The World Today for June 13, 2017



A Game of Catch-Up

It’s usually terror group Boko Haram that captures attention in Africa. But in the Horn, it’s the fight against al-Qaeda’s East African affiliate al-Shabaab that is heating up.

Over the weekend, the US bombed one of the group’s “nerve centers” in Somalia, the Military Times reported, in a steadily escalating operation that a one-star general is now overseeing.

That assault came as the jihadists have been busy.

On Tuesday, heavily armed al-Shabab fighters stormed a military base in Somalia’s semiautonomous state of Puntland, killing close to 70 people and wounding dozens more, officials told the Associated Press. Residents said civilians, including women, were beheaded during the rampage.

The militant group set fire to a school in northeastern Kenya earlier this month, killing one local teacher and kidnapping another. In the Somali port city of Kismayu, at least one policeman was killed and several others injured after the group detonated a bomb in the city’s police station.

After its inception in 2006 amid a prolonged period of Somalian instability, al-Shabaab snatched up territory uncontrolled by the country’s feeble central government, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

By 2011, the group had seized neighborhoods in Mogadishu as well as the entirety of Kismayu before Kenyan troops pushed them out under the authority of the African Union that year.

While the group may be weaker now in Somalia, it still wields incredible influence in the region and wages regular, brutal guerilla attacks throughout the Horn of Africa. It’s estimated that al-Shabaab still has as many as 9,000 dedicated fighters in the sub-Saharan region.

Attacks have risen significantly in Kenya over the last few weeks, too, Kenya’s Standard newspaper reported. Since 2011, al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for more than 150 terror attacks in the country, including the 2015 massacre at Garissa University College, which claimed almost 150 lives.

The violence has helped al-Shabaab claim the title of deadliest terror group on the African continent last year. The fighters killed more than 4,000 people in 2016, according to Quartz.

The group’s tactics of terror are more multifaceted than in the past, too.

Instead of uniformly pillaging villages to gain influence and territory, al-Shabaab is also engaging in an extreme ideological campaign across the region.

It looks to recruit and radicalize young Muslims, some as young as six years-old, while enslaving women and girls to breed the next generation of fighters, the BBC has reported. It also seeks to win the hearts and minds of locals in some areas of the country by providing security and stability.

The ongoing power struggle between the feeble Somali government and al-Shabaab continues to threaten the stability of the entire region, especially during a drought that’s put some 6.2 million people in the Horn of Africa in need of humanitarian assistance, Newsweek warned.

Making matters worse, the group extorts humanitarian groups trying to access those in need in regions it controls, potentially jeopardizing a $825 million assistance operation that’s crucial to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, according to United Nations estimates.

The US and its allies are clearly trying to keep a lid on the group before its brand of hate metastasizes further. They’re playing a game of catch-up that they must win for the sake of the region.

[siteshare]A Game of Catch Up[/siteshare]



Losing Ground

Panama severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan to recognize China, reducing the small number of nations that acknowledge Taiwan as a sovereign state to just 19.

Because many of those countries are in Latin America, the reversal from Panama is particularly threatening, the New York Times reported.

The decision follows a visit by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen last summer for the inauguration of President Juan Carlos Varela and the opening of an expanded Panama Canal. However, shipping traffic through Panama is dominated by US imports from China – and the first vessel to sail through the expanded canal was flying a mainland Chinese flag.

China’s might in trade could well prove an inexorable force, the paper quoted an expert from D.C. International Advisory as saying.

Panama “was at the top of the list” of Taiwan’s most important remaining diplomatic allies, said Ross Feingold. Now, it is “very possible that the remaining countries will switch.”

Under the longstanding “one China policy,” the US tacitly accepts Beijing’s contention that Taiwan is a breakaway province, though Washington has also protected Taipei’s autonomy since the ousted Republic of China government fled there after the Chinese revolution.

[siteshare]Losing Ground[/siteshare]


Blue Book Values

Venezuela’s Supreme Court on Monday rejected Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz’s motion to squash President Nicolas Maduro’s bid to rewrite the constitution.

Protests continued across the country, with demonstrators marching toward the high court to protest its refusal to stop the special assembly tasked with rewriting the constitution, the Associated Press reported.

As has become common over the past two months – during which at least 68 people have been killed – pro-government armed groups clashed with protesters and journalists near the Supreme Court.

The ongoing protests erupted after the Maduro-friendly Supreme Court stripped the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its powers in March, and have continued despite the reversal of that decision. The protesters demand a new presidential election. But Maduro has instead formed a special assembly to rewrite the constitution – a move the opposition and international observers decry as a power grab.

Ortega Diaz, who held Venezuela’s small blue constitution book in her hands as she claimed Maduro’s assembly is a threat to democracy last week, has emerged as one of his most trenchant critics within the government.

[siteshare]Blue Book Values[/siteshare]


All Eyez on Me

The late hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur would feel right at home in Australia these days.

Close on the heels of a similar statement from British Prime Minister Theresa May, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Tuesday that the upcoming meeting of the so-called Five Eyes intelligence-sharing coalition in Canada would focus on efforts to pressure technology firms like Facebook and Apple to share encrypted data with security agencies, Reuters reported.

Officials from the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand would aim to ensure “terrorists and organized criminals are not able to operate with impunity” online, the agency quoted Turnbull as saying in parliament. “The privacy of a terrorist can never be more important than public safety – never.”

Turnbull said the push was “not about creating or exploiting back doors” to access private information but about “collaboration with and assistance from industry in the pursuit of public safety,” Australia’s noted.

[siteshare]All Eyez on Me [/siteshare]


Stopping the Spread

In a crowded bus or subway car, leg room quickly becomes a much fought-over commodity.

With this in mind, Madrid is cracking down on a social taboo perpetrated predominately by men that is so universal it’s earned its own moniker: manspreading.

Madrid’s Municipal Transport Company, or EMT, defines the term as one that “describes the posture of men who open their legs too wide and take up neighboring seats.”

To combat the practice, the EMT has posted signs that ban manspreading throughout its public transportation network.

“All public transport has stickers explaining that room needs to be made for pregnant women, people with buggies, older people and those with disabilities, but there’s something that affects all of us practically every time we use public transport: manspreading,” read a petition with more than 11,500 signatures that prompted the new signs.

Madrid isn’t alone in working toward discouraging the manspread.

Both New York and Seattle have launched their own public service announcements against the annoying posture, the Guardian reported.

Click here for other global initiatives against manspreading.

[siteshare]Stopping the Spread[/siteshare]

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