Issue 118:2017 08 17:Week in Brief International

17 August 2017

Week in Brief: International

UN Flag to denote International news Week In Brief International

Europe

FRANCE: A car was driven into a patrol of 16 soldiers in a Paris suburb, injuring six of them. Police arrested an Algerian suspect after a car-chase which ended near Calais.  The suspect was shot and wounded.

ROMANIA: A sharp rise in illegal immigrants suggests that people traffickers are opening a new route into Europe by crossing the Black Sea from Turkey to Romania.

RUSSIA: Theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov has had his passport seized by the authorities.  He is a critic of President Putin and a campaigner for LGBT rights.  He and his Seventh Studio theatre group are facing fraud allegations, and last month the Bolshoi Theatre mysteriously postponed the premiere of his ballet about Rudolf Nureyev.  Cultural figures and opposition politicians claim that he is a victim of political persecution.

The authorities are prosecuting an activist for putting up a small plaque on a building in Arkhangelsk to commemorate a former resident who was executed by Stalin in 1937 for counter-revolutionary crimes but found innocent posthumously in 1957.  The activist had permission from the residents of the building, which is semi-derelict and due to be demolished, and was taking part in the Last Address project, which has put up hundreds of such plaques across Russia to commemorate the millions of victims of Stalin’s purges.  He is accused of ‘damaging a cultural heritage site’ and could be fined 200,000 roubles.

SPAIN: The government of the Balearic Islands is to impose a cap on the number of tourist beds and introduce tough new rules for Airbnb lets, in order to combat the disruption and inflation which tourism causes for residents.

A Swedish/Turkish writer has been arrested at Barcelona airport on an international arrest warrant. He has been accused by Turkey of plotting terrorism.  Spain has 40 days in which to decide whether the journalist and critic of President Erdogan’s regime should be sent to Sweden or to Turkey. If sent to Turkey, he would join 200 journalists awaiting trial.  Interpol arrest warrants are not intended to be used against political critics of regimes.

A sharp rise in illegal immigrants crossing the sea from Morocco suggests that people traffickers are opening a new route into Europe from Africa to Spain.

Middle East and Africa

AFGHANISTAN: More than 50 civilians from the Hazara, a Shia minority, were murdered by insurgents in Sayad district.  The Shia minority are being attacked by both Isis and the Taliban.

BURKINA FASO: Suspected Islamist terrorists armed with guns and mounted on motorbikes attacked diners in a restaurant in Ouagadougou, killing 18 of them and wounding several others.  Two of the gunmen were killed by security forces.

IRAN: Parliament passed a bill relaxing the death penalty for drug-trafficking. The measure now needs the approval of the guardian council.

KENYA: Raila Odinga, the opposition leader defeated by Uhuru Kenyatta in last week’s elections, claimed that votes were rigged and the election’s computer system hacked, and called for a general strike. Violent clashes between rival supporters have left 24 people dead.  International monitors, including those from the USA and the EU, have found no sign of tampering with the election or its results.

LIBYA: The Libyan coastguard, intercepting people traffickers and returning migrants to Libya, plans to extend a search-and-rescue zone beyond the 12 nautical miles of Libyan waters to an area 79 nautical miles out to sea, and has told charity rescue ships not to operate in the zone.  The plan is backed by the Italian government.

NIGERIA: Three suicide bomb attacks, including a female bomber who blew herself up in a market place, killed 27 people and wounded another 83 near Maiduguri.  It is thought that Boko Haram was responsible.

SAUDI ARABIA: Saudi Arabia is reopening its border with Iraq, which it closed in 1991 during the Gulf War.  The two countries also announced a joint trade commission.

SIERRA LEONE: More than 300 people were killed when heavy rain caused a hillside to collapse and sent a mudslide sweeping through homes near Freetown.  Another 600 are missing and feared dead. 3000 people have been left homeless.

SOUTH AFRICA: A young woman has accused Grace, the wife of President Mugabe, of assaulting her in a Johannesburg hotel room where the Mugabe’s two sons are staying.

SYRIA: The rebel group Jaish Usud al-Sharqiya claimed to have shot down a Syrian airforce jet and captured the pilot.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AUSTRALIA: The deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce is under pressure to resign following the revelation that he has joint Australian and New Zealand citizenship.  The constitution does not allow Australian MPs to have dual nationality.  His resignation could bring down the government, as it has a majority of one.  Allegations that a New Zealand MP played a part in the revelation are threatening the good relations between the two countries.

HONG KONG: Pro-democrasy activist Howard Lam claimed he was kidnapped and tortured by Chinese agents.

INDIA: More than 60 children died when oxygen supplies to a hospital in Gorakhpur was cut off because of an unpaid bill.

Two soldiers and three Kashmiri separatists were killed in a clash between security forces and armed militants in a village near Srinagar.

KOREA, NORTH: Kim Jong-un has threatened to bomb the Pacific island of Guam, an unincorporated US territory.

NEPAL: Heavy rain caused flash floods and landslides. 50,000 homes have been inundated.

THAILAND: A student has been jailed for two and a half years for sharing a BBC article about King Vajiralongkorn on Facebook.

America

CANADA: Up to 200 Haitian migrants a day are crossing into Canada from the US.

USA: A state of emergency was declared in Charlottesville when right-wing extremists (rallying to protest against the removal of a statue of General Robert E Lee) and counter-demonstrators clashed violently.  One woman was killed and 19 people injured when a car was driven into a crowd of counter-demonstrators.  President Trump issued a statement condemning violence on both sides, but was criticised for not specifically condemning extreme right-wing violence for the death until two days later.

The FBI raided the home of Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager, and confiscated documents and other material, as part of special council Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion with Russia during the presidential election campaign.

Trump ramped up rhetoric warning North Korea to behave.

A state of emergency was declared in New Orleans as heavy rain caused floods and knocked out power supplies.

President Trump is considering replacing US troops in Afghanistan with mercenaries.

President Trump signed an executive order instructing trade representatives to investigate allegations that China indulges in unfair trade practices such as stealing corporate secrets.  It is feared that this might result in a trade war between the two countries.

VENEZUELA: President Maduro’s government is to establish a “truth commission”, a court which the president declared “can try anyone”, to be led by the president of the new constituent assembly.

 

Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and nine other Latin American countries signed a joint declaration refusing to recognise legislation passed by the new assembly and declaring that Venezuela is no longer a democracy.

As the new assembly begins to prosecute officials, two mayors have gone into hiding, five judges have taken refuge in the Chilean embassy and two in the Panamanian mission; five more have fled to Colombia and at least one to the USA.

 

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Issue 117:2017 08 10:Week in Brief International

10 August 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UN Flag to denote International news Week In Brief International

Europe

BELGIUM:  A large number of eggs produced in Belgium and exported to France and the Netherlands have been found to be contaminated with fipronil, a toxic pesticide.

FRANCE:  President Macron faced stiff opposition to his proposal to make the resources and position traditionally but unofficially granted to the first lady transparent, accountable and official.

GERMANY:  400 asylum seekers were returned to Greece, as Germany reinstated the Dublin Rules which require seekers to register for asylum in the first EU country they enter.

ITALY:  A migrant-rescuing ship operated by a German charity has been seized by the authorities, after coastguards accused it of colluding with people smugglers.

Authorities prevented a ship operated by Médecins Sans Frontières from entering the port of Lampedusa because MSF has not signed Italian interior minister’s code of conduct.  It objects to the condition allowing armed Italian police to be on board.

15 volunteer firemen in Sicily were charged with starting fires and making false emergency calls so they could claim call-out fees.  Wild fires are blazing across many parts of southern Europe hit by a heat wave dubbed ‘Lucifer’.

RUSSIA:  Eight workers are missing after water flooded a huge diamond mine operated by the state-controlled company Alrosa.

Middle East and Africa

ISRAEL:  The government is proposing to close down Al Jazeera’s operations in Israel.

LEBANON:  Police raids on a warehouse in Baalbek and on trucks in eastern Beirut have confirmed that Lebanon is a major manufacturer and supplier of Captagon (an amphetamine-type drug banned in most countries) which is used by fighters in the Syrian civil war to maintain stamina and aggression.

The army is about to launch a campaign against Isis on the border with Syria.  It will operate with Hezbollah and the Assad regime.

KENYA:  President Kenyatta appears to be on course for victory as votes are counted in this week’s presidential, parliamentary and local elections.  There was a high turnout and voting was largely peaceful, though the opposition coalition claims that there were ‘serious flaws’ in the voting. The opposition also claimed that a gang of 30 masked and armed men raided party offices, threatened staff and seized equipment before the election.

RWANDA:  The presidential election this week appears to have resulted in a landslide victory for President Kigale.  Only two other candidates were cleared to stand, and they were not allowed to put up campaign posters and were allowed only limited use of social media.

SOUTH AFRICA:  President Zuma narrowly survived a vote of no confidence, the sixth such vote but the first to be operated as a secret ballot.  There were 198 votes for him and 177 against (with 9 abstentions).  As many as 30 of his ANC MPs are believed to have voted against him, which represents a humiliation for the president and leaves him weakened.

SYRIA:  The Syrian Observation For Human Rights reported that Isis has been driven from its stronghold at al-Sukhuna by Assad government forces backed by the Russian airforce.

YEMEN:  US Special Forces are backing Yemen government troops in the fight against al-Qaeda in southern Yemen.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN:  A Taliban suicide bomber killed two American soldiers in an attack on a convoy near Kandahar airport.

CHINA: A 6.5 magnitude earthquake hit Sichuan province, near the tourist destination of the Jiuzhaigou nature reserve.  As many as 100 people are thought to have died, scores were injured and thousands of homes were damaged.

KOREA, NORTH:  The UN Security Council agreed on sanctions against North Korea, including a total ban on coal exports from the country.  The sanctions were supported by China and Russia.

PAKISTAN:  A bomb in Lahore killed one person and wounded another 30, the day before Nawaz Sharif, who was recently removed as prime minister, was due to hold a rally there.

PHILIPPINES:  US secretary of state Rex Tillerson met President Duterte in Manila.  The US is considering drone strikes against Isis-linked militants entrenched in the Mindanao region.

America

USA:  A grand jury (23 members of the public) was convened by Robert Mueller, the special council who is investigating allegations of collusion with Russian interference in the presidential elections.

VENEZUELA:  President Maduro was accused of election fraud by the chief executive of the manufacturer of the country’s voting machines, who claims that the turnout figures were inflated and a million votes were fabricated in last Sunday’s elections for the all-powerful new constituent assembly.  The head of the Organisation of American States, Luis Almagro, described it as “the biggest electoral fraud in the history of Latin America”.

The attorney general Luisa Ortega (previously a Maduro loyalist but a critic of the regime since last March who now claims that the president is “overseeing state terrorism”) said she would investigate these allegations of irregularities, but she was removed from office by the new assembly (one of its first acts) which has frozen her assets and forbidden her to leave the country.

The Pope appealed to the government to suspend the new assembly.

The army claims to have put down an anti-Maduro uprising among troops at Paramacy Fort.

The new assembly has begun to order the arrest and imprisonment of opposition figures, i.e. mayors critical of the regime, and judges sworn in by the legitimate parliament.

 

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issue 116:2017 08 03:Week in Brief International

03 August 2017

Week in Brief: International

UN Flag to denote International news Week In Brief International

Europe

FRANCE: Macron promised to remove migrants from the streets and to house them in cheap hotels instead.

The deradicalisation centre opened under the previous government has been closed, and the deradicalisation program judged a failure.

STX, the country’s biggest ship-building company, is to be nationalised to prevent it from being purchased by Italians.

The government passed a law banning MPs from employing members of their family as parliamentary assistants.

Wikileaks published 20,000 emails which appear to have been hacked from Emmanuel Macron’s headquarters during the presidential election campaign.

GERMANY: A Palestinian refugee armed with a knife attacked shoppers in Hamburg, killing one and injuring seven others.  He was arrested, and is suspected of having links with Islamic extremists.  An Iraqi gunman opened fire in a nightclub in Konstanz, killing one person and seriously injuring three others.  He was shot dead by police.  It is not thought that the attack was terrorist-linked.

ITALY: The police are examining claims that the Mafia is in league with Isis to smuggle oil into Europe.

RUSSIA: The Kremlin retaliated against new sanctions approved by the US Senate, by ordering the US to reduce its diplomatic staff from over 1000 to 455 by September 01, and threatening to close two US diplomatic properties in Moscow.

SPAIN: The constitutional court ruled that the Catalan regional government’s referendum for independence is illegal. Police seized documents from the Catalan parliament.  The vote is planned for 1 October.

An anarchist group called ‘Arran’ has claimed responsibility for tyre-slashing attacks on bicycles and a coach in Barcelona, as protests against tourism.  It is linked to the far-left Popular Unity Party (CUP), which has 10 MPs in the Catalan Parliament.

Middle East and Africa

IRAN: A satellite-carrying rocket was successfully launched into space.

LEBANON: A ceasefire has been agreed between Hezbollah (an Iranian-backed Shia force) and Fateh-al-Sham (a Sunni rebel group with links to al-Qaeda), with Fateh withdrawing to Idlib in Syria.

LIBYA: The head of Tripoli’s government of national unity Faiez Serraj and the Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni reached agreement to allow the Italian navy to operate in Libyan waters with Libyan coastguards, intercepting migrant craft and taking them back to shore.

Only three organisations have signed the Italian government’s new code of conduct for charities and humanitarian groups operating rescue vessels.  Five have refused to sign it.

KENYA: The head of information, communication and technology at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission was found dead a week before presidential elections are due.  He had been kidnapped, tortured and murdered.  On 08 August, President Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga will stand against each other for the third time.  In 2007, violence during elections left 1200 people dead.

RWANDA: In this week’s presidential elections, President Kagame is expected to win a third term.  The president has been praised for bringing stability and economic growth since 2000, but others claim that political dissent is being stifled.

SAUDI ARABIA: Yemen’s Houthi rebels launched a missile attack on Mecca, according to Saudi Arabia.  Officials in Riyadh said that the ballistic missile was fired from Sa’dah in Yemen near the Saudi border and was intercepted by air defence forces hundreds of miles away in Saudi Arabia, only 39 miles short of Mecca.  They accused Iran of supplying the weapon.

Another 15 Shia citizens have been sentenced to death, accused of spying for Iran.

A holiday resort where men and women will not be segregated and bikinis will be allowed is to be built on islands in a lagoon on the west coast.

SOMALIA: A car bomb attack in Mogadishu killed six people and wounded 20 others.

SYRIA: The battle for Raqqa continues, with half of the city liberated from Isis.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: VAT (at 5%) is to be introduced next year.  Other Gulf states are also expected to impose a tax on goods and services, as oil revenues continue to fall and the cost of the war in Yemen continues to rise.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN: The Taliban attacked a military base in Kandahar.  40 soldiers were killed and dozens wounded, with more than 80 Taliban fighters killed (according to the defence ministry), before the attack was beaten off.

Four terrorists attacked the Iraqi embassy in Kabul.  A four-hour gun battle followed, with all four gunmen and bombers shot dead, three policemen injured and two other people killed.

Two terrorists attacked a crowded Shia mosque in Herat, near the Iranian border. At least 29 people were killed and 63 wounded.

AUSTRALIA: A counter-terrorism operation foiled an Isis-linked plot to blow up a passenger jet in flight.  At least six people have been detained.

CHINA: Liu Xia, the widow of Nobel prize winning dissident Liu Xiaobo, has disappeared, according to friends.  She has been under house arrest since 2010.

KOREA, NORTH: The military test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of hitting the US mainland. It also tested its ability to fire a missile from a submarine.

KOREA, SOUTH: The USA responded to the North’s test-firing by flying bombers over the peninsula, and by testing the THAD anti-missile shield.

PAKISTAN: Prime minister Nawaz Sharif was forced to resign by the supreme court after the investigation into corruption allegations against his family (prompted by Panama papers revelations) resulted in criminal proceedings.

America

USA: President Trump banned transgender people from the military.

The White House chief of staff Reince Priebus resigned.  He was replaced by John Kelly, the head of Department of Homeland Security and former general of marines.  Communications director Anthony Scaramucci resigned (after only ten days in the job and before the official start of his appointment), allegedly prompted by John Kelly insisting that only the chief of staff should have direct access to the president.

VENEZUELA: Elections for a new constitutional assembly took place.  It is thought that President Maduro intends to use the assembly to over-ride the legitimate parliament (the opposition-dominated National Assembly) and to rewrite the constitution.

Opposition parties boycotted the election, most candidates were chosen by the President, and state employees complained that they were being compelled to vote.  Turnout was low; officially 41%, but the opposition claims it was 12%.  Many polling stations were deserted.

Protests against the President, his government and the election continued, and included a 48 hour strike, in spite of a ban and the threat of up to ten years in prison.  There were at least three deaths as police broke up protests and dismantled barricades.

Forty countries (including most of the other South American countries – Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru) have refused to recognise the new assembly.  The USA froze Maduro’s assets and banned him from travelling to US; it also imposed sanctions on 13 of the president’s officials for human rights abuses, corruption and undermining democracy.  Ambassadors from the UK, Spain, France and Mexico attended a session of the national assembly (the legitimate parliament) to show support.

Two leading opposition politicians – Antonio Ledezma and Leopoldo Lopez – were arrested in the middle of the night and taken to a military prison.  Both men were under house arrest, having recently been released from prison.

The new assembly is due to sit for the first time tomorrow.  Its 545 members include President Maduro’s wife and their son.

 

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!ssue 115:2017 07 27:Week in Brief International

27 July 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Europe

FRANCE:  The chief of the armed forces resigned after Macron gave him a dressing down for complaining about defence cuts.

GREECE: A 6.7 magnitude earthquake in the Aegean (hitting the Greek island of Kos, and also Bodrum in Turkey) left 2 people dead and 500 injured.

ITALY:  A severe drought has damaged agriculture, started wildfires and caused water supplies to be rationed in Rome.  (Wildfires have also struck the south of France and other areas of the Mediterranean.)

MONTENEGRO:  The trial of two Russian military intelligence officers accused of plotting a coup against the Montenegrin president has been postponed (the defence has requested that the state prosecutor be replaced).

POLAND:  MPs and the Senate voted to give parliament the power to appoint and remove judges.  The Polish judges association condemned the vote as an attempt to undermine the rule of law and the democratic separation of the government and the judiciary.  It was also criticised by the Czech Republic, Germany, England, the US state department and the EU.  The European Commission threatened to withhold Poland’s voting rights (effectively ejecting it from the EU; this would require the unanimous vote of all EU members, but Hungary supports Poland on this issue).

President Duda, however, vetoed the two bills which would have given the government the power to hire and fire Supreme Court judges; but he did sign into law the bill enabling it to hire and fire the heads of lower courts.

The governing nationalist Law and Justice party said it will nevertheless continue with its plans to reform the Supreme Court. The EU will now explore what kind of sanctions it could impose on Poland.

RUSSIA:  The car and home of a journalist critical of the government were doused with an acidic chemical.  Yulia Latynina is a columnist for the Novaya Gazeta; six of its journalists have died in mysterious circumstances in the last 15 years.

MPs voted to curb anonymity on the internet by restricting the use of VPNs (virtual private networks) and other proxy services. Over 1000 protestors in Moscow demonstrated against internet censorship.

The Chinese and Russian navies are participating in joint war-game exercises in the Baltic for the first time, off the coast of the Russian enclave Kaliningrad, between Poland and Lithuania.

SLOVAKIA:  The prime minister complained of ‘food racism’ within the EU: some food items from international brands sold in Eastern Europe are of a poorer quality than equivalent items sold in the west.

UKRAINE:  Separatists proclaimed a new state in eastern Ukraine independent of Kiev.  Leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine are pressing ahead with a new peace plan.

Middle East and Africa

CAMEROON:  Amnesty International has accused the security forces of the illegal detention and torture of suspects accused of supporting Boko Haram.

EGYPT:  The interior ministry reported the arrest of five suspected militants and the seizure of arms in Giza and Sharqiya; also the deaths of eight suspected militants in a raid on a training camp in the southern desert.

IRAQ:  A German teenage girl found in Mosul has been arrested as a suspected Isis sniper.  She will be tried in Iraq, rather than allowed to return to Germany.  A French woman was also arrested and is being questioned.

Human Rights Watch reported widespread abuse and summary execution of Isis suspects following the liberation of Mosul.

ISRAEL:  Conflict continued between Palestinian Arabs and the security forces over the metal detectors installed at the entrance to the Al-Aqsa mosque complex (which also contains Temple Mount) following the murder of two police officers last week and the use of the mosque by the gunmen.  Violent protest spread in Jerusalem and the occupied west bank (Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron); 5 protestors died and hundreds were injured.  3 Israelis were murdered in their homes in the West Bank.  Israel removed the metal detectors, as part of an agreement with Jordan about the incident in Amman (- see below), but Palestinians are still boycotting the site.

JORDAN:  Two people died at a property in the Israeli embassy in Amman after a security guard reportedly shot a Palestinian worker who had apparently stabbed him with a screwdriver.  The other fatality was the landlord, a Jordanian doctor.  The guard was flown back to Israel, in spite of the Jordanian authority’s requests to question him.

KUWAIT:  The high court announced that an uncovered terrorist cell had links to Iran.  Kuwait subsequently expelled 15 Iranian diplomats and closed some of Iran’s military, cultural and trade missions.

LIBYA:  General Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the armed forces of the Tubruq-based parliament governing eastern Libya, and Faiez Serraj, the prime minister of the Tripoli-based government of national accord, met for talks in Paris and agreed on a ceasefire and on parliamentary and presidential elections.  This independent French initiative has angered Italy, which has been supporting the unity government and has been opposed to General Haftar in line with EU foreign policy.

A film has been released apparently showing a firing squad of Haftar’s troops executing jihadists found guilty of war crimes by military court.

QATAR:  Changes to anti-terror laws (freezing funding, new definitions of terror), and new national terror list, were announced.  The UAE welcomed the announcement as “positive”.

SAUDI ARABIA:  The woman arrested last week for appearing on-line in a short skirt and sleeveless top, walking through Ushaiger, has been released without charge.

King Salman removed counter-terrorism and security services from the interior ministry and took it under personal control by setting up a new homeland security agency under the prime minister, i.e. himself.  This reduction of the power of the interior ministry follows the recent demotion of Prince bin Nayef, who had been the crown prince and the head of security (and who is now rumoured to be under house arrest).

The Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence passed on 14 Shia men arrested during protests associated with the Arab Spring. Human rights groups are urging Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman not to sign their death warrants (his father the king is away on holiday).

SYRIA:  The USA is to end a covert CIA programme which has been training anti-Assad rebels.

In the battle for Raqqa, the Syrian Democratic Forces are suffering high casualties from Isis mines and IED’s. The USA is to help by supplying dozens of mine-resistant armoured vehicles.

A jihadist group, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), has seized an area of North West Syria from the Turkish- and Qatari-backed rebel group Ahrar al-Sham. HTS is considered a proxy for al-Qaeda, and now controls the city of Idlib and a major border crossing to and from Turkey.

TURKEY:  Following the arrest of a German citizen working for Amnesty International, the German foreign minister advised Germans against travelling to Turkey, warning them that they risked arrest.  He also called on the EU to stop funding and investment in Turkey.

The trial of 17 employees of the independent newspaper Cumhuriyet, accused of helping terrorists and abuse of trust, has begun. Hundreds of supporters of press freedom protested outside the courtroom.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN:  A Taliban suicide raid was launched against the Afghan military in Helmand.  Three armoured cars loaded with explosives were followed by suicide bombers and gunmen.  Dead suicide attackers included the son of the Taliban’s supreme leader, according to the Taliban.

Taliban gunmen kidnapped 70 people on the highway between Kabul and Kandahar. Taliban suicide bombers killed 35 and injured 42 in Kabul. Military outposts and police stations were attacked elsewhere. A US airstrike resulted in the friendly-fire deaths of 16 policemen.

Two videos obtained by CNN show Taliban fighters brandishing weaponry which they claim has been supplied by Russia.  The USA has suspected for some months that the Russians “may be providing some sort of support to the Taliban in terms of weapons” (General Joseph Votel, chief of US Central Command).  The Kremlin denies such claims.

CHINA:  The director of the state administration for religious affairs has warned members of the Communist party that they should not have any other beliefs or faiths and will be punished if they do.

The military is reportedly reinforcing defences along the border with N Korea.

INDIA:  The presidential election was won by Ram Nath Kovind, of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party.  The new president is a Dalit, a member of the lowest caste.

INDONESIA:  President Widodo has told police officers to shoot drug traffickers who resist arrest.

JAPAN:  Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was questioned by MPs about allegations that he used his influence to help a friend set up a new private university.

MALDIVES:  Police and soldiers raided parliament to break up an opposition vote of no confidence.  Some MPs were detained.

THAILAND:  Over 100 people, including a lieutenant general, have been found guilty of human trafficking and corruption involving thousands of migrants, including Rohingya muslims fleeing persecution in Burma.

America

URUGUAY:  The sale of cannabis has been legalised.

USA:  President Trump’s persistent criticism of his attorney general Jeff Sessions has led to suspicions that he is trying to force him out of office.  President Trump was annoyed last March when Jeff Sessions removed himself from the investigations into allegations that Russia interfered in the presidential election.

The White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigned (to be replaced by deputy Sarah Huckabee Sanders), apparently in protest against the appointment of a new White House communications director (the third in six months) Anthony Scaramucci, a Wall Street financier with no previous political experience (his appointment was supported by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, but opposed by Steve Bannon and Reince Preibus).

The commander of the US military forces in Europe pointed out that the White House has not yet appointed ambassadors to many European countries.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Trump’s pre-presidential business dealings with Russians.  Jared Kushner was questioned in a closed session by Senate investigators about alleged election campaign ties to Russia.  He is due to be questioned by the House intelligence committee as well.

New sanctions against Russia (and also against Iran and North Korea) are being prepared in Congress in defiance of the White House.

Hawaii is to hold monthly emergency drills to prepare for a potential nuclear strike from N Korea.

A lorry packed with illegal immigrants was stopped at San Antonio, Texas; at least ten immigrants were dead, and the driver is to be charged with people-trafficking.

Employees at a vending machine manufacturing firm in Wisconsin have volunteered to have a microchip implanted in their hands to facilitate punching in and out of work.

VENEZUELA:  The Democratic Union coalition (the opposition parliament) organised a 24 hour general strike.

International pressure on the president to drop his plans for a constituent assembly is growing.  Colombia, France, Spain, the EU and the US have urged him to cancel elections for the assembly due on July 30.

 

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Issue 114:2017 07 20:Week in Brief International

20 July 2017

Week in Brief: International

Europe

FRANCE: President Trump was the guest of President Macron at the military parade on Bastille Day in Paris.  The parade had a US theme to commemorate the centenary of US intervention in World War I.

President Macron acknowledged French responsibility for sending thousands of Jews to Nazi death camps during World War II.  A ceremony to mark the rounding up of 13,152 Jews in July 1942 was attended by the prime minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu.

ITALY: Officials have drawn up a code of conduct for charities helping migrants to cross the Mediterranean, to prevent collusion with people smugglers.  The interior minister visited Libya to meet 12 mayors from the tribal south, who were offered £40 million in aid to stop the migrant flow from Africa.  There are now almost 200,000 migrants in Italy, the country’s full capacity.  The prime minister criticised the rest of the EU for not helping with the crisis.  Officials are threatening to issue temporary EU visas to migrants (permitted by the European Council Directive 2001/55, but requiring the approval of all EU members) which would allow them to move on to other EU countries.

MONTENEGRO: 14 people accused of planning a coup against the country’s pro-EU leader have gone on trial.  They include two Russian military intelligence officers who are being tried in absentia.

RUSSIA: The five men found guilty of murdering Boris Nemtsov were sentenced to a total of 80 years in prison.  They were paid to commit the murder, but the authorities seem to have no idea who ordered or financed the crime.

A historian critical of Stalin, Yuri Dmitriev, has gone on trial in a closed court in Petrozavodsk, accused of being a paedophile.  Friends and colleagues have suggested that the charges could have been fabricated to interfere with his work (he is well-known for having found mass graves of Stalin’s victims).

Middle East and Africa

EGYPT: A knifeman killed two European women and wounded four other people at the Red Sea resort of Hurghada.  He was overpowered by hotel staff and arrested by the police.

IRAN: President Rouhani’s diplomat brother Hossein Fereydoun was detained during anti-corruption investigations.  The president’s supporters claim the detention is politically motivated.

ISRAEL: Three gunmen killed two police officers near an entrance to the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s old city, then took refuge in the mosque’s compound.  They were shot dead by police.  The gunmen were Arab Israelis and their victims were Druze Arabs.  Police closed the complex for two days during investigations.  Since it has reopened, police have clashed with Palestinians protesting against new security measures there.

LIBYA: The EU has agreed to allow member states to restrict sales to Libya of the kind of boats used by people-smugglers.

NIGERIA: A female suicide bomber killed 8 people in a mosque in north east Nigeria.  She was one of four female bombers – one blew herself up and two were shot by the police.

QATAR: The Emirates are no longer demanding that Qatar close down al-Jazeera, but that it should be reformed.

The story which triggered the current crisis (claims on social media and the government news site that Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani praised Hmas and Iran) was fake news fabricated by the Emirates, according to US intelligence sources quoted by the Washington Post, which claim that fake quotes were planted on the sites by hackers.

SAUDI ARABIA: A woman has been arrested for wearing immodest clothes.  A video on Snapchat showed her walking around Ushaiger (the birthplace of Wahhabism) wearing a short skirt and a sleeveless top.

SOUTH SUDAN: Heavy fighting has broken out between government forces and rebels as the 4 year old civil war flares up again.

SYRIA: In the battle for Raqqa, the SDF have captured a portion of the city from Isis following heavy fighting involving US and UK special forces.

The Syrian army, backed by Russian airstrikes, has seized oil wells from Isis in Raqqa province.

TURKEY: On the first anniversary of the attempted coup, President Erdogan addressed rallies in Istanbul and Ankara, and said that traitors should be beheaded (the death penalty was abolished in 2002 as part of the drive towards EU membership).  7000 more civil servants (including police and soldiers) were sacked.  Emergency rule was extended for another three months.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN: The leader of Isis in Afghanistan was killed in a raid by Afghan and US soldiers, according to the Pentagon. This was denied by Isis, which nevertheless admitted that there is in-fighting for leadership between Pakistani members and Uzbek members.

CHINA: Chinese troops have been sent to the country’s first overseas military base, in Djibouti, east Africa.

The Nobel prize winner and dissident Liu Xiaobo has died.  He was serving an 11 year prison sentence for subversion, and had recently been moved from prison to a hospital for cancer treatment.  He was 61 years old.  World leaders called for his widow to be released from the house arrest under which she has lived since 2010.  Liu Xiaobo was apparently cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea in what some claim was an attempt by the authorities to prevent the founding of a memorial to him and his ideas.

Images and references to Winnie the Pooh have been removed from social media, after some users appear to have made comparisons between President Xi and A A Milne’s much-loved hero.

Sun Zhengcai, a member of the Chinese communist party Politburo and political chief of Chongqing city, has been detained by the Central Commission For Discipline Inspection (CCDI) during anti-corruption investigations.  He had been tipped as a possible future president.  His place as city leader has been taken by Chen Miner, a protégé of President Xi.

INDIA: Elections for president (a largely ceremonial role) are underway.  Almost 5000 MPs and state legislators get to vote.  Both candidates are from the Dalit caste (the lowest caste – once known as untouchbles).

MALAYSIA: Public caning is to be introduced in Kelantan state, which is governed by an Islamist party.

America

BRAZIL: The former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to nine and half years in prison.

USA: President Trump admitted defeat in his latest attempt to scrap Obamacare.

VENEZUELA: The opposition parliament organised a referendum about the president’s plans to change the constitution.  2030 polling stations were set up, including 598 abroad.  Voters queued in their thousands, and over 7 million of them voted against the plans and urged the military to defend the constitution and to support free elections next year.   One woman was killed and three others injured when a queue to vote in a Caracas suburb was shot at by gunmen on motorbikes.  Tear gas was thrown at queues in Amazonas.

 

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Issue 113:2017 07 13:Week in brief International

13 July 2017

Week in Brief: International

Europe

CYPRUS: Negotiations between Greek Cyprus and Turkish Cyprus for reunification have collapsed.  Greek Cyprus will begin drilling for natural gas off its coast, a move which is likely to increase tension with Turkey.

FRANCE:Macron’s labour minister Muriel Penicaud is facing a criminal inquiry about an outing to Las Vegas Consumer Electrics show she arranged for journalist and business people in 2016, when M Macron was economics minister.  Allegations assert that the job of organising it was given to PR agency Havas without going to tender.

GERMANY: The G20 meeting took place in Hamburg.  It was marred by violent protests, including rioting and looting and clashes with the police.  100,000 protesters (including an estimated 8,000 extremists) gathered from all over Europe.  Nearly 500 police officers were injured, and over 400 people were arrested.  The meeting saw little political progress among the gathered leaders.  President Trump met President Putin, and discussed cyber-security and Syrian peace plans.

GREECE: A national lottery with monthly prizes totalling one million euros is to be launched for shoppers paying with credit or debit cards, in the government’s latest attempt to discourage the use of cash and so make tax evasion more difficult.

ITALY: Plans to open 6 more centres for processing migrants and asylum seekers were announced.  There are only 4 such centres at the moment.

The Five Star Movement blocked a proposal to strengthen the country’s 1952 anti-fascist laws.

POLAND: President Trump visited Warsaw and delivered a speech speech about the West’s future, and committed the USA to Nato’s article 5 about collective defence.

SPAIN: 14 people were arrested in Barcelona as part of an international police operation against the Camorra, the Neapolitan crime group.  8 arrests were made in Italy and 2 in Germany.

RUSSIA: Opposition leader Alexander Navlny was released after 25 days in detention following his arrest for organising anti-Putin protests.  Police raided the offices of his anti-corruption foundation in Yekaterinburg, Kazan and seven other regions.

Middle East and Africa

IRAQ: The government declared victory over Isis in the battle for Mosul.

LIBYA: General Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the forces of the Tobruk parliament which governs eastern Libya, declared victory against jihadist militias in the three year struggle to drive them out of Benghazi, Libya’s second city.   Some sources say he will continue to Sirte, which would risk conflict with the government in western Libya.

QATAR: The deadlock between Qatar and the neighbouring Gulf states continues.  Qatar remains defiant.  US defence secretary James Mattis publicly renewed the US’s security relations with Qatar.  US secretary of state Rex Tillerson visited Kuwaut to help mediation attempts, and put together a joint US/Qatar anti-terrorism agreement.  Boris Johnson visited the region and called for a de-escalation in the confrontation.  The French company Total committed to joint projects with Qatar Petroleum.

SAUDI ARABIA: A man convicted of breaking cybercrime laws when he was 16 has been sentenced to death.  The charges included spreading information via WhatsApp. The conviction has raised concerns that such laws are being used against political activists and are leading to human rights abuses.

SYRIA: Israel took part in talks in Jordan with the US and Russia, hoping for a buffer zone in Syria along the Israeli border to be kept free of Hezbollah and Iran-backed militias.  Israel is already supplying the rebel group Brigade of Goln Knights there, to discourage the presence of groups hostile to Israel.

A ceasefire in the south west, near the borders with Jordan and Israel, was brokered by the USA and Russia.  Opposition groups accused regime forces of breaking the ceasefire with attacks on the Free Syrian Army in the region; the regime claim that the attacks were against Isis forces.

TURKEY: Police raided a conference in Istanbul and arrested the director of Amnesty International’s office in Turkey, who has since been detained incommunicado, his whereabouts unknown.  Amnesty’s chairman in Turkey was arrested last month.

Up to 2 million protesters joined Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), as he entered Istanbul at the end of his 250 mile March For Justice.  He set out from Ankara on June 15, walking to protest against the 25 year prison sentence given to CHP MP Enis Berberoglu.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

INDIA: A gunman firing at police in Indian-controlled Kashmir hit a bus carrying Hindu pilgrims, killing 7 and wounding another 19.  The authorities blamed separatist rebels.

PAKISTAN: The military accused the Indian army of firing shells across the Line of Control into Pakistan-administered Kashmir and killing 5 civilians.

The committee investigating corruption claims against the family of prime minister Nawaz Sharif submitted its report to the supreme court.  Its findings were leaked, and the prime minister’s family are accused of lying and submitting false documents.

CHINA: The government ordered state-run internet providers to block the use of VPNs (virtual private networks).  Many internet users in China use VPNs to access blocked content.

America

USA: Donald Trump Jnr (the president’s son) admitted meeting a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer during the presidential election campaign.  The lawyer is said to have had damaging information about Hilary Clinton.

President Trump dropped the idea of a US-Russia joint cyber-security commission (proposed by and discussed with Putin in Hamburg) after it attracted cross-party derision in Washington.

VENEZUELA: Dozens of pro-Maduro activists wearing red and brandishing clubs stormed parliament, set off fireworks and injured an MP.

At least 123 members of armed forces have been arrested since protests began in April, according to a recently-released report.

The supreme court released opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez from prison to house arrest.  He has served over three years of a 14 year sentence following his arrest after protests in 2014.  Amnesty International regards him as a political prisoner.

Elections for the President’s new assembly to rewrite the constitution will be held on July 30.  The parliament and opposition will boycott the election, but all state workers have been told that they must vote.

 

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Issue112:2017 07 06:Week in Brief International

06 July 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Europe

AUSTRIA:  The defence minister announced plans to send troops and armoured vehicles to blockade the Brenner Pass to stop migrants entering the country from Italy.

FRANCE:  President Macron summoned the members of both the Assembly and the Senate to Versailles, and addressed them about his aims for national revival which include reducing the numbers of members of both parliamentary houses, lifting the state of emergency, reinforcing anti-terrorism laws and taking a lead in political integration within the EU.

Prime Minister Eduard Philippe announced measures to boost the economy, including spending cuts and reductions in business tax.

Police in Argenteuil arrested a right-wing extremist with convictions for condoning terrorism, and charged him with plotting to kill the president on Bastille Day.

GERMANY:  Ahead of the G20 summit due to take place in Hamburg later this week, the police raided the homes of anarchists and left-wing extremists, and 200 police officers were sent home to Berlin after an all-night party involving drunkenness, sex in public and fighting (what some considered “a normal Berlin evening for off-duty officers”).

German MPs voted in favour of same-sex marriage.  The upper house has already approved the measure.  A law should come into force by the end of the year.

A woman who founded a liberal mosque in Berlin needs 24 hour police protection after receiving death threats.  She and 6 others set up the mosque which allows men and women to pray together and permits women imams

ITALY:  Police detained 116 people during an operation against the ‘Ndrangheta, the Calabrian organised crime clans which control the European cocaine trade.

The authorities are threatening to close Italian ports to vessels and craft carrying migrants, because the number arriving has swamped reception centres.  It has been estimated that 10,850 migrants were picked up in 4 days last week.  A spokesman said that the centres held, at present, 180,000 migrants.  The capacity was 200,000.  He said that 10,000 more people were arriving every 2 or 3 days.  Italy has announced that it may seize rescue ships crewed by aid agencies. The government has arranged an emergency summit after 12,000 migrants arrived within the space of 48 hours.  The summit is intended to include ministers from France, Germany and Spain.

RUSSIA:  Five Chechens were found guilty of the murder of Boris Nemtsov two years ago.  Mr Nemtsov was a former deputy prime minister and a critic of President Putin.  Opposition activists criticised authorities for not investigating who was behind the murder.

President Xi Jinping of China met President Putin at the Kremlin, to discuss the Korean crisis and other issues.

UKRAINE:  The mother of a Russian captured in Ukraine while fighting for pro-Moscow separatists has asked the Kremlin to secure his release as she says he is a serving Russian soldier.  The Kremlin insists that no serving Russian soldiers have been deployed in Ukraine.

Kiev and a number of security experts worldwide have blamed the Kremlin for last week’s cyberattack which crippled the government’s computer systems.  It also caused major disruption to a number of global businesses. The Russian oil company Rosneft was hit, but the damage there was singularly minimal and restricted.

VATICAN:  Cardinal Pell, who was chosen by the Pope to reform the Vatican’s finances, has been summoned to appear in a court in Australia to answer accusations that he sexually assaulted young people, including choir boys, in the 1970s.  He vehemently denies the allegations.

The Pope has not renewed the term of office of Cardinal Muller who is in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  It was said that he was not being active enough in investigating 2,000 allegations of abuse by priests.  Cardinal Muller’s replacement may be Cardinal Ladaria Ferrer, although there are claims that he covered up the activities of a serial sex abuser.  There are reports that the Vatican police broke up a homosexual orgy in an apartment said to be occupied by the secretary to Cardinal Coccopalmerio, head of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. Apparently, the Cardinal had recommended his secretary for promotion, but this now seems unlikely because of the scandal and because the secretary has spent time in hospital recovering from a drug overdose.

Middle East and Africa

IRAQ:  In Mosul, at least 20 female Isis suicide bombers mixing with refugees have launched attacks on troops and civilians.  Fierce close-quarters fighting continues as Isis makes a last stand in the few hundred metres of ground which remain in its control.

ISRAEL:  Building has begun on the first official Israeli settlement in West Bank for 25 years.  The government proposed a new Israeli settlement (including apartments, offices and a school) in Palestinian east Jerusalem.  Critics have warned that such developments will make Arab/Israeli peace initiatives even more difficult.

Narendra Modi was welcomed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on a three-day visit, the first by a prime minister of India to Israel.

LIBYA:  The East Libyan authority is close to victory in its battle against Islamists in Benghazi, according to Khalifah Haftar’s Libyan National Army.

MALI:  President Macron of France visited Mali and urged the leaders of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkino Faso and Chad to expedite the creation of a French-sponsored anti-terrorist military force for the region.

NIGER:  Boko Haram militants murdered 9 people and kidnapped 37 women in an attack on a village near the Nigerian border.

QATAR:  Qatar ignored the 13 demands from its Gulf neighbours, but Kuwait is trying to mediate.  The initial deadline was July 3, but Saudi Arabia agreed to a 48 hour extension.  The Gulf states threatened that the rest of the world might have to choose between them or Qatar for trade, investment, strategic alliances, etc.  The head of the US Senate armed forces committee Bob Corker blocked future arms sales to all Gulf states until the crisis is resolved.  The UN called the demand to close to Al-Jazeera ‘an unacceptable attack’ on free speech.

SYRIA:  Fighting between Turkish troops and the Kurdish YPG broke out around Afrin, at the western end of the border with Turkey.

The rebel group Failaq al-Rahman accused the regime of using chlorine gas in an attack on in Tarma near Damascus.

A triple car-bomb attack killed 18 people in Damascus.

In the battle to drive Isis from Raqqa, the Syrian Democratic Forces fought their way into the Old City after coalition jets blew two breaches in its ancient walls.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AUSTRALIA:  Cardinal Pell, number three at the Vatican and head of Vatican finances, was charged with sexual assault from the 1970s.

HONG KONG:  Police arrested 30 protesters holding a banner demanding full democracy as President Xi was due to arrive to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China from Britain.

China’s foreign minister dismissed the 1984 Basic Law, a joint declaration signed by UK and China to protect the rights of Hong Kong citizens, as “not at all binding”.

INDIA: Thousands of protestors, including Bollywood stars, demonstrated in Delhi and Mumbai against violent attacks on Indian Muslims.  Last week one young Muslim was stabbed to death and another seriously wounded when they and two others were attacked by 20 men on a train near Delhi.

KOREA, NORTH:  An intercontinental ballistic missile was tested.  It flew for 37 minutes, reached an altitude of 1700 miles and landed in the Sea of Japan 580 miles way.  Pyongyang claimed that it was capable of reaching the USA.  The test was denounced by Japan and South Korea.

KOREA, SOUTH:  President Moon Jae-in is to meet President Trump for a two-day summit.

America

BRAZIL:  Police announced that they had arrested South America’s most wanted drugs boss, Luiz Carlos da Rocha.

Former cabinet minister Geddel Vieira Lima, an associate of President Temer, has been arrested during police investigations into allegations of corruption at a state-run bank.

USA:  A gunman opened fire in a New York hospital, killing a doctor and wounding 6 others before killing himself.

New Jersey’s governor Chris Christie was criticised for sunbathing on a beach after he had closed beaches and parks to the public because the state legislature couldn’t agree on a budget.

VENEZUELA:  A hijacked police helicopter buzzed government buildings in Caracas and allegedly dropped hand grenades on the Supreme Court and fired shots at the interior ministry.  Pro-president elements claimed that it was a coup attempt by rogue security officers; some in opposition claimed that it was a stunt stage-managed by the president.

The attorney general Luisa Ortega, who has spoken against President Maduro, has had her assets frozen and told not to leave the country by the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court (controlled by the president) is having a hearing to determine whether she can be tried for professional misconduct. The National Assembly – the elected parliament which opposes the president – appointed a vice-attorney general; a day later the Supreme Court appointed someone else to the same position.

President Maduro promoted 139 officers to the rank of general or admiral in a single ceremony which has widely been seen as an attempt to keep the military on his side.  Two generals (the head of the intelligence agency Sebin and the former commander of the National Guard) are due to appear before the attorney general to answer charges of human rights abuses against protesters; the president promoted one of them and awarded a medal to the other.

Anti-president protests continue; more than 80 protestors have now died.

 

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Issue 111:2017 06 29: Week in Brief International

29 June 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Europe

EU:  The European Commission fined Google €2.42 billion for taking advantage of its dominant position in promoting shopping options.

GERMANY:  Martin Schultz, leader of Social Democrats and Ms Merkel’s main rival for Chancellor in this September’s elections, has pledged to push for the creation of a United States of Europe.  Chancellor Merkel dropped her party’s opposition to gay marriage.

Members of President Erdogan of Turkey’s security guard have been refused entry for next week’s G20 meeting in Hamburg. They are suspected of violent behaviour in Washington in May; the US authorities have issued arrest warrants for 12 of them (9 security guards and 3 police officers).

GREECE:  More than 400 refugees arrived from Turkey in two days, raising fears that the migrant-managing arrangement between Ankara and the EU is breaking down.

ITALY:  Virginia Raggi, the Five Star Movement mayor of Rome, must answer allegations of abuse of office and making false statements, following the conclusion of prosecutors’ investigations into the claims against her.

The right-wing coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party won mayoral elections in Genoa, Verona, L’Aquila and Sesto San Giovanni.  The results are a blow to Matteo Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party’s hopes for next May’s general election.

Two failed banks were saved by the government with a €17 billion rescue package, even though recent EU law says that bail-outs should be funded by the investors rather than by tax-payers.

RUSSIA:  The central election commission barred Alexander Navalny from standing in next year’s presidential election because of his criminal record – he was convicted of fraud earlier this year, a conviction which he claims was fabricated in order to prevent him from running for office.  He insists that the constitution only bars people who are in prison – he was given a fine and a suspended sentence.

A campaign manager for the Barnaul branch of Mr Navalny’s movement was wounded in the arm in a knife attack, and the headquarters was set alight.  Mr Navalny had antiseptic thrown in his face when visiting Barnaul three months ago.

UKRAINE:  A military intelligence colonel was killed by a bomb attack on his car in Kiev.  Officials suspect the involvement of Russian security services.

Middle East and Africa

EGYPT: The airforce attacked and destroyed a convoy of twelve vehicles trying to bring arms and explosives across the border from Libya.

GAZA:  The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has cut medical supplies and salaries (as well as power) to Gaza, in what is believed to be a conflict between the PA’s governing Fatah party and the militant group Hamas which took control of Gaza in 2007.

Three Hamas leaders announced they would be willing to sign a long-term truce with Israel if Israel lifted its blockade.  Members of the Israeli government announced support for a $5 million project to build a sea-port for Gaza.

IRAQ:  Isis destroyed the Grand al-Nuri mosque in Mosul just before being driven out of it by Iraqi forces.  Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called it “a formal declaration of their defeat”.  Isis is still fighting back, however.  It launched a counter-attack on an already-liberated area of west Mosul.

ISRAEL:  Syrian troops launched mortar attacks on the Golan Heights.  Israel retaliated with an airstrike which killed two Syrian soldiers and destroyed their tanks.  Syrian forces opened fire on a United Nations post inside Israel.

QATAR:  Kuwait, on behalf of Gulf-Co-operation Council, sent a list of 13 demands (anti-Islamist, anti-Iran) to be met within 10 days.  One of the demands is the closing of Turkey’s military base.  President Erdogan denounced the demands as ‘illegal’ and confirmed his support for Qatar, promising to send 1000 troops to Qatar for joint military exercises.  Turkey continues to send food and supplies to Qatar.  President Rouhani of Iran called for closer ties with Qatar.

SAUDI ARABIA:  The king’s nephew Prince Mohammad bin Nayef has been ousted as security chief and crown prince.  He is 57 years old and has long experience of fighting terror, particularly al-Qaeda.  The king’s son Mohammad bin Salman, previously deputy crown prince, replaces him as crown prince.  He is 31 years old and has been the force behind many of the country’s recent modernisation initiatives, including Saudi’s involvement in the Yemen war, the diversification of its economy, and the relaxation of some social restrictions.

Security forces foiled a terrorist attack on the Grand Mosque in Mecca. A suspect blew himself up as security forces closed in on him.

SOUTH AFRICA:  The chief justice and the highest court said that any vote of no confidence in the president should be undertaken as a secret ballot, to avoid intimidation and fear.

SYRIA:  The Pentagon reported activity at a regime airbase which suggested that Assad’s forces were preparing a chemical attack on their enemies.  The US warned that it would take punitive action following any such attack.  The statement was backed by Britain and France.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

CHINA:  A huge landslide hit a village in Sichuan, south west China.  At least 10 people have died and another 90 people are missing.

Liu Xiaobo, the professor of literature who won the Nobel peace prize in 2010 for promoting human rights in China, was released from prison on medical parole because he has liver cancer. He was jailed in 2009 for subversion after he called for greater democracy in China.

Beijing made a formal complaint to India, accusing Indian border guards of crossing into Tibet.

KOREA, SOUTH:  Former president Park Geun-hye’s advisor and friend Choi Soon-sil was sentenced to three years in prison for using her influence to obtain a university place for her daughter.  She is facing other charges of corruption and abuse of power.

President Moon Jae-in offered North Korea the chance to co-host next year’s winter Olympics. Pyongyang rejected the offer.

PAKISTAN:  The two Chinese teachers kidnapped by Isis last month were killed and beheaded.  Pakistani commandos fought a five day battle underground to seize the cave where they were being held, but the captors escaped with their hostages.

Terrorist bomb attacks killed more than 80 people and injure more than 200 in Quetta (the attack was blamed on Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a group linked to the Taliban) and Parachinar (the attack was blamed on Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a group linked to linked to al-Qaeda and Isis). Pakistan and Afghanistan blame each other for harbouring cross-border terrorists.

More than 150 people were killed and over 100 injured when a crashed oil tanker, surrounded by a crowd trying to help themselves to its leaking oil, burst into flames.

The daughter of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was summoned to appear before the six-man panel investigating corruption allegations against the Sharif family.

America

ARGENTINA:  Former president Cristina Kirchner will stand for a congressional seat in this October’s elections.  She is facing charges of corruption.  A seat in Congress would give her immunity from prosecution.

BRAZIL:  President Temer has been charged with accepting bribes from JBS, the world’s biggest meat-packing business.

COLOMBIA:  Farc rebels handed over their weapons to the UN.  Disarmament is part of the peace deal with the government.

USA:  A police officer was stabbed by a suspected Islamic militant at the airport in Flint, Michigan.

Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, met President Trump at the White House.

The Bill Cosby trial, in which he was accused of drugging and sexually assaulting women, has ended with a hung jury.  A retrial is planned within the next four months.

The Republican candidate won a by-election in Atlanta for a seat in the House of Representatives.

The Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak was recalled to Moscow.

The Supreme Court upheld key parts of Trump’s travel-ban executive order.

 

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Issue 110: 2017 06 22: Week In Brief International

22 June 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UN Flag to denote International news Week In Brief International

Europe

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.

America

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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Issue 109:2017 06 15:Week in Brief International

15 June 2017

Week in Brief: International

UN Flag to denote International news Week In Brief

Europe

EU: Plans were announced for the creation of a ‘security and defence union’ (a military organisation independent of Nato) by 2025.

A confidential EU report, leaked to the Politico website, recommended demolishing the existing parliament building in Brussels and constructing a new one costing €500 million.  The existing building cost one billion euros to build 25 years ago (amid allegations of corruption) but has developed structural problems and the ceiling of the debating chamber has suffered partial collapse.

FRANCE: In the first round of parliamentary elections, President Macron’s REM gained 32% of the vote, the Socialists 9.5% (its leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, its presidential candidate Benoit Hamon and 15 other members of the last government were all eliminated), the Republicans 21%, and the Front National 13%.  There was a record low turnout of 49%.  A landslide victory for REM is predicted in the second round; it is likely to win over 400 of the 577 seats.

GERMANY: The government is planning to draw up regulations which would require social media sites to show messages to the intelligence services before they are encrypted.  The purpose is to neutralise terrorist organisations which communicate by using online media links.

ITALY: In the first round of local elections, Five Star Movement candidates were knocked out in almost all big cities (but the right wing alliance between Forza Italia and Northern league did well).

MACEDONIA: The Balkan state has said that it might be willing to change its name in order to join Nato.  Its bid to join in 2008 was vetoed by the EU and Greece because Greece, having a region called Macedonia within its own borders, objects to the state’s name.

NORWAY: The government has proposed a national ban on the burka in schools and universities.  Local authorities already have the power to ban face-covering veils in schools.

POLAND: The government is increasing the number of logging permits in the internationally-important and protected ancient Bialowieza forest, in defiance of the EU and Unesco.

RUSSIA: On Russia Day, thousands of protestors in 150 towns and cities across the country answered the call by opposition leader Alexander Navalny to demonstrate against corruption.  1500 demonstrators were detained by riot police (700 in Moscow, 500 in St Petersburg).  Mr Navalny was detained outside his home before he could even join the demonstrations.  Prior to the protests, students and pupils were warned in advance by the authorities not to attend; Mr Navalny’s headquarters at Stavropol were bombed with a Molotov cocktail; and police raided the home of opposition politician Vyacheslav Maltsev.

SPAIN: Footballer Cristiano Ronaldo is facing charges of evading €14.8 million in taxes.

UKRAINE: A bomb exploded inside the US embassy’s compound in Kiev.  No one was hurt.

Middle East and Africa

GABON: A marine conservation area covering 20,500 square miles and including nine national maritime parks and eleven aquatic reserves is being created off Gabon’s coast, to match the 13 national parks protecting the country’s rainforests.

IRAN: Gunmen attacked the parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini, leaving 17 dead and 42 injured.  Four gunmen fought their way into the parliament building, while another three or four attacked the mausoleum/shrine.  They were shot dead by the police or killed by suicide bombs.  They are thought to be Iranian Sunni militants who had joined Isis and fought in Syria and Iraq.  About 50 people have been arrested.  Iranian authorities have claimed that their security forces have killed the leader after he fled to another country.

ISRAEL: Israel is reducing its electricity supply to Gaza at the request of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian authority, who hopes that black-outs will reflect badly on Hammas, the Islamist party which seized power in Gaza from his secularist Fatah party ten years ago. Hamas has warned that power cuts could lead to suffering and violent protests.

LIBYA:  A spokesman for the navy accused rescue charities of colluding with people traffickers.  A report by Goldsmiths (University of London), however, said that rescue boats made no difference to the number of migrant boats leaving the Libyan coast.

Saif Gaddafi, son of the former dictator, was freed from prison in west Libya on amnesty from Eastern government.

QATAR: The blockade continues as the Royal family refuses to meet the demands of its neighbours the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.  A Hammas military leader was expelled, but Hammas was not denounced (but fearing a withdrawal of Qatari support, Hamas sent a mission to Iran, hoping to rebuild bridges with its former friend).  Qatari citizens were expelled from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE, and Qatar Airways and al Jazeera have been blocked in those countries.  Iran and Turkey sent food and offered support, and goods are being shipped through Oman to avoid the border closure. The US, Britain and France called for an easing of the blockade.

SAUDI ARABIA: Taxes are being introduced to counter the collapse in oil revenues.  A tax on cigarettes and on soft drinks has doubled their prices.

SYRIA: A US jet shot down an Assad-regime drone which was attacking western-backed anti-Isis coalition forces at al-Tanf near the border with Jordan and Iraq.  Two regime trucks were also hit.  It was the third time in a month that US and regime forces have clashed.

In the battle for Raqqa, the Syrian Democratic Forces (an Arab/Kurdish coalition backed by US special forces and planes) have reached the old town in their attempt to retake the city from Isis.

Assad regime troops have occupied desert areas on the border with Iraq, giving their Iranian allies a corridor from Iran across the breadth of both Iraq and Syria.  The occupation risks conflict with Western-backed rebels fighting Isis in the area and blocks their approach to the Isis-held town of Deir Ezzor.

TURKEY: An earthquake magnitude 6.3 rocked the city of Izmir and the Greek islands of Samos and Lesbos (where one woman was killed when a house collapsed).

YEMEN: The cholera outbreak is claiming 30 lives a day. Almost 1000 people have died in the last month, with over 100,000 cases reported.  The civil war has seen a collapse in healthcare and sanitation.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN: An Afghan soldier opened fire on a group of US Rangers, killing three of them before being shot dead.

CHINA: The Beijing Cyberspace Administration ordered social media sites such as Sina Weibo and Youku to close various entertainment-related accounts, urging them and others to “fulfil their duties, spread socialist core values, create a healthy public opinion environment and contain the hyping of pop stars’ personal affairs”.

INDIA: Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi was arrested when he tried to visit striking farmers in Madhya Pradesh, having been denied official permission for the visit.  Clashes between protesting farmers and security forces have led to five deaths this week.

Activist and lawyer Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan, leader of Dalit (lowest caste) protest movement in Uttar Pradesh, was arrested on charges of inciting riots.

KOREA, NORTH:  Otto Warmbier, a US student jailed in January 2016 for stealing a propaganda poster while in the country as a tourist, was released.  He is returning to the US but it has emerged that he has been in a coma since contracting botulism two months after his arrest.

KOREA, SOUTH: President Moon Jae-in has suspended the deployment of the USA’s anti-missile defence system THAAD.

PAKISTAN: Troops searching for a Chinese couple kidnapped by Islamic militants fought a five-day underground battle against Isis in a network of tunnels near the border with Afghanistan.

A man has been sentenced to death for blasphemy for comments posted on Facebook.

Prime minister Nawaz Sharif is to face a joint investigation team appointed to examine allegations of corruption against three generations of his family.

PHILIPPINES: Troops are still trying to drive jihadists from the city of Marawi.  More than 200 people have died, including 138 militants, 58 troops and 29 civilians.  It is thought that about 30 or 40 militants are holding out against 4000 troops and police, by hiding in mosques, using underground tunnels, sniping from tall buildings and taking hostages.  2000 civilians are trapped; 220,000 have already fled to overcrowded refugee camps.  Three police officers were arrested for trying to smuggle arms through to the militants.

America

USA: President Trump nominated lawyer Christopher Wray as new FBI director.  Mr Wray is a former justice department official and federal prosecutor.  The choice, being non-political, was welcomed across the party divide.

Sacked FBI director James Comey testified to the Senate, confirming claims that Trump demanded loyalty and hoped that he could ‘let go’ of the FBI’s investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn.

Attorney general Jeff Sessions was also questioned by the Senate intelligence committee.  He told Congress that he had not colluded with the Russians during the election.

A court in San Francisco blocked the President’s latest travel ban, citing his own tweets to support its ruling that the ban was discriminatory and therefore illegal.

The Senate passed sanctions against Iran, as a protest against its support for militants in the Middle East, by 92 votes to 7.

The bankrupt US island territory of Puerto Rico voted by 97% to apply to Washington to become a US state.

VENEZUELA: Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, imprisoned in 2014 following anti-government protests, has appealed to the military to back the opposition against President Maduro, via a video smuggled out of prison.

 

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