Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 23 August 2016: Libyan parliament passes vote of no confidence in UN-backed government, Kurdish People’s Protection Units launch major assault against Syrian government forces in Hasaka, violent clashes continue between police and pro-separatist protesters in Indian-administered Kashmir

The weekly briefing, 23 August 2016: Libyan parliament passes vote of no confidence in UN-backed government, Kurdish People’s Protection Units launch major assault against Syrian government forces in Hasaka, violent clashes continue between police and pro-separatist protesters in Indian-administered Kashmir

by Kirsten Winterman, Erin Decker and Matthew Clarke

Briefing

Africa: Local government headquarters in Galkayo, Somalia, targeted in twin suicide bombings; Niger Delta Avengers militant group willing to enter peace agreement with Nigerian government; Libyan parliament passes vote of no confidence in UN-backed government.

Americas: Argentina’s former president called to testify in corruption investigation; protesters demand resignation of Paraguay’s president.

Asia and Pacific: Myanmar’s foreign minister visits China to discuss peace process among armed ethnic minority groups in Myanmar; violent clashes continue between police and pro-separatist protesters in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Europe: Norway’s sovereign wealth fund reduces UK property portfolio by 5% following Brexit decision; Russia’s president reshuffles inner circle, moving political heavyweights into lower level jobs ahead of forthcoming elections.

Middle East: Scores killed and wounded in IS-linked suicide attack on Kurdish wedding near Turkey’s border with Syria; Kurdish People’s Protection Units launch major assault against Syrian government forces in Hasaka.

Somalia

Over 20 people were killed in two suicide bombings on 21 August in the Somali town of Galkayo. In a double-tap attack, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) targeted the local government headquarters and a second targeted the responding emergency services. The terrorist group al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack. The attack took place just weeks after the Somali security services arrested Abdulah al-Sudani, a high-ranking al-Shabaab commander, along with four other militants on 10 August. The attack is likely to lead to further action by the Somali security services in an effort to restrict the group’s activities.

Nigeria

The Niger Delta Avengers, a militant group responsible for attacking a number of oil producing facilities in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, issued a statement on 20 August that they would be willing to enter into a peace agreement with the federal government. The group, which has only been in existence since March 2016, has carried out a serious of attacks that have damaged Nigeria’s oil and gas industries. In June, the Nigerian government had suggested that they were seeking to reach a deal with the group in an effort to stabilise the area. While this was rejected at the time, the Niger Delta Avengers’ new declaration may lead to the start of negotiations.

Libya

On 22 August, the Libyan parliament issued a vote of no confidence in the UN-backed government. The parliament passed the motion of no confidence by 61 votes to one vote (with 39 abstentions). Tensions have existed between Libya’s Tobruk-based parliament and Tripoli-based government since the parliament came into existence in 2014. The ramifications of the no-confidence vote are not yet clear, but it is likely to further destabilise the Libyan political system.

Argentina

On 16 August, prosecutors requested that Argentina’s former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner be called to testify in connection with corruption investigations of her and her administration. She is suspected of embezzlement, money laundering and favouring family friends in the awarding of public construction contracts. The corruption investigation into Kirchner will very likely further weaken her Front for Victory alliance to the advantage of Cambiemos, the ruling coalition led by the current president, Mauricio Macri. It is likely that Kirchner will be found guilty; however, it is unlikely that corruption in Argentina will improve in the near future due to deeper-seated problems, such as poor government transparency and lack of impartiality in the country’s courts and investigative and law-enforcement bodies.

Paraguay

Approximately 2,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Paraguay’s capital, Asuncion, on 15 August to demand the resignation of the country’s president, Horacio Cartes. The protests highlight the population’s increasing disapproval of Cartes and his administration – according to a recent poll, 77% of Asuncion’s population disapprove of the current government. Despite the anti-government protests and high disapproval rate, Cartes will likely remain in office until his term ends in 2017. Intermittent local unrest is therefore likely to continue.

Myanmar

Myanmar’s foreign affairs minister, Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the co-ruling National League for Democracy, visited China from 17 to 21 August to meet with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, and premier, Li Keqiang. A key focus of the trip was China’s role in the peace process among the armed ethnic minority groups in Myanmar. While there, Ann San Suu Kyi was presented with a letter signed by the leaders of three of the armed rebel groups pledging to join a peace conference set to take place later in August. It is likely that China’s interest in helping to end the fighting in Myanmar is mainly economic. In addition to other projects which would require Myanmar’s cooperation, China is planning to build roads and railways across northern Myanmar to the Bay of Bengal as a short-cut to supplement recently built oil and gas pipelines that would bolster trade from the Middle East. Although China’s support for peace talks in Myanmar is likely to improve bilateral relations in the near term, tensions will remain between the two countries over China’s economic intentions and controversial investment projects in Myanmar.

India

Five people were killed and a dozen injured on 16 August in clashes between police and pro-separatist protesters in Indian-administered Kashmir in some of the worst violence the region has seen in years. Protests have taken place almost every day since a popular militant leader was killed last month. Hundreds of Kashmiri residents have been treated over the past month for injuries sustained by the pellet guns that local police have been using against protesters. The violent police clampdown on demonstrations is likely to prompt further clashes rather than quell the protests. Furthermore, on 21 August, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, stated that the government would not compromise with those engaging in violence, suggesting that dialogue with separatist factions over ending the fighting is unlikely to occur in the near future.

Norway

Norway’s sovereign wealth fund has reduced its UK property portfolio by 5%. The £687 billion investment fund is designed to create financial growth from Norway’s oil and gas revenues. The fund is one of the United Kingdom’s largest foreign investors, with approximately £6.8 billion worth of investments in the country. It removed £148 million worth of British property from its portfolio after assessing the increased instability in their UK investments created by the shock British decision to leave the EU. The fear is that other foreign investors will also take the view that the United Kingdom is becoming a riskier investment and reduce their exposure in the country, thus weakening the British economy further. The United Kingdom will likely need to create measures to attract and retain foreign investment throughout the ongoing uncertainly that will be created during Britain’s negotiations to leave the EU.

Russia

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has been reshuffling his inner circle, moving political heavyweights into lower level jobs ahead of legislative elections on 18 September. The latest casualty was Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief of staff for the past five years, who – officially at least – asked to retire. He was relieved of his duties in a televised meeting with Putin on 12 August. Before his demotion to special envoy on conservation, environment and transport, Ivanov was considered one of the most powerful individuals in the country, and has frequently been identified as a likely successor to Putin. The removal of prominent political heavyweights may have two motivations: removing possible threats to Putin’s leadership by placing in key positions politically-weak but competent people who owe their careers to the president, and removing the final constraints on Putin’s ability to operate without the need for consensus. Putin is fast becoming able to operate without needing the approval of either Russian citizens or the country’s political elite, and this will likely result in the Kremlin taking more extreme policy positions.

Turkey

On 20 August, 51 people were killed and nearly 100 wounded at a Kurdish wedding in Gaziantep in a suicide attack carried out by a child thought be 12-14 years old, though the bomber has not yet been identified. The attack close to Turkey’s border with Syria is thought to be linked to Islamic State and is probably in retaliation for the Kurdish offensives against Islamic State forces in Syria. Islamic State is highly likely to carry out further attacks as the military offensives against the group in Syria and Iraq intensify.

Syria

On 22 August, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) launched a major assault against Syrian government forces in Hasaka in an attempt to seize the last government-controlled areas of the city. The assault comes after Syrian fighter jets bombed YPG-held areas of Hasaka on 19 August for the first time since the civil war began in 2011. The YPG’s assault began just hours after Syrian state media proclaimed a truce between the Kurdish and government forces in the city. Kurdish and government forces have cooperated against Islamic State in the past. The assault may signify the end of such cooperation, and could therefore impact on the US-led offensive to destroy Islamic State.

Prepared by Kirsten Winterman, Erin Decker and Matthew Clarke.

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