World update: January 17 2018



Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada reportedly sent negotiators to Islamabad on Monday to meet with representatives of Afghan politician Pir Syed Hamid Gilani about the possibility of restarting peace talks with Kabul. The Afghan government does not appear to have sanctioned the meeting and there’s no indication anything came of it.


Police in Rakhine state killed at least seven Buddhist protesters in Mrauk U on Tuesday. They were demonstrating in commemoration of the fall of the Arakan Kingdom of Mrauk U to the Burmese Empire in the 18th century. They’d been denied permission to hold their annual commemoration and so they decided to stage a protest instead. Police responded initially with rubber bullets but switched to live ammunition in response to having rocks thrown at them, because rock, bullet, it’s all pretty much the same thing.


Philippine authorities are tracking reports that Amin Baco, a Malaysian national who was believed killed in Marawi, actually survived that siege and is now holed up with remnants of Abu Sayyaf in Sulu province trying to reconstitute an ISIS affiliate.


Tensions between China and Taiwan are running higher than normal this month. Last week the Taiwanese government complained about a new Chinese civilian air route that cut close to Taiwanese airspace, to which Beijing replied that it doesn’t recognize a “Taiwanese airspace” so it doesn’t need Taiwan’s permission to skirt it or even enter it. On Wednesday, a Chinese carrier group passed provocatively through the Taiwan Strait without incident, which is not an infrequent occurrence but creates tension every time it happens.


Rex Tillerson says he’s seeing evidence that international sanctions against North Korea are really beginning to have an impact, and as proof he cites…a bunch of dead North Korean fishermen:

He said Japan told a conference on North Korea in Vancouver on Tuesday that more than 100 North Korean fishing boats had drifted into its waters and two thirds of those aboard them had died.


“What they learned is that they are being sent out in the winter time because there’s food shortages and they are being sent out to fish with inadequate fuel to get back,” he said.

Cool, they’re dying out of desperation to find food! Hey, maybe a bunch of North Korean orphans are dying too–that would really kick ass! Fingers crossed! God bless America!

In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, Donald Trump shifted his anger about North Korean sanctions-busting away from China and on to Russia:

“Russia is not helping us at all with North Korea,” Trump said during an Oval Office interview with Reuters. “What China is helping us with, Russia is denting. In other words, Russia is making up for some of what China is doing.”

More to the point, Trump blamed the ongoing Russia-gate investigation for preventing him from developing better relations with Russia and thereby convincing the Russians to change course. But because Moscow simply doesn’t view North Korea as a mortal threat it’s unlikely they’d be willing to do much more to punish Pyongyang even if Donald and Vladimir Putin were golfing together every other weekend.



The United Nations’ envoy for Libya says that while there is growing consensus over the contours of a political settlement to the Libyan civil war, plenty of factions around the country are still behaving badly:

Ghassan Salame told the Security Council that “the specter of violence remains present,” pointing to clashes between forces allied with two rival communities close to Libya’s border with Tunisia, rival groups at a flashpoint in the eastern vicinity of the capital of Tripoli, and heightened tension around the city of Derna.


He said he was delivering the briefing by videoconference from Tunis and not Tripoli as he had planned “because bloody clashes at the airport have halted all flights in and out … for the whole week.”


Two suspected Boko Haram suicide bombers killed at least 12 people on Wednesday when they struck a market just outside Maiduguri. The attack comes amid a new regional push against the extremist group that includes participation from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon.

Meanwhile, the Niger Delta Avengers issued a new threat on Wednesday to start attacking parts of Nigeria’s oil infrastructure within “days.” NDA attacks in 2016 cut Nigerian oil production by more than half, but the group was dormant for most of 2017 while it gave the Nigerian government time to respond to its demands–most of which revolve around a more equitable distribution of the country’s oil wealth and a commitment to clean up heavily polluted areas in the Niger Delta. It would seem the government was not responsive enough for their taste.


The International Organization for Migration’s Congo director says that militant groups in the eastern DRC are forming a coalition united by opposition to DRC President Joseph Kabila and an insistence that he vacate the presidency. Meanwhile, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni says the UN is responsible for “preserving terrorism” in eastern DRC, even though it’s been UN peacekeepers who have taken the most casualties at the hands of the Allied Democratic Forces group. Museveni didn’t explain what he meant and, frankly, he probably doesn’t really know.



The Polish government is pursuing a World War II reparations case against Germany, and the two countries’ foreign ministers said on Wednesday that they might establish a commission to adjudicate Poland’s claims. The official German position for decades has been that it’s made reparations for World War II and the case is closed, a position to which it says the post-Cold War Polish governments of the 1990s agreed.


Viorica Dăncilă is going to be your new Romanian prime minister after all. Romanian President Klaus Iohannes agreed on Wednesday to appoint her to parliament and name her PM in time for her to have a government in place by the first of February.

That’s her on the right (Wikimedia)


Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s government is facing a vote of no confidence over its failure to curb corruption. The opposition Socialist Party filed the motion on Wednesday, but it bears slim chance of succeeding.


Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš finally allowed on Wednesday for the possibility that he might have to step aside as PM so that his ANO party can form a governing coalition. It’s Babiš himself who seems to be driving potential coalition partners away from ANO, as he’s seen as erratic and compromised by a corruption investigation into his past business practices. Babiš has already lost one vote of confidence and it’s unclear how he plans to form another government without stepping aside.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that she’s “confident” that she and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz can work together on European issues. Right-wing leaders in both Germany and Austria collaborating in Europe–what could go wrong?


The Catalan parliament elected its speaker on Wednesday, and I’m sure Madrid is pleased to see that it’s staunch separatist Roger Torrent. The pro-independence parties that control the Catalan parliament still want to elect Carles Puigdemont as regional president despite the fact that he’s still in Belgium, and Madrid is continuing to insist that the region will remain under direct Spanish control if they go that route.



The European Union is preparing a package of sanctions targeting top officials in Nicolás Maduro’s government, including the chief justice of Venezuela’s Supreme Court. These sanctions, while I’m sure they will be inconvenient to the people who are hit with them, will almost certainly do nothing about the crippling shortages of food and other basic goods–brought on in part by other international sanctions–that have led to an outbreak of looting across the country this month. As is the case with North Korea, Europe and the US are more concerned with seeing an objectionable regime changed than they are with the number of people who have to die in order to make that happen.


Donald Trump revealed the winners of his Fake News Awards this evening and…you know what? That’s fine. It’s all very fine and good and normal. Everything is going just the way it’s supposed to go. We have a very stable and normal president who is doing all the usual president things. Goodnight everybody!

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