World roundup: September 17-18 2022
Stories from Armenia, Ukraine, Haiti, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
September 16, 1955: A group of senior military officers begins an uprising they call the “Revolución Libertadora” against Argentine President Juan Perón in the city of Córdoba, Argentina. The coup would end with Perón’s resignation on September 21 and the junta assuming power on September 23.
September 16, 1970: Black September begins
September 17, 1176: The Battle of Myriokephalon
September 17, 1978: The Camp David Accords are signed
September 17, 1982: The Sabra and Shatila massacre
September 18, 1810: The Government Assembly of the Kingdom of Chile, or the “First Government Junta,” takes power in the colony by pledging allegiance to the deposed King Ferdinand VII of Spain and rejecting Napoleon’s imposition of his brother, Joseph, on the Spanish throne, thus kicking off the Chilean War of Independence. Though it was supposed to be temporary, the junta continued fighting after Ferdinand’s restoration and didn’t stop fighting until Chile became an independent nation in the 1820s. Commemorated as Chilean Independence Day.
September 18, 1947: The National Security Act goes into effect, drastically reshaping the US national security bureaucracy. The previously cabinet level Department of War (renamed the Department of the Army) and Department of the Navy were subsumed into a new Department of Defense. The US Air Force was split from the Army into its own military branch, also under the new Defense Department. Outside the Pentagon, the act created the National Security Council within the White House and the Central Intelligence Agency, the first US peacetime intelligence agency. And we all lived happily ever after.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The Turkish military attacked both the Syrian military and the Syrian Democratic Forces militia near the city of Kobani on Sunday, killing at least three Syrian soldiers according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. This Turkish operation appears to have been in response to cross-border shelling that killed at least one soldier in Turkey’s Şanlıurfa province. The Turks are claiming that they “neutralized” (killed) at least 12 “terrorists,” which may refer exclusively to SDF fighters.
A new report from Human Rights Watch alleges that the Jordanian government has spent the past four years in a “downward spiral on rights,” to borrow the words of HRW Middle East director Lama Fakih. That spiral has involved an escalating campaign of abuses targeting activists, unions, members of the political opposition, reporters, and other groups deemed nuisances by Jordanian authorities. In the last couple of years, HRW alleges, Jordanian officials have utilized laws enacted to help contain COVID to expand their political repression.
Protests over the death of 22 year old Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, suspected of having been killed by Iranian religious police, turned violent on Saturday when police fired on and used tear gas against demonstrators in Amini’s hometown, Saghez. At least 13 people were injured in the incident. Amini’s case has generated a fair amount of blowback on Iranian social media in addition to these protests.
Speaking of things that have been getting attention on social media, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei did make the public appearance he was scheduled to make this weekend, turning up at his annual Arbaeen event. Well, it used to be annual, but COVID forced its cancellation in 2020 and 2021. Rumors have been flying lately about Khamenei’s health and it seems he may have had surgery last week to clear an abdominal blockage. His office has been canceling public appearances left and right, and for an 83 year old with a history of cancer that sort of thing starts to raise eyebrows after a while. One public appearance isn’t going to dispel the rumors altogether but it presumably means he’s not on his deathbed at least.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a congressional delegation visited Armenia over the weekend amid a tenuous ceasefire after heavy fighting earlier this week between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. Pelosi’s remarks in Yerevan were significantly more pointed than any other senior US official has been willing to make in recent days, like her criticism of “the illegal and deadly attacks by Azerbaijan on the Armenian territory.” That’s a bit more forceful than the standard call for “calm on both sides” that’s characterized the Biden administration’s response to this latest outbreak of violence. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry did not react well to Pelosi’s “baseless and unfair accusations,” criticizing her for ignoring “the policy of aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan.” The continued presence of Azerbaijani soldiers on Armenian territory would seem to undercut the assertion that Armenia has been the aggressor in this situation, but I digress.
A tenuous ceasefire also appears to be holding between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, after several days of fighting that left at least 81 people dead (46 on the Kyrgyz side and 35 on the Tajik side). Clashes between Kyrgyz and Tajik border guards are fairly frequent but this was far more intense than the typical skirmish. It’s still unclear exactly what sparked the fighting, but Kyrgyz media has referred to a Tajik “invasion” and video clips circulating online appear to show Tajik forces on Kyrgyz territory. The Kyrgyz government has been a bit more circumspect in its comments, presumably for fear of upending the ceasefire.
The massive flooding that’s killed some 1545 Pakistanis and impacted tens of millions more this summer has reportedly begun to subside. But the World Health Organization is warning of the possibility of a second wave of disaster, not from the flooding itself but from the diseases that may follow in its wake. A combination of stagnant water and the displacement of millions of people into makeshift, overcrowded camps has opened the door to all manner of illnesses including malaria, dengue fever, and cholera. The damage the flooding has wrought on Pakistani health facilities threatens to exacerbate this risk.
A six year old Rohingya boy was killed and six other people wounded on Friday evening when mortar fire from Myanmar landed inside Bangladesh. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh to escape a genocidal campaign by the Myanmar military, while some 4000 are stranded in a strip of territory along the border. They’ve been at greater risk of late as fighting between Myanmar security forces and the rebel Arakan Army has escalated in Rakhine state. The Bangladeshi government has complained repeatedly about ordinance generated by that conflict landing on Bangladeshi territory.
Senegalese President Macky Sall named former foreign minister Amadou Ba as his new prime minister on Saturday, making Ba the first person to hold that post since Sall got rid of it back in 2019. Ba’s remit will primarily involve economics, chiefly finding ways to reduce or ameliorate the rising cost of living. His appointment seems to be part of an effort by Sall to soften his image a bit, following legislative elections in July that went so poorly for his coalition that he was forced to cut a deal with an independent legislator to hang on to a bare parliamentary majority.
Indications are that the Eritrean government has ordered a substantial military mobilization, as the country’s army is once again battling the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Military service is mandatory in Eritrea and those who haven’t responded voluntarily to the mobilization are apparently being rounded up by authorities and sent off to the front. Eritrean officials have been quiet about their activities since the Tigray conflict resumed last month, but the TPLF has alleged that Eritrean forces are occupying parts of northern Tigray.
Militia fighters in central Somalia’s Hirshabelle state reportedly defeated a group of al-Shabab militants in a battle on Saturday, killing at least 45 of them and beheading at least two according to witnesses and videos circulating on social media. With the Somali government unable to provide significant support and with residents straining under the economic weight of a lengthy drought coupled with al-Shabab’s extortion, militias in Hirshabelle and neighboring Galmudug state have been waging their own campaigns to oust the militants. Federal forces were reportedly deployed to Galmudug over the weekend to provide support.
A little over a week after the Ukrainian military recaptured the strategically important rail hub at Kupiansk, that town is being evacuated due to heavy Russian shelling. Kupiansk now lies along the new front line in northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv oblast, where Ukrainain forces have pushed the Russian military to the eastern side of the Oskil River. The shelling is presumably meant to deter the Ukrainian military from attempting to cross that river and push the Russians further east toward Luhansk.
The Russians seem to be making heavy use of their newly-purchased Iranian Shahed-136 kamikaze drones to target heavy Ukrainian weapons platforms. The drones are primarily operating in places where the Russian military no longer has artillery superiority, possibly after transferring units south to deal with the Ukrainian offensive in Kherson oblast. They could be a threat to Western-supplied systems like the US-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket System or HIMARS and may force Ukrainian officials to be more careful about deploying such weapons.
The International Atomic Energy Agency says that the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has been reconnected to Ukraine’s power grid. This should ease concerns about the stability of the plant’s cooling and safety systems, at least until the next time fighting disconnects it from the grid.
On Sunday, the European Commission recommended, as it had been expected to do, that the European Union freeze €7.5 billion in funds earmarked for Hungary. In explaining the opinion, EU Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn cited the potential for corruption, arguing that “breaches of the rule of law” in Viktor Orbán’s increasingly autocratic state meant that “we cannot conclude that the EU budget is sufficiently protected.” EU member states have three months to decide whether to accept this recommendation, and the Hungarian government can take steps to address the Commission’s concerns during that time. Meanwhile, before they make a final decision EU members will have to consider how much damage Orbán can do to their plans to maintain or even expand upon the EU’s substantial body of sanctions against Russia.
The German government on Friday announced that it’s seizing control of three German refineries owned by subsidiaries of Russia’s Rosneft oil company. The move is intended to stabilize Germany’s energy market as the EU looks to largely wean itself off of Russian oil by the end of the year.
The New York Times has an update on what appears to be a badly deteriorating situation in Haiti:
Escalating street protests have pushed Haiti’s already dire social crisis this week into what regional leaders described as a “low-intensity civil war,” leaving residents of the capital cut off from the outside world and scrambling for basic necessities like drinking water and food.
Protesters set up barricades made up of debris, felled trees and tires throughout the capital, Port-au-Prince, looted shops and humanitarian warehouses and attacked banks and residences of pro-government politicians and better-off citizens.
Simmering outbreaks of unrest throughout the island nation have coalesced into the largest wave of protests in years following the government’s announcement last Sunday that it would raise the country’s highly subsidized fuel prices.
The protests quickly broadened into a general, visceral rejection of Haiti’s dire living conditions, characterized by widespread hunger, a lack of basic services, omnipresent gang violence, runaway inflation and the weak rule of a caretaker prime minister, Ariel Henry. Mr. Henry took power following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse last year.
Finally, a new report from Yahoo News finds growing skepticism within the US government about the so-called “Havana Syndrome” phenomenon:
A top State Department official, countering claims that have circulated widely among members of Congress and the news media, says in a new interview there is no evidence that any external actors caused the "Havana syndrome" health incidents reported in recent years by over 1,100 U.S. diplomats and spies.
The comments by Brian Nichols, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, are especially striking given they come at a time the CIA and the State Department have begun making arrangements to compensate — with payments of up to $189,000 — current and former U.S. officials suffering from unexplained brain injuries under a law, the HAVANA Act, passed by Congress last year and signed by President Biden.
But even as those payments go out, a Yahoo News investigation has found there is mounting skepticism among senior officials about a key underlying premise of the new law: that the symptoms associated with Havana syndrome — which the government formally refers to as Anomalous Health Incidents (AHI) — can be linked in any way to hostile attacks by a foreign power.
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