September 05, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

TURKEY

Missile Diplomacy

US-backed Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria are in retreat.

As the BBC explained, the troops pulled back from areas along the Turkish border as part of an agreement between US and Turkish leaders.

Turkey considers the Kurdish forces in Syria to be an extension of the banned Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, a militant group that has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for decades. It is regarded by Turkey, the US and the EU as a terrorist organization.

But the Syrian Kurdish forces also helped American troops fighting the Islamic State in Syria during the civil war that has been raging there since 2011.

Turkey has been threatening to invade the area held by the Syrian Kurds and stamp out dreams of an independent Kurdistan. The diplomatic agreement with the US avoided that confrontation, and the Kurds have begun moving forces away from the Turkish frontier while the US and Turkey work to create a “safe zone” between the two sides, reported the Associated Press.

But peace still seems remote at another point along Syria’s long border with Turkey.

In early August, the Daily Beast wrote, Turkish, Russian and Iranian leaders met in Kazakhstan and agreed to work toward ending the fighting in Idlib, a province in northwestern Syria that also shares a border with Turkey. It’s also the last region where rebels, backed by Turkey, are still fighting soldiers loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Iran.

The Kazakhstan agreement also condemned the “separatist” agenda of the Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria, appearing to greenlight a Turkish invasion of the region.

Turkey’s muscle flexing in the region has come at the expense of American interests outside Syria, too.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently treated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to an ice cream while the two were visiting an international air show, the Moscow Times reported. Putin paid for the cones, but clearly Erdogan was the real customer, quipped Al-Monitor.

“We have shown you a series of various products, both military and civilian,” Putin said, according to a press release. “They not only demonstrate Russia’s capability in aerospace but also offer a variety of cooperation opportunities.”

Russian missile makers are already shipping new orders to Turkey, noted Al Jazeera. President Donald Trump responded to a NATO member buying Russian weapons by banning Turkey from acquiring the American-made F-35 stealth fighter jet. Now Russia is hawking its warplanes to Erdogan, wrote Bloomberg, though the National Interest disputed if Russia could produce good stealth fighters.

Serkan Demirtas, a columnist at the Hurriyet Daily News in Turkey, suggested that Erdogan’s moves date back to US leaders denying his request for Patriot missiles. He wants to signal to Washington that he has alternatives if he can’t buy the most sophisticated weapons from the US.

In missile diplomacy, it seems, the customer is not always king.

WANT TO KNOW

ITALY

Left Turn

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte unveiled his new cabinet composed of members of the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party.

The coalition, sworn in Thursday, is expected to immediately move to undo some of the actions of the prior administration, Reuters reported.

Conte’s previous administration collapsed when coalition partner Matteo Salvini of the far-right League party decided to break its alliance with the Five-Star party in a failed attempt to trigger early elections.

The new coalition is planning to soften Salvini’s crackdown on migrants, and mend strained relations with Brussels.

Conte still has to win confidence votes in both houses of parliament before the cabinet can officially begin to work.

On Tuesday, the new coalition detailed a 26-point policy program, which focuses on an expansionary 2020 budget, the introduction of a minimum wage, as well as increased spending on education, research and welfare.

HONG KONG

Too Little, Too Late

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced Wednesday she is withdrawing an extradition bill that has sparked protests in the city for months.

The move is one of the first direct concessions to protesters, aimed at resolving the unrest that has gripped the city since June, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Lam said she wants to ease public concern over China and encourage dialogue with citizens. Even so, many protesters countered that the withdrawal of the bill is not enough. Many want new elections and greater civil liberties.

“Too little, too late,” said pro-democracy figure Joshua Wong. “Whenever the government appears to extend an olive branch, they always come with a far tighter grip on civil rights.”

Demonstrators are also demanding an investigation into police conduct during the protests, and amnesty for those arrested since June.

The unrest in Hong Kong has hurt the city’s economy, and some believe that is why Lam has withdrawn the bill.

UNITED KINGDOM

Breaking Up Is So Hard To Do

British lawmakers approved a bill early Thursday that would block Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to leave the European Union without a deal.

Both chambers of parliament, the House of Commons and the House of Lords, passed the bill, dealing a third parliamentary defeat to the prime minister in two days, the Associated Press reported.

The new bill would require the government to ask the EU for another extension on Brexit – until Jan. 31, 2020 – if Britain cannot secure a deal by Oct. 31.

Opposition lawmakers, supported by rebel Conservative lawmakers, hope to pass the bill into law before next week when Johnson plans to suspend parliament – until Oct. 14.

Proponents of the bill warned that leaving the bloc without a deal could cause severe economic harm to the nation.

Johnson responded by swiftly expelling rebellious lawmakers out of his party. He also attempted to call new elections but parliament rejected his motion. Johnson says he will try again, saying this is the only way out of the Brexit standoff.

The latest turmoil underscores the prime minister’s vulnerability: Barely six weeks after taking office with the sole aim of breaking the Brexit deadlock, Johnson’s plans to lead the UK out of the EU are in crisis. A similar situation brought down his predecessor, Theresa May.

DISCOVERIES

Party Hard

South Korea’s population is aging faster than that of any other developed country and causing an expansion in health issues – and loneliness – and Seoul officials have noticed.

Enter daytime discos.

“Some people are not even able to walk at first, but after coming here for a while I’ve seen them throw their canes away and run around,” Dosun Lee, a welfare center director, told the BBC.

The event is strictly focused on older generations and provides a venue for seniors to mingle and move. Besides therapeutic benefits, it has also helped people make new friends and partners.

“I even made a girlfriend here,” said one senior partygoer.

Similar efforts to fight senior loneliness have popped up in other countries around the globe.

In London, the Posh Club caters to retirees with champagne and outrageous cabaret-style parties.

“It’s the only place I’ve ever had knickers thrown at me,” Elvis impersonator Conrad Hamilton told Vice Magazine.