World update: December 21 2017

While I never say never around here, I feel pretty strongly that tonight’s updates will be attwiw’s final ones for 2017. We’re hosting Christmas here and then traveling to visit family, so I need a bit of time to prepare and then most of next week will just be logistically impossible. The blog won’t go dark, but let me take this opportunity to say Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and bring on 2018.



The AP has produced another chilling account of the Rohingya ethnic cleansing:

The Rohingya Muslims have long been persecuted and denied basic rights in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, but the latest round of violence was in retaliation for a wave of 30 attacks by Rohingya insurgents in August on security posts. At least 14 people were killed.

The assaults triggered an army counter-offensive that has left hundreds of villages burned and driven 650,000 refugees into Bangladesh. The aid group Doctors Without Borders estimates 6,700 Rohingya civilians were killed in the first month of reprisals alone, and human rights groups have documented three large-scale massacres.

At least 82 Rohingya are believed to have been murdered in the village of Maung Nu on Aug. 27. The Associated Press has reconstructed the massacre, as told by 37 survivors now scattered across refugee camps in Bangladesh. Their testimony, combined with exclusive video footage from the massacre site obtained by AP, strengthens a growing body of evidence indicating that Myanmar armed forces have systematically killed civilians.


It looks like the UN Security Council will vote Friday on a new draft sanctions resolution being circulated by the United States. This is definitely an escalation–among other things, it almost completely bans North Korean fuel imports and gives most North Koreans working abroad a one year deadline to return to North Korea. Remittance payments from those workers make up a big chunk of the North Korean economy. These are the kinds of measures that have drawn resistance from China in the past over fears that they would destabilize North Korea and create a big refugee problem for Beijing, but it’s hard to believe that the US would introduce this resolution without having some assurance from China (and Russia) that it won’t be vetoed.



Though defeated in Sirte, ISIS never fully disappeared from Libya. Now, ongoing civil war-related chaos and inter-tribal conflict have opened space for the group’s resurgence:

The Islamic State (IS) is remobilizing in southern and central Libya, penetrating towns where lawlessness, tribal tensions and poverty are rife. No longer able to seize large swaths of land, the group is waging an insurgency to weaken the country’s competing authorities. The strategy is working, though experts and fighters from the western port city of Misrata, do not expect IS to reclaim the power it had in 2016.


Niger has given the US approval to begin flying armed Predator MQ-9 drones out of its base in Niamey in addition to the unarmed Reaper surveillance models it’s been flying. Some Nigeriens aren’t too thrilled about that–or about the US presence more generally:

Even among Nigeriens who’ve come to believe foreign military help is needed to push back against the extremists, misinformation and a lack of transparency from the government could easily cause a backlash.

“People who are already misusing Islam can twist the situation and say, ‘They want to sow discord among Muslims,’” said Cheikh Boureima Daouda, an imam in Niamey who leads a regional council of religious leaders that advises governments on countering extremism. “That can be a gift for radicalization. The situation remains very delicate.”


The South Sudanese government and rebel factions have…reached a ceasefire? And, like, an open-ended one? Both sides say they’re ready to revisit their 2015 peace effort, which is probably the closest the civil war has come to a conclusion since it began in late 2013. Obviously time will tell if this cessation holds–this wouldn’t be the first ceasefire to fail in South Sudan–but if the worst that comes out of this is a break from the fighting and a chance for humanitarian aid to get to people who desperately need it, that’s not so bad.



If you think Europe is already tearing itself to pieces over anti-migrant xenophobia…well, you’re probably right. But things are likely to get worse. A new study published in Science on Thursday says that climate change is going to cause a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking refuge in Europe:

Working from a baseline average of 351,000 applications a year, the study concludes that the number of asylum-seekers to the EU could rise by more than a quarter by 2100 even if global warming slows. However, if emissions of greenhouse gases continue at current rates, asylum request could almost triple to over a million a year by the end of the century.


The Lithuanian parliament voted 76 to 7 on Thursday to lobby the European Union to drop daylight savings time. To which I can only say:


America is selling guns to Ukraine:

The Trump administration has approved the largest U.S. commercial sale of lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine since 2014. The move was heavily supported by top Trump national security Cabinet officials and Congress but may complicate President Trump’s stated ambition to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Administration officials confirmed that the State Department this month approved a commercial license authorizing the export of Model M107A1 Sniper Systems, ammunition, and associated parts and accessories to Ukraine, a sale valued at $41.5 million. These weapons address a specific vulnerability of Ukrainian forces fighting a Russian-backed separatist movement in two eastern provinces. There has been no approval to export the heavier weapons the Ukrainian government is asking for, such as Javelin antitank missiles.

This is a shift in US policy, which has heretofore mostly resisted supplying lethal materiel to Ukraine. As the report says, it only covers light arms, even though Kiev is desperate for heavy weapons. But it apparently does include anti-tank weapons, which is a big deal, and this could wind up being the first step on the road to supplying heavier and heavier arms. Although to believe that might happen, you’d have to find some other recent examples of US military policy decisions that wound up snowballing out of control, and frankly I don’t…oh. Right.

Of course, that wouldn’t go over so well with Moscow–which is already warning that these weapons sales will escalate the violence in eastern Ukraine–and Trump does still seem to value his relationship with Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine’s own arms industry is apparently swimming in, guess what, corruption (in Ukraine? SAY IT AIN’T SO), but on that score there may be some signs of improvement. On Thursday, the Ukrainian parliament voted to scrap a relatively toothless law creating an “anti-corruption court” and replace it with a stronger law that will create a stronger court. Kiev’s international creditors were unhappy with the first law, hence the change.


The Economist named its country of the year, and as you’ve probably figured out by now it’s France. Let this be a lesson for you: all you have to do is elect a president who despises workers without being all gauche about it, and you too can see your country featured in the pages of a prestigious late capitalist magazine.


The votes in Catalonia’s snap election are in and, well, it’s complicated:

Catalan separatist parties are on track to win most seats in the new regional parliament, setting the stage for more confrontation with Spain’s government.

However the Citizens party, which wants Catalonia to remain a semi-autonomous part of Spain, is the biggest party.

As a result, it is unclear who will be given the right to form a government.

Turnout was very high (around 80 percent according to early estimates), so there’s no questioning this election’s legitimacy. Needless to say this is not the outcome Madrid wanted to see when it dissolved Catalonia’s last parliament after October’s independence referendum. Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, currently trying to dodge extradition in Brussels over said referendum, called it a victory for the “Catalan republic,” which of course isn’t a thing.

This result might not be so bad. Assuming Citizens gets first crack at forming a government, it’s hard to see how it could do that without forging some kind of relationship with at least one pro-independence party, which would mean compromise and likely some give from Madrid in terms of restoring regional autonomy. Which could be the quickest path toward healing the divisions that were opened up by the referendum. If the separatists get to form the next government, that could also lead to some needed dialogue with Madrid–but then again it could mean Catalonia will wind up right back in the same situation it’s been in since October. If pro-union parties had won an outright majority that would have actually obviated the need for Madrid to negotiate and could have just left the independence issue to fester under the surface. Now those tensions have to be confronted, for better or worse.



Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski will not be removed from office over the Odebrecht corruption scandal. The vote in congress fell nine votes shy of the required 2/3 majority to oust him. An investigation into Kuczynski’s finances may continue, so he might not be entirely out of the woods yet.


The Cuban government announced on Thursday that Raúl Castro will remain as president through at least April. Castro was expected to step down following February’s National Assembly election, but the government has decided to delay that vote until April 19. Ostensibly this is due to damage from Hurricane Irma, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the government is still trying to get a handle on what life will be like without the Castros in charge.

You’re going to have him to kick around for a little while longer

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