World update: November 17-18 2018

Our technical problems have been resolved so I’m going to give this a shot, but it’ll be a rush job so apologies for that. As I said in that earlier post the Thanksgiving holiday means that this will be our last set of updates until next week, though the site isn’t going completely dark. We’ll be back to normal on the 26th barring any unforeseen complications.



At least five Afghan police officers were killed early Saturday when their checkpoint in Baghdis province was attacked by the Taliban.

The Taliban announced on Sunday that their representatives in Qatar had just finished three days of talks with a US delegation led by Afghan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. For his part, Khalilzad didn’t explicitly confirm that the talks had taken place but deny that they had either. It’s safe to say at this point that the US has dropped its longstanding refusal to hold direct talks with the Taliban, which has been one of the obstacles to an Afghan peace deal. There is some growing optimism about the possibility of a peace deal, but that possibility increasingly looks like it will depend on canceling next year’s presidential election and dissolving President Ashraf Ghani’s government. Which isn’t going to be an easy thing to sell to Ghani.


There were multiple terrorist attacks across Pakistan over the weekend. On Sunday, a roadside bomb killed at least three Pakistani soldiers in Quetta, while an RPG attack on a military vehicle in North Waziristan killed at least two more. The day before, Pakistani Taliban gunmen in Quetta killed a former high ranking official in the Baluchistan provincial police force.


Unknown attackers killed at least three people on Sunday when they threw a grenade at a Sikh prayer hall in a village outside the city of Amritsar in the Punjab.


New Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih was sworn in on Sunday, replacing outgoing autocrat Yameen Abdul Gayoom. Solih was the surprise winner of September’s presidential election, which conventional wisdom said that Yameen had already rigged with his often brutal suppression of political opposition. Solih’s inauguration presumably was a happy day for India, which was seeing its traditional Maldivian ally move into China’s diplomatic orbit under Yameen.


Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena wants parliament to hold a third no-confidence vote on his choice of prime minister, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa has now failed two such votes and will almost certainly fail the third unless he and Sirisena have some plan up their sleeve. Sirisena says he wants the next vote to be conducted by roll call.


Bangladesh’s big Rohingya repatriation effort now looks like it’s not going to get off the ground until 2019. What a surprise! Who could have predicted that the effort to get Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to return to the country that tried to genocide them last year and had done nothing to assure their safety would struggle to find volunteers willing to go back?


Myanmar soldiers shot and wounded four Rohingya during a raid on a displaced persons camp in western Myanmar on Sunday. Yeah, damn, it’s a real puzzler why none of those refugees want to return home.



Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and his FijiFirst party hung on to power by the skin of their collective teeth in this week’s election, getting 50.02 percent of the vote. Obviously that’s a majority, but it’s a big dip from the 60 percent the party won in 2014. And it’s close enough that potential challenges by opposition parties could nudge the outcome in a much different direction if any of them are successful.



A group of 81 migrants whose death-trap raft was intercepted at sea on November 10 and who were returned to Libya on a cargo ship now say they would rather die on that ship than disembark back in Libya. Many of them only managed to get out of Libya after enduring unspeakable abuse at the hands of Libya’s human traffickers. Doctors Without Borders has gotten access to the ship to treat the migrants but obviously that’s not a long-term solution to their situation.


At least 42 people were killed on Thursday when a camp for displaced persons in the town of Alindao was attacked by militants. It’s unclear which of the CAR’s multitude of armed groups carried out the attack.

On Saturday, the CAR government delivered former Christian militia leader Alfred Yekatom, aka “Rambo,” to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. Yekatom is accused of myriad war crimes for his role running an anti-Balaka force in 2013 and 2014. He was later elected to parliament and was arrested earlier this year after allegedly firing a gun at work.


As has been increasingly apparent over the past several days, Madagascar’s presidential election will go to a December 19 runoff between former presidents Andry Rajoelina, who won the first round with 39.19 percent of the vote, and Marc Ravalomanana, who finished second with 35.29 percent, on 54.3 percent turnout. Technical incumbent (he resigned prior to the vote amid protests over his efforts to rig the process legally) Hery Rajaonarimampianina couldn’t even crack nine percent and will now have plenty of time to think about Where It All Went Wrong. Election observers seem to agree that the vote was relatively clean and it was certainly free from the kind of violence that has occasionally attended Madagascar’s elections in the past.



The Turkish government is issuing threats to anyone who thinks about exploiting Cyprus’s offshore energy potential in the absence of an agreement to reunify the country. It says any energy deals that the Greek Cypriot government strikes could “upset some sensitive balances” in the region. Ankara is of course part of the reason why reunification talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots fell apart last year.


A woman suicide bomber detonated her bomb outside a police checkpoint in Grozny on Saturday, but she was the only casualty.


Hundreds of thousands of people protested across France on Saturday and Sunday over high fuel taxes and other economic complaints. Some 288,000 demonstrated on Saturday, blocking traffic in several French cities. At least 409 people were injured amid the weekend rallies and over 200 people were arrested. Protesters are particularly angry over an increase in taxes on diesel, part of Emmanuel Macron’s overall plan to get France off of fossil fuels.


European Union negotiator Michel Barnier has suggested that the UK’s Brexit transition period could be extended so that it ends not at the end of 2020 but at the end of 2022. There is a plan to allow for one extension of the transition period, but the length of that extension has not yet been determined. The transition period is a lousy arrangement for the UK because it subjects it to all the requirements of EU membership with a substantially decreased ability to affect EU policy. But it’s necessary to cushion the blow of leaving on British companies and the British public, and is intended to allow the UK and EU time to negotiate a free trade agreement. Theresa May, who is still scrambling to save her job though it’s far from clear whether her Tory opponents have enough support to make a leadership challenge, will probably counter with a significantly shorter extension.

Of course any notion of a transition period depends on the UK and EU agreeing to an exit deal that can pass muster with EU member states and the UK parliament. So far that’s not looking terribly likely. But if they do manage to achieve that, the talks over that hypothetical free trade agreement promise to be even more outrageous than the talks over the exit deal have been. European countries are already lining up to get their two cents into a potential political declaration about the future UK-EU relationship, and it’s not looking great for the UK. Every EU member is going to have restrictions it wants to put on the UK and its companies in order to prevent them from gaining any edge on EU firms as a result of Brexit:

France is pushing the UK to incorporate future European climate change directives into law automatically in return for an ambitious trade deal with the EU.

A large number of member states fear that the UK could enjoy an economic advantage after Brexit if it were able to diverge from European laws and regulations, and they want to use their leverage now to force a commitment from future British governments.

The demand by Emmanuel Macron for the UK to be tied into the EU’s Paris 2030 targets was just one of a series of interventions made by member states during recent meetings with Michel Barnier and his negotiating team.

While a UK withdrawal agreement dealing with citizens’ rights, the £39bn financial settlement and the Irish border have been agreed in principle, the political declaration on the future relationship is yet to be finalised. A seven-page declaration published last week is set to become a much heavier document after member states made a series of interventions in meetings with the European commission for additional text. One EU diplomat said: “It’s a Christmas tree and all the member states are putting their baubles on it.”

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