VIF News Digest: International Developments (US, UK, Russia and Africa), 18 November- 3 December 2019
White House will not participate in Judiciary Committee hearing: CNN, 2 December 2019

Neither President Donald Trump nor his attorneys will participate in Wednesday's House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing. In a letter to Chairman Jerrold Nadler, White House counsel to the President Pat Cipollone said, "We cannot fairly be expected to participate in a hearing while the witnesses are yet to be named and while it remains unclear whether the Judiciary Committee will afford the President a fair process through additional hearings. More importantly, an invitation to an academic discussion with law professors does not begin to provide the President with a semblance of a fair process. Accordingly, under the current circumstances, we do not intend to participate in your Wednesday hearing."

The Judiciary Committee's first hearing on ‘Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment’ is expected to kick off a frantic month of activity in the House. The judiciary panel is expected to hold multiple public hearings and then consider articles of impeachment, which it would approve to set up a possible House floor vote before Christmas that could make Trump just the third president in US history to be impeached. Click here to read...

Supreme Court may expand Second Amendment rights despite repeal of disputed gun restrictions: USA Today, 1 December 2019

The Supreme Court may be on the verge of expanding gun rights for the first time in nearly a decade. What's surprising is how it got there. The court on Monday will hear a challenge to an obscure New York City rule that set such rigid restrictions on transporting legally owned guns that it was repealed in July.

But it turns out that wasn't what they really wanted. Backed by the National Rifle Association and the Trump administration, the challengers to New York's abandoned restrictions are hoping the high court refuses to declare the case moot. That would give them a chance to win the biggest Second Amendment victory since landmark rulings a decade ago affirmed the right to keep guns at home for self-defense. Click here to read...

Navy secretary threatened to resign over Trump's request, but not top SEAL commander: officials: Fox News, 23 November 2019

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer threatened to resign, a charge he denies, if the Navy was not allowed to go through with an administrative review board next month to determine if Eddie Gallagher could remain a SEAL, multiple Navy officials confirmed to Fox News.

The New York Times reported that along with Spencer, Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Commander Rear Adm. Collin Green also threatened to resign if the Navy carries out the request of President Trump to restore Gallagher’s rank to chief petty officer after he was demoted last summer. Gallagher was found not guilty of murdering an Islamic State (ISIS) fighter during a 2017 deployment to Iraq but was convicted of posing for a photo with the dead corpse. Click here to read...

President Trump surprises US troops in Afghanistan on Thanksgiving, marking his 1st trip to that country: ABC News, 28 November 2019

President Donald Trump made a surprise visit to Afghanistan this Thanksgiving to address American troops in what is his first trip to the country. He visited troops at Bagram Air Field to thank the men and women for their service, calling them "courageous American warriors."

"I just want to say that we thank god for your help and all of the things that you've done. You're very special people and you don't even know how much the people of our country love and respect you," Trump said to a few hundred troops. His remarks shifted to a deal with the Taliban, as Trump said peace talks had been re-ignited. Click here to read...

French PM stands by pension reform, says open to compromise on timetable: France 24, 27 November 2019

The French government is willing to compromise on its pension reform but will not abandon plans to rebuild a system that allows some workers to retire in their fifties, it said on Wednesday, a week before a planned transport workers' strike.

President Emmanuel Macron was elected in May 2017 on a pledge to overhaul the pension system and has promised to introduce a points-based system under which all workers will have the same rights. But as his centrist government is working on a first draft of the pension reform, unions at state-owned rail and metro operators - where some workers can retire in their fifties - plan an open-ended transport strike on Dec. 5. Click here to read...

German far-right AFD party elects new leader backed by radical wing: Euronews, 1 December 2019

The far-right Alternative for Germany on Saturday elected a decorator from the east backed by a radical wing within the party as one of two co-leaders.

The election of Tino Chrupalla, a lawmaker from Saxony, is a tribute to former Communist eastern states where the AfD has made big gains in three elections this year. He will lead Germany's largest opposition party with Joerg Meuthen, an economics professor from the industrial southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg who serves as a European Parliament lawmaker. The AfD is the biggest opposition party in the Bundestag national parliament, which it entered for the first time in 2017, propelled by voters angry at conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision in 2015 to admit almost one million mainly Muslim asylum seekers. Click here to read...

Dutch police arrest two men on suspicion of 'preparing a terrorist attack': Euronews, 26 November 2019

Police in the Netherlands have arrested two men from Zoetermeer, near The Hague, on suspicion of preparing a terrorist attack. Authorities say they believe the attack would likely have been carried out in the Netherlands at the end of the year, using "bomb vests and one or more car bombs".

The two suspects, aged 20 and 34, were detained on Monday. After carrying out searches, police found items including a throwing axe and a dagger hidden above a ceiling at one of the suspect's addresses. No firearms or explosives were found on the suspects. Click here to read...

Boris Johnson says 74 terror prisoners released early: BBC, 1 December 2019

Boris Johnson has told the BBC that 74 people jailed for terror offences and released early will have their licence conditions reviewed. The Ministry of Justice launched the urgent review after convicted terrorist Usman Khan, who had served half of his sentence, killed two people in a knife attack at London Bridge on Friday.

The prime minister claimed scrapping early release would have stopped him. The 28-year-old had been jailed in 2012 over a plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange. He was given a special jail term known as Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP), which meant he would serve at least eight years and could not be released unless he had convinced the Parole Board he was no longer a threat. But in 2013, the Court of Appeal replaced the sentence with a 16-year-fixed term of which Khan should serve half in prison. He was released on licence in December 2018 - subject to an "extensive list of licence conditions", police said.

Mr Johnson blamed Khan's release on legislation introduced under "a leftie government", insisting the automatic release scheme was introduced by Labour - but was challenged about what the Conservatives had done to change the law over the past 10 years in government. Click here to read...

Russia is removing critical voices ahead of arctic council chairmanship, indigenous expert claims: The Moscow Times, 2 December 2019

The recent shutdown of an indigenous rights group is the latest example of Russia's clamping down on voices critical of the authorities ahead of its chairing of the Arctic Council, indigenous rights activists have said.

The Center for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North/Russian Indigenous Training Center (CSIPN/RITC) was closed on Nov. 6 after a Moscow court upheld the Justice Ministry’s request to disband the organization over “multiple” violations of the country’s NGO law. CSIPN/RITC denies claims that its paperwork and registration were incomplete. “The immediate reason for the closure is Russia’s upcoming chairmanship of the Arctic Council,” Dmitry Berezhkov told the Barents Observer. Berezhkov, who now lives in exile in Norway, is the former vice president of RAIPON, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East.

Moscow will take over chairmanship of the Arctic Council from Iceland in spring 2021 for a two-year period. Click here to read...

Cold steel: Russia’s Kinzhal hypersonic missile ‘completes its first ARCTIC test’: Russia Today, 30 November 2019

Russia’s new Kinzhal (‘Dagger’) air-launched hypersonic missile has been tested in freezing Arctic conditions. It successfully struck a land-based target in what was the maiden test of its kind, defense industry sources said. The top-secret trials took place in mid-November at the Pemboi range in the north-western Komi Republic, one of the sources told TASS. The Russian region stretches beyond the Arctic Circle.

The missile was fired from a MiG-31K supersonic interceptor aircraft, which NATO calls ‘Foxhound.’ Kinzhal “reached the speed of Mach 10 (over 12,000kph),” another unnamed official told the agency. Russia has been boosting its military presence in the Arctic in recent years, building and repairing bases and airfields, as well as deploying its newest hardware, including S-400 air defense systems, and frequently carrying out drills in the area. Click here to read...

Five ways in which Russia and China will profit from soon to-be-opened power of Siberia Pipeline: Sputnik News, 2 December 2019

Following the signing of the major 30-year gas contract worth of $400 billion between the two countries, Russia started building a pipeline that will not only connect its gas fields with refineries, but also allow for the supply of billions of cubic metres of gas to cover the energy needs of its south-eastern neighbour.

After over five years of construction in the at times difficult landscape of Siberia, the pipeline, named after the resource-rich area of Russia, is finally about to be officially opened by the heads of the two countries that are set to primarily profit from its completion – Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Click here to read...

US being picky on who gets F-35 may prove handy for Russia and help its Su-57 satisfy international demands for 5-th generation fighters: Russia Today’, 26 November 2019

Russia’s most advanced fighter, the 5-th generation Su-57, is slated to become not only the future backbone of the national air force, but also a success in the international market – provided the technology gets matured fast. During the MAKS air show near Moscow earlier this year Sukhoi advertised for the first time the export version of its flagship project, the Su-57. And in November pictures emerged of the Russian aircraft going into series production – a major milestone for any complex weapon system.

RT spoke about the future of the jet with Vadim Lukashevich, who worked as an aircraft engineer for Sukhoi between 1985 and 1992 and later became an independent aviation expert. He says the aircraft indeed has the potential to be a major hit in the market, but that won't come without fullfiling certain terms. “Once the Su-57 reaches the stage where it meets all requirements for a 5th generation fighter jet, and if it proves to be good, the potential for export will be really huge,” he said. Click here to read...

WHO seeks 1.38 m USD for flood-hit Somalia: Xinhua, 19 November 2019

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday it is seeking additional support of 1.38 million U.S. dollars to further scale up and sustain its current surge operations in the flood-affected districts of Somalia.

WHO said heavy rains in Somalia and Ethiopian highlands led to increased water levels in the rivers Shabelle and Juba, which has affected an estimated 539,888 people and led to the displacement of over 370,000 people, leaving 25 dead and 47 injured. Click here to read...

UN warns Burkina Faso could become 'another Syria' as violence soars: The Guardian, 20 November 2019

The UN food agency has warned of an “escalating humanitarian crisis” in Burkina Faso, driven by growing extremist violence and the long-term impact of climate crisis in the arid central Sahel region.

A sharp increase in attacks, the result of the west African country becoming embroiled in the jihadist insurgency that began in the region in early 2015, has forced almost half a million people from their homes. Click here to read...

DR Congo measles: Nearly 5,000 dead in major outbreak: BBC News, 21 November 2019

Measles has killed nearly 5,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2019, authorities said, after the disease spread to all the provinces in the country. Close to a quarter of a million people have been infected this year alone. The World Health Organization (WHO) says this is the world's largest and fastest-moving epidemic. Measles in DR Congo has now killed more than twice the number who have died of Ebola there in the last 15 months. Click here to read...

Dozens killed by floods and landslides in DRC and Kenya: The Guardian, 23 November 2019

Dozens of people have been killed across central and eastern Africa after heavy rains triggered landslides and caused rivers to burst their banks.

Twenty-five people were reported to have been killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s northwestern province of Équateur, Congolese media reports have said, while almost 40 people have died in Kenya and Tanzania. Click here to read...

WHO, UNICEF evacuate 76 staff from Ebola teams in Congo due to insecurity: Reuters, 26 November 2019

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Tuesday evacuated dozens of their staff working on the Ebola epidemic from the town of Beni in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to the worsening security situation. Rebels believed to belong to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) killed eight people in an overnight raid on Sunday.

Residents angry at the perceived inaction of both the government and a U.N. peacekeeping mission then set fire to the mayor’s office and several U.N. buildings on Monday. At least two people were killed in clashes with police. Click here to read...

Zimbabwe on verge of 'manmade starvation', warns UN envoy: The Guardian, 29 November 2019

Zimbabwe is on the brink of manmade starvation with close to 60% of the population now food insecure, a UN envoy has said.

Hilal Elver, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, said the situation was likely to escalate political instability in the southern African nation. After an 11-day visit to parts of the country worst hit by the El Niño-induced drought, Elver said widespread food insecurity was being exacerbated by hyperinflation. Click here to read...

Burkina Faso: Attack on church kills at least 14 – BBC, 1 December 2019

At least 14 people have been killed after gunmen opened fire inside a church in Burkina Faso. The victims were attending a service at a church in Hantoukoura, in the eastern part of the country on Sunday.

The identity of the gunmen is not known and the motive is unclear. Hundreds of people have been killed in the country over the past few years, mostly by jihadist groups, sparking ethnic and religious tensions especially on the border with Mali. Click here to read...

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