Africa: Journalists arrested in Ivory Coast for spreading ‘false information’ about new mutiny led by security forces; Mohamed Abdullahi ‘Farmajo’ Mohamed becomes Somalia’s new president.
Americas: Senator Jeff Sessions confirmed as new US attorney general amid controversy over his repeated failure to defend minority rights; Panamanian prosecutors arrest founding partners of Mossack Fonseca over possible links with one of the Brazilian construction company at heart of Lava Jato corruption case.
Asia-Pacific: North Korea successfully tests Pukguksong-2 nuclear-capable ballistic missile; Indian military raid meeting between militant groups in Kashmir region.
Europe and Central Asia: Parisian city officials announce plans to build 2.5 metre glass wall around Eiffel Tower as counter-terrorism measure; Delegations from Syrian government and rebel forces invited to Kazakhstan for second round of indirect meetings on 15 and 16 February.
Middle East and North Africa: Rockets hit Baghdad’s Green Zone just hours after protestors attempt to storm the area; Syrian rebels and Turkish troops retake most of Al- Bab, Islamic State’s last stronghold in northern Syria.
At least six journalists were arrested in Ivory Coast on 12 February for spreading ‘false information’ about a new mutiny led by security forces. This may be linked to reports of special forces soldiers firing warning shots and taking to the streets on 7 February. The journalists were allegedly spreading the news in an attempt to encourage soldiers to revolt again just weeks after army protests over pay took place in Adiake in early January. The January protests ended after the government reached an agreement to pay the 8,500 rebel soldiers 12 million CFA francs each. The payout has angered other elements of the military, raising fears of fresh violence. It is possible that the government is attempting to stop the media from reporting on the unrest in an effort to control the situation.
Mohamed Abdullahi ‘Farmajo’ Mohamed became Somalia’s new president on 8 February. The former prime minister beat the incumbent president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, in a surprise result after two rounds of voting. Mohamud was quick to concede defeat as the country attempts to put together its first fully-functioning government in decades. The new president is a dual Somali-US citizen, but is seen as a Somali nationalist. Fears of attacks by al-Shabaab meant that the vote had to take place at the heavily guarded airport complex in the capital, Mogadishu. The new president’s main challenges are to tackle corruption and to securitise the country to ensure that the recent gains made against al-Shabaab are built upon.
Alabama Senator was officially confirmed as the new US attorney general on 8 February. Following heated hearings, the US Senate voted to confirm his appointment by a close margin, with the 52-47 vote split according to party lines. Critics of Sessions point to the fact that he has repeatedly failed to defend minority rights. While challenging Sessions’ confirmation, Senator Elizabeth Warren read a 1986 letter by Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, which highlighted the new attorney general’s poor record on protecting civil rights. Republicans used a seldom used rule to silence Warren, which provoked outrage within the Democratic Party. Sessions’ confirmation as US attorney general constitutes a possible threat to the rule of law, considering his record and his unwavering support for the president, Donald Trump. Trump fired the outgoing attorney general, Sally Yates, for refusing to uphold his controversial executive order on immigration. It is unlikely that the new attorney general will stand up to the president over future unlawful policies.New US attorney general represents a possible threat to the rule of law in the United StatesClick To Tweet
On 12 February, Panamanian prosecutors arrested the two founding partners of Mossack Fonseca. The law firm is being investigated for possible links with the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which is one of the companies caught up in the Lava Jato corruption case that has rocked Brazilian politics and implicated two former presidents, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff. Panama’s attorney general accuses Mossack Fonseca of instructing its Brazilian representative to conceal documents and remove evidence of illegal activities related to the case. Mossack Fonseca is the company at the heart of the 2016 Panama Papers scandal that followed the leak of millions of documents from the firm regarding offshore accounts, which shed light on a large-scale tax and sanctions evasion scheme involving wealthy individuals.
On 12 February, North Korea successfully tested the Pukguksong-2 nuclear-capable ballistic missile. The missile is described as a medium- to long-range, surface-to-surface missile. The exact range of the missile is unknown, but during the test it flew 300 miles and reached an altitude of 350 miles before crashing into the sea, potentially to avoid passing over Japan. The launch is in breach of UN Security Council resolutions that restricts ballistic missile testing by North Korea. Japan, South Korea and the United States have all called for an urgent Security Council meeting to discuss the test, with North Korea’s closest ally, China, remaining silent over the issue. Beijing has in the past repeatedly urged North Korea to exercise caution with its ballistic missile tests. Despite the international condemnation, it is unlikely that there will be any substantive action, such as sanctions or military operations, against Pyongyang in response to the latest test. North Korea will likely launch further similar tests as it apparently seeks to develop a ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States’ western coast.North Korea unlikely to face substantive action over its latest missile testClick To Tweet
Two Indian soldiers and a civilian were killed during a government raid against a meeting of militants from Hizbul Mujahedeen and Lashka-e-Taiba in Frisal village in the Kashmir region. Four militants were also killed in the 10-hour gun battle in which three militants managed to escape. The region of Kashmir is divided into a Pakistan-controlled district and an India-controlled district, and tensions along the border remain very high. Militants often carry out attacks against government forces in the region. In September 2016, militants stormed an Indian military base and killed 19 personnel, while Pakistan claimed that Indian shelling in November hit a bus and killed nine civilians. Each operation increases tensions along the border, but is seen as vital to stop militants taking over the region. The latest attack is likely to increase local animosity towards the Indian military, but may have set back discussions between the two militant groups to work together in the region.
Europe and Central Asia
On 9 February, Parisian city officials announced plans to build a 2.5 metre glass wall around the Eiffel Tower. Although subject to final approval, construction on the €20 million project is expected to start in late 2017. The announcement came less than a week after a soldier guarding the Louvre shot a man shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ who attacked a patrol with a machete. The day after the announcement, four suspects were arrested in Montpellier on suspicion of planning an imminent terrorist attack in Paris. The glass wall will the replace metal fences currently protecting the Eiffel Tower, and are designed to stop both individuals and vehicles from accessing the site. The move is yet another measure by a European capital attempting to increase security amid fears over further terror attacks. Without a collapse in Islamic State’s directed and inspired foreign operations, similar security measures are likely to be implemented at other sites in France and across Europe.
Kazakhstani authorities announced on 11 February that delegations from the Syrian government and rebel forces have been invited to Astana for a second round of indirect meetings on 15 and 16 February together with the United Nations’ Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura. The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, stated on 13 February that the talks would follow the same format as before, with discussions focussed on the political process in Syria and monitoring the previously-agreed trilateral mechanism for observing and ensuring a fragile ceasefire. However, the Astana meeting is likely to get off to a difficult start, and Syrian rebel leaders indicated that they might not attend the talks because of Russia’s failure to fully observe the ceasefire. The negotiations are likely to lead to continued stalemate if a sustainable ceasefire cannot be maintained. Furthermore, a roadmap toward realistic long-standing peace is unlikely to be achieved if future negotiations continue to largely ignore the problem posed by Islamic State and other militant groups, such as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra Front). The next round of official Syria peace talks in Geneva talks is due to begin on 23 February following diplomatic consultations on 20 February.
Middle East and North Africa
Rockets hit Baghdad’s Green Zone on 11 February just hours after protestors attempted to storm the area. The heavily-fortified Green Zone is rarely hit in this way due to the high levels of security. At least five people died and around 200 people were injured after police fired tear gas at the protestors. The protests were in support of the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and were primarily about reform of the electoral commission. The rockets were fired from the eastern Baladiyat district, which is home to many Sadr supporters. Sadr has accused the electoral commission of being corrupt, as the current commissioners are closely linked to political parties and therefore lack the necessary impartiality. He has demanded a full overhaul of the organization prior to the provincial vote due to be held in September. This is not the first time protestors have entered the Green Zone, and it is likely that protests against the electoral system will continue.
As of 14 February, Syrian rebels and Turkish troops have retaken most of Al- Bab, Islamic State’s last stronghold in northern Syria. Al-Bab has been besieged since 6 February when Syrian government forces approaching from the south cut off the main road leading into the town. Syrian government forces have been around 10 km south of the town since January 2016, and it was initially expected that the Syrian Army would attempt to retake the city. However, rebel troops entered Al-Bab on 12 February and took over key areas in the southwestern part of the city. It is currently unclear where Turkey and the rebels will advance to once Al-Bab is fully liberated.