World update: May 28 2018

In the interest of the Memorial Day holiday, today’s update(s) may be a little shorter and/or earlier than usual.



The Taliban’s “governor” of Helmand province has been overheard (his communications were intercepted) ordering the closure of all opium processing facilities in populated areas in the province, citing civilian deaths caused by US airstrikes on those facilities. The US insists it hasn’t found a single “credible instances” of civilian casualties caused by its strikes on these sorts of facilities, though this is probably a case of US forces simply assuming that anyone caught in the bombing of a suspected drug facility must ipso facto be a legitimate target.


Afghan and Pakistani security officials agreed in Rawalpindi over the weekend to boost their joint efforts to combat terrorism by forming working groups, which should definitely solve the problem. The Afghan Taliban routinely operates out of Pakistan, while the Pakistani Taliban routinely operates out of Afghanistan, so presumably those working groups will have a lot of ground to cover.


Kashmiri separatists attacked an Indian army camp near the village of Kakpora late Sunday, leading to overnight fighting in which one Indian soldier and one civilian were killed.


Indian officials have shut down a copper plant in the city of Thootukudi, just days after police there killed 13 people who were protesting against the British-owned facility and the environmental damage it has caused.


Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano says that he has expressed to China his government’s “red lines” regarding disputed areas of the South China Sea. These include harassment of Philippine troops in the area, new construction activity on the Scarborough Shoal, and any Chinese attempt to unilaterally extract natural resources from areas that are claimed by both countries.


South Korean President Moon Jae-in is very much the man of the hour, trying to hold the now-apparently-on-again June 12 summit between Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un together. But it’s opening him up to attacks domestically:

The fact that talks resumed a day after the surprise inter-Korean meeting was viewed by Moon’s supporters as a sign of his increasingly effective role. Moon had pledged during his 2017 campaign to take the “driver’s seat” to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.


His conservative critics, however, say Moon should be reinforcing the U.S.-South Korea alliance rather than acting as a neutral facilitator between North Korea and the United States. They also say Moon is setting unrealistic expectations and masking fundamental gaps between the two sides on the definition of denuclearization.


Moon’s rapprochement with the North has divided the South Korean government. On Monday, the legislature failed to ratify the “Panmunjom Declaration,” an agreement Kim and Moon signed at a summit in April to seek “a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.”

Moon may now attend the Trump-Kim summit, which would probably boost his credibility at home. But regardless of how Trump and Kim get along, and to his credit, Moon is pushing for more “impromptu” meetings with Kim like the one the two men held on Saturday to try to salvage the summit. That kind of diplomacy is definitely welcome.



Militia forces aligned with the Libyan government based in Tripoli are apparently skeptical about the meetings its representatives will be having in Paris this week to attempt to negotiate terms for a Libyan election. They believe that eastern Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar will benefit from any political process because it will offer him space to consolidate control over areas like Derna, which his army is currently besieging. The Tripoli government has agreed to participate in the political process, but there are already signs of a backlash developing among its supporters.


Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita announced on Monday that he will run for a second term in Mali’s July 29 presidential election. Not that there was much doubt that he would. The chief concern is that violence, especially in the north, could derail the election or at least severely impact election officials’ ability to conduct a proper vote.


Political scientist Yohannes Gedamu looks at new-ish Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the challenge he faces in broadening the ruling coalition’s appeal. So far he seems to be using Ethiopian nationalism as his main tool:

Understanding the rising ethnic tensions and mistrust between regional elites that became evident in the last two decades, the new premier adopted a reconciliatory tone. Since taking office, Ahmed has been attempting to tackle the mistrust among factions within the ruling coalition as well as that of the citizens through discussions of “Ethiopiawinet”, the Amharic word for Ethiopianness.


Through these discussions, Ahmed has managed to further reinvigorate Ethiopian nationalism and utilise it as a uniting force. For many Ethiopians who were disillusioned by the divisive ethnic politics of the last two decades and even questioned the fate of the nation, his nationalist rhetoric has aroused new optimism.


Since taking office, Ahmed has also secured the release of thousands of Ethiopians imprisoned in Sudan, Kenya and Saudi Arabia – a move that attests to his commitment to revive Ethiopian nationalism and protect citizens wherever they are.


However, Ahmed is still not immune to criticism.


The United Nations says it will begin an investigation next week into war crimes allegedly committed during the CAR’s 2003-2015 conflicts between a series of governments and armed Muslim and Christian gangs. With violence increasing again in the CAR, there’s some hope that this investigation, followed by punishment for those found to have committed the crimes, could serve as a way to break the country out of the cycle of conflict.



Czech President Miloš Zeman told reporters on Monday that he will reappoint Andrej Babiš as prime minister before the middle of June so that Babiš can take another crack at forming a governing coalition. Babiš’s ANO party won October’s election and Zeman designated him PM in December, but he’s had a tough time finding coalition partners in part due to his own corruption scandal. But he cut a deal with the Czech Social Democratic Party earlier this month, pending a referendum among party members. Under its terms, Babiš had to agree to resign as PM if he’s convicted in that aforementioned corruption case.


So in case it wasn’t already clear in your head, Italian politics headed for a high speed train wreck, if they aren’t already there. After spiking the Five Star-League coalition this weekend over its insistence on appointing an anti-euro finance minister, Italian President Sergio Mattarella named former International Monetary Fund economist Carlo Cottarelli to head an interim government that will have two responsibilities: passing a 2019 budget and shepherding the country to a new election. The symbolism involved in scuppering a populist elected government for an anti-populist unelected one led by a former IMF official, mostly in order to appease nervous international financial markets, could not possibly be any more on the nose.

Mattarella was within his prerogative to take this step, which is why talk about him undermining Italian democracy is probably going a bit–though only a bit–too far. He definitely has decided to bigfoot Italian voters. He’s unlikely to be impeached over it, at least this time, because League party leader Matteo Salvini doesn’t seem to support it. But Mattarella’s power here is limited. Five Star and the League have a collective majority in parliament, so Cottarelli’s cabinet is unlikely to win legislative approval and any 2019 budget it concocts may already be obsolete. Ideally Cottarelli would like to get parliamentary support on the condition that he plans a new election for early 2019, but if he fails to get support the vote will be held this year, perhaps as soon as August.

That vote, whenever it comes, will now be a referendum on Italy’s future in the European Union and the euro. Mattarella’s actions have ensured it. Both Five Star and the League had toned down their anti-Europe rhetoric in the lead up to March’s election, but their attempt at a coalition just got blocked precisely over those issues. If, as expected, the two parties (but especially the League) do better the next time around, it will be hard to avoid the conclusion that Italian voters want these parties running the country and are OK with their approach to European issues. Polling, which shows that most Italians don’t want to abandon the euro and are warming slightly to the EU overall, will matter less than the results of the election. Indeed, Mattarella may push some voters into the euroskeptic camp will his interference. Or maybe he’s have found the wedge issue on which Five Star and the League can be beaten back, and the two parties will actually do worse in a snap election. That seems unlikely but I suppose it can’t be ruled out. Whatever the outcome of the next election, if Mattarella decides to blow it all up a second time then I think the move toward impeachment will pick up considerably.



According to the Penal Forum human rights organization, two generals were among a group of 15 military officers arrested by government authorities in the days immediately before and after the country’s May 20 presidential election. Just in case you need to update your Venezuelan Coup Tracker.

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