15 June 2017
Week in Brief: International
EU: Plans were announced for the creation of a ‘security and defence union’ (a military organisation independent of Nato) by 2025.
A confidential EU report, leaked to the Politico website, recommended demolishing the existing parliament building in Brussels and constructing a new one costing €500 million. The existing building cost one billion euros to build 25 years ago (amid allegations of corruption) but has developed structural problems and the ceiling of the debating chamber has suffered partial collapse.
FRANCE: In the first round of parliamentary elections, President Macron’s REM gained 32% of the vote, the Socialists 9.5% (its leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, its presidential candidate Benoit Hamon and 15 other members of the last government were all eliminated), the Republicans 21%, and the Front National 13%. There was a record low turnout of 49%. A landslide victory for REM is predicted in the second round; it is likely to win over 400 of the 577 seats.
GERMANY: The government is planning to draw up regulations which would require social media sites to show messages to the intelligence services before they are encrypted. The purpose is to neutralise terrorist organisations which communicate by using online media links.
ITALY: In the first round of local elections, Five Star Movement candidates were knocked out in almost all big cities (but the right wing alliance between Forza Italia and Northern league did well).
MACEDONIA: The Balkan state has said that it might be willing to change its name in order to join Nato. Its bid to join in 2008 was vetoed by the EU and Greece because Greece, having a region called Macedonia within its own borders, objects to the state’s name.
NORWAY: The government has proposed a national ban on the burka in schools and universities. Local authorities already have the power to ban face-covering veils in schools.
POLAND: The government is increasing the number of logging permits in the internationally-important and protected ancient Bialowieza forest, in defiance of the EU and Unesco.
RUSSIA: On Russia Day, thousands of protestors in 150 towns and cities across the country answered the call by opposition leader Alexander Navalny to demonstrate against corruption. 1500 demonstrators were detained by riot police (700 in Moscow, 500 in St Petersburg). Mr Navalny was detained outside his home before he could even join the demonstrations. Prior to the protests, students and pupils were warned in advance by the authorities not to attend; Mr Navalny’s headquarters at Stavropol were bombed with a Molotov cocktail; and police raided the home of opposition politician Vyacheslav Maltsev.
SPAIN: Footballer Cristiano Ronaldo is facing charges of evading €14.8 million in taxes.
UKRAINE: A bomb exploded inside the US embassy’s compound in Kiev. No one was hurt.
Middle East and Africa
GABON: A marine conservation area covering 20,500 square miles and including nine national maritime parks and eleven aquatic reserves is being created off Gabon’s coast, to match the 13 national parks protecting the country’s rainforests.
IRAN: Gunmen attacked the parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini, leaving 17 dead and 42 injured. Four gunmen fought their way into the parliament building, while another three or four attacked the mausoleum/shrine. They were shot dead by the police or killed by suicide bombs. They are thought to be Iranian Sunni militants who had joined Isis and fought in Syria and Iraq. About 50 people have been arrested. Iranian authorities have claimed that their security forces have killed the leader after he fled to another country.
ISRAEL: Israel is reducing its electricity supply to Gaza at the request of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian authority, who hopes that black-outs will reflect badly on Hammas, the Islamist party which seized power in Gaza from his secularist Fatah party ten years ago. Hamas has warned that power cuts could lead to suffering and violent protests.
LIBYA: A spokesman for the navy accused rescue charities of colluding with people traffickers. A report by Goldsmiths (University of London), however, said that rescue boats made no difference to the number of migrant boats leaving the Libyan coast.
Saif Gaddafi, son of the former dictator, was freed from prison in west Libya on amnesty from Eastern government.
QATAR: The blockade continues as the Royal family refuses to meet the demands of its neighbours the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. A Hammas military leader was expelled, but Hammas was not denounced (but fearing a withdrawal of Qatari support, Hamas sent a mission to Iran, hoping to rebuild bridges with its former friend). Qatari citizens were expelled from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE, and Qatar Airways and al Jazeera have been blocked in those countries. Iran and Turkey sent food and offered support, and goods are being shipped through Oman to avoid the border closure. The US, Britain and France called for an easing of the blockade.
SAUDI ARABIA: Taxes are being introduced to counter the collapse in oil revenues. A tax on cigarettes and on soft drinks has doubled their prices.
SYRIA: A US jet shot down an Assad-regime drone which was attacking western-backed anti-Isis coalition forces at al-Tanf near the border with Jordan and Iraq. Two regime trucks were also hit. It was the third time in a month that US and regime forces have clashed.
In the battle for Raqqa, the Syrian Democratic Forces (an Arab/Kurdish coalition backed by US special forces and planes) have reached the old town in their attempt to retake the city from Isis.
Assad regime troops have occupied desert areas on the border with Iraq, giving their Iranian allies a corridor from Iran across the breadth of both Iraq and Syria. The occupation risks conflict with Western-backed rebels fighting Isis in the area and blocks their approach to the Isis-held town of Deir Ezzor.
TURKEY: An earthquake magnitude 6.3 rocked the city of Izmir and the Greek islands of Samos and Lesbos (where one woman was killed when a house collapsed).
YEMEN: The cholera outbreak is claiming 30 lives a day. Almost 1000 people have died in the last month, with over 100,000 cases reported. The civil war has seen a collapse in healthcare and sanitation.
Far East, Asia and Pacific
AFGHANISTAN: An Afghan soldier opened fire on a group of US Rangers, killing three of them before being shot dead.
CHINA: The Beijing Cyberspace Administration ordered social media sites such as Sina Weibo and Youku to close various entertainment-related accounts, urging them and others to “fulfil their duties, spread socialist core values, create a healthy public opinion environment and contain the hyping of pop stars’ personal affairs”.
INDIA: Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi was arrested when he tried to visit striking farmers in Madhya Pradesh, having been denied official permission for the visit. Clashes between protesting farmers and security forces have led to five deaths this week.
Activist and lawyer Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan, leader of Dalit (lowest caste) protest movement in Uttar Pradesh, was arrested on charges of inciting riots.
KOREA, NORTH: Otto Warmbier, a US student jailed in January 2016 for stealing a propaganda poster while in the country as a tourist, was released. He is returning to the US but it has emerged that he has been in a coma since contracting botulism two months after his arrest.
KOREA, SOUTH: President Moon Jae-in has suspended the deployment of the USA’s anti-missile defence system THAAD.
PAKISTAN: Troops searching for a Chinese couple kidnapped by Islamic militants fought a five-day underground battle against Isis in a network of tunnels near the border with Afghanistan.
A man has been sentenced to death for blasphemy for comments posted on Facebook.
Prime minister Nawaz Sharif is to face a joint investigation team appointed to examine allegations of corruption against three generations of his family.
PHILIPPINES: Troops are still trying to drive jihadists from the city of Marawi. More than 200 people have died, including 138 militants, 58 troops and 29 civilians. It is thought that about 30 or 40 militants are holding out against 4000 troops and police, by hiding in mosques, using underground tunnels, sniping from tall buildings and taking hostages. 2000 civilians are trapped; 220,000 have already fled to overcrowded refugee camps. Three police officers were arrested for trying to smuggle arms through to the militants.
USA: President Trump nominated lawyer Christopher Wray as new FBI director. Mr Wray is a former justice department official and federal prosecutor. The choice, being non-political, was welcomed across the party divide.
Sacked FBI director James Comey testified to the Senate, confirming claims that Trump demanded loyalty and hoped that he could ‘let go’ of the FBI’s investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn.
Attorney general Jeff Sessions was also questioned by the Senate intelligence committee. He told Congress that he had not colluded with the Russians during the election.
A court in San Francisco blocked the President’s latest travel ban, citing his own tweets to support its ruling that the ban was discriminatory and therefore illegal.
The Senate passed sanctions against Iran, as a protest against its support for militants in the Middle East, by 92 votes to 7.
The bankrupt US island territory of Puerto Rico voted by 97% to apply to Washington to become a US state.
VENEZUELA: Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, imprisoned in 2014 following anti-government protests, has appealed to the military to back the opposition against President Maduro, via a video smuggled out of prison.
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