World update: May 23 2018



One reason why Nagorno-Karabakh remains a potential flashpoint is because of the hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis who were displaced during the 1988-1994 Nagorno Karabakh War, many of whom still have designs on returning home:

According to the UN, about 860,000 people were forced to flee either Armenia proper or Azerbaijani territory occupied by local Armenian forces during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between 1988 and 1994.


The UN also puts the number of Armenian refugees who fled Azerbaijan at 360,000.


Both sides were accused of targeting civilians but it was the Azerbaijanis who bore the brunt of the losses in terms of lives lost, population displaced and land lost.


Around 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory is currently occupied by the self-declared “Republic of Artsakh”, which is economically and militarily backed by Armenia.


India and Pakistan have been exchanging fire across the Kashmiri line of control for nearly a week now, and Wednesday was reportedly the bloodiest day yet in this new flareup. Five civilians were killed on the Indian side of the border, while a sixth civilian plus one police officer were killed on the Pakistani side. At least 16 people have now been killed over six days of steady exchanges.


The Bharatiya Janata Party’s recent victory in the state election in Karnataka turns out not to have been much of a victory after all. BJP won the election in the sense that it got more votes than its opposition parties, but it did not win a majority of seats in the state legislature, and the Congress and Janata Dal parties have now opted to form a coalition that does have a majority of seats in the state legislature. The result not only turns a surprising BJP victory into another regional electoral defeat, but it suggests that opposition parties are starting to make common cause to oppose BJP’s political strength, a development that could seriously damage Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political fortunes if it spreads to other parts of India.


The Bangladeshi government is under fire over its habit of forcibly disappearing people:

Human right bodies have slammed the Bangladesh government for turning a blind eye toward enforced disappearances, saying the state is repeatedly denying increasing occurrences in the past few years.


The latest example of such a denial by the ruling Awami League — the oldest political party of Bangladesh —  government was the state report it submitted at the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva, held from May 7-18. Bangladesh was one of the 14 states reviewed by the UPR Working Group during its May session.


Even though enforced disappearance is considered by the United Nation a “heinous crime” and the sitting government of this South Asian nation of 170 million is being accused of even patronizing such disappearances on some occasions, the report it submitted to the UPR did not even mention the issue.

Human rights organizations and Bangladeshi opposition parties are slamming the Awami League for refusing to address the issue. Awami officials, for their part, argue that it’s no big deal–after all, some of the people it disappears eventually reappear. Which is nice for them, I guess.


The United States has “disinvited” China from its 2018 RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) military exercise in Hawaii, over recent reports that Beijing has been militarizing its facilities in the South China Sea. China has been defensive weapons and electronics into the South China Sea and even landed bombers at one of its airfields in the Spratlys over the weekend.

Meanwhile, remember that unknown sickness that struck US and Canadian diplomats in Cuba and was attributed to some kind of “sonic attack” even though scientists don’t really believe such a thing is possible? Well the same sickness, including mild traumatic brain injury, is now being reported by at least one US diplomat in China, who says the symptoms included “sensations of sound and pressure.” The Trump administration has used the situation in Cuba to justify its efforts to unwind the diplomatic accomplishments of the Obama administration. It’s unclear what it plans to do about this new apparent outbreak in China.


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday that the decision as to whether or not Donald Trump meets with Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12 ultimately rests with Kim. He further insisted that the US will not make any concessions to North Korea without substantial concessions in return from Pyongyang–ignoring, I guess, that holding this summit is itself a major concession to North Korea. We’re also, it seems, ignoring the fact that on Tuesday, during his meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump allowed for the possibility that North Korea could undertake a “phased” denuclearization rather than disarming all at once. This represents another concession, though it must be reiterated that Kim’s definition of “denuclearization” is likely to be quite a bit different than Trump’s definition. To wit:

The rhetoric out of North Korea has turned decidedly more hostile over the past week or so, and there are indications that Kim may be getting cold feet, or at least that he’s pretending to get cold feet, about the summit–he even, according to US negotiators, has expressed concerns that he could be overthrown after he leaves Pyongyang to go to Singapore, which seems a bit over the top but who knows?



The French government is making plans to bring leaders from Libya’s warring factions as well as international and regional representatives to Paris “very soon” to try to hammer out details for a national election sometime this year. The idea that Libya could pull itself together in time to have a genuine election in 2018 seems absurd at this point, but I guess if anyone could make it happen it would be Jupiter himself.


The United Nations is criticizing the Algerian government for regularly rounding up and deporting African migrants and asylum seekers, often under inhumane circumstances:

The migrants told the UN team they were not told why they were being detained and were not allowed to retrieve their belongings, passports or money before being expelled.


“Some were taken straight to Niger while others were held in military bases in inhuman and degrading conditions, before being taken south,” the UN team said citing migrants’ statements.


Shamdasani added that some of the migrants were crammed into big trucks to be transferred to the Nigerien border where they were abandoned and left to walk hours in the desert heat to cross the border into Niger.

The Algerians say they have no choice but to deport these migrants because the international community has promised assistance but consistently failed to deliver on it. I’m not sure that justifies detaining them or dropping them off at the border and leaving them to hike the desert, but OK.


Yet another attempt to restart South Sudanese peace talks, this one spearheaded by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), flamed out in Ethiopia on Wednesday.


The World Health Organization is warning that there’s a significant risk that the DRC’s ongoing ebola outbreak could spread to and through the country’s major cities. Several recent ebola cases have been diagnosed in urban areas, particularly Mbandaka. Health officials are rolling out experimental vaccines to try to break the chain of transmission.


Zimbabwe’s Deputy Finance Minister Terence Mukupe may have said the quiet part out loud at a rally on Monday, when he told a crowd in Harare that the army would not let Zimbabwe’s opposition actually take power even if it won the August 22 general election. The ruling ZANU-PF party denounced Mukupe’s remarks, but they’ll be used by an opposition skeptical that this vote is going to be legitimate, as well as by supporters of ousted dictator Robert Mugabe who continue to argue that the military coup that ousted Mugabe was illegitimate and should be rolled back.


European voters keep electing reactionary anti-European Union leaders, but paradoxically their own support for the EU is actually increasing. A new poll finds 67 percent of EU citizens, including in the soon-to-be-Brexiting United Kingdom, agreeing that the EU has been good for their country, the highest level that indicator has hit since the 1980s. Italian citizens were the least likely to see the EU as a good thing, with only 44 percent saying so–but even there, that figure was up from 39 percent last fall.


Michael Cohen, extramarital-affair-fixer-to-the-stars, allegedly took at least $400,000 from people acting on behalf of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to broker a meeting between Poroshenko and Donald Trump last year, according to Ukrainian sources. Cohen denies the charge, and I’m sure he’s telling the truth because we’re totally draining the swamp, baby. Cleaning that whole fucking cesspool right out.


Already unpopular Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s efforts to settle Greece’s naming dispute with the Republic of Macedonia are likely to come at a serious political cost:

“There is still a zero-sum mentality (among Greeks) on this name issue,” said Kostas Ifantis, an associate professor of international relations at the Panteion University in Athens.


“It’s an issue which involves history and symbols, and … a compromise is very difficult in this case,” he said.


Among compromise names proposed over the years are Nova (new) Macedonia, Vardar Macedonia (named after a river), Upper Macedonia and, most recently, Ilinden Macedonia, but most Greek political parties reject any use of the name Macedonia, even with descriptive tags.

Tsipras’s austerity budgets have already soured voters on him, so he may be banking on solving the Macedonia puzzle to earn him goodwill with the EU that he could spin as a major accomplishment. But it seems like Greeks are pretty intransigent on this issue.


Welp, it appears Italy has a government. President Sergio Mattarella didn’t let Giuseppe Conte’s resume embellishments deter him from naming the little-known Five Star Movement member as the country’s next prime minister on Wednesday. Now the ruling Five Star-League coalition has to reckon with EU budget rules that could hamper its plans for a major stimulus package.

One group that is likely not happy to see this government come together is Italy’s Roma population. Far-right League leader Matteo Salvini has made no secret of his hostility to the beleaguered minority, and the feeling is mutual:



Following Venezuela’s decision to expel two US diplomats on Tuesday, itself a response to new US sanctions, the US responded to the response by expelling two Venezuelan diplomats on Wednesday.


Finally, our long national nightmare has come to an end:

US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has had his top security clearance restored, US media report.


Mr Kushner, who serves as Mr Trump’s adviser on the Middle East, had his access downgraded in February pending the completion of background checks.

I don’t for a millisecond believe that Kushner ever stopped reading top secret material after his clearance was downgraded, but nevertheless it’s comforting to know that, in America, even a ridiculously corrupt, hilariously incompetent nepotism case can get top secret clearance if his president father in-law just makes enough of a stink about it.

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