Zimbabwe Parliament To Summon Mugabe Over Diamond Mining

Robert Mugabe Photo: Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP


A committee of lawmakers in Zimbabwe is to summon former president Robert Mugabe to testify at a probe into lost revenue from diamond mining, a legislator said Tuesday.

The lawmakers plan to question Mugabe over his 2016 claim that the country had lost $15 billion (12.13 billion euros) in income from diamonds due to corruption and foreign exploitation.

Mugabe — whose own regime was accused of siphoning off diamond profits — was ousted last  November after a military takeover that ushered his former deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, to power.

“The committee resolved to call the former president to testify,” Temba Mliswa, an independent lawmaker who chairs parliament’s committee on mines and energy, told AFP.

“He was the president, and we want to know where he was getting the $15 billion figure (from).”

He said no date had yet been set to call Mugabe to testify.

It was unclear whether Mugabe, 94, who has not been seen in public since his ousting, could be forced to face a grilling from lawmakers.

Mugabe ruled the country for 38 years, exercising ruthless control over parliament, security forces and the country’s mineral resources.

The committee has already summoned former ministers, ex-police chiefs and heads of a government department.

Mliswa said a report would be compiled when the investigation was complete.

Zimbabwe discovered alluvial diamonds in Chiadzwa, in the east of the country, over a decade ago, and rights groups have accused security forces of using brutal methods to control the scattered deposits.

Over 200 people were killed during operations to remove illegal panners from the area, rights groups say.

Amid allegations of massive looting, Zimbabwe allowed several diamond companies to mine the area — most of them as joint ventures between the government and Chinese firms.


German Govt Suffering From Cyber Attack – Parliament

FILE PHOTO German Chancellor, Angela Merkel Photo: AFP


Germany’s government IT network is suffering an “ongoing” cyber attack, the parliamentary committee on intelligence affairs said Thursday, without confirming a media report that Russian hackers were behind the assault.

“It is a real cyber attack on parts of the government system. It’s an ongoing process, an ongoing attack,” said Armin Schuster, chairman of the committee, adding that no further details could be given to avoid passing crucial information on to the attackers.

Quoting unnamed security sources, German news agency DPA reported Wednesday that the same group of Russian hackers blamed for hitting the German parliament’s IT system in 2015 had now infiltrated a broader government network that includes the foreign and interior ministries.

It said the hacker group is known as APT28 — which has been linked to Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency and accused of attacks on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign — managed to plant malware in the ministries’ networks for possibly as long as a year.

German security authorities only detected the online spying in December, the report said.

Konstantin von Notz, deputy of the committee, complained it was “completely unacceptable” that members of the oversight body only learned of the attack through the media.

The government insisted the attack was being contained.

The interior ministry’s parliamentary state secretary, Ole Schroeder, told regional newspaper group RND that the attack was “under control” after “a very successful operation by the federal security authorities”.

“We succeeded, through excellent cooperation, to isolate and bring under control a hacker attack on the federal network,” he said, adding however that the security measures had “not yet been completed”.

 Russian hackers 

Top security officials had repeatedly warned during Germany’s 2017 general election campaign that Russian hackers may seek to influence or disrupt the polls.

While authorities did not have concrete proof, they have pinned the malware attack that crippled the Bundestag parliamentary network in 2015 for days on the APT28, also known as “Fancy Bear” or “Sofacy”.

The attack netted 17 gigabytes of data which, officials feared, could be used to blackmail MPs or discredit them.

In a separate assault, several German political parties were in September 2016 sent fake emails purporting to be from NATO headquarters that contained a link that installed spying software on victims’ computers.

The emails affected party operations such as a regional network of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the federal offices of the far-left Die Linke party.

Amid the rising frequency of attacks, Germany’s defence ministry in 2016 set up a cyber department to coordinate the response to online intrusions.

Merkel, preparing the German population to deal with online attacks, has said that people should “not allow themselves to be irritated” by such rogue operations.

“You just have to know that there’s such a thing and learn to live with it,” she said.


Catalan Parliament Blasts Madrid ‘Authoritarianism’, Defends Puigdemont

FILE PHOTO Ousted Catalan separatist leader, Carles Puigdemont Photo: AFP


Catalonia’s majority separatist parliament on Thursday denounced Madrid’s “shift towards authoritarianism” and defended ousted leader Carles Puigdemont as it approved its first motion since December elections, amid ongoing talks to form a regional government.

The motion says Puigdemont — currently in self-imposed exile in Belgium — is the “legitimate” candidate for the regional presidency.

It also states that the separatists are “favourable to the constitution of Catalonia as an independent state”, but stops short of validating a failed declaration of independence on October 27.

The short-lived breakaway attempt saw Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy sack the region’s government, dissolve its parliament and call snap elections in December, in which separatist parties retained their absolute majority.

Since then, Catalonia has remained without a regional government and under direct rule from Madrid as divided separatist parties cannot agree who to pick as a candidate for the presidency — their favoured contender Puigdemont being in self-exile in Brussels.

Puigdemont, who faces arrest at home over his role in the independence bid, wants to govern Catalonia remotely. But Spain’s Constitutional Court has made his appointment conditional on his physical presence in the regional capital Barcelona.

Some separatist parties are now considering appointing someone else as a presidential candidate and giving Puigdemont a “symbolic” role from Belgium.

According to Spanish media, Thursday’s motion could be interpreted as a bid to pacify Puigdemont.

By recognising him as the “legitimate” candidate, there is hope he will step aside and let another separatist take his place in Catalonia, media say.

One of the possible contenders is Jordi Sanchez, the 53-year-old head of the ANC, a hugely influential pro-independence citizens’ group.

But this too is problematic as he has been in prison for more than four months, charged with sedition over his role in the secession attempt.

On Thursday, opposition lawmakers pleaded with their separatist counterparts to come to an agreement.

“We need a government, a government that takes charge of problems and governs the 7.5 million Catalans,” said Miquel Iceta, the Socialist party’s Catalan leader.

Xavier Domenech of the far-left Catalunya En Comu party said that Sanchez “had every right to be appointed the president of Catalonia but we know that it’s probably not the quickest shortcut to recover self-government.”

South Africa Parliament To Elect Ramaphosa As President Thursday

(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 08, 2017 South Africa’s Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete reads the results of a vote of no-confidence against President Jacob Zuma in the South African National Assembly in Cape Town. South Africa postponed the State of the Nation address on February 6, 2018 parliament speaker Baleka Mbete announced.


South Africa’s parliament will elect Cyril Ramaphosa as the country’s new president on Thursday, the ruling ANC party said, after Jacob Zuma resigned in a late-night television address.

The African National Congress (ANC), which has a large majority in parliament, said in a statement that it would nominate Ramaphosa, a wealthy former businessman, “to be elected as the new President of the Republic of South Africa”.


British MPs Resume Debate On Key Brexit Law

Britain, EU Reach Historic Deal On Brexit Divorce Terms
British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) is welcomed by European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker at European Commission in Brussels 

British MPs resumed discussions Tuesday on a landmark piece of legislation allowing Britain to leave the European Union, on the eve of a vote on the draft law.

The EU (Withdrawal) Bill is intended to transpose EU regulation into British law and will repeal the legislation enshrining Britain’s EU membership.

The bill, which also sets the date and time for Brexit on March 29, 2019, at 2300 GMT, is expected to be approved by the House of Commons on Wednesday despite trenchant opposition from pro-EU MPs.

Prime Minister Theresa May faced a setback last month when 11 of her own Conservative MPs voted with the main opposition Labour Party for an amendment to have a meaningful vote on the terms of Brexit.

Following pressure from pro-EU Conservatives, the government has also changed the bill to allow for the date and time of Brexit to be altered in case negotiations continue beyond March 29, 2019.

But the bill’s passage through the House of Lords in the coming weeks could be far harder because the upper chamber is dominated by the pro-EU opposition.

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading Brexit campaigner, warned that the House of Lords could face fundamental reform if it hampered Brexit.

“If the Lords in their wisdom — and a lot of them are very pro-European — decide to try and frustrate, then the Lords will, as an institution, get into difficulties,” Rees-Mogg said.

In a podcast on the website of the ConservativeHome political blog, Rees-Mogg also urged members of the House of Lords not to push for a second referendum.

“A second referendum would be very dangerous territory for the Lords because it would be seen as the characteristic European hatred of democracy, so if you vote the wrong way, you get made to vote again until you vote the right way,” he said.


Israel Law Tightens Hold On Occupied Jerusalem Sectors

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office                                                                                                                                                  ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP

Israel’s parliament on Tuesday gave final approval to legislation aimed at making it more difficult for the government to hand the Palestinians parts of Jerusalem under any future peace deal.

The bill, approved by a 64 to 51 vote, is the latest blow to remaining hopes for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s office said US President Donald Trump’s recent declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the new Israeli law amounted to a “declaration of war”.

Formulated by Shuli Moalem-Refaeli of the far-right Jewish Home party, the new law comes weeks after Trump’s decision on Jerusalem sparked deadly protests in the Palestinian territories.

It also follows a vote earlier this week by the central committee of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in favour of extending Israeli sovereignty over settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The Likud vote was non-binding, but was a further expression of the hopes of many right-wing Israelis who oppose the creation of a Palestinian state.

The law approved on Tuesday determines that any ceding of lands considered by Israel to be part of Jerusalem would necessitate a two-thirds majority vote in parliament — 80 out of 120 members of the Knesset.

It also enables changing the municipal definition of Jerusalem, which means that sectors of the city “could be declared separate entities”, a statement from parliament read.

Israeli right-wing politicians have spoken of unilaterally breaking off overwhelmingly Palestinian areas of the city in a bid to increase its Jewish majority.

However, the new law is not necessarily definitive. It can be changed by a regular parliamentary majority of 61.

‘Declaration of war’ 

Israel occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967. It later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community.

It claims all of Jerusalem as its united capital, while the Palestinians see the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

The issue is among the most contentious in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We’ve ensured the unity of Jerusalem,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads Jewish Home, said after the vote.

“The Mount of Olives, the Old City… will forever remain ours,” he wrote on Twitter.

Abbas’s office said Trump’s recognition and the Israeli law amounted to a “declaration of war on the Palestinian people and its political and religious identity”.

The statement called the moves a “dangerous project for the future of the region and the world”.

Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said the Israelis were moving ahead with such measures because the United States had stayed silent and signalled approval with Trump’s Jerusalem declaration.

Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, said Abbas should declare the end of the Oslo peace accords of the 1990s and withdraw the PLO’s recognition of Israel.

Trump’s December 6 decision upended decades of precedent and broke with international consensus, but maintains that Jerusalem’s final status would have to be decided in negotiations between the two sides.

It has led to deep anger among Palestinians, with Abbas saying the United States can no longer play any role in the Middle East peace process.

On Monday, Abbas said the White House “has refused to condemn Israeli colonial settlements as well as the systematic attacks and crimes of the Israeli occupation against the people of Palestine”.

Speaking of the Likud vote, he said “we hope that this vote serves as a reminder for the international community that the Israeli government, with the full support of the US administration, is not interested in a just and lasting peace”.


Islamist Attacker Stabs Tunisia Policemen Near Parliament

File Photo: Islamist Rebels

A hardline Islamist stabbed two Tunisian policemen on Wednesday in front of parliament, gravely wounding one of them, the interior ministry said.

“A Salafist attacked two policemen with a knife. One was struck on the forehead and the other stabbed in the neck and is in intensive care,” ministry spokesman Yasser Mesbah said, adding that the assailant had been arrested

Madrid Stocks Slide As Catalan Parliament Declares Independence

FILE PHOTO: Catalan Regional Government President Carles Puigdemont PAU BARRENA / AFP

The Madrid stock market sank on Friday, bucking an upward trend in Europe and the US as Catalan lawmakers voted to declare independence from Spain but Madrid immediately moved to quash the breakaway bid. 

A motion declaring independence was approved with 70 votes in favor, 10 against and two abstentions, with Catalan opposition MPs walking out of the 135-seat chamber before the vote in protest at a declaration unlikely to be given official recognition.

Madrid’s benchmark IBEX 35 index of major companies ended the session around 1.5 percent lower.

Shares in Catalan banks were among the biggest losers. CaixaBank, Spain’s third largest lender, fell by around five percent while Sabadell, the country’s fifth biggest bank, fell roughly six percent.

“We are likely to see more sustained unrest, possibly including strikes, as well as more serious clashes between national police and pro-independence activists,” Eurasia Group analyst Federico Santi predicted in a note.

Nevertheless, elsewhere in Europe, the other main stock markets extended the previous day’s rally after the European Central Bank said it would soon start to taper its monetary stimulus program.

US markets were also upward bound, as blowout earnings by Microsoft, Google parent Alphabet and other tech giants propelled the Nasdaq 2.2 percent higher to an all-time record of 6,701.26.

Amazon alone surged 13.2 percent, adding nearly $62 billion in market capitalization in a single day after reporting only a modest rise in third-quarter profit but a 34 percent jump in revenues to $43.7 billion.

“Equities remain positive into the weekend, building on the recent recovery in bullish sentiment and rebounds from recent lows,” said Accendo Markets analyst, Mike van Dulken.

– Dollar strengthens –

The greenback shot up after the ECB said Thursday it will reduce from January its purchases of government and corporate bonds to 30 billion euros ($35 billion) a month, from 60 billion at present.

Policymakers, however, left themselves a nine-month horizon to decide on the next step for the quantitative easing (QE) policy.

The dollar added to those gains on Friday after US third-quarter economic growth came in at a better-than-expected 3.0 percent as the US economy absorbed the shocks of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

Traders have also gotten more bullish on the greenback in light of progress in Washington on President Donald Trump’s tax cut, which has cleared a few preliminary hurdles in Congress but still faces many steps.

Next week’s US schedule of events is busy, with a Federal Reserve meeting and key data, including the October jobs report.

“Political developments may dominate the headlines, but there are also many US economic reports on next week’s calendar that will shed light on how well the US economy snapped back after the hurricanes,” said Kathy Lien of BK Asset Management.

– Key figures around 2100 GMT –

New York – DOW: UP 0.1 percent at 23,434.19 (close)

New York – S&P 500: UP 0.8 percent at 2,581.07 (close)

New York – Nasdaq: UP 2.2 percent at 6,701.26 (close)

Madrid – IBEX 35: DOWN 1.5 percent at 10,197.50 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.3 percent at 7,505.03 (close)

Frankfurt – DAX 30: UP 0.6 percent at 13,2217.54 (close)

Paris – CAC 40: UP 0.7 percent at 5,494.13 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.4 percent at 3,652.23 (close)

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 1.2 percent at 22,008.45 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 0.8 percent at 28,438.85 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.3 percent at 3416.81 (close)

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1604 from $1.1652

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3131 from $1.3160

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 113.67 yen from 114.00 yen

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: UP $1.26 at $53.90 per barrel

Oil – Brent North Sea: UP $1.14 at $60.37 per barrel


Catalan Bank Shares Fall After Regional Parliament Declares Independence

Shares in Catalan banks fell sharply on Friday, dragging the entire stock market with them after Catalonia’s regional parliament declared independence.

CaixaBank, Spain’s third-largest lender, fell by around five percent while Sabadell, the country’s fifth-biggest bank, fell roughly six percent.

Shares in the two banks have fallen since Catalonia’s separatist government went ahead with an independence referendum in the wealthy northeastern region on October 1, despite it having been deemed illegal by Madrid and the courts.

Some clients withdrew their deposits from the banks, prompting the two lenders to move their legal headquarters out of Catalonia to other parts of Spain.

Neither CaixaBank nor Sabadell have revealed how much money was withdrawn, but they said the flow stopped after they moved their headquarters.

Nearly 1,700 companies have moved their headquarters outside of Catalonia since the referendum.

The International Monetary Fund warned earlier this month that Spain’s strong economic recovery could be dealt a setback if the political turmoil over Catalonia’s independence push continues.

Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million people in the region bordering France, generates about 20 percent of Spain’s economic output.

As a separate country, its gross domestic product would be about as big as Portugal’s or Finland’s.


Ukraine Protesters Set Up Tent Camp Outside Parliament

Hundreds of disgruntled Ukrainian activists gathered on Wednesday in a tent camp outside parliament to demand a more forceful fight against government graft.

Some had spent the night there following a rally on Tuesday that drew nearly 5,000 people and saw calls for President Petro Poroshenko to resign.

The protesters have set up several dozen khaki-green tents in a park and street that run alongside the parliament building — and they appeared intent on staying put until their demands were met.

An AFP team saw activists sip tea and chat outside parliament while hundreds of riot police officers with batons watched.

But national police chief Sergiy Knyazev and Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko said they had no intention of touching the tents.

Lutsenko called the right to protest “one of the main achievements” of the February 2014 pro-EU revolution that toppled Kiev’s Kremlin-backed regime and pulled Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit.

Large tent camps featured prominently during that revolt as well as one in 2004 that forced the authorities to annul the results of a disputed election claimed by the Kremlin-backed candidate.

Their return underscored a growing sense that the promises made during the 2014 uprising have gone unfulfilled by Poroshenko and his Western-backed team.

“Elements from Ukraine’s ‘old’ system are defending their interests and seeking retribution against anti-corruption actors,” the London-based Chatham House international affairs institute said in a report on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman meanwhile reaffirmed his commitment to the fight against corruption.

But Groysman also accused some of those leading the rallies of having a “thirst for power and — what is worst of all — trying to use their slogans to destabilise the situation in the country”.


Man Sets Himself On Fire Outside New Zealand Parliament

A man who set himself on fire outside New Zealand’s parliament was in a critical condition on Thursday, police said, just two days before the country’s general election.

Fire and ambulance officers rushed to the man, who journalists at the Wellington building said was a lone protester.

Radio New Zealand said witnesses reported seeing the man holding a placard relating to the family court.

One unnamed bystander told the radio station he saw the incident from the nearby Backbencher hotel.

“Everyone was looking out the windows then people started rushing out of the Backbencher with buckets of water and stuff like that,” he said.

“I hadn’t actually seen what was happening but then when the smoke cleared there was a guy lying on the ground and he’d obviously been burned.”

Police would not comment on whether the man’s identity was known, or what his motives were.

Senior sergeant Glen Turner told reporters security footage would be examined as part of the investigation.

“Things like this are highly unusual and extremely unfortunate,” Turner added.

New Zealand is in the midst of a tightly contested election campaign in which conservative Prime Minister Bill English is battling a challenge from centre-left rival Jacinda Ardern.


Myanmar Parliament Ballots To Keep Army Veto

Myanmar Parliament Ballots To Keep Army VetoThe parliament in Myanmar has voted to retain the army’s veto over constitutional change, dealing a blow to Aung San Suu Kyi’s hopes of running for the presidency.

Myanmar is a country with over 100 ethnic groups which has Naypyidaw as its capital. It was formerly called Burma and located in South-east Asia bordering India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand.

The bill received a majority of Myanmar’s Parliament (MP) votes but not the 75% needed to pass.

Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) was expected to see big gains against the ruling party in an election likely to take place in the autumn.

The NLD swept the last free general election in 1990, but the then-ruling military junta ignored the results.

MP continued to be dominated by the army and former generals despite dramatic reforms in 2011 that ended outright military rule.