Issue 125:2017 10 19:Week in Brief International

19 October 2017

Week in Brief: International

UN Flag to denote International news Week In Brief International

Europe

AUSTRIA:  In last weekend’s elections, the Conservative Peoples’ Party (OVP) came first with 31.7%, the Social Democrats (SPO) second with 27.4%, and the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) third with 26.5%. (Other parties: NEOS 5%, PILZ 4.1%, Green 3.3%, others 2%)….

Sebastian Kurtz, the leader of the OVP, is expected to become Chancellor (and, at 31, the youngest European leader). He is more likely to seek a coalition with the FPO (some of whose anti-migrant rhetoric he borrowed during the campaign) than with former coalition partners the SPO, who were accused of running a smear campaign against him.

IRELAND: Three people died when Storm Ophelia hit Ireland, knocking out power, bringing trees down, closing schools and offices and causing flights to be cancelled.

MALTA: Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist and anti-corruption activist, was killed by a car bomb in Valetta.

SPAIN: The Catalan parliament did not respond to the Spanish government’s demand that it clarify whether or not it has declared independence.  The government has now given it until today (Thursday 19 October) to renounce independence, threatening to take direct rule if it does not.

The president of the Catalan National Assembly and the leader of a cultural association have been detained, for allegedly helping to organise violent demonstrations.  Hundreds of thousands of protesters took part in candle-lit rallies in Barcelona, Girona, Reus and other Catalan cities to demonstrate against their detention.

Volkswagon announced that it is to move its legal headquarters from Barcelona to Madrid.  Cava-maker Codorniu is to move to La Rioja.

27 people have died in wildfires sweeping northwest Spain (and Portugal).  The authorities suspect arson.

Middle East and Africa

AFGHANISTAN: Pakistani forces, acting on US intelligence, freed an American-Canadian couple and their three children being held hostage by Islamist militants.  They were seized by the Haqqani network five years ago; their children had all been born in captivity.

The Times reported that Russia is funding the Taliban with donations of oil shipments.  Dozens of tankers are sent to Afghanistan each month; the oil is sold and the Taliban buy weapons etc with the proceeds (estimated to be $2.5 million per month).  It is suspected that this is part of Russia’s fight against Isis (the Taliban and Isis are competitors) and Russia’s rivalry with Nato and the West.

At least 69 people were killed in one day by Taliban militants who attacked government centres across the country with guns and bombs.

EGYPT: Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal.  In 2007, Hamas militants seized Gaza from Fatah (the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank); Hamas now agrees to share power in Gaza with Fatah, with elections for a united Palestinian government next year.

IRAQ: Iraqi forces plus Shia militias seized the city and region of Kirkuk claimed by the newly declared Kurdish state. Kurdish Peshmerga forces withdrew, but some Kurdish civilian volunteers defended the city and sustained casualties. Other Kurdish civilians fled north.  The Arab and Turkman populations welcomed the Iraqi troops.

IRAN: It was revealed that Iran launched a cyber attack against the UK parliament in June.  900 email accounts were attacked by hackers in 12 hours. 90 accounts were compromised.

KENYA: Opposition demonstrators have been killed and wounded by police opening fire on rallies held after the interior ministry banned demonstrations.  A re-run of the recent election might go ahead on October 26 in spite of opposition leader Raila Odinga withdrawing because he says faults in the voting system have still not been corrected.

SOMALIA: More than 300 people were killed by a lorry bomb in Mogadishu.  The government have blamed al Shabaab.

SYRIA: The Western-backed SDF (Kurdish troops, former rebel groups, and local Arab tribes) have declared victory in Raqqa, where they have been fighting to drive Isis out for the last four months.  The Isis leadership fled Raqqa, their capital, some months ago, and are trying to continue to fight in the mid-Euphrates valley.

TURKEY: A German-Turkish translator and reporter, who had worked for a left wing news agency before it was shut down last year, has been arrested and charged with being a member of the MLKP communist party because she attended the funerals of MLKP members.  She is being detained in prison with her three-year old son.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

BURMA: European foreign ministers banned visits by Burmese military commanders, as more evidence of widespread and ongoing atrocities against the Rohingyas emerged.0

CHINA: The 19th Communist Party Congress begins this week (it takes place every five years): delegates will meet to review the work of leadership and to elect the central committee (the seven-man politburo) which picks the general secretary.  President Xi is almost certain to continue with a second five-year term.

Wu Aiying, the justice minister for 12 years until last Feb, was expelled from the party before the congress.

INDIA: The Supreme Court ruled that sex with a minor amounts to rape, even within marriage.  Activists hope that this landmark case will help in their campaign against child brides and child abuse.  Although child marriage is illegal, Unicef recently reported that 47% of Indian girls are married before 18 (the age of consent) and nearly 20% are married before 15.

KOREA, NORTH: The EU is about to agree new sanctions against Pyongyang, including travel bans and limits on assets.

PHILIPINNES: Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of Isis in southest Asia, has been killed during the ongoing battle for .Marawi

VIETNAM: 68 people have died and 34 are missing, as tropical storm Khanun brought heavy rain and landslides and caused widespread damage to livestock and infrastrucure.

America

USA: 10,000 firefighters continue to tackle the Californian wildfires.  The death toll is now 40.  Hundreds of people are missing, 80,000 have been evacuated, and a quarter of a million acres of land have been incinerated.

The USA is to withdraw from Unesco at the end of the year, accusing it of an “anti-Israel bias”.  Israel is also to leave.

President Trump did not withdraw the US from the nuclear deal signed with Iran, but left the matter in the hands of Congress. The deal needs certifying every 90 days.

It is claimed that former staff at the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) are blaming Congress for not stopping big drugs companies from flooding the market with the cheap and addictive pain killers which have caused the opioid abuse epidemic.

President Trump’s third attempt to ban citizens from countries regarded as a terror risk (this time including Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea) were blocked by a judge in Hawaii who ruled that it contradicted “the founding principles of this nation”.

VENEZUELA: In the state elections, the ruling socialist party won the governership in 17 states (including Miranda, a bastion of the opposition where the opposition governor Henrique Capriles was barred from standing for re-election); the opposition won only 5.  At least 200 polling stations were moved only hours before voting, and many ballot papers were confusing (including the names of candidates who weren’t standing).  The opposition and the US condemned the lack of free and fair elections.

 

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Issue 124:2017 10 12:Week in Brief International

12 October 2017

Week in Brief: International

 

UN Flag to denote International news Week In Brief International

Europe

AUSTRIA: The Social Democrats have fallen to third place in polls ahead of next week’s elections, as a result of a scandal about an internet smear campaign against Sebastian Kurz, leader of the rival Peoples’ Party.  The far right Freedom Party is in second place.  The conservative Peoples’ Party are in the lead, and Mr Kurtz (who is foreign secretary in the current coalition government) is the favourite to become chancellor.

GERMANY: Under pressure from her conservative CSU partners prior to coalition talks with other parties, Chancellor Merkel agreed to an annual limit of 200,000 asylum seekers and to a system of processing them at new centres at the border.

NOBEL PRIZE: The Nobel committee awarded the Nobel prize for literature to British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, and the Nobel peace prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

RUSSIA: King Salman of Saudi Arabia visited Moscow, the first Saudi monarch to do so.  He and President Putin discussed Syria (where they are backing opposite sides in the civil war) and relations with Iran (Russia’s ally but Saudi’s enemy), and agreed on defence and investment deals.

SPAIN: The Spanish constitutional court barred the Catalan parliament from sitting on Monday, when it was due to debate the referendum and declare independence.  When the parliament met on Tuesday, the Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont avoided an outright secession by signing but then suspending a declaration of independence, to give time for talks with Madrid.  Madrid is refusing to negotiate under the threat of independence.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied in Barcelona to demonstrate against independence (950,000 according to organisers, 350,000 according to police). Calling themselves the Silent Majority, they waved both Catalan flags and Spanish flags, and shouted “Viva Catalunya, viva España”.

An exodus of more than 20 leading companies from Barcelona means that Catalonia is already no longer Spain’s richest region.  Banco Sabadell (which owns TSB) is moving its legal base out of Catalonia to Alicante.  Caixa Bank is moving from Barcelona to the Balearics.  The energy company Gas Natural Fenosa and the publisher Planeta are moving from Barcelona to Madrid, as are Albertis (infrastructure group), Cellnex (telecommunications) and Colonial (construction).  Savers are withdrawing money from Catalan-based banks and putting it in Madrid-based banks, and shoppers are buying and hoarding essentials.

Middle East and Africa

EGYPT: Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have begun talks which it is hoped will end conflict and lead to elections in Gaza and the West Bank.

IRAN: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Iranian-British woman who is serving a five year prison sentence for allegedly plotting against the Iranian regime, is now facing an extra three charges which could add another 16 years to her sentence, according to her husband, Richard Ratcliffe.

IRAQ: Prime minister Haider al-Abdi announced that Iraq forces have recaptured Hawija, the last stronghold held by Isis in Iraq.

LIBERIA: Presidential elections took place, with twenty candidates standing.  President Sirleaf (Africa’s first elected female head of state) is stepping down after serving the maximum twelve years, during which the country’s fourteen-year civil war was brought to an end.

KENYA: Opposition leader Raila Odinga has withdrawn from the re-run of the presidential election due in two week’s time, saying that the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission has not made the necessary reforms and corrections since the Supreme Court criticised its performance in last month’s presidential election, annulled the result and ordered a re-run.

LIBYA: It has been alleged that Italy has paid militias in Libya in an attempt to halt the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean.  The Tripoli-based authority has freed 4,000 migrants who have been held in camps by the militias. Payments have apparently upset the balance of power between rival groups, and this has caused friction and fighting between the militias.

A Somali man was jailed for life by a court in Italy for murdering, torturing and raping migrants in a migrant camp he ran in Libya.  He was detained by police in Milan (where he was trying to claim asylum) after he was recognised by some of his victims.

NIGER: Three US Green Berets were killed and two wounded in an ambush by terrorists (probably al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb).  US special forces are involved in training troops in Niger and Mali.

SYRIA: Hundreds of civilians have died in airstrikes over the last month as Russian, regime and coalition forces engage in fierce fighting against Isis to drive it from its last strongholds, including Mayadin and Raqqa.  Activists say that September was the worst month this year for civilian casualties.

Moderate rebels have begun an offensive against the extremist rebel group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly the Nusra Front) in Idlib province. The moderates are being supported by Turkish ground forces and Russian air forces; it is the first time that Turkey and Russia (who back opposite sides in the civil war) have engaged in joint operations.

TURKEY: The arrest of a Turkish worker at the US consulate in Istanbul, charged with espionage and attempting to destroy Turkey’s constitutional order, has put a strain on relations between the two countries.  The US has suspended visas for most Turkish citizens; Turkey imposed the same suspension of visas for US citizens in retaliation.

A journalist with dual Turkish and Finnish nationality was sentenced in absentia to three months in prison for reporting on the Kurdish PKK insurrection in The Wall Street Journal.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN: New rules of engagement were announced by US defence secretary James Mattis.  US forces can now attack Taliban targets even if they are not in close proximity.

INDONESIA: Police arrested dozens of men, including several foreigners, in a raid on a gay sauna.

JAPAN: A 31 year old television reporter who worked with NHK, the state broadcaster, died of a heart attack in what is thought to be a case of karoshi (overwork).  She had worked 159 hours of overtime in the last month (over 5 hours a day) with only two days off, and 147 hours of overtime in the previous month.  At least 107 people died of karoshi in Japan last year.

KOREA, NORTH: Kim Jong-un promoted his sister Kim Yo-jong, the deputy director of the ruling Workers’ Party propaganda department, to the politburo as a non-voting ‘alternate member’.  The reshuffle also saw the promotion of other aides and close associates of Kim Jong-un, including foreign minister Ri Yong-ho promoted to the politburo as a full member, and party vice-chairman Choe Ryong-hae promoted to the Central Military Commission.

KOREA, SOUTH: North Korean hackers broke into the South Korean ministry of defence computers and stole 235 gigabytes of military secrets, including the joint South Korean/US plans for war if attacked by the North, information about military installations and power plants in the South, and reports on military personnel.  The cyberattack happened a year ago, but its extent has only just been revealed by an MP’s freedom of information request.

THAILAND: An 85 year old activist has been arrested and charged under lèse-majesté laws for insulting Thailand’s King Naresuan (a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth I) three years ago, when he questioned the king’s part in a battle fought in 1593.

America

BRAZIL: The chairman of Brazil’s Olympic Committee, Carlos Nuzman, was arrested by police about allegations of bribery, corruption, criminal association and money laundering in connection with the IOC’s award of the 2016 games to Brazil.

USA: The National Rifle Association, which has always opposed gun control, suggested that the device which the Las Vegas gunman used to convert his semi-automatic weapons into automatic ones could be banned.

At least 15 people have been killed, more than 150 are missing and 20,000 have fled their homes as dozens of wildfires sweep northern California.  A state of emergency has been declared in a number of counties. 2000 properties and 80,000 acres of vineyards have been burnt to the ground.

VENEZUELA: President Maduro visited President Putin in Moscow to discuss restructuring Venezuela’s debts to Russia.

Venezuelans have been unable to renew their passports because of a shortage of ink and paper for new documents at the national passport office.

 

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Issue 123:2017 10 05:Week in Brief International

05 October 2017

Week in Brief: International

UN Flag to denote International news Week In Brief International

Europe

AUSTRIA: A ban on wearing the full-face veil in public has come into force.  However, French businessman Rachid Nekkaz has offered to pay any fine (€150) imposed.

FRANCE: A 29 year old illegal immigrant from Tunisia stabbed two girls to death at a railway station in Marseilles.  He had a criminal past and was shot dead by soldiers.  His victims were students aged 20 and 21.

RUSSIA: Opposition leader Alexei Navalny was detained by police while on his way to address an election campaign rally in Nizhny Novgorod. The police broke up the rally and arrested several people.  Mr Navalny and his campaign chief were both jailed for 20 days because the authorities hadn’t sanctioned the rally.

A panel of expert academics, the VAK (Russian Higher Attestation Committee), has recommended that culture minister Vladimir Medinsky should be stripped of his PhD because it has found many mistakes in his dissertation.

SPAIN: The Catalan authorities announced that 2 million people (i.e. a 42% turnout, out of 5.3 million potential voters) voted in the independence referendum, and 90% of them voted for independence.

In advance of the vote, the Madrid authorities tried to close down websites supporting and organising the referendum (so organisers put them beyond the reach of the law by registering them in Russia and central asian countries).  On election day, there was violence as state police tried to close down voting venues, stop people from voting and confiscate ballot boxes.  890 people were injured by police in full riot gear wielding batons and firing rubber bullets.  Prime minister Mariano Rajoy was criticised for authorising such heavy-handed tactics, and the election was followed by a general strike in Catalonia to protest against the police violence.  King Felipe addressed the nation in a live tv broadcast, in support of democracy and the rule of law, i.e. Madrid’s position.  He was criticised for not condemning the police violence, not expressing sympathy for the victims and not calling for dialogue and negotiation.

UKRAINE: A massive explosion at an ammunition depot 170 miles west of Kiev injured two people and resulted in the evacuation of 30,000 people.  Sabotage is suspected.

Middle East and Africa

EGYPT: Police arrested at least 33 people in what appears to be a crackdown on gay and transgender communities.

IRAQ: The referendum in the Kurdistan Autonomous Region resulted in a 93% vote for independence.  Turnout was 72%.  The Baghdad government said the result should be annulled and threatened to close Kurdish airspace.

LIBYA: Several Isis fighters were killed by a US airstrike 100 miles south of Sirte.

General Khalifa Haftar (commander of the Tubruq-based Libyan National Army) offered to halt the flow of migrants through his territory if European countries gave him the materiel (drones, helicopters, vehicles, night vision etc) to do the job.  This would mean ending the UN’s Libyan arms embargo.

MADAGASCAR: An outbreak of plague has killed 21 people in the last month.  114 people have been infected.

SYRIA: Isis released a video of their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, claiming that he is still alive despite the claims by Russia and the Assad regime that he was killed in an airstrike near Raqqa last May. Isis counter-attacked against regime forces in centrl Syria and re-captured the town of Qaryatain.

TURKEY: President Putin met with President Erdogan to discuss Syria (they are guarantors of the Astan peace process which has established de-escalation zones), arms deals and the recent vote for independence in Iraqi Kurdistan.

YEMEN: The UN agreed to set up a panel to investigate allegations of war crimes.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN: The Taliban launched a rocket attack on Kabul international airport soon after US defence secretary James Mattis landed.  James Mattis and Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg had talks with President Ghani.

CHINA: Politburo member Sun Zhengcai was expelled from the Communist party for ‘Serious discipline violations’.  He was dismissed as party chief in the city of Chongquing last July.  He had been seen as a potential President.

INDIA: At least 22 people died and many were injured when a pedestrian bridge collapsed at a railway station in Mumbai.

JAPAN: Seiji Maehara, the leader of the opposition Democratic Party, announced that he will not be putting any candidates forward in the snap election called by prime minister Shinzo Abe for October 22; he has told his MPs to stand instead for the new Party of Hope, founded last week by Yuriko Koike, governor of Tokyo.  Ms Koike has been a journalist, MP and cabinet minister in Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democrat party.  She said that she wants to remain governor of Tokyo and will not stand for election herself.

VANUATU: The island of Ambae’s population of 11,000 is being evacuated to nearby islands, as the volcano Manaro Voui begins to erupt.

America

CUBA: The US pulled more than half of its diplomatic staff from Cuba and advised its citizens not to visit the island, following mysterious cases of deafness, brain damage etc amongst embassy staff.  The US also expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from the States.

USA: A gunman shooting from a Las Vegas hotel window killed 59 people and wounded at least 520 when he opened fire on a crowd at an open-air country music concert.  The gunman, a 64 year old retired accountant, then shot himself dead.

Thousands of Russian-linked Twitter accounts and adverts on Facebook sought to aggravate internal conflicts about race, gender and politics in order to divide and destabilise the nation during last year’s presidential election, according to social media investigators.

The Justice department reported that the US murder rate has increased by more than 20% since 2014.  Much of the dramatic rise concentrated in a small number of places (Chicago, St Louis and Baltimore); the rate fell in many other places.

Health secretary Tom Price resigned over allegations that he spent $1 million of public funds to travel by chartered plane.

 

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Issue 122:2017 09 28:Week in Brief International

28 September 2017

Week in Brief: International

UN Flag to denote International news Week In Brief International

Europe

FRANCE: Florian Phillipot, the deputy chairman of the National Front, resigned and left the party.  Although socially tolerant, he believes in absolute national sovereignty and has clashed with leader Marine le Pen over his opposition to the EU and the euro.

Jean-Luc Melenchon (leader of the far left party France Insourmise) organised rallies and marches to protest against the government’s proposed labour reforms.

Republicans and their allies won 40 seats in Senate elections (half of the upper house’s 348 sets are elected by 76,000 elected office holders such as town and regional councillors), bringing their total to 170.  The governing REM won only 23 seats. The Senate can delay the National Assembly’s legislation but cannot overrule it.

President Macron urged reform of the EU, saying that it is “too slow, too weak and too inefficient”.  He called for more centralisation of defence, finance and education.  German support is unlikely, given Chancellor Merkel’s weakened position following last weekend’s elections.

GERMANY: Last weekend’s general elections resulted in Mrs Merkel continuing as chancellor for a 4th term, but with a reduced minority – and her options for forming a coalition are limited by the presence of the far-right AfD in the Bundestag for first time (they emerged as the third largest party) and by the decision of her former partner the SPD to go into opposition.  Her conservative CDU/CSU won 32.9% of the vote (246 seats out of the Bundestag’s 709 seats, losing 65 seats), the centre left SPD won 20.8% (153 seats, losing 40 seats), the nationalist right AfD won 13% (94 seats), the liberal FDP 10.4% (80 seats), Greens 9% (67 seats), the Left 9% (69 seats), and others 4.9%.  There was a 76.2% turnout.

Despite its gains, the AfD appears to be in some disarray.  Its co-leader Frauke Petry walked out of the party in its first post-election press conference. She dismissed it as too ‘anarchic’ for government and said she would sit in the Bundestag as an independent (she has recently clashed with other leaders over her pragmatic approach and her attempts to led the AfD away from xenophobia).  Her husband Marcus Pretzell, AfD group leader in North Rhine-Westphalia, is also leaving the party, as are four members of the state parliament in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

GREECE: An oil slick from a tanker which sank near Pireus two weeks ago is extending across the Athens coast.   Attempts to clean up the spill have been complicated by the arrest of the clean-up vessel’s captain and chief mechanic on fuel smuggling charges.  There have been calls for the minister for merchant marine to resign.

RUSSIA: The state regulator Roskomnadzor threatened to shut down Facebook next year (expected to be an election year) if it does not store its Russian data on Russian servers.  The threat came only days after Facebook agreed to hand over details of 3000 US election adverts, brought by a Russian organisation, to the US Congress.  Linkedin was blocked a year ago.

SPAIN: Madrid’s measures to prevent the illegal Catalan independence referendum from taking place are causing uneasiness in Brussels, as the EU fears that they are increasing tensions and potential conflict.  Police arrested 14 members of the Catalan regional government in 41 early-morning raids on government offices and political headquarters, and seized 45,000 letters and documents.  700 mayors are under investigation for co-operating with the referendum.  Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets to demonstrate against such measures.  Opponents of independence have complained about intimidation, a climate of fear and pro-independence propaganda in schools.

VATICAN: The Pope was accused of heresy by a group of 60 priests and Roman Catholic scholars from round the world, who sent him a 25 page letter – a formal ‘filial correction’ (the first since the fourteenth century) – claiming to identify seven heretical propositions in last year’s Amoris Letitia, his comments on marriage.

Middle East and Africa

ANGOLA: The country’s first new president in 38 years was sworn in.  João Lourenço took over from José Eduardo dos Santos (who was Africa’s second longest serving head of state).

BAHRAIN: King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa called for an end to the boycott against Israel by Gulf Arab states, in what could be the first step towards recognising Israel.

EGYPT: There are reports that the lawyer representing Mr Regeni (the Italian student murdered in Egypt, allegedly by the security services) has been detained and tortured by the authorities.

IRAQ: The vote for independence in the KAR (Kurdish Autonomous Region) took place peacefully.  A turnout of 72% is expected to result in a 75% or 80% vote in favour of independence, but counting will take three days to complete.  It’s expected to trigger negotiations with Baghdad rather than an immediate unilateral declaration of independence.

The vote was opposed by Turkey and Iran, both having sizable Kurdish populations.  Iran closed its borders and airspace to Kurdistan, and Turkey threatened to cut off the oil pipeline from the KAR.  The Baghdad government said it would not negotiate with the Kurds, and took part in joint military exercises with Turkey on the Kurdish border.  It also sent troops to the disputed oil-rich region of Kirkuk, which is claimed by the KAR but where other ethnic groups – Turkmen and Arabs – also live, and where a face-off between Shia militias and the Kurdish peshmerga is taking place.  For the sake of regional stability, the USA and the UK tried unsuccessfully to dissuade the Kurd’s governing KDP party from going ahead with the vote, offering to give Kurdish independence full support if the vote was delayed for a few years so that negotiations with Baghdad could take place first (although the Kurds’ second biggest party, the PUK, did support this suggestion).

Iraqi forces began assaults on Isis’ last two territories – Hawija (south of Kirkuk) and Anbar (near the Syrian border).

Two Turkish intelligence officers attempting to capture Cemil Bayik, a Turkish PKK leader, have themselves been captured by Kurds.

ISRAEL: A Palestinian shot four Israeli security officers at a checkpoint outside an Israeli settlement where he worked.  Three of his victims died.

KENYA: The Supreme Court criticised the IECB (Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission), accepting the opposition’s claim that the commission’s system was infiltrated and compromised, ie that votes were rigged, during the recent election.

LIBYA: An attack by US drones on a desert camp killed at least 17 Isis fighters.  There are reports that Isis is trying to regroup in Libya after defeats in Syria and Iraq.

A businessman based in Switzerland, Basit Igtet, addressed a rally in Tripoli, presenting himself as yet another national leader.

RWANDA: Diana Rwigara, the opposition politician and critic of President Kagame, has been charged with treason. She was disqualified from standing in the recent presidential elections and detained last month.

SAUDI ARABIA: Women will be allowed to drive from next June, thanks to a royal decree issued by King Salman.  It’s thought that his heir, crown prince Mohamed Bin Salman, was behind the decision.  Earlier in the week, women were allowed into the national stadium to attend the kingdom’s 87th anniversary, the first time they were able to take part in a public event.

SYRIA: The Kurdish group YPG (an affiliate of Turkey’s PKK) held elections in the territory it controls.

The Kremlin confirmed that a high-ranking officer – Lieutenant-General Valery Asapov – was killed by an Isis strike during the attack on Deir ez-Zor.

TURKEY: President Erdogan condemned the referendum vote for Kurdish independence in Iraq, and threatened to block the oil pipeline from Kurdistan.  Three Kurdish television channels were shut down.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AUSTRALIA: A postal ballot on gay marriage took place. The result will take some weeks to count, and if it is favour of gay marriage, the issue will be debated in parliament.

BANGLADESH: The Telecoms ministry banned the country’s four mobile phone providers from selling Sim cards to the 400,000 Rohingya refugees.

BURMA: Facebook has banned the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army from their platform as ‘a dangerous organisation’.

A boat bringing emergency supplies from the Red Cross to Rohingya was attacked by a Buddhist mob throwing rocks and petrol bombs when it tried to dock at the state capital Sittwe.

CHINA: The central bank told its subsidiaries to stop doing business with North Korea.

WhatsApp was temporarily blocked.

INDIA: Female students at Banaras Hindu University (Varnasi, Uttar Pradesh) demonstrating against widespread sexual assault were attacked by baton-wielding police.

JAPAN: Prime minister Shinzo Abe called a snap general election, to take place on October 22.  The governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, will stand for her new party, Kibo-no-to (Party of Hope), hoping to become Japan’s first female prime minister.

KOREA, NORTH: US B-1B bombers flew further north of the border than ever before this century, said the Pentagon, as a “demonstration of US resolve and a clear message that the president has many military options”.  Pyongyang said that President Trump’s tweets amount to a declaration of war, and threatened to shoot down any US warplanes in the region.  The White House dismissed the ‘declaration of war’ claim as nonsense.

NEW ZEALAND: Last weekend’s general election was expected to result in defeat for Bill English and his governing conservative National Party, and victory for Jacinda Ardern and Labour.  In fact, the National Party won with 46% of the votes (58 seats), with Labour coming second (35.8%, 45 seats).  With New Zealand’s proportional representation system, and overseas votes still being counted, the results are not yet final.  With a coalition government necessary, Winston Peters and the New Zealand First party appears to hold the balance of power.

PHILIPPINES: Paolo Duterte, the son of President Duterte, was questioned by the Senate about allegations that he is a member of a drug-smuggling gang.   The president said that he has given orders for his son’s murder if the allegations are true.

Troops are still engaged in house to house fighting against Isis in the southern city of Marawi.  The army has lost 147 dead in the last five months.  It freed the Catholic priest Teresito Soganub, but other hostages are still being held by up to 80 Isis fighters, a third of whom might be child soldiers.

VANUATU: Eruptions from the Monarco volcano forced 6000 residents (out of the island’s population of 11,000) to evacuate their homes.  A state of emergency was declared.

America

MEXICO: The death toll from last week’s earthquake has reached 273.  Rescue operations are still under way.

PUERTO RICO: Hurricane Maria, with winds of 155mph wind and up to 75cm of rain in 24hours, brought floods and devastation, knocking out power and putting ports and airports out of action.  Puerto Rico had been a hub for relief to the region (the hurricane had already flattened Dominica and left at least 8 dead, and battered Guadeloupe and the US Virgin islands).

USA: A special council has asked the White House for papers on the dismissal of FBI boss Comey.

Facebook has agreed to give the congressional investigator details of 3000 election adverts bought by a Russia-linked agency during the election.

Trump issued executive orders to punish anyone trading with North Korea, including banning any plane or ship landing or docking in North Korea from entering the US for 6 months, and seizing the property of anyone doing business with North Korea.

Many football players knelt on one knee rather than standing during the playing of the national anthem before NFL games, in an organised protest against police brutality.  The gesture is borrowed from the US military – soldiers kneel on one knee at the grave of a fallen comrade.  Trump attacked the players’ action via tweet, adding to the controversy and conflict.

Trump added Venezuela, Chad and North Korea to his travel ban.

At least six past or present presidential aides (including Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon) use or have used personal e-mail accounts for government business, according to  the Republican congressman who was in charge of the enquiry into Hilary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.

 

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Issue 121:2017 09 21:Week in Brief International

21 September 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UN Flag to denote International news Week In Brief International

Europe

EU:  In his state of the union address, president of the EU commission Jean-Claude Juncker proposed more centralisation of power in Brussels (including a single president instead of one for the EU commission and one for the European council, a Eurozone finance minister, an intelligence agency, a labour standards agency and an anti-terrorism prosecutor) and an expansion of the euro zone and the Schengen zone.

FRANCE:  Paris will host the 2024 Olympic Games.

Haulage unions organised a go-slow on motorways to protest against the government’s attempts to liberalise the labour laws.

GERMANY:  General elections will take place this Sunday.  Mrs Merkel’s CDU is likely to win, but it will need coalition partners again.  As the existing partner, the SPD, is likely to prefer being the opposition, she will need new partners – perhaps the FDP plus the Greens (though these two parties disagree on action about refugees and climate change).

President Erdogan of Turkey has urged Germans of Turkish descent not to vote for “enemies of Turkey” such as the SPD, CDU and Greens.

ICELAND:  The centrist Bright Future Party resigned from the centre-right coalition government in protest against the prime minister’s father’s attempt to reinstate a convicted paedophile’s reputation.  The government collapsed and the prime minister called for an election.

ITALY:  The lower house of parliament passed a bill banning the use of images from Mussolini’s fascist past.

Members of the Five Star Movement will vote on-line for their leadership this week. With general elections due next May, polls put Five Star and the governing Democratic Party neck and neck, with 30% each.

RUSSIA:  Russia and Belarus carried out massive military exercises (named ‘Zapad’, i.e. ‘West’).  At least 12,700 troops took part, though there was concern in NATO that the true numbers involved had been concealed, so that Russia did not have to invite international monitors.  There was also suspicion that the exercise was a ‘Trojan horse’ for the permanent deployment of Russian troops in Belarus.  President Putin claimed that NATO exercises in Eastern Europe were provocative and that Russia had to respond.

Parking privileges for US diplomats in Moscow and three other cities have been revoked.

SERBIA:  Prime Minister Ana Brnabic took part in Belgrade’s Pride parade with fellow members of the gay community.  Police in riot gear guarded her as she marched.

SPAIN:  The Madrid government removed control of Catalonia’s finances from its regional authority, in order to prevent public money being used to fund the independence referendum called by the authority for October 1, which Madrid says is illegal.

Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa have started to break through the fence which separates the Spanish enclave of Ceuta from Morocco. The Spanish government has responded by allocating £12 million to build a new fence; 9,000 people have tried to force their way into Ceuta recently.

Middle East and Africa

GAZA:  Mediation by Egypt is helping to reconcile Hamas (the militant Palestinian group which controls Gaza) and Fatah (the Palestinian party which control the West Bank).  Hamas agreed to dissolve its administration, which should open the way for talks with Fatah and for elections.

IRAQ:  Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s Kurdish region, is to push ahead with a referendum on independence for Iraq’s 6 million Kurds next week, in spite of warnings from prime minister Haider al-Abadi that the Baghdad government considers it to be illegal and unconstitutional, of requests from the USA, the UK and the UN to delay the vote for the sake of regional stability, and of threats from Turkey and Iran of hostilities and blockades.

Iraqi forces are moving in on two of the last areas held by Isis – the town of Hawija (south of Mosul) and Anbar desert (on the border with Syria).  Elsewhere, Isis suicide bombers and gunmen killed 74 and injured 93.

ISRAEL:  The Supreme Court ruled that the ultra-orthodox Haredim must serve in the military.  The Haredim (about 10% of the population) are currently excused the two-year military conscription (otherwise obligatory for Jewish Israelis) in order to study sacred texts instead.  The court found this exemption to be “unreasonable and unconstitutional”.

The government is planning to limit the power of the Supreme Court by enabling parliament to overrule any decision by the court that a bill is unconstitutional.

A drone entered Israeli airspace over the Golan Heights. The military believe it was Iranian and was being operated by Hezbollah in Syria.  It was shot down with a Patriot missile.

SAUDI ARABIA:  Women will be allowed to train as air traffic controllers.

SYRIA:  Regime forces crossed the Euphrates into eastern Syria, in defiance of the river’s status as a line of control marking a ‘deconfliction zone’ agreed by Russia and the USA.  This increases the possibility of clashes with the SDF (the Kurdish-led anti-Isis alliance) in this area.

ZIMBABWE:  Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai flown to a South African hospital, apparently due to complications in chemotherapy treatment he is undergoing for colon cancer.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AUSTRALIA:  High winter rainfall has resulted in an explosion of the kangaroo population.  There are now twice as many kangaroos in Australia as there are people.

BANGLDESH:  The authorities are trying to contain the 400,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees from Burma.  Conditions remain poor for the refugees, with food and water shortages and heavy monsoon rain.

BURMA:  In her speech on the Rohingya crisis, Aung San Suu Kyi avoided blaming the military or Burmese militants, denied ethnic cleansing and claimed that there has been no conflict since September 5 (a claim which contradicts accounts by journalists, human rights activists, aid workers and refugees).  She cancelled her attendance at this week’s UN general assembly in New York.

Al-Qaeda called for jihadists to go to Burma, but the leader of the Arsa (the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army – the Rohingya militants who attacked policemen at a checkpoint on 25 August) said that his movement is not jihadist or Islamist and would oppose jihad.

The government is taking control of aid operations helping the Rohingas, in a move seen to be an attempt to keep foreign aid agencies out.

KOREA, NORTH:  Another ballistic missile was fired over Japan.  It flew for 3700km, 800km further than in previous tests.

NEW ZEALAND:  General elections will take place this weekend: the opposition Labour party is expected to defeat the conservative National party which has governed for 9 years.

MP  Jian Yang of the governing National Party admitted that he been a student and teacher at military intelligence colleges in China before moving to Australia and New Zealand.  Other MPs questioned whether Mr Yang’s background in foreign espionage might compromise New Zealand’s own intelligence integrity.

A fuel crisis was triggered when the only pipeline carrying fuel to Auckland was accidentally broken.  The 150km pipeline carries most of the country’s aviation fuel from its only oil refinery to Auckland.

Americas

CARIBBEAN:  Hurricane Maria, a maximum category 5 storm with winds up to 188mph, devastated the island of Dominica.  Puerto Rico is bracing itself as Maria approaches.

CUBA:  The FBI is to investigate cases of brain damage, hearing loss and nausea among staff at the US and Canadian embassies in Havana.  It is suspected that they are being targeted by a secret sonic weapon.  President Raul Castro has denied any Cuban responsibility.

MEXICO:  A 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit central Mexico.  Buildings collapsed in the capital and other cities.  At least 250 people have died and many more are trapped beneath debris.  It struck on the anniversary of a quake which killed 10,000 people in 1985.  Two weeks ago, a quake killed at least 90 people in the country’s Pacific south west.

USA:  At the UN general assembly in New York, President Trump addressed leaders from 200 nations.  He urged reform but was surprisingly positive and respectful about the organisation and its new secretary general, Antonio Guterres.  He spoke in favour of co-operation between nation states rather than multilateral arrangements or supranational bodies, and urged more action against rogue states, saying that the US would “totally destroy North Korea” if it had to, and criticising Iran and last year’s anti-nuclear deal.

President Trump showed further readiness to co-operate with the Democrats, in discussions about DACA and the Mexican wall (see comment Crossing The Floor).

A court in St Louis found a white policeman not guilty of the murder of a black suspect he shot dead in 2011.  The verdict has triggered protest marches during the day and violent demonstrations at night.

Los Angeles will host the 2018 Olympic Games.

VENEZUELA:  Hyper-inflation is resulting in a shortage of cash.  Cash-withdrawals have been limited to 10,000 bolivars (worth less than £1) per day.

 

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Issue 120:2017 09 14:Week in Brief International

14 September 2017

Week in Brief: International

UN Flag to denote International news Week In Brief International

Europe

EU: The European Court of Justice rejected Hungary’s and Slovakia’s legal challenge to the EU’s national quotas for migrant relocation.  Slovakia has accepted the ruling, but Hungary continues to defy it, backed by Poland and the Czech Republic.

According to a leaked report, the EU is considering restricting aid and stopping the issuing of visas to political and business leaders of countries that refuse to take back migrants deported from Europe.

FRANCE: A “day of social mobilisation” was organised by the CGT union to protest against the government’s proposed changes to the labour laws.  Tens of thousands of demonstrators took part in marches in the capital, and hundreds of thousands throughout the country.  Hundreds of masked anarchists fought violent battles with the police in Paris, Nantes and Lyons.

GERMANY: Christian Lindner, leader of the liberal FDP (Free Democratic Party) is taking a tough line on refugees, calling for their repatriation if their native countries are safe.  The FDP, polling third place, is a potential coalition partner for Mrs Merkel’s CDU (Christian Democratic Union).

NORWAY: General elections this week saw the right-wing minority government re-elected, backed by two centre parties.

RUSSIA: In this week’s local elections in Moscow, a record number of opposition candidates were registered, and enjoyed a small but significant success, taking control of 14 municipal councils (out of 124).  Elsewhere in the country the governing United Russia party won elections for all 16 regional governors.

SPAIN: Separatist MPs in the Catalan parliament overcame opposition MPs to win a vote securing October 01 as the date for a referendum on independence from Madrid.  Spain’s highest court, the constitutional court, upheld the Spanish government’s appeal that the referendum is illegal.  Police raided printers’ shops and newspaper offices in Barcelona in search of ballot boxes and voting papers.

Middle East and Africa

ALGERIA: Migrants from Algeria are sailing to Europe via Sardinia in increasing numbers.  800 have crossed this year.  The Italian and Algerian interior ministers met to discuss the problem.

EGYPT: 18 police officers were killed and seven wounded in an ambush on their convoy by militants in northern Sinai.

SYRIA: Israeli jets attacked a weapons factory used by the regime to manufacture missiles and chemical weapons.

Regime troops, supported by Shia militias, are reportedly preparing to cross the Euphrates from Deir Ezzor in order to secure Syrian/Iraq border crossings east of the river.  They risk conflict with the Western-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (an alliance of the Kurdish YPG with rebel forces and local Arab tribes) and the Free Syrian Army who are fighting Isis between the Euphrates and the Syrian/Iraq border. The Western backers have instructed the SDF and the FSA to avoid conflict with the regime.  Land east of the Euphrates is supposed to be a ‘deconfliction zone’ according to the US and Russia.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: A branch of Paris’s Louvre museum and art gallery opened in Abu Dhabi.  It will display 600 works of art in 23 exhibition halls across 8,600 square metres.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AUSTRALIA: Tens of thousands of demonstrators rallied in support of legalising gay marriage.  A postal vote on the issue will take place this week.  The prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and the labour leader Bill Shorten support legalisation, but previous prime ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard oppose it.

BURMA: Fellow Nobel peace prize laureates Malala Yousafzai and Bishop Desmond Tutu have called on Aung Sn Suu Kyi to act against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in her country.  The UN accused Burma of ethnic cleansing, and the Dalai Lama condemned the violence of Budhist mobs and troops.

CHINA: The drinking of alcohol by public employees at official functions has been banned.

INDIA: Journalist Gauri Lankesh, who was the editor and publisher of the newspaper Gauri Lankesh Patrike, was murdered by gunmen outside her home.  She was a secularist who had criticised hardline Hindu groups.

KOREA, NORTH: The UN security council unanimously imposed new sanctions, including a cap on oil imports, a cut to petrol imports, and bans on the sale of natural gas, on textile exports and on the issue of new work permits.  The US had been pressing for a complete oil embargo and the freezing Kim Jong-un’s assets, but these were resisted by China and Russia.  The US is also suggesting cyber-attacks and the deployment of nuclear weapons in South Korea as potential retaliations to any further North Korean weapons tests.

PAKISTAN: At last week’s BRICS economic summit in Xiamen, China demanded that Pakistan cease sheltering militant groups such as the Haqqanis (a tribal militia allied to the Taliban).  China is investing heavily in Pakistan, but supported India (Pakistan’s traditional enemy) in condemning Pakistani-based militant groups.  It follows President Trump’s condemnation of “Pakistan’s safe haven for terrorist organisations”, when he spoke last month about US troops  in Afghanistan.

America

HURRICANE IRMA: The most powerful Atlantic storm ever recorded  devastated Caribbean islands with 185mph winds and extreme flooding.

BRAZIL: Police found £12 million in cash hidden in suitcases and cardboard boxes in a property which appears to belong to a former minister who was an aide to President Temer.

Former presidents Luiz Inacio da Silva and Dilma Rousseff were charged with “running a criminal organisation”.

MEXICO: An undersea earthquake of magnitude 8.1 hit the southern pacific coast, causing widespread destruction and at least 58 deaths.

USA: Florida was hit by Hurricane Irma.  Reconstruction may cost up to $100 billion.  A quarter of all homes in the Florida Keys were destroyed.

President Trump co-operated with the Democratic opposition to get the federal budget passed.

VENEZUELA: President Maduro imposed price controls on 50 essential items as the country’s economic crisis continues to fuel hyper-inflation.  Previous attempts to impose price controls have led to shortages and boosted the black market.  He is also renegotiating its debt to Russia.

 

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Issue 119:2017 09 07:Week in Brief International

07 September 2017

Week in Brief: International

UN Flag to denote International news Week In Brief International

Europe

FRANCE: The prime minister announced 36 measures to reform the country’s labour laws.

GERMANY: Chancellor Merkel faced the SDP leader Martin Schultz in a live TV debate, but there was little conflict; they agreed on most things, including keeping Turkey out of the EU.  Brexit wasn’t mentioned.  Campaigning for the elections in three weeks time has been so dull that Der Spiegel published the headline “Wake up!” in an attempt to invigorate it.

There has been an increase in the number of applications for asylum from Turks fearing detention and arrest by President Erdogan.  Those applying include judges, journalists and members of the armed forces.  More than 50,000 people have been arrested in Turkey and approximately 150,000 dismissed from their jobs following the attempted coup in July 2016.  Turkey has asked that those accused of complicity in the coup be extradited.

60,000 people were evacuated from central Frankfurt after a massive 1.4 tonne WWII British bomb was found.  It was successfully defused by bomb disposal experts.

ITALY: The government is proposing to use houses and villas confiscated from the Mafia to house immigrants.  The announcement followed criticism of the authorities after Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees were removed from an office block in Rome.

POLAND: The government is planning to demand up to $1 trillion in reparation from Germany for damage suffered during World War II, in spite of an agreement in 1953 which was intended to resolve the issue.  Angela Markel has criticised the Polish government for continuing with changes to the machinery for the appointment of judges.

Middle East and Africa

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: 2000 Muslim civilians have taken refuge in a Catholic seminary in Bangassou and are being protected by its Catholic bishop.  Christian militias are fighting a civil war against Muslim rebels who overthrew President Bozize in 2013.

LIBYA: A militia commander signed a deal with the Tripoli government to help stem the migrant flow in return for recognition, funding and equipment.

KENYA: The Supreme Court ordered a rerun of last month’s elections, saying that the electoral commission had “committed irregularities and illegalities in the transmission of results”.  Defeated opposition leader Raila Odinga claims that the commission’s computers were hacked and votes disappeared.  Observers from the US, the EU and the African Union said that the elections were free and fair.

RWANDA: Opposition politician Diane Rwigara has apparently disappeared, following a police raid on her home.  Last month she was disqualified from standing in the presidential elections.

SYRIA: Shia militias and regime forces bussed 300 defeated Isis fighters, ejected from an enclave on the Libyan border, across country to Iraq.  Coalition airstrikes destroyed a road and bridge to stop them from getting to Iraq, and also destroyed an Isis convoy trying to link up with them.

Western-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have driven Isis from Raqqa’a Old City.

Regime forces have begun the attack on Deir Ezzor in the eastern desert, one of Isis’ last strongholds.  They have lifted the siege of a regime military base in the west of the city, and are advancing into the Isis-held east of the city.  They are being supported by the Russian airforce and special forces; two Russians have been reported killed.  Western-backed Free Syrian Army rebels were advancing on the town, but they were threatened by regime forces and held back rather than risk confrontation.

Amnesty International has published claims that 75,000 people have disappeared after being detained by the Assad regime.  The figure comes from the Syrian Network for Human Rights, based in the UK.

TURKEY: President Erdogan has taken over control of the country’s intelligence agency in advance of the implementation of the new constitution.  An emergency decree was used to transfer control from the Prime Minister’s office to that of the President.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

BURMA: Tens of thousands of Rohingya muslims have fled to Bangladesh, to escape conflict between Rohingya insurgents and the security forces, which is taking its toll on civilians.

CAMBODIA: The government has closed down the opposition newspaper The Cambodia Daily.

INDIA: Extreme monsoon conditions have caused widespread damage throughout the region, including in Banladesh,Nepal and Pakistan.  At least 33 people were killed in Mombai when floods caused a building to collapse.

KOREA, NORTH: Seismic analysis suggests that the Pyonyang regime carried out an underground test of a 50 killoton hydrogen bomb.  In response, President Trump threatened to cut of US trade with any country (ie China) trading with North Korea, and agreed with President Moon of South Korea to lift the self-imposed limits on the range and size of missiles deployed in South Korea.  With Japan also seeking to boost its defences against North Korean aggression (which would alarm China), an arms race in the region looks likely.

TAIWAN: Premier Lin Chan resigned, and there are calls for President  Tsai Ing-wen to resign. There is widespread public discontent about the economy.

America

COLOMBIA: The  ELN, a guerrilla group, has agreed a ceasefire with the government.  It is to begin on October 1 and last until January 2018.

The president announced that the leaders of the Golfo crime gang (also known as the Usuga clan) are “prepared to submit to justice”.

URUGUAY: One of Italy’s most wanted men, Rocco Morabito, was arrested after 23 years on the run.  He is thought to be a member of Calabria’s ‘Ndrngheta organised crime group who fled Italy to escape drug-smuggling charges.

USA: Hurricane Harvey hit Texas with extreme flooding.  At least 40 people died, and the cost of repairs and rebuilding could reach $180 billion.

Trump announced that he will cancel DACA (Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals; a program set up by Barack Obam in 2012 to prevent the deportation of immigrants under the age of 36 who came to the US as children and who have no criminal record), challenging Congress to give them some sort of legal status instead of deporting them.

Yale University’s Calhoun College has been renamed Hopper College. John Calhoun, vice-president 1825-1832, supported slavery; Rear Admiral Grace Hopper received a PhD in mathematics from Yale and became an information technology pioneer in the 1940s.

VENEZUELA: The president and vice-president of the elected national assembly are visiting Europe to meet national leaders to discuss the threat to democracy posed by President Mduri’s new constituent assembly.  President Macron of France called President Maduro’s government “a dictatorship trying to survive at the cost of unprecedented humanitarian distress”.

 

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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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