Weekly Global Newscast | March 18 - March 24, 2019
Six Killed During Nowruz’ Festivity in Kabul, Afghanistan
In multiple remote controlled bomb blasts during Nowruz celebrations in Kabul, later claimed by ISIS, six Afghans lost their lives while 23 were injured.
‘At least six people were killed by blasts in a Shia part of Afghanistan’s capital during Persian New Year celebrations, officials said. The Taliban denied responsibility for Thursday’s attack, which police said had been caused by three remote-controlled explosives – one placed in the washroom of a mosque, one behind a hospital, and one in an electricity meter. The blasts were near Kabul University and the Shia Karte Sakhi shrine, where many Afghans gather every year to mark Nowruz, which is the traditional Persian New Year holiday.’ Associated Press reported Al Jazeera.
‘The remote-controlled explosions, which also injured 23 people, happened on Thursday morning. AFP news agency said the devices were placed in the washroom of a mosque, a hospital and an electricity meter. The Islamic State group (IS), which has been behind a series of attacks in Kabul, said it was responsible.’ Associated Press reported for BBC.
Thailand Holds First General Elections Post-Coup
For the first time post its 2014 coup Thailand holds General Elections with huge a voter turn out to determine the fate of military junta chief seeking to retain power against a “democratic front” led by the populist party he ousted.
‘Thailand has been buffeted by political instability for years, largely a battle between supporters of the military and ousted former PM Thaksin Shinawatra. After seizing power, the army promised to restore order and democracy, but has repeatedly postponed the vote. Critics say a new constitution the army introduced will ensure it remains influential whatever the outcome. More than seven million people aged between 18-26 have the right to vote for the first time and could be key to victory, so all parties have been keen to court their vote’. Reported Associated Press for BBC.
‘Thai voters went to the polls on Sunday in a long-delayed election following a 2014 coup, a race that pits a military junta chief seeking to retain power against a “democratic front” led by the populist party he ousted. Turnout was expected to be high among the 51.4 million Thais eligible to vote for the 500-seat House of Representatives, which will choose the next government along with a Senate that is appointed entirely by the ruling junta. Thailand has been under direct military rule since then-army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha overthrew an elected government linked to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who himself was thrown out by the army in 2006’. Kay Johnson, Chayut Setboonsarng, Panarat Thepgumpanat reported for The Independent.
‘Preliminary results from Thailand’s Election Commission show a military-backed party in the lead, in the country’s first elections since a military coup in 2014. With about 90 percent of ballots in Sunday’s long-delayed polls counted, the Palang Pracharat party had seven million votes. Pheu Thai, the party linked to the former Prime Minister and exiled tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra, had 6.6 million. Future Forward, a newly founded party that campaigned on a promise of change and military reform, was third, with nearly 4.8 million votes. The commission said it would announce the final results on Monday at 10am (03:00 GMT). The vote is taking place under a new constitution that gives the military considerable influence over the country’s civilian politics and makes it difficult for any party to win a majority in the 500-seat lower house. The upper house is appointed by the military’. Reported Kate Mayberry for Al Jazeera.
Middle East & North Africa
Last of ISIS Caliphate Falls in Syria
The United States and its ally forces seized control of the last stronghold of ISIS in Syria. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) raised victory flags in of Baghuz, the Syrian town near its border with Iraq.
‘U.S.-backed forces ousted Islamic State from its last outpost in Syria, marking the end of a nearly five-year campaign that forced the extremist group to morph from a governing authority back into a guerrilla insurgency as swaths of territory were freed from its brutal rule. The demise of the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate—which once covered an area the size of Portugal—comes as President Trump prepares to pull U.S. troops from Syria.’ Sune Engel Rasmussen reported for Wall Street Journal.
‘The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) has lost its last stronghold, Baghouz, in eastern Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on Saturday. “Syrian Democratic Forces declare total elimination of so-called caliphate and 100 per cent territorial defeat of ISIS. On this unique day, we commemorate thousands of martyrs whose efforts made the victory possible,” tweeted Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF press office’. ANI Middle East reported for Business Standard.
‘US President Donald Trump welcomed the fall of the Islamic State group’s five-year “caliphate”, but warned that the terror group remained a threat. Mr Trump’s remarks came after Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) raised victory flags in the Syrian town of Baghuz, IS’s last stronghold. He said the US would “remain vigilant until [IS] is finally defeated”. Despite losing territory in Syria and Iraq, IS remains active in countries from Nigeria to the Philippines. At its height, the group controlled 88,000 sq km (34,000 sq miles) across Syria and Iraq. After five years of fierce battle, though, local forces backed by world powers left IS with all but a few hundred square metres near Syria’s border with Iraq. On Saturday, the long-awaited announcement came from the SDF that it had seized that last IS territory. Western leaders hailed the announcement but emphasised that IS was still a danger. “We will remain vigilant… until it is finally defeated wherever it operates,” Mr Trump said in a statement. French President Emmanuel Macron said “the threat remains and the fight against terrorist groups must continue”. UK Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed the “historic milestone” but said her government remained “committed to eradicating [IS’s] poisonous ideology”.’ Associated Press reported for BBC.
Sub Saharan Africa
Cyclone Idai Hits Hard at Mozambique After Several in Southern Africa
Cyclone Idai lashed the Mozambican port city of Beira with winds of up to 170km/h last week, then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi, flattening buildings and putting the lives of millions at risk.
‘The official death toll from Cyclone Idai, which tore through southern Africa more than a week ago, rose sharply on Saturday as authorities reported scores more deaths. The number of people declared dead in Mozambique rose from 242 to 417, Land and Environment Minister Celso Correia said. The new figure puts the overall death toll at about 700 people across Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. The toll is expected to rise further. The storm has killed at least 259 people in Zimbabwe, while in Malawi 56 people died when heavy rains hit ahead of the cyclone.’ Associated Press reported BBC.
‘The United Nations has warned of the risk of further flooding in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai. The government says it needs foreign support as for the months to come, everyone will depend on it to survive’. Malcolm Webb reported for Al Jazeera.
‘After several years of drought in southern Africa, the subsistence farmers who populate the coastal plains have lost their crops at harvest time. They have no food or produce to take to market. This weekend emergency efforts were shifting from search and rescue – led by the pilots and boat operators who have plucked people from the floods – to humanitarian assistance. Within the next few days a road route will reopen to Beira, ending the bottleneck on food supplies’. Peter Beamount reported for The Guardian.
March Against Brexit as Tories Plan to Oust May
Appeal to drop Brexit hits 5m marks after ‘one million’ individuals walked along to AC/DC’s Highway to Hell at People’s Vote challenge in Londons on Sunday.
‘In one of the biggest demonstrations in British history, a crowd estimated at over one million people yesterday marched peacefully through central London to demand that MPs grant them a fresh referendum on Brexit. The Put it to the People march, which included protesters from all corners of the United Kingdom and many EU nationals living here, took place amid extraordinary political turmoil and growing calls on prime minister Theresa May to resign. Some cabinet ministers are considering her de facto deputy David Lidington as an interim replacement for her, although as pro-Remain he would be strongly opposed by Brexiters. Organisers of the march said precise numbers had been difficult to gauge, but they believed the protest could have been even bigger than that against the Iraq war in February 2003. The decision by so many to take part, waving EU flags and banners and carrying effigies of Theresa May, came just three days after the prime minister said in a televised statement to the nation that she believed the British people did not support another referendum, and blamed MPs for trying to block their will. Senior politicians from all the main parties joined the march, including Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, former Tory deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and the SNP leader and first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon.’ The Observers Reports for The Guardian
‘It surpassed a 2016 effort to call a new referendum if there was not a sufficiently large majority for Remain or Leave in the first one. That petition received 4.2million signatures. Another 2016 petition, urging ministers not to invite Donald Trump for a state visit to the UK, is the third-most signed on record with 1.9million. A similar petition in 2015 mockingly called for Trump to be barred from the UK after he suggested Muslims would be banned from the United States. Parliament’s petitions committee said nearly 2,000 signatures on the Revoke Article 50 page were being completed every minute over Thursday lunchtime. Data from the petition website shows some users have signed it from abroad but the committee said UK citizens living abroad were entitled to join it. Saturday’s demonstrations follow EU leaders agreeing to delay Brexit to give Prime Minister Theresa May a final chance to get her deal through Parliament. Leaders agreed to extend Brexit to May 22 if Mrs May can get MPs to back her deal in the Commons at the third time of asking. If the vote is not passed, the UK will have to set out an alternative way forward by April 12, which could mean a much longer delay – with the UK required to hold elections to the European Parliament – or leaving with no deal.’ Reported the Daily Mail
Mueller Report: President Trump ‘Did Not Conspire With Russia’
President Trump’s battle did not plot with Russia amid the 2016 election, as per a synopsis of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report submitted to Congress on Sunday.
‘The report summary did not draw a conclusion as to whether Mr Trump illegally obstructed justice – not exonerating the president. The report was summarised for Congress by the attorney general, William Barr. President Trump tweeted in response: “No Collusion, No Obstruction.” Mr Trump, who repeatedly described the inquiry as a witch hunt, said on Sunday that “it was a shame that the country had to go through this”, describing the inquiry as an “illegal takedown that failed”. The report is the culmination of two years of investigation by Mr Mueller which saw some of the president’s closest former aides prosecuted and, in some cases, imprisoned. “While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Mr Mueller wrote in his report. The summary letter by Mr Barr outlines the inquiry’s findings relating to Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. Mr Barr concluded: “The special counsel did not find that any US person or Trump campaign official conspired or knowingly co-ordinated with Russia.” The second part of the letter addresses the issue of obstruction of justice. Mr Barr’s summary says the special counsel report “ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment”. “The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction,” the letter read.
Congressman Jerry Nadler, the Democratic Chair of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, emphasised that the attorney general did not rule out that Mr Trump may have obstructed justice. “Barr says that the president may have acted to obstruct justice, but that for an obstruction conviction, ‘the government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person, acting with corrupt intent, engaged in obstructive conduct’.” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, said that while there was a lack of evidence to support “a prosecutable criminal conspiracy”, questions remained over whether Mr Trump had been compromised. The release of the report’s key findings on Sunday could mark the start of a lengthy battle to see the entire Mueller report made public. A number of senior Democrats have called for the full report to be released along with all of the special counsel’s investigative files. Mr Barr has said he will release more, but indicated it would take some time to determine what materials could be shared. He did not give a specific time frame, but whenever further details are handed to Congress Democrats may mount legal challenges if it is anything less than the entire report. As Congress awaits further details, Mr Barr may be called to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee. The committee’s Democratic chairman, Jerry Nadler, said on Twitter that he will ask Mr Barr to testify “in the near future” over what Mr Nadler said were “very concerning discrepancies and final decision making at the Justice Department”. Meanwhile, as Mr Trump claimed “total exoneration” on Sunday, about a dozen other investigations were continuing to examine his activities. They include a federal investigation in New York that is looking into possible election-law violations by the Trump campaign and his businesses and possible misconduct by the Trump inaugural committee. Congress is also continuing its own inquiries, mostly in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.’ Anthony Zurcher writes for BBC.
‘Mueller’s investigation included 19 lawyers and a team of 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants and professional staff. The team interviewed 500 witnesses, executed more than 500 search warrants, 13 requests to foreign governments, issued 2,800 subpoenas and 50 wiretaps in the investigation, according to Barr. Over the course of a 22-month investigation, Mueller brought charges against 34 people, including Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his personal attorney Michael Cohen. In a signal that Trump and his associates are likely to face continuing federal investigations into the future, Barr’s letter confirmed that Mueller referred “several matters to other offices for other action”. US prosecutors in New York are looking into fundraising for Trump’s inaugural committee, chaired by Thomas J Barrack. Investigators are also looking at fundraising by Elliott Broidy, a California security contractor who served as deputy finance chair of the Republican National Committee in 2016. Trump could still face legal jeopardy in the hush money scheme he orchestrated with Cohen to pay a porn star and a Playboy model to keep quiet about their alleged affairs with him. Cohen, who pleaded guilty to a campaign finance violation for the payoffs, said he made the payments at Trump’s direction and has produced copies of reimbursement cheques signed by Trump. Earlier on Sunday, Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, called for the report to be made public “as soon as possible so we can evaluate the body of evidence on the issue of conspiracy and look at why Bob Mueller decided not to indict now”. “Mueller can’t indict the president,” he told CBS’s Face the Nation show. “The fact there are no indictments now or in the future, doesn’t tell us about the quantum of evidence. We need to wait to see the report but I also think the attorney general needs to make that report publicly available. “The special counsel spent almost two years almost investigating this. The public has a right to know, indeed a need to know, so that we don’t have to ask questions about what the evidence was on either of these core subjects of his investigation.’ Reported the Al Jazeera.