The World Today for June 29, 2017



Shadowy Lines

An already shaky Middle East now faces the ongoing Qatar crisis.

Saudi Arabia – along with Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – severed diplomatic and trade relations with Qatar on June 5.

On Wednesday, Qatari leaders criticized the coalition for refusing to negotiate over the demands they’ve required from Qatar, which include severing ties with Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood and other militant or terror groups and shutting down the Al Jazeera news network, the BBC reported.

Tensions have been running high in the Middle East as Saudi Arabia’s blockade takes a toll on import-reliant Qatar and more players pick sides in the dispute.

Iran, for one, has stepped up to the Qatari’s aid by sending planes carrying fresh food and vegetables to Doha airport “as long as there is demand,” wrote CNN.

And Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is also coming to Qatar’s aid by calling for Bahrain and the other Arab states to engage in a dialogue with each other, wrote Newsweek.

Erdogan is also pushing for a swift resolution to the crisis, telling Bahrain and the other Arab states to bring the matter to a close by the end of the holy month of Ramadan (a deadline that passed last Saturday).

Turkey of course has its own motives for assisting Doha. It views the crisis as an opportunity to flex its military muscle in the region, wrote Deutsche Welle.

Though President Donald Trump may have helped to precipitate the Saudi move, Bloomberg pointed out that the US has little option but to remain by Qatar’s side as it’s home to a US military base.

The country has even tapped former White House legal counsel – in the form of President George W. Bush’s former Attorney General John Ashcroft – to navigate this crisis.

Ultimately, the best course of action may be for Qatar to meet Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states halfway.

Mild concessions on the part of the Qataris – like trying to restrain the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas or cooling its relations with Saudi Arabia’s chief rival Iran – could be one such tactic, noted Bloomberg.

Already, Qatar is trying to strike a conciliatory tone with its former friends by refusing to expel their citizens even though the Saudis and their allies have sent Qataris packing from their turf, wrote Al Jazeera.

What’s arguably most interesting is how the diplomatic row surrounding Qatar has overshadowed the Middle East’s other prominent crisis: the Syrian Civil War.

In addition to diverting attention away from that protracted conflict, Qatar’s woes may even end up bolstering Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – at least according to the pro-Assad, Kremlin-affiliated Sputnik News.

That’s because a blockade of Qatar – which has supported Syrian rebels in the past – translates into a blockade of Assad’s worst foes as well.

[siteshare]Shadowy Lines[/siteshare]



Uneasy Friendship

Poland’s Western European allies are worried a visit from US President Donald Trump may encourage Warsaw’s defiance of Brussels.

European Union diplomats view efforts by Poland’s right-wing government to woo Trump through the so-called Three Seas summit in Poland on July 6 – a stopover on his way to the G20 summit in Hamburg – as a bid to carve out more influence over foreign affairs outside of its role in NATO and the EU, Reuters reported.

Most diplomats have dismissed the summit as only of marginal importance, but some fear Trump’s attendance will energize what one diplomat called Poland’s move toward “self-ghettoization.”

For his part, Trump plans to promote US natural gas exports to the leaders from central and eastern Europe, which now rely primarily on Russian gas.

But Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party could find other common ground with the “America First” president. It’s one of the region’s leading voices against migration, for instance, and has clashed with other EU members over that and other issues.

[siteshare] Uneasy Friendship [/siteshare]


One Mission, Three Messages

China’s President Xi Jinping landed in Hong Kong for a three-day celebration of the 20th anniversary of the one-time British colony’s return to Chinese control in 1997.

He set out three purposes for the visit, the South China Morning Post reported: Conveying his congratulations, showing central government support for the Hong Kong government and mapping out a future that will ensure the “one country, two systems” scheme of governance remains “smooth and can be carried forward.”

Xi’s first tour of Hong Kong as president follows a night of protest at the Golden Bauhinia Square, the planned site of a flag raising ceremony. More than 20 protesters, including student activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung, were arrested, the paper noted.

Xi said Beijing was “willing to work with all sectors of Hong Kong’s society in maintaining Hong Kong’s extraordinary journey these past 20 years,” the BBC reported.

A series of official events are planned for the weekend, including the inauguration of Hong Kong’s incoming chief executive, Carrie Lam – whose election by a circle of Beijing-friendly elites in March reignited calls for universal suffrage.

[siteshare] One Mission, Three Messages [/siteshare]


Cardinal Sin

Australian police lodged multiple charges against the country’s highest-ranking Catholic official related to a history of sexual abuse allegations.

“There are multiple complainants relating to those charges,” the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Victoria’s Deputy Police Commissioner, Shane Patton, as saying at a press conference Thursday morning.

The accused, Cardinal George Pell, is the third most senior Catholic at the Vatican. He has repeatedly denied there is any truth to the allegations. A statement from the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney said he “is looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously.”

Police did not take any questions during the press conference and did not provide any details about the allegations, but said the authorities were treating the cardinal like any other accused.

Australia does not have an extradition treaty with the Vatican.

Three police detectives travelled to Rome to interview Cardinal Pell about the allegations last year after he was declared unfit to travel to Australia.

[siteshare] Cardinal Sin [/siteshare]


Life’s a Beach

Fans of superheroes like Captain America and other cartoon characters usually only get a chance to glimpse their idols on the big screen or at Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.

But as of last weekend, a tiny beach in Belgium has opened up a giant gallery featuring larger-than-life sculptures of these famous characters – made entirely out of sand.

One of the world’s biggest such festivals, the Ostend Sand Sculpture Festival features 150 works by 32 artists who spent over five weeks creating replicas of the likes of Scrooge McDuck and Cinderella’s Castle using 7,000 tons of sand.

Many of the Ostend artists usually work in other mediums like wood or marble. Sculpting with sand proved to be a unique challenge, they said.

“What I like in the sand is that you must be very tactile while carving, I am also an ice carver and to compare with ice, the sand is very fragile,” Russian artist Sergey Zaplatn told Reuters.

Visitors to Ostend will have a chance to check out this exhibit of sand sculptures from now until September 10, unless some heavy rains wash these artworks away first.

Check out some pictures of these sand sculptures here.

[siteshare]Life’s a Beach[/siteshare]

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