World update: October 29 2018



At least six people were wounded on Monday when an ISIS suicide bomber struck near the headquarters of the Afghan election commission in Kabul.


Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa began his new gig as prime minister on Monday, after having been suddenly appointed to the job by current President Maithripala Sirisena last week. Sirisena even expanded Rajapaksa’s portfolio by naming him finance minister as well.

Rajapaksa’s appointment was greeted warmly by China, with which he had good relations when he was president, but the European Union, India, and the US all called upon Sirisena to reconvene parliament (he suspended it over the weekend) and allow legislators to choose between Rajapaksa and former (?) PM Ranil Wickremesinghe, who insists that the decision to sack him was unconstitutional.


The Myanmar government is working hard to obliterate evidence of the Rohingya genocide:

In Inn Din, as in other parts of Rakhine state, the Myanmar government is demolishing areas where thousands of Rohingya lived before fleeing to Bangladesh. Bulldozers and backhoes are parked beside new, blue-roofed homes, built by a government agency chaired by state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

During a government-organised media tour of northern Rakhine state late last month, Inn Din village administrator Kyaw Soe Moe told the Guardian the new homes would soon be occupied by “Rakhine, Chin, Bamar, and Hindu people from other parts of the country”.

According to a UN fact-finding mission, whose report last month called for Myanmar’s military leaders to be prosecuted for genocide, the purpose of the bulldozing and construction is “the removal of the Rohingya and all traces of them and their replacement with non-Rohingya”.


Hey, if you’re in the market for a lightly-used superyacht–and who isn’t, am I right folks–the $250 million Equanimity, which is linked to the 1MDB corruption scandal, is apparently up for auction. Infamous Malaysian financier Jho Low, who remains at large, allegedly bought the vessel with 1MDB’s money.



A group of ISIS fighters assaulted the central Libyan town of Foqha late Sunday, killing at least four people, possibly kidnapping ten more, and setting several government buildings on fire. Foqha is controlled by forces loyal to eastern Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar, but it’s far enough from major population centers that ISIS has been able to maintain a presence in its vicinity.


At least 15 people were wounded on Monday when a female suicide bomber detonated her explosives in the middle of downtown Tunis. It’s the worst attack of its kind in Tunisia since 2015, but at this point it’s not clear if the woman had any terrorist affiliations or what her motive could possibly have been apart from terrorism. She reportedly left home in Mahdia province three days ago and told her family that she was going to Tunis to “look for work.”

The Tunisian economy continues to lag, with high unemployment and moderate inflation squeezing the poor especially hard. This is particularly true in southern Tunisia, where government efforts to crack down on the routes ISIS has used to cross between Tunisia and Libya have also cut off the traditional smuggling routes that people in southern Tunisia have traditionally used to make a living in the absence of legitimate work. This has led to a rising tide of protest and unrest in that part of the country, fueling an overall state of unrest that has Tunisian authorities concerned.


Nigerian soldiers in Abuja reportedly opened fire on a crowd of hundreds of Shiʿa protesters from the Islamic Movement of Nigeria on Monday. The protesters were demanding the release of IMN leader Ibrahim Zakzaky, who was arrested by the government back in December 2015. Reuters is reporting this story based on information from a witness but there’s been no official corroboration nor has there been any sort of casualty count. The Nigerian army killed three IMN members on Saturday when it says one of its convoys was ambushed in Abuja by the IMN, who began throwing stones at the soldiers.



Swedish Prime Minister and Social Democratic party leader Stefan Löfven on Monday abandoned his attempt to cobble together a governing coalition, making a snap election far more likely. Both Löfven and center-right Alliance leader Ulf Kristersson have now tried and failed to form a government since Sweden’s parliamentary election last month, and it’s not clear who’s left to give it a shot. Parliament speaker Andreas Norlén apparently plans to make one more crack at nominating a PM before giving up. There’s a fear that a new election would only benefit the hard-right Sweden Democrats, who did very well in September but who are too far right to be an acceptable coalition partner for either of the country’s major political blocs.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel put an expiration date on her political career on Monday, telling leaders of her Christian Democratic Union party that she will not run for reelection as party head in December. She will remain chancellor until the end of her term in 2021, assuming her tenuous governing coalition survives that long, but will not seek to remain in that post either. Merkel has presided over the collapse of the CDU’s popularity and the ultra-collapse of the Social Democratic Party’s popularity as her coalition partner, which has corresponded to a rise in support for the neo-Nazi Alternative for Germany party and the Greens. This weekend’s electoral setback for both the CDU and SPD in Hesse state appears to have been the last straw, and Merkel’s move may have been intended to keep the SPD from abandoning the national coalition. Merkel presumably also wants to exert some influence over the CDU election to replace her, though she’s losing popularity so fast that anyone who appears too close to her may find that closeness to be a liability.


Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond said on Monday that austerity is coming to an end and promised £30 billion in spending increases by 2024, depending I guess on how big a number Brexit does on the British economy. And to think, by then it will only have taken about 15 years of immiserating the British people and fomenting a toxic, destructive right-wing populist movement in the process to finally get the economy kind of back to where it was when the 2008 crash happened, if you sort of squint at it the right way. Austerity does work after all.



The Jair Bolsonaro era is upon Brazil, and apparently it’s time to strap in and feel the Gs:

By Monday, supporters and opponents alike were posing a pivotal question: Now that Bolsonaro has won, what will he — what can he — do when he takes office on Jan. 1?

Bolsonaro, analysts say, may be able to push through a surprising number of measures — if not major legislation — relatively quickly. Acting on its own, his administration could decide what kinds of books Brazilian schoolchildren read or soft-pedal environmental enforcement, as he has vowed to do.

But the upending of the political class in these elections gave him not only a mandate, but a fresh alliance in Congress of evangelical, pro-gun and agribusiness lawmakers. They appear set to give him a majority in the lower house, and possibly in the senate. While not overwhelming enough to immediately push through radical, constitutional change, it could be enough for a string of new laws.

“There are sets of ideas and proposals that require legislative action, but a whole other group, that is about changing behavior and culture,” said Oliver Stuenkel, professor of international relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo. “It’s less circumscribed by law. What’s the response when police shoot to kill on sight? If the president is setting the tone on that, you create cultural change.”

Bolsonaro is already talking about moving government advertising away from unfriendly–er, excuse me, “lying”–media outlets, a small step but one that could put the country comfortably on the road to censorship. He’s already reportedly started removing material unfriendly to fascism from university libraries. He’s almost certain to open up vast swathes of the Amazon to mining and other kinds of environmentally catastrophic development. And he’ll undoubtedly give the Brazilian military a great deal of power over civilian governance, creating something that approximates the country’s old military dictatorship in all but the most formal senses. Brazilian markets and Donald Trump are naturally very excited about all of this:


One place where Bolsonaro could make an immediate splash is in Venezuela. This is in Portuguese and behind a paywall, but Google tells me that the headline reads “Colombia suggests alliance with Bolsonaro to overthrow Maduro.” Which sounds like it would be tons of fun. Bolsonaro says he’s not interested, but he’s likely to feel pressure to Do Something about Venezuela due to the growing refugee crisis in northern Brazil.

Fortunately the Russian government is sending economic advisers to Venezuela. If there’s any government that knows how to create a booming economy it’s definitely, uh, Russia. Yeah, let’s go with that.


Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced on Monday that he’ll be scrapping a planned $13 billion Mexico City airport, opting instead to convert a nearby military air base to civilian use to ease the burden on Mexico City’s existing airport. The Mexican peso promptly tanked as all the oligarchs who were getting richer off of the airport project were confronted with a lot of lost revenue and began to worry about the rest of AMLO’s economic plan. AMLO held an admittedly kind of dubious referendum over the weekend in which a majority of respondents (though the overall response rate was less than one percent of the Mexican population) voted to squash the airport project, and anyway he’s been opposed to it himself. Current Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto says that cancelling the project may mean prepaying the bonds that were floated to finance it, which could be a hefty burden for the Mexican economy.


Finally, it would appear that Donald Trump has ordered the deployment of 5200 active duty US soldiers to the Mexican border to secure it against a migrant caravan that is weeks away from arrival and will probably have dwindled into the hundreds by the time it gets here–you know, the caravan Trump keeps calling “an invasion.” This would be a strong contender for the most pants-pissing display of cowardice in US history if it weren’t so nakedly, cravenly political. This deployment is meant to do one thing and one thing only: get racist Trump voters to the polls on November 6. Any other attempt at an explanation is bullshit. And the allegedly apolitical US military is of course enthusiastically participating in the show.

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