World update: August 3 2018

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

A pair of suicide bombers killed at least 39 people in an attack on a Shiʿa mosque in Paktia province on Sunday. The bombers haven’t been identified but they’re almost certainly ISIS products.

PAKISTAN

The Pakistani Taliban, meanwhile, is believed the be responsible for an overnight rampage in Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan province in which 12 schools (eight of them girls’ schools) were bombed and set on fire. There were no reported casualties but presumably massive property damage.

Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf says it now controls enough seats in the Pakistani parliament to form the next government. PTI won 116 seats itself in last month’s election but now claims it’s negotiated control over 180, a comfortable majority in Pakistan’s 342 seat National Assembly.

CHINA

Beijing is reportedly preparing tariffs on $60 billion in US goods to counter Donald Trump’s threat to impose additional tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods. I’m sure you’re as eagerly awaiting the next US retaliation as I am.

NORTH KOREA

The Northern Hemisphere’s ridiculous heat wave is wreaking special havoc on North Korea, a country that struggles to feed itself in the best of times and where air conditioning is a rarity:

The North Korean government has called on its people to wage an “all-out battle” against a record heatwave as the country’s already fragile crops face drought and the authorities struggle to respond.

The drought represented an “unprecedented natural disaster”, reported the Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ party. It urged citizens to “join the struggle” to save food production in a country that is no stranger to famine. Temperatures have reached more than 40C (104F) in some regions since late July and there have been sporadic reports of deaths from the heat.

On Monday, the United Nations Security Council will likely adopt a US-backed measure that will streamline the delivery of humanitarian aid to North Korea. So that may help a bit.

AFRICA

LIBYA

Al Jazeera reports on the plight of Libyans displaced by fighting in Benghazi who haven’t been able to return home:

MALI

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and opposition candidate Soumaïla Cissé will hold their presidential runoff election on August 12. Keïta won over 41 percent of the vote in Sunday’s first round, enough for first place but not enough to win outright. Sahel expert Alex Thurston thinks Keïta is likely to win but it’s by no means certain:

On the one hand, second rounds are very dangerous for West African incumbents, because it gives the normally fragmented opposition a chance to rally around a single candidate. That’s how Abdoulaye Wade came to power in Senegal in 2000, and it’s how Macky Sall won there twelve years later.

On the other hand, Cissé will now have to build a complicated and diverse coalition in order to win. If we assume (perhaps wrongly!) that endorsements from other candidates would more or less translate into the migration of their supporters into Cissé’s column, he would need the support of not just the third- and fourth-place finishers, but of a host of minor candidates as well.

SOUTH SUDAN

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir says his new peace deal with rebel leader Riek Machar isn’t going to fall apart like every other peace deal he’s negotiated with Machar over the past several years. Why? Because this time the two men negotiated it themselves without having peace foisted upon them by outside actors. Eh, we’ll see. Kiir and Machar are expected to attend a signing ceremony in Khartoum on Sunday.

SOMALIA

A US airstrike northwest of Mogadishu on Thursday reportedly killed at least four al-Shabab fighters. US officials do not believe any civilians were killed.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

Russian officials say their investigation into the killing of three Russian reporters in the CAR earlier this week so far points to a robbery gone bad as the motive. The reporters were there investigating Russian mercenary outfit Wagner, which I’m sure was a total coincidence.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

Moise Katumbi, a longtime opposition leader who is among the favorites to win the DRC’s still-hypothetical presidential election later this year, was barred from entering the country on Thursday to declare his candidacy. Katumbi was convicted of fraud in absentia in 2016 and DRC authorities have threatened to arrest him if he tries to enter the country again.

The questions of whether or not that election is really going to happen and whether or not President Joseph Kabila is going to abide by his term limit are hanging over everything that happens in the DRC these days. Journalist Sam Mednick says that there are forces in the eastern DRC that are preparing for war if/when Kabila makes a move to try to stay in power:

MASISI, Democratic Republic of the Congo—It’s been four months since Gicha Victoir, a high-ranking officer in a local armed group, was told by Congolese government soldiers to prepare for war. Seated in a small wooden hut in a nondescript village on the outskirts of Masisi, a town in Congo’s North Kivu province near the Rwandan border, he recounted his clandestine meeting with the army.

“They asked us to collaborate with them because they said elections weren’t going to happen and that war was coming,” said Victoir, who belongs to the Nyatura FDDH (Forces for the Defense of Human Rights), a militia comprised of ethnic Hutus, including some from the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda)—the Hutu force formed in 2000 by genocidaires who fled Rwanda after losing the civil war in 1994. The purpose of creating the current armed group was to protect the Hutu community against others taking their land and against other armed groups.

In March, two generals from Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, traveled to Masisi to tell Victoir and his fellow fighters that the country’s upcoming elections wouldn’t take place and that they should prepare to fight.

Dressed in civilian clothes, the generals secretly convened at a farm in the town of Luke, approximately 20 miles south of Masisi. “They kept emphasizing that elections weren’t happening and that there would be fighting,” said Victoir. The government wanted to know they could count on his fighters when the time came.

ZIMBABWE

Newly (and narrowly) reelected Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa is calling for unity and promising to investigate the killings of six people in clashes following Monday’s election. He’s trying to distance himself from Zimbabwean police, who busted into the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party’s office in Harare on Friday and attempted to break up a press conference by MDC leader Nelson Chamisa, who finished second in the presidential election. Mnangagwa has criticized the police for the incident. But that doesn’t seem to have pacified Chamisa:

Chamisa, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), claimed his supporters had been subjected to violence and harassment and that the results of the election – the first since the army removed 94-year-old Robert Mugabe from office in November – had been manipulated.

It was his first public appearance since the incumbent president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was declared the election winner early on Friday morning.

“Mr Mnangagwa did not win the election in this country … we won this election emphatically,” Chamisa said. “If you go around the country you will find no celebration. This is a black day for democracy. We are seeing a repeat of the last regime.”

EUROPE

RUSSIA

The United States sanctioned Russia’s Agrosoyuz Commercial Bank on Friday for conducting transactions for North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank, which has been blacklisted by Washington. It also pushed for the UN Security Council to do likewise, but it’s unclear how or why Russia would not veto such a move.

Russia is potentially committing a more serious violation of US and international sanctions against North Korea. The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday–though Moscow is denying it–that the Russians are issuing permits for North Korean workers even though it’s, uh, not really supposed to be doing that:

Russia is letting thousands of new North Korean laborers enter the country and issuing fresh work permits—actions U.S. officials say potentially violate United Nations sanctions aimed at cutting cash flows to Pyongyang and pressing it to give up nuclear weapons.

The U.N. Security Council in September barred governments from issuing new work permits to North Koreans, though some existing labor contracts were allowed to continue.

Since the ban, more than 10,000 new North Korean workers have registered in Russia, according to Russian Interior Ministry records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, at least 700 new work permits have been issued to North Koreans this year, according to Labor Ministry records.

AMERICAS

BRAZIL

Far-right presidential contender Jair Bolsonaro may be leading in the polls, but he’s got some fundamental weaknesses to overcome heading into the campaign for Brazil’s October election, including a difficult relationship with the media. You can probably already guess which major world leader he’s adopted as a role model:

Despite his strength in the polls, the former Army captain’s exposure in major media outlets has trailed key rivals this year, including one with a fraction of his support, according to researchers at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ).

That and his lack of major party alliances, campaign funds or television advertising time under Brazil’s electoral rules could make it hard for the congressman to maintain his lead as the presidential campaign formally kicks off in two weeks.

Bolsonaro wears the ostracism with pride, likening his struggle with mainstream media to that of U.S. President Donald Trump, whose 2016 campaign he cites as a model for his run.

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