populists unveil government programme

Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio (L) and the head of the far-right Lega, Matteo Salvini, have been discussing forming a government for monthsITALY - 19 May 2018: Anti-establishment and far-right parties began haggling over who will be Italy's next prime minister after publishing a joint policy programme on Friday that brought the eurozone's third largest economy a step closer to a populist government.The political deadlock brought about by March's inconclusive elections neared its end after the plan's unveiling by the Five Star Movement and the far-right League party.The programme promises the end of post-crisis austerity measures and seeks deep change in relations with the European Union.Five Star members have until Friday evening to vote online on whether to approve the programme, while the League will offer a vote to anyone who visits the party stands which are to be put up across the country over the weekend.With voter approval little more than a formality, all eyes were on who the two parties would choose as their candidate for prime minister.They needed to announce a name in time for a meeting on Monday with President Sergio Mattarella.Mattarella must agree to the parties' nominee before they can seek parliament's approval for their nascent government.Both Five Star leader Di Maio and Salvini have remained tight-lipped on the future prime minister as they hashed out their 58-page "Contract for the Government of Change".Having said on Thursday evening that naming a PM would "not be a problem", on Friday Di Maio suggested that he could be one of the candidates. "I don't know if I will end up being prime minister, but our real leader, the programme, will govern this country," Di Maio said in a Facebook message.- No euro exit -While an exit from the single currency -- mooted in leaked drafts of the document -- is no longer proposed, the document announced the parties' intention to review "with European partners the economic governance framework" of the EU, including the euro.The parties want a monetary union that is "appropriate for the current geopolitical and economic imbalances and consistent with the objectives of the economic union", it said.The document featured a number of manifesto promises from the League.These included hardline immigration and security proposals, pension reform and a plan to have just two tax rates, of 15 and 20 percent.The programme proposed that Italy and the EU implement bilateral agreements with other countries in order to speed up the repatriation of illegal immigrants.The programme also pledged to close all "illegal" Roma camps, set up a register of imams and immediately shut down "radical Islamic associations".- Berlusconi -The proposals contained in the document have caused consternation at home and abroad.The key worry is how Italy, the eurozone's second most debt-laden country, can fund the coalition's proposals, such as drastic tax cuts and a monthly basic income for some nine million people.Some experts estimated the cost of the document's proposals at 100 billion euros.The Grande Oriente freemasons lodge blasted as "fascist" and "unconstitutional" the parties' decision to ban any of their members from becoming a government minister.Meanwhile on Friday former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi offered himself as the leader of a separate executive given "the lack of candidates with the qualities of trustworthiness, good sense and balance".Berlusconi campaigned alongside Salvini before the election as part of a right-wing coalition.The 81-year-old, recently ordered to stand trial for bribing witnesses in a sex scandal, said that he was "very worried" about the "sermonising" content of the programme.It proposes that no-one convicted of corruption or being investigated for serious crimes can become a minister.Conflict of interest criteria for parliamentarians would also be beefed up.The media mogul, in the Aosta Valley with his Forza Italia party for Sunday's regional elections, said: "I'm available, and I don't think that there's any candidate comparable to Silvio Berlusconi".

Source:Egypt Today

May 18, 2018 16:18 UTC

2018 worst year in Syria's humanitarian crisis: U.N. official

This picture taken on April 14, 2018 shows the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry. TheBEIRUT - 18 May 2018: The humanitarian crisis in Syria is worse this year than ever before in the country’s seven-year-old civil war, a United Nations official said on Friday.“We see in 2018 the humanitarian situation inside Syria being the worst we have seen since the war started: a very dramatic deterioration, massive displacement, disrespect of protection of civilians and people’s lives still being turned upside down,” Panos Moumtzis, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria crisis, said in Beirut.Syria is the worst place in modern history in terms of attacks on healthcare workers and facilities, accounting for 70 percent of all such attacks worldwide, he said.U.N. The government has also transferred a large number of rebel fighters and their families to Idlib as part of surrender deals elsewhere in Syria.Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to take back every inch of Syria.Moumtzis said the U.N. does not want to see a repeat of what happened in Ghouta happen in Idlib. He urged the warring sides to come to a peaceful solution.Moumtzis also said he was concerned about poor aid access in Syria.In 2017, 27 percent of requests made by the U.N. to Syrian authorities for permission to deliver aid were granted. In the first four months of 2018 only seven percent were granted, Moumtzis said.The number of people designated by the U.N. as living in besieged areas has fallen dramatically this year to stand at 11,100, after the Syrian government took back control of almost all rebel-held pockets around the capital Damascus.But 2.05 million people in need of humanitarian assistance still live in hard-to-reach areas, the U.N. said.

Source:Egypt Today

May 18, 2018 15:56 UTC

Saudi Arabia arrests women activists ahead of lifting of driving ban

A Saudi woman tries a car simulator during women car show in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Al NasserDUBAI - 18 May 2018: Saudi Arabia has arrested at least five people, mostly women who previously agitated for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom’s male guardianship system, rights activists said on Friday.Last year’s decision to end a decades-old ban on women driving cars, set to come into effect next month, has been hailed as proof of a new progressive trend in the deeply conservative Muslim country under reform-minded Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.But it has also been accompanied by an apparent crackdown on dissent against critics, ranging from Islamist clerics to some of the very women who campaigned for years to end the ban.One of the rights activists, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the latest arrests were tied to advocacy for women driving: “They detained them because they do not want them to publicly claim success.”Government spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment.Women will be allowed to drive starting on June 24. The authorities have opened driving schools in preparation, instituted new regulations and hired women traffic police.Activists and analysts say, however, that the government is keen to avoid rewarding activism, which is forbidden in the absolute monarchy, and seems determined not to antagonize sensitivities of religious conservatives opposed to modernization.Women who previously participated in protests against the ban told Reuters last year that two dozen activists had received phone calls instructing them not to comment on the decree.Some of those arrested this week spoke out about the ban after the decision, though it was not clear what specifically led to their arrest nor what charges, if any, had been made against them.Dozens of clerics seen by the government as dabbling in politics were detained in September, a move that appears to have paved the way for lifting the driving ban.Ending the ban is part of the kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform program aimed at diversifying the economy away from oil and opening up Saudis’ cloistered lifestyles.Prince Mohammed, 32, is the face of that change. Many young Saudis regard his recent ascent to power as proof their generation is taking a central place in running a country whose patriarchal traditions have for decades made power the province of the old and blocked women’s progress.

Source:Egypt Today

May 18, 2018 14:48 UTC

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