Issue 50: 2016 04 21:Week in Brief International

21 April 2016

Week in Brief: International

UN Flag to denote International news


GERMANY: The comic Jan Böhmermann, who broadcast a satirical anti-Erdogan poem on TV, has been put under police protection.  Chancellor Merkel has agreed that he is to be prosecuted under an old and little-used law – “insulting a foreign head of state” – which needs the approval of the federal government.

A founder of the anti-immigrant group Pegida, Lutz Bachmann, has gone on trial accused of inciting anti-refugee hostility in social media posts.

GREECE: The plan to deport migrants back to Turkey is stalling.  However, arrivals in Greece from Turkey are falling.

40 survivors, from a wreck which drowned 400 migrants between North Africa and Italy, were taken to Greece.

The UK has resettled 20,000 Syrians since 2013; third behind Canada (38,000) and Germany (42,000).

ITALY: People smugglers are operating along new routes across Alpine paths into Austria.

SPAIN: The industry minister Jose Manuel Soria resigned from the centre-right caretaker government as a result of links to offshore companies revealed by the Panama papers.

The trial of Princess Cristina is in jeopardy after the director and legal advisor of the anti-corruption group which brought the tax fraud charges against her were arrested and charged with extortion.  They allegedly offered to withdraw the case if paid €3 million.

RUSSIA: The Pentagon accused Russia of aggressive posturing in the Baltic after two Russian warplanes approached a US destroyer and another approached a US reconnaissance plane.

UKRAINE: President Poroshenko has appointed his protégé, the parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Groysman, as prime minister following the resignation of Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

Two Russian soldiers were sentenced to 14 years in prison on terrorism charges.  Both are special forces officers captured while fighting against government troops in eastern Ukraine.  They might be exchanged for the Ukrainian pilot, Nadezhda Savchenko, jailed for 22 years in Russia last month.

Middle East and Africa

AFGHANISTAN: The Taliban attacked the Afghan intelligence service’s office in Kabul with a massive car bomb and fought a gun battle with security forces.  At least 30 people were killed and 300 wounded.

The city of Kunduz in north Afghanistan has come under attack from a joint force of Taliban, Isis and other militant fighters.

IRAQ: The army is poised to recapture the city of Hit from Isis.

The US is to send another 200 troops to join the 4000 already operating in an advisory role.  8 Apache helicopters are also to be sent.  US special forces reported the death of one Isis commander and the capture of another as government troops prepare to retake Mosul from Isis.

ISRAEL: A bomb injured at least 21 people (2 seriously) when it exploded on in a bus in Jerusalem.

LIBYA: EU countries’ ambassadors (including the UK’s) returned for talks with the new government of national accord in Tripoli.  Embassies were closed and ambassadors withdrawn in 2014 because of political chaos and armed conflict.

There are reports that Isis in Libya is arming and training female recruits as fighters, unlike Isis in Syria and Iraq.  Hundreds of women have joined Isis from neighbouring Tunisia.

SAUDI ARABIA: The religious police (the mutawa – the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice) have had their powers of arrest taken away by a government decree which also urges them to behave “kindly and gently”.

President Obama visited Saudi Arabia, amid controversy caused by FBI papers which could lead to suggestions of high-level Saudi involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. The Saudi government threatened to dump investments in US assets if Congress passes a bill enabling relatives of 9/11 victims to sue the Kingdom.

SYRIA: The Assad regime staged parliamentary elections.

The third round of Peace talks in Geneva reconvened. Another breakdown threatened when Assad’s representatives again refused to countenance his departure, and his opponents refused to consider his political survival.

Regime forces, with help from Iran and Russia, are poised to take parts of Aleppo held by mainstream rebel forces.

The largest rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, is now armed with anti-aircraft missiles – FN-6 missiles made in China and suspected to have been supplied by a Gulf state.  They are a threat to low-flying aircraft and helicopters and could neutralise the regime’s biggest advantage – its airforce.  The rebels have no planes.

Isis is fighting back from Dabiq, between Aleppo and the Turkish border.  More than 30,000 refugees are massed against the border – Human Rights Watch claim that Turkish border guards are shooting at them to keep them away. Elsewhere on the border there were further reports of Turkish border guards shooting refugees trying to cross the border from Syria.

TURKEY: The brand new EC funded refugee camp at Killis remains unopened as the town continues to come under heavy artillery attack from Isis, while thousands of Syrian refugees are caught in the open on the other side of the border only a few hundred yards away.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

CHINA: A court heard a case for gay marriage. The two men suing civil authorities for rejecting their marriage licence application lost their case, but the fact that it was heard was itself a landmark, and the public support and goodwill it generated suggests that attitudes are changing.  The couple will appeal.

INDIA: Solicitor general Ranjit Kumar conceded in the Supreme Court that Koh-i-Noor diamond was a gift to Queen Victoria. The court is considering a petition demanding return of stone from UK.

JAPAN: An earthquake of magnitude 6.4 hit Kyushu island, southern Japan.  Buildings collapsed in the city of Kumamoto and people were trapped beneath rubble in the town of Mashiki.  A second earthquake of 7.3 magnitude hit the same region next day.  At least 40 people were killed, hundreds are injured and many more remain trapped.

NORTH KOREA: Graffiti and anonymous handwritten notes criticising the regime and insulting Kim Jong Un have begun to appear on the streets of several cities.  Such signs of protest are unprecedented in North Korea.

South Korea has reported signs that North Korea is preparing for further nuclear weapons tests.

PAKISTAN: US state department papers, released following a freedom of information request, report that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, allegedly paid the Haqqani militant group $200,000 to launch the suicide attack on Camp Chapman, a CIA base in Afghanistan, which killed 10 people in 2009. See comment Pakistan’s Own Goals.

PHILIPPINES: The Philippine and US navies have been undertaking joint patrols in the South China Sea, a politically sensitive area where China and its neighbours are disputing ownership of a number of islands.


ARGENTINA: Ex-president Cristina Kirchner appeared in court about charges that her government sold US dollars below market value to artificially inflate the value of the peso.

Argentina returned to the global capital markets with $15 billion of bonds following last month’s resolution by new president Macri’s government of the dispute with US hedgefunds over the 2001 default which had barred the country from such markets.

BRAZIL: Congress voted by 367 to 137 to impeach President Rousseff. The vote will go to the Senate next month; if a simple majority of the 81 senators vote against her, she will stand down for her trial which could last for up to 6 months, with Senators finally voting about her removal.

ECUADOR: An earthquake of 7.8 magnitude spread severe damage over hundreds of square miles.  Coastal areas were worst hit, with whole towns demolished. There are more than 480 dead and over 2000 injured.  A state of emergency has been announced.  230 aftershocks forced people to sleep and live in the streets.  There has been looting, and 130 prisoners escaped from the wrecked Portoviejo jail.  A 64 year old man from Croydon, Stephen Marsden, and a 33 year old nun from Northern Ireland, Sister Claire Crocket, are among the dead.

PANAMA: Police raided Mossack Fonseca offices, investigating money laundering and funding terrorism.  Offices in El Salvador and Peru were also raided.

USA: Nine Yemeni inmates of Guantanamo Bay have been transferred to Saudi Arabia for rehabilitation and deradicalisation.  80 prisoners remain.

In the New York primaries, where 95 delegates were up for grabs, Donald Trump won the Republican race and Hilary Clinton won the Democrat race. See comment Big City Blues.

Five people died when floods hit Houston, Texas, after four times the average total rainfall for April fell in one day.


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