Massive military drills from North Sea to Caucasus
NATO on Oct. 17 opened an annual exercise to test nuclear deterrence capabilities in Europe, with the participation of 14 of the 30 member countries. The drill, this year dubbed "Steadfast Noon," will run two weeks and involve 60 aircraft. "As in previous years, US B-52 long-range bombers will take part; this year, they will fly from Minot Air Base in North Dakota," NATO said in a statement. "Training flights will take place over Belgium, which is hosting the exercise, as well as over the North Sea and the United Kingdom."
Spain: protests follow arrest of Catalan rapper
The arrest of Catalan rapper Pablo Hasél on charges of glorifying terrorism and insulting the monarchy has sparked angry protests in Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia and other Spanish cities. Facing charges in relation to his tweets and song lyrics, Hasél barricaded himself alongside supporters inside Catalonia's University of Lleida on Feb. 16. His supporters sprayed fire-extinguishers at troops when the building was raided later that day by the Catalan police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra. As he was led away, supporters shouted, "They will never silence us; death to the fascist state!" Hasél was turned over to Spanish authorities to begin serving a nine-month term. Angry protests immediately broke out, with several demonstrators arrested that night. Protests have continued throughout the week.
Belgium: Iranian diplomat on trial over bomb plot
Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi and three Iranian-Belgians went on trial in Antwerp, Belgium, on Nov. 27, marking the first time an EU country has put an Iranian official on trial for terrorism. The four have been charged with planning an attack on a rally of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in 2018. The NCRI is the political wing of the exiled Iranian opposition group, Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK), which is seeking to overthrow the Islamic Republic. Assadi served at Tehran's embassy in Vienna and is believed to have been working for Iran's Intelligence Ministry.
Belgian high court: PKK not 'terrorist' organization
The Court of Cassation of Belgium on Jan. 28 upheld a lower court's judgement and ruled that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is not a "terrorist organization." The case, one of several in Belgium relating to the nature of the PKK, stems from an investigation into three local Kurdish supporters of the party by Belgian judicial authorities. The legality of the investigation was challenged, and in May 2017 the Court of Appeals ruled for the three activists. The Federal Prosecutor's appeal of this ruling has now been rejected. Speaking to Kurdish news agency ANF after the high court decision, one of the three targeted leaders, Zübeyir Aydar of the Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), said: "The Court of Cassation ruling recognizes the fact that the Kurdistan freedom struggle cannot be accused of terrorism, that what is in question is not terror but a war, and the PKK is a party of this war. This is a first in Europe and we hope it will set an example to other countries." A case has been pending since November 2018 before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg challenging the European Union's listing of the PKK as a "terrorist organization."
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Brussels court: PKK activity not 'terrorism'
After nine years of proceedings, a court in Belgium on March 8 acquitted multiple defendants accused of activities involving the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Belgian judicial authorities had requested that 36 individuals and companies be tried by a criminal court on charges of taking part in "terrorist activity." The Belgian Chamber of Indictment, however, blocked proceedings against all defendants, ruling that the PKK insurgency is an "internal armed conflict" within Turkey and, as such, neither the party nor its armed wing, the People's Defense Forces (HPG), may be considered a terrorist organization under Belgian law. The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the decision. (Kurdistan 24)
ICC acquits ex-leader of Ivory Coast and henchman
Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court on Jan. 15 acquitted former Côte d'Ivoire president Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé, his former youth minister. Gbagbo and Blé Goudé were accused of four counts of crimes against humanity related to violence following a disputed 2010 election that left 3,000 dead and 500,000 displaced. Gbagbo was arrested in 2011 in a presidential palace bunker by UN and French-backed forces supporting his rival, Alassane Ouattara. He was the first former head of state to face trial at the ICC. The Chamber ordered both accused to be immediately released. A prosecution request to extend Gbagbo's custody pending appeal was rejected. "The acquittal of Gbagbo and Blé Goudé will be seen as a crushing disappointment to victims of post-election violence in Cote d'Ivoire," said Amnesty International in a statement. (BBC News, Reuters, Amnesty International, ICC press release)
Russia delivers Aleppo ultimatum —with war fleet
Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued an ultimatum to the defenders of Aleppo's rebel-held east that they abandon the city by Friday Oct. 4. The rebel leaders pledge defiance, saying that promised safe passages out of besieged areas are a trap. "This is completely out of the question. We will not give up the city of Aleppo to the Russians and we won't surrender," Zakaria Malahifji, of the Fastaqim rebel group, told Reuters, denying that there are safe exit corridors. "It's not true. Civilians and fighters are not leaving. Civilians are afraid of the regime, they don't trust it. And the fighters are not surrendering." (The Guardian, Al Jazeera) A Russian military fleet is meanwhile making its way to Syria, signaling an imminent escalation in the ongoing aerial assault on Aleppo. There has been some controversy about the fleet's refueling stops along the way. While NATO member Spain has allowed Russian warships en route to Syria to resupply at its port of Ceuta before, this time international pressure led Moscow to withdraw its request for a stop there. (World Post, The Local, Spain) The Royal Navy, which monitored the fleet's passage through the English Channel, says it includes the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov as well as three submarines (two nuclear-powered) armed with cruise missiles. (The Independent)
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