Europe/Americas update: May 31 2018


A European court brought up an ugly reminder of the Bush administration’s lawless War on Terror on Thursday:

The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that Romania and Lithuania allowed the detention and abuse of a Saudi and a Palestinian at secret U.S. prisons.


The Strasbourg, France-based court said Thursday that Abd al-Rahim Al Nashiri, a Saudi national later sent to Guantanamo Bay, was detained and abused in Romania between Sept. 2003 and Oct. 2005, and urged Romania to investigate and punish perpetrators.


The court concluded that Al-Nashiri was blindfolded, hooded, shackled, kept in solitary confinement, and subjected to loud noise and bright light during his detention at the CIA prison in Romania.

The Romanian government had no reaction, but the court also ruled that Lithuania hosted a black site prison where the CIA tortured Abu Zubaydah, and that ruling drew a quick denial from the Lithuanian government.


Ukrainian authorities are defending their decision to fake the murder of Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko as part of a sting operation around what the Ukrainian government says was a threat against Babchenko’s life. But the spectacle was quickly seized upon by Russian media as proof that the West, and particularly Western journalism, is constantly scheming against Russia. They may wind up using this case to discredit all sorts of Western and/or Ukrainian accusations against Russia.

Babchenko has been defending his own participation in the stunt, saying that he genuinely felt like his life was in danger. I mean, I get this. Putin critics die often enough that it’s probably more than coincidental. And if police came to you and said they have evidence of a hit on you and they need to fake your death to draw out the killers, you might be panicked enough to go along with that too. I don’t even really blame Ukrainian authorities, if they genuinely believed this was the only way to save this guy’s life. Admittedly that seems farfetched, but these are professional law enforcement people so I’m sure they’re on the up and u-

Oh, OK. Cool.


Welp, just like that Italy has a government again. The Five Star Movement and the League managed to agree on a new finance minister for their coalition cabinet, and when Prime Minister-designate Giuseppe Conte presented the new cabinet to Italian President Sergio Mattarella, he approved. The government will be sworn in on Friday. The new finance minister is Giovanni Tria, who does not support Italy leaving the euro as the previous finance minister candidate, Paolo Savona–who will now serve as minister of European affairs in the new cabinet. Conte’s first order of business will be figuring out how to implement Five Star’s benefits increases and the League’s tax cuts while not running afoul of European Union budget rules.


So, Spain is about to get a new prime minister: Socialist Workers’ Party leader Pedro Sánchez.

He seems nice (Wikimedia)

How did this happen, you ask? Welp, as it happens, current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is about to face a no confidence vote in parliament on Friday. He seems likely to lose, because Sánchez has reportedly already lined up 180 votes to support him as PM and he only needs 176. Rajoy’s People’s Party has been reeling from a major, and possibly still growing, corruption scandal that has sent several senior party figures to prison, though Rajoy himself doesn’t seem to have been involved. The final straw seems to have been an announcement by the Basque Nationalist Party that it would vote to remove Rajoy. That pretty much ensured that the no confidence vote would succeed.


ISIS on Wednesday claimed credit for the attack in Liège on Tuesday that left three people dead. Actually that death toll should be revised upward: the attacker, Benjamin Herman, is believed to have murdered a fourth person on Monday night. ISIS offered no evidence for its claim but then it often doesn’t.



Nicaraguan religious leaders have turned on President Daniel Ortega:

Nicaraguan bishops have announced they are abandoning peace talks with the embattled administration of Daniel Ortega after at least 11 people were killed and 79 wounded during the latest mass protest against his rule.


Tens of thousands of dissenters poured on to the streets of the capital, Managua, on Wednesday afternoon to mark Nicaragua’s Mother’s Day with a massive demonstration against the president’s 11-year reign.


The protest – dubbed “the Mother of All Marches” – was led by the mothers of some of the 83 protesters who have been killed since the uprising began on 18 April.


But an initially peaceful procession descended into violence after armed pro-Ortega forces opened fire on protesters, activists said. The Associated Press reported that demonstrators armed with improvised bottle-rocket launchers also opened fire.

Nicaraguan authorities are blaming criminal gangs for the violence, but they seem to be the only ones going with that story. The bishops had been mediating peace talks between Ortega and the protesters but have now given up on that process.


Another poll, this time by the firm Parametria, shows Andrés Manuel López Obrador increasing his lead in advance of July’s presidential election. López Obrador’s support was up to 45 percent in this poll, an increase of six points since April and 25 points above Ricardo Anaya, who lost five points to fall to 20 percent.


Let the trade wars begin:

The president of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, promised immediate retaliation after the US commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, said EU companies would face a 25% duty on steel and a 10% duty on aluminium from midnight on Thursday.


Europe, along with Canada and Mexico, had been granted a temporary reprieve from the tariffs after they were unveiled by Donald Trump two months ago.


However, Ross sent shudders through global financial markets when he said insufficient progress had been made in talks with three of the US’s traditional allies to reduce America’s trade deficit and that the waiver was being lifted.


Wall Street slumped as the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down more than 250 points as investors sold off shares in manufacturers and corporations with global reach. Shares across Europe also declined.

Juncker said that Europe will impose retaliatory tariffs and promised to take a complaint before the World Trade Organization. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did more than talk about retaliation: he announced new 25 percent Canadian tariffs on billions of dollars in US imports in response.

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