World update: April 21-22 2018

ASIA

ARMENIA

Armenian authorities on Sunday morning arrested Nikol Pashinian, the opposition politician who has emerged as the leader of the street protests against new Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan’s apparently unending hold on power, along with two other protest leaders. While Eurasianet’s Joshua Kucera says that the arrests initially seemed to put the protesters into a state of disarray, they appear to have recovered from it:

By evening, though, a crowd of protesters completely filled the central Republic Square and spilled over into the surrounding streets. The mood was again festive, with groups circulating with massive banners in the Armenian flag tricolor to chants of “Armenia, Armenia.” Young people handed out signs reading “I Am Nikol.”

 

It was a substantially larger crowd than the night before’s rally, which the Associated Press had estimated at 50,000 people. The police had promised to break up any rally at the square but they did not follow through on the threat.

On Saturday, Armenian authorities arrested 70 protesters, including “two people suspected of building bombs” in case you were wondering if things in Yerevan could get worse.

AFGHANISTAN

A suicide bomber later claimed by ISIS killed at least 57 people in Kabul on Sunday while injuring another 54. The bomber targeted a crowded voter registration center where people were lined up to receive ID cards in advance of October’s election. The center is located in the city’s Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, which is predominantly populated by Hazara, so the attack served two of ISIS’s objectives: killing Shiʿa and undermining Afghanistan’s electoral system.

On Saturday, the Taliban attacked a police checkpoint in Sar-e Pol province, killing at least six officers.

PAKISTAN

Attackers shot and killed two Shiʿa in Quetta on Sunday. There’s been a series of attacks against Shiʿa in that city over the past several months. ISIS claimed responsibility.

INDIA

Indian security forces killed 14 Naxalite rebels on Sunday when they raided a hideout in the country’s western Maharashtra state.

BANGLADESH

The government of Bangladesh wants to spend $1 billion to build new mosques and other Islamic institutions that offer a message that competes with archconservative Salafism and its violent jihadi outgrowths. Of course it doesn’t have an extra billion lying around, so it’s turning for help to…Saudi Arabia? No, seriously:

The Bangladeshi plan constitutes the first effort by a Muslim country to enlist the kingdom whose crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has vowed to return Saudi Arabia to an undefined form of ‘moderate Islam,’ in reverse engineering.

 

The plan would attempt to roll back the fallout of Saudi Arabia’s global investment of up to $100 billion over a period of four decades in support of ultra-conservative mosques, religious centres, and groups as an antidote to post-1979 Iranian revolutionary zeal.

I guess under the “you break it, you bought it” principle, if anybody should have to pay to roll back Islamic extremism it should be the country that’s been funding the spread of Islamic extremism for several decades now.

PHILIPPINES

Though he ran for office on the premise that he could finally end the Philippines’ decades’ long communist insurgency, President Rodrigo Duterte hasn’t even really made any progress in that area. In fact, he’s tried to crack down harder on the insurgents, and civilians on Mindanao are the ones paying for it:

In interviews with The Washington Post in several locations on Mindanao, members of indigenous tribes, religious figures, teachers and activists working in regions affected by this conflict accused the government of numerous human rights abuses. They said the army and police harass communities near rebel territory, stop crucial deliveries of food and medicine, and work with paramilitary groups that kill civilians. Simply for acknowledging these government abuses — or for refusing to make deals with mining and logging companies operating in the area, they say — they can be publicly tagged as sympathetic to the communists and therefore put in grave danger.

 

“I was accused of inciting protest, just because I was visiting families displaced by a military raid, and was taken in for interrogation,” said Raymond Ambray, a Catholic priest working in an affected indigenous community.

Because there are indigenous people fighting with the communist rebels, the government has begun to consider all of Mindanao’s people guilty until proven innocent. The good news is that Duterte is reaching out to the communists offering new peace talks. The bad news is that he’s set a 60 day time limit on those talks, though he hasn’t specified when that clock starts ticking.

AFRICA

LIBYA

The Libyan National Army conducted three airstrikes on Saturday near Misrata against what its spokesman later called “terrorist sites” controlled by a group that is affiliated with al-Qaeda. This is of course entirely possible, but it’s also worth noting that the LNA has been battling militias from Misrata for months now, and it’s the easiest thing in the world to just start labeling your enemies as al-Qaeda or ISIS to justify attacking them.

Also on Saturday, an oil pipeline feeding the port of Sidra caught fire, cutting between 70,000 and 100,000 barrels of oil per day. It’s not known how it caught fire/who set it on fire, but the area does have an ISIS presence.

MALI

It appears that somebody fired several rockets on Sunday that exploded near the United Nations peacekeeper camp in Timbuktu. Nobody has claimed responsibility and there were no casualties.

MADAGASCAR

One protester died and 16 more were injured on Saturday when protesters clashed with Madagascar police in Antananarivo. At least some of the injuries were caused by tear gas canisters fired by cops, though it’s unclear if police were responsible for the death. Partisans of former and would-be future Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana are upset with proposed changes in the country’s electoral law that would, among other things, force candidates to issue a report on past criminal convictions. Ravalomanana was convicted in the wake of the 2009 coup that forced him from office. They say the proposed changes are intended to prejudice voters against Ravalomanana in favor of current President Hery Rajaonarimampianina.

EUROPE

RUSSIA

Russian authorities say that, on Saturday, their police in Derbent, in Dagestan, killed nine men who were allegedly planning terrorist attacks around the country in May.

HUNGARY

As many as 100,000 Hungarians rallied in Budapest on Saturday against Viktor Orbán for the second week in a row. They criticized Orbán for his repression of the Hungarian press and non-governmental organizations and called on the European Union to take steps to counter his illiberalism.

AMERICAS

PARAGUAY

The votes are in, and right wing candidate Mario Abdo Benítez of the Colorado Party is going to be the next president of Paraguay, as expected, though his margin is a lot smaller than polling had suggested. Abdo has 46.63 percent of the vote at last count, to 42.66 for second-place candidate Efraín Alegre. Polling had suggested Abdo could win by as much as 20 points. Unlike Paraguay’s current president, Colorado’s Horacio Cartes, Abdo will likely have to govern at a significant disadvantage in congress–Colorado is not expected to do well in the congressional vote.

Mario_Abdo_Benítez
Paraguay’s presumptive president-elect (hey, a tongue twister)

BRAZIL

The BBC tries to explain the sprawling Odebrecht corruption case:

In the case brought by the US Department of Justice, with Brazil and Switzerland in December 2016, Odebrecht and its petrochemical subsidiary, Braskem, admitted bribery to the tune of $788m (£553m) and agreed a record-breaking fine of at least $3.5bn.

 

The construction giant paid off politicians, political parties, officials of state-owned enterprises, lawyers, bankers and fixers to secure lucrative contracts in Brazil and abroad.

 

Apart from being the largest international bribery case ever, the Odebrecht story has one component that makes it exceptional: this was a corporation that created a bespoke department to manage its crooked deals – something prosecutors in Brazil and the US had never seen before.

COLOMBIA

Somebody bombed Colombia’s Transandino pipeline on Saturday, causing it to spill oil and eventually to be shut down. It’s unknown who did it. ELN is the obvious candidate, but ELN is supposed to be in negotiations with the Colombian government. ELN is also a relatively decentralized organization, so it’s possible that one faction or another is still carrying out attacks even as its main leadership engages in peace talks.

NICARAGUA

After five days of protests and at least 25 deaths, on Sunday Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega announced that he’s reversing course on the proposed social security reforms that triggered the protests in the first place. It may be too little, too late:

But it is unlikely to sway protesters who still have other grievances against his government — including Mr. Ortega’s interference with the national assembly, the law and the Constitution, like eliminating term limits. He is also widely criticized for having manipulated the Supreme Court, the elections council and mayoral races.

 

The Nicaraguan leader has faced protests before, but at no point since his 2007 re-election have so many sectors united against him in what has become the greatest test of his presidency. Experts say it is the largest popular uprising here since the end of the nation’s civil war nearly 30 years ago.

At this point protesters may not be satisfied with anything short of Ortega’s resignation, which he’s unlikely to offer without putting up more of a fight.

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3 thoughts on “World update: April 21-22 2018

  1. Armenia: arresting “bomb builders” is straight from the March 2008 playbook. The trigger for the massacre then was “shots fired on police”, after bombs and guns had been “discovered” on protesters.

    Pashinian has gone to some trouble to insist that protesters should be peaceful and unarmed. In a country where the government firmly controls the media, it’s unlikely to help. If the government feels seriously threatened, it’ll shoot a bunch of people and “discover” that they were really murderous terrorists who needed killing.

    It’s possible the government might outwait the protesters — that could happen. But having lived through March 2008 in Yerevan, I’m inclined to think that after a week or two they’ll run out of patience. It’s basically the same people in power, after all.

    Doug M.

  2. — Two aspects of this that aren’t getting much attention.

    One, as I mentioned in an earlier comment, is the Karabakhtsy / Yerevantsy divide. Sarkisian and the people around him are all from Karabakh, and the security of Karabakh is their most important issue. People from Yerevan consider the Karabakh crowd to be a bunch of hicks from the mountains who are backwards, violent and corrupt. (The Karabakhtsy consider the Yerevantsy a bunch of effete urban liberals, of course, all windy talk and no backbone.)

    The Karbakhtsy have no interest in a negotiated peace with Azerbaijan. (To be fair, the Azeri regime isn’t all that interested either, so that’s a thing.) Their foreign policy is therefore nailed in place: hostility to Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey; closed borders with both; and a relentless commitment to the strategic alliance with Russia. The Yerevantsy note that this “strategic alliance” seems to consist of selling off the country’s assets to Russian players on the cheap (with the Karabakhtsy elites acting as profit-taking brokers, of course), while Russia continues to sell arms to Azerbaijan. Russia does provide a security guarantee to Armenia, but it’s quite deliberately blurry — Russia will protect /Armenia/ against attack, but it has always been vague on whether it will protect /Karabakh/, since Karabakh is formally part of Azerbaijan. This makes perfect sense from a Russian POV but is enraging to a lot of Armenians.

    Two, there’s still a lot of festering resentment about Armenia joining Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union. Armenia has no borders with the EEU and gains pretty much zero benefit from it. Joining the EEU meant giving up the proposed Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU, which would have been a much better deal for Armenia — they basically would have gotten duty-free exports of almost all goods to the EU while still retaining the power to raise import walls. Instead they’re in a customs union with Russia, which… yeah. But Russian foreign policy required joining the EEU, and the DCFTA was not consistent with that. You may recall that this is exactly the issue that blew up Ukraine a few years ago.

    Effectively, the current government has bound Armenia to Russia, both economically and militarily, for the foreseeable future. The government’s position is that, given Armenia’s isolated position and the threat to Karabakh, they have no choice. Not everyone in Armenia agrees.

    Doug M.A

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