Italy vote campaign heats up as 5-Star takes aim at Berlusconi

In this file photo taken on January 18, 2018 in Rome Italian former Prime Minister and leader of center-right party Forza Italia (Go Italy), Silvio Berlusconi arriving to attend the TV show "Quinta Colonna", a programme of Italian channel Rete 4. (AFP)
Updated 10 February 2018
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Italy vote campaign heats up as 5-Star takes aim at Berlusconi

ROME: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Friday he would sue the leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement for calling him “a traitor to the country,” in an increasingly bitter election campaign.
Surveys show 5-Star is the most popular party ahead of the March 4 vote, but it lags a center-right coalition led by Berlusconi's Forza Italia (Go Italy!) — the bloc with most hope of obtaining a majority in Parliament.
“I have instructed my lawyers to prepare the case,” Berlusconi said in a radio interview after 5-Star's leader Luigi Di Maio accused Forza Italia politicians of contributing to a lucrative “business” involving camps for immigrants.
Such camps have been at the center of criminal investigations for alleged corruption.
More than 600,000 migrants have arrived in Italy from north Africa by sea over the last four years, and the issue has become the main battleground of the election.
With the ruling Democratic Party (PD) lagging in the polls, 5-Star is seen as the main obstacle to a centre-right victory, and Berlusconi and Di Maio have stepped up their attacks on each other while largely ignoring PD leader Matteo Renzi.
“If Di Maio won power it would be a catastrophe, Italy would be internationally isolated and our economy would be devastated by taxes,” said Berlusconi, 81, who cannot personally run for office due to a 2013 conviction for tax fraud.
Di Maio said he was “not worried in the least" by the lawsuit and published a Facebook post listing EU treaties on fiscal and immigration policy signed or backed by Berlusconi, which he said had sold Italy short. The post was titled "Berlusconi, seven times a traitor to the country.”


Taliban reject Afghan cease-fire, kidnap nearly 200 bus passengers

Updated 17 min 32 sec ago
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Taliban reject Afghan cease-fire, kidnap nearly 200 bus passengers

  • The Taliban have launched a wave of attacks in different parts of the country in recent weeks
  • In June the Taliban agreed to a ceasefire during Eid Al-Fitr festival, but said this helped the US

KABUL: The Taliban rejected on Monday an Afghan government offer of a cease-fire and they would persist with their attacks, two militant commanders said, while insurgents ambushed three buses and nearly 200 passengers traveling for a holiday.
The two Taliban commanders said their supreme leader rejected President Ashraf Ghani’s Sunday offer of a three-month cease-fire, beginning with this week’s Eid Al-Adha Muslim holiday.
In June, the Taliban observed a government cease-fire over the three-day Eid Al-Fitr festival, leading to unprecedented scenes of government soldiers and militants embracing on front lines, and raising hopes for talks.
But one of the Taliban commanders said the June cease-fire had only helped US forces, who the Taliban are trying to drive out of the country, and Taliban leader Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada rejected the new offer on the grounds it would only help the US-led mission.
“Our leadership feels that they’ll prolong their stay in Afghanistan if we announced a cease-fire now,” a senior Taliban commander, who declined to be identified, said by telephone.
An official in Ghani’s office said the three-month-long cease-fire declared by the government was conditional, and if the Taliban did not respect it, the government would maintain military operations.
The Taliban have launched a wave of attacks in different parts of the country in recent weeks, including on the city of Ghazni, southwest of Kabul. Hundreds of people have been killed in the fighting.
The rejection of Ghani’s cease-fire came as government officials were trying to secure the release of at least 170 civilians and 20 members of the security forces who were taken hostage by Taliban from three buses in the northern province of Kunduz.
Esmatullah Muradi, a spokesman for the governor of Kunduz, said the kidnapping happened when three buses were traveling through Kunduz from Takhar province, on their way to the capital, Kabul.
“The buses were stopped by the Taliban fighters, passengers were forced to step down and they have been taken to an undisclosed location,” Muradi said.
’Traveling for holiday’
The Taliban confirmed they had captured “three buses packed with passengers.”
“We decided to seize the buses after our intelligence inputs revealed that many men working with Afghan security forces were traveling to Kabul,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said by telephone.
“We have taken the buses to a safe area to prevent any clashes and we are now identifying members of the security forces,” he said, adding that civilians would be released.
Kunduz provincial council member Sayed Assadullah Sadat said people on the buses were traveling to be with family in Kabul for the holiday.
A senior interior ministry official in Kabul said officials in the area were talking to Taliban leaders in Kunduz to get the estimated 190 hostages released.
“We’re are trying our level best to secure freedom for all passengers,” the official said.
Separately, Mujahid said the Taliban would release at least 500 prisoners, including members of the security forces on Monday, a day before Eid celebrations begin.
“We will release some prisoners captured during clashes in three provinces,” he said.
But he did not say if any soldiers or policemen taken from the three buses would be released.
Sporadic clashes between Taliban fighters and Afghan forces erupted on the outskirts of Ghazni on Monday as aid workers tried to get help in to the city, aid agency officials said.
The government has said its forces had secured the city after the Taliban laid siege to it for five days this month.
At least 150 soldiers and 95 civilians were killed and hundreds were injured.
Aid agencies officials said their teams had entered the city but clashes in the outskirts prevented them from launching large-scale operations.