27 April 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UN Flag to denote International news

Europe

ESTONIA:  Over 1000 British and French troops have been deployed to defend the Balkan state on NATO’s eastern border.  The troops are supported by tanks and artillery.  The most expensive and sophisticated fighter jet, the US’s F-35A jet, will be based in Suffolk in order to be operational over the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

FRANCE:  In the first round of the presidential elections, the two outsiders Emmanuel Macron (centrist founder of En Marche! movement, 24% of the vote) and Marine le Pen (leader of the extreme right populist party the National Front, 22% of the vote) led the field and so will go head-to-head in the second round on May 7.  See comment It’s Not In The Bag, Emmanuel.

The Russian-linked hacking group Fancy Bear attempted to penetrate En Marche‘s computer systems and steal data, according to the Japanese-based cybersecurity company Trend Micro.

A gunman killed one policeman and wounded two others on the Champs Elysée in central Paris.  The attacker, a Parisian Muslim, was shot dead by police.  He had a criminal record for attacks against the police but no known links to radical Islamists.

GERMANY:  Thousands of protesters demonstrated against the populist right-wing AfD (Alternative for Germany) party conference in Cologne.  Frauke Petry announced that she would not be standing as the lead candidate in the general election in September.  The party faction arguing for a pragmatic approach to gaining seats in the election was defeated by the opposing faction insisting on no dilution of its opinions.

It appears that the man behind the bomb attack on the Borussia Dortmund team bus was not a terrorist but was hoping for financial gain by gambling on the team’s shares falling in value.

ITALY:  A court ruled that mobile phone use caused a brain tumour in a man who spent up to 4 hours a day on his phone for 15 years in the course of his work.

A prosecutor in Italy has alleged that the intelligence service has evidence showing that charities are colluding with people traffickers who warn when migrants are crossing so that they can be picked up by the charities’ boats.  He will also examine allegations that the charities are being funded by the traffickers so that there are sufficient boats to pick up the migrants.

PORTUGAL:  A teenage girl died of measles in Lisbon.  Deadly measles epidemics are also emerging in Italy and Romania (which has had 3,400 cases this year, with 17 deaths).  Belgium, France and Poland are also under threat.  Irresponsible campaigns against vaccination are being blamed for this public health catastrophe.

RUSSIA:  The Supreme Court has banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses, calling them a dangerous extremist group.  There are about 170,000 of them in Russia.

Middle East and Africa

EGYPT:  Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused the Egyptian army of shooting dead two unarmed teenage detainees during counter-terrorism operations in Sinai, and suspect that the military is guilty of other extramjudicial killings.

IRAN:  The Guardian Council has disqualified former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a candidate in the forthcoming presidential elections.

IRAQ:  The Qatari hunting party which was kidnapped in the Iraq desert 16 months ago has been released.  It is believed that the 26 members of the group (including Qatari royalty) were freed after a deal involving the payment of a ransom and the evacuation of a number of besieged towns in Syria was completed.

KENYA:  The USA declared that its military mission against the Lord’s Resistance Army was over because its leadership had been destroyed.  Its leader, Joseph Koney, has been on the International Criminal Court’s wanted list for some time.

NIGERIA:  Officials announced that Muhammad Sanusi, the Emir of Kano and a former central bank governor, is under investigation for alleged corruption.

SAUDI ARABIA:  King Salman withdrew the public sector cuts which he announced last September.  The reversal followed threats of widespread protest and a rebound in oil prices which has seen the budget deficit cut by more than a half, according to the Minister of State.

SOUTH AFRICA:  Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa called for a judicial commission of inquiry into President Zuma’s links with the Gupta brothers.  Critics have claimed that the Gupta family use bribery and corruption to exercise a powerful influence over Zuma’s government.  The call is seen as an attempt to oust Zuma as demands for the President’s resignation intensify.

SYRIA:  The Israeli military reported that the Assad regime still has up to three tonnes of chemical weapons.

The regime has moved its remaining aircraft from its own airbases to airbases run by the Russians which are protected by Russia’s S-400 air defence system, according to US sources. The US claims that a fifth of Assad’s air force was destroyed by the US punitive strike following the deaths of civilians by sarin nerve gas during a regime airstrike.

TURKEY:  Demonstrators in Istanbul continue to protest against the referendum result, with up to 5000 of them marching each night.  38 activists were arrested in dawn raids

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has resumed monitoring Turkey to assess whether standards of governance there meet EU membership requirements.  Monitoring was completed in 2004, but the new resolution reflects human rights concerns following the government’s reactions to the recent failed coup and the Kurdish insurgency.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN:  Ten Taliban fighters armed with bombs, machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades infiltrated an army base near Mazar-i-Sharif and killed unarmed Afghan soldiers who were attending prayers in the mosque or eating a meal in the mess.  Fighting continued for five hours.  More than 150 soldiers were killed.  Seven of the attackers were killed, 2 blew themselves up and one was captured.  The defence minister and the commander of the Afghan army resigned following public protests about organisational and security failures which allowed the militants to bluff their way into the base.

CHINA:  Authorities in Xinjiang province, where 10 million Muslim Uighurs live, have forbidden residents from giving their children ‘overtly religious’ names.

KOREA, NORTH:  An American professor, teaching at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, has been arrested.  He is the third US citizen to be detained by the authorities.  It is thought they are being held as political bargaining chips.

The price of petrol has suddenly gone up by 80%, suggesting that China is applying sanctions and has imposed an oil embargo.  North Korea imports most of its oil from China.

MALDIVES:  A well-known on-line satirist who criticised politicians and radical Islamists was stabbed to death outside his apartment.

PAKISTAN:  The Supreme Court concluded an inquiry into the assets of the family of the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (as revealed by the Panama Papers) by ruling that there was insufficient evidence for his removal.  The decision was narrow – three judges against two – and the court ordered a new investigation into allegations of corruption made against him.

America

USA:  It seems that the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vincent was travelling to Australia when President Trump said it was travelling to Korea.  The armada has now reached the Korean peninsula.

Secretary of state Rex Tillerson and defence secretary James Mattis criticised Iran’s interference in the Middle East and repeated the White House’s disapproval of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

Democrats are threatening to hold up the president’s spending bill in Congress because it includes funding for the projected wall along the Mexican border.  If the bill is blocked, the federal government will face a partial shutdown because many of its departments will run out of funds

Google and Waymo are allowing people to ride for free on their 500 driverless minivans undergoing self-driving trials in Phoenix, Arizona.

VENEZUELA:  Hundreds of thousands of protestors demonstrated against President Maduro in cities across Venezuela.  Two student protestors were shot dead and one national guardsman died.  Five other people have been killed in the last fortnight’s protests.   Protesters are demanding the dismissal of the seven high court judges who tried to usurp parliament’s power last month, and early presidential elections.   A maternity hospital had to be evacuated when it was engulfed with tear gas.   Food shortages are triggering clashes with security forces.   In Caracas, at least 12 people were electrocuted and died while trying to loot a bakery protected by an electric fence.

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