Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 3 October 2017: Catalonia’s president claims region has won right to statehood, security forces kill demonstrators during protests in Cameroon, relations between Iraqi Kurdistan and Baghdad continue to deteriorate

The weekly briefing, 3 October 2017: Catalonia’s president claims region has won right to statehood, security forces kill demonstrators during protests in Cameroon, relations between Iraqi Kurdistan and Baghdad continue to deteriorate

by Kirsten Winterman, Raphaël Zaffran and Matthew Clarke

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: Security forces kill demonstrators during independence protests in English-speaking parts of Cameroon; Opposition leaders in DR Congo reiterate calls for ousting of country’s president.

Americas: Gunman kills 59 people and injures 527 others in mass shooting in Las Vegas; National Liberation Army begins temporary truce with Colombian government.

Asia-Pacific: Two women plead not guilty to murdering the North Korean leader’s estranged half-brother in Malaysia; Australian investigators conclude that it is ‘almost inconceivable’ that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has not been found.

Europe and Central Asia: Catalonia’s president claims region has won right to statehood following unofficial independence referendum; Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny jailed for repeatedly violating ban on organising public meetings.

Middle East and North Africa: Relations between Iraqi Kurdistan and Baghdad continue to deteriorate following independence referendum; Palestinian prime minister visits Gaza in reconciliation effort.

Africa

Cameroon

Security forces killed at least 17 people during independence protests in the English-speaking parts of Cameroon on 1 October. The protests in the northwest and southwest regions occurred on the 56th anniversary of the unification of the French- and British-administered parts of the former German colony. Anglophone Cameroonians began protesting in November 2016 over their perceived marginalisation. The movement has since grown from protests for greater rights into demands for independence. It is unlikely that the protests will end in the near future.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Opposition leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have reiterated their calls for the ousting of the country’s president, Joseph Kabila. The president has remained in power beyond the end of his second term in December 2016 without setting an election date. At the UN General Assembly on 23 September, Kabila pledged to hold an election, but claimed that the poll posed major logistical and security challenges. The vote is due to take place before the end of 2017, as per a deal between government and opposition groups brokered by the Catholic Church in January. However, it is unlikely that Kabila will call an election this year, which will likely lead to further instability and violence across the country. The United States has threatened sanctions if the election does not go ahead.

Americas

United States

On 1 October, a gunman opened fire on the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest open-air music festival in Las Vegas, killing 59 people and injuring 527 others. The active shooter incident is the deadliest mass shooting in US history. The gunman fired on the crowd from the window of his hotel room in the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel. Police officers later found the man dead in his room along with 17 firearms. Officers found an additional 18 firearms, explosives and thousands of rounds of ammunition when they searched his home. Police have identified the gunman as Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old retiree from Nevada. It is not clear what his motives were, and although Islamic State swiftly claimed responsibility for the shooting, it seems unlikely at this point that Paddock had any links to international terrorism. Nevada places very few restrictions on gun ownership, and Paddock used a legal ‘bump stock’ device to circumvent the state’s prohibition on automatic weapons. The incident has once more highlighted the urgent need for tougher gun laws in the United States; however, the White House has claimed that it is not the time for that debate.

Mass shooting in Las Vegas highlights the urgent need for tougher gun laws in the United StatesClick To Tweet

Colombia

The insurgent National Liberation Army (ELN) began a temporary truce with the Colombian government on 1 October for the first time in over five decades. The move takes place within the framework of the 2016 peace deal between the two sides. Efforts to agree a truce since then had been derailed by a series of attacks and kidnappings by rogue ELN elements. The truce was made possible by a compromise whereby the ELN pledged to cease carrying out attacks and taking hostages while the Colombian authorities agreed to improve the conditions for those ELN rebels currently in prison. The UN will send staff to monitor the situation on the ground ahead of the next series of peace talks in the Ecuadorian capital, Quito. It is possible that rogue elements or ELN sympathisers will continue their attacks against security forces, and jeopardise the fragile peace process.

Asia-Pacific

North Korea

Two women have pleaded not guilty at their trial in Malaysia to the murder of the North Korean leader’s estranged half-brother, Kim Jong-nam. Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam and Siti Aisyah from Indonesia are accused of rubbing VX nerve agent onto Kim’s face as he passed through Kuala Lumpur International Airport on 13 February. Jong-nam died 20 minutes after the attack. The women claim that they thought it was part of a prank for a reality TV programme, and blamed North Korean agents for duping them. Pyongyang has denied any involvement in the murder; however, authorities in Malaysia have also charged four North Koreans in absentia. The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has a history of executing officials and family members, including his aunt and uncle. Prosecutors in Malaysia have insisted that the women will get a fair trial.

Australia

Australian investigators have delivered their final report into Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which went missing during a flight from Beijing to Kuala Lumpa in March 2014. They conclude that it is ‘almost inconceivable’ that the aircraft has not been found. Without credible new evidence, the Australian government has said that it will not resume the search for debris from the aircraft. Without the ‘black box’ flight recorder, investigators will not be able to ascertain what happened to the aircraft nor develop measures to prevent similar incidents from occurring. Nonetheless, there is likely to be increased funding for measures to track aircraft in radar ‘black out’ areas, such as over vast oceans, including a new satellite reporting system that can track aircraft in real time anywhere in the world.

Europe and Central Asia

Spain

The president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, has said that the region has won the right to statehood following an unofficial independence referendum on 1 October in which 90% of those who voted chose to split from Spain. The Spanish constitutional court had declared the referendum illegal, and the Spanish police and civil guard attempted to close polling stations and seize ballot boxes on the day. Despite the violent police crackdown, 2.26 million people voted in the poll – a turnout of 42.3%. The large majority in favour of independence and the sympathy generated by the government’s violent response to the referendum make it more likely that the regional parliament will declare Catalan independence without negotiation with Madrid. If this happens, the Spanish government will likely invoke article 155 of the national constitution and intervene in the running of the autonomous region. Demonstrations and strikes are highly likely to continue across Catalonia.

It is now more likely that the Catalonia regional parliament will declare independence without negotiation with MadridClick To Tweet

Russia

One of Russia’s most vocal opposition leaders, Alexei Navalny, has been jailed for 20 days for repeatedly violating a ban on organising public meetings. On 29 September, Navalny attempted to organise a demonstration in Nizhny, about 250 miles east of Moscow. It is the third time that Russian authorities have detained the anti-corruption campaigner. The Russian supreme court found him guilty of embezzlement in February, and gave him a five-year suspended prison sentence. The actions against Navalny are widely seen as an attempt by the Kremlin to prevent him challenging Vladimir Putin in the 2018 presidential election – efforts that are likely to be successful.

Middle East and North Africa

Iraq

Relations between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraq’s central government continue to deteriorate following a referendum on the autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan on 25 September. With a turnout of 72%, 93% voted in favour of independence; however, the Iraqi government has refused to recognise the poll as have a number of international powers, including the United States. Baghdad has banned international flights from entering the Kurdish region. Turkey has also threatened economic sanctions and military action if it deems the result a threat to its security. The Kurdistan Regional Government has so far refused to hand over control of its border crossings despite calls from Iraq, Turkey and Iran to do so. Iranian and Iraqi forces staged joint military exercises close to the region’s border on 2 October. It is unlikely that Baghdad will enter into negotiations on the issue, and tensions are therefore likely to escalate.

Palestine

The Palestinian prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, travelled to the Gaza Strip on 2 October for the first time in two years. Hamdallah’s visit is the latest effort to reconcile Fatah, which controls the Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank, and Hamas, which is the de facto ruling party in Gaza. It comes after Hamas decided to dissolve its administrative committee on 17 September following separate talks by Hamas and Fatah with Egyptian officials in Cairo. Hamas also called on the unity government to return to Gaza and move towards legislative and presidential elections. However, security remains a contentious issue between the two rivals, with Hamas unlikely to disarm its military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades. Discussions are expected to continue in Gaza and Egypt in the coming weeks.

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