Italian PM pledges continued support for Lebanon

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is the latest senior foreign official to visit Lebanon after the Aug. 4 blast in Beirut’s port . (Government handout via Reuters)
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Updated 08 September 2020

Italian PM pledges continued support for Lebanon

  • Giuseppe Conte’s visit to Beirut follows last month’s devastating explosion

ROME: Italy’s prime minister on Tuesday pledged his country’s continued support for Lebanon following last month’s devastating explosion in Beirut.  

Giuseppe Conte made the pledge during a visit to the capital, where he met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun to discuss coordinating aid deliveries in the wake of the explosion, which killed more than 180 people and injured at least 6,000.

“Italy will contribute in supporting the social and economic development of Lebanon,” Aoun said after the meeting.

Conte said he told Aoun that “for Lebanon, this is the time to roll up sleeves. In order to do this, we must also work to rebuild the trust of citizens and their confidence in democratic institutions.”

Conte added: “Italy has a profound respect for Lebanese sovereignty and will remain at its side, hoping that a government can be formed as soon as possible to deal with reconstruction and start reforms as soon as possible.”

He arrived in Beirut one week after French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Lebanon as part of an international diplomatic push to form a new government and implement much-needed reforms.

Conte also held meetings with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab and Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib.

At the Italian Embassy in Beirut, Conte spoke with representatives of NGOs and civil society groups that have been helping the clear-up operations following the explosion.

His visit to Beirut is a testament “to Italy’s closeness to the Lebanese people,” he said, expressing his government’s and country’s “sincere condolences.”

Conte added: “There’s a very ancient tradition of relations and of very intense ties between Italy and Lebanon. This bond has been revived even more in this moment of emergency.”

He said Lebanon is one of the main beneficiary countries of Italy’s development cooperation in sectors ranging from archaeological heritage to wastewater treatment infrastructure.

He added that Lebanon also receives Italian support for vulnerable groups in the population, including Syrian refugees.

“Italy was among the first countries to respond to the emergency. Our support won’t stop. On the contrary, it will get stronger,” he said during a meeting with a representative of the more than 1,200 Italian troops deployed as part of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, which is under Italian command.

Conte said he told Lebanese authorities: “It’s time to write a new page for Lebanon. Italy will give strong support for the stability and socioeconomic growth of this country, which is entitled to a future of peace and prosperity, but also has a duty and responsibility to build a path to reach this goal as soon as possible.”

He visited the Italian field hospital on the Lebanese University’s Hadat campus, then the port, where the Italian naval vessel San Giusto is currently docked.

The ship arrived in Beirut in late August with Italy’s Emergenza Cedri (Cedar Emergency) military mission to provide medical equipment, experts and aid.

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.