The Turning of the Sphere

Myanmar crisis surges

Violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state has recently flared up, amid concerns that an ethnic cleansing operation is underway.  A longstanding conflict involving the Myanmar state and the Rohingya ethnic group has flared up over the decades since Myanmar became an independent state.  The recent spurt of violence follows a previous round in 2016, but the roots of the conflict go back much farther, including a 1991 operation by the military junta that evicted or displaced between 200,000 and 250,000 civilians in northern Rakhine.  The Rohingya primarily live in Rakhine state, which is located in south-west Myanmar and contains a collection of other ethnic groups also.

On August 25 members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked twenty five police and army posts.  Shortly after, Myanmar’s military and vigilante groups began attacking and burning Rohingya villages and created a massive exodus of more than 125,000 Rohingya out of Myanmar.  The army has set landmines in parts of Rakhine state.

The violence has tarnished the transition to democracy currently transpiring under Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership.

Kurdistan independence referendum

The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq intends to hold a referendum on independence on September 25.  This vote has been long anticipated, but in all previous cases the decision to hold a referendum on the matter always was ultimately deferred to a future date due to difficulties of circumstance.  A yes outcome or independence is the probable outcome of this referendum.  The impetus for the referendum is, in large part, due to the Kurdistan region receiving less than the 17% of the national budget, to which it is entitled, for more than three years.  This shortfall has hampered the KRG administration’s ability to pay government workers and its Peshmerga forces.

International reactions to the referendum have varied, but substantial opposition has appeared to move, particularly from Turkey, which has the largest Kurdish population in the world and a vexed relationship between Kurds and the Turkish state.  The regional governments with large Kurdish populations are fearful that if the referendum produces a yes vote then Kurds beyond Iraq will be emboldened to seek independence referendums or press for greater autonomy and representation via other means.  The parliament of Iraq rejected the impending referendum and there are many regions, including the city of Kirkuk, that are disputed by Baghdad and Erbil.

Campaigning for the referendum began on September 5 and the vote may lead to renewed negotiations between Erbil and Baghdad over a host of issues.

New sanctions on North Korea

The 15 member United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed to new sanctions on North Korea after Pyongyang released photos of Kim Jong Un and North Korea’s sixth nuclear bomb detonation test.  Pyongyang claimed that the weapon subject to this test was a hydrogen bomb.  The sanctions cap North Korea’s importation crude oil to the level of the last 12 months, limits the import of refined petroleum products to 2,000,000 barrels per year, and bans textile exports among other measures.  The sanctions are a product of negotiations between China and the U.S.

Norway’s election outcome

The 2017 Norwegian election, held on September 11, resulted in a potentially renewed majority for Erna Solberg’s government.  Erna Solberg of the Hoyre (the Conservative) Party has held the office of Prime Minister of Norway since October 13, 2013 with the support of other parties.  The Labor Party, led by Jonas Gahr Stoere, was the single party, though its share of the vote declined more than did the Conservatives from the 2013 election and the potential political partners of Erna Solberg won enough support to enable her to potentially form a majority government whereas potential allies of Jonas Gahr Stoere did not.  Two supporting parties of Erna Solberg, the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Party, both passed the 4% threshold and thus won “leveling” seats, which was a key prerequisite for the prime minister to obtain a second term. The Center Party saw substantial gains in the election and is now the fourth largest party in the parliament.

Erna Solberg’s supporters have compared her management style to that of Angela Merkel. Solberg and her government responded to the decline of oil prices with a combination of tax cuts and infrastructure projects funded by Norway’s sovereign wealth fund.

Parties by percent of vote:

Labor Party: 27.4%
Conservative Party: 25.1%
Progress Party: 15.3%
Center Party: 10.3%
Socialist Left Party: 6.0%
Liberal Party: 4.3%
Christian Democratic Party: 4.2%
Green Party: 3.2%
Red Party: 2.4%

Sudan: Tensions grow between Musa Hilal and Khartoum

The former leader of the Janjaweed (a tribal milita created to fight rebels in Darfur), Musa Hilal, has attacked the current leadership of the Janjaweed, or “Rapid Support Forces” as they are now officially called. Hilal accused the RSF of shoving him aside and seeking to supplant him during a disarmament campaign in Darfur. Musa Hilal originally created the Janjaweed forces and proceeded to wage a brutal scorched earth campaign after being released from jail, where he was serving a sentence for stirring up ethnic killings and the murder of innocents, to fight Darfurian rebels. However, Hilal claims that the RSF now are “mercenaries” and have “nothing to do with the “Rizeigat or Darfur.” Although Musa Hilal was once an ally of Khartoum he has recently taken to launching periodic attacks against Sudanese forces and has sometimes issued statements against the central government and established the “Revolutionary Awakening Council.” The tribal leader is particularly interested in administration the Jebel Amer gold mine in northern Darfur.

Sudan’s Vice-President Hasabo Abdelrahman warned that state forces will control Musa Hilal should he not cooperate with the weapons collection program. The arrest of several tribal leaders of the Rizeigat and Maaliya suspected of leading the recent spates of violence between the two tribes angered Musa Hilal.

Joint declaration from Lima condemns the “breakdown of democratic order” in Venezuela

A gathering of diplomats from many South and North American states held in Lima, Peru denounced the “breakdown of democratic order” in Venezuela and stated that they would not recognize any actions taken by the “illegitimate” constituent assembly. The Peruvian government called for this meeting after Nicolas Maduro pressed ahead with plans to establish the constituent assembly despite widespread international opposition to such a move. The centrist president of Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuczysnki, warned that Venezuela was on “its last leg economically” and Ricardo Luna, the foreign minister of Peru, declared, “What we have in Venezuela is a dictatorship.” The foreign minister of Brazil, Aloysio Nunes, affirmed the bloc’s views and said, “We cannot permit a dictatorship among us” and “Nor can we permit this horror in Venezuela. The new constituent assembly recently declared itself superior other government bodies which must it claims must recognize its powers and adhere to its decisions. The constituent assembly has initiated several moves to weaken the independence of the judiciary and of the National Assembly.

Nicolas Maduro begins promised purge of opposition

Two opposition figures in Venezuela, Leopolodo Lopez and former mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, were arrested on the orders of the country’s president Nicolas Maduro. The arrests follow Maduro’s promise to place opponents of both his regime and consolidation of power into jail cells. Both Ledezma and Lopez have been detained in the past, but have not ceased their criticisms of Maduro’s method of governance.