The Global Security News: 1. Russia from Michael_Novakhov (114 sites): Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty: Rescue Operations Continue In Magnitogorsk Apartment-Block Collapse

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At least seven people were killed and dozens remain unaccounted for after a suspected gas explosion triggered the collapse of a section of a high-rise apartment building in the Russian city of Magnitogorsk early on New Year’s Eve.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

1. Russia from Michael_Novakhov (114 sites)

The Global Security News


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The Global Security News: 1. World from Michael_Novakhov (22 sites): Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty: Rescue Operations Continue In Magnitogorsk Apartment-Block Collapse

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At least seven people were killed and dozens remain unaccounted for after a suspected gas explosion triggered the collapse of a section of a high-rise apartment building in the Russian city of Magnitogorsk early on New Year’s Eve.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

1. World from Michael_Novakhov (22 sites)

The Global Security News


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Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites): 1. Russia from Michael_Novakhov (114 sites): Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty: Rescue Operations Continue In Magnitogorsk Apartment-Block Collapse

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At least seven people were killed and dozens remain unaccounted for after a suspected gas explosion triggered the collapse of a section of a high-rise apartment building in the Russian city of Magnitogorsk early on New Year’s Eve.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

1. Russia from Michael_Novakhov (114 sites)

Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites)


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Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites): 1. World from Michael_Novakhov (22 sites): Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty: Rescue Operations Continue In Magnitogorsk Apartment-Block Collapse

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At least seven people were killed and dozens remain unaccounted for after a suspected gas explosion triggered the collapse of a section of a high-rise apartment building in the Russian city of Magnitogorsk early on New Year’s Eve.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

1. World from Michael_Novakhov (22 sites)

Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites)


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1. Russia from Michael_Novakhov (114 sites): Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty: Rescue Operations Continue In Magnitogorsk Apartment-Block Collapse

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At least seven people were killed and dozens remain unaccounted for after a suspected gas explosion triggered the collapse of a section of a high-rise apartment building in the Russian city of Magnitogorsk early on New Year’s Eve.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

1. Russia from Michael_Novakhov (114 sites)


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1. World from Michael_Novakhov (22 sites): Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty: Rescue Operations Continue In Magnitogorsk Apartment-Block Collapse

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At least seven people were killed and dozens remain unaccounted for after a suspected gas explosion triggered the collapse of a section of a high-rise apartment building in the Russian city of Magnitogorsk early on New Year’s Eve.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

1. World from Michael_Novakhov (22 sites)


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1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (87 sites): Stars and Stripes: The most distant space encounter in history is happening now

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The nerdiest New Year’s party in the solar system is happening 4 billion miles from Earth, where a lone, intrepid spacecraft is en route to the furthest object humans have ever explored.

Stars and Stripes

1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (87 sites)


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1. World from Michael_Novakhov (22 sites): World – TIME: Hello, 2019: Revelry and Reflection Mark the Transition to a New Year

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Fireworks, concerts, spiritual services and political addresses abounded to mark the transition to 2019 as revelers around the globe bid farewell Monday to a year filled with challenges to many of the world’s most basic institutions, including political, trade and religious ones.

A look at how people in the U.S. and around the world have been ushering in 2019:

New York City

Snoop Dogg, Sting and Christina Aguilera will welcome 2019 in a packed Times Square along with revelers from around the world who come to see the traditional crystal ball drop.

A drenching rain hasn’t stopped crowds from packing the area ahead of the made-for-TV extravaganza.

The celebration will take place under tight security, with party-goers checked for weapons and then herded into pens, ringed by metal barricades, where they wait for the stroke of midnight.

But the weather forced police to scrap plans to fly a drone to help keep watch over the crowd.

Partygoers were paying up to $10 for plastic ponchos trying to stay dry. Umbrellas are banned for security reasons.

Las Vegas

No place does flashy like Las Vegas. It will ring in 2019 with fireworks shot from casino-resorts and superstar performances from Lady Gaga, Celine Dion, Gwen Stefani and others.

Celebratory midnight toasts will be anchored by an 8-minute firework show on the Las Vegas Strip. The pyrotechnics will be choreographed to a soundtrack that includes Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be a Lady,” Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” and Dion’s version of “I Drove All Night”.

New Year’s Eve is worth more than $400 million to Vegas.

Security is a high priority for police on the Las Vegas Strip, where a gunman in 2017 opened fire on a country music festival, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds of others.

Police, including rooftop snipers and plainclothes and uniformed officers, will be out in full force along with federal agents. Authorities are also restricting revelers from bringing backpacks, ice chests, strollers and glass items to the street celebrations.

Rio de Janeiro

More than 2 million people celebrated the new year on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro.

A 14-minute fireworks display ushered Brazil into 2019 only hours before far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro will be sworn in as president.

Many Brazilians were on the road to the capital of Brasilia on Monday night to watch the former army captain’s inauguration Tuesday afternoon.

The last evening of 2018 in Rio was a sticky 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius), and many Brazilians took a dip in the water and made their offerings to Yemanja, a sea goddess in the Afro-Brazilian Candomble faith.

London

Britons ushered in the new year with the familiar chimes of Big Ben, even though the world famous clock has been disconnected for more than a year because of a conservation project.

Parliament announced last week that the clock’s massive bell would sound to mark the new year with the help of a specially built electric mechanism to power the hammer, which weighs about 440 pounds (200 kilograms). The clock mechanism, which has kept time since 1859, has been dismantled as part of the renovation work.

New Year’s Eve without Big Ben would be positively un-British. The comforting chimes are used by TV and radio stations throughout Britain to herald the moment of transition from the old to the new year.

Paris

Parisians and tourists gathered on the Champs-Elysees to celebrate New Year’s Eve under heavy security.

Anti-government protesters from the yellow vest movement have issued calls on social media for “festive” demonstrations on the famous avenue.

Paris police set up a security perimeter in the area, with bag searches, a ban on alcohol and traffic restrictions. The Interior Ministry said Sunday that the heavy security measures are needed because of a “high terrorist threat” and concerns about “non-declared protests.”

President Emmanuel Macron gave his traditional New Year address to briefly lay out his priorities for 2019, as some protesters angry over high taxes and his pro-business policies plan to continue their demonstrations in coming weeks.

Ahead of midnight, a light show with the theme of brotherhood took place on the Arc de Triomphe monument at the top of the Champs-Elysees.

Berlin

Tens of thousands of people celebrated the start of 2019 at Berlin’s landmark Brandenburg Gate.

The annual New Year’s celebrations took place amid tight security, with about 1,300 officers deployed throughout the heart of the German capital and revelers banned from taking fireworks, bottles or large bags into the fenced-off party zone.

By midnight, Berlin police reported fewer incidents than in previous years.

Vatican City

Pope Francis has rounded out the most problematic year of his papacy by presiding over a vespers service and praying before the Vatican’s giant sand sculpture Nativity scene.

During his homily Monday, Francis lamented how many people spent 2018 living on the edge of dignity, homeless or forced into modern forms of slavery.

Accompanied by his chief alms-giver, Francis then walked out into St. Peter’s Square, where he greeted pilgrims and prayed before the Nativity scene, carved out of 720 tons of packed sand.

On Tuesday, Francis will celebrate Mass to mark the start of a new year and officially leave behind 2018, which saw a new eruption of the clergy sex abuse scandal.

United Arab Emirates

Fireworks crackled at Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, as hundreds of thousands of spectators gathered downtown to watch the spectacular display.

The fireworks replaced last year’s somewhat anticlimactic LED lightshow that ran down the facade of the 828-meter-tall (2,716-foot-tall) tower.

Cafes and restaurants with a view of the Burj Khalifa charge a premium for their locale on New Year’s Eve. Casual sandwich chain Pret a Manger, for example, charged $817 for a table of four. That price gets you hot and cold drinks and some canapes. For burgers near the action, fast food chain Five Guys charged $408 per person for unlimited burgers, hotdogs, fries, milkshakes and soda.

Elsewhere in the United Arab Emirates, the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah attempted to set a new Guinness World Record with the longest straight-line display of fireworks reaching 7.35 miles (11.83 kilometers).

Thailand

While many celebrate New Year’s Eve with fireworks, hundreds of Thais traveled to Takien Temple in a suburb of Bangkok to lie inside coffins for traditional funeral rituals.

Participants believe the ceremony — symbolizing death and rebirth — helps rid them of bad luck and allows them to be born again for a fresh start in the new year.

They held flowers and incense in their hands as monks covered them with pink sheets and chanted prayers for the dead.

“It wasn’t scary or anything. It is our belief that it will help us get rid of bad luck and bring good fortune to our life,” said Busaba Yookong, who came to the temple with her family.

Philippines

Dozens of people have been injured ahead of New Year’s Eve, when many across the Philippines set off powerful firecrackers in one of Asia’s most violent celebrations despite a government scare campaign and threats of arrests.

The Department of Health said it has recorded more than 50 firecracker injuries in the past 10 days. That is expected to increase as Filipinos usher in 2019.

Officials have urged centralized fireworks displays to discourage wild and sometimes fatal merrymaking.

The tradition stems from a Chinese-influenced belief that noise drives away evil and misfortune.

Earlier Monday, suspected Muslim militants remotely detonated a bomb near the entrance of a mall in Cotabato as people did last-minute shopping ahead of celebrations. Officials said at least two people were killed and nearly 30 wounded.

China

New Year’s Eve isn’t celebrated widely in mainland China, where the lunar New Year in February is a more important holiday. But countdown events were held in major cities, and some of the faithful headed to Buddhist temples for bell-ringing and prayers.

Beijing held a gala with VIP guests at the main site of the 2008 Summer Olympics. The event looked ahead to the 2022 Winter Games, which also will be held in the Chinese capital.

Outdoor revelers in Beijing had to brave temperatures well below freezing.

Additional police were deployed in parts of Shanghai, where a New Year’s Eve stampede in 2014 killed 36 people.

In Hong Kong, festive lights on skyscrapers provided the backdrop for a fireworks, music and light show over Victoria Harbor on a chilly evening.

Kiribati

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati was the first in the world to welcome the new year, greeting 2019 with muted celebrations after spending 2018 on the front line of the battle against climate change.

Kiribati is made up of low-lying atolls along the equator which intersect three time zones, the first of which sees the new year 14 hours before midnight in London.

Much of the nation’s land mass, occupied by 110,000 people, is endangered by rising seas that have inundated coastal villages. The rising oceans have turned fresh water sources brackish, imperiling communities and raising doubts the nation will exist at the next New Year.

Former President Anote Tong said the only future for Kiribati may be mass migration.

The new year was welcomed in the capital, Tarawa, with church services and mostly quiet private celebrations.

Australia

An estimated million people crowded Sydney Harbor as Australia’s largest city rang in the new year with a spectacular, soul-tinged fireworks celebration.

One of the most complex displays in Australia’s history included gold, purple and silver fireworks pulsating to the tune of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” made famous by Aretha Franklin, who died in August. The show used 8.5 tons of fireworks and featured more than 100,000 pyrotechnic effects.

Earlier, a thunderstorm drenched tens of thousands of people as they gathered for the traditional display, creating a show of its own with dozens of lightning strikes.

In Melbourne, 14 tons of fireworks deployed on the ground and on roofs of 22 buildings produced special effects including flying dragons. In Brisbane, people watched as fireworks exploded from five barges moored on the Brisbane River.

South Korea

After an eventful year that saw three inter-Korean summits and the easing of tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program, South Koreans entered 2019 with hopes that the hard-won detente will expand into a stable peace.

Thousands of South Koreans filled the streets of the capital, Seoul, for a traditional bell-tolling ceremony near City Hall. Dignitaries picked to ring the old Bosingak bell at midnight included famous surgeon Lee Guk-jong, who successfully operated on a North Korean soldier who escaped to South Korea in 2017 in a hail of bullets fired by his comrades.

A “peace bell” was tolled at Imjingak, a pavilion near the border with North Korea.

World – TIME

1. World from Michael_Novakhov (22 sites)


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Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites): 1. World from Michael_Novakhov (22 sites): Reuters: World News: Cooperation best for both China and U.S., Xi tells Trump

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History shows that cooperation is the best choice for both China and the United States, Chinese President Xi Jinping told U.S. President Donald Trump in a congratulatory message on Tuesday to mark 40 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Reuters: World News

1. World from Michael_Novakhov (22 sites)

Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites)


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Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites): 1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (87 sites): Stars and Stripes: Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White quits Trump administration amid wave of key departures

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“I appreciate the opportunity afforded to me by this administration to serve alongside Secretary Mattis, our Service members and all the civilians who support them,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White tweeted Monday.

Stars and Stripes

1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (87 sites)

Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites)


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Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites): 1. World from Michael_Novakhov (22 sites): Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty: Romania Takes Over EU Presidency With Theme Of ‘Cohesion’

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Romania has taken over the rotating European Union Presidency as the bloc faces the prospect of Britain’s impending departure and rising nationalism in many member states.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

1. World from Michael_Novakhov (22 sites)

Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites)


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Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites): 1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (87 sites): Stars and Stripes: In Yemen, Iran-aligned rebels tighten their grip through fear and intimidation

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In Yemen’s war, a Saudi-led coalition backed by the United States has been vilified for killing thousands of civilians with airstrikes, waging an economic war that has driven millions to the precipice of starvation, and allegedly torturing foes and critics in secret prisons.

Stars and Stripes

1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (87 sites)

Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites)


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Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites): 1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (87 sites): Stars and Stripes: Human waste, trash overwhelm some national parks in shutdown

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The 10th day of the partial federal government shutdown, which has forced furloughs of hundreds of thousands of federal government employees, has left many parks without most of the rangers and others who staff campgrounds and otherwise keep parks running.

Stars and Stripes

1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (87 sites)

Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites)


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1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (87 sites): Eurasia Review: Balkans In 2018: Year Of Crises And Challanges – Analysis

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With new regional and international tensions, internal political quarrels, stagnating economies and worsening public services, many people in the Balkans will probably want to forget the past year as 12 wasted months.

From deepening political divisions and tensions
over the general elections in Bosnia, to worsened relations between
Kosovo and Serbia, and from mass protests in Serbia and Romania to the
arrests of so-called “Gulenists”, sought by Turkey, the Balkans saw a
good deal of turmoil and political and economic instability in 2018.

In addition to country reports looking at each country’s perspectives
in 2019, which promises to be at least as interesting as this year,
BIRN is offering this brief overview of the key developments in the
Balkan countries in 2018.

Bosnia in 2018: Politics overshadowed by elections

One of the defining events in Bosnia and Herzegovina was the general
election held on October 7. As in previous years, the election year was
dominated by radical rhetoric, populist moves and statements as well as
by blocked reforms. Before, during and after the ballot, there were
allegations of election fraud, none of which were upheld by the local
courts, however. 

Another election-related controversy concerned the fact that the vote
took place under a part-annulled election law, which Bosnia’s state
parliament had failed to amend. 

The law was missing the section regulating elections in Bosnia’s
Federation entity to the House of Peoples. The state-level
Constitutional Court struck it down two years ago.

Reform of this and other parts of the election law was a hotly disputed issue throughout the year. 

Bosnian Croat parties complained that, under the current rules, far
more numerous Bosniaks used their superior numbers to outvote Croats and
in effect elect nominally Croat candidates. 

This issue also triggered tensions between Bosnia and Croatia, which
also called for legislative and constitutional changes in Bosnia to
bolster Croats rights with other two ethnic groups.

However, some local and international experts insisted that the
ruling Croatian party in Bosnia, the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, and
its leader, Dragan Covic, did not truly want to resolve this issue so
much as to use it to block the formation of new governments and push for the re-creation of an autonomous Croat entity. 

The elections, meanwhile, saw another victory of the three main
national parties, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats SNSD, of
Milorad Dodik, Covic’s HDZ and the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action,
SDA. 

The SNSD and SDA candidates, Milorad Dodik and Sefik Dzaferovic, won seats on the state’s tripartite presidency. 

However, in another controversy, the third, Croat, seat went to
Zeljko Komsic who clearly won thanks mainly to Bosniak votes. The
result, while fully legal, created more tension with the Bosnian Croat community and with Croatia.  

The elections results also showed that the HDZ and SNSD could not be
left out in the formation of state and entity governments, while their
most likely coalition partner from the Bosniak parties would be the
SDA. 

Late in December, Bosnia’s much-criticised Central Election
Commission finally fixed the broken election law, to allow the lawful
formation of a Federation government, but its decision was likely to end
up before the Constitutional Court, after Bosniak leaders said they
would challenge it. 

Because of this and other political quarrels, formation of new governments and progress on key reforms remained uncertain. 

Bulgaria in 2018: Euro-presidency success marred by scandals at home

Bulgaria showed two distinct faces in 2018. On one hand, it was the
European Commission’s darling, hosting the Council of the European Union
Presidency for the first time during the first six months of the year,
and organizing two international summits at which the EU first met
Turkey and then the Western Balkan states. 

Despite the modest results of both events, Bulgaria showed good
organizational skills and seemingly pushed forward its agenda of joining
the passport-free Schengen area, at least partially, and the European
Banking Union in 2019. 

But Bulgaria also showed another face during 2018 as Bulgarian
nationalists in government and MEPs backed Hungary’s nationalist leader
Victor Orban, when the EU decided to penalise him for undermining the
rule of law and the freedom of expression in Hungary. 

A seemingly never-ending wave of public discontent against
controversial decisions or, in other instances, lack of adequate
measures, meanwhile shook the country and forced the government to
replace four ministers including one deputy prime minister in only a few
months. 

Two other ministers, of Energy and Social Welfare, almost resigned, but Prime Minister Boyko Borissov did not let them quit.

The year started with the Save Pirin protests against the decision of
the government to allow some construction in the Pirin National Park
and UNESCO site, which activists fear could pave the way towards the
widespread destruction of the precious mountainous area. 

The government’s troubles continued with the controversial attempted
sale of CEZ, the country’s largest energy supplier, to a small,
family-controlled company with connections to Energy Minister Temenuzhka
Petkova. 

This was followed by an announcement that Bulgaria was re-starting
two large energy projects that looked likely to tighten Russia’s grip
over the country. 

After a quiet summer, a new wave of discontent sprung up – first
after a badly communicated mass cull of sheep and goats in the Strandzha
region in August, and then after a deadly bus crash near Svoge, close
to Sofia.

This led to three ministerial resignations and half-hearted
admissions that corruption in the road infrastructure sector might have
contributed to the deaths of 20 people. 

The topic of corruption in the field of public procurements was
heightened by the arrests of investigative journalists, Attila Biro from
Rise Project Romania, and Dimitar Stoyanov from Bivol-Bulgaria.

They were detained after they tried to stop the destruction of
evidence of public procurement fraud involving one of the largest
winners of public tenders for road repairs and construction, GP Group. 

This was followed by the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Valeri
Simeonov for offending protesting mothers of children with disabilities,
and by a 77-million-euros fine for not complying with EU competition
rules.

While the ruling GERB-United Patriots coalition continued to claim it
offered the country “stability”, the picture was, clearly, a lot less
rosy. 

Kosovo in 2018: Raising the stakes with Serbia

In March, the Kosovo parliament finally ratified the long delayed
border agreement with Montenegro, a controversial deal that since 2015
had sparked violent clashes between the opposition and the ruling
coalition. 

After three years of leading opposition to the border agreement with
Montenegro, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj accepted the deal, with a
new annex that left open the possibility of “correcting” the exact
borders later on. 

The European Union had insisted on the deal as one of the criteria
for granting Kosovo visa-free access to the passport-free Schengen area –
which had not happened by the time 2018 ended, however.

Meanwhile, that same month, tensions were sparked with Serbia
following the arrest of Marko Djuric, the head of the Serbian
government’s Kosovo office. Despite being banned from entering Kosovo by
the authorities, Djuric visited the Serbian stronghold of North
Mitrovica to participate in a debate with Kosovo Serb leaders.

After the arrest, Djuric was taken to Pristina in handcuffs with his
head held down before numerous journalists, photographers and TV crews.
Djuric later described the treatment as an attempt to humiliate him, and
Serbia, saying that he was “walked liked a dog”. 

Further tensions with Serbia erupted in November when Kosovo imposed a 10-per-cent tax on Serbian and Bosnian imports. 

Despite international pressure to withdraw the decision, the
government did the opposite and sharply increased the tax from 10 to 100
per cent, one day after Kosovo failed to join the international police
organisation Interpol at its general assembly in Dubai. 

This setback was credited to strong Serbian lobbying. Haradinaj
stressed that Kosovo would not revoke the tax until Serbia recognised
Kosovo’s independence.

In December, the Kosovo parliament adopted another controversial
decision, a package of three draft laws expanding the competences of the
Kosovo Security Force, KSF, and creating a legal base for its
transformation into a regular army. 

By adopting laws on merely changing the KSF’s remit, parliament
bypassed the need to adopt the regular constitutional changes required
to change the KSF into an official army – which Serbia and Kosovo Serbs
bitterly oppose.

Representatives of the main Kosovo Serb party, Srpska Lista, said the
new de-facto army would have no mandate to operate in mainly Serbian
north Kosovo – and it would challenge the vote before the Constitutional
Court.

Macedonia in 2018: Breakthrough marred by ex-PM’s escape 

Macedonia in 2018 witnessed a major breakthrough, with the signing of the historic “name” agreement with Greece.

But this achievement was undermined by events at home, when the
scandalous escape of the former autocratic Prime Minister, Nikola
Gruevski, who had been sent to prison, caused major ripples. 

After spending much of the first half of the year in hard
UN-sponsored “name” talks with Greece, on June 17, the two countries
finally signed an agreement on ending the decades-long dispute over Macedonia’s name, under which the country would be renamed Republic of North Macedonia.

The signing of the agreement won international praise and was
regarded as the most positive political development in the Balkans that
year. 

However, it also stirred tensions as far-right nationalists in both countries staged sometimes violent protests. 

At the consultative referendum that followed in September 30, the majority of Macedonian voters supported the agreement. But the turnout failed to meet the required 50 per cent threshold, which emptied the result of any real force.

Despite this setback, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev narrowly steered the
agreement through parliament and the process is expected to end by late
January. In return, Greece agreed to stop blocking Macedonia’s accession
to NATO and the EU.

Amidst renewed optimism over this breakthrough, Macedonia was shocked
in November when former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who was ousted
in May 2017, mysteriously fled the country, so avoiding serving a jail
sentence. 

This was a major blow to Zaev’s government, which took power on a promise to deliver justice for the past regime’s crimes. 

While some critics attributed the escape to government incompetence,
many suspected that Gruevski had been allowed to escape as part of an
elusive deal with the government.

Gruevski was supposed to report to start serving his two-year jail term on November 9, but failed to do so. 

On November 13, a post on his Facebook account announced that he was
in Hungary, where he was seeking political asylum, having supposedly
received numerous threats to his life.

Hungary soon granted Gruevski asylum, a move attributed to Gruevski’s
long political friendship with Hungary’s leader, Viktor Orban. Albania,
Montenegro and Serbia meanwhile confirmed that Gruevski had used their
territory to flee to Hungary, and that Hungarian diplomats had aided his escape.

Moldova in 2018: Populism puts EU path in danger

Throughout 2018, Moldova witnessed growing political tensions and
quarrels, which posed a threat to the EU-Moldova Association Agreement
signed in 2014.

The worst political unrest occurred in June, after an allegedly
politically influenced court ruling cancelled the results of the mayoral
elections in Chisinau, which an opposition leader Andrei Nastase, had
won – fairly in the view of most observers.  

Soon after, the European Commission suspended 100 million euros in
macro-financial, accusing Moldova of backsliding on democratic
standards. 

As a counter-measure, aimed at getting more money into the budget,
all the main three institutions in Moldova – parliament, government and
the presidency – gave the green light to a highly controversial fiscal
reform.

Critics said the new law would enable people to clean “dirty” money
as it allows any Moldovan citizen to register and keep any illegally
gained financial gains or assets, as long as he or she pays a 3-per-cent
fee to the state. 

Moldova also offered 5,000 passports to anyone wanting to purchase
Moldovan citizenship for a 100,000-euro donation to the government, or a
250,000-euro investment in any business in Moldova. 

The name of the “new” citizens will also remain secret. The changes disturbed many in the country, and abroad. 

Besides these and other decisions, which clearly went against
Brussels’ advice and demands, the ruling Democratic Party hardened its
nationalist rhetoric ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections, due
in February 2019. 

By the end of 2018, relations between Moldova and EU had turned distinctly frosty. 

Romania in 2018: Political turmoil and social uprisings

Romania experienced continuous political turmoil in 2018, with
politicians entrenched in a battle against prosecutors over the policies
of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate, DNA. 

Street protests against the government intensified throughout the year, some ending up in violence.

Under the management of Laura Codruta Kovesi, the youngest and first
woman prosecutor to lead the DNA, the agency had in recent years
indicted hundreds of politicians and former dignitaries, many of them
Social Democrats. The Social Democrat-led government in Bucharest duly fired  her in July.

The battered anti-graft agency lacks a new chief in 2019 as President
Klaus Iohannis has refused to appoint the government’s nominee, Adina
Florea, citing her cooperation with the intelligence services.  

Kovesi’s dismissal came too late for Social Democrat strongman Liviu Dragnea, however. 

He was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail in a second
corruption trial, although the June 21 verdict was not final and he is
now appealing the sentence.

Following a rally organized by the ruling party to show its large
support base on June 9, and following Kovesi’s dismissal, several
anti-government groups, including some based in Romania’s large
diaspora, announced a large protest of their own on August 10.

The rally drew tens of thousands of people from across Romania, but
ended in a violent clash with the riot police, which used tear gas to
disperse demonstrators around the government building in Bucharest. 

The incidents on August 10 left hundreds wounded and police, as well
as the Interior Minister, faced harsh criticism for using
disproportionate force against peaceful protesters, including elderly
people and children. 

Prosecutors started an investigation into the allegations of
violence, which the government dismissed, saying the use of force had
been “justified”. 

The violent crackdown on August 10, as well as the push by the Social
Democrats to change the criminal codes and several laws on the
organization of courts and prosecutor’s offices – all designed to relax
the fight against corruption – resulted in the European Commission
slamming the government in November with the harshest report on the
country since it joined the EU. 

Moreover, the fact that neighbouring Bulgaria simultaneously received
praise from the EU for its progress, and various politicians in
Brussels called for its speedy admission to the Schengen area, caused
further discontent in Romania.  

The year ended with Romania still mired in controversies and rumours
that the cabinet was still mulling a decree on amnestying and pardoning
corruption convicts similar, to the one that triggered the
January-February 2017 protests – the biggest the country has seen since
1989.

Serbia in 2018: Worsening tension with Kosovo

Unresolved relation with Kosovo remained the main political issue in
Serbia. While EU increased pressure on both sides to resolve their
decade-long dispute over Kosovo’s independence, proclaimed in 2008,
their relations were dogged by arrests, cancelled meetings, exchanges of
strong words and import taxes. 

Tensions in Serbia increased in March, after Kosovo police arrested the head of the Serbian government’s Office for Kosovo, Marko Djuric, for entering Kosovo despite a ban on his presence. 

In September, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic scrapped a planned meeting with his Kosovo counterpart, Hashim Thaci, in Brussels.  

He then paid a visit to the Serbian community in Kosovo instead. 

After Kosovo war veterans blocked roads leading to the village of
Banje, south of the Ibar River, the Kosovo government cancelled Vucic’s
planned visit to the Serbian village, though it caused no problems about him holding a rally in the Serbian stronghold of North Mitrovica. 

In his speech, the Serbian President praised Serbia’s late president
Slobodan Milosevic, a hate figure in Kosovo, sparking strong reactions
also from Kosovo officials. 

Two months later, Kosovo imposed taxes on imports from Serbia and
Bosnia. The decision caused four mayors in Serb-majority municipalities
in North Kosovo to resign and to end their communications with Kosovo institutions. 

Another row erupted between two countries in December. On December
18, at a UN Security Council session, called by Belgrade, when Kosovo’s
President Thaci defended
the controversial decision to transform the country’s lightly armed
security force, the KSF, into a de facto army, which Serbia claimed
would jeopardise peace in the region. 

Besides rockier than ever relations with Kosovo, another key
development in 2018 in Serbia was the series of anti-government
protests, which started in early December, following the brutal beating
of the leader of opposition Serbian Left party, Borko Stefanovic. He was
assaulted late in November.

Thousands of people gathered weekend after weekend in the Serbian
capital, condemning the attack, the widespread corruption and political
violence in the country, and demanding that the public broadcaster give
them fairer treatment in its reports. 

The calls for a fairer media were strengthened following an incident
on December 12 when the home of a journalist for the website Zig Info,
Milan Jovanovic, was shot at and then set on fire by unknown
individuals, apparently because of his reporting on local corruption. 

On December 23, the Interior Minister, Nebojsa Stefanovic, said three persons had been arrested for this crime. 

The latest BIRN report
on the state of the media in Serbia notes abuses of funding, lack of
pluralism in terms of content, an unclear legislative framework and
administrative pressure on independent media as some of the most
concerning issues. 

While the street protests came relatively late in the year, the number of people attending them grew steadily. 

The protests are expected to
continue in 2019, and their impact on the country’s political scene,
and on the regime of President Vucic, has yet to be tested. 

Croatia in 2018: Sporting triumph – and shame, too

The event that Croats will surely remember most from last year is
winning the silver medal in the 2018 World Cup. After the national
football team took the silver, the country threw itself a massive party,
with hundreds of thousands of people pouring onto the streets to
welcome the players back from Moscow. 

Marketing experts said it could be another great way to promote Croatian tourism. 

However, another sector of the Croatian sporting world aroused less national pride. 

On June 6 in a first-degree ruling, controversial football mogul
Zdravko Mamic was found guilty of siphoning money off from football
clubs and damaging the state budget. 

This verdict was major news, but Mamic – who also holds Bosnian citizenship – fled there to avoid imprisonment at home. 

Many commentators remained unsure whether this would mark an end to the endemic culture of corruption in Croatian football.

The key event for the Croatian economy was the much trumpeted rescue
of the indebted food giant Agrokor, Croatia’s biggest private company,
which found itself in major financial trouble from the beginning of
2017.

The firm was taken under state-appointed management in early 2017
under a special law dubbed the “Lex Agrokor” to avert its collapse and
the loss of more than 50,000 jobs across the Balkan region.

In October, a debt restructuring deal was confirmed by Zagreb’s High
Commercial Court. But many questions were left hanging in the air.
Experts noted that Agrokor’s new shareholders, the biggest of which is
Sberbank of Russia, with 39.2 per cent, have little interest in food
production.

While Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic claimed that the process of
saving Agrokor was a great success, and tried to close this topic, many
media and commentators said the country will not forget it so quickly.

A former member of his government, Martina Dalic, resigned in May as
Economy Minister and Deputy Prime Minister after leaked emails suggested
that she had used her position to help her friends and business
associates during the process of passing the law imposing state
management on Agrokor.

In December, the Conflict of Interest Commission decided that Dalic,
and the current Finance Minister, Zdravko Maric, violated the principle
of holding public office in connection with the Agrokor food and retail
conglomerate. However, the violation does not carry any penalties.

The fate of Ivica Todoric, Agrokor’s former owner, was also
uncertain. After spending a year in London, escaping pre-trial
detention, he was extradited to Croatia in November. 

After only 13 days of pre-trial detention, he was released on paying a
million euros in bail. He is now on conditional release until the end
of the investigation process and the eventual filing of an indictment.
Interestingly, he has announced that he intends to run for elections.

Some “worldview” battles also erupted in 2018 in Croatia, as in other countries, between conservatives and liberals.

One of the main disputes was about so-called Istanbul convention, the
Council of Europe’s convention on preventing and combating violence
against woman and domestic violence. Conservatives noisily argued that
ratification of the convention would undermine family values and promote
a so-called gender ideology.

As in some other Balkan countries, Croatia also saw a great split
over the UN’s non-binding Global Pact on Migration, signed in Morocco,
which conservatives also denounced, insisting it would only encourage
more migration.

Turkey in 2018: Economic fears and rows with West

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won
the presidential election for the second time by a tight margin, thanks
mainly to the alliance between his ruling Justice and Development
Party, AKP, and nationalist parties. 

Erdogan maintained his majority in parliament but was obliged to draw on the support of nationalist allies to pass laws. 

After the elections, the new executive presidential system, which was endorsed in a highly controversial referendum in 2017, took force. 

The new system gives the President almost unchecked power and makes
him the only real decision maker in domestic and foreign politics.

Erdogan’s authoritarian rule continued to undermine Turkey’s once warm relations with the West. 

Kati Piri, the EU rapporteur on Turkey, even said the EU should
formally suspend membership negotiations with Turkey. The EU also
reduced “pre-ascension funds” for Turkey by 105 million euros and froze
an additional 70 million euros of previously announced spending because
of “the deteriorating situation in relation to democracy, rule of law
and human rights worrying”.

The US was also displeased, imposing new sanctions on Turkey on
August 1, including not delivering F-35 fighter jets to Turkey as had
been agreed.

In response, Turkey tried to get closer with Russia, especially on
the issues of Syria, the defence industry, energy and the economy.
Turkey took steps in 2018 to get Russian S-400 missile systems and the
offshore section of Turkish Stream pipeline project was opened November
19.

Amid internal political quarrels and worsening relations with the US,
the EU and NATO, the Turkish currency, the lira, plummeted by more than
50 per cent between January and December 2018. 

The drop in the value of the lira was followed by other alarming
indices in the economy and the government had to increase taxes and the
price of main commodities, including gas, electricity and petroleum.
This all also affected Turkey’s GDP growth, which shrank to a puny 1.6
per cent in the third quarter of 2018.

Besides strengthening his powers at home, Erdogan increased his hunt
for supporters of the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he blames for a
failed coup attempt in 2016 and describes as the leader of the
“Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation”, or FETO. 

Erdogan and his government pushed Balkan countries on every occasion
to shut Gulen-linked institutions and arrest his followers and deport
them to Turkey.

Turkey’s intelligence agency, the MIT, conducted two such operations. One was in Kosovo on March 29. 

The other one was in Moldova
on September 6. The abduction of these alleged “Gulenists” to Turkey
caused consternation in both countries, with Kosovo leaders claiming not
to have been informed.

Several other court cases in which Turkey demanded the extradition of alleged Gulenists to Turkey continued in several Balkan countries. 

Eurasia Review

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1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (87 sites): Eurasia Review: Decline Of African-American And Hispanic Wealth Since The Great Recession – Analysis

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Unlike income inequality, wealth inequality along racial lines in the US has received relatively little attention. This column presents new evidence on the changing landscape of relative wealth among whites, blacks, and Hispanics between 1983 and 2016. Using an augmented measure of wealth, it highlights how cuts to social security will disproportionately affect minorities.

By Edward Wolff*

While many studies have documented the wide disparity in
income between whites on the one hand and African-Americans and
Hispanics on the other, the gap in wealth is even greater. In seminal
work on the subject, Oliver and Shapiro (1995) document and analyse the
sources of the wealth differences between blacks and whites and discuss
some of the deleterious effects of low wealth on the wellbeing of black
families – including access to decent housing and education, poor
health, lower longevity, and the like.

The racial disparity in standard wealth holdings in the US, after
fluctuating over the years 1983 to 2007, was almost exactly the same in
2007 as in 1983 – with a ratio of mean wealth between the two groups of
0.19 (see Wolff 2017 and 2018 for more details). Median net worth among
black as well as Hispanic households was close to zero over the whole
time period, as were the ratios of median wealth between minority and
white households. However, the Great Recession from 2007 to 2010 hit
African-American households much harder than whites, and the ratio of
mean wealth between the two groups plunged from 0.19 in 2007 to 0.14 in
2010 (see Figure 1). Indeed, the mean wealth of black households
suffered a 33% decline in real terms (see Figure 2). White wealth, in
contrast, declined by 12%. The relative (and absolute) losses suffered
by black households from 2007 to 2010 are to a large extent ascribable
to the fact that blacks had a higher share of homes in their portfolio
than did whites and a much higher debt-net worth ratio (0.55 versus
0.15). These factors led to a wide disparity in annual real rates of
return on their respective portfolios (-9.92 versus -7.07%). Between
2010 and 2016 there was no change in the racial wealth gap.

Figure 1 Ratio of mean net worth by race and ethnicity, 1983-2016

Figure 2 Mean net worth by race and ethnicity, 1983-2016 (1000s of 2016 dollars)

Hispanic households made sizeable gains on whites from 1983 to 2007.
The ratio of standard mean net worth grew from 0.16 to 0.26, the
Hispanic homeownership rate climbed from 33 to 49%, and the ratio of
homeownership rates with white households advanced from 48 to 66%.
However, in a reversal of fortunes, Hispanic households got hammered in
the years 2007 to 2010, with their mean net worth plunging in half, the
wealth ratio falling from 0.26 to 0.15, their homeownership rate down by
1.9%, and their net home equity plummeting by 47%. The relative (and
absolute) losses suffered by Hispanic households over these three years
were also mainly due to the much larger share of homes in their wealth
portfolio and their much higher leverage (a debt-net worth ratio of 0.51
versus 0.15). These factors led to a large difference in real returns
over the years 2007 to 2010 (-10.76 versus -7.07% per year).  Unlike
black households, there was a rebound in Hispanic wealth from 2010 to
2016 and the ethnic wealth ratio went up from 0.15 to 0.19, though still
well below its 2007 peak.  

Differential leverage and the resulting differences in rates of
return on net worth played major roles in accounting for the relative
collapse of the wealth of minorities over the Great Recession. The high
positive rate of return among black households explained about three
quarters of the advance of their wealth from 2001 to 2007, while the
negative return accounted for 78% of the ensuing collapse from 2007 to
2010. Among Hispanics, it accounted for 59% of the gain in the first
period and 57% of the drop in the second. Racial differentials in
returns accounted for 43% of the relative wealth gain of black
households from 2001 to 2007 and 39% of decline from 2007 to 2010.
Disparities in returns played a somewhat smaller role in explaining
changes in the ratio of mean wealth between Hispanics and whites. Over
the years 2001 to 2007, they accounted for 33% of the relative wealth
gain and over the years 2007 to 2010 for 28% of the relative
drop-off.    

The standard definition of wealth (net worth) includes marketable
assets such as housing and other real estate, bank deposits and money
market accounts, securities, corporate stock and mutual funds, defined
contribution (DC) pension plans, including IRAs and 401(k)s, and
unincorporated businesses. What if we now include Social Security wealth
and defined benefit (DB) pension wealth to obtain a broader measure of
wealth? Augmented wealth is defined as the sum of conventional net
worth, DB pension wealth, and Social Security wealth. DB pension wealth
is defined as the present value of the discounted stream of future DB
pension benefits and Social Security wealth in analogous fashion is the
present value of the discounted stream of future Social Security pension
benefits. When the definition of wealth is so expanded, the wealth gap
markedly shrinks. 

There was a profound alteration of the private pension system after
1989, with a dramatic rise in DC pensions and a corresponding decline in
DB pensions. However, the take-up rate in DC coverage was much greater
for whites than the two minorities, with the share of households with DC
plans climbing from 26% in 1989 to 60% in 2016 among whites, from 16 to
34% among blacks, and from 13 to 31% among Hispanics. The percentage
with DB pensions declined for all three groups. All in all, the
proportion holding any pension wealth went up from 62 to 72% among
whites, from 40 to 50% among blacks, and from 31 to 40% among
Hispanics.  

In 2016, there still remained sizeable gaps in retirement wealth (the
sum of pension and Social Security wealth) and augmented wealth between
minorities and whites, though these gaps were considerably smaller than
those in standard net worth. The ratio of pension wealth (the sum of DC
and DB pension wealth) of African-Americans to whites was 0.3 (see
Table 1). This difference largely reflects disparities in pension
holdings. The gap in Social Security wealth was much smaller – a ratio
of 0.6. Overall the retirement wealth of the former was 45% that of the
latter.  Over time, the black-white ratio of pension wealth went more or
less steadily downhill, from 0.45 in 1989 to 0.3 in 2016, while the
ratio of Social Security wealth went uphill, from 0.44 to 0.6. As a
result, the racial gap in retirement wealth was about the same in 2016
as in 1989. The ratio of pension wealth between Hispanics and whites was
0.22 in 2016. The ethnic discrepancy in Social Security wealth was
about the same as the racial difference, as was the gap in retirement
wealth. Almost in parallel to the racial discrepancies, the
Hispanic-white differential in pension wealth enlarged, that in Social
Security wealth narrowed, and the ratio in retirement wealth was about
equal in 2016 and 1989. 

Table 1 Ratio of mean retirement and augmented wealth, by race and ethnicity, 1989-2016

Source: Author’s computations from the 1989, 2001, 2007, and 2016 SCF. 

The most notable finding is the ratio of augmented wealth between
blacks and whites was 0.27 in 2016, about double the ratio in standard
net worth.  While the black-white ratio of mean net worth declined
between 1989 and 2016, the ratio of augmented wealth was about the same
in the two years. Social Security made the difference, since the ratio
of mean net worth plus DB pensions between the two fell from 0.22 to
0.18. Likewise, the ratio of augmented wealth between Hispanics and
whites was greater than that of net worth – 0.28 versus 0.19 in 2016.
The ethnic ratio of augmented wealth was a bit higher in 2016 than in
1989, as was the ratio of net worth. 

The main reason for the lower wealth gap in augmented wealth than net
worth between minorities and whites is that the portfolio composition
of augmented wealth was much more heavily tilted toward Social Security
among the former. In 2016, Social Security wealth comprised 46% of the
augmented wealth of blacks and 44% among Hispanics, compared to 20%
among whites (see Table 2). Pension wealth made up 23% among
African-Americans, compared to 21% among whites and 16% among
Hispanics. Correspondingly, net worth (excluding DC pensions) was more
important for whites, accounting for 59% of their total wealth, compared
to 31% among blacks and 40% among Hispanics.  Over time, pension wealth
(particularly DC wealth) rose in importance for whites but remained
more or less constant for blacks and Hispanics. Social Security wealth,
in contrast, rose as a share of total wealth for blacks, remained
constant among Hispanics, but fell among whites. 

Table 2 Portfolio composition by race and ethnicity, 1989-2016 (percentage of augmented wealth)

Source: Author’s computations from the 1989, 2001, 2007, and 2016 SCF. 

This study highlights the importance of Social Security in the minority community. In 2016, Social Security made up a much greater share of total (augmented) wealth of minorities than of whites. On a policy note, efforts to curtail Social Security payouts will have a much more deleterious effect on the finances of the two minority groups than among whites. 

*About the author: Edward Wolff, Professor of Economics, New York University

References

Oliver, M L, and T M Shapiro (1995), Black Wealth/White Wealth:  A New Perspective on Racial Inequality, Routledge.

Wolff, E N (2017), A Century of Wealth in America, Harvard University Press. 

Wolff, E N (2018), “The Decline of African-American and Hispanic
Wealth since the Great Recession,” NBER Working Paper No. 25198.

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1. World from Michael_Novakhov (22 sites): FOX News: Chief Justice Roberts: ‘More can be done’ to address sexual harassment in federal courts

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Sexual harassment continues to exist in the federal courts, but Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts says pinpointing the problem within the judiciary culture remains elusive, since in many cases, it “frequently goes unreported.”

FOX News

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Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites): 1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (87 sites): Eurasia Review: Why China’s Belt And Road Is Off Track – Analysis

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By Scott Moore*

(FPRI) — Xinjiang, in northwest China, seems in many ways like the far edge of the modern world. Spanning a vast desert ringed by high mountains, the region was remote enough to have been chosen as the site of China’s nuclear testing in the 1960s. But in ancient times, Xinjiang marked a key stage of the overland trade routes linking the Eastern and Western worlds, and the contemporary visitor will find giant superhighways snaking across the steppe—one of the more dramatic symbols of China’s intention to resurrect the ancient Silk Road.

Announced in 2013, this vision, which has become known as the “Belt
and Road Initiative,” has become a global sensation, with nearly a
trillion dollars in proposed Chinese investment poised to build roads,
railways, ports, and oil pipelines from Beijing to Berlin. Indeed, the
concept is so expansive that it has become a kind of shorthand for
virtually every China-funded development project worldwide.
Unsurprisingly, given this catch-all quality, the Belt and Road has
given rise to breathless commentary about the eclipse of the West, and
especially America, by a rising China. But there are growing signs that
China’s grand strategic vision is off track, with worrying implications
for both East and West.

Much about the Belt and Road is either confusing or unclear. In
policy terms, the Belt and Road Initiative actually incorporates a
sprawling array of regional and country-specific partnerships, programs,
and projects stretching across much of the developing world and into
Europe. But one aspect of the Belt and Road is unambiguous: its scale
and ambition. Its pride of place in China’s foreign policy was cemented
with its inclusion in the Chinese Communist Party constitution this
past fall. And while Beijing has been careful to cast the Belt and Road
as an apolitical development strategy calculated to deliver “mutual
benefit” and “global partnership,” these bromides mask increasing
economic, political, and environmental risks.

Perhaps the biggest challenge stems from the headwinds facing China’s
financial sector. Most of the money for projects is set to come from
Chinese state-owned banks, which sit on a mound of foreign exchange
reserves and benefit from high consumer savings rates. But pressures on
these institutions are growing thanks to Washington’s trade war, with
Beijing taking steps to prop up domestic growth with increased lending
at home. This pressure is likely to squeeze balance sheets abroad, with
Chinese banks having already issued hundreds of billions of dollars in
questionable loans to fragile countries like Afghanistan and Syria.
Concerns are also growing that a lack of discipline and robust risk
assessment on the part of Chinese lenders may plunge already-indebted
countries like Pakistan and Laos deeper into financial distress.
U.S. officials, seeking to capitalize on such concerns, have meanwhile
begun touting alternatives to this kind of “debt diplomacy.”

Just as worrying as these economic woes is a mounting political
backlash to Belt and Road investments in some countries, as well as
within China itself. Despite Beijing’s best efforts to
suppress discontent among Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities, the region
remains restive, and its enthusiastic deployment of surveillance
technology and internment camps to stifle “separatism” has provoked
widespread condemnation abroad. The threat of political instability is
at least as great in neighboring countries. Malaysia’s new government
has blamed Chinese investment for
making housing unaffordable, and even in Pakistan, one of Beijing’s
closest development partners, the chairman of the country’s Water and
Power Development Authority bluntly stated that
China’s financial terms for a proposed hydropower dam were “not doable
and against our interests.” In some cases, the backlash has been
violent. In late August, a suicide bomber wounded three Chinese engineers in
Pakistan’s Baluchistan province in an attack that separatists claimed
was intended “to warn China to vacate Baluchistan and stop plundering
its resources.”

But as this warning suggests, in the long run, the highest costs of
the Belt and Road will likely be borne by the planet. Despite Beijing’s
pledges that the Belt and Road will support sustainable development, the
vast majority of projects have supported environmentally harmful
infrastructure like coal-fired power plants, oil pipelines, and large
dams. A 2017 study warned
that the Belt and Road would “create new environmental risks across the
entire Eurasian continent.” In some places, meanwhile, projects are
exacerbating pressure on already-scarce local resources, in turn
hindering investment. During a December conference, for example, a
Chinese diplomat in the Pakistani city of Karachi reportedly complained that
the country’s chronic water shortages were holding up the massive
Gwadar port project, a posterchild for the entire Belt and Road.

Of course, none of this means that China’s grand strategic vision is doomed to failure. But it does signal that China’s Belt and Road is riddled with potholes, and a course correction is needed to ensure it stays on track. In particular, weak financial, social, and environmental safeguards have left projects vulnerable to economic, political, and ecological risks. If Beijing’s strategic vision is to stay on track, it must work closely with other nations and multilateral institutions to ensure robust rules to protect people and the planet are applied to all its development projects overseas. Other countries, including the United States, should meanwhile hold China to its pledges to make the Belt and Road both sustainable and mutually beneficial—and keep it from running off the road.

*About the author: Scott Moore is a political scientist who studies environmental issues, and the author of Subnational Hydropolitics: Conflict, Cooperation, and Institution-Building in Shared River Basins.

Source: This article was published by FPRI

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Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites): 1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (87 sites): Eurasia Review: Bahrain: Rights Defender’s Conviction Upheld, Says HRW

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The Bahrain Court of Cassation, the country’s court of last resort, on December 31, 2018 upheld a five-year sentence for Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights defender, Human Rights Watch said.

The sentence arose from comments criticizing torture in a Bahrain prison and the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. Rajab has already served  two-years on other charges related to peaceful expression. The date of the hearing, scheduled for New Year’s Eve, raised concerns that the authorities intended to uphold Rajab’s conviction at a moment when it would attract minimal media scrutiny.

“Nabeel Rajab’s conviction for his refusal to stay silent on the government’s rights abuses is further proof of the Bahrain authorities’ flagrant disregard for human rights,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Nabeel Rajab should not have been arrested in the first place, and upholding his sentence is a grave miscarriage of justice.”

Rajab is one of dozens of human rights defenders, political
activists, opposition leaders, and journalists unjustly imprisoned since
the government quelled antigovernment protests in 2011.

Rajab is the head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR),
deputy secretary general of the International Federation of Human Rights
(FIDH), and a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North
Africa Advisory Committee.

Authorities first arrested Rajab on April 2, 2015 because of his tweets alleging torture in Bahrain’s Jaw Prison. He was released provisionally on humanitarian grounds on July 13, 2015, but re-arrested on July 13, 2016, for criticizing the Bahraini authorities’ refusal to allow journalists and rights groups into the country. A court sentenced him in July 2017 to two years for this criticism, which the Court of Cassation upheld on January 15, 2018. Rajab completed this sentence in July.

On February 21, Bahrain’s criminal court sentenced Rajab to five years in prison for tweeting in 2015 about torture in the Jaw Prison and criticizing the Saudi-led military campaign on Yemen. Public prosecution documents Human Rights Watch reviewed cite three criminal code provisions for the charges against him. The documents cite Article 133 for “deliberately disseminating in wartime false or malicious news, statements, or rumors […] so as to cause damage to military preparations.” They also cite Article 215 for “publicly offending a foreign country” and Article 216 for “insulting a statutory body.”

The Manama Appeals Court upheld Rajab’s five-year sentence on June 5. He appealed this decision on July 5.

Rajab’s conviction and sentence violates Bahrain’s obligations under international law.

On August 13, 2018, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) published an opinion regarding the legality of Rajab’s detention. The WGAD concluded that the detention was not only arbitrary, as it resulted from his exercise of his right to free speech, but also discriminatory, based on his political opinions and status as a human rights defender. The WGAD therefore stated that Rajab’s detention violated the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bahrain ratified in 2006. The WGAD requested the Bahraini government to “release Mr. Rajab immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law.”

Rajab, who also spent eight months in pre-trial detention, appears at times to have been subjected to treatment that may amount to arbitrary punishment. He was held in solitary confinement for more than two weeks after his arrest in June 2016. His family said that Rajab is held in a cramped, dirty, and insect-infested cell at Jaw Prison, where he remains locked in his cell for 23 hours a day. During his detention, Rajab’s health deteriorated. He has had several surgical procedures, suffered heart palpitations that led to hospitalization, and developed other medical conditions, including a low white blood cell count, his family said. Bahrain should undertake a prompt, impartial, and independent investigation into his allegations of ill-treatment in detention.

“Bahrain has chosen to mark the new year by entrenching it attacks on
human rights defenders and undermining free expression,” said Fakih.
“But Bahrain cannot hide its abuses from public critique by jailing
dissidents. Bahraini rights defenders are not backing down.” 

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Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites): 1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (87 sites): Eurasia Review: Swiss-Spanish Suspect Arrested Over Killing Of Nordic Tourists In Morocco

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A Swiss-Spanish dual national has been arrested in
Morocco on suspicion of aiding terrorists who beheaded a Danish and
Norwegian hiker in the Atlas mountains.

The Swiss foreign ministry
said it was in contact with the authorities in Morocco, Spain, Denmark
and Norway to help in the case and exchange information. 

The
Federal Police Office (Fedpol) said on Monday that the suspect had a
criminal record for a number of offenses committed in Geneva between
2007 and 2013.

Convicted of several crimes, including drug use,
robbery and domestic violence, the suspect emigrated to Morocco in 2015,
according to a police spokeswoman.

According to a statement by
Morocco’s Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation, the accused was
“steeped in extremist ideology” and is “suspected of having taught some
of the people involved communication tools stemming from new
technologies and of having trained them to shoot”. 

He was allegedly part of an operation to recruit people to commit terrorist acts in Morocco. 

A
24-year-old Danish student and her friend, a 28-year-old Norwegian
woman, were killed on the night of December 16 in southern Morocco,
where they were on holiday. Their bodies were discovered in an isolated
area in the High Atlas, in an area popular with hikers. Both victims
were beheaded. 

18 arrests

The Moroccan authorities have
already arrested 18 people for their alleged links with this double
homicide designated as a “terrorist incident”. 

The four main
alleged perpetrators, arrested in Marrakech in the days following the
double murder, belonged to a cell inspired by the ideology of the
Islamic State group but “without contact” with representatives in Syria
or Iraq, Moroccan counter-terrorism chief Abdelhak Khiam was quoted as
saying. 

One of them, a 25-year-old street vendor, is suspected by
investigators of being the head of this “terrorist cell”. He is seen
speaking in a video shot a week before the murder, in which the four
main suspects pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of
Islamic State. 

So far Morocco has been spared Islamic
State-related terror attacks. However, it is no stranger to terrorism
with major attacks in Casablanca (33 deaths in 2003) and Marrakech (17
deaths in 2011).

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Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites): 1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (87 sites): Eurasia Review: Trump: US-Mexican Border Wall Would Not Be Solid Concrete

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By Ken Bredemeier and Michael Bowman

U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledged Monday that not all of the
barrier he wants to build along the Mexican border would be a concrete
wall he has long called for.

“An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED, as has been reported by
the media,” Trump contended in a Twitter remark. He was disputing John
Kelly, his outgoing White House chief of staff, who said in an interview
over the weekend that the Trump administration discarded the idea of a
“solid concrete wall” early in Trump’s two-year tenure as president.

But Trump conceded, “Some areas will be all concrete but the experts
at Border Patrol prefer a Wall that is see through (thereby making it
possible to see what is happening on both sides). Makes sense to me!”

Trump won the cheers of his most ardent loyalists in his
successful 2016 presidential campaign with his call for a solid concrete
wall along the 3,200-kilometer U.S.-Mexican border, claiming Mexico
would pay for it.

As president, however, Trump has sought U.S. taxpayer funding, but
Congress has balked, leading to the ongoing shutdown of a quarter of
U.S. government operations, furloughing 800,000 government workers and
forcing another 420,000 to work without pay.

The shutdown is now in its 10th day with no end in sight, and
likely extending past Thursday when a new Congress is seated, with
opposition Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives from
Trump’s Republican Party. Republicans will maintain their majority in
the Senate, leaving Washington with a politically divided government in
the second two years of Trump’s first term.

Trump wants $5 billion as a down payment on the barrier that could
cost more than $20 billion, but Democrats have only agreed to $1.6
billion to improve border security, but no wall money. Trump and
Democratic lawmakers have not held any negotiations for days over the
wall dispute.

Kelly told the Los Angeles Times, “To be honest, it’s not a wall. The
president still says ‘wall’ — oftentimes frankly he’ll say ‘barrier’ or
‘fencing,’ now he’s tended toward steel slats.”

Kelly added, “But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the
administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they
needed it.”

In a second Twitter remark, Trump said, “I campaigned on Border
Security, which you cannot have without a strong and powerful Wall. Our
Southern Border has long been an “Open Wound,” where drugs, criminals
(including human traffickers) and illegals would pour into our Country.
Dems should get back here (and) fix now!”

White House officials said talks to resolve the border barrier funding impasse have broken off.

Trump on Sunday tweeted that Democrats “left town and are not concerned about the safety and security of Americans!”

Democrats scoffed at the accusation.

“This is the same president who repeatedly promised the American
people that Mexico would pay for the wall that he plans to build,” New
York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries said on ABC’s This Week program. “Now he’s
trying to extract $5 billion from the American taxpayer to pay for
something that clearly would be ineffective.”

“President Trump has taken hundreds of thousands of federal
employees’ pay hostage in a last ditch effort to fulfill a campaign
promise,” the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, tweeted.
“Building a wall from sea to shining sea won’t make us safer or stop
drugs from coming into our country.”

In a series of tweets on Friday, Trump again threatened to close the
entire U.S.-Mexico border and cut aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El
Salvador if Congress failed to give him money to fund the wall. He also
asked for changes in what he said was the United States’ “ridiculous
immigration laws.”

SEE ALSO:

Trump Once Again Threatens to Shut US-Mexico Border

Closing the U.S.-Mexican border would mean disrupting a $1.68
billion-a-day trade relationship between the two countries. In addition,
immigrant advocates have called any move to seal the border
“disgraceful.”

In a tweet Saturday, Trump linked Democrats’ “pathetic immigration
policies” with the deaths of two Guatemalan children while in U.S.
custody.

His comments, the first to reference the children’s deaths, came the
same day Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was
finishing a two-day visit to the southern U.S. border, where she said in
a statement, “The system is clearly overwhelmed and we must work
together to address this humanitarian crisis.”

Trump has declined to comment on whether he might accept less than $5
billion for wall funding. When asked how long he thought the shutdown
would last, Trump told reporters, “Whatever it takes.”

Democrats have blamed Trump for “plunging the country into chaos” and
have noted that Trump, before the partial work stoppage took effect,
said he would be “proud” to “own” a shutdown over border wall funding.

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Global Security News from Michael_Novakhov (27 sites): 1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (87 sites): Eurasia Review: Iran’s Khamenei Says Palestinians To Form Government In Tel Aviv

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Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei praised the Palestinian nation’s “great victories” against the Israeli regime in recent years, saying Palestinians could establish a government in Tel Aviv.

“The Palestinian people’s victory in recent years has not had the
meaning of capability to establish a government in Tel Aviv, but this
will also materialize by God’s grace,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in a
meeting with Secretary General of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad
resistance movement Ziad al-Nakhala in Tehran on Monday.

The
Leader said Palestine’s true victory is the fact that while the Arab
armies have been unable to defeat the Zionist regime, the Palestinian
people and the resistance groups have brought Israel to its knees.

“You will win even greater victories by God’s grace,” Ayatollah Khamenei told Nakhala.

The Leader explained that a clear principle in Palestine’s encounter with Israel is that resistance leads to victory.

During
the previous wars against the Palestinian resistance groups, the
Zionist regime called for a ceasefire after 22 days and another time
after 8 days, but in the latest conflict, Tel Aviv called for ceasefire
after just 48 hours, Ayatollah Khamenei noted, saying it means that “the
occupying Zionist regime has been brought to its knees.”

“Fortitude
and resistance have been the reason for the constant victories of the
Palestinian nation in recent years, and in future, as long as the
resistance exists, the process of decline of the Zionist regime will
continue,” the Leader underlined.

Ayatollah Khamenei also stressed
that the heavy pressures from the arrogant powers will never discourage
Iran from supporting Palestine on the basis of its divine, religious
and rational duty.  

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