Armenian voters will get to vote on Sunday in the country’s first national election since Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s “Velvet Revolution” upended Armenian politics earlier this year. Pashinyan has been governing without a stable majority since then, though that’s expected to change after Sunday when his My Step party is expected to pull in somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 percent of the vote, according to opinion polls. The hitherto ruling Republican Party is expected to take a real beating.
The Taliban killed at least 14 Afghan soldiers overnight in a “coordinated attack” on two military outposts in Herat province.
The Free Papua Movement, whose West Papua National Liberation Army carried out the attack last weekend that left 19 construction workers dead in a fairly remote part of the province, is calling on the Indonesian government to negotiate over Papuan independence. The group says it may carry out more attacks like the most recent one moving forward. The separatists claim that the construction site they attacked, which is part of a highway being built to connect Indonesia’s Papua and West Papua provinces, is being run by the Indonesian military.
Philippine Maoist rebels say they’re declaring ceasefires for the Christmas and New Years holidays, but the Philippine government isn’t buying it. It says it has no intention of suspending military activity over the holidays, the first time in 30 years it’s not doing so.
Analysts suggest that Beijing has too much to lose to allow this week’s arrest of Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou to affect trade talks with the United States:
“China has more incentive than the U.S. to stop the escalation,” said Yanmei Xie, an analyst at the Gavekal Dragonomics consultancy in Beijing. “The Chinese priority is to stop the U.S. from launching crippling sanctions against Huawei. If the U.S. does what it did to ZTE, there’s very little China can do to prevent Huawei from collapsing, and that’s not in China’s interest.”
For that reason, China would try not to “provoke” the United States, she said.
Alex Thurston says that Malian forces may have killed a senior figure within Mali’s al-Qaeda affiliate last month:
In November, media outlets reported that French and Malian forces had killed Amadou/Hamadoun Kouffa, the foremost jihadist in central Mali, on 23 November. A few days later, French Minister of the Armies Florence Parly confirmed Kouffa’s death (see also her initial statements on the raid). An official statement from France’s counterterrorism mission in the Sahel, Operation Barkhane, can be found here. The operation seems to have taken place in the Mopti region of Mali, near the Malian-Mauritanian border.
The organization Kouffa belonged to – Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa-l-Muslimin (JNIM, the Group for Supporting Islam and Muslims), a part of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – has not yet issued a eulogy. The Mauritanian journalist Muhammad Mahmud Abu al-Ma’ali has said that a source within JNIM denied Kouffa’s death and proclaimed him to be in good health. (See also here.)
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
The Congolese government says that militants killed at least 18 civilians late Thursday in two attacks on the town of Beni, in North Kivu province. That’s pretty much ground zero for the country’s ongoing ebola outbreak, which has been greatly exacerbated by regional violence and instability.
The Ukrainian government says it plans to send naval warships through the Kerch Strait “soon,” mostly as a statement that Russia cannot dictate Ukraine’s access to the Sea of Azov. We’ll have to see whether this touches off another confrontation like the one last month. Speaking of which, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that Moscow is prepared to discuss the fate of the 24 Ukrainian sailors it seized in that incident, but only after they’ve been tried for…well, whatever it is the Russians are alleging they did. Illegally entering Russian waters, I guess.
One country watching the recent flare up in Russia-Ukraine tensions is Bulgaria, whose prime minister, Boyko Borissov, said on Friday that more conflict in the Black Sea region would represent a “major crisis” for his country. Bulgaria depends on the Black Sea for tourism and for much of its energy imports.
Anybody hoping for the United Kingdom to emerge from its Brexit mess as part of the European Free Trade Association, a la Norway, can probably forget about it. Several senior Norwegian leaders have rejected the notion, and since the UK couldn’t join the EFTA without Norwegian approval, that would appear to be that. Several UK leaders have rejected the idea as well, since going from the European Union to the EFTA would mean that Britain would still be subject to most EU rules while giving up any ability to help set those rules.
The Christian Democratic Union on Friday elected close Angela Merkel ally and party secretary-general Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to replace Merkel as party leader in a very close two-round vote. Kramp-Karrenbauer was Merkel’s preferred successor, and her victory likely diminishes any possibility of the party moving to oust Merkel as chancellor before the next German national election (due no later than October 2021).
Italian leaders are not budging so far on their 2019 budget, even though its deficit target has been rejected by the EU. The Italian Chamber of Deputies passed the measure on Friday night, leaving it up to the Italian Senate to amend the budget perhaps to make it more amenable to Brussels. Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini argued on Friday that the budget will help prevent the kind of large, violent anti-austerity protests currently gripping France from coming to Italy.
Those protests are expected to kick into high gear again on Saturday, and French authorities have called out some 89,000 police officers nationwide to meet what could be some violent demonstrations. The “yellow vests” protesters, who took to the streets in opposition to a gas tax hike but are expressing anger over the much broader issues of economic justice and inequality, remain popular in French opinion polling–certainly much more popular than French President Emmanuel Macron.
In the face of all this public outrage, Macron has bravely remembered that he has a prime minister, Édouard Philippe, and has been feeding Philippe to the mob while remaining largely out of the public eye himself. This is decidedly out of character for Macron, who normally never meets a camera before which he’s unwilling to stand. But French police have apparently started rounding up and detaining students on the possibility that they might engage in protests, really bringing out the inner fascism in Macron’s allegedly centrist government.
If you’ve wondered why Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t been vocally opposed to Brexit, it’s because, at his core, he’s not. Corbyn’s complaints about the EU don’t look anything like Nigel Farage’s, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean he’s a big Brussels fan:
Corbyn argued that Labour would be internationalist whether the UK was inside or outside the EU, and promised that the party would “work together to help build a real social Europe” by protecting workers’ and consumers’ rights.
He said: “EU support for austerity and failed neoliberal policies have caused serious hardship for working people across Europe.” It had “damaged the credibility of European social democratic parties and played a significant role in the vote for Brexit.”
However, he promised that under his leadership Labour would take a different approach, and he added a stark warning: “If the European political establishment carries on with business as usual, the fake populists of the far right will fill the vacuum. European socialists have to fight for a different kind of Europe.”
Corbyn is…not wrong here. And frankly, though he’s a disgusting racist scumbag, neither was Salvini up there. You only need to take one look at what’s happening in France, or what’s happened to Merkel in Germany, or the rise of the far right in all the EU member states that haven’t benefited from their membership in quite the same way that Germany and France have, to see the damage that Europe’s obsession with austerity has done. And you only have to look at Emmanuel Macron’s approval rating and his looming presidential rematch with Marine Le Pen in 2022 to see the damage it’s going to continue to do unless something changes.
Brazilian loggers–many of them operating illegally–aren’t even waiting for Jair Bolsonaro’s inauguration to start destroying the Amazon rain forest–they’ve already kicked off the festivities:
The rate of deforestation in the Amazon, the world’s largest rain forest, leaped 50 percent from August through October as Bolsonaro emerged as a favorite in the country’s presidential election, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, which keeps tabs on the destruction of the rain forest through satellite images.
Bolsonaro rode a populist wave of disgust with Brazil’s traditional political parties to a presidential victory in October, waving off concerns about the environment with speeches about economic development in the rain forest. The former army captain has promised to reap the Amazon’s riches for Brazil and suggested that he would cut back on indigenous rights. He criticized the government’s environmental protection agency as an “industry of fines.”
The Cuban government has quickly rolled back some new regulations it rolled out over the summer, including eliminating a rule capping private restaurants at 50 seats and a ban on Cubans owning multiple businesses. Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel tweeted on Friday that the changes, made in the face of heavy public criticism, show his government is responsive to the popular will.
Obviously this is in response to Tillerson telling an audience at a charity fundraiser on Thursday night that Trump often gave him illegal orders, never read any briefing materials, and was “undisciplined.” But I just thought it was funny and I figured maybe you all could use a little joke at the end of the week.