Weekly Global Newscast |December 24 - December 30, 2018
Alleged Leader of Chinese Consulate Attack in Pakistan Killed
Pakistani separatist leader wanted over an attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi has been killed along with five others in a suicide blast in Afghanistan. Aslam Baloch, who had allegedly championed the attack on the Chinese consulate earlier this year, was sought by the government for his involvement in the act.
‘Aslam Baloch, a top commander of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), was accused by Pakistani authorities of masterminding the November attack which left seven people dead. He was killed on Tuesday along with five associates in a blast in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province, the Associated Press news agency reported, citing a statement issued by the BLA late on Wednesday. The group, one of the various armed groups fighting in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province, has vowed to continue its fight for Baloch independence.’ Associated Press reported for Al Jazeera.
‘Officials believe that Aslam alias Achhu was the mastermind of the attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi and another suicide attack on a bus in the Dalbandin area of Chagai district which was carrying Chinese engineers and other staff to Quetta from Saindak this year. Afghan Media reports said that the suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a house where Aslam and other BLA leaders were present. Aslam was injured in the attack and taken to hospital where he died. Last year, he was injured during an operation launched by security forces in the Bolan area of Balochistan.’ Saleem Shahid writes for DAWN.
‘The Baluchistan Liberation Army, of which Mr. Baluch was a major commander, has waged armed resistance against the Pakistani state for more than a decade, protesting discriminatory treatment and demanding autonomy for the province. The group has recently stepped up attacks against Pakistani military targets and Chinese targets. It sees China as an “oppressor” that is supporting the Pakistani government and plundering resources in Baluchistan. China is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a port and an economic zone in the town of Gwadar in Baluchistan. The rebel group has established a brigade to carry out suicide attacks, named after a Baluch militant who carried out a failed attack on a Pakistani prime minister in the 1970s. In one of its first operations, last August, Aslam Baluch sent his own son to target a bus carrying Chinese engineers. Mr. Baluch arrived in Kandahar last week, according to some reports. He emerged from a meeting at a friend’s home in Aino Mina township on Tuesday, and as the participants walked to their cars, a suicide bomber approached and detonated his explosives.’ Taimoor Shah, Mujib Mashal and Zia ur Rehaman write for The New York Times.
Former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif Sentenced to Seven Years in Jail
Pakistani anti-corruption court has jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for seven years on corruption charges. The court found on Monday the three-time prime minister was unable to prove the source of income for the ownership of a steel mill in Saudi Arabia.
‘He was acquitted on a separate corruption charge. Sharif was sentenced in July to 10 years in prison by the same court, on charges related to the purchase of upscale apartments in London, after the Supreme Court removed him from power. He was released from prison in September pending an appeal. Sharif has denied all the charges against him and says he is being targeted by the country’s powerful security establishment. Reporting from Islamabad, This is indeed something which is going to be taken seriously by his political party. However, it should also be remembered that Nawaz Sharif was earlier arrested in the Avenfield property case, he was sent to prison. He then lodged a review petition and was released on bail,”.’ Associated Press reported for Al Jazeera.
‘Sharif denied the charges which he said were politically motivated. He accused the military and courts of working together to end his political career and destabilise his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party. Sharif was once a favourite of Pakistan’s powerful generals but had a falling out and clashed with the military. The military has denied exerting any influence over the court proceedings. Daniyal Aziz, a former lawmaker from Sharif‘s party, described the verdict as “the weaponisation of anti-corruption”. “With each passing day an expression of a double standard is coming forward from the NAB,” Mr Aziz said, referring to the watchdog National Accountability Bureau that charged Sharif. Ahead of the verdict, hundreds of Mr Sharif supporters clashed outside the courthouse with police who fired tear gas against stone-throwing protesters.’ Saad Sayeed writes for Independent.
‘While the PML-N’s legal cases are being fought in the courts, the political implications of these events will have national-level impact. Sharif’s political party is expected to lead an agitation campaign against the government and courts in the aftermath of the decision. Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz, who in the past has assertively criticized the country’s courts and the ruling party for their collusion against her father’s politics, is likely to lead the campaign. Maryam has been quiet for some time, mainly after her mother’s death, which also took place in circumstances marred with political intrusions. However, she has again begun to talk about the alleged victimization of her family. If Maryam becomes actively engaged in politics again, the PML-N still has a support base and the street power necessary to weaken the government. Moreover, it’s expected that other opposition political parties are likely to support the PML-N in its effort to lead the agitation as many of them also face the same pressures at the state level. Meanwhile, the dominant forces in Pakistani politics today, including the PTI, see the verdict as a natural outcome in a case that should have been settled a long time ago. For now, the PTI appears to be the political winner of the decision: the prison sentence of Sharif and corruption related cases against other opposition political personalities will further dampen the efforts of the opposition political parties when it comes to any challenge to the ruling party’s power.’ Umair Jamal writes for The Diplomat.
‘Monday’s conviction and sentencing was the latest blow to Sharif who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in July over the purchase of luxury apartments in London. He appealed that sentence and was released on bail in September, along with his daughter and her husband, who were co-accused in the case stemming from documents leaked from a Panama law firm. The two cases on which the court ruled Monday were related to Sharif’s foreign assets, which he insists are owned by his sons. His two sons, who are currently living in London, were declared absconders by the court. Shortly before the announcement of the verdict, clashes erupted between supporters of Sharif and police in Islamabad. Several female supporters of Sharif were seen crying and chanting slogans. Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz, has suggested he is being punished for resisting “unseen forces,” an apparent reference to the military, which has directly ruled Pakistan for half its modern history and retains a powerful role behind the scenes.’ Munir Ahmed writes for TIME.
Middle East & North Africa
Syria Army ‘Enters’ Kurdish-Held Manbij
Syria’s army says it has entered the flashpoint city of Manbij, according to state media, after the country’s main Kurdish armed group invited government forces to take control of the northern area and protect it from a threatened Turkish offensive. State-run SANA news agency said the Syrian army raised the national flag in Manbij on Friday and pledged to guarantee “full security for all Syrian citizens and others present in the area”
‘A timetable for the withdrawal has not yet been made public. But the surprise US decision rattled allies and the US Syrian Kurdish partners, who scrambled to find new allies to protect their Kurdish-administered areas in northern Syria. Assad’s government has said it welcomes the Kurdish group returning under its authority. But government officials have stated they will not consider an autonomous area, a main demand for the Kurds. There was no immediate response from the United States.’ Associated Press reported for Al Jazeera.
‘Syria’s military has arrived at the frontline of the flashpoint town of Manbij, after Kurdish fighters appealed to Damascus for help against the threat of attack by Turkey in the face of the withdrawal of US troops from the area. It was not immediately clear whether US personnel, who are based in the town and have been patrolling Manbij and the tense frontline between it and adjacent towns where Turkey-backed fighters are based, were still present. The US-led coalition against Isis did not respond to a request for comment. “We invite the Syrian government forces … to assert control over the areas our forces have withdrawn from, in particularly Manbij, and to protect these areas against a Turkish invasion,” a statement from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) said. The Syrian army had already mobilised before the public Kurdish invitation. It said on Friday morning that units had entered the town on the western bank of the Euphrates.’ Betham McKernan writes for Guardian.‘
Sub Saharan Africa
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Elections 2018
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) held its long-delayed general elections on Sunday. The Congolese government said it couldn’t hold the vote on time because it could not afford the $1.8 billion bill needed for the elections.
‘The elections will be conducted nationwide, except three cities which are expected to vote in March 2019. Current President Joseph Kabila, 47, has been in power since January 2001, after his father, former President Laurent Kabila, was assassinated by one of his bodyguards. Kabila’s second and final term in office ended two years ago, but he remained in power, thanks to a caretaker clause in the constitution. Observers are worried that he would try to stay on. Deadly protests against his rule and pressure from the international community mounted until he recently announced that he will not be running in the election. Twenty-one presidential candidates have been approved for the single-round contest. Voters will also cast their ballots for 34,900 candidates running for 500 national and 715 provincial seats. More than 46 million people are registered to vote, the run-up to which was marked by deadly violence.’ Associated Press reported for Al Jazeera.
‘Yet another delay of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s long-awaited presidential election has raised questions over the vote’s credibility, sparking violent protests in parts of the country already roiled by conflict and an ongoing Ebola outbreak. Congo’s long march to Sunday’s polls took a turn for the worst on Wednesday when the country’s electoral commission announced that it would be delaying the vote in three opposition strongholds due to “the persistence of the Ebola disease” and “the threat of terrorism.” Sunday would have marked the country’s first ever democratic transfer of power, but the commission’s move has all but guaranteed contested results.’ Brent Swalis writes for the CNN.
‘More than 100 people are protesting a presidential election delay in eastern Congo, blamed on a deadly Ebola outbreak. In Beni, protesters have set up blazing street barricades and attacked an Ebola isolation centre, with nearly 20 patients fleeing. The unrest occurred a day after Congo’s electoral commission announced that Sunday’s election is delayed until March for the cities of Beni and Butembo because of the outbreak, meaning that more than one million votes will not count. Some residents continue to believe Ebola is just an excuse to disrupt the vote. Most of the patients who fled had indeed tested negative for the virus, a health ministry spokeswoman has said. Opposition candidates call the delay a ploy to hurt their chances at the polls in areas where sentiment has turned against the ruling party in recent years. Vote will still go ahead in the rest of the country, with results announced on 15 January and the inauguration three days later.’ Silvia Maresca writes for The Telegraph.
‘It’s an important moment for the Congolese people, and policymakers should focus on doing all they can to push the government to make the election credible, prevent wider violence, and hold officials accountable who corrupt the process. But regardless of what happens on election day, or if the election is postponed once more, there are deeper forces at work that will help determine Congo’s future. The long-term, structural issue in Congo is that the state has been hijacked largely for the purpose of looting the country’s vast natural resource wealth, and the incentives for this system need to be changed in order for there to be real transformation in Congo. Linked to the pillaging of natural resources in Congo is an issue affecting consumers around the world. We are usually completely unaware that our purchases of cell phones, computers, jewelry, video game systems, cameras, electric cars, and so many other products are helping fuel violence and grand corruption halfway around the world. We struggle to understand that our standard of living and modern conveniences are in some ways made possible and less expensive by the suffering of others. We all need to tell the politicians we vote for and the companies we buy from that we want them to reverse these deadly dynamics.’ John Prendergast and Sasha Lezhnev write for Time.
Putin Hails uccessful Test of Russia’s New Hypersonic Missile
Russian President Vladimir Putin has overseen a test of a new hypersonic missile, declaring that the weapon is impossible to intercept and will guarantee the country’s security over the coming decades.
‘Speaking to Russia’s military top brass on Wednesday after watching the live feed of the launch of the Avangard system from the defence ministry’s control room, Putin said the test was a “great success” and an “excellent New Year’s gift to the nation”. According to the Kremlin, the missile was launched from the Dombarovskiy missile base in the southern Ural Mountains and hit its target on a test site in Kamchatka, about 6,000km away. “The Avangard is invulnerable to intercept by any existing and prospective missile defence means of the potential adversary,” Putin said after the test, adding that the new weapon will enter service next year with the military’s Strategic Missile Forces.’ Associated Press reported for Al Jazeera.
‘Russia has conducted a final test of a nuclear-capable glider that flies at 20 times the speed of sound, President Vladimir Putin said, adding that the weapon will be added to the country’s arsenal next year. Putin described the successful test, in which the glider was launched from a site in southwestern Russia toward a target on the Kamchatka Peninsula more than 5630km away, as a “wonderful, perfect New Year’s gift for the country”. The fanfare surrounding the test – it led the TV news, and state media reported that Putin gave the launch order – underscores how central nuclear sabre-rattling has become to the Kremlin’s effort to depict Russia as a global superpower for audiences at home and abroad. The new weapon, dubbed the Avangard, is of a type that the Pentagon has been both working on and worrying about as an arms race emerges among the United States, Russia and China for missiles that can manoeuver easily and travel far faster than the speed of sound. There was no immediate, independent confirmation of the test.’ Anton Troianovski and Paul Sonne write for The New Zealand Herald.
US and China Plan to Hold Talks Amid Thaw in Trade War
Trade negotiators from the United States and China are planning to meet in early January for talks, the Chinese commerce ministry said on Thursday, as the world’s two largest economies advance efforts to resolve a months-long trade war.
‘”Intensive” telephone calls will continue in the meantime, Gao Feng, the ministry’s spokesman told reporters, adding that consultations had been progressing steadily despite the Christmas holiday in the US. “Even as the US side is in the Christmas holiday period, China and the US economic and trade teams have been in close communication, and the consultations are progressing in an orderly manner as scheduled,” Gao said. The comments come a day after Bloomberg reported the US planned to send a delegation to Beijing in early January. The team will be led by Deputy US Trade Representative Jeffrey Gerrish and include David Malpass, the Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, according to the report. The meeting, thought to be scheduled for the week of January 7, will be the first face-to-face talks between US and Chinese officials since US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a 90-day truce in their tariff war, following a meeting at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina on December 1. Associated Press reported for Al Jazeera.
‘Financial markets around the world have rallied amid early signs of progress in the bitter trade standoff between the US and China, as hopes rise for a breakthrough in the dispute. Wall Street shook off days of volatility to post broad gains in early trading after Donald Trump said that talks between Washington and Beijing were progressing, while reports suggested that China was on the brink of redrawing its economic plans to give foreign companies more access to its domestic market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up by more than 400 points, or about 1.7%, at lunchtime but later surrendered some of the gain to close 157 points (0.64%0 higher. The gains were led by industrial firms that stand to benefit from a thawing in relations, as global markets reversed some of the losses recorded in the past month. Although arguing that China could still see his comments as a sign of goodwill, Fiona Cincotta, a senior market analyst at the financial trading firm City Index, said: “Trump’s dulcet tones on China [have] lulled markets into a false peace.” The latest signs of progress follow weeks of turbulent trading on global stock markets, prompted by doubts that a trade settlement could be agreed between the world’s two biggest economic superpowers.’ Richard Parington writes for Guardian.