The World Today for January 02, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

NEPAL

Playing the Angles

Everest-sized changes may be underway in Kathmandu.

An alliance of the country’s two communist parties won a sweeping victory in two recent elections, raising the stakes in the battle for influence over Nepal between China and India, the country’s oldest ally.

The Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) and CPN (Maoist Center) joined forces to crush the centrist Nepali Congress in polls electing legislators to the lower house of parliament and provincial assemblies in November and December.

That gives the left-wing alliance overwhelming majorities in both the federal legislature and the provincial assemblies, the Diplomat noted. And it means the alliance is likely to form governments in six out of seven provinces.

The key to victory was the alliance, which prevented the two parties from cannibalizing each other’s votes. The Nepali Congress party and its leader, the former Foreign Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat, were also undone by Mahat’s promise to hold local, provincial and parliamentary elections in 2017 — which helped prevent the government from making much headway on more pressing issues, such as relief efforts related to the Gorkha earthquake in 2015, opines CK Lal for Al-Jazeera.

But the election results could represent more than a routine drift leftward due to anti-incumbency.

Amid jockeying for influence between China and India, CPN-UML leader K.P. Oli — a former prime minister who is tipped to lead the new government — gained popularity by standing firm in 2015 against what Nepalis saw as a border blockade by India, Lal writes.

The leftist victory was a “reactive result” to excessive Indian interference in Nepal, Surendra KC, a political analyst at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, told the South China Morning Post.

Now China – which supplied Nepal with oil during the blockade – is pushing for further influence through large-scale infrastructure projects connected to Beijing’s One Belt, One Road scheme. Long-criticized for dictating terms to “little brother” Nepal, New Delhi must now play defense – even though landlocked Nepal still depends on Indian ports for trade and supplies, and remittances from Nepalese workers in India account for a huge portion of the country’s income.

“Losing” Nepal would be a huge blow for New Delhi, which already fears that One Belt, One Road is a land-based version of what analysts have called a “string of pearls” strategy linking Chinese projects in key maritime centers across the Indian Ocean and which India sees as a threat to its oceanic sphere of influence.

But analysts suggest it’s too early to predict a wholesale flip-flop, and a Nepalese effort to play the giants off one another to try to hold its own is the most likely outcome.

Meanwhile, there are no guarantees that the communist alliance will hold. And Oli’s promise to remain “equidistant” from his two giant neighbors ignores the reality of Nepal’s geography and its religious, cultural and linguistic ties to India, Lal argues.

WANT TO KNOW

IRAN

Raising the Stakes

Iranian protesters attacked police stations and military bases, leaving at least 10 people dead and raising the stakes in the largest demonstrations since the country’s disputed presidential election in 2009.

Security forces killed 10 people in actions to repel “armed protesters” that attacked the government installations, the Associated Press reported. That brings the total death toll to at least 13 people, including a police officer.

Reuters cited videos on social media as showing an intense battle between security forces and protesters in the central town of Qahderijan, where the demonstrators sought to take over a police station, which was partially set on fire.

In the western city of Kermanshah, protesters set fire to a traffic police post, the agency said. In the central city of Najafabad, a demonstrator opened fire on police with a hunting rifle, killing one and wounding three others.

The protests began Thursday over economic distress and allegations of government corruption. Hundreds have been arrested.

PAKISTAN

Spurred to Action?

As President Donald Trump used his first tweet of 2018 to excoriate Pakistan, Islamabad was planning to seize control of charities and financial assets linked to Islamist leader Hafiz Saeed, the alleged terrorist accused of masterminding the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.

Reuters cited secret government documents as ordering law enforcement and governments in Pakistan’s five provinces to submit an action plan by Dec. 28 for a “takeover” of Saeed’s two charities, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation.

Washington has labeled JuD and FIF “terrorist fronts” for Lashkar-e-Taiba, which Saeed founded in 1987. Both Washington and India blame Lashkar for the Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people.

Earlier, Trump’s first tweet of 2018 accused Pakistan of harboring terrorists and treating American leaders as fools, as the US is considering withholding more than $250 million in aid that it delayed sending to Islamabad in August, the BBC noted.

Pakistan summoned the US ambassador to the foreign office in protest and said Trump was bitter due to the “US defeat in Afghanistan.”

RUSSIA

Pipeline Primacy

Despite European Union efforts to reduce the bloc’s dependency in the wake of Russia’s military action in Ukraine, Moscow’s grip over natural gas supplies in Europe continues to tighten.

State-owned Gazprom shipped a record 190 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe in 2017, and expects to ship another 180 billion next year, Bloomberg reported. That reflects a roughly 25 percent increase since 2014 when Moscow’s annexation of Crimea led to a standoff between Russia and the West, noted Nick Cunningham in OilPrice.com. And Russia’s market share will rise to 40 percent by 2035, up from 30 percent now.

While US liquefied natural gas (LNG) has begun to arrive, it hasn’t had a big enough impact to offset the fall in European natural gas production. Russia, too, has entered the LNG game with a $27 billion LNG export terminal developed by private Russian gas company Novatek in the Arctic.

That’s not “necessarily a huge threat to European energy security” Cunningham opines. But it’s more than enough to guarantee Moscow’s political leverage.

DISCOVERIES

Credit Overdue

Renaissance artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo are forever engraved in the annals of history.

But in the Italian city of Florence, known as the “cradle of the Renaissance,” museum curators are giving credit to some unsung artists of the period: women.

Inspired by the feminist activist group Guerrilla Girls, this past summer, the Uffizi museum started a series of exhibitions dedicated to women artists of the past, PRI reported.

According to the museum’s director, Eike Schmidt, the Uffizi houses “the largest collection of works of arts by women before the 19th century,” with the majority of them being kept in storage.

Another local organization, Advancing Women Artists Foundation (AWA), aims to preserve works by women artists and fund their exhibition.

“Too often women artists have been forgotten by history,” says Linda Falcone, director of AWA.

At the Uffizi, the new annual exhibitions will begin on March 8, in honor of International Women’s Day.

For skeptics who question whether women artists merit a special exhibition, Schmidt is ready with an answer. It’s not just about exhibiting the works of women, he says: “It’s more an occasion to bring them back into art history.”

 

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