About 10,000 protesters hit the streets of Yerevan on Monday and were greeted with tear gas and stun grenades from police. They are, of course, unhappy that former President Serzh Sargsyan isn’t going into retirement despite having been term-limited out of office. Sargsyan will instead be named the country’s new prime minister on Tuesday. Before he left the presidency, Sargsyan engineered a constitutional change that transferred most of the powers of the presidency to the prime minister’s office, so he’s now free to continue running the country.
Myanmar says that it’s already repatriated one refugee family of five. That’s obviously a drop in the bucket compared with the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who have fled their government’s ethnic cleansing campaign and are now living in camps in Bangladesh, but baby steps I guess. However, Bangladesh says no such repatriation has occurred, because the family in question never crossed into Bangladesh in the first place. Instead they’ve been living in the no-man’s land along the border, in Myanmar but outside the government’s control. The family was given a sort of national ID card that does not confer citizenship and will probably just make it easier for the Myanmar military to find them during the next pogrom. It’s unlikely any actual refugees would agree to return to Myanmar on those terms.
Japan’s increasingly scandal-laden Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has now seen his approval rating drop to 26.7 percent in a new poll from Nippon TV. Two other recent polls show him lingering in the 30s. Abe is under intense scrutiny for allegedly doing favors for a private school operator, and he’s facing calls to resign from within his party as well as from large crowds of protesters in Tokyo. He’s heading into a meeting with Donald Trump this week in a heavily diminished position because of his poll numbers and with Trump already having embarrassed him on tariffs and by cutting him out of the loop on North Korea issues.
Nigerien authorities say they may have captured Doundoun Cheffou, the leader of ISIS’s “Greater Sahara” branch. Cheffou was the target of that joint US-Nigerien raid last October that went completely pear-shaped and ended with four US soldiers dead. A person matching Cheffou’s description was apparently captured by Nigerien forces a couple of weeks ago near the Mali border, but it’s not certain that it’s really him.
Boko Haram’s insurgency has broken down life in northeastern Nigeria in innumerable ways. For example, it’s prevented health workers from vaccinating children:
Boko Haram’s insurgency began in Maiduguri, Borno state’s capital, but its reach has expanded beyond Nigeria’s borders to neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Its violence has proved to be a major setback to the international campaign against polio.
Nigeria is one of just three countries where polio is endemic and has not been eliminated, along with Pakistan and Afghanistan. The final phase to wipe out polio is “proving to be extraordinarily difficult” because “the poliovirus is surviving despite all the good work and in the face of everything that is being thrown at it,” said a WHO-appointed monitoring group at the end of last year.
In Nigeria, there is little or no surveillance data in Borno state, and “unless there is a breakthrough to reach those areas in Borno, the entire polio (eradication) program is at risk,” said the monitoring group. Nigeria had other outbreaks last year including cholera, hepatitis, monkeypox, Lassa and yellow fevers, showing the challenges to the country’s health care system. Globally the campaign to eradicate polio has been faced with outbreaks last year in non-endemic countries like Congo and Syria.
Both the United States and the European Union appear to have backed off of talk that they might sanction Russian firms over Syria’s chemical weapons program. To be fair, the EU never really seemed to be on board with that idea, but it is proposing new sanctions against Syria because I guess you really can beat a dead horse. But for the US, this is a little awkward. It was only like a day ago that UN ambassador Nikki Haley was champing at the bit to slap some new penalties on Russia, only for her boss to put the kibosh on that idea and blame Haley for speaking out of turn. Which is unlikely, frankly, compared to the possibility that Trump just changed his mind.
At the same time, the US and UK governments both accused Russia of “launching cyber attacks on computer routers, firewalls and other networking equipment used by government agencies, businesses and critical infrastructure operators around the globe.” The attacks have reportedly targeted infrastructure and private firms including internet service providers.
Russian investigative journalist Maksim Borodin, who was known for his reporting about the private military contractor Wagner–which has, among other things, sent mercenaries to Syria–died on Sunday after, uh, falling off his balcony in Yekaterinburg. Which could happen accidentally, or could have been a suicide, but, well, let’s say there’s good reason to suspect there may have been more to it than that.
According to the German Institute for Macroeconomics and Economic Research, Donald Trump’s trade policies have significantly increased the chances of a German recession in the next three months. While researchers saw a 6.8 percent chance of a near-term recession last month, they now say the possibility has risen to 32.4 percent. Trump hasn’t even taken any direct action against Germany, but Germany’s economy is so dependent on exports that any turmoil in global markets is a threat. The report argues that the German government should work to stimulate domestic demand, both because it would reduce dependence on exports and because it would increase imports from some of the economically weaker parts of Europe, helping their economies.
There is a state of emergency in Colombia’s Norte de Santander Department, as rival rebel groups EPL and ELN are fighting over prime coca-growing land that used to belong to FARC before FARC cut its peace deal with the Colombian government. One of the more unfortunate side-effects of FARC’s peace deal was a loss of stability in parts of the Colombian countryside.
Cuba’s new legislative session, which had been scheduled to begin Thursday, will start on Wednesday instead. This is noteworthy because this session will see Raúl Castro step down. It’s expected that he’ll be succeeded by current Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel.
Among other challenges, Díaz-Canel will (likely) inherit the ongoing mystery of those brain ailments that US and Canadian diplomats seem to keep suffering in Havana. Now Canada has started pulling the families of its diplomats out of Cuba over the condition. The nature and cause of the illness both remain total mysteries, though the US “sonic attack” theory now seems to be out of favor.
Finally, if you have Joe Manchin, Claire McCaskill, and/or Doug Jones in your office pool for “which right-wing Democrat slugs will save devoted Muslim-hater and homophobe Mike Pompeo’s fat ass by voting to confirm him as secretary of state,” prepare to collect your winnings:
In addition to Manchin, McCaskill wouldn’t rule out voting for Pompeo, saying she has to meet with him first, and Doug Jones told me he’s “open” to the nomination and plans to meet with him “soon.” Red-state Dems in position to save him on the floor
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) April 16, 2018
Way to go guys. I hope “at least we’re technically not Republicans” keeps working for you with the voters.
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