22 June 2017
Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS
BELGIUM: A suspected Islamist suicide bomber was shot dead when he detonated an explosive device near the ticket offices at Brussels Central Station.
FRANCE: President Macron’s party La République en Marche won an absolute majority in the second and final round of parliamentary elections. La REM (with its ally MoDem, the Mouvement Démocrate) won 350 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly. The Republican Party won 130 (losing half its seats), the Socialists 30 (losing 250 seats), the Front National 8 (up from 2, with Marine le Pen elected as an MP for the first time), and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s new far-left party, La France Insoumise, 17. La REM is expected to push ahead rapidly with reforming labour laws. President Macron said that ministers and MPs will be subject to regular performance reviews.
The minister for social cohesion Richard Ferrand (the manager of Macron’s presidential campaign) has been removed from cabinet following allegations of sleaze, and is now chairman of the parliamentary group. Justice Minister and MoDem leader Francois Bayrou has been accused of misusing EU funds to pay his secretary (he has just presented a law to make politics financially clean). Defence minister Sylvie Goulard, another MoDem member facing possible investigation over allegations of misuse of European parliament funds, resigned.
A gunman rammed his car into a police van in a terrorist attack on the Champs Elysée. His car caught fire when he tried to detonate a gas cylinder. Police pulled him from the burning vehicle but he died of his injuries. He was a French citizen, known to the police for his links to radical Islam.
A pilot, Bruno Vezzoli, drove his car from Paris to Boulogne, flew it across the Channel (the flight was powered by the vehicle’s microlight engine and propeller), landed near Dover and then drove it to London. This was the first recorded cross-Channel flight by a “flying car”.
GERMANY: Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl died aged 87. He will be given a European Union state funeral in Strasbourg, home of the European parliament.
GREECE: Greece blocked an EU statement at the United Nations criticising China’s human rights record. Last year, the Chinese container fleet Cosco Shipping bought a 51% share of Piraeus, Greece’s largest port, and China State Grid bought a 24% share of Admie, the Greek power grid operator.
IRELAND: The parliament elected Leo Varadkar, the new leader of the Fine Gael party, as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) by 57 votes to 50. He is a doctor, the son of an Indian doctor and an Irish nurse, and the youngest (at 38), and first openly gay prime minister of Ireland.
PORTUGAL: A forest fire in central Portugal killed 64 people (at least 47 in their cars), injured another 135 and destroyed homes. It is believed to have been started by lightning. 2000 firefighters and troops are trying to contain it.
RUSSIA: The state-owned oil company Rosneft announced that it has found oil in the eastern Arctic.
SERBIA: The president has named public administration minister Ana Brnabic as prime minister. She will be the first female, and the first openly gay, premier of Serbia.
Middle East and Africa
IRAQ: An Isis bomb killed 17 people at an ice-cream shop in Baghdad. It was the fifth time the shop had been bombed in 10 years.
Iraqi forces fighting to liberate Mosul from Isis have entered the Old City, their final target. Their advance through the 1.5 square miles of houses, markets and mosques (including the Great Mosque of al-Nuri, where Isis declared its caliphate in 2014) is expected to be slow. It’s thought that as many as 100,000 civilians are still trapped there.
Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish region in Iraq, announced a referendum on independence to be held this September. The government of Iraq would respect Kurdish independence within the boundaries of Iraqi Kurdistan, but areas outside those boundaries which have been liberated from Isis by Kurdish forces could be problematic as Mr Barzani insists that they should be permanently absorbed into Kurdistan; Shia militias have said they would fight to stop that happening.
See comment After Isis.
ISRAEL: Three Palestinians armed with knives and firearms attacked police officers in Jerusalem’s old city. A young policewoman was stabbed to death. All three assailants were killed.
Israel and Saudi Arabia are in talks to establish trade and economic links.
LESOTHO: The second wife of Lipolelo Thabane, who was elected prime minister last month, was murdered two days before he was due to be inaugurated. She had recently won a High Court battle against her husband to defend her position as first lady in spite of being estranged from him. The Thabane family have been the target of a number of attempts on their lives in recent times.
LIBYA: Italian media claimed that a Libyan coastguard patrol boat fired shots at an Italian coastguard vessel in the Mediterranean. Several such incidents have been reported in recent months.
The IOM (International Organisation for Migration) said that 1889 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya this year. More than 69,000 have made it to Italy.
MALI: A group of gunmen attacked a luxury resort near Bamako, killing at least five people. Four of the attackers (suspected Islamist militants) were shot dead.
SYRIA: Russia reported the death of the Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who declared the Isis caliphate in 2014, in an airstrike on Raqqa. Other Isis leaders were killed in the same strike.
A US plane shot down a Syrian fighter jet which the Pentagon says was bombing US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Defence Forces (SDF) fighting against Isis in Raqqa. Assad’s ally Russia condemned the action, and threatened to ‘track’ western air force planes flying in Syria. See comment Meanwhile, In The White House… Later, the US shot down a regime drone (an Iranian-made Shaheed-129) threatening a base in eastern Syria occupied by the Free Syrian Army (and US and other western special forces backing them) engaged in the fight against Isis.
Iran launched ballistic missiles at Isis bases near Deir Ezzor, in retaliation for the recent Isis terror attacks on Tehran.
See comment After Isis.
Far East, Asia and Pacific
AFGHANISTAN: Fierce subterranean fighting between Isis and the Taliban took place in the mountainous area near the Pakistan border as Isis tries to drive the Taliban from the Tora Bora base of tunnels and caves.
AUSTRALIA: The government has offered £42 million in compensation to 1900 asylum seekers for the conditions under which they were detained in the centre on Manus Island. A class action which would expose conditions in the centre was about to open in Victoria’s Supreme Court.
CHINA: An explosion outside a nursery school in Feng County killed at least 7 people and injured another 66. A gas cylinder at a street food stall is the suspected cause.
JAPAN: Seven US sailors were drowned when their destroyer, USS Fitzgerald, collided with a larger Japanese cargo vessel 60 miles south west of Yokosuka.
KOREA, SOUTH: The new president, Moon Jae-in, announced that his country will abandon nuclear energy, closing down its existing atomic power stations when they reach the end of their lives and not building any new ones. At the moment, it is the fifth largest generator of nuclear electricity in the world.
USA: President Trump authorised James Mattis, head of the Pentagon, to set the number of US troops in Afghanistan. This suggests that some sort of ‘surge’ might be imminent.
A left-wing activist gunman opened fire on politicians practising for a charity baseball game at a park in Alexandria, just outside Washington DC. Five people were injured, including Republican congressman Steve Scalise.
The government is to announce a new policy on Cuba, putting President Obama’s rapprochement on hold until Cuba has democratic elections. The policy might include a restriction on the number of visits by US citizens to Cuba, a ban on deals with businesses run by the Cuban army (the military controls 60% of the state run economy). Dissidents say that human rights in Cuba have not improved since the rapprochement, but that repression has increased and the regime has become stronger.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into allegations of Russian interference in the US presidential elections will investigate claims that President Trump tried to obstruct justice by allegedly trying to interfere with the FBI’s investigations into Mike Flynn (former national security adviser) and with communications that he might have had with Russians. Obstruction of justice is an impeachable offence.
Otto Warmbier, the student released from North Korea after 17 months in prison, has died in a Cincinatti hospital. He had been in a coma since just after his trial. Arizona senator John McCain accused Kim Jong-un’s regime of murder.
COLOMBIA: An explosion in the ladies’ toilets at a shopping centre in Bogota killed three women and injured nine others. No one has claimed responsibility. The leader of the guerrilla group Farc (which is due to hand its weapons over to the UN this week) condemned the attack.
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