World update: May 8 2018



Nikol Pashinyan, seen below with a megaphone in front of his face, was elected Armenia’s new prime minister on Tuesday, one week after failing to secure the post and several days after agreeing to call off the protests caused by his failure to secure the vote last week.

Pashinyan (Wikimedia | Yerevantsi)

Pashinyan won by a 59-42 margin, with 13 members of the majority Republican Party voting yes to get him over the hump. But the Republicans still have that majority, and they don’t seem particularly inclined to help him implement his wide-ranging plans to root out corruption and boost Armenia’s economy. Pashinyan’s first task, really, should be to reform Armenia’s electoral code to break the Republicans’ hold on power, and if/when that gets done he should think seriously about calling for a new election.


After attacking a police base in Faryab province late Monday night, killing or wounding at least 25 police officers, the Taliban on Tuesday captured the district of Tala-wa Bafrak in Baghlan province. Afghan forces were cut off from resupply and had no choice but to fall back after days of fighting. The Taliban also continued to press its offensive around the city of Ghazni, which is increasingly in danger of falling to them.


The AP reports on the deteriorating situation in Kachin State:

“What we are seeing in Kachin state over the past few weeks is wholly unacceptable, and must stop immediately,” Yanghee Lee, the U.N.’s human rights expert for Myanmar, said last week. “Innocent civilians are being killed and injured, and hundreds of families are now fleeing for their lives.”


“All parties must take all necessary measures to ensure their safety and security,” she said.


A 17-year cease-fire between the government and Kachin Independence Army was broken in 2011, when the army entered rebel territory and attacked one of their outposts. Since then, sporadic fierce combat has uprooted villagers and left hundreds of civilians dead.


The fresh exodus of villagers is adding to the 100,000 people previously displaced in Kachin and neighboring Shan state, many of whom live in camps where people already have difficulty obtaining food and clean water due to military restrictions on aid.


Malaysia’s election is Wednesday–which, come to think of it, means people are actually voting as I write this. Al Jazeera has what seems like a decent explainer. The big last-minute news is that Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling Barisan Nasional coalition is fading in the polls. They’re down to 37.3 percent compared to the opposition’s 43.4 percent. Because Malaysia’s electoral districts are heavily gerrymandered, the BN can win a parliamentary majority even if it loses the popular vote, but 37 percent might be pushing it. The poll projected BN to win only 100 seats, 12 seats shy of a majority in the 222 seat parliament, which would, among other things, probably cost Razak his job as party leader.


Voters in Timor-Leste will be heading to the polls on May 12. The country has been without a stable government since an inconclusive election last July. Fretilin, the largest party in parliament, formed a minority government, but it collapsed in December and new elections were called in January.


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Pyongyang on Wednesday for meetings with North Korean officials and should, according to South Korean officials, be returning to the US with three US citizens who had previously been detained by North Korea. Pompeo should also be setting a date for the Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un summit.



At least two people were killed on Tuesday in an ISIS car bombing at a checkpoint near Libya’s Ras Lanuf oil port. A second attack near the Umm al-Qandil oil port was apparently thwarted.


Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb issued a new communique on Tuesday promising to strike at Western companies’ operations in North and West Africa. They particularly singled out French interests, since France has deep and not always so welcome colonial and post-colonial ties to the region.


The Nigerian military announced late Monday that it had rescued over 1000 captives from Boko Haram in Borno state. It’s unclear whether this was the Abubakar Shekau branch of Boko Haram or the ISIS-West Africa branch.

Meanwhile, the BBC’s Mayeni Jones reports on the conflict between herders and farmers that has been roiling central Nigeria:

The killings have taken place in the midst of the expanding cattle conflict between settled farmers, who are mainly Christian, and largely nomadic herders.


The Fulani herdsmen travel large distances in search of pasture with their cattle, and have frequently clashed with farmers over resources.


Disagreements over the use of grazing areas, water and farmland have been the major source of the fighting.


Farmers accuse the herders of damaging their crops, the herders blame the farmers for killing their cattle, and the issue has resulted in the death or destruction of communities.



The third wheel in Italian politics right now, former Prime Minister and ongoing national embarrassment Silvio Berlusconi, is so far refusing to remove his Forza Italia party from the picture even if it would help the League and the Five Star Movement negotiate a governing coalition. The League is committed to its center-right alliance with Forza Italia, but Five Star refuses to have anything to do with Berlusconi and will only negotiate with the League if it divests itself of his party. Berlusconi could voluntarily step aside and release the League to negotiate with Five Star, but despite increasing pressure to do so he doesn’t appear to be budging.



The Trump administration on Monday blacklisted three Venezuelan individuals and 20 companies tied to President Nicolás Maduro and with alleged links to the drug trade.


CIA Director nominee Gina Haspel is expected to use her confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday to promise, cross her heart, not to bring back the CIA torture program. How noble of her. She is not expected to be forthright about her role in the George W. Bush-era torture program or her role in covering up the torture program. But BuzzFeed has obtained CIA documents that pertain to those things:

The documents pertain heavily to the torturous treatment in 2003 of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, as well as Abu Zubaydah, the CIA’s first high-value captive who was held at a black site prison in Thailand in 2002. Haspel briefly ran the black site a couple of months after Abu Zubaydah’s torture ended. She took over the management of the prison in October 2002, shortly before another detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing, was rendered there and tortured. According to a person familiar with what Haspel has told senators in private meetings, “it was not until October 2002 that she was briefed on some of the agency’s more sensitive counterterrorism authorities and activities. Contrary to some descriptions in the press, she did not devise these activities nor advocate for their approval.”


Abu Zubaydah’s and al-Nashiri’s torture sessions were videotaped at least a dozen times between April 2002 and December 2002, and Haspel, a veteran counterterrorism officer, was an advocate for destroying those videotapes and drafted the cable authorizing their destruction. An internal CIA review of the incident cleared her of wrongdoing.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, by the way, reportedly wants to provide the committee with information about Haspel and the torture program. It’s unclear if the committee would be amenable to hearing his information, nor is it clear whether the military tribunal currently hearing Mohammed’s death penalty case would be amenable to allowing him to provide that information.

Consider this your periodic reminder that literally nobody was ever held accountable for a years-long policy of official torture sanctioned by the President of the United States and run by the nation’s primary intelligence agency.

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