World roundup: March 2 2023
Stories from Israel-Palestine, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
March 1, 1811: Having invited the leaders of the Mamluk community to his Cairo citadel for a celebration, Egyptian ruler Muhammad traps them in a courtyard and has his soldiers massacre them. The incident brought the Mamluk order to an abrupt end after some 450 years (with brief interruptions) at the top of the Egyptian political hierarchy.
March 1, 1896: An Ethiopian army under Emperor Menelik II defeats an Italian army under Oreste Baratieri, the governor of Italian Eritrea. Their defeat forced the Italians and their local allies to retreat to Eritrea and brought the First Italo-Ethiopian War to an end with an Ethiopian victory. The Italians would, of course, be back a few decades later.
March 2, 1962: The Burmese military, led by General Ne Win, overthrows the country’s civilian government in a coup. The military stepped in amid widespread public opposition to the government, which was accused of corruption and incompetence, and fears that the government’s weakness might cause the country to break apart. It kicked off a period of military or essentially military rule in Myanmar that ended…well, I’m sure it will end one of these days.
March 2, 2002: The US military begins Operation Anaconda in Paktia province, the first large-scale battle in the War in Afghanistan. The battle ended on March 18 with a decisive US/coalition victory.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
According to the International Energy Agency, human beings spewed more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2022, 36.8 gigatons (0.9 percent higher than 2021), than ever before (at least on record), so…congratulations? We…did it? Apparently it’s not all our fault—heat waves increased the demand for electricity and droughts made hydropower less feasible and thus forced greater use of fossil fuels. As to what caused the heat waves and droughts, it’s probably best not to think about it. Apparently the IEA was expecting emissions to be even higher, so while this is an extremely bad outcome it’s not as bad as it could have been.
UK naval forces in the Gulf of Oman reportedly seized another shipment of arms, this time anti-tank missiles and parts for ballistic missiles, that was probably bound for Yemen from Iran. The seizure, which was announced on Thursday but took place on February 23, is one of several such intercepts by European naval forces in the region in recent weeks. The US has been pushing European states to take a greater role in policing maritime traffic in the Persian Gulf-Red Sea region and this seems to indicate that they’re doing so.
According to Palestinian health officials, Israeli occupation forces shot and killed one Palestinian teenager and wounded another near the northern West Bank town of Qalqilya on Thursday. The Israeli military says that a group of Palestinians began throwing rocks and/or fireworks at their soldiers, who reasonably responded with lethal force. This makes at least 64 Palestinians killed so far this year.
Israeli authorities have reportedly lifted the semi-blockade they imposed on the West Bank city of Jericho after the shooting incident on Monday in which a US national was killed. The Israelis had restricted movement into and out of the city as part of their effort to find the shooter, which they apparently did in a raid on the Aqabet Jaber refugee camp on Wednesday. Israeli forces arrested three people and killed one during that operation, and the man they killed was Monday’s suspected shooter.
Elsewhere, authorities have arrested five people in connection with Sunday night’s settler-driven pogrom in the West Bank town of Huwara. Hundreds of settlers participated in that rampage, so while five arrests is a bit more reasonable than the zero arrests that had been made as of Wednesday that’s still a pretty tiny percentage of all the rioters. Israeli officials are saying they expect to make more arrests.
The US Treasury Department on Thursday blacklisted several firms (it’s unclear how many) allegedly involved in Iran’s petrochemical industry and shipping business. The department also designated 20 shipping vessels.
The Pakistani rupee dropped as low as 284 per US dollar on Thursday, which is apparently a record low, before rebounding slightly to land at 279 per dollar. The rupee is in decline mostly because negotiations between the Pakistani government and the International Monetary Fund over the release of bailout funds have gone nowhere, even as Pakistani officials have been trying to meet the IMF’s austerity demands. In fact, the Pakistan central bank raised its key interest rate by 300 basis points on Thursday at the IMF’s behest, which in theory could help a bit with high inflation—but only a bit.
The Vietnamese National Assembly elected Võ Văn Thưởng, the standing secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party Secretariat and the youngest member of the party’s Politburo, as president on Wednesday. The party had nominated him for the job the previous day. He replaces Nguyễn Xuân Phúc, who resigned in January amid a fairly wide ranging corruption probe. Thuong’s accession may signify that he’s the heir apparent to Nguyễn Phú Trọng as party general secretary, though that’s speculation.
Although Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission has declared ruling All Progressives Congress party candidate Bola Tinubu the winner of last weekend’s presidential election, several opposition parties have announced their intention to challenge the results in court. They’re led by the Labour Party and its presidential candidate, Peter Obi, whose popularity especially among younger Nigerians led a number of observers to pick him as the favorite heading into Saturday’s vote, only for him to finish a somewhat surprising third behind Tinubu and People’s Democratic Party candidate Atiku Abubakar.
The legal standard for overturning an election is necessarily quite high and no previous Nigerian election has been undone in that way. On the plus side, there doesn’t seem to be much indication of public unhappiness with the outcome—or, to be sure, public happiness with Tinubu’s victory. So right now, at least, there doesn’t seem to be much risk of unrest.
The mayor of the embattled town of Las Anod, Abdirahim Ali Ismail, told reporters on Thursday that some 210 people have been killed and 680 wounded since fighting began nearly a month ago between local militias and Somaliland regional security forces. Some 200,000 families are believed to have fled the violence. The fighting began when local leaders declared their support for the federal Somali government and thus effectively seceded from Somaliland, which declared its independence from Somalia in 1991 but has not been recognized internationally.
Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the Ukrainian government for what he called a “terrorist attack” in western Russia’s Bryansk oblast on Thursday. Details are sketchy but according to the Russians a group of pro-Ukraine gunmen shot up several civilian vehicles in that province, killing at least two people and wounding a third. Additionally, a Russian National Guard vehicle ran over a landmine near a village in Bryansk, wounding four personnel. Ukrainian officials have denied direct involvement in the incident, and a pro-Ukraine Russian militant group called the “Russian Volunteer Corps” claimed responsibility for the incursion and also says its fighters briefly seized control of a second Bryansk village. This is the second time violence in Ukraine has spilled into Russia this week, following the apparent Ukrainian drone incursion on Monday evening.
Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin published a video via Telegram on Thursday that he says shows his company’s mercenaries inside Bakhmut. If true that would signify a major development in the Russian advance on that city. The battle around Bakhmut is by all accounts quite heavy and it feels like a matter of time at this point before it’s in Russian hands. Despite this, there’s still no indication that Ukrainian forces are preparing to withdraw.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration is reportedly set to announce a new $400 million arms package for Ukraine on Friday. It’s likely to be mostly or entirely ammunition.
Hungary’s parliament has decided to delay a vote on Swedish and Finnish NATO memberships until at least March 20, throwing a new wrinkle into the accession process. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has said that lawmakers need “clarification” from both the Swedish and Finnish governments about unspecified “blatant lies” that politicians in both countries have allegedly been spreading about Hungarian politics. But he hasn’t really said what that “clarification” would need to entail and it feels like he’s grasping for a rationale for a policy he’s pursuing for other reasons.
Orbán has rhetorically expressed support for both membership bids while steadfastly refusing to put that support into action. It’s possible he’s trying not to alienate Moscow by approving the bids but also doesn’t want to alienate other NATO members by quashing them. Unfortunately for him he’s going to have to do one or the other eventually.
Jacobin’s Daniel Finn argues that its past time to excise Thatcherism from UK politics—but there’s no political movement to do so:
In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher established an economic model based on the supremacy of finance and the subordination of organized labor that made her the toast of neoliberals around the world. Every British government since then has built upon the Thatcherite model without attempting to transform it.
The disastrous results of Thatcherism and its extension under the banner of austerity after the 2008 crash are now visible all around us. Yet the country’s political class has no appetite for the radical reforms that are so badly needed.
This applies to the Labour opposition as well as the Conservative incumbents who have been responsible for the worst of the damage. Despite enjoying a big polling lead, Labour under Keir Starmer seems determined to offer as little as possible, hoping to coast into office without any ambitious plans for social change.
The US Commerce Department on Thursday blacklisted 37 entities for a variety of reasons, including support for the Russian and/or Chinese militaries and for the military junta ruling Myanmar.
Finally, Hamed Aleaziz at The Los Angeles Times reports on the Biden administration’s efforts to fundamentally (and maybe permanently) make it harder to seek asylum in the United States:
U.S. immigration politics have shifted on their axis over the last 10 days.
Former President Trump and his administration spent years arguing that people who cross the border without permission should not be able to easily apply for asylum in the United States. That decades-old practice no longer works, Trump and his team insisted.
On Feb. 21, President Biden proposed a plan that amounts to an endorsement of his predecessor’s position.
International and U.S. law has long allowed people who cross borders to seek protection from persecution. But if implemented, Biden’s proposal would make it very difficult for migrants who travel through another country on their way to the U.S. and then cross the border without permission to win asylum here. The policy would roll back America’s longstanding commitments to people seeking asylum, placing strict limits on where and how those who flee persecution can apply for protection.
“We are moving toward a system where it is going to be much more difficult for anyone who crosses the border without authorization to get asylum,” said Yael Schacher, director for the Americas and Europe at Refugees International.
“We will never go back to what it was before Trump,” she said. “That’s what it feels like.”
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