Issue 89:2017 01 26 : Week in Brief International

26 January 2017



BELGIUM:  Flemish MPs and Walloon MPs have united to uphold the serving of free beer and wine to them in the national parliament, a service which the parliamentary ethics committee recommended should be abolished.

FRANCE:  In the first round of elections for the leadership of the Socialist party, the hard left Benoît Hamon won 36% of the vote (promising €750 of benefits a month to every adult, whether in or out of work, and a shorter working week), Manuel Valls won 32%, and Arnaud Montebourg won 18%.  There was a low turn-out – less than two million (over four million voted in the recent Republican leadership elections).  The party is in disarray.  The election is seen as not about picking a potential president (none of the candidates are considered to have a chance at that) but about restoring pride and direction to the party.  Hamon and Valls will go head to head in the final round this week; Hamon is the favourite to win, as he should gain the votes which went to the fellow left-winger Montebourg.

The satirical newspaper La Canard Enchaîné  accused the wife of Francois Fillon, the Republican leader and a favourite to win the forthcoming presidential election, of being paid up to €94,800 of public money a year (supposedly as her husband’s assistant) for doing nothing.

ITALY:  Four earthquakes of over 5 magnitude hit central Italy.  They triggered avalanches in the mountainous, snow-bound region of Abruzzo.  A hotel (the Rigopiano) and over thirty guests and members of staff were buried under an avalanche.  Rescuers, digging down through metres of snow, have found 10 survivors and recovered 18 bodies, but 11 people are still missing.  There are accusations that the initial alarm call to the emergency services was dismissed as a prank.

Six people were killed nearby when a helicopter, rescuing an injured skier, crashed into a mountain in low cloud.

A coach, carrying Hungarian teenagers home from a ski trip, crashed near Verona.  16 people were killed and 40 injured.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, has been accused of abuse of office and false testimony.  She is under investigation and will be questioned by prosecutors next week.

SPAIN:  Spanish and Cypriot police have smashed an art-smuggling ring which stretched across Europe.  Operation Pandora, which involved police from 16 other countries as well, resulted in the arrest of scores of people and the recovery of thousands of stolen artefacts.

Middle East and Africa

GAMBIA:  Following a unanimous UN Security Council resolution, troops from a number of West African countries crossed the border into Gambia to persuade President Jammeh to step down and allow Adama Barrow, who defeated him in the recent presidential election, to take office.   Jammeh agreed to step down after talking to the presidents of Guinea and Mauritania, and after the army said it would not support him.  He eventually flew out of the country, but it is not yet known where he will live in exile, or whether he has been granted freedom from prosecution (he has been accused of corruption and crimes against humanity, and it is thought that fear of prosecution was behind his reluctance to step down).  Adama Barrow was sworn in as President of Gambia in the Gambian embassy in Dakar, Senegal, but has not yet returned to the country.  Troops from the West African force are patrolling the streets of the capital Banjul, and have seized control of the airport, the national stadium and the State House.

See comment Congratulations, Mr President!

IRAN:  Tehran’s 17-storey Plasco building caught fire and collapsed.  30 are reported dead, 70 were injured, and dozens of firefighters were missing.

IRAQ:  The army has taken all of east Mosul from Isis, and is now at the River Tigris.  The battle for western Mosul is about to begin.

ISRAEL:  The government announced that 2,500 new homes will be built on the West Bank.  President Obama disapproved of building in the occupied territories as a controversial move jeopardising chances of peace in the Middle East, but the Israeli government expects President Trump to be less concerned.

LIBYA:  Bombers flying from bases in the US struck camps in the desert where Isis fighters displaced from Sirte had regrouped.  At least 90 fighters were killed.

MALI:  A suicide car bomb attack on a military camp killed at least 60 people and wounded more than 100, including government troops and armed groups sharing peacekeeping duties in accord with the 2015 peace deal.   An al-Qaeda affiliated group, which does not accept the deal, claimed responsibility.

NIGERIA:  Three Boko Haram women suicide bombers – two of them carrying babies – blew themselves up when prevented from entering a town in Adamawa state.  In Borno state, two women knocking on doors and asking for food and shelter blew themselves up when a door was opened for them.  A seven year old boy blew himself up in Maiduguri University, killing four people, including a professor.

SYRIA:  Russia, Turkey and the US all bombed Isis in al-Bab.   A US drone strike on a Fateh al-Sham Front camp in Idlib province killed at least 100 fighters.

Isis resumed public executions in ancient city of Palmyra. Satellite images show that Isis has also resumed its destruction there – the façade of the Roman theatre and the tetrapylon have gone.

Turkey and Russia sponsored two days of peace talks in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan.  There was no US presence.  Rebel leaders and regime leaders faced each other across the table for the first time – both accused each other of being terrorists.  Turkey, Russia and Iran were appointed as guarantors of the continuing ceasefire (though Iran’s appointment was opposed by rebels, who claim that Iranian forces repeatedly breach the ceasefire). The three guarantors will meet again in Astana to decide how to monitor and enforce the ceasefire.  All parties – rebels included – were committed to fight terrorists – i.e. Isis, al-Qaeda, and Fatah al-Sham.

Fighting between rebels and the regime over the Damascus water supply at Wadi Barada continues.

TURKEY:  Fights and protests (one MP handcuffed herself to the speaker’s microphone) broke out in parliament as the proposed constitutional changes (abolish the office of prime minister and give the president executive powers) were debated.  The changes were passed by parliament and will now go to a referendum in April.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

CHINA:  The government announced a £134 million project to bring rain and snow to the deserts of northwest China by sowing clouds with chemicals.  A similar scheme has been in operation in northeast China.

INDIA:  A train crash in Andhra Pradesh state killed at least 36 passengers and injured 50 others.

PAKISTAN:  A Taliban bomb killed 40 and injured 20 in the northwest of the country.

UZBEKISTAN:  The Supreme Court has granted amnesty to 39,748 prisoners as an ‘act of humanism’ on the constitution’s 24th anniversary.


BRAZIL:  A judge who had a leading role in Operation Carwash, the investigation into widespread and high-level corruption associated with the state oil company Petrobras, was killed in an air crash.  Judge Teori Zavascki’s replacement will be appointed by President Michel Temer, who is himself a subject of the corruption investigations.

There were more prison riots and deaths as rival gangs fight it out behind bars – at least 26 were killed in Alcacuz prison, Natal.

USA:  Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.

President Trump signed an order for the withdrawal of the USA from TPP (the Trans-Pacific Partnership – a 12-nation trade pact – the world’s biggest – negotiated and signed by the Obama administration but not yet passed by Congress); threatened to heavily tax US firms moving manufacturing out of country; froze government hiring; stopped the federal funding of abortion charities; and backed two oil pipeline projects opposed by environmentalists, the Keystone Xl and the Dakota Access (also opposed by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe).

The White House press secretary Sean Spicer supported comments by Rex Tillerson, the nominee for secretary of state, that the US would defend the disputed islands in the South China Seas which are being claimed by China.  China issued an angry warning in response.

Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, the Mexican drugs baron, has been extradited to the USA.

Storms, tornados and giant hailstones hit south eastern states.  Nineteen people were killed and many more injured.

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