The World Today for October 17, 2017



Pushing Deadlines

Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont failed to meet a deadline – again.

Catalonia proceeded with an illegal independence referendum Oct. 1, in which almost 900 were injured in riots and police crackdowns. The referendum passed with 90 percent favorability, albeit under violent circumstances and a voter turnout of only 43 percent.

Puigdemont and his regional parliament had to give word of Catalonia’s independence within 48 hours of a “yes” vote, per a law passed by the region’s legislative chamber before the vote, the Financial Times reported.

Instead, Puigdemont stalled – and stirred up more confusion about the region’s future.

On Oct. 10, the Catalan leader perplexingly declared independence from Spain, before backtracking, suspending that decision, and calling for more “dialogue” with Madrid, the New York Times reported.

Trying to get a grip on Barcelona’s ambiguity, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy set another deadline for Monday morning this week for Puigdemont to explain his government’s intentions.

That deadline, too, came and went with nothing more than a request from the Catalan president that dialogue take place over the coming months about how to proceed, CNBC reported.

“It’s not a hard question we have asked, it’s not a hard question to respond to,” Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría told reporters on Monday after receiving Puigdemont’s letter.

“10:00 a.m. (local time) on Thursday is the deadline,” she added, noting the Spanish government’s newest ultimatum. “We are very disappointed he hasn’t given a yes or no answer to the question we asked.”

This newest deadline seems to be the final straw for Madrid: Prime Minister Rajoy is threatening to implement Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which would allow him to oust Puigdemont and his cohorts and call for new elections, if the Catalan government continues pursuing independence on Thursday.

It’s a tricky game of chess, regardless of the outcome, analysts say.

Puigdemont leads a motley crew coalition of mainstream parties, anarchists and right-wing nationalists, all of which agree on one thing, the New York Times reported: secession. But the president’s delay in declaring independence is fraying his coalition.

At the same time, high-profile businesses in the prosperous region have threatened to vacate if independence comes to pass. The European Union has also said Catalonia would find itself isolated from the European bloc.

Madrid has a bit more wiggle room.

It could grant Catalonia fiscal autonomy from Spain to quell calls for secession. That tactic worked for Spain’s Basque Country, a now-autonomous region that once waged a deadly campaign for independence against the mainland, Reuters reported. But with Catalonia accounting for one-fifth of the Spanish economy, the state would lose almost $19 billion in the process.

Madrid could also squash Puigdemont’s mandate in stages, if not all at once. But the move could embolden secessionists and voters alike as Catalonia heads toward new elections.

As old deadlines pass, new ones emerge – with more dramatic consequences.



Mopping up a Mess

The recent Kurdish independence referendum has already sparked violence in northern Iraq, as Iraqi government forces seized the city of Kirkuk and other key installations from Kurdish control over the weekend.

The US has called for “calm” and State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert urged all parties to “avoid further clashes,” the BBC reported. But the conflict threatens to fracture the alliance fighting the Islamic State before the mopping up can be finished.

Senate Armed Services Committee chief John McCain, for instance, has already warned Iraq of “severe consequences” if it uses US-supplied weaponry against Kurdish forces.

On Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that the operation in Kirkuk was necessary to “protect the unity of the country, which was in danger of partition” because of the referendum – which he had earlier denounced as unconstitutional.

The US supports both the Iraqi army and Kurdish militias in the fight against Islamic State.


Facing Reality

Beleaguered Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro emerged stronger from gubernatorial elections on Sunday – at least on paper. But the electoral victory by his ruling Socialist Party has sparked allegations of fraud from the opposition and reignited street protests.

The head of Venezuela’s electoral council announced late Sunday that candidates from Maduro’s party had won 17 of 23 state houses in contention, even though the controversial president is widely viewed as propelling the oil-rich country into its worst economic crisis in modern history, NPR reported.

Polls had predicted a major victory for the opposition, but pro-government candidates won 54 percent of the votes.

Among the irregularities cited by the opposition, the government relocated 200 polling stations at the eleventh hour, forcing hundreds of thousands to take long taxi or bus rides to vote. The opposition said Monday it would not recognize the results.

“We now realize that we live in a dictatorship,” one opposition candidate said.


A Chilling Future

The devastating terrorist attack in Mogadishu over the weekend was a chilling dose of reality for Somalia, a nation that continues to struggle against the Islamist militants of al-Shabab, all while international troops propping up the government prepare for withdrawal early next year.

Locals are calling the twin truck bombings that killed more than 270 people Somalia’s 9/11. The president has declared three days of mourning, and heads have already begun to roll for what is widely perceived as an egregious security failure, the New York Times reported.

In the wake of the attack, many locals expressed fears that the country could soon fall under the control of al-Shabab.

Noting al-Shabab’s ability to wreak havoc is as strong as ever – the fragile veneer of peace in the country is cracked almost weekly by a new, deadly attack – Warwick University professor David Anderson called this latest attack a “cold, cold blast of reality” for Somalis about the future of their beleaguered nation.


Valhalla, I Am Coming

A new discovery within a Viking burial site is raising questions about the relationship between ancient Nordic and Islamic cultures.

While preparing ancient garbs for an exhibition on Viking couture in Enkoping, Sweden, textile archeologist Annika Larsson came across Kufic characters of Arabic – a calligraphy style found in many burial sites in Central Asia – woven into Viking burial clothes that spell out the words “Ali” and “Allah,” the New York Times reported.

Larsson sees this as evidence that there might have been deeper cultural and ideological exchanges than initially thought between the two cultures – apart from trade and the occasional plundering.

The inscribed burial garments were made of silk, only adding to her suspicions. The Quran says that silks are worn in paradise, indicating that Viking burial customs may have been influenced by Islam. The same patterns have been found in Central Asia.

“I’m not saying that these are Muslims. But they are partaking in a worldview shared by people living in Central Asia,” she said. “A giddying thought is that the bands, as well as the costumes, were produced west of what was the Muslim heartland.”

This newest evidence supports the theory that Viking settlements in the Malar Valley of Sweden were possibly a western outpost of the Silk Road, she added.

It could even be possible that Vikings had Central Asian heritage – researchers are currently testing the DNA salvaged from Viking remains, a process that’s due to be finished next year.

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