US tanks arrive in Germany to help Nato defences

The largest shipment of US brigades since the fall of the Soviet Union is arriving in northern Germany.

The first of the 87 tanks and 144 military vehicles were being unloaded in the port of Bremerhaven on Friday.

The equipment and 3,500 US troops are to be deployed along Nato's eastern frontier. The deployment aims to allay worries of potential Russian aggression in eastern Europe.

However, some fear the large number will exacerbate tensions with Moscow.

Leaders of the left-wing regional government of Brandenburg - one of the German states through which the American brigades will be transported over the next two weeks - have called for further talks with Russia.

The arrival of the equipment and troops marks the start of a new phase of the US's Operation Atlantic Resolve, which foresees the continuous presence of an American armoured brigade combat team in Europe on a nine-month rotational basis.

The new forces will gather first in Poland, then fan out across seven countries from Estonia to Bulgaria, while a headquarters unit will be stationed in Germany.

Other Nato members are also increasing their presence in eastern Europe, with Britain sending fighter jets to the Black Sea area, while a battalion of troops, tanks and light armour will deploy to Estonia in the spring, backed by French and Danish troops. Germany also plans to send troops and tanks to Lithuania.

7th January,2017

Source: BBC

Turkey president offers citizenship to Syrian and Iraqi refugees

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced that some Syrian and Iraqi refugees who pass a screening process will be granted Turkish citizenship.

In a speech broadcast on television on Friday, Erdogan said that security checks would be carried out to determine who among the millions who fled war in their home countries were eligible for citizenship.

"Our interior ministry is carrying out work, and under this work, some of them will be granted our nationality after all the necessary checks" have been carried out," he said.

"There are highly qualified people among them, there are engineers, lawyers, doctors. Let's make use" of that talent ... Instead of letting them work illegally here and there, let's give them the chance to work as citizens like the children of this nation."

Erdogan added that the interior ministry "is ready to implement the measure at any time". But he gave no further details, notably about how many would gain Turkish nationality.

According to Turkish government figures, the country is hosting more than three million Syrians and Iraqis who have fled conflict.

The Turkish leader outlined a naturalisation plan last summer but the idea met with angry protests and xenophobic comments on social media.

The country's political opposition saw the plan as a scheme to widen Erdogan's electoral basis at a time when he is pushing for constitutional reform to strengthen his powers.

7th January,2017

Source: Aljazeera

Hollande and Merkel support Ukraine ceasefire deal

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have come out in support of a deal struck by the trilateral contact group for a general ceasefire in Ukraine. They now meet Putin in China next week.

Merkel and Hollande intend to continue working in the Normandy Four format to settle the crisis in Ukraine until the Minsk agreements are implemented, they said in a joint communique on Thursday.

"[They] explicitly support the agreement of the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine on a comprehensive ceasefire throughout the conflict zone […] They reaffirmed their commitment to continue working together with Ukraine and Russia in the Normandy format to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements," the leaders said as quoted by the German federal government.

"We stress that this must be the start of a lasting ceasefire," Hollande's office said in a separate statement.

The Normandy Four - Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine - was established in the summer of 2014 in order to help settle the Ukrainian crisis.The trilateral contact group is made up of Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The leaders of Russia, Germany and France have agreed to meet to discuss the situation in Ukraine on September 4-5 on the sidelines of the G20 summit in China, the Kremlin said on Tuesday.

While Germany wants a "constructive relationship" with Russia, "we have to live with the reality" of its actions in annexing Crimea and backing separatists in eastern Ukraine, Merkel told reporters.

False friends

NATO has accused Russia of sending troops and weapons to support the separatists in Ukraine, an allegation Putin has denied.

Russia "needs to stop supporting the militants, and withdraw its forces and military equipment from Ukrainian territory," Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission in June.

EU president Donald Tusk said last week that he and Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko believed Russia's account of recent events in the strife-torn east of the country was "unreliable."

Tusk said he had called Poroshenko, after EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini last week expressed support for Ukraine when Moscow charged Kyiv with "terrorist" incursions into Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.


"Spoke to President Poroshenko. We have a similar assessment of the situation in Crimea and Donbass. Russian version of events unreliable," Tusk said on Twitter.

He added that he was "positive" on the prospect of visa-free travel for Ukraine, a key incentive offered to Kyiv in return for political and economic reforms meant to help the former Soviet-era satellite meet EU standards.

The 28-nation EU has consistently backed efforts to end the conflict between pro-Moscow rebels and government forces in eastern Ukraine which has left around 9,600 people dead since early 2014.

Trigger points

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered snap military drills recently, while Merkel accused him of breaking international law in Ukraine and said NATO would defend member states against attack.

Combat readiness exercises are taking place "to defend the interests of the Russian Federation amid increasing threats to its security," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said last week.

Troops in Russia's southern, central and western military districts, naval deployments in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, and airborne forces are involved, he said.

jbh/kms (Reuters, AFP)

Italy rescues 13,000 refugees off Libya in peak season


Libya traffickers taking advantage of calm summer weathers by cramming refugees on to barely seaworthy rubber dinghies.

Italy's coastguard and vessels from other European nations have pulled 13,000 refugees from barely seaworthy and overcrowded boats off the Libyan coast in the mere space of four days.

Traffickers are taking advantage of the calm summer weather, piling refugees on to flimsy boats when the sea is more placid so that the southern wind can push them into international waters.

However, the flimsy rubber dinghies that are often used become highly unstable in high seas.

The Italian coastguard estimated that 6,500 people, believed to be mostly from Somalia and Eritrea, were rescued on Monday alone.

More than 400,000 have successfully made the voyage to Italy from North Africa since the beginning of 2014, fleeing violence and poverty.

Libya has suffered turmoil since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011, with a number of revolutionary militias - formed along regional and ideological lines - vying for power.

The country's lawlessness has opened the way for smugglers to ship thousands of refugees and migrants across the Mediterranean in days.

'Rather die at sea'

Some individuals fleeing the ongoing conflict told Doctors Without Borders (MSF) that their experiences in Libya were so traumatic that they would "rather die at sea" than return to the region.

Many of those crammed in boats are from vulnerable communities, including the sick, elderly and unaccompanied young.

In fact, more unaccompanied minors have been rescued this year than in all of 2015.

"The number of unaccompanied minors who have arrived since the beginning of this year is more than 14,700. In the whole of last year, 12,300 arrived," Giovanna Di Benedetto from Save The Children told Al Jazeera.

"Children of eight, nine and 10 years have faced - on their own - the most dangerous part of the whole journey: the Mediterranean route. More than 3,000 people have died crossing the Mediterranean this year," she added.

Italy has been on the frontline of Europe's refugee and migrant crisis for three years.


According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 284,000 people have made it to Europe this year. Of that figure, 112,000 account for those arriving in Italy.

Source: Al Jazeera And Agencies

Migrant crisis: Terrorism was already here, says Merkel

Chancellor Angela Merkel says terrorism "was already here" in Germany, defending her handling of the migrant crisis.

A year ago, Mrs Merkel lifted border controls allowing in thousands of people, a decision criticised at home and abroad.

She told Sueddeutsche Zeitung that despite the influx "Germany will remain Germany".

Meanwhile, thousands more migrants have been rescued in the Mediterranean.

The Italian coast guard said about 3,000 were plucked from the sea on Tuesday, with the youngest being twins aged just one week old.

Calmer seas have seen a surge in boats setting sail, with more than 6,000 migrants rescued on Tuesday alone.

In 2015 though, international attention was focused on the route into Europe via the Balkans.

As thousands became stranded at eastern European borders, Mrs Merkel and Austria's then-chancellor decided to open them up, after insisting "we can do this".
Germany took in more than one million migrants last year but Mrs Merkel's party has dipped in polls.

In her interview, Mrs Merkel said that Germany had previously ignored the issue of migrants.

She said that her country would remain true to its values.

"Change is not a bad thing, it is a necessary part of life,'' she said. "Germany will remain Germany, with everything that is dear to us."

On militancy, she said: "It's simply incorrect to say that terrorism came only with the refugees. It was already here in myriad forms and with the various potential attackers that we have been watching."

In July, separate attacks were carried out by two Syrian asylum seekers who both reportedly had links to so-called Islamic State.


Mariano Rajoy denied second term as Spanish prime minister

Spain's acting Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has lost a parliamentary bid for a second term in office.


The failure to secure the position deepens the country's political crisis after two inconclusive elections.


Mr Rajoy, leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), secured the backing of 170 representatives in the 350-strong assembly after failing to win support from the opposition.


The loss increases the likelihood of a third election within a year.


Mr Rajoy, 61, needed a majority of at least 176 votes in parliament, but secured only the votes of the PP's 137 lawmakers with the backing of 33 others.


Those who voted in favour of a second term for Mr Rajoy include the anti-corruption Ciudadanos (Citizens) party and a small party from the Canary Islands.


The Socialists, anti-austerity alliance Unidos Podemos, and regional parties from the Basque Country and Catalonia voted against him.


    Profile: Spain's Mariano Rajoy


Mr Rajoy could still become prime minister in a second vote on Friday, in which a simple majority is needed. But this would require one or more of the other parties to abstain.


Mr Rajoy came to power in 2011 and is credited with steering Spain back from the brink of economic meltdown with harsh doses of austerity.


But unemployment remained stubbornly high and the PP got mired in a corruption scandal.