09 June 2016
Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS
BELGIUM: A passenger train collided with a freight train, killing two passengers and the driver.
EU: The European Commission announced a “Marshall Plan for Africa”, an investment of €70 billion to counter migration by creating jobs and strengthening border controls in various African countries.
FRANCE: Industrial action in protest against labour law reforms continues with strikes by workers from rail travel, the metro, air traffic control, nuclear power stations and oil refineries. There were violent clashes between demonstrators and police in Nantes, Toulouse and Rennes. Air France pilots are threatening to strike during the Euro 2016 soccer tournament.
A clean-up operation has begun after ten days of heavy rain created floods in Paris and other parts of the country. The Seine reached its highest point in 30 years (6.1m above normal levels); the cross city railway was closed, homes were under water, families were evacuated, and at least two people drowned. The Louvre and The Musée d’Orsay were closed for emergency measures, and art works were moved to upper levels. President Hollande declared a state of natural disaster in the worst-hit areas.
See feature Paris in Springtime.
GERMANY: At last nine people died during days of heavy rain and flooding.
Three Syrian men with connections with Isis are on trial in a Berlin court accused of planning a terrorist attack on Dusseldorf.
The government voted to recognise the killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915 as a genocide. The motion was proposed by the government and passed almost unanimously by all parties. This is a very sensitive topic in Turkey, and is inflaming European/Turkish relationships at a time when co-operation between the two is crucial but already uneasy. Turkey complained to the German charge d’affaires in Ankara and withdrew its ambassador from Berlin in protest.
See comment Germany v Turkey.
GREECE: Cross-Aegean migration is picking up again, with hundreds of refugees arriving this week on Lesbos, Samos and Crete from Turkey.
Protesting refugees set fire to a detention centre and camp on Chios.
ITALY: Virginia Raggi, a Five Star Movement candidate, won the first round of the elections for Rome’s mayor. The Democratic Party candidate came second. They will face each other in the run-off on June 19. The government of the city is mired in debt, corruption and inefficiency. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party did badly in other local elections.
SPAIN: King Felipe has appointed independent auditors to review the royal family’s accounts. This new transparency and the king’s budget cuts are helping to revive the popularity of the royal family.
UKRAINE: A UN report detailed hundreds of human rights abuses by government security agencies. It accused the SBU secret service of illegal detention and torture of suspected pro-Russian separatist sympathisers, and identified five secret detention centres, to which UN inspectors were denied access. The report also detailed human rights abuses by pro-Russian rebels.
A Frenchman was arrested trying to smuggle five Kalashnikov rifles, two rocket launchers, thousands of rounds of ammunition and hundreds of kilos of high explosives across the border from the Ukraine into Poland. He is thought to be connected to extreme right-wing movements and to have confessed to planning terrorist attacks in France during the Euro 2016 tournament.
Middle East and Africa
EGYPT: The black box flight recorder of the missing EgyptAir Airbus Flight MS804 has been located by a French navy vessel in the south eastern Mediterranean; it will take another week to recover it from the sea-bed. Reports claim that the aircraft had submitted three smoke alerts the day before the crash.
IRAQ: The battle for Fallujah continues. There are reports of suicides among the 50,000 civilians being held as human shield and young boys being press-ganged into the Isis army (the population are mainly Sunni, and are frightened of being mistreated by Shia militias even if they do manage to escape to the besieging forces). Isis has launched fierce counter-attacks, using underground bunkers for shelter and tunnels for deploying fighters and supplies.
ISRAEL: The attorney general is investigating allegations that Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, travelled abroad on trips which were illegally funded by businessmen. Last week, a Jerusalem court awarded damages to a former member of her domestic staff after it found her guilty of abusing and insulting him.
The attorney general is also to investigate allegations that Binyamin Netanyahu received €1 million from a French businessman (currently on trial in Paris accused of fraud) to fund his election campaign in 2001; the legal limit for donations from an individual is €3,000.
Binyamin Natanyahu visited Moscow for a meeting with President Putin. He was expected to discuss his concerns about Hezbollah’s activities in Syria (the militant group is hostile to Israel but allied to Russia in its defence of Assad) and the pension rights of the one million Jews who emigrated to Israel from Soviet Russia. It was his third trip to Moscow since last September. He recently cancelled a meeting with US President Barack Obama.
LIBYA: Thousands of African migrants continue to be taken to sea by people smugglers each week. Hundreds continue to drown. Libyan coastguards blamed the EU and Nato for the increasing numbers, saying that EU and Nato naval patrols are pushing closer and closer to Libyan waters and so tempting people-smugglers to send more and more migrants out in un-seaworthy boats to be rescued by them.
SOMALIA: A suicide car bomber killed 15 people (including two MPs) outside the Ambassador Hotel in Mogadishu. The al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility.
SOUTH AFRICA: Desmond Tutu (archbishop emeritus, Nobel peace prize winner, and the man who Nelson Mandela described as the conscience of South Africa) made a radio broadcast criticising the corruption, greed and extravagance of the ruling ANC party and its leader, President Zuma.
SYRIA: Russian-backed Assad forces are advancing towards Raqqa, the Isis capital.
US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are advancing on Isis-held Manbij, near the Turkish border.
A rebel group claims to have shot down a Russian SU-24 bomber plane in Aleppo province.
TURKEY: Turkey complained to the German charge d’affaires in Ankara and withdrew its ambassador from Berlin in protest against the German government’s vote to recognise the killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915 as a genocide. The motion was proposed by Angela Merkel’s coalition and passed almost unanimously by all parties. This is a very sensitive topic in Turkey, and is inflaming European/Turkish relationships at a time when co-operation between the two is crucial but already uneasy. (See comment Germany v Turkey.)
It seems that the EU/Turkish deal to control migration is collapsing; Turkey has stalled in implementing the required relaxation of its anti-terrorism laws, and the EU has stalled on the implementation of visa-free entry for Turkish citizens. Six hundred Syrian refugees arrived in Serbia, having travelled from Turkey via the Balkan land route. Other migrants are opening a sea route from Turkey to Crete. Only 17 Syrians have been returned to Turkey from Greece so far.
A car bomb attack in the middle of Istanbul killed 12 people and injured 36. The dead include seven policemen – it is thought that a police convoy was the target. No one has claimed responsibility, but the PKK (Kurdish separatist militants) are suspected.
ZIMBABWE: Banks are running out of cash. Economists believe that this is because banks are having to raid customers’ deposits to provide the loans which President Mugabe’s government is forcing out of them. Many believe that economic collapse is imminent. The US dollar has been used as the country’s currency since hyperinflation destroyed the Zimbabwean dollar in 2008.
Far East, Asia and Pacific
AUSTRALIA: Torrential rain, storms and floods have hit the east coast. At least four people have drowned and three are missing. Homes have been destroyed and many people evacuated.
BANGLADESH: Three more people were murdered by suspected Islamist extremists this week: a Christian shopkeeper in north Bangladesh; a counter-terrorist official’s wife, who was killed in front of her young son in Chittagong; and an elderly Hindu priest, who was shot and then cut to death with machetes by three men on a motorcycle who attacked him as he was cycling to a temple in Jhenaidah.
JAPAN: Local elections in Okinawa were won by parties opposing the relocation of the US military base at Futenma and seeking its closure. Hostility towards US troops stationed in Okinawa was intensified when a drunken US sailor was arrested at the weekend after she drove the wrong way down a main road and crashed into two cars. All US sailors in Japan (nearly 20,000) have been ordered not to drink alcohol.
NORTH KOREA: The US treasury is considering further sanctions against North Korea, following accusations that Kim Yong Un’s country has been hacking into Swift (the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) to steal millions of dollars from Asian banks.
The International Atomic Energy Agency warned that satellite imagery suggests that the regime is reprocessing and enriching plutonium, presumably to make nuclear bombs.
BRAZIL: The chief federal prosecutor has asked the Supreme Court to suspend the leader of the Senate, Renan Calheiros, and issue a warrant for his arrest on corruption charges. The prosecutor also accused the speaker of the Lower House, Eduardo Cunha, and ex-president Jose Sarney of attempting to obstruct the enquiry into corruption at the state-run energy company Petrobas.
USA: A woman from Honduras gave birth in New Jersey to the first baby born in the USA with signs of disabilities from the zika virus.
A professor at the University of Los Angeles California was shot dead on campus by an ex-student who then killed himself. Police subsequently found the body of a woman at St Paul, Minnesota, who the student had killed some days before.
Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, finally endorsed Donald Trump. This is regarded as a sign that the party is beginning to accept Trump as its leader. A day later, however, he and other Republicans criticised Trump for accusing a Hispanic federal judge of potential bias.
Clinton won the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico primaries; victory is now in sight, with results from California and New Jersey pending. However, her rival for the Democrat leadership, Bernie Sanders, is continuing with the contest. See comment California Dreamin’.
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