Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 16 August 2017: Major protests take place against Venezuela’s new constituent assembly, last surviving founding leader of al-Shabaab defects, tensions between United States and North Korea increase further

The weekly briefing, 16 August 2017: Major protests take place against Venezuela’s new constituent assembly, last surviving founding leader of al-Shabaab defects, tensions between United States and North Korea increase further

by Kirsten Winterman, Matthew Clarke and Chris Abbott

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: Deaths in violence following general election in Kenya; Last surviving founding leader of al-Shabaab defects to Somali government.

Americas: Apparent white supremacist kills woman and injures 19 others protesting against Unite the Right rally in United States; Major protests take place against Venezuela’s new constituent assembly.

Asia-Pacific: Tensions between United States and North Korea increase further after Pyongyang threatens US military bases in Guam; Ruling coalition in Australia threatened by deputy prime minister’s newly-revealed dual nationality.

Europe and Central Asia: British chancellor and international trade secretary state that United Kingdom will leave the European Economic Area in March 2019 alongside leaving the EU; Russian technology regulator adds Snapchat app to register of information distributors.

Middle East and North Africa: Unrest continues in predominantly-Shia town of Awamiya in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province; Fighting breaks out between government troops and rebel fighters in town near South Sudan’s border with Ethiopia.

Africa

Kenya

Twenty four people have been killed in violent clashes between police and supporters of the leader of the opposition National Super Alliance, Raila Odinga, following the general election in Kenya on 8 August. The incumbent president, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his Jubilee Party of Kenya won the election, which both local and international observers have declared free and fair; however, Odinga has claimed that the result was fixed. Despite the violence, Odinga’s call for a mass strike in protest at the result was largely ignored. International commentators, including the EU’s foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, have urged Odinga to seek redress through the courts – a move that the opposition leader has publicly rejected.

Somalia

The last surviving founding leader of al-Shabaab, Mukhtar Robow, has defected to the regional government in Somalia and been airlifted to the country’s capital, Mogadishu. Robow split from al-Shabaab in 2013 following conflict within the group’s leadership. He surrendered to government forces in southwestern Somalia on 13 August after he and his supporters had been battling al-Shabaab fighters for a week. Robow’s surrender is the culmination of months of talks. It is unclear whether any bargain was reached with the former military commander and spiritual leader of al-Shabaab for his surrender, but it is thought that Robow reached his final decision after the United States cancelled a $5 million reward for his capture in June. Despite losing most of its territory, including Mogadishu, to Somali government and African Union troops, al-Shabaab remains a considerable threat – frequently carrying out attack on civilian and military targets in Somalia.

Americas

United States

On 12 August, an apparent white supremacist killed a woman and injured 19 others when he deliberately drove his car into a crowd protesting against the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The suspect, James Fields, fled the scene in his vehicle, but police later arrested him on suspicion of second-degree murder. Fifteen other people were injured in separate incidents as far-right protesters and anti-fascism protesters clashed ahead of the white nationalist rally. Two Virginia State Patrol troopers also died when their helicopter crashed in a wooded area near Charlottesville after monitoring the rally. The events have caused outrage across the United States. The US president, Donald Trump, was heavily criticised for condemning the violence on all sides without directly denouncing the far-right demonstrators. There has been a dramatic rise in the prominence of right-wing movements, such as the alt-right, in the United States following Trump’s election to the White House last year. Charlottesville has been the scene of several far-right demonstrations after the city council voted in February to remove a statue of the Confederate Army commander Robert E. Lee from a park in the city.

Venezuela

Venezuela’s new constituent assembly was sworn in on 4 August and met for the first time on 12 August. Major protests against the assembly broke out the next day over fears that it will move to replace the existing legislative branch of the government and shore up the position of the country’s embattled president, Nicolás Maduro. On 13 August, 20 people in military uniforms attacked Fort Paramacay military base in Valencia in the north of the country in order to re-establish ‘constitutional order’. Military personnel killed two of the attackers, wounded one and captured seven. Ten of the attackers escaped after stealing weapons from the base, though two have subsequently also been captured. The US president, Donald Trump, announced that he would not let a neighbour collapse into dictatorship, and suggested that military intervention might solve the crisis. The US vice-president, Mike Pence, then suggested that the White House was also considering economic sanctions. Both sides of conflict in Venezuela rejected the US announcements, with the opposition fearing that their democratic attempt to change the government will be associated with ‘US imperialism’ and dismissed as a coup attempt.

There are fears that new constituent assembly will replace the existing legislative branch of government in VenezuelaClick To Tweet

Asia-Pacific

North Korea

Tensions between the United States and North Korea have further increased over recent weeks. The White House made a series of demands that Pyongyang ends its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests, North Korea claimed that it could reach Washington with nuclear weapons, and the US Air Force completed a fly-by of B52 bombers near North Korea. Then, North Korea warned that it is considering its options for launching ICBMs into the waters around the US military bases on Guam in the western Pacific Ocean. North Korean military planners are reportedly going to present the plan to Kim Jong-un and his advisers in late August or September. The US president, Donald Trump, responded to the threat by warning that the United States is ‘locked and loaded’ and stating that any move that threatens the United States would be met with force. A US military response to threats alone is unlikely at this point, as any intervention would likely turn into a protracted conflict and jeopardise South Korea’s security. Instead, the United States is seeking further sanctions against North Korea from the UN Security Council. However, a US retaliatory strike in the event of a North Korean attack on Guam or other US interests is highly likely. North Korea has recalled its foreign ambassadors to discuss the ongoing situation.

A US military strike is only likely in event of a North Korean attack, not in response to threats aloneClick To Tweet

Australia

The position of Australia’s deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, has been called into question after the New Zealand government confirmed on 14 August that he is a dual Australian-New Zealand national. Joyce was born in Australia, but his father was born in New Zealand. Australian law does not allow dual nationals to be MPs, though the country’s solicitor-general does not believe Joyce is in breach of the constitution. Joyce is one of five senators who have recently been implicated in dual-nationality claims. Two of the senators have been forced to resign, and two are joining Joyce in an appeal to the high court. Joyce is the leader of the National Party, the junior partner of the ruling conservative coalition, which holds a majority of one in the federal parliament. Should Joyce resign, the subsequent by-election could see the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, lose his majority – forcing him to draw together a weakened, broader coalition.

Europe and Central Asia

United Kingdom

In a joint newspaper article on 13 August, the British chancellor, Philip Hammond, and the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, stated that the United Kingdom will leave the European Economic Area (EEA) in March 2019 alongside leaving the EU. This would take the United Kingdom out of both the common market and the customs union. The announcement comes amid a series of reports from the UK government on what it wishes to see post-Brexit. This includes potential arrangements for the United Kingdom’s only land border with the EU – the border between Ireland (which is part of the EU) and Northern Ireland (which is part of the United Kingdom). The reports are designed to demonstrate unity among the cabinet following contradicting announcements from ministers. While there may now be a concerted effort to get the faltering negotiations with the EU back on track, the damage to working relationships may already be done – certainly while Theresa May remains prime minister. It is increasingly likely that the United Kingdom will need to ask for extra negotiating time if it is to avoid rushing through a deal that suits neither those in favour of leaving the EU nor those wishing to remain within the union.

Russia

On 11 August, the Russian technology regulator, Roskomnadzor, added the popular Snapchat app to its register of information distributors. The US-based messaging app will now be required under Russian law to keep all messages for six months, make messages accessible to Russian security services and hand over encryption keys when asked. The Kremlin claims that such rules are necessary for counter-terrorism efforts, but critics fear that the government will abuse the law in order to keep track of the communications on non-terrorism suspects, such as NGOs and the political opposition. While Snapchat has refused to comply with the rules, as have Facebook and WhatsApp – meaning that they may lose access to the Russian market – the Telegram messaging app and Russia’s equivalent of Facebook – VKontakte – have reportedly signed up to the Roskomnadzor register  and agreed to the rules.

Middle East and North Africa

Saudi Arabia

Unrest has continued in the predominantly-Shia town of Awamiya in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province. The Shia population has long complained of marginalisation, but the recent increase in tensions has resulted from the Saudi government’s attempt to destroy the old part of Awamiya. The government claims that the area’s narrow streets are used by Shia militants. Human Rights Watch claims that the Saudi security have significantly damaged civilian infrastructure in the town and left hundreds of people displaced. The town is well known as a hub for Shia dissent, and was at the centre of protests in the Kingdom in 2011. While Saudi Arabia claims that its efforts have cleared ‘terrorists’ from Awamiya, the move is in line with the recent government offensive against groups it deems as loyal to Iran.

South Sudan

Heavy fighting broke out between South Sudanese troops and rebels loyal to the country’s former vice-president Reik Machar on 11 August. The fighting took place in the strategically-important town of Pagak, which is on a road connecting South Sudan and Ethiopia. The rebels had been using the town as a base to smuggle arms and other supplies from Ethiopia, but government troops captured it on 7 August. A rebel spokesperson claimed on 12 August that they had retaken the town; however, this is contested by the government, which argues that they remain in control of Pagak despite the fighting.

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