Open Briefing https://www.openbriefing.org The civil society intelligence agency Tue, 11 Jul 2017 10:34:46 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 https://www.openbriefing.org/docs/Twitter-background-150x150.jpg Open Briefing https://www.openbriefing.org 32 32 The weekly briefing, 11 July 2017: World leaders meet in Hamburg for G20 summit, elections in DR Congo placed on hold by country’s electoral commission, seven Hindu pilgrims killed in crossfire during militant attack in Indian-administrated Kashmir. https://www.openbriefing.org/publications/political-and-security-risk-updates/weekly-briefing-110717/ Tue, 11 Jul 2017 10:34:46 +0000 http://www.openbriefing.org/?p=15579

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: Elections in DR Congo placed on hold by country’s electoral commission; Suspected al-Shabaab militants behead nine men in southeastern Kenya.

Americas: US president’s eldest son and son-in-law reportedly met with Russian lawyer with links to Kremlin during 2016 US presidential election; Venezuelan government moves popular opposition politician and political prisoner to house arrest.

Asia-Pacific: China’s only aircraft carrier arrives in Hong Kong to mark 20th anniversary of handover of territory to China; Seven Hindu pilgrims killed in crossfire during militant attack on police patrol in Indian-administrated Kashmir.

Europe and Central Asia: World leaders meet in Hamburg for G20 summit; US government announces its sanctions on Russia over annexation of Crimea will remain in place.

Middle East and North Africa: Iraqi security forces continue to make significant gains in former ISIS stronghold of Mosul; Militants kill at least 23 soldiers in attack on remote Egyptian Army outpost in Sinai Peninsula.

Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are on hold after the president of the country’s electoral commission, Corneille Nangaa, announced that it would not be possible to hold elections before the end of the year. The refusal by the president, Joseph Kabila, to step down at the end of his second term in December 2016 led to widespread protests across the country, which only ended after Kabila and opposition leaders reached an agreement for an election to be held by the end of 2017 and barring the incumbent from changing the constitution and remaining in power for a third term. Opposition politicians have criticised the delay and claimed that Kabila is trying to remain in power. They have urged for a timeline to be put in place that allows elections be held by the end of 2017. The electoral commission blames the postponement on delays in voter registration due to unrest in the Kasai region in particular.

Kenya

Militants beheaded nine men on 7 July in Jima village in the Kenyan coastal district of Lamu. The government has enacted a curfew in three districts in the area in response to the attack, which has been blamed on al-Shabaab. The beheadings came just days after three police officers were killed in attack on a nearby village on 5 July. Al-Shabaab was also blamed for the earlier attack. The attacks appear to be in response to the Kenyan government’s military involvement in Somalia. Although al-Shabaab more commonly uses beheadings in Somalia, the militant group uses suicide bombings more frequently in Kenya, killing nearly 50 people in Lamu and Mandera counties in recent months. The Kenyan military has responded with attacks on the Boni forest area, which serves as a base for al-Shabaab forces in the country.

Americas

United States

On 8 July, the New York Times claimed that the US president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and his son-in-law Jared Kushner met with a Russian lawyer with links to the Kremlin during the 2016 US presidential election. The meeting was apparently arranged so that Natalia Veselnitskaya could handover potentially-damaging information about Donald Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hilary Clinton. Trump Jr. admitted that he attended the meeting, but claimed that nothing meaningful about Clinton had been discussed. The president’s campaign chair at the time, Paul Manafort, was also reportedly present at the meeting. Several White House officials leaked details of the meeting to the newspaper. The potentially-damaging story adds to the growing perception that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential campaign – something that the FBI continues to investigate. Republican lawmakers will struggle to block an impeachment move by the Democrats if investigators find evidence of collusion.

Venezuela

The Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, praised the release of a political opponent from prison on 8 July. Leopoldo Lopez was moved to house arrest on health grounds after a ruling by the country’s supreme court. Lopez was three years into a 14-year sentence for inciting violence at a 2014 anti-government protest – a charge he denies. Lopez’s release comes after allegations from his family that he had been denied visitors for a month, had spent three days in solitary confinement without food or water, and had been poisoned. In May, his family demanded that the government release a proof of life video. Venezuela is currently experiencing ongoing protests after the president was accused of attempting a coup after the supreme court took control of the parliament for a short period in March. Maduro may have released Lopez in an attempt to appease demonstrators by releasing a popular opposition figure. Lopez has urged supporters to take to the streets to protest against the government.

Asia-Pacific

China

China’s only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, arrived in Hong Kong on 8 July for five days to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China. On 1 July, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, visited the autonomous territory to mark the anniversary. Xi said that any challenges to Beijing’s authority over Hong Kong was ‘impermissible’, as was any act which used the territory to carry out ‘infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland’. The Chinese Communist Party fears that the territory’s pro-democracy movement is gaining strength while Beijing’s authority is challenged by an influx of Western ideas and the territory’s history as a Crown colony and British Dependent Territory. On 7 July, following large pro-democracy demonstrations in the wake of the Chinese premier’s visit, the Hong Kong authorities announced plans to create a 30-person team of anti-terrorist and counter-protest police officers to enable the police to develop tactics to handle the regular protests in the territory.

China reacts to pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong as territory marks 20th anniversary of handoverClick To Tweet

India

Seven Hindu pilgrims were killed and 19 injured in crossfire during a militant attack on a police patrol in Indian-administrated Kashmir on 10 July. The pilgrims were returning from the Amarnath cave shrine when five or six gunmen attacked an armoured police vehicle, and the pilgrim’s bus was caught in the ensuring exchange of gunfire. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, condemned the attack, as did the three senior separatist leaders in Kashmir. Anger in India has led to calls for a retaliatory strike against the militants. Tensions between the Indian government and Kashmiri separatist groups have increased further since July 2016 when security forces killed a popular militant leader.

Europe and Central Asia

Germany

Hamburg, Germany, hosted this year’s G20 summit on 7-8 July. The US president’s performance during what was only his second foreign visit dominated the international media coverage of the summit. Donald Trump met with China and Japan to discuss North Korea, with Japan and South Korea pushing for UN Security Council sanctions on the country. The summit failed to agree a resolution on North Korean missile tests; however, the Australian prime minister, Malcom Turnbull, said that no country defended the actions of the rogue state either. The US and Russian presidents met for the first time during the summit, and the two men reportedly discussed the accusations that Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential election. The United States found itself isolated on the issue of climate change, however, as the 19 other countries represented at the summit reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris climate accord following Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement earlier this year. Trump was also widely criticised for allowing his daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, to accompany him to some sessions and briefly sit in for him during a meeting with world leaders on African migration and health.

The United States was isolated at the G20 summit as the 19 other countries reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris AgreementClick To Tweet

Russia

The US government has announced that the sanctions it imposed on Russia over its annexation of Crimea will remain in place. The US president, Donald Trump, tweeted that the sanctions policy would continue until both the Syrian and Ukrainian issues had been resolved; however, the US government implemented the sanctions regime in response to Russian involvement in Ukraine, and is unable to make its removal dependent on resolving Russian involvement in Syria as well without the president amending the executive order that brought the sanctions into effect. Regarding Ukraine, the United States continues to hold Russia responsible for the separatist movement in the east of the country. It is thought that the US and Russian presidents discussed the issue of sanctions during their recent meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg. The US sanctions have damaged the Russian economy, but it is unlikely that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, will cede to international pressure over either Ukraine or Syria. It is likely that the US sanctions will continue for the medium term.

Middle East and North Africa

Iraq

Iraqi security forces have continued to make significant gains in the former Islamic State (ISIS) stronghold of Mosul. The Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, made a speech in the city on 9 July in which he congratulated troops for liberating the city and claimed that the complete liberation of the city would be achieved soon. ISIS fighters are currently besieged in an area 180 m long and 45 m wide in the old city on the west of the Tigris river. Islamic State also still holds territory in three towns in Anbar Province. The battle for Mosul began in October 2016 when Iraqi troops, with support from the US-led coalition and Kurdish regional government, made their first advances on the city, which had been seized by Islamic State in June 2014. It is thought that around 15,000 civilians are still in the old city of Mosul, and that Islamic State has been using them as human shields during the offensive. Despite an imminent end to the Iraqi government offensive in the city, the humanitarian situation is likely to worsen, with aid agencies warning that around a million people have been displaced and that once the city is completely liberated people are likely to start to return to the area. Once IEDs and other ISIS booby traps have been cleared, basic repairs to the city are expected to cost over a billion dollars, with the long-term reconstruction expected to cost several billion dollars.

Egypt

Militants killed at least 23 soldiers in an attack on a remote Egyptian Army outpost in the Sinai Peninsula on 7 July. Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack, which was the deadliest assault for two years. The attack began with a suicide bomber driving a vehicle into a checkpoint before a number of militants open fired on the small compound, which housed only 60 soldiers. Egyptian troops raided an ISIS training area the next day. Attacks and raids against ISIS training and recruitment areas are likely to continue. ISIS has been focussing its attacks in the area on Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, leading the country’s president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, to declare a nationwide state of emergency in April 2017. Islamic State’s attack on the army outpost is a reminder that, despite significant losses in Iraq and Syria, ISIS militants based in Egypt are still active.

These weekly briefings are offered free of charge to non-profit organisations, journalists and concerned citizens. Governments and corporations using our political and security risk updates are asked to consider making a donation to Open Briefing.

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6-11 August 2017: Hostile environment awareness training (HEAT/HEFAT) https://www.openbriefing.org/blog/hostile-environment-awareness-training-060817/ Tue, 11 Jul 2017 07:56:33 +0000 http://www.openbriefing.org/?p=15442

Training banner image
Course: Personal Security in Hostile Environments (HEAT/HEFAT)
Dates: 16:00 Sunday 6 August to 15:00 Friday 11 August
Location: Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, Cornwall, United Kingdom
Cost: £1,425 + VAT (includes accommodation, meals and accreditation)

Commonly known as Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT) or Hostile Environment and First Aid Training (HEFAT), security training is essential for humanitarian aid workers and freelance journalists working in violent environments, but is also useful for human rights defenders and others working in dangerous circumstances. Unlike many courses of this nature, our flagship Personal Security in Hostile Environments course has been designed from the ground up specifically for NGOs. In addition to life-saving security skills, it includes a full day of first aid training as well as instruction in survival and outdoor living skills, which is essential for those working in remote or austere environments, such as refugee camps.

Jump to registration form or read on for more information…

Using workshops, demonstrations and realistic outdoor scenarios, our unique five-day course teaches students the importance of risk assessments and a security mindset, and trains them to recognise and avoid threats to their safety and security, as well as how to respond quickly and effectively should security or medical incidents occur. Although this course includes classroom sessions, the focus is on scenario-based training, which provides students with genuine experiential learning by immersing them in the training and provides important opportunities for feedback and reflection.

Our syllabus corresponds to Level IC of the recommended curriculum drawn up by the European Interagency Security Forum (EISF) and InterAction. This is an accredited course. Students passing the practical and written assessments will gain a Level 3 Award in Personal Security in Hostile Environments, which is regulated by NCFE in line with the national qualifications framework. Our course includes a full day of first aid training, and students passing a short written test will also be awarded an enhanced Level 2 Emergency First Aid at Work Certificate valid for three years.

Course content

1) NGO security risk management

  • Understanding your context and programme
  • The security risk management framework
  • Risk assessments
  • The security triangle (acceptance, deterrence and protection)
  • Security plans
  • Hibernation, relocation and evacuation
  • Crisis management

2) First aid

  • Catastrophic bleeding
  • Basic CPR
  • Breaks and burns
  • Environmental illness and injury (e.g. heat exhaustion, heat stroke, frostbite and hypothermia)
  • Vomiting, diarrhoea and dehydration
  • First aid kits and improvisation

3) Building security

  • Office security
  • Residential security
  • Safe rooms
  • Fire safety

4) Safe movement

  • Vehicle convoy procedures
  • Checkpoint procedures
  • Vehicle safety
  • Crowds, mobs and demonstrations

5) Weapons and explosives

  • Indirect and direct fire
  • Improvised explosive devices (IEDs), unexploded ordnance (UXOs) and landmines
  • Weapons familiarisation and safety (including Glock pistol and AK-47)
  • Understanding and using body armour
  • Surviving an active shooter

6) Kidnap awareness and hostage survival

  • Conflict management and de-escalation
  • Self-defence
  • What to expect and how to act in a rescue
  • Sexual assault awareness
  • Restraint escape techniques

7) Communications

  • Radio and sat phone basics
  • Comms procedures
  • Information security

8) Survival and resilience

  • Principles of survival
  • Survival psychology
  • Wilderness survival skills
  • Urban survival principles
  • Go bags

This residential course is physically and mentally demanding. Students will work long days, and spend a considerable amount of time outdoors in all weathers. However, our instructors are there to facilitate your learning and ensure your comfort and safety. Accommodation and facilities are basic but comfortable, and mimic what you might find in the field, including a dormitory, tents and improvised shelters, in order to provide an immersive experience. The food is simple but plentiful, and often cooked over an open fire. As a reward, the final evening offers students the opportunity for a hearty meal and a few drinks with the instructors at a nearby traditional Cornish inn!

We developed our Level 3 Award in Personal Security in Hostile Environments in collaboration with the expert team at Survival Wisdom. They provide bespoke training based on their decades of experience as survival instructors and force protection specialists in the British armed forces. Survival Wisdom is a NCFE IIQ provider. We run this course at Survival Wisdom’s 865-acre training site at Mount Edgcumbe Country Park in southeast Cornwall, where we also have exclusive civilian use of the Royal Navy’s Pier Cellars training centre. The site is easily reachable by train or car from central London. Direct flights from 40 European locations, including London, Paris and Geneva, land at Exeter International Airport, which is one hour by train, car or taxi from Mount Edgcumbe.

Hostile environment and first aid training for NGOs, 6-11 AugustClick To Tweet

Registration form

Course: Personal Security in Hostile Environments (HEAT/HEFAT)
Dates: 16:00 Sunday 6 August to 15:00 Friday 11 August
Location: Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, Cornwall, United Kingdom
Cost: £1,425 + VAT (includes accommodation, meals and accreditation)

If you would like to book a place on this course, please register your interest using the form below, and we will contact you shortly to confirm.
[contact-form-7]

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The weekly briefing, 27 June 2017: French president’s party secures 61-seat working majority in lower house, Vietnam deports dissident blogger, Saudi-led bloc delivers list of demands to Qatar https://www.openbriefing.org/publications/political-and-security-risk-updates/weekly-briefing-270617/ Tue, 27 Jun 2017 15:55:36 +0000 http://www.openbriefing.org/?p=15556

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: Al-Shabaab kill 15 people in car bomb attack in Somali capital; Libyan National Army claim to have made significant territorial gains in central Benghazi.

Americas: US Supreme Court partly upholds Trump’s appeal against two federal circuit courts of appeal rulings against his controversial travel ban; Mexico and European Union begin trade talks.

Asia-Pacific: Former Indian Navy officer being held by Pakistan as a spy files for a stay of execution; Vietnam deports dissident blogger to France after stripping the dual national of Vietnamese citizenship.

Europe and Central Asia: French president’s party secures 61-seat working majority in elections for national assembly; Mongolia holds presidential election.

Middle East and North Africa: Egyptian president ratifies controversial deal to transfer sovereignty of islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia; Saudi-led bloc delivers list of demands Qatar must meet to end its isolation.

Africa

Somalia

At least 15 people were killed on 20 June in a car bomb attack in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab have claimed responsibility for the attack on a police headquarters in the Wadajir district of the capital. Despite significant territorial losses, al-Shabaab has increased its attacks in recent months. The attack on the police headquarters comes only a week after an overnight siege at a restaurant and hotel in the capital in which over 30 people were killed. Islamic State also represents a significant threat following its first attack in the country on 24 May. The United States has increased its support to Somalia, including support for air strikes, and the African Union has renewed its AMISOM peacekeeping force. The international efforts are welcomed by Somali president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who was elected in February with a mandate to work towards securitising the state.

Libya

Forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar claim to have made significant territorial gains in central Benghazi. The latest advance in the Souq al-Hout neighbourhood on 25 June, is the most-recent victory for the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), which has been engaged in sporadic fighting in the area with forces loyal to the UN-backed government in Tripoli. The UN’s Libya Sanctions Committee report published on 24 June identifies the UAE as a primary funder of Haftar’s militia. His forces have made a series of gains in central and eastern Libya in the past few months, including strategic gains in the oil crescent.

Americas

United States

On 26 June, in the last session of its term, the US Supreme Court considered an emergency request submitted by the president, Donald Trump, to reconsider his controversial travel ban. His executive order had proposed a 90-day ban on people travelling to the United States from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, as well as a 120-day ban on all refugees entering the United States. The Trump administration was appealing the rulings of two federal circuit courts of appeal that the president did not have the legal authority to implement such a ban. The supreme court decided to partly lift their injunction. The justices stated that the travel ban could not be enforced against foreign nationals who have existing ties to the United States, but that all other foreign nationals may be subject to the provisions of Trump’s executive order. The court also ruled in favour of the 120-day ban on all refugees to the United States, again provided that they do not have bona fide relationship with the United States. This constitutes a clear political win for the US president; however, it is important to highlight that the ruling only permits a temporary travel ban – the supreme court indicated that it would consider whether the policy should be upheld or not during its next official session in the autumn. The White House will likely now be closely monitoring the rumours that Justice Anthony Kennedy wishes to retire from the supreme court. Kennedy’s departure would offer Trump the opportunity to appoint a new justice sympathetic to some of his policy agenda, including possible future executive orders on immigration.

Mexico

Mexico and the European Union began trade talks on 26 June. The talks are aimed at updating the understanding reached in 2000. The discussion takes place against the backdrop of tense relations between each of the parties and the United States under Donald Trump. Mexico sees the talks as an opportunity to manage the economic risks presented by the Trump administration’s long-standing animosity towards the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), especially as that discussions on possibly renegotiating NAFTA are due to take place during the summer. Similarly, the EU sees the talks with Mexico as an opportunity to hedge its bets, as the EU-US trade deal reached under the Obama administration has been on standby since Trump came to office. Mexico will likely seek to compromise in order to reach a rapid agreement with the EU in order to have leverage ahead of the NAFTA talks.

Mexico and European Union seeking to offset poor relations with the United States during their trade talksClick To Tweet

Asia-Pacific

Pakistan

On 22 June, a former Indian Navy officer being held by Pakistan filled a stay of execution on the grounds of mercy and compassion. Kulbhushan Jadhav has faced the death penalty since he was arrested by Pakistani officials in Balochistan on 3 March 2016 on the charge of ‘espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan’. India denies the charge. The UN has appealed to Pakistan to delay any execution in order to allow India to work through the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to resolve the issue. Pakistan has released a statement claiming that Jadhav has sought forgiveness for his actions after a video was released in which he ‘confessed’. What Pakistan does next may significantly influence Pakistan-India relations over the short- to medium-term.

Vietnam

Vietnam has deported the dissident blogger Phạm Minh Hoàng to France after it stripped the dual national of his Vietnamese citizenship. Hoàng was imprisoned in 2011 following articles that ‘blackened the image of the country’ according to the judge at his trial. Hoàng admitted that he was a member of the US-based pro-democracy group Viet Tan – which Vietnam considers a terrorist organisation – but denied that he aimed to overthrowing the government with his articles. It is rare for people with dual nationality to be stripped of the citizenship of their country of origin. The Vietnamese authorities are increasingly charging democracy activists with subversion, with the courts handing down long sentences for those found guilty. If the government continues to exile dual nationality dissidents by removing their Vietnamese citizenship it would be a worrying development that goes against the fundamental human rights of freedom of expression and right to nationality.

Europe and Central Asia

France

The French president’s movement, En Marche!, ran in legislative elections on 18 June under the banner La République en marche (LREM) together with the Democratic Movement (MoDem). The coalition won a total of 350 of the 577 seats in the national assembly. The previous ruling party, the Socialist Party of François Hollande, fell dramatically from the 284 seats it held in the previous national assembly to only 30 seats in the new one. LREM’s working majority of 61 seats will give the president, Emmanuel Macron, significant room to enact his manifesto through the lower house, including controversial measures, such as the labour law reform bill. Macron is considering the highly-unusual step of convening a joint congress of the national assembly and the senate at the palace of Versailles. With the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, one of Macron’s central policy agendas is reviving the EU, and he is working closely with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to try and secure the EU’s future. Domestically, Macron will likely seek to enact his plans to cut corporation tax, reform the economy and boost job creation.

Mongolia

Mongolia held a presidential election on 26 June. The candidates were the parliament speaker and former prime minister Miyegombo Enkhbold of the Mongolian People’s Party, businessman and former MP Khaltmaa Batulgaa of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party and former MP Sainkhuu Ganbaatar of Democratic Party. The incumbent, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj of the Democratic Party, cannot run for re-election, as he has already served two terms. This election is key for the country’s future given Mongolia’s considerable debt ($23 billion, which amounts to double of its economy), its low growth rate (which fell from 17.5% in 2011 to 1% in 2016) and its difficulty attracting foreign investment. However, Mongolia’s youth are disillusioned with the perceived corruption of the country’s politicians, and it is likely that the turnout will have been low. At least 50% of eligible voters must cast their ballot for the election to be valid. There will likely be a second round even if this threshold is crossed, as it is unlikely that any candidate will secure an absolute majority, despite a possible lead for Batulgaa. Whoever is eventually Mongolia’s new president will need to ensure that the country makes effective and accountable use of the recently-secured $5.5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Middle East and North Africa

Qatar

The Saudi-led bloc that is attempting to isolate Qatar issued a list of 13 demands to end the crisis on 23 June. The bloc demands that Qatar sever ties with Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, close Al Jazeera, distance itself from Iran, and close a Turkish military base, among other stipulations. The UAE has threatened a permanent end to its relationship with Qatar if the latter does not agree to the demands. Qatar had been given 10 days to formally respond. The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, had asked that a list of demands be both reasonable and actionable, and has admitted that certain points on the list will be difficult for Qatar to agree to. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and a number of other countries accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism and destabilising the region. They cut diplomatic ties with the Gulf state on 5 June and implemented a blockade that includes air traffic and imports/exports. Turkey and Iran have helped mitigate Qatar’s isolation by flying food supplies to the Gulf state. Qatar continues to deny that it supports terrorism.

Qatar unlikely to be able to meet all 13 of the demands made by the Saudi-led bloc in order to end its isolationClick To Tweet

Egypt

The controversial deal to transfer sovereignty of Tiran and Sanafir islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia was ratified by the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, on 25 June. This followed the Egyptian parliament giving its approval on 14 June. The agreement was announced in April 2016, and has led to widespread protests across Egypt, as many view the transfer as a threat to national sovereignty. The decision to hand over the islands has faced a number of challenges, including a supreme court ruling on 21 June, which halted all decisions on the case until the constitutionality of the deal has been decided. Two previous rulings have stated that the transfer of sovereignty is invalid. The islands are uninhabited and have been under Egyptian administrative control since the 1950s.

These weekly briefings are offered free of charge to non-profit organisations, journalists and concerned citizens. Governments and corporations using our political and security risk updates are asked to consider making a donation to Open Briefing.

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Open Briefing publishes its 2016-17 annual report https://www.openbriefing.org/blog/open-briefing-publishes-2016-17-annual-report/ Tue, 13 Jun 2017 14:24:14 +0000 http://www.openbriefing.org/?p=15541

Refugee camp
During the five years after we launched Open Briefing in 2011, our team concentrated firstly on scrutinising the actions of governments and militaries and generating alternative, sustainable security policies, and secondly on using our experience in intelligence and research to help other progressive organisations do the same.

However, on several occasions over the last couple of years, our team of former intelligence, military, law enforcement and government professionals has been asked to assist NGOs working in challenging environments with risk assessments and security advice.

This work led us to identify an urgent need to take the best practice from the humanitarian aid sector and adapt and develop it for the rest of the NGO world in order to help keep human rights defenders, peacebuilders, environmental activists, researchers, campaigners, independent journalists and others safe and secure within an increasingly restricted civic space.

Over 2016, we worked hard to develop and formalise this work, and in October 2016 we launched a range of new security, training and equipment services to complement our existing intelligence work. Each of these new services has taken a considerable investment of time and resources to research, develop, launch and promote.

Undertaking such a diverse range of new activities in such a short amount of time has required a considerable degree of internal organisational focus. We are proud that during this time we have managed to maintain the level of external activity that we have – particularly given the size of our budget and the fact that we only have one full-time member of staff.

We have expanded our work over the last 12 months with the help of core grants from Oak Foundation, the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation and the Philamonic Trust, and project grants from the Remote Control Project and Network for Social Change. We greatly appreciate the financial and moral support that our funders and other supporters have given us during this demanding, but exciting, period – we could not have achieved what we have without them.

Please read the full report for details of our successes over the last 12 months.

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Monthly intelligence briefing on the Boko Haram insurgency: May 2017 https://www.openbriefing.org/publications/boko-haram-insurgency/intelligence-briefing-boko-haram-insurgency-may-2017/ Tue, 13 Jun 2017 13:57:36 +0000 http://www.openbriefing.org/?p=15531

Boko Haram briefings banner
This is the second of five monthly intelligence briefings on the Boko Haram insurgency being prepared for the Remote Control Project. The series will finish with an in-depth briefing on the international and regional coalitions against Boko Haram and the special forces, drones and other ‘remote warfare’ assets being deployed against the militant group.

International organisations

  1. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released a report on 12 April highlighting the dramatic increase in Boko Haram using children in suicide attacks so far this year. UNICEF noted that the number of Boko Haram suicide bombings involving children in the first half of 2017 is on par with the total for the whole of 2016. Boko Haram has so far used approximately 117 children in suicide bombings in the Lake Chad region this year. Boko Haram’s increasing use of children in suicide bombings may suggest that it is struggling to recruit and retain fighters. UNICEF released further figures on 4 May showing that at least 3,900 children have died due to the actions of Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces in northeast Nigeria between January 2013 and December 2016.
  2. The International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) indicated that between 16 April to 15 May, 9,739 new internally displaced people (IDPs) were reported in Nigeria seeking food, water, shelter and protection. This is in addition to the 11,000 IDPs from Nigeria that had settled in Cameroon but returned to Nigeria during May. Many of these have arrived in large groups with a Nigerian military escort. Camps are already facing shortages in food and water, and up to an additional 3,000 people are reported to be planning to travel from Cameroon to Nigeria in the short term.
  3. The London-based NGO Transparency International Defence and Security (TI-DS) published a report on 18 May advocating that Nigeria’s international partners build anti-corruption measures into all defence deals with Abuja in order to effectively combat Boko Haram. The report, Weaponising Transparency, also argues that the Nigerian government should adopt reform of defence procurement as a key counter-terrorism strategy. Nigerian officials and military representatives strongly contested TI-DS’s accusation that defence sector corruption in Nigeria is emboldening Boko Haram, arguing that recent reforms and operational changes have rooted out corrupt behaviour. TI-DS produced the report in partnership with the Nigeria-based Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC).
  4. In its most recent situation report, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported that as of 15 May there were 4.7 million food-insecure people in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states in Nigeria. The organisation predicted that this would rise to 5.2 million people by August. More than 50,000 people could face famine-like conditions across the three states. Active conflict, ongoing insecurity and lack of funding for international NGOs is preventing basic humanitarian assistance and intervention. The severe food insecurity is encouraging looting and the targeting of road routes used to deliver food supplies.

US and European partners

  1. Ministers from the United Kingdom’s foreign office and Department for International Development gave a joint speech on 14 April in which they outlined previous British support for Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram. Tobias Ellwood and James Wharton highlighted financial support for the MNJTF totalling £5 million, humanitarian support totalling £74 million in 2016, medical care for 500,000 people and education to 25,000 children, and the provision of training for an estimated 22,500 Nigerian military personnel. The ministers also used their speech to call on Boko Haram to release all the hostages it is holding. On 20 April, the international development secretary, Priti Patel, promised a total of £100 million this year to help the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and international NGOs reach the most vulnerable people displaced by Boko Haram.
  2. The Nigerian chief of defence policy, Air Vice-Marshal Bashir Saidu, has acknowledged and expressed gratitude to the United Kingdom for the training provided to some Nigerian officers at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. He made his comments during a visit by staff and members of the UK Royal College of Defence Studies to the Nigerian Defence Headquarters in Abuja on 15 May.
  3. The UK foreign office in London and the US embassy in Abuja both reported on 5 May that they have credible intelligence to suggest that Boko Haram is planning to increase its kidnapping of foreign workers in the Bama local government area of Borno State in Nigeria. The increase underlines speculation that Boko Haram has insufficient resources and is refocusing its efforts on generating income from kidnap for ransom. The evidence suggest that Boko Haram is struggling to feed its fighters, and there have been reports of militants are handing themselves into security forces suffering from starvation. As northeast Nigeria and the wider region suffers a food crisis and is at risk of famine, it may be Boko Harams plan to raise funds from ransom payments in order to purchase food for current fighters and incentivise new recruits.
  4. Representatives of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) attended the African Chiefs of Defence Conference at the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, on 19-20 April. After the event, the commanders of AFRICOM and the MNJTF, General Thomas Waldhauser and Major General Lamidi Adeosun respectively, held a press briefing at which they noted that the split between the Boko Haram factions led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi and Abubakar Shekau is aiding MNJTF operations against the militants. Waldhauser indicated that the Trump administration’s support for counter-terrorism operations in the Lake Chad region would remain unchanged, and will continue to emphasise ‘African solutions to African problems’. This suggests that the White House is disinclined to support the fight against Boko Haram by deploying additional US personnel to the Lake Chad region.
  5. United States Army Africa (USARAF) joined Chad Basin MNJFT forces at Douala Naval Base in Cameroon on 24 April for the United Focus 17 desktop exercise. The exercise involved joint planning and coordination activities that included civilian and military participants who workshopped counter-terrorism and human insecurity scenarios. The inclusion of civilian planners may have been prompted by the worsening humanitarian situation in northeastern Nigeria.
  6. The White House appears to be moving forward with the proposed $600 million sale of 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to the Nigerian government. The US Air Force has previously described the use of the A-29 by Afghanistan as a game-changer. The robust, turboprop aircraft would allow the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) to provide close air support to counter-insurgency operations, and potentially enable it to carry out more sophisticated night-time raids. The US Congress will need to approve any sale. The Obama administration had previously put the deal on hold after the NAF repeatedly bombed civilians and humanitarian aid workers.

Regional coalitions and local governments

  1. Nigerian security, immigration and law enforcement officials are reportedly returning to liberated local government areas (LGAs) in Borno State. Staff are returning to 24 of the 27 LGAs in the state, but are unable to return to Abadam, Guza Mala and Marte because of continuing military operations in those areas. Boko Haram may respond to the return of government officials to liberated areas by carrying out small-scale attacks to disrupt rebuilding and discourage IDPs from returning. This would undermine government claims of victory over Boko Haram and corrode public confidence in government services.
  2. On 31 April, the Nigerian Air Force led an interdiction mission 40 km outside of Damboa near Balla. Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the main Boko Haram faction, was reportedly injured in the strike, and a key deputy, Abba Mustapha, was killed. Shekau reportedly sought medical attention in a border town near Kolofata after the attack. The NAF mission against such high-value Boko Haram targets was likely intended to be a decapitation strike.
  3. Nigerian soldiers and local Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) fighters conducted a joint campaign in Ngala to dislodge Boko Haram militants from the territory on 19 May. The operation reportedly freed almost 1,000 hostages being held by Boko Haram and included the destruction of IED-making equipment.
  4. On 20 and 21 May, the Nigerian Army conducted a 72-hour clearing operation in the Chikun Gudu, Tumbuma Karami and Tumbuma Baba areas surrounding Lake Chad. Soldiers reportedly killed 13 suspected Boko Haram militants and arrested 10 others and recovered a cache of small arms. The Nigerian Air Force component of Operation Lafiya Dole reportedly conducted intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions in the Sambisa Forest area during the clearing operation.
  5. The Nigerian Police Force has deployed police officers and operatives from the Explosive Ordinance Device Department to churches, mosques and other public places across Abuja in response to Boko Haram threats to attack the capital. While Nigerian government officials played down the threat, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Security Committee decided to intensify intelligence activities around Abuja.

Boko Haram

  1. Throughout mid-April and May, Boko Haram militants concentrated their attacks geographically around IDP camps near Maiduguri and Konduga and intensified IED and mobile small arms attacks. This is possibly in response to the Nigerian government seeking to reassert control and return key government services to areas it has pushed Boko Haram out of.
  2. Boko Haram carried out IED attacks on military checkpoints in Borno State on 12 and 17 April. The 12 April incident reportedly involved a suicide bombing and small arms attack on a military checkpoint in Dalori, Maiduguri, near an IDP camp, and resulted in the death of a Nigerian soldier. Militants also allegedly stole weapons during the attack. The 17 April attack occurred near Sabon Garin Kimba village, and ended with Boko Haram killing five military personnel and stealing military vehicles and weapons. Four other soldiers are missing in action.
  3. Three Nigerian soldiers were killed and two injured by an IED while they were patrolling the Ngoshe-Pulka Road in Borno State on 18 April. Reports suggest that Nigerian soldiers later killed six militants and recovered small arms during related clearance missions in nearby villages on 20 April.
  4. Nigerian soldiers repelled Boko Haram fighters who attacked an army base near Sambisa Forest on 27 April. Fifteen suspected militants were killed in the clash according to a Nigerian military spokesperson.
  5. On 7 May, Boko Haram released 82 of the remaining schoolgirls it kidnapped in Chibok in April 2014. The militant group exchanged the hostages for five of its leaders that the Nigerian government released. The Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross brokered the exchange together with Mustapha Zanna, a barrister from Maiduguri who once represented the founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf. Five days after the exchange, on 12 May, Boko Haram released two propaganda videos. In the first, one of the five released militants, Shuaibu Moni, threatens attacks on the Nigerian capital, Abuja. In the second, four of the released Chibok schoolgirls are allegedly shown pledging allegiance to Boko Haram.
  6. Boko Haram has launched several attacks near IDP camps in Borno State over the last month. Two separate suicide bombings were carried out near an IDP camp in Konduga town on 15 and 17 May. On 20 May, militants attacked and killed four members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) in two separate attacks near an IDP camp on the outskirts of Maiduguri (Dalori camp-1). The second attack involved personal IED attacks in the town of Konduga.
  7. On 13 May, CJTF fighters fought off Boko Haram militants who attacked and reportedly killed six farmers near Amrawa village.
  8. Three Boko Haram suicide bombers launched an attack on the University of Maiduguri female hostel on 18 May. Three security staff were injured in the attack.
  9. On 18 May, the governor of Taraba State, Darius Ishaku, suggested that Boko Haram militants dislodged from Sambisa Forest are regrouping in Suntai Daaji forest in his state.
  10. Boko Haram has also carried out attacks in Cameroon and Chad during this reporting period. Three civilians were killed and three wounded in a suicide attack in Kolofata in northern Cameroon on 19 April. On 5 May, Chadian troops clashed with militants at an army post in Kaiga in the Lake Chad region. Nine Chadian troops and 28 Boko Haram fighters were reportedly killed in the clash.

COnflict map

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The weekly briefing, 13 June 2017: Filipino government forces attempt to retake city of Marawi, UK prime minister loses government majority, large anti-government protests take place in Moscow https://www.openbriefing.org/publications/political-and-security-risk-updates/weekly-briefing-130617/ Tue, 13 Jun 2017 13:38:54 +0000 http://www.openbriefing.org/?p=15525

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: Militants attack prison in DR Congo, killing 11 people and releasing 900 inmates; Incumbent prime minister loses Lesotho’s general election.

Americas: Former FBI director testimony to US Senate suggests Donald Trump may have attempted to obstruct FBI investigation; Panama officially establishing diplomatic relations with People’s Republic of China.

Asia-Pacific: Filipino government forces attempt to retake city of Marawi; Suspect killed in hostage siege in Melbourne had violent history and claimed was acting for Islamic State and al-Qaida.

Europe and Central Asia: UK prime minister loses government majority in surprise general election result; Large anti-government protests take place in Moscow.

Middle East and North Africa: Moroccan police arrest more than 20 people over protests in country’s Rif region; Iranian authorities arrest 43 people after militants kill 17 people in two attacks in country’s capital.

Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Eleven people, including eight prison guards, were killed when unidentified militants attacked the Kangwayi prison in Beni in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on 11 June. Over 900 inmates escaped in the attack. The governor of the North Kivu province where the attack took place has placed the area under a night-time curfew. There have been several prison breaks in recent months, with around 4,000 inmates escaping from a prison in Kinshasa in May. Although the identity of the attackers in Beni has not yet been verified, it is possible that they were from the rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) group. The political situation in the DRC has been unstable since the incumbent president, Joseph Kabila, held onto power despite the official end of his second term in December 2016.

Lesotho

Thomas Thabane was elected as the new prime minister of Lesotho on 6 June after beating the incumbent, Pakalitha Mosisili, in a snap election that followed an earlier vote of no confidence in Mosisili. Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) party won 48 of the 80 contested seats in the 120-seat parliament, leaving the new prime minister short of an overall majority. Thabane has said that his party will enter into a coalition with three other parties in order to ensure a majority in parliament. There had been concerns over the transfer of power, as this is Lesotho’s third election in only five years, but early indications – such as Mosisili conceding defeat and resigning from office – suggest that the transition may go reasonably smoothly. It is crucial for Lesotho that the new government remains stable.

Americas

United States

On 8 June, former FBI director James Comey appeared in front of the US Senate intelligence committee to testify about Donald Trump’s alleged interference with an FBI investigation into the president’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his links to Russia. In his testimony, Comey stated that he had documented every meeting that he had with Trump because he was afraid that the president might lie about the content or even existence of the meetings. Comey also asserted that his sacking was directly linked to the FBI’s investigation into what he considers Moscow’s indisputable interference in the 2016 US presidential election. Comey’s account is highly damaging to the Trump administration, as it suggests that the president may have committed obstruction of justice. However, as a sitting president, it is highly unlikely that Trump will ever face criminal proceedings, and impeachment requires a majority vote in the House and a two-thirds vote in the Senate – both of which are currently controlled by the Republican party. Trump will now likely attempt to spin the story by attacking Comey for leaking privileged conversations.

The former FBI director's account is damning, but Donald Trump is unlikely to face criminal charges or impeachment in the near termClick To Tweet

Panama

On 13 June, Panama officially established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This is a de facto assertion that there is only one China, and shifts Panama away from its long-standing diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Panama’s president, Juan Carlos Varela, did not provide concrete justification for the move, except for stating his belief that it is the correct path for Panama. The Taiwanese authorities accused Panama of being bought off by China at the expense of years of friendship. China remains irritated by Taiwan’s continued attempts to increase its political and economic independence from the mainland. Panama’s abandonment of Taiwan therefore constitutes an important diplomatic win for China. It follows similar moves from São Tomé and Príncipe in December 2016. It is likely that Beijing will continue using economic incentives to pressure the remaining 20 countries that recognise Taiwan – mainly Latin American countries and Pacific island states – to change their positions.

Asia-Pacific

Philippines

On 11 June, Filipino forces began an operation to retake the city of Marawi on Mindanao. Fighters from the Maute group have controlled the town since 23 May following an unsuccessful government raid to try and capture Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the violent jihadist group Abu Sayyaf, with which the Maute group is allied. The operation to retake the city was originally supposed to end on 12 June, but progress has been slower than expected due to the urban environment and because the militants are reportedly using civilians as human shields. According to Amaq News Agency, which is linked to Islamic State, rebels still control approximately two-thirds of the area, though the Filipino military states that the militants actually only control around 20% of the city. So far, 200 insurgents, 58 security personnel and 26 civilians have been killed in the fighting. There are only 300-600 civilians left in the town from a usual population of 200,000. Only 100 of the 500 rebels that took the town are believed to be still fighting; however, the city’s porous borders mean that fighters – including potential reinforcements – are able to enter and leave at will. Although rebel reinforcements might prolong the operation, it is highly likely that government forces will retake the city.

Australia

On 5 June, a man killed the building’s clerk at a serviced apartment complex in Melbourne’s Brighton suburb. The Somali-born Australian, Yacqub Khayre, then took an escort he had been at the apartments with hostage. During the ensuring siege, Khayre called Seven Network television and claimed that he was acting for Islamic State and al-Qaida. Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the incident. Police freed the hostage in a raid in which Khayre injured three officers before police shot and killed him. The police subsequently said that they are unsure if Khayre had any links to either Islamic State or al-Qaida. Khayre was previously accused, and acquitted, of planning to attack a Sydney army barracks in 2009. He had a long history of violent crimes, and longstanding drug and alcohol abuse problems. Police have carried out multiple raids, and have so far charged two men with firearms-related offenses in connection with the weapons Khayre used during the siege. Whatever Khayre’s motives were, the incident raises further questions over how an individual previously known to police managed to carry out an attack.

Europe and Central Asia

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom’s ruling Conservative Party lost its parliamentary majority in a snap general election on 8 June. The embattled prime minister, Theresa May, has been forced to form a minority government. The surprise result followed a weak Conservative campaign that was heavily focused on the prime minister, and contrasted with a strong performance from the underestimated leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. The Conservatives now hope to secure the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in order to get legislation through the House of Commons; however, many are deeply concerned by the alliance, as the DUP opposes LGBT rights, gay marriage and abortion and denies the existence of climate change. The DUP has historical links to the loyalist paramilitary group Ulster Resistance, and the violent Ulster Defence Association (UDA) backed the DUP during the general election. An alliance between the Conservatives and DUP in Westminster would threaten the delicate balance of power between unionists and republicans in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has until now been mediated by a supposedly neutral UK government. As the United Kingdom heads towards Brexit negotiations with the EU, the unnecessary general election has significantly destabilised the country, as it now has a minority government and a weakened prime minister that is unlikely to last the year as leader of either her party or the country.

The UK government's poor general election showing jeopardises politics in Northern Ireland and the EU Brexit negotiationsClick To Tweet

Russia

On 12 June, large anti-government protests took place in the Russian capital, Moscow. The crowds of several thousand, mostly young, demonstrators called for a ‘Russia without Putin’. The protests were the largest since 2012. The police arrested several people, including Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who had called for popular mobilisation across Russia against a corrupt system that is propped up by the president, Vladimir Putin. Navalny has indicated that he will challenge Putin in next year’s presidential election. Although Navalny is increasingly popular among young Russians, his bid for the Kremlin is highly unlikely to succeed, as it is unclear at this point whether he will even be allowed to run.

Middle East and North Africa

Morocco

Moroccan police have arrested more than 20 people in the past two weeks in the country’s Rif region. Those arrested include Nasser Zefzafi, the head of the al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or Popular Movement, which has been instrumental in protests in the region since October 2016. The protests began after a fisherman was crushed to death by a garage compressor after he has climbed in to reclaim fish confiscated by the police. Rif has been an area of unrest since the government suppressed a rebellion there in 1958. The region is plagued by high unemployment, which protestors argue is because it is marginalised from the rest of the country. Protests in support have also taken place in the country’s capital, Rabat. The protests come as the reforms made following the Arab Spring in 2011 have stalled. The government has been criticised for its response to the demonstration, but the police are likely to continue arresting local activists.

Iran

Iranian authorities have arrested 43 people after militants killed 17 people in two attacks in the country’s capital, Tehran, on 7 June. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which occurred at the Iranian parliament and at the mausoleum of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The attackers failed to reach the main parliament building, and no members of parliament were killed in the attack. The Iranian minister of intelligence has announced the killing of the alleged mastermind and main commander of the attacks. The attacks on the highly symbolic targets are the first that Islamic State has claimed in Iran. The last attack on the Iranian parliament was in 1981, when an opposition group planted a bomb there that killed 27 parliamentarians.

These weekly briefings are offered free of charge to non-profit organisations, journalists and concerned citizens. Governments and corporations using our political and security risk updates are asked to consider making a donation to Open Briefing.

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The weekly briefing, 6 June 2017: Militant group takes over areas of southern Filipino city of Marawi, United Kingdom experiences third terrorist attack in 75 days, multiple countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar https://www.openbriefing.org/publications/political-and-security-risk-updates/weekly-briefing-060617/ Tue, 06 Jun 2017 14:14:36 +0000 http://www.openbriefing.org/?p=15515

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: Lesotho awaits outcome of general election that opposition is expected to narrowly win; Libyan National Army and Egypt attack areas held by UN-backed Government of National Accord.

Americas: Donald Trump announces he will withdraw United States from Paris Agreement on climate change; Mexico’s most-populous state holds gubernatorial election that ruling party is projected to narrowly win.

Asia-Pacific: Militant group takes over areas of southern Filipino city of Marawi and president declares state of emergency; Indian prime minister announces plans to go ‘above and beyond’ Paris Agreement.

Europe and Central Asia: United Kingdom experiences third terrorist attack in 75 days as it heads towards general election; Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron meet at Palace of Versailles.

Middle East and North Africa: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and Maldives cut diplomatic ties with Qatar; Officials from Sudan and Egypt meet in Cairo after several months of increased tensions over disputed Halayeb Triangle.

Africa

Lesotho

Lesotho held its third general election since 2012 on 3 June. The election result is expected to be close between the incumbent prime minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, and his principal opponent, Thomas Thabane, who was the prime minister during 2012 and 2015. Thabane has drawn large crowds at rallies, and is seen as the narrow favourite. It is expected to take several days to count the votes, though an early tally suggests Thabane may have won. The snap election was announced after Mosisili lost a no-confidence vote on 1 March after a series of coalition splits only two years into the parliament. In a country of 2.1 million people, 1.2 million are registered to vote; however, there are fears of a low turnout because of voter dissatisfaction with continued political in-fighting and the lack of stability in the country. Regardless of the election result, the next Lesothan prime minister will need to form a coalition government that addresses the country’s key challenges, including high rates of unemployment and HIV/AIDS.

Libya

General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) attacked forces loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) on 2 June just hours after unidentified fighter jets attacked GNA-held areas. The attacks took place in the central district of Jufra, around 400 km south of Sirte. The successful LNA offensive is the latest in a series of victories that has allowed it to establish its dominance in the south of the country. Egypt is believed to have sent the fighter jets that attacked overnight on 1 June. The coordinated operation between Egypt and the LNA appears to be part of a series of strikes that the Libyan Air Force announced on 28 May targeting terrorist groups in the Jufra area. Egypt launched similar air strikes against camps near Derna in eastern Libya after militants killed 29 Coptic Christians in Egypt on 26 May.

Americas

United States

On 1 June, the US president, Donald Trump, announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Although toothless, the climate accord was claimed by world leaders as a major milestone in collective efforts to address climate change and the effects of global warming when it was adopted in December 2015. Trump argued that the agreement was detrimental to the US economy, and stated that he was ‘elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.’ His decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement drew support from the Republican Party and other US conservatives, but has generated widespread outcry across the United States and the world. Trump’s controversial decision apparently followed intense debate within his inner circle. It is highly likely that the move is part of an attempt to reinvigorate the president’s support base as his approval rating continues to fall. Trump has said that he will now try to negotiate a better deal for the United States; however, other countries, such as France, Germany and Italy, are unlikely be receptive to such negotiations. China and India, among the top carbon dioxide emitters, have already reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement.

Donald Trump attempts to reinvigorate his support base as his approval rating fallsClick To Tweet

Mexico

Mexico’s most-populous state, the State of Mexico (also known as Edomex), held a gubernatorial election on 4 June. According to preliminary projections, the candidate of the ruling Institution Revolutionary Party (PRI), Alfredo del Mazo, is set to narrowly defeat his principal opponent, Delfina Gomez of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA). The PRI has governed Edomex for nearly 90 years; however, its narrow victory suggests that the left-wing MORENA party led by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has managed to make significant gains among Mexican voters. One in eight Mexican voters lives in the State of Mexico, and MORENA’s competitiveness in the state suggests it could do well in the country’s general election scheduled for July 2018. Lopez Obrador has referred to the campaign in Edomex as a ‘farce’, while Gomez insists that she has won the election. It is likely that voter intimidation took place in several districts of the State of Mexico, but it is also possible that the intimidation was carried out by both sides. MORENA has refused to accept the early results, and it is highly likely that the party will call for an investigation into voter fraud and for the election to be annulled once the full count is completed.

Asia-Pacific

Philippines

A militant group has taken over areas of the southern Filipino city of Marawi. The city is a stronghold for supporters of the Maute group, a radical Islamist group that pledged allegiance to Islamic State in 2015. On 23 May, government forces carried out an unsuccessful raid in Marawi to try and capture Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the violent jihadist group Abu Sayyaf, with which the Maute group is allied. Shortly afterwards, a large group of armed militants came onto the streets of the Mindanao city waving IS flags. At least 13 militants and seven soldiers were killed in the subsequent fighting, during which Maute group insurgents kidnapped 12-15 people from a local church. The Filipino president, Rodrigo Duterte, immediately declared martial law on Mindanao for 60 days. The Philippine Army has retaken some areas of the city, but around 1,000 residents are still trapped by the fighting. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebel group mediated a four-hour truce between the army and fighters in the city on 4 June, but the ceasefire was broken by gunfire after an hour, and only 130 residents were freed. It is highly likely that the army will eventually retake the city, but the likelihood of further civilian casualties is very high.

India

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, has announced plans to go ‘above and beyond’ the Paris Agreement after the US president, Donald Trump, announced that he will withdraw the United States from the climate accord. Modi renewed India’s pledge to keep to the agreement in a joint speech with the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, who promised to cooperate with India to tackle climate change. India is the world’s fourth-largest carbon dioxide emitter (behind China, the United States and Russia), and it will need to make significant reforms if it is to succeed in cutting emissions and transitioning to a greener economy. India and the other top emitters – including the United States – will need to drastically cut their carbon emissions if global warming is to be limited to no more than 2°C above 1880 pre-industrial temperatures – the maximum scientists conclude is acceptable if we are to have any hope of avoiding dangerous climate change.

Europe and Central Asia

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has experienced its third terrorist attack in 75 days. Late in the evening of 3 June, police in the capital, London, received reports of a van running pedestrians down on London Bridge. The van then came to stop in the nearby popular nightspot of Borough Market. Three men with knives left the vehicle and attacked passers-by and people in restaurants and pubs, killing seven people and wounding 48 others. Within eight minutes of the first reports, armed police had responded and shot dead all three suspects. The men were found to be wearing fake suicide vests. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack. Police arrested 12 people in raids the next day. The severity of the attack was undoubtedly lessened by the bravery of unarmed on- and off-duty police officers and members of the public who attempted to stop the attackers before firearms officers had arrived on the scene. As the United Kingdom heads towards a general election on 8 June, questions are being raised over the intelligence failings that have allowed three terrorist attacks to take place in such a short time and the contribution that may have been made by the drastic reduction in the number of police officers in England and Wales as a result of government spending cuts since 2010. The prime minister, Theresa May, already facing the unexpected prospect of losing the government’s majority in parliament in the forthcoming election, is now under fire for her role as first home secretary and then prime minister in overseeing the cuts in police funding.

UK prime minister faces questions over her role in police funding cutsClick To Tweet

France

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, hosted the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, at the Palace of Versailles on 29 May. The purported main purpose of the visit was for the two leaders to co-host the inauguration of an exhibition celebrating the 300-year-old ties between France and Russia; however, the visit also included a two-hour meeting and lunch at the palace. It is likely that Macron took advantage of the visit’s relatively less-official nature to raise key concerns with the Russian president without risking a diplomatic crisis. During the joint press conference that followed the meeting, Macron candidly challenged the news organisations Russia Today and Sputnik for acting as organs of influence rather than real media outlets. He also raised concerns about the threat to gay and transgender people in Chechnya. Macron said that he desired cooperation with Russia in seeking a solution to the conflict in Syria, but that France would respond immediately to any further use of chemical weapons in the country. Paris will hope that Macron’s reasonably assertive first contact with Putin will establish a working relationship between the two leaders based on respect following recent tensions between the two countries over possible Russian influence in the French presidential election.

Middle East and North Africa

Qatar

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and the Maldives cut diplomatic ties with Qatar on 5 June. The countries accuse Qatar of destabilising the region, supporting terrorist groups and favouring closer ties with Iran. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE have announced the closure of all transport links and borders with Qatar, and have given Qatari residents and visitors two weeks to return home. Egypt has closed its airspace and seaports to Qatar. Qatari troops will also no longer be involved in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. The developments come just days after Qatar claimed that its state-run news agency, the Qatar News Agency, was hacked by unknown persons leading to comments being posted supposedly from the country’s emir, Sheikh Al Thani, in which he allegedly expressed support for Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and Israel. Doha has responded to the seemingly-coordinated withdrawal of diplomatic ties by maintaining that it is unsure why the situation has escalated so quickly, but that it is keen to resolve the situation through open dialogue. The current situation threatens to create a rift between the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), as Kuwait and Oman are unlikely to cut ties with Qatar as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE have. Indeed, Kuwait has called for talks – as have Turkey, Iran and the United States – which Kuwait has offered to mediate.

Egypt

The foreign ministers of Sudan and Egypt met in Cairo on 3 June after several months of increased tensions between the neighbours over the Halayeb Triangle – a small, mineral-rich border region on the Red Sea controlled by Egypt since 1995 but claimed by both countries. Sudan first submitted a complaint to the United Nations about the sovereignty of the territory in 1958. Egypt has so far refused to accede to Sudan’s repeated requests for international arbitration. Tensions have recently increased after Sudan banned all agricultural and animal imports from Egypt due to ‘health concerns’ on 30 May. Despite claims of an honest and transparent meeting in Cairo, there appears to have been little real progress in repairing the relationship between the two states; however, the fact that the meeting went ahead at all – after an earlier meeting was postponed on 28 May – is positive. The Sudanese foreign minister, Ibrahim Ghandour, also raised the need for joint patrols in the area to ensure that militants cannot cross the border to carry out attacks or attempt join the violent jihadist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.

These weekly briefings are offered free of charge to non-profit organisations, journalists and concerned citizens. Governments and corporations using our political and security risk updates are asked to consider making a donation to Open Briefing.

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The weekly briefing, 23 May 2017: Ongoing political turmoil further weakens US president’s legitimacy, ruling and opposition parties publish manifestos ahead of UK general election, unidentified attackers stab leading critic of Kazakh government https://www.openbriefing.org/publications/political-and-security-risk-updates/weekly-briefing-230517/ Tue, 23 May 2017 10:47:49 +0000 http://www.openbriefing.org/?p=15480

Briefing photo

Summary

Americas: Ongoing political turmoil following US president’s dismissal of FBI director further weakens Trump’s legitimacy; Brazil’s attorney general accuses country’s president of corruption and obstruction of justice.

Asia-Pacific: New York Times reports Chinese authorities killed or captured up to 20 CIA informants in China between 2010 and 2012.

Europe and Central Asia: Ruling Conservative Party and opposition Labour Party publish manifestos ahead of UK general election called for 8 June; Unidentified attackers stab leading critic of Kazakh government after he files lawsuit against senior officials.

Apologies for the curtailed briefing this week.

Americas

United States

The ongoing political turmoil that has followed the US president’s dismissal of the FBI director, James Comey, is further weakening Donald Trump’s legitimacy. On 16 May, the Washington Post revealed that Comey had written a memo describing the way in which Trump attempted to befriend him in order to convince him to halt the FBI investigation into the former national security adviser Michael Flynn. On 17 May, Al Green became the first member of Congress to call for the president’s impeachment for obstruction of justice. Also on 17 May, the justice department named former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the federal investigation into the ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. On 19 May, the Washington Post revealed that a document summarising the meeting Trump had with Russian officials in the Oval Office on 10 May quoted Trump saying that Comey’s removal had relieved ‘great pressure’ on him. The same day, it was announced Comey will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Comey’s testimony will likely prove highly detrimental to the Trump administration, and will possibly convince more US representatives of the case for impeaching the president.

Brazil

Brazil’s attorney general, Rodrigo Janot, has accused the country’s president, Michel Temer, of corruption and obstruction of justice after a supreme court investigation report released on 19 May suggested that Temer used his influence to sabotage the investigation into large-scale corruption known as Operation Car Wash (Lava Jato). Audio recording allegedly reveal Temer discussing bribes with Joesley Batista, the chairperson of Brazil’s largest meat-packing company, JBS. The president is alleged to have encouraged Batista to keep paying hush money to Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the House, who is in prison for his role in the Car Wash scandal. The tapes were presented to prosecutors as part of a plea bargain by Batista and his brother, Wesley. Temer took over the presidency in August 2016 following the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff on corruption charges linked to the same widespread corruption investigation. These latest revelations are likely to worsen the country’s already damaged economic and political climate, with many Brazilians now calling for Temer’s impeachment. Temer claims that the audio recording has been doctored, and indicated that he will not resign. However, it is very unlikely that Temer will be able to complete his term and remain in power until the general election scheduled for October 2018.

Asia-Pacific

China

On 21 May, the New York Times reported that Chinese authorities killed or captured up to 20 CIA informants in China between 2010 and 2012. Four former US officials spoke to the newspaper, telling it that reports from sources inside the Chinese government began to slow down in 2010 and that informants began to disappear in early 2011. China’s successful counter-espionage efforts are said to have crippled the CIA’s intelligence-gathering in the country for years. The unnamed officials told the newspaper that it is still unclear whether it was a mole, a tradecraft lapse or a hack that allowed the Chinese authorities to identify the CIA sources. The episode is one of the worst security breaches of recent years. By 2013, it appeared that the Chinese were no longer able to identify US assets, and the CIA reportedly began rebuilding its network. Two years later, in 2015, a leak of millions of US federal employees attributed to a hack by the Chinese state led to fears that further targeting of CIA assets would follow, leading the US to evacuate CIA staff from its Beijing embassy. Since then, an FBI employee and a state department employee have been accused of being Chinese agents, with the FBI employee pleading guilty in 2016.

Europe and Central Asia

United Kingdom

The ruling Conservative Party and opposition Labour Party have published their manifestos ahead of the general election called for 8 June. The Conservatives have settled on the theme of strong and stable leadership as the country heads into the Brexit negotiations with the EU. The party has also said it would cut spending and corporation tax. In contrast, the Labour manifesto sets out a series of popular policies from scraping university tuition fees to renationalising railway franchises as well as raising both taxes and spending. The unpopularity of some of the Conservative’s plans, such as how to fund social care for the elderly, and the popularity of some of the Labour pledges, such as ending the freeze on welfare benefits, has seen the Labour Party narrow the substantial Conservative lead in the polls that had originally encouraged the prime minister, Theresa May, to call the snap election. However, many voters continue to hold reservations about the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, who, though widely viewed as an honest politician, has had to contend with a hostile press and plots from within his own party. Most recently, the pro-Conservative Telegraph newspaper claimed that Corbyn was monitored by the United Kingdom’s domestic security agency, MI5, over his stance on the IRA and meetings with Sinn Féin in the 1990s. Although MI5 is widely known to have monitored other Labour MPs because of links to left-wing and radical groups, the timing of the accusations will likely further damage Corbyn’s reputation outside his support base.

Kazakhstan

On 15 May, Human Rights Watch reported that unidentified attackers had assaulted Ramazan Yesergepov, a leading Kazakh journalist and prominent critic of the government. Yesergepov was stabbed and suffered critical wounds in the abdomen while he was on a train journey from Almaty to Astana, where he was due to meet foreign diplomats to advocate on behalf of imprisoned journalists in Kazakhstan. Yesergepov is the chair of the board of Journalists in Danger, a Kazakh group that raises awareness about media freedom and offers legal representation to journalists. In 2009, he was sentenced to three years in prison after his newspaper released an article accusing local officials of corruption based on classified documents he had acquired. It is highly likely that the recent stabbing is linked to Yesergepov filing a lawsuit on 12 against the head of the presidential administration, the chairman of the supreme court, the prosecutor general and the ministers of foreign affairs and finance. The lawsuit accuses them of failing to uphold a 2016 UN Human Rights Committee decision regarding his right to a fair trial. The Kazakh government will now possibly attempt to reach a settlement with Yesergepov, as he could become a symbol for advocacy groups who will attempt to use the spotlight of the 2017 World’s Fair in Astana to highlight Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record.

These weekly briefings are offered free of charge to non-profit organisations, journalists and concerned citizens. Governments and corporations using our political and security risk updates are asked to consider making a donation to Open Briefing.

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The weekly briefing, 16 May 2017: Donald Trump accused of sharing highly-classified allied intelligence with Russia, humanitarian situation in Yemeni capital further deteriorates, Chinese president announces further investment in ambitious Belt and Road Initiative https://www.openbriefing.org/publications/political-and-security-risk-updates/weekly-briefing-160517/ Tue, 16 May 2017 11:36:43 +0000 http://www.openbriefing.org/?p=15466

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: Soldiers in Ivory Coast mutiny for second time in six months; Somali government signs security pact with international partners to build national force to fight al-Shabaab.

Americas: Donald Trump accused of sharing highly-classified allied intelligence with Russian foreign minister and ambassador; former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva appears before federal judge leading investigation into large-scale corruption scandal.

Asia-Pacific: Chinese president announces further investment in ambitious Belt and Road Initiative; Islamic State suicide bomber injures deputy chair of Pakistan’s upper house.

Europe and Central Asia: UK’s National Health Service one of several high-profile victims of global ransomware attack; Kyrgyz president recommends that defamation lawsuits against US-funded Radio Azattyk are dropped.

Middle East and North Africa: Thousands protest in Tunisian capital over government’s proposed amnesty for corrupt business people; Humanitarian situation in Yemeni capital further deteriorates after outbreak of cholera.

Africa

Ivory Coast

The government of the Ivory Coast launched a military operation on 14 May after soldiers in several cities, including the second largest, Bouake, took to the streets over a pay dispute. Government forces were dispatched after six people were wounded during a demonstration on 13 May. The soldiers mutinied on 11 May over unpaid bonuses that the government had promised in January to calm an earlier rebellion. Tensions appear to have flared after a spokesperson for the soldiers announced that they would not be demanding the remaining bonuses that were due under the arrangement. The soldiers involved in the mutiny claim that they had not been consulted on this matter. They have denounced the agreement despite talks on the 15 May and government claims that the situation has been resolved. The second mutiny in less than six months has led to fears of further violence and insecurity echoing the country’s 10-year civil war that ended in 2011.

Somalia

The Somali government signed a security pact with international partners at a conference attended by over 40 countries and co-hosted by Somalia and the United Kingdom in London on 11 May. The pact aims to build a national Somali force to fight the militant group al-Shabaab by providing support and training to Somalia’s army and police force to enable them to take over the roles currently undertaken by the African Union. The conference also addressed the pressing humanitarian situation in Somalia, where a potential famine threatens around half the population after a prolonged drought. The head of the UN, António Guterres, called for additional funds to support Somalia, taking the appeal total to $1.5 billion. However, Somalia’s president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, told the conference that unless the United Nations lifts the arms embargo against his country the conflict is likely to continue. Despite the president’s appeal, it is unlikely that the UN will lift the embargo anytime soon because of fears that imported weapons could end up in al-Shabaab’s hands.

Americas

United States

On 9 May, the US president, Donald Trump, fired the director of the FBI, James Comey, in a highly-controversial move that has provoked widespread outcry over the apparent overreaching of the executive branch. Trump justified the unexpected decision by citing a recommendation from the deputy attorney general and pointing to Comey’s poor handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. However, the suspicion is that this is a crude move to sabotage the ongoing FBI investigation into the Trump campaign team’s alleged links to Moscow and Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election. It is possible that democrats will use the FBI director’s removal as grounds to start building a case to eventually impeach the president for obstruction of justice. Meanwhile, Trump has ignited fresh controversy by allegedly sharing, without permission, highly-classified allied intelligence with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a meeting at the White House. The revelation will make intelligence agencies and governments around the world increasingly wary of sharing sensitive information with their US partners for fear that the White House may deliberately or inadvertently reveal it to Russia and, in turn, its allies Iran and Syria.

Donald Trump's behaviour will make intelligence agencies around the world wary of sharing sensitive information with their US partnersClick To Tweet

Brazil

On 10 May, the former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva appeared before Judge Sergio Moro, the federal judge who is leading the investigation into a large-scale corruption scandal in Brazil. The Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigation involves Brazilian construction companies that are accused of paying bribes in return for contracts with government-owned companies, such as the semi-public oil company Petrobras. Lula arrived at his hearing in Curitiba carrying a Brazilian flag and accompanied by a small crowd of supporters. His belligerent testimony was later made public. Lulu hopes to run for a third term in the 2018 presidential elections, which he will be unable to do unless he is cleared of all corruption charges. The investigation into the former president is likely to galvanise an already polarised country, as many Brazilians still see Lula as the defender of the poor, while others see Judge Moro as a gatekeeper of Brazilian democracy.

Asia-Pacific

China

The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, has announced plans to further invest in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which he articulated in September 2013 as the Silk Road Economic Belt. The ambitious initiative involves a series of overland infrastructure projects and maritime routes that will allow China to export excess manufacturing and industrial capacities into Central Asia and farther westwards and import energy and raw materials from the Middle East and Russia. At a conference to promote the project, attended by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Xi announced £96 billion of spending commitments, including £7 billion for international development, to boost the critical infrastructure of countries along the route. If Xi’s strategy is successful, it will put in motion a veritable global Chinese supply chain and see China becoming the centre of the two largest trade routes – the new Silk Road and current South China Sea routes – giving it both considerable economic benefit and significant geopolitical influence.

China's Belt and Road Initiative could create a veritable global Chinese supply chainClick To Tweet

Pakistan

A suicide bomber injured the deputy chair of Pakistan’s upper house, Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, in an attack on the senator’s convoy on 12 May that killed 25 people and injured more than 40 others. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack in Balochistan province. This is the third attack in the province in six months that Islamic State has claimed responsibility for. Haideri is the general secretary of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) – an Islamist Sunni party that is part of the ruling coalition and had previously been allied with the Taliban. Haideri is one of the more senior officials to be targeted by militants in Pakistan in recent years. He is well-known for his anti-US views, and has strongly advocated that Pakistan withdraw from the war on terror. The attack further reveals the tensions in Pakistan between Islamic State, political Islamist groups and extremist groups such as the Taliban.

Europe and Central Asia

United Kingdom

A widespread cyber-attack has infected computers in 150 countries with the WannaCry ransomware. The hacker group The Shadow Brokers released the initial infection vector based on leaked NSA hacking tools in April, and WannaCry began infecting computers worldwide on 12 May. The ransomware is spread via spear phishing emails and encrypts a victim’s data and exploits a Microsoft vulnerability to spread to other computers on the same network. The most significant known victims so far are Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) and the Russian interior ministry, though 29,000 institutions in China, including government agencies, are reportedly affected. Other high-profile victims include FedEx and Telefónica. However, none of the affected organisations are thought to be the target of the attack, which, despite its unprecedented scale, appears to be a low-level attempt to extort $300 or $600 in bitcoin payments from victims to unlock their infected systems. The initial attack has been slowed after a British cybersecurity researcher found and activated a kill switch in the malware; however, there are fears that a second wave of the attack will begin with the new working week and the possible release of adapted versions of the malware without the kill switch.

Kyrgyzstan

On 12 May, the Kyrgyz president, Almazbek Atambayev, recommended that the defamation lawsuits against Radio Azattyk be dropped. The station is the Kyrgyz service of the US-government-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The Kyrgyz prosecutor general’s office had filled the suits after Atambayev accused Radio Azattyk of slander when it relayed the opposition’s complaints about the arrest of its leader, Omurbek Tekebayev, in late February. Technically, the prosecutor general’s office is independent from the president’s office, but it is likely taking instructions directly from Atambayev. It is unlikely that the move resulted from a change of heart on the part of Atambayev, but that both the lawsuits and their withdrawal were intended as a shot across the bow of independent broadcasters in the country. This will likely deter some Kyrgyz media organisations that might be tempted to criticise Atambayev ahead of the presidential election scheduled for 19 November.

Middle East and North Africa

Tunisia

Thousands of Tunisians gathered in the country’s capital, Tunis, on 13 May to protest against the ‘economic reconciliation’ bill. The government’s proposed law will grant amnesty to business people accused of corruption when former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was in power. The government claims that the bill is a way of encouraging the accused to release monies back into Tunisia’s ailing economy. However, critics of the bill say that the amnesty is a backwards step from the 2011 revolution that ousted Ben Ali. The controversial bill has been stuck in parliament for the last two years. A number of prominent opposition politicians have been involved in the protests, including the leader of the Popular Front, the leader of the Ettakatol party and the leader of the People’s Movement party. Protests are likely to continue as the bill goes through the committee stages of parliament.

Yemen

The humanitarian situation in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, has further deteriorated after an outbreak of cholera. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, there were 115 deaths from cholera between 27 April and 13 May, and there are now over 8,500 suspected cases across Yemen. This is the second outbreak of cholera in Yemen in less than a year. The fighting between Houthi rebels and security forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi together with the Saudi-led coalition has severely damaged health facilities across the country, and it is estimated that fewer than half are fully functioning. Yemen is also on the brink of famine, with two-thirds of the population facing severe food shortages. The humanitarian crisis is highly likely to escalate unless significant international action is taken.

These weekly briefings are offered free of charge to non-profit organisations, journalists and concerned citizens. Governments and corporations using our political and security risk updates are asked to consider making a donation to Open Briefing.

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The weekly briefing, 9 May 2017: UN warns that conflict has displaced over two million children in South Sudan, civil unrest continues in Venezuela, head of Islamic State in Afghanistan killed https://www.openbriefing.org/publications/political-and-security-risk-updates/weekly-briefing-090517/ Tue, 09 May 2017 09:49:42 +0000 http://www.openbriefing.org/?p=15455

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: Boko Haram releases 82 of the Chibok schoolgirls it abducted in 2014; UNICEF and UNHCR warn that conflict has displaced over two million children in South Sudan.

Americas: Trump’s controversial healthcare bill narrowly passes vote in US House of Representatives; Civil unrest continues in Venezuela after president signs executive order setting outs plans to rewrite country’s constitution.

Asia-Pacific: North Korea accuses South Korea and CIA of attempting to assassinate Kim Jong-un; Vietnam’s Communist Party sacks senior politburo member over ‘serious violations’ at state energy company.

Europe and Central Asia: Emmanuel Macron wins French presidential election; Head of Islamic State in Afghanistan killed in joint US-Afghan special forces operation.

Middle East and North Africa: More than 20 countries begin the military exercise Eager Lion in Jordan; Ruling National Liberation Front wins continued majority in parliamentary elections in Algeria.

Africa

Nigeria

Boko Haram released 82 hostages on 6 May. They are some of the remaining 195 girls from the 276 that Boko Haram abducted from their school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria in 2014. The 82 girls are the largest single group that Boko Haram has released since the kidnappings. The governments of Nigeria and Switzerland, the International Committee of the Rd Cross and a number of local NGOs negotiated the release with the militant group. The Nigerian government released an unknown number of Boko Haram suspects in return. Negotiations over the remaining 100 or so missing girls will now likely continue, though Boko Haram will likely continue to keep a significant number hostage as bargaining chips as Nigerian Army operations and regional efforts continue to weaken the militant group.

South Sudan

The UN children’s fund, UNICEF, and refugee agency, UNHCR, have warned that conflict in South Sudan has displaced over two million children. It is thought that children make up 62% of the 1.8 million people arriving in neighbouring countries as well as a further one million of those people displaced within South Sudan. The country has been split since the civil war between forces loyal to the president, Salva Kiir, and rebels led by former vice-president Riek Machar began in December 2013. South Sudan is also at high risk of famine, particularly in Koch county, with around 100,000 people currently suffering and one million at risk according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network. Despite Kiir’s promise of a unilateral truce in April, a ceasefire is yet to be implemented. Without a ceasefire, the number of children in South Sudan displaced by both famine and fighting is highly likely to increase.

The number of children in South Sudan displaced by both famine and fighting is highly likely to increaseClick To Tweet

Americas

United States

On 4 May, the US House of Representatives passed a controversial healthcare bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), also known as ‘Trumpcare’. The Act aims to fulfil Donald Trump’s pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare, which was designed to extend health insurance coverage to some of the US population who lack it. However, Republicans are ideologically opposed to what they claim is unwarranted state intrusion. Republicans secured only a narrow victory in the lower chamber, with the bill being passed by 217 votes to 213, only a single vote more than the 216 votes that were needed, and with no Democrats voting in favour. Nonetheless, Trump will see this as a significant victory after the embarrassing setback suffered in March when the original version of the bill was withdrawn after it became clear the House would reject it. The AHCA has now been sent to the Senate, where the Republicans also hold a majority, though many Democratic senators have signalled that they will fight the bill. If passed, the AHCA will affect the poorest and most vulnerable segments of American society.

Venezuela

Unrest continues in Venezuela following weeks of protests directed against Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro. The president further angered his opponents last week with an executive order that sets outs plans for a 500-member assembly to be formed to rewrite the country’s constitution. On 6 May, a women’s march took place in the capital city, Caracas, in protest at the president’s constitutional manoeuver and the government’s continued crackdown and disregard for civil liberties. It is likely that Maduro is using the appearance of democratic consultation on the constitution as a means to delay both regional and presidential elections planned for the ends of this year and next year respectively. Further rallies have been scheduled for this week, with protesters set to march on ministries, the supreme court and other official buildings. It is highly likely that both Maduro’s attempts to extend the executive’s powers and the serious civil unrest in response will continue.

Asia-Pacific

North Korea

On 5 May, North Korea accused South Korea and the CIA of attempting to assassinate the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Neither the United States nor South Korea has commented on the supposed plot, but there is considerable doubt over whether the threat was real or was fabricated by North Korea. The day after the announcement, the North Korean authorities arrested a US citizen who worked at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST). Kim Hak-song was detained for ‘hostile acts’ against the state. It is unclear whether or not the arrest is linked to the ‘foiled plan’. The United States has said that it is aware of the situation and has representatives at the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang looking into the matter. Kim is now one of four US citizens being held by Pyongyang. It is likely that he will be sentenced to hard labour and later used as a bargaining chip if tensions continue to rise with North Korea’s neighbours and the United States over its nuclear programme.

Vietnam

Vietnam’s Communist Party has sacked Dinh La Thang, secretary of the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee and member of the 19-person politburo, for ‘serious violations’ between 2009 and 2011 while he was chair of the state energy company PetroVietnam. He is accused of making loans to the private Ocean Bank that resulted in serious losses. PetroVietnam has recently been under investigation as part of a wider anti-corruption drive. Several wealthy citizens and other senior business officials have been prosecuted as a result of the investigation. The Vietnamese government believes the country’s large state-run economy as floundering due to inefficiencies caused by corruption. La Thang is only the third member of the politburo to be dismissed since Vietnam began economic reforms in 1986. Such a high-profile dismissal will shock other politburo members and will send a strong message to other corrupt officials.

Europe and Central Asia

France

Emmanuel Macron has won the French presidential election. The centrist, pro-EU En Marche! candidate beat his rival, the far-right National Front candidate, Marine Le Pen, by 66.1% to 33.9% of the vote. Macron is the first candidate since the Fifth Republic was founded in 1958 to win a French presidential election without the support of a mainstream political party. Macron is a former investment banker who served as minister of the economy under his predecessor, François Hollande. He left the Socialist Party in August 2015, and founded En Marche! the following April while still in office. En Marche! seeks to enact strong economic reforms and strengthen the EU. Macron is in favour of cutting government spending, reducing civil service jobs and reducing private sector unemployment while investing heavily in education and youth programmes. Macron is likely to want to swiftly enact some of his most significant domestic reforms, such as cuts to the public sector, while he has considerable political capital following his victory; however, he must first overcome the legislative elections in June, which will be a major challenge for him without an established party machine to help him secure a majority. In foreign affairs, he is likely to focus on re-energising the Franco-German partnership in order to provide the EU with a new dynamic, particularly after the federal elections in Germany in September.

Afghanistan

Afghan and US military officials announced on 8 May that the head of Islamic State in Afghanistan, Abdul Hasib, had been shot and killed in a joint special forces operation. Hasib was the prime suspect behind the devastating attack on the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan military hospital in Kabul in March in which five inghimasis suicide attackers disguised as doctors killed dozens of people. The attack horrified Kabul residents and sparked outcry in parliament and across social media over how such a heavily-guarded building could be infiltrated so easily. The attack embodied Afghan’s perception that their government cannot fulfil its responsibility to protect its own people and infrastructure. Government officials will likely seize on Hasib’s death as a means to move past the controversy and put forward a narrative of positive momentum in the fight against Islamic State in Afghanistan. Due to their inability to consolidate territorial gains in the country, other than their strongholds in Kunar and Nangarhar, it is likely that IS operatives in Afghanistan will continue to try and conduct attacks on highly-visible targets in the capital in the months to come.

Middle East and North Africa

Algeria

The ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) has won a continued majority in parliamentary elections in Algeria on 4 May. The party won 164 of the 462 available seats, but lost a quarter of the seats that it had held since the 2012 elections. Despite the losses, the FLN’s ally the Rally for National Democracy (RND) won 97 seats, thus ensuring an overall majority between them. The voter turnout was low at only 38%. The FLN has dominated Algerian politics since independence from France in 1962, but the down turn in support and low voter turnout suggests disillusionment with the country’s 80-year-old president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The biggest challenge that Algeria faces is unemployment, and it is unlikely that the FLN government can tackle the problem without significant changes.

Down turn in support and low voter turnout suggests disillusionment with Algeria's long-standing presidentClick To Tweet

Jordan

Jordan and the United States began the annual military exercise Eager Lion on 7 May in Jordan. The joint operation exercise will focus on command and control, border security and cyber defence. It involves around 7,400 troops from over 20 countries primarily across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Gulf. This year is the seventh year that Eager Lion has taken place, and the United States and Jordan have hailed the exercise as the most complex and largest to date. The exercise is another demonstration of the close links between the two countries, with Jordan being a key partner in the US-led coalition against Islamic State. Eager Lion is the largest annual exercise in US Central Command’s (CENTCOM) area of responsibility. The exercise will run until 18 May.

These weekly briefings are offered free of charge to non-profit organisations, journalists and concerned citizens. Governments and corporations using our political and security risk updates are asked to consider making a donation to Open Briefing.

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