27 July 2017
Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS
FRANCE: The chief of the armed forces resigned after Macron gave him a dressing down for complaining about defence cuts.
GREECE: A 6.7 magnitude earthquake in the Aegean (hitting the Greek island of Kos, and also Bodrum in Turkey) left 2 people dead and 500 injured.
ITALY: A severe drought has damaged agriculture, started wildfires and caused water supplies to be rationed in Rome. (Wildfires have also struck the south of France and other areas of the Mediterranean.)
MONTENEGRO: The trial of two Russian military intelligence officers accused of plotting a coup against the Montenegrin president has been postponed (the defence has requested that the state prosecutor be replaced).
POLAND: MPs and the Senate voted to give parliament the power to appoint and remove judges. The Polish judges association condemned the vote as an attempt to undermine the rule of law and the democratic separation of the government and the judiciary. It was also criticised by the Czech Republic, Germany, England, the US state department and the EU. The European Commission threatened to withhold Poland’s voting rights (effectively ejecting it from the EU; this would require the unanimous vote of all EU members, but Hungary supports Poland on this issue).
President Duda, however, vetoed the two bills which would have given the government the power to hire and fire Supreme Court judges; but he did sign into law the bill enabling it to hire and fire the heads of lower courts.
The governing nationalist Law and Justice party said it will nevertheless continue with its plans to reform the Supreme Court. The EU will now explore what kind of sanctions it could impose on Poland.
RUSSIA: The car and home of a journalist critical of the government were doused with an acidic chemical. Yulia Latynina is a columnist for the Novaya Gazeta; six of its journalists have died in mysterious circumstances in the last 15 years.
MPs voted to curb anonymity on the internet by restricting the use of VPNs (virtual private networks) and other proxy services. Over 1000 protestors in Moscow demonstrated against internet censorship.
The Chinese and Russian navies are participating in joint war-game exercises in the Baltic for the first time, off the coast of the Russian enclave Kaliningrad, between Poland and Lithuania.
SLOVAKIA: The prime minister complained of ‘food racism’ within the EU: some food items from international brands sold in Eastern Europe are of a poorer quality than equivalent items sold in the west.
UKRAINE: Separatists proclaimed a new state in eastern Ukraine independent of Kiev. Leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine are pressing ahead with a new peace plan.
Middle East and Africa
CAMEROON: Amnesty International has accused the security forces of the illegal detention and torture of suspects accused of supporting Boko Haram.
EGYPT: The interior ministry reported the arrest of five suspected militants and the seizure of arms in Giza and Sharqiya; also the deaths of eight suspected militants in a raid on a training camp in the southern desert.
IRAQ: A German teenage girl found in Mosul has been arrested as a suspected Isis sniper. She will be tried in Iraq, rather than allowed to return to Germany. A French woman was also arrested and is being questioned.
Human Rights Watch reported widespread abuse and summary execution of Isis suspects following the liberation of Mosul.
ISRAEL: Conflict continued between Palestinian Arabs and the security forces over the metal detectors installed at the entrance to the Al-Aqsa mosque complex (which also contains Temple Mount) following the murder of two police officers last week and the use of the mosque by the gunmen. Violent protest spread in Jerusalem and the occupied west bank (Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron); 5 protestors died and hundreds were injured. 3 Israelis were murdered in their homes in the West Bank. Israel removed the metal detectors, as part of an agreement with Jordan about the incident in Amman (- see below), but Palestinians are still boycotting the site.
JORDAN: Two people died at a property in the Israeli embassy in Amman after a security guard reportedly shot a Palestinian worker who had apparently stabbed him with a screwdriver. The other fatality was the landlord, a Jordanian doctor. The guard was flown back to Israel, in spite of the Jordanian authority’s requests to question him.
KUWAIT: The high court announced that an uncovered terrorist cell had links to Iran. Kuwait subsequently expelled 15 Iranian diplomats and closed some of Iran’s military, cultural and trade missions.
LIBYA: General Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the armed forces of the Tubruq-based parliament governing eastern Libya, and Faiez Serraj, the prime minister of the Tripoli-based government of national accord, met for talks in Paris and agreed on a ceasefire and on parliamentary and presidential elections. This independent French initiative has angered Italy, which has been supporting the unity government and has been opposed to General Haftar in line with EU foreign policy.
A film has been released apparently showing a firing squad of Haftar’s troops executing jihadists found guilty of war crimes by military court.
QATAR: Changes to anti-terror laws (freezing funding, new definitions of terror), and new national terror list, were announced. The UAE welcomed the announcement as “positive”.
SAUDI ARABIA: The woman arrested last week for appearing on-line in a short skirt and sleeveless top, walking through Ushaiger, has been released without charge.
King Salman removed counter-terrorism and security services from the interior ministry and took it under personal control by setting up a new homeland security agency under the prime minister, i.e. himself. This reduction of the power of the interior ministry follows the recent demotion of Prince bin Nayef, who had been the crown prince and the head of security (and who is now rumoured to be under house arrest).
The Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence passed on 14 Shia men arrested during protests associated with the Arab Spring. Human rights groups are urging Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman not to sign their death warrants (his father the king is away on holiday).
SYRIA: The USA is to end a covert CIA programme which has been training anti-Assad rebels.
In the battle for Raqqa, the Syrian Democratic Forces are suffering high casualties from Isis mines and IED’s. The USA is to help by supplying dozens of mine-resistant armoured vehicles.
A jihadist group, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), has seized an area of North West Syria from the Turkish- and Qatari-backed rebel group Ahrar al-Sham. HTS is considered a proxy for al-Qaeda, and now controls the city of Idlib and a major border crossing to and from Turkey.
TURKEY: Following the arrest of a German citizen working for Amnesty International, the German foreign minister advised Germans against travelling to Turkey, warning them that they risked arrest. He also called on the EU to stop funding and investment in Turkey.
The trial of 17 employees of the independent newspaper Cumhuriyet, accused of helping terrorists and abuse of trust, has begun. Hundreds of supporters of press freedom protested outside the courtroom.
Far East, Asia and Pacific
AFGHANISTAN: A Taliban suicide raid was launched against the Afghan military in Helmand. Three armoured cars loaded with explosives were followed by suicide bombers and gunmen. Dead suicide attackers included the son of the Taliban’s supreme leader, according to the Taliban.
Taliban gunmen kidnapped 70 people on the highway between Kabul and Kandahar. Taliban suicide bombers killed 35 and injured 42 in Kabul. Military outposts and police stations were attacked elsewhere. A US airstrike resulted in the friendly-fire deaths of 16 policemen.
Two videos obtained by CNN show Taliban fighters brandishing weaponry which they claim has been supplied by Russia. The USA has suspected for some months that the Russians “may be providing some sort of support to the Taliban in terms of weapons” (General Joseph Votel, chief of US Central Command). The Kremlin denies such claims.
CHINA: The director of the state administration for religious affairs has warned members of the Communist party that they should not have any other beliefs or faiths and will be punished if they do.
The military is reportedly reinforcing defences along the border with N Korea.
INDIA: The presidential election was won by Ram Nath Kovind, of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party. The new president is a Dalit, a member of the lowest caste.
INDONESIA: President Widodo has told police officers to shoot drug traffickers who resist arrest.
JAPAN: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was questioned by MPs about allegations that he used his influence to help a friend set up a new private university.
MALDIVES: Police and soldiers raided parliament to break up an opposition vote of no confidence. Some MPs were detained.
THAILAND: Over 100 people, including a lieutenant general, have been found guilty of human trafficking and corruption involving thousands of migrants, including Rohingya muslims fleeing persecution in Burma.
URUGUAY: The sale of cannabis has been legalised.
USA: President Trump’s persistent criticism of his attorney general Jeff Sessions has led to suspicions that he is trying to force him out of office. President Trump was annoyed last March when Jeff Sessions removed himself from the investigations into allegations that Russia interfered in the presidential election.
The White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigned (to be replaced by deputy Sarah Huckabee Sanders), apparently in protest against the appointment of a new White House communications director (the third in six months) Anthony Scaramucci, a Wall Street financier with no previous political experience (his appointment was supported by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, but opposed by Steve Bannon and Reince Preibus).
The commander of the US military forces in Europe pointed out that the White House has not yet appointed ambassadors to many European countries.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Trump’s pre-presidential business dealings with Russians. Jared Kushner was questioned in a closed session by Senate investigators about alleged election campaign ties to Russia. He is due to be questioned by the House intelligence committee as well.
New sanctions against Russia (and also against Iran and North Korea) are being prepared in Congress in defiance of the White House.
Hawaii is to hold monthly emergency drills to prepare for a potential nuclear strike from N Korea.
A lorry packed with illegal immigrants was stopped at San Antonio, Texas; at least ten immigrants were dead, and the driver is to be charged with people-trafficking.
Employees at a vending machine manufacturing firm in Wisconsin have volunteered to have a microchip implanted in their hands to facilitate punching in and out of work.
VENEZUELA: The Democratic Union coalition (the opposition parliament) organised a 24 hour general strike.
International pressure on the president to drop his plans for a constituent assembly is growing. Colombia, France, Spain, the EU and the US have urged him to cancel elections for the assembly due on July 30.
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