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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Issue95:2017 03 09:Week in Brief International

09 March 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UN Flag to denote International news

Europe

EU:  Jean-Claude Juncker wrote to EU leaders, asking them to speed up deporting illegal immigrants, but also to take their quota of immigrants.  He was urged not to make calls for further unification before upcoming elections in France, the Netherlands and Germany.

A big leap in EU spending budgets was announced for next year. The above inflation increase of 3.3% (€2 billion) is an attempt to protect EU finances from the shortfall which will result from Brexit.

FRANCE:  Police searched the Paris apartment of Francois Fillon.  Members of his campaign staff (including campaign director Patrick Stafanini) and party (including at least 60 MPs, mayors etc.) have deserted him.  He is resisting calls to step down as Republican leader and presidential candidate, and held an open air rally in Paris attended by 40,000 supporters.  A plan to replace him with Alain Juppé failed when Juppé decided not to take part in it.  See comment Is he French toast?.

Marine le Pen could face prosecution in France – the European parliament voted to lift her immunity from prosecution over claims that she broke a law against publication of violent images by tweeting images of Isis executions.

GERMANY:  Diesel vehicles more than three years old will be banned from Stuttgart as an anti-pollution measure.

HUNGARY:  MPs passed a law saying that all asylum seekers are to be detained in camps at the border.  A second fence is to be built along the frontier with Serbia.

IRELAND:  The bodies of almost 800 infants were found unceremoniously buried on the site of a home for unmarried mothers in Tuam.

NETHERLANDS:  The far-right populist Geert Wilders is ahead in the polls for next week’s elections.

RUSSIA:  Opposition activist Alexander Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation has accused Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev of corruption, claiming that he accepted bribes, disguised as charitable donations, from the tycoon Alisher Usmanov.

SWEDEN:  Conscription for the armed forces is to be re-introduced.  It was dropped in 2010, but a voluntary system has not been able to provide the 4000 recruits required each year.

Middle East and Africa

BAHRAIN:  The justice ministry has accused the opposition group The National Democratic Action Society of supporting terrorism, sanctioning violence and not respecting the law, and is seeking to ban it.

EGYPT:  Ex-president Mubarak has been cleared of unlawfully killing protesters during the Arab spring of 2011, in a final appeal which will overturn the conviction and life sentence passed in 2012.  He has already served a three-year sentence for corruption.

IRAQ:  The battle for Mosul continues, with Iraqi forces pushing into west Mosul towards the old town.  The Omar al-Aswad mosque, an important piece of Ottoman heritage which was being used as an Isis base, was destroyed in an air-strike.  There are reports of Isis fighting back with mustard gas, suicide attacks by young boys, hidden tunnels and booby traps.  Tens of thousands of civilians have fled to refugee camps outside the city.

ISRAEL:  The defence minister said that the US administration has warned Israel not to assert sovereignty over the West Bank.

The Knesset passed a law to ban entry to the country to anyone who makes a ‘public call’ to boycott goods from Israel or its settlements.

LIBYA:  There are reports that Libyan coastguards, who are now paid by the EU to stop migrant ships leaving, are in fact in league with people-traffickers and are helping their operations.

KENYA:  A British farmer and well-known guide, Tristan Voorspuy, was shot dead on his ranch by heavily-armed nomadic herdsmen.

SOUTH AFRICA:  President Zuma proposed the confiscation of land from white farmers.

SYRIA:  Assad regime troops retook Palmyra from Isis (with the help of Russian advisers and US-led coalition airstrikes).

A regime warplane crashed near the Turkish border; the pilot bailed out and landed in Turkey.

TURKEY:  A trial of 330 military personnel, the largest since the post-coup crack-down, began at the Sincan high-security prison near Ankara.

Erdogan accused Germany of behaving like Nazis after civic authorities in Germany cancelled a number of public rallies for Turks living in Germany. The rallies were intended to garner support for the president in advance of next month’s referendum to increase his powers.

YEMEN:  USA launched airstrikes on five targets in an attack against al-Qaeda in the Arabic peninsula.  A former inmate of Guantanamo Bay was killed.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

KOREA, NORTH:  An unidentified missile was launched into the sea, according to South Korea, and a further four ballistic missiles were launched into the Sea of Japan.  They are thought to be a reaction against joint South Korean/USA military exercises currently taking place.

KOREA, SOUTH:  The USA and South Korea have begun to install the anti-missile shield THAAD (terminal high altitude area defence system) earlier than planned.  China and Russia object to the system.

MALDIVES:  A visit by King Salman of Saudi Arabia (who is on a tour of Asian countries) provoked protests about a rumour that Faafu Atoll is to be sold to him by President Yameen.  Journalists were arrested and the headquarters of opposition parties were raided.

America

GUYANA:  Oil fields have been discovered off the coast of Guyana.  They are thought to contain 1.4 billion barrels worth £36 billion.  Neighbouring Venezuela disputes ownership of some of the maritime area.

USA:  Attorney-general Jeff Sessions was accused of misleading the Senate about speaking to Russian officials during the election campaign.  He said that no meetings had taken place, but intelligence reports say that he met the Russian ambassador at least once.

President Trump hit back over allegations of campaign links with Russia by accusing Obama of authorising a phone-tap on him during the campaign. Security chiefs denied the accusation, and the Chairman of the House of Representatives intelligence committee said he has seen no evidence to support the accusation.  See comment The Good Don.

President Trump’s travel ban executive order was revised.  It now includes only six countries (Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Libya – Iraq has been dropped from the list) and no indefinite ban on Syrian refugees (only 120 days).  It is to be implemented on March 16.

A new healthcare bill, which proposes reforms to Obamacare, was presented to the House of Representatives.

WikiLeaks published another big cache of classified CIA files. Some of them claim that British and USA services have collaborated on developing eavesdropping techniques using domestic appliances.

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Issue94: 2017 03 02:Week in Brief International

02 March 2017

Week in Brief: International

UN Flag to denote International news

Europe

FRANCE: Prosecutors opened a criminal inquiry against Francois Fillon. It will probably be months before criminal charges can be made; in the meantime, M.Fillon says he will stay in the race for president.

A parliamentary report concluded that President Hollande’s plan to de-radicalise militant French Islamists has been an expensive failure.

Marine le Pen ‘s chief of staff was charged with illegally using European parliamentary funds to pay party staff.

A member of the gendarmerie’s elite Specialised Protection Unit accidentally shot a waiter and a railway worker in the legs while he was on a rooftop covering President Hollande’s opening of a new high-speed railway line.

GEORGIA: Visa-free travel to the EU’s 26 Schengen states was agreed.

GREECE: There were violent clashes outside a school in Thessaloniki when protesters tried to stop nine migrant children from enrolling.

Two Turkish soldiers have claimed asylum at Orestiada, a town on the border, saying that their lives are in danger.

ITALY: The campaign against fanulloni (slackers) in the public sector continues: in a hospital in Naples, 53 members of staff were arrested for not working, and another 39 are under investigation; in a hospital in Salerno, 200 are under investigation and 850 are under suspicion.

The prosecutor’s office in Rome is to investigate allegations that the Italian consulate in Iraqi Kurdistan sold visas to Europe for €10,000. More than 150 cases are involved.

NETHERLANDS: A DBB (Dutch security services) agent of Moroccan origin was arrested and charged with ‘violating official secrets’.  It has been alleged that he leaked details of the police protection surrounding Geert Wilders (leader of the far right Freedom Party) to a Moroccan-Dutch criminal organisation.

RUSSIA: The supreme court has ordered the release of Ildar Dadin, a political activist who was sentenced to three years in jail in 2015 for repeatedly taking part in unsanctioned protests.  He has been imprisoned in a remote penal colony, and has complained of torture and abuse.

The Kremlin suggested that President Putin will run for a record fourth term in next year’s elections.

More than ten thousand anti-Putin demonstrators marched through Moscow on the second anniversary of the murder of opposition activist Boris Nemtsov. The anniversary was also marked in St Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod.

Middle East and Africa

AFGHANISTAN: 11 policemen were killed by a Taliban infiltrator at a check-point in the besieged city of Lashkar Gah, Helmand province.

IRAQ: In the battle for Mosul, Iraq forces recapture Mosul airport and Ghazlani military base.  Their assault on Isis-held west Mosul has begun.  They have taken the suburbs of Tayaran and Josaq and the southern-most Tigris bridge – it has been destroyed but they are hoping to put pontoons in place.  A mass grave has been discovered five miles south of the city, thought to contain the bodies of 4000 victims of Isis, but it is heavily mined and booby-trapped; one journalist and five other people have already been killed.

LIBYA: Italian coastguards have rescued 1000 migrants in recent days.  The International Organisation For Migration says 13,170 have crossed this year, with at least 272 deaths.  The head of the EU’s border agency Frontex criticised rescue operations by charities for encouraging people trafficking and the use of un-seaworthy craft, because they are operating so close to the coast of Libya.

SYRIA: UN-chaired peace talks are due to start in Geneva.  The USA is temporarily suspending military aid to moderate rebels to encourage them to unite; there has been infighting among rebel groups after their defeat at Aleppo, and the USA is concerned that arms given to moderates will be taken by extremist groups.

The deputy leader of al-Qaeda, Egyptian-born Abu Khayr al-Masri, was killed in his car in northern Syria.

The USA, France and Britain proposed a UN security council resolution to punish the Assad regime for using chlorine gas, but it was blocked by Russia and China.

TURKEY: A reporter for Die Welt has been arrested on charges of inciting hatred and producing propaganda for terrorists.  He has German and Turkish citizenship; Chancellor Merkel has complained to the Turkish ambassador to Germany about the detention.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AZERBAIJAN: President Aliyev has appointed a new vice-president – his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva.

CHINA: The USA claims that concrete structures being built by China on artificial islands in the Spratlys, South China Seas, are bases for long-range surface-to-air missiles.

INDIA: Voting is underway in the Uttar Pradesh elections. The state is so big and populous (more than 200 million people) that there are seven rounds of voting. Results are due on March 11.

KOREA, NORTH: Reports claim that four officials from the ministry of state security have been executed with anti-aircraft guns.  It is not known whether this has any connection with the murder of Kim Jong-nam.

Following the murder of  the USA has withdrawn the visa for North Korean diplomat who was due to visit New York for unofficial talks about opening up communications between USA and North Korea.

KOREA, SOUTH: It is reported that foreign minister Yun Byung-se is to travel to the UN in Geneva to denounce North Korea for the murder of Kim Jong-nam.

MALAYSIA: There was an attempted break-in at the mortuary holding the body of Kim Jong-nam, the murdered half-brother of the North Korean leader, thought to be by North Korean agents. The toxin which killed Kim Jong-nam was identified as VX, a deadly nerve agent, which was rubbed in his face by two female assailants. The police have named eight North Korean suspects (said to include two diplomats and four officials from the ministry of state security) wanted for the murder, one of whom has been arrested.

PHILIPINNES: The Isis-linked group Abu Sayyaf has killed a German sailor it had kidnapped from his yacht three months ago. The deadline for a ransom payment had expired. The group holds another 26 hostages of various nationalities.

America

CANADA: Illegal immigrants in the USA, fearful of being repatriated, are fleeing across the border to Canada.

USA: Extreme weather – storms, heavy rain and snow, floods – continues to destroy homes and take lives in California, which was recently suffering from an unprecedented drought.

Several news organisations, including the BBC, were barred from a White House press briefing.

President Trump is due to make his first address to a joint session of Congress today.  He is expected to call for an extra $54 billion in military spending.

A Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia was attacked, with more than a hundred graves desecrated.  Vandalism against Jewish cemeteries and bomb-threats against Jewish schools and community organisations are increasing.

VENEZUELA: Judge Maikel Moreno has been appointed president of the supreme court.  He has been the subject of two murder allegations in the past. President Maduro often relies on the supreme court to help him overcome opposition in parliament.

 

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Issue 93:2017 02 23:Week in Brief International

23 February 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UN Flag to denote International news

Europe

CYPRUS:  Talks about the reunification of Cyprus came to halt when the Turkish Cypriot negotiators withdrew in protest at last week’s decision by the Greek Cypriot parliament to introduce a national remembrance day for Enosis (the Greek Cypriot decision in 1950 for the island to be taken over by Greece).

FRANCE:  Violent protests continued in Paris and other French cities as allegations of brutality, sexual assault and rape were made against the four white police officers who arrested a young black man in Aulnay-sous-Bois earlier this month.  The man has only just been discharged from hospital.

Emmanuel Macron visited Algeria and denounced France’s colonial past in that country as “truly barbarous” and “a crime against humanity”.  He also visited London to address French residents and to meet with Prime Minister Theresa May.

French police raided the National Front’s offices in Nanterre as part of the investigation into allegations that €340,000 claimed from the European parliament to pay MEPs’ staff was instead used to pay personnel at the party headquarters.  Party leader Marine le Pen visited the Lebanon and was received by President Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri. She surprised her hosts by refusing to wear a headscarf to meet the grand mufti (the meeting was cancelled) and by expressing support for Assad of Syria.

GERMANY:  In Munich, US defence secretary James Mattis and US secretary of state Rex Tillerson insisted that the USA is committed to NATO and the defence of Europe, but repeated their concerns that the contribution of 2% of national income agreed by NATO nations is not being met by many of them.  German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel and president of the European commission Jean-Claude Junker dismissed those concerns.

Frauke Petry, the head of Alternative for Germany, visited Moscow at the invitation of the Russian government and had meetings with officials including the speaker and deputy speaker of the Duma.

IRELAND:  The Fine Gael government narrowly survived a vote of no confidence.  It is facing allegations of smearing a police whistle-blower.  Prime Minister Enda Kelly is expected to announce this week that he plans to resign in the near future.

PORTUGAL:  The vice-president of Angola, Manual Vicente, was charged with corruption.  He is accused of trying to stop enquiries into his actions as head of the Angolan state oil company Sonangol by offering a bribe of $800,000 to a Portuguese magistrate.

SPAIN:  The husband of Princess Cristina was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to six years in prison.  The princess was found not guilty of colluding with him.

More than 800 migrants broke through fences separating Morocco from the Spanish territory of Ceuta to claim asylum.

SWEDEN:  Rioting broke out in Rinkeby, a suburb of Stockholm with a large immigrant population.  Shops were looted, cars set on fire and stones thrown at police.  The police fired shots, though no one was hit.

UKRAINE:  A French and German brokered ceasefire came into force, though it is fragile as it is said to be disliked by both Kiev and Moscow.  Russia announced that it will recognise passports issued by the separatist regions.

Middle East and Africa

AFGHANISTAN:  Fifty-two farmers have been kidnapped by gunmen in the northern province of Jowzjan, a region fast coming under control of the Taliban.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO:  The government declared that presidential elections will not take place this year because it can’t afford them.  President Kabila has been in power since 2001; his second term ended last November, but since then elections have been postponed.

IRAN:  At least seven people were killed by freak weather – floods, blizzards, sand storms and avalanches – across the country.

Two of the country’s leading young chess players, brother and sister Dorna and Borna Derakhshani, have been banned from representing Iran and from playing chess in Iran because Dorsa didn’t wear a veil while playing in the recent Gibraltar Open Tournament and Borna played against an Israeli.

IRAQ:  A bomb attack killed at least 55 people in a market in southern Baghdad.  Isis is thought to be responsible.

Two suicide bombers killed 12 people and injured at least 30 in a market in liberated east Mosul. The civilian population of west Mosul is reported to be suffering from shortages of food and medicines.

ISRAEL:  The Israeli soldier recently found guilty of shooting dead a captured Palestinian attacker was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

LIBYA:  The mayors of ten towns in southern Libya attended a summit in Rome to discuss international co-operation to stop people-trafficking and discourage migration.  At least 70 migrants drowned when people traffickers sent their boat to sea during winter storms.

Gunmen in Tripoli opened fire on a convoy carrying officials of the Government of National Accord, including Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. A rival authority led by the Islamist Khalifa Ghwell succeeded in opening Tripoli airport.  A group of militias came together as another rival authority calling itself the Libyan National Guard.

SOUTH SUDAN:  Famine has been declared by the UN, the World Food Programme and the government.  Aid agencies blame civil war, political rivalries and bad governance rather than crop failure.

SYRIA:  The joint Turkish and rebel assault on the Isis-held town of al-Bab has faltered.  Sources claim that the Turkish army has been incapacitated by the purges it has suffered since the recent failed coup attempt.

Assad regime forces have launched an intense rocket and air attack on rebel-held areas near Damascus, in the lead-up to peace talks next week.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

CHINA:  Three knife-wielding attackers killed five people and wounded ten others in the western region of Xinjiang.  The assailants were shot dead by the police.  Some reports say that they were Uighurs, the ethnic Muslims of Xinjiang, many of whom claim to suffer from repression and discrimination.  Officials announced that all drivers in the province must install the Beidou navigation system – a GPS tracking device – in their vehicles, as a counter-terrorism surveillance measure.

A ban on the import of coal from North Korea was announced as a sanction against Pyongyang.

INDIA:  India’s space programme broke records with the launch of a rocket which carried 104 commercial satellites into space.  The launch took place on Sriharikota Island, off the south coast, and the satellites belong to Planet Labs Inc. (part owned by Google) and other companies.

MALAYSIA:  Police have made four arrests (including a Vietnamese woman and an Indonesian woman) in connection with the murder of Kim Jong-Nam, and are seeking another four suspects.  A post-mortem examination was conducted on his body, and samples have been sent to laboratories for testing.  The North Korean ambassador accused Malaysia of “colluding with hostile forces” for not releasing the body to North Korea; Malaysia withdrew its ambassador from Pyongyang in protest.

PAKISTAN:  A suicide bomber killed at least 75 people in an attack on a crowded Sufi shrine in Sehwan.  Isis has claimed responsibility, but the government denies that Isis is active in Pakistan and has blamed the Taliban-affiliated Jamaat-ul-Ahrar.  The army responded by raiding suspected militants; over 100 were killed and dozens arrested.

PHILIPPINES:  A former justice secretary, Leila de Lima, has been charged with accepting bribes from drug bosses.  She is an outspoken critic of President Duterte’s support for extrajudicial killings, and claims that the accusations against her are politically motivated.

A second witness has claimed that President Duterte personally authorised and organised extra-judicial killings while mayor of Davao. The witness is a former police officer who confessed that he took part in the killings.

America

BERMUDA:  Former Prime Minister Dr Ewart Brown has been accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes from an American hospital while he was in office.

ECUADOR:  In the first round of the presidential election, the leftist governing party’s candidate Lenin Moreno narrowly failed to gain the 40% needed for outright victory.  There will be a second round run-off against conservative Guillermo Lasso who came second.  Lasso should win the run-off, as the other conservative opposition candidates now urge their supporters to vote for him.  One of his election promises was to ask Julian Assange to leave the London embassy.

USA:  President Trump met the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Washington.  Trump said that the USA would no longer insist on a two-state solution to Palestinian/Israeli conflict.  He proposed more co-operation between Israel and Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia as a counterbalance against Iran.

Conflict between the president and the intelligence services continued, with the disclosure of reports saying that members of Trump’s team were in touch with senior Russian spies during the election campaign, claims and leaks which Trump denies and condemns.

President Trump nominated Lieutenant General Herbert McMaster as the new national security adviser, to replace Mike Flynn. Former vice-admiral Robert Howard was offered the position but turned it down.

President Trump attacked the media for lack of sympathy and for spreading ‘fake news’ about him.

A nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and its escort of cruisers and destroyers began a patrol of the South China Seas.

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Issue 92:2017 02 16:Week in brief International

16 February 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Europe

FRANCE:  Rioting has spread through the Paris districts of Bobigny, Argeteuil and Ulis (and to the towns of Nantes, Toulouse and Rouen) since the arrest of a young black man in Aulnay-sous-Bois ten days ago.

The manager of the En Marche! movement claimed that Russia has launched a hacking and disinformation attack against Emmanuel Macron, the only one of the three leaders in the presidential race who hasn’t expressed approval of President Putin.

Four people were killed by an avalanche near the ski resort of Tignes.

GERMANY:  Chancellor Merkel is seeking to tighten up asylum loopholes and speed up the forced repatriation of rejected applications.

Former foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was elected president. His party – Social Democrats – is the junior partner in Angela Merkel’s coalition, but his victory suggests that it is eclipsing Merkel’s own party, the Christian Democratic Union.  Polls now put them neck and neck.

ITALY:  The government proposed an emergency decree to speed up asylum claims, end appeals, and deport failed asylum seekers.

RUSSIA:  The opposition activist Alexei Navalny was found guilty of embezzlement and given a five year suspended sentence.  The charge, verdict and sentence have been denounced as politically motivated, as they will bar him from taking part in next year’s presidential elections, where he would be the only serious rival to Mr Putin.

SWITZERLAND:  The Swiss voted to make it easier for grandchildren of immigrants to gain citizenship.

UKRAINE:  Two rebel leaders have been killed in east Ukraine.  Mikhail Tolstykh, who has been accused of a number of war crimes, was killed in his office by a rocket fired from a portable launcher.  Oleg Anashshchenko was killed by a car bomb.  Motives and responsibility remains uncertain.

Middle East and Africa

AFGHANISTAN:  A Red Cross convoy taking aid to avalanche victims was attacked in Jowzjan.   Six Red Cross workers were killed and two are missing.

An international conference about conflict in Afghanistan took place in Moscow, attended by representatives from Kabul, India, Pakistan, Iran and China.  The USA was not invited.  Russia admitted to having contacts with the Taliban.

EGYPT:  Wilayat Sinai, a jihadist group affiliated to Isis, fired 8 rockets from the Sinai Peninsula to Eilat in Israel.  Israel’s missile defence system Iron Dome intercepted the rockets.  Egypt responded with an airstrike on a tunnel near the Egypt/Gaza border.  Two Palestinians were killed.

GAZA:  Hamas elected a militant hard-liner as its new leader.  Yahya Sinwar is from Hamas’ military wing, favours Iran over Egypt and the Gulf States, and wants to forge links with Isis.  He has been convicted of murdering fellow Palestinians, and has been blacklisted as a terrorist by the USA.

IRAQ:  Isis has murdered at least 45 civilians trying to flee west Mosul, and has press-ganged others to join its forces, according to reports by other residents.  Iraqi forces are placing pontoon bridges across the Tigris (all other bridges have been destroyed in the recent fighting) in preparation for the assault on the Isis-held western half of the city.  Isis has launched fierce attacks on the Shia militias cutting off the route from Mosul to Syria.

IVORY COAST:  Special Forces have taken over the town of Adiaké in a mutiny about pay and conditions.

KENYA:  The High Court blocked the government’s attempt to close Dadaab refugee camp, the largest in the world with more than 250,000 mainly Somali refugees.

LIBYA:  Islamist militias united as the Libyan National Guard have restored Tripoli International Airport and have formed a new military council to challenge the struggling UN-backed Government of National Accord in western Libya.  Khalifa Ghwell, the LNG leader, claims that he has control of Tripoli; the GNA operates from a naval base and military airbase.

SAUDI ARABIA:  A three-day Comic Con will bring a taste of secular entertainment (including video-gaming and Marvel Studio comics and films) to a country where cinema and theatre are banned.

SOMALIA:  Former Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed won last week’s presidential election.  He has dual Somali/US citizenship.

SOUTH AFRICA:  President Zuma ordered the army onto the streets of Cape Town for the opening of parliament.  This deployment was unprecedented and also, according to opposition leaders, illegal.  Joseph Malema’s ECC MPs started a brawl with security guards in parliament to disrupt Zuma’s opening speech.

SYRIA:  Turkish troops and US-backed Syrian rebels besieging Isis-held al-Bab as part of Operation Euphrates Shield have now entered the town.  Russian planes supporting them accidentally killed at least 3 Turkish soldiers and wounded 11 more; President Putin expressed his sympathy.

TURKEY:  The new CIA chief Mike Pompeo visited Turkey for intelligence talks.  It is thought that this might lead to closer USA/Turkish co-operation, after recent friction over the US’s support for Kurds in Syria and over Gulen’s USA residence.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

KOREA, NORTH:  A medium range ballistic missile was test-fired, flying 300 miles towards Japan, as President Trump hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Florida.  It is thought that the timing was deliberately provocative.

Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of President Kim Jong-un, was murdered by poison at Kuala Lumpur airport, Malaysia.  He was educated in the West and had been living mostly in China. He had been critical of the current regime in North Korea and had survived at least one previous assassination attempt.

PAKISTAN:  At least ten people were killed and sixty injured in a car-bomb attack in Lahore.

TURKMENISTAN:  President Berdymukhamedhov won the presidential election.  The other eight contestants were minor officials chosen by the government, all of whom praised his achievements.  He has been president since 2006, and recently increased the presidential term from 5 to 7 years and removed the age limit.  He won 98% of the vote (turnout was 92.27%).  No election has been judged free and fair by international observers since independence in 1991.

America

BOLIVIA:  President Morales declared a state of emergency as a plague of locusts, the biggest in fifty years, threatens the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

USA:  President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch as Supreme Court judge.  Mr Gorsuch, a conservative lawyer, has since described Trump’s criticism of the federal judge who over-ruled the immigration restrictions as “demoralising and disheartening”.

National security adviser Mike Flynn resigned, following secret service reports about a number of telephone conversations he held with the Russian ambassador in December after President Obama expelled 35 diplomats accused of spying and imposed further sanctions on Russia (i.e. before Flynn held office).  It is illegal for private citizens to take part in matters of foreign policy.  He was judged to have misled colleagues (including the vice-president) about the conversations a month later.  The Justice Department considered that the conversations made him vulnerable to blackmail by Russia.  The issue puts the spotlight back on Trump’s links with Russia, which will now be the subject of a congressional investigation.

200,000 people living near the Oroville Dam in northern California were evacuated.  A damaged spillway and two months of heavy rain threaten the dam with collapse.

VENEZUELA:  The USA imposed sanctions on the vice-president Tareck el Aissami, accusing him of playing a prominent role in global drug trafficking.  He is barred from the USA and from doing business with US citizens, and his assets have been frozen.

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