The World Today for May 17, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

CHAD

Off the Blacklist

Citizens of Chad are able to once again enter the United States after President Trump removed the predominantly Muslim, Central African nation from the list of countries falling under his controversial travel ban.

The reversal was a calculated decision, as Chad counterterrorism forces have been key in the fight against Islamic militants in the region, the BBC reported. Chad is an important Western ally, and many were shocked that it even made it onto the list in the first place.

But Washington’s strategic about-face on Chad comes at an interesting moment in the nation’s history – a constitutional rewrite has effectively guaranteed that longtime President Idriss Déby could rule another 15 years.

Déby has been sparring with Boko Haram – the Islamic militant group infamous for the Nigerian schoolgirl kidnappings – ever since it overran the Lake Chad region in 2009. Boko Haram’s violence in the region has prompted an ongoing humanitarian crisis as the group attempts to impose Sharia law on the region and isolate it from aid groups and local governments. Millions from Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon have been displaced in the conflict.

As America’s war on terror intensified, Chad developed a reputation as a dutiful ally, eager to fight Boko Haram, when it deployed troops to fight the militants in Nigeria. But once Chad made President Trump’s blacklist, Déby withdrew hundreds of troops from the region, Reuters reported.

Trump seems to have bandaged the broken relationship with a pivotal regional ally by excluding Chad from the ban.

But one should be careful to classify Chad as a proponent of Western values now that it’s back in Trump’s good graces.

Resisting the wave of ousted strongmen across the continent, Chad’s parliament overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that could allow President Déby to hold his post until 2033, when he will be at least 80, Reuters reported.

Approved by a vote of 132 to 2, the rewritten constitution reinstates a two-term limit on the presidency, and extends the president’s term from five to six years. And because the new term limits are not retroactive, Déby, who’s been in office since 1990, could serve two terms after the next election, in 2021.

Despite overwhelming parliamentary support, the move ignited opposition groups who see the changes as turning Chad into a de-facto monarchy. To show their disapproval, they boycotted a two-week national forum that discussed the amendments and was attended by business leaders and high-ranking politicians.

For all the controversy of the constitutional change, however, it appears that counterterrorism trumps democratic norms when it comes to Western perceptions of Chad.

WANT TO KNOW

EUROPEAN UNION

Wishful Thinking

European leaders had choice words for President Donald Trump as they scrambled to salvage the Iran nuclear deal after the United States withdrew last week.

“Looking at the latest decisions of Donald Trump, someone could even think: With friends like that, who needs enemies?” European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters Wednesday ahead of a bloc summit in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Europeans see the Iran nuclear deal as crucial to the continent’s security, and discussed Wednesday whether to direct European firms to circumvent newly re-imposed US sanctions to continue doing business with Iran and stay in the deal, the Washington Post reported.

Their best efforts, however, may not be enough to influence companies heavily reliant on American markets and financing, the Wall Street Journal reported.

French oil giant Total announced Wednesday it had halted an Iranian natural-gas project and may have to pull the plug on plans to invest some $1 billion in Iranian energy. Wintershall AG, a German energy firm, and Maersk Tankers AS, one of the world’s largest oil-shipping companies, have made similar announcements.

AFGHANISTAN

Winning the Battle, Losing the War

Afghan officials declared victory in the western province of Farah after Taliban insurgents withdrew – 25 security force members and five civilians died in the day-long assault.

Though Afghan officials said the insurgents’ retreat showed the effectiveness of government forces, residents told the New York Times that the speed of the Taliban’s attack on a region heavily patrolled by both Afghan and American troops displayed the area’s vulnerabilities.

The Afghan interior ministry claimed that some 300 Taliban members were killed during the battle for the city, but the insurgents left largely without opposition, witnesses reported.

The battle for Farah is just one in a series of attacks in quick succession that have occurred since the Taliban rejected a government peace plan in March.

American government figures estimate that the group firmly controls about 14 of the nation’s 407 districts, and directly influence another 46. In the past week alone, 200 Afghan police officers and soldiers have been killed fighting the insurgents.

TURKEY

Nickle and Dimed

Ahead of Turkey’s presidential elections next month – the first since a referendum last year transferred sweeping powers to the executive branch – opposition leaders say that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ideological economics are pushing the nation “to the cliff,” Reuters reported.

Erdogan has called himself an “enemy of interest rates.” He wants to make borrowing less expensive, boost credit and build new infrastructure, projects he says he will force the nation’s central bank to accept.

But with double-digit inflation creeping up, economists worry such plans won’t allow Turkey’s central bank the flexibility it needs to prevent an economic downturn. Since March, the Turkish lira has dropped 14.6 percent in value compared to the dollar, the Washington Post reported, and banks have pushed the limits of their ability to borrow.

Turkey’s central bank has acted independently of the president in the past. But with elections around the corner, that might be a thing of the past. Erdogan told Bloomberg in an interview this week that the central bank “can’t take this independence and set aside the signals given by the president, who’s the head of the executive.”

DISCOVERIES

Heading Home

Arts-and-crafts store giant Hobby Lobby has been caught with hot glue on its hands.

USA Today reported that the retailer – best known for its successful Supreme Court challenge on denying the coverage of contraceptives to its employees on religious grounds – bought thousands of looted Mesopotamian artifacts worth millions and had them shipped in small batches to addresses in Oklahoma.

Company president Steve Green had been clued in to the likelihood that they’d been looted from Iraqi archaeological sites before the purchase, according to US authorities.

Luckily for Iraq, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) intercepted some of the artifacts and, facing a government lawsuit, Hobby Lobby agreed to forfeit others.

The collection – which includes 3,000 clay “seals” used by the ancient Mesopotamians to authenticate documents, as well as tablets written in the era’s cuneiform script – was ceremonially transferred back to Iraq in an event at the Iraqi ambassador’s home in Washington earlier this month.

“We are proud to have played a role in removing these pieces of Iraq’s history from the black market … and restoring them to the Iraqi people,” said US Attorney Richard Donoghue.

The score is the first time stolen artifacts have been repatriated to Iraq since March 2015, when ICE handed over antiquities and other objects, including a bust of Assyrian King Sargon II, who ruled over Mesopotamia from 722 to 705 BC.

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