Montenegro seeks arrest of ex-CIA officer accused of role in pro-Russian coup

Government prosecutors in Montenegro, the youngest member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, claim that a former officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency helped pro-Russian plotters organize a coup in 2016. In October of that year, authorities in Montenegro accused “nationalists from Russia and Serbia” of staging a failed plot. Their goal was allegedly to kill the country’s then-Prime Minister Milo Dukanović, spark a pro-Russian coup in the country, and prevent its entry into NATO. The allegations surfaced after 20 Serbians and Montenegrins were arrested in Montenegro for allegedly planning an armed coup. The arrests took place on election day, October 16, 2016, as Montenegrins were voting across the Balkan country of 650,000 people. The plotters had even hired a “long-distance sharpshooter” who was “a professional killer” for the task of killing Đukanović, according to Montenegrin police. After killing the prime minister, the plotters allegedly planned to storm the parliament and prompt a pro-Russian coup.

Russia has vehemently denied the allegations. But in March of last year, the then British foreign secretary Boris Johnson appeared to validatethe Montenegrin government’s allegations. Since then, a sensational trial has been taking place in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica of the 20 men who were arrested in October 2016, in addition to two Russians who are being tried in absentia. During the trial, prosecutors fingered Joseph Assad, a former CIA officer, as a co-conspirator in the coup plot. The Egyptian-born Assad served as a counter-terrorism expert in the CIA after arriving in the US in 1990, but eventually left the agency to launch his own security firm. It is believed that at the time of the alleged coup plot, Assad’s firm was employed by Aron Shaviv, a political strategist connected with the Democratic Front, a vocal pro-Russian opposition party in Montenegro. Shaviv, who has joint British and Israeli citizenship, said he hired Assad’s firm to provide counter-surveillance against Montenegro’s security services. According to Shaviv, the Montenegrin authorities spied on him and harassed him because of his connections to a domestic political party that is seen as pro-Russian.

But prosecutors in the trial of the alleged coup plotters claim that Assad’s role was to organize and provide escape routes and methods for the coup plotters. In light of these allegations, a warrant has been issued for Assad, accusing him of “operating a criminal enterprise”, accordingto Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Assad has rejected the charges as a “deception campaign”. In a statement issued on Saturday, he said he was “a loyal American who had no role in any crimes or coup in Montenegro”. Meanwhile, the Democratic Front and a number of other opposition parties in Montenegro denounced the government’s claims of a failed coup as “publicity stunts” aimed at distracting the country’s citizens from the state of the economy and other domestic concerns.

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M25 crash: Coach overturns injuring 41 people including children as “major incident” declared

Hospital chiefs have declared a major incident after the coach overturned at the bottom of an embankment close to Junction 3 of the motorway

Three of them suffered “serious” injuries in the collision and have been rushed to hospital, it has been confirmed.

Police, fire and ambulance crews are at the scene, with the anti-clockwise slip road at junction 3 closed.

Highways officials warned that queues of more than seven miles had built up in the aftermath of the crash, which happened at around 4pm close to the Dartford Crossing.

It could take until nearly midnight for the road to fully reopen, with drivers currently experiencing delays of around 90 minutes.

A nearby hospital confirmed that it has declared a major incident, and firefighters used specialist cutting gear to free two passengers.

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Turkish lira loses 40% of value in 2018, why has Donald Trump thrown the Turkish lira under the bus?

The Turkish lira is in free fall. It was already down more than 35 per cent on the year when it plummeted to record lows on Friday, surpassing the Argentine peso as the world’s worst performing currency in 2018.

The further the lira falls the greater the possibility of a balance of payments crisis, corporate defaults on foreign debt and likely meltdown for the banking sector. It was within President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s gift to put the brakes on.

So far his defiantly unorthodox reaction, blaming the crisis on economic war, calling on citizens to trade gold and dollars for lira, and even referencing God, have spooked the markets more. This is not just Turkey’s problem.

The collapse of the Turkish economy would carry substantial risks of contagion in Asia and Europe, where equity prices of banks exposed to Turkish debt tumbled too on Friday. The lira’s meltdown is already hitting emerging market currencies across the board.

The geostrategic risks of this crisis, portrayed by Mr Erdogan as the work of western conspirators, are no less considerable. Turkey is shoring up political stability in Europe by harbouring millions of Syrian refugees. As a fellow Nato member it has until recently played a vital supporting role for US strategic interests in the Middle East. Europe’s relations with Ankara are under severe strain. With the US, they are now snapping. The overheating, over-leveraged economy has long been vulnerable. What has shaken markets is the recent confluence of events. On Thursday, Turkish officials returned from Washington having failed to forestall US moves to sanction the justice and interior ministers over the detention of Americans, including a North Carolina pastor resident in Turkey accused of involvement in 2016’s failed coup attempt. Exacerbating investor concerns have been the arbitrary decision-making in Ankara and personalisation of power by Mr Erdogan. The latter was exemplified by the appointment of the president’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, to replace a respected finance minister. To have any hope of halting the lira’s decline, Mr Albayrak needed to signal a tangible shift in policy during a scheduled speech on Friday. He should have shown, if not a willingness to go to the IMF then at least to adopt the kind of fiscal tightening programme the IMF might recommend. Furthermore, the central bank had to be able to demonstrate its independence, in the face of the president’s resistance, by raising interest rates substantially. Instead, the president and his finance minister are digging in. In a wanton break with past US policy of seeking to solve financial crises rather than deepen them, President Donald Trump has poured salt on these otherwise self-inflicted wounds. The US will raise tariffs on Turkish steel to 50 per cent and aluminium to 20 per cent, he tweeted as Ankara’s finance minister spoke. That intervention not only accelerated the lira’s decline — the greatest in a day in 20 years. It also reinforced Mr Erdogan’s claim to be the victim of external plots. The choices now on offer are stark. Either Turkey’s strongman backs down and seeks compromise. Or a worse rupture with the west, and a deepening economic crisis, are in sight. Mr Erdogan’s early popularity derived partly thanks to his government’s success in alleviating poverty. Having rid himself by constitutional referendum of a prime minister and accumulated untrammelled powers he will shoulder blame alone for any reverse. Unlike President Vladimir Putin in Russia, he has no petrodollars to fall back on. No one will gain from his attempts to tough it out.