Europe and Central Asia
This week Europe saw extremes: outbreaks of violence in some places, caution in others; progressive display of equality contrasted with laws restricting religious expression. The latest chapter of IS-inspired violence unfolded Sunday in Marseille when two young women, ages 17 and 20, were fatally stabbed outside the Saint Charles train station. While the murders are being treated as a terrorist attack by French authorities, the movie and identity of the killer is uncertain. Also on Sunday, Paris banned all personal vehicles from the city for the day. This is the first time the whole city has been turned into one large pedestrian-only zone for the day and was likely a result of the mayor’s campaign promise to reduce air pollution.
Germany saw its first gay marriage this weekend after the June marriage equality vote. Austrians implemented a law prohibiting face veils from being worn in public. The controversial ‘Burqa ban’ applies to an estimated 100-150 Muslim women in the country. The Austrian government has stated that the law is mean to guard “Austrian values and the concept of a free society” but is being lambasted by activists as Islamophobic.
The most gripping news from Europe is that Spain’s Catalan region conducted their independence referendum Sunday, despite aggressive efforts of Spanish police forces. It has been reported that preliminary results show 90% of Catalans votes (of 5.3 million registered Catalan voters) in favor of independence from Spain. The most striking part of this event the strength of police aggression against those trying to case their ballots. It is estimated that 844 civilians and 33 police were injured. Videos and pictures from the Catalonia region Sunday showed riot police throwing people into stacks, dragging others by the hair, and breaking through the windows of polling stations in an effort to confiscate ballot boxes and stop the vote. The Spanish government has spoken out in support of the actions of its police and condemned the referendum as illegal and violating the nation’s constitution.
Latin America & the Caribbean
Puerto Rico faces enormous economic challenges after being battered by hurricane Maria. The already failing economy was further crippled after the hurricane tore through the small U.S. territory causing between $45 – $85 billion dollars of damage, according to Moody’s Analytics. Catastrophic damage has left most of the island without power and many Puerto Ricans struggling to find food and water.
President Trump tweeted about the American territory, but public scrutiny surrounding whether or not he will properly aid the U.S. territory still looms large. Trump’s tweets included retaliatory criticism of Carmin Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, in response to her recent interview.
Argentine officials said the South American trade bloc Mercosur may seek trade deals with Canada, Australia and New Zealand this year. Brazil and Argentina, the two largest Mercosur members, seek to open their respective economies to more global investment and economic relations. This economic expansion comes at a time when the U.S., under President Trump, has largely shied away from foreign trade.
The U.S. pulled staff members from Cuba after “specific attacks.” At least 21 U.S. staffers have reported symptoms ranging from mild brain trauma to nausea and dizziness. Cuba called the U.S. decision “hasty” and said it would affect bilateral ties, but insisted that cooperation would otherwise continue. The U.S. is cutting its diplomatic presence in Cuba by almost 60% and warning citizens not to visit the small island.
The Middle East and North Africa
As the Qatar-Gulf crisis continues, Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is visiting Doha today to discuss Qatari-Iranian relations. Qatar’s relationship with Iran was one of the key issues that caused Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to break ties with Qatar this past June. A source from the Iranian Prime Minister’s office stated that these talks would focus on relations in the region, economic cooperation, and the fighting in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq.
Another key visit happening today in the Middle East is Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s visit to the Gaza Strip. This visit marks the beginning of the reconciliation of the Palestinian Authority, who controls the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip which was formerly controlled by Hamas. Hamas agreed to the reconciliation after talks with members of the Egyptian intelligence community last month. Egypt continues to monitor the reconciliation process.
On September 25th, the Kurdish people in Iraq held a referendum for independence. 92% of the voters supported independence. The US, Iran, Turkey, and the United Nations Security Council have all declared these elections as illegitimate.
East Asia and the Pacific
President Trump publicly contradicted the Secretary of State, saying via Twitter that Rex Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.” Shortly after, Trump tweeted again saying, “Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now? Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail.” The Secretary’s aides explained that his remarks did not imply that any substantive negotiation was underway with Pyongyang. The tweets will likely further deteriorate the diplomatic crisis.
President Trump will travel to Asia in November for the first time since becoming president, stopping in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. The trip is expected to focus on the North Korean nuclear threat. His visit will include attending two major summits, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Vietnam and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Conclave in the Philippines.
A North Korean ship was seized near Egypt with a huge cache of weapons. A UN investigation uncovered a complex arrangement in which Egyptian business executives ordered millions of dollars worth of North Korean rockets for the country’s military while also taking pains to keep the transaction hidden. The illicit global arms trade has become an increasingly vital financial lifeline for North Korea in the wake of increasing economic sanctions.
Most Filipinos the poor are the main targets of the country’s war on drugs and want President Rodrigo Duterte to reveal the identity of alleged narcotics kingpins and charge them in court. More than 3,800 people have been killed during Duterte’s 15-month crackdown, all during police operations. Human rights groups say the death toll is much higher and the official figures overlook murders attributed to vigilantes. Some activists say unknown gunmen have collaborated with police to kill drug dealers and users. Police and the government reject those allegations and accuse critics of exaggerating the death toll for political gain. While the death toll has caused international alarm, domestic polls have shown Filipinos are largely supportive of the tough measures.
The economist Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins published a report on Forbes Friday stating that, using the same methodology he used to calculate the incredible inflation of 2007/2008 in Zimbabwe, inflation is up to 242.72% on an annual basis in Zimbabwe. Only Venezuela has a higher inflation rate. Additionally, local newspapers reported on the same day that the First Lady of Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe, purchased a new Rolls-Royce worth approximately half a million dollars in South Africa. Based on the timing of these two reports, we are judging local fears of a return to 2007/2008 to be well founded.
Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to draw plans for refugee repatriation. In the past, waves of Rohingya have fled discrimination in Myanmar and taken refuge in Bangladesh. It has been a historic problem in the shared boarder between Bangladesh and Myanmar. According to Reuters, the Rohingya are denied citizenship and classified as illegal immigrants, despite claiming roots in Myanmar that go back centuries. Fortunately, with the facilitating efforts from the United Nations, the two governments are working on a solution to solve one of the largest refugee crisis in South Asia.
Backed by prominent Islamists, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry recommended that the Election Commission of Pakistan reject the newly formed Milli Muslim League’s (MML) application to become an official party as it is “affiliated” with Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), a militant group blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. The United States has formally designated LeT Founder, Hafiz Saeed, a terrorist, and Pakistan’s interior ministry placed a $10 million bounty on his head.
Severe flooding is affecting Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. Around 2,000 schools in Nepal and 4,000 in Bangladesh have been destroyed and damaged, which has prevented close to 1.8 million children from attending school across the region. At least 1,200 people have been killed with more than 40 million affected. Various transnational disaster-relief agencies are working with local governments to resolve current ongoing crisis.
According to Danish officials, the country will send an additional 55 soldiers to Afghanistan after a car bomber attacked at a Danish diplomat last week. Denmark, part of the NATO-leading military mission in Afghanistan, has 97 soldiers on the ground currently.
Featured Image: Catalan Way by Joan Sorolla. Flickr Creative Commons.