VIF News Digest: International Events (US, Europe and, Russia and Africa), 3-18 October 2019
Mulvaney outlines White House Ukraine defense: Quid pro quo was about 2016 not 2020: CNN, 17 October 2019

The White House has settled on its defense for President Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani's actions on Ukraine: It's all about 2016, not 2020. Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, articulated the strategy on Thursday during an exchange with reporters, saying that aid to Ukraine was in fact tied to Trump's wish for an investigation into the 2016 election. Trump brought up Biden - his potential 2020 rival - in the July phone call with the Ukrainian President and Giuliani and demanded a Biden investigation in his interactions with Ukrainian officials. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden or his son in Ukraine.
Mulvaney's attempt to test drive the administration's defense ran into a ditch almost immediately with that mention of the Justice Department. In an unusual statement expressing public distance from the White House, a senior Justice Department official responded: "If the White House was withholding aid in regards to the cooperation of any investigation at the Department of Justice that is news to us." Click here to read...

US orders Chinese diplomats to report meetings with state and local officials: CNN, 17 October 2019

Chinese diplomats in the United States will now have to report meetings with state and local officials as well as visits to educational and research institutions, under new rules introduced by the State Department. The restrictions come amid growing concern about Chinese influence in the US and elsewhere, and were introduced in response to similar rules on how Western diplomats operate in China.

Two senior State Department officials told CNN that under the new rules, Chinese officials are not required to ask permission for these visits the way their counterparts in China are, only that they have to report the visits to the State Department. The officials said the goal of the new requirements is to get the Chinese government to reciprocally allow American diplomats to engage with provincial and local officials as well as universities and other research institutes the way that Chinese diplomats can in the US. They said the measure is not directly related to other parts of the US-China relationship.

State Department officials said the Chinese were notified this past week, and that they had already received one notification today of an official meeting. However, the officials refused to specify how the State Department would address any failure to comply with the new requirement, only that they would address it at that time. Click here to read...

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says in interview he fears ‘erosion of truth’ but defends allowing politicians to lie in ads: The Washington Post, 17 October 2019

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview he worries “about an erosion of truth” online but defended the policy that allows politicians to peddle ads containing misrepresentations and lies on his social network, a stance that has sparked an outcry during the 2020 presidential campaign. “People worry, and I worry deeply, too, about an erosion of truth,” Zuckerberg told The Washington Post ahead of a speech Thursday at Georgetown University. “At the same time, I don’t think people want to live in a world where you can only say things that tech companies decide are 100 percent true. And I think that those tensions are something we have to live with.”
Zuckerberg’s approach to political speech has come under fire in recent weeks. Democrats have taken particular issue with Facebook’s decision to allow an ad from President Trump’s 2020 campaign that included falsehoods about former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) responded to Facebook’s decision by running her own campaign ad, satirically stating that Zuckerberg supports Trump for reelection. Click here to read...

Brexit: Johnson in race to win support for deal: BBC, 18 October 2019

Boris Johnson will attempt to persuade MPs to back his Brexit deal today ahead of what is expected to be a knife-edge vote in the Commons on Saturday. Mr Johnson has insisted he is "very confident" MPs will back his deal. But the Democratic Unionist Party opposition to his plans means he faces a battle to get the agreement through Parliament.

The PM is expected to focus his attention on Labour MPs in Leave-voting areas, a group of Tory Brexiteers, and rebels he expelled from his party. Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly said conversations with the Democratic Unionist Party would also continue, despite their insistence they would oppose the deal. Click here to read...

Anti-Semitism on the rise in the EU: DW new, 14 October 2019

Research clearly shows that anti-Semitic abuse and violence is increasing in the EU. Following last week's anti-Semitic attack in Halle, Germany, the EU has urged decisive action. Bernd Riegert reports from Brussels. For years, anti-Semitic prejudice and violence have been on the rise in the European Union. Wednesday's attack on a synagogue and two passers-by in the area by a self-confessed far-right extremist in the East German city of Halle is just the tip of the iceberg.

According to research by the Vienna-based European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), anti-Semitism is growing in the bloc. "We have observed an increase in acts of violence against Jews in certain countries," Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos, a scientific adviser to the FRA, says, adding that "the kind of anti-Semitism that permeates these societies makes Jews feel they cannot live like others and that they cannot live as Jews in their home countries." He says, "aside from the horrific crimes perpetrated in Halle, the harassment, verbal abuse and belittling of Jews has become 'normal' in some European societies today — that is a deeply worrying trend." Click here to read...

Roads blocked between France and Spain by Catalan separatist protesters: The Local, 18 October 2019

Catalan separatists have blocked traffic on two routes connecting Spain and France, on the fifth day of protests over the jailing of nine of their leaders, the transport ministry said on Friday. It said the demonstrators cut the AP7 motorway at La Jonquera near the city of Gerona in eastern Spain as well as the N-II road near the border.

The action followed a fourth night of violence in Barcelona, in which the separatists burned barricades and clashed with police. Hundreds of young protesters chanting "independence" set fire to improvised roadblocks in the centre of the city late Thursday, tossing Molotov cocktails at police, who responded by firing foam and anti-riot rounds, according to AFP correspondents. Click here to read...

Russia creating rival to Wikipedia to protect knowledge from ‘erosion’ & fake news: Russia Today, 10 October 2019

The Russian equivalent of Wikipedia will become a reliable source for “safe,” verified, data without any ideological or political agenda, and could be accessed by 15 million people a day, its creators said. The ambitious undertaking, which is powered by the Great Russian Encyclopedia (GRE) publishing house, is going to receive 2 billion rubles ($31 million) in state funding between 2020 and 2022.

The nationwide interactive encyclopedic portal is aimed at protecting contemporary knowledge from “erosion” and sheltering online users from misleading information, GRE communications chief, Anna Sinitsyna, said. All the entries on the portal will be of purely scientific and educational nature, “free of any political or ideological agenda.” The authors of the project plan to attract an audience of at least 10 million people, which would include students, researchers, civil servants, media people and all those interested in reliable data. Click here to read...

‘Cultural diplomacy’ - Russian America holiday proposed by Defense Ministry to promote ‘humanitarian cooperation’: Russia Today, 15 October 2019

In a move that may rattle some Russia-watchers in the US, the Russian Defense Ministry suggested establishing a new holiday, the Russian America Day. The new honorary date may be set in Russia as soon as 2020.

Imperial Russia was one of European nations that went to explore and colonize the New World. Geography dictated that its primary interest was in North America’s Pacific Coast, with Russian settlements dotting Alaska and going as far as Fort Ross in California and Fort Elizabeth in Hawaii. The Russian-American Company, which was created in 1799, served as the vehicle for spreading Russian interests in North America, first on behalf of big Siberian merchants and later directed by the imperial military and civilian bureaucracy. Click here to read...

SDF Deal With Damascus 'Forced Step', Russia to Play Key Role in Process – Kurdish Official: Sputnik, 15 October 2019

The Syrian Democratic Forces' (SDF) handover of the Kurdish-controlled towns of Manbij and Kobane as part of the deal with Damascus to the national army is a forced step aimed at protecting themselves from the Turkish offensive, Abdul Hakim Bashar, Vice President of the Kurdish National Council in Syria, said. The administration of the Kurdish authority in northern Syria announced on Sunday that Damascus had agreed to send troops to the border with Turkey to help the Kurds repel Ankara's offensive, which was launched last Wednesday. In return, the Kurds promised to hand over a number of border cities, including semi-autonomous Manbij and Kobane, to Damascus.

The clashes started after president Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the beginning of the Operation’ Peace Spring’ on 9 October. Airstrikes began that same day in the town of Ras al-Ayn in Al Hasakah province, while the ground operations were launched shortly afterwards. Click here to read...


Nearly 600 Burundian refugees head home as mass repatriation starts: Reuters, 3 October 2019

Nearly 600 refugees left Tanzania to return to their homes in neighbouring Burundi on Thursday, the United Nations said - the first batch in a mass repatriation that some migrants fear could force them back against their will. Hundreds of thousands of Burundians fled a surge of political violence in 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third disputed term in office and opponents accused him of breaching the constitution.

A U.N. Commission on Burundi reported last month that there was risk of a fresh wave of atrocities as the landlocked state approached a 2020 election with its political crisis unresolved. Click here to read...

Nigeria releases 25 children cleared of suspected ties with Boko Haram–UNICEF: Reuters, 3 October 2019

The Nigerian army released 25 children on Thursday after clearing them of suspected ties with armed Islamist groups in the country’s restive northeast region, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said.

Nigeria has fought an insurgency by militant Islamist group Boko Haram in northeastern states that has killed more than 30,000 people over the past decade. It is not clear how many children in total have been drawn into armed groups, including Boko Haram, or how they have been recruited.

UNICEF said 23 boys and two girls were released by the army and handed to authorities in Borno, the state worst affected by the insurgency. Click here to read...

U.S. reopens embassy in Somalia: Africa Times, 3 October 2019

The United States announced the reopening of its embassy in Somalia on Wednesday, which it says will mark the beginning of a new chapter in their history nearly three decades after the U.S. mission was closed.

Today we reaffirm the relations between the American people and the Somali people, and our two nations,” said U.S. ambassador Donald Yamamoto, “It is a significant and historic day that reflects Somalia’s progress in recent years, and another step forward in regularizing U.S. diplomatic engagement in Mogadishu since recognizing the federal government of Somalia in 2013.” Click here to read...

Scores of Somali Refugees Return Home From Yemen: VOA, 5 October 2019

The International Organization for Migration has helped 143 Somali refugees, stranded in war-torn Yemen, return home earlier this week. The group of Somali refugees, including 56 children, set off by boat from the port of Aden on Monday and arrived at the port of Berbera in Somaliland the following day.

The U.N. migration agency’s spokesman, Joel Millman, said government officials and representatives from humanitarian agencies were on hand to greet them and provide assistance. Click here to read...

U.N. peacekeeper killed, four wounded in Mali mine attack: Reuters, 7 October 2019

A U.N. peacekeeper was killed and four others wounded on Sunday when their vehicle hit an explosive device in northern Mali, the U.N. mission (MINUSMA) said. The identity of the attackers was not immediately clear.

U.N. peacekeeping and French forces are stationed in Mali to combat jihadist groups seen as threatening security across Africa’s Sahel region. Click here to read...

Tanzania warns return of hundreds of Burundian refugees is just the start: The Guardian, 7 October 2019

Nearly 600 people who fled political violence in Burundi have been repatriated voluntarily from Tanzania amid warnings from the country that it plans to return all Burundians taking refuge there, willing or not.

The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, announced the return last week, saying that about 590 Burundian refugees had left Tanzania in buses for Gisuru, in eastern Burundi, where there is a transit centre for returning refugees, witnesses said. Click here to read...

Botched Medical Procedures May Have Led to Death of U.S. Soldier: The New York Times, 11 October 2019

A complex and difficult medical procedure that ultimately failed might have contributed to the death of an American Special Forces soldier killed last year in a firefight in Somalia, according to an investigation into the episode obtained by The New York Times.

The redacted Army investigation illustrates the intense violence that can accompany the Pentagon’s quiet “train, advise and assist” missions in distant corners of the globe, and the limitations of the American military despite its ambitious reach, vast resources and extensive training. Click here to read...

Former South African president Jacob Zuma faces court on corruption charges: WION, 15 October 2019

South Africa's embattled former president Jacob Zuma is expected in court on corruption charges on Tuesday, in what would be the first time he faces trial for graft despite multiple accusations.

Zuma stands accused of taking kickbacks before he became president from a $3.4-billion purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military equipment manufactured by five European firms, including French defence company Thales. Click here to read...

US$1.5 billion China-funded rail line opens in Kenya amid criticism over its economic feasibility: South China Morning Post, 18 October 2019

The second phase of a multibillion-dollar railway in Kenya funded and built by China opened to passenger traffic on Thursday to little fanfare but amid growing concerns about its financial viability.

The 120 km (75-mile) section was built at a cost of US$1.5 billion and runs from the capital Nairobi to Naivasha, a town in the Central Rift Valley. Click here to read...

EU criticises 'unlevel playing field' in Mozambique election: Al Jazeera, 18 October 2019

A European Union observer mission to Mozambique's election raised the alarm on Thursday over unfair conditions and unjustified use of state resources by the ruling party, as well as widespread violence.

Results are not in yet from Tuesday's presidential, legislative and provincial poll. But its outcome will test a fragile peace deal between the ruling Frelimo Party and its old civil war foe turned opposition rival Renamo. Click here to read...

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