World update: December 1-2 2018

Happy Hanukkah to those readers who are celebrating!



Thousands of people protested in Tblisi on Sunday due to anger over the result of Wednesday’s presidential runoff. New President-elect Salome Zurabishvili, the candidate of the ruling Georgian Dream party, won handily, but the defeated Grigol Vashadze has alleged that the vote was rigged. International observers have said that the vote itself was conducted fairly but that the campaign was rigged, as Georgian Dream used its political and financial advantages to unfairly give Zurabishvili a leg up. Vashadze is threatening to challenge the result in court and has said he wants to work with the Georgian government to reform the country’s electoral laws and then hold a snap parliamentary election.

Zurabishvili, who was actually the more Russia-friendly of the two candidates (these things are relative), took a hard line against Moscow in an interview on Saturday. Referring to Russia as an “occupying power,” she told Reuters that she sees no opening for talks with Moscow until it stops squatting on South Ossetia and Abkhazia.


Provincial authorities are saying that an airstrike in Afghanistan’s Paktia province on Saturday killed at least ten civilians. The Paktia provincial government says it is investigating the report. Another airstrike in Helmand province on Sunday killed Abdul Manan, the Taliban’s leader in Helmand, along with 29 other insurgents.


Pakistani forces killed a Pakistani Taliban leader named Hakim Khan in a shootout on Saturday in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. He’d taken six people hostage in the city of Dera Ismail Khan late Friday.


Donald Trump and Xi Jinping may have emerged from the G20 with an agreement to stop poking at one another on trade, at least for a little while. After having dinner with Xi during the summit, Trump announced that he’s going to hold off on upping tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent after the new year. Xi, in turn, agreed to resume buying US agricultural products and to commit to some unspecified amount of additional US imports in order to address the trade imbalance between the two countries. He also apparently agreed to stop Chinese exports of a wide range of fentanyl-like drugs to the US, significantly toughening Chinese law to prevent drug companies from slightly tweaking their products to get around existing bans. Additionally, the two leaders committed to reforming the World Trade Organization, which was one of the summit’s goals. Leaders had been anxious particularly to get Trump to commit to WTO reform as a way to get him to drop his repeated threats to just abandon the organization altogether.


After the G20, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told reporters that Trump said he “likes” North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and that he asked Moon “to tell Chairman Kim that he wants to implement the rest of their agreement together and he will fulfill Chairman Kim’s wishes.” OK, so that last part is a little…weird, but the rest sounds nice. Except that “their agreement” was little more than some vague general principles that aren’t really implementable as such.



The Guardian’s Francesca Mannocchi reports on life in Tripoli, where the Gaddafi regime has been replaced by a regime run by unaccountable state-sanctioned militias:

Seven years after Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed in the Arab spring revolution, Libya has gone full circle from dictatorship through revolution, democracy, chaos and back to a new kind of tyranny. Except this time there is not one dictator but dozens, in the form of the very militias who defeated him. Also back are the dissidents, and after several days of hushed phone calls I have a meeting with one of the most prominent, Hmeed al-Mahdi, a lawyer.

Driving through this city means navigating a political fog as you try to work out who among the rag-tag gunmen in assorted uniforms and battered pickup trucks are gangsters, and who constitute the official security forces of the United Nations-backed government. After a while you realise they are the same. One unit is freshly kitted out in smart blue uniforms of the interior ministry, but it remains a militia, as violent and threatening as before. Tensions are high after the body of one warlord was dumped by rivals outside a city hospital in the latest tit-for-tat killing.


A roadside bomb in eastern Burkina Faso killed five people on Friday, four of them police officers. No group took responsibility for the attack but that region has increasingly become a hotbed for Islamist militants.


Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is still alive. Probably. But he was forced on Sunday to deny a long-running online rumor that he died months ago and was replaced by a lookalike. I think I saw that movie, actually.



US Africa Command says it carried out an airstrike in southern Somalia on Friday that killed nine al-Shabab fighters.



Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko pledged on Saturday to uphold the freedom of religion after the autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church comes into being. There’s no solid indication when that might be, but the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople said earlier this week that he’s “drafted a charter” for the new Ukrainian church. Poroshenko wanted to reassure Ukrainians who remain attached to the Russian Orthodox Church that they’re not going to be forced to abandon their church to worship in the new Ukrainian one.


French President Emmanuel Macron is designating his prime minister, Édouard Philippe, to meet with protesters and opposition leaders after weekend demonstrations over his gas tax hike and the unremitting shit he’s heaped upon French workers over the past year and a half turned violent. Over 100 people were injured and the mob set cars and buildings in downtown Paris on fire. Some 378 people were arrested as an estimated 130,000 people demonstrated.


The Vox party, Spain’s version of the far right/nationalist/fascist populist movement that’s been sweeping Europe, won 12 seats in the Andalusian regional parliament on Sunday, the first time a far right party in Spain has had that much success in decades. So that’s nice.



Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office as Mexican president on Saturday with a speech in which he talked about “purifying” Mexican politics and said that “the poor come first”:

“What we want, what we desire is to purify public life in Mexico,” Amlo said during the ceremony. “I repeat my commitment: I will not lie, I will not steal or betray the people of Mexico.”

He gave a 90-minute speech to the thousands of jubilant supporters jamming the Zócalo, the city’s main square, vowing to help the poor in a nation where almost half the population lives in poverty.

“We are going to govern for everyone, but we are going to give preference to the most impoverished and vulnerable,” Amlo said. “For the good of all, the poor come first.”

Speaking in a personal style honed over decades of small-town rallies, he told the crowd: “Be patient and have confidence in me.”

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