The World This Week: March 18, 2019

Asia and the Pacific

Christchurch, New Zealand was roiled by a white nationalist terrorist attack last Friday. The shooter was an Australian 28 year old male active in alt-right and white nationalist communities. 50 people were killed and another 50 wounded after shootings at two mosques, which were timed to target the Friday prayers. The attack was the most deadly in New Zealand’s history, a country that has historically experienced very few shootings. Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has already pledged sweeping reforms to the country’s relatively lax gun laws, and offered to cover funeral expenses for the families of the victims.

Chinese aviation authorities grounded the Boeing 737 MAX after an Ethiopian airliner crashed last week. The Ethiopian crash was the second 737 MAX failure in only a handful of months, and concerns have been raised regarding software installed on the plane by Boeing that can override pilot inputs. Within a matter of days, every other nation followed suit, including the FAA which reversed its original stance following a directive from President Trump to ground the planes. Observers have noted this unusual step by China has demonstrated how China has become a global leader.

North America

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has cancelled all public appearances after a second minister in his cabinet resigned. Treasury Board president Jane Philpott quit Trudeau’s cabinet citing dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair. Trudeau’s attorney general resigned last month after she was placed under an inappropriate amount of pressure to stop prosecuting a Montreal construction and engineering firm.

The U.S. Congress almost reached a deal to reject President Trump’s national emergency declaration. The Senate was prepared this morning to accept a resolution passed in the House of Representatives rebuking the declaration. President Trump vetoed the resolution, holding to his conviction that the wall is what is needed to ensure national security.

Mexican President López Obrador launched a new program to provide much-needed infrastructure development to working-class neighborhoods in popular tourist destinations. President Obrador said he wanted to put an end to the “offensive contrast” in tourist locales, with impoverished neighborhoods struggling next to lavish hotels. The 8-billion-peso ($413.7 million) program will provide infrastructure aid to Los Cabos, Acapulco, Cancún, Puerto Vallarta, and 10 northern border cities.A

Europe and Central Asia

Three people were killed and three others were seriously wounded in an attack in the central city of Utrecht earlier this week. The suspect, a Turkish-born man named Gokmen Tanis, was arrested on Monday evening. No connections between Tanis and the victims have so far been found. Dutch prosecutors in the investigation said a letter found in the getaway car, a red Renault Clio, was among the reasons why a terrorist motive was being seriously considered. However, Neighbors had earlier described Tanis as a “loser” and a petty criminal rather than a terrorist. Nevertheless, Dutch justice officials confirmed on Tuesday that Tanis had been released from custody recently in a rape case, which was due to go to court in July. He had been freed after promising to cooperate with authorities.

One of the world’s biggest aluminum producers has switched to manual operations at some smelting plants following a “severe” ransomware attack. Hydro, which employees more than 35,000 people in 40 countries, says the attack began on Monday night and is ongoing. Some of the company’s factories have been forced to halt production. Notices have been posted at the entrances of some offices telling employees not to log into their computers. According to Hydro’s chief financial officer, Eivind Kallevik, staff have been instructed to use their mobile phones and tablets to access their emails. Norwegian security authorities said they were investigating the possibility that the cyber-attack was caused by a relatively new form of ransomware known as LockerGoga. There is no confirmation as of yet as to who is behind the attack. 

In a shocking announcement Kazakhstan’s President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, declared he was resigning with immediate effect, ending an almost three decade-long rule over the nation. In a televised address to the nation Nazarbayev said the speaker of the Senate, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, would take over as head of state until presidential elections could be held. The next vote is scheduled to take place in December of 2020. Even though he is stepping down as head of state, Nazarbayev will retain a wide-ranging degree of authority under the title of Leader of the Nation. 

President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, has pardoned over 50 people widely considered to be political prisoners. This move is highly unprecedented that has left observers struggling to interpret. As has become a tradition to celebrate the Nowruz holiday Alive pardoned more than 400 people. However, unlike previous pardons, this one included a large portion of those considered by human rights groups and international watchdog organizations to be political prisoners. Some have seen this move as a sign that internal and international pressure on the government was working. Meanwhile others have seen this as a sign of Aliyev’s genuine intent to reform his deeply repressive government.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Delcy Rodriguez, Vice President to Nicolas Maduro, announced an imminent cabinet level restrucuture of Maduro’s administration.  The potential shakeup occurs admist continued widespread power outages. Maduro argue that the blackout was caused by Guidado’s foreign allies conducting a cyberattacks. The U.S. responded with claims that the outage was a result of Maduro’s “incompetence.’ The Chinese foreign ministry offered to diagnose and help repair the electric networks.

Brazil and the United States are expected to sign memorandum to establish energy cooperation, especially for nuclear projects. The document reportedly marks a step towards the privatization of the energy sector in Brazil. The U.S. has expressed interest in investing in natural gas and nuclear reactors as well as participation in oil block purchases off the Brazilian Coast.

Middle East and North Africa

Protests continue in Algiers, Algeria calling for the end of Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s 20-year presidency. This past Friday was the fourth Friday in a row that protesters have taken to the streets in the country’s capital. Demonstrations started in response to the country’s high youth unemployment rate. Demonstrators original optimism when Bouteflika announced he would not be running again was short-lived once he canceled the vote for President all together.

US Navy veteran Michael White has been sentenced to 10 years in prison by an Iranian court. White was arrested last year in July. The veteran has been sentenced to two years for insulting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and 10 years for posting a picture. No further details have been released by Iranian authorities.

On Monday, Turkey announced it carried out joint raids with Iran against the PKK on Turkey’s eastern border. The PKK, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party has fought for over 30 years for Kurdish autonomy. Turkey, the United States, and many western nations consider the PKK a terrorist organization. Turkey’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylu announced the joint-operation Monday morning, but did not give any further details.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Mozambique suffered a devastating hit from Cyclone Idai. The cyclone struck the country’s port city of Beira making landfall on Thursday with winds up to 106 mph, however aid teams were only able to access the area on Sunday. The cyclone is reported to have killed at least 150 people across Southern Africa.

This past Sunday, gunmen temporarily seized an army base in Central Mali. The attack in the Mpoti region also led to the death of 16 Malian soldiers, with reports that the base was burned and that arms had also been taken. Mali’s central government continues to battle with insurgent groups largely located in the country’s vast north. Security watchers believe the attack was orchestrated by Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, JNIM. Nusrat al-Islam, officially known as Jama’at Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin’ is a militant organization that operates in the Maghreb and West Africa. It was formed by the merger of more popularly Ansar Dine, the Macina Liberation Front, Al-Mourabitoun and the Saharan branch of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM.

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