12 November 2015
Week in Brief: INTERNATIONAL
AFGHANISTAN: A breakaway group of Taliban militants has defected to Isis, leading to heavy fighting between rival groups in the southern province of Zabul. The murder of seven Shia muslims from the Hazara minority suggests that militants are trying to stir up sectarian conflict.
BRAZIL: More than 15 people were killed and 120 homes were buried when a mud-slide descended on the town of Bento Rodrigues after a damn burst at an iron ore mine.
BURMA: Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, National League For Democracy, looks set to win an overwhelming victory in last weekend’s elections. Results are slow to be released, but the NLD could win at least 70% of seats, even more than the 67% ‘super majority’ needed to outweigh the unelected 25% already reserved for army officers. The NLD won elections in 1990 while Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest but the military government ignored the result. Burma’s 650,000 Rohingya (Muslims of Bangladeshi extraction, living in Rakhine state in western Burma) were not allowed to vote in this week’s elections.
CHINA: Air pollution reached record levels in the northeast city of Shenyang. Coal-fired heating systems pushed PM2.5 pollution to over 1400 micrograms per cubic metre of air; the maximum defined by the WHO is 25. A recent study by an American university claims that air pollution causes the deaths of about 4000 Chinese people per day.
CROATIA: In this week’s elections, the Social Democrat government was defeated by the conservative Patriotic Coalition, which campaigned for tougher migrant controls.
EGYPT: Intelligence services monitoring terrorists’ communications and investigators examining the wreckage of the Russian passenger plane which crashed in Sinai last week suspect that it was destroyed by a bomb exploding on board. A number of countries have ceased flights to Sharm el-Sheikh.
It emerged that a British passenger plane approaching Sharm el-Sheikh last August had to take evasive action to avoid a rocket. It is believed that the rocket had been fired by Egyptian military during exercises.
The investigative journalist Hossam Bahgat has been arrested after reporting on the trial of soldiers accused of planning a coup d’etat.
EU: For the 21st year running, the EU has failed its financial health-check. The annual report of the European Court of Auditors says that “Payments for 2014 are materially affected by error. We therefore give an adverse opinion on their legality and regularity.” €142.5 billion of spending could not be signed off. As in previous years, the auditors found inaccurate or ineligible claims for EU funds, “serious infringement of public procurement rules”, “unjustified direct award of contracts, unlawful exclusion of bidders” and “cases of conflict of interest and discriminatory selection criteria.”
EU and African leaders meet in Malta to discuss the migrant crisis. Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn warned that the EU could disintegrate in the coming months if member states push ahead with unilaterally scrapping Schengen by imposing internal borders.
GERMANY: The interior ministry announced that it is returning Syrian immigrants to the EU country of their entry, in a restoration of the Dublin rules dropped by Chancellor Merkel earlier this year.
INDIA: Greenpeace has been ordered out of the country.
ISRAEL: Four knife attacks by Palestinians on Israelis occurred this week.
ITALY: Silvio Berlusconi has returned to national politics, forming a coalition with two other right-wing parties to oppose prime minister Renzi’s government.
JORDAN: A police officer shot and killed five people, including two US contractors, and injured five others at a police academy in Amman. He was shot dead.
MALDIVES: President Yameen declared a 30 day state of emergency (and then revoked it after six days, under pressure from his country’s tourist industry and from abroad). Security services claim that two attempts have recently been made to assassinate him. Police raided a television station. Vice-president Ahmed Adeeb was arrested last week on charges of high treason; this week parliament voted to impeach him, and he is now facing charges of terrorism and plotting to kill the president. The president seized power two years ago.
MEXICO: The supreme court ruled four to one in favour of legalizing marijuana.
PORTUGAL: After only eleven days in power, prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho’s rightwing minority government has been forced out by a left wing coalition which includes a radical anti-austerity party.
ROMANIA: Prime minister Victor Ponta and his government have resigned, in the face of protests following the deaths of 32 people in a nightclub fire. Victor Ponta has already been charged with fraud, tax evasion and money-laundering relating to his work as a lawyer before he became prime minister.
RUSSIA: Russian athletics is dominated by a state-sponsored doping programme, according to the report of an independent investigation commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. The investigators allege that: doping is widespread among Russian athletes; the head of a Moscow laboratory destroyed almost 1,500 blood and urine samples; members of the security service infiltrated anti-doping work and bugged laboratories; and authorities notified athletes of tests, intimidated testers and their families and took bribes for cover-ups. There are calls for Russia to be banned from international competitions. Lamine Diak, the former head of the International Association of Athletics Federation, was arrested by French authorities; it is alleged that he and associates received bribes of more than €1 million to cover up Russian misdeeds.
A Chechnyan soldier has been charged with organising the murder of Boris Nemtsov and a warrant has been issued for his arrest. Boris Nemtsov was the former deputy prime minister and critic of President Putin who was murdered in Moscow last February. Another Chechnyan soldier has already been charged.
SIERRA LEONE: The World Health Organisation declared Sierra Leone to be free of Ebola. The last patient to be treated was discharged from hospital 42 days ago. Almost 4000 people died of the disease in the 18 month epidemic.
SINGAPORE: A president of China and a president of Taiwan met for the first time. President Xi of China met President Ma of Taiwan this Saturday for a summit to discuss peaceful cooperation between the two countries. In 1949, following the Chinese civil war, China’s non-communist nationalists fled the mainland and established an independent state on the island of Taiwan. General elections are due in Taiwan next January.
SYRIA: Amnesty International and the Syrian Network For Human Rights reported that more the 65,116 people (including 3879 children) have ‘disappeared’ under the Assad regime since 2011. It is understood that they have been abducted and detained by the regime. The report claims that a multi-million pound industry of bribes, blackmail and the sale of information, aimed at the families of the victims, has developed over the last four years.
Two US gunships gave air support to Syrian Democratic Forces (Kurdish YPG and Syrian Arab Coalition) attacking the Isis-held town of Al-Hawl in north east Syria.
Isis fighters captured the town of M’heen in Homs province, and are advancing on the nearby town of Sadad, home to a large Christian population, and also on the Kurdish town of Tell Arn in Aleppo province. Elsewhere, pro-Assad forces and Russian airstrikes drove them from their 18-month siege of an airbase where they had trapped almost 1000 soldiers.
Russia and the USA are co-operating over the use of air-space for military activities.
The Organisation For The Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reported that mustard gas was used in an attack on the town of Marea in northern Syria last August. Isis forces were attacking a rebel group in the town at that time.
Participants in the peace talks in Vienna are drawing up a list of rebel groups who could be included in the negotiations.
THAILAND: A well-known astrologer, imprisoned since last month on charges of insulting the monarchy, has died in custody. Two weeks ago, a police officer involved in the case – about accusations of profiting from royal connections – was found dead.
TURKEY: In his first speech after his party’s victory in last week’s elections, President Erdogan is once again proposing to change the country’s constitution to give himself more power. The president is currently a purely ceremonial position – Turkey is a parliamentary democracy with the prime minister as head of government but Erdogan is seeking to change it to an executive presidential system. Erdogan has claimed the nineteenth-century Yildiz Palace, built for the last Ottoman sultan, as his private Istanbul residence. A new presidential palace, which has more than 1000 rooms and cost £350 million, was completed in the capital Ankara last year.
The editor-in-chief and managing editor of “Nokta”, a weekly current affairs magazine, were detained, and police seized all copies of the current edition, which was critical of Erdogan.
The Kurdish militant group PKK announced the end of the ceasefire which it called three weeks ago to last until the elections were over.
The USA has sent six fighter jets to southern Turkey to protect Turkish airspace against intrusions.
UKRAINE: The state prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, survived a murder attempt when bullets fired by a sniper using a thermal imaging rifle hit bullet-proof glass. The government is engaged in an anti-corruption campaign waged against the country’s powerful oligarchs.
Heavy fighting between government and Russian-backed rebels has broken out in eastern Ukraine.
USA: The Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ben Carson are coming under increasing scrutiny. Ben Carson has admitted that he had not been offered a scholarship to West Point, as claimed in his biography. Other details in his biography are being disputed. Marco Rubio has been accused of misusing a Republican party credit card.
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu met President Obama at the White House on Monday. In advance of the meeting, Obama admitted pessimism about the chances of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
Two Louisiana marshals face murder charges for killing a 6 year old boy. He was shot with his father in their car.
YEMEN: Cyclone Megh brought hurricanes in the wake of Cyclone Chapala which killed eight people last week.