In Other News
This week's unnerving incident in which US jets intercepted two Russian bombers off the coast of Alaska leaves us wondering how to read events. Russia sent the two "nuclear-capable" bombers to within 100 miles of Kodiak Island April 17, prompting the US to scramble two F-22 stealth fighter jets from Elmendorf Air Force Base. The US and Russian craft were side-by-side for a full 12 minutes, until they crossed out of the US Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). (The Telegraph, April 18) This came as ExxonMobil was seeking a waiver from US sanctions against Russia to move ahead with its Black Sea venture with Rosneft. The decision rested with the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), while Secretary of State (and ex-Exxon CEO) Rex Tillerson is officially recusing himself from any matters involving the company for two years. Still, it is counterintuitive (at least) that OFAC turned down the waiver April 21. (NYT, April 21; Fox Business, April 19)
Separatist group Basque Homeland & Liberty (ETA) said in an April 16 communique that it has not abandoned its goal of an independent Basque state along the French-Spanish border despite giving up its arms. The statement published in the Basque newspaper Gara said disarmament "wasn't going to be a bargaining chip, but rather a way to show the intransigence of the [Spanish and French] states and to further the independence movement." It added that the separatist group has entered a phase in which it would take "decisions from among all its members for moving forward." The statement comes two weeks after ETA gave French authorities a list of eight arms caches at locations in the Pyrenees, said to represent the last of the group's weapons. A citizen International Verification Commission served as a liaison between ETA and the authorities.
We aren't sure whether to be more alarmed or amused. Kyle Orton, an analyst with the ultra-hawkish Henry Jackson Society, has a piece entitled "The West's Inconsistent Approach to Foreign Fighters in Syria," warning that the Kurdish forces the US is backing are in an alliance with anarchists and elements of the Turkish and European armed left. It is bascally regurgitating Turkey's cynical propaganda game of conflating the secular-democratic Kurdish forces and ISIS as equally "terrorist." It portrays the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) as merely an extension of the PKK guerilla movement in Turkey, and waxes paranoid about the leftist volunteers that have come to the Rojava region join them, now apparently organized in an umbrella called the International Revolutionary People's Guerrilla Forces (IRPGF, with its own Twitter account, Facebook page, YouTube video, and manifesto on the anarchist website CrimethInc).
Amid a new eruption of massive protests and deadly street clashes in Venezuela comes word that General Motors says it will immediately halt operations in the country after its plant in the industrial hub of Valencia was unexpectedly seized by authorities. GM described the takeover as an "illegal judicial seizure of its assets," and pledged to "vigorously take all legal actions, within and outside of Venezuela" to challenge the expropriation. (CNN, NBC, April 20) But the news comes along with even more unexpected indications of quiet overtures between the governments of Nicolás Maduro and Donald Trump...
Agents from Peru's National Superintendency of State Property (SBN), backed up by police troops, carried out an operation in the hills overlooking Lima over the past two weeks, seizing more than 36,000 square meters of land in the Lomas de Primavera green belt. This stretch of public land in the city's outlying Carabayllo district has been heavily subject to illegal appropriation and sale of plots in recent years—known locally as "land-trafficking." The land-traffickers exploit rural migrants seeking to start a life in Peru's capital, illegally "selling" plots they actually have no title to. Local media reports said the traffickers sold plots to some hundred families, but failed to say what provisions were made for the families settled on the plots. (Peru This Week, April 19; La República, April 9)
Seven of Burma's hold-out ethnic rebel armies formed a new committee this week to prepare collective talks with the government in anticipation of the next round of peace negotiations. Participating groups in what is now being called the "Northern Alliance" were the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA), Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS), and the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The meeting was held in Pangkham, administrative capital of the UWSA-controlled territory. After eight other northern ethnic armies have signed peace deals in recent years, these groups remain officialy at war with the Tatmadaw, the government's armed forces.
My ongoing conflict with Gilad Atzmon, professional peddler of the most rank anti-Semitic garbage, appears to be experiencing a new irruption. It emerges that the rascal will be appearing April 30 at Theatre 80 Saint Marks, a venerated cultural institution right in my own neighborhood, Manhattan's East Village. Of course neighborhood residents and other righteous New York antifas have called a protest, just as we did when a Jew-hater was similarly hosted at the supposedly "progressive" Brooklyn Commons last year. You can read the Facebook announcement for the protest. Both Atzmon and Theatre 80 operator Lorcan Otway have gone online with their own responses—and both are riddled with inaccurate claims about Yours Truly. So I have no choice but to clear the air. Here goes...
Hunrdreds have protested in Pakistani cities to denounce the mob slaying of a leftist university student who was accused of "blasphemy" after an argument with fellow students in the northern city of Mardan. The April 14 incident at Mardan's Abdul Wali Khan University attracted a crowd of hundreds. Journalism student Mashal Khan was dragged into a public area on the campus and beaten to death after a mob kicked in the door of his dormitory room. Witnesses said Khan was forced to recite verses from the Koran before his death. The incident apparently followed a heated argument over religion with other students. Images of his dorm room after the attack showed posters of Che Guevara and Karl Marx, as well as the phrase painted on the wall: "Be curious, crazy and mad."
ISIS has claimed responsibility for an April 18 attack on a security checkpoint near the gates of St. Catherine's Monastery in Egypt's Sinai peninsula, in which one officer was slain and four injured. Founded in the 6th century and located at the foot of Mount Sinai, St. Catherine's is believed to be the world's oldest continuously used Christian monastery, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is affiliated with the Eastern Orthodox church. The attack came just 10 days before Pope Francis was scheduled to visit Egypt, and nine days after two deadly suicide bombings on Coptic churches, also claimed by ISIS. (Al Jazeera, BBC News, April 19)
Russian authorities say they have detained, and obtained a confession from, a man linked to a terrorist metro bombing in St. Petersburg that killed 14 passengers. The Russian Federal Security Service says that Abror Azimov pled guilty to planning the attack. Officials say that, for his part, Azimov said that he does not object to being detained and does not deny his involvement in the attack, but said he was not involved in planning, and did not plead guilty.
US-led air-strikes killed 20 civilians at the ISIS-held town of Albu Kamal, in Syria's eastern Deir Ezzor governorate, local media activists reported April 17. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 13 civilians, including five children, were killed in the strike, as well as three ISIS militants. Earlier that day, a US-led strike killed seven civilians, including a child, in the nearby village of Husseinyeh, the monitor said. (Middle East Online) US-led air-strikes in northern Syria and Iraq over the past weeks have killed perhaps upwards of 600 civilians.
More than 1,600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody launched an open-ended mass hunger strike on April 17, Palestinian Prisoners' Day, led by imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, under the banner of "Freedom and Dignity" for prisoners. Sources told Ma'an News Agency that prisoners had purged all food products from their cells and shaved their heads in Israel prisons from the north to the south, namely in the Gilboa, Hadarim, Ashkelon, Ktziot, Nafha, and Ramon prisons. In the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, a number of activists in al-Duheisha refugee camp shaved their heads in solidarity with the hunger strikers, while a rally took place marking Prisoners' Day in the nearby Aida refugee camp that honored current and former prisoners from the camp.
The International Organization for Migration reports that its staff have documented shocking conditions on North African migrant routes—including what they describe as "slave markets" faced by hundreds of young African men bound for Libya. Staff with the IOM's office in Niger, reported on the rescue of a Senegalese migrant (referred to as "SC" to protect his identity), who was returning to his home after being held captive for months. According to SC's testimony, while trying to travel north through the Sahara, he arrived in Agadez, Niger, where he paid a trafficker 200,000 CFA (about $320) to arrange trasnport north to Libya. But when the pick-up truck reached Sabha in southwestern Libya, the driver insisted that he hadn't been paid by the trafficker, and brought the migrants to an area where SC witnessed a slave market taking place. "Sub-Saharan migrants were being sold and bought by Libyans, with the support of Ghanaians and Nigerians who work for them," IOM staff reported.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's referendum on granting himself sweeping powers took place in an atmosphere of terror, with opposition leaders silenced and detained. So the reuslts in favor are hardly a surpirise. International observers are yet to give the election a clean bill of health, but whether there was any actual monkey-business with the vote is almost beside the point. Some 51.3% of the more than 58 million Turkish voters apparently said "yes" to the constitutional amendment package put forth by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The amendment package was backed by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and opposed by the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and leftist Kurdish-led Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the third largest party in parliament. The opposition has not conceded, claiming voting irregularities.
"More Than 7,000 People Evacuated From 4 Besieged Syrian Towns." That's the somewhat misleading headline in the New York Times of April 14. Reads the lede: "After nearly two years of punishing siege and bombardment by their enemies, more than 7,000 people were bused out of four towns in Syria on Friday in the most recent population transfer during six years of war." Note the euphemistic language. This isn't "evacuation," which implies it is voluntary and in response to some objective disaster. This is "sectarian cleansing," part of an intentional Assad regime strategy to purge its growing areas of control of Sunnis, all of whom are apparently deemed official enemies. "Population transfer," as it is dubbed in the lede, is another euphemistic term, one all too familiar to those who have followed the growing consensus for territorial purging of perceived ethno-sectarian enemies in Israel.