The World Today for April 25, 2016

April 25, 2016


Obama Pivots Back

Known for his agility on the basketball court, US President Barack Obama has some fancy footwork on the agenda Monday. He’s about to “pivot” back to Europe.

Meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President François Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi later today, Obama will push for a trans-Atlantic trade pact, emphasize better intelligence sharing on terrorism and discuss strategies for reining in Russia and ending the civil war in Syria.

But with so little time left in office, his biggest task may be getting the dream team to listen. Some say the longstanding post-World War II trans-Atlantic alliance itself is under strain due to his ill-timed pivot to Asia.

Not long after taking office in 2009, Obama announced he was shifting America’s foreign policy focus away from Europe and toward Asia. But his timing was remarkably bad.

The Eurozone crisis left the EU with a host of internal problems. Russian President Vladimir Putin took the US “pivot” as an invitation to fill the vacuum – and annexed Crimea. And the Arab Spring and rise of the Islamic State (IS) created chaos in Libya, Syrian, Yemen and elsewhere that was far too large a challenge for European countries with a 50-year history of relying on American power for protection.

So whatever Obama has (arguably) achieved in Afghanistan, Iran and Cuba, Europeans feel beleaguered, slighted and ignored.

Here’s what’s on the agenda:

First and foremost, the idea is to show Europe’s top leaders that “he’s not indifferent” to their problems – on the frontlines of the new war on terror and forced to absorb the refugees it has created. To succeed, he’ll need to walk back frustrated remarks he made about Britain and France turning Libya into a “sh**show.”

Putin’s gamesmanship in Crimea and more recently Syria has made his job a little easier. Having already committed to increasing the number of American troops in the region and deploying armored brigades in Eastern Europe, Obama has laid the groundwork for a productive discussion on steps NATO will need to take in Ukraine and Syria. (Turkey’s NATO membership could emerge as a complicating factor in that conflict). Another concrete move is the announcement of an expanded role for US special forces within Syria, where he’ll add 250 more soldiers to the 50 already on the ground.

Finally, US trade representative Michael Froman will try to make some progress to push through the TTIP, or Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, before Obama leaves office. That won’t be easy. Though Merkel favors the scheme, for instance, the centrist chancellor is losing support on the business-friendly right over her embrace of refugees, while those on the left fear an erosion of EU consumer protection laws and Germany’s wide trade surplus.

The central problem? The impression of Obama across Europe may well be the same as it is in Germany, where older Germans remember the US that helped bring down the Berlin Wall but younger citizens “associate the U.S. with the Iraq War, shadowy drone strikes and the 2013 uproar over National Security Agency spying in their country.” In the UK, for instance, some say Obama “just looked on” as the European Union nearly crumbled under the weight of refugees and economic crisis.

He’s not just looking now. But the degree of difficulty for the reverse pivot is high. He’ll have to do more than talk pretty to pull it off.


Saudi-led Coalition Gains in Yemen

Forces fighting Al Qaeda in Yemen recaptured the port city of Al Mukalla on Sunday, with the Saudi-led coalition claiming to have killed more than 800 militants.

The victory is significant, as the militants had used Al Mukalla as a base of operations for their broader assault on southern Yemen over the past year.

But city residents contradicted the body count claimed by the coalition, saying that the militants left the city without putting up a fight in what appeared to be a tactical retreat. Keeping them from coming back “will require a political strategy to address local grievances and provide for a minimally effective government, none of which appears to be in place at this point,” says April Longley Alley, a Yemen analyst at the International Crisis Group.

The branch of Al Qaeda active in Yemen – which took advantage of an ongoing civil war in Yemen to seize territory, weapons and money — may pose a more imminent threat to the US than the Islamic State (IS), according to the new leader of the US military’s central command. Now that the warring factions are talking peace, the plan is to shift the focus to fighting the terrorists.

Mexican Police Tortured Kidnapping Suspects

Federal and local Mexican police may have been involved in the disappearance of 43 Mexican students on their way to an anti-government protest in the state of Guerrero in September 2014. But that doesn’t mean their colleagues haven’t been zealous in their efforts to crack the high-profile case.

Indeed, they may have been overzealous.

There is strong evidence that Mexican police tortured some of the 123 suspects arrested during the investigation, according to a probe by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expert group.

The allegations could undermine the case against the corrupt police who allegedly handed the students over to a drug gang to be murdered, because it is largely based on the testimony of the gang members who say they were tortured.

Philippines Candidate Gains Despite Rape Joke

The Philippines presidential candidate who said a rape victim was so pretty he wished he had been first in line to rape her has widened his lead over his rivals.

It’s not clear whether the joke limited his gains or spurred voters to embrace him, but Rodrigo Duterte, currently mayor of the southern city of Davao, emerged as the “clear front runner” in the presidential race, research institute Social Weather Stations (SWS) said Monday.

Support for him rose to 33 percent from 27 percent earlier, giving him a nine-point edge over his nearest rival, SWS said. Another agency’s poll, taken before the remarks hit the headlines, showed him leading by 12 points.

Duterte, who is accused by human rights groups of leading vigilante death squads that killed more than a thousand people in Davao, told the Australian and American ambassadors to “shut their mouths” when they expressed their horror at the remark and warned he was prepared to sever ties with the two nations over the affair.


Gorillas Aren’t That Fat

Zookeepers at the Prague Zoo thought Shinda the gorilla had been eating too many bananas. But it turns out she wasn’t fat. She was pregnant. Not the greatest advertisement for Czech zookeepers when a baby gorilla popped out unexpectedly.

It’s kind of a second career in the limelight for Shinda. The 24-year-old gorilla was already the subject of a zoo-based reality show on state-run TV. (Viewers watched the gorillas with the aid of 16 hidden cameras and voted for their favorite, apparently – Attention, Netflix!).

Typical of a has-been television star, she flew under the radar because she’d struggled with her weight in the past. Reportedly, zookeepers cut her food rations by half at one point.

Watch her ham it up in this BBC video.


Mon, 04/25/2016 – 05:43

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