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World roundup: October 29-30 2022
Stories from North Korea, Ethiopia, Ukraine, and elsewhere
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PROGRAMMING NOTE: With tomorrow being Halloween, I’m going to take a “play it by ear” approach to tomorrow’s regularly scheduled newsletter. In other words I’m going to plan on taking tomorrow off and rolling the news into Tuesday’s roundup, so if you’re a paid subscriber and don’t get a roundup tomorrow evening that will be why. However, if there’s a lot of stuff happening in the world then I’ll do one tomorrow.
THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
October 28, 312: Constantine defeats his rival Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. This battle is perhaps most famous for the religious vision that Constantine allegedly received the night before, which in later accounts was said to have been the “Chi-Rho,” the interlocking Greek letters that are the first two letters of “Christ” and thus became an emblem of Jesus. The battle left Constantine as the unquestioned ruler of the Roman west, with his fellow Augustus Licinius as ruler of the Roman east, and marks the end of Diocletian’s (d. 305) four emperor “Tetrarchy” system. Naturally the two Augusti eventually went to war with one another, with Constantine emerging victorious as the sole Roman emperor in 324. The vision Constantine allegedly received is considered the first step in Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, though it was still some time before he appears to have declared himself a Christian and he promoted the worship of Sol Invictus (“the Unconquered Sun”) for several years after this battle.
October 28, 1922: Sticking with Rome, Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Party begins the two day March on Rome that would end with its takeover of the Italian government. As Mussolini’s blackshirts approached the city, Prime Minister Luigi Facta called for martial law, but Italian King Victor Emmanuel III opted instead to get rid of Facta and make Mussolini his new prime minister.
October 29, 1929: The “Crash of ‘29,” which began with “Black Thursday” on October 24 and continued with “Black Monday” on October 28, ends with “Black Tuesday.” Over those final two days the US stock market lost roughly a quarter of its value. By July 1932 the Dow Jones Industrial Average stood at just over 40 points, down from roughly 380 in September 1929. The crash signaled the onset of the Great Depression, a global economic collapse that especially hit industrialized Western nations and those countries dependent on the West for trade and investment and that wouldn’t really end in many places until after the onset of World War II.
October 29, 1956: The Suez Crisis begins
October 30, 1270: The Eighth Crusade ends
October 30, 1340: The Battle of Río Salado
October 30, 1918: Ottoman leaders sign the Armistice of Mudros, ending the empire’s involvement in World War I and, as it turned out, its existence.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
An Islamic State suicide bomber killed at least four people in the southern Syrian city of Daraa on Friday evening. The target appears to have been a former commander in a Daraa-based faction of the rebel “Free Syrian Army,” who survived the bombing. According to The New Arab, ex-rebels in Daraa are coordinating some sort of anti-IS operation so that may explain the attack. There are allegations that the Syrian government may be supporting or encouraging IS activity in Daraa though I have no idea whether there’s any credence to those allegations.
Two fighters with the separatist Southern Transitional Council were killed on Saturday in fighting with Houthi rebel forces in southern Yemen’s Lahj province. Yemen still has not seen widespread fighting since the expiration of its ceasefire earlier this month, but every skirmish like this threatens to spark a resurgence in the conflict.
An explosion in eastern Baghdad killed at least ten people and wounded another 20 on Saturday. I’m unsure what to make of the reporting here. According to Reuters the blast was caused by “an explosive device attached to a vehicle,” which in turn caused a nearby gas tanker to explode. But Iraqi authorities seem to be characterizing this as an accidental explosion and the Reuters piece only briefly mentions a bomb before dropping it. Seems like it was probably an accident, but there’s still some uncertainty.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun left the presidential palace in Beirut on Sunday, one day before his term is set to end and with no replacement yet named. The Lebanese parliament has met four times to try to choose a successor and has failed all four times, and there’s no indication MPs are going to reach an accord before their fifth attempt, whenever that will be. Lebanon has gone through periods without an elected president in the past, with the office’s powers passing temporarily to the prime minister. In this case, however, Prime Minister Najib Mikati is himself only serving in a caretaker capacity, as parliament has been unable to form a government since May’s election. He’ll presumably now be both interim PM and interim president, which means he’ll have no legitimacy in either capacity.
A Palestinian gunman killed an Israeli settler and wounded four others near the West Bank city of Hebron on Saturday before being killed by a security guard. There was one other Palestinian man wounded in that incident and the Israelis have arrested at least three people in connection with it. On Sunday, Israeli shooters killed a Palestinian man who allegedly tried to ram his car into a police officer and civilian near the West Bank city of Jericho. Both of them opened fire on the car, joined by a nearby group of soldiers. At least 29 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security personnel across the West Bank over the course of this month.
The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hossein Salami, decreed that Saturday would be the “last day of the riots,” “riots” being the Iranian government’s preferred euphemism for protests that began with the death of Mahsa Amini last month. I guess he forgot to consult with the protesters, though, because demonstrations continued through the night and into Sunday. As has been the case throughout this unrest, the heaviest activity has been taking place in Iran’s Kurdistan province and on college campuses across the country. The NGO Iran Human Rights estimates that Iranian security forces have killed at least 160 protesters since these demonstrations began on September 16, and that excludes the 93 people killed in an uprising in the city of Zahedan on September 30 sparked by an incident that was unrelated to Amini’s death.
Pakistani security forces battled unspecified militants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Saturday. At least two Pakistani soldiers and an unspecified number of militants were killed in the engagement. Given the location it’s likely these were Pakistani Taliban fighters but that’s just my speculation. Separately, Pakistani authorities say they’ve arrested a man in connection with the murder of the former chief justice of Baluchistan province a couple of weeks ago. That attack was carried out by the separatist Baluchistan Liberation Army.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah on Saturday accused former Prime Minister Imran Khan of using his march on Islamabad as cover for an armed assault on the Pakistani capital. Sanaullah produced an audio recording purportedly involving one of Khan’s aides in which the speakers discuss “arranging weapons and men” in the vicinity of Islamabad. The authenticity of this recording can’t be verified, but Sanaullah’s decision to release it may be part of building a pretext for a violent response to the march as it approaches Islamabad. On the road, meanwhile, Khan halted the march near the city of Gujranwala on Sunday due to the death of a journalist accompanying it. The reporter was attempting to get a quote from Khan but fell from the truck carrying him and was crushed under its wheels.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price had to insist to reporters on Friday that there’s been no change in US policy toward North Korea. Why, you ask? Well, because Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Bonnie Jenkins told a conference in DC on Thursday that “arms control can always be an option” if North Korea is “willing to sit down at the table and talk.” The thing is, since North Korea became a nuclear weapons state in 2006 US policy has been that nothing less than full denuclearization is acceptable. While a shift in focus to arms control would probably be smart, given that North Korea is never going to give up its nuclear arsenal, it’s simply not something the US government is prepared to consider. What Jenkins likely meant was that the US would be willing to talk about arms control without formally acquiescing to North Korea’s nuclear status, her comments were vague enough to be interpreted as a change in policy.
Islamist fighters attacked a military convoy in Burkina Faso’s Est region on Saturday as they were reportedly returning from a “supply mission,” according to Reuters. At least 15 soldiers and militia auxiliaries were killed in the attack with four wounded and 11 still missing.
The Nigerien military conducted an airstrike in the Tillabéri region on October 24 targeting a gold mine where, it says, it killed seven militants who’d been involved in an earlier attack that killed two police officers. However, opposition politicians and an NGO called Turning the Page are claiming that an examination of the mine has turned up widespread destruction and dozens, possibly hundreds, of bodies—far more than authorities have acknowledged. They’re calling the attack a “massacre of gold miners.” Nigerien Interior Minister Hamadou Adamou Souley visited the mine on Sunday and rejected these allegations, claiming that the strike was precisely targeted to hit only the part of the mine where the attackers were holed up.
The Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front are still trying to make progress on some sort of ceasefire at their peace talks in South Africa. Meanwhile, the AP is reporting, based on local witness accounts, that the Eritrean military is committing a steady stream of atrocities as its forces participate in the latest Ethiopian offensive in the Tigray region. Residents of the towns of Adwa, Axum, and Shire are reporting that Eritrean soldiers have been killing civilians, looting homes and vehicles, and burning crops. In some cases they report Ethiopian soldiers trying to intervene but for the most part it sounds like the Eritreans have free rein. These allegations echo claims made about the behavior of Eritrean forces during the first phase of the Tigray conflict, which began in November 2020. Some of the worst atrocities of that early part of the war were attributed to Eritrean soldiers.
A “double-tap” car bombing killed at least 100 people and wounded more than 300 others in Mogadishu on Saturday. The initial blast apparently targeted the Somali Education Ministry and a nearby school, while the second bomb was timed to target first responders coming to the scene. There’s little doubt that al-Shabab was responsible, though as far as I know the group has not yet claimed responsibility.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
M23 rebels spent the weekend seizing the towns of Kiwanja and Rutshuru Centre in the eastern DR Congo’s North Kivu province. These advances put them just 70 kilometers outside Goma, the provincial capital. In response to the rebels’ continuing advance the Congolese government gave Rwandan ambassador Vincent Karega 48 hours to leave the country on Saturday. Congolese officials have accused the Rwandan military of supporting M23’s offensive and there does appear to be some evidence supporting that claim.
The Ukrainian military undertook an apparently substantial drone attack on Russia’s main Black Sea naval base in the Crimean city of Sevastopol on Saturday. It’s unclear how much damage this attack caused as Russian officials are claiming they completely repulsed it but there is video evidence that appears to show that at least the Admiral Makarov, a frigate currently in use as Russia’s Black Sea flagship, was damaged and possibly disabled. Two or three other ships may also have been damaged. The Ukrainian military hasn’t actually claimed credit for the attack but it’s hard to imagine another possibility. Moscow is accusing the UK military of assisting in the strike but British officials are denying that they were involved.
Following the attack, the Russian government announced that it’s suspending participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the deal it reached with Ukraine to permit food exports through the Black Sea back in July. It justified this decision by claiming that the ships that were attacked were involved with protecting the grain corridor and so that mission can no longer be carried out, which most likely isn’t true but that doesn’t really matter in any practical sense. The Russian decision, which according to Kyiv has abruptly stranded some 218 cargo ships in the Black Sea, is likely to cause a spike in global wheat prices when the market opens on Monday. That’s why it drew an angry rebuke from US President Joe Biden and expressions of consternation from a number of other world leaders.
I can understand their concern and I don’t say this to condone what Russia has done or is doing in Ukraine, but I’m not sure what they expected to happen. To be clear, there’s no direct linkage between this drone strike and the Grain Initiative, despite Moscow’s attempts to manufacture one. But even so, it’s unrealistic to wage war, by proxy or otherwise, on a country while also demanding that the government of that country behave according to your wishes. The three other parties to the Initiative—Ukraine and its two mediators, Turkey and the United Nations—are reportedly planning to go ahead on Monday with the transit of 16 ships through the corridor as though nothing has changed, to see if (or how) Moscow reacts.
On a less contentious note, the Russians and Ukrainians engaged in a prisoner swap on Saturday, with about 50 POWs being freed on either side.
Former Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš announced on Sunday that he intends to run in next year’s presidential election, where presumably he’ll be the preferred heir to his buddy, term-limited incumbent Miloš Zeman. The Czech presidency is a fairly weak office, but occupying it might give Babiš some legal protection from the corruption investigations currently swirling around his past business activities.
Elsewhere, tens of thousands of people participated in a “Czechia First”-style demonstration in Prague on Friday (a smaller protest was held in the city of Brno) to demand the resignation of current PM Petr Fiala and his government, and its replacement with a government that will stop supporting Ukraine. Friday’s demonstration appears to have been a bit smaller than the whopping 70,000 who turned out in Prague back in early September for the same purpose, driven to a large extent by the effect the European Union’s sanctions have had on the price of Russian energy imports. On Sunday, a similar-sized crowd reportedly turned out in Prague for a counter-protest to express support for Ukraine.
Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is now President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. By an extremely narrow margin, 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent, much smaller than pre-election polling suggested, Lula defeated incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in Sunday’s runoff. His inauguration will take place on January 1, assuming there are no surprises between now and then. Once in office, Lula will face a struggling Brazilian economy with little hope of a repeat of the commodities boom that helped fuel Brazil’s massive economic growth during his previous 2003-2010 stint as president. He’ll also face a Congress that will be hostile toward much of his agenda. But on the plus side his administration will make preserving the Amazon rainforest a priority, in contrast with Bolsonaro and his obsession with destroying it.
That of course assumes that he’s able to take office as planned. Bolsonaro has been widely expected to contest any unfavorable outcome, and he conspicuously refused to concede even as the final result was made public on Sunday evening. Earlier in the day his government engaged in outright voter suppression, with Federal Highway Police in Lula-friendly parts of northeastern Brazil setting up roadblocks in an attempt to prevent voters from reaching polling sites. That may explain Lula’s narrow margin of victory, though it’s also likely that the polls were simply wrong just as they were leading into the election’s first round earlier this month.
There are a number of items from Haiti:
Prominent Haitian politician Eric Jean Baptiste was killed along with his bodyguard in Port-au-Prince on Friday. There’s no indication as to responsibility, but with much of the Haitian capital heavily impacted by gang violence speculation has naturally run in that direction.
On Sunday, Haitian journalist Romelo Vilsaint was shot and killed in Port-au-Prince’s Delmas district when police fired on a group of journalists who were protesting for the release of a reporter who’d been arrested while covering a recent public demonstration. The reporting here seems to be carefully skirting the line in terms of saying that Vilsaint was killed by the cops but there’s no other interpretation to draw here.
Cholera is continuing to run rampant across Haiti and particularly in Port-au-Prince, where gang activity has limited access to clean water (which was already limited in the city’s poorer neighborhoods) and has forced hospitals to reduce hours due to fuel shortages. Officially the outbreak has left at least 40 people dead amid some 1700 suspected cases, but there’s plenty of reason to think that both of those figures are vastly undercounting the real extent of the problem.
Finally, TomDispatch’s Nick Turse looks back on a decade of reporting on US Africa Command:
What’s the U.S. military doing in Africa? It’s an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, straightjacketed in secrecy, and hogtied by red tape. Or at least it would be if it were up to the Pentagon.
Ten years ago, I embarked on a quest to answer that question at TomDispatch, chronicling a growing American military presence on that continent, a build-up of both logistical capabilities and outposts, and the possibility that far more was occurring out of sight. “Keep your eye on Africa,” I concluded. “The U.S. military is going to make news there for years to come.”
I knew I had a story when U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) failed to answer basic questions honestly. And the command’s reaction to the article told me that I also had a new beat.
Not long after publication, AFRICOM wrote a letter of complaint to my editor, Tom Engelhardt, attempting to discredit my investigation. (I responded point by point in a follow-up piece.) The command claimed the U.S. was doing little on that continent, had one measly base there, and was transparent about its operations. “I would encourage you and those who have interest in what we do to review our Website, www.AFRICOM.mil, and a new Defense Department Special Web Report on U.S. Africa Command at this link http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2012/0712_AFRICOM/,” wrote its director of public affairs Colonel Tom Davis.
A decade later, the link is dead; Davis is a functionary at Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona; and I’m still keeping an eye on AFRICOM.
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