World update: October 14-15 2017



Sooronbai Jeenbekov appears to have won today’s presidential election to succeed his mentor, Almazbek Atambayev. With 97 percent of the vote in Jeenbekov has won just over 54 percent of the vote, which would put him comfortably above the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. Omurbek Babanov, his main rival, won less than 34 percent of the vote, a disappointing result, and more importantly he failed to hold Jeenbekov below 50 percent as many had predicted he would. Babanov could contest this result, but Atambayev has promised to “cleanse” the country in that event, and I don’t think he means with Pine Sol or whatever.


Police in Kabul on Sunday said that they thwarted a potentially “massive” terrorist bombing near Kabul Polytechnic University. There’s no word on who was behind it but the Haqqani Network seems a likely choice.

Meanwhile, Afghan officials said on Saturday that 14 ISIS fighters were killed in Kunar province on Thursday by a US drone strike.


Four Pakistani soldiers were killed on Sunday by a roadside bomb in the Kurram tribal region, along the Afghan border.


Pakistani authorities said Sunday that Indian fire across the line of control killed two children. On Saturday, at least two Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters and a civilian were killed in a gun battle with Indian forces in the village of Litter.


“Thousands” of Malaysians protested on Sunday in the city of Petaling Jaya, just outside of Kuala Lumpur, to demand action against Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak over the $1.7 billion alleged looting of the Malaysian state fund 1MDB.


This is just breaking and as yet unconfirmed, but Philippine sources are saying that their forces have killed both Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, the two leaders of the Islamist uprising in Marawi.


Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pro forma appointment to a second term, which should happen at the Communist Party congress on Wednesday, is being trumpeted with a level of adulation that isn’t usually seen in these cases. Why? Mostly to add to Xi’s growing cult of personality. Xi intends to remain in control of China long past the end of his next five year term, which should be his last, and so he and his supporters are creating an image around him not unlike what Deng Xiaoping enjoyed in the 1980s and 1990s. To wit, the party now says that it will amend its constitution to incorporate Xi’s thoughts, though it remains to be seen whether they’ll be attributed directly to Xi. Xi’s predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, both had their theories embedded in the party constitution, but only Mao Zedong and Deng have had their names enshrined in the document. For Xi to achieve that would be a sign that he’s transcended the role of the typical Chinese leader.



Official results are still going to take a little while, but it seems certain that former footballer George Weah and current Liberian Vice President Joseph Bokai are headed to a runoff in the nation’s presidential election. Weah led the first round of voting with 39 percent to Bokai’s 29 percent.


That joint US-Nigerien patrol that was ambushed earlier this month may have been hunting–though this is doubtful considering how lightly armed it was–for terrorist leader Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui. At any rate it’s believed they were attacked by Sahraoui’s men.

Sahraoui is a guy we will likely be talking about more in the future, so it’s probably worth introducing him to the blog. He co-founded al-Mourabitoun one of the constellation of West African satellites that have branched off of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in the past several years. In 2015, he announced that al-Mourabitioun was shifting allegiance to ISIS, a declaration that was very quickly contradicted another of the group’s co-founders, the infamous Mokhtar Belmokhtar. Earlier this year Belmokhtar merged al-Mourabitoun with several other al-Qaeda affiliates in Mali to form Nusrat al-Islam, but Sahraoui is still out there leading his ISIS-aligned branch of the organization, which other than Boko Haram is really the only ISIS affiliate in the Sahel region. So he seems like a fun dude.


The Washington Post managed to score an interview with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, and he was surprisingly reflective and contrite for his role in causing and perpetuating the civil war in his country that has killed tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of people since it began in 2013 ahhhhh of course he wasn’t either of those things:

But in a rare interview, Kiir presented himself as a defiant leader who has been maligned, a man too preoccupied with waging war to consider any possible mistakes, a onetime fan of Donald Trump who thinks America should worry about human rights abuses on its own soil.


“I did not do anything that can make me regret,” he said Thursday in his office in the country’s military headquarters, wearing the cowboy hat he received as a gift from George W. Bush.

I had you going there, didn’t I? I can see why he’s a Trump guy, or was anyway.


Horrifying news out of Somalia on Sunday:

At least 500 people are believed to have been killed or seriously injured in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, in one of the most lethal terrorist acts anywhere in the world for many years.


The death toll from Saturday’s attack, which involved a truck packed with several hundred kilograms of military-grade and homemade explosives, stood at 276 on Sunday, according to Associated Press, but is expected to rise as more bodies are dug from the rubble spread over an area hundreds of metres wide in the centre of the city. At least 300 people were injured, according to local reports.


Rescue workers on the ground said it would be difficult to establish a definitive death toll because the intense heat generated by the blast meant the remains of many people would never be found.

The devastation of the bomb itself was compounded by the presence (likely not intentional) of a nearby fuel tanker, whose own explosion was triggered by the bomb. Al-Shabab is almost certainly to blame, but it hasn’t claimed responsibility yet and the amount of carnage in this incident may so high that even they don’t want to be associated with it. Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed declared three days of national mourning for the victims. This incident came a day after at least 22 people were killed in two car bombings in other parts of Mogadishu.



Sebastian Kurz is likely to be the next Chancellor of Austria, and at 31 the youngest head of government in the world (Enrico Carattoni, the Captain Regent of San Marino, is 32), after his People’s Party won a substantial victory in Sunday’s parliamentary election. Kurz’s party took in 31.4 percent of the vote and is now the largest party in the Austrian parliament for only the second time in almost 50 years, going back to 1970. Kurz says he’ll wait to start negotiations on a governing coalition until the full results are in, but it’s likely he’ll approach the far-right nationalist Freedom Party, which came in second with 27.1 percent of the vote. So this all signals a pretty sharp rightward shift for the Austrian government, which I think we can all agree, taken in a historical context, is a wonderful sign of things to come.


The hits keep on coming: Angela Merkel’s conservative coalition suffered another electoral setback on Sunday, but at least this time it wasn’t to fascists. The Social Democrats won (with 37.3 percent of the vote) a state election in Lower Saxony in the worst showing (33.4 percent) for Merkel’s Christian Democrats there since the 1950s. The SPD has already been governing Lower Saxony in a coalition with the Greens, but in the last election in 2013 the Christian Democrats actually emerged as the largest single party in the state with 36 percent of the vote.


If Donald Trump weren’t running away with the crown, I think you could make a strong case that Emmanuel Macron is the dumbest current head of state in the world:

Emmanuel Macron on Sunday said he was a president of all French, dismissing opponents’ criticisms that his policies favor the rich while urging his countrymen to adopt a more positive attitude toward success.

A more positive attitude toward success! Emmanuel, my dude, I know you’re a banker bro and you probably saw your humanities classes as a waste of time when you could be out there doing cool banker bro shit, but have you, like, cracked a book on French history? Even checked out the Wikipedia page? Maybe have a staffer give you a briefing sometime.

Anyway, Macron says his tax cuts for the ultra-rich are bringing down France’s unemployment rate, and, well, they’re certainly bringing down French unemployment benefits, so I guess that’s in the ballpark at least.


Carles Puigdemont is currently staring at a Monday morning deadline to clarify whether or not he declared Catalonia’s independence last Tuesday and, well, it doesn’t seem like he’s planning on doing that. Madrid could move quickly to try to impose direct rule over the Catalan regional government, which should be lots of fun.



Nicolás Maduro’s Socialist Party won 17 of the 23 state governorships in Sunday’s election. Maybe. The opposition insists that Maduro’s government is lying about the results, but as far as I can tell it’s basing that argument on what its observers saw at polling places around the country. That probably wouldn’t even hold up in an impartial court, and it’s definitely not going to hold up in Maduro’s stacked courts.

Opinion polls had suggested that the opposition was set to win a significant majority of these governorships, so that could be a sign that something fishy is going on here. Additionally, Maduro’s government certainly does seem to have put its fingers on the scales as much as possible, leveraging state media to support its candidates, for example, and moving polling places out of opposition strongholds.

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