World update: February 2-3 2019

ASIA

KASHMIR

Between the security measures and the general strike called by separatists, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Kashmir on Sunday virtually shut down the province. Modi was there to kick off a slate of development projects meant to somehow make the Kashmiri people appreciate being governed by India despite the frequent security crackdowns like the one that saw “dozens of activists” detained ahead of the PM’s arrival. Modi also took some time to visit a predominantly Hindu area in Jammu and do a little nationalist campaigning ahead of elections later this year.

PHILIPPINES

Filipino soldiers clashed with a group of Abu Sayyaf fighters on the island of Jolo on Saturday, leaving at least eight people (five soldiers, three insurgents) dead. Jolo was the site of last weekend’s church bombing, which left 22 people dead and was probably perpetrated by Abu Sayyaf and its ISIS-affiliated allies.

AFRICA

SUDAN

The Sudanese government appears to be trying a new tactic to appease anti-government protesters: fake empathy. Prime Minister Moataz Moussa told reporters on Saturday that the protesters kind of have a point:

“There are problems and we are working on solving them,” he told reporters, referring to Sudan’s economic troubles and lack of services. 

“There is a voice that must be heard and must be respected, despite the presence of political parties. There are legitimate demands and demands that must be expressed.”

How generous of him. Meanwhile, another protester died in government custody after being arrested earlier in the week. It’s been hard to get a clear body count because the Sudanese government keeps undercounting, but it’s at least 45 according to human rights groups and at this point is probably approaching 50.

ALGERIA

The remains of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will announce soon that he’s running for a fifth term in office in the country’s April 18 election, according to Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia. Bouteflika will make his big announcement via letter, because he’s clinically dead it’s oh let’s say more poetic that way. To be fair, Ouyahia told reporters on Saturday that he doesn’t have any specific knowledge of Bouteflika’s plans but just has a “strong belief” that he’s going to run.

SOMALIA

US Africa Command said on Saturday that it carried out an airstrike the day before that killed at least 13 al-Shabab fighters in the Gondarshe region outside of Mogadishu. A day earlier than that another US airstrike reportedly killed at least 24 al-Shabab fighters in Hiran. No civilians were harmed of course because they never are.

Also on Saturday, al-Shabab carried out a suicide bombing on a military base for Ethiopian peacekeepers in southern Somalia. There’s been no official casualty count–al-Shabab says it killed 16 soldiers, locals are saying 10.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

The CAR government on Saturday reached peace accords with 14 militia groups, which could be a major step toward ending the country’s 6+ year long civil war. That war, which began as a relatively straightforward Muslim vs. Christian conflict, has since devolved into almost total anarchy, with various armed groups occasionally fighting one another, occasionally fighting the government, and frequently plundering and killing civilians. These agreements should bring the conflict closer to an end provided they hold up, but things are so chaotic that their full effect won’t really be known for a while yet.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

Al Jazeera reports on thwarted presidential candidate Martin Fayulu and his call for “peaceful resistance” in the wake of the DRC’s disputed December 30 election:

EUROPE

RUSSIA

With the US having announced its withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty on Friday, Russia followed suit and declared its withdrawal on Saturday. Vladimir Putin says his military will begin developing new missiles now that the treaty is kaput, but won’t deploy them unless the US begins deploying new missiles first. Eh, we’ll see. Moscow says that it’s still willing to talk about salvaging the treaty, which the US has long claimed Russia was violating anyway, but the Trump administration has made it pretty clear that’s not in the cards. John Bolton hates arms control deals and he’s apparently on a mission to eliminate as many as possible.

UKRAINE

Metropolitan Epiphanius I, the new leader of the newly autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church, officially took office on Sunday at St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev.

CZECH REPUBLIC

The local council in Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’s hometown of Černošice ruled over the weekend that Babiš is violating conflict of interest rules because he still owns his Agrofert conglomerate–which includes a couple of media outlets–while serving as PM. Babiš supposedly put Agrofert into a trust, and what makes the council’s ruling important is that they apparently don’t believe him. And that could have implications for a far more serious investigation being conducted by the European Commission into whether Agrofert has been improperly receiving EU subsidies.

FRANCE

The Yellow Vest protesters took to the streets again on Saturday, though this time around their demonstrations focused not so much on French President Baron Samedi Emmanuel Macron but on the brutality French police have shown in their response to the protesters. A new Harris Interactive poll suggests that Macron’s popularity is actually up a bit, to a whopping 35 percent which is, admittedly, four points higher than it was in December. Maybe his plan to talk the opposition to sleep is working after all.

UNITED KINGDOM

You’ll be thrilled to know that the UK government has a plan to get Queen Elizabeth the hell out of London should a “no deal” Brexit lead to Londoners bludgeoning one another to death in the streets. I know, I was worried too.

AMERICAS

VENEZUELA

Saturday’s anti-Nicolás Maduro protests were reportedly sizable, involving tens of thousands of people. But of potentially much more significance for Maduro’s future, on Saturday morning Venezuelan air force General Francisco Yanez posted a video to YouTube declaring his support for opposition leader and self-declared president Juan Guaidó and contending that “90 percent” of the Venezuelan military “are not with the dictator” (meaning Maduro). Yanez is easily the highest ranking military officer to go over to Guaidó, and while most of the rest of the military is for now remaining behind Maduro, he can’t really afford to start losing senior officers like this. If the Venezuelan military, or most of it, turns on Maduro, he’s done.

In response to the protests and the calls for his ouster, Maduro has proposed to hold an early election…for the opposition-controlled National Assembly, the body Guaidó leads. You have to respect the trolling here. The assembly’s next election isn’t scheduled until next year. Meanwhile, several European countries (including Austria, France, Germany, Spain, and the UK) that had previously called on Maduro to arrange an early election for his job appear to be on the verge of just outright coming out in support of Guaidó. The European Union has been unable to come to a consensus on Venezuela because the Italian government has objected to recognizing Guaidó.

Appearing on CBS on Sunday morning, Donald Trump said that US military intervention in Venezuela is “an option.” So that’s exciting! Admittedly there’s no reason to think Trump has any idea what’s going on here, and the Pentagon would have to actually move some assets around to make something like this happen, so we should see some signals beforehand if things do go down this road. But the suggestion prompted Maduro to invoke the specter of Vietnam and say that Trump would “leave the presidency stained with blood” if the US attempted something like this. Guaidó is reportedly planning to try bringing a large humanitarian aid convoy into Venezuela sometime this week, which could escalate the political crisis.

EL SALVADOR

Salvadorans went to the polls on Sunday to elect themselves a new president. While the votes are still being counted, preliminary results suggest strongly that former San Salvadoran mayor Nayib Bukele has been elected with higher than 50 percent of the first round vote, thereby avoiding a runoff. Bukele positioned himself as the anti-corruption candidate and ran as an independent, which will make him the country’s first president who didn’t come from one of its two dominant parties–the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front and the Nationalist Republican Alliance–since its civil war ended in 1992.

UNITED STATES

The Pentagon announced on Sunday that it’s sending 3750 more soldiers to the Mexican border to reinforce border guards against the non-existent threat of migrant hordes swarming into the US. I suppose it would be too much to ask that people remember these pointless yet expensive political stunts at the border the next time the Pentagon demands a budget increase, but it would be nice if they did.

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