World update: October 1 2018



Afghan security forces on Sunday night raided the home of Atallah Safi, a candidate for parliament in Kunar province, killing three of his bodyguards. Two additional people were reportedly arrested for some reason–no explanation for the raid has been forthcoming.


The Pakistani government has reduced the Chinese loan backing a major Belt and Road project to rebuild a colonial-era rail line between Karachi and Peshawar from $8.2 billion to $6.2 billion. This could be the first of several such adjustments, as new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan looks for ways to reduce the level of Pakistan’s indebtedness to China around these infrastructure projects.


When he takes office as the Maldives’ new president, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih is going to have a very full plate. On top of managing relations with India and China, he’ll be tasked with rebuilding Maldivian democracy:

The new government, which is set to take office in November, has several challenging tasks ahead. The “most pressing” of these is the “reversal of some of the undemocratic practices that Yameen’s government entrenched in the country,” Faisal said. Besides, the new government will have to reverse the politicization of all the country’s independent oversight institutions, its judiciary, as well as state companies by the Yameen government.

According to Mohamed of the Maldivian Democracy Network, the new government’s main challenges include “reforming of the police and judiciary, countering violent extremism, and handling the ballooning debt to China.” Solih’s administration “must review and amend repressive laws” put in place by the Yameen government, which “enabled grand corruption and violation of human rights” during his rule. Importantly, the Maldives “needs its own truth and reconciliation mechanism to resolve decades of political violence and persecution,” according to Mohamed.


North Korean state media outlet KCNA argued in a commentary piece (which could be taken as a reflection of what the North Korean government is thinking) on Tuesday that a negotiated end to the Korean War should not be “a bargaining chip” that the US uses to get Pyongyang to denuclearize. The KCNA piece said that ending the war is “the most basic and primary process for the establishment of new DPRK-US relations and peace.” and that it should have been done “half a century ago.”


North Korean and South Korean soldiers began removing some landmines from the Demilitarized Zone on Monday. This is one of the agreements South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reached during their September summit in Pyongyang. The two sides have agreed to remove all landmines from the “Joint Security Area” around Panmunjom over the next 20 days.


Okinawan voters elected Denny Tamaki, the son of a US Marine father and a Japanese mother, as their new governor on Sunday. He’s the first mixed-race governor in Japan, so that’s nice. But what makes his election important from a geopolitical standpoint is that Tamaki is a staunch opponent of plans to move the US military base on Okinawa to a new site in a less populated part of the island. Tamaki wants the US military off of Okinawa altogether. As governor, Tamaki probably doesn’t have the power to stop the relocation but he can certainly make the process much more difficult.



Speaking of gubernatorial elections, Nigeria held one on Friday in the state of Osun that was marred with multiple reports of serious irregularities. The international outcry was such that Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari felt the need to assure everyone on Monday that next year’s presidential election will be conducted on the up-and-up. It’s not clear at this point that anybody believes him.


An al-Shabab suicide bomber struck a European Union military convoy in Mogadishu on Monday, killing one civilian and injuring several soldiers.



At LobeLog, Mark Katz suggests that Russian efforts to avoid alienating anyone in the Middle East may be faltering:

So far, Moscow has managed to maintain good relations with opposing sides in several Middle East conflict situations, including Iran vs. Israel, Israel vs. Syria and Hezbollah, Israel vs. the Palestinians, Iran vs. Saudi Arabia and others, Qatar vs. Saudi Arabia and others, Turkey vs. the Syrian Kurds. Moscow, in short, has good relations with all the major actors in the Middle East except jihadists such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

The recent incident in which Syrian forces shot down a Russian aircraft in response to an Israeli attack, though, raises doubts about how long Russia can continue to have good relations with opposing sides simultaneously in all these bitter disputes.


Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev on Monday intensified his threat to call for an early election if parliament doesn’t back his agreement with Greece to change the country’s name to the Republic of North Macedonia. Zaev first suggested the possibility of an early election on Sunday after a non-binding referendum on the name change passed overwhelmingly but with turnout far below the 50 percent level needed to be considered valid.

Zaev (right) with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras after they concluded the naming agreement in June (Wikimedia)

Zaev seems to have been caught off guard by the success of opposition calls to boycott the vote, which he was hoping to use to motivate wavering opposition legislators to back the name change. He needs at least 80 votes in the country’s 120 seat parliament to pass the name chance legislation. The high level of popular support for joining NATO and the European Union, both of which hinge on this deal with Greece going through, could still be enough to sway those legislators, or alternatively enough to be decisive in a snap election.


A new report from the Italian think tank ISPI says that the decision by Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to close the country’s ports to migrant rescue ships is killing people:

In the four months since Salvini took power, the average number of deaths per day has risen to 8, compared with 3.2 in the period between July 16, 2017 and May 31, 2018, when the previous government was in charge, [ISPI researcher Matteo] Villa’s calculations show.

The death rate in September was 19 percent, so about one in five migrants who attempted to reach Italy from North Africa perished. That’s the highest monthly death rate recorded since at least 2012, when reliable data began to be collected, Villa said.



The United Nations International Court of Justice ruled in Chile’s favor on Monday in a suit brought by the Bolivian government asking that Chile be forced to negotiate with Bolivia over providing access to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia lost its coastline in the late-19th century War of the Pacific against Chile and the 1904 treaty that ended that war, but has continued to claim a stretch of coastline that Chile insists is its property. Had the ICJ ruling gone the other way it would have obliged Chile to participate in talks over the coastline but not necessarily to cede it to Bolivia. Under this ruling it’s unclear what’s left for Bolivia to do in order to press its claim.


With the first round of Brazil’s presidential election Sunday and Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad climbing in the polls, a conspicuously well-timed court decision may set the party back on its heels:

A judge released fresh testimony on Monday alleging corrupt practices involving members of Brazil’s leftist Workers Party (PT), whose candidate Fernando Haddad faces far-right lawmaker Jair Bolsonaro in this month’s presidential election.

Anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro unsealed the plea-bargain testimony of jailed former Finance Minister Antonio Palocci stating that PT founder and then-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ordered the collection of bribe money in 2010 to fund the campaign of his successor Dilma Rousseff.

Lawyers for Lula, who was jailed in April and barred from running for office due to a corruption conviction, said publication of the testimony was politically motivated to harm Lula and his party.

A new poll released on Monday suggests that Haddad’s surge might have leveled off anyway. The survey, from Brazil’s Ibope pollster, had far right candidate Jair Bolsonaro leading Haddad in the first round by ten points, 31-21, and tying him in a runoff, 42-42. The same poll last week had Haddad up 42-38. Bolsonaro’s unfavorables remain much higher than Haddad’s, suggesting that his ceiling in a runoff is low, but on the other hand you can expect a lot of money to be spent in Bolsonaro’s favor if the election comes down to those two candidates.


UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi reported on Monday that 5000 people are leaving Venezuela per day at this point and that 1.9 million Venezuelans have left the country since 2015. Grandi called for a more cohesive regional effort to respond to the refugee crisis.


Improbably, incredibly so really, the US and Canada managed to strike an 11th hour and 59th minute trade agreement Sunday night that will salvage NAFTA. Well, sort of. It’s not actually “NAFTA” anymore, now it’s “USMCA,” or the “US-Mexico-Canada Agreement.” OK, sure, whatever. Donald Trump and company are of course casting the new accord as a huge win for the president and a substantial renegotiation of NAFTA, and while at first glance at least it looks a lot more like “NAFTA under a different name” than anything particularly revolutionary, there are some differences, especially around the auto industry, dairy markets, and improved labor provisions.


Finally, with all the talk about Russia and/or China meddling in the 2016 and/or 2018 elections, I thought you’d enjoy The Intercept’s look at past US interventions in other countries’ democratic processes:


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