World update: February 21 2018



Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s ban on holding political office also prevents him from serving as leader of his PML-N party. It also nullified all decisions he’s taken as party leader since the ban was put in place last year, including candidate selection. This could put his party in a difficult situation with a senate election happening as soon as early March.


India’s chief minister for Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, is calling for dialogue between the Indian and Pakistani governments over the deteriorating security situation in Kashmir. The Indian government accuses Pakistan of supporting Kashmiri militants and has refused to open talks with Islamabad until Pakistan it stops doing that.


Bangladeshi authorities have settled on a floating island in the Bay of Bengal to serve as a new site for housing Rohingya refugees. The new site would alleviate overcrowding in the country’s existing refugee camps, many of which are also at risk of catastrophic flooding when monsoon season hits. On the other hand, the geography of the island, basically a floating mass of silt, makes it potentially vulnerable to tropical storms, and it regularly floods in the summer months.


Two people were killed on Wednesday when a bomb exploded in a bank in the northern Myanmar city of Lashio. There are a number of rebel groups active in and around that part of the country but it’s not clear if any of them were involved in this incident.


While you wouldn’t have known it to see him, Mike Pence wasn’t just in South Korea a couple of weeks ago to look uncomfortable and leave quickly. The State Department now says he was there to meet with a North Korean delegation, covert-like, but that the North Koreans backed out at the last minute. Shockingly, not everybody believes the usually conspicuously truthful Trump administration on this one:

Some observers said the North’s charm offensive had won the day, while American officials appeared obstinate and overshadowed.


”The White House and State are clumsily attempting damage control after Pence’s poor P.R. performance in South Korea last week,” said Lee Sung-yoon, a Korea expert at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.


“The Pyeongchang Olympics will be remembered as the best Olympic Games ever — for Pyongyang,” he added.




Two French soldiers were killed in Mali on Wednesday when their vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device. Presumably the IED attack was carried out by Nusrat al-Islam, al-Qaeda’s Mali affiliate and the main terrorist group in the country,  but there’s no word on that yet.


There was some terrible news here that may have gotten a little better later in the day. Yesterday I noted that Boko Haram fighters had raided the town of Dapchi on Monday, and that a group of schoolgirls and their teachers managed to evacuate their boarding school in that town before they could be abducted. Well, a midday roll call at the school on Wednesday showed that as many as 111 girls may have been missing, suggesting that they had in fact been abducted. Later in the day the Nigerian military said it was able to rescue 76 abducted schoolgirls and to recover the dead bodies of two more. It’s unclear what happened to the rest or whether the rest were even abducted.


US airstrikes killed at least three al-Shabab militants in southwestern Somalia earlier this week.


Chad has restored diplomatic relations with Qatar. I figured you were all waiting on this news so I wanted to make sure to let you know. The Chadian government severed ties with Doha last year as part of the Saudi-led effort to blockade Qatar, but I guess its commitment to Mohammad bin Salman’s cause just isn’t what it could be.


At Africa Is a Country, Vimbai Midzi says that despite Robert Mugabe’s departure, Zimbabwe still has a long road ahead of it to shake off his legacy:

But as we end an era of repression and poor leadership, we enter one led by the very same people who served alongside the man that so many feared and loathed for so long. Recently, Mnangagwa has spoken of “a New Dispensation” – signaling his desire to break from Mugabe’s style of leadership. But as the dust settled after my people danced in the streets when Mugabe stepped down, it is apparent that the fight for true transformation has only just begun.



Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama is in a bit of hot water this week, after sloppily suggesting a union between Albania and Kosovo on Sunday. In a speech before Kosovo’s parliament, Rama said that the two countries should have one foreign policy, one president, and a common security policy. Which seems a lot like a confederation, though Rama insists that he’s being taken out of context somehow. The US criticized his comments on Wednesday. Any kind of union between Albania and Kosovo would of course not go down well with Serbia, which still views Kosovo as a renegade province and refuses to recognize its independence.


Viktor Orbán continues to Make Hungary Great Again:

Hungary slid further down the global corruption league table this year, continuing a downward trend under rightwing leader Viktor Orban, who has exerted control over the courts and the media, watchdog Transparency International said on Tuesday.


The watchdog’s latest report on businesses’ perception of corruption put Hungary at just 45 on a scale of 0-100, three points below a year ago and 10 points down since 2012.


That means Hungary, a member of the European Union, is now perceived as more corrupt than Montenegro, a tiny former Yugoslav republic that has been told by Brussels it is not clean enough to join the bloc, Transparency International Director General Carl Dolan told Reuters.


Remember when French President Tengri Emmanuel Macron was supposed to be the anti-Donald Trump? Yeah, me neither:

Tough proposals to crack down on immigration and asylum in France have been unveiled by Emmanuel Macron’s government amid complaints from human rights groups and street protests by some public agents in charge of asylum procedures.


The legislation is aimed at speeding up the process for asylum requests and for expelling migrants who aren unable to claim asylum. It would also double to 90 days the time a person without papers can be kept in a holding centre.


The bill, which criminalises illegal border crossing, has sparked anger from charities who called it oppressive.

Right-wingers are going to do right-wing stuff, obviously, but this is a little rich coming from Macron, who’s tried to fashion himself as the defender of tolerant Western values and even reached out to leftists during his presidential campaign by arguing that he’d balance his ridiculously pro-corporate economic policy with a more humane migrant policy. Shocking that the migrant policy went out the window but the pro-corporate bullshit is still going full blast.

Macron even has his own Wall–University of Houston professor Robert Zaretsky argues that his fetish for mandatory military and/or national service (a zeal that Macron didn’t see fit to fulfill in his own youth, naturally) is almost as stupid a pet project as Trump’s beautiful see-through solar-powered border barrier. Seen to fruition it will require France to cough up tens of billions of euros for a program that would probably only require a couple of months of actual service and yet still might run afoul of the European justice system’s prohibitions on forced labor.


Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald told the BBC on Wednesday that London has no plan to restore Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government. She blamed the Democratic Unionist Party, naturally, for wrecking the previous power-sharing arrangement, and Theresa May for enabling the DUP.

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