Africa: Tanzanian president ignores calls to extend his presidential term by two years; Protests in Tunisia against increased taxes and rising prices of basic goods.
Americas: US president accused of making racist comments in White House meeting with lawmakers; Magnitude 7.1 earthquake hits Peru’s south-western Pacific coast.
Asia-Pacific: Bangladesh and Myanmar reach agreement to allow repatriation of up to 740,000 Rohingya; Efforts to stop stricken oil tanker sinking in East China Sea fail.
Europe and Central Asia: French president and British prime minister to sign new Calais border treaty; Protesters and police officers clash in Kiev as lawmakers consider reintegration of Donbas region.
Middle East and North Africa: Egypt’s president attempts to defuse recent rising tensions between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia; Suicide bombers kill 40 people in central Baghdad.
The Tanzanian president, John Magufuli, issued a statement on 13 January, ignoring calls by some members of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party to extend his presidential term beyond the constitutionally-mandated five years to seven years. Magufuli was elected in 2015, and has not yet indicated whether he will run for a second term in 2020. He can only challenge two successive elections according to the Tanzanian constitution. Tanzania has held five peaceful multi-party elections since 1995, and is viewed a fairly stable democracy. Opposition parties previously claimed an underhand plot to change the constitution, but the CCM claims that these calls have never been discussed in the higher tiers of the party and are therefore not relevant. Magufuli is popular due to his tough stance on corruption, though rivals have accused him of seeking to limit dissent.
Security forces have arrested over 700 people in Tunisia after a week of protests against a government plan to raise taxes and the prices of basic goods. The government implemented austerity measures on 1 January as part of a new budget in an attempt to kick-start the economy, which has struggled to grow since the revolution in 2011. The government has increased the prices of basic goods, including fuel, as well as taxes on internet, phone calls and cars. A spokesman for the UN office for human rights has called for restraint, and urged the Tunisian government to ensure freedom of assembly. The Tunisian Land Army has deployed over 2,000 troops across the country. Protests are expected to continue despite the large number of arrests.
On 11 January, the US president, Donald Trump, provoked national and international outcry for allegedly using offensive language during a meeting with senior US lawmakers at the White House. The bi-partisan meeting hoped to make progress on a bipartisan immigration deal. The president reportedly asked ‘Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?’ with reference to Haiti and various African countries. In response, African Union countries demanded an apology, and the UN human rights spokesperson, Rupert Colville, condemned the president’s comments as racist. Trump acknowledged that the language he used was ‘tough’, but accused the media of distorting his words. This latest controversy occurred against the backdrop of moves by the Trump administration to withdraw the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that applies to eligible nationals from 10 designated countries affected by armed conflict or natural disasters, including Haiti. Although it is possible that several key members of the US Congress will boycott Trump’s upcoming State of the Union Address over the comments, it is likely that the regularity with which the president causes offense will mean that media and public attention will soon move on to fresh controversy.The regularity with which the US president causes offense means that media and public attention will soon move on to fresh controversyClick To Tweet
On 14 January, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit Peru’s south-western Pacific coast about 40 kilometres southwest of the city of Acarí. Falling rocks killed one person and at least 65 other people suffered injuries. The affected area is relatively prone to earthquakes, as it is in a tectonically active region where the Nazca plate slides below the South American plate. Although some of the most urgent humanitarian aid is being delivered by military aircraft, it is likely that relief efforts will take days or even weeks, as damaged roads and homes are slowing down the rescue teams. The Peruvian president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, has will visit the affected area and its residents this week.
Bangladesh and Myanmar have reached an agreement to allow the repatriation of up to 740,000 Rohingya who fled the violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2016 and 2017. The refugees left Rakhine during a widespread military crackdown that followed a series of attacks on police outposts by a Rohingya militant group. Human rights groups have accused the Myanmar military of killings, rape and torture. The agreement allows for the voluntary repatriation of 300 people a day; the Bangladeshi government unsuccessfully pushed for a figure closer to 3,000 people per day. As it stands, the repatriations will take around seven years. Refugees have expressed doubts over the agreement, citing the need for the international community to assure their safety. It is unlikely that many refugees will return home in the short term given the treatment that they receive in Myanmar. In any case, Myanmar is unlikely to be able to meet the needs of the 9,000 or more returnees a month allowed under the agreement.
East China Sea
Efforts to stop the stricken oil tanker the Sanchi sinking in the East China Sea have failed. The tanker sunk with 136,000 tonnes of condensate, an ultra-light crude oil that becomes highly volatile when exposed to air and water. The crew of the ship are all missing, presumed dead. Efforts to stop the oil spill from spreading have begun. This includes spraying the area with chemicals designed to dissolve the oil; however, the slick has doubled in size in 48 hours. The wreckage has also continued to emit toxic smoke. The final quantity of oil spilled is less than the devastating Exxon Valdez spill, and it is hoped that some of the oil can be burnt off or will evaporate. Regardless, the spill of nearly one million barrels of ultra-light crude will cause massive environmental and economic damage.
Europe and Central Asia
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has said that France will no longer be Britain’s coastguard and will not allow a new refugee/migrant camp to form in Calais. At the height of the migrant crisis in 2015-16, up to 7,000 people from the Middle East and Africa lived in the Calais Jungle encampment as they attempted to illegally enter the United Kingdom via ferries and the Channel Tunnel. French authorities began demolishing shacks in the camp in March 2016 and forcefully evicted those remaining in the camp in October. Refugees and migrants are currently stopped from continuing on to the United Kingdom, as British border controls are established in France under the Le Touquet agreement. However, Macron has demanded re-negotiation of the agreement. As such, the United Kingdom and France will sign a new treaty on 18 January that will increase Britain’s contribution towards transport security and maintaining the border in Calais by £44.5 million. London has also agreed to speed up the procedures for accepting legitimate asylum seekers currently held in France, including unaccompanied children.
Protesters and police officers clashed in front of the Ukrainian parliament building, the Rada, on 16 January. The disturbance occurred amid a highly-sensitive negotiation among lawmakers over a bill aiming to legislate over the reintegration of the Donbas region of Ukraine that has been controlled by Russian-backed separatists in the aftermath of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Protesters demanding that the bill be approved and that Russia be recognised Russia as an aggressor state burned tires and set fire to Russian flags. The Kiev police had foreseen the possibility of clashes and deployed over 3,800 officers around government buildings, largely outnumbering the protesters. Proponents of the bill argue that the legislation is required for the peace process to move forward and to ensure the country’s internal security. If the bill is approved it will redefine the conflict in Ukraine, which has until now been officially referred to as ‘The Anti-Terrorist Operation’, but would in future be referred to as ‘Russian armed aggression’.
Middle East and North Africa
Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, made a televised statement on 15 January in an attempt to defuse recent rising tensions between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. The president stated that Egypt was not planning to go to war and would not intervene in the internal affairs of its neighbours. Tensions in the region have been increasing for a number of months due to Turkey’s relationship with Sudan. This includes Sudan controversially leasing the Red Sea island of Suakin to Turkey and supposed plans for a Turkish military base on the island. Egypt is also concerned that the completion of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which will become the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa, will lead to a significantly reduced share of freshwater from the Nile. Under current water agreements, Egypt receives the majority of water from the Nile. The Ethiopian government contends that the dam project is crucial for economic development and claims that it will not affect Egypt’s share of Nile water. It remains to be seen whether el-Sisi’s statement can dampen tensions in the lead up to the African Union summit to be held in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on 22-31 January.
Nearly 40 people died and over 100 suffered injuries in two explosions in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on 15 January. Two suicide bombers detonated their explosive belts in the busy Al Tayaran Square in central Baghdad. The death toll is expected to rise due to the number of people who were critically injured. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but it was likely the work of supporters of Islamic State. Two days earlier, a suicide bomber targeted a security checkpoint close to Aden Square, also in central Baghdad. Despite declarations by the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, that Iraqi forces and their allies had defeated Islamic State in Iraq in December, the recent attacks suggest that the rump of the militant group still poses a significant threat.