22 December 2016
Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS
AUSTRIA: The government plans to turn the birth-place of Adolph Hitler into a centre for the disabled. They have tabled a compulsory purchase order for the property in Braunau am Inn, and were originally planning to demolish it but realised that might amount to denying the past.
FRANCE: Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, was found guilty of negligence by a court in Paris. It ruled that she should have stopped an allegedly corrupt pay-out of €404 million of state money in 2008 when she was French finance minister; it was paid to the businessman Bernard Tapie, a friend and associate of the then president Nicolas Sarkozy. Despite the verdict, the court said that M Lagarde would not have a criminal record or any sort of punishment.
The new leader of the Republican party, Francois Fillon, risks being drawn into the same controversy; there were suggestions in court that Fillon, who was prime minister at the time, also approved the payment.
GERMANY: The government is preparing laws to ban fake news from social media sites.
Chancellor Merkel’s coalition partners the Christian Social Union has told her that they will not continue to support her after next year’s election unless an annual limit of 200,000 asylum seekers is accepted.
A twelve-year old boy, born in Germany of Iraqi parentage, has been detained by the police on suspicion of having tried to detonate a bomb at a Christmas market following radicalisation by Isis.
Nine people were killed and at least 50 injured when a lorry was driven through crowds at a Christmas market in Berlin. The driver escaped. Isis has claimed responsibility but there is no evidence of their involvement.
GREECE: Eurozone finance ministers scrapped plans to cut Greece’s short-term borrowing costs, after another disagreement with Tsipras about austerity. This renewal of the crisis could trigger a Greek general election in the New Year.
Greece admitted that the young Afghan asylum seeker accused of raping and murdering a student in Germany had been released on parole from a prison in Greece, where he had served 18 months of a ten-year sentence for attacking another woman in Corfu.
ITALY: Raffaele Marra, the top aide to Virginia Raggi, the Five Star Movement’s mayor of Rome, was arrested on suspicion of accepting bribes.
Guiseppe Sala, the governing Democratic Party’s mayor of Milan, stepped down temporarily. He has been accused of ignoring anti-corruption rules.
Prosecutors in Milan are attempting to charge Silvio Berlusconi with bribing witnesses.
POLAND: Opposition MPs are staging a round-the-clock occupation of parliament to protest against the government’s attempts to control the media.
SERBIA: The man wanted over an alleged plot to overthrow Montenegro’s pro-western government was photographed this week standing near the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Belgrade at a ceremony honouring Russian soldiers killed in 1944. Montenegro is seeking the extradition of Nemanja Ristic and two others from Serbia.
SWEDEN: The government, alarmed by Russian military activity in the Baltic, has advised the councils of Swedish islands not to lease ports to the Nord Stream II gas pipeline project to carry Russian gas to Germany.
Middle East and Africa
AFGHANISTAN: A Red Cross worker from Spain was abducted by armed men in Kunduz province.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: It was announced that presidential elections would be delayed until 2018. The government shut down the internet to disable protests. Three months ago, the security forces killed forty-eight protestors who were demonstrating against President Kabila’s reluctance to face elections.
EGYPT: Investigators said that they had found traces of explosives on some of the victims of the EgyptAir passenger plane that crashed in the Mediterranean on a flight from Paris to Cairo seven months ago. French investigators say that this is implausible and that they have been denied access to the evidence, and insist that Egypt is refusing to admit that maintenance failures could have been responsible for the accident. Families of the victims are angry that the Egyptian authorities have still not returned the remains to them.
IRAN: Taliban leaders were present at a conference in Tehran. Iran has denied any connection with the terrorist group, but it is believed to be aiding the Taliban’s activities in Afghanistan.
IRAQ: The battle for Mosul has become dominated by snipers (anti-Isis forces are reluctant to use bombs, artillery and airstrikes in heavily-populated areas, in order to minimise civilian casualties). Civilian casualties are still high; more than 600 per week. Isis is using drones to guide suicide bomb attacks.
JORDAN: Terrorists killed seven policemen, a Canadian tourist and two other people in Kerak. Police killed four of the gunmen.
SYRIA: The evacuation of civilians and rebel fighters from eastern Aleppo continued this week in some confusion. An initial ceasefire and evacuation process, brokered by Russia and Turkey, was ignored by Iran and the Assad regime who continue to target civilians. A second attempt was more successful and saw thousands bussed out to the rebel-held Idlib province. Confusion continued; the Russian military announced that all civilians had been evacuated, when 70,000 remained. Iran insisted that the Shia inhabitants of the rebel-besieged towns of Kefraya and Fua (20 miles west of Aleppo) be allowed to evacuate their wounded first – this was agreed by mainstream rebels with the exception of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Sham Front, and six buses for this other evacuation were set on fire by an Islamist mob. The UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution to allow monitors to oversee the Aleppo evacuation. It is thought that most of the civilians and rebel fighters have now been evacuated from east Aleppo. A humanitarian crisis is feared in Idlib if it is overwhelmed by evacuees.
Ministers from Turkey, Russia and Iran met in Moscow to discuss talks between rebels and the Assad regime, to take place in Kazakhstan. They agreed to guarantee peace talks and a continued ceasefire. The US was not involved. Talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, would not involve the UN.
TUNISIA: The man believed to be Hamas’s main drone engineer was shot dead in Sfax. Hamas is blaming the Israeli spy service Mossad for the death.
TURKEY: The Russian ambassador was shot dead at an official function in an arts centre in Ankara. His murderer – an off-duty policeman – claimed to be taking revenge for Russian involvement in Syria; he was killed by security forces. In recent weeks, thousands of demonstrators have gathered outside the Russian and Iranian embassies to protest against the bloodshed in eastern Aleppo.
UGANDA: Charles Mumbere, king of the Rwenzururu tribe, was charged with treason. Claims that he was preparing a militia to overthrow the government led to a military raid on his palace last month – at least 87 people were killed and the King was arrested.
YEMEN: A suicide bomber killed 52 soldiers and injured another 84 as they gathered to collect their pay. Isis claimed responsibility.
Far East, Asia and Pacific
CHINA: New satellite images appear to show that China has installed anti-aircraft weapons on seven of the islands it has built in disputed waters. The US responded by announcing that advanced F-22 fighter jets would soon be patrolling the area from Australia. The Chinese then seized an unmanned underwater drone belonging to the US navy from the South China seas near the Philippines, just as it was about to be recovered by a largely civilian-crewed cartographic ship; the 10m long drone was later returned.
Toxic smog in Beijing triggered a pollution ‘red-alert’. Construction and industry were stopped, people were told to stay indoors, and vehicles were kept off the roads
INDIA: The sale of alcohol in roadside shops has been banned. Last year, an average of 1500 accidents and 400 deaths a day were recorded on India’s roads.
Pollution plunged air quality in Delhi to a 17 year low. A state of emergency was declared.
INDONESIA: A Hercules C-130 military transport aeroplane crashed near Wamena, Papua province, killing all 13 people on board.
KOREA, SOUTH: Choi Soon Sil, the spiritualist and confidante of President Park, went on trial in Seoul, accused of 11 offences including corruption and receiving classified state documents. It is claimed that she used her friendship with the president to amass a fortune and to interfere with state matters.
PHILIPPINES: The US has suspended an aid package to the Philippines, following boasts by President Duterte about the part he played in vigilante killings when he was mayor of Davao. The multimillion dollar Challenge Corporation Grant requires “a commitment to just and democratic governance”.
BRAZIL: President Temer has been accused of accepting $3 million dollars in illegal campaign donations by a former director of the construction company Odebrecht, whose president is in jail for corruption.
CUBA: The death of Fidel Castro has triggered a new crackdown on political opposition, according to US-based human rights organisations.
MEXICO: A fire and explosions at the San Pablito fireworks market in Tultepec killed at least 10 people and injured more than 70 others.
PERU: At least 12 policemen were killed and another 13 wounded when a bus carrying 32 officers fell 700m down a cliff in Apurimac.
USA: The white supremacist Dylann Wolf, who was arrested after nine black people were shot dead during a bible class in a church in Charleston last summer, was found guilty of 33 charges including murder, hate crimes, religious obstruction and firearms violations. He will be sentenced in two weeks’ time.
Intelligence sources claim that the Russian hacking of the Democratic Party’s computers during the presidential election was authorised by Putin himself.
Donald Trump has picked lawyer David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel. He is said to support Israel’s controversial settlement of the West Bank and to oppose a two-state solution (the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza). His nomination was welcomed by Benyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government.
VENEZUELA: President Maduro cancelled this week’s scrapping of the 100-Bolivar note, following violent protests in which four people died. He announced that the note wouldn’t be abolished until next month. The borders with Brazil and Colombia will remain closed, though; they were closed last week to prevent ‘international sabotage’ of the country’s currency.
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