Sorry, we’ve got another relatively brief update today. It’s been a busy day at HQ and your blog host isn’t feeling well to boot.
Rebels controlling an enclave near Homs said on Wednesday that they have reached agreement with Damascus and Russia to evacuate that area, surrender their heavy weapons, and relocate north near the Turkish border. This rebel pocket was the largest remaining besieged area in Syria and its surrender reduces the rebels’ holdings to Idlib and a few pockets of southern Syria.
Four Turkish opposition parties–the Republican Peoples Party (CHP), the Good Party, the Felicity Party, and the Democrat Party have reached agreement on forming a coalition ahead of June’s general election. The deal will help the smaller parties (basically everyone but the CHP) get around a Turkish electoral rule that requires any party to get at least 10 percent of the vote to be seated in parliament. This could have the effect of expanding the vote and bringing down the ruling coalition’s share of seats in parliament. The alliance will probably also unite behind Good Party leader Meral Akşener’s presidential candidacy, though her chances of defeating incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are pretty slim. But if the combined opposition prevents Erdoğan’s coalition from getting an outright majority in parliament it could hamper his efforts to consolidate power.
The one opposition party left out of the alliance, the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), has selected former leader Selahattin Demirtaş as its presidential candidate. There’s one tiny problem here–Erdoğan tossed Demirtaş in jail in 2016 on suspicion of
being Kurdish having links to the PKK.
ISIS gunmen carried out an attack in the town of Tarmiya on Wednesday that killed at least eight people. Iraqi authorities cited the lower figure and said all eight were civilians, while ISIS claims its fighters killed 22 people who were all part of a pro-government Sunni militia.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s souring relationship with his Saudi patrons has already cost him his family business, the Saudi Oger construction firm. Now it may cost him (and the Saudis) electorally. Saudi Oger used to be a major economic player in Lebanon, and the impact caused by the loss of its business appears to be driving some voters away from Hariri’s Future Party ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary election, and toward rivals that are more closely aligned with Hezbollah.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas didn’t win himself any friends internationally with his televised speech on Monday opening up a meeting of the Palestinian National Council. Abbas pulled out just about every antisemitic trope he could find, from “the Jews brought the Holocaust upon themselves” to deep cuts like “Ashkenazi Jews are actually descended from the Khazars, not ancient Israelites.” It was a pretty contemptible speech from someone who has flirted with Holocaust denialism in the past but seemed to have put that aside since becoming Palestinian leader back in the early 2000s.
Abbas is old, ineffective, and unpopular, and his final act now looks like it will be watching a reality TV star move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. So to say that he’s pissed off and lashing out would be an understatement. But there may be more to it than that. A lot of other Palestinians are pissed off too, and some of them might respond favorably to an angry diatribe or two from their otherwise-less-popular-than-leprosy president. If Abbas can boost his approval a little bit on his way out the door he might lessen the chances of the Palestinian Authority collapsing into chaos after he’s gone.
Anonymous sources are saying that Donald Trump has “all but decided” to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. This is not exactly breaking news. The question now seems to be what that withdrawal will look like. Trump could do anything from technically withdrawing without reimposing any sanctions to completely reimposing all of the sanctions that have been waived under the deal. A milder withdrawal would still put the US in violation of the agreement but could buy a little more time for European leaders to futilely try to negotiate a side deal that toughens some penalties on Iran and convinces Trump to reverse course.
After another day of mass protests, opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan called for a halt to the demonstrations on Wednesday and said that the Republican Party had agreed to support his bid to become prime minister. The party blocked Pashinyan’s ascendence to the job in a vote on Tuesday, thereby kicking off another round of protests.
“Dozens” of Hazaras ended a five day protest in Quetta on Wednesday. The protest, a sit-in at regional government offices in the city, was prompted by weeks of attacks targeting Hazaras there–at least nine Hazaras have been killed in Quetta since March. The protesters demanded and eventually got a meeting with General Qamar Javed Bajwa, chief of staff for the Pakistani army, who promised to investigate claims that Pakistani security forces have either participated in or facilitated attacks targeting Hazaras in the past.
Hundreds of people protested outside the United Nations’ offices in Bangkok on Wednesday, calling on Thailand’s military junta government to stop targeting community activists. They plan to camp on the site for two weeks.
While dazzling the world with his big plans for a Eurasian trade network and raising eyebrows with his forceful claims in the South China Sea, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been on a mission since the independence-minded Tsai Ing-wen’s election to the Taiwanese presidency in 2016 to deprive Taiwan of its few remaining diplomatic partners. He scored another success on that front this week, convincing the Dominican Republic to recognize Beijing and sever ties with Taipei. You may recall Xi pulling off a similar diplomatic coup with Panama last year. This leaves only 19 countries left that still recognize Taiwan. China is such an economic powerhouse at this point that it’s difficult to imagine any country choosing to alienate it in order to maintain relations with Taiwan, so it’s probably only a matter of time before the other 19 follow suit.
The South Korean government says that it wants US troops to remain in the country even if it signs a peace treaty with North Korea. The removal of US troops from the Korean Peninsula has in the past been one of the North’s conditions for denuclearization, but Kim Jong-un doesn’t appear, at least so far, to be asking for that. One person who may be disappointed to hear this is US President Donald Trump, who reportedly had to be talked out of withdrawing all US troops from South Korea earlier this year by his probably-soon-to-be-ex-chief of staff, John Kelly.
Suicide bombers struck Libya’s electoral commission headquarters in Tripoli on Wednesday, killing at least 12 people. ISIS later claimed responsibility.
Meanwhile, Khalifa Haftar just left a French hospital and now he’s being sued in a French court. A Canadian-Libyan dual national living in Canada has filed suit against Haftar in France over the alleged torture and killing of several members of his or her family in Benghazi during the Libyan National Army’s campaign to conquer that city. The suit was filed in France while Haftar was being treated there.
The Sudanese government says it is “assessing” its ongoing participation in Saudi Arabia’s war effort in Yemen. Khartoum has provided thousands of soldiers and several aircraft to aid the war effort, but its forces have reportedly suffered significant casualties and it has yet to see any benefit (i.e., sweet Gulf $$$) in exchange for its participation.
Another attack against Tuareg civilians in northern Mali killed at least 16 people on Tuesday. Islamist militants, perhaps from ISIS’s Greater Sahara branch, are believed responsible. This is the second relatively high casualty attack against Tuaregs in northern Mali in less than a week.
One emerging and not terribly comforting trend in warfare involves the use of off-the-shelf commercial drones as quick and dirty air support for underfunded militaries and non-governmental paramilitary groups. Kelsey Atherton finds the Ukrainian military using what appears to be a Chinese model commercial drone to drop explosives on separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine:
Take, for instance, the recent bombardment of trenches along the M14 highway near the Taganrog Bay in the eastern end of the Sea of Azov. Inside the trenches were separatists aligned forces, and above them, doing the bombing, was a commercial drone.
“The uploaded video showed three ‘bombing runs’ from the drone, targeting trenches controlled by Russian and separatist forces along the M14 highway, which runs along the Azov coast between government-controlled Mariupol and Russia,” reports the Minsk Monitor.
Drones have bombed targets for years, but this is no military grade bomber. While the make of the model is unclear, the video showing the bombing is captured inside a DJI flight control window, likely placing the drone squarely within the massive Chinese manufacturer’s product line.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella has ruled out holding a snap election this summer and reportedly wants to try to cobble together a very short-term government whose sole purpose would be to prepare and pass a 2019 budget before holding a new vote. If that effort fails he’ll likely be willing to hold a new election at that point, but that would make September or October the earliest a snap election is likely to be held.
The violent Basque separatist group ETA has “dissolved all its structures,” according to a letter the group wrote in April that was published by El Diario on Wednesday. The group will formally break up later this week.
Here’s a change of pace: a new poll shows that frontrunner Andrés Manuel López Obrador has lost a little ground in Mexico’s presidential race over the past month. The poll showed López Obrador holding at 48 percent in late April, identical to his showing in the same survey at the beginning of the month, but his lead over second-place contender Ricardo Anaya shrunk as Anaya gained four points to wind up at 30 percent. Obviously that’s still a pretty hefty lead for López Obrador. Anaya seems to have been the big winner in the April 22 presidential debate, in which all the other candidates took turns pounding on López Obrador–understandable given his commanding polling lead.
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