World update: April 14-15 2018

ASIA

ARMENIA

The protests against it are ongoing, but former Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan was nominated to serve as the country’s new prime minister on Saturday anyway. The protesters did manage to prevent the momentous nomination from taking place at the ruling Republican Party’s headquarters in Yerevan–instead, they had to do the deed at a ski resort outside the city. Classy.

AFGHANISTAN

It was an unfortunately busy weekend in Afghanistan. On Saturday, four children were killed by an insurgent rocket in Helmand province while two police officers were killed in an attack in Farah Province. And that was only the beginning. Between Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, at least 26 Afghan security officers were killed in four separate attacks across the country, in Sar-i-Pul, Faryab, Ghazni, and Nangarhar provinces. The first three attacks, which all took place overnight, may have been coordinated with one another to come degree. The Taliban is suspected of responsibility in all four cases.

PAKISTAN

Two Pakistani soldiers were killed by gunfire from across the border in Afghanistan on Sunday while working on a border fence. The Afghan government claims that they crossed onto Afghan territory and border guards responded to the incursion.

Elsewhere, two people were killed in Quetta when gunmen opened fire on a crowd of people leaving church on Sunday evening. There’s been no claim of responsibility.

MYANMAR

The United Nations on Friday blacklisted the Myanmar military for using sexual violence “to humiliate, terrorize and collectively punish the Rohingya community, as a calculated tool to force them to flee their homelands and prevent their return,” according to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. They’re among 51 groups named in a new UN report that will be discussed at a Security Council meeting on sexual violence scheduled for Monday.

AFRICA

LIBYA

Maybe Khalifa Haftar really isn’t dead after all. A spokesman for the Libyan National Army said on Saturday that Haftar had fallen ill on a foreign tour and was being treated in Paris, but would return to Libya “soon.” Again, I have no idea if Haftar is still among us. But I do know that he could end the speculation pretty easily, and so far he hasn’t.

MALI

A force of Malian militants disguised as UN peacekeepers attacked two actual UN peacekeeper bases near Timbuktu on Saturday, killing at least one peacekeeper and injuring over a dozen more people.

KENYA

The surprise personal rapprochement between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his longtime rival Raila Odinga has shaken up Kenyan politics, but unless the two men take concrete steps to heal the country’s political and ethnic divides, it probably won’t matter much in the long run:

But few observers believe the truce will resolve the deep-seated ethnic tensions as Kenyatta and Odinga have promised.

 

“Unless there is substance put into the handshake, it’ll be a lost opportunity,” said Maina Kiai, human rights campaigner.

 

“Anger in the country has not been dealt with.”

EUROPE

RUSSIA

The Washington Post reports that Donald Trump is getting rolled (don’t mind the “reluctant hawk” bullshit) by his own advisers when it comes to Russia:

President Trump seemed distracted in March as his aides briefed him at his Mar-a-Lago resort on the administration’s plan to expel 60 Russian diplomats and suspected spies.

 

The United States, they explained, would be ousting roughly the same number of Russians as its European allies — part of a coordinated move to punish Moscow for the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil.

 

“We’ll match their numbers,” Trump instructed, according to a senior administration official. “We’re not taking the lead. We’re matching.”

 

The next day, when the expulsions were announced publicly, Trump erupted, officials said. To his shock and dismay, France and Germany were each expelling only four Russian officials — far fewer than the 60 his administration had decided on.

MONTENEGRO

Former Montenegrin Prime Minister (and former President) Milo Đukanović looks like he’s going to win Sunday’s presidential election with about 53 percent of the vote. Montenegro’s presidency is mostly ceremonial, but Đjukanović should continue to hold considerable authority via his influence over the governing Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro. His election is good news for Brussels–Đukanović is known to be pro-European Union.

HUNGARY

Thousands of protesters demonstrated in Budapest on Saturday against the ruling Fidesz Party’s sweeping victory in last week’s national election. Prime Minister Victor Orbán’s party did poorly in Budapest, hence the large crowd. Protesters were primarily upset with the built in advantages Fidesz has given itself–for example, it’s gerrymandered Hungarian districts such that a party that won 49 percent of the vote in the national party list vote nonetheless took an absurd 91 of 106 single constituency seats. That’s called “rigging an election.”

Writing for the New York Review of Books, Princeton’s Jan-Werner Müller explains how the European center-right tolerated and enabled Orbán’s rise to unchecked power in Hungary:

Few politicians outside Hungary were eager to take up Orbán’s call to wage a pan-European Kulturkampf. But plenty on the respectable center-right were happy to use him for their own short-term purposes: Bavarian conservatives celebrated Orbán at a meeting in a monastery in the fall of 2015 to make a show of their opposition to Angela Merkel’s refugee policies. The Christian Democrat Sebastian Kurz, who was sworn in as Austria’s chancellor in December, praised Orbán to prove his own toughness on immigration. Surely they all know that Orbán is in effect leading a far-right government in which religion is never about ethics—what we actually believe or do—but purely about identity: who we think we are.

 

As with Trump’s victory, Orbán’s success over the years does not demonstrate that right-wing populism is an unstoppable force. Rather, his victories have been enabled by the cynicism of center-right politicians in Europe who refuse to distance themselves from what is in fact a white nationalist government. German Christian Democrats, for instance, are less concerned about the rule of law in Hungary or other supposed “European values” than about major investments by automobile companies, such as Audi, the second-largest employer in Hungary, and Mercedes, both of which receive subsidies from the Hungarian state.

SLOVAKIA

An estimated 30,000 people protested in Bratislava on Sunday to demand more action from the Slovakian government to combat corruption:

News website Dennik N estimated that Sunday’s protest drew around 30,000 in the capital Bratislava, about half the size of the biggest protests last month. Demonstrators want the police chief and the special prosecutor out and a crackdown on corruption.

 

Protest organisers said those two offices “have long overlooked corruption scandals reported by Jan Kuciak and other investigative journalists”.

 

“Slovakia has to be a country where corruption, not courage, is punished,” one of organisers Karolina Farska told the rally.

GERMANY

One of Angela Merkel’s priorities in what should be her final term as German chancellor will be tackling the lingering inequality between the former West Germany and the former East Germany. Coming up on 30 years since reunification, per capita GDP remains substantially lower in the former East Germany, and the 1990 solidarity tax that was intended to help bolster the economy in the east is due to expire next year. As far right nationalism (to describe it in the most charitable terms) continues to rise in Germany, its strongest base is in the east and the economic disparity is a major part of the reason why.

SPAIN

Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Barcelona on Sunday to demand the release of pro-independence leaders who are being held by Spanish authorities but have not yet been put on trial.

AMERICAS

BRAZIL

With one-time presidential frontrunner Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in jail, polling suggests that his supporters have begun abandoning him. They do not, however, seem to have agreed on a replacement, so the Brazilian political scene is getting more chaotic for Lula’s absence. Lula still pulled in 31 percent to lead the poll, but that’s down six points from the same poll in January. Incumbent Michel Temer is polling at a whopping 1-2 percent support.

VENEZUELA

Unsurprisingly, Venezuela was high on the list of priorities at the Summit of the Americas this weekend in Peru. US Vice President Mike Pence, who was there because Donald Trump was too busy bombing Syria to attend, called for “stronger action to isolate” Nicolás Maduro before next month’s Venezuelan presidential election, and a joint statement from the Lima Group called on Maduro to hold fair elections and called on the international community to support countries that have taken in Venezuelan refugees. Maduro, who did not attend the summit on account of the Peruvian government wouldn’t let him into the country, called the summit “a complete failure.”

GUATEMALA

Guatemala held a referendum on Sunday to decide whether or not to send the country’s longstanding border dispute with Belize to the International Court of Justice. Guatemala claims almost the entire southern half of Belize going back to colonial days. Belize obviously disagrees. The two countries signed an agreement way back in 2008 to hold mutual referenda on submitting the case to the ICJ for a binding decision. Belize has yet to make any progress on its end.

UNITED STATES

Finally, I leave you with an excellent and timely piece from CATO’s Emma Ashford on the incessant impulse to Do Something that dominates US foreign policy:

The concept of a bias for action originated in the business world, but psychological studies have shown a broad human tendency toward action over inaction. Researchers have found that World Cup goalkeepers, for example, are more likely to dive during a penalty kick, though they’d have a better chance of catching the ball by remaining in the center of the goal.

 

Of course, foreign policy has higher stakes than business or soccer. But historians and political scientists have also applied this concept to explain the decisions of leaders like George W. Bush, whose impetuous choices have been attributed by scholars to his “impatience for unnecessary delay.”

 

The American policymaking system reinforces this tendency. Political pressure and criticism from opponents, combined with the news media’s habit of disparaging inaction, can render even the most cautious leaders vulnerable to pressure. America’s overwhelming military strength and the low cost of airstrikes only add to the notion that action is less costly than inaction.

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Author: DWD

writer, blogger, lover, fighter

2 thoughts

  1. Armenia: the world didn’t pay any attention at the time, but in March 2008 the Armenian government gunned down a bunch of peaceful protesters in Yerevan. What were they protesting? Why, a stolen Presidential election.

    Since the late 1990s, high-level Armenian politics have been disproportionately dominated by Karabakhtsy, guys (they’re all guys) from Karabakh. The Yerevantsi have always resented this — they consider the Karabakhtsy backwards, violent, and corrupt. That’s a deep fissure in Armenian politics that attracts almost no foreign attention, and it was one of the drivers behind the protests.

    Anyway, memories of March 2008 are still very much alive, so it’s not surprising that they removed themselves away from Yerevan for a bit.

    Doug M.

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