Issue 55: 2016 05 26: International News in Brief

26 May 2016


UN Flag to denote International news


AUSTRIA:  Alexander van der Bullen, a Green party member standing as an independent candidate, won the presidential election.  He narrowly beat Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom party by 50.3% to 49.7% of the vote (a difference of only 31,000 votes).

BELGIUM:  Eight protestors and two policemen (including the city’s chief of police) were injured in Brussels when mass demonstrations against austerity measures and labour reforms became violent.

FRANCE:  Police raided the National Front’s headquarters to investigate allegations that the party has misused European parliament funds

The French navy and airforce are to patrol the English Channel to stop migrants and people-traffickers crossing to the UK.

Petrol stations in north and western France are running out of petrol as unions demonstrating against the government bring about strikes at oil refineries and blockades at depots. The government is threatening to use riot police to break the blockades. The widely-supported strikes and protests against President Hollande’s mild labour reforms are paralysing the country and threatening to bring down the government.

Security failures at this week’s French cup final soccer match raised concerns about security arrangements for next month’s European football championships.

Police raided Google’s Paris office as part of an investigation into allegations of tax fraud.

GERMANY:  Judges in a Hamburg court granted President Erdogan’s lawyers an injunction banning as “abusive and libellous” 18 of the 24 lines of the poem by Jan Bohmermann ridiculing the Turkish President.

GREECE:  An immigration appeals court has said that a Syrian refugee cannot be deported back to Turkey because Turkey is “unsafe”.  The precedent set by this ruling could destroy the EU/Turkish agreement to return cross-Aegean migrants to Turkey.

Police have begun clearing the unofficial refugee camp at Idomeni, on the Macedonian border. The camp’s 8000 inhabitants are being transferred to official camps elsewhere in Greece.

ITALY:  A gang armed with shotguns and fire bombs ambushed the car of Giuseppe Antoci, the head of a national park in Sicily.  He escaped when his police escort fought them off.  Mr Antoci has uncovered a mafia scam in Sicily which costs the EU €400 million a year in fraudulently-claimed agricultural subsidies.

RUSSIA:  Three editors have left RBC, an independent investigative newsgroup, allegedly ousted under pressure from the government.  Several other editors have resigned in protest.

Middle East and Africa

BAHRAIN:  A new law forbids priests of any religion from holding politician positions or engaging in political activity.  The Sunni authorities say this is to combat militant Islamism, but the Shia opposition say it is to incapacitate their leaders who are mostly clerics.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO:  Moise Katumbi, the opposition leader who will be challenging President Kabila in elections later this year, has been accused of plotting against Kabila.  Four of his bodyguards have been arrested.

EGYPT:  An EgyptAir Airbus 320 has disappeared on a flight from Paris to Cairo.  Wreckage has been found in the Mediterranean.  66 people were on board (including one Briton).  The cause of the disaster is as yet unknown, but a terrorist attack is suspected.

IRAN:  The authorities have launched a campaign against the Iranian fashion industry.  The Instagram accounts of many (female) models have been closed down and non-hijab wearing selfie-posters have had to make on-line apologies and retractions.

IRAQ:  Three people were killed and more than 50 were wounded when police fired on Shia protestors (demonstrating against Iranian influence in Iraq) who penetrated Baghdad’s green zone (the secure area containing government buildings and embassies) to raid the Prime Minister’s office.

Government forces, and rival Shia militias from Iraq and Iran in an unstable coalition, began an assault on the Sunni city of Fallujah, which has been held by Isis for the last two years.

Isis suicide bombers continue to target Shia areas of the Baghdad.  Commentators believe that this is Isis’s retaliation for recent battlefield setbacks.

ISRAEL:  Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu offered the job of defence minister to hard-liner Avigdor Beiteinu, head of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party.  This would push his coalition government even further to the right, but increase its small majority (currently a single seat).  It has been reported that one of Mr Beiteinu’s conditions is to make it easier for judges to grant the death penalty if requested by military prosecutors.

LIBYA:  The Libyan coastguard intercepted seven boats carrying more than 800 migrants leaving Africa for Europe.

NIGERIA:  One of the 219 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram two years ago has been found near the Cameroon border.  The other 218 remain missing.  There are unconfirmed reports that a second girl has been found, and that Boko Haram leaders are seeking negotiations towards releasing others in return for immunity.

SWAZILAND:  A passenger plane belonging to King Mswati III, one of the world’s last absolute monarchs, has been impounded in Canada in a payment dispute.  King Mswati bought the plane six years ago to take his wives on shopping trips.  The UN reports that 63% of his population live in poverty.  His country has the highest HIV rate in the world.

SYRIA:  The Russian army has built a camp within the site of the ancient city of Palmyra.  Satellite images show roads, barracks and a helicopter pad inside the northern necropolis area.  US officials estimate that the size of the Russian forces in Syria have not decreased since last March when the Kremlin announced a military withdrawal, and have possibly increased.  Russian warplanes launched the heaviest attack on rebel held areas in Aleppo since the ceasefire began three months ago.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (an alliance of Kurdish and Arab soldiers) have begun an attack on Raqqa, the Isis stronghold.

There are reports from Mosul that Isis is testing chlorine and mustard gas (produced in their laboratories) on prisoners.

TURKEY:  Transport minister Binali Yildirim is the only candidate for the vacant position of AKP leader and prime minister.  The party is to vote on Sunday.  He has close business and political ties to President Erdogan.  Unlike the ousted PM Ahmet Davutoglu, he is unlikely to oppose Erdogan’s ambitions to increase presidential powers.

Following the imprisonment of two journalists for reporting allegations that the government is arming factions in Syria, the prosecutors who investigated the allegations have been put on trial.  A third journalist has been sentenced to 20 months in jail for reporting on the trial.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

BANGLADESH:  Cyclone Roanu devastated the southern coast, killing at least 24 people and leaving thousands homeless.

INDIA:  A heatwave has produced the record temperature of 51⁰C (123.8⁰F) in Rajasthan.

Separatist rebels killed six soldiers who were part of a rescue mission to Chandel district, Manipur state, where rain storms have caused mudslides.

INDONESIA:  The eruption of the volcano Mount Sinabung in North Sumatra has killed seven people.

JAPAN:  A gang used fake credit cards, loaded with data hacked from a South African bank, to steal almost £9 million from 14,000 cash machines in less than three hours.

NEPAL:  The eight-week spring climbing season on Mount Everest has opened with at least three (and possibly five) deaths among climbers in one week.

PAKISTAN:  The leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mansour, was killed by a US drone strike.  He had succeeded to the leadership on the death of its founder last year, but had struggled to keep the group united.  His death is expected to cause further internal divisions.

PHILIPPINES:  An alleged assassin, the single witness in an investigation into allegations of vigilante death-squads in the town of Davao, has fled the government’s witness protection scheme and disappeared.  The mayor of Davao during the killings, Rodrigo Duterte, is now the country’s president.  The investigations have been abandoned.

TAIWAN:  Tsai Ing-wen took office as Taiwan’s first female president.

TAJIKISTAN:  The constitution was amended, by a referendum, to allow unlimited presidential terms of office and to reduce the minimum age qualification of presidential candidates from 35 to 30.  President Rakhmon has been in power since 1992.  His son will be 33 at the next election, in 2020.

VIETNAM:  US President Barack Obama arrived in Vietnam to begin a week’s tour of Asia.  He announced the lifting of the 50 year old US arms embargo on Vietnam.  Human rights activists, however, are protesting that the US should not be selling arms to a one-party communist state.  Vietnam and China are currently in conflict over China’s territorial claims on islands in seas between the two countries.


BRAZIL:  Brazilian soccer star Rivaldo has warned people not to go to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics this summer, because of the rising danger of violent crime.  Figures for this year from the Institute for Public Security show that the murder rate is up 15%, street crime by 30% and car thefts by 18%.

MEXICO:  The government has approved the USA’s request for the extradition of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the head of the Sinaloa drugs cartel.

USA:  Billboards advertising fizzy soft drinks in San Francisco will now have to carry a health warning about the dangers of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay from added sugar.  The warning must cover at least a fifth of the advert’s surface area.  San Francisco is the first city to pass such a law.

The Pentagon reported that the pilot of a US reconnaissance plane had to take evasive action to avoid a mid-air collision with two Chinese fighter jets in international airspace over the South China Sea.

1380 cases of zika infection have been reported in the USA, including 300 pregnant women.

VENEZUELA:  Police fired tear-gas on demonstrators protesting against President Maduro’s declaration of a state of emergency and against his unconstitutional dismissal of a petition demanding a referendum for his removal.

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