Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 19 July 2016: Venezuela’s president appoints defence minister as ‘co-president’, Papua New Guinea’s opposition issues no confidence motion in country’s prime minister, attack on Bastille Day celebrations in Nice leaves 84 people dead

The weekly briefing, 19 July 2016: Venezuela’s president appoints defence minister as ‘co-president’, Papua New Guinea’s opposition issues no confidence motion in country’s prime minister, attack on Bastille Day celebrations in Nice leaves 84 people dead

by Kirsten Winterman, Erin Decker and Matthew Clarke

Briefing

Africa: Pressure mounts on Robert Mugabe following series of protests against political and economic situation in Zimbabwe; members of Libyan Political Dialogue meet in Tunis in effort to solve continuing political impasse in Libya and discuss formation of unified army.

Americas: Venezuela’s president orders military to regulate five of country’s largest ports and appoints defence minister as ‘co-president’; localised violence against police officers continues in United States, with three police officers shot dead and several others wounded in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Asia-Pacific: Protesters in Seongju, South Korea, fear US Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system will make their towns target for North Korea; Papua New Guinea’s opposition issues no confidence motion in country’s prime minister.

Europe: Lorry driven through Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, France, leaving 84 dead in attack claimed by Islamic State; Italian banks left with high levels of bad debt and may seek government support to avoid collapse.

Middle East: Faction of Turkish Armed Forces launches unsuccessful coup attempt; UN-mediated Yemeni peace talks restart in Kuwait after Saudi-backed Yemeni government persuaded to rejoin process.

Polar regions: Leaders at Asia-Europe Meeting summit in Mongolia renew agreement that climate change having acute impact on Arctic.

Zimbabwe

Pressure is mounting on the Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, following a series of protests against the political and economic situation in the country, the latest of which, dubbed the #BeatThePot campaign, took place in Bulawayo on 16 July. The most recent protests come one week after a one-day stay-away shut down schools, businesses and shops across the country in protest over the late payment of salaries and the worsening economic situation. Protests are likely to continue, particularly if civil servants are repeatedly not paid on time. The protests in Bulawayo also suggest that women’s groups and churches are becoming more vocal in their criticism of Mugabe’s government.

Libya

Members of Libyan Political Dialogue met in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, on 17 July in an effort to solve the continuing political impasse in Libya and to discuss the formation of a unified army. The UN-hosted talks are the latest round of discussions to follow the power-sharing agreement that formed the Government of National Accord (GNA) in December 2015. While the Presidential Council has managed to form a partially-unified army, General Khalifa Haftar continues to control a rival army faction in the east that refuses to unify with the militias Haftar accuses the GNA of relying on. The current round of talks is unlikely to remove this impasse, with Haftar currently refusing to even meet with the UN special representative to Libya, Martin Kobler.

Venezuela

The Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, has ordered the military to regulate five of the country’s largest ports in the midst of major food shortages in the country. Additionally, on 12 July, Maduro appointed the defence minister, Padrino Lopez, to a newly-created role that is roughly equivalent to co-president, thereby further increasing the military’s involvement in civilian affairs. The president said that these latest moves would strengthen the country against what he called a US-backed economic war against the country, referring to the departure of several major US companies from Venezuela due to constraints placed on them by the government. However, it is more likely that Maduro is trying to preserve his power by shoring up the military’s support in the face of growing opposition strength. Political instability and civil unrest in Venezuela are likely to persist.

United States

Localised violence against police officers continues in the United States, with three police officers shot dead and several others were wounded in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on 17 July. The shooter was identified as Gavin Long, an African-American former US Marine. The incident is the latest episode in a month of violence and heightened racial tensions in the United States. It comes less than two weeks after a 37-year-old black man, Alton Sterling, was killed in Baton Rouge by two white police officers. It also follows the killing of five white police officers in Dallas, Texas, by Micah Johnson, a black US Army Reserve veteran, which has left police across the country on high alert. The 17 July incident in Baton Rouge occurred not far from where protests against police brutality had been taking place since Sterling’s death. While this latest incident may bring a temporary halt to local protests in the Baton Rouge area due to a general fear of gun violence, the incident will further heighten racial tensions, and further protests and outbreaks of civil unrest are likely to occur in the coming weeks.

South Korea

Villagers in the South Korean county of Seongju began protesting on 13 July against the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) that the United States is planning to construct there. South Korea and the United States agreed to place the missile defence system there in order to defend the country against possible missile attacks from North Korea. The demonstrators have expressed concern that hosting the system could make their towns high-priority targets for North Korea in the event of a war between the two countries. Moreover, the system is likely to increase regional tensions, as China sees itself, not North Korea, as the system’s true target. Russia has also expressed concern that the system would increase tensions and decrease security in the region by making it more difficult to persuade North Korea to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons. North Korea has already threatened an unspecified ‘physical counteraction’ against THAAD. Localised protests against the system will continue in the near term, and regional tensions are almost certain to increase.

Papua New Guinea

On 15 July, Papua New Guinea’s opposition issued a no confidence motion in the country’s prime minister, Peter O’Neill. Parliament will vote on the motion on 22 July. While O’Neill’s People’s National Congress (PNC) party currently has a strong majority in parliament, the opposition appears increasingly likely to succeed in gathering enough votes to remove O’Neill as prime minister, especially after the People’s Progress Party (PPP), a party that had been aligned with the current government, changed sides and threw its support behind the opposition. The protests and strikes that have been occurring in various cities in Papua New Guinea are being met by a large police presence, increasing the likelihood of further civil unrest.

France

On14 July, during Bastille Day celebrations to mark the French Revolution, Mohamed Bouhlel drove a 19-tonne Renault lorry into a crowd of thousands in Nice. He drove for two kilometres through the crowd, killing 84 people and injuring hundreds. Police officers eventually managed to fatally shoot Bouhlel and bring the attack on an end. Reports are confused on the details, but various live-firing and replica firearms were found in the lorry after the attack. Bouhlel, a divorced father of three, was a French-Tunisian man who lived locally and had a criminal history involving weapons, robbery and domestic violence. He had never been arrested on terrorism charges nor was he described as particularly religious; however, Islamic State has claimed responsibility for inspiring the attack, though there is currently no evidence suggesting Bouhlel had been radicalised or had links to the group. This event may inspire similar lone-wolf attacks in the future, regardless of Bouhlel’s true motivations. The attack highlights the ability of a lone wolf to use a simple everyday object (in this case a lorry) as a platform for terrorism, and the inability of security services to stop such action.

Italy

The next European crisis may come from an Italian banking collapse. Italian banks have been left with high levels of bad debt after years of businesses collapsing since 2008. Furthermore, an IMF report released on 11 July claims that the Italian economy is unlikelyto reach pre-2008 levels until the mid-2020s. Italian banks are likely to need government financial help; however, high taxes, inefficiencies in the public sector, an ever-growing civil service wage bill, and 133% GDP debt levels have left the Italian government unable to deal with financial shocks. EU rules, brought in in early 2016 under the bank resolution and recovery directive, mean that investors must face 8% losses before a government can bail-out banks. It is common for ordinary citizens to hold banking bonds in Italy, meaning they will the ones facing the 8% loss. Should this occur, it is likely that Italians will demand action from their government – against EU rules. It is very likely that the EU and Italy will try to create a policy work-around in order to avoid the potential widespread political and economic instability an Italian banking crisis would create.

Turkey

On 15-15 July, a faction of the Turkish Armed Forces launched an unsuccessful coup attempt against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government. At least 290 people were killed and over a thousand injured in the overnight attempt, which began when soldiers blocked bridges over the Bosporus strait in Istanbul and low-flying fighter jets were seen over Ankara. The coup failed to gain the support it needed from the public or the rest of the military, and the soldiers involved began to surrender on the morning of the 16th. In response, the government has arrested at least 6,000 people, including senior military figures and judges. Erdoğan has also called on the United States to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the head of the Hizmet/Cemaat movement, blaming him for the attempted coup. Those critical of the Erdoğan government suggest that the attempted coup could allow the president to push for constitutional change that would strengthen his own position. World leaders have both condoned the military actions as undemocratic and called on Erdoğan not to not use the coup as an excuse to crackdown on his critics. The president has called for the death penalty to be reinstated for those involved in the coup. It is likely that arrests will continue over the next few days and that Erdoğan’s government will continue to clamp down on those they believe may have been involved.

Yemen

UN-mediated Yemeni peace talks restarted on 16 July in Kuwait after a hiatus. The Saudi-backed Yemeni government had threatened to boycott the process, but the UN special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, visited Sana’a earlier in the week in order to persuade the government to attend. Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s most recent proposal attempted to combine the conditions of both the government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and those of the Houthi rebels. Talks are scheduled to continue for the next two weeks. Although a ceasefire has been in place since April, clashes continue across the country and are likely to do so throughout the talks.

Arctic

On 15-16 July, leaders at the 11th Asia-Europe Meeting summit (ASEM11) in Mongolia renewed their agreement that climate change is having an acute impact on the Arctic region. They agreed to work together in consideration of the Paris Agreement and attempt to create a low-carbon global economy and nurture an economy that does not damage the environment. They also recognised the importance of developing a long-term strategy for reducing climate change. The summit was attended by 30 European and 21 Asian countries and two intergovernmental organisations. While the statements are welcome, it is likely to be many years before a concrete plan is in place, without which the agreements are meaningless.

Prepared by Kirsten Winterman, Erin Decker and Matthew Clarke.

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