France recalls Italy envoy as relations plumb new depths

France recalled its ambassador to Rome after a series of personal criticisms of President Emmanuel Macron by Italy’s two deputy prime ministers, Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini. (AFP)
Updated 07 February 2019
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France recalls Italy envoy as relations plumb new depths

  • Di Maio and Salvini, who formed a populist coalition government last year, have repeatedly criticized Macron, who has in turn targeted their euroskeptic movements
  • The latest spat erupted Tuesday after Di Maio, who heads the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, said he met French yellow vest anti-government protesters

PARIS: France took the exceptional step of recalling its envoy to Rome on Thursday to protest a series of attacks from the Italian government which it described as “unprecedented” since World War II.
France’s foreign ministry recalled its ambassador to Rome for consultations after a series of increasingly personal criticisms of President Emmanuel Macron by Italy’s two deputy prime ministers, Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini.
“For several months France has been the subject of repeated accusations, unfounded attacks and outlandish claims,” a ministry statement said. “This is unprecedented since the end of the war.”
In 1940, Italy under leader Benito Mussolini invaded France, occupying part of the southeast, but they have been allies since and are founding members of the European Union.
It is the first time since the war that France has recalled its ambassador.
Di Maio and Salvini, who formed a populist coalition government last year, have repeatedly criticized Macron, who has in turn targeted their euroskeptic movements ahead of high-stake European Parliament elections in May.
The latest spat erupted Tuesday after Di Maio, who heads the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, said he met French “yellow vest” anti-government protesters outside Paris.
Di Maio said the aim of the meeting was to prepare a common front for the European Parliament elections, boasting on Twitter that “the wind of change has crossed the Alps.”
But Paris denounced the matter as “an additional and unacceptable provocation.”
Speaking to AFP, a French official described the recall as a diplomatic message warning Italy to “stop playing with Franco-Italian friendship.”
“The measure is exceptional, but it’s not designed to worsen or escalate” the situation.
The escalating war of words began when the Five Star Movement and Salvini’s far-right League parties won the elections last summer and formed a coalition government.
When the populist government then began preventing rescue boats with migrants on board from docking at Italian ports, Macron blasted its “cynicism and irresponsibility,” comparing the rise of far-right nationalism to leprosy.
It has since spiralled into a string of tit-for-tat exchanges, leading to this week’s latest spat.
“We don’t want to row with anyone,” Salvini said on Thursday, calling for solutions to problematic issues such as French border controls on the Italian frontier and Rome’s demands for the extradition of far-left Italian activists living in France.
Both Salvini and Di Maio also issued statements saying they were available to talk to Macron and the French government.
Last month, Paris summoned Italy’s ambassador to protest Di Maio’s accusation that France was encouraging immigration to Europe “because European countries, France above all, have never stopped colonizing dozens of African countries.”
And Di Maio also denounced the French government for protecting the elite and the privileged, saying “a new Europe is being born of the ‘yellow vests’, of movements, of direct democracy.”
Salvini also poured fuel on the fire last month with a Facebook video in which he said: “I hope the French will be able to free themselves of a terrible president.”
“The opportunity will come on May 26 when finally the French people will be able to take back control of their future, destiny, (and) pride, which are poorly represented by a character like Macron,” he said, referring to the date of the European Parliament elections.
Sebastien Maillard, who heads the Jacques Delors thinktank in Paris, suggested there was little reason for the Italians to call off the fight.
“I don’t quite see what di Maio and Salvini could gain by calling off the battle which serves their domestic political goals,” he said.


Bosnians welcome UN verdict against Karadzic

Updated 35 min 37 sec ago
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Bosnians welcome UN verdict against Karadzic

  • ‘He should never be allowed to go free,’ Bosnian diplomat tells Arab News
  • Families of victims who traveled to The Hague hailed the verdict

JEDDAH: Former Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, widely known as the “Butcher of Bosnia,” has had his sentence for genocide and war crimes increased to life in prison.

He was appealing a 2016 verdict in which he was given a 40-year sentence for the Srebrenica massacre in the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

More than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in the town of Srebrenica by Bosnian-Serb forces in July 1995. Karadzic, 73, was also found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

The UN court said the 40-year sentence did not reflect the trial chamber’s analysis on the “gravity and responsibility for the largest and greatest set of crimes ever attributed to a single person at the ICTY (the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia).”

The ruling by the judges on Wednesday cannot be appealed, and will end one of the highest-profile legal battles stemming from the Balkan wars.

Karadzic showed almost no reaction as presiding Judge Vagn Joensen of Denmark read out the damning judgment.

The former leader is one of the most senior figures tried by The Hague’s war crimes court. His case is considered as key in delivering justice for the victims of the Bosnian conflict, which left more than 100,000 people dead and millions homeless.

Joensen said the trial chamber was wrong to impose a sentence of just 40 years, given what he called the “sheer scale and systematic cruelty” of Karadzic’s crimes. Applause broke out in the public gallery as Joensen passed the new sentence.

Families of victims who traveled to The Hague hailed the verdict. Mothers, some elderly and walking with canes, wept with apparent relief after watching the ruling read on a screen in Srebrenica.

Halim Grabus, a Bosnian-Muslim diplomat based in Geneva, told Arab News that the verdict “will act as a deterrent against the criminals responsible for the genocide of Muslims during the 1992-1995 war. He (Karadzic) should never be allowed to go free. He deserves maximum punishment.”

Grabus was in Bosnia during the war, and witnessed the scorched-earth policy of Karadzic and his fellow generals.

Grabus said it was not possible in today’s world to expect total justice, “but the verdict is important for the victims and survivors of Karadzic’s genocidal politics and ideology of hate.” 

A large majority of Serbs “continue to justify what he did, and continue to carry forward his hateful campaign against Bosnian Muslims,” Grabus added.

“Many of the killers of Muslims during the Bosnian war are still roaming free. They need to be arrested and brought to justice.”

Ratko Mladic, a Bosnian-Serb wartime military commander, is awaiting an appeal judgment of his genocide and war crimes conviction, which earned him a life sentence. Both he and Karadzic were convicted of genocide for their roles in the Srebrenica massacre.