Asia/Africa update: April 20 2018



Anti-Serzh Sargsyan protests hit Yerevan yet again on Friday. A week into these demonstrations, their momentum behind them seems to be growing, not lagging:

With larger rallies, spontaneous acts of civil disobedience, escalating numbers of arrests, and nonstop honking, the protests in Armenia’s capital continued to metastasize throughout the city on April 20. A week after they began, the demonstrations appear to be gaining momentum.


During the day, protest leader Nikol Pashinyan took his supporters on a march around some of Yerevan’s more remote districts, following a pledge the night before to close “all the streets of Yerevan.” In the Davtashen area northwest of the center, Pashinyan and several hundred fans walked along a highway, many of them carrying signs reading “Honk if You’re Against Sargsyan,” in protest at Serzh Sargsyan’s transition this week from long-serving president to newly powerful prime minister. The honking was at times deafening, and the campaign spread: By the afternoon, central Yerevan was a nonstop din.


Reports suggest that, despite its insistence to the contrary, Turkmenistan’s government is blocking people from leaving the country and making life difficult for those who have left:

The list of people forbidden from traveling appears to be getting longer as the country slips ever deeper into an economic crisis. Hard currency has apparently almost entirely dried up, not least as Turkmenistan has little to sell to the outside world but natural gas and few nations are in a position to physically get their hands on that fuel.


The handful of émigré-run websites that have valiantly shone a light on events inside the country routinely report on how people are unable to withdraw cash with their Turkmenistan-issued bank cards even when they are abroad.


The Washington Post profiles Pakistan’s burgeoning Pashtun rights movement and its young leader:

The slight, sad-faced man of 26, in a plain white tunic and a red embroidered cap, might seem miscast as the emerging leader of millions of ethnic Pashtuns and the voice of pent-up grievances that this struggling tribal minority has accumulated in the years since the Cold War arrived in next-door Afghanistan a generation ago.


But when Manzoor Pashteen took the stage at a recent rally in this Pashtun heartland city, the self-effacing veterinarian was transformed into an impassioned firebrand. He demanded that Pakistan’s security forces produce hundreds of missing detainees and stop harassing residents of his native Pashtun tribal belt, where conflicts with Taliban militants have been raging for years.


For the first time ever, apparently, the leaders of North Korea and South Korea now share a hotline between their offices. This seems like a sensible idea. The two countries have had a hotline set up in Panmunjom for some time now, but this cuts out the middle man to some degree which is probably good. I’d say we should install a hotline between Kim Jong-un’s office and Donald Trump’s office, but Trump would probably keep trying to use it to order McDonalds or something.

In much bigger news, the Korean Central News Agency reported on Friday that Pyongyang its has suspended all nuclear and missile tests and shut down its Punggye-ri nuclear testing site. Of course they’ve already made a lot of progress in both areas and these are also decisions that can be reversed easily. But as shows of good faith go this isn’t bad.


While he hilariously failed to get an exemption from Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs during his big Mar-a-Lago visit, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe does appear to have injected himself back into the North Korea talks in a big, and maybe not so good, way. Abe appears to have talked Trump into insisting that Kim give up not just his nuclear weapons, but his chemical and biological weapons as well as his entire ballistic missile program, including short-range missiles. Which is fine, in principle, and certainly fits Japan’s national security interests, but for fuck’s sake can we just get the nuclear thing squared away before we start working on a bunch of other stuff?

All this good news emanating from the Korean peninsula will be at least somewhat for naught if Trump’s meeting with Kim goes south…which could happen if Trump comes in demanding too much. Maybe he’ll exhibit some finesse and just get the ball rolling on some of these other issues while focusing on the nuclear issue. But when was the last time Donald Trump finessed anything?



Protesters in Senegal are angry at proposed changes to the country’s electoral law that could limit the pool of candidates in next year’s presidential election:


Mali’s al-Qaeda branch, Nusrat al-Islam, has claimed credit for an attack last week in Timbuktu in which they killed one United Nations peacekeeper and wounded seven French soldiers. The attackers disguised themselves as Malian soldiers and peacekeepers.


The United Kingdom would love to welcome Zimbabwe back into the Commonwealth of Nations. However, it’s waiting to see if President Emmerson Mnangagwa makes good on his promise to hold free and fair elections later this year. Robert Mugabe yanked Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth in 2003 because he was tired of being criticized for, well, you name it. Mostly it was because he kept seizing land from white farmers, which probably isn’t even in the 10 worst things Mugabe did while in power, but this is the Commonwealth of Nations we’re talking about so it’s not that surprising what their priorities are.


South African President Cyril Ramaphosa had to leave this week’s Commonwealth summit a day early, on Thursday, to return home and address protesters in the city of Mahikeng. Angered by poor public services, people have been demonstrating, at times violently, in Mahikeng since Wednesday. They want the provincial governor, Supra Mahumapelo, to resign. Ramaphosa is urging people to be calm.

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