Weekly Global Newscast | February 18 - February 24 , 2019
Pulwama Attack: UN Chief Urges India, Pakistan to Defuse Tensions
The United Nations chief has called on India and Pakistan to take immediate steps to defuse tensions in the wake of the worst attack on the security forces in decades in Indian-administered Kashmir.
‘UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday offered to broker peace as the two South Asian neighbours have been locked in a diplomatic clash following a suicide attack on February 14 in Indian-administered Kashmir that killed 42 paramilitary personnel. Vowing a “strong response”, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday gave a “free hand” to the army to punish those behind the deadly attack in Pulwama district, claimed by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) armed group. Nine people, including four Indian security forces, were killed in a gun battle days after the Pulwama attack. India claimed three suspected rebels behind the attack were also among the dead. “We are deeply concerned at the increasing tensions between the two countries,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday. Guterres “stresses the importance of both sides to exercise maximum restraint and take immediate steps” to de-escalate, while also offering to mediate “should both sides ask”, said Dujarric. Maleeha Lodhi, the Pakistani envoy to the UN, said, “The situation between Pakistan and India is deteriorating.”’ Zeenat Saberin writes for Al Jazeera.
‘A spokesman for High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that those elements are using the Pulwama attack as justification for threats and potential acts of violence targeting Kashmiri and Muslim communities living in different parts of India. “We acknowledge actions taken by the Indian authorities to tackle these incidents and we hope that the Government will continue to take steps to protect people from all forms of harm that may be directed at them on account of their ethnicity or identity,” Spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing in Geneva on Tuesday. Spokesman Rupert Colville said the High Commissioner condemned the Pulwama attack and hoped that escalating tensions between India and Pakistan will not add further to the insecurity in the region. EU body berates Indian gross rights violations.’ Associated Press reported for The Nation.
Pakistan Army: Will Respond With ‘Full Force’ If India Attacks; Pakistan and India at Close Parallels Following the Pulwama Attack
The Pakistani army has said it is prepared to defend against any attack by India, and would respond with “full force” if that happens, a spokesman said a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan authorised the military to begin preparations for a possible attack. The statement came following the streaming of continued aggressive rhetoric over Indian media.
‘The Pakistan Army on Friday said the country does not wish for war, but warned India of “surprise” in case it takes any aggressive military measures, amidst heightened tensions between the two sides following the Pulwama terror attack that killed 40 CRPF soldiers. Addressing a press conference, Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor also said that India blamed Pakistan for the Pulwama attack “without due investigation” and New Delhi has not yet accepted the “reality of partition”. “We have a 72-year history. The partition happened in 1947 and Pakistan was liberated. India still hasn’t been able to accept that,” the Army spokesman said after the terror strike by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad terror group in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district on February 14. “We are not preparing for war, you (India) are issuing threats…we have the right to respond to the threats. We are not preparing to initiate but planning to defend and retaliate which is our right,” the Army spokesman said.’ Associated Press reported for the Business Standard.
‘It’s time to repay Pakistan in its own coin,” snarls India’s rumpled but brilliant national-security adviser, plotting vengeance for a terrorist attack. Soon after, in this season’s runaway hit film, “Uri: The Surgical Strike”, muscled Indian commandos resoundingly smite the enemy. As in Bollywood, so, perhaps, in real life. After a Pakistan-based jihadist group claimed responsibility for a suicide-bombing on February 14th that killed some 40 Indian paramilitary police, Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, promised a “jaw-breaking” response. Suspense is mounting as to how and when, rather than if, India plans to punish Pakistan. Some repayment has already been inflicted. India has suspended Pakistan’s favoured trading status, slapping a 200% duty on its products.’ Reported the Economist.
Middle East & North Africa
UN Watchdog Confirms Iran’s Compliance With 2015 Nuclear Deal
Iran has remained within the key limits on its nuclear activities imposed by its 2015 deal with world powers, despite growing pressure from newly-re imposed US sanctions, according to the UN’s nuclear watchdog.
‘In a quarterly report distributed to member states on Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the Islamic Republic had kept to the caps placed on its uranium enrichment levels and enriched uranium stocks as part of the 2015 accord, signed in Austria’s capital, Vienna. IAEA inspectors responsible for policing those nuclear restrictions were also given access to all sites in the country requiring a visit to verify Iran’s ongoing compliance with the deal, according to the report. Under the agreement, originally brokered between the US, Iran, the UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union, Iran agreed to scale back its uranium enrichment programme and pledged not to develop nuclear weapons in return for the lifting of international sanctions. The Vienna-based IAEA has repeatedly confirmed Iran’s compliance with the deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The Islamic Republic, on its part, has long said that it wants nuclear power only for the purposes of civilian energy.’ Reuters reported for Al Jazeera.
‘The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog confirmed Friday that Iran remained within key parameters set in the 2015 nuclear pact it signed with the U.S. and other world powers. The news that Iran is respecting the nuclear limits, contained in a confidential report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that was uncovered by Reuters, comes as the Trump administration has renewed U.S. sanctions on the country after deciding to withdraw from the deal last year. Trump has repeatedly criticized the deal as a “disaster” since he began campaigning for president in 2015, saying it did not effectively deal with Iran’s ballistic missile program or support for armed groups in the Middle East. He also claimed it would only delay Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon, rather than prevent it. The IAEA certified that Iran was complying with the deal as recently as August. Tehran has maintained its nuclear program is solely for defensive purposes.’ Tax Axelrod writes for The Hill.
Sub Saharan Africa
Algerians Protest Against Bouteflika’s Bid for Fifth Term
Hundreds of demonstrators, in defiance of a ban on protests, rallied in the Algerian capital against a bid by ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for a fifth term in office. The protesters chanted pro-democracy slogans at a rally on Friday in Algier’s May 1 Square amid a heavy police presence, witnesses said.
‘Security forces cordoned off the square and prevented other protesters from entering it, the witnesses added. “No fifth mandate,” chanted the mostly young demonstrators, many waving Algerian flags, as they started to march through central Algiers. Earlier this month, Bouteflika, who has ruled the North African country since 1999, announced his intention to seek a new five-year term in the elections scheduled for April 18, despite concerns over his health. The 81-year-old head of state uses a wheelchair and has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013. “Algerians’ dignity has been infringed by the current president’s bid to rule Algeria for five more years despite his ill health.”’ Reuters reported for Al Jazeera.
‘Algeria saw its largest protests ever yesterday in several cities against ailing president Abdelaziz Boutfleika after he announced that he would be running for a fifth term. Calling for the downfall of the regime, protestors echoed the deafening slogans of the Arab Spring eight years ago that brought down Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak in Egypt and Qaddafi in Libya. Police clashed with young demonstrators firing water cannons and tear gas as they marched towards the presidential palace in the capital Algiers. In dramatic scenes, some demonstrators managed to scale a building and tear down a massive poster of the octogenarian autocrat. Farid Y. Farid writes for Quartz Africa.
‘Hundreds of people demonstrated Sunday in the Algerian capital against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term, as the ailing leader was to head for Switzerland for a medical checkup. Police sprayed tear gas, brought in a water cannon and rounded up several people as shopkeepers pulled down their shutters, an AFP journalist said. But turnout was much lower than on Friday when tens of thousands took to the streets including in Algiers, where demonstrations are strictly banned. Security forces arrested more than 40 people after that protest, which saw police fire tear gas to block a march on the presidential palace, prompting demonstrators to respond with stone-throwing.’ Ryad Kramdi writes for Daily Nation.
EU-Arab League Summit All Set in Egypt
Arab and European leaders are convening on Sunday in Egypt’s Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh for the first ever EU-Arab League summit as the region faces turmoil and political challenges.
‘Overshadowed by internal divisions and regional issues, including the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Gulf crisis, regional wars, and Brexit, the two-day summit aims to “strengthen Arab-European ties”, according to an EU statement. At least 24 European leaders will be welcomed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who will be co-chairing the summit with European Council President Donald Tusk. Leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian and British prime ministers, Giuseppe Conte and Theresa May, will be in attendance. It remained unclear how many countries of the 22-member Arab League are attending the summit. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday. It was not yet known if his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been under mounting international pressure over the Khashoggi murder, would also join the meetings.’ Farah Najjar writes for Al Jazeera.
‘Leaders from European Union and Arab League countries pledged Sunday to boost cooperation in the fight against terrorism and to tackle unauthorized migration at a first-ever summit high in symbolism but likely to yield few concrete results. Under tight security at the Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi opened two days of talks with a speech celebrating what he described as historic cooperation between the two organizations. Some said that merely sitting down together at the same table for the first time is a result in itself. “The meeting is the message,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters, summing up the largely symbolic nature of the summit, while EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said “this summit is, in itself, a deliverable.”’ Lorne Cook writes for Times of Israel.
Trump-Kim Summit in Vietnam
Vietnam’s Hanoi hosts the second summit between North Korea and the United States on February 27-28. Denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and ending international sanctions against Pyongyang are expected to be the main items on the agenda in the discussions held by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump.
‘The two leaders held a landmark summit in Singapore last year, the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader. The June 2018 meeting produced a vague statement in which Kim and Trump outlined four commitments without an exact timeline: establishing “new relations” for peace and prosperity; building a “lasting a stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula”; working “toward denuclearisation”; and recovering and repatriating the remains of soldiers killed during the 1950-53 Korean War. This time, the stakes appear to be higher amid growing expectations that the two leaders will need to make a more detailed agreement that will result in tangible progress. With Kim onboard a train crossing China towards Hanoi, and Trump about to board a flight to Vietnam’s capital, Vietnamese officials are scrambling to finish preparation for the much-anticipated summit. Officials in Hanoi have pledged to provide airtight security for the two leaders, despite saying they had about 10 days to prepare for the event. “Security will be at the maximum level,” Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Hoai Trung told reporters at a briefing meant to showcase the country’s efforts to welcome Kim and Trump. Reuters reported for the Al Jazeera.
‘President Donald Trump, with peace on the mind and “great chemistry” as his ace in the hole, travels to Vietnam on Monday to continue courting North Korea’s despotic leader into a nuclear deal. What began eight months ago in Singapore as an audacious first-ever grip-and-grin between a sitting US president and North Korean leader has yet to yield discernible strides in the effort to rid Kim Jong Un of his nuclear weapons. Expectations this time are low that the two leaders will forge significant progress. Nevertheless, Trump is traveling to Hanoi hoping the sequel to his first meeting will generate at least some evidence his diplomatic gambit is working. He’s already cited the absence of nuclear and missile tests as proof of improved relations. But North Korea will need to commit to further steps if Trump hopes to quell persistent doubt — including within his own administration — that the gamble is worthwhile. It is not yet clear what kind of agreement Trump and Kim will reach during their talks. Representatives from Washington and Pyongyang traveled to Hanoi ahead of their leaders this week to hammer out the details of a joint declaration to be signed during the summit. Potential outcomes could include agreements from North Korea to allow inspectors into certain nuclear sites or even a decision to close the expansive Yongbyon nuclear research center. At a minimum, US officials hope for a more defined road map that would lead North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. In exchange, Trump could offer to begin moving toward formal diplomatic relations through the exchange of liaison officers. Or he could agree to ending the Korean War, an attractive prospect for a President intent on winning a Nobel Peace Prize. But expectations are low, and the US has appeared to abandon an earlier request that the second summit result in North Korea agreeing to provide a full accounting of its nuclear program. Inside the White House, some advisers have privately raised concerns that Trump could offer too much to Kim at the summit, which he insisted upon after his first meeting in June garnered widespread media attention. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday he was “hopeful” that Trump and Kim “will make a big step towards” the denuclearization of North Korea during their second summit, but declined to say what kind of agreement might be reached.’ Kevin Liptak and Jeremy Diamond write for CNN Politics.