18 May 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Europe

AUSTRIA:  The Vice-Chancellor and leader of the OVP, Reinhold Mitterlehner, has resigned, putting the future of the governing OVP/Social Democrat coalition in doubt.  The Foreign Minister announced that a general election will take place this autumn, a year early.

FRANCE:  Emmanuel Macron was sworn in as President at the Élysée Palace, and met Chancellor Merkel in Berlin.  He announced that his prime minister will be Édouard Philippe, a centre-right Republican MP and mayor of Le Havre.  At least two Republican ministers have defected to La Republic en Marche.

See comment Macron’s Discombobulation of The French Political Landscape.

GERMANY:  Two army officers and a student were arrested, suspected of planning extreme right-wing terrorist attacks.  Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced a new programme of ‘political education’ for troops and the removal of any remaining symbolic links between today’s army and Hitler’s Wehrmacht.

Chancellor Merkel’s CDU party won the state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia with 34.5% of the vote, beating the SPD party of her rival Martin Schulz. The state is the most populous in Germany, is Mr Schulz’s home base, and had been held by the SPD for 70 years. The result indicates that Chancellor Merkel is on course for victory in the general elections in September.

GREECE:  A train left the track and crashed into a house on the way to Thessaloniki from Athens; 3 passengers were killed and 10 badly injured.

Nationwide strikes began in protest against the new austerity measures on which parliament will vote this week.  First quarter figures show that Greece is back in recession, with the economy contracting by 0.1%.

ITALY:  Two bombs exploded outside a post office in a residential area of Rome.  No one was hurt and no one has claimed responsibility.

Italian police closed down the Isola di Capo Rizzuto migrant centre in Calabria and arrested 68 people, including a priest.  It appears that mafia organised crime clans are taking over migrant centres and pocketing millions of Euros meant for feeding migrants.

Arrests have been made of Ukrainian smugglers who have been carrying immigrants from Turkey to Southern Europe on luxury yachts.  It has been estimated that 2,000 immigrants from the Middle East & South Asia paid £5,500 each to be taken to Italy.  Eight Ukrainian people smugglers have been arrested in Sicily after the yachts were intercepted by the Italian coastguard, with six more being arrested in Malta and Crete. The immigrants came from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Iraq. Apparently 42 Ukrainians were arrested last year on suspicion of smuggling people from Turkey and Greece to Italy.

SPAIN:  Parliament voted to remove General Franco’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen, by 198 votes to 1 (with 140 abstentions) in a non-binding motion.  The Valley of the Fallen has been criticised for not honouring the losing Republican side in the civil war.

Middle East and Africa

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO:  The World Health Authority announced an outbreak of Ebola in the remote region of Bas-Uele.  Three people have died from the disease.

IRAN:  Presidential elections will be held this week.  The mayor of Tehran Baqer Qalibaf withdrew as a candidate and backed the hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, in a move which strengthens the hard-liner’s base.

ISRAEL:  The public broadcaster, Channel One, was shut down abruptly.  It will be replaced by a new broadcaster, Kan, on Monday.

IVORY COAST:  Unpaid soldiers have mutinied in Bouaké and Abidjan.  They clashed with protesters, killing one demonstrator and wounding several others, and with loyal soldiers trying to suppress the mutiny.  The government is short of money because of a crash in cocoa prices.

SYRIA:  The Isis-held city of Dier Ezzor in the east of Syria is becoming a focus for the country’s conflicts, as the cease-fire settles over the north and west and Isis is on the retreat elsewhere.  The Assad regime has sent tanks to this key eastern region, where they have attacked Western-backed FSA forces already engaged against Isis.

Isis has withdrawn from defending the Tabqa dam. Its capture by the Kurdish-led SDF will help to open the approach to Raqqa.

Turkey appealed against last week’s decision by the US to arm the YPG Kurds.  “They are not humans” said Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim about the Kurdish group.

300 rebel fighters surrendered the Qaboun neighbourhood in Damascus to regime forces.  They were allowed to evacuate with their families to opposition-held areas in northern Syria.

The United States has alleged that the Syrian Government hangs more than 50 prisoners every day and is then burning their bodies to destroy the evidence. The State Department released satellite images which, they said, showed the building of a crematorium which was to be used to dispose of the bodies.

TURKEY:  A British man, an ex-drug dealer who joined Isis in Syria, has been sent to prison for over 7 years.  He was part of a 4-man terrorist cell which held hostages and then tortured and murdered them.

YEMEN:  The war-ravaged country is struggling to deal with a second outbreak of cholera in less than a year; it has killed 115 people and infected 8500.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

CHINA:  President Xi hosted a two-day international summit to promote his “Belt and Road” initiative, a modern Silk Road to unite the world in trade.

INDIA:  A multi-faith bench of five Supreme Court judges is hearing a landmark case challenging the legality of the “triple talaq” Moslem divorce.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP party are in favour of a ban on the custom, an issue which has brought them widespread support among India’s Moslem women.

KOREA, NORTH:  Pyongyang test-launched another ballistic missile, the second in two weeks. It was apparently an intermediate-range weapon capable of carrying a heavy nuclear warhead.

PAKISTAN:  An Isis suicide bomb attacked a convoy carrying the senate’s deputy chairman and members of his pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party, killing at least 25 people.  The deputy chairman was wounded.

THAILAND:  The authorities threatened to ban Facebook when images of the king on the social network were deemed to be in breach of laws which forbid criticism of the royal family.

See comment The Templars and the Internet.

America

BRAZIL:  The trial of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, on five charges of corruption, began in the southern city of Curitiba.

MEXICO:  A Journalist famous for investigating organised crime was shot dead by masked gunmen in Culiacan.  Javier Valdez was the fifth journalist to be murdered in recent months.  Another journalist, Sonia Cordova, was attacked by gunmen the next day; she was wounded but her son was shot dead.

USA:  The New York Times reported allegations that President Trump had suggested to FBI chief James Comey that the investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn should be dropped.  The request, made in February, is said to have been recorded in a memo by Mr Comey, who was recently sacked by the president.

The New York Times also reported claims by officials that President Trump disclosed highly confidential information to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about an Isis terror plot. Intelligence officials are said to be concerned that the disclosure, at a meeting in the White House last week, might endanger their source and discourage other allies from sharing secret intelligence with the USA.

In Alaska, foreign ministers from Russia, Canada, USA, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden met as the Arctic Council to discuss environmental and sustainability issues concerning the future of the Arctic.

VENEZUELA:  Anti-Maduro protests, now in their sixth week, are continuing.  A protestor was killed, apparently by a rubber bullet.  It is feared that hundreds of arrested protestors are being tried in secret military courts.  Thousands of OAPs were confronted by thousands of national guardsmen armed with pepper sprays.  The President sacked the health minister after the publication of health statistics (kept secret for two years) showing a steep rise in infant and maternal mortality and the return of malaria and diphtheria.

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