Issue 34:2016 12 15:Week in Brief International

15 December 2016




EU:  In Brussels, the EU and Cuba signed an agreement for closer co-operation.

FRANCE:  Jérôme Cahuzac, who was in charge of the fight against tax evasion as President Hollande’s budget minister, was convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to three years in prison.  A plastic surgeon, he had hidden €3.5 million, the proceeds of hair transplant operations, in foreign bank accounts.

Air pollution in Paris reached dangerous levels; a car restriction scheme was imposed.

The Russian state-owned network RT is to start TV broadcasting in French (it already does so in English, Spanish and Arabic) in time for the presidential election.  The two leading candidates – Fillon and Le Pen – are both favourable towards Putin and Russia.  The US far-right site Breitbart News is also to start a French service; its former chief Steve Bannon said it will support Mme Le Pen.

Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, went on trial in Paris.  She is accused of negligence, relating to her approval of a €403 million pay-out to businessman Bernard Tapie when she was France’s finance minister.  She is the third successive IMF head to face criminal charges.

See comment “Made It, Ma! Top Of The World!” Part II.

GERMANY:  An Iraqi asylum seeker was arrested on charges of rape, attempted rape and attempted murder in Bochum.

Security sources claimed that Russia was responsible for the cyber-attack on the Bundestag earlier this year which resulted in 2,400 files of parliamentary documents being published on WikiLeaks.

At her party’s annual conference, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced her support of a ban on the wearing of the burka, and promised that the recent uncontrolled inflow of migrants would not be allowed to happen again.  She also promised that Sharia and parallel societies would not be permitted.  Her announcements were taken as an attempt to remove support from the right wing “Alternative for Germany” party.

The Constitutional Court ruled that Muslim girls must take part in school swimming lessons beside boys.  The case was brought after an 11 year old girl from Morocco refused to wear a “burkini” because she claimed it did not comply with Islamic standards of decency.

HOLLAND:  Geert Wilders, leader of far-right Party for Freedom, was found guilty of insulting and inciting discrimination against Moroccans.  No sentence was passed – the judge said that the conviction was punishment enough.  Polls show that the party’s support has risen during the trial.  Elections are due in three months’ time.

ICELAND:  The Pirate Party has failed to form a coalition government.  Two other parties have failed to form a government since elections six weeks ago.

ITALY:  At the request of the President, foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni will become the new prime minister, following Matteo Renzi’s resignation.  Mr Gentiloni is a Renzi loyalist, and his new government is expected to resemble Mr Renzi’s centre-left coalition.

A Tunisian was jailed for 18 years for causing the deaths of up to 900 migrants. He was at the helm of a fishing boat packed with migrants when it was rammed into a cargo ship and sank in seconds last April.

RUSSIA:  More than 20 million Russians are living in poverty, according to official figures.  The definition of poverty is an income of less than 9776 roubles (£123) per month (the government has just reduced the definition by 113 roubles).  Moscow announced plans to spend almost £24 million on a centre for “acrobatic rock’n’roll” (a minority sport practiced by President Putin’s daughter).

President Putin is to meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan this week to try to resolve the 70-year old dispute between the two countries about ownership of the Kuril Islands, a chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean which was seized by Russia from Japan in 1945. However, the talks have been jeopardised by President Putin’s refusal of a gift of a male Akita puppy offered by Japan as a companion for Mr Putin’s pet Akita Yume. Technically, the two countries are still engaged in World War II, as the dispute over the islands has prevented the signing of a peace treaty between them.

Opposition activist Alexei Navalny said that he would stand against Mr Putin in elections in 2018.  In Moscow, police detained 15 people who gathered in public to read the constitution aloud on Constitution Day.  Activists were also arrested in Saratov and St Petersburg.

SPAIN:  400 African migrants stormed the 20 foot high barrier separating Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta from Morocco to claim asylum.

SWITZERLAND:  The first trains ran through the 34.5 mile Gotthard Base Tunnel, the longest railway tunnel in the world.  It took 17 years to build and cost $12 billion.

Middle East and Africa

ALGIERS:  A journalist has died in prison after a three month hunger strike.  Mohamed Tamalt, who lived and worked in London, was arrested in Algiers in June and sentenced to two years in prison for a poem about President Bouteflika which he’d written and put on Facebook.

EGYPT:  Police smashed an organ-smuggling ring by arresting 25 people, including professors, doctors and nurses.  Egypt is known to be a centre of the black market trade in human organs such as kidneys, corneas, hearts and livers.  Recent reports have said organs are harvested from African migrants sold by people-smugglers.

A roadside bomb at a checkpoint outside Cairo killed six policemen and wounded six others.  The terrorist group Hasm Movement claims responsibility.  Another roadside bomb – in the Nile delta – killed one civilian and wounded three policemen.

A bomb in a church in Cairo’s main Christian cathedral complex killed at least 25 worshippers during Mass. 49 others were wounded. Most of the casualties were women and children. The authorities blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, but Isis has claimed responsibility for the suicide-bombing.

GAMBIA:  President Yahya Jammeh rejected the results of last week’s general election and his ruling party is demanding a re-run.  He has deployed soldiers in the streets of Banjul.  In the election, opposition leader Adama Barrow won 43.29% of the votes and the president won 39.64%.  The electoral commission has declared the votes to be fair.  Mr Barrow has called on Mr Jammeh to stand down immediately.  President Jammeh seized power in a coup in 1994.  He has been accused of detaining, torturing and killing opponents, and has overturned press freedom and gay rights.  Recently he has withdrawn from the Commonwealth and the International Criminal Court, and has declared the country an Islamic republic.

GHANA:  Following the presidential election, President John Mahama (who won 44.4% of the votes) conceded defeat to the long-term opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic party (who won 53.8%).

IRAQ:  The battle to recapture Mosul from Isis continues to be hard-fought.  Iraq forces opened up a new front from the south east of the city.

NIGERIA:  The roof of a newly-built church in Uyo collapsed during a service to ordain its founder as a bishop.  As many as 200 people were killed.

Two suicide bombers, thought to be young girls, killed 3 people and wounded another 17 in a market in Maiduguri. Officials believe Boko Haram is responsible.

In Madagali, two female suicide bombers killed 57 people and wounded another 177.

SOMALIA:  Somali troops have recaptured the port town of Qandala from Isis-linked militants.

A bomb attack killed at least 29 people in Mogadishu. The al-Qaeda linked group al-Shabaab is believed to be responsible.

SYRIA:  Rebel forces in besieged eastern Aleppo have collapsed.  A surrender, brokered by the US and Russia, was announced last night.  Thousands of rebels have been surrendering and tens of thousands of civilians have been fleeing the area each day.  There are claims of regime forces committing atrocities against civilians; the UN has reported the murder of at least 81 men, women and children, and there is uncertainty about the fate of the thousands of men detained for screening.

Isis has re-captured the modern city and the ancient site of Palmyra.

The Pentagon reported that US airstrikes on Raqqa killed three Isis leaders involved in planning the Paris terror attacks.

TURKEY:  A double bomb attack killed 38 people (mostly policemen) and wounded another 155 outside the Besiktas football stadium.  Kurdish separatists are believed to be responsible.

A bill for constitutional change has gone before the parliament. It would abolish the position of prime minister and give the president political and judicial power. The office of president is ceremonial at present, although President Erdogan currently has the power to rule by decree due to the present state of emergency.  If the bill is passed by parliament (it already has the backing of 316 deputies) it will go to a referendum.

YEMEN:  A suicide bomber killed 48 soldiers and wounded another 29 in an attack on a government army base in Aden.  Isis claimed responsibility.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

INDIA:  Twenty people have been arrested for not standing when the national anthem is played in cinemas, since a high court ruling made it obligatory two weeks ago.

INDONESIA: A 6: 4 magnitude earthquake killed at least 100 people and destroyed buildings in Aceh province.

KOREA, SOUTH:  The National Assembly voted to impeach President Park Geun Hye by 234 to 56, over her alleged collusion with her friend and mentor who is accused of extortion.  Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn has taken over the president’s executive powers, until the constitutional court rules on Park’s position.

KYRGYZSTAN:  An overwhelming majority of the population voted for constitutional changes which increase the power of the prime minister.

NEW ZEALAND:  Bill English, a social conservative, has been appointed as prime minister, to replace John Key who resigned last week.

PAKISTAN:  PIA flight PK-661 crashed on its approach to Islamabad, killing all 48 passengers and crew.  There are reports that the plane’s engine was known to be faulty, and that engineers had not cleared it for take-off.

PHILIPPINES:  The defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the US navy would no longer be allowed to use bases in the Philippines for ‘freedom of navigation’ operations through waters claimed by China.  He visited Russia last week, and is considering buying arms from Moscow.  President Duterte accepted a deal to buy arms from China.

Two Indonesian members of the crew seized from a tugboat in June and held hostage by Abu Sayyaf militants have been released.


USA:  Donald Trump nominated the Iowa governor Terry Branstad as ambassador to China.  Mr Branstad is experienced and expert in trading with China.  His nomination was applauded by Chinese officials.  Trump also nominated the climate sceptic Scott Pruitt, attorney-general of Oklahoma, to lead the US Environmental Protection Agency; retired generals John Kelly for Department of Homeland Security and Mike Flynn as national security advisor; Congressman Mike Pompeo as CIA director; and Rex Tillerson, head of Exxon Mobil, as secretary of state.  Mr Tillerson is experienced in striking business deals with world leaders, and has close business links with Moscow and the Putin regime.  He opposes sanctions against Russia, and was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship in 2013.

The National Centre for Health Statistics reported that life expectancy in the USA fell last year for the first time in more than twenty years.  A report by the Drug Enforcement Agency suggested that this might be due to a dramatic increase in opioid drug overdoses.

A report by the CIA concluded that Russian cyber attacks during the election were part of a Kremlin plan to interfere in the election to help Donald Trump. President Obama has ordered a review, and a bipartisan congressional investigation will also be undertaken.

The White House has banned the export of certain types of munitions to Saudi Arabia, amid mounting concern about the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign against rebels in Yemen.

VENEZUELA:  President Maduro announced that the largest bank note – the 100-bolivar – was about to be scrapped, giving the country only 3 day’s notice to change them for coins at banks.  A new note – 20,000-bolivar – will soon be introduced.  Inflation is estimated to be at 500%.  The IMF believes it could rise to 1660% next year.

In his latest attack on private businesses, President Maduro ordered police to confiscate four million toys from Kreisel, a toy distribution company, and to give them to poor children via local supply committees.

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