World update: January 8 2019

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

A bombing in the city of Khost killed at least two people on Tuesday and injured at least 23 more. The Taliban is likely responsible.

Speaking of which, the Taliban said on Tuesday that it’s canceled planned talks with US representatives in Qatar that were supposed to begin on Wednesday. The group is refusing to speak with the US if the current Afghan government is involved in any way. US officials responded by denying that any talks were supposed to take place this week and criticizing the insurgents for refusing to meet with Kabul’s representatives. The Taliban also seem to be chafing at a US call for a ceasefire sometime this year.

CHINA

Trade talks between US and Chinese representatives in Beijing will continue through Wednesday, but expectations appear to be pretty low mostly because the concessions China has been offering to the US don’t amount to very much:

China is buying American soybeans again and has cut tariffs on American cars. It is offering to keep its hands off valuable corporate secrets, while also allowing foreign investors into more industries than ever before.

Beijing hopes all of that will be enough to let President Trump declare victory and end the trade war between the two largest economies. But the offer combines some real concessions, like lower tariffs, with nebulous promises, and it will be hard to ensure that China sticks to its commitments.

Kim Jong-un’s sudden arrival in Beijing at the same time those US negotiators are there probably isn’t a coincidence. Xi Jinping is most likely making a statement about his influence over Kim, the message being that he can respond to additional US trade sanctions by making things difficult for Washington on other fronts.

AFRICA

SUDAN

Omar al-Bashir visited a military base on Tuesday and insisted that he’s got no intention of caving to protesters and resigning. Referring to demonstrators as “traitors,” Bashir also in no uncertain terms made it clear that he’ll use the army to put those protests down. At least 19 people and probably many more than that (19 is the figure the government is using so it’s almost certainly too low) have already been killed by Bashir’s security forces since the protests began last month. One of the largest anti-Bashir protests yet broke out on Tuesday in the city of Qadarif.

MOROCCO/WESTERN SAHARA

The US Congress still can’t pass a spending bill to reopen the government, but there’s a pretty good chance that whenever it finally does that bill will include language treating Western Sahara as a separate political entity, contrary to Morocco’s claims on the region. The House passed a spending bill last week that included such language, and while the Senate is hung up on funding for The Wall, there’s every reason to think its spending bill will do likewise. This is a minor thing but it’s still a slap in the face for the Moroccans.

SOMALIA

US Africa Command says it carried out airstrikes against al-Shabab on Sunday and Monday. Sunday’s strike in southern Somalia is believed to have killed six of the group’s fighters, and Monday’s strike in central Somalia is believed to have killed four. The Monday strike was undertaken in support of the Somali military. The US of course estimates that no civilians were killed in these strikes because, well, it never estimates any civilian deaths in its Somalia strikes.

GABON

The internet remains down in Gabon following Monday’s coup attempt. There’s no reason to doubt that the coup attempt failed, but the lack of available media could be cover for lots of unsavory things, like a crackdown against political opposition.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

Campaign aides to opposition leader/presidential candidate Felix Tshisekedi are telling people that their guy is the “presumptive winner” of the December 30 election and that they’ve been in contact with President Joseph Kabila’s government about organizing a peaceful transition of power. Which is wild, since no results have been released yet. Kabila’s people, who are backing his chosen successor Emmanuel Shadary, are saying they’ve had no contact with Tshisekedi’s camp. The third major candidate, opposition leader Martin Fayulu, led in polls prior to the election, and his people are starting to wonder if Kabila and Tshisekedi are negotiating some kind of deal behind the scenes to cut Fayulu out of the loop. Oh, and election observers are reporting serious irregularities in the vote counting process. Ah, politics.

MADAGASCAR

Madagascar’s High Constitutional Court officially declared Andry Rajoelina the winner of December’s presidential runoff on Tuesday, ruling against a challenge by loser Marc Ravalomanana.

EUROPE

EUROPEAN UNION

A new Oxfam report takes the EU to task for the wretched conditions at one of its refugee camps on the Greek island of Lesbos:

The report from Oxfam titled Vulnerable and Abandoned highlighted the failure of authorities at the Moria camp, where nearly 5,000 people live, to identify vulnerable refugees who are eligible for help.

Since the resignation in November of the government-appointed doctor designated to make assessments of asylum seekers’ wellbeing, Oxfam claimed these failed to take place for at least a month at Moria, which at times last year was home to three times the number of people it was designed for.

As a result, Oxfam warned “vulnerable people including survivors of torture and sexual violence are being housed in unsafe areas … Pregnant women and mothers with newborns are left sleeping in tents, and unaccompanied children, wrongly registered as adults, have been placed in detention.”

Meanwhile, in far less important news, the Trump administration apparently decided last year to demote the EU ambassador’s diplomatic status from the “national” level to the “international organization” level. That decision appears to have been temporarily reversed after the EU protested, and already I’ve given this more attention than it deserves. It’s just Trump being a dick to an institution he hates for reasons even he himself doesn’t understand.

HUNGARY

The University of California-Berkeley’s Jason Wittenberg argues that recent protests against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán may suggest that his act is wearing thin with the Hungarian people. For one thing, the demonstrations have spread outside of Budapest and may even start popping up in parts of the country where Orbán’s Fidesz party is typically quite strong. For another, the opposition seems angrier and more unified against Fidesz than they have in past protest outbreaks.

GERMANY

Germany’s industrial production shrank in November for the third consecutive month according to newly released data. The finding is raising concerns that the German economy slipped into recession at some point late last year.

UNITED KINGDOM

Twenty Conservative MPs defected on Tuesday and helped pass a bill that will restrict tax changes in the event of a “no deal” Brexit, in yet another rebuke to Theresa May. The measure is mostly symbolic but does show that a majority of the House of Commons opposes leaving the EU without any kind of exit agreement, an outcome many Tory hardliners have been talking up recently.

AMERICAS

BRAZIL

Jair Bolsonaro has been Brazilian president for a week now, and, well, it’s been quite a week:

Bolsonaro assumed power on January 1, more than two months after his far-right campaign carried him to election victory. While on the campaign trail, the formerly fringe lawmaker promised to crack down on crime and corruption and to jump-start the economy.

He also embraced incendiary rhetoric against indigenous, LGBTQ, and other minority populations, and expressed nostalgia for the country’s decades under military rule. His unorthodox and controversial campaign garnered more than a few comparisons to that of another politician: US President Donald Trump.

And after only a few days in office, Bolsonaro has already started to turn some of this rhetoric into policy. He’s introduced decrees that could undermine protections for indigenous populations and the environment. He announced a proposal to privatize airports and seaports, and repeated his intention to loosen gun restrictions.

Bolsonaro’s national security adviser, Augusto Heleno, said on Tuesday that his boss has not offered to host a US military base in Brazil and that he personally sees no reason for one. Which is fine, because the last thing anybody needs is yet another foreign US military base, particularly one whose only conceivable purpose would be as a staging area for military operations against Venezuela. Bolsonaro had suggested in a TV interview that he might be open to the possibility of a US base in Brazil to counter Russian influence in Venezuela.

VENEZUELA

Speaking of which, the US Treasury Department on Tuesday levied sanctions against seven Venezuelans allegedly involved in a currency exchange scheme that played around with exchange rates to siphon money from the Venezuelan treasury into their own pockets. That all seven are friendly with Nicolás Maduro is, I’m sure, purely a coincidence.

UNITED STATES

Donald Trump gave a speech Tuesday evening. Something about how white Americans are dying by the millions while hordes of migrants swarm over the border from Mexico, or whatever it is he thinks is happening. He apparently didn’t declare a national emergency, at least not yet, so he’s not going to go around Congress to build his wall/fence/ugly monument to xenophobia. At least not yet. I didn’t watch and I don’t plan to catch the reruns.

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