Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 15 November 2016: Moldova elects pro-Russia president, Ethiopia arrests 11,000 people during state of emergency, Iraqi forces liberate ancient city of Nimrud

The weekly briefing, 15 November 2016: Moldova elects pro-Russia president, Ethiopia arrests 11,000 people during state of emergency, Iraqi forces liberate ancient city of Nimrud

by Kirsten Winterman, Matthew Clarke and Raphaël Zaffran

Briefing

Summary

Africa: Ethiopia arrests 11,000 people during state of emergency; South African president survives third vote of no-confidence in parliament.

Americas: Republican Party candidate, Donald Trump, wins US presidential election; Haiti suffering another large-scale and multi-layered humanitarian crisis in aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.

Asia-Pacific: United States agrees to re-home up to 1,200 refugees currently held at Australian detention centres on islands of Nauru and Manus; two media executives arrested in Myanmar on defamation charges.

Europe and Central Asia: Belgium’s interior minister claims the leaders of Islamic State are recommending foreign fighters return to Europe to carry out terrorist attacks; Moldova elects pro-Russia president in first presidential election since 1996.

Middle East and North Africa: Iraqi forces liberate ancient city of Nimrud from Islamic State; Syrian government forces retake Rebel areas on western edge of Aleppo, reversing recent rebel gains.

Africa

Ethiopia

Officials in Ethiopia announced on 12 November that over 11,000 people have so far been arrested and detained during the state of emergency that was declared in the country on 9 October after months of anti-government protests by members of the Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups. The figure is significantly higher than the 2,500 announced at the end of October, but it is unclear how many of those arrested remain in prison. Social media and mobile internet remain blocked as part of the emergency decree, though the travel ban on diplomats has now been lifted, as the government claims that the situation across the country is now much more stable. Despite this, protests are expected to continue across the country, especially in the Oromia and Amhara regions.

South Africa

On 10 November, the South African president, Jacob Zuma, survived a third vote of no-confidence in parliament in less than a year. Despite facing increased criticism from within his own African National Congress (ANC) party, Zuma received a parliamentary majority, with 214 MPs voting against the opposition’s motion of no-confidence and 126 in support. The previous two votes have also been defeated by wide margins. However, calls for Zuma’s removal are likely to continue despite strong parliamentary support for the president. Furthermore, the ANC will elect a new party leader at the end of the year, making it possible that the party itself will replace Zuma as head of state before the end of his term in 2019.

Americas

United States

The Republican Party candidate, Donald Trump, won the US presidential election on 8 November. Trump’s victory defied most opinion polls and commentators, though his Democratic Party opponent, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, did win the popular vote – a paradox that has only occurred three times in US history (in 1876, 1888 and 2000). There are serious questions over Trump’s suitability for the role of US commander-in-chief: he will be the only US president to have never served in the military nor held public office; he has repeatedly expressed deeply divisive and highly offensive views; and he has consistently displayed traits that suggest a level of pathological narcissism. However, Trump adopted a moderate tone in his victory speech, and later signalled that he may not repeal Obamacare or pursue criminal charges against Clinton as previously pledged. This may suggest a stepping back from some of the more outrageous positions he took during the election campaign. Nevertheless, it is highly likely that Trump’s first 100 days in office will create further polarisation within American society, especially in relation to key issues such as abortion and immigration. Furthermore, with the Republicans in control of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the White House, Trump may face few obstacles to his eventual policy agenda.

Haiti

Haiti is suffering from yet another large-scale and multi-layered humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, which struck the country in early October. Over 1.5 million Haitians require urgent humanitarian assistance according to the government. The country was already struggling with the effects of three years of drought, and is now facing a serious food crisis, as the storm destroyed so much of the country’s crops and trees. Haiti’s health ministry is also reporting that the number of new cases of cholera in the country has doubled in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Haiti’s interim president, Jocelerme Privert, has called on the international community for help. The UN has launched an international appeal to raise $120 million in humanitarian assistance for Haiti, of which a third has already been pledged by the United States and the United Kingdom. Haiti’s successive humanitarian crises mean that the country’s infrastructure is poor, which is posing significant challenges for aid coordination, particularly in reaching the most remote communities.

Asia-Pacific

Australia

The United States has agreed to resettle some of the most vulnerable refugees currently being held at Australian offshore detention centres on the islands of Nauru and Manus. The facility at Nauru, in particular, has recently become a political embarrassment to the Australian government after a long campaign by human rights groups highlighted serious abuse at the centre and called for its closure. The one-time deal, agreed between the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the US secretary of state, John Kerry, came just days after Donald Trump won the US presidential election. Trump was not given prior notification of the deal, despite it contravening a number of his campaign positions. The Australian government has already said that it plans to shut the facility on Manus, and it is possible that it will use the agreement with the United States as an opportunity to close the Nauru facility as well in order to avoid further controversy.

Myanmar

On 11 November, police in Myanmar arrested the chief executive of Eleven Media Group, Than Htut Aung, and the company’s chief editor, Wai Phyo. Eleven Media Group prints several weekly news and sport publications in Burmese, and has won awards for their candid reporting of the military government. The pair have been arrested under defamation laws after a complaint by the Yangon Region government about an online article that made reference to alleged corruption by an unnamed chief minister. The Myanmar Press Council and several other media organisations and international human rights groups have called for their release. The executives will have their first hearing on 25 November, and are expected to be held without bail until then. The arrests come after Fiona McGregor was fired as special investigations editor at the Myanmar Times at the end of October for reporting that around 30 women had been raped by security forces. It is likely that there will be further government crackdowns on the media in Myanmar, raising fears that it is backsliding on the relative opening up of media, economic and civil rights in the country since November 2010.

Europe and Central Asia

Belgium

Belgium’s interior minister, Jan Jambon, has stated in an interview on 13 November that the leaders of Islamic State are recommending that foreign fighters return to Europe to carry out terrorist attacks. Islamic State has realised that the ‘caliphate’ is under threat, as Iraqi and Kurdish forces and their Western allies are poised to retake Mosul and anti-IS forces are closing in on Raqqa. Jambon estimates that 200 Belgiums are currently in Syria, with a further 117 having already returned to Belgium. Of those returned, half are in prison and the rest are under surveillance. France, the United Kingdom and Germany may have between 600 and 900 citizens each in Syria. As Islamic State experiences further defeats in Syria and Iraq, it may be that the group increasingly focusses on directing or inspiring attacks in Europe. As such, Europe will likely face an increased security threat over 2017, which may prompt heavier security measures in response.

Moldova

Moldova has voted to elect a new president for the first time since 1996. The country’s constitutional court overturned the policy adopted in 2000 that provided parliament with the power to elect the president. On 14 November, the pro-Russia candidate and former deputy prime minister, Igor Dodon, claimed victory over his pro-EU opponent, Maia Sandu, in the second round of the presidential election the previous day. Dodon has pledged to move away from Moldova’s recently strengthened ties with the EU and take his country into Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union. Dodon has also recommended transforming Moldova into a federal state as a way of addressing the long-standing conflict in the break-away region of Transnitria, where Russian troops remain stationed as ‘peacekeepers’ despite recent moves by Moldova and Ukraine to replace them with international observers. Although Dodon’s pro-Moscow and anti-EU stances have helped secure his election, it is highly likely that he will go back on his pledge to revoke Moldova’s association agreement with the EU, as this allows Moldovans to travel freely within the EU’s Schengen Area.

Middle East and North Africa

Iraq

Iraqi forces liberated the ancient city of Nimrud on 13 November as part of their offensive to re-capture Mosul from Islamic State. The area had been taken by IS militants in March 2015, and video footage subsequently emerged showing the destruction of the archaeological site. At the time, UNESCO described the act as a war crime. The smaller villages of Bawiza and Saada have also been liberated, but other archaeological sites, including the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh, are still under IS control. The Iraqi army and its allies are now four weeks into their campaign to re-take Mosul, and fighting will continue in the area for some months.

Syria

Syrian government forces retook areas on Aleppo’s western edges from rebel forces on 12 November, reversing gains made by the rebels in recent weeks. The recapture of the al-Minian area and increasing fighting in the al-Assad area comes after early victories for the rebel forces in an attempt to break the government’s siege of the city. Human rights groups have claimed that the rebel attempt has now failed, leaving over 500 dead in the latest effort. Russian air force activity has been temporarily suspended over eastern Aleppo since 18 October. The chair of the UN/ISSG Task Force on Humanitarian Access in Syria, Jan Egeland, warned on 11 November that unless there is a resupply of food, remaining food rations in the city will run out in the next week.

These weekly briefings are offered free of charge to non-profit organisations, journalists and concerned citizens. Governments and corporations using our political and security risk updates are asked to consider making a donation to Open Briefing.