The World Today for January 17, 2017


The Last Domino

After a tumultuous year that saw voters lash out at Western elites, many believe German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the last remaining defender of transatlantic liberal values.

On Monday, for example, Merkel lived up to her reputation as the Iron Chancellor in her rebuff to President-elect Donald Trump’s criticism of her government.

“We Europeans have our fate in our own hands,” she said defiantly, as the Guardian reported. “He has presented his positions once more. They have been known for a while. My positions are also known.”

But with Merkel up for reelection herself this year – and facing pressure at home from the same populist forces that fueled Brexit and Donald Trump victories – many are asking whether Western liberalism’s last domino is about to fall.

Merkel herself admitted that the 2017 election would be “more difficult than any before it” – even though she enjoys approval ratings as high as 64 percent.

But what was already an uphill battle for Merkel and her Christian Democratic Party (CDU) became even tougher after Germany was rocked by a terror attack on Dec. 19 when a truck drove through a Berlin Christmas market, killing 12.

The attack – considered the work of a Tunisian migrant living illegally in Germany – refocused attention on Merkel’s refugee policies.

Some pundits said Merkel was hoping to push the immigration issue to the side during next year’s campaign.

But now many voters are asking if Merkel’s decision to allow nearly one million migrants to enter Germany in 2015 was the cause of the Berlin massacre.

Merkel’s opponents, including the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a populist, anti-immigrant party that has lured voters away from mainstream parties, seized the opportunity to leverage the Berlin attack against Merkel.

One leading member of the AfD immediately took to Twitter after the attack to call its victims “Merkel’s dead.”

In all likelihood, the AfD will be Merkel’s biggest challenge in 2017.

The party scored a series of small-scale victories in regional elections throughout 2016 at the expense of Merkel’s CDU. It’s now poised to enter the federal parliament for the first time, riding high on the wave of anti-immigrant sentiments that has upended other Western democracies.

She’s also faced resistance from within her own ranks, as conservative politicians call for an upper limit on the number of refugees that Germany accepts.

Merkel has begun veering to the right herself to address these criticisms.

Even before the truck attack in Berlin, Merkel had already been making concessions to the right, most notably by proposing a ban on the burqa wherever it was “legally possible” in addition to toughening German asylum laws and speeding up deportations.

If Merkel treads this populist path any further, Western liberalism might lose no matter who wins the German elections this year.


Turkey’s Hunt

Turkish police captured the man suspected of perpetrating an attack on an Istanbul nightclub that killed 39 people on New Year’s Eve.

The alleged attacker, Abdulgadir Masharipov, is of Uzbek origin. He was captured along with a man of Kyrgyz origin and three women from Egypt, Senegal and Somalia in Istanbul’s Esenyurt district, Reuters quoted the state-run Anadolu news agency as saying.

Dozens of people have previously been detained in connection with the attack, claimed by Islamic State as revenge for Turkish military involvement in Syria.

Masharipov is being questioned at Istanbul police headquarters, and police have also detained other people after raids across the city targeting Uzbek Islamic State cells.

Masharipov reportedly arrived in Konya, central Turkey, with his family at the beginning of 2016, and assumed the name Ebu Muhammed Horasani, the BBC quoted Turkish media as saying. He rented a flat in Konya with a woman believed to be his wife and two children. He arrived in Istanbul on Dec. 15, around two weeks before the nightclub attack.

Barrow Time

Gambia’s President-elect Adama Barrow said his inauguration would go ahead as planned this week, despite incumbent President Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to accept the results of the December election.

Barrow released a statement on Monday afternoon from neighboring Senegal that said he would be sworn in “on Gambian soil” on Thursday, the Guardian reported.

After officially taking office, Barrow will begin “work on reversing serious damage caused by 22 years of malgovernance,” the paper quoted a spokesman as adding.

Barrow’s statement followed an announcement from Gambia’s chief justice that he would not rule on an injunction filed by Jammeh to prevent Barrow’s inauguration going ahead. But with that legal recourse closed to him, it’s unclear what measures Jammeh may pursue to try to hold onto power.

Regional African leaders have pledged to ensure he exits on schedule. But the arrest of many of the country’s military and security officers in recent days has raised concerns that Jammeh may not go peacefully. Thousands of Gambians have fled the country in recent weeks fearing war may break out.

Unsolved Mystery

The $160 million hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 officially came to an end on Tuesday, as crews finished a sweep of the 46,000-square mile search zone without locating the downed aircraft.

The Joint Agency Coordination Center in Australia, which has helped lead the effort, said the decision to end the search was not taken lightly, but the searchers had exhausted all available technologies and expert input to no avail since the plane’s disappearance three years ago, Bloomberg reported.

Investigators recommended search crews head north to a new area identified recently as a possible crash site. But the Australian government rejected the idea, as Australia, Malaysia and China — which have each helped fund the search — had agreed last year that the hunt would be suspended once the search zone was exhausted unless new evidence emerged that pinpointed the plane’s specific location.

Unless Malaysia allots more money to the project or a private donor emerges, the mystery will likely remain unsolved, the agency said.


Farewell, Blue Monday

Did anyone feel particularly glum yesterday? If so, you had good reason. Jan. 16 was purportedly the gloomiest day of the year, better known as “Blue Monday.”

Based on a somewhat whimsical formula developed in 2005 by a former Cardiff University researcher, Blue Monday allegedly occurs on the third Monday in January – as people come down from their holiday-season highs and settle back into their normal routines.

When combined with unfriendly winter weather, Christmas shopping bills and broken New Year’s resolutions, it all amounts to what is supposedly the most depressing day of the year.

Still, this year’s Blue Monday might have been bluer than most thanks to stresses caused by events like Brexit and the US presidential election, according to Cliff Arnall, the researcher behind the Blue Monday equation.

“The death of so many celebrities, many in their 50s and 60s, has also worried people by reminding them of their own mortality,” Arnall told the Telegraph.

For many, however, the upside is that the rest of 2017 should be nowhere near as grim.

Take a look at Arnall’s Blue Monday Depression Formula here.

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