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23:47, 26 June 2017 Monday
16:24, 16 January 2015 Friday

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EU trying to coordinate counter-terrorism strategy
EU trying to coordinate counter-terrorism strategy
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Withdrawal of EU travel documents under consideration

World Bulletin / News Desk


 The European Union will do more to stop citizens going to fight as insurgents in Syria and Iraq but resist calls for sweeping pan-European powers to fight threats after the attacks in Paris and police raids in Belgium, officials said on Friday.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday will seek a strategy to deal with young Muslims heading to Middle East war zones or returning radicalised from the region. They plan talks with the secretary-general of the Cairo-based Arab League, Nabil El-Araby, as well as the EU's counter-terrorism coordinator.

Other priorities to be tackled at a Jan. 29-30 gathering will include a crackdown on arms trafficking, better sharing of airline passenger data, trying to prevent EU citizens leaving to fight abroad, and seeking to curb fighters on the Internet to discourage EU citizens from bringing violence back home.

Ministers are also considering a plan to withdraw the travel documents and identity cards of any EU citizen planning to go to Syria or Iraq or considered to represent a public threat in Europe, an initiative supported by the European Commission.

The rules underpinning the EU's passport-free Schengen zone, which removes border controls among most EU countries, could be used to empower guards on external borders of the zone to undertake systematic checks of EU citizens arriving from a third country to stop suspected jihadist militants.

Schengen rules have also recently been changed to make it possible to temporarily reintroduce checks at internal borders.

The ideas will then be taken up by EU government leaders at a two-day summit on Feb. 12-13 inBrussels, where concrete steps could be taken, but the Commission cautioned it is not planning a host of new, pan-EU security legislation.

"The European Union is seeking to minimise the risks posed by terrorism in Syria and Iraq," said an EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Clearly the Charlie Hebdo shootings have galvanised everyone to act," the diplomat said, referring to the Jan. 7 assault on the French satirical journal.

Anthony Dworkin, a human rights expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London, said EU officials were right to focus on improving coordination among agencies and across borders, rather than seeking new legislation.

"The wider call for more sweeping powers to combat the terrorist threat seems driven first of all by a political desire to be seen to be taking action. Measures adopted in haste are likely to lead to over-reaching and may prove less effective than better coordination and application of existing procedures," Dworkin said. 

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Cyprus president seeks peace deal in Switzerland
Cyprus president seeks peace deal in Switzerland

Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades said Monday he hopes to clinch a reunification deal laying out a new security blueprint for the divided island during a crunch summit in Switzerland this week. Anastasiades will attend United Nations-backed talks at the Alpine Crans-Montana ski resort Wednesday with "complete determination and goodwill... to achieve a desired solution", he said in a statement. He said he hopes to "abolish the anachronistic system of guarantees and intervention rights", with a deal providing for the withdrawal of the Turkish army. The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece. Turkey maintains around 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus. The so-called guarantor powers of Turkey, Britain and Greece retain the right to intervene militarily on the island. Greek and Turkish Cypriots are at odds over a new security blueprint, but their leaders are under pressure to reach an elusive peace deal. "I am going to Switzerland to participate in the Cyprus conference, with the sole aim and intent of solving the Cyprus problem," Anastasiades said. Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci is also set to attend the summit, which is expected to last at least 10 days. Greece, Turkey and Britain will send envoys along with an observer from the European Union. UN-led talks on the island hit a wall in late May after the sides failed to agree terms to advance toward a final summit. Unlocking the security question would allow Anastasiades and Akinci to make unprecedented concessions on core issues. But they have major differences on what a new security blueprint should look like. Anastasiades's internationally recognised government, backed by Athens, seeks an agreement to abolish intervention rights, with Turkish troops withdrawing from the island on a specific timeline. Turkish Cypriots and Ankara argue for some form of intervention rights and a reduced number of troops remaining in the north. Turkish Cypriots want the conference to focus on broader issues of power-sharing, property rights and territory for the creation of a new federation. Much of the progress to date has been based on strong personal rapport between Anastasiades and Akinci, leader of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. But that goodwill has appeared frayed in the build-up to their meeting in Switzerland. The Greek Cypriot presidential election next February has also complicated the landscape, as has the government's search for offshore oil and gas, which Ankara argues should be suspended until the negotiations have reached an outcome.