World update: May 5-6 2018



Armenians who are struggling to make ends meet are hoping that whatever government emerges from this week’s parliament vote can do a better job of managing the country’s economy:


The Taliban’s spring offensive continues to be an active one. On Saturday, Afghan forces, helped by US air support, defended a major highway in Ghazni province from a Taliban attack. Afghan officials said that 31 Taliban fighters were killed in the battle but the Taliban claimed it lost only one fighter. Also on Saturday, Afghan forces recaptured the Kohistan district of Badakhshan province that the Taliban had taken on Thursday.

Several isolated terrorist attacks also took place around the country over the weekend. The bloodiest appears to have been a mosque bombing in Khost province on Sunday that killed at least 17 people. ISIS may have been responsible for this one, which targeted people who were registering to vote.


Pakistani Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal was shot and wounded on Sunday as he was leaving a meeting in Punjab province. The gunman was apprehended and early indications are that he’s affiliated with Tehreek-e-Labaik, a hardline religious party that opposes changes to Pakistan’s blasphemy law that could make it easier for members of religious minority groups to run for office. Iqbal is known for supporting the rights of religious minorities. Tehreek-e-Labaik has not used violence in the past and party leaders condemned this attack.

With Pakistan scheduled to hold a general election in July, opposition leader Imran Khan has hit upon a new political tactic in his effort to unseat the ruling PML-N party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif–making nice with the Pakistani military:

His prospects have brightened in light of his warming ties with the military, which controls the main levers of power in Pakistan and has dominated foreign and security policies for decades. Mr. Sharif’s efforts to assert civilian control over the military during his last term failed, turning him into an intensely hated figure among the military establishment.


Mr. Khan, on the other hand, has no qualms about working with the military.


“I think a democratic government rules from moral authority,” Mr. Khan said in an interview at a party office in Lahore. “And if you don’t have moral authority, then those who have the physical authority assert themselves. In my opinion, it is the Pakistan Army and not an enemy army. I will carry the army with me.”

Hey, in a country where the military controls, or at least heavily influences, the levers of civilian authority, it stands to reason that a politician who wants to get ahead might wind up embracing that military.


Five Kashmiri rebels and five civilians were killed on Sunday in clashes between rebels and Indian security forces in southern Kashmir. This comes a day after three rebels were killed by Indian forces in Srinagar, along with one civilian killed during protests that ensued after the fighting ended.


Malaysia will hold a general election on Wednesday, and while the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition of Prime Minister Najib Razak is expected to retain its parliamentary majority, it may be a closer call than Malaysian elections usually are:

“Momentum is with the opposition, but we believe it is unlikely that they will pull off a surprise victory,” said the Eurasia Group consultancy, which put the odds of a win for [former PM Mahathir Mohamad’s] Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) at 15 percent.


However, the political risk group’s Asia director, Peter Mumford, said there is a danger for the ruling coalition that it will fare worse than the 2013 election, when it lost the popular vote but won with 133 of parliament’s 222 seats.

Malaysia’s electoral districts have been heavily gerrymandered, so even if the opposition grinds out a 3-4 point popular vote victory, as some polls suggest, it likely won’t be able to win a majority of seats.


The North Korean Foreign Ministry on Sunday demanded that the United States stop “deliberately provoking” Pyongyang by deploying new military assets on the Korean peninsula and insisting that US economic pressure led to recent Korean diplomatic breakthroughs. North Korea has mostly stopped criticizing the US with talks between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un on the horizon, so this could simply be a reminder from them that they’re not just going to roll over to whatever the US demands.



Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party won Sunday’s municipal elections, which were a political milestone in Tunisia’s transition to democracy but also reflected out much that transition currently risks going off the rails. Turnout was only 33.7 percent, a figure that reflects deep anger over the state of Tunisia’s austerity-weakened economy.


A gang of “former cattle rustlers” turned bandits killed 51 people in an attack on the village of Gwaska in Kaduna state on Saturday. They were reportedly retaliating for attacks against them by a village protection force.


He’s only been on the job for a month, but Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is so far creating a sense of optimism about the possibility for real political change:

The accession of Abiy, who hails from the Oromo community, brought a sharp drop in tension. Since he took office, Internet service has been restored to the countryside, charges against dozens of activists have been dropped, and he has embarked on meetings around the country, listening to grievances and promising reform, including term limits for his position.


“As someone who grew up in Addis Ababa, one thing that is very foreign was seeing a prime minister come and organize town hall meetings and just sit down with people and discuss things,” said Zecharias Zelalem, a journalist and frequent commentator on Ethiopian affairs. “That has never happened, and it’s been going on for the past three weeks.”


Activists, many of whom were released in the days following Abiy’s inauguration, pronounced themselves “cautiously optimistic” that, at long last, Ethiopia may be changing.



Russian police on Saturday detained nearly 1600 people, including anti-corruption gadfly Alexei Navalny, amid protests ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration on Monday.


Tens of thousands–estimated ranged from 40,000 to 160,000–of people protested in Paris on Sunday to mark their displeasure with French President Emmanuel Macron’s first year in office. The demonstration was organized by France Unbowed, the party led by leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon. They come after May Day rallies in Paris last week turned violent when anarchist demonstrators set fires and threw rocks at police.



Gina Haspel, Donald Trump’s nominee for CIA Director who probably participated in the CIA’s torture program and definitely participated in the effort to cover up the CIA’s torture program, tried to withdraw her nomination on Friday but was apparently talked out of it by the White House because these are all literally the worst human beings alive. Haspel’s confirmation hearing is this Wednesday and could be dicey, though there’s almost no chance that Democrats will hold firm against her nomination even if Rand Paul doesn’t flip-flop (a big if). Paul’s opposition would mean that Haspel needs Democratic votes for confirmation.

If you’re a big fan of the US Second Fleet–and who wouldn’t be?–then you’ll be psyched to know that we’re bringing it back, baby, due to The Russian Menace:

Amid heightened tensions with Russia, the US Navy announced Friday the re-establishment of the US Second Fleet which will be responsible for Naval forces along the East Coast and in the northern Atlantic Ocean.


The areas are seen as critical to counter the rising threat of Russia and the new US defense strategy that focuses more on great power rivalry, according to multiple US defense officials.


“Our National Defense Strategy makes clear that we’re back in an era of great power competition as the security environment continues to grow more challenging and complex,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said at a change-of-command ceremony Friday in Norfolk, Virginia.


“That’s why today, we’re standing up Second Fleet to address these changes, particularly in the north Atlantic,” he added.

GOD DAMN I MISSED THE COLD WAR, WHAT A RUSH! The US is also offering to host a new NATO Joint Force Command for the Atlantic, which has been proposed also as a way to counter Russia, at Norfolk. Russia apparently has a new submarine that is almost as cool as America’s submarines, so expect the immediate launch of a 10 year, $15 trillion effort to build an even cooler, more kick ass submarine that uses stealth and high tech systems and, fuck it, transforms into a robot or some shit, and will only require another 5 years and $6 trillion before it stops suffocating its crews randomly.

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