Issue 53:2016 05 24: Week in Brief International

12 May 2016

Week in Brief: International



AUSTRIA: Chancellor Werner Fayman resigned, and will step down as leader of the Social Democrats, after defeat by the far-right Freedom Party in the first round of presidential elections.

FRANCE: Following the detection of bird flu in the foie gras producing region of south west France, farms are being emptied of ducks and geese for disinfection over the next two weeks.  It is estimated that the outbreak will cost the industry €270 million.

A Green party MP, Dennis Baupin, resigned as deputy parliamentary speaker after eight female colleagues accused him of sexual harassment.  The accusations prompted 500 politicians to sign a petition calling for an end to harassment in politics, to its cover-up, and to the impunity enjoyed by its perpetrators.  The petition was published on the front page of the newspaper “Liberation”.

Belgian police shot and injured two suspected people-traffickers after a cross-border car chase which resulted in a pile-up on a French motorway near Dunkirk. The suspects are reported to be from Iraq and were driving a British-registered car. The accident also killed a motorcyclist and injured several motorists.

Prime minister Manuel Valls announced a €40 million initiative to de-radicalise and re-educate Islamic extremists.

President Hollande used his executive power to pass his government’s unpopular (but watered-down) labour reforms.

GERMANY: The lawyers of President Erdogan of Turkey sought an injunction to order the chief executive of the Axel Springer media group, Matthias Dopfner, to cease and desist from publicly defending the comedian Jan Bohmermann’s satirical poem about President Erdogan.  Mr Dopfner had said that the poem made him laugh out loud.  A German court rejected the attempt.

One man was killed and another seriously wounded in a knife-attack by a mentally-disturbed man at a railway station near Munich.

GREECE: Violent protests, mass demonstrations and a general strike met the government’s latest round of austerity measures.

The new EU/Turkey arrangement to return migrants to Turkey is faltering because a delay in the deployment of EU personnel and resources to Greece is causing a huge backlog in the processing of asylum seekers.

IRELAND: Fianna Fail has agreed to support Enda Kelly’s minority Fine Gael government, ending the political deadlock caused by last February’s inconclusive general election.

RUSSIA: A new law has been passed to give away small plots of land in Russia’s sparsely-populated far east, in an attempt to encourage Russian citizens to settle in the regions bordering China and North Korea.

UKRAINE: President Poroshenko found himself subject to new suspicions of corruption as it was alleged that papers leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca revealed a connection between a director of his confectionary business and money laundering.

Middle East and Africa

AFGHANISTAN: Two buses and an oil-tanker crashed and burst into flames on the Kabul-Kandahar highway in Ghazni province, killing at least 73 people.

The son of a former prime minister of Pakistan was rescued from the Taliban by US and Afghan troops in the central province of Ghazni. He had been in captivity for three years since being seized by the Taliban during a political rally in Pakistan.

EGYPT: Protests by journalists continue, following the arrest of two reporters in an unprecedented police raid on their union headquarters.  More than 2000 journalists demonstrated outside their union building, demanding the dismissal of the interior minister.

The head of the Egyptian Commission for Right and Freedoms, Ahmed Abdullah, appeared in court following his arrest last week on terrorism charges.  He and his organisation have been representing the family of the murdered Italian student Giulio Regeni.  The proceedings descended into chaos and violence as police tried to stop people taking pictures of Mr Abdullah displaying a sign saying “Truth for Regeni” and lawyers and court officials traded punches.  The judge expelled British and Italian diplomats, journalists and relatives of the defendants from the court.

Four masked gunmen armed with automatic machineguns attacked a police van in Helwan, southern Cairo.  Eight plainclothes policemen were killed. Militants linked to Isis claimed responsibility.

Anti-government rallies protested against the decision to give two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia.

IRAQ: The Pentagon confirmed that the leader of Isis in Anbar province, Abu Wahib, has been killed in an airstrike.

A car-bomb attack in a market in Sadr City, a Shia district of Baghdad, killed at least 64 people and injured more than 87 other people.  Isis is suspected.

SAUDI ARABIA: The oil minister was fired, and Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced further details of his Vision 2030 to boost private enterprise, cut public spending and reduce reliance on oil.

SYRIA: A car bomb attack on a hospital in a regime-held area of Aleppo killed three women and injured 17 others.

An airstrike on a refugee camp in rebel-held Sarmada, north Syria, killed at least 28 people.

The USA and Russia arranged a deal for a cease-fire in Aleppo.

The rebel forces of Jaish al-Fatah (including the Nusra Front, linked to al-Qaeda) took the village of Khan Tuman, near Aleppo, from Assad forces.  Government forces reportedlycounter-attacked with  90 air-raids.

The Spanish journalists kidnapped allegedly by the Nusra Front last July were released.  The Spanish government has not commented on the suggestion that a large ransom was paid.

Turkey reported that its special forces raided into Syria, and that the artillery bombardment which followed killed 55 Isis fighters.

TURKEY: Turkish citizens will be granted visa-free travel to the EU’s Schengen zone from July 1, as part of the EU/Turkey migrant control agreement.  Turkey has been passing laws to meet the 75 criteria on which the EU insists; 5 remain outstanding (transparent funding of political parties; protection of minorities in anti-terrorism laws; data protection; full co-operation with Europol; judicial co-operation with all EU member states – including Cyprus).

Prime minister Ahmet Davotoglu has resigned, after he came under intense criticism and pressure to stand down.  It is claimed that he was being undermined to further President Erdogan’s ambitions towards a presidential rather than parliamentary system.  The AKP party will select a new leader in an extraordinary congress on May 22.

A mass brawl broke out in parliament as a commission debated proposals to remove parliamentary immunity from MPs.

The two journalists accused of espionage for publishing a story which claims that Turkey is arming Syrian rebels were convicted and each sentenced to five years and ten months in jail.  A gunman shot at one of the journalists outside the court house.  One person suffered minor injuries and the gunman was arrested by police.

Three people were killed and 45 injured by a car-bomb attack on a police bus in city of Diyarbakir in the Kurdish south east.  Officials suspect the PKK (the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party).

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AUSTRALIA: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called an early election in an attempt to see off the rising challenge of Labour’s Bill Shorten.  Elections will take place on July 2.

BANGLADESH: The leader of the Islamist party, Motiur Rahman Nizami, was executed by hanging.  He was sentenced to death two years ago for crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence against India, including rape and genocide.

INDIA: A 16 year old girl was killed in Donga Gali by being burned alive, reportedly for helping a couple to elope. 15 members of a tribal council have been arrested.

PAKISTAN: An ex-head of the CIA in Pakistan voiced suspicions that he was poisoned by Pakistan’s secret service, ISI (Inter-Service Intelligence agency), in the aftermath of the US raid which killed Osama bin Laden.

PHILIPPINES: The political outsider Rodrigo Duterte won the presidential elections.  He is a tough-talking and controversial figure; as mayor of the city of Davao, he has done much to counter pollution, traffic deaths, social deprivation and discrimination, but he is also accused of involvement with vigilante death-squads.  As president, he promises ruthless action against crime and corruption.  11 people were killed in election-day shoot-outs.


BRAZIL: The speaker of the Lower House, Eduardo Cunha, has been suspended from congressional duties by a supreme court judge, following investigations into allegations of corruption, obstruction and witness intimidation.  His acting replacement, Waldir Maranhao, promptly annulled the lower house’s recent impeachment vote against President Rousseff. The speaker of the senate nevertheless insisted that this week’s impeachment vote in the upper house will still go ahead.  However, Mr Maranhau then back-tracked and cancelled his annulment.  President Rousseff’s former finance minister, Guido Mantega, was questioned about allegations of corruption. See comment The Full Brazilian.

CANADA: Forest fires drove more than 80,000 people from their homes in Fort Murray, north east Alberta. The city is at the centre of Canada’s oil industry.   Production has come to a halt.

MEXICO: A judge ruled that Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who escaped from a prison last year on a motorbike through a tunnel, can be extradited to the USA on drugs trafficking charges.

USA: With Kasich out of the race for the Republican party leadership, Donald Trump is the last man standing.  The stage is set for a Trump v Clinton fight for the White House (though Bernie Sanders is still fighting for the Democrat nomination – he won the West Virginia primary). See comment Expect the Unexpected.

Friction between Trump and the Speaker of the house of representatives, the Republican Paul Ryan, who is refusing to endorse Trump as candidate, reflects the Republican party’s unease at Trump’s success.

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