Africa: Elections in DR Congo placed on hold by country’s electoral commission; Suspected al-Shabaab militants behead nine men in southeastern Kenya.
Americas: US president’s eldest son and son-in-law reportedly met with Russian lawyer with links to Kremlin during 2016 US presidential election; Venezuelan government moves popular opposition politician and political prisoner to house arrest.
Asia-Pacific: China’s only aircraft carrier arrives in Hong Kong to mark 20th anniversary of handover of territory to China; Seven Hindu pilgrims killed in crossfire during militant attack on police patrol in Indian-administrated Kashmir.
Europe and Central Asia: World leaders meet in Hamburg for G20 summit; US government announces its sanctions on Russia over annexation of Crimea will remain in place.
Middle East and North Africa: Iraqi security forces continue to make significant gains in former ISIS stronghold of Mosul; Militants kill at least 23 soldiers in attack on remote Egyptian Army outpost in Sinai Peninsula.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are on hold after the president of the country’s electoral commission, Corneille Nangaa, announced that it would not be possible to hold elections before the end of the year. The refusal by the president, Joseph Kabila, to step down at the end of his second term in December 2016 led to widespread protests across the country, which only ended after Kabila and opposition leaders reached an agreement for an election to be held by the end of 2017 and barring the incumbent from changing the constitution and remaining in power for a third term. Opposition politicians have criticised the delay and claimed that Kabila is trying to remain in power. They have urged for a timeline to be put in place that allows elections be held by the end of 2017. The electoral commission blames the postponement on delays in voter registration due to unrest in the Kasai region in particular.
Militants beheaded nine men on 7 July in Jima village in the Kenyan coastal district of Lamu. The government has enacted a curfew in three districts in the area in response to the attack, which has been blamed on al-Shabaab. The beheadings came just days after three police officers were killed in attack on a nearby village on 5 July. Al-Shabaab was also blamed for the earlier attack. The attacks appear to be in response to the Kenyan government’s military involvement in Somalia. Although al-Shabaab more commonly uses beheadings in Somalia, the militant group uses suicide bombings more frequently in Kenya, killing nearly 50 people in Lamu and Mandera counties in recent months. The Kenyan military has responded with attacks on the Boni forest area, which serves as a base for al-Shabaab forces in the country.
On 8 July, the New York Times claimed that the US president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and his son-in-law Jared Kushner met with a Russian lawyer with links to the Kremlin during the 2016 US presidential election. The meeting was apparently arranged so that Natalia Veselnitskaya could handover potentially-damaging information about Donald Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hilary Clinton. Trump Jr. admitted that he attended the meeting, but claimed that nothing meaningful about Clinton had been discussed. The president’s campaign chair at the time, Paul Manafort, was also reportedly present at the meeting. Several White House officials leaked details of the meeting to the newspaper. The potentially-damaging story adds to the growing perception that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential campaign – something that the FBI continues to investigate. Republican lawmakers will struggle to block an impeachment move by the Democrats if investigators find evidence of collusion.
The Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, praised the release of a political opponent from prison on 8 July. Leopoldo Lopez was moved to house arrest on health grounds after a ruling by the country’s supreme court. Lopez was three years into a 14-year sentence for inciting violence at a 2014 anti-government protest – a charge he denies. Lopez’s release comes after allegations from his family that he had been denied visitors for a month, had spent three days in solitary confinement without food or water, and had been poisoned. In May, his family demanded that the government release a proof of life video. Venezuela is currently experiencing ongoing protests after the president was accused of attempting a coup after the supreme court took control of the parliament for a short period in March. Maduro may have released Lopez in an attempt to appease demonstrators by releasing a popular opposition figure. Lopez has urged supporters to take to the streets to protest against the government.
China’s only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, arrived in Hong Kong on 8 July for five days to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China. On 1 July, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, visited the autonomous territory to mark the anniversary. Xi said that any challenges to Beijing’s authority over Hong Kong was ‘impermissible’, as was any act which used the territory to carry out ‘infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland’. The Chinese Communist Party fears that the territory’s pro-democracy movement is gaining strength while Beijing’s authority is challenged by an influx of Western ideas and the territory’s history as a Crown colony and British Dependent Territory. On 7 July, following large pro-democracy demonstrations in the wake of the Chinese premier’s visit, the Hong Kong authorities announced plans to create a 30-person team of anti-terrorist and counter-protest police officers to enable the police to develop tactics to handle the regular protests in the territory.China reacts to pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong as territory marks 20th anniversary of handoverClick To Tweet
Seven Hindu pilgrims were killed and 19 injured in crossfire during a militant attack on a police patrol in Indian-administrated Kashmir on 10 July. The pilgrims were returning from the Amarnath cave shrine when five or six gunmen attacked an armoured police vehicle, and the pilgrim’s bus was caught in the ensuring exchange of gunfire. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, condemned the attack, as did the three senior separatist leaders in Kashmir. Anger in India has led to calls for a retaliatory strike against the militants. Tensions between the Indian government and Kashmiri separatist groups have increased further since July 2016 when security forces killed a popular militant leader.
Europe and Central Asia
Hamburg, Germany, hosted this year’s G20 summit on 7-8 July. The US president’s performance during what was only his second foreign visit dominated the international media coverage of the summit. Donald Trump met with China and Japan to discuss North Korea, with Japan and South Korea pushing for UN Security Council sanctions on the country. The summit failed to agree a resolution on North Korean missile tests; however, the Australian prime minister, Malcom Turnbull, said that no country defended the actions of the rogue state either. The US and Russian presidents met for the first time during the summit, and the two men reportedly discussed the accusations that Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential election. The United States found itself isolated on the issue of climate change, however, as the 19 other countries represented at the summit reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris climate accord following Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement earlier this year. Trump was also widely criticised for allowing his daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, to accompany him to some sessions and briefly sit in for him during a meeting with world leaders on African migration and health.The United States was isolated at the G20 summit as the 19 other countries reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris AgreementClick To Tweet
The US government has announced that the sanctions it imposed on Russia over its annexation of Crimea will remain in place. The US president, Donald Trump, tweeted that the sanctions policy would continue until both the Syrian and Ukrainian issues had been resolved; however, the US government implemented the sanctions regime in response to Russian involvement in Ukraine, and is unable to make its removal dependent on resolving Russian involvement in Syria as well without the president amending the executive order that brought the sanctions into effect. Regarding Ukraine, the United States continues to hold Russia responsible for the separatist movement in the east of the country. It is thought that the US and Russian presidents discussed the issue of sanctions during their recent meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg. The US sanctions have damaged the Russian economy, but it is unlikely that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, will cede to international pressure over either Ukraine or Syria. It is likely that the US sanctions will continue for the medium term.
Middle East and North Africa
Iraqi security forces have continued to make significant gains in the former Islamic State (ISIS) stronghold of Mosul. The Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, made a speech in the city on 9 July in which he congratulated troops for liberating the city and claimed that the complete liberation of the city would be achieved soon. ISIS fighters are currently besieged in an area 180 m long and 45 m wide in the old city on the west of the Tigris river. Islamic State also still holds territory in three towns in Anbar Province. The battle for Mosul began in October 2016 when Iraqi troops, with support from the US-led coalition and Kurdish regional government, made their first advances on the city, which had been seized by Islamic State in June 2014. It is thought that around 15,000 civilians are still in the old city of Mosul, and that Islamic State has been using them as human shields during the offensive. Despite an imminent end to the Iraqi government offensive in the city, the humanitarian situation is likely to worsen, with aid agencies warning that around a million people have been displaced and that once the city is completely liberated people are likely to start to return to the area. Once IEDs and other ISIS booby traps have been cleared, basic repairs to the city are expected to cost over a billion dollars, with the long-term reconstruction expected to cost several billion dollars.
Militants killed at least 23 soldiers in an attack on a remote Egyptian Army outpost in the Sinai Peninsula on 7 July. Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack, which was the deadliest assault for two years. The attack began with a suicide bomber driving a vehicle into a checkpoint before a number of militants open fired on the small compound, which housed only 60 soldiers. Egyptian troops raided an ISIS training area the next day. Attacks and raids against ISIS training and recruitment areas are likely to continue. ISIS has been focussing its attacks in the area on Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, leading the country’s president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, to declare a nationwide state of emergency in April 2017. Islamic State’s attack on the army outpost is a reminder that, despite significant losses in Iraq and Syria, ISIS militants based in Egypt are still active.