Italy to block weapon exports to Turkey

Robie de Guzman   •   October 15, 2019   •   197

(L-R) Italian Minister of Public Administration Fabiana Dadone, Italian Parliamentary Relations Minister Federico D’Inca and the Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio in parliament during the Government’s urgent information on the military operation undertaken by Turkey in the north-east of Syria, in Rome, Italy, 15 October 2019. EPA-EFE/ALESSANDRO DI MEO

Italy will ban arms export to Turkey, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Tuesday (October 15) after Ankara launched a military attack in the Northern part of Syria against the Kurdish fighters.

“There is no military solution to Syria’s problem, on the contrary, we can find a stable and long-lasting composition only through diplomacy and political dialogue,” said Di Maio.

European Union countries agreed on Monday to limit arms exports to Turkey over its offensive in northern Syria, prompting condemnation from Ankara, even as they stopped short of a bloc-wide embargo against a NATO ally. (Reuters)

Production: (Cristiano Corvino, Alessandro Felici)

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Venice suffers worst flooding since 1966

Robie de Guzman   •   November 14, 2019

A view of flooding caused by bad weather in Venice, northern Italy, 13 November 2019. A wave of bad weather has hit much of Italy on 12 November. Levels of 100-120cm above sea level are fairly common in the lagoon city and Venice is well-equipped to cope with its rafts of pontoon walkways. EPA-EFE/ANDREA MEROLA

ROME – Around 80% of Venice is underwater in what has been described as “apocalyptic devastation.”

Those were the words of President of Veneto Luca Zaia as Italian authorities scrambled to tackle the worst flooding in the canal city since 1966.

“Venice is on its knees. St. Mark’s Basilica been severely damaged and so has the rest of the city and its islands,” Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro said following one of the most testing nights in the exposed city’s recent history.

The mayor told a press conference that he had met with people in tears “because they had lost everything” and that it was now time for a “historic response” to save one of Italy’s most popular destinations.

The Italian city has experienced its worst flooding in four decades amid an exceptionally high tide.

The phenomenon, known in the popular tourist destination as high waters (acqua alta), saw parts of the city covered by 187 centimeters (73.6 inches) of seawater late Tuesday and buffeted by strong winds.

In 1966, water levels peaked at 194cm.

The city’s warning sirens blared three times overnight and the damage wrought by the high waters was plain to see, although the exact damage to the famous city will be revealed once the flooding has subsided.

Gondolas and boats have been torn from their moorings and three vaporetti, waterbus, had capsized and another was adrift.

At least 60 vessels have been damaged, according to initial reports.

Shops, restaurants, and hotels in the city center have also been completely flooded.

The adverse conditions also claimed the life of a 78-year-old man who was electrocuted when he tried to start a generator at his house on the island of Pellestrina, south of the city.

Venice authorities have called on the central Italian government to declare a regional state of natural disaster and to prepare assistance for damages.

In response, the executive said it would discuss “necessary and urgent intervention to protect citizens” at the next cabinet meeting.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and several ministers have traveled to the city.

All schools in Venice and its islands were closed on Wednesday while areas like St. Mark’s Square were off-limits to tourists.

“It is devastation,” the director of the Venetian Hoteliers Association, Claudio Scarpa, told reporters.

“The damages are enormous and unfortunately it does not look like it is about to stop, the high tide is ongoing.

“The electrical panels at the hotel have tripped and therefore the pumps cannot be used to draw the water.”

Italy’s Civil Protection service said 130 firefighters were deployed to Venice.

Experts have warned that the high waters were expected to continue throughout the week with another peak of 138cm recorded on Wednesday morning.

The fate of St. Mark’s Basilica, which was severely damaged by flooding in October 2018 and was still undergoing restoration, was a major concern for city authorities.

Overnight, the water levels hit 110cm and submerged the crypt of the building.

Once the flooding recedes, conservation teams can evaluate the damage caused by saltwater to valuable mosaics and marble.

Patriarch of Venice Francesco Moraglia said at a press conference he had never seen flooding like that which hit the area overnight.

He added that waves were rolling across St. Mark’s square.

La Fenice opera house was also damaged in the flooding, but its main stage escaped unscathed so far.

The damage could push back the inauguration of the opera season set to start on 24 November.

The Culture Ministry has ordered a crisis unit to protect Venice’s cultural heritage.

As the flooding crept through the city, fresh controversy arose once again about the delay to the flood-defense system currently being constructed where the city meets the Adriatic Sea.

Known as the MOSE project, the mobile levy system designed to protect the Venetian lagoon was due to be finished in 2018 but was pushed back to 2022.

At a cost of more than five billion euros, the system aims to protect the city from high tides up to three meters.

The MOSE project has come under criticism by environmentalist groups and was even the center of a corruption scandal that saw the former mayor and 34 others forced to resign. – EFE-EPA / Cristina Cabrejas

ccg/jt/rb

Iraqis defy tear gas, upcoming curfew as protests stretch on

Robie de Guzman   •   October 29, 2019

 Iraqi protesters react after police fired tear gas at them during a protest at al-Tahrir square, central Baghdad, Iraq, 28 October 2019. EPA-EFE/MURTAJA LATEEF

Thousands of people in Baghdad continued their protests at Tahrir Square in central Baghdad on Monday (October 28), defying a curfew scheduled to be imposed from midnight until 6am (2100GMT to 0300 GMT).

Protesters took to the streets for a fourth day, despite having endured bloody clashes over the weekend and an overnight raid by security forces seeking to disperse them.

At least 74 Iraqis were killed and hundreds wounded across the country on Friday (October 25) and Saturday (October 26) as demonstrators clashed with security forces and militia groups in the second wave of this month’s protests against Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government.

More than 200 people have been killed in October so far.

Iraqi security forces on Monday fired tear gas at school and university students who defied a warning from the prime minister and joined anti-government protests.

A spokesman for Abdul Mahdi, whose position is increasingly precarious as he faces the largest challenge since he came to power a year ago, said on Sunday (October 27) that anyone disrupting work or school days would be severely punished.

Mass street protests in Baghdad and other cities in the southern Shi’te heartland against economic hardship began at the start of the month and resumed on Friday after a pause of about two weeks. (Reuters)

READ: DFA cautions Filipinos against travel to Iraq

(Production: Haider Kadhim, Mohammed Al-Ramahi, Mohammed Katfan, Hannah Ellison)

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US Military: No footage on Baghdadi’s death will be released

Robie de Guzman   •   October 29, 2019

US President Donald J. Trump answers a reporter’s question as he participates in a briefing with senior military leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, on 07 October 2019. At right is United States Army General Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. EPA-EFE/Ron Sachs

Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s remains had been disposed of and there were no plans to share footage on his death, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley announced on Monday.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that al-Baghdadi had been killed in a U.S. military operation in Syria.

Trump said earlier that part of the footage on the operation would be released, but military sources said that the footage might expose some confidential information about the U.S. military, adding that the footage should go through strict checks before it is published.

The Associated Press on Monday released footage taken by a witness when the U.S. military launched a raid in northwestern Syria — but the authenticity of the footage has not been verified.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday expressed “prudent welcome” to Baghdadi’s death, saying the U.S. has made a big contribution to fighting terrorism “if confirmed”.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday that it does not have reliable information about the U.S. operation in the Idlib de-escalation zone in Syria that allegedly killed IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi on Monday stressed that the extremist ideology and the support for it still exist in the Middle East, and the death of Baghdadi was a “creature” killed by the U.S.

On the same day, Iranian government Spokesman Ali Rabiee said al-Baghdadi’s death is the end of a symbol of “destructive terrorism,” and the U.S. should end its interventions in the Middle East. (Reuters)

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