Thursday 19 January 2017

Air strikes in Syria 'only way' to solve crisis - French PM

Carol Harding in New York

Published 11/09/2015 | 02:30

Migrants tries to break through the cordon of Macedonian police forces, while waiting to board a bus after crossing the Macedonian-Greek border near Gevgelij yesterday.
Migrants tries to break through the cordon of Macedonian police forces, while waiting to board a bus after crossing the Macedonian-Greek border near Gevgelij yesterday.
Migrants walk along a rail track in the rain from Roszke to Szeged in Hungary.
French PM Manuel Valls is to order strikes in Syria

France is to launch air strikes in Syria, according to the French Prime Minister, who said that getting rid of Bashar al-Assad and tackling the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil) was the only way to halt the flow of refugees to Europe.

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Manuel Valls told CNN that the crisis could not be solved simply by receiving more and more refugees.

"At the moment, there are millions of Syrians who are displaced. There are refugee camps - in Lebanon, in Jordan, in Turkey - receiving four to five million Syrians. And we're not going to receive four to five million Syrians, so the problem has to be dealt with at source," he said through an interpreter.

"These are very difficult subjects. And of course, in Syria, so long as we haven't found a political solution, so long as we haven't destroyed this terrorist group, Islamic State, so long as we haven't got rid of Bashar Assad, we will not find a solution."

He said he would address the French parliament to announce "the objectives of France and that there will be strikes".

Earlier this week, French President Francois Hollandesaid he had ordered reconnaissance flights to begin over Syria and that he was considering air strikes.

France was the first country to join the US-led coalition conducting air strikes against Isil positions in Iraq.

Until now, however, it has ruled out extending its air campaign to Syria for fear it would help the Assad regime.

"My responsibility is to ensure that we are informed as much as possible on the threats to our country," said Mr Hollande on Monday, during his bi-annual news conference.

"So I have asked the defence minister that reconnaissance flights begin over Syria that will enable us to consider air strikes against Islamic State."

Meanwhile, Russia has been criticised by Western leaders after Syrian officials confirmed President Vladimir Putin had sent more troops to support the embattled Assad regime.

While in Europe, the Danish government announced that its police will no longer try to stop migrants and refugees passing through the country to get to Sweden and other countries.

The move highlights how European Union countries are struggling to uphold rules under which people fleeing war and persecution are supposed to apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter, and not travel from one country to another.

The decision comes amid a surge of migrants and refugees arriving from Germany and refusing to apply for asylum in Denmark, saying they want to go to Sweden, Finland or Norway instead.

Danish authorities initially insisted they must register in Denmark, but changed their minds after hundreds of migrants demanded the right to cross the country.

Detain

"We can't detain foreigners who do not want to seek asylum (in Denmark)," Denmark's police chief Jens Henrik Hoejbjerg said. "Therefore, there is no other option than to let them go, and we cannot prevent them from travelling wherever they want."

In the Danish port city of Roedby, one of the two main crossings from Germany, migrants were seen being picked up by people in private cars.

Authorities said at least 3,200 migrants have entered Denmark since Sunday and about 400 have sought asylum.

Many migrants say they want to go on to Sweden, Norway or Finland, because they have relatives there or believe that conditions for asylum-seekers are better.

Danish railway company DSB said some train services between Germany and Denmark resumed yesterday after being suspended the day before.

Meanwhile, thousands of people, including many families with young children, are braving torrential downpours to cross Greece's northern border with Macedonia.

Greek authorities have registered about 17,000 people on the island of Lesbos in the space of a few days, allowing them to continue their journey north.

Greece's caretaker government chartered two extra ferries and sent additional staff to Lesbos to speed up the registration and ease overcrowding on the island, where more than 20,000 refugees and migrants had been living after arriving on dinghies from the nearby Turkish coast.

About 7,000 people waited in the mud of an open field near the northern village of Idomeni to cross the Macedonian border early yesterday, with more arriving in trains, buses and taxis.

Police in Austria say more than 3,000 migrants and refugees crossed into the country overnight at Nickelsdorf, the main border point with Hungary. A train carrying 400 to 500 migrants left for Vienna early yesterday, but most remain at Nickelsdorf.

Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck said authorities are meeting to discuss whether further special trains will be sent to the border for transport to Vienna's Westbahnhof terminal.

Border

Most of those arriving there since the influx began on the weekend have chosen to continue on to Germany.

Meanwhile, Macedonia is considering building a Hungarian-style border fence to stem a rising influx of migrants from the south, foreign minister Nikola Poposki said.

In an interview with Hungarian business weekly, 'Figyelo', he said Macedonia would probably also need "some kind of a physical defence"' though this would not be a long-term solution.

"But if we take seriously what Europe is asking us to do, we will need that, too. Either soldiers or a fence or a combination of the two," said Mr Poposki.

Over 160,000 migrants have entered Hungary from the south this year, transiting Greece, Macedonia and Serbia in that order from war-torn or impoverished countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Also yesterday, Romania's president said there was "no way" his country would accept the extra number of migrants the European Commission has proposed. Romania had initially agreed to accept 1,785 migrants, but under new plans unveiled by Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday would be obliged to take a further 4,646.

President Klaus Iohannis said Romania would send its interior minister to a special meeting on Monday in Brussels to discuss the issue.

Irish Independent

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