In the biggest demonstrations since the fall of communism, thousands have repeatedly taken to the streets in Hungary to oppose Prime Minister Viktor Orban''s controversial "slave law." The square outside the parliament building in Budapest was massively occupied Dec. 12 as the law was approved. It was subsequently signed by President Janos Ader. Orban said the law scraps "silly rules," and will help those who want to earn more by working more. He dismissed the opposition to the law as "hysterical shouting" by people "whose lies have no limits." In fact, the law will allow employers to demand workers put in up to 400 extra hours per year of overtime, compared with the current limit of 250. Meanwhile, payment for this overtime may be delayed by up to three years. Local media in Hungary report that Orban pushed through the law in a bid to lure German auto-maker BMW to invest a billion euros in a new plant in Debrecen, Hungary's second city, situated in the poorest region of the country, the northeast. The move is portrayed as intended to undercut labor costs in Slovakia, where BMW was initially considering investment.
Libya's National Oil Company (NOC) declared force majeure at the country's largest oilfield Dec. 18, a week after announcing a contractual waiver on exports from the 315,000-bpd Sharara field following its seizure by protesters and militants. The Sharara facility was seized Dec. 8 by a force of desert tribesmen under the banner or the Fezzan Anger Movement, which is demanding better living conditions for the remote and impoversihed southern region of the country. Sharara is located in the Fezzan region, which produces most of Libya's oil but lacks basic services such as electricity and hospitals. The Fezzan militants were actually joined by members of the Petroleum Facilities Guard, demanding back wages be paid by the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). Oil production in Libya has been repeatedly paralyzed by unrest over the past years, and the NOC is still struggling to restore output to pre-2011 levels. (OilPrice, Reuters, Gulf Times, TeleSur, North Africa Post)
More than 60 were killed in US air-strikes that targeted "a known al-Shabaab encampment" near southern Somalia's Gandarshe town Dec. 15-6. US Africa Command (AFRICOM) asserted that no civilians were killed and that the strikes were launched to "prevent terrorists from using remote areas as a safe haven to plot, direct, inspire, and recruit for future attacks." These were the deadliest air-strikes in Somalia since November 2017 when the US said it killed 100 militants. The targeting of Shabaab increased after March 2017, when the Trump administration loosened restrictions on the US military to use force against the insurgent army. The US military has now struck Shabaab targets 45 times in 2018, compared with 31 times last year. The US has a huge military base in neighboring Djibouti, from where it launches air-raids on the militants. (Long War Journal, BBC News)
A court in Honduras convicted seven men in the 2016 murder of indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres on Nov. 29. Until her assassination on March 2, 2016, Cáceres had been leading a campaign against the Agua Zarca dam in western Honduras, a joint project by Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and Chinese-owned Sinohydro. The dam was being built on the Rio Gualcarque without prior consultation with the Lenca indigenous community that depends on the river for their food and water. Cáceres, who won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015, had received numerous threats for her activism against the dam before she was killed by gunmen at her home in the town of La Esperanza. Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro was also shot, but he survived the attack. Two of those convicted are former DESA managers.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued a statistical report on the number of Syrian war victims on the occasion of World Human Rights Day Dec. 10. The statistics show that 560,000 people have been killed since March 2011, including civilians, soldiers, rebel fighters, and "martyrs" who died under torture in the regime prisons. The Observatory found: "Over 93 months...Syrians have been crushed between the jaws of death, with each day declaring a decrease in their numbers..." The Observatory documented the deaths of 104,000 Syrians in the regime's prisons, likely under torture in most cases, with 83% executed in these prisons between May 2013 and October 2015. In this period, 30,000 were killed in Saydnaya prison alone, according to the Observatory. The remainder of the total were killed in fighting, with civilians constituting a large plurality at 111,330. The rest were from various armed factions.
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The export of oil from northern Iraq's contested enclave of Kirkuk is to resume under a deal struck between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Iraq's Ministry of Oil announced Nov. 16. With Baghdad's Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline disabled during fighting with ISIS, the so-called KRG pipeline is currently the only method of delivering Kirkuk oil to foreign markets other than through Iran. That route has now also been cut off by the resumption of US sanctions against the Islamic Republic. But Baghdad and the KRG have long been at odds over terms, and the situation was worsened with the central government's seizure last year of Kirkuk and its oil-fields, which had been in Kurdish hands since the KRG routed ISIS from the enclave in 2014. US National Security Advisor John Bolton welcomed the agreement between Baghdad and the KRG as a "promising first step to return to 2017 levels." The KRG pipeline is jointly owned by the Erbil-based KRG, BP and, as of a deal struck one year ago, Russia's Rosneft. (Rudaw, S&P Global, Nov. 16; Reuters, April 19; Rudaw, April 3)
The Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), al-Qaeda's branch in West Africa and the Sahel, claimed its forces were responsible for a suicide bombing in the northern Malian city of Gao Nov. 12. The suicide truck-bomb detonated in a residential area of Gao, killing three (not counting the attacker) and wounding another 30. The JNIM statement claimed the target was a base of "Crusader invaders" from the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada. However, all of those killed were civilians and local Malians. Four of the wounded were foreign employees of the United Nations' Mine Action Service, working to remove landmines in the area. They included two Cambodians, a South African, and a Zimbabwean. A video later released by JNIM confirmed that the mine-dismantling headquarters in Gao was the intended target. The video stated that "this operation demonstrates that the mujahideen are continuing upon their covenant, which they had made to their lord, until they achieve one of the two good ends, victory or martyrdom." The statement said the group will continue to target international forces until "the ummah [Musilm community] enjoys the rule of shariah."