The World Today for October 21, 2016


Filipino Frenemy

First a colony of the United States and then one of America’s most reliable allies in Asia, the Philippines has gone rogue.

Having insulted US President Barack Obama and hinted that the Philippines would shift its allegiance from Washington to Beijing, on Thursday President Rodrigo Duterte made it all-but official, announcing his country’s “separation” from the US and realignment with China.

“In this venue, I announce my separation from the United States,” Duterte told Chinese and Philippine business people gathered in Beijing, Reuters reported.

“Both in military, not maybe social, but economics also. America has lost.”

Duterte also said he might go to Russian President Vladimir Putin and tell him “there’s three of us against the world,” Bloomberg noted.

Duterte has been a troubling ally for Washington since he assumed office in June.

In a slap in the face to the humanitarian values espoused by the US, he immediately expanded the brutal war on drugs he’d pioneered as the mayor of Davao City into a nationwide campaign that has resulted in the deaths of more than 2,400 of his people – many through extrajudicial executions. And when Obama sought to censure him, he publicly called the US president “a son of a whore” before a planned meeting between the two leaders.

But his latest maneuver threatens to “upend the delicate geopolitics of the South China Sea,” warns the Wall Street Journal, as Duterte gambles that switching sides can increase his country’s clout in the region.

When China seized control of the Scarborough Shoal in 2012, the move to usurp a rich fishing territory and establish a toehold just 125 miles west of a former US Navy base appeared to cement the US-Philippines alliance. And the Philippines’ suit against China over the issue in international court provided a unifying lever for Washington’s efforts to woo other nations that have similar territorial disputes with Beijing.

So it came as a great surprise that the Philippines’ court victory in July – when an international tribunal found that the Scarborough Shoal falls within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone – has driven Duterte into the arms of his ostensible enemy.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said the US was “baffled” by Duterte’s comments, and Washington will seek an explanation at meetings in the Philippines this weekend.

There’s a good chance Duterte is working by the old adage, “It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease,” rather than committing to a break with the US.

Before leaving Beijing, he claimed he would not allow his new alignment to weaken his position on the South China Sea. And his cabinet immediately sought to downplay his remarks. Meanwhile, the ongoing slowdown in China threatens to get dramatically worse, perhaps making Beijing an ever-less enticing ally.

Yet one way that Beijing could spend itself out of stagnation – since it faces overcapacity problems at home – would be through financing foreign projects like the railway Duterte wants in his home province of Mindanao. And with the increased access to the Philippines for US troops secured by Obama forming an essential part of his so-called “pivot to Asia” – as well as a major thorn in China’s side – the loose cannon has plenty of ammunition.


State of Arrest

More than 1,500 people have been arrested in Ethiopia since the government declared a six-month state of emergency less than two weeks ago, according to Ethiopian state news agency Fana.

The bulk of the arrests – 1,120 people – occurred south of the capital Addis Ababa in the Oromia region in the towns of Shashemene and West Arsi over “violence and property damage,” said a government body overseeing the state of emergency.

The Oromo people, the residents of Oromia and Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, have carried out successive protests over the past year along with another ethnic group, the Amhara, against an Ethiopian government largely composed of the Tigrayan minority.

The Ethiopian government imposed the state of emergency in early October after a stampede at an Oromo religious festival that killed over 50 people unleashed a surge in violence. Police firing tear gas at anti-government protesters have since been blamed for causing the stampede, reported Agence France-Presse.

Militant Distractions

Dozens of armed militants attacked a police compound and Kurdish security offices in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk early Friday in an assault claimed by Islamic State (IS).

Explosions rocked the city and gunfire could be heard throughout Kirkuk, according to witnesses. Clashes were still ongoing Friday morning, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Like previous attempts, the assault on Kirkuk, an oil-rich city 235 miles north of Baghdad claimed by both Iraq’s central government and the country’s Kurdish minority, is likely an attempt to divert Iraqi authorities’ attention from their battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic militant group, reported CNN.

IS militants also attacked a government building in the town of Dibis northwest of Kirkuk in a separate incident on Friday, killing 12 people.

Radio Silence

The decades-long tension between nuclear-armed neighbors Pakistan and India is taking on a whole new flair.

Pakistan’s media regulator announced a blanket ban on India’s immensely popular Bollywood films and other Indian media on Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

“It shows lack of self-confidence on Pakistan’s part. It is an unfortunate development,” Vikas Swarup, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, told reporters.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) announced that from Friday onward any TV or radio station discovered broadcasting Indian content will be immediately shut down. Officials claim that Indian filmmakers were refusing work to Pakistani actors and that Indian cinemas were failing to screen films with Pakistani casts.

Previously, Indian content was allowed a daily maximum of 86 minutes of airtime in Pakistan.

The Bollywood ban comes on the heels of a ceasefire violation between the neighbors in the contested Kashmir region which left 12 dead and one person wounded.

Since fighting began between rebel groups and Indian authorities in the region in 1989, more than 68,000 have been killed.


There’s No Place Like Home

America’s most famous pair of shoes is in need of a reboot.

For almost 40 years, the Smithsonian Institute has been home to an original pair of Dorothy’s ruby-red slippers worn by Judy Garland in the beloved 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz.”

But after almost eight decades, Dorothy’s size-fives aren’t in heel-clicking shape anymore. They’ve become very fragile, and the glossy red paint on the slippers’ arches is chipping off, the Smithsonian told the New York Times.

The Smithsonian Institute has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $300,000 to restore them. That figure includes costs to analyze the dozen-or-so materials from which the shoes are made in order to make a suitable display for them.

“We take each material individually and do research to work out what the best environment is,” said Richard Barden, who’s spearheading the conservation. “Do we need to put these in an oxygen free case, for example?”

Though the shoes are a mismatched pair, they are purportedly one of the most asked-about items in the National Museum of American History – one reason why the campaign has already raised over half of the proposed amount in its first three days.

Take a look here to see those ruby slippers in action.

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