Issue 122:2017 09 28:Week in Brief International

28 September 2017

Week in Brief: International

UN Flag to denote International news Week In Brief International


FRANCE: Florian Phillipot, the deputy chairman of the National Front, resigned and left the party.  Although socially tolerant, he believes in absolute national sovereignty and has clashed with leader Marine le Pen over his opposition to the EU and the euro.

Jean-Luc Melenchon (leader of the far left party France Insourmise) organised rallies and marches to protest against the government’s proposed labour reforms.

Republicans and their allies won 40 seats in Senate elections (half of the upper house’s 348 sets are elected by 76,000 elected office holders such as town and regional councillors), bringing their total to 170.  The governing REM won only 23 seats. The Senate can delay the National Assembly’s legislation but cannot overrule it.

President Macron urged reform of the EU, saying that it is “too slow, too weak and too inefficient”.  He called for more centralisation of defence, finance and education.  German support is unlikely, given Chancellor Merkel’s weakened position following last weekend’s elections.

GERMANY: Last weekend’s general elections resulted in Mrs Merkel continuing as chancellor for a 4th term, but with a reduced minority – and her options for forming a coalition are limited by the presence of the far-right AfD in the Bundestag for first time (they emerged as the third largest party) and by the decision of her former partner the SPD to go into opposition.  Her conservative CDU/CSU won 32.9% of the vote (246 seats out of the Bundestag’s 709 seats, losing 65 seats), the centre left SPD won 20.8% (153 seats, losing 40 seats), the nationalist right AfD won 13% (94 seats), the liberal FDP 10.4% (80 seats), Greens 9% (67 seats), the Left 9% (69 seats), and others 4.9%.  There was a 76.2% turnout.

Despite its gains, the AfD appears to be in some disarray.  Its co-leader Frauke Petry walked out of the party in its first post-election press conference. She dismissed it as too ‘anarchic’ for government and said she would sit in the Bundestag as an independent (she has recently clashed with other leaders over her pragmatic approach and her attempts to led the AfD away from xenophobia).  Her husband Marcus Pretzell, AfD group leader in North Rhine-Westphalia, is also leaving the party, as are four members of the state parliament in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

GREECE: An oil slick from a tanker which sank near Pireus two weeks ago is extending across the Athens coast.   Attempts to clean up the spill have been complicated by the arrest of the clean-up vessel’s captain and chief mechanic on fuel smuggling charges.  There have been calls for the minister for merchant marine to resign.

RUSSIA: The state regulator Roskomnadzor threatened to shut down Facebook next year (expected to be an election year) if it does not store its Russian data on Russian servers.  The threat came only days after Facebook agreed to hand over details of 3000 US election adverts, brought by a Russian organisation, to the US Congress.  Linkedin was blocked a year ago.

SPAIN: Madrid’s measures to prevent the illegal Catalan independence referendum from taking place are causing uneasiness in Brussels, as the EU fears that they are increasing tensions and potential conflict.  Police arrested 14 members of the Catalan regional government in 41 early-morning raids on government offices and political headquarters, and seized 45,000 letters and documents.  700 mayors are under investigation for co-operating with the referendum.  Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets to demonstrate against such measures.  Opponents of independence have complained about intimidation, a climate of fear and pro-independence propaganda in schools.

VATICAN: The Pope was accused of heresy by a group of 60 priests and Roman Catholic scholars from round the world, who sent him a 25 page letter – a formal ‘filial correction’ (the first since the fourteenth century) – claiming to identify seven heretical propositions in last year’s Amoris Letitia, his comments on marriage.

Middle East and Africa

ANGOLA: The country’s first new president in 38 years was sworn in.  João Lourenço took over from José Eduardo dos Santos (who was Africa’s second longest serving head of state).

BAHRAIN: King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa called for an end to the boycott against Israel by Gulf Arab states, in what could be the first step towards recognising Israel.

EGYPT: There are reports that the lawyer representing Mr Regeni (the Italian student murdered in Egypt, allegedly by the security services) has been detained and tortured by the authorities.

IRAQ: The vote for independence in the KAR (Kurdish Autonomous Region) took place peacefully.  A turnout of 72% is expected to result in a 75% or 80% vote in favour of independence, but counting will take three days to complete.  It’s expected to trigger negotiations with Baghdad rather than an immediate unilateral declaration of independence.

The vote was opposed by Turkey and Iran, both having sizable Kurdish populations.  Iran closed its borders and airspace to Kurdistan, and Turkey threatened to cut off the oil pipeline from the KAR.  The Baghdad government said it would not negotiate with the Kurds, and took part in joint military exercises with Turkey on the Kurdish border.  It also sent troops to the disputed oil-rich region of Kirkuk, which is claimed by the KAR but where other ethnic groups – Turkmen and Arabs – also live, and where a face-off between Shia militias and the Kurdish peshmerga is taking place.  For the sake of regional stability, the USA and the UK tried unsuccessfully to dissuade the Kurd’s governing KDP party from going ahead with the vote, offering to give Kurdish independence full support if the vote was delayed for a few years so that negotiations with Baghdad could take place first (although the Kurds’ second biggest party, the PUK, did support this suggestion).

Iraqi forces began assaults on Isis’ last two territories – Hawija (south of Kirkuk) and Anbar (near the Syrian border).

Two Turkish intelligence officers attempting to capture Cemil Bayik, a Turkish PKK leader, have themselves been captured by Kurds.

ISRAEL: A Palestinian shot four Israeli security officers at a checkpoint outside an Israeli settlement where he worked.  Three of his victims died.

KENYA: The Supreme Court criticised the IECB (Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission), accepting the opposition’s claim that the commission’s system was infiltrated and compromised, ie that votes were rigged, during the recent election.

LIBYA: An attack by US drones on a desert camp killed at least 17 Isis fighters.  There are reports that Isis is trying to regroup in Libya after defeats in Syria and Iraq.

A businessman based in Switzerland, Basit Igtet, addressed a rally in Tripoli, presenting himself as yet another national leader.

RWANDA: Diana Rwigara, the opposition politician and critic of President Kagame, has been charged with treason. She was disqualified from standing in the recent presidential elections and detained last month.

SAUDI ARABIA: Women will be allowed to drive from next June, thanks to a royal decree issued by King Salman.  It’s thought that his heir, crown prince Mohamed Bin Salman, was behind the decision.  Earlier in the week, women were allowed into the national stadium to attend the kingdom’s 87th anniversary, the first time they were able to take part in a public event.

SYRIA: The Kurdish group YPG (an affiliate of Turkey’s PKK) held elections in the territory it controls.

The Kremlin confirmed that a high-ranking officer – Lieutenant-General Valery Asapov – was killed by an Isis strike during the attack on Deir ez-Zor.

TURKEY: President Erdogan condemned the referendum vote for Kurdish independence in Iraq, and threatened to block the oil pipeline from Kurdistan.  Three Kurdish television channels were shut down.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AUSTRALIA: A postal ballot on gay marriage took place. The result will take some weeks to count, and if it is favour of gay marriage, the issue will be debated in parliament.

BANGLADESH: The Telecoms ministry banned the country’s four mobile phone providers from selling Sim cards to the 400,000 Rohingya refugees.

BURMA: Facebook has banned the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army from their platform as ‘a dangerous organisation’.

A boat bringing emergency supplies from the Red Cross to Rohingya was attacked by a Buddhist mob throwing rocks and petrol bombs when it tried to dock at the state capital Sittwe.

CHINA: The central bank told its subsidiaries to stop doing business with North Korea.

WhatsApp was temporarily blocked.

INDIA: Female students at Banaras Hindu University (Varnasi, Uttar Pradesh) demonstrating against widespread sexual assault were attacked by baton-wielding police.

JAPAN: Prime minister Shinzo Abe called a snap general election, to take place on October 22.  The governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, will stand for her new party, Kibo-no-to (Party of Hope), hoping to become Japan’s first female prime minister.

KOREA, NORTH: US B-1B bombers flew further north of the border than ever before this century, said the Pentagon, as a “demonstration of US resolve and a clear message that the president has many military options”.  Pyongyang said that President Trump’s tweets amount to a declaration of war, and threatened to shoot down any US warplanes in the region.  The White House dismissed the ‘declaration of war’ claim as nonsense.

NEW ZEALAND: Last weekend’s general election was expected to result in defeat for Bill English and his governing conservative National Party, and victory for Jacinda Ardern and Labour.  In fact, the National Party won with 46% of the votes (58 seats), with Labour coming second (35.8%, 45 seats).  With New Zealand’s proportional representation system, and overseas votes still being counted, the results are not yet final.  With a coalition government necessary, Winston Peters and the New Zealand First party appears to hold the balance of power.

PHILIPPINES: Paolo Duterte, the son of President Duterte, was questioned by the Senate about allegations that he is a member of a drug-smuggling gang.   The president said that he has given orders for his son’s murder if the allegations are true.

Troops are still engaged in house to house fighting against Isis in the southern city of Marawi.  The army has lost 147 dead in the last five months.  It freed the Catholic priest Teresito Soganub, but other hostages are still being held by up to 80 Isis fighters, a third of whom might be child soldiers.

VANUATU: Eruptions from the Monarco volcano forced 6000 residents (out of the island’s population of 11,000) to evacuate their homes.  A state of emergency was declared.


MEXICO: The death toll from last week’s earthquake has reached 273.  Rescue operations are still under way.

PUERTO RICO: Hurricane Maria, with winds of 155mph wind and up to 75cm of rain in 24hours, brought floods and devastation, knocking out power and putting ports and airports out of action.  Puerto Rico had been a hub for relief to the region (the hurricane had already flattened Dominica and left at least 8 dead, and battered Guadeloupe and the US Virgin islands).

USA: A special council has asked the White House for papers on the dismissal of FBI boss Comey.

Facebook has agreed to give the congressional investigator details of 3000 election adverts bought by a Russia-linked agency during the election.

Trump issued executive orders to punish anyone trading with North Korea, including banning any plane or ship landing or docking in North Korea from entering the US for 6 months, and seizing the property of anyone doing business with North Korea.

Many football players knelt on one knee rather than standing during the playing of the national anthem before NFL games, in an organised protest against police brutality.  The gesture is borrowed from the US military – soldiers kneel on one knee at the grave of a fallen comrade.  Trump attacked the players’ action via tweet, adding to the controversy and conflict.

Trump added Venezuela, Chad and North Korea to his travel ban.

At least six past or present presidential aides (including Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon) use or have used personal e-mail accounts for government business, according to  the Republican congressman who was in charge of the enquiry into Hilary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.


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