Issue 88:2017 01 19:Week in Brief International

19 January 2017



AUSTRIA:  The far-right Austrian Freedom Party is trying to distance itself from its traditional anti-semitism by inviting Israeli politicians to seminars on anti-semitism, in what appears to be a tactic to emphasise its anti-Islamic immigration policy.  President Rivlin of Israel has condemned the exercise.

CYPRUS:  The summit in Geneva is expected to accept a plan to unify Greek Cyprus and Turkish Cypress as a federal republic.  The summit is chaired by the new UN secretary general, Antonio Gutteres.  Greece, Turkey and the UK are to be guarantors of the agreement.

EU:  The European Parliament elected a new president, Antonio Tajani, an Italian conservative, protégé of Silvio Berlusconi and former European commissioner.

EXTREME WEATHER:  Continental Europe is suffering extreme and unusual weather conditions.  Heavy snow and freezing temperatures have hit even Italy, Greece and the Mediterranean islands

FRANCE:  Primaries for leadership of the Socialist party take place this coming week, but they are seen as increasingly irrelevant as the party is considered to have no chance in the Presidential elections later this year; some senior officials in the party are even backing a presidential candidate from outside the party, Emmanuel Macron (En Marche!).

GERMANY:  Facebook announced that it would be launching measures to combat false news in Germany ahead of this autumn’s elections.  It has appointed Correctiv, a not-for-profit group of investigative journalists, to check facts posted on Facebook.

From March, Germany will begin to return asylum seekers to Greece, in accordance with ‘Dublin rules’ (which were overturned when Chancellor Merkel decided that Germany would process asylum seekers irrespective of where they entered the EU), following an EU recommendation last month.

ITALY:  The government announced new plans for migrants.  Migrants are to accept unpaid ‘socially useful work’ to qualify for asylum, and economic migrants are to be expelled more quickly.

LITHUANIA:  The government announced that it will build a 2m-high fence along the border with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad this year.  Latvia and Estonia also plan to build fences along the Kaliningrad border, and Poland plans to build watch towers.

POLAND:  Opposition MP’s blockade of parliament, in protest at the government’s restriction of media access to parliament and following accusations that the government passed this year’s budget unconstitutionally, has ended after one month, with the government restoring media access.

RUSSIA:  Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia would be willing to resume talks with the USA about nuclear disarmament, following Donald Trump’s suggestion that such talks could include dropping sanctions.

Middle East and Africa

EGYPT:  The supreme administrative court rejected the government’s appeal against a lower court’s ruling last June that the planned transfer of ownership of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia was illegal.  The transfer has been criticised because it appears to be a ‘sell-off’ in return for Saudi Arabian aid.

GAMBIA:  President Jammeh declared a state of emergency, two days before he is due to step down.  He is refusing to hand over power to Adama Barrow, who won the recent presidential election.  He is defying other African nations such as Nigeria and Morocco who have urged him to retire.  Gambians are fleeing the country, fearful of violent disturbances.  The Foreign Office has urged Britons not to travel to Gambia unless absolutely necessary.  The country’s tourist season is at its peak.

IRAQ:  Iraqi forces continue to make progress against Isis in the Battle for Mosul, taking the University of Mosul, which Isis had turned into a chemical weapons centre.

LIBYA:  General Khalifa Haftar, who commands the forces of the HoR government based in Tobruk, eastern Libya, held talks with high-ranking Russian officials, with a view to securing military aid in his fight against Isis and al-Qaeda in Libya, and to lifting the UN embargo on arms to Libya.  The rival UN-backed GNA government based in Tripoli, western Libya, does not recognise General Khalifa or the HoR government.  The HoR government was backed by the UN before the GNA was installed.

NIGERIA:  The air force bombed a refugee camp by mistake, instead of a Boko Haram camp.  As many as 100 refugees, who had fled Boko Haram, were killed, with hundreds of others injured.

SYRIA:  Rebel groups agreed to attend peace talks, brokered by Turkey and Russia, in Astana, Kazakhstan, dropping their condition that Assad must step down.  The USA has been invited to the talks.  The Fateh al-Sham Front opposes the talks.

US forces have begun airstrikes against Fateh al-Sham, a development which has been criticised by other (US approved) rebel groups as favouring the regime.

Isis launched an attack on the regime-held city Deir Ezzor in what appears to be an attempt to seize a new base in Syria as it is being squeezed out of Iraq.

TURKEY:  Security forces arrested the Uzbekistani man suspected of killing 39 people in an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Day.  He has confessed to the killings, according to Istanbul’s governor.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

CAMBODIA:  The defence ministry cancelled joint military exercises with the USA this year, prompting speculation that the country is reassessing its relationships with the USA and China.

CHINA:  Following President Xi’s announcement last month that universities must “serve the rule of the Chinese Communist Party, strengthen and promote Chinese socialism and be guided by Marxism”, Sun Yat-Sen University has banned criticism of the country’s constitution and rulers, and the spreading of religion.  A university professor in Shandong was forced to retire after saying that Chairman Mao Zedong was responsible for millions of deaths caused by the Cultural Revolution and famine; a TV producer was suspended for agreeing with him on line.

JAPAN:  The government is making legal preparations to enable Emperor Akihito to step down on 31 December 2018.  His son and heir Crown Prince Naruhito will ascend to the imperial throne on 01 January 2019.  The 83 year old Akihito has been emperor for 29 years and has hinted that he would like to abdicate, although abdication is not currently allowed by law.

The government has declared the last Friday of each month to be “Premium Friday” when employees should be encouraged to leave work early, at 3pm. It is hoped that this will reduce karoshi (death from over-work – about 200 cases each year) and stimulate the economy by giving people more time to go shopping.

KOREA, SOUTH:  Ban Ki Moon, who retired as UN secretary general on New Year’s Eve, has returned to South Korea and is expected to announce himself as a candidate in this year’s presidential election.  However, he has been met with allegations of corruption from his time as foreign minister.

KYRGYZSTAN:  A Turkish cargo plane crashed onto Dacha-Suu, a village a mile from Manas airport, near the capital Bishkek.  At least 37 people were killed.

MALAYSIA:  The hunt for the Malaysian passenger jet MH370, which disappeared three years ago during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, has been called off.


BRAZIL:  Another 30 people have been killed in gang warfare inside prisons, bringing the total to 140 deaths in six months.

USA:  The street lights in Detroit have been turned back on – a sign of the beginnings of regeneration in the ‘motor city’ which was declared bankrupt in 2014.

In California, extreme rain and snow storms have put an end to five years of unprecedented drought.

10 inmates of Guantanamo Bay have been transferred to Oman. 45 remain: 9 have been cleared for transfer, 10 are on trial, and 26 are considered too dangerous to leave.  Obama vowed to empty and close the prison while he was president.

A ‘dirty dossier’ of secret information alleging scandals involving Donald Trump and ties between him and the Kremlin has emerged. The dossier appears to have been compiled by an ex-M16 officer. His sources are not known. The allegations have been denied by Trump and the Kremlin.

A woman who has alleged that Trump sexually assaulted her has announced, only days before Donald Trump is due to be inaugurated as the president of the USA, that she is taking legal action against him over the alleged assault.

The Clinton Global Initiative, the front end of Hilary and Bill Clinton’s charity, the Clinton Foundation, is to close due to a fall in donations.

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