Latest blog articles
Belgian regional parliament approves EU-Canada trade deal
Namur (Belgium) (AFP) - Belgium's Wallonia region on Friday approved a landmark EU-Canada free trade agreement after marathon talks produced a compromise, clearing the way for the European Union to sign the pact.
By 58 votes to five, parliament in Namur, south of Brussels, became the first of the country's three French-speaking communities to back changes made to allay fears local interests could be harmed by one of the biggest ever trade deals.
Its approval, after nearly four hours of debate, suggests the other regions will also back the deal.
This in turn will allow the Belgian government to give the European Union its blessing to go ahead with the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA).
CETA requires all 28 EU member states to endorse it before it can be signed and then ratified by their parliaments and in some cases -- as in Belgium -- by their regional governments.
Wallonia head Paul Magnette told the Namur parliament that the changes agreed offered more guarantees that local interests would be properly protected.
"CETA amended, CETA corrected; that is fairer than the former CETA and offers more guarantees ... and that is what I put to you," Magnette said.
CETA will link the EU's single market of 500 million people -- the world's biggest -- with Canada's 10th largest global economy in what would be the most ambitious tie-up of its kind.
The EU had been due to sign CETA at a summit Thursday in Brussels with Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau but that was called off as his Belgian counterpart Charles Michel tried to win the holdout regions' backing.
"This is an important agreement that is on the table," Michel said after the talks on Thursday.
Under complex constitutional arrangements, Michel needed all of Belgium's regional governments to back the deal before he could sign up.
CETA took seven years to negotiate to 2014 and another two years to go through the EU's institutions before it ran into the Belgian roadblock.
Once signed, the pact will go into effect on a provisional basis, pending full member state ratification.
- 'TTIP is dead' -
The stakes have been high as Belgium had become a lighting rod for warnings that the EU's international standing, already battered by Britain's shock June Brexit vote, would suffer further if the huge, long-planned deal with Canada got scuppered.
Hinging on CETA's outcome are complex EU trade negotiations with other countries, including an even bigger and more controversial deal with the United States known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
In his speech to parliament, Magnette warned that Wallonia would never accept a trade treaty that does not have the same guarantees as those in the new CETA.
"From now on, we can draw the lesson: with CETA improved, TTIP is dead and buried," he said.
In the CETA talks, Magnette had fought for Wallonia's farming interests and for guarantees against international investors forcing governments to change laws against the wishes of the people.
The accord is being vetted by the remaining 27 EU member states and institutions as well as by other Belgian regional governments which Michel said have pledged to give their answer before midnight (2200 GMT) Friday.
Wallonia was the first to weigh in, followed by the mainly French-speaking Brussels parliament, which the Belga news agency said voted 60 to 16 in favour of the compromise. The only other holdout still to vote is the Belgian French-speaking community.
With the remaining political hurdles hopefully cleared, Tusk may be free to phone Trudeau on Saturday to discuss the next steps, including possibly a signing ceremony, an EU source told AFP.
Policeman killed during anti-government protests in Baghdad
BAGHDAD (AP) — An Iraqi policeman was killed during anti-government protests in the Iraqi capital on Saturday, according to police and hospital officials who said seven other policemen were injured along with dozens of protesters.Demonstrators loyal to influential Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr gathered in Baghdad demanding that the commission overseeing the local elections schedule this year be overhauled.Shots rang out in central Baghdad as security forces used live fire and tear gas to… chat_bubble_outline Read More...
France's Hollande in Iraq to review war on IS
Baghdad (AFP) - French President Francois Hollande arrived in Baghdad Monday to meet the French forces helping Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State group and to hold talks with top officials.Hollande had already visited in 2014 and remains the most prominent head of state to come to Iraq since the launch two and half years ago of a US-led coalition against the jihadists.The French president, who is travelling with Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, will also stop in the autonomous… chat_bubble_outline Read More...
Bomb blast kill 22, wounds at least 50 in northwest Pakistan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — A bomb exploded Saturday in a market in a northwest tribal region that borders Afghanistan, killing 22 people and wounding at least 50, officials said.Dr. Sabir Hussain at the main hospital in Parachinar, the capital of Pakistan's Kurram tribal region, said two more wounded victims died in the hospital, increasing the death toll.Shahid Khan, an assistant tribal administrator, said the explosion took place when the market was crowded with retailers buying fruits and… chat_bubble_outline Read More...
Spanish provinces on alert as 2 die in torrential rains
MADRID (AP) — Provinces in southern and eastern Spain are on alert for heavy rains for a second day after torrential downpours left two dead and many roads and buildings flooded in several towns.The regional government of Andalusia said a 26-year-old woman drowned Sunday in southern Estepona town when rain flooded the premises she was in. A man died in the southwestern town of La Linea when his car was swept away in a flood.Media videos showed buses and cars almost submerged on streets in… chat_bubble_outline Read More...
Kirchner, Argentina's divisive ex-president
Buenos Aires (AFP) - Cristina Kirchner, the fiery ex-president who dominated Argentine politics for 12 years along with her late husband Nestor, remains as divisive out of office as she was while in power.Her controversial legacy took a new hit Tuesday when she was charged in a corruption case and slapped with a $630-million fine.Kirchner (2007-2015), is accused of favoring a construction magnate friend, Lazaro Baez, for public contracts in Patagonia, her southern political bastion.The… chat_bubble_outline Read More...