Africa: Gabon presidential election result continues to draw criticism from opposition supporters and independent election monitors; General Khalifa Haftar’s forces seize key oil terminals in Libya’s ‘oil crescent’ held by supporters of UN-backed Libyan government.
Americas: Brazilian senate approves impeachment of country’s former president for breaching fiscal responsibility laws; first scheduled flight between United States and Cuba in 55 years lands in Santa Clara.
Asia-Pacific: North Korea conducts test of miniaturized nuclear warhead; Thailand’s government announces it will resume peace talks with Muslim separatists in country’s far south if they agree to ceasefire.
Europe: French prime minister announces his country’s security services foil terrorist plots every day and are monitoring around 15,000 radicalised people; two brothers arrested in west London on suspicion of planning Paris-style terrorist attack.
Middle East: High Negotiations Committee of the Syrian Opposition sets out roadmap for transition from civil war; court decision delays municipal elections in Palestine until at least December.
The 27 August presidential election in Gabon continues to draw criticism from independent election monitors and opposition supporters, who argue that the results were fraudulent. On 8 September, the opposition leader, Jean Ping, mounted a formal legal challenge to the incumbent, Ali Bongo, who won the election with 49.8% of the votes compared to Ping’s 48.2%, with a margin of only 5,594 votes. The result, which was formally declared on 31 August, led to widespread violence and protests in which two people were killed and over 1,000 arrested. While the fighting has subsided, it is likely that Ping will continue to contest the election result and that the validity of that result will continue to be questioned by international bodies. If the court upholds Ping’s claim, there may be a recount or calls for a further election.
On 11 September, forces loyal to the commander of the Libyan National Army, General Khalifa Haftar, attacked and seized a number of key oil terminals held by supporters of the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA). The Tripoli-based GNA has condemned the attack, and has called for military action in response. The so-called ‘oil crescent’ is a vital source of revenue for the Libyan government, and it is therefore possible that they will respond with an attack on the area by troops loyal to the government in a bid to gain control of the territory from Haftar.
On 31 August, Brazil’s senate found the country’s former president, Dilma Rousseff, guilty of breaching fiscal responsibility laws and approved her impeachment. Rousseff filed an appeal the next day claiming that her accusers made changes to their case that violated her right to due process, as well as disputing whether she should be punished for the country’s economic crisis. Despite the unpopularity of Brazil’s current interim government led by Michel Temer, Rousseff’s chances of a successful appeal are slim. If her appeal fails as expected, she will be permanently removed and Temer will stay in office for the remainder of the presidential term until 2018. Temer’s approval rating is currently only at 14%, so it is possible that there could be some degree of social unrest in the short term; however, now that the uncertainty surrounding the impeachment trial is passing, political stability is likely to increase in the longer term, allowing Temer’s administration to turn its attention to urgent matters, including shoring up the economy and combatting corruption.
The first commercial scheduled flight between the United States and Cuba in 55 years landed in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara on 31 August. The New York-based Jet Blue operated the flight, and several other US carriers are due to follow suit, with the first of what will be a regularly scheduled flight by American Airlines landing in Cuba on 8 September. The historic flight marks a significant step towards normalising relations between the two Cold War-era foes. The US president, Barack Obama, took the first steps towards re-establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries in December 2014 when he started a dialogue with the Cuban president, Raúl Castro. Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington in July 2015, and the United States reopened its embassy in Havana the following month. Then Obama made a historic visit to Cuba in March 2016 – the first by a sitting US president since 1928. Although the latest moves are positive signals of rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, complete normalisation of economic relations between the two countries, which would include lifting the trade embargo that has been in place since 1960, is not likely to occur in the near future due to strong political opposition from Republicans. Furthermore, despite the new scheduled flights between the two countries, Americans are still not permitted to travel to Cuba for tourism – their travel must fit into one of 12 pre-approved categories, including family visits and journalism.
On 9 September, North Korea announced that it had conducted a test of a miniaturized nuclear warhead. This was the country’s fifth nuclear test in the past decade, and its second so far this year. The latest test is almost certain to raise tensions in the region as well as put additional pressure on the United Nations to impose fresh sanctions on North Korea for its continued failure to observe UN Security Council resolutions on its nuclear programme. Both the United States and South Korea stated that they would push for additional sanctions and resolutions as a result of Pyongyang’s latest test. The two countries are also flexing their military muscles: A South Korean military source told Yonhap news agency that the country had measures in place to reduce Pyongyang ‘to ashes’ with ballistic missiles and high-explosive shells ‘as soon as the North shows any signs of using a nuclear weapon’, and the United States is scheduled to fly a B-1B bomber over the Korean peninsula in a show of strength. South Korea’s defence ministry said on 12 September that North Korea is ready to conduct an additional nuclear test at any time.
Thailand’s government announced on 1 September that it would resume peace talks with Muslim separatists in the country’s far south; however, it warned that no agreement would be signed until the separatists agreed to observe a ceasefire. The separatists are from the Muslim-majority provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, and were blamed for a string of bombings last month in several towns around the country, including major tourist destinations. Although the government’s offer to hold talks is a significant move, it is unlikely that a peace agreement will be reached in the near future given the deep-seated nature of the long-running insurgency in the country’s south. As such, intermittent violence is likely to continue over the long term.
The French prime minister, Manuel Vallis, has announced that his country’s security services are foiling terrorist plots ‘every day’. Vallis said that France is monitoring around 15,000 radicalised people – two thirds of which are considered to be high risk. The announcement came after a 15-year-old boy was arrested in Paris for planning a terrorist attack. Then a French woman who was being monitored by police was arrested over the weekend after her fingerprints were found in a car packed with gas cylinders near Notre Dame Cathedral. Meanwhile, the former French president and once-more presidential hopeful, Nicolas Sarkozy, said that all suspected terrorists should be pre-emptively detained without trial. Sarkozy’s intervention comes at a time of increased community tensions in France following the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice and the move by some French municipalities to ban the full-body burkinis worn by some Muslim women. The high risk of further IS-inspired or -directed attacks in France and the increasing community tensions in the country makes for a volatile situation. It is likely that further terrorist attacks against France are being planned, only some of which will fail or be foiled.
Two brothers were arrested on 8 September in west London on suspicion of planning a Paris-style terrorist attack. The attack was inspired by Islamic State, and would have involved guns and potentially bombs being used in a killing spree in the city. Although the plot is thought to have been in the early stages of planning, security officials have indicated that this was not a ‘lone wolf’ attack, but was to be part of a more widespread and coordinated effort. A third man was arrest in south London, though there are currently conflicting reports as to whether this was related to a separate or linked plot. On 12 September, another man was arrested in central London on suspicion of terrorism offenses. Meanwhile, West Midlands Police has received £4 million funding for additional armed police in order to respond to Paris-style attacks, West Yorkshire Police are hiring 50 extra firearm specialists and Thames Valley Police has carried out exercises to train officers to deal with such an incident. According to the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre in MI5, the current threat level for international terrorism in the United Kingdom is SEVERE, meaning an attack is highly likely. While the UK security services have a good track record in foiling terrorist attacks, the risk from IS-inspired or -directed attacks in the United Kingdom remains high.
On 7 September in London, the High Negotiations Committee of the Syrian Opposition (HNC) set out a roadmap for transition from civil war. The roadmap is the first detailed democratic vision for a future of the country without the current president, Bashar al-Assad. The plan proposes six months of negotiations with Assad, rights to return for refugees and the need for a political reconciliation and national dialogue. While the plan has been commended by the United Kingdom, United States, Turkey and the Gulf states, it is unlikely to gain traction without Russia’s support and her intervention to influence Assad and his government.
Plans for municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been halted after a high court decision in Ramallah on 8 September following a series of arguments between Fatah and Hamas. The postponed elections, which were due to take place on 8 October, are expected to now occur in December at the earliest. The election had been seen as a key opportunity to end the impasse between Fatah and Hamas and lead to presidential and legislative elections. The two parties have not contested an election since Hamas won the 2006 legislative election. Both sides have criticised the other for the delay. It appears at this stage that the elections may not happen before the end of the year.
Prepared by Kirsten Winterman, Erin Decker and Matthew Clarke.
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