Thai general election 2019 posters with candidates (Wikimedia Commons)

The World This Week: March 25, 2019

Asia and the Pacific

An explosion at a pesticide plant owned by Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical at the Chenjiagang Industrial Park in Yancheng, Jiangsu province in China killed 78 people, with 566 still being treated in hospitals across Jiangsu. The explosion was so severe it triggered an earthquake and shattered windows in a town over a mile away. The incident has highlighted flaws in China’s industrial safety policies, and Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered a state inquiry into the blast. This incident is the latest in a long series of industrial disasters, including a series of explosions last November that killed 23.

The party behind a 2014 military coup in Thailand is claiming victory after preliminary results of a recent Parliamentary election show them in the lead in the popular vote count. The major opposition party Pheu Thai, led by controversial former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is strongly disputing this claim. The most recent counts have Pheu Thai with the largest number of parliamentary seats at 137, compared to 97 by the pro-military Palang Pracharat despite the popular vote lead. Both parties are scrambling to form a ruling coalition, leading to some uncertainty regarding the future governance of Thailand. The government’s Election Commission has continuously delayed announcing official results, citing concerns over potential electoral irregularities.

Europe and Central Asia

Due to the state of the United Kingdom and the issue, most of the attention of the media has been focused on this region of the European Union. However, there are plenty of other issues which need addressing within Europe. The EU’s biggest problem is that its economic model has aged alongside its population. It lacks movement into a fourth Industrial Revolution in the emerging technological sector. There is no European version of Google, Facebook, Amazon, or artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, China is making faster progress than Europe in the development of machine learning. On top of all of this, when plans for the euro were being drawn up 30 years ago, the assumption was that a single currency would make the single market work more efficiently and generate faster growth. Instead, the performance of the eurozone countries has gotten worse, rather than better. This economic reality of the European Union which sets the backdrop for Brexit. 

Recent developments show that Kazakhstan is looking away from Russia and towards its own national future, which could make Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, change its foreign relations and look more towards Central Asian countries and China. Historically, the Soviet Union separated out the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) from other nations in the region for several different reasons. Among these being that they wished to represent the ethnic Russians, labeling the SSR as binational rather than a “Muslim” republic. As well, the Soviet Union wished to keep Central Asia from uniting, believing that without the Kazakhs,  Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Turkmens would be unable to balance against the Uzbeks’ regional dominance. In the last decade, the Kazakh community outnumbers Russians by more than three to one. 

Domestically, Kazakhstan has been the most tolerant and even supportive of ethnic Russians and the Russian language of any Central Asian republic. However, it has an adopted an increasingly Kazakh-first policy. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has pressed for the acceleration of the replacement of the Cyrillic alphabet with Latin script for the Kazakh language that will highlight the difference between Kazakhs and Russians in a fundamental way. Secondly, Astana has announced plans to remove Russian from its banknotes, replacing it with the Kazakh national language. Thirdly, Kazakhs are calling for closing down the country’s Russian-language schools in order to promote the integration of all groups into the Kazakh nation. Each of these movements by Kazakhstan showcases a push toward Kazakh nationalism, leaving Russia’s influence in its past. 

Middle East and North Africa

The National Liberation Front (FLN), Algeria’s ruling party, withdrew its support for President Bouteflika’s national conference proposal. The purpose of the proposed conference is to get the country out of its current political deadlock. Much of the country’s current political turmoil started when Bouteflika announced he would not seek a fifth term, but he would remain in office until a successor was elected. Protests against Boutelfika’s term have been occurring since February 22. FLN spokesperson Hocine Khaldoun said that this proposed conference will not solve the issues, and instead, an independent elections commission should be established.

Israel authorities say a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip on Monday struck a house in the town of Mishmeret, in central Israel. In response to the attack, Netanyahu has decided to cut his visit to the United States short.  He stated that Israel will “respond forcefully” to the attack that injured six people. This is the furthest a rocket has been launched into Israel since the 2014 fighting in Gaza.

North America

In Canada, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner is hoping to get his war crimes sentence commuted. Omar Khadr was sentenced in 2010 to 8 years in Guantanamo Bay for killing an American soldier. He has been out on bail since 2015, but if he had served his full sentence it would have expired last year. Now an Edmonton judge must determine if his sentence has effectively expired or if he should continue serving for 3 and a half more years. Khadr was 15 when he was first arrested for throwing a grenade at American soldiers, and the Supreme Court of Canada argues that he has served the youth sentence appropriate for his age at the time. The prosecution, however, argues that Canada has an “international obligation” to see that Khadr serves his whole sentence.

The Mueller report was turned in to Attorney General William Barr of the U.S., and Barr states that there is not enough evidence to convict President Trump of criminal activity. He does admit, however, that there is also not enough evidence to exonerate Trump on the charge of obstruction of justice. Democratic lawmakers are suspicious of Barr’s conclusion and demand to see the full report, not just AG Barr’s summary. Barr historically disagrees with the legal argumentation of “obstruction of justice,” which causes some Democratic leaders to doubt his ability to prosecute the law effectively.

There is optimism in Cancún for a new natural gas pipeline. Previous similar projects have failed to get off the ground, but Canaco (the National Chamber of Commerce) is confident this project will succeed because it is supported by the state government. In another Mexican state, Coahuila, abnormally high levels of arsenic were found in the water supply in the city of Torreón. Eighteen percent of wells that supply water to citizens of Torreón have arsenic levels that exceed the national acceptable standards. If the World Health Organization’s standards were applied, however, it is possible that 82%-94% of the water supply would not meet them.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Fifteen people were killed and at least 11 wounded in an al-Shabaab attack in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, this past Saturday. A Deputy minister was among those killed in the attack, which largely took place in the surrounding government buildings. The assault began when two explosions were set off near the ministries of public works and labor; gunmen entered the buildings following the blasts. The group also claimed responsibility for a March 7 car bombing near a restaurant in the capital that killed four people.

More than 130 people were killed in an attack on a village in central Mali on Saturday by armed men wearing traditional Dogon hunters’ clothing. Gunmen surrounded the village at dawn before attacking people in their homes in Ogossagou in the Mopti region. The attackers targeted members of the Fulani ethnic community who are accused of having ties to jihadists. The attack took place while UN ambassadors were in Mali to discuss increased violence. The Security Council mission met Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga to talk about the increased threat from jihadist fighters in central Mali. According to a local security official, the victims of Saturday’s deadly attack were “killed with guns and machetes.”

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