World roundup: November 14-15 2020
Stories from Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Peru, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
November 14, 1965: The Battle of Ia Drang, the first major engagement between the United States and the North Vietnamese Army, begins. It ended on November 18 with both sides claiming victory, though the NVA’s ability to fight the much better armed US army to a draw was a boost to their morale and probably the battle’s most important effect.
November 14, 2001: Fighters with the Northern Alliance enter and occupy the city of Kabul, marking the effective end of the US war in Afghanista—just kidding. I had you going there for a second, didn’t I?
November 15, 1884: The Berlin Conference begins, with the goal of regulating European colonization of Africa. Its declaration obliged European powers to establish political control over their spheres of influence in Africa in order to claim possession of them. Sometimes identified as the beginning of the “Scramble for Africa,” though in actuality African colonization was already well underway and only sped up in the wake of the conference.
November 15, 1889: A republican military coup ousts Brazilian Emperor Pedro II, ending the Brazilian monarchy.
November 15, 1983: The “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” declares its independence, some eight years after the “Turkish Federated State of Cyprus” broke away from the Cypriot government after a pro-Greek military coup and the invasion of northern Cyprus by Turkish forces. Turkey is the only country that has diplomatically recognized the separatist state.
Worldometer’s coronavirus figures for November 15:
54,805,521 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide (15,351,197 active, +490,610 since yesterday)
1,324,025 reported fatalities (+6613 since yesterday)
6684 confirmed coronavirus cases (+71)
345 reported fatalities (+4)
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has died, according to Monday morning reporting on Syrian state TV. No additional details have been released as yet.
323,741 confirmed cases (+402) in Israel, 63,031 confirmed cases (+865) in Palestine
2732 reported fatalities (+11) in Israel, 565 reported fatalities (+7) in Palestine
The Israeli military attacked Hamas targets in Gaza on Sunday morning after two rockets were fired out of the Palestinian enclave late Saturday night. There have been no reports of casualties. Islamic Jihad was probably responsible for the rocket fire, but there’s rarely a claim of responsibility in these situations and Israel always holds Hamas responsible anyway, as it is the governing authority in Gaza.
The Israeli government has sped up plans to build 1257 new colony-settlements in East Jerusalem, no doubt so they’ll be a fait accompli by the time Joe Biden (presumably) takes office. The new settlements will cut East Jerusalem off from the West Bank city of Bethlehem, which would further imperil the chances of creating a Palestinian state if such a thing were still possible.
110,767 confirmed cases (+220)
6453 reported fatalities (+11)
With results from the second round of Egypt’s parliamentary election coming in, I’m sure you’ll be as stunned as I was to learn that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s favored Nation’s Future party is winning in a landslide. The details are irrelevant because the Egyptian parliament is irrelevant, and because—since Egypt conducts these elections in phases by region—the final outcome won’t be available until sometime next month.
762,068 confirmed cases (+12,543)
41,493 reported fatalities (+459)
Iranian authorities reported Saturday that three of their border guards were killed the day before in a gun battle with “terrorists” in West Azerbaijan province. Given the location that probably means Kurdish militants but as far as I know the Iranians didn’t go into detail. The Iranian military spent at least part of the day Saturday retaliating by shelling “counter-revolutionary terrorist groups” in the region, possibly across the border in Iraq where Iranian Kurdish militants tend to base themselves.
The Iranian government also denied over the weekend a New York Times claim that alleged al-Qaeda second in-command Abu Muhammad al-Masri (real name Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah) was killed on the streets of Tehran earlier this year. The NYT reported that Masri was killed by Israeli agents perhaps with US involvement. Iranian officials insist there are no al-Qaeda leaders in their country though there’s a fair amount of evidence to the contrary.
79,678 confirmed cases (+3020)
703 reported fatalities (+34)
Thousands of opposition supporters protested in Tbilisi again on Saturday, calling for an annulment of Georgia’s October 31 parliamentary election. The ruling Georgian Dream party won that vote with just over 48 percent of the vote, well ahead of the second place United National Movement and more narrowly ahead of a coalition of major opposition parties that includes UNM. The opposition has alleged numerous irregularities, including vote buying and voter intimidation.
117,337 confirmed cases (+1482)
1763 reported fatalities (+25)
Armenia’s National Security Service says it has thwarted an assassination attempt against embattled Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Details are sparse but former NSS boss Artur Vanetsyan and Republican Party member Vahram Baghdasaryan have apparently been arrested in connection with the alleged plot. Pashinyan is of course not a very popular guy these days, having signed a peace agreement amounting to surrender last week to end the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. The PM insists he had no choice, and his story gained a little credence on Saturday when his government revealed that the Armenian-Karabakh military (the line between the two is very blurry) lost at least 2317 soldiers in the fighting.
75,688 confirmed cases (+2259)
967 reported fatalities (+21)
Armenia was to begin returning parts of Azerbaijan to the control of the Azerbaijani government on Sunday, but as Eurasianet’s Joshua Kucera reports, the two sides have decided it would be better to slow things down a bit:
According to the Russia-backed agreement signed early in the morning of November 10, Armenian forces were supposed to withdraw from the region of Kelbajar by November 15.
That gave Armenians less than a week to manage several thorny issues: moving out thousands of Armenian residents of the territory, the status of the only currently operating road leading out of Karabakh, and the fate of a beloved medieval Armenian monastery on the territory.
But in the afternoon of November 15, Azerbaijan announced that it had agreed with Armenia to extend the deadline another 10 days. The delay was due to “the insufficient capacity of the only road leading from the Kelbajar region to Armenia,” said Hikmet Hajiyev, a senior adviser to Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, in a press briefing, adding that Azerbaijan agreed to the delay “out of humanitarian considerations.” As of the time this piece was published, Armenian officials had not commented.
Kelbajar is one of several regions around Karabakh that the Armenians occupied in the 1990s and now have to cede back to Baku over the next several weeks, under the terms of the aforementioned peace deal.
66,504 confirmed cases (+551)
1199 reported fatalities (+3)
Kyrgyz prime minister and acting president Sadyr Japarov resigned both of his posts on Sunday in order to run for president for real in an upcoming election scheduled for January. As acting president, Japarov was legally barred from standing in a presidential election. He’ll be replaced by parliament speaker Talant Mamytov as acting president and by deputy PM Artem Novikov as prime minister.
356,904 confirmed cases (+2443)
7141 reported fatalities (+32)
The Pakistani government declared on Saturday that it has hard evidence Indian intelligence operatives have been cultivating terrorist groups and using Afghanistan as a staging ground for attacks in Pakistan, particularly targeting Chinese infrastructure operations in Pakistan’s Baluchistan region. It didn’t go into detail but says it plans to submit that evidence to the United Nations in a bid to have India censured there. Both the Afghan and Indian governments have rejected the Pakistani claims.
86,338 confirmed cases (+13) on the mainland, 5459 confirmed cases (+14) in Hong Kong
4634 reported fatalities (+0) on the mainland, 107 reported fatalities (+0) in Hong Kong
A group of 15 nations—Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam—signed on to a new Asia-Pacific free trade agreement called the “Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership” on Sunday. The breadth of this arrangement and the involvement of a number of US allies probably represents a failure of the Trump administration’s efforts to rally the region against Beijing and suggests that the incoming (presumably) Biden administration isn’t going to have much of a honeymoon in terms of deciding how to approach issues of regional trade in terms of the US-China relationship.
73,602 confirmed cases (+974)
1017 reported fatalities (+22)
Libyan peace talks in Tunis appear to have hit a bit of a speed bump. After agreeing on a roadmap toward new elections in December 2021, the two sides adjourned on Sunday without agreeing on the terms for forming an interim government to manage the country through those elections. That said, just agreeing to on the roadmap was a major step and the sides plan to continue meeting virtually to try to organize the new government. So things still appear to be progressing.
293,177 confirmed cases (+4966) in Morocco, 10 confirmed cases (+0) in Western Sahara
4779 reported fatalities (+82) in Morocco, 1 reported fatality (+0) in Western Sahara
It appears that truck traffic between Western Sahara and Mauritania has resumed along a major highway that had been shut down in recent weeks by the separatist POLISARIO Front, so Morocco’s military intervention appears to be an early success in that regard. As to whether it’s sparked a full resumption of the Western Sahara conflict, it’s unclear. POLISARIO claims it’s “mobilizing” thousands of fighters and that its forces are battling Moroccan forces along the massive wall Morocco built across Western Sahara in the 1980s to isolate POLISARIO in the interior of the region, but there’s little by way of independent confirmation of the separatist group’s claims.
The United Nations is supposed to be overseeing the Western Sahara peace process, such as it is, but this dormant conflict has slipped so far out of the spotlight that when former German President Horst Köhler resigned as the UN’s Western Sahara envoy last year due to health concerns, the UN didn’t even bother replacing him. Clearly they were unprepared for this escalation.
102,720 confirmed cases (+399)
1569 reported fatalities (+4)
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front made the interesting decision over the weekend to fire rockets at the airport in Eritrea’s capital city, Asmara, a move that seems certain to widen Ethiopia’s nascent civil war unless Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed can convince Eritrean leader Isaias Afwerki to restrain himself. In Tigray regional president Debretsion Gebremichael’s defense, he and his fellow TPLF leaders are convinced that Eritrea is already involved in the war, after witnesses in the Tigrayan town of Humera described an attack earlier this month that seems to have come from the direction of the Eritrean border. The TPLF also claims that the Ethiopian military has been flying drones out of a UAE-leased military base outside the Eritrean port city of Assab. It’s all a rich tapestry.
The Eritrean government has denied involvement, but give its issues with the TPLF it wouldn’t be that surprising if Eritrea was either working with the Ethiopian government or decided to take its own shot at the TPLF amid the chaos. The Ethiopians government continues to maintain a media and communications blackout in the Tigray region, which makes it almost impossible to verify any of the claims that anybody involved in this conflict is making.
If Eritrea does get involved in the war, that would probably increase the chances of further escalation, for example by drawing Sudan into the conflict. Then again, Khartoum may get involved anyway if the flow of refugees fleeing across the border into Sudan to escape the fighting doesn’t slow down. Some 25,000 people are believed to have entered Sudan in the roughly two weeks since this war began, which is approximately 25,000 more than the Sudanese government can handle. The United Nations is trying to set up a refugee relief operation but those kinds of things don’t click into place overnight.
The TPLF has also tried to widen the war into other parts of Ethiopia. In addition to Asmara’s airport, the Tigrayan forces also fired rockets at two airports in Ethiopia’s Amhara region late Friday night. At least two soldiers were reportedly killed in those strikes, which targeted military facilities at those airports that have presumably been involved in the Ethiopian military’s war effort. A large number of Amhara militia fighters are reportedly matriculating toward the front line in the Tigray region, both to bolster the Ethiopian army and to press their own inter-communal hostilities toward the Tigray.
Last but probably not least, unknown gunmen attacked a bus and reportedly killed at least 34 people in Ethiopia’s Benishangul-Gumuz region late Saturday. It seems unlikely that this attack (and there apparently have been unconfirmed reports of other attacks like it in other parts of Benishangul-Gumuz) had anything to do directly with the war in the Tigray region, but Ethiopia has a plethora of potential inter-communal or inter-militia conflicts simmering away aside from the one between the TPLF and…well, everybody else. As Ethiopian security forces are drawn away from other parts of the country to press the war against the TPLF, it may create room for other groups to work out their aggression on one another—or on civilians.
89,279 confirmed cases (+507)
2019 reported fatalities (+13)
It would appear that former Moldovan prime minister Maia Sandu has won Sunday’s presidential election runoff against incumbent Igor Dodon. Moldovan election officials have Sandu taking somewhere around 56-57 percent of the vote in the head-to-head matchup. Sandu finished slightly ahead of Dodon in the first round of voting earlier this month so her victory is probably not a huge surprise. While the actual powers of Moldova’s president are pretty circumscribed, Sandu favors greater engagement with the European Union while Dodon is a pro-Russia euroskeptic. So her election may re-balance Moldovan foreign policy a bit. It’s unclear how she’ll get along with Prime Minister Ion Chicu, whom Dodon picked to lead a minority government last fall after Sandu’s government lost a no confidence vote.
7178 confirmed cases (+127)
39 reported fatalities (+0)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited northern Cyprus on Sunday to mark the anniversary of the Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in 1983 and to the consternation of the Cypriot government. He visited the former resort town of Varosha, which was emptied out in 1974 because it sits on the border between the Greek and Turkish portions of the island but whose beaches were reopened by the Turkish Cypriot government back in October. While there, casually suggested that maybe the best solution to the problem of a divided Cyprus would be one that results in two independent states, one Greek and the other Turkish. Erdoğan says a lot of things and to be honest we usually don’t cover them here because often he’s just talking to hear himself talk. But in this case, since Erdoğan is probably the biggest current obstacle to Cypriot reunification, his words are worth noting. If Erdoğan wants a “two-state solution” on Cyprus, he has the power to force it to happen—or, at least, to prevent a “one-state solution” from taking shape.
937,011 confirmed cases (+2112)
35,231 reported fatalities (+54)
Unsatisfied with having had three presidents in the last four years, the Peruvian government has decided to take things a step further and have four presidents in four years—or, really, five presidents in five years. That’s because new interim Peruvian President Manuel Merino, who only took that job a few days ago, resigned on Sunday in what I assume is a fair amount of disgrace. Merino was forced to resign by the Peruvian public, whose fury at the impeachment and ouster of former President Martín Vizcarra on Monday only seems to have grown in the days since. The new interim president’s fate was sealed when Peruvian security forces apparently killed at least two protesters late Saturday (another 112 people were injured and 41 are missing). It seems almost certain that he too would have been impeached (or worse, if the Peruvian military had gotten involved) had he attempted to remain in office. Under Peruvian law he may have been held liable for the violence of the past several days and could still be liable, though he may be able to escape any consequences now that he’s resigned.
Needless to say, Peru is now in a bit of a constitutional crisis, though the public jubilation over Merino’s resignation has obscured the political chaos a bit. In a very technical legal sense, the acting president of the Peruvian Congress, Luis Valdez, would seem to have the strongest claim to replace Merino, but since he was only “acting” president (he replaced Merino in that job when Merino became acting president), his legal claim isn’t really that strong. The Congress could in theory elect a member of the legislative bloc that didn’t vote to remove Vizcarra in an attempt to quell the protests. Or Vizcarra himself could return. He’s filed suit with Peru’s Constitutional Court over what he claims was the misuse of the fairly ambiguous term “moral incapacity” in justifying his impeachment. If the court rules that he was unlawfully removed from office it’s conceivable it could order his restoration, though that might only complicate things further.
7590 confirmed cases (+22)
131 reported fatalities (+0)
Western Union plans to shut down its Cuban operations as of November 23 due to new sanctions the Trump administration has imposed on its Cuban partner, Fincimex. That will effectively block Cuban expats from sending remittances back home, which could deal a huge blow to the Cuban economy. Which is, of course, the point. The administration has suggested it will allow remittances to continue if Fincimex, which is part of a Cuban military conglomerate and takes a cut of all remittance money, were removed from the process.
11,366,379 confirmed cases (+138,249)
251,832 reported fatalities (+579)
Finally, new acting defense secretary Christopher Miller delivered his first remarks to the US military on Saturday since being named to that post last Monday. He suggested he really may have been placed in his new gig to oversee a US withdrawal from Afghanistan:
Newly appointed Pentagon chief Christopher Miller on Saturday signaled that he might accelerate the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and Iraq, in line with President Donald Trump's pledge to end US involvement in foreign wars.
“We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it's time to come home,” the acting defense secretary said in his first remarks to the US armed forces.
“We are not a people of perpetual war — it is the antithesis of everything for which we stand and for which our ancestors fought. All wars must end.”
Fortunately, Miller then pivoted back from the brink of sanity:
“This war isn’t over. We are on the verge of defeating al-Qaida,” he said, adding that the US “must avoid our past strategic error of failing to see the fight through to the finish.”
In order for the US to be “on the verge of defeating al-Qaeda” somebody would have to define what “defeating al-Qaeda” actually means. But since there’s no definition that means we can be perpetually on the “verge” of doing it without ever actually getting over the hump. That’s how you get perpetual war, which seems very much to be the thesis of everything for which we stand these days.