12 October 2017
Week in Brief: International
AUSTRIA: The Social Democrats have fallen to third place in polls ahead of next week’s elections, as a result of a scandal about an internet smear campaign against Sebastian Kurz, leader of the rival Peoples’ Party. The far right Freedom Party is in second place. The conservative Peoples’ Party are in the lead, and Mr Kurtz (who is foreign secretary in the current coalition government) is the favourite to become chancellor.
GERMANY: Under pressure from her conservative CSU partners prior to coalition talks with other parties, Chancellor Merkel agreed to an annual limit of 200,000 asylum seekers and to a system of processing them at new centres at the border.
NOBEL PRIZE: The Nobel committee awarded the Nobel prize for literature to British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, and the Nobel peace prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
RUSSIA: King Salman of Saudi Arabia visited Moscow, the first Saudi monarch to do so. He and President Putin discussed Syria (where they are backing opposite sides in the civil war) and relations with Iran (Russia’s ally but Saudi’s enemy), and agreed on defence and investment deals.
SPAIN: The Spanish constitutional court barred the Catalan parliament from sitting on Monday, when it was due to debate the referendum and declare independence. When the parliament met on Tuesday, the Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont avoided an outright secession by signing but then suspending a declaration of independence, to give time for talks with Madrid. Madrid is refusing to negotiate under the threat of independence.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied in Barcelona to demonstrate against independence (950,000 according to organisers, 350,000 according to police). Calling themselves the Silent Majority, they waved both Catalan flags and Spanish flags, and shouted “Viva Catalunya, viva España”.
An exodus of more than 20 leading companies from Barcelona means that Catalonia is already no longer Spain’s richest region. Banco Sabadell (which owns TSB) is moving its legal base out of Catalonia to Alicante. Caixa Bank is moving from Barcelona to the Balearics. The energy company Gas Natural Fenosa and the publisher Planeta are moving from Barcelona to Madrid, as are Albertis (infrastructure group), Cellnex (telecommunications) and Colonial (construction). Savers are withdrawing money from Catalan-based banks and putting it in Madrid-based banks, and shoppers are buying and hoarding essentials.
Middle East and Africa
EGYPT: Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have begun talks which it is hoped will end conflict and lead to elections in Gaza and the West Bank.
IRAN: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Iranian-British woman who is serving a five year prison sentence for allegedly plotting against the Iranian regime, is now facing an extra three charges which could add another 16 years to her sentence, according to her husband, Richard Ratcliffe.
IRAQ: Prime minister Haider al-Abdi announced that Iraq forces have recaptured Hawija, the last stronghold held by Isis in Iraq.
LIBERIA: Presidential elections took place, with twenty candidates standing. President Sirleaf (Africa’s first elected female head of state) is stepping down after serving the maximum twelve years, during which the country’s fourteen-year civil war was brought to an end.
KENYA: Opposition leader Raila Odinga has withdrawn from the re-run of the presidential election due in two week’s time, saying that the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission has not made the necessary reforms and corrections since the Supreme Court criticised its performance in last month’s presidential election, annulled the result and ordered a re-run.
LIBYA: It has been alleged that Italy has paid militias in Libya in an attempt to halt the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean. The Tripoli-based authority has freed 4,000 migrants who have been held in camps by the militias. Payments have apparently upset the balance of power between rival groups, and this has caused friction and fighting between the militias.
A Somali man was jailed for life by a court in Italy for murdering, torturing and raping migrants in a migrant camp he ran in Libya. He was detained by police in Milan (where he was trying to claim asylum) after he was recognised by some of his victims.
NIGER: Three US Green Berets were killed and two wounded in an ambush by terrorists (probably al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). US special forces are involved in training troops in Niger and Mali.
SYRIA: Hundreds of civilians have died in airstrikes over the last month as Russian, regime and coalition forces engage in fierce fighting against Isis to drive it from its last strongholds, including Mayadin and Raqqa. Activists say that September was the worst month this year for civilian casualties.
Moderate rebels have begun an offensive against the extremist rebel group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly the Nusra Front) in Idlib province. The moderates are being supported by Turkish ground forces and Russian air forces; it is the first time that Turkey and Russia (who back opposite sides in the civil war) have engaged in joint operations.
TURKEY: The arrest of a Turkish worker at the US consulate in Istanbul, charged with espionage and attempting to destroy Turkey’s constitutional order, has put a strain on relations between the two countries. The US has suspended visas for most Turkish citizens; Turkey imposed the same suspension of visas for US citizens in retaliation.
A journalist with dual Turkish and Finnish nationality was sentenced in absentia to three months in prison for reporting on the Kurdish PKK insurrection in The Wall Street Journal.
Far East, Asia and Pacific
AFGHANISTAN: New rules of engagement were announced by US defence secretary James Mattis. US forces can now attack Taliban targets even if they are not in close proximity.
INDONESIA: Police arrested dozens of men, including several foreigners, in a raid on a gay sauna.
JAPAN: A 31 year old television reporter who worked with NHK, the state broadcaster, died of a heart attack in what is thought to be a case of karoshi (overwork). She had worked 159 hours of overtime in the last month (over 5 hours a day) with only two days off, and 147 hours of overtime in the previous month. At least 107 people died of karoshi in Japan last year.
KOREA, NORTH: Kim Jong-un promoted his sister Kim Yo-jong, the deputy director of the ruling Workers’ Party propaganda department, to the politburo as a non-voting ‘alternate member’. The reshuffle also saw the promotion of other aides and close associates of Kim Jong-un, including foreign minister Ri Yong-ho promoted to the politburo as a full member, and party vice-chairman Choe Ryong-hae promoted to the Central Military Commission.
KOREA, SOUTH: North Korean hackers broke into the South Korean ministry of defence computers and stole 235 gigabytes of military secrets, including the joint South Korean/US plans for war if attacked by the North, information about military installations and power plants in the South, and reports on military personnel. The cyberattack happened a year ago, but its extent has only just been revealed by an MP’s freedom of information request.
THAILAND: An 85 year old activist has been arrested and charged under lèse-majesté laws for insulting Thailand’s King Naresuan (a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth I) three years ago, when he questioned the king’s part in a battle fought in 1593.
BRAZIL: The chairman of Brazil’s Olympic Committee, Carlos Nuzman, was arrested by police about allegations of bribery, corruption, criminal association and money laundering in connection with the IOC’s award of the 2016 games to Brazil.
USA: The National Rifle Association, which has always opposed gun control, suggested that the device which the Las Vegas gunman used to convert his semi-automatic weapons into automatic ones could be banned.
At least 15 people have been killed, more than 150 are missing and 20,000 have fled their homes as dozens of wildfires sweep northern California. A state of emergency has been declared in a number of counties. 2000 properties and 80,000 acres of vineyards have been burnt to the ground.
VENEZUELA: President Maduro visited President Putin in Moscow to discuss restructuring Venezuela’s debts to Russia.
Venezuelans have been unable to renew their passports because of a shortage of ink and paper for new documents at the national passport office.
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