Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 1 November 2017: Catalan leadership flees Spain, president of Iraqi Kurdistan to step down, militants kill 23 people in attack in Somalia

The weekly briefing, 1 November 2017: Catalan leadership flees Spain, president of Iraqi Kurdistan to step down, militants kill 23 people in attack in Somalia

by Kirsten Winterman, Matthew Clarke and Raphaël Zaffran

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: Violence continues in Kenya in wake of presidential election re-run; Militants kill 23 people in attack on hotel in Somalia.

Americas: Special counsel files first charges in investigation of Russian influence in 2016 US presidential election; Brazilian president wins crucial vote to avoid trial on corruption and obstruction of justice charges.

Asia-Pacific: Papa New Guinea states that Australia is responsible for Manus detention centre detainees when centre closes; UK security minister accuses North Korea of being behind WannaCry ransomware attack.

Europe and Central Asia: Catalan leadership flees Spain after Madrid brings charges in aftermath of region declaring independence; Kazakhstan’s president begins process of moving Kazakh language from Cyrillic script to Latin alphabet.

Middle East and North Africa: President of Iraqi Kurdistan will step down on 1 November; Egyptian president completes major reshuffle of senior security officials.

Africa

Kenya

Violence has continued in Kenya following the presidential election re-run that took place on 26 October. On 30 October, it was announced that the vote has returned the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, for a further five-year term. However, there was a low voter turnout of around 30% after opposition leader Raila Odinga pulled out of the election and called for its boycott. Kenyatta won an earlier election in August, but it was annulled by Kenya’s supreme court due to irregularities. Around 50 people have been killed in clashes between police and opposition supporters since the first election. The widespread boycott of the re-run election will threaten Kenyatta’s legitimacy and make it difficult for him to unite the country under his leadership. As such, violence and protests are likely to continue, particularly in the opposition strongholds in western Kenya.

Somalia

Militants killed 23 people in an attack on a hotel in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on 28 October. A suicide car bomber detonated a VBIED at the gates to the hotel, and a group of armed men then stormed the building. Somali security forces laid siege to the hotel overnight and regained control of the building in the morning after killing three of the attackers and capturing two. A senior Somali police colonel, a former lawmaker and a former government minister are among the victims of the attack. The attack seems to have been targeted at the Somali president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who was due to hold a meeting with the presidents of Somalia’s federal republics at the hotel that evening. The attack comes just two weeks after the largest attack ever to hit the capital killed 358 people on 14 October. The violent Islamist group al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the recent attack but denies involvement in the 14 October attack. The Somali government has fired two senior security officials, including a police chief and the country’s director of national intelligence, following the attacks.

Americas

United States

On 27 October, special counsel Robert Mueller filed the first charges in the investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 US presidential election and the possible collusion between Russian officials and Donald Trump’s campaign team. Trump responded to the news over the weekend with numerous heated tweets in a weak attempt to deflect attention from his administration and onto the Democrats. However, on 30 October, it was revealed that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Manafort’s former deputy Rick Gates have been indicted on 12 counts, including money laundering and making false statements to federal authorities. The charges relate to Manafort’s lobbying work for a pro-Russia party in Ukraine. Mueller also revealed that a third member of Trump’s campaign team, former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty earlier in the month to lying to FBI agents about contact he had had with Russian nationals connected to the Kremlin. Papadopoulos has subsequently been cooperating with Mueller’s investigation. Democrats have used the indictments to call for an expanded investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and some Republicans have reiterated their support for Mueller fearing that Trump may now try to oust him.

Key campaign aides of Donald Trump indicted in the investigation into possible collusion with RussiaClick To Tweet

Brazil

On 25 October, the Brazilian president, Michel Temer, avoided the prospect of facing a trial on corruption and obstruction of justice charges involving the meat packing company JBS. Opposition politicians did not manage to secure enough votes in the lower house of congress to put the president on trial. Temer needed at least 172 votes out of the 513-seat lower house (one-third plus one) in order to remain in power, and he secured a comfortable victory with 251 votes. It is the second time Temer has avoided facing trial, overcoming a similar vote on bribery charges earlier this year. It is likely that the president made moves to appease certain members of Brazil’s congress in order to secure their vote. This includes reports that he approved R$2.2 billion ($670 million) of funding for key congressional districts ahead of the vote. The president also agreed to lower fines for environmental crimes, which was likely part of a lobbying strategy directed at the Brazilian congress’s powerful agriculture caucus. Although at only 3% Temer’s approval ratings are the lowest for a president in the country’s history, it now looks likely that he will remain in power until the end of his term in late 2018.

Asia-Pacific

Australia

Papa New Guinea has said that Australia is responsible for the Manus detention centre detainees when the centre closes on 31 October. The centre is part of Australia’s controversial programme of holding refugees and asylum seekers in offshore processing centres rather than in Australia. Those held at the centre have accused staff of physical and sexual abuse. A local Papa New Guinea court ruled it unconstitutional to detain people at the site. Those detainees without refugee status will not have the legal right to remain in Papa New Guinea. Those with refugee status can apply to remain in the country, apply to live in the United States or Cambodia or request a transfer to different Australian offshore centre. The 770 men remaining at the site on 30 October are refusing to transfer to a different site out of fear of harm coming to them, but they do not have the legal right to remain in Papa New Guinea. It is likely that the Australian government will put bureaucratic hurdles and other delays in the way in the hope that another country will step in and offer the detainees sanctuary.

North Korea

The British security minister, Ben Wallace, has revealed in a BBC radio interview that London believes a North Korean hacking group was responsible for the WannaCry ransomware attack in May 2017. The malware infected computers in parts of the National Health Service as well as government institutions, companies and private individuals in more than 150 countries. North Korea has dismissed the accusations as ‘groundless speculation’ and part of an ongoing attempt to leverage sanctions against it. However, the NSA and Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre are both thought to have concluded that North Korea was behind the ransomware. Cyber security companies Kaspersky Lab and Symantec have also both said that the code has some similarities with that previously used by the North Korea-linked Lazarus Group, thought to be responsible for multiple cyber-attacks on South Korea and the 2014 Sony Pictures hack. Meanwhile, it emerged earlier this month that North Korea may have stolen US-South Korean war plans through their hacking operations.

Europe and Central Asia

Spain

On 27 October, the Catalan regional parliament voted to declare independence from Spain. However, shortly afterwards, Spain’s upper house approved measures to allow Madrid to impose direct rule over the autonomous region. Immediately after the senate approved the measures, the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, fired the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, and his cabinet, dissolved the Catalan parliament and scheduled elections in the region for 21 December. Then on 30 October, Spain’s attorney-general, José Manuel Maza, filed two lawsuits seeking the prosecution of the ousted Catalan cabinet and the regional parliament for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, crimes that carry maximum jail terms of 30, 15 and six years respectively. However, Puigdemont and several members of his cabinet had fled to Belgium shortly before the charged were announced. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and the EU have all declared their support for Spanish unity and the Belgium prime minister, Charles Michel, has said that an asylum request from Puigdemont is not on the agenda.

Kazakhstan

On 27 October, Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, signed a decree confirming his country’s transition from using the Cyrillic script for the Kazakh language to the Latin alphabet. The shift will take place gradually over the next eight years. This is an important move in progressively distancing Kazakhstan from its former Soviet-era and Imperial-era master, Russia. Other former Soviet republics, such as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, also Turkic nations, switched to using the Latin alphabet much sooner following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Nazarbayev has been president since 1991, and much uncertainty exists regarding his succession. Human rights organisations have accused him of human rights abuses, supressing dissent and presiding over an authoritarian regime. The change of script is likely part of Nazarbayev’s wider strategy to bring Kazakhstan closer to Europe and establish sustainable independence for the country beyond his time in power. Nazarbayev has positioned Kazakhstan as a friend to all and foe to none, and the country has hosted several high-profile events, such as the 2017 World’s Fair and the Syria peace talks. Strategically positioned between Russia and China and home to considerable natural resources and a significant number of ethnic Russians, any transitory political instability in Kazakhstan would possibly threaten the country’s sovereignty as well as regional security.

Kazakh president seeks to move the country closer to Europe and secure its long-term independenceClick To Tweet

Middle East and North Africa

Iraq

The president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, appeared on Kurdish television on 29 October to confirm that he will step down on 1 November. The announcement prompted pro-Barzani supporters to raid the region’s parliament in Erbil. The development comes on the back of an independence referendum on 25 September in which 92.73% of the population voted in favour of independence for Iraqi Kurdistan. The Iraqi government declared the vote illegal, and Iran, Syria and Turkey rejected the result. Since then, the Iraqi security forces have launched an offensive to recapture disputed territories in northern Iraq, with the oil-rich Kirkuk falling with little opposition on 20 October. Barzani’s second term as president ended in 2013, but the regional parliament extended his tenure twice since then, and he has stayed in power even beyond the last extension. His decision to step down after 12 years in power was approved by the Kurdish parliament in a closed session on 29 November. Parliamentary and presidential elections were due to take place on 1 November, but were suspended due to the Iraqi military assault on Kirkuk. It is unclear as to what will happen in the interim between Barzani stepping down and the elections still to be rescheduled.

Egypt

The Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, has completed a major reshuffle in which 11 senior security officials were either sacked or assigned a new position. The reorganisation comes after militants killed at least 55 police officers during a failed raid in the Western Desert around 180 miles southwest of the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on 21 October. Militants thought to be from Islamic State have also recently carried out several attacks on Egypt’s security forces and Coptic Christian community. The president’s restructuring of the country’s security leadership is designed to establish a more aggressive stance against the militants in light of these recent developments. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has accused al-Sisi of giving the police and security forces a green light to use torture with impunity, even though torture is against the Egyptian constitution and international human rights law.

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