The World This Week 4/2/18

East Asia and Pacific News

China retaliates against President Trump’s tariffs with a levy on US fruits and meat imports. Starting this Monday, the implemented tariff accounted up to 25% on $3bn food imports from the US. Analysts say the fact that China’s tariffs do not cover significant exports from the US, such as soybeans, is a sign Beijing wants negotiations instead of an all-out trade war.

North Korea will be taking part in Tokyo Olympics, International Olympics Committee says.  Thomas Bach, the president of IOC, says Kim Jong-un is committed to having North Korea participate in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Bach is the first foreign official to meet Kim since the North Korean leader’s recent trip back from Beijing.

Warrants Issued for South Korean colonels over political cyber-attack. Two South Korean army colonels allegedly involved in clandestine political cyber-operations under the administration of former president Lee Myung-bak, who was himself arrested on corruption charges on last Thursday.

Europe and Central Asia

On what has been termed “Black Tuesday” this week, France’s rail workers will be going on a “rolling” three-month strike (walkout two out of every five days) in response to President Macron’s attempts to push through railway union reforms with Parliament’s approval. He claims it is intended to make French industries more competitive, but unions fear that it is a step toward privatization.

The New Zealand Labor government’s refusal to join the western action against Russia over the nerve agent attack in the UK was reviewed as a provoke action. It is possible that Labor government is attempting to stake out its “independent and autonomous” foreign policy credentials after nine years of the previous government’s rapprochement with the US and the other Five Eyes partners.

Following the tragic mall fire in Siberia last week, the region’s governor has resigned. Aman Tuleyev has been in office for more than 20 years but is unable to bear the harsh criticism of his government’s response to the tragedy. The fire started in a children’s play area of the large mall and, of the 64 deaths, 41 of them were children, the youngest two years old. The event was mainly the result of negligent upkeep of emergency strategy for the mall (fire exits locked, alarms not working) and the failure of the firefighters to arrive promptly.

Last weekend, ex-Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, was apprehended on a European warrant for sedition, rebellion, and misuse of public funds. He has been living in self-imposed exile in Brussels for five months and was taken by German police as he crossed from Denmark while on tour to promote the Catalan independence cause. If convicted, he could face 25 years in jail. News of his arrest reached Barcelona and provoked a massive protest outside European Commission and the German Consulate. It soon turned violent, and at least three were arrested, and more than fifty-two people were injured. Smaller protests also occurred in each of Catalonia’s provincial capitals. Warrants are still out for some of the Puigdemont colleagues who are scattered in Europe. Puigdemont has recently spoken out, calling the Spanish government increasingly “authoritarian.” His detainment has sparked protests in Berlin by independence supporters calling for his release. Germany has 60 days to decide whether to send him to Spain for trial.

Latin America

Several people linked to Brazilian President Michel Temer have been arrested. The arrests come as part of an ongoing search for evidence of bribery throughout the political strata. More specifically, these arrests deal with whether Temer accepted bribes in exchange for political favors to companies at Porto de Santos, Brazil’s largest port.

Rodrimar, a company of interest in the case, has stated that the dealings in question never benefitted the company and that they have played no role in the alleged corruption. Rodrimar President Antonio Celso Grecco was arrested and will be held for up to five days under the warrant. Several other officials have been arrested, including a former aide to Temer (Jose Yunes) and a retired police coronel (Joao Batista Lima). Temer’s office has not yet commented on these developments.

Calls for unity after a divisive election in Costa Rica. Costa Rican President-Elect Carlos Alvarado has asked the country to unite after a tumultuous election cycle. Alvarado won by a surprisingly wide margin (21.5%) over opponent Fabricio Alvarado. Rather than ignore the opposition, Alvarado appears to be actively seeking them out in hopes that they will come to the table. Alvarado gained a great deal of widespread support after he promised to protect gay marriage and the country’s reputation for tolerance. Same-sex marriage and abortion were significant issues in the election as Alvarado’s opponent ran on a platform against both. Alvarado’s ascendance and wide victory margin illuminate the growing desire for social equality in Costa Rica.

The Middle East and North Africa

The government forces within Syria were handed a major symbolic victory on Monday, as the most powerful Syrian rebel faction on the fringes of Damascus began abandoning its stronghold in the former rebel enclave of eastern Ghouta. It signaled the end of a seven-year struggle by pro-government forces to recapture the region.  A deal was struck in which rebel fighters will make peace with the government or quit the eastern Ghouta enclave. Under the agreement, the group would hand over heavy and mid-sized weapons and acknowledge the restoration of state sovereignty over Douma. Also, a Syrian government-approved local council will be established to run the city’s affairs after rebels withdraw. These events come after pro-Assad forces began their assault in mid-February, Assad’s forces have retaken 95 percent of Eastern Ghouta, and some 1,600 civilians were killed, and tens of thousands displaced. The fighters are expected to head to Jarablus, a town in northern Syria shared by rebels and Turkish forces.

The Palestinian death toll in last week’s mass protest on the Gaza-Israel border rose to 18 on Monday, as Israel officials rejected allegations of unlawful use of lethal force against unarmed demonstrators. More than 750 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire in Friday’s protest, making it the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 Israel-Hamas war. Gaza’s Hamas rulers have not said if the final aim of the demonstrations is an attempted mass breach of the border fence. Israel accused the Islamic militant Hamas of trying to attack its border under the guise of protests. Officials said Israel has a right to defend its border, and that troops were instructed to target what the army described as the “main instigators.”

Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has rejected international calls for an investigation. “An army can use reasonable force to defend a border,” said Omar Shakir of the international group Human Rights Watch. This was an incident where soldiers were firing from behind the fence, separated by buffer zones and other objects, firing on individuals well behind the fence, in some cases retreating, not moving forward, or advancing without posing an imminent threat.”

South Asia

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai returned to Pakistan for the first time since 2012. An internationally celebrated activist for the education of girls, Malala was evacuated to Great Britain after she was nearly killed in a Taliban assassination plot, where, upon recovery, she remained to complete her higher education. Her homeland, Swat Valley, once overrun with militants, is now under government control, making it safe enough for Yousafzai to return.

Yousafzai’s four-day trip to Swat Valley was met with celebration and excitement, particularly among the women and girls in the community, though others resent her for her international celebrity and believe that she has given the international community a negative impression of Pakistan. The Pakistani government, for its part, was eager to facilitate her safe passage through the country as a testament to its commitment to combat terrorism amidst rising criticism from the West.

It was a tumultuous week in Afghanistan as government forces, with US support, increased operations in Helmand and Farah, near the porous border with Iran. Though far-flung from the Taliban’s base of operations along the Durand Line, US officials believe that militant activities in these regions represent a “lowering of ambitions” after the Taliban’s failure to capture any provincial capitals in 2017. Still, fighting in the region has grown violent, with death tolls as high as 250 per week. Some security officials believe that Iran is supporting militant activity in the area, though Tehran routinely denies this.

Because of this growing violence, dozens of activists, including women, have set up camp in the capital of Helmand province to call for an end to the violence following a car bombing on Friday that killed 14. After completing their activities in the capital, activists pledged to march to the Taliban controlled district to appeal for peace there as well.

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