World update: February 26 2019

ASIA

GEORGIA

Georgia’s ruling party appears to be slowly breaking up:

A series of defections from the ruling Georgian Dream party has left the party without the dominant majority it held in parliament and has exposed a growing fault line in the party ahead of elections next year.

Over the last several days, four GD members of parliament have announced, one by one, that they are leaving the party. The defections have reduced the party’s representation in parliament to below the two-thirds majority they once enjoyed, which allowed them to pass constitutional amendments without any other representatives’ support.

The defections also have added to a sense that the GD, which has governed Georgia since 2012, is increasingly fragile. The party’s candidate in presidential elections last year, Salome Zourabichvili, won by a much tighter-than-expected margin.

Georgian Dream only formed in 2012 and out of little more than a unified opposition to then-President Mikheil Saakashvili, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that it didn’t really have much holding it together for the long haul. What this means for Georgian policies, managed these days by Georgian Dream’s billionaire founder, Bidzina Ivanishvili, is unclear.

AFGHANISTAN

According to Afghan officials, a NATO drone strike in Ghazni province on Monday night killed nine members of a pro-government militia. Oopsie.

KASHMIR

So some of the smoke has cleared from Tuesday morning’s Indian airstrike in Pakistan, and nobody’s started launching nukes yet so we’ve all got that going for us. While there was some initial uncertainty about which town named Balakot India struck, it appears they hit the one in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which is some 30 miles in from the India-Pakistan border. So this was no border strike, it was a serious incursion. What remains unclear is exactly what India hit. Unsurprisingly Delhi and Islamabad have very different descriptions of what happened. The Indians claim they bombed several major facilities connected with Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Kashmiri insurgent group that carried out the Pulwama bombing on February 14, and killed a significant number of JEM fighters. The Pakistanis claim that their fighters chased the Indian planes back into Indian airspace, forcing the Indians to hastily/randomly drop their bombs to no effect. On the ground reporting seems to corroborate the Pakistani version more than the Indian one, but who am I to say?

Pakistani officials have threatened to retaliate, but at this point both governments have left themselves ways out of the crisis–India by claiming that JEM was planning another imminent attack and so the strikes were in self defense, Pakistan by claiming that the strikes didn’t do anything. So that’s promising. With April’s parliamentary election looming, India’s motives may have been more political than militaristic (mission accomplished, then, apparently). But this situation remains extremely tense, and a cooling down period might be in ord-oh wait, too late, India and Pakistan exchanged artillery fire across their Kashmiri border later on Tuesday, killing at least four people. Never mind.

UPDATE: Well, shit:

More tomorrow but obviously this isn’t good.

PHILIPPINES

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front is now officially governing the country’s new Bangsamoro autonomous region after a ceremony on Tuesday. Voters approved Bangsamoro’s autonomy in a referendum held last month. The region covers five majority Muslim provinces where poverty is high and instability still at dangerous levels.  It will be governed by a transitional authority until regional elections are held in 2022.

NORTH KOREA

Jeffrey Lewis argues that before it starts debating the terms of a real denuclearization deal with North Korea, the Trump administration has to settle its internal debate over what its North Korea policy should be:

On one side appears to be U.S. envoy Stephen Biegun and, perhaps, the president himself. They are willing toss aside decades of U.S. policy to engage with North Korea along the lines of the so-called Sunshine Policy, the approach embraced by progressive South Korean leaders from Kim Dae-jung to Moon Jae-in. The idea is a simple one: Hostility causes Kim to cling to his nuclear weapons, as the cold wind makes people pull their coats more tightly around themselves. But the warm sun can cause those same people to willingly abandon their coats. The idea is that the same approach might cause Kim Jong Un to abandon his nuclear weapons, or at least his hostility to his neighbors.

Representing the cold wind is pretty much the rest of the government bureaucracy. National Security Advisor John Bolton appears particularly eager to keep blowing. These officials continue to believe that reducing the tension between the United States and North Korea requires North Korea to disarm first. In fairness to Bolton, this has been a consistent view of past administrations, although with varying degrees of rigidity in negotiations.

JAPAN

As it did the first time Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un met last year, the Japanese government is approaching this week’s second Trump-Kim summit, which begins on Wednesday in Hanoi, feeling left out in the cold. This is mostly because Kim hasn’t responded to Japanese diplomatic efforts the way he has with South Korea and the US. What it means, in effect, is that the North Koreans are gritting their teeth and hoping their interests don’t get ignored, since they have no seat at the proverbial table.

AFRICA

ALGERIA

Thousands of university students protested in Algiers on Tuesday against a potential fifth term in office for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Protests were reported across Algeria for the third straight day.

SENEGAL

As expected, preliminary results show that Senegalese President Macky Sall handily won reelection on Sunday. It’s believed Sall took in at least 58 percent of the vote, thereby avoiding a runoff. Opposition leaders are rejecting these results, and to be fair the official results won’t be released until later this week.

NIGERIA

Another incumbent won reelection over the weekend–Nigerian election officials on Wednesday morning declared Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari the winner of Saturday’s contest. Opposition leaders will undoubtedly contest this result, but as it was just announced within the past couple of hours it’s a little early to say just how strenuous their rejection will be or how well it will be received.

SOMALIA

Al-Shabab fighters reportedly shot and killed nine street cleaners on Tuesday in a small town just outside of Mogadishu. Elsewhere, US Africa Command says it killed 20 al-Shabab fighters in an airstrike in central Somalia on Monday. As to the question of civilian casualties…well, you know the drill by now.

EUROPE

RUSSIA

The US Army assesses that Russia’s military strength will “be peaking” around 2028, and China’s about two years after. So it plans to reassess its programs with an eye toward preparing to meet their military threat within the next decade, even though it would be utterly insane for the United States to go to war with either of those countries on account of, you know, the nukes. Anyway, I’m sure this will require another couple hundred billion in the old Pentagon budget, which I think we can all agree is totally reasonable and sustainable.

UNITED KINGDOM

Theresa May finally seems to be acknowledging that she’s not going to be ready to Brexit on the March 29 deadline for doing so. She’s giving parliament a chance to vote to extend that deadline, though any extension would be subject to the European Union’s agreement. The EU seems amenable to an extension but wants either a short extension that would avoid European parliamentary elections later this year, or a long extension under which the UK would participate in those elections. Anything in between would raise the possibility of the UK remaining in the EU without electing new MEPs, which would legally prevent the new European parliament from doing anything.

AMERICAS

PERU

The Peruvian government is canceling the visas of all Venezuelan diplomatic staff and ordering them out of the country as of March 9. Peru has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president and now only will deal with his representatives.

VENEZUELA

The secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, accused the Trump administration on Tuesday of stationing military forces in Puerto Rico and Colombia with an eye toward a military invasion of Venezuela. The administration denied the allegation. I can’t imagine what would possess the Russians to accuse the United States of America, of all countries, of plotting to invade another country and overthrow its government–though admittedly, Russia doesn’t have a great track record on that kind of thing either.

One thing the administration is after is a United Nations Security Council resolution calling on the Venezuelan government to allow humanitarian aid into the country and to hold a new presidential election. Nicolás Maduro’s government wants the council to pass a resolution rejecting the use of force against Venezuela. Neither of these theoretical resolutions stands much chance of actually passing.

UNITED STATES

Finally, I honestly have nothing to add to this except that our national reckoning can’t come soon enough:

There have been nearly 6,000 reports of sexual abuse involving unaccompanied immigrant children while in the custody of the United States government in the last four years, according to documents made public Tuesday.

The documents from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) were released by Rep. Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat, during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the thousands of family separations that resulted from the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy enacted last year.

Over the past four years, 4,556 allegations of sexual abuse were reported to HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), and 1,303 were made to the Justice Department, the documents show.

The allegations include staff members at facilities housing immigrant children touching minors’ genitals, showing children pornography, and kissing them. The documents show 178 allegations of sexual abuse by staff members on minors and at least 833 allegations of unaccompanied children sexually abusing other children. At least 19 accusations of sexual abuse of unaccompanied children included adults who did not work at these facilities.

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