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Sunday, May 1, 2016

What's going on in the World Today 160501

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USA

NOTHING SIGNIFICANT TO REPORT

AFRICA

A Dormant Saharan Conflict Threatens to Awaken

A long-dormant conflict between Morocco and the ethnic Sahrawi people who inhabit the disputed Western Sahara territory, which both parties claim, threatens to escalate. Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council will take up a crucial vote on April 29 that likely will decide the fate of its peacekeeping mission there. In March, the Moroccan government expelled civilians attached to the mission after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called Morocco's presence in Western Sahara an "occupation." A U.N. report released a month later detailed the state of the standoff between the Polisario Front, an armed Sahrawi activist group, and Moroccan forces, magnifying fears of renewed fighting between the two. Now, the ambiguous status of the peacekeeping mission is driving U.N. concerns surrounding the conflict in Western Sahara, which Ban said could erupt into "full-scale war."...

ASIA

North Korea: Mid-Range Missile Test Fails, Officials Say April 28, 2016

North Korea fired off what appeared to be an intermediate-range ballistic missile early on April 28, but the launch seems to have failed, unnamed military officials said, Yonhap reported. The missile, assumed to be the same Musudan model tested by the North on April 15, appeared to crash several seconds after launch, the officials said. The projectile was launched around 6:40 a.m. from the vicinity of Wonsan. The April 15 test also exploded shortly after launch. For Pyongyang to fulfill its deterrence goals, it must first carry out successful practical tests of ICBM component systems.

EUROPE

In Europe, a Crisis in Every Direction

During the early stages of the EU crisis, most threats to the survival of the Continental bloc came from its periphery. Back then the prevailing fear was that financial disaster in a southern member state — a default in Greece or Portugal, for example — could precipitate the eurozone's collapse, hurting northern nations such as Germany and the Netherlands in the process. Though the possibility still exists, a sort of inverse threat has emerged. Today, the steady rise of anti-establishment and Euroskeptic sentiments in Northern Europe, as exemplified in Austria and Germany, threatens the Continent's south.....

France: Protests Over Labor Law Erupt At May Day Parade In Paris May 1, 2016

Clashes broke out between French police and demonstrators during a May Day parade in Paris, police said May 1, BBC reported. Trade unions used the traditional march to protest against a proposed labor law to be discussed by parliament on May 3. Police responded with tear gas when youths began throwing missiles, bringing the march to a standstill. France has seen two months of unrest over the reforms, which would remove some of the protection workers enjoy against being laid off, in an attempt to encourage businesses to hire more people. The government says the law's aim is to combat chronic unemployment, but opponents say it will let employers bypass workers' rights on pay, rest time and overtime rates.

Bulgaria: Balkan Heavyweight, Eurasian Lightweight

Summary

Bulgaria is Europe's oldest country — it existed in roughly its modern form in A.D. 700, long before most of its fellow EU member states. This fact, however, is deceptive. While Bulgaria existed at an early date, it spent seven of the ensuing 13 centuries under foreign control. The country's favorable geography gives it the potential to dominate its smaller Balkan neighbors, but has also fated it to rule by three empires: the Byzantines, the Ottomans and the Soviet Union...

Germany: Government Will Request Extension Of Schengen Border Controls, April 30, 2016

Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden will call for the European Commission to extend border Schengen Zone border controls beyond their original end date of May 12, German Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere said April 30, Reuters reported. Berlin and its partners hope to maintain the controls into November. Migrant flows through the Balkans have dropped recently, but Germany says that the European Union needs to continue to protect its external borders and seek transnational solutions. The migration crisis has prompted EU members to take unilateral action, exacerbating underlying political discord within the Continental bloc.


MEXICO/LATIN AMERICA

Chile: An Island of Stability in South America

Latin America's economies have reacted differently to the drop in global commodity prices over the past several years. With Chinese demand growth slowing and economic growth relatively slow in Europe and the United States, Latin America's commodity boom is essentially over. In Brazil, the decline in prices for key exports such as soybeans and iron ore exposed severe structural economic problems. In Venezuela, the drop in oil prices since 2014 plunged the country into a social crisis threatening the government's hold over the nation. But Chile is a different story....

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan: Troops Battle Taliban To Hold Capital Of Uruzgan Province May 1, 2016

Afghan security forces have been battling to push back Taliban fighters seeking to cut off Tarin Kowt, the capital of the southern province of Uruzgan, officials said May 1, Reuters reported. The Taliban is seeking to isolate Tarin Kowt from outlying districts and over the past week has been fighting Afghan forces for control of the road between the town and Shawali Kot in Kandahar province. An Afghan army spokesman said troops had reopened the route but that insurgents had planted improvised explosive devices on the road. If Uruzgan province falls, the Taliban could use it as a springboard to launch attacks on Helmand and Kandahar further to the south. So far no additional foreign troops have been sent to bolster the defense, as they were in Helmand earlier this year, and coalition aircraft have not carried out airstrikes in support of Afghan troops.

Afghanistan: Government Launches Operations In 18 Provinces, April 30, 2016

The Afghan military kicked off anti-militant operations in 18 provinces backed by airstrikes and artillery, according to an April 30 Ministry of Defense statement, Reuters reported. The operations have targeted Taliban and Islamic State fighters, killing 80 in total over the last 24 hours. The government has lost six troops in the fighting. The Taliban launched its annual spring offensive April 12 and numerous foreign powers are working to find a lasting solution to the conflict.

A Hint of Irony in the Afghan Conflict

The Taliban have started their spring offensive of 2016, a year in which the coordination group charged with bringing peace to the country, perhaps ironically, has made its strongest push for resolution. The Afghan government has responded by pledging to ramp up security operations in kind. All this would appear to bode ill for the peace prospects of a country still in the throes of a 14-year war. But there are also some reasons for optimism. Many countries have a vested interest in securing Afghanistan, placed as it is to link the regions surrounding it. That is not to say peace will necessarily prevail, but it is to say that the future of Afghanistan, as with all countries, will be determined by the convergence of domestic politics, international politics and geopolitics...

CHINA

China's Expanding Military Influence in Central Asia

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, an unexplored frontier opened up for China to its west. Central Asia offered Beijing new sources of raw materials and new markets — not to mention a major transit zone for exports — to feed China's growing economy. But China did not have the military to buttress its economic position, nor did it want to upset Russia, a power wary of rising Chinese influence, especially in its former Soviet periphery. With these concerns in mind, Beijing carefully shaped a military and economic strategy for Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan.



China's Security Ambitions in South and Central Asia

As China expands its economic reach, it is taking steps to protect its newfound interests abroad. On March 1, Beijing proposed a joint counterterrorism mechanism with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan in an effort to bolster security throughout the region. Though the initiative, if implemented, would not have an immediate impact on regional security or on China's geopolitical standing, it signals Beijing's intention to become more involved in security issues beyond its borders. As it does so, China will find itself shouldering more responsibility for providing and safeguarding stability throughout South and Central Asia — something that may not sit well with rival powers defending their own interests in the region...

China: Military Aircraft Makes First Public Landing On Artificial Island, April 18, 2016
A Chinese military aircraft landed at a new airport on the Fiery Cross Reef, an artificial island China built in disputed waters in the South China Sea, Reuters reported April 18. According to the official People's Liberation Army Daily, the military aircraft was on patrol over the South China Sea on April 17 when it responded to an emergency call to evacuate three seriously ill workers from the island. China began civilian test flights to the island in January, but its military had not publicly admitted to landing aircraft on the island. A military expert told the Global Times that the flight demonstrated that the island is up to military standards. China's construction projects on several South China Sea reefs and islets have stirred the ire of its Southeast Asian neighbors.

IRAN

Iran: Army Displays Russian Missile Defense System, April 17, 2016

Iran showed off parts of its new Russian S-300 missile defense system during National Army Day on April 17, Reuters reported. During an event in Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani said the country's armed forces and its missile defenses were no threat to neighboring countries, but would defend Iran. Russia delivered the first part of the S-300 missile defense system — which can engage multiple aircraft and ballistic missiles around 150 kilometers away — to Iran last week. Russia has said it canceled a contract to deliver S-300s to Iran in 2010 under pressure from the West. But President Vladimir Putin lifted the ban in April 2015, after an interim agreement that paved the way for a full nuclear deal with Iran that ended international sanctions. Since then, Iran's hard-line conservative Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has carried out four ballistic missile tests, upsetting the United States in part to undermine Rouhani and his economic reform efforts that could disrupt Iran's political system.

IRAQ

Iraq: After Shiite Protesters Storm Parliament, Military Deployed To Green Zone, ├čApril 30, 2016

Baghdad declared a citywide state of emergency April 30 after hundreds of demonstrators loyal to Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr marched over the Tigris River and into Baghdad's Green Zone, entering the parliament building, witnesses said, BBC reported. Major checkpoints into Baghdad have been sealed off, stopping traffic. Both military and police have been deployed to the Green Zone, sealing off entry and exit as well as internal roads. When entering earlier April 30, the crowd passed through a checkpoint but were not searched by government security forces and have reportedly been ransacking government buildings. The move came after lawmakers failed to carry out a vote to reshuffle the national government. The protesters chanted "the cowards ran away."

A sit-in by al-Sadr supporters began March 18 outside Baghdad's Green Zone, kicking off a round of near-constant protests. The pressure is meant to influence the Cabinet decisions of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. For several weeks, powerful political blocs have stalled voting on a new government. For over a year, protests calling for government reform were a regular feature in Iraqi politics. But when al-Sadr joined the protest scene, he brought with him supporters of his affiliated Badr Organization and al-Ahrar bloc. Also in Baghdad on April 30, an Islamic State suicide car bombing at a Shiite militia checkpoint in Dora district killed 19 Shiite pilgrims and wounded 48 others, Reuters reported. The pilgrims were going to the Imam Kadhim shrine.

Iraq: Green Zone Occupiers Congregate In Main Square As Their Ranks Swell, April 30, 2016

More protesters, including those not affiliated with Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, have gathered in the Green Zone's Grand Festivities Square, Rudaw reported. These crowds joined the al-Sadr followers who entered the zone in Baghdad that houses embassies and government buildings. The protesters are calling for parliament to complete the reshuffle of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's Cabinet, a process that has stalled for weeks. The parliament did not reach a quorum in today's session and does not plan to reconvene until May 5.
Witnesses allege that al-Abadi allowed protesters to enter the Green Zone to prevent a violent breach, but the government has vehemently denied this. This weekend is a holiday in Iraq commemorating Shiite Imam Musa al-Kadhim, swelling the ranks of protesters.

Al-Sadr's militia, Saraya al-Salam, has helped police and military personnel to clear the government buildings of people, moving them into the square. Some protesters have set up tents inside the Green Zone. There have been no reports of fatalities, injuries or violence with the exception of one unconfirmed report of gunfire and tear gas.

Parliamentary Speaker Salim al-Jabouri has called on al-Sadr to have his demonstrators stand down while Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is insisting that the situation is under control. President Fuad Masum earlier called for demonstrators to leave the parliament building, which they have largely done. Masum also reiterated the need for the government to redouble its efforts to satisfy the demands of the Iraqi people related to the Cabinet reshuffle.

Around 20 Kurdish lawmakers have reportedly left Baghdad for Iraqi Kurdistan via the airport. Most roads in and out of the capital remain closed, but the route to the airport is reportedly open. The Shiite majority National Alliance is currently meeting to discuss what happens next. For over a year, protests calling for government reform were a regular feature in Iraqi politics. But when al-Sadr joined the protest scene, he brought with him supporters of his affiliated Badr Organization and al-Ahrar bloc.

Iraq: Protesters Peacefully Leave Green Zone May 1, 2016

Protesters camped out in Baghdad's Green Zone left the government district peacefully on May 1, Reuters reported. Before leaving, protesters issued an escalating set of demands, including a parliamentary vote on a technocrat government, the resignation of the president, prime minister and parliamentary speaker and new elections. Iraq has endured months of unrest prompted by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's attempt to replace party-affiliated ministers with technocrats as part of an anti-corruption drive. A divided parliament has failed to approve the proposal amid protests. Deep frustration over the deadlock culminated in a dramatic breach on April 30 of the Green Zone by supporters of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr. The peaceful defusing of the crisis came after al-Abadi convened a high-level meeting with Iraq's president, parliament speaker and political bloc leaders, who said high-level meetings would continue in coming days. A politician who attended the talks also said al-Abadi had faced accusations of mishandling the crisis.

Iraq: Premier Orders Arrests Of Protesters Who Damaged Parliament May 1, 2016

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on May 1 ordered the arrest of activists who caused damage and attacked police while storming parliament in Baghdad on April 30, BBC reported. Supporters of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr broke through barricades of the fortified Green Zone in protest against delays in approving a new Cabinet. A state of emergency was declared in Baghdad after the protests. Supporters of al-Sadr want lawmakers to replace ministers with political affiliations with non-partisan technocrats. Parties in parliament have refused to approve the change for several weeks. Systemic political patronage has aided corruption in Iraq, depleting the government's resources as it struggles to cope with declining oil revenue and the war against the Islamic State. Parliament again failed to reach a quorum April 30, after which the protest escalated and saw hundreds of people storm the parliament building. After the protest, demonstrators set up camp outside the parliament. However, the committee organizing the sit-in called on protesters to leave the government district later on May 1, Reuters reported. Despite al-Abadi's order — made after he visited the damaged parliament building — there are no indications that any arrests have been made.

ISRAEL

NOTHING SIGNIFICANT TO REPORT

RUSSIA

The Nuclear Arms Race Is Alive and Well

Summary

Russia is determined to maintain its nuclear deterrence against the United States. Its navy plans to test 16 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) in a single salvo from a nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea soon, according to a source quoted in Russian daily Izvestia, though the source did not provide a date. Other Russian media agencies have reported that only two missiles would be tested...

...It is hardly surprising, then, that Russia is determinedly modernizing its nuclear weapons program while simultaneously reminding the world of its capability. Last year, the Russians tested eight ICBMs, and earlier in January, Russian officials announced plans to test 16 ICBMs in 2016, 14 of which will be tests of missiles entering service in Russia for the first time. On the testing schedule are the recently introduced Bulava SLBM, which had considerable development problems, and also other land-based ICBMs such as the new SS-X-30 Sarmat. Moscow is counting on these new missiles to ensure its nuclear arsenal survives against the U.S. anti-ballistic missile network.

Russia is also looking to its past to enhance its nuclear survivability, revisiting old Soviet tactics. Moscow is now working to enhance missile mobility by shuttling them by rail. Moreover, it is reviewing the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System, which would enable Russia to use low Earth orbit to widen the range of its missiles to strike areas not protected by U.S. anti-ballistic missile systems...

SYRIA

NOTHING SIGNIFICANT TO REPORT

MIDDLE EAST GENERAL

A New Vision for the Kingdom

By Anisa Mehdi

Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman became an international darling this week when he articulated a new economic plan for his nation. On April 25, the 30-year-old rising Saudi star announced his aspirations to diversify the local economy beyond petroleum and pilgrimage. Salman, currently the chair of the country's Council of Economic and Development Affairs, is second in line to the kingdom's throne. He is also a millennial...

Lebanon: Trading Policies for Guns

A Dormant Saharan Conflict Threatens to Awaken

A long-dormant conflict between Morocco and the ethnic Sahrawi people who inhabit the disputed Western Sahara territory, which both parties claim, threatens to escalate. Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council will take up a crucial vote on April 29 that likely will decide the fate of its peacekeeping mission there. In March, the Moroccan government expelled civilians attached to the mission after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called Morocco's presence in Western Sahara an "occupation." A U.N. report released a month later detailed the state of the standoff between the Polisario Front, an armed Sahrawi activist group, and Moroccan forces, magnifying fears of renewed fighting between the two. Now, the ambiguous status of the peacekeeping mission is driving U.N. concerns surrounding the conflict in Western Sahara, which Ban said could erupt into "full-scale war."...

MISC

April 27, New York Daily News – (New York) Bloods-linked gang members charged with running $414G identity-theft ring. Officials from the New York County District Attorney’s Office announced April 26 that 39 gang members were charged for their roles in a $414,000 identity theft scheme where the group used stolen bank information from the Dark Web to create phony credit cards used to make fraudulent purchases at Barneys and Sacks Fifth Avenue stores and sold the goods to fund personal expenses. Officials stated a subsequent search of the suspects’ apartments in Queens and Brooklyn, New York revealed computers and credit card making equipment, among other illicit materials.

The Tech Revolution Comes of Age

Technological revolutions frame historical eras. Each cycle thrusts new sectors into prominence, turning companies into strategic assets for their governments to exploit. Whether it is European trading companies in the colonial era or international oil companies in the 20th century, technological revolutions give corporations such power and importance that they become inherently geopolitical.

Except where noted courtesy STRATFOR.COM

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