04 May 2017
Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS
FRANCE: The second and final round of the presidential election takes place this Sunday. The polls show Macron in the lead with 60%, and Marine le Pen with 40%. See comment Et Après?.
Marin le Pen stepped down as leader of the National Front to concentrate on campaigning. Her replacement, Jean-Francois Jalkh, resigned after only three days, following a renewal of the controversy about his alleged Holocaust denial. She toned down her pledge to scrap the Euro, in a number of confusing statements. She sealed an alliance with Debout La France, a small Eurosceptic party, but was embarrassed when it emerged that passages of her speech at her closing campaign rally were lifted from a speech by Republican leader M. Fillon. There were violent demonstrations in Paris and other cities, with clashes between the police and left-wing protesters. Six officers were injured and five people were arrested during Labour Day parades.
HUNGARY: The European Commission has begun proceedings against Hungary over President Victor Orban’s new laws against non-Hungarian universities and NGOs operating in his country.
ITALY: Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was elected leader of the Democratic Party. He resigned last year after the referendum defeat of his proposed constitutional reforms. General elections are due by May of next year, and commentators are suggesting that they might be as early as October this year.
MACEDONIA: A crowd of 200 people stormed the parliament and attacked opposition MPs. They were angry at the possibility of the opposition forming a coalition with ethnic Albanian MPs, and were trying to prevent an Albanian MP from being made Speaker.
MALTA: Thousands of people protested against corruption. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, whose family was linked to the Panama Papers scandal, called a general election for June 03.
RUSSIA: Opposition leader Alexei Navalny was attacked and hit in the face with zelenka, an antiseptic green dye. It was the second such attack in as many months. One eye was damaged and he was taken to hospital for treatment. Pro-Kremlin activists have been blamed.
SWEDEN: A fire damaged a Shia mosque in a Stockholm suburb. Police suspect that it was started deliberately.
UKRAINE: The site of the nuclear power station disaster at Chernobyl is being transformed into an alternative energy centre.
Middle East and Africa
EGYPT: Following the recent increase in the violent persecution of Christians in Egypt, Pope Francis met President Sisi, spoke with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb (Egypt’s leading imam) at Al-Azhar (the country’s most senior Muslim body and an ancient seat of learning) and prayed with the Coptic Pope Tawadros II.
IRAQ: The PMF (Popular Mobilisation Forces – a group of mostly Shia irregular militias) have taken Hatra from Isis. Damage to the ancient Seleucid town is not as bad as was feared.
ISRAEL: Following a Palestinian general strike (in which tens of thousands took part), the ruling Palestinian party Fatah called for a “day of rage” in support of hunger-striking Palestinians in jail.
Hamas issued a document stating that it was cutting its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, and that it would be willing to consider a Palestinian state defined by the borders which existed in 1967.
LIBYA: General Khalifa Hiftar, the head of the armed forces of the Libyan parliament which governs from Tubruq (eastern Libya), met Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the rival UN-backed Government of National Accord which is based in Tripoli (western Libya), for talks in the United Arab Emirates.
SOUTH AFRICA: A number of ANC politicians claimed to have received death threats for opposing President Zuma. Protests calling for the president to stand down are increasing as poverty, crime and corruption is seen to be on the increase.
SYRIA: A huge blast at Damascus international airport was thought to be an Israeli air-strike on an arms depot maintained by Assad’s ally Iran. See comment Israel And The Syrian Civil War.
At least five suicide bombers (reportedly affiliated to Isis) killed 46 people in an attack on a refugee camp near the border with Iraq.
US forces are maintaining a highly visible presence in the northern border region in order to discourage Turkish attacks on Kurdish YPG positions there. Turkey and the USA are allies, but Turkey is opposed to the YPG because of the related PKK Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey, while the USA sees the YPG as its most effective partner in the fight against Isis.
TURKEY: A fresh crack-down on police officers as part of the anti-Gulen move saw a purge of 14,000 – 9000 were suspended, 1,120 were arrested, and warrants were issued for another 3000 arrests. Another 6000 people – prosecutors and teachers – were sacked or arrested. Wikipedia was banned.
President Erdogan has officially re-joined the AKP party which he founded. Under the present parliamentary system, the president is supposed to be apolitical, but Erdogan appears to be preparing the way for the new presidential system.
A US based charity, the International Medical Corps, has been expelled – its 4 foreign staff were expelled, and 11 Syrian staff were detained. It is the latest of a number of charities working in southern Turkey to aid Syrian refugees to have been closed down in recent months.
The Iranian head of Gem TV, a Farsi-language TV network, was shot dead in Istanbul. He and his programs – soap operas and entertainment shows such as The X Factor – have often been criticised by the Iranian government. His business partner, a Kuwaiti, was also killed in the attack.
Far East, Asia and Pacific
AFGHANISTAN: The US will supply the Afghanistan air-force with up to 200 aircraft – fighter jets, helicopters and transports – over the next four years.
CHINA: The navy launched its first Chinese-built aircraft carrier in the port of Dalian. It has one other aircraft carrier, an ex-Soviet ship bought from Ukraine in 1999. The US navy has 10 aircraft carriers.
KOREA, SOUTH: The US began to deploy the new Thaad (Terminal High Altitude Air Defence) anti-missile system a month early as tensions with North Korea continue to rise. China has complained that the system’s radar might be able to penetrate their own air-space.
USA: President Trump has decided to renegotiate Nafta rather than scrap it.
A demand for funding for the Mexican border wall was dropped from the budget bill in order to get it passed.
A second attempt to pass the bill to reverse Obamacare was scrapped after insufficient votes were secured in the House of Representatives.
President Trump suggested that South Korea should pay for the Thaad anti-missile system, and threatened to re-negotiate the free trade deal between South Korea and the USA. The statement saw financial markets in Seoul plummet.
VENEZUELA: Angry protests against President Maduro are spreading, and developing into violent clashes with riot police in armoured cars. A 20 year old man was killed when he was hit by a tear-gas canister (there have been 29 deaths and 400 injuries in recent demonstrations). President Maduro has decided to withdraw his country from the Organisation of American States (most members of the Organisation are critical of his government). He is threatening to draw up a new constitution via a “peoples’ assembly”, to enable his government to continue to override the opposition majority in parliament.
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