Issue 60:2016 06 30:Week in Brief International

30 June 2016




EU:  Following the UK referendum result, European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker demanded a rapid application of Article 50 by the UK.  Other EU leaders warned the UK against delaying the application, and insisted that negotiations could not begin until the application was made.  They also insisted that there could be no access to the free market without also the free movement of people.

While the six founding member states met for a summit in Berlin to discuss the UK referendum result, nine other member states met at Warsaw to discuss reform of the EU.

FRANCE:  President Hollande executed a u-turn when pressure from the hard-left CGT union forced him to allow a protest march which his interior minister had banned.

Unions staged a day of action to continue protests against President Hollande’s attempts to reform the labour laws.  Police fired tear gas and arrested 28 protestors in Paris, where tens of thousands marched.  81 arrests were made across the country.

GERMANY:  A gunman took hostages and opened fire in a cinema in the town of Viernheim.  He was shot dead by the police.  There were no other casualties.

ICELAND:  A history professor, Gudni Johannesson, won the presidential election.  The departing president, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, invited the UK to join a group of other non-EU nations including Iceland, Greenland, Norway and the Faroe Islands

ITALY:  More than 7000 migrants sailing from Libya were rescued during two days of good weather.  Thousands more are arriving each day.

Police arrested a mafia boss in a remote Calabrian village. Ernesto Fazzalari, previously sentenced to life for murder, dealing in drugs and arms, and membership of the mafia, had been on the run for 20 years.

NATO:  NATO conducted exercises in the Baltic, its largest ever in the region.  It announced that it would send four battalions to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.  France announced that it would send four Mirage 2000 planes to the Baltic in September.  Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, warned that such activities are inflaming tensions with Russia and could be seen as warmongering.  NATO has also started exercises in Ukraine this week.

RUSSIA:  New surveillance laws were passed; telecommunications companies and internet service providers will have to keep records of customers’ communications for police scrutiny for up to six months.  Edward Snowden, the former US intelligence officer living in Russia where he was granted asylum after leaking intelligence documents, criticised the new law.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, complained to President Putin about increased harassment of western diplomats by Russian security forces in Moscow.

SPAIN:  The solar-powered plane Solar Impulse 2 landed at Seville after a non-stop 71-hour flight from New York.  Its pilot, Bertrand Piccard, is the first man to cross the Atlantic in an electric plane.  The flight was the fifteenth leg of a record-breaking around the world journey that began in Abu Dhabi last year.

In the general elections, the conservative Popular Party of prime minister Mariano Rajoy won the most seats (137 out of the total 350), followed by the centre-left Socialist party (85 seats), the anti-austerity party Unidos Podemos (71 seats) and the centrist Citizens (32 seats). The Popular Party improved on its results in last December’s inconclusive election, but still do not have an outright majority. The political deadlock will continue while they try again to form a coalition; Rajoy failed to persuade the Socialist Party to join the PP in a grand coalition, so he will try to form a minority government.

Middle East and Africa

AFGHANISTAN:  A Taliban suicide bomber killed 13 Nepalese security guards in Kabul.  The Nepalese government subsequently banned its people from working in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

ARMENIA:  The Pope referred to the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 as a “genocide”.   Turkey’s deputy prime minister criticised the statement.

CAMEROON:  Parliament has voted to change the law against adultery so that it now applies to men as well as women.  The change will now go to the senate and the president to be endorsed.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO:  Moise Katumbi, who was planning to stand against President Joseph Kabila in elections later this year, has been found guilty of fraud and sentenced to three years in prison and fined $1 million.  Mr Katumbi fled the country when a warrant was issued for his arrest, and there are claims that his prosecution was politically motivated.  President Kabila has been in power since 2001 and is barred by the constitution from standing in the next elections; however, he has given no indication that he will retire.  This week, a group of Catholic bishops urged him to step down when his term expires.

IRAQ:  The Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Fallujah as government troops completed retaking the city from Isis.

ISRAEL:  Israel and Turkey announced the restoration of full diplomatic ties.  They were cut six years ago after nine Turkish people were killed when Israeli commandos raided a charity flotilla on its way to Gaza.

Yishai Shlissel, an orthodox Jew, was given a life sentence for killing a teenager and wounding five other people in last year’s gay pride parade in Jerusalem.

LIBYA:  The battle for Sirte continues, as forces loyal to the government of national accord continue to advance into the Isis-held city.  There are reports that Isis is using the civilian population as a human shield.

NIGERIA:  Médecins Sans Frontières has reported a refugee crisis in Borno state, with thousands fleeing from Boko Haram and hundreds starving to death.

SOUTH AFRICA:  Rioting in Pretoria continues to escalate, with shops looted, vehicles burned and roads blocked.  At least five people have been killed, many injured, and 200 arrested.  Businesses run by refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and Bangladesh have been targeted.  The protestors are demonstrating against the imposition of a mayoral candidate by the ruling ANC.

One of President Zuma’s four wives was questioned over allegations of poisoning the president, and ordered off his property with their three children.

The treasury has reported to the constitutional court about the £12 million of public money which President Zuma spent on his home, and has recommended that he should repay £385,000 of it.

SYRIA:  The Syrian Democratic Forces (an alliance of mainly Kurdish YPG militia with some Arab forces), backed by Western airstrikes and special services, fought their way into the Isis held town of Mabij after a three-week siege.  Manbij is a vital link in the Isis supply chain between Raqqa and the Turkish border.  However, the fighting also saw clashes between the SDF and local Arabs of the Free Syrian Army group, which is also Western-backed.

The New Syrian Army, a rebel group backed by the UK and the USA, has attacked the Isis-held town of al-Bukamal, in an attempt to separate Isis forces in Syria and Iraq.

Government forces attacked rebel areas north of city of Aleppo, with ten days of intense bombing by Russian and Syrian warplanes (there were allegations of cluster bombs and phosphorous).

TANZANIA:  A huge reserve of helium gas has been discovered beneath the Great Rift Valley.  Helium gas is relatively scarce but essential in various medical and other scientific procedures.

TURKEY:  Turkey and Israel announced the restoration of full diplomatic ties.  They were cut six years ago after nine Turkish people were killed when Israeli commandos raided a charity flotilla on its way to Gaza.

President Erdogan made a statement, addressed to President Putin of Russia, expressing regret for the shooting down of a Russian warplane by Turkish planes near the Syrian border last November. The message could be a first step towards restoring economic and political relationships between Turkey and Russia.

The new Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, announced that Turkey was ready to begin friendly talks with President Sisi of Egypt.

Marchers attempting the banned gay pride parade were cleared by police using tear gas and rubber bullets.

Three suicide bombers killed at least 28 people and wounded 60 others in an attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.

YEMEN:  Peace talks have stalled.  Eighty people were killed when forces of the Saudi-led coalition attacked Houthi rebels in Taez.  A suicide bombing claimed by Isis killed 42 people.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AUSTRALIA:  General elections will take place this weekend.  Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (Liberal), who ousted Tony Abbot nine months ago, is leading the polls against Bill Shorten (Labour).

CHINA:  A Canadian human rights group has reported its conclusions that the Chinese state is harvesting the organs of executed political prisoners for transplants.  China insists that all transplanted organs are donated by volunteers.

Tens of thousands of protestors demonstrating in public have persuaded the authorities to scrap plans to build a waste incineration plant in Xiantao and a pesticide factory in Qianjiang.

A bus crashed and burst into flames in Hunan, killing at least 35 people and injuring 11 more.

PAKISTAN:  A popular Sufi singer, Amjad Sabri, was murdered in his car by a gunman on a motorbike.  The authorities are considering it an act of terror; Sufis are often the targets of the Taliban and other militants.

A group of 50 clerics in Lahore announced that transgender people have rights under Islamic law to marry, to inherit and to Muslim funeral rites.  Marriage was not included in the laws passed by the Supreme Court five years ago giving transgender people a number of rights.


BOLIVIA:  President Morales has called for the Gregorian calendar to be replaced by the calendar of the Aymara, the Andean people to whom he belongs.  It is year 5524 in the Aymara calendar.  The Ayamara year has 13 months, and each month has 28 days.  There are 36 recognised groups of native peoples in Bolivia, making up over 60% of the population: the Aymara and the Quechua are the two biggest groups.

BRAZIL:  A member of Australia’s Paralympic team and a physiotherapist were robbed by gunmen while training in a park in Rio.

A jaguar escaped from a parade in an Olympic ceremony in Manaus and was shot dead by a soldier.  The mascot of Brazil’s Olympic team is a jaguar.

Police are threatening to strike during the Olympics if they do not receive overdue pay.

The spread of the zika virus has caused the demand for abortions to double, according to a report by ‘The New England Journal of Medicine’.

COLOMBIA:  The government and Farc rebels announced a ceasefire and a disarmament deal.  The Marxist rebels have been fighting for over fifty years in a conflict which has claimed a quarter of a million lives.  The two sides have been involved in peace talks in Havana since 2012.

PANAMA:  The enlarged Panama Canal opened, after the completion of a $5.5 billion engineering project to expand it for the new generation of larger ships.  There is now a new standard ship size: New Panamax.

USA:  170 Democrats staged a 25 hour sit-in in Congress to protest about the continued defeat of gun-control legislation.  The protest was led by Georgia congressman John Lewis (a 76 year old veteran of the Civil Rights movement) and supported by Senator Bernie Sanders (who joined them), Hilary Clinton and President Obama.

18 people died after heavy rainfall caused flooding in West Virginia.  Hundreds of houses were damaged and power was cut off from thousands of homes and businesses.

Hilary Clinton could face new allegations of corruption after it was claimed that calendars and planning schedules show that she had secret meetings with businessmen and donors when she was Secretary of State.

Ten people were stabbed in Sacramento, California, in a violent confrontation between about 30 white nationalists gathering for a rally of the right-wing Traditionalist Worker Party and about 400 anti-fascist counter-protestors.

VENEZUELA:  The opposition completed its process to validate the signatures on the first petition required for a referendum on President Maduro’s future.  If it now gets official recognition that at least 1% of the population signed, then it will launch the second petition which requires 20% of the population to sign.

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