World update: January 20-21 2018


Thanks in large part to the work of the Carter Foundation, Guinea Worm may soon be a thing of the past. Just 30 cases of the condition were reported in 2017, half of them from a single outbreak in Ethiopia and the rest in isolated parts of Chad. Who says we can’t have nice things?



Oh, right, we really can’t have nice things. The Taliban assaulted Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel for 14 hours from Saturday evening through Sunday, killing 18 people according to official numbers but perhaps over 40 by some unofficial counts. Wait, you say, hasn’t the Taliban been making some moves toward negotiations with Kabul? Yes, but the Haqqani Network is believed to have been behind this attack, which means it may not have been approved by the main Taliban leadership. The Haqqanis come under the Taliban umbrella but are very autonomous. It wouldn’t be that surprising if the Haqqanis undertook this attack in part to derail those early moves toward talks. On the other hand, it was a pretty active weekend for the Taliban generally–on Saturday, they killed 18 people in Balkh province, eight people with a roadside bomb in Herat, and a police colonel amid fighting in Farah province.


Three people were killed in a fourth straight day of border skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani forces in Kashmir on Saturday.


Three people were killed on Monday when a motorcycle bomb exploded in a market in southern Thailand. Given the location it’s likely that the culprits were Malay Muslim separatists, but there’s been no claim of responsibility.


Six Philippine soldiers were wounded on Saturday in the military’s first clash with Maute Group fighters since the end of the Marawi siege in October.


Beijing is once again angry after a US vessel conducted another “freedom of navigation” exercise in the South China Sea. Last week the destroyer USS Hopper sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Scarborough Shoal, which both China and the Philippines claim. The Pentagon says that the sail-by was undertaken in accordance with international law and the principle of “innocent passage,” whereby a warship is allowed to pass through territorial waters so long as it goes quickly and doesn’t stop.


The Social Science Research Council’s Leon Sigal sees some signs that Washington is prepared to respond positively to Pyongyang’s recent diplomatic outreach:

Observers were too quick to dismiss Kim’s move as a charm offensive or a ploy to sow division in allied ranks. But some of us who have spent years dealing with North Korea see this opening as the North’s latest attempt to ease tensions — not just with South Korea, but also with the United States.


Amid contradictory messages from the Trump administration, a senior State Department official hinted that time may come sooner than many expect. They told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius last week that face-to-face meetings could start before the Olympics end. The conversation with the North Korean capital Pyongyang can “start at the edges,” with each country describing how it sees the future, and then “work toward the center,” meaning denuclearization was no longer a precondition but an eventual goal. “The Olympics themselves might be the perimeter” from which talks start, they said.



Mitiga airport reopened on Saturday after having been shut down by recent fighting in and around Tripoli. Which is good, since it’s the only airport the city has. Tripoli’s main airport was rendered inoperable in 2014, so Mitiga, a military airbase before the war, was repurposed to handle civilian flights.


Tunisian forces have killed Bilel Kobi, believed to be the top aide to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb leader Abdelmalek Droukdel, AKA Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud. It’s believed he was in Tunisia to help rebuild AQIM’s Tunisian branch.


At least five people were killed by Ethiopian police over the weekend during an Epiphany celebration in the northern Ethiopian town of Waldiya. They were apparently “shouting anti-government slogans,” which I think we can all agree is a great reason for police to merk them.

The Ethiopian government has rejected an Egyptian plan to have the World Bank lead technical negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said on Saturday that he believes Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan can work things out for themselves, and reiterated that Egyptian fears about the GERD and its impact on Nile water flows is misguided.


Back in 2008, Comoros began contracting with Gulf Arab states to sell citizenship to certain groups, like the stateless Bedoon people who live in the United Arab Emirates. Comoros gets a lot of money, the Emiratis get rid of the riffraff–what could go wrong? The Comorian government just issued its first report on that program and, well, a few things have actually gone wrong. Comorian authorities have apparently been selling passports to pretty much anybody, not just the populations specified by the Gulf states, including some Iranians. Awkward! Additionally–and, let’s be honest, you knew this was coming–a whole bunch of the tens of millions of dollars they received from the Gulf states in return for selling these passports seems to have gone missing.


DRC police killed at least six people over the weekend during protests against President Joseph Kabila. I don’t see what people are upset about–I mean, Kabila is simply serving year seven of his final five year term, as one does. They’re acting like he’s trying to hold on to power indefinitely or something.



Some 50,000 people took to the streets of Bucharest on Saturday to protest against government efforts to reduce judicial independence and decriminalize corruption. Romania remains one of the most corrupt countries in Europe and it seems to be backsliding at the moment, hence the public outcry.


Speaking of protests, tens of thousands of people are believed to have turned out in Thessaloniki on Sunday to protest against the Greek government cutting any kind of a deal with the Republic of Macedonia that allows it to continue using the word “Macedonia” in its name. Thessaloniki is the capital of Greece’s Macedonia province, and clearly they have strong feelings about Greek ownership of that word. The public outcry will make it difficult for Athens to cut a deal with Skopje that would allow the Macedonians, or whomever, to move forward on their European Union and/or NATO application processes.


Polling shows incumbent Miloš Zeman and challenger Jiří Drahoš in a dead heat heading into this week’s presidential runoff, with Zeman barely leading 45.5 percent to 45 percent. Drahoš’s support is slightly more secure–he has a higher percentage of voters who are “sure” they’ll vote for him. Apart from the difference between the Eastern-facing Zeman and the West-friendly Drahoš, this election could have a real bearing on Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’s political future. Zeman and Babiš are pals, so Zeman is likely to give Babiš the benefit of every doubt as he struggles to form a government. Drahoš is unlikely to be as lenient.


Angela Merkel got a little closer to a fourth term as chancellor on Sunday, when Germany’s Social Democratic Party voted to allow Martin Schulz and other party leaders to go forward with negotiations on forming a grand coalition with Merkel’s conservative bloc. The vote wasn’t that close–56 percent in favor–but it was close enough that SPD members could quash the coalition itself if they’re unhappy with how these negotiations proceed, so this drama isn’t over yet. SPD members are justifiably concerned about being Merkel’s footstool for another four years, particularly after voters made them pay badly last year for having done so. Another consideration is something that seems to have gotten lost in the fuss over the coalition talks, which is that an SPD-conservative coalition will leave the fascist-adjacent Alternative for Germany as the main opposition party in the Bundestag. That’s a really, really dangerous side effect of this whole endeavor, but it’s one Merkel and SPD leaders seem willing to accept.



One person was killed by police on Saturday in the town of Saba, during a protest related to November’s heavily disputed presidential election.


Mexico experienced 29,168 murders in 2017, a figure significantly higher than the 27,213 who were killed in 2011 at what was then believed to be the height of the country’s drug war. Fortunately, the rate of drug-related violence in Mexico should decline steeply once Donald Trump convinces Washington to undertake a thorough and long-overdue review of our self-defeating, destructive, pointless war on drugs build a big, stupid looking wall along the Mexican border that won’t actually accomplish anything other than gratifying his dipshit fan base. That should fix everything.


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