The Week in Brief: 21-27 January

28 January 2018

The Week in Brief: 21-27 January

Image credit: Kaboompics (Pixabay) — CC0 public domain dedication.

Australia welcomes 13,000 new citizens on Australia Day 2018

As millions across the country marked Australia Day with celebrations and protests, around 13,000 migrants attained Australian citizenship.

The new citizens come from 129 different countries.

Speaking on the shores of Lake Burely Griffin on Friday, Mr Turnbull said: “We do not define our national identity, as so many other nations do, by race, by religion, or by a particular culture, but by shared values.”

Mr Turnbull also paid respect to the indigenous peoples by saying the nation’s identity is strengthened by the stories and songs, dance and art, and the practices and ceremonies of First Australians.

The Prime Minister said:

“We honour their resilience and survival, respect and cherish their continuing contribution to our nation. It’s a heritage of which we are proud and which we celebrate, it’s uniquely Australian. We haven’t always recognised this truth as we should’ve done, but all of us, including our newest citizens, are heirs to this history, and it’s our duty to learn, embrace, and help preserve it.

Australian, New Zealand forces seize 915kg of heroin

Australian and New Zealand forces have successfully seized 915kg of heroin in a counter-narcotics operation in the Western Indian Ocean.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force aircraft detected a suspicious vessel on Tuesday and crew from Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Warramunga intercepted the boat on Wednesday.

The shipment is estimated to be worth $274 million.

Over the past two months, HMAS Warramunga has assisted in the seizure of over 11.5 tonnes of hashish and more than one tonne of heroin, valued in excess of $900 million.

Trump attempted to fire Mueller

Four people have alleged President Trump ordered White House counsel Donald McGahn to fire special counsel Robert Mueller in June 2017.

Mr Mueller was only kept in his position when Mr McGahn refused to direct the Department of Justice to fire the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, and threatened to resign, citing the catastrophic effect it would have on the Trump Presidency.

While the President has denied the reports to reporters in Switzerland, Democrats have begun discussing including protections for Mr Mueller in any future budget negotiations.

US Government shutdown over

The US Government shutdown ended on Monday local time after Senate Democrats helped pass a stop-gap spending bill to fund government operations through to February 8.

The measure also extends funding for the Children Health Insurance Program for another six years.

The Democrats were pacified by the promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on immigration in the coming weeks.

The measure passed the Senate 81-18 and by 266-150 in the House.

While President Trump claimed the end to a shutdown as a victory in a tweet, Democrats remain concerned by the lack of guarantees the White House and Congressional Republicans have given on the parameters of a future immigration deal.

US Embassy to move to Jerusalem by 2020, Trump threatens Palestine aid cut

In a speech to the Israeli Parliament on Monday, US Vice President Mike Pence said his country’s Embassy will move to Jerusalem by the end of 2019.

The announcement comes after US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city last month and declared his intention to move the US Embassy to the city, sparking anger among Palestinians – who claim half Jerusalem – and Arab states.

“In the weeks ahead, our administration will advance its plan to open the United States Embassy in Jerusalem – and that United States Embassy will open before the end of next year,” Pence said.

“Jerusalem is Israel’s capital – and, as such, President Trump has directed the State Department to immediately begin preparations to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

Israeli-Arab parliamentarians briefly disrupted the speech by holding up signs in Arabic and English, which read “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine”. They were ejected by ushers. According to Reuters, Pence responded by saying with a smile: “It is deeply humbling for me to stand before this vibrant democracy.”

Earlier this month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas labelled the recognition of Jerusalem “the slap of the century” and said the US can no longer be trusted as an honest broker in the talks.

“We will not accept for the US to be a mediator, because after what they have done to us,” he said.

In response to Pence’s speech, Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for the Palestinian President, said: “If the United States wanted to a play a role of a mediator in the peace process it must be a fair mediator and it must abide by (international) resolutions.”

On Thursday, at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, President Trump threatened to cut aid to Palestine after President Abbas refused to meet with Pence on his Israel visit.

In retaliation to the snub, Trump said the US may withhold “hundreds of millions” in aid if the Palestinians did not return to peace talks. “That money is on the table and that money’s not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace,” he said.

Turkey demands US cut support for Kurd YPG or risk confrontation

Turkey has urged the US to cease support for Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria or risk confrontation with its NATO ally’s forces.

A spokesman for the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, made the remarks six days after Turkey launched “Operation Olive Branch”, an air and ground military campaign in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region focused on fighting YPG fighters.

Speaking to reporters, US joint staff director, Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie said: “We carefully track those weapons that are provided to them, we ensure that they, to the maximum extent possible, don’t fall into the wrong hands and we’re continuing discussions with the Turks on this issue.”

McKenzie criticised “Operation Olive Branch”, calling it unhelpful and taking focus away from fighting Islamic State (IS).

The YPG is a US-backed rebel militia in Syria which has assisted in fighting IS militants. However, Turkey considers the YPG a security threat because of its association with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Turkish-Kurdish rebel group which has been fighting with Turkey since the 1980s.

“Those who support the terrorist organisation will become a target in this battle,” said Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, as cited by Reuters.

“The United States needs to review its soldiers and elements giving support to terrorists on the ground in such a way as to avoid a confrontation with Turkey.”

The Kurdish-led autonomous administration in charge of the Afrin region wrote in a statement on its website: “We call on the Syrian state to carry out its sovereign obligations towards Afrin and protect its borders with Turkey from attacks of the Turkish occupier.”

While the Syrian Government has said it is ready to target Turkish jets in Syrian airspace, it is unlikely to intervene due to its suspicions that the Kurds intend to create an independent break-away state.

Northern Territory getting too much rain for singing

Floodwaters and monsoonal conditions in some areas of the Northern Territory have caused the closure of several roads and damage to landlines.

Drivers attempting to cross flooded roads have had to be rescued by emergency crews, one requiring helicopter assistance.

While no one has been hurt, some areas are prepped for evacuation if conditions worsen.

There is a severe weather warning from the Burea of Meteorology for severe wind and heavy rainfall for people in the Daly, Gregory and parts of the Carpentaria, Barkley and Tanami areas.

In 24 hours, many places across the Greater Darwin area received rainfall of 50-100mm, with 119mm at Noonamah, and 113mm at McMinns Lagoon.

Winds also reached 89 km/h at Darwin Harbour, and 74 km/h at the airport.

People are warned to stay alert, and crews are working to restore communications.

Suicide bombing in Kabul kills 95 people, injures more

Authorities say at least 95 have been killed and 158 injured in a suicide bombing in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

The explosives were concealed in an ambulance and detonated in a secure zone home to several foreign embassies, government buildings and an office of the High Peace Council.

The attack has been claimed by the Taliban.

Taliban militants also killed 22 people at a luxury hotel this week.

Assange asks UK to drop arrest warrant

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has asked UK authorities to drop the arrest warrant preventing him from leaving the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has lived for over five years.

Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations and rape, which he denies.

While Swedish prosectors have dropped the charges against Assange, he is still wanted for breaching his former bail conditions in the UK.

Mark Summers QC made the case for Assange at the Westminster magistrates court on Friday local time, saying that because the Swedes had dropped the investigation, the warrant had “lost its purpose and function”.

The defence papers stated:

“He [Assange] has spent five-and-a-half years in conditions which, on any view, are akin to imprisonment, without access to adequate medical care or sunlight, in circumstances where his physical and psychological health have deteriorated and are in serious peril.”

However, representing the Crown Prosecution Service, Aaron Watkins said: “Assange had been released on bail in proceedings; he was under a duty to surrender to the custody of the court and he failed to surrender at the appointed time for him to do so. Therefore a warrant stands.”

Czech election: Zeman wins second term

Czech incumbent President Milos Zeman has secured a second term after a tight vote against rival Jiri Drahos.

Zeman can be described as right-leaning socially, but left-leaning politicallly.

He is an outspoken President and opposes the EU’s quotas for distributing migrants.

So far his Presidency has been marked by willingness to work with Moscow, pushes for improved Euro-China ties, and criticism of EU sanctions against Russia.

It is estimated that voter turnout exceeded 66%.

England & Wales sexual assault case crisis

Police and prosecutors in England and Wales have been heavily criticised for the handling of a number of sexual assault cases in which they failed to properly investigate leads or disclose evidence to the defence.

After the announcement of a review into ongoing sexual assault cases, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, has suggested that this could result in the dropping of a number of cases.

Several trials have collapsed recently because prosecution evidence was not shared with defence lawyers, which appears to stem from mismanagement of digital evidence and technical incompetence with electronic devices.