17 December 2015
Week in Brief: INTERNATIONAL
AFHGHANISTAN: The army repelled a Taliban attack on Kandahar airport.
ARGENTINA: 40 police officers were killed when the bus carrying them came off a bridge and plunged 65 feet near Salta in northern Argentina.
AUSTRALIA: Police raided the Sydney home of a computer expert, Craig Wright, after the magazine ‘Wired’ claimed he is ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’, the elusive creator of bitcoin.
BURUNDI: Twelve gunmen were killed, twenty-one were captured and five soldiers were wounded during attacks on army bases in the capital Bujumbura. At least 80 people were killed in retaliatory raids. More than 300 people have been killed in civil strife since President Nkurunziza decided to take a controversial third term in office.
CHINA: Scientists have found bacteria containing genes which make it resistant to colistin, one of the most powerful antibiotics. Bacterial resistance to antibiotics is a grave threat to public health, and is the result of the over-use of antibiotics by doctors, vets and farmers.
The human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang was tried for ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’. The verdict will not be announced for some weeks. Police dealt violently with protestors, journalists and diplomats outside the court.
EU: A plan by the European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (and backed by Paris, Berlin and Brussels) proposes an EU paramilitary force to police the EU’s borders. It would have the authority to intervene in a member country without permission from that country’s government. The plan will be put forward at this week’s two-day EU summit. (See comment article.)
FRANCE: The National Front failed to gain any regions in this week’s run-off of regional council elections, in spite of leading after the first round last week. Nicolas Sarkozi’s right-wing Republican party won 7 regions, President Hollande’s Socialist party won 5 regions, and a Corsican independence party won 1 region. (See comment article.)
The National Front’s leader Marine le Pan was cleared of incitement to hatred.
Thomas Fabius, the son of the foreign minister Laurent Fabius, was arrested on suspicion of fraud, forgery and money laundering.
The UN conference on climate change concluded this week. At the previous conference – Durban 2011 – world leaders agreed that they would commit to legally binding emissions limits at this next conference. In Paris this year, however, they decided against that and instead promised to have voluntary schemes ready for the next conference. President Hollande described the conference as “a major leap for mankind.” (See comment article.)
IRAQ: Iraqi forces, including Sunni tribal fighters, are poised to recapture the city of Ramadi from Isis.
INDIA: The High Court overturned the Bollywood superstar Salman Khan’s conviction of culpable homicide. Last May he was found guilty of killing five sleeping street people in aIndiadrink-driving hit-and-run incident.
On a visit to India, the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe signed agreements to finance and build bullet railways in India and to co-operate on arms deals and the development of nuclear power.
LIBYA: Isis forces seized the town of Sabratha to free three of their fighters captured by a rival militia. Archaeologists fear for the safety of Sabratha’s famous Graeco-Roman remains. The French defence ministry has reported that Isis are advancing on oil fields to the west and south of their Sirte stronghold.
NEW ZEALAND: A flag showing a silver fern rather than the British union jack has been chosen by a referendum to challenge the current flag. Next March, another referendum will decide whether to adopt the new flag.
NORTH KOREA: President Kim Jong Un claimed that his country now has a nuclear arsenal of hydrogen bombs. The announcement appears to have annoyed China, which is encouraging North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons; a performance at Beijing by Kim Jung Un’s musical ambassadors, the girl group Moranbong Band, was cancelled when North Korea took the absence of high-ranking Chinese officials at the concert as a snub.
PHILIPPINES: Typhoon Melor has killed at least 3 people and driven more than 800,000 from their homes.
POLAND: Geologists from the University of Science and Technology, Krakow, have used magnetic imaging to investigate the site near Walbrzych where it is claimed a Nazi treasure train is hidden in an underground tunnel. They say there might be a tunnel but there is no sign of a train.
It appears that Poland is moving to the right following the success of the which now commands a majority in parliament. There are reports that it is trying to take over the judiciary and is persecuting journalists who are critical of the regime. The management of state owned companies is thought to be next on the list. Tens of thousands of people marched through Warsaw in protest on Saturday. The party president has said that he wants to revive the Polish national identity by removing liberal influences which have entered the country from Europe. It appears that the party has support from young people, women and urban professionals. Some commentators attribute the more radical policies of the government to the influence of the conservative Catholic church in Poland.
RUSSIA: President Putin has asked British experts to examine the flight recorder recovered from the Russian bomber shot down by Turkish warplanes.
At the French embassy in Moscow, the ministry of internal affairs presented the French with a german shepherd puppy as a replacement for Diesel, the French police dog shot dead by terrorists in Paris. In the days following the Paris terrorist attacks, Russian citizens queued to leave flowers outside the French embassy.
A Russian warship anchored in the Aegean Sea fired warning shots at an approaching Turkish fishing boat.
A fire in a home for the mentally ill killed 23 elderly patients. Over 200 people have died in 5 similar tragedies in the last 9 years.
SAUDI ARABIA: Saudi Arabia and the other five states of the Gulf Co-operation Council (Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates) announced that they will levy taxes on their citizens for the first time. VAT will be introduced over the next few years. The drop in oil prices and the cost of supporting wars in Syria and the Yemen have hit government revenues hard.
20 women were voted onto municipal councils, in the first elections to allow women candidates and women voters. It remains difficult for women to register and to travel to poling stations, however, as they are still dependent on men for registration documents and for transport: only 130,000 women managed to vote; 1.3 million men voted.
SOUTH AFRICA: President Zuma sacked the finance minister Nhlanhla Nene without explanation. Mr Nene was regarded as an efficient and responsible figure who intended to improve the country’s ailing economy by cutting government spending. The news plunged the value of the rand to a record low. The President denied rumours reported in the press that he was having an affair with the chairwoman of South African Airways which Mr Nene had criticised for mismanagement. Mr Nene’s replacement was himself replaced after four days. Stock markets are falling, and protests on social media are calling for President Zuma’s resignation.
Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, king of the AbaThembu tribe and nephew of Nelson Mandela, is to begin his 12 year sentence for kidnapping, assault and arson, as his appeal against his conviction was thrown out by the Supreme Court of Appeal.
SPAIN: Organised gangs of thieves are stripping farms of olives and olive oil after a poor harvest has lead to a 50% rise in prices.
SWEDEN: A Swedish court has sentenced two residents of Gothenburg to life for terrorist activities in Syria. Film footage of their participation in an Isis beheading was found in their possession after they had returned from Syria.
SYRIA: A UN truce enabled 750 people to be evacuated from the last area of Homs held by forces opposed to Assad.
THAILAND: A man has been arrested and charged in a military court with lèse-majesté, accused of insulting King Bhumibol by logging comments about the king’s dog on Facebook.
TURKEY: Turkey has started to build a wall along its border with Syria. It has said that guards will shoot any terrorists who try to cross. The intention is to close the border with the part of Syria which is controlled by Isis state militants.
UKRAINE: The Kiev government claims that Russia has sent an extra 20,000 troops to eastern Ukraine, as exchanges of fire between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels continue to undermine the Minsk ceasefire.
A fight broke out in the parliament in Kiev when an MP tried to remove the prime minister from the rostrum while he was making a speech about the country’s economy.
USA: Donald Trump cancelled plans to meet Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu after a third of Israel’s members of parliament urged Netanyahu not to meet him in protest against his comments about Muslims.
Ted Cruz leads Donald Trump by ten points in the state of Iowa, where voting for the Republican candidate will start next February.
Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was freed from Taliban captivity by a controversial prisoner exchange last year, is to be court-martialled for desertion and misconduct.
YEMEN: The UN announced that a week-long ceasefire is to start on 15 December, with peace talks being held in a secret location. Two senior Arab commanders were killed in a rocket attack by rebels just before ceasefire due to start.
ZIMBABWE: Vice-president Phelekezela Mphoko has charged the country with over a quarter of a million dollars in hotel bills while he waits for the government to buy him a $4 million house suitable for his status. Many state employees have not been paid for months and the country is facing drought and famine.