World update: January 27-28 2018



A Taliban attack in Kabul on Saturday killed at least 103 people at last count. The attackers packed a bomb into an ambulance and were able to get past at least one security checkpoint before detonating their device in a crowded area of the city. It’s the deadliest single attack in Kabul since last 150 people were killed in a bombing last May.

There appears to be an attack underway on Monday morning at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University in Kabul. This story is just breaking here at 9:45 PM on the east coast, so there’s nothing yet on details, casualties, etc. I’ll update tonight if anything comes in but more tomorrow for sure.


Kashmir was gripped by a mass strike on Sunday in response to the killing of two student protesters by Indian forces the day before.



A spate of apparent summary executions that has disturbed the United Nations appears to be spreading outside of Benghazi. In addition to five more bodies found in Benghazi on Friday, three bodies were found in the city of Derna on Thursday. They all show signs of having been executed, all were found in areas controlled by the Libyan National Army, and notes were left with at least some of the bodies describing their Islamist associations. You do the math.


Gambian officials may seek the extradition of former President Yahya Jammeh pending the outcome of an investigation into alleged human rights violations under his rule. The government of Equatorial Guinea, where Jammeh now lives and to which he fled last year likely with some assurances that he wouldn’t face prosecution in The Gambia, says that it will “protect” him.


Islamist fighters, presumably with Nusrat al-Islam/al-Qaeda in Mali, attacked a military base in northern Mali on Sunday and killed at least 14 people. At least 17 militants were killed in the attack.


Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Ethiopia’s Hailemariam Desalegn, and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir will meet on Monday on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa to discuss their ongoing disagreements over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project.



The Cypriot presidential election is going into overtime. Incumbent Nicos Anastasiades only pulled in a bit over 35 percent of the vote on Sunday, meaning he’ll head into a runoff in a week against leftist challenger Stavros Malas, who trailed him by about five points in the first round. Both candidates are in favor of resuming talks with Turkish Cypriot leaders about reunification (Malas seems a bit more amenable than Anastasiades), though they might have to spend the next week tacking away from that position in order to win voters who backed the other, less enthusiastic candidates.


Thousands of people protested across Russia on Sunday against the country’s upcoming presidential election. Protest organizer and opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested by Russian authorities and his offices in Moscow were raided. He was later released. Navalny’s protest movement is too small to seriously threaten Vladimir Putin (and Navalny himself is a reactionary asshole), but as the Washington Post notes, it shows that there is a durable opposition all over Russia made up of people willing to risk arrest to show how much they disapprove of Putin.


Finnish President Sauli Niinistö was easily reelected to a second term on Sunday, taking 62.7 percent of the vote in the election’s first round.


Miloš Zeman silenced the haters and overcame the obstacles to win another term as Czech president on Saturday. He took home 51.4 percent of the two-day vote to win a fairly narrow victory over West-leaning challenger Jiří Drahoš. The reelection of Zeman, the leftist-turned-right-wing-populist, is good news for Russia (Drahoš was lukewarm toward Moscow but Zeman is a big fan) and for Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. He can expect more leeway in forming a government from his buddy Zeman than he would have been able to get from Drahoš.


Germany’s Green Party may have given Angela Merkel another way out of her political dilemma. On Saturday, the party elected two leaders from its more centrist wing (generally it elects one centrist and the other leader comes from its left wing). If Merkel is unable to conclude negotiations on a governing coalition with the Social Democrats, this sudden lurch right by the Greens once again raises the possibility of a three-way “Jamaica” coalition with the Greens, Merkel’s conservatives, the libertarian Free Democrats.


Spain’s constitutional court has ruled that Carles Puigdemont cannot legally serve as Catalan regional president if he’s not in Spain–which he can’t be on account of he’d be in jail if he were. Puigdemont is the Catalan parliament’s only candidate for president, but the court said it would block his swearing in until he was able to do so in person.

Meanwhile, Catalonia is looking at a secession crisis of its own–sort of. “Tabàrnia,” the Catalan coastal region that includes Barcelona, has declared its independence from Catalonia, with one important caveat: it’s all fictional. Tabàrnia’s organizers are kidding, but they’re kidding on the square–the intention is in part to show that there’s a very important chunk of Catalonia wherein most of the people do not want to secede from Spain.



Seven Colombian police officers were killed over the weekend in three separate bombing incidents. The largest incident took place on Saturday morning, when a bomb thrown into a police station in Barranquilla killed five people. Two more officers were killed late Saturday in an attack on a station in Santa Rosa del Sur. Then on Sunday morning, another police station in Barranquilla was hit, though in this case there were no fatalities. It’s not clear who was behind the attacks–criminal gangs or the ELN rebel group are the likeliest candidates–though to be sure it’s also not clear if these three attacks were even connected to one another.


Venezuelan opposition leaders confirmed on Sunday that they will meet with Nicolás Maduro’s representatives this week in the Dominican Republic. Their intent seems to be to discuss April’s presidential election and try to win some assurances that the vote will be conducted fairly.


Juan Orlando Hernández was sworn in for his second term in office on Saturday amid protests over the disputed results of the November election that (allegedly) returned him to office. At least 30 people have been killed in violence since the election, but there doesn’t seem to be any real steam behind a large-scale opposition at this point.


When I say, as I sometimes do, that this is the “dumbest time in history,” I’m not just referring to Donald Trump. There’s plenty of stupid to go around:

Over the weekend, internet users began to focus on a company called Strava that published a “heat map” showing its users around the world. Strava bills itself as a “social networking app for athletes.” The “heat map” showed the location of all the rides, runs, swims, and downhills that its users have taken, as collected by their smartphones and wearables.


Of course, “athletes” doesn’t fully capture the universe of young, fit people. It suddenly occurred to, well, everyone, that another group likely to be avid users were military personnel. As you might imagine, the heat maps shows many American and foreign military personnel are using the app, illustrating the U.S. military presence in Niger. Over the past few days, people have used the heat map to spot and assess secret military bases in Syria, Yemen, and Turkey. At a basic level, it’s incredible to see people taking smartphone or other devices past checkpoints into places they really shouldn’t be. All this is bad, but wait, it’s worse.

The “worse” here is that the data doesn’t just reveal the locations of sites we’d rather keep secret in aggregate, but that it potentially reveals the daily routines of individual users who might be of particular interest to any number of unsavory characters. If Strava’s cybersecurity is good then this is less of a concern. But what if it’s not?

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