Issue 72: 2016 09 22:Week in Brief International

22 September 2016


UN Flag to denote International news


EU:  EU president Jean-Claude Junker called for the creation of an EU army.  The idea is unpopular with member states bordering Russia who worry that an EU army might displace NATO.

At the Bratislava summit, EU leaders blamed Germany’s Chancellor Merkel for uncontrolled immigration.

FRANCE:  There is opposition in parts of France to the Government’s policy of distributing migrants away from Paris and Calais to the provinces.  The mayor of a village in South East France has refused to accept 50 migrants from Calais, on the grounds that he wasn’t asked and had the quota imposed on him and his village.  The local council intends to hold a referendum on the issue.

GERMANY:  Finance minister Wolfgang Schauble announced that he would be standing for another term as an MP even though he is 73 years old, triggering suggestions that he might be positioning himself to take over from Mrs Merkel.

In elections for Berlin’s city-state parliament, Mrs Merkel’s CDU party was beaten into second place (with 17.6% of the vote).  The SDP won 21.6%, and is now likely to abandon its governing coalition with the CDU (which would no longer provide a majority) in favour of a coalition with the former communist Left party (15.6%) and the Greens.  Gains by the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) saw it win 14.2%.

GREECE:  Parent associations in four schools in Thessaloniki voted against plans to integrate refugee children (aged 6-11) into the school system.

A refugee camp housing 5,700 migrants was burnt down on the island of Lesbos.

ITALY:  Prime Minister Renzi announced that Italy will independently seek immigrant repatriation deals with African countries, having failed to persuade the EU to seek such deals.

RUSSIA:  The import of salt from Ukraine, Europe and the US is to be banned, in the latest response to western sanctions.

In parliamentary elections on Sunday, President Putin’s United Russia party retained control of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, taking 334 of the 450 seats. The turnout was 48% (down from 60% in 2011), with allegations of irregularities in the voting.

Russian media reported government plans to create a new spy ministry, combining foreign espionage, domestic counter-intelligence and official protection. The existing Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Federal Guard Service (FSO) and Federal Security Service (FSB) are to be merged into a new Ministry of State Security (MGB), the same name as the Stalin-era agency (1946-1953) which was the precursor of the KGB.

SWEDEN:  Sweden has established a permanent military base (150 soldiers) on Gotland, its strategically-important Baltic island, in what is seen as a response to Russian activity in the area.

SWITZERLAND:  Swiss and EU negotiators appear to be reaching a compromise about Switzerland’s request to access EU markets while limiting immigration.  The negotiations are of obvious relevance to future UK and EU relationships.

UKRAINE:  Intelligence officials reported the detention of two Russians, allegedly Kremlin agents trying to promote insurrection 150 miles west of the conflict zone.

Middle East and Africa

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO:  Violence is escalating as President Kabila continues to delay any announcement about elections which are due in November.  17 people (including 3 policemen) were killed prior to a protest rally, and many more died when the headquarters of three opposition parties were attacked and burnt down.

EGYPT:  The French investigators who are trying to discover the cause of the loss of the EgyptAir plane in May, have been refused access to information by Egypt.  The French found traces of TNT on debris from the plane.  They accepted that the chemical could have come from another source and wanted access to check the position.  The refusal of the request has fuelled suspicions that Egypt’s main concern is to protect its tourist industry.

IRAQ:  US jets destroyed an Isis chemical weapons complex near Mosul.

ISRAEL:  Six knife attacks against soldiers and police resulted in six of the attackers being shot dead and one wounded.

Israel and the US have announced an agreement by which the US will give $38 billion in military aid over the next 10 years. Some of the money will finance the purchase of F-35 fighter jets and some will be spent on a missile defence system.

LIBYA:  The Italian army announced Operation Hercules, a humanitarian mission to set up a field hospital (at the request of the government of national accord) in Misrata, for the government forces fighting against Isis.

The National Oil Corporation is about to start exports as ports re-open after two years of fighting.  Conflict over ports and refineries continues, however, between forces loyal to the government of national accord and forces loyal to the rival eastern parliament in Tobruk.

SOUTH AFRICA:  President Zuma announced a multi-million dollar nuclear fuel deal with Russia.  Opponents claim that South Africa can’t afford the proposed 8 new Russian-built power stations and doesn’t need them, and have objected that details of the deal have not been made public or discussed in parliament.

SYRIA: US  led western coalition air-forces attacked a regime base at Deir Ezzor by mistake; bombing killed 62 Syrian soldiers and wounded at least 100.  Russia condemned the attack and called a closed emergency session of the UN Security Council to complain.  Coalition members expressed regret about the mistake.

An attack on a humanitarian aid convoy killed at least 20 civilians and aid workers.  The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and UNHRC refugee agency convoy was destroyed, apparently by an airstrike of barrel bombs and other missiles, while unloading food and medical supplies at a warehouse at Urum al-Kubra, in rebel-held territory west of Aleppo.  It was clearly marked as a UNICEF column, and all parties in the conflict had been notified about it and had agreed on its route to the besieged rebel-held areas of Aleppo.  The one-hour attack, which would constitute a war-crime if it was deliberate, has been condemned by UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon.  Russian and Assad-regime aircraft have been blamed, but Moscow and Damascus have denied any involvement.  All UN aid operations have been suspended.

The Syrian government says that the truce is over, blaming rebel action and the US attack, and launched air raids against Aleppo.  The truce had been under strain all week, with conflict reported at Hama and Homs, infringements blamed on both sides, and reports by the UN that agreed humanitarian aid was still being held up.  But John Kerry and UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura insist that the truce is still alive and cannot be considered over unless abandoned by both the US and Russia.  The ceasefire’s sponsors are to meet this Friday to review the situation.

See comment Two Steps Forwards, One Step Backwards.

YEMEN:  Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition on Houthi security service headquarters in Sanaa’s Old City, a UNESCO world heritage site, have destroyed a number of 1000 year old tower houses.

ZIMBABWE:  The central bank is to issue “bond notes” as it has run out of money (US dollars).

Far East, Asia and Pacific

INDIA:  Militants attacked an army base at Uri in Indian-controlled Kashmir.  The militants and 17 Indian soldiers were killed in several hours of fighting.  Indian officials have blamed Pakistan, but Pakistan has denied any involvement.  The two countries have rival claims on Kashmir.  There has been unrest in Indian-controlled Kashmir since July, when troops killed Burham Wani, a separatist leader.

INDONESIA:  An explosion on a tourist ferry to Bali killed two women and injured 14 other passengers.  The authorities have ruled out terrorism.

PAKISTAN:  Joint Pakistan and Russian military manoeuvres will take place later this year.  Arms deals with Russia were discussed by a Pakistani military delegation in Moscow last week.  A deal to buy F16 fighter jets from the USA collapsed last month.

Pakistan appears to be building a secret complex to enrich uranium, according to satellite images released this week.

A Taliban suicide bomber killed at least 28 people and wounded 30 others in an attack on mosque during Friday prayers in the Butmana district.

PHILIPPINES:  An apparent ex-member of a vigilante death-squad in Davoa testified to the senate about extra-judicial murders, alleging that they were authorised by President Duterte when he was mayor of the town.  The president has immunity from prosecution.


ARGENTINA:  A meeting between officials from Argentina and the UK to discuss commercial co-operation were welcomed as a sign of a thaw in the frosty relations between the two countries.

BRAZIL:  Prosecutors filed charges of corruption and money-laundering against former president Lula da Siva, and a judge subsequently ordered him to stand trial.

USA:  Hilary Clinton returned to the campaign trail after her recent bout of pneumonia.

An improvised pressure-cooker bomb exploded in Manhattan, New York, injuring 29 people.  Other bombs were found: another pressure-cooker device in a dumpster by a building site a few blocks away; a pipe bomb in New Jersey (it exploded in a rubbish bin prior to the start of a charity run in aid of the US Marine Corps); and several more near the railway station at Elizabeth, New Jersey.  A suspect, an Afghan-born American, Ahmad Khan Rahami, was arrested in Linden, New Jersey; shots were exchanged with the police, and the suspect was taken to hospital.  Five other men, stopped in a car on a Brooklyn highway, were detained for questioning.

Nine people were wounded in a knife-attack in a shopping centre in Minnesota.  Isis claimed responsibility.  The attacker was shot dead by an off-duty police officer.

The UN General Assembly met in New York.

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