Afghan election officials say they’re ready to hold parliamentary elections but that they likely won’t be able to do so until at least October due to security concerns. And hey, there’s no rush. Technically they don’t need to hold this vote until, uh, [checks notes] July 2015. So they have plenty of time.
A Pakistani Taliban suicide attack in the Swat Valley on Saturday killed at least 11 Pakistani soldiers. Possibly in retaliation, the Pakistani military shelled the Afghan province of Kunar for “several hours” after the attack. Pakistani authorities often claim that militants who are active in the Swat Valley and other Pashtun tribal areas along the border are based in Kunar.
Four Indian soldiers were killed in cross-border clashes with the Pakistani military on Sunday, the latest in a series of such incidents that have occurred with alarming frequency over the past month or so.
The political situation in Malé is spiraling out of control. Days after former President Mohamed Nasheed had his 2015 terrorism conviction overturned by the Maldivian Supreme Court, Attorney General Mohamed Anil started his Sunday by warning that the court was about to impeach President Abdulla Yameen, which would be unconstitutional if there were some evidence that the court was actually trying to do it. This was apparently meant to be a call to arms for the military, and it worked: by midday the army had seized control of the Maldivian parliament and was arresting legislators. The real concern was apparently that the court had ordered the release of several opposition politicians (including Nasheed), a move that would have shifted the balance of power in parliament to the opposition. At that point, Yameen’s impeachment, via the legislature as intended, could have become a real possibility. The upshot is that, in the guise of defending the country against a made-up coup, Yameen and his people have apparently executed an actual coup against parliament and the Supreme Court.
James Dorsey writes about concerns over Saudi Arabia’s growing influence in Malaysia:
Saudi influence was further spotlighted by a scandal surrounding Malaysia’s state development fund 1MDB sparked by revelations that $700 million had wound up in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s bank account in 2013. Najib said it was a donation from the Saudi ruling family, rebutting allegations it was money siphoned from the fund he had founded and overseen. Malaysia’s attorney-general cleared him of any wrongdoing.
On a visit to Malaysia a year ago, Saudi King Salman inked agreements involving $10 billion of investment in Malaysia and the building of a King Salman Centre for International Peace to bring together Islamic scholars and intelligence agencies in an effort to counter extremist interpretations of Islam.
The centre would work as resource partners with the Saudi-financed Islamic Science University of Malaysia, and the Muslim World League, a Saudi-funded non-governmental organization that for decades served as a vehicle for global propagation of ultra-conservatism.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s governing coalition has closed the gap with the opposition Labor Party to 52-48 in recent polling. That’s as close as Turnbull has been in months, and if he starts to pull ahead of Labor you can expect him to call for an early election to try to capitalize on the situation.
Five people were reportedly killed in fighting between Libyan forces and suspected ISIS militants near the Dhahra oil field in southeastern Libya on Friday and Saturday. Two Libyan soldiers were killed against three ISIS fighters.
While Cape Town is southern Africa’s most acute drought crisis at the moment (see below), southern Madagascar is suffering through a two-year water crisis that has reduced important rivers to little more than streams:
Nineteen-year-old Masy had been up since 2 a.m. — that’s when she and her family set out from their village in southern Madagascar called Ovototry to bathe, collect water, and buy goods at a market near the Mandrare River.
The river is the village’s lifeblood and people from all over the southern region of Amboasary Sud come to its shores every day. Children screamed as they chased each other around the water’s edge; older men and women slapped soapy clothes against the rocks to wash them; teenagers clustered in the shade, their heads pressed together in whispery gossip.
The Mandrare was once so vast a bridge had to be built over it so cars could pass. When BuzzFeed News visited the river as part of trip organized by UNICEF in order to visit the remote area, it was so dry that when people stood in the deepest part, the water hardly reached their knees.
Madagascar is barely receiving any international assistance despite the crisis, but the drought has crippled agriculture and people are starving.
As for Cape Town, the government has pegged April 16 as “day zero” and is putting a plan in place to shut off water to one million homes on that day. It will set up water distribution points throughout the city to provide the legal minimum of 25 liters per person per day to residents. There’s still hope that stronger conservation measures could stave off “day zero” until the rains are supposed to start in May.
Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades won an easy reelection over challenger Stavros Malas on Sunday, pulling in 56 percent of the vote. In his victory speech, Anastasiades reiterated his commitment to ending the island nation’s Greek-Turkish divide.
About 5000 people protested in Kiev on Sunday to demand President Petro Poroshenko’s resignation, led by Mikheil Saakashvili. The protests illustrated why Saakashvili is both a thorn in Poroshenko’s side and pretty much a non-factor–5000 people in the streets gets noticed, but on the other hand it’s far too small a protest to actually effect any change.
Contrast that small protest in Kiev with the 140,000 or more Greeks who protested in Athens on Sunday against any kind of settlement with the Republic of Macedonia that lets the Balkan country keep the word “Macedonia” in its name. This seems like such a minor gripe, but the dispute over the Republic of Macedonia’s name is keeping that country from applying for membership in the European Union and NATO, and even if the Greek government would like to be accommodating its hands are tied by the apparent zeal with which so many Greeks oppose an accord between Athens and Skopje.
Coalition talks between Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats failed to produce an agreement by the parties’ self-imposed Sunday deadline, but apparently everybody was happy enough with their progress to agree to meet again on Monday and keep trying to hammer out a deal. The parties are apparently still pretty far apart on healthcare and labor rules.
Ptah Emmanuel Macron wil be visiting Corsica on Tuesday, and he may not get the warmest reception. Thousands of people, as many as 25,000, gathered in Ajaccio on Saturday to demonstrate for autonomy. The protest was timed to send a message to the French president.
What’s complicating Brexit negotiations today? Well, probably the fact that Britain’s Conservative Party is at war with itself over how hard a Brexit (sorry, we’re into the pornographic portion of tonight’s update) it wants, and the party’s ostensible leader, Theresa May, is too weak to get everybody on the same page. May did, on Sunday, rule out remaining in a customs union with the EU post-Brexit–or, rather, somebody working for may ruled it out, anonymously. That might spare May an attempt by Tory Euroskeptics to oust her, at least for now. But it’s increasingly clear that the same cast of dimwits who brought you Brexit and then fell flat on their faces when David Cameron resigned over it–
Larry Michael Gove, Moe Jacob Rees-Mogg, and Curly Boris Johnson–are itching to bring May down so that they can take their comedy stylings all the way to Downing Street.
In a referendum held on Sunday, Ecuadorean voters overturned a 2015 constitutional amendment that had eliminated presidential term limits. The result is a blow to former President Rafael Correa, who was leaning toward a run in the 2021 election but now, assuming this result is allowed to stand, will be barred from doing so. Correa had actively campaigned against the referendum and was not well met in his stops around the country–he apparently actually had tomatoes thrown at him at one stop, and at another people threw rocks at his car.
Rex Tillerson said while in Argentina on Sunday that the United States is considering restricting Venezuelan oil sales. Because nothing will punish Nicolás Maduro more than taking another step toward crippling the Venezuelan economy and starving the Venezuelan people. It’s a wonder folks aren’t out in the streets of Caracas waving American flags at this point.
With over 70 percent of the vote counted, right wing Christian celebrity and anti-LGBT crusader Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz is leading the first round of the Costa Rican presidential election with just over 25 percent of the vote. That total means the race is almost certainly headed to a runoff on April 1. The current second place contender is Carlos Alvarado Quesada, but it might not matter–polling indicates that Fabricio Alvarado would be favored in a runoff against any of the other major candidates in the field.
Finally, let me leave you with Jon Schwarz’s great obituary for the late investigative journalist Robert Parry. Among many other stories, Parry helped break Iran-Contra in the 1980s and devoted his career to digging into the official foreign policy narrative as put out by Washington. I don’t think he was always right or always on the right track, but his record speaks for itself:
ROBERT PARRY, THE editor of Consortium News, died unexpectedly on January 27 at age 68.
His work inspired generations of journalists, but it’s possible you’ve rarely encountered his writing, or have simply never heard of him. So here are three amazing things about him:
First, Parry was one of the greatest American investigative reporters of the past 50 years, at the level of Seymour Hersh. While he was best known for breaking the Nicaraguan side of the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan administration, that was but one gumball in the giant gumball machine of political malfeasance Parry uncovered during his career. (He won the prestigious George Polk award and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his work on Iran-Contra.) If you don’t read his books and website, you’ll always have a distorted view of recent U.S. history.
Second, precisely because he was so good, he was forced to the margins of the U.S. media, so far out that he had to start Consortium News in 1995 and depend on reader donations. His fate is especially educational because he was so non-ideological. Unlike, say, I.F. Stone, he wasn’t a socialist or radical. He just had basic, boy scout-like principles, such as “reality is important” and “the government shouldn’t lie all the time about everything.” Yet this was enough to make it impossible for him to work for his former employers such as the Associated Press and Newsweek, which he said tried to suppress his most explosive investigations holding the powerful to account.
Third, despite the impression his journalism sometimes gave off, he didn’t have superpowers. As he would modestly say, any committed, curious human being could do what he did. (What he wouldn’t mention is that becoming as good as he was requires working extremely hard every day for your entire life.)
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