Courtesy Flickr, truecolumn news

The World This Week: October 1st, 2018

Courtesy Flickr, truecolumn news

East Asia and Pacific

The inhabitants of the island of Sulawesi in the eastern region of the Indonesian archipelago remain in shock after a tsunami devastated the countryside on September 28th. A 7.4-magnitude earthquake triggered the three-meter tall wave which has left 832 people dead and thousands missing. Indonesia faces the second-highest risk of tsunamis after Japan due to its location along the Pacific Ocean’s “ring of fire.” A lack of communication with many small towns and villages has left officials fearing the death toll could climb much higher which would make this Indonesia’s worst natural disaster since 2004 when a tsunami killed over 100,000 in the province of Aceh.

On September 22nd China and the Vatican struck a provisional deal which Pope Francis hailed as a “breakthrough.” While details have remained scarce, the basic outline can be surmised as providing the Vatican a say in China’s appointments of bishops in the state-controlled church. China would also recognize the Pope as the head of all Catholics in China. In return the Vatican would recognize seven bishops excommunicated from the church after “illegal” appointments by the state-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. The deal has been met with criticism by Western critics and Hong-Kong based Catholics who fear the church is casting a blind eye to religious persecution in China, especially amid concerns of human rights abuses to Muslims living in the Western province of Xinjiang. The agreement has also stoked fears in Taipei and the US that the Vatican might be moving one step closer to dropping its recognition of Taiwan. China has already poached three diplomatic allies of the island nation this year- the Dominican Republic, Burkina Faso, and El Salvador-but the Vatican would be the most significant as it still holds great moral authority and is the official voice of over one-billion Catholics.


South Asia

The UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan raised concerns last week about growing civilian casualties resulting from US and Afghani airstrikes after nine civilian casualties in the Eastern Province. In the first six months of this year, the United States dropped nearly 3,000 bombs in Afghanistan, almost doubling its pace in 2017. 149 civilians were killed and 204 wounded in the first half of 2018, a 52% increase over last year. Both Afghani and American armed forces acknowledged the UN announcement and claimed to be taking every effort to avoid civilian casualties.

Resistance in Pakistan to an $8.2 billion-dollar revamp of its ML-1 rail line, a Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project, is rising due to growing concern about the country’s debt burden. Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan is seeking to review the terms of all BRI projects, though China has stated it is only willing to do so for projects that have not yet begun. Due to growing financial constraints, Pakistan is only willing to finance projects that produce social development. Though Pakistan is considering a “build-operate-transfer” (BOT) financing model for the rail line, the government’s hesitance reflects growing resistance towards such Chinese-financed projects elsewhere in South Asia. China has restated its willingness to provide loans to the project but is unwilling to invest under a BOT financing framework as rail lines are rarely profitable.


Europe and Central Asia

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ended a visit to Germany by opening one of Europe’s largest mosques. The mosque in the German city of Cologne stands as a symbol of peace. The president thanked the German government for pressing ahead with its construction despite protests. Germany is home to a 3 million Turkish diaspora. The aim of Erdogan’s trip was to ease tensions between the two countries.

    The intensive population growth in China, India, and North Africa will increase the demand for Kazakh grain in the future. At the moment, the countries of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Azerbaijan are the main importers of Kazakh grain at this time. According to the forecasts of the Ministry of Agriculture of Kazakhstan, this year’s crop export potential is estimated at 9 million tones; in particular, the potential of exporting grain is estimated in 6 million tons.


Latin America and The Caribbean

Corrupt Acapulco police were disarmed and arrested. Federal forces in Mexico raided local police offices in the south Guerrero state. The city stands accused of rampant corruption and infiltration by drug cartels. Two officers were taken into custody on murder charges. Officials have debated bringing in a national force to regain rule of law.

Countries call ICC to investigate Venezuelan government. Last week, five South American countries and Canada submitted an official petition for the International Criminal Court to investigate crimes against humanity committed by President Maduro’s regime. The Lima Group members cited independent investigations by the UN and other regional bodies. Never before have such complaints been brought by member countries. The U.S. did not back the move, but continues with a new round of Magnitsky Act sanctions – this time against Maduro’s first lady.

Report from OAS claims 90% of Latin American and Caribbean banks have suffered a cyber incident this year. Last week, the Organization of American States released research on the state of cybersecurity for the banking sector. The document compiled interviews and surveys with both users and banking staff. Of note, nearly two-fifths of respondents indicated that regional banks were victims of successful attacks with the number jumping to 65% for larger institutions.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani tours Latin America. The Qatari emir will meet with heads of state in Argentina, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Peru, among others. Since the Gulf States blockaded Qatar, it has attempted to develop stronger international partnerships. This trip will help Qatar further expand bilateral ties and economic stakes into the region.


Sub-Saharan Africa

Ethiopian prosecutors have charged five suspects with terrorism after an attempt to kill Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in a grenade attack at a rally in June. The attack in the capital, Addis Ababa, killed two people and injured more than 100 out of the several thousand attendees, but Mr Abiy was unharmed. Prime Minister Ahmed recently enacted several political and economic changes that have been widely accepted, leading him to describe the attack as an “unsuccessful attempt by forces who do not want to see Ethiopia united.”

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has ordered the release of all prisoners of war and political detainees as part of a peace agreement signed last month with the rebel leader Riek Machar. Many of Machar’s supporters have been in prison alongside critics of Kiir’s government— the aim of the peace deal is to end more than five years of civil war in South Sudan which became independent in 2011.

The speaker of Kenya’s Senate Ken Lusaka has denied a local newspaper report that he approved five lawmakers to attend the women’s World Volleyball Championships in Japan. The allegedly 14-day taxpayer-funded trip was subsequently cancelled after The Star published the story. The senators were reportedly set to get a daily allowance of 100,000 Kenya shillings during the trip, which amounts to approximately $990.


Middle East and North Africa

Claiming increased threats and violence from Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the U.S. will close its consulate located in Basra, Iraq.  The U.S. said it will place blame with Iran and Iranian backed forces if there is any damage done to Americans or U.S. facilities. The U.S. and Iran also traded insults and threats at the United Nations General Assembly this past week. A good portion of President Donald Trump’s address to the U.N. focused on Iran’s “corrupt dictatorship” and accusations of encouraging instability in the Middle East.

Volkswagen, Renault, Peugeot, Hyundai, and Toyota make up a group of auto-makers that are working to make North Africa a regional auto manufacturing center. With billions of dollars invested in Africa already, auto companies are hoping to take advantage of the area’s growth potential, especially after sales in the U.S., China, and Europe are waning.

    Activist Amal Fathy has been sentenced to two years in jail by an Egyptian court. Fathy was charged with spreading false news after she posted a video criticizing the government for failing to protect with women against sexual assault. Seventeen U.N. human rights experts criticized Egypt on Friday for its use of anti-terrorism laws to detain activists such as Fathy.  Her lawyer says that they plan to appeal the ruling.



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