World update: February 24-25 2018



Three Taliban attacks overnight between Friday and Saturday left at least 20 Afghan soldiers dead across southern Afghanistan. Of those, at least 18 were killed in one attack on a checkpoint in Farah province early Saturday morning. Two suicide attacks in Helmand province resulted in the other casualties. Another three people were killed on Saturday in Kabul when a suicide attacker blew himself up at a checkpoint in the city.


Pakistani Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said on Saturday that Islamabad will move quickly to implement measures to curb terrorist financing and money laundering in hopes of staying off of the Financial Action Task Force’s “gray” list when the organization meets again in June. There have been rumors that the FATF has already decided to put Pakistan on the list unless it makes significant reforms.


Hundreds of people were reportedly forced to flee their homes on either side of Kashmir’s line of control on Saturday due to artillery exchanges between Indian and Pakistani forces. Some exchange of fire over the LOC is becoming an almost daily occurrence in Kashmir, but Saturday’s seems to have been particularly severe and there’s no explanation as to what set it off.


Three bombs exploded in Sittwe, capital of Rakhine state, on Saturday, and three additional bombs were found unexploded in the city. One person was injured in the blasts, a police officer. The bombs seem to have targeted, among other places, the home of a local official and a court building. There’s been no claim of responsibility, but Rakhine is where the Rohingya live, or used to live before the Myanmar military started ethnically cleansing them, so it wouldn’t be a stretch if these bombs were connected with that situation.


The Chinese Communist Party took a big and expected step on Sunday, proposing an end to China’s two-term presidential limit that would allow Xi Jinping to remain in office indefinitely. The timing of the move, if not the move itself, was a bit surprising, given that Xi hasn’t even technically finished his first term as president yet. While this has been obviously in the cards for quite a while now, that doesn’t mean it was universally well-received:

Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing who is critical of Mr. Xi, said the change to the Constitution would turn Mr. Xi into a “super-president.”


“He will have no limits on his power,” he said.


Government censors rushed to block criticism of the decision. Internet memes depicted Mr. Xi as an emperor with no regard for the rule of law and showed a portrait of Mr. Xi replacing Mao’s hallowed image in Tiananmen Square. Another repurposed an ad for Durex condoms, adding a tag line — “Twice is not enough” — to poke fun at the idea of Mr. Xi angling for a third term.

Other online critics complained that China was becoming like North Korea, and comparisons to Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are also flying around. Even though China has gone through lengthy periods of basically one-man rule before–Deng Xiaping’s tenure as informal “paramount leader” comes to mind, and Jiang Zemin held on to high party office even after his two presidential terms were over–Xi’s monopoly on formal power hasn’t really been seen since Mao himself. How that’s going to impact Chinese politics moving forward will definitely be something to watch.


South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Sunday that North Korean officials have told him they’re ready to open talks with the United States. This can be marked down as another win for Moon’s Winter Olympics diplomacy, but it’s unlikely to go anywhere. It’s not clear whether Pyongyang would demand preconditions before negotiations could begin, but it is clear that Washington will–it wants, at the very least, North Korea to freeze its nuclear and missile programs, and it wants denuclearization on the table as the goal of the talks. The North Koreans have shown little sign that they’d be willing to do the former and absolutely no sign that they’d be willing to entertain the latter.



Australia has a new deputy prime minister. Michael McCormack replaced Barnaby Joyce as National Party leader and thus deputy to Malcolm Turnbull on Monday morning. If he can avoid having an affair with a member of his staff then I suppose this is an improvement over Joyce, though frankly McCormack doesn’t seem to be much of a prize himself. At least he’s not an overt homophobe anymore, I guess that’s something.



The Nigerian government is deploying its military in a frantic search for 110 girls now believed to be missing after Boko Haram’s raid on the town of Dapchi on February 19. That’s the highest figure I’ve yet seen in terms of the number of girls believed to have been abducted by the group from their school in Dapchi, and you can certainly understand why this atrocity is dredging up bad memories of the 2014 Chibok abduction in which Boko Haram took 276 girls.


The death toll from two al-Shabab bombing attacks in Mogadishu on Friday has risen from 18 to at least 45.


Anti-Joseph Kabila protests organized by Christian churches all over the DRC on Sunday were met with a heavy-handed response from Congolese security forces, and at the end of the day at least two people were dead because of it. The protesters were demanding elections, without Kabila’s participation, as the DRC should have held in 2016 and as Kabila had promised to hold in 2017. His government has been suggesting of late that even holding them in 2018 might be a long shot. For some reason people seem to think Kabila is just trying to cling to power despite his second and final term having expired at the end of 2016.



Skopje has started tearing down the signage around the city’s “Alexander the Great International Airport,” which will soon just be “Skopje International Airport.” The Macedonian government is removing references to Alexander from the airport, streets, etc., as part of its outreach to Greece over its naming dispute.


In an effort to head off a potential insurgency from conservatives within her own Christian Democratic Union party, who are unhappy about the concessions she’s made to the Social Democrats in order to form a governing coalition, Angela Merkel on Sunday tapped one of her most prominent intra-party critics, Jens Spahn, to be health minister in the new (and still hypothetical at this point) cabinet. Appointing Spahn accomplishes a couple of things for Merkel. It hopefully pacifies the right wing of her party, since Spahn is one of their number, and it also appeases a growing number of party figures who want to see younger members promoted into leadership positions.

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