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Israel urged to deport Mexican official over missing students | News

Tomas Zeron, who previously led Mexico’s Criminal Investigation Agency, has reportedly been in Israel for about two years.

Relatives of the 43 Mexican students who disappeared in 2014 have protested outside Israel’s embassy to demand the extradition of a former top investigator wanted in connection with the case.

Hundreds gathered outside the embassy in Mexico City on Wednesday with no visible police presence as some carried pictures of the missing students while others sprayed graffiti on the embassy walls.

Tomas Zeron, who previously led Mexico’s Criminal Investigation Agency, was accused of manipulating the probe into one of the country’s worst human rights tragedies. He has reportedly been in Israel for about two years.

Zeron is one of the architects of “historical truth” – the official version of the case presented in 2015 that was rejected by the victims’ relatives and independent experts.

“Israel is protecting Tomas Zeron, a human rights violator who tortured those he detained at the time to build the ‘historical truth,’” said Meliton Ortega, a representative of the students’ families.

But Israeli ambassador to Mexico Zvi Tal criticised the demonstrators’ actions.

“It is clear to us that the violence displayed during the demonstration, where they left the walls of our headquarters painted with offensive graffiti – here is written ‘Death to Israel’ – has no relation to the Ayotzinapa case,” he said in a video address in front of the embassy.

“Israel as a state of law must implement its international legal obligations while examining the request from Mexico, even when it is a request related to an open wound in Mexican public opinion,” he said.

Mexico has repeatedly asked Israel to hand over Zeron, who is accused of kidnapping, torturing suspects and manipulating evidence – allegations he has denied.

What happened to them?

The 43 teaching students had commandeered buses in the southern state of Guerrero to travel to a demonstration in Mexico City before they went missing.

Investigators say they were detained by corrupt police and handed over to a drug cartel that mistook them for members of a rival gang, but exactly what happened to them is disputed. So far, the remains of only three victims have been identified.

Last month, a truth commission tasked by the current government to investigate the atrocity branded the case a “state crime” involving agents of various institutions.

It said military personnel bore “clear responsibility” either directly or through negligence.

Prosecutors announced last month that arrest warrants were issued for more than 80 suspects, including 20 military personnel, 44 police officers and 14 cartel members.

The same day, former attorney general Jesus Murillo Karam, who led the controversial “historical truth” investigation, was detained on charges of forced disappearance, torture and obstruction of justice.

Last week, the government said an army general and two other military personnel had also been arrested.

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Japan honours Shinzo Abe with controversial state funeral | News

Japan prepares to bid farewell to assassinated leader as anger grows over the cost of the state funeral and his party’s ties to the Unification Church.

Japan is set to honour former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was killed while on the campaign trail in July, with a rare state funeral that has deeply split the nation.

Some 4,000 mourners — including United States Vice President Kamala Harris and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — are expected to attend Tuesday’s ceremony for Abe, who was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. Hundreds of Japanese lined up outside the funeral venue in the capital, Tokyo, ahead of the official ceremony to offer floral tributes to Abe.

But the event, which is costing taxpayers some $11.5m, as well as revelations about ties between Abe, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the South Korean Unification Church, has prompted a huge public outcry in Japan.

Critics consider the religious group a “predatory cult” responsible for forcibly extracting exorbitant donations from its followers in Japan.

The relatives of Abe’s assassin, Tetsuya Yamagami, say the 41-year-old’s mother donated some 100 million yen ($692,000) to the group, bankrupting his family. Yamagami has told investigators that he shot Abe on July 8 because of the prime minister’s support for the church. An internal LDP survey has since found that nearly half the governing party’s 379 national legislators also have ties with the church and affiliated groups. These range from attending the church’s events to receiving donations and accepting volunteers for election support.

Protesters took to the streets of Tokyo on Tuesday hours before Abe’s state funeral was due to get underway [Issei Kato/Reuters]

The revelations have caused Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s approval ratings to plunge below 30 percent.

But Kishida has defended the state funeral as necessary because of Abe’s achievements.

The incumbent leader, the heads of Japan’s lower and upper houses of parliament, and the chief justice will speak at Tuesday’s event.

It will begin at 2pm local time (05:00 GMT) with Abe’s ashes carried into the venue as an honour guard fires 19 rounds from a cannon.

Security has been tightened in Tokyo, with schools in the vicinity of the funeral venue closed and some 20,000 police officers mobilised to ensure security for the event. Protests against the funeral are expected, with some 62 percent of respondents surveyed by the Mainichi newspaper saying they do not approve of holding such an event.

Critics say Abe is also not deserving of the honour because of his legacy of divisive policies.

These include Abe’s push to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution, and nationalistic rhetoric that soured relations with neighbouring countries, including South Korea.

Members of Japan Self-Defense Forces stand in front of sacred funeral curtains creating shadows on the ground during a rehearsal for Abe's state funeral
Members of Japan Self-Defence Forces will take part in the funeral, which has divided opinion in Japan and led to a sharp drop in support for the government [Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters]

The former leader, at the time of his resignation for health reasons in 2020, had also become mired in scandals in which he was alleged to have misused political funds and engaged in cronyism. He was also facing criticism at the time for his poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his determination to hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics despite the outbreak of the disease.

“Kishida’s decision to honour Abe with a state funeral without consulting the Diet or judiciary smacks of exactly the arrogance of power that the public associates with Abe. By a 2-1 margin the public opposes the state funeral and much of this opposition can be attributed to Abe’s toxic legacies and limited achievements,” said Jeffrey Kingston, professor of history and Asian studies at Temple University in Japan.

“Polls suggest few believe Kishida has handled the Church issue competently and this is part of the reason he has plunged in the polls. Supporters hope it will all blow over but the media spotlight may sustain the anger and now there are the Olympic bribery scandals that provide further reminders about the sleazy ways and means of the Abe government.”

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Japan lodges protest after Russia detains diplomat in Vladivostok | Politics News

Tatsunori Motoki, accused of spying by Russia’s FSB, was held for a few hours before being released and ordered to leave the country.

Japan has accused Russia of “unreasonable” behaviour and threatened “equivalent steps” after the FSB, the Russian federal security agency, detained a diplomat in the eastern port city of Vladivostok and accused him of being a spy.

Tatsunori Motoki, who worked at the Japanese Consulate General in the city, was released after a few hours and declared ‘persona non grata’, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said, citing an unnamed government source. It said Motoki had been ordered to leave Russia within 48 hours.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno described Motoki’s detention as “regrettable, unacceptable and unbelievable” and accused the FSB of taking the diplomat into custody in an “intimidating manner”.

Russia’s security agency announced it had detained a Japanese consul in Vladivostok on Monday for alleged espionage and ordered him to leave the country.

“A Japanese diplomat was detained red-handed while receiving classified information, in exchange for money, about Russia’s cooperation with another country in the Asia-Pacific region,” the FSB security service said in a statement, carried by Russian news agencies on Monday.

The diplomat had also been soliciting information about “the impact of Western sanctions” on the eastern Primorsky region, the FSB added, according to the agencies.

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement the diplomat had been ordered to leave the country within 48 hours, and the FSB had lodged a complaint with Japan.

Local media released footage allegedly showing Motoki receiving documents at what appears to be a restaurant, and him admitting to the accusations during FSB questioning.

Japan’s embassy in Russia earlier lodged a protest about the detention to Moscow’s foreign ministry, saying “it was a clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations” and the order to leave the country was “unreasonable”, according to Kyodo.

Russia considers Japan to be a “hostile” country, a designation it shares with all European Union countries, the United States and allies, including the United Kingdom and Australia.

Moscow and Tokyo have traded tit-for-tat sanctions since February 24 when Russia invaded Ukraine.

Even before the war, Tokyo’s relations with Moscow were complex. The two sides are involved in a dispute over islands Russia calls the Kurils and Japan the Northern Territories, which has prevented them from signing a post-war peace treaty.

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First female premier poised to take helm of Italy government

ROME — A party with neo-fascist roots won the most votes in Italy’s national election, setting the stage Monday for talks to form the country’s first far right-led government since World War II, with Giorgia Meloni at the helm as Italy’s first female premier.

Italy’s lurch to the far right immediately shifted Europe’s geopolitics, placing Meloni’s euroskeptic Brothers of Italy in a position to lead a founding member of the European Union and its third-largest economy. Italy’s left warned of “dark days” ahead and vowed to keep Italy in the heart of Europe.

Right-wing leaders across Europe immediately hailed 45-year-old Meloni’s victory as sending a historic, nationalist message to Brussels. It followed a right-wing victory in Sweden and recent gains by the far-right in France and Spain.

Still, turnout in the Italian election Sunday was a historic low of 64%, and pollsters suggested voters stayed home in protest, disenchanted by the backroom deals that had created the country’s last three governments and the mash-up of parties in outgoing Premier Mario Draghi’s national unity government.

By contrast, Meloni was viewed as a new face in the merry-go-round of Italian governments and many Italians appeared to be voting for change, analysts said.

The victory of Meloni’s just 10-year-old Brothers of Italy was more about Italian dissatisfaction with the decades-long status quo than any surge in neo-fascist or far-right sentiment, said Nathalie Tocci, director of the Rome-based Institute of International Affairs.

“I would say the main reason why a big chunk of (voters) … will vote for this party is simply because it’s the new kid on the block,” she said.

The election’s sharp swing to the right, “confirms that the Italian electorate remains fickle,″ said London-based political analyst Wolfango Piccoli, noting that an estimated 30% of voters went for a different party than their choice in 2018 elections.

Meloni, whose party traces its origins to the postwar, neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, tried to sound a unifying tone, noting that Italians had finally been able to determine their leaders.

“If we are called to govern this nation, we will do it for everyone. We will do it for all Italians and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people,” said. “shechose us. We will not betray it.”

Near-final results showed the center-right coalition netting 44% of the parliamentary vote, with Meloni’s Brothers of Italy snatching 26% in its biggest win in its decade-long meteoric rise. Her coalition partners divided up the remainder, with the anti-immigrant League party led by Matteo Salvini winning 9% and Forza Italia of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi taking around 8% of the vote.

The center-left Democratic Party and its allies had around 26% support, while the populist 5-Star Movement — which had been the biggest vote-getter in the 2018 parliamentary election — saw its share of the vote halved to 15%.

While the center-right was the clear winner, the formation of a government is still weeks away and will involve consultations among party leaders and with President Sergio Mattarella. In the meantime, Draghi remains in a caretaker role.

The elections, which took place six months early after Draghi’s government collapsed, came at a crucial time for Europe as it faces Russia’s war in Ukraine and related soaring energy costs that have hit ordinary Italians as well as industry.

A Meloni-led government is largely expected to follow Italy’s current foreign policy, including her pro-NATO stance and strong support for supplying Ukraine with weapons to defend itself against Russia’s invasion, even as her coalition allies take a different tone.

Both Berlusconi and Salvini have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. While both have distanced themselves from his invasion of Ukraine, Salvini has warned that EU sanctions against Moscow are hurting Italian industry. Berlusconi has even excused Putin’s invasion as an event foisted upon him by pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbas.

A bigger shift and one likely to cause friction with other EU nations is likely to come over migration. Meloni has called for a naval blockade to prevent migrant boats from leaving North African shores, and has proposed screening potential asylum-seekers in Africa, not Europe.

Salvini has made clear he wants the League to recapture the interior minister post, where he once imposed a tough anti-migrant policy. But he may face an internal leadership challenge, with Meloni’s party outperforming the League even in its northeastern stronghold.

On relations with the EU, analysts note that for all her euroskeptic rhetoric, Meloni moderated her message during the campaign and has little room to maneuver, given the economic windfall Italy is receiving from Brussels in coronavirus recovery funds. Italy secured 191.5 billion euros, the biggest chunk of the EU’s 750 billion-euro recovery package, and is bound by certain reform and investment milestones to receive it all.

That said, Meloni has criticized the EU’s recent recommendation to suspend 7.5 billion euros in funding to Hungary over concerns about democratic backsliding, defending autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban as the elected leader in a democratic system.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen praised Meloni for having “resisted the threats of an anti-democratic and arrogant European Union.”

Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s far-right Vox opposition party, tweeted that Meloni “has shown the way for a proud and free Europe of sovereign nations that can cooperate on behalf of everybody’s security and prosperity.”

Meloni is chair of the right-wing European Conservative and Reformist group in the European Parliament, which includes her Brothers of Italy, Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice Party, Spain’s far-right Vox and the right-wing Sweden Democrats, which just won big there on a platform of cracking down on crime and limiting immigration.

“The trend that emerged two weeks ago in Sweden was confirmed in Italy,” acknowledged Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta, calling Monday a “sad day for Italy, for Europe.”

“We expect dark days. We fought in every way to avoid this outcome,″ Letta said at a somber news conference. “(The Democratic Party) will not allow Italy to leave the heart of Europe.”

Thomas Christiansen, professor of political science at Rome’s Luiss University and the executive editor of the Journal of European Integration, noted that Italy has a tradition of pursuing a consistent foreign and European policy that is bigger than individual party interests.

“Whatever Meloni might be up to will have to be moderated by her coalition partners and indeed with the established consensus of Italian foreign policy,” Christiansen said.

———

Colleen Barry contributed from Milan.

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