World update: March 22 2018



Balkh governor Atta Muhammad Nur, who has been resisting an order from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to step down since December, agreed to finally step down on Thursday. In return for finally acquiescing, he reportedly got to name a new police chief for the province as well as a new education minister in Kabul and the country’s next ambassador to Kazakhstan. That’s quite a deal. Atta Muhammad Nur can now spend his time deciding whether or not to run in next year’s presidential race.


Pakistani security forces were able to kill a would-be suicide bomber before he could attack a convoy outside of Quetta on Thursday. It’s unclear whether the attacker was with a Baluch separatist group or an Islamist group.


Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen on Thursday lifted the state of emergency that the country has been under for the past 45 days. Yameen imposed the state of emergency after the country’s Supreme Court overturned the convictions of nine of his political opponents, and he used it to detain two of its justices along with former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.


Donald Trump unveiled his tariff package targeting Chinese products on Thursday. The tariffs could hit up to $60 billion in Chinese goods and focus primarily on aerospace, communications, and machinery. The measures are intended to punish China for alleged violations of US intellectual property rights.

If you care about such things, the stock market loved this:

Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 10.17.19 PM.png

Presumably, China’s promises of retaliation caused some of that decline up there.



A camp near Kidal that is used by the United Nations’ Mali peacekeeping force was shelled on Thursday. There were casualties but it’s unclear how serious, and there’s been no indication who was behind the attack. Malian Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga was supposed to visit Kidal on Thursday but his trip was interrupted by bad weather.


The mother of the one Dapchi girl still being held captive by Boko Haram has confirmed that her daughter refused to convert to Islam in return for her freedom. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has promised to continue working for her release. Authorities have been unable to account for five of the 110 girls who were abducted, and it is believed that they died in captivity.


A bit of rare good news from South Sudan: the country may have eradicated Guinea worm. There hasn’t been a diagnosed case of the condition in South Sudan for 15 months, which is longer than the worm’s life cycle. If the country goes three years without a case, it can be declared worm-free.


Al-Shabab carried out another car bombing in Mogadishu on Thursday that killed at least 14 people.


Speaking of tariffs, the European Union is reportedly going to be exempted from Donald Trump’s planned steel and aluminum levies along with six countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and South Korea. Technically these exemptions are being described as pauses while the United States renegotiates its trade relationships with these particular trading partners.


The EU withdrew its ambassador from Russia on Thursday in a show of solidarity with the United Kingdom over the Sergei Skripal affair. At an EU summit in Brussels, leaders issued a joint statement agreeing with the British government that Russia was likely behind the attack on Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, and pledged to discuss additional penalties against Moscow.

Meanwhile, The Daily Beast is reporting that Guccifer 2.0, the hacker who leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign, has outed him/herself as a Russian agent:

Guccifer 2.0, the “lone hacker” who took credit for providing WikiLeaks with stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee, was in fact an officer of Russia’s military intelligence directorate (GRU), The Daily Beast has learned. It’s an attribution that resulted from a fleeting but critical slip-up in GRU tradecraft.


That forensic determination has substantial implications for the criminal probe into potential collusion between President Donald Trump and Russia. The Daily Beast has learned that the special counsel in that investigation, Robert Mueller, has taken over the probe into Guccifer and brought the FBI agents who worked to track the persona onto his team.


Ukrainian authorities have arrested Nadiya Savchenko, a minister of parliament who was once hailed as a war hero for having been captured while fighting rebels in eastern Ukraine and held for two years in a Russian prison. Savchenko is believed to have been involved in a plot to carry out an attack on the Ukrainian parliament in order to overthrow the country’s government.


Jobbik, the once hard-right party that was even more extreme on immigration and minorities than the country’s ruling Fidesz Party, has shed much of its ultra-right baggage and is now polling in second place, with 12-14 percent compared to Fidesz’s 30 percent support. If those numbers hold, Jobbik should make gains in Hungary’s parliamentary election next month. If it can coordinate with the country’s other opposition parties, they might even be able to seriously threaten Fidesz’s hold on power.


Peter Pellegrini is officially the new prime minister of Slovakia, after President Andrej Kiska approved his cabinet on Thursday. Many Slovaks who had been agitating for the resignation of former PM Robert Fico are planning to continue their protests unless/until they get a new election. They see Pellegrini’s appointment as a shell game that leaves the government largely intact and will allow Fico to continue ruling from behind the scenes.


Italy’s center-right coalition and its largest political party, the Five Star Movement, have reportedly reached an agreement on leadership in the country’s new parliament. Under their deal, a Five Star member will be named speaker of the lower Chamber of Deputies while a politician from the center-right bloc will head the Senate. Choosing the leaders of the two chambers is a necessary first step toward forming a government, but there’s been little apparent movement on that front since the election earlier this month.


French workers may be falling back out of love with President Emmanuel Macron:

Hundreds of thousands of public sector workers have marched across France to protest against the government’s economic policies, including plans to reform public services and slash jobs.


Staff from the national railway company, commonly known as SNCF, were joined on Thursday by employees of the national carrier Air France and other public servants as they took to the streets of the capital, Paris, and other major cities.


The ministry of interior said 323,000 people took part in the nationwide protest, while the country’s second largest trade union, the General Confederation of Labour, put the number at about half a million.


The demonstrators are protesting President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to trim retirement benefits, overhaul unemployment insurance and allow SNCF’s competitors to enter the French market.

Macron is also taking heat from two human rights organizations, Droit Solidarite and Aser, over France’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The groups say that French contractors are selling weapons that are being used in Yemen in violation of both French and international law. They are demanding that Macron’s government suspend the export licenses covering these sales and are threatening legal action if it does not do so.



Peruvian prosecutors are looking for a court order that would prevent soon-to-be-former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski from leaving the country. Kuczynski submitted his resignation on Wednesday over the investigation into his ties to Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction company at the center of a massive South American corruption scandal.


Another poll shows leftist frontrunner Andrés Manuel López Obrador extending his lead ahead of July’s presidential election. This poll, commissioned by the newspaper El Financiero, has López Obrador at 42 percent, up from 38 percent last month in the same poll, while PRI candidate José Antonio Meade gained two points to slip into the second spot with 24 percent.


Strap in and feel the Gs, baby:

Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the battle-tested Army officer tapped as President Trump’s national security adviser last year to stabilize a turbulent foreign policy operation, will resign and be replaced by John R. Bolton, a hard-line former United States ambassador to the United Nations, White House officials said Thursday.

McMaster wasn’t, in the end, allowed the dignity of being promoted to a four star position in the Army–I guess somebody finally figured out that he’d already signed away his dignity when he went to work in Donald Trump’s White House. As for Bolton, well, you already know, but you may not know just how awful he is. Any Muslims living overseas who are reading this might want to think about investing in a bomb shelter of some kind.

This is a very dangerous selection that is likely to take America and the rest of the world to some very bad places. I wish I could say I’m freaking out about it, but I feel like I sort of resigned myself to the perpetual worst case scenario with this administration months ago and so I’m kind of sanguine about it. The good news is that the real Trump foreign policy team is almost set. If we can just get Ratko Mladić sprung from prison and get Joseph Kony a blanket pardon and a flight to DC, I think things will start coming together nicely.

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