Top News: Turkey Marks Tense May Day as Police Enforce Lockdown

As demonstrations are underway throughout Turkey to mark May Day, Turkish police have detained at least 136 people around Istanbul’s Taksim Square, which is on lockdown today. The police have also used teargas and water cannons to disperse crowds. Protesters retaliated by throwing stones and hurling firecrackers at police. Opposition parties and some unions have announced that they are determined to march to the square from the nearby Besiktas neighborhood where they have been gathering. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu underlined that only “symbolic” rallies would be allowed. Only a small group of unionists was allowed into the square for a moderate remembrance ceremony for the victims of the May Day 1977, when thirty-four people were killed.[Hurriyet Daily NewsToday’s ZamanAFPAl Jazeera English, 5/1/2015]



Egypt, Spain ink security cooperation agreement
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Thursday oversaw a security cooperation agreement with Spain during his visit to Madrid. The Egyptian Foreign Minister and the Spanish Interior Minister signed the agreement regulating cooperation between the two states. Sisi also oversaw the signing of three memoranda of understanding with Spain: one in the field of intellectual property rights, another in the field of tourism, and a third in the fields of transport and infrastructure. During the visit, Sisi also met with the Spanish Minister of Economy, several Spanish investors, and with King Felipe VI. Amnesty International slammed the visit, calling on Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in an open letter to call on Egypt to respect human rights during his talks with Sisi. [Aswat Masriya, 4/30/2015]

Mahlab forms national committee to implement of surveillance cameras
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab issued on Friday a decree approving the creation of  the Permanent National Committee for the Coordination of Surveillance Cameras in a bid to bolster the country’s security. The committee, headed by the Deputy Interior Minister for Information Technology, will include members from the interior ministry, and military and general intelligence agencies. The committee is entrusted with installing surveillance cameras nationwide and monitoring vital state institutions in coordination with the interior ministry’s national security network. [Aswat Masriya (Arabic), EGYNews (Arabic), 5/1/2015]

Over 15,000 workers dismissed following January 25 revolution
More than 15,000 workers have been dismissed from different Egyptian companies and factories since the January 25 revolution, but only a small number of them have filed lawsuits to claim their rights, said Manpower Minister Nahed al-Ashry. She added that some have received compensation after courts issued rulings in their favor. The dismissed workforce represents a challenge for the ministry, said the minister, adding that government had formed a committee that included representatives from the ministry of manpower and trade unions to improve workers’ financial and legal situation. Labor leader and member of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions Fatma Ramadan said that the committee has no authority and was deemed “useless.” The first three months of 2015 saw more than 300 protests by workers in factories, teachers, healthcare employees, drivers and others, according to data compiled by local NGO Democracy Meter. Labor organizers, however, fear a crackdown is looming following a final verdict by a high level court banning strikes by civil servants. [Egypt Independent, Ahram Online, 5/1/2015]

Egypt fares poorly in 2015 press freedom index
Egypt ranked near the bottom of the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, coming in at 158 out of 180 countries in a list topped by Finland, Norway and Denmark. Although Egypt did rise one position in the index since last year, “the curbs on freedom of information are as worrying as ever,” wrote the Paris-based organization. Furthermore, at least thirty journalists were arbitrarily arrested in 2014 on charges of organizing or participating in protests, according to the report, “and the authorities continue to use spurious grounds for keeping them in detention.” [Mada Masr, 4/30/2015]

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Operation Libya Dawn demands UNSMIL’s Leon be fired
Operation Libya Dawn has demanded that UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) chief Bernardino Leon be fired and has called for demonstrations to be held this afternoon. The Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction Party and the Alwatan party, both of which strongly criticized the draft, echo Dawn’s response to Leon’s third draft of the political agreement. The General National Congress has taken a more cautious approach, saying the draft does not reflect agreements reached in Morocco talks but that it was still studying the provisions. The points of dispute focus on the mechanism for forming a government and its powers. [Libya Herald, 4/30/2015]

EU’s Mogherini sees deep divisions over UNSMIL’s draft accord for Libya
Delegates to UN-brokered negotiations about the Libya crisis met with European Union (EU) foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini in Tunis, where their severe disagreements over the UN Support Mission in Libya’s (UNSMIL) latest peace agreement draft became clear. The House of Representatives (House) delegates and their supporters expressed strong approval, while House members representing Misrata were bitterly opposed. The delegation from the General National Congress had been invited to Tunis but did not show up. Mogherini expressed the EU’s support for the dialogue and stressed an accord should be reached by the end of May. [Libya Herald, 4/30/2015]

Three men accused of homosexuality executed by Islamic State in Derna
Three men, accused of being homosexual, are reported to have been executed by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in the Libyan city of Derna yesterday. Following the creation of a sharia court in Derna last year, IS has imposed rigid sharia law in the town. There have been public beheadings and lashings, and IS’ rigid interpretation of Islam has resulted in a smoking ban and strict gender segregation. [Libya Herald, 5/1/2015]

Tunisia and the EU sign five agreements totaling 63 million euros
The European Union and Tunisia have signed five assistance agreements totaling 63 million euros. The money will be distributed across various sectors, including judicial reform, strengthening audiovisual media, promoting gender equality, and protecting migrants. The signing took place at the Tunisian ministry of investment and international cooperation, where Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, said, “We need Tunisia as a strong partner in the region as a model of development and democracy in the region.” [L’Economiste Maghrebin (French), 4/30/2015]


Syrian National Coalition President urges United States to create safe havens
The head of the Syrian opposition National Coalition called on the United States Thursday to help set up safe havens inside Syria in areas under rebel control. President Khaled Khoja said he would brief Kerry on the latest political and military developments. “We are here also to ask the assistance of the US in establishing safe havens in liberated areas.” The moderate-opposition has been fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a battle Kerry admitted was against “difficult odds.” A key sticking point has remained Assad’s future, with the National Coalition insisting he must step down, a demand refused by the government. “President Assad has no legitimacy and he’s not a part of the future of Syria and for that reason he needs to be prosecuted … for the crimes he has committed against the Syrian people,” Khoja insisted. A delegation from the National Coalition will attend discussions in Geneva on Monday, when UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura is to hold separate talks with the rival sides. [AFP, 4/30/2015]

Syria, Iran vow to step up fight against “terrorists”
Syria and Iran have agreed to “intensify efforts to fight terrorism,” Syrian Defense Minister General Fahd al-Freij said in Tehran. Al-Freij said key allies Damascus and Tehran were on the same page on how to tackle the fight against rebels. Iranian Defense Minister General Hossein Dehgan said, “Both sides agreed on the need for continuing bilateral cooperation to fight terrorism, extremism and violence and to restore regional stability… We will resist the takfiri-Zionist groups with all our strength.” Last month, Assad denied that Iranian troops were fighting on the ground but admitted Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters were fighting in Syria. [AFP, 4/30/2015]

Rebels fight Syrian army near Assad heartland
Rebels and Syrian army troops on Thursday were engaged in heavy fighting in northeastern parts of Syria’s Latakia province near the mountains of Jabal al-Akrad, close to some of the highest peaks in Syria including Nabi Younis that overlook Alawite villages and close to Qardaha, the hometown of the Assad family. After a series of losses in neighboring Idlib province, the army is fortifying its positions to preempt rebel attacks on Latakia, home to the small Alawi religious community. Regime forces attacked rebel positions overnight from Thursday until Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. In Idlib province, regime airstrikes have killed at least twenty people while regime forces tried to battle their way out of a siege in the provincial capital. [Reuters, 5/1/2015]

Norway increases aid to Syrian refugees
Norway said Thursday it would increase its humanitarian aid to refugees in Syria and neighboring countries to Syrian refugees to nearly $134 million and would send another vessel to help patrol the Mediterranean, according to Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg. Norway is already the seventh biggest donor to the Syrian crisis in absolute numbers, and the second per capita behind Kuwait. Solberg countered the opposition’s demand to welcome 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years, arguing that aid was more effective when it was distributed locally and that Norway was already struggling to find housing for existing refugees.[AFP, 4/30/2015]


ISIS film shows Yemen killings
A new branch of the Islamic State group in Yemen on Thursday issued a video showing what it said was the beheading of four Yemeni soldiers and the shooting of ten others, the SITE Intelligence group reported. The film did not say when the killings took place, but before their execution, the men spoke to the camera saying they were from the Yemen army’s Second Mountaineer Brigade. Local media reports had said fourteen soldiers from that unit were massacred in mid-April. [Reuters, 4/30/2015]

Three Saudi soldiers killed in clashes with Houthis at border
Dozens of Houthi fighters were killed in clashes with Saudi forces on Yemen’s northern border, Saudi Arabia’s defense ministry said on Thursday. Three Saudi soldiers were killed in the fighting, which began when Houthis attacked a border post in Najran province and were repulsed. Earlier, the interior ministry said a shell killed a border guard, bringing the number of Saudi casualties in the five-week campaign to fourteen. [Reuters, Al-Masdar, BBC, 5/1/2015]

Air strikes kill civilians in Yemen’s capital
Warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition struck a residential district of the Yemeni capital Sanaa overnight, killing eight to ten civilians, residents said on Friday. The SABA state news agency, controlled by the Houthi movement in charge of Sana’a, put the death toll in the Sawan district at twenty and said more than fifty people had been wounded. The agency said casualties included woman and children. The strikes came days after jets bombed the runway to stop an Iranian aid plane from landing. Damage to the airport has stopped aid deliveries. [Reuters, SABA, 5/1/2015]

US and Qatar launch talks on fate of Taliban officials released in Bergdahl swap
US and Qatari officials began talks Thursday about extending security assurances for five senior Taliban members who were released from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. The talks could lead to an extension of at least some aspects of a one-year arrangement that required Qatar to keep the former prisoners under supervision and ban them from leaving. They could also lead to the former detainees being transferred to another country, according to individuals familiar with the discussions. The agreement expires at the end of May. [Washington Post, 4/30/2015]

US Navy starts to accompany US ships passing through Strait of Hormuz
US Navy ships started accompanying US-flagged commercial vessels passing through the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, seeking to ensure freedom of navigation two days after Iran seized a cargo ship, US defense officials said. The officials described the decision as incremental, saying it was a precautionary move of limited time involving Navy ships already deployed to the area. They noted the Navy ships would be in communication with the US-flagged vessels and somewhat nearby but not necessarily closely trailing them. The decision is the latest sign of the heightened tension in the region after Iran detained the Marshall Islands-flagged Maersk Tigris container ship on Tuesday and after Iranian ships followed the US-flagged Maersk Kensington on April 24. [Reuters, 4/30/2015]


Saudi Arabia Is burning through its foreign reserves at a record pace
Saudi Arabia is burning through foreign reserves at a record rate as the kingdom seeks to maintain spending plans amid regional turmoil and a slump in oil prices. The kingdom spent $36 billion of the central bank’s net foreign assets, about 5 percent of the total, in February and March, the biggest two-month drop on record. The 48 percent drop in oil prices last year has prompted the government to use reserves and borrow from domestic banks to maintain spending on wages and investments. [Bloomberg, 4/30/2015]

Egypt to cut at least 10 percent of fuel subsidies in fiscal year 2015/16
Egypt will cut at least 10 percent of a current fuel subsidy bill of up to EGP 100 billion in the next fiscal year, according to Finance Minister Hany Qadry. Last year, the government slashed fuel subsidies to narrow the state budget deficit, raising prices at the pump by up to 78 percent. Budget allocations for social spending are planned to increase by 16 percent in the 2015/2016 fiscal year. [Ahram Online, 4/30/2015]

Qatar joins list of countries buying fighter jets from France
President Francois Hollande of France announced on Thursday that a multibillion dollar sale of military aircraft to Qatar, the country’s third such deal with a foreign government this year. The French government, in concert with French defense manufacturer Dassault, is on the verge of concluding contracts for up to ninety-six Rafale fighter jets. Of those, India will get thirty-six, Egypt will get twenty-four and Qatar will get twenty-four and an option to buy twelve more. [New York Times, 4/30/2015]

Virtual market place launched for small and medium-sized firms in Tunisia
Two hundred Tunisian small and medium-sized companies in the food industry, crafts, and services will be able to access the Virtual Market Place, a near $2 million project launched by the ministry of trade in cooperation with the World Bank and International Trade Center, in an effort to boost product exports. Personnel from companies with access to Virtual Market Place will benefit from specialized training in e-commerce, a sector significantly on the rise in Tunisia with some 800 specialized websites already functioning. [ANSAmed, 4/30/2015]