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The Blog

Archive | The Blog

Obama Administration: Russia Fired Artillery into Ukraine

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Associated Press

The US says it has evidence that Russia has fired artillery across the border targeting Ukrainian military positions. Russia also intends “to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers” to pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, the state department said. Russia has frequently denied sending any rocket launchers into Ukraine.

The US comment comes a week after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed in eastern Ukraine, with the rebels widely accused of shooting it down. Multinational efforts to find the cause of the crash are under way, led by the Netherlands which lost 193 of its citizens. All 298 people on board the flight died in the crash.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has announced 40 unarmed military police are being sent to the crash site as part of efforts to find the last MH17 victims. He said there would be more people working on the crash site and his government was looking at ways to make it more secure.

The US, which has repeatedly accused Russia of fuelling separatist sentiment in eastern Ukraine, says it believes that rebels shot down flight MH17 with a Russian-provided SA-11 Buk surface-to-air missile, probably by mistake. Leading rebels in eastern Ukraine have given conflicting accounts of whether they had control of a Buk launcher at the time the plane was downed.

State department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters on Thursday the US had evidence derived from “human intelligence information” showing Russia firing artillery into eastern Ukraine. She said the US would not provide further details so as not to compromise sources and methods of intelligence collection.

Palestinians and Israelis Suffer Deadliest Day of Fighting in Gaza

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Reuters

Israel and Gaza have both suffered their bloodiest day since the beginning of the current offensive. Israel says that 13 of its soldiers died since Saturday night, the biggest one-day loss for its army in years. At least 87 Gazans were reported killed on Sunday – 60 of them in the district of Shejaiya alone. The total death toll in Gaza now stands at more than 425.

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Shias Embrace the Fight against ISIS

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Reuters
Reuters

Reuters

As Sunni militants in Iraq advance capturing one town after another, the Shias now appear to have decided to face them with their full collective might if the long lines of Shia fighters marching through Baghdad are of any indication. They constitute the Mahdi Army, the paramilitary force that once led a Shia rebellion against US troops. This time they are raising arms against ISIS, the Al-Qaeda splinter group that has driven Iraq’s security forces from parts of the country’s north and west.

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The Plight of Domestic Workers in Bangladesh

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Reuters

Upper and middle class Bangladeshi families are familiar with domestic workers, although they do not typically recognize them as “workers.” In Bangladesh, domestic workers are routinely denied a decent minimum wage, working hours, a healthy work environment, maternity benefits, and so forth and some are routinely victimized by their employers.

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Obama Orders Resources to U.S.-Mexico Border

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Chuck Kennedy/White House
Chuck Kennedy/White House

Chuck Kennedy/White House

President Barack Obama has directed immigration resources towards the US border with Mexico. The president announced he will use his own powers to “fix as much of our broken immigration system as we can.” The move comes as Republicans told Mr. Obama a sweeping immigration bill passed by the Senate last year will not see a vote in the House this year.

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China Sending Troops to South Sudan

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Alberto Gonzalez Farran/UN Photo

Al Jazeera asked me on 21 June 2014 to comment on the decision by China to send an infantry battalion of 850 troops to the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. I explained that these additional troops would join some 350 non-combat Chinese troops who have been part of the UN peacekeeping operation for the past several years. The Chinese contingent is part of an authorized UN force of 12,500 troops from many other nations.

This decision by China underscores that it is taking an increasingly robust role in protecting its security interests in Africa. The China National Petroleum Corporation controls 40 percent of the oil production in Sudan and South Sudan and Chinese companies built most of the oil infrastructure. Several hundred Chinese nationals work in South Sudan; some 300 have already been evacuated. When the oil fields in both Sudan and South Sudan are operating at full capacity, they provide about 5 percent of China’s imported oil.

America’s Middle East Quagmire

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Associated Press

Once again recent developments in Iraq have created grave implications for the larger Middle East. Yesterday’s fall of Mosul vividly shows that Iraq as we have perceived it in the past no longer exists. In the north, the Kurdish region has become semi-autonomous, and it will not be long before it declares independence. Iraq is entering into a deadly sectarian conflict that has seen Sunni militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seize Mosul, Tikrit, Falluja and Ramadi. But the situation is symptomatic of a deeper malaise: sectarianism mixed with Islamic radicalism which has produced a lethal virus that is spreading across the region.

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Arms and Ammunition Flowing into Sudan and South Sudan

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Reuters

Small Arms Survey published in May 2014 a lengthy report titled “Following the Thread: Arms and Ammunition Tracing in Sudan and South Sudan” by Jonah Leff, director of operations at UK-based Conflict Armament Research, and Emile LeBrun, consultant on small arms and light weapons issues.

The study concludes that older weapons from the eastern bloc and Iran, as well as newer weapons from China, predominate among all armed actors in Sudan and South Sudan. Sudanese security forces are the primary source of weapons to non-state armed groups in Sudan and South Sudan through deliberate arming and battlefield capture. Khartoum’s deliberate supplying of Chinese manufactured arms and ammunition to southern insurgents took place in apparent violation of end-user agreements with the government of China.

As Sudan has bolstered its arms manufacturing sector since the 1990s, Sudanese military equipment has increasingly appeared on the battlefield and in the hands of non-state armed groups. Sudanese-manufactured ammunition proliferates not only in Sudan and South Sudan, but also in other conflict zones such as the Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and Syria.

The government of South Sudan and southern insurgent groups have supplied arms and ammunition to civilians in South Sudan. South Sudanese armed groups are in possession of an increasing number of weapons whose factory marks and serial numbers have been removed, a tactic designed to undermine identification and tracing.

Petro Poroshenko: Fighting in Ukraine’s East ‘Must End this Week’

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State Dept. Photo

Deadly fighting in eastern Ukraine must end “this week,” Ukraine’s new President Petro Poroshenko has pledged. He was speaking at talks involving an envoy from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and Russia’s ambassador to Ukraine. Meanwhile, fighting has continued in and around the rebel-held city of Sloviasnk.

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Bloomberg Radio: Former Ambassador Price Says West should address Africa

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Associated Press
Associated Press

Associated Press

John Price, a former U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Mauritius, Republic of Seychelles, and Union of the Comoros, says Nigeria’s Boko Haram shows radical Islam is growing in Africa. Price talks with Bloomberg’s Pimm Fox and Carol Massar on Bloomberg Radio’s “Taking Stock” on May 22nd.

New $2 Billion Fund, China and the African Development Bank

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Asahi.com
Asahi.com

Asahi.com

According to the Financial Times, the Chinese and the African Development Bank will soon announce a contribution of $2 billion to an Africa-wide investment vehicle, “Africa Growing Together Fund.” Unlike most Chinese finance on the continent, this would be open to all companies to compete.

If it’s true (and it is still to be confirmed), this is a huge change and a very welcome one. While the multilateral banks are not immune from corruption and embezzlement challenges, they do have stakeholders that try to hold them accountable in a transparent process. That has not been the case with the Chinese policy banks. I suspect that Chinese firms will still win the majority of contracts but what an excellent tactic by a maturing Chinese leadership to make them compete internationally for their wins.

This kind of competition is how companies become excellent, not by having deals handed to them, or by winning through collusion or non-competitive means. I can’t wait to learn more. A hat tip to John Briscoe.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky warns Europe on Russia sanctions

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Wikimedia
Wikimedia

Wikimedia

Former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has warned against further sanctions on Moscow for its role in Ukraine’s current crisis. In an interview with the BBC, he said Europe risked playing into the hands of nationalists trying to isolate Russia. Instead, he urged EU leaders to help Ukraine become more stable, saying this could encourage change in Russia.

Mr. Khodorkovsky was Russia’s richest businessman until he fell out with the Kremlin and spent 10 years in prison. He has taken a keen interest in the crisis in Ukraine since being released and sent into exile abroad at the end of last year. Mr. Khodorkovsky told the BBC that Ukraine had entered a “slow burn civil war” but he said he did not believe Russian President Vladimir Putin was planning to invade eastern Ukraine.

Mr. Putin had “lost control” of events in Russia’s neighbor, Mr. Khodorkovsky said, citing the Kremlin’s recent inability to stop a referendum by pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk. But he said Europe’s reaction to events in Ukraine threatened to exacerbate renewed Russian nationalism, stirred up by the Russian president’s annexing of Crimea. Mr. Khodorkovsky argues that EU leaders should avoid further sanctions on Moscow and concentrate their efforts on encouraging political reform in Kiev. Russia could become even more authoritarian, he says, if the situation in Ukraine deteriorates and allows Mr. Putin to exploit a power vacuum in the country.

The BBC’s Bridget Kendall in Moscow says Mr. Khodorkovsky is not without his critics. He was seen by many Russians as one of the hated class of oligarchs, who made their fortunes in semi-legal circumstances in the chaotic years following the Soviet Union’s collapse. But his arrest and long years of incarceration turned him from Russia’s richest oil tycoon into the country’s most famous political opponent of President Putin, our correspondent says.

Vietnam Protesters Attack China over Sea Dispute

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Vietnamese protesters

Hundreds of people across Vietnam have protested against China’s role in a sea dispute – the largest rallies of their kind recently in the communist country. In the capital, Hanoi, demonstrators sang patriotic songs and held up placards opposite the Chinese embassy. Tensions have been running high after Vietnamese ships clashed with Chinese vessels guarding an oilrig in a contested area of the South China Sea. The protests appear to have the Vietnamese government’s approval.

The country’s communist authorities have broken up previous anti-China demonstrations because of fears that they may be hijacked by pro-democracy activists, says the BBC’s Asia Pacific editor, Charles Scanlon. Nevertheless, he says, Hanoi has also used the demonstrations to communicate its anger over what it sees as Beijing’s aggressive infringement of Vietnamese sovereignty.

The protesters opposite the Chinese embassy on Sunday included war veterans and students. “This is the largest anti-Chinese demonstration I have ever seen in Hanoi,” a war veteran named Dang Quang Thang told the AFP news agency. “Our patience has limits. We are here to express the will of the Vietnamese people to defend our territory at all costs. We are ready to die to protect our nation,” he is quoted as saying. Large anti-China protests were also seen in other Vietnamese cities.

Earlier this month, ships from the two countries collided near a Chinese oil drilling platform in the South China Sea. China has warned Vietnam to withdraw its ships from waters, off the disputed Paracel Islands, that it claims as its own. But Vietnam – which also claims that stretch of sea – accused China of having sent 80 vessels, including navy ships, to support an oil drilling operation. It released video footage to back its claim that Chinese ships had rammed Vietnamese vessels. The US has accused China of provocation, and warned that the dispute could destabilize the region.

The issue was also discussed by foreign ministers at the 10-member ASEAN summit of Southeast Asian Nations in Myanmar (also known as Burma).

Thailand’s Constitutional Court Ousts PM Yingluck Shinawatra

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Photo by Moritz Hager

A Thai court has ruled that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra must step down over abuse of power charges.

Photo by Moritz Hager

Photo by Moritz Hager

The Constitutional Court ruled that Ms. Yingluck acted illegally when she transferred her national security head. The binding decision also orders nine cabinet ministers involved in the transfer to step down. The ruling follows months of political deadlock. Anti-government protesters have been trying to oust Ms. Yingluck since November 2013. The move is likely to trigger protests by supporters of the government, which remains very popular in rural areas.

Ms. Yingluck had been accused of improperly transferring Thawil Pliensri, her national security chief appointed by the opposition-led administration, in 2011. Appearing in court on Tuesday, she had rejected the suggestion that her party had benefited from the move. But the court ruled against her, saying a relative had gained from the move. “The prime minister’s status has ended, Yingluck can no longer stay in her position acting as caretaker prime minister,” a judge said in a statement.

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South Sudan and Darfur

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Gold mine workers run for cover during a sand storm in River Nile State, July 30, 2013. Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters

Foreign Affairs published on 1 May 2014 an eclectic piece titled “Out for Gold and Blood in Sudan” by Jerome Tubiana, analyst for Sudan and South Sudan. The article offers especially useful information on the Sudan government sponsored Haras-al-Hodud or border guard in Darfur. Concerning Darfur, Tubiana concludes that “it would be reductive to simply blame the government’s militia strategy. There is plenty of blame to go around. The government, the rebels, and all the other players need to work together to stop the violence in all Sudan’s peripheries.”

Tubiana also gave an interview titled “Soudan du Sud” in French to Channel Africa dated 25 April 2014 on the difficulties of the South Sudan peace process and the consequences of the war on South Sudan.