20 April 2017



ALBANIA:  More than 20 policemen and customs officers were arrested on suspicion of helping drug smugglers export cannabis to Italy.

FRANCE:  The first round of the presidential vote will take place this week.  The three leading candidates – Macron, Le Pen and Fillon – are neck and neck in the polls (with around 21%-22% each). Mélenchon (far left) has about 18%.

Emmanuel Macron’s campaign appears to have been the target of fake news stories and computer hacking, which many suspect are originating from Russia.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left candidate and leader of the Rebellious France movement, is emerging as the most innovative user of new technology and social media, with widespread support from young votes, in spite of being one of the oldest candidates.

See comment Le Dilemme des Citoyens et Citoyennes.

GERMANY:  A suspect has been detained in connection with the bombs which damaged the Borussia Dortmund’s team bus and injured a player and a policeman last week.

HUNGARY:  The Constitutional Court overturned a ban on mosques and headscarves which was introduced by the mayor of the village of Asotthalom five months ago.

Tensions have increased between Hungary and the EU after President Orban threatened to close the Central European University in Budapest, refused to accept refugee quotas or to stop the detention of asylum seekers, and maintained the closure of the border to migrants. The EU commission has threatened to take Hungary to court unless it agrees to the EU policies. Angela Merkel has temporarily stopped the return of asylum seekers to Hungary, until she receives assurances that they will not be detained in border camps.

PORTUGAL: A Swiss-registered light aircraft crashed into Lidl warehouse in Lisbon – five people killed.

RUSSIA: President Putin and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov met the USAs secretary of state Rex Tillerson in the Kremlin, in spite of increased tension between the two countries following the punitive US air attack against the Syrian air force.

Security services have detained the suspected mastermind of the St Petersburg Metro bomb attack.  Abror Azimov, from Kyrgyzstan, was arrested in Moscow.

The Kremlin published pictures of the Arctic Trefoil, its new military base in the Arctic.  It is the biggest man-made structure in the Arctic, covering 150,000 square feet and accommodating at least 150 troops.

An independent Russian newspaper, the Novaya Gazetta, reported the abduction of about 100 gay men by the authorities in Chechnya, the mainly Muslim republic which is part of the Russian Federation.  They are allegedly held in secret jails and tortured.  The paper claims that at least 3 have been killed.  Two of its writers who covered Chechnya have been murdered in the last ten years.

SPAIN: Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was summoned to give evidence in a corruption trial involving MPs from his Popular Party.

UKRAINE: Ukraine, the host of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, has barred the Russian contestant, Yulia Samoylova, from taking part in the competition because she has performed in Russian-annexed Crimea.  Russia’s state broadcaster has retaliated by boycotting the competition.

Middle East and Africa

EGYPT:  Gunmen killed a police officer and wounded four others in an attack on a police checkpoint at the 6th century St Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai.

IRAN: The former president, hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has registered as a candidate in next month’s presidential election. His registration was a surprise, as it appears to defy the wishes of the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  President Hassan Rouhani has also registered, hoping for a second four-year term.  Almost 200 candidates have registered so far (including 8 women); they will be vetted by the Guardian Council, which will draw up a final list by the end of this month.

ISRAEL:  Over 1000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have gone on hunger strike, demanding better conditions including more access to telephones and more visits from family members.  There are 6,200 Palestinians held in prison in Israel.

SENEGAL:  At least 20 people were killed in a fire at a Muslim spiritual retreat in Medina Gounass, a village in east Senegal.

SOUTH SUDAN:  The civil war’s increasing violence is plunging the country further into famine and destruction.

SYRIA:  A suicide car-bomb attack on buses taking evacuees from the northern towns of Fuaa and Kafraya killed at least 43 people.  The two government-held towns are being besieged by rebel forces.

The Battle for Mosul continues. The UN reported that 500,000 civilians have fled the city, and another 500,000 remain in the conflict zone.

TURKEY:  President Erdogan narrowly won the referendum about constitutional change, with 51.49% of the vote.  His powers will be considerably increased now that the country will be governed by a presidential system rather than a parliamentary system.  The EU fears that this will increase friction between Europe and Turkey. See comment Erdogan’s Uneasy Triumph.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN:  The US air force dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on an Isis underground complex in Nangahar province, near the Pakistan border.  It was the first combat use of the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb (MOAB – also known as the ‘Mother Of All Bombs’), which is satellite-guided, 30 feet long, weighs almost 10,000kg and is detonated 6 feet above the ground.  Afghan authorities said that at least 92 Isis fighters were killed.  US and Afghan ground forces are advancing on the area, which is protected by bunkers, tunnels and mine fields.

CHINA:  President Xi, speaking on the phone to President Trump following their meeting in Mar-a-Lago, criticised North Korea’s defiance of UN resolutions against its nuclear weapons programme, but called for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.  Foreign minister Wang Yi discussed the crisis with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov by phone.

China abstained from voting on a UN security council’s resolution condemning the recent chemical attack on civilians in Syria.  President Trump praised China for not voting against it.

JAPAN:  The Japanese navy announced plans to conduct joint exercises with the US navy’s USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group which is approaching the Korean peninsula.

KOREA, NORTH:  The 105th anniversary of birth of state founder Kim Il Sung on Saturday was marked with the usual military parade.  An attempt to test a ballistic missile failed.  US vice-president Mike Pence, visiting the border during a ten-day tour of Asia, warned Pyongyang about the US’s new resolve; in Japan, however, he stated that President Trump would prefer diplomatic and economic tactics rather than military ones.

PAKISTAN:  A student at Abduki Wali Khan University was attacked, beaten and murdered by fellow students who accused him of blasphemy for expressing his Ahmadi faith on social media.  Twelve people have been arrested, and eight have been charged with murder and terrorism.

SRI LANKA:  150 homes were destroyed and at least 29 people were killed when a rubbish dump collapsed onto the town of Meetotamulla outside Colombo.


USA:  A man who filmed himself randomly killing a passer-by in Cleveland (Pennsylvania), and posted the footage on Facebook, shot himself dead after a police chase.

A gunman shot four people dead in Fresno, California. He shouted Muslim slogans during the attacks, but the authorities think these were race hate crimes rather than acts of terrorism. A spokesman for the local Islamic Cultural Centre condemned the attacks.

A doctor of Indian origin was arrested under suspicion of conducting FGM on young girls.

See comment Cracking Eggs With Donald.

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