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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Issue 108:2017 06 08:Week in Brief International

08 June 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UN Flag to denote International news Week In Brief

Europe

BOSNIA:  President Dodik of the Serb Republic in Bosnia banned textbooks teaching the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica genocide.

EU:  The president of the European Council has asked the president of the European Commission to block Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2, the proposed Russian gas pipeline to Germany.  Donald Tusk, supported by nine eastern European countries, fears that it will make Europe too dependent on energy supplies from Russia.

FRANCE:  Parliamentary elections began in the 11 external constituencies, a week earlier than in France itself.  President Macron’s new centrist party La République En Marche won over 50% of the vote in most of them, but run-offs will take place as turn-out was too low to secure first-round victories.

Prosecutors have opened a preliminary enquiry into the business activities of minister for territorial cohesion Richard Ferrand, following allegations of corruption.  The government postponed the presentation of its new law against sleaze in public life by a week.

A hammer-wielding Algerian man attacked a police officer outside Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.  He was also carrying kitchen knives.  He was shot by the police and is now in hospital.

France is applying to join the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), a military pact of the five Commonwealth nations Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, in order to maintain a post-Brexit defence partnership with Britain and to strengthen its influence in South Asia.

GERMANY:  Germany is planning to pull its troops out of Incirlik airbase in Turkey, after German MPs were barred from visiting them.  Visits by MPs are essential as the Germany army is under the control of parliament.

IRELAND:  Leo Varadkar has become the new leader of the governing Fine Gael party, following Enda Kelly’s recent resignation.  He is likely to be elected prime minister later this month.

ITALY:  1500 people were injured (3 seriously) when a crowd of 30,000 Juventus fans watching the Champions League final in Turin’s Piazza San Carlo panicked and stampeded, mistaking a fire-cracker for a terrorist attack.

MONTENEGRO:  Montegro officially joined NATO, becoming its 29th member.

RUSSIA:  A gunman murdered nine people after an argument at a dacha near the town of Redkino.

Security services raided the St Petersburg headquarters of the Church of Scientology and the homes of members of the US-based sect.

Middle East and Africa

BAHRAIN:  The daily newspaper Al-Wasat has been closed down for reporting on unrest in Morocco.

IRAQ:  In the battle for Mosul, Isis continues to be squeezed out of the city, with many of its fighters withdrawing to Raqqa in Syria.   The US and Iraq were accused of using white phosphorous incendiary weapons – they claim they’re not using them illegally (i.e. on civilians) but to provide cover for fleeing civilians.  There are reports of Isis shooting fleeing civilians and using children as human shields.

QATAR:  Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and the Gulf-backed government of Yemen have imposed diplomatic, trade and travel embargos on Qatar for embracing “various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilising the region”.  Qatar’s neighbours have often criticised it for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas in Palestine, for its friendly relations with Iran, and for funding and hosting al-Jazeera.  See Article, Meltdown in Qatar.

SOUTH AFRICA:  The anti-corruption group AmaBhungane claims that 100,000 leaked emails and documents contain damning evidence that members of the Gupta family control the government via corrupt relationships with President Zuma.

SYRIA: US  led coalition airstrikes on Deir Ezzor have killed Isis’s propaganda chief and its top religious leader.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition led by the Kurdish YPG and supported by US and UK Special Forces, has begun the attack on Raqqa, Isis’s capital.  Street fighting has broken out in the eastern and northern outskirts.  Thousands of refugees are leaving the city for refugee camps outside.  The offensive is expected to last for months.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN:  At least 90 people were killed and 450 wounded by a massive truck bomb which exploded in the diplomatic quarter in the centre of Kabul.  No one has claimed responsibility, though the Afghan National Directorate of Security believes the Haqqani network (a Pashtun tribal group with links to al Qaeda and Taliban and Pakistan) was behind it, and claims that Pakistan’s spy agency the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were involved, a claim which Pakistan denies.  11 jihadists being held in Afghan jails are to be executed in retaliation.

Four protesters were killed when troops opened fire on an anti-government demonstration demanding the resignation of the president after the bombing.

At least eighteen people were killed when three suicide bombers attacked the crowd of more than 1000 mourners at the funeral of one of the four protesters.

AUSTRALIA:  Police shot dead a gunman who had taken a woman hostage in a block of flats in Melbourne.  Three police officers were wounded, and a body was found outside the flat.  The gunman claimed to be acting for al-Qaeda and Isis.  Isis claimed responsibility.

CHINA:  Two high ranking officials were found guilty of corruption in separate cases.  The head of the government’s statistics agency was sentenced to life imprisonment, and the police chief of Tianjin was sentenced to death (sentence suspended for two years, which is then usually commuted to life imprisonment).

INDIA:  Clashes between police and protesting farmers in the drought-stricken Madhya state left three people dead.  A curfew was imposed and web services closed down.

KOREA, NORTH:  The UN imposed a global travel ban and froze the assets of 14 Pyongyang officials (including a suspected spy chief), a bank and one other entity.  The sanctions were in response to the country’s recent weapons tests.

PHILIPPINES:  A gunman attacked a casino and hotel in Manila.  He was shot dead by police.  Isis claimed responsibility, though the authorities believe that the motive was theft rather than terror.

Armed forces are still trying to drive Isis-affiliated Maute extremist militants from the city of Marawi.

America

BRAZIL:  Six people, including a former tourism minister, were detained as part of investigations into alleged corruption over the building of a stadium for the 2014 World Cup.  A former parliamentary speaker is already a subject of the inquiry.

USA:  President Trump announced the withdrawal of the USA from the Paris agreement on measures to combat global warming.  This prompted the EU and China to pledge a united front against global warming, their first joint statement.  A number of states (including Washington, California and New York) and businesses formed an alliance to honour the Paris agreement.

The actor Bill Cosby has gone on trial in Norristown, Pennsylvania, for charges of sexual assault.

A leaked National Security Agency report claims that Russian military intelligence attempted to hack into a US company that makes electoral rolls software, and into the computers of a hundred local election officials, in an attempt to meddle with the presidential election.  An employee of a defence and intelligence contractor has been arrested and charged with espionage over the leak.

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Issue 107: 2017 06 01: Week In Brief International

01 June 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UN Flag to denote International news Week In Brief

Europe

BELGIUM:  NATO leaders meet in Brussels.  President Trump reminded a number of European leaders that they have proved unreliable in that they have not been paying the agreed 2% on defence.  Chancellor Merkel later announced that Europe’s Atlantic allies were no longer ‘completely reliable’.

FRANCE:  President Macron met President Putin of Russia in Versailles, to open dialogue with Russia on the occasion of the three-hundredth anniversary of Peter the Great’s visit to France in 1717.

Scrutiny of President Macron’s ministers and parliamentary candidates has resulted in some embarrassment for the President, who promised, in his campaign, to clean up French politics.  The minister for public cohesion has been accused by Le Canard Enchaîné of employing his son as a parliamentary assistant and of misusing his position as head of a charity to benefit his partner. One of the parliamentary candidates has been revealed as spending his MP’s allowance on golf, holidays and other leisure activities. The European minister is being investigated following allegations that, as an MEP, she used EU public money to pay for political activity in France, illegal under French law.

GREECE:  A parcel bomb seriously injured the former Prime Minister Lucas Papademos.  His driver was also injured.

ITALY:  The seven elected leaders representing the G7 nations (plus representatives of the EU) met in Sicily.

RUSSIA:  A ten-year old boy was detained by police for reciting from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ in public.  His father was charged with failing in his parental duties.

New legislation to monitor and control instant messaging services has been introduced to the State Duma.  It proposes that the authorities should be allowed to identify users, monitor content and send messages.  Five messenger services have recently been blocked for not registering with the authorities.

Middle East and Africa

BAHRAIN:  Five people were killed and 286 arrested when police raided the village of Duraz, home of a prominent Shia cleric.

EGYPT:  Gunmen attacked vehicles carrying Coptic Christian pilgrims in Minya.  They opened fire on the pilgrims and killed at least 28 of them, including a number of children.  Egypt retaliated with airstrikes on an al-Qaeda linked base near Derna in eastern Libya where it is thought the murderers were trained.

IRAQ:  Iranian-backed Shia militias have driven Isis from the last village they held in Yazidi territory, in the north west of Iraq near the border with Syria, and are encouraging Yazidis to return to their homes.

ISRAEL:  Palestinian prisoners called off their mass hunger-strike, after they were granted the concession of a second family visit each month.

PAKISTAN:  Two people were shot dead during protests about frequent and lengthy power-cuts in Karachi.

SOUTH AFRICA:  President Zuma survived calls for him to stand down as party leader at a meeting of ANC leaders.  His opponents claim that leaked e-mails show that he was planning to seek exile in Dubai in order to escape prosecution for alleged corruption.

ZAMBIA:  The government of President Edgar Lungu proposes moving the capital from over-crowded Lusaka to Ngabwe, a village 100 miles further north in Central province.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AUSTRALIA:  The government announced a measure to confiscate passports from convicted paedophiles, to remove the danger of them travelling to south East Asian countries to commit child abuse as ‘sex tourists’.

CHINA:  Beijing announced that it is building an underwater surveillance network of cameras, sensors and radars in the East China Sea and South China Sea.

INDIA:  The government imposed a ban on the sale of cows for slaughter.  Regional governments have objected.

The World Health Organisation announced an outbreak of the zika virus in Ahmedabad, Gujarat state. Three cases were confirmed.

KOREA, NORTH:  Another ballistic missile was test-fired; it came down in Sea of Japan.  A new anti-aircraft weapon system also tested.

PHILIPPINES:  President Duterte declared martial law in the island of Mindanao, where troops are fighting against the Abu Sayyaf militant group.  Government forces are trying to drive Maute rebel group from city of Marawi, where rebels have raised the Isis flag, set fire to buildings, freed prisoners, taken hostages and killed at least 8 civilians.  92 people have been killed, including 11 soldiers, 4 policeman and 61 militants.

SRI LANKA:  Record rainfall, floods and landslides have driven more than 100,000 people from their homes in the south and west of Sri Lanka.  At least 146 people have died and over 112 are missing.

TAIWAN:  The constitutional court, judging a test case, ruled in favour of same-sex marriage.

America

BRAZIL:  Rioters attacked government buildings in Brasilia during a demonstration against the government’s austerity measures.   President Temer ordered troops onto the streets.

USA:  President Trump attended a meeting of NATO leaders in Brussels and a meeting of G7 leaders in Sicily.

President Trump’s son in law, Jared Kushner, was named as a ‘focus’ of the FBI investigation into alleged links between the Kremlin and Trump’s campaign team.  It was alleged that he tried to set up a secret channel of communication with the Kremlin before the inauguration.

White House director of communications Mike Dubke resigned.

The White House is planning to set up a ‘war room’ to deal with consequences of enquiries into alleged campaign links with the Kremlin.

The Ground Based Midcourse Defense System (GMD) underwent its first tests, with a test missile fired from the Pacific’s Marshall Islands being shot down by an interceptor launched from an air force base in California.  The shield is intended to defend the USA from intercontinental ballistic missiles from North Korea or other rogue states.  The interceptors will be based in California and Alaska.

A man shot dead 8 people in a house-to-house rampage in Mississippi.

A man, who was verbally abusing two teenage girls (one of whom was a Muslim) on a train in Portland, stabbed three people when they tried to intervene.  Two of them were killed and the third is in hospital.  The attacker has a history of extreme right-wing views.

VENEZUELA:  President Maduro’s hand has been strengthened by $2.8 billion from Goldman Sachs, as protests against corruption, shortages, a collapsing economy and the President’s refusal to meet his constitutional duties following last year’s petition of opposition continue.  The investment bank bought heavily-discounted national oil company bonds.  The opposition and parliament has criticised the purchase of what they call ‘hunger bonds’ as an attempt ‘to make a quick buck off the suffering of the Venezuelan people’.

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Issue 106: 2017 5 25: Week in Brief international

25 May 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Europe

FRANCE:  Emmanuel Macron announced his cabinet, of 11 men and 11 women.  It includes two defectors from the Socialist government and two defectors from the Republican top rank.

Brazil’s anti-corruption inquiry, Operation Car Wash, has extended to France, with investigations into alleged links between French lobbying for Rio to host the 2016 Olympics and the sale of five French submarines to Brazil.

GREECE:  Striking policemen attempted to storm the parliament during a protest by thousands of civil servants demonstrating against the latest austerity measures, which were passed by MPs.

IRELAND:  Prime Minister Enda Kelly stepped down as leader of the Fine Gael party.   A new leader will be announced next month.

SWITZERLAND:  In a referendum, 58.2% voted to scrap nuclear power.

Middle East and Africa

IRAN:  President Rouhani won the presidential elections, convincingly beating his main rival, the hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi.

IRAQ:  Documents found at Mosul University after it was re-captured from Isis record its development of chemical weapons and poisons, including testing them on prisoners.  Isis’ chemical weapons development unit moved to Raqqa from Mosul, and then to a base near the Syrian border.

ISRAEL:  President Trump visited Israel and met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and with the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.  He proposed peace talks between the two.

LIBYA:  Forces loyal to the government of national accord attacked an airbase under the control of the rival Tubruq parliament, only days after the two governments reached an agreement to cooperate.  They killed 141 people, including 38 civilians.  Faiez Serraj, prime minister of the government of national accord, condemned the killings and suspended the defence minister and the commander of the West Libyan brigade who was allegedly responsible.  Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Tubruq parliament’s armed forces, launched airstrikes in retaliation for the attack.

SAUDI ARABIA:  Relationships between the traditional allies the USA and Saudi Arabia were improved by President Trump’s visit.  Deals to invest in US infrastructure and to buy US arms were agreed.  President Trump attended gatherings of leaders from the Muslim world (except Iran), and called on them to reject extremism and drive out terrorism.  He criticised Iran and Iranian-backed militias.

SYRIA:  Isis captured the regime-held villages of Aqareb and al-Mabujeh in the central province of Hama.  At least 15 civilians and 27 regime fighters were killed.  15 Isis fighters were killed.

The siege of al-Waer, the last rebel-held area in the city of Homs, ended with over 1000 rebel fighters surrendering their arms and another 700 bussed out to other rebel-held areas.

A US airstrike against a regime convoy of suspected Iranian-backed Shia militias killed eight troops and destroyed four vehicles.  The convoy was heading for a coalition Special Forces base; it was warned off but continued to advance.  Russia condemned the attack as a breach of Syrian sovereignty.

TUNISIA:  A demonstrator was killed by a police car, and 50 others were taken to hospital with broken bones or tear gas problems, when crowds clashed with police in the southern province of Tatouine.  They were calling for the local oil and gas industries to offer more work and benefits to the region.

TURKEY:  The proprietor and three journalists of Sozcu, the third biggest newspaper in Turkey, are facing arrest for alleged Gulenist crimes.

President Erdogan recovered his position as head of the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP).  He had to surrender it when he became president, but the constitutional changes accepted by the recent referendum now enable the president to play an active role in party politics.

YEMEN:  The cholera outbreak is intensifying, with 600 children being diagnosed every day.  250 people have died in the last three weeks.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN:  Four Isis suicide bombers and gunmen killed 7 people and wounded at least 18 others in an attack on the headquarters of the state media in Jalalabad.  All four attackers were killed.

A Taliban attack on checkpoints in Zabul killed 20 police officers.

A German woman and her security guard were killed and a Finnish woman was kidnapped in an attack on a guesthouse in Kabul.

AUSTRALIA:  The deputy commissioner of the Australian Taxation Office, Michael Cranston, who has been in charge of investigations into off-shore tax avoidance schemes, is facing allegations of being connected to a fraud scheme which police say has cost the taxpayer almost £100 million.  His son and daughter have also been charged.

CHINA:  ‘Go’ champion Ke Jie was narrowly beaten by the Alphago computer program in the first of a three-game contest.  Until recently, it was believed that a machine could never master Go, a board game which has been played in China for 2,500 years and remains hugely popular throughout the Far East.  The planned live television broadcast of the game was cancelled at the last minute.  Some claim that the cancellation was due to official disapproval of Google, which owns the London-based company Deepmind which developed Alphago.

INDONESIA:  A Sharia court in Aceh sentenced two men to be flogged in public for homosexuality.  A few days later police arrested 141 men after a raid on a sauna in Jakarta.  Eight men were arrested at a party in Surabaya last month.

KOREA, NORTH:  A medium-range ballistic missile was test-fired, the second test in a week and the tenth this year.  The UN Security Council, including China, condemned North Korea’s defiance of the UN.

KOREA, SOUTH:  Former president Park Geun-hye, who lost immunity from prosecution when she was impeached and removed from office two months ago, appeared in court to face charges of bribery and abuse of office.  She is on trial with her associate and spiritual advisor Choi Soon-sil and with businessman Shin Dong-bin.

THAILAND:  A bomb injured 24 people when it exploded in a military hospital in Bangkok on the third anniversary of the military coup.

America

BRAZIL:  Brazil’s Supreme Court has opened an investigation into allegations of corruption again President Temer, after a newspaper claimed that prosecutors have a tape recording of him approving the payment of a bribe by a businessman to a politician.  The Brazilian Bar Association made a formal call for him to be impeached.  Eight other such calls have been made.

USA:  President Trump visited Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, Italy (for the G7 meeting in Sicily), and Belgium (for the NATO meeting in Brussels).

President Erdogan of Turkey visited President Trump in Washington.  Members of Erdogan’s security team attacked peaceful Kurdish anti-Erdogan protesters outside the Whitehouse; 9 people taken to hospital and the mayor of Washington condemned the attack.

The Justice Department appointed a former FBI director, Robert Mueller, as a special counsel to oversee inquiries into allegations of Russian interference in last year’s election.

The dismissed national security adviser Michael Flynn is refusing to co-operate with the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating alleged links with the Kremlin.

Claims have been made that Trump asked the director of the office of National Intelligence and the head of the National Security Agency to deny that there was any evidence linking his election campaign to the Kremlin, when the FBI announced its investigation.

James Comey, who Trump recently sacked as head of the FBI, is to publicly testify in Congress.

One person was killed and 22 injured by a car driven into pedestrians in Time Square. The driver was arrested; he is thought to have mental health and drug problems, rather than terrorist connections.

VENEZUELA:  The attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz criticised President Maduro’s plans to side-step parliament and create a ‘people’s assembly’.  Anti-Maduro demonstrations continue; a demonstrator was shot dead in Valera, the 48th death in the recent protests.

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Issue 105:2017 05 18:Week in brief international

18 May 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle East and Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Far East, Asia and Pacific

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

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

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

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

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

See comment The Templars and the Internet.

America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Issue 104;2017 05 11: Week in Brief International

11 May 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UN Flag to denote International news

Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle East and Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Far East, Asia and Pacific

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America

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

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

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

See comment On The Hill, Off The Rails.

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

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

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Issue 103:2017 05 04:Week in Brief International

04 May 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UN Flag to denote International news

Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle East and Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Far East, Asia and Pacific

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

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

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

America

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

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

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

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

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

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Issue 012:2017 04 27: Week in brief International

27 April 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

UN Flag to denote International news

Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle East and Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Far East, Asia and Pacific

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

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

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

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

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

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

America

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

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

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

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

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

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Issue 101:201 04 20:Week in Brief International

20 April 2017

Week In Brief: INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Europe

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

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

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

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

See comment Le Dilemme des Citoyens et Citoyennes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle East and Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Far East, Asia and Pacific

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America

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

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

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

See comment Cracking Eggs With Donald.

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