NORTHERNPRESS ONLINE

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PROTESTING FOOD PRICES


Protests against rising food prices and unemployment have not only rocked Iran but countries of North Africa as well as they welcomed the new year, including the tiny country which sparked the Arab spring.


In reality protests have been commonplace since the 2011 revolution in Tunisia which led to the ouster of strongman Ben Ali. Seven years later familiar areas of the country are rioting against food prices and high unemployment, including Sidi Bouzid, where Mohammed Bouazizi took his life, launching revolution. The scene this month was nothing like the outbreak of 2011 but did lead to the arrest of dozens and the death of a least one person under unclear circumstances. Authorities deny the 43 year old in the town of Tebourba was killed as a result of police action as police faced stones and Molotov cocktails.


“The situation was already difficult and then came a budget bill making things even harder and life more difficult, “ Tunisian opposition representative Amor Cherni tells France 24. “We Warned them of the disastrous impact this would have on social conditions.”


Finance Minister Ridha Chalghoum says the bill does not impact basic necessities while the interior minister says protests, which are legal, have degenerated into gratuitous acts of violence and looting. But Cherni says any impact to family finances has a compounding effect, adding citizens who lead the revolution to live better are facing more hardships.


“What we expected was an improvement that didn’t happen,” he says, blaming widespread corruption . This has also been the complaint in Iran since the end of sanctions and in Sudan as well.


Protests over bread prices have also erupted in that country after the government removed food subsidies part of an austerity package in the midst of 33% inflation. The country has even less tolerance for protest and has been cracking down violently leading to at least one death and the arrest of an opposition politician.


Months after the US lifted sanctions the country is trying to conduct economic reforms but faces a shortage of foreign currency hampering trade while unemployment runs at around 20%.


Still wanted for war crimes by the international criminal court over atrocities in Darfur, leader Omar Bashir has cracked down on critical media outlets reporting on the troubles and critical of austerity measures. Both countries under pressure from IMF to sanitize finances.


SPORTS DIPLOMATIQUES


L’annonce de la sélection des membres d’équipe Canada s’est déroulée sans fanfare cette année . Il faut dire que l’exclusion des joueurs professionnels  a créé une certaine grogne, surtout au Canada, ou le hockey détrône tout autre sport et dont le club a remporté trois des quatre dernières médailles d’or.


Résultat, certains vont jusqu’à prôner un boycott des parties de la ligue nationale lors des jeux olympiques. Il ne s’agit après tout de pas en vouloir aux olympiens qui porteront l’unifolie avec fierté, dont la plupart évoluent à l’étranger après quelques passage dans la ligue nationale, mais de pénaliser cette ligue gripe-sous.


Sans ces stars Le tournoi olympique pourrait au moins réserver certaines surprises en consequent, et même promouvoir la paix dans le monde. En effet le hockey est une discipline où les deux corées envisagent de faire front commun, un rappel que le sport a pu donner lieu à une diplomatie sur patins pendant la guerre froide.


Les deux corees prévoient ainsi de mettre sur glace une équipe commune en plus de défiler ensemble sous le thème de la réunification lors de la cérémonie d’ouverture des jeux olympiques. Une délégation nord coréenne devait visiter les installations alors qu’une équipe sud coréenne prévoyait de s’entraîner au nord de la ligne de démarcation. 


Symbolique, le geste n’est pas historique puisque les deux ont déjà défilé ensemble en 2000, 2004 et 2006, mais vu le contexte récent il n’est pas sans conséquence. La participation à une équipe olympique commune est cependant une première, et on est bien loin de 1988, lorsque Pyongyang avait boycotté les jeux de Séoul.


“C’est vraiment un exemple de stratégie diplomatique par le sport qu’on a la, estime un spécialiste de la géopolitique du sport, Maxime Desirat. Il y a un potentiel d’images énorme pour l’état, qui se sert avant tout du sport comme un outil de projection de l’image du régime, comme mme une vitrine.” Un peu ce que la Russie a dans l’esprit avec le Mondial.


L’annonce vient alors que plusieurs pays se rencontraient au Canada lors d’un sommet sur la Corée du Nord dans l’esprit d’un réchauffement des rapports qui a cependant servi un avertissement des risques de existants. Ce qui est bon pour la paix risque-t-il d’être nuisible pour le sport?


L’entraîneuse canadienne du club aurait préféré que ces changements aient eu lieu bien plus à l’avance, et nos lors des derniers jours. Celle-ci craint en effet que la “chimie” développée entre ces athlètes, dont quelques canadiennes, ne soit perturbée par les ajouts diplomatiques de dernière minute.


Du moins la tradition de la trêve olympique semble t elle se poursuivre, même si en 2014 celle-ci avait vite été suivie par l’annexion de la Crimée par la Russie. Encore une fois, la paix est-Elle temporaire?


THAT ELUSIVE PEACE


Years after Colombia reached a deal with its largest rebel group, peace has progressed but remains a work in progress is the South American country.


There was a shocking reminder of this when president Juan Manual Santos, who was given the Nobel peace prize for reaching peace with the revolutionary armed forces of Colombia (FARC) , recalled his envoy and halted peace talks with another rebel group, the national liberation army (ELN) after it ended a ceasefire. 


Attacks on an oil pipeline and an army base this month scuttled talks scheduled for Quito. This came hours after a ceasefire ended and showed the on-again off-again nature of negotiations with the country’s remaining recalcitrant rebel group. 


ELN only got involved in peace talks in February of 2017, nearly a year after saying it would do so, but agreed to a ceasefire in September. Observers attribute challenges to dealing with the group to its diffuse command structure but the president remains committed to achieving peace as part of his legacy before he leaves office later in 2018. 


Members of FARC meanwhile are transitioning to politics. Earlier Santos had met with formerly FARC representatives praising the pace of peace efforts, calling it “the most complex peace agreement witnessed by the world in the last 30 years.”


But his counterpart, now heading the Revolutionary alternative common force party, criticized the government for its failure to uphold part of the peace deal.


Both agreed efforts should continue however. The stalled ELN peace effort prompted UN Secretary General to head to Bogotá to attempt to encourage their resumption.


CANADA WINS GOLD


Eager to avenge its heartbreak shootout loss in the finals last year on home ice, Team Canada entered the juniors tournament in Buffalo on a furious pace, outscoring its opponents 21-6 and suffering a single loss in the opening round, to its nemesis, Team USA, in an outdoor game 4-3 in overtime.


By the time they disposed of Switzerland 8-2 and Czechia 7-2 to return to the gold medal game, the 16-time champions learned they would not be meeting the hosts in the final, felled by the Tre Kronors 4-2 in a stunning semifinal. This has been a lean decade for Team Canada, only capturing the tournament in 2015 previously after a five-year drought. 


But this has been healthy for the junior hockey tournament, which saw three finals takes place since 2010 without either Canada or the U.S. Undefeated Sweden had a score to settle with Canada, having been battered 5-1 the last time these two team met in the finals in 2009.


The Tre Kronor were determined to make a game out of it, outshooting Canada and keeping pace after the team in red broke the ice in the second period. More importantly, it would deny a team with a 57% score rate in the powerplay all five men advantages, tying the game 1-1 a man short, its third consecutive goal shorthanded after taking two in the upset against the Americans.


In the third Sweden threatened anew, hitting the post and coming just short of taking the lead. With less than two minutes to go it looked like the two would have to settle it in extra time when centre Tyler Steenbergen decided to score his first goal, putting Canada on the edge of glory. This came moments later when Team Canada's Alex Formenton scored in an empty net, sending the red and white crowd packing Buffalo arena into a frenzy.


"The guys were giving me a hard time for not scoring during the tournament, but I think they're pretty happy right now," said Steenbergen after the game. "This is unbelievable."  Goalie Carter Hart,  one of the winnigest goalies in Team Canada history, stopped 35 shots and was named tournament MVP while Drake Batherson of the Quebec junior league, who was key in the play leading to the winning goal, shared the top of the scoring board, on a team with 15 different goal scorers where nearly every player collected at least one point.


MANIFESTATIONS EN IRAN


Comme si une bisbille internationale sur le nucléaire, la guerre chaude en Syrie et au Yémen et froide avec le monde arabe n’étaient pas assez, la république islamique se voit plongée dans une rare crise interne aux origines plutôt familières, le prix des denrées.

Mais y a-t-il vraiment une perspective de printemps perse? Les derniers éclats ont fait plus de 20 morts depuis la multiplication des manifes-tations contre le régime; non seulement la présidence de Hassan Rohani, mais la direction suprême des ayatollahs.

Au coeur des éclats Rohani critiquait "la violence et la destruction de biens publics" mais reconnaissait le besoin de créer "un espace pour que les partisans de la révolution et le peuple puissent exprimer leurs inquiétudes quoti-diennes". Une brèche pour l'opposition après les pires manifestations en neuf ans?

"Critiquer est totalement différent de l'utilisation de la violence et de la destruction des biens publics, dit-il. Nous accueillons positivement les critiques". Mais cette citation laissait à désirer après des années de persécution et de violences contre les opposants du pouvoir, qui se sont retrouvés soit en prison, soit en exil.

Le régime limitait l'accès aux médias sociaux, qui comme lors du printemps arabe avaient permis aux manifestants de s'organiser et de coordonner leurs actions. Les applications Instagram et Telegram ont notamment été resserrées pour "maintenir la tranquilité" mais celle-ci était bien absente à Téhéran et dans plusieurs autres villes du pays où les manifestants exigeaient ouvertement la fin du régime des mollahs et la "mort du dictateur". Les gardes révolutionnaires ont nié être responsables des victimes lors des éclats mais menaçaient les manifestants de gestes violents.

Plus de 500 personnes auraient été arrêtées depuis le début des manifestations, que le pouvoir accuse des agents étrangers d'avoir provoqué pour déstabiliser le régime. L'appui du président américain en faveur des protestations a rapidement été critiqué par Rohani. "Ce monsieur aux États-Unis, qui veut monter de la sympathie à l'égard du peuple iranien, oublie qu'il l'a traité de terroriste (...)", dit-il, ajoutant que Trump "n'a pas le droit de compatir avec le peuple iranien".

Les dernières grandes manifestations de ce genre avaient en 2009 causé la mort de centaines de personnes après la ré-élection contestée du conservateur Ahmedinejad à la présidentielle, lançant le "mouvement vert" iranien. Mais l'élection de présidents épousant une ligne moins dure, comme celle de Khatami lors des années 90, n'avait que rappelé la soumission du chef de l'état à celle du chef spirituel et du régime des mollahs, fortement critiqués par les manifestants dont certains osaient parler d'un retour de la monarchie.

Les causes plus profondes de la crise actuelle mettent en cause la corruption aux plus hautes instances et le manque d'amélioration du sort des citoyens malgré la levée de certaines sanctions depuis 2015. "L'accord nucléaire a l'appui du public mais on s'attendait à plus de développement en consé-quence," résume Trita Parsi du Conseil national irano américain.

Aussi l'investissement étranger ne s'est pas concrétisé comme prévu alors que le pouvoir maintient la ligne dure contre ses citoyens. Mais l'opposition reste fragmentaire et les manifestations ne connaissent pas les nombres importants de 2009.

Celles-ci ont pu quand même étaler le catalogue des revendications de la population iranienne, allant du chômage à l'égalité des femmes. Et c'est sans parler du gaspillage de tous ces conflits coûteux et de l'appui du Hezbollah. De son propre aveu Rohani avouait "nous ne connaissons pas de défi plus important que celui du chômage. Notre économie a besoin d'une chirurgie corrective."

Mais plusieurs revendiquent également une chirurgie politique et sociale presque 40 ans après la révolution iranienne.


LES CATHOS DANS LA RUE


Immense pays aux divisions internes importantes, le Congo peut cependant éviter le clivage religieux qui divisent certains pays de la région, comme le Nigeria.


En revanche le christianisme est de loin la religion la plus importantes, ainsi lorsque le clergé à mobilise des foules pour marquer l’anniversaire de la signature d’un accord, sous l’égide des évêques, prévoyant des élections, les manifestations contestant la candidature du président Kabila à sa propre succession ont été importantes et sévèrement réprimées.


Une dizaine de personnes ont été tuées et plusieurs arrêtés au début de l’année lors de ces mouvements lors desquels des policiers sont entrés dans des églises pour mettre fin à la contestation.


Les forces de l’ordre tiraient souvent en l’air en faisant usage du gaz lacrymogène pour disperser les manifestants, tuant quelques participants par balles. L’opposition est membres d’autres religions ne s’étaient pas laissés intimider par le pouvoir, qui interdit toute participation, interrompant parfois l’accès à internet pour empêcher la coordination des rassemblements.


Portant des bibles, chapelets ou crucifix et menés par des enfants de cœur, les manifestants ont demandé au président de ne pas se présenter à la prochaine présidentielle, repoussée à cette année.


Des forces de l’ordre furent postées à l’extérieur des lieux saints mais érigèrent également des barrages, le pouvoir affirmant avoir été informé de “distribution d’armes... pour s’en prendre à la paisible population et à diverses populations publiques.”


L’archevêque de Kinshasa a qualifié de “barbarie” les interventions policières musclées du régime, dont le président est en poste depuis 2001. “Nous avons fait le choix de nous mobiliser pour que le régime tienne ses engagements et que les choses changent,explique à La Croix Thierry Nlandu Mayamba, membre du comité laic de coordination du diocèse de Kinshasa.


Un changement n’exclut pas des sacrifices mais quand on est face à un régime au comportement dictatorial la seule issue demeure la protestation.” Aussi, ajoute-t-il, il peut paraître injuste que “on fait appel à l’église (en 2016) parce que les représentants politiques avaient échoué à trouver une solution de sortie de crise... en revanche quand elle commence à dénoncer les anomalies elle est stigmatisée et diaboliser“.


En fin de compte “la contestation ne dépend pas des évêques , elle continuera tant qu’il y aura des congolais qui souffrent.” Cette souffrance et cette crise rappellent les grandes transitions du passé, selon Kris Berwouts, auteur de “Congo’s violent peace”.


QUELS CHANGEMENTS A CUBA?


En cette soixantième année de la révolution les Castro sont en veille de tendre leur révérence, mais une retraite est-Elle envisagée par Raoul, frère du héros révolutionnaire? Le paysage permet mal d’encore imaginer cette île dans un comsndante de la famille.


A Matanzas, a l’est de La Havane, un immense panneau d’affiche montre encore un Fidel trimpgamt, le poing leve, à la barre d’un peuple “laborieux et révolutionnaire.” Un peu plus loin un autre immeuble près de la gare de bus le montre en la compagnie de son frère et d’Hugo Chavez.


Le survivant du trio Marxiste est prêt lui aussi à quitter le gouvernail, du moins en partie. La date du départ a été reportée de février en avril ou le Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, tentera de poursuivre la ligne castriste, mais plusieurs observateurs sont de l’avis que Raoul, qui conservera sa chefferie du Parti communiste, gardera les rênes du pouvoir dix ans après avoir remplacé son frère à la présidence.


En attendant rien pour encourager les réformes économiques dont le pays a tant besoin, puisque des mesures annoncées en décembre allaient dans le sens contraire. “Les mesures économiques annoncées suggèrent un ralentissement des réformes économiques entrées en vigueur entre 2010 et 2016,” fait remarquer Michael Bustamante de la Florida international university.


En plus d’ avoir souffert le passage de l’ouragan, qui explique le délai de la transition, le pays doit composer avec la baisse de l’aide vénézuélienne, en raison de la crise que traverse ce pays, ainsi que la ligne dure de Washington, qui a posé le frein sur les projets d’ouverture de la présidence Obama. 


Aussi les tensions sont elles remontées après une série de mystérieuses attaques contre des diplomates américains et canadiens. Entre fin 2016 et fin 2017 quelques 22 envoyés américains avaient subi des lésions dont des pertes d’audition, des vertiges et des maux de tête. La cause n’a pas été identifiée mais Washington, après avoir rapatrié la moitié de son personnel,a expulsé 15 diplomates cubains “en raison de l’incapacité de cuba de prendre les mesures appropriées pour protéger nos diplomates.”


Les relations diplomatiques ont cependant été maintenues. La Havane n’y a vu que “la détérioration actuelle et probablement future des relations bilatérales.” Le passage d’Irma a par ailleurs replongé dans le rouge une économie qui s’était remise de la récession et avait repris le chemin de la croissance, notamment en raison du tourisme. Mais le pays reste pauvre, la moyenne salariale étant d’environ 20$ par mois, ce qui oblige la plupart des citoyens d’arrondir les fins de mois en faisant du travail au noir, préférablement pour soutirer quelques dollars aux touristes.


En se rendant vers les fortifications du moro très prisées par les touristes, un chauffeur de taxi montre les coins les moins reluisants de la grande capitale des Caraïbes en passant par le port, un coin qu’il se dit éviter pendant la nuit, et emprunté de des rues non pavées menant vers des taudis peu joyeux. “Regardez ce quartier, dit-il en conduisant vers Casa Blanca, personne n’a d’eau ou d’électricité, c’est pas le paysage des photos de La Havane.” 


Autre paysage peu joyeux, loin des plages et des hôtels réservés aux touristes, le triste zoo de La Havane , au sud du point névralgique de la capitale. Des l’entrée un vacarme accueille les visiteurs, celui des allées et retours sur mini moto louées dans l’en d’internet du zoo, affolant les bêtes des cages et espaces aux alentours.


Ceux-ci offrent le spectacle désolant de singes dans des cages trop petites, et incapables de s’élancer, de rapaces nourris de carapaces pourries et payantes également incapables de voler bien loin et d’un hippopotame dans un étang si petit qu’il ne parvient pas à se submerger dans sa totalité pour fuir le chaos régnant. Sur la berge, un crocodile circule entre les détritus, des cannettes de boisson ou des emballages quelconques jetés parmi les bêtes. Notre traitement de celles-ci n’est-il pas d’ailleurs le reflet de notre humanité?



BACK IN TIME?


The threat of nuclear war and rocket tests, trade disputes between North American neighbors, suspicions of Russian influence and even plans for space missions to the moon; sometimes it can feel as though entering 2018 is visiting a time capsule of the 1960s.

And nothing spells this like instructional videos on how to survive a nuclear attack, weeks after a North Korean rocket made plain that country’s strides in its nuclear program despite decades of sanctions and embargoes and weeks before South Korea hosts the Winter Olympics.

Ahead of the competition U.S. troops were carrying out drills for the eventuality of an attack during the Games but communities around the world were adapting to the new global threat stemming from Pyongyang. This month millions were to take part in evacuation drills simulating a North Korean nuclear attack in Tokyo.

Towns facing the Korean Peninsula have already conducted such drills with sirens sending citizens into shelters to seek cover. Japanese authorities also asked cities to identify all underground facilities able to shelter residents in case of attack. There as elsewhere residents are reluctant to think of the worst case scenarios of a nuclear strike, whether intentional or accidental.

“Evacuations are a sensible precaution that would help minimize casualties,” human rights campaigner Ken Kato told the Daily Telegraph. Though by some accounts Tokyo was growing as wary of Beijing as it is of Pyongyang in terms of fearing an attack.

In China an official newspaper published articles on how to cope with a nuclear attack, using cartoons offering advice on radiation exposure and what essential emergency kits to keep handy. Increasingly concerned by the the behaviour of its erratic neighbor, China has been listening to Washington’s contingencies during a possible crisis, which include the possibility of U.S. ground movement across the DMZ.

U.S. states and territories are also returning to their Cold War survival books, islands from Hawaii to Guam planning for possible emergencies, the latter providing survival videos in the event of an attack and asking viewers to pass them around for greater awareness. They include tips on how to build emergency kits filled with supplies such as non perishables, water reserves and important documents.

At the sound of an alarm residents are instructed to seek shelter in a concrete structure and keep away from windows and doors. Concerns have grown much further away. In Canada the CBC reports a plan was drafted by bureaucrats to open up bunkers on two military bases should the capital become “unviable” after an attack, this in order to ensure the “continuity of constitutional government“.

This harkens back to the construction of the Diefenbunker in the outskirts of Ottawa, now serving as Cold War museum. Experts are once again being instructed to think in Cold War terms in the event of a North Korean strike in Canada. Ottawa is however standing firm in its refusal to join the U.S. missile defence shield proposed by Washington years ago.

“After the Cold War was over we stopped thinking about those things,” notes defense expert Andrew Rasiulis. “It fell off the radar so to speak.” But others note civil preparedness would have to reach a whole new level as a nuclear blast would create an electromagnetic pulse that would down power grids over a vast area, shutting down everything from businesses to water plants.

Sean Maloney of the Royal Military College notes in a paper “critics  of civil defense programs argued that protecting government leaders  in shelters and not providing similar facilities to the population as a whole was undemocratic... designed to maintain the power elite.” Not helping calm tensions were reports Russia was building underground bunkers, not to serve as shelter but to house a growing nuclear arsenal, expecting to deploy some 8,000 warheads by 2026.

According to the Pentagon Russia is also fortifying command and control bunkers used during a nuclear conflict and possibly plans to blend conventional forces with nuclear arms, according to a US nuclear review. This was being released as the U.S. president indicated he sought “modernization and rehabili-tation” of his country’s national arsenal.

As the United Nations imposed new sanctions against the hermit kingdom a few days before Christmas, a new war of words erupted between Washington and Pyongyang, whose regime mocked the U.S. president shortly after Washington  expressed con-cerns North Korea could deploy chemical weapons on its missiles.

On new year's day, Kim Jong-Un reminded world leaders a nuclear launch button was "always on my table" and that the fact his rockets could reach the entire U.S. territory "is reality, not a threat," but added he was open to dialogue. The North Korean president also extended an olive branch to his southern neighbor, noting both countries had celebrations in store this year, the North's 70th anniversary and the South's Olympic Games: "We should melt the frozen North-South relations, thus adorning this meaningful year as a year to be specially recorded in the history of the nation," he said.

New year's messages have usually been an opportunity to calm tensions around the peninsula, and some note a small tweak from the old script. "North Korea usually ignores South Korea, maintaining the position that as a 'nuclear power' it will deal with the U.S. on its own," Daniel Bong, a research fellow at Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies told the BBC. "It appears that by engaging the South, he hopes to create an estrangement between South Korea and the U.S."

The South has proposed talks in response, as both countries re-established a hotline to connect them. More importantly the U.S. and South Korea agreed to postpone the always controversial military drills in the region until after the Olympic Games, perhaps buying a few weeks of peace.


NOUVELLE ANNEE, MEME CRISE


Nouvelle année, même crise. L’élection de décembre en Catalogne se voulait un certain retour à la normalité après les émotions de l’automne qui ont atteint leur paroxysme lorsque le gouvernement régional a été placé sous tutelle après un référendum controversé.

Mais la campagne a été tout sauf ordinaire, certains candidats nationalistes y participant à partir d’une cellule de prison ou alors qu’ils étaient en exil.

Aussi les résultats arrivaient-ils à refléter la complexité de la crise catalane: alors que les partis anti-independentistes capturaient la majorité des voix, ils restaient minoritaires au sein du parlement régional, ce qui a encouragé Carles Puidgemont, depuis son exil, à faire appel à un nouveau dialogue avec Madrid, celui qui n’avait pas eu lieu après le référendum.

L’unioniste du parti Ciudadanos voyait cependant la chose autrement, estimant que les séparatistes catalans “ne pourrons jamais parler au nom de toute la Catalogne.”

Le camp d’Ines Arrimadas venait de gagner 12 sièges de plus au parlement, le classant premier, mais ce grâce à la division du camp nationaliste; ces trois partis regroupant tout de même 70 des 135 sièges, leur donnant de quoi gouverner en tant de coalition. s’ils parviennent à s’entendre.

Car certains avaient regretté que Puidgemont n’ait pas déclaré l’indépendance dès le soir du référendum qui avait donné 90% au oui mais qui avait été boycotté par plusieurs citoyens outrés. Ce dernier est en revanche revenu à la charge: “la Catalogne veut être un état indépendant, dit-il, il s’agit là du désir des Catalans. Je crois que le plan du premier ministre ne fonctionne pas et nous devons trouver une autre manière de régler la crise”.

Selon le quotidien El Periodico “l’élection a démontré que la Catalogne est fortement divisée en deux blocs et qu’il n’y a pas de place pour les intermédiaires “. Pour la Commission européenne la situation n’avait pas changé et reste une question politique interne.

“Le résultat évident de cette élection c’est que la Catalogne n’est pas un bloc monolithique,” conclut le premier ministre Rajoy, qui a à nouveau rejeté tout  dialogue, sauf s’il engage le parti Ciudadanos.

Mais son propre parti a cependant été anéanti lors du vote régional. Puidgemont quant à lui reste ferme, une nouvelle entente doit être conclue entre Madrid et la Catalogne. “On doit changer la recette car elle ne fonctionne plus,” dit-il. Le dialogue de sourds se poursuit.

En on chiffre au milliard d'euros le coût de la crise en raison de la fuite des compagnies craintives et la baisse de la croissance. Ironique quand on pense que la puissance économique de la région avait gonflé l'argument en faveur de la séparation.

"La Catalogne avait d'habitude une croissance au dessus de la moyenne espagnole, fait remarquer le ministre des finances Luis de Guindos, mais au 4e quart elle est un fardeau."

SEEKING RE-ELECTION


In early December Vladimir Putin arguably held his first campaign reelection rally amid the troops in Syria as he announced Russia’s withdrawal from the war torn country, noting the troops had fought “brilliantly” and were returning home “victorious”.

His Mission Accomplished moment at least seemed to dispel US predictions the launch of his country’s military operations two years earlier would leave Moscow “stuck in quagmire” in a mission “doomed to fail.”

A century after the revolution projecting power works well to the domestic audience, an early lesson of the Crimean invasion.

With Mosul retaken from ISIS and the groups’ pockets in the country negligible, Moscow’s war on terror was certainly not unsuccessful, and the same could be said about its Mideast policy, looking to supply partners such as Turkey and Egypt with weaponry in an area visibly abandoned by Washington.

Moscow’s power also looks enhanced from the Russia meddling US scandal, despite Putin’s own downplaying of the collusion investigation as “delirium” and “madness” by opponents looking to target the US president.

If anything Putin’s own supportive words on Donald Trump did the latter no favours, praising “fairly serious achievements” in his first, year, this coming hours after suffering a major electoral defeat when Alabama elected its first Democrat senator in a quarter century.

In an ensuing call between the two, Trump thanked his counterpart for the remarks.  Putin also said he would run as an independent candidate for his fourth presidential bid, in order to rally the support of a number of parties, but added he “will strive for a balanced political system,” an interesting addition considering the fact that a number of political opponents have been arrested under his mandates, some even disappearing under mysterious circumstances.

It's hard to see how the coming election will do anything but rubber stamp the former spy chief. Also playing into the theme of being central to the world stage, Russia will host soccer's world cup in 2018, but one place where Russia will not be projecting its power will be in South Korea, where its Winter Olympic athletes have been prohibited from competing under its flag after the country’s national doping program was exposed and then panned by the IOC.

A SPARK IS LIT

Fifty years after parts of Jerusalem and other lands were annexed by Israel following the six day Israeli Arab war, one could hardly argue that peace had come to the Middle East.

The last months had however seen a period of relative calm in Israeli-Arab relations after a history of terror and rocket attacks, violent intifadas and military retaliation. But Washington’s announ-cement it was moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to the ancient walled city shattered whatever calm there was ahead of Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations.

Arab leaders starting with the Palestinian leader warned the US administration of the  unnecessary tensions linked to the announcement while Turkey spoke of a red line being drawn in the sand, threatening its ties to Israel and igniting fire in a region constantly on a knife’s edge.

Stating the “whole world is against” the move, Arab leaders planned an emergency summit on the issue, as the region boils with the war in Yemen and tensions between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors. “When you look at a place on the verge of an explosion you do not introduce a flame,” said Hanan Ashrawi of the PLO. President Abbas said the move would “lead us into wars that will never end."

Curiously the White House hoped the move would jump start peace, an idea which created some rare Mideast unity as it was ridiculed as much in Tehran as it was in Arab capitals, all warning that fulfilling this campaign promise would have the opposite effect. Indeed within days Palestinian areas erupted in violent protest amid cries of new intifada while US embassies around the world stood under alert.

Jordan’s king had joined a chorus of world leaders stressing that the status of Jerusalem was key to any peace deal and stability in the region. The embassy itself would not be moved for months, being a delicate security and logistics operation. No other country has an embassy in Jerusalem, a reluctance tied to Mideast peace efforts and a consensus the city’s status should be decided as part of any peace deal, not before one is reached, which would risk influencing decision making.

Canada was one country which immediately indicated it would not be following America’s lead after a decision which further isolated Washington on the world stage. The relative peace was also shattened by the first rocket launch against Israel in four months as Palestinian activists organized “days of rage” this week.

In contrast Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu praised the announcement as "historic" and "courageous" and Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat welcomed it saying “the president is following his heart and history and saying and doing the right thing” in another sign of the Israeli Arab divide 70 years after the agreement which lead to partition of these lands.

The US president stressed “we are not taking any position on any final status issue including the specific boundaries“ which would be determined locally. Jerusalem is where the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, is located, he noted. “Peace is never beyond the grasp of those seeking to reach it,” he said, but to many this now seemed  more distant than ever.

Trump praised all three religions which consider the city sacred, oddly enough, as came into effect strict US immigration measures that were once described as a Muslim travel ban.   
     
DE RETOUR AU BERCAIL


Un drôle de parfum enrobe la politique libanaise, ou alors n’est-ce que la dose est passablement trop forte? Récemment le premier ministre Saad Hariri confirmait la suspension de sa démission surprise un mois plus tôt, qui avait outré la présidence libanaise, semé des inquiétudes de kidnapping par le régime saoudien et braqué les projecteurs sur la guerre froide que se disputent le royaume de Riyad et la république islamique. 

Hariri avait alors déclaré sa vie en danger, une constatation plutôt alarmante quand on pense au sort de son père en 2005, en sonné l’alarme sur l’influence déstabilisatrice du Hezbollah au pays. Le président Michel Aoun a plutôt accusé les Saoudiens de tenir le chef du gouvernement, qui a fait sa démission choc à Riyad, en otage, accusant le régime de manipulation et d’ingérence en politique libanaise.

C’est Aoun qui l’aurait “enjoint d’attendre” avant de présenter sa démission, “pour permettre davantage de consultations.” Passant par Paris, Hariri retourne alors à Beyrouth, accueilli par des supporters à l’occasion de la fête d’indépendance du petit pays. Le Liban reste le théâtre d’affrontements indirects entre Téhéran, dont le soutien du Hezbollah est féroce, et Riyad, les deux puissances étant déjà engagées dans la crise yéménite au sud de la péninsule d’Arabie.

Le ministre des affaires extérieures saoudien Adel Al-joubeir avait donné le ton des dernières semaines lors de la réunion extraordinaire récente de la Ligue arabe en affirmant que son pays ne resterait pas “les bras croisés” face à la politique “agressive” de Téhéran dans la région. Les deux pays ont rompu leurs relations en 2016.

Dans un pays qui en a tant besoin mais déchiré par les influences des voisins, le président Aoun a fait appel à l’unité lors des fêtes d’indépendance du 22 novembre, car la division  “provoquerait une destruction totale et n’épargnerait personne,” dit-il tout en accusant la Ligue arabe de “financer et d’entraîner des groupes terroristes”, risquant de plonger le pays du cèdre dans l’”embrasement.”

Les tensions entre Téhéran et Riyad se sont exacerbées début novembre quand un missile envoyé par les Houthis, alliés aux iraniens, a été intercepté près de la capitale saoudienne. Le ministre des affaires étrangères du Bahreïn a par ailleurs accusé le Hezbollah d’effectuer des opérations “non seulement à l’intérieur des frontières du pays mais il traverse toutes les frontières de nos nations. C’est une menace pour la sécurité nationale arabe.”

Selon le secrétaire général de la Ligue “les capitales arabes sont dans la mire des missiles balistiques de Téhéran,” ce que la république islamique nie. Le Bahreïn est particulièrement tourmenté par sa minorité chiite, qui réclame des réformes au sein du régime sunnite. En entrevue à Paris Match, Hariri répète ses avertissements sur le Hezbollah qui conserve au Liban "un rôle politique" et où il a des armes. "L'intérêt du Liban, dit-il, est de faire en sorte que ces armes ne soient pas utilisées ailleurs."

Parcontre il nie avoir été détenu par Riyad. "J'ai démissionné... avec l'intention de faire un choc positif." Malgré sa situation délicate "le Liban vit un petit miracle, dit-il. La région est ravagée par les affrontements confessionnels. Nous avons connu des tensions très fortes. Nous avons préféré calmer le jeu." Mais les risques persistent dit celui qui dit craindre un assassinat aux mains de Damas.


A COUP BY ANY OTHER NAME


A president under arrest, soldiers in the streets while a man in military garb takes to the airwaves to urge calm, the scenario is not an unfamiliar one on the African continent. But where these scenes were taking place did cause some surprise this time.

After decades in power, ever since his country’s independence, Zimbabwe’s military placed the world's oldest head of state, 93-year-old Robert Mugabe, under house arrest as it seized power in a “bloodless correction” that suspended the long reign of the rebel leader who oversaw the end of white rule but refused to step down.

The military said it was purging the government of forces which it said had sought to corrupt those loyal to the revolution that brought independence in 1980. But local media said sources indicated the military singled out those loyal to the Mugabes.

Days after Mugabe fired his vice-president, who was known to be close to the military, to leave his wife as possible successor, soldiers took to the streets and placed the elderly president and a number of his ministers in custody, initially saying Mugabe himself wasn’t targeted but rather “criminals” around him. “We wish to make abundantly clear this is not a military takeover,” Maj-Gen.  Sibusiso Mayo took to the air saying, adding the president’s security “is guaranteed“.

He said the army would “pacify a degenerating ... situation” and promised “a return to normalcy”, but this is hardly how one would describe the sad state of the nation, facing hyperinflation and shortages which have sent its citizens looking beyond the borders for assistance and to get their hands on basic necessities.

The military had days earlier threatened to “step in” to calm rising political tensions, a statement the ruling ZANU-PF considered “treasonable conduct”, showing the first cracks between those in power and a military which until now had stayed loyal to the leadership. Some hoped this would mark a turning point after years of poverty, human rights violations and corruption under Mugabe.

Veterans groups once fiercely loyal to Mugabe now expressed hopes the military would make a “normal democracy “ out of the suffering country, which at one point saw hyper inflation hit 80 billion percent... before inflation was declared illegal, eliminating whatever worth the depleted local currency once had.

The economy grew by 0.5% last year but its underground market is thriving, the shadow economy representing about a third of the GDP; what was once the breadbasket of Africa decimated by farm seizures by so-called war veterans barely old enough to drive. But perhaps the existing and still abundant resources, including diamonds, could lead to future growth, with the right people in power, observers note.

Could this include longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who just returned to Zimbabwe after going abroad for health reasons? The opposition is divided ahead of elections, possibly still scheduled for next year. Meanwhile ousted vice president Emmerson Mnan-gagwa also returned to Zimbabwe, possibly to seize power himself.

This is not without concern as he was behind bloody purges conducted by the regime in the 1980s. For now at least, there seemed to be a moment for celebration, as crowds took to the streets to party, not daring yet to look too far ahead.           


ON THE RISE AGAIN

After decades of growing global emissions there had been a downward trend to the spiral the world had seemingly been intractably engulfed in these last few years, at least until a recent report registered a first rise in CO2 emissions in four years, largely due to China’s increase in coal use as that economy expanded again.

Even Beijing seemed surprised, having led new efforts to cut carbon emissions. So as the U.S. administration looked to a future based on so-called “clean coal” after pulling out of the Paris emissions agreement, and countries looked to work around Washington to keep global emissions targets alive in Bonn, some 15,000 scientists found it appropriate to update the state of the planet, 25 years after the first Rio warnings, and issue a global warning on the need to change the planet's course.

But was it too much or a much needed wake up call? A professor and graduate student from Oregon state university’s College of Forestry found that since those now distant alarm bells, more warning signs have emerged, something which drew attention after a year of terrible U.S. storms blamed on global warming.

William Ripple found that, since, the world had seen growing trends including a decline in freshwater availability, unsustainable marine fisheries, ocean dead zones, forest losses, dwindling biodiversity, climate change and the ever increasing population growth. They noted reduced ozone layer depletion, but these may be heading back up. “The trends are alarming,” Ripple told the BBC.
“And they speak for themselves.”

Response to their paper was over whelming. “The scientists around the world are very concerned about the state of the world, the environmental situation and climate change,” he said. “So this allows them to have a collective voice.” The report came as New Zealand was announcing it was introducing a new program tailored for climate change refugees and shortly after latest figures showed a 2% rise in CO2 emissions caused by humans globally.

Emissions were up 3.5% overall. While the number is subject to debate scientists say it points to a growth trend that threatens global emission targets. “With global CO2 emissions from human activities estimated at 41 billion tonnes for 2017 time is running out on our ability to keep our warming well below 2 degrees C, let alone 1.5C,” said prof. Corinne Le Quere from the university of East Anglia.

While coal use was up in China and the US, oil and gas was prompting major concerns. “There have been lots of ups and downs in the use of coal but in the background there has been no weakening in the use of oil and gas and that is quite worrisome,” Le Quere said. But some critics called the bell ringing irresponsible scaremongering.

"There's a small percentage that loves the crisis narrative," noted Erle Ellis of Maryland University, noting that the warning ignores increases in wealth, health and well-being of people over the years. Was the warning over the top? Perhaps, but climate change is increasingly hard to ignore.

Recently a major credit agency, Moody's, warned coastal communities of the United States, even in areas unaffected by this year's storms such as California and Maine, that they should prepare for climate change or risk losing access to cheap credit. "What we want people to realize is: If you're exposed, we know that. We're going to ask questions about what you're doing to mitigate that exposure," Lenny Jones of Moody's told Bloomberg. "That's taken into your credit ratings."

Among the indicators the agency uses to assess such exposure is the economic activity of coastal areas, damage from hurricanes and tornados and the presence of homes in a flood plain, making the costal states from Georgia to Mississippi the most at risk in the U.S. As sea levels rise from melting glaciers, by some eight inches in the last century, scientists note the major cities of the globe affected would depend on the location of those melts, from Pantagonia and Antarctica, to Greenland and Northern Canada.

Some are of such size, notably the glaciers of Pine Island Bay in Antarctica, that their catastrophic melt could add 11 feet to sea levels and submerge coastal cities everywhere. A rise of half that amount could displace millions worldwide and flood major cities from Shanghai to Mumbai and Ho Chi Minh City.

Closer to these parts, the melt of Greenland glaciers is viewed by some as the ground zero of climate change, the territory losing some 270 billion tons of ice every year. Bracing for the possible impact to coastal communities across the globe, cities gathered in Chicago this week to commit to fighting climate change. Among them, was a leader both familiar and sensitive to the issue, and the city.

"2015 was the warmest year on record until 2016 became the warmest on record. That tells us the climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it," Barack Obama told the summit. "And that's why I made climate change a priority while I was president," signing a Paris agreement quickly abandoned by his successor, but which local leaders across the country are trying to honour still, all the while the Environment Protection Agency was stripping references to climate change on its website.

TWO SOLITUDES

Days after leader Carles Puigdemont addressed the Catalan assembly about the Oct. 1st referendum on separation a certain confusion set in. Had the wealthy eastern part of Spain broken away or not?

The separatist leader would soon find out the implications of the former to his own personal freedom. The question lingered until Puigdemont clarified the declaration was on hold so that dialogue could take place, dismaying nationalists and leaving European officials to heave a sight of relief.

But talks with Madrid did not ensue either in Spanish or Catalan, the break away region refusing to remove the threat of separation or call early elections. As Madrid prepared to invoke a rare constitutional article to seize control of Catalonia, the regional assembly declared independence, a move shortly followed by the Spanish senate's green light to take control of the region’s autonomous powers, the first time in four decades such direct rule measures were taken in Spain.

After weeks of pro and anti-independence marches never had the country’s solitudes appeared so divided. Had the methods of Catalonia ultimately achieved what Basque militants had failed to obtain during decades of bloody clashes? But as flag-waving nationalists  flooded the streets of Barcelona there was a sense independence was far from acquired.

The European Union reiterated its support for unity, refusing to talk directly with Catalonia but urging Madrid not to use violence to squash independence. Could violence engulf a crisis which until now had remained relatively peaceful? While rebellion and sedition charges were being prepared against Catalonia's leaders, Puigdemont urged "peace, civility and dignity".

In Madrid Prime Minister Rajoy called "for calm from all Spaniards," for other reasons, as "The rule of law will restore legality in Catalonia," adding that dismissing Puigdemont and his ministers would be his first order of business. Seventy Catalan parliamentarians had voted in favor of independence while 10 voted against and two handed in blank ballots of the assembly's 135 members.

"We can only hope the conflict will remain in the political realm," said hopefully former Catalan leader Joan Rigol I Roig. But Catalans were hardly unanimous, pro-union Catalans saying many had boycotted the independence referendum. Citizens party leader Carlos Carrioza charged that separatists had in fact staged a "coup against the democracy of Spain."

The central government would have none of that, ultimately dissolving the regional government and calling for December elections. Polls since the unilateral declaration of independence have shown some 55% of Catalans were opposed. Europe has seen a number of declarations of the sort since the fall of the Berlin wall, most hailing from former Soviet and Yugoslav republics.

But the Catalan declaration was a first in the bosom of the European Union and euro zone, causing the immediate rejection of EU partners from the United Kingdom and France, overseas to Canada and the United States. Understandably some Scottish officials were more welcoming, the region of Great Britain still weighing its decision whether or not to stage a new referendum after Brexit.

Polls have also shown Catalans to be in favor of the dissolution of the regional parliament, though there is no guarantee the election will form a pro-unity government. The nationalist parties have seen some division form amid the ranks since the referendum Madrid hopes could enable it to divide and conquer. It is  cautious not to seem too harsh after the violent incidents of the October 1 independence vote which raised concerns across the world.

The ousted leader slammed the central government's actions as "premeditated aggression" running "contrary to the expressed will of the citizens of our country, who know perfectly well that in a democracy it is parliaments that choose, or remove, presidents." He said the nationalist push would endure "without violence, insults, in an inclusive way, respecting people and symbols, opinions."

But some pro-unity Catalans say they have been bullied and shown lack of respect, choosing the days after the dissolution of the regional government to stage mass demonstrations in the streets of Barcelona. "The standoff has entered a new level of fragility, economic uncertainty and social unrest" stated a Stratfor analysis of events. "It is the first time since Spain's return to democracy in the late 1970s that Madrid has decided to take direct control of an autonomous region's institutions. Whatever happens next will be unprecedented."

Madrid for instance could have a hard time imposing its will on Catalonia's 200,000 civil servants, the analysis notes, though the central government will now be handling the purse strings as leverage. The uncertainty has affected the usually vibrant regional economy, some 1500 companies moving their legal seats out of Catalonia.

The Barcelona chamber of commerce also downgraded Catalonia's growth from 2.7% to 2.5% for 2018, something which will also have a national impact, showing the importance of a region creating 20% of Spain's wealth. Madrid hopes elections will solve the crisis and enable it to extricate itself from Catalonia gradually, leaving it with its usual powers, but this may take time. And some fear the arrest of a number of Catalan ministers, while a warrant is out for Puidgemont's, now in exile in Brussels, will only give nationalists a new boost ahead of the vote

LE ROYAUME A L'ENVERS

Volonté d’ouverture réelle, manipulation politique ou un peu des deux? Les annonces choc émanant du royaume saoudien s’accumulent avec la succession  du roi bien en tête. Le fils héritier du monarque serait largement derrière les tractations des derniers mois, promettant une nouvelle ouverture et une version moins rigoureuse de l’Islam conservateur dont le pays est le champion.

Se détacher du pétrole, transformer l’Arabie Saou-dite en un centre d’affaires ou d'échange tout en opérant une brèche dans un système qui a laissé la femme au second plan, voilà à quoi s’est engagé le jeune prince favori, Mohammed bin Salman, principal conseillé du roi.

Celui-ci a longtemps favorisé l’épanouissement de la femme dans un pays encore dominé par le régime du gardien ou tuteur masculin, accueillant des femmes dans son orbite professionnel  et prônant le genre d’ouverture envers le droit de conduire et de participer à des événements sociaux en tant que spectatrice récemment approuvée aux plus hautes instances.

Le jeune Salman, qui mène également une chasse à la corruption, ne s’est pas gêné de s’en prendre à ses rivaux potentiels dans la course à la succession, une dizaine de jeunes princes, dont le milliardaire Alaweed bin Tatal, propriétaire richissime du Georges V à Paris, ainsi que quatre ministres et une dizaine d’anciens ministres, faisant l’objet d'enquête du comité anti corruption qu’il dirige.

La montée fulgurante de l’homme de 32 ans a divisé le royaume, certains approuvant les réformes en cours mais d’autres regrettant son goût du pouvoir malgré son manque d’expérience et jeune âge.

Celui-ci contrôle notamment la firme d’investissement Kingdom Holding ainsi qu’un nombre important des parts dans des compagnies internationales de renom bien branchées telles Apple et Twitter. Les annonces sur les femmes donnent suite aux réformes récentes, dont le droit au vote lors des élections municipales de 2015 et la participation des premières athlètes olympiques lors des Jeux de Londres.

Mais le système des gardiens reste bien en place, ce qui laisse les femmes sans l’autorisation de se marier ou de divorcer, même de voyager, sans l’aval d’un gardien familial masculin, parmi les nom-breuses autres restrictions liées à leur sexe. Puis les annonces récentes se font sur fond d'arrestations de critiques du régime, dont des blogueurs ou utilisateurs de médias sociaux, dont Twitter, défavorables au pouvoir.

Quant aux 200 personnes interrogées ou détenues en lien avec la corruption, la prison est plutôt de leur goût, soit le Ritz Carlton de Riyad. Fin octobre, en dévoilant des plans de mégaprojet bien saoudien sur la mer Rouge, le jeune Salman promet une Arabie “modérée “ en rupture avec la traditionnelle version rigoriste de l’Islam, dont le pays abrite les plus importants lieux saints.

“Nous n’allons pas passer 30 ans de plus de notre vie à nous accommoder d’idées extrémistes et nous allons les détruire maintenant,” déclarait-il sous les applaudissements, promet-tant un Islam “tolérant et ouvert sur le monde et toutes les autres religions” prêt même à commencer à approuver des visas pour touristes.

LE RETOUR DE LA PESTE?

La peste, ce fléau historique responsable de la mort de plus de 50 millions de personnes en Europe au 14e siècle, c’est une maladie dont l’éclosion est pourtant  saisonnière à Madagascar, ile d’écologie exceptionnelle.

Mais l’actuelle saison de cette maladie désormais curable a vu des cas se répandre à l’extérieur des régions ordinairement touchées, assez pour mobiliser une Organisation internationale de la santé préoccupée par le risque d’exportation en Afrique orientale et ailleurs.

Plus de 2000 cas de peste pulmonaire ont été enregistrés au cours des dernières semaines, faisant de l’éclosion la pire du genre en un demi siècle. La propagation par la voie des airs en a fait un fléau particulièrement mortel et dur à combattre sur cette île relative-ment pauvre du continent africain.

L’explosion du nombre de cas d’une proportion de 37% en cinq jours a particulièrement alarmé les experts en matière de santé et sonné l’alerte chez les pays avoisinnants, de l’Afrique du sud au Kenya et de la Réunion aux Comores. Deux tiers des cas auraient été propagés par la voie des airs, soit l’éternuement ou le crachat. Aggravant l’éclosion, les célébrations des jours des morts qui ont causé plusieurs rassemblements importants.

Certains dansent ou paradent alors avec le corps de leurs proches lors de ces cérémonies macabres, une pratique désormais proscrite par les autorités. “Dans ce genre de cas on oublie vite les précautions en matière de santé,” fait remarquer Panu Saaristo de la Croix Rouge. L’OMS se console cependant du nombre décroissant de cas dans certaines régions du pays, mais seul un quart de l'île a été épargné jusqu'à présent.

On parvient mal à trouver la raison de la gravité de l’éclosion cette année mais certains médias pointaient du doigt les incendies forestiers et la fuite des rats vers les localités touchées. D’autres blâment les événements météorologiques. Selon l’OMS l’éclosion de cette année est particulièrement sévère, ayant fait plus de 160 morts,  et frappe cinq mois avant la fin de la saison pendant laquelle la peste fait ordinairement des victimes.

Traitée rapidement, la peste, qu’elle soit bubonique ou pulmonaire, est curable si “une antibiothérapie courante” est administrée dès les premiers signes. L’OMS a ainsi précipité 1,2 millions de doses antibiotiques vers l’ile et débloqué 1,5 millions $ de fonds d’urgence, mais dit nécessiter 5,5 millions $ pour pouvoir riposter à la flambée des cas.

L'organisation doit également combattre une autre maladie dans la région, sans remède celle-là, soit la fièvre de Marburg, aux symptômes terriblement similaires à ceux de l'ébola dont se remet à peine l'Afrique de l'ouest. Cette maladie tue environ 88% des personnes touchées, les premiers cas ayant fait des victimes en Ouganda.

Le risque de propagation y est important, notamment parce que les personnes atteintes avaient été en contact avec plusieurs autres personnes, mais aussi parce que les cas avaient lieu près de la frontière kenyane.

«Ce n’est pas la première fois que nous avons une flambée de cas, note la ministre de la santé ougandaise. Ce n’est pas la dernière fois. Parce que l’Ouganda se trouve dans la ceinture de la méningite, de la fièvre jaune, d’ébola. Nous avons les réservoirs de ce virus dans le pays."

THE ESCAPE OF THE RICH

While the sequel is rarely as good as the original, it can yield surprises. One year after the Panama papers lead to the ouster of leaders in Iceland and Pakistan, the leak of 13.4 million financial records of wealthy leaders and businessmen who placed assets in offshore banks has exposed ties between Russia and the current U.S. commerce secretary, placed the spotlight on the Canadian prime minister's top fundraiser and even exposed the Queen's offshore interests, to mention just some of about 120 leaders from around the world.

F1 champ Hamilton was also singled out for saving taxes by registering his Bombardier private jet in the Isle of Man while the Montreal Canadiens set up a pair of trusts in Bermuda according to leaked documents of Appelby, a firm which specialized in such offshore deals.

The Habs and businessman Stephen Bronfman issued denials following the leaks, which also revealed that a decade ago Queen Elizabeth’s estate invested in a Cayman Islands fund. Other royals snagged in the spotlight include Jordan’s queen Noor, while a myriad of foreign officials, from Uganda’s foreign minister to Brazil’s ex finance minister, also deserved their chapter in the voluminous financial paperwork dump.

The alleged ties of key associates of the U.S. president with offshore accounts proved particularly concerning in Washington amid ongoing allegations of Russian collusion. The commerce secretary used “Cayman Islands entities to maintain a financial stake in Navigator Holding,” the International consortium of investigative journalists found, noting the shipping company has “top clients that include Kremlin-linked energy firm Sibur,” partly owned by Putin’s son in law.

The company has “crony connections” claims Russia expert and former State Department official Daniel Fried. Meanwhile the Bronfman revelations come at a time the Canadian government is accused by the political opposition of being too chummy with rich friends and donors while failing to act against tax evasion but sheltering friends of the ruling Liberals.

“We are fully committed to fighting tax evasion and tax avoidance,” Justin Trudeau said in light of the allegations, adding the Canada Revenue Agency is “reviewing links to Canadian entities and will take every appropriate action.” He however elicited much criticism saying he found Bronfman's justifications acceptable.

This is the latest controversy involving the prime minister's rich friends to land him in trouble, starting with his Christmas vacation to the Aga Khan's private island a year after his 2015 election. Corporate entities have not been spared by the so-called Paradise papers, companies like Apple, Uber and Nike being listed as finding tax havens, the first to the tune of $252 billion, an amount it moved from tax-friendly Ireland to the island of Jersey when the former conducted tax reforms.

Such Channel islands have featured as prominently as their well known Caribbean tax-evasion equivalents in the documents, the Isle of Man serving to save tax expenses for everything from that jet purchase to transactions by a Canadian mining company operating in Africa but registered in Whitehorse.

While such holdings are not always ethical, the journalism consortium reminded readers it “does not suggest or imply that any persons, companies or other entities haven broken the law” by publishing the documents. But coming days after the first indictments in the American inquiry on Russian influence and as the government in Ottawa dealt with controversy over the finance minister's foreign holdings, the money trail has raised embarrassing ques-tions in a number of countries.

Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat was another leader also quick to state that “no proof of any illegal or irregular circum-stances has emerged,” after revelations in the Paradise papers that his island has been a popular destination for Azeri money. But Malta is still stirred by the recent assassination of an investigative journalist who was in part looking into Muscat’s wife, whose name appeared in the Panama papers. While the leader and his wife denied any wrongdoing, the family of the late Daphne Galicia has been vocal asking for Muscat’s resignation and institutional change.

Tax evading schemes in Malta and the Isle if Man are also starting to gather scrutiny at the European Commission, concerned some of their regulations may be contravening continental tax laws. The EU's finance chief condemned tax evaders as "vampires" and said institutions had to adapt to the latest schemes.

“These aggressive tax planning optimisation schemes, many of them appear to be completely legal. So we have to respond on the legal front by establishing a new legal framework. If this is legal, as many people claim, then we need to change the law,” said Pierre Moscovici. “Trans-parency is the first weapon in our armoury. It’s the one that will allow us to stop a culture of secrecy, and a feeling of impunity of people who are carrying out tax avoidance."

MA CHINE ARRIERE

Après le grand Timonier le 'ti monier? En fait c’est au même titre que l’auteur du grand pas en avant lui-même, Mao tsé-toung, que le président chinois Xi Jinping a été élevé lorsque son nom a été inscrit dans la charte du Parti communiste chinois lors du congrès du grand parti de l’empire du milieu.

Au courant de celui-ci plus de 2300 délégués ont approuvé à l’unanimité l’inclusion dans la charte du parti « de la pensée XI Jiping du socialisme à la chinoise de la nouvelle ère », un geste qui n’avait pas été fait envers ses prédécesseurs Jiang Zémin et Hu Jintao.

«cela conférera à Xi une autorité extra-ordinaire, note le politologue Willy Lam, de l’université chinoise de Hong Kong, il pourrait être comme lui: dirigeant à vie aussi longtemps qu’il est en bonne santé ». Pour l’heure son mandat de cinq ans a été renouvelé mais se retrouve désormais entre ses mains le choix de la succession.

Si le titre est déjà quelquechose il faut ajouter le fait qu’il a été décerné après peu d’années a la barre. « La tradition en Chine veut que l’empereur soit aussi le professeur, le maître à penser, explique à l’AFP le politologue Hu Xingdou, Xi y est arrivé dès la fin de son premier mandat, c’est rare dans notre histoire. »

Certes des défis guettent l’empereur, alors que le pays se dirige vers une période de ralentissement économique relatif mais une expansion de son influence internationale. Or malgré tous ses pouvoirs Washington est là pour lui demander de veiller à son voisinage et dompter l’incontrôlable voisin nord coréen.

Mais dans cette pensée à présent gravée dans le roc du panthéon des plus grands dirigeants chinois, Xi voit grand, notamment une «grande renaissance de la nation », comme un autre bond, et l’engagement, à temps pour le centenaire de 2049, de constituer une armée « de premier rang mondial » pour la postérité.

Au compte des effectifs ont y est déjà mais il s’agit de dompter cette technologie qui laisse le rival  américain seul sur son trône, le genre de technologie qui ne passe pas par les usines chinoises. Xi a d’ailleurs veillé sur la révision de cette force de  deux millions d’âmes alors que le pays s’imposait dans la mer de Chine.

L’occasion est d’ailleurs bonne d’agir sur une scène internationale délaissée par les États-Unis et d’y occuper « une place de choix » en « posant les règles en affaires mondiales ». Et sur le terroir qui dit pouvoir suprême dit interdiction de remettre en question la direction communiste du pays, et de moins en moins, celle de son président.

Celui-ci a d’ailleurs resserré sa poigne sur le pays, nettoyé son propre milieu en éliminant des dirigeants haut placés lors de sa campagne anti corruption et poursuivi les atteintes à la liberté d'expression, ce «socialisme à la sauce chinoise d’une nouvelle ère » qui peut être servie aux convives à titre de «choix nouveau pour d’autres pays ».

Mais Lam n’y voit qu’«un retour à la direction unique » plutôt qu’une approche collégiale, selon lui  «un pas en arrière » plutôt qu'un bond en avant pour faire progresser l'empire du milieu au 21ème siècle.      

ILS SONT DE RETOUR A KIEV


Ils sont de retour. En 2014 la place centrale devant le parlement de Kiev était transformée en camp de manifestants, protégeant le gouvernement après les éclats meurtriers qui avaient évincé le président pro-russe qui a osé tourner les armes contre le peuple.

Après l’annexion de la Crimée et même l’élection du président pro-européen Poroshenko, ils restaient en place derrière leurs barricades, jusqu’au moment où on leur a laissé savoir que c’en était assez.

Depuis les tentes ont refait leur apparition ainsi que les manifestations, contre Poroshenko cette fois, lui donnant le choix de respecter ses promesses de lutter contre la corruption ou de décamper à son tour. Le 18 octobre des éclats avec la police se sont soldés par  une dizaine d’arrestations.

Quelques heures plus tard les manifestants étaient relâchés et allaient rejoindre leurs confrères dans leur camp, promettant d’y rester jusqu’à ce que le gouvernement ne prenne des mesures contre cet ancien fléau qui survit aux gouvernements successifs et ignore la couleur du parti. Avec leur cuisine communautaire et leurs feux de poubelle, les manifestants reprenaient la place du parlement en lui redonnant des airs de révolte.

« Poroshenko a ignoré les demandes du peuple en matière de mesures anti corruption, » souligne Serhiy Leshchenko, parmi eux. Malgré le rapport déséquilibré des forces la police refuse d’évacuer le camp sur ce site symbolique de la petite révolution de 2014. On ne veut pas répéter les « vieilles erreurs » d’il y a trois ans, lors des événements qui firent 100 morts.

Il s’agit après tout d’un geste propre « à la culture politique ukrainienne » rappelle Leschenko, et constitue « le seul moyen de se faire entendre », des demandes d’établir des tribunaux spéciaux anti corruption et d’abandon de l’immunité parlementaire.

Parmi les manifestants, l’ancien président géorgien Mikheil Saakashvili, gouverneur d’Odessa Oblast jusqu’il y a un an lorsqu’il quitta son poste, accusant Poroshenko de donner libre cours à la corruption dans sa région. Il a depuis perdu sa nationalité ukrainienne, ce qui, après avoir perdu sa nationalité géorgienne, le laisse sans patrie.

Il mène cependant une guerre sans relâche contre la corruption en lançant un nouveau parti. Mais l’Ukraine lui a nié le statut de réfugié peu après avoir présenté son «plan pour sauver l’Ukraine » qui vise notamment la corruption mais également le système de santé et la création d’une armée de réservistes.

Le pays reste encore en état de guerre dans sa région orientale, alors que des éclats viennent périodiquement ébranler les autres régions du pays, et même la capitale parfois. La semaine dernière Kiev pointait Moscou du doigt après une explosion qui a fait deux morts à l'extérieur d'un bureau de télévision, et blessé le parlementaire Ihor Mosiychuk, un membre nationaliste de l'opposition.

En juillet le journaliste d'enquête Pavel Sheremet était tué lors de l'explosion d'une auto piégée. Un attentat qui ne serait pas si déplacé dans la Russie de Poutine. L'ombre du grand voisin plane encore sur le pays.


WAR IS HELL, AND THIS?

If this isn't war, what must that be like? The question resonates in the aftermath of the deadliest bombing in Somalia’s bloody history, which claimed over 350 lives and left dozens of others unaccounted for. Sadly it wasn't the latest attack of the sort. But after years of unrelenting violence that mid October blast was so shocking it sent thousands to the tense streets in protest.

The country's beleaguered president said the nation in the Horn of Africa had to prepare for a "state of war "  a notion which may have lost its meaning. New U.S. assisted military offensives would target the suspected insurgents, al Shabab jihadists, Washington having  declared part of the country a zone for drone operations earlier this year.

The effectiveness of such offensives has come into question, as well as that of US intelligence on the continent, or lack thereof, after half a dozen US soldiers were killed in a Niger mission recently. Would the spectre of 1993 reappear if Washington adds to the 400 troops already in Somalia to help train local forces?

Military missions have been increased since the election of a Somali American president in February in an imperfect election, but the results are visibly all but conclusive, as jihadists continue to target both military and civilians. The new leadership has also been unable to prevent pirates working off the Somali coast from resuming their attacks on ships travelling through the strategic waterways, a resumption of activities some blamed on illegal fishing and others on the country's famine.

Others see dwindling vigilance by maritimers as a culprit, coupled with the lack of onshore resources to end the attacks. "We have been relying on offshore containment, but the best way to combat piracy is through onshore solutions," says Dr. Afyare Elmi of Qatar University. "The best way is to invest in the national government, to build capacity at national level."

The U.S. carried its latest drone strikes in the country following the Mogadishu attack. This week it went further by launching its first air strikes there, but targeted ISIS after a New York lone wolf attack killed 8. But some local officials fear US military action may only be making matters worse.

They identified the man responsible for the Oct. 14 attack as a former soldier whose hometown was raided by Somali troops assisted by US special forces in a botched operation months ago which left 10 civilians killed, and said the bombing could have been an act of revenge.

This isn't uncommon according to a recent United Nations report, which states that in “a majority of cases, state action appears to be the primary factor finally pushing individuals into violent extremism in Africa”. The report interviewed hundreds of former militant fighters, 71% of whom said “government action”, including the “killing of a family member or friend” or “arrest of a family member or friend” prompted them to join a militant group.

While Al-Shabab has denied a role in the October 14 attack, perhaps shocked by its death toll, it hardly halted operations, claiming responsibility for two attacks in Mogadishu last week which killed two dozen people, one of them a regional security chief. The attack led to the sacking of police and intelligence chiefs at a time the two portfolios are key to the country's survival.

Over a quarter century after the fall of dictator Siad Barre the country remains a frail state hardly able to handle its own affairs. Officials now fear a 2020 calendar to withdraw some 22,000 African Union troops and turn the keys to Somali forces is very much in doubt.


PARTING WAYS

Break-away referendums are tension-filled affairs, especially as they tend to let a minority decide on the future of an entire nation. Catalonia and Kurdistan were no different, the Spanish and Iraqi regions facing perhaps the most pressure of recent independence plebiscites, central authorities declaring them illegal.
The former saw preventive arrests and police interventions to block polling stations while the latter was able to proceed with the understanding it was non-binding, its organizers besieged by Baghdad and neighboring capitals threatening border actions and broken ties.

The Iraqi government asked local officials to yield control of the region’s airports ahead of the vote while airlines stopped servicing them. In the end the Kurds voted in favor overwhelmingly, which organizers said would bolster the autonomous region’s hand dealing with Baghdad. The numbers were convincing with 92% of participants voting yes, a score immediately met with resistance in the Iraqi capital where Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for the referendum to be annulled and a new dialogue.

Talks would follow, the regional government ruled, but only to negotiate the region’s eventual break up. The vote shook oil prices amid threats of a blockade by neighbors of the Kurdish region home to rich oil fields. "Let’s engage in serious dialogue and become good neighbors," declared Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani. But Baghdad suspended lawmakers who voted yes in the referendum.

Break ups are hardly ever peaceful like the velvet revolution, the independence of South Sudan and Eritrea only bringing war with their former citizens. While the scenario seems much less likely in Spain, the violence of Madrid’s preventive measures caused alarm there and in other countries, and sparked concerns this would only boost what was lukewarm support for independence. Rallies in Catalonia in the days leading to the vote condemned the rush by Madrid to send police to the region, a move leader Carles Puidgemont likened to Franco-style interference. 

"There’s a serious and worrying return to the fall of democracy in Spain and it's not just us who are realizing that,"  he said, deploring the arrival of ferries to accommodate the coming officers. "In the worst years of the ETA era you wouldn’t get such massive deployments. There’s no violence here." Sympathetic to the cause, Quebec nationalist and observer Gilbert Paquette condemned police action he said prevented Catalan civil servants from doing their jobs preparing ballots.

His province's legislature later passed a motion condemning Madrid's "authoritarian" measures. A dozen officials working in the election were arrested on the orders of a Barcelona judge days before the vote and Madrid threatened others with obscene fines. Paquette called Madrid’s actions that of "a regime of terror" whose actions will only "reinforce their convictions". In scenes reminiscent of the 1995 Quebec referendum, cities across Spain held flag-waving rallies in support of unity.

But at least the Quebec votes in 1980 and 1995 had been allowed to go forward, activists both for and against independence occupied schools and railed against Madrid because it sought to deny the vote altogether, leading to clashes on voting day which injured hundreds of people. Spanish authorities blasted Catalan officials as "irresponsible" for allowing the vote to go forward despite warnings, while Barcelona called police action unjustified violence.

Video showed Spanish police smashing into polling stations to remove ballots and voters, pulling some participants by the hair. While Madrid denied the legitimacy of the referendum, calling it a "mockery" of democracy, Puidgemont said Sunday Catalonia had "won the right to statehood" after the voters who did manage to cast ballots overwhelmingly endorsed independence, 90% voting in favor.

"With this day of hope and suffering, the citizens of Catalonia have won the right to an independent state in the form a republic," he said, adding later that Catalonia didn't want "a traumatic break" with the rest of the country. The dueling interpretations, and calls for European mediation by Puidgemont, promised tense weeks ahead as 40 trade unions and Catalan associations carried out a region-wide strike this week to denounce "the grave violation of rights and freedoms," bringing tens of thousands to the streets.

Spain's King Felipe addressed the nation about the crisis but hardly offered mediation, saying the referendum's organizers had put themselves "outside the law", and failing to mention the violence. Catalan officials said they were disappointed the monarch did little more than toe the government line. While officials from Canada to the European Union limited their commentary to the fact it was an internal matter, they expressed concern about the often violent nature of police action, which used rubber bullets, and hoped dialogue would ensue.

"We call on all relevant players to now move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue," the European Commission said in a statement. "Violence can never be an instrument in politics." But EU officials also found the Catalan vote "not legal" while Spain's justice minister warned that any declaration of independence could give Madrid the right to suspend the Catalan government's authority. But Catalan officials, invigorated by the strong support and angered by the violence, remained undaunted, leaving Europe with its latest crisis on its hands.

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