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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Syrian Government and Rebels Trade Accusations of Chemical Weapons Use

The Syrian National Coalition, the country’s opposition umbrella group, has called on the UN Security Council to order its inspectors currently based in Cyprus to enter Syria and ascertain if the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons in the outskirts of Aleppo. The Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, said that the Syrian government had been “cooperating intensively” with an investigation on that incident, but that not enough evidence was given to extend the investigation into the supposed use of chemical weapons in Homs and in the suburbs of Damascus, which the UK and France have said exists. For its own part, the Syrian government alleges that rebels associated with the Syrian National Coalition used chlorine gas in other attacks. Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 programme The World Tonight, the director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, Joshua Landis, said that the regime of Bashar al-Assad might end up using chemical weapons for lack of money and conventional weapons. “They’re going to be the only thing available. And if he doesn’t use them, if he fails, the rebels are going to take them, and they will use them. These chemical weapons are sitting down there like a ticking time bomb. What will the international community do? Is there a plan for dealing with this issue? There isn’t a plan today because nobody wants to get sucked into the swamp that is Syria”, said Landis.

Greece Paralysed by 24-Hour Strike

A 24-hour strike called by Greece’s two main trade unions to protest against the latest austerity measures enacted by the country’s government, including the sacking of 15,000 public sector workers, has brought the country to a standstill. May Day is not a public holiday this year, but trains and ferries were cancelled and bank and hospital staff walked off their posts at the beginning of the working day. Demonstrations were peaceful in Athens, with striking workers, students and pensioners holding banners with slogans against the government. One said “we won’t become slaves, take to the streets!”. The marches became impromptu rallies for the parties in opposition. “The economy won’t be resurrected by the bankrupt banks and the corrupt political system but by the workers and their fight”, said Alexis Tsipras, leader of the anti-bailout Syriza party. Ilias Iliopoulos, General Secretary of one of the country’s main trade unions, ADEDY, said that the message being sent out by the stoppage was clear. “Enough with these policies which hurt people and make the poor poorer”, he said.

Scottish Independence Could Damage UK’s Reputation, Say MPs

A report published by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee warns that the UK’s reputation will be damaged if Scotland chooses to become an independent country in next year’s referendum. The UK could have its influence reduced in the European Union and reinforce the view that it is a world power in decline, with the Foreign Office urged by lawmakers to engage with the country’s partners to begin carrying out damage control if Scottish voters decided to split from the union. The report also warned the Scottish government that it would likely have to reapply for membership to international organisations such as the UN, the EU and NATO if the referendum was decided in favour of independence. Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the report was biased, adding that the committee was only concerned with “maintaining the UK’s international reputation and protecting its position as a nuclear state”. The referendum on Scottish independence is set for September 18, 2014.

Human Rights Watch Says Satellite Images Show Nigerian Army Abuse

The rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed satellite images purporting to show that 2,275 homes were destroyed during a Nigerian military raid with the purpose of hunting down militant Islamists belonging to the Boko Haram insurgent group in the town of Baga last month. HRW has said that Nigerian soldiers were more concerned with destructing property that defending the city’s civilians. It said 37 people died as a result of the army raid, while other independent estimates pegged the number of casualties at over 180. The high number of houses destroyed is in stark contrast to the Nigerian authorities’ assertion that only 30 homes had been destroyed in mid-April. HRW has also called upon the country’s authorities to investigate and prosecute soldiers responsible for the atrocities. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan released a statement on Tuesday saying that fighting had been “most regrettable and unfortunate”, pledging to use the government’s powers to “end the intolerable threats to national security which have necessitated such confrontations”.

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