21 September 2017
Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS
EU: In his state of the union address, president of the EU commission Jean-Claude Juncker proposed more centralisation of power in Brussels (including a single president instead of one for the EU commission and one for the European council, a Eurozone finance minister, an intelligence agency, a labour standards agency and an anti-terrorism prosecutor) and an expansion of the euro zone and the Schengen zone.
FRANCE: Paris will host the 2024 Olympic Games.
Haulage unions organised a go-slow on motorways to protest against the government’s attempts to liberalise the labour laws.
GERMANY: General elections will take place this Sunday. Mrs Merkel’s CDU is likely to win, but it will need coalition partners again. As the existing partner, the SPD, is likely to prefer being the opposition, she will need new partners – perhaps the FDP plus the Greens (though these two parties disagree on action about refugees and climate change).
President Erdogan of Turkey has urged Germans of Turkish descent not to vote for “enemies of Turkey” such as the SPD, CDU and Greens.
ICELAND: The centrist Bright Future Party resigned from the centre-right coalition government in protest against the prime minister’s father’s attempt to reinstate a convicted paedophile’s reputation. The government collapsed and the prime minister called for an election.
ITALY: The lower house of parliament passed a bill banning the use of images from Mussolini’s fascist past.
Members of the Five Star Movement will vote on-line for their leadership this week. With general elections due next May, polls put Five Star and the governing Democratic Party neck and neck, with 30% each.
RUSSIA: Russia and Belarus carried out massive military exercises (named ‘Zapad’, i.e. ‘West’). At least 12,700 troops took part, though there was concern in NATO that the true numbers involved had been concealed, so that Russia did not have to invite international monitors. There was also suspicion that the exercise was a ‘Trojan horse’ for the permanent deployment of Russian troops in Belarus. President Putin claimed that NATO exercises in Eastern Europe were provocative and that Russia had to respond.
Parking privileges for US diplomats in Moscow and three other cities have been revoked.
SERBIA: Prime Minister Ana Brnabic took part in Belgrade’s Pride parade with fellow members of the gay community. Police in riot gear guarded her as she marched.
SPAIN: The Madrid government removed control of Catalonia’s finances from its regional authority, in order to prevent public money being used to fund the independence referendum called by the authority for October 1, which Madrid says is illegal.
Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa have started to break through the fence which separates the Spanish enclave of Ceuta from Morocco. The Spanish government has responded by allocating £12 million to build a new fence; 9,000 people have tried to force their way into Ceuta recently.
Middle East and Africa
GAZA: Mediation by Egypt is helping to reconcile Hamas (the militant Palestinian group which controls Gaza) and Fatah (the Palestinian party which control the West Bank). Hamas agreed to dissolve its administration, which should open the way for talks with Fatah and for elections.
IRAQ: Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s Kurdish region, is to push ahead with a referendum on independence for Iraq’s 6 million Kurds next week, in spite of warnings from prime minister Haider al-Abadi that the Baghdad government considers it to be illegal and unconstitutional, of requests from the USA, the UK and the UN to delay the vote for the sake of regional stability, and of threats from Turkey and Iran of hostilities and blockades.
Iraqi forces are moving in on two of the last areas held by Isis – the town of Hawija (south of Mosul) and Anbar desert (on the border with Syria). Elsewhere, Isis suicide bombers and gunmen killed 74 and injured 93.
ISRAEL: The Supreme Court ruled that the ultra-orthodox Haredim must serve in the military. The Haredim (about 10% of the population) are currently excused the two-year military conscription (otherwise obligatory for Jewish Israelis) in order to study sacred texts instead. The court found this exemption to be “unreasonable and unconstitutional”.
The government is planning to limit the power of the Supreme Court by enabling parliament to overrule any decision by the court that a bill is unconstitutional.
A drone entered Israeli airspace over the Golan Heights. The military believe it was Iranian and was being operated by Hezbollah in Syria. It was shot down with a Patriot missile.
SAUDI ARABIA: Women will be allowed to train as air traffic controllers.
SYRIA: Regime forces crossed the Euphrates into eastern Syria, in defiance of the river’s status as a line of control marking a ‘deconfliction zone’ agreed by Russia and the USA. This increases the possibility of clashes with the SDF (the Kurdish-led anti-Isis alliance) in this area.
ZIMBABWE: Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai flown to a South African hospital, apparently due to complications in chemotherapy treatment he is undergoing for colon cancer.
Far East, Asia and Pacific
AUSTRALIA: High winter rainfall has resulted in an explosion of the kangaroo population. There are now twice as many kangaroos in Australia as there are people.
BANGLDESH: The authorities are trying to contain the 400,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees from Burma. Conditions remain poor for the refugees, with food and water shortages and heavy monsoon rain.
BURMA: In her speech on the Rohingya crisis, Aung San Suu Kyi avoided blaming the military or Burmese militants, denied ethnic cleansing and claimed that there has been no conflict since September 5 (a claim which contradicts accounts by journalists, human rights activists, aid workers and refugees). She cancelled her attendance at this week’s UN general assembly in New York.
Al-Qaeda called for jihadists to go to Burma, but the leader of the Arsa (the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army – the Rohingya militants who attacked policemen at a checkpoint on 25 August) said that his movement is not jihadist or Islamist and would oppose jihad.
The government is taking control of aid operations helping the Rohingas, in a move seen to be an attempt to keep foreign aid agencies out.
KOREA, NORTH: Another ballistic missile was fired over Japan. It flew for 3700km, 800km further than in previous tests.
NEW ZEALAND: General elections will take place this weekend: the opposition Labour party is expected to defeat the conservative National party which has governed for 9 years.
MP Jian Yang of the governing National Party admitted that he been a student and teacher at military intelligence colleges in China before moving to Australia and New Zealand. Other MPs questioned whether Mr Yang’s background in foreign espionage might compromise New Zealand’s own intelligence integrity.
A fuel crisis was triggered when the only pipeline carrying fuel to Auckland was accidentally broken. The 150km pipeline carries most of the country’s aviation fuel from its only oil refinery to Auckland.
CARIBBEAN: Hurricane Maria, a maximum category 5 storm with winds up to 188mph, devastated the island of Dominica. Puerto Rico is bracing itself as Maria approaches.
CUBA: The FBI is to investigate cases of brain damage, hearing loss and nausea among staff at the US and Canadian embassies in Havana. It is suspected that they are being targeted by a secret sonic weapon. President Raul Castro has denied any Cuban responsibility.
MEXICO: A 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit central Mexico. Buildings collapsed in the capital and other cities. At least 250 people have died and many more are trapped beneath debris. It struck on the anniversary of a quake which killed 10,000 people in 1985. Two weeks ago, a quake killed at least 90 people in the country’s Pacific south west.
USA: At the UN general assembly in New York, President Trump addressed leaders from 200 nations. He urged reform but was surprisingly positive and respectful about the organisation and its new secretary general, Antonio Guterres. He spoke in favour of co-operation between nation states rather than multilateral arrangements or supranational bodies, and urged more action against rogue states, saying that the US would “totally destroy North Korea” if it had to, and criticising Iran and last year’s anti-nuclear deal.
President Trump showed further readiness to co-operate with the Democrats, in discussions about DACA and the Mexican wall (see comment Crossing The Floor).
A court in St Louis found a white policeman not guilty of the murder of a black suspect he shot dead in 2011. The verdict has triggered protest marches during the day and violent demonstrations at night.
Los Angeles will host the 2018 Olympic Games.
VENEZUELA: Hyper-inflation is resulting in a shortage of cash. Cash-withdrawals have been limited to 10,000 bolivars (worth less than £1) per day.
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