Issue 105:2017 05 18:Week in brief international

18 May 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Europe

AUSTRIA:  The Vice-Chancellor and leader of the OVP, Reinhold Mitterlehner, has resigned, putting the future of the governing OVP/Social Democrat coalition in doubt.  The Foreign Minister announced that a general election will take place this autumn, a year early.

FRANCE:  Emmanuel Macron was sworn in as President at the Élysée Palace, and met Chancellor Merkel in Berlin.  He announced that his prime minister will be Édouard Philippe, a centre-right Republican MP and mayor of Le Havre.  At least two Republican ministers have defected to La Republic en Marche.

See comment Macron’s Discombobulation of The French Political Landscape.

GERMANY:  Two army officers and a student were arrested, suspected of planning extreme right-wing terrorist attacks.  Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced a new programme of ‘political education’ for troops and the removal of any remaining symbolic links between today’s army and Hitler’s Wehrmacht.

Chancellor Merkel’s CDU party won the state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia with 34.5% of the vote, beating the SPD party of her rival Martin Schulz. The state is the most populous in Germany, is Mr Schulz’s home base, and had been held by the SPD for 70 years. The result indicates that Chancellor Merkel is on course for victory in the general elections in September.

GREECE:  A train left the track and crashed into a house on the way to Thessaloniki from Athens; 3 passengers were killed and 10 badly injured.

Nationwide strikes began in protest against the new austerity measures on which parliament will vote this week.  First quarter figures show that Greece is back in recession, with the economy contracting by 0.1%.

ITALY:  Two bombs exploded outside a post office in a residential area of Rome.  No one was hurt and no one has claimed responsibility.

Italian police closed down the Isola di Capo Rizzuto migrant centre in Calabria and arrested 68 people, including a priest.  It appears that mafia organised crime clans are taking over migrant centres and pocketing millions of Euros meant for feeding migrants.

Arrests have been made of Ukrainian smugglers who have been carrying immigrants from Turkey to Southern Europe on luxury yachts.  It has been estimated that 2,000 immigrants from the Middle East & South Asia paid £5,500 each to be taken to Italy.  Eight Ukrainian people smugglers have been arrested in Sicily after the yachts were intercepted by the Italian coastguard, with six more being arrested in Malta and Crete. The immigrants came from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Iraq. Apparently 42 Ukrainians were arrested last year on suspicion of smuggling people from Turkey and Greece to Italy.

SPAIN:  Parliament voted to remove General Franco’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen, by 198 votes to 1 (with 140 abstentions) in a non-binding motion.  The Valley of the Fallen has been criticised for not honouring the losing Republican side in the civil war.

Middle East and Africa

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO:  The World Health Authority announced an outbreak of Ebola in the remote region of Bas-Uele.  Three people have died from the disease.

IRAN:  Presidential elections will be held this week.  The mayor of Tehran Baqer Qalibaf withdrew as a candidate and backed the hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, in a move which strengthens the hard-liner’s base.

ISRAEL:  The public broadcaster, Channel One, was shut down abruptly.  It will be replaced by a new broadcaster, Kan, on Monday.

IVORY COAST:  Unpaid soldiers have mutinied in Bouaké and Abidjan.  They clashed with protesters, killing one demonstrator and wounding several others, and with loyal soldiers trying to suppress the mutiny.  The government is short of money because of a crash in cocoa prices.

SYRIA:  The Isis-held city of Dier Ezzor in the east of Syria is becoming a focus for the country’s conflicts, as the cease-fire settles over the north and west and Isis is on the retreat elsewhere.  The Assad regime has sent tanks to this key eastern region, where they have attacked Western-backed FSA forces already engaged against Isis.

Isis has withdrawn from defending the Tabqa dam. Its capture by the Kurdish-led SDF will help to open the approach to Raqqa.

Turkey appealed against last week’s decision by the US to arm the YPG Kurds.  “They are not humans” said Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim about the Kurdish group.

300 rebel fighters surrendered the Qaboun neighbourhood in Damascus to regime forces.  They were allowed to evacuate with their families to opposition-held areas in northern Syria.

The United States has alleged that the Syrian Government hangs more than 50 prisoners every day and is then burning their bodies to destroy the evidence. The State Department released satellite images which, they said, showed the building of a crematorium which was to be used to dispose of the bodies.

TURKEY:  A British man, an ex-drug dealer who joined Isis in Syria, has been sent to prison for over 7 years.  He was part of a 4-man terrorist cell which held hostages and then tortured and murdered them.

YEMEN:  The war-ravaged country is struggling to deal with a second outbreak of cholera in less than a year; it has killed 115 people and infected 8500.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

CHINA:  President Xi hosted a two-day international summit to promote his “Belt and Road” initiative, a modern Silk Road to unite the world in trade.

INDIA:  A multi-faith bench of five Supreme Court judges is hearing a landmark case challenging the legality of the “triple talaq” Moslem divorce.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP party are in favour of a ban on the custom, an issue which has brought them widespread support among India’s Moslem women.

KOREA, NORTH:  Pyongyang test-launched another ballistic missile, the second in two weeks. It was apparently an intermediate-range weapon capable of carrying a heavy nuclear warhead.

PAKISTAN:  An Isis suicide bomb attacked a convoy carrying the senate’s deputy chairman and members of his pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party, killing at least 25 people.  The deputy chairman was wounded.

THAILAND:  The authorities threatened to ban Facebook when images of the king on the social network were deemed to be in breach of laws which forbid criticism of the royal family.

See comment The Templars and the Internet.

America

BRAZIL:  The trial of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, on five charges of corruption, began in the southern city of Curitiba.

MEXICO:  A Journalist famous for investigating organised crime was shot dead by masked gunmen in Culiacan.  Javier Valdez was the fifth journalist to be murdered in recent months.  Another journalist, Sonia Cordova, was attacked by gunmen the next day; she was wounded but her son was shot dead.

USA:  The New York Times reported allegations that President Trump had suggested to FBI chief James Comey that the investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn should be dropped.  The request, made in February, is said to have been recorded in a memo by Mr Comey, who was recently sacked by the president.

The New York Times also reported claims by officials that President Trump disclosed highly confidential information to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about an Isis terror plot. Intelligence officials are said to be concerned that the disclosure, at a meeting in the White House last week, might endanger their source and discourage other allies from sharing secret intelligence with the USA.

In Alaska, foreign ministers from Russia, Canada, USA, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden met as the Arctic Council to discuss environmental and sustainability issues concerning the future of the Arctic.

VENEZUELA:  Anti-Maduro protests, now in their sixth week, are continuing.  A protestor was killed, apparently by a rubber bullet.  It is feared that hundreds of arrested protestors are being tried in secret military courts.  Thousands of OAPs were confronted by thousands of national guardsmen armed with pepper sprays.  The President sacked the health minister after the publication of health statistics (kept secret for two years) showing a steep rise in infant and maternal mortality and the return of malaria and diphtheria.

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Issue 104;2017 05 11: Week in Brief International

11 May 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UN Flag to denote International news

Europe

FRANCE:  Emmanuel Macron is to be the new president of France.  He won 66.06% of the vote in the second round of the election, beating Marine le Pen of the National Front.  But the turnout of 74% was a record low, and the number ballot papers left blank or deliberately spoilt was a record high at 11.5%.

M Macron is now hoping to win a majority in next month’s general elections.  He stepped down as leader of En Marche! (the president must be above party politics), and his movement is being transformed into La République en Marche, a political party which will field (mostly novice) candidates in all 577 constituencies.

Macron and his campaign were targets for ‘fake news’ and hackers attempting to steal data, attacks which seem in the most part to have originated in Russia.

Marine le Pen is under criminal investigation by the police, after Macron accused her of libel for suggesting that he had hidden money in off-shore accounts.  Marion Marechal-le Pen, niece of Marine and grand-daughter of Jean-Marie, announced that she is retiring from politics. Her retirement will leave the Front National with only one MP.

Following M Fillon’s defeat in the first round of the presidential elections, Francois Baroin, a senator and ex-finance minister, is to lead the Republican Party into next month’s parliamentary elections.

Nine people were arrested during anti-capitalist protests in Paris on Election Day, which saw violent clashes between activists and police.  A few days later, thousands of left-wing demonstrators marched in Paris to protest against Macron’s proposals to reform labour laws, and masked youths clashed with police firing tear-gas.

GERMANY: Angela Merkel’s CDU party won the state election in Schleswig-Holstein, with 34% of the vote, to take control from the centre left Social Democrat Party, which won 27%.  This result boosts her hopes for the national elections in September.

ITALY:  Police in Genoa found and seized a concealed consignment of 37 million tramadol pills on a ship bound for Libya. It’s thought that they were to be sold to Isis fighters, among whom use of this powerful and addictive opiate painkiller to combat fear and fatigue is known to be widespread.

Middle East and Africa

IRAQ: Iraqi Kurdish leaders announced that a referendum on the declaration of a Kurdish state independent from Iraq will be held after Mosul has been taken.

ISRAEL:  A video was released, apparently showing the leader of the Palestinian hunger strike surreptitiously eating biscuits in his cell.  The authorities are considering hiring foreign doctors to force-feed the strikers, as Israeli doctors are forbidden to do so by their medical association.

LIBYA:  Talks held in Abu Dhabi between General Khalifa Haftar (commander of the armed forces of the Libyan parliament based in Tubruq, eastern Libya) and Faiez Serraj (head of the UN-backed government of national accord based in Tripoli, western Libya) appear to have produced a breakthrough agreement about unifying the two rival governments and their armed forces (which General Haftar will command, under civilian control).

NIGERIA:  The continued absence of President Buhari from public life is promoting rumour and uncertainty.  He recently spent 7 weeks in London being treated for an unspecified illness, but has hardly been seen since his return in March.

An airstrike on a Boko Haram gathering injured its leader and killed one of his deputies.

Boko Haram released 80 of the 276 girls kidnapped from Chibok girls’ school in 2014, in exchange for the release of five Boko Haram commanders.

Two Nigerian councillors were found guilty of stealing and selling food which they were supposed to be distributing to starving victims of Boko Haram.  Nigerian emergency agencies are suspected of widespread institutionalised corruption.

SYRIA:  President Putin of Russia and President Erdogan of Turkey agreed to establish extensive safe zones, where extremists groups would be excluded and enemy action banned.  Iran also agreed, and Russia has begun a de-escalation of hostilities.  Some critics claimed the agreement would result in a partition of Syria between Turkish-backed rebels and the Russian-backed regime.

Isis’s grip on its capital Raqqa is faltering. The advancing Syrian Democratic Forces (led by the Kurdish YPG) are only a few miles away, and 100,000 civilians have fled.  President Trump authorised the Pentagon to equip the Kurdish fighters with heavy weapons.

Isis released a video of the beheading of a man they claim to have been a Russian intelligence officer. Russia denies the claim.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN:  A suicide car-bomb attack on a NATO convoy in Kabul killed 8 civilians and wounded at least 28 people (including 3 US soldiers).

US and Afghan armed forces killed the leader of Isis in Afghanistan during a raid on a compound in the remote Nangarhar province.

Afghanistan and Pakistan have agreed to review and redraw the disputed 1500 mile border between them, which has been a source of conflict for 70 years.

INDONESIA:  The Christian governor of the capital Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, has been found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to two years in jail.  The charge arose when he claimed that his political opponents had deceived their followers by saying that the Koran doesn’t allow a Christian to hold political authority.

KOREA, NORTH:  Pyongyang accused the South Korean and US intelligence services of hiring a North Korean lumberjack to try to assassinate Kim Jong-un with a biochemical, radioactive, poisonous substance.

A second American academic at a university in Pyongyang was arrested, accused of “hostile acts”.

KOREA, SOUTH:  In the presidential elections, the left-leaning liberal Moon Jae-in won with 40.2% of the vote (the conservative Hong Joon-pyo had 25.2% and the centrist Ahn Cheol-soo 21.5%).  The election was 7 months early because of the removal of the disgraced Ms Park, and the new president will be sworn in immediately, rather than waiting for the usual two-month transition period.  Moon Jae-in is eager to engage with North Korea (he wants to re-open the joint north-south Kaesong industrial zone) and is willing to say ‘no’ to the USA (he would oppose any US unilateral action against North Korea, wants to take command of his armed-forces in time of war back from US, and wants a review of the hastily-deployed anti-missile defence system THAAD).  See comment Congratulations, New President M.

America

URUGUAY:  The sale of cannabis became legal to registered customers at registered pharmacies.

USA:  President Trump’s bill to amend the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) finally passed through House of Representatives.  It will now go to the Senate.

President Trump sacked the director of the FBI James Comey for his public comments about a renewed enquiry into Hilary Clinton’s emails during the presidential campaign, comments which Mr Trump praised at the time.  James Comey has recently been leading an FBI investigation into alleged links between associates of the Trump campaign and possible Russian interference in the campaign.

See comment On The Hill, Off The Rails.

Relatives of the victims of two terrorist attacks are suing Google, Twitter and Facebook, claiming that the social media platforms enable terrorism by allowing Isis to publish propaganda.

VENEZUELA:  President Maduro said he will press ahead with his plan to replace the elected parliament with a ‘popular council’.  Tens of thousands of protesters continued to call for presidential elections; 97 people (including 2 opposition politicians) were injured this week, and 37 have been killed since the start of protests in March.  Gustavo Dudamel, the world-famous conductor and product of Venezuela’s classical music education programme La Sistema, broke his silence to criticise the president and government after a teenage viola player was shot dead by police at a protest.

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Issue 103:2017 05 04:Week in Brief International

04 May 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UN Flag to denote International news

Europe

FRANCE:  The second and final round of the presidential election takes place this Sunday.  The polls show Macron in the lead with 60%, and Marine le Pen with 40%. See comment Et Après?.

Marin le Pen stepped down as leader of the National Front to concentrate on campaigning.  Her replacement, Jean-Francois Jalkh, resigned after only three days, following a renewal of the controversy about his alleged Holocaust denial.  She toned down her pledge to scrap the Euro, in a number of confusing statements.  She sealed an alliance with Debout La France, a small Eurosceptic party, but was embarrassed when it emerged that passages of her speech at her closing campaign rally were lifted from a speech by Republican leader M. Fillon.  There were violent demonstrations in Paris and other cities, with clashes between the police and left-wing protesters.  Six officers were injured and five people were arrested during Labour Day parades.

HUNGARY: The European Commission has begun proceedings against Hungary over President Victor Orban’s new laws against non-Hungarian universities and NGOs operating in his country.

ITALY:  Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was elected leader of the Democratic Party.  He resigned last year after the referendum defeat of his proposed constitutional reforms.  General elections are due by May of next year, and commentators are suggesting that they might be as early as October this year.

MACEDONIA:  A crowd of 200 people stormed the parliament and attacked opposition MPs.  They were angry at the possibility of the opposition forming a coalition with ethnic Albanian MPs, and were trying to prevent an Albanian MP from being made Speaker.

MALTA:  Thousands of people protested against corruption.  Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, whose family was linked to the Panama Papers scandal, called a general election for June 03.

RUSSIA:  Opposition leader Alexei Navalny was attacked and hit in the face with zelenka, an antiseptic green dye.  It was the second such attack in as many months.  One eye was damaged and he was taken to hospital for treatment.  Pro-Kremlin activists have been blamed.

SWEDEN:  A fire damaged a Shia mosque in a Stockholm suburb.  Police suspect that it was started deliberately.

UKRAINE:  The site of the nuclear power station disaster at Chernobyl is being transformed into an alternative energy centre.

Middle East and Africa

EGYPT:  Following the recent increase in the violent persecution of Christians in Egypt, Pope Francis met President Sisi, spoke with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb (Egypt’s leading imam) at Al-Azhar (the country’s most senior Muslim body and an ancient seat of learning) and prayed with the Coptic Pope Tawadros II.

IRAQ:  The PMF (Popular Mobilisation Forces – a group of mostly Shia irregular militias) have taken Hatra from Isis.  Damage to the ancient Seleucid town is not as bad as was feared.

ISRAEL:  Following a Palestinian general strike (in which tens of thousands took part), the ruling Palestinian party Fatah called for a “day of rage” in support of hunger-striking Palestinians in jail.

Hamas issued a document stating that it was cutting its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, and that it would be willing to consider a Palestinian state defined by the borders which existed in 1967.

LIBYA:  General Khalifa Hiftar, the head of the armed forces of the Libyan parliament which governs from Tubruq (eastern Libya), met Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the rival UN-backed Government of National Accord which is based in Tripoli (western Libya), for talks in the United Arab Emirates.

SOUTH AFRICA:  A number of ANC politicians claimed to have received death threats for opposing President Zuma.  Protests calling for the president to stand down are increasing as poverty, crime and corruption is seen to be on the increase.

SYRIA:  A huge blast at Damascus international airport was thought to be an Israeli air-strike on an arms depot maintained by Assad’s ally Iran.  See comment Israel And The Syrian Civil War.

At least five suicide bombers (reportedly affiliated to Isis) killed 46 people in an attack on a refugee camp near the border with Iraq.

US forces are maintaining a highly visible presence in the northern border region in order to discourage Turkish attacks on Kurdish YPG positions there. Turkey and the USA are allies, but Turkey is opposed to the YPG because of the related PKK Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey, while the USA sees the YPG as its most effective partner in the fight against Isis.

TURKEY:  A fresh crack-down on police officers as part of the anti-Gulen move saw a purge of 14,000 – 9000 were suspended, 1,120 were arrested, and warrants were issued for another 3000 arrests.  Another 6000 people – prosecutors and teachers – were sacked or arrested.  Wikipedia was banned.

President Erdogan has officially re-joined the AKP party which he founded.  Under the present parliamentary system, the president is supposed to be apolitical, but Erdogan appears to be preparing the way for the new presidential system.

A US based charity, the International Medical Corps, has been expelled – its 4 foreign staff were expelled, and 11 Syrian staff were detained.  It is the latest of a number of charities working in southern Turkey to aid Syrian refugees to have been closed down in recent months.

The Iranian head of Gem TV, a Farsi-language TV network, was shot dead in Istanbul. He and his programs – soap operas and entertainment shows such as The X Factor – have often been criticised by the Iranian government.  His business partner, a Kuwaiti, was also killed in the attack.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN:  The US will supply the Afghanistan air-force with up to 200 aircraft – fighter jets, helicopters and transports – over the next four years.

CHINA:  The navy launched its first Chinese-built aircraft carrier in the port of Dalian.  It has one other aircraft carrier, an ex-Soviet ship bought from Ukraine in 1999.  The US navy has 10 aircraft carriers.

KOREA, SOUTH:  The US began to deploy the new Thaad (Terminal High Altitude Air Defence) anti-missile system a month early as tensions with North Korea continue to rise.  China has complained that the system’s radar might be able to penetrate their own air-space.

America

USA:  President Trump has decided to renegotiate Nafta rather than scrap it.

A demand for funding for the Mexican border wall was dropped from the budget bill in order to get it passed.

A second attempt to pass the bill to reverse Obamacare was scrapped after insufficient votes were secured in the House of Representatives.

President Trump suggested that South Korea should pay for the Thaad anti-missile system, and threatened to re-negotiate the free trade deal between South Korea and the USA.  The statement saw financial markets in Seoul plummet.

VENEZUELA:  Angry protests against President Maduro are spreading, and developing into violent clashes with riot police in armoured cars.  A 20 year old man was killed when he was hit by a tear-gas canister (there have been 29 deaths and 400 injuries in recent demonstrations).  President Maduro has decided to withdraw his country from the Organisation of American States (most members of the Organisation are critical of his government).  He is threatening to draw up a new constitution via a “peoples’ assembly”, to enable his government to continue to override the opposition majority in parliament.

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Issue 012:2017 04 27: Week in brief International

27 April 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UN Flag to denote International news

Europe

ESTONIA:  Over 1000 British and French troops have been deployed to defend the Balkan state on NATO’s eastern border.  The troops are supported by tanks and artillery.  The most expensive and sophisticated fighter jet, the US’s F-35A jet, will be based in Suffolk in order to be operational over the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

FRANCE:  In the first round of the presidential elections, the two outsiders Emmanuel Macron (centrist founder of En Marche! movement, 24% of the vote) and Marine le Pen (leader of the extreme right populist party the National Front, 22% of the vote) led the field and so will go head-to-head in the second round on May 7.  See comment It’s Not In The Bag, Emmanuel.

The Russian-linked hacking group Fancy Bear attempted to penetrate En Marche‘s computer systems and steal data, according to the Japanese-based cybersecurity company Trend Micro.

A gunman killed one policeman and wounded two others on the Champs Elysée in central Paris.  The attacker, a Parisian Muslim, was shot dead by police.  He had a criminal record for attacks against the police but no known links to radical Islamists.

GERMANY:  Thousands of protesters demonstrated against the populist right-wing AfD (Alternative for Germany) party conference in Cologne.  Frauke Petry announced that she would not be standing as the lead candidate in the general election in September.  The party faction arguing for a pragmatic approach to gaining seats in the election was defeated by the opposing faction insisting on no dilution of its opinions.

It appears that the man behind the bomb attack on the Borussia Dortmund team bus was not a terrorist but was hoping for financial gain by gambling on the team’s shares falling in value.

ITALY:  A court ruled that mobile phone use caused a brain tumour in a man who spent up to 4 hours a day on his phone for 15 years in the course of his work.

A prosecutor in Italy has alleged that the intelligence service has evidence showing that charities are colluding with people traffickers who warn when migrants are crossing so that they can be picked up by the charities’ boats.  He will also examine allegations that the charities are being funded by the traffickers so that there are sufficient boats to pick up the migrants.

PORTUGAL:  A teenage girl died of measles in Lisbon.  Deadly measles epidemics are also emerging in Italy and Romania (which has had 3,400 cases this year, with 17 deaths).  Belgium, France and Poland are also under threat.  Irresponsible campaigns against vaccination are being blamed for this public health catastrophe.

RUSSIA:  The Supreme Court has banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses, calling them a dangerous extremist group.  There are about 170,000 of them in Russia.

Middle East and Africa

EGYPT:  Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused the Egyptian army of shooting dead two unarmed teenage detainees during counter-terrorism operations in Sinai, and suspect that the military is guilty of other extramjudicial killings.

IRAN:  The Guardian Council has disqualified former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a candidate in the forthcoming presidential elections.

IRAQ:  The Qatari hunting party which was kidnapped in the Iraq desert 16 months ago has been released.  It is believed that the 26 members of the group (including Qatari royalty) were freed after a deal involving the payment of a ransom and the evacuation of a number of besieged towns in Syria was completed.

KENYA:  The USA declared that its military mission against the Lord’s Resistance Army was over because its leadership had been destroyed.  Its leader, Joseph Koney, has been on the International Criminal Court’s wanted list for some time.

NIGERIA:  Officials announced that Muhammad Sanusi, the Emir of Kano and a former central bank governor, is under investigation for alleged corruption.

SAUDI ARABIA:  King Salman withdrew the public sector cuts which he announced last September.  The reversal followed threats of widespread protest and a rebound in oil prices which has seen the budget deficit cut by more than a half, according to the Minister of State.

SOUTH AFRICA:  Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa called for a judicial commission of inquiry into President Zuma’s links with the Gupta brothers.  Critics have claimed that the Gupta family use bribery and corruption to exercise a powerful influence over Zuma’s government.  The call is seen as an attempt to oust Zuma as demands for the President’s resignation intensify.

SYRIA:  The Israeli military reported that the Assad regime still has up to three tonnes of chemical weapons.

The regime has moved its remaining aircraft from its own airbases to airbases run by the Russians which are protected by Russia’s S-400 air defence system, according to US sources. The US claims that a fifth of Assad’s air force was destroyed by the US punitive strike following the deaths of civilians by sarin nerve gas during a regime airstrike.

TURKEY:  Demonstrators in Istanbul continue to protest against the referendum result, with up to 5000 of them marching each night.  38 activists were arrested in dawn raids

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has resumed monitoring Turkey to assess whether standards of governance there meet EU membership requirements.  Monitoring was completed in 2004, but the new resolution reflects human rights concerns following the government’s reactions to the recent failed coup and the Kurdish insurgency.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN:  Ten Taliban fighters armed with bombs, machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades infiltrated an army base near Mazar-i-Sharif and killed unarmed Afghan soldiers who were attending prayers in the mosque or eating a meal in the mess.  Fighting continued for five hours.  More than 150 soldiers were killed.  Seven of the attackers were killed, 2 blew themselves up and one was captured.  The defence minister and the commander of the Afghan army resigned following public protests about organisational and security failures which allowed the militants to bluff their way into the base.

CHINA:  Authorities in Xinjiang province, where 10 million Muslim Uighurs live, have forbidden residents from giving their children ‘overtly religious’ names.

KOREA, NORTH:  An American professor, teaching at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, has been arrested.  He is the third US citizen to be detained by the authorities.  It is thought they are being held as political bargaining chips.

The price of petrol has suddenly gone up by 80%, suggesting that China is applying sanctions and has imposed an oil embargo.  North Korea imports most of its oil from China.

MALDIVES:  A well-known on-line satirist who criticised politicians and radical Islamists was stabbed to death outside his apartment.

PAKISTAN:  The Supreme Court concluded an inquiry into the assets of the family of the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (as revealed by the Panama Papers) by ruling that there was insufficient evidence for his removal.  The decision was narrow – three judges against two – and the court ordered a new investigation into allegations of corruption made against him.

America

USA:  It seems that the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vincent was travelling to Australia when President Trump said it was travelling to Korea.  The armada has now reached the Korean peninsula.

Secretary of state Rex Tillerson and defence secretary James Mattis criticised Iran’s interference in the Middle East and repeated the White House’s disapproval of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

Democrats are threatening to hold up the president’s spending bill in Congress because it includes funding for the projected wall along the Mexican border.  If the bill is blocked, the federal government will face a partial shutdown because many of its departments will run out of funds

Google and Waymo are allowing people to ride for free on their 500 driverless minivans undergoing self-driving trials in Phoenix, Arizona.

VENEZUELA:  Hundreds of thousands of protestors demonstrated against President Maduro in cities across Venezuela.  Two student protestors were shot dead and one national guardsman died.  Five other people have been killed in the last fortnight’s protests.   Protesters are demanding the dismissal of the seven high court judges who tried to usurp parliament’s power last month, and early presidential elections.   A maternity hospital had to be evacuated when it was engulfed with tear gas.   Food shortages are triggering clashes with security forces.   In Caracas, at least 12 people were electrocuted and died while trying to loot a bakery protected by an electric fence.

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Issue 101:201 04 20:Week in Brief International

20 April 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Europe

ALBANIA:  More than 20 policemen and customs officers were arrested on suspicion of helping drug smugglers export cannabis to Italy.

FRANCE:  The first round of the presidential vote will take place this week.  The three leading candidates – Macron, Le Pen and Fillon – are neck and neck in the polls (with around 21%-22% each). Mélenchon (far left) has about 18%.

Emmanuel Macron’s campaign appears to have been the target of fake news stories and computer hacking, which many suspect are originating from Russia.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left candidate and leader of the Rebellious France movement, is emerging as the most innovative user of new technology and social media, with widespread support from young votes, in spite of being one of the oldest candidates.

See comment Le Dilemme des Citoyens et Citoyennes.

GERMANY:  A suspect has been detained in connection with the bombs which damaged the Borussia Dortmund’s team bus and injured a player and a policeman last week.

HUNGARY:  The Constitutional Court overturned a ban on mosques and headscarves which was introduced by the mayor of the village of Asotthalom five months ago.

Tensions have increased between Hungary and the EU after President Orban threatened to close the Central European University in Budapest, refused to accept refugee quotas or to stop the detention of asylum seekers, and maintained the closure of the border to migrants. The EU commission has threatened to take Hungary to court unless it agrees to the EU policies. Angela Merkel has temporarily stopped the return of asylum seekers to Hungary, until she receives assurances that they will not be detained in border camps.

PORTUGAL: A Swiss-registered light aircraft crashed into Lidl warehouse in Lisbon – five people killed.

RUSSIA: President Putin and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov met the USAs secretary of state Rex Tillerson in the Kremlin, in spite of increased tension between the two countries following the punitive US air attack against the Syrian air force.

Security services have detained the suspected mastermind of the St Petersburg Metro bomb attack.  Abror Azimov, from Kyrgyzstan, was arrested in Moscow.

The Kremlin published pictures of the Arctic Trefoil, its new military base in the Arctic.  It is the biggest man-made structure in the Arctic, covering 150,000 square feet and accommodating at least 150 troops.

An independent Russian newspaper, the Novaya Gazetta, reported the abduction of about 100 gay men by the authorities in Chechnya, the mainly Muslim republic which is part of the Russian Federation.  They are allegedly held in secret jails and tortured.  The paper claims that at least 3 have been killed.  Two of its writers who covered Chechnya have been murdered in the last ten years.

SPAIN: Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was summoned to give evidence in a corruption trial involving MPs from his Popular Party.

UKRAINE: Ukraine, the host of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, has barred the Russian contestant, Yulia Samoylova, from taking part in the competition because she has performed in Russian-annexed Crimea.  Russia’s state broadcaster has retaliated by boycotting the competition.

Middle East and Africa

EGYPT:  Gunmen killed a police officer and wounded four others in an attack on a police checkpoint at the 6th century St Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai.

IRAN: The former president, hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has registered as a candidate in next month’s presidential election. His registration was a surprise, as it appears to defy the wishes of the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  President Hassan Rouhani has also registered, hoping for a second four-year term.  Almost 200 candidates have registered so far (including 8 women); they will be vetted by the Guardian Council, which will draw up a final list by the end of this month.

ISRAEL:  Over 1000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have gone on hunger strike, demanding better conditions including more access to telephones and more visits from family members.  There are 6,200 Palestinians held in prison in Israel.

SENEGAL:  At least 20 people were killed in a fire at a Muslim spiritual retreat in Medina Gounass, a village in east Senegal.

SOUTH SUDAN:  The civil war’s increasing violence is plunging the country further into famine and destruction.

SYRIA:  A suicide car-bomb attack on buses taking evacuees from the northern towns of Fuaa and Kafraya killed at least 43 people.  The two government-held towns are being besieged by rebel forces.

The Battle for Mosul continues. The UN reported that 500,000 civilians have fled the city, and another 500,000 remain in the conflict zone.

TURKEY:  President Erdogan narrowly won the referendum about constitutional change, with 51.49% of the vote.  His powers will be considerably increased now that the country will be governed by a presidential system rather than a parliamentary system.  The EU fears that this will increase friction between Europe and Turkey. See comment Erdogan’s Uneasy Triumph.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN:  The US air force dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on an Isis underground complex in Nangahar province, near the Pakistan border.  It was the first combat use of the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb (MOAB – also known as the ‘Mother Of All Bombs’), which is satellite-guided, 30 feet long, weighs almost 10,000kg and is detonated 6 feet above the ground.  Afghan authorities said that at least 92 Isis fighters were killed.  US and Afghan ground forces are advancing on the area, which is protected by bunkers, tunnels and mine fields.

CHINA:  President Xi, speaking on the phone to President Trump following their meeting in Mar-a-Lago, criticised North Korea’s defiance of UN resolutions against its nuclear weapons programme, but called for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.  Foreign minister Wang Yi discussed the crisis with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov by phone.

China abstained from voting on a UN security council’s resolution condemning the recent chemical attack on civilians in Syria.  President Trump praised China for not voting against it.

JAPAN:  The Japanese navy announced plans to conduct joint exercises with the US navy’s USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group which is approaching the Korean peninsula.

KOREA, NORTH:  The 105th anniversary of birth of state founder Kim Il Sung on Saturday was marked with the usual military parade.  An attempt to test a ballistic missile failed.  US vice-president Mike Pence, visiting the border during a ten-day tour of Asia, warned Pyongyang about the US’s new resolve; in Japan, however, he stated that President Trump would prefer diplomatic and economic tactics rather than military ones.

PAKISTAN:  A student at Abduki Wali Khan University was attacked, beaten and murdered by fellow students who accused him of blasphemy for expressing his Ahmadi faith on social media.  Twelve people have been arrested, and eight have been charged with murder and terrorism.

SRI LANKA:  150 homes were destroyed and at least 29 people were killed when a rubbish dump collapsed onto the town of Meetotamulla outside Colombo.

America

USA:  A man who filmed himself randomly killing a passer-by in Cleveland (Pennsylvania), and posted the footage on Facebook, shot himself dead after a police chase.

A gunman shot four people dead in Fresno, California. He shouted Muslim slogans during the attacks, but the authorities think these were race hate crimes rather than acts of terrorism. A spokesman for the local Islamic Cultural Centre condemned the attacks.

A doctor of Indian origin was arrested under suspicion of conducting FGM on young girls.

See comment Cracking Eggs With Donald.

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Issue 100:2017 04 13:Week in Brief International

 

13 April 2017

Week in Brief: International

Europe

FRANCE: Francois Fillon accused President Hollande of using the police to hunt out scandals against him, and of leaking the findings to the press.

The Basque militant group ETA surrendered their arms cache to French authorities in Bayonne. The group called a ceasefire in 2001.

GERMANY: Three explosions in Hoechstein damaged the Borussia Dortmund team bus and injured one of the players.

The government is proposing to change the law so that it does not recognise child marriages.  The ban will apply to future marriages, but it will also apply retrospectively.  The change is designed to stop immigrants from arriving with child brides or from solemnising marriages in Germany with underage girls.  The age of consent in Germany is 18.  Underage brides come from a range of countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and Greece.  1,500 underaged married girls are thought to be living in Germany.

HUNGARY: Germany has stopped returning asylum seekers to Hungry under the Dublin rules until it is sure that they will be properly accommodated.  The Hungarian government, which regards mass migration as a threat to Europe, has been housing them in shipping containers on the basis that they can leave and return to Serbia at any time.

NORWAY: Police in Oslo found and detonated a device, and detained a suspect.

RUSSIA: The suicide bomber who killed 14 people in the St Petersburg metro was born in Kyrgyzstan and is thought to have links to Islamic terrorists, although no group has yet claimed responsibility.

SPAIN: A Russian has been detained at the request of the USA.  It has been alleged that he is a hacker, possibly involved with cyber attacks during the presidential election.

SWEDEN: A stolen lorry was driven into a crowd outside a shop in Stockholm, killing 4 people and injuring 15, in a suspected terrorist attack.  The police arrested the driver, from Uzbekistan, and found a suspect device in the vehicle.

Middle East and Africa

EGYPT: An attack by a suicide bomber against Coptic Christians in a town north of Cairo has killed at least 27 people.  The attack took place in the church of St. George’s while worshippers were celebrating Palm Sunday.  There was a second attack at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria.  There the police stopped a man from entering the cathedral but he detonated the bomb and killed 17 people.  Islamic State has claimed responsibility.

IRAQ: Isis shot down an Iraqi military helicopter in Mosul.  Two crew members were killed.

SOUTH AFRICA: The High Court overturned the government’s ban on the domestic trade in rhino horn.  Rhino farmers say that the ban encouraged poaching, and that the proceeds of domestic sales will fund anti-poaching security measures.

Former president, Thabo Mbeki, has urged MPs to vote against Mr Zuma in a forthcoming a vote of no-confidence.  Although Jacob Zuma retains the support of the ANC national working committee, he has been under pressure following his dismissal of finance minister Pravin Gordhan in a reshuffle which has been badly received by the markets and has resulted in the country’s debt being reduced to junk status.

SYRIA: The UN Security Council has held an emergency meeting to discuss the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun.  Attempts to compel the Syrian Government to co-operate in an investigation have been thwarted by Russia which insisted that the planes had blown up a chemical stockpile set up by the rebels.  Experts have said that if sarin is blown up, it is destroyed and not released or dispersed.  President Assad was supposed to hand over all his stocks of chemicals in 2013, but there are suspicions that he kept back 200 tonnes, more than enough to be used in the latest attack.  The US military has released data showing that the planes involved had taken off from the Shayrat air base.

In response, President Trump ordered an attack on the air base.  59 Tomahawk missiles were fired; according to reports, 6 Syrian planes were destroyed.  Russian military personnel are stationed on the base and the US warned Russians at another base, in Latakia, that an attack on Shayrat was imminent. Russia and Iran have warned that if there are any more attacks on Syria, they will respond “with force”.

Leaders of the G7 nations supported the USA’s recent punitive action, and called on Russia to reconsider its support of Assad. However it rejected calls from the UK to increase sanctions against Russia.

There are reports that Russian planes may have used white phosphorus bombs on rebel held towns in northern Syria.  However, commentators have said that the fires which have been raging may have been started by incendiary cluster bombs.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

INDIA: eight people were killed and dozens injured in violent protests during elections in Srinagar, Kashmir.

NORTH KOREA: The US is sending a carrier- led strike group to the Korean Peninsula as a show of force against Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.  North Korea has said that it will react with nuclear weapons if attacked.

PAKISTAN: Police killed 10 militants who attacked them in Lahore, according to counter-terrorist officials.

A retired professor was shot dead by a gunman on a motorbike, apparently killed because of his Ahmadi faith.

A military court has passed the death sentence on an Indian national whom it accused of espionage.  Indian officials have protested, denying the charges and claiming that the accused was kidnapped from Iran by Pakistan’s security forces.

PHILIPPINES: President Duterte ordered troops to a number of islands in the Spratley archipelago in the South China Sea, an area where China claims sovereignty.

America

USA: President Trump hosts President Xi of China in Mar-a-Lago to discuss the USA’s trade imbalance, North Korea, South China Sea, Taiwan.  The summit ended with the announcement of a 100 day plan to improve trade relations between the two countries.

Neil Gorsuch’s nomination as Supreme Court judge was forced through the Senate following a change of the rules imposed by the Republicans.

President Trump removed his chief strategist Steve Bannon from the national security council, following citicism of his original appointment as inappropriate.  Trump has re-appointed senior military and intelligence chiefs to the council.

Republican Congressman Devin Nunes stepped down as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the elections, following allegations from Democrats that he is briefing the President on his findings but not the rest of the committee.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is visiting Russia this week, but it is uncertain whether he will be able to meet with Putin.

 

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Issue99:2017 04 06: week in brief international

06 April 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Europe

ITALY:  Police arrested three Kosovans suspected of planning a bomb attack on Venice’s Rialto Bridge on behalf of Isis.

RUSSIA:  A bomb exploded in a crowded Metro train in St Petersburg, killing 11 people and injuring 50 others.  Another bomb nearby was found nearby and defused.  The bomber was a Russian citizen from Osh in Kyrgyzstan, with Islamist links, according to investigators. He died in explosion.

Two traffic policemen were shot dead in Astrakhan – suspected Islamist attack.

30 demonstrators were arrested in Moscow during more protest rallies against government corruption.

SERBIA:  The Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has claimed victory in the presidential elections, with 55% of the vote (thus avoiding a second-round run-off).

SPAIN:  Police raided properties in southern Spain, as part of a French investigation into corruption allegations against Rifaat al-Assad, the uncle of President Assad of Syria.

Middle East and Africa

BAHRAIN:  The USA is to resume the sale of fighter jets to Bahrain, suspended by President Obama last year because of the country’s poor human rights record.  The move suggests that the USA is returning to its traditional Gulf allies and its traditional stance against Iran.

IRAQ:  Battle for Mosul continues, with fierce fighting and close combat as anti-Isis forces begin to penetrate the old city.  Air strikes are continuing, with estimates that the number of bombs dropped has risen to 500 a week; allegations that the attacks have killed a large number of civilians are being investigated by the US.

ISRAEL:  The first new settlement on the West Bank in decades will be established within a month, in defiance of the UN Security Council.

LIBYA:  Chiefs from rival tribes and clans in southern Libya met for talks in Rome and agreed to help stop migrants and people smuggling across the border in exchange for funds, aid and arms

SOUTH AFRICA:  President Zuma sacked his respected finance minister Pravin Gordhan and nine other ministers, in a move which is seen as an attempt to retain power in the face of increasing opposition.  Mr Gordhan’s dismissal provoked criticism from within his own ANC party, protest marches, a call for a vote of no confidence from opposition parties, and an 8% fall in the value of the rand.  Standard and Poor downgraded the country’s credit rating to junk status.

SYRIA:  At least 100 civilians were killed and 400 injured by chemical weapons when warplanes attacked the town of Khan Sheikhoun near the rebel headquarters of Idlib.  The planes dropped bombs loaded with a toxic nerve-gas, thought to be sarin, and then returned two hours later to bomb the hospital where the victims were being treated.  The EU and the USA have blamed the Syrian government for the attack, but the regime denies any responsibility.  An emergency meeting of the UN Security Council has been called.  See comment The Attack On Khan Sheikhoun.

US forces have established an airbase near Kobani, for the forthcoming attack on Isis-held Raqqa.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

CHINA:  Beijing has banned Islamic beards and face and body covering in the largely Muslim Xinjiang region.  Watching and listening to state media has been made compulsory.

INDIA:  Killing a cow now carries a life-imprisonment penalty in Gujarat state (up from 7 years in prison), and the penalty for taking a cow to slaughter has been increased to 10 years in prison.

KOREA, NORTH:  An unidentified missile was fired into Sea of Japan.

KOREA, SOUTH:  Park Geun-hye, the former president, was arrested on suspicion of corruption, abuse of power and leaking state secrets, and sent to a detention centre.

MALAYSIA:  Malaysia has agreed to release the body of Kim Jong-nam to North Korea, in return for the release of nine Malaysian citizens being held in Pyongyang.  The three murder suspects taking refuge in the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur may be allowed to return to North Korea.

PAKISTAN:  The custodian of a shrine near Sargodha, in the Punjab, has been arrested for allegedly murdering 20 of his followers.

America

COLOMBIA:  A mudslide following heavy rain destroyed the town of Mocoa.  More than 200 people have been killed and hundreds are missing.  President Santos has declared a state of emergency.

ECUADOR:  Lenin Moreno of the governing left-wing party will be the new president, having won the second round in the presidential election.  The result was very close, and rival candidate Guillermo Lasso (a conservative) is demanding a recount.

PARAGUAY:  Protests against a bill to change the constitution turned violent.  The Congress building was attacked and set on fire, 200 people were arrested and one protester was killed.  The bill was approved by a group of Senators, and will allow a second presidential term if it is passed by the lower house.

USA:  President Trump told China to do something to persuade North Korea to drop its nuclear programme, or he will take steps to stop Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons.  He met President Sisi of Egypt in the White House (the previous administration had cold-shouldered him because of his human rights record).

See comment Throwing the Sword into the Lake.

Secretary of state Rex Tillerson attended a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels after it was rescheduled to avoid a clash with next week’s meeting between President Trump and President Xi of China.  Mr Tillerson insisted that NATO members must increase their defence spending to the committed 2% before President Trump visits NATO headquarters next month.  He also denounced Russian involvement in Ukraine.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX achieved a breakthrough in space travel by successfully re-using a space rocket.  A recovered and re-fitted rocket was used to launch a commercial satellite into orbit, and was recovered afterwards, for future use.  Re-using space rockets, which have previously been single-use only, massively reduces costs.

VENEZUELA:  The Supreme Court withdrew the legislative powers of the opposition-dominated parliament, and attempted to remove MPs immunity from prosecution.  President Maduro has been using the Supreme Court, appointed by him, to govern without parliament for the last two years.  The move was described by opposition MPs as a coup d’état, was condemned by the 34-nation Organisation of American States, and was criticised by his own attorney-general.  President Maduro reversed the decision three days later.  Protesters continue, however, now demanding a presidential election.  Shots were fired at a crowd of a thousand demonstrators and security forces used tear gas, water cannons and pepper spray against them.

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Issue 98:2017 03 30:Week in Brief International

30 March 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UN Flag to denote International news

Europe

BELGIUM:  An armed Frenchman of Tunisian origin drove a car at speed towards shoppers in Antwerp last Thursday.  He was stopped by troops  fled but was caught and arrested.  No-one was hurt.  A pump action shotgun was found in the car, together with knives and a can containing a liquid.

BULGARIA:  The pro-EU centre right party the European Development of Bulgaria won a snap election, defeating the Socialists.  Its leader, Boyko Borisov, will become Prime Minister for the third time if he can form a coalition.

EU:  Leaders celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.  Poland and Greece object to plans for a multi-speed Europe, fearing that smaller nations will be left behind and that their voices will not be heard.

This week, the UK has delivered the letter officially notifying the European Council of Britain’s decision to leave the EU.

FRANCE:  Presidential candidate and National Front leader Marine le Pen visited Russia where she met President Putin in the Kremlin and MPs in the Duma.

Presidential candidate and Republican Party leader Francois Fillon admitted that accepting three suits worth €13,000 as a gift from a lawyer was a mistake and said that he has given them back.  It has also emerged that he accepted two watches worth more than €27,000 as gifts from businessmen when he was an MP and prime minister.

M. Fillon’s British wife Penelope Fillon was charged with embezzlement and fraud.  Magistrates in Paris placed her under formal investigation over allegations that she accepted payment from the state for non-existent jobs between 1986 and 2013.

Police shot a Chinese man dead in his home in Paris, in front of his family.  Hundreds of people demonstrated in a protest which sparked violent riots; 35 arrests were made, 3 police officers were injured and a police car was set on fire.

GERMANY:  The TGD (Turkish Community in Germany) has asked its members to vote ‘no’ in next month’s referendum in Turkey about changing the constitution from a parliamentary system to a presidential system.  Four million German citizens have Turkish origins; there are 1.4 million Turkish voters in Germany; the TGD has 60,000 members.

A state election in Saarland defied national polls, with Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union beating rival Martin Schulz’s Social Democratic Party.

ITALY:  The Italian Parliament intends to summon charities to answer allegations that rescue ships are collaborating with people traffickers and providing a “taxi service” for immigrants to cross into Italy from Libya.  22,000 migrants have been put into boats this year and 175,000 are already in reception centres.

NORWAY:  Five Turkish military officers who were stationed in Norway in NATO posts have been granted asylum.  They were recalled to Turkey after the coup but refused to return.

RUSSIA:  An estimated 60,000 protesters in Moscow and more than 70 other towns and cities demonstrated against government corruption.   Over a thousand people were arrested, including opposition politician Alexei Navalny who had called for the protests.  Police ordered everyone from the offices of his Anti-Corruption Foundation, where staff were streaming online coverage of the protests.  The police claimed that there was a bomb scare and fire alert in the building.  They cut off the electricity supply, seized computers and arrested 12 people who refused to leave the office.  They were sentenced to between 5 and 15 days in jail.  Navalny was sentenced to 15 days in jail and fined 20,000 roubles.

UKRAINE:  A former Russian MP, Denis Voronenkov, was shot dead in Kiev.  His bodyguard was injured and the gunman was killed.  President Poroshcenko has blamed Russia for the assassination.

Middle East and Africa

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO:  Forty police officers were captured and killed when their convoy was ambushed by armed militia fighters in Kasai province.

GAZA STRIP:  Hamas closed the border with Israel, following the murder of a militant commander which they blame on Israel.

IRAQ:  The largest mass grave of Isis victims discovered so far was found at Khafsa, five miles south west of Mosul.   It could contain thousands of bodies; the deep sinkhole in which they were disposed of is so full that it is contaminating local wells and springs.

The coalition fighting the Battle of Mosul to free the city from Isis is reassessing its tactics after reports from Amnesty International and other organisations that hundreds of civilians have been killed by its airstrikes on western Mosul.

SYRIA:  Airborne attacks have been launched against Isis on the Euphrates dam west of Raqqa.

YEMEN:  On the second anniversary of the conflict in which President Hadi was driven out of the country by Houthi rebels, a court in the capital city of Sanaa convicted him of high treason and sentenced him to death.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

CHINA:  Satellite photos published online by the Center for Strategic and International Studies appear to confirm that China has turned three reefs in the disputed Spratly Islands into military bases.  China has claimed that its development of the reefs has been for “international public services”.  A verdict in the international court in The Hague last year denied China ownership of the area.

HONG KONG:  Pro-Beijing candidate Carrie Lam was chosen as Hong Kong’s new leader by the city’s election committee.  The next day, nine activists who took part in the pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement” protests in 2014 were told they will be prosecuted for their actions.

JAPAN:  The founder of a new school told parliament that Prime Minister Abe’s wife gave the school a cash donation of one million yen (7,200) on behalf of her husband.  Prime Minister Abe is being drawn into a scandal about land being sold by the state at a fraction of its value for the establishment of the school, founded to teach a traditional, militaristic ethos.

KOREA, NORTH:  Investigators in the USA suspect that Pyongyang is robbing banks around the world in order to fill state coffers.  They have found that code in malicious software which the FBI have confirmed was used by North Korean hackers in the cyberattack on Sony pictures in 2014 is similar to that used by hackers in an attack on the central bank of Bangladesh and in attempted attacks on a number of Polish banks.

PAKISTAN:  Pakistan has begun to build a fence along its border with Afghanistan in Bajaur and Mohmand districts, in order to frustrate cross-border Taliban operations.  Kabul has objected.

America

REPUBLICA DE NOTICIAS FALSIFICADAS:  The republic will sign a free-trade agreement with the UK towns of Dover, Hastings, Sandwich, Hythe, Romney, Rye and Winchelsea this Saturday (01.04.17).   The negotiations began last week, and were successfully concluded after only 3 hours and 25 minutes.  The deal increases recent fears and rumours that Britain’s ancient Cinque Ports are about to make a unilateral declaration of independence from the UK, thus avoiding the lengthy process of political devolution followed by independence referendums.  The republic’s President Yad Sloof-Lirpa (a graduate of the University of East Sussex and Kent – he has a first class degree in Medieval Studies) has hinted that the Cinque Ports will announce their UDI when the agreement is signed in Dover Castle (the residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports) this Saturday.

USA:  President Trump’s healthcare reforms were rejected by Republicans in the House of Representatives.  The reforms weren’t put to the vote because they couldn’t find sufficient support.

President Trump signed an executive order overturning Obama’s curbs on carbon emissions and measures against climate change. He said that the order was intended to boost the USA’s coal-mining industry.

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, will be the head of a new agency, The White House Office of Innovation, which will aim to increase the efficiency of the Federal Government.  He has also been summoned to appear before the Senate committee investigating Russian interference in the presidential election, following the revelation that he had meetings with the Russian ambassador and with the head of a sanctioned Russian bank.

Democrats demanded that the Republican Devin Nunes steps down as chairman of the House intelligence committee investigating Russian interference in the elections, following allegations that he is briefing the President on his findings but not the rest of the committee.

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Issue 97: 2017 03 23:Week in brief International

23 March 2017

Week in Brief: International

Europe

FRANCE: A 17 year old schoolboy armed with a shotgun wounded his headmaster and three pupils in an attack on his school on Grasse, before being overpowered by police.

A suspected Islamist terrorist attacked security personnel at Orly airport.  He was shot dead.

Presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron proposed the re-introduction of compulsory military service.

Interior minister Bruno Le Roux resigned over allegations that up to £50,000 paid to his daughters for summer work as parliamentary helpers when teenagers was not earned.

GREECE: Greek anti-terror police blamed a militant anarchist group SPF (Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire) for letter bombs sent to the IMF offices in Paris and the office of the German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble in Berlin.  The Paris bomb exploded when a secretary opened it, and burned her hands and face; the Berlin bomb was intercepted in the mailroom by police.

ITALY: Mafia organised crime syndicates are taking over the production, marketing and export of Italy’s food, according to a report by the farming lobby group Coldiretti.

NETHERLANDS: A high turnout (over 80%) in the elections resulted in prime minister Mark Rutte’s VVD party leading with 33 seats (a loss of 20%), beating Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party into second place with 20 seats (a gain of 5 seats).  Mr Rutte will struggle to form a coalition in the 150-seat parliament – his main partner, Labour, was reduced from 28 seats to 9.  He will need at least 3 partners – the other 10 parties all won less than 20 seats each.

SPAIN: The head of the Basque regional government said that Eta (the militant Basque separatist terror group) is planning to disarm by April 8, in return for amnesties and better conditions for jailed members.

Middle East and Africa

IRAQ: A suicide car bomb killed at least 23 people and wounded another 45 in Baghdad.

LIBYA: In western Libya, the UN-backed government of national accord has recovered control of Tripoli from the Islamist Khalifa Ghwell’s NSG (National Salvation Government).

In eastern Libya, General Khalifa Hiftar’s forces have taken control of the al-Sidra and Ras Lanuf oil terminals on behalf of Libyan parliament based in Tobruk.

SOMALIA: The oil tanker Aris 3 (which was seized with its eight Sri Lankan crew members by Somali pirates last week) was freed by the security forces and officials of Somalia’s semi-autonomous Portland region.

SYRIA: On the sixth anniversary of the beginning of the conflict in Syria, a suicide bomber killed at least 31 people in the entrance to the palace of justice in central Damascus.  Another injured at least 28 people in a restaurant in west Damascus.

Rebel forces began a new offensive in Damascus, in an attempt to link two rebel- held areas in the Jobar and Qanoun neighbourhoods.

Rebels surrendered al-Weir, the last district they held in Homs, to regime forces. Most of them withdrew to Idlib in north west Syria, which is now controlled by Harakat Tahrir al-Sham, a coalition led by the al-Qaeda associated Fateh al-Sham and which is being bombed by the regime, Russia and the USA; one airstrike killed 21 people, including 14 children, according to local sources; another killed dozens of people in a mosque during evening prayers in the nearby village of al-Jineh.

The Pentagon plans to send 1000 more troops to Syria as the advance against Isis-held Raqqa is about to begin.

Four Israeli jets attacked a cargo of Hezbollah armaments being delivered to the Lebanon.  Assad regime Syrian troops fired missiles at the jets; one of the missiles crossed the border into Israeli territory and was shot down by an anti-missile defence system.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: The human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor has been detained, according to Amnesty International.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN: An Afghan soldier opened fire on US troops at an air base in Helmand province, wounding three of them.  He was shot dead.

CHINA: Officials announced that an “environmental monitoring station” will be built on Scarborough Shoal, a disputed reef in the South China Sea.

INDIA: The Ganges and the Yamuna rivers have been given the legal status of living entities by the Supreme Court of Uttarakhand state, granting them the same rights as human beings.

KOREA, NORTH : A missile test failed, blowing up within seconds of launching, according to South Korean sources.

KOREA, SOUTH: US secretary of state Rex Tillerson visited the border with North Korea and said that his country’s “policy of strategy patience [with North Korea] has ended” and other options – including military action if threats from Pyongyang continue – are being considered.  He urged China to make the most of its influence over North Korea.

NEW ZEALAND: North Island’s 200 mile long Whanganui River has been given a “legal personality”, the first river in the world to be given legal rights like those of human beings.

PAKISTAN: The prime minister announced that the border with Afghanistan, closed last month as an anti-militant measure, is to re- open.

The lower house has voted to reinstate secret military courts.

America

BRAZIL: China and Hong Kong have suspended meat imports from Brazil, one of the worl’s biggest meat producers, following allegations of unhygienic and illegal production.  The EU is considering a similar ban.

USA: A federal judge in Hawaii blocked President Trump’s latest attempt to restrict entry into the USA for citizens of six countries, hours before the executive order was due to come into force.

The Republican chairman of the House of Representatives intelligence committee said that no evidence has emerged to support President Trump’s accusations that Obama oversaw a surveillance operation on Trump Tower.  Accusations that it was the UK’s GCHQ which undertook the alleged operation were quickly withdrawn by the White House.

FBI director James B Comey confirmed that his agency is conducting an investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the presidential election.

The draft of President Trump’s first fiscal budget suggests that he plans to increase spending at home, particularly on the military, and decrease spending abroad, such as peacekeeping, aid and development, and payments to the World Bank.

President Trump met Chancellor Merkel of Germany in the White House, and complained about the USA’s trade deficit with Germany.

Large electronic devices such as laptop computers have been banned from plane cabins on flights from 8 Middle Eastern countries, as a security measure.

 

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Issue 96:2017 03 16:Week in Brief International

16 March 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Europe

DENMARK:  The Prime Minister asked the Turkish prime minister to postpone his visit because of Turkish/EU tensions (see NETHERLANDS below).

FRANCE:  More than 50 teenagers were arrested after gangs attacked three schools in suburbs north of Paris.  The riots started when demonstrations by pupils protesting against the police turned violent.

Emmanuel Macron took a lead in the polls, overtaking Marine le Pen for the first time.

Republican leader Francois Fillon was officially placed under formal investigation and charged with misusing almost €1 million of public funds to pay his family for non-existent jobs.  He claims that he is the victim of a witch-hunt and refuses to stand down.  He has parliamentary immunity as an MP.  More accusations emerged this week: his party was accused of anti-Semitism when it published a cartoon on Twitter which appeared to depict Macron as a Jewish financier; and Fillon was accused of accepting almost €50,000 worth of tailored clothes as a gift.

See comment It’s the Bogeyman, stupid!.

GERMANY:  An axeman attacked passengers at a railway station in Dusseldorf.  Seven people were seriously injured.  The attacker was arrested by police.  He appears to be a Balkan immigrant with mental health problems  Police are investigating any possible terrorist links.

Chancellor Merkel’s visit to President Trump in Washington was delayed because of extreme weather conditions in the USA.  Trump recently called for the US trade deficit with Germany to be rebalanced.

NETHERLANDS:  The country faces critical parliamentary elections this week.  Geert Wilders (the leader of ultra-nationalist, populist, Eurosceptic Freedom Party) called for a ban on mosques, the Koran and Muslim immigration.  Over 20 parties are taking part – all have said they would not consider forming a coalition with the Freedom Party.

The government refused permission for two Turkish ministers to attend a pro-Erdogan rally about next month’s referendum in Turkey to change the constitution. President Erdogan of Turkey accused it of acting like Nazis, repeated claims that Dutch soldiers were to blame for the Srebrenica massacre in 1995, and threatened consequences (see TURKEY below). Prime Minister Mark Rutte demanded an apology. Turks protested in Rotterdam – 12 people were hurt in clashes with the police.

See comment Erdogan’s Anger.

RUSSIA:  The first man to be imprisoned under laws against demonstration, who was released from a Siberian prison two weeks ago after making allegations of torture, Ildar Dadin, has been detained by police for protesting against the prison service.

Middle East and Africa

AFGHANISTAN:  At least 38 hospital staff and patients were killed and 50 wounded when heavily-armed Isis terrorists disguised as doctors attacked a military hospital in Kabul.  Afghan Special Forces troops killed the attackers.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO:  Two UN investigators and four colleagues have disappeared while travelling to the scene of conflicts between the army and rebel militias to examine allegations of human rights abuses.  It is thought that they have been abducted.

EGYPT:  Russian Special Forces have been sent to an airbase near the Libyan border, according to US sources.  It is thought they might be supporting General Khalifa Hiftar, the military commander of the Libyan parliament based in Tobruk (eastern Libya) which is in conflict with the UN-backed unity government in Tripoli (western Libya) over the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals.  The Egyptian government confirmed that Russia had used another Egyptian airbase for operations in Libya recently.

IRAQ:  The battle for Mosul continues.  The city’s museum has been retaken, but was found to be empty – its exhibits have been destroyed or dispersed.  The last road out of western Mosul has been cut off.  Iran has sent 500 revolutionary guards to help the Shia militias taking part.  A mass grave containing over 500 victims of Isis was found at Badush prison, north of Mosul.

SOMALIA:  A Comoros-flagged ship owned by a UAE company has been seized by Somali pirates, the first such incident in five years.  EU naval forces which have protected shipping in the area since 2012 have been diverted to tackle the migration crisis in the Mediterranean.

SOUTH AFRICA:  Men wearing police uniforms and travelling in a police van stole a 27-bag consignment of foreign currency worth £1 million from a secure area in Johannesburg’s O R Tambo airport.

SOUTH SUDAN:  The government raised the cost of a work permit for foreign aid personnel from $100 to $10,000, following the UN’s declaration of famine in the country.  Aid groups have criticised this as an attempt to exploit a national emergency.

SYRIA:  The USA has sent hundreds of marines with heavy artillery to help take Raqqa from Isis.  500 Special Forces troops are already embedded in Kurdish-led SDF rebel militias.  Assad forces are also advancing on Raqqa from the other direction.  The Turkish-backed FSA is not taking part.

TURKEY:  The Dutch embassy in Ankara and diplomatic missions in Istanbul have been closed down by Turkish police in response to the Netherlands refusing to allow two ministers to address rallies in Holland.  Anti-Dutch demonstrations have taken place in both cities.  (See NETHERLANDS above).

See comment Erdogan’s Outrage.

UAE:  A South African couple have been arrested in Abu Dhabi for premarital sex, after the woman went to a clinic with stomach pains and discovered that she was pregnant.  The couple are tourists and are engaged to be married.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

BURMA:  36 people were killed in a raid by ethnic Kokang rebels on police and military positions at Laukkai on the Chinese border.

CHINA:  Donald Trump’s family business has been granted approval for 38 trademarks, after ten years of unsuccessful applications.

Nine new national parks were announced, as part of a new system to protect the country’s wildlife and heritage. The first will be a Giant Panda National Park of 10,500 square miles in Sichuan province.

Western publishers were worried by a sharp drop in the number of ISBNs issued by Chinese officials for the publication of children’s books in China in January. It is thought that the crack-down is an attempt to control exposure to foreign ideas and to protect Chinese authors from competition. In the same month, President Xi declared that China supported globalisation and opposed protectionism.

INDIA:  A bomb attack on a train near Kalapipal Mandi in Madhya Pradesh injured 10 passengers, the first terrorist attack by Isis in India.  A suspect was later killed in an exchange of fire with police in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) won 325 out of 403 seats in the Uttar Pradesh state elections. This represents a crushing victory and an overwhelming endorsement for the prime minister in what was widely seen as a referendum on his position. The future is uncertain for the opposition Congress Party and for Rahul Gandhi, whose family has led it for decades.

KOREA, NORTH:  Kim Han-sol, a son of murdered Kim Jong-nam, has fled Macau in fear of his life, according to a video posted on the internet which claims to show him.

KOREA, SOUTH:  President Park was removed from office by the Constitutional Court.  She was impeached by the National Assembly three months ago, over her alleged involvement in the corruption scandal for which her associate, Choi Soon-sill, is being tried.  Without presidential immunity, Ms Park could now face a criminal investigation herself.  The court’s verdict triggered violent demonstrations in which two people died and 30 were injured.  A presidential election will take place within 60 days.

America

GUATEMALA:  A fire in an orphanage killed 34 girls and injured another 23 children, the day after rioting in protests against conditions in the institution.

USA:  Rex Tillerson is travelling to Asia (Japan and China) on his first official trip as secretary of state.

President Trump has put drone strikes back under the control of the CIA.  Obama had transferred responsibility to the military.  Military strikes are published, but CIA strikes remain secret.

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