Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 13 June 2017: Filipino government forces attempt to retake city of Marawi, UK prime minister loses government majority, large anti-government protests take place in Moscow

The weekly briefing, 13 June 2017: Filipino government forces attempt to retake city of Marawi, UK prime minister loses government majority, large anti-government protests take place in Moscow

by Kirsten Winterman, Raphaël Zaffran and Matthew Clarke

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: Militants attack prison in DR Congo, killing 11 people and releasing 900 inmates; Incumbent prime minister loses Lesotho’s general election.

Americas: Former FBI director testimony to US Senate suggests Donald Trump may have attempted to obstruct FBI investigation; Panama officially establishing diplomatic relations with People’s Republic of China.

Asia-Pacific: Filipino government forces attempt to retake city of Marawi; Suspect killed in hostage siege in Melbourne had violent history and claimed was acting for Islamic State and al-Qaida.

Europe and Central Asia: UK prime minister loses government majority in surprise general election result; Large anti-government protests take place in Moscow.

Middle East and North Africa: Moroccan police arrest more than 20 people over protests in country’s Rif region; Iranian authorities arrest 43 people after militants kill 17 people in two attacks in country’s capital.

Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Eleven people, including eight prison guards, were killed when unidentified militants attacked the Kangwayi prison in Beni in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on 11 June. Over 900 inmates escaped in the attack. The governor of the North Kivu province where the attack took place has placed the area under a night-time curfew. There have been several prison breaks in recent months, with around 4,000 inmates escaping from a prison in Kinshasa in May. Although the identity of the attackers in Beni has not yet been verified, it is possible that they were from the rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) group. The political situation in the DRC has been unstable since the incumbent president, Joseph Kabila, held onto power despite the official end of his second term in December 2016.

Lesotho

Thomas Thabane was elected as the new prime minister of Lesotho on 6 June after beating the incumbent, Pakalitha Mosisili, in a snap election that followed an earlier vote of no confidence in Mosisili. Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) party won 48 of the 80 contested seats in the 120-seat parliament, leaving the new prime minister short of an overall majority. Thabane has said that his party will enter into a coalition with three other parties in order to ensure a majority in parliament. There had been concerns over the transfer of power, as this is Lesotho’s third election in only five years, but early indications – such as Mosisili conceding defeat and resigning from office – suggest that the transition may go reasonably smoothly. It is crucial for Lesotho that the new government remains stable.

Americas

United States

On 8 June, former FBI director James Comey appeared in front of the US Senate intelligence committee to testify about Donald Trump’s alleged interference with an FBI investigation into the president’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his links to Russia. In his testimony, Comey stated that he had documented every meeting that he had with Trump because he was afraid that the president might lie about the content or even existence of the meetings. Comey also asserted that his sacking was directly linked to the FBI’s investigation into what he considers Moscow’s indisputable interference in the 2016 US presidential election. Comey’s account is highly damaging to the Trump administration, as it suggests that the president may have committed obstruction of justice. However, as a sitting president, it is highly unlikely that Trump will ever face criminal proceedings, and impeachment requires a majority vote in the House and a two-thirds vote in the Senate – both of which are currently controlled by the Republican party. Trump will now likely attempt to spin the story by attacking Comey for leaking privileged conversations.

The former FBI director's account is damning, but Donald Trump is unlikely to face criminal charges or impeachment in the near termClick To Tweet

Panama

On 13 June, Panama officially established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This is a de facto assertion that there is only one China, and shifts Panama away from its long-standing diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Panama’s president, Juan Carlos Varela, did not provide concrete justification for the move, except for stating his belief that it is the correct path for Panama. The Taiwanese authorities accused Panama of being bought off by China at the expense of years of friendship. China remains irritated by Taiwan’s continued attempts to increase its political and economic independence from the mainland. Panama’s abandonment of Taiwan therefore constitutes an important diplomatic win for China. It follows similar moves from São Tomé and Príncipe in December 2016. It is likely that Beijing will continue using economic incentives to pressure the remaining 20 countries that recognise Taiwan – mainly Latin American countries and Pacific island states – to change their positions.

Asia-Pacific

Philippines

On 11 June, Filipino forces began an operation to retake the city of Marawi on Mindanao. Fighters from the Maute group have controlled the town since 23 May following an unsuccessful government raid to try and capture Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the violent jihadist group Abu Sayyaf, with which the Maute group is allied. The operation to retake the city was originally supposed to end on 12 June, but progress has been slower than expected due to the urban environment and because the militants are reportedly using civilians as human shields. According to Amaq News Agency, which is linked to Islamic State, rebels still control approximately two-thirds of the area, though the Filipino military states that the militants actually only control around 20% of the city. So far, 200 insurgents, 58 security personnel and 26 civilians have been killed in the fighting. There are only 300-600 civilians left in the town from a usual population of 200,000. Only 100 of the 500 rebels that took the town are believed to be still fighting; however, the city’s porous borders mean that fighters – including potential reinforcements – are able to enter and leave at will. Although rebel reinforcements might prolong the operation, it is highly likely that government forces will retake the city.

Australia

On 5 June, a man killed the building’s clerk at a serviced apartment complex in Melbourne’s Brighton suburb. The Somali-born Australian, Yacqub Khayre, then took an escort he had been at the apartments with hostage. During the ensuring siege, Khayre called Seven Network television and claimed that he was acting for Islamic State and al-Qaida. Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the incident. Police freed the hostage in a raid in which Khayre injured three officers before police shot and killed him. The police subsequently said that they are unsure if Khayre had any links to either Islamic State or al-Qaida. Khayre was previously accused, and acquitted, of planning to attack a Sydney army barracks in 2009. He had a long history of violent crimes, and longstanding drug and alcohol abuse problems. Police have carried out multiple raids, and have so far charged two men with firearms-related offenses in connection with the weapons Khayre used during the siege. Whatever Khayre’s motives were, the incident raises further questions over how an individual previously known to police managed to carry out an attack.

Europe and Central Asia

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom’s ruling Conservative Party lost its parliamentary majority in a snap general election on 8 June. The embattled prime minister, Theresa May, has been forced to form a minority government. The surprise result followed a weak Conservative campaign that was heavily focused on the prime minister, and contrasted with a strong performance from the underestimated leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. The Conservatives now hope to secure the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in order to get legislation through the House of Commons; however, many are deeply concerned by the alliance, as the DUP opposes LGBT rights, gay marriage and abortion and denies the existence of climate change. The DUP has historical links to the loyalist paramilitary group Ulster Resistance, and the violent Ulster Defence Association (UDA) backed the DUP during the general election. An alliance between the Conservatives and DUP in Westminster would threaten the delicate balance of power between unionists and republicans in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has until now been mediated by a supposedly neutral UK government. As the United Kingdom heads towards Brexit negotiations with the EU, the unnecessary general election has significantly destabilised the country, as it now has a minority government and a weakened prime minister that is unlikely to last the year as leader of either her party or the country.

The UK government's poor general election showing jeopardises politics in Northern Ireland and the EU Brexit negotiationsClick To Tweet

Russia

On 12 June, large anti-government protests took place in the Russian capital, Moscow. The crowds of several thousand, mostly young, demonstrators called for a ‘Russia without Putin’. The protests were the largest since 2012. The police arrested several people, including Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who had called for popular mobilisation across Russia against a corrupt system that is propped up by the president, Vladimir Putin. Navalny has indicated that he will challenge Putin in next year’s presidential election. Although Navalny is increasingly popular among young Russians, his bid for the Kremlin is highly unlikely to succeed, as it is unclear at this point whether he will even be allowed to run.

Middle East and North Africa

Morocco

Moroccan police have arrested more than 20 people in the past two weeks in the country’s Rif region. Those arrested include Nasser Zefzafi, the head of the al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or Popular Movement, which has been instrumental in protests in the region since October 2016. The protests began after a fisherman was crushed to death by a garage compressor after he has climbed in to reclaim fish confiscated by the police. Rif has been an area of unrest since the government suppressed a rebellion there in 1958. The region is plagued by high unemployment, which protestors argue is because it is marginalised from the rest of the country. Protests in support have also taken place in the country’s capital, Rabat. The protests come as the reforms made following the Arab Spring in 2011 have stalled. The government has been criticised for its response to the demonstration, but the police are likely to continue arresting local activists.

Iran

Iranian authorities have arrested 43 people after militants killed 17 people in two attacks in the country’s capital, Tehran, on 7 June. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which occurred at the Iranian parliament and at the mausoleum of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The attackers failed to reach the main parliament building, and no members of parliament were killed in the attack. The Iranian minister of intelligence has announced the killing of the alleged mastermind and main commander of the attacks. The attacks on the highly symbolic targets are the first that Islamic State has claimed in Iran. The last attack on the Iranian parliament was in 1981, when an opposition group planted a bomb there that killed 27 parliamentarians.

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