There doesn’t seem to be all that much news today. My theory is that most of the people who normally make news are at Davos. Here’s the thing: I don’t give a shit about Davos, and I particularly don’t give a shit about the stuff that happens at Davos that gets made public. Add to that the fact that this is a hectic day here at the old HQ and we’re going to make do with a shorter (and earlier) than usual update today.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is still talking about expanding Operation Olive Branch to Manbij, even though that would greatly heighten the tension between Turkey and the US. There may still be American forces in the vicinity of Manbij, where they were deployed last spring…to deter the chance of a Turkish attack. Washington seems to be trying to make a deal with Ankara, offering to help set up a 30 km safe zone along the Turkish border in return for Turkey ending its offensive, but so far that idea hasn’t gotten anywhere even though the Turks themselves say that their objective is to set up just such a zone. The thing is, Turkey’s real intention is to fight the YPG, and they’re doing that now so they really have no reason to make a deal.
The United Nations says that the Houthis have banned 35 international agencies from operating in northern Yemen, ostensibly over red tape. Talks are ongoing to restore access, which is needed to disburse humanitarian aid to the parts of Yemen under Houthi control.
Human rights activist Khaled Ali, who was unlikely to get on the ballot anyway, has officially withdrawn from the Egyptian presidential race. He pulled out shortly after President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced that he will seek reelection, not that it was ever seriously in question. It looks like Sisi will literally be running unopposed, so I like his chances.
ISIS attacked the offices of Save the Children in Jalalabad on Wednesday. At least six people were killed in the utterly senseless assault.
A US drone strike on Wednesday killed two members of the Haqqani Network in Pakistan, which definitely doesn’t support the Haqqani Network. No word on any civilian casualties at the target, which Pakistani officials say was an Afghan refugee camp.
The Myanmar government announced ceasefires with two rebel groups, the New Mon State Party and the Lahu Democratic Union, on Wednesday. Leaders of both groups agreed to join the National Ceasefire Agreement after meeting with Myanmar officials in Naypyitaw. Neither group had been very active of late but a ceasefire is a ceasefire.
Defense Secretary James Mattis was in Indonesia today, and as part of his visit he reviewed the Indonesian military. It looks like they had a really good time:
Rodrigo Duterte is threatening to withdraw Philippine nationals from Kuwait and forbid any more from moving there to work. Philippine nationals are often employed as domestic help in the Gulf states, and are often as badly mistreated as expat manual laborers albeit in different ways. Manila has already suspended travel to Kuwait for Philippine workers, but Duterte says more reports of domestic workers being sexually assaulted could result in a full ban.
The Treasury Department imposed new sanctions on entities accused of helping North Korea evade international sanctions:
The U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on nine entities, 16 people and six North Korean ships it accused of helping the weapons programs. It said two China-based trading firms were involved in exporting millions of dollars worth of metals and other goods used in weapons production.
The individuals included members of North Korea’s Workers Party operating in China, Russia and Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia region. Among them were North Korea’s vice consul in Nakhodka, Russia and an individual reportedly involved in sending North Korean laborers to Abkhazia.
The Trump administration also wants Russia and China to expel North Korean nationals working in their countries, which would damage the North Korean economy by cutting remittance payments.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
The cardinal who heads the DRC’s Catholic Church says that Joseph Kabila is turning the country into an “open prison” after this weekend’s violence against protesters:
Security forces shot dead at least six people and wounded dozens more as they fired tear gas to disperse a protest on Sunday that the Catholic church had organized, drawing widespread international condemnation.
“We were dispersed by tear gas, stun grenades and live bullets. We have again seen deaths, injuries, priests being arrested, and the theft of citizens’ property,” Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo said at the church in the capital Kinshasa.
“Christians were prevented from praying. Others were prevented from leaving by…police and military who were armed as if they had been on a battlefield,” he said.
“How can you kill men, women, children, youths and old people all chanting religious songs, carrying bibles, rosaries and crucifixes? Are we now living in an open prison?”
President Miloš Zeman is giving Prime Minister Andrej Babiš another crack at forming a government, but considering that he failed in his first attempt and literally nothing has changed in the meantime, it’s not clear why he should be expected to succeed this time. Zeman had to take this step because of the strong possibility that he’s about to lose a runoff…and also because, apparently, he might be dying. Zeman has seemed increasingly frail in recent months, something that might be contributing to his loss of popular support.
Finland is holding a presidential election this weekend, and incumbent Sauli Niinistö is expected to win. Niinistö has been able to steer a course that has the country on good terms with both Western Europe and Russia, no mean feat these days, and that should be enough to get him a second term.
I suppose something like this was inevitable, but still it’s hilarious:
A member of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, known for its anti-Muslim rhetoric, has surprised observers by converting to Islam.
Arthur Wagner sat on the party’s executive committee in the state of Brandenburg but recently stepped down for reasons he says are unrelated.
The 48-year-old, who is still a member of the party, told one newspaper that it was a “private matter”.
Yes, whipping up pogroms against migrants is something one does in public, but when one converts to the thing they used to demonize, that’s private. Seems about right.
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