Weeks of relentless and massive street protests in South Korea finally succeeded in bringing about the impeachment of President Park Geun-Hye Dec. 9 as the National Assembly voted overwhelmingly to charge her with corruption and mishandling of state affairs. The country's Constitutional Court has 180 days to uphold or invalidate the impeachment. Protesters pledge they will continue to press for President Park to step down, which would automatically spark new elections. The protests have been ongoing since October, repeatedly mobilizing hundreds of thousands across the country. On Dec. 4, up to 1.7 million filled the streets of downtown Seoul, within sight of the Blue House presidential residence. There have been scattered street clashes, but the tone of the protests is overwhelmingly peaceful, even joyous. University professors have played a leading role. The protests coincided with rolling strikes by public-sector workers over labor demands, with hospitals and transport heavily affected. The impeachment is a victory for transparency; Park is accused of conniving with a crony for illicit enrichment through abuse of government power. (Korea Policy Institute, Dec. 10; WP, Dec. 8; Korea Policy Institute, Nov. 30; Korea Times, Nov. 27)
Climate change is likely to blame for a massive avalanche in Tibet that killed nine people in July, according to an analysis of the distaster published Dec. 9 in the Journal of Glaciology. More than 70 million tons of ice broke off from the glacier capping the Aru Mountains of western Tibet's Rutog county on July 17, covering 9.6 square kilometers (3.7 square miles) of the valley floor in just four or five minutes and killing nine nomadic yak herders. The study was undertaken by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a US team including Lonnie Thompson of the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, who has done simialr work in the Andes. The team found that melted water at the glacier's base must have lubricated the ice, speeding its path down the mountainside. "Given the rate at which the event occurred and the area covered, I think it could only happen in the presence of meltwater," said Thompson, adding that other nearby glaciers may now also be vulnerable. "Unfortunately, as of today, we have no ability to predict such disasters."
A fragile ceasefire has taken effect in Aleppo as pro-Assad forces seize most of the city, but the regime is failing to follow through on a pledge to evacuate residents to a "safe zone." The last-minute agreement, brokered by Russia and Turkey, calls for rebel fighters, their families, and other civilians to be allowed to leave the city. The displaced will go to opposition-controlled Idlib governorate; from there, they can move to other locations, including the effective Turkish "buffer zone" in the north of Aleppo governorate. Regime forces have brought in buses to facilitate the evacuation but none have left yet, reports say. The regime is said to be demanding the simultaneous evacuation of its own injured fighters and civilians from nearby towns that are encircled by rebel forces. (EA Worldview, BBC News, Dec. 14)
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Dec. 13 accused Syrian pro-government forces of going door-to-door and systematically killing civilians in at least four neighborhoods of the re-taken city of Aleppo. The killings have reportedly resulted in at least the deaths of 82 civilians, including 13 children. The situation on the ground is causing residents to take to social media to relate what is happening and give good-byes to friends and loved ones. The commissioner pleaded with the international community to act to call a halt to the stopping the killing of civilians.
Pro-Assad forces are on the verge of capturing all remaining opposition-held areas of Syria's largest city Aleppo, with fears of death or detention for tens of thousands of civilians. Regime troops and allied Iranian-led foreign and paramilitary forces, supported by intense Russian air-strikes, took all but a few remaining districts on Dec. 12. Claims circulate of the execution of scores of civilians in districts that have fallen to pro-regime forces. Residents and activists spoke of widespread detention of fighting-age men. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's office issued a statement voicing alarm over "reports of atrocities against a large number of civilians, including women and children, in recent hours in Aleppo." UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said Assad and Russia will be held "accountable for any and all atrocities that the victorious militias in Aleppo are now committing."
The UK government said Dec. 12 it will use its terrorism laws to ban a neo-Nazi group, marking the first time such a step has been taken. The move would make it a crime to be a member of, wear insignia, or work with the National Action, as it would fall under the umbrella of a terrorist organization. While the group rose to prominence for its anti-Semitic and xenophobic stances, they recently began to encourage their members to use violence. The terrorism act provision is being used because the group used their now deleted social media to encourage lone wolf acts and showed members training for battle. Additionally, the group praised the murder of progressive MP Jo Cox and adopted her accused killer's court statement as its official slogan. ("Death to traitors, freedom for Britain.") The measure to ban the group is subject to Parliamentary approval.
A bombing during Sunday Mass at a chapel attached to Cairo's main Coptic cathedral killed at least 25 and wounded some 50 others Dec. 11. Most of the victims are reported to have been women and children. St Mark's Cathedral is the main institution of Egypt's Coptic Christians and home to the head of the church, Pope Tawadros II. The blast coincided with celebrations of Mawlid, a national holiday in Egypt marking the birth of Islam's Prophet Muhammad. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, the deadliest targeting Egypt's Christians since a New Year's Day bombing at a church in Alexandria in 2011 that killed 21 people. President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has condemned the Cairo attack and declared three days of national mourning. There are around 9 million Coptic Christians in Egypt, around 10% of the country's population. (EuroNews, AfricaNews, Crux, Dec. 11)
Expressing "outrage" at the escalation of violence in Syria, and particularly Aleppo, the UN General Assembly on Dec. 9 adopted a resolution demanding an immediate and complete end to all attacks on civilians, as well as a lifting of all sieges on cities and towns. The Canada-sponsored resolution was adopted by a vote of 122 in favor, 13 against and 36 abstentions. The text also expressed grave concern at the continued deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the country and demanded "rapid, safe, sustained, unhindered and unconditional humanitarian access throughout the country for UN...and all humanitarian actors."