EGYPT: The death sentence given to 683 people, including the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, sparks widespread local and international criticism against the Egyptian authorities
As part of a mass trial, an Egyptian judge issued a death sentence to 683 people accused of attacking a police station in the province of Minya in 2013, which killed one police officer. Those sentenced include the leader and spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Mohamed Badie. Other senior leaders of the organisation, including deposed President Mohamed Mursi, face various charges and have been imprisoned since the military coup in the middle of last year. The judge that made the ruling had sentenced 529 other people to death in March in another case that also involved an assault on a police station. In 492 cases the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, but 37 still faced the death penalty. The lawyers for the defence denounced these proceedings as a farce. The court's decision prompted strong condemnation from local and international human rights groups, including Avaaz and Human Rights Watch, as well as the United Nations. Meanwhile, measures to harass dissidents intensified. Another court ruling declared the 6 April movement illegal. This group was one of the pro-democracy organisations that drove the protests against the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Its leader has already been sentenced to three years in prison in December for violating the law that bans demonstrations without police authorisation. Amnesty International warned that the Egyptian legal system is threatening to become one more piece in the repressive machinery of the Egyptian authorities. Meanwhile, press reports warned of an increase in religious persecution. (BBC, 28/04/14; New York Times, 26 and 28/04/14)
IRAQ: The country holds legislative elections amidst a climate of violence that claims the lives of a thousand people in April
The first elections since the withdrawal of US forces were held in Iraq on 30 April in a context of high levels of violence despite the intensification of security measures. According to still incomplete accounts made by the organisation Iraq Body Count (IBC), the violence that took place in the country in April caused the death of at least 991 people, raising the number of mortal victims since early 2014 to over 4,000. The violence increased especially in the western province of Anbar, the result of insurgent groups' greater activity that has forcibly displaced 440,000 people in four months. The month's violence took the form of explosions, bomb attacks during rallies, clashes between militias and soldiers (the convoy of Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq was caught in a crossfire), especially fierce combat in Ramadi and suicide attacks with car bombs in different parts of the country. Current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is seeking a third term in these elections, in which nearly 9,000 male and female candidates are running for a total of 328 seats. Forecasts indicate that no party will win a majority, so a future government will have to make a deal to form a coalition. Various analysts warned of high levels of violence and an increase in sectarian attacks during the elections, which could return the country to a scenario of civil war. Meanwhile, al-Maliki accused Saudi Arabia of interference, claiming that Riyadh was facilitating the entry of foreign mercenaries into Iraq. (Washington Post, 30/04/14; BBC, 11, 25, 30/04/14; Iraq Body Count, 30/04/14; al-Jazeera, 28/04/14; IRIN, 28/04/14)
KENYA – SOMALIA: The arrest of 4,000 people of Somali origin in Kenya triggers a diplomatic crisis between both countries
Around 4,000 people of Somali origin have been detained by the Kenyan security forces in an unprecedented police operation. The police and other security forces established an important operation in Kasarani Stadium, where thousands of people were transferred, mainly from the neighbourhood of Eastleigh, known as Little Mogadishu due to the large Somali population there. Although the Kenyan authorities said that they only want to verify the identities of the people in their custody and to release those that had their papers in order, the Somali Ambassador to Kenya asked the Kenyan authorities for explanations about the operation and both the head of the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission (KNHCR) and UNHCR expressed their concern regarding the wave of arrests. Many residents of Eastleigh have accused the police of entering their homes with no warrant and of acting violently during the operation. The federal Somali government recalled its Ambassador to Kenya as a result of the wave of arrests, which also led to the detention of the Somali Consul to Kenya, Siyad Mohamud Shire. (Jeune Afrique, 09/04/14; Garowe Online, 27/04/14)
MYANMAR: The most serious clashes in a year take place between the Burmese Armed Forces and the Kachin insurgency
The latest clashes between the Burmese Armed Forces and the armed Kachin opposition group KIA caused the death of 22 people and forcibly displaced another 5,000 in the eastern part of Kachin State. According to different humanitarian organisations in the field, the heavy militarisation of the places of origin of the displaced population will make its return difficult in the short term. The clashes began after the armed opposition group ambushed a Burmese Army column that resulted in a military operation conducted by the Armed Forces. This was the most serious fighting in a year and coincided with the visit of one of the main leaders of the insurgent organisation to the United States, where he held different meetings with US government representatives. This is the first trip made to the country by an ethnic insurgent leader. Meanwhile, the armed opposition group TNLA also declared that it had led an offensive against the Burmese Armed Forces in which it claimed that 10 soldiers died. Moreover, it is notable that after the four-day meeting held between different insurgent leaders and government peace negotiators, an agreement to sign a general ceasefire was announced, but there were still some differences regarding the drafting of the agreement, for which a new meeting will be held before the official announcement. (The Irrawaddy, 09, 21 and 23/04/14)
NIGERIA: Concern about the kidnapping of 200 girls by the armed group Boko Haram, which also claims responsibility for an attack in Abuja that killed 75 people
The armed group Boko Haram (BH) is accused of abducting around 190 girls from a school in Chibok, in Borno State, in mid-April. Other reports put the figure at 230 girls and say that another 40 managed to escape. Local sources asserted that the girls may have been moved to neighbouring states and forced to marry militia members of the group. In May 2013, the leader of BH warned that they would treat abducted women and girls as slaves. In this context, women reportedly protested outside the Parliament building and in late April the organisation Women for Peace and Justice called for a million-woman march to the capital, Abuja, to demand that the authorities adopt more effective measures to find and release the girls. Meanwhile, BH claimed responsibility for an attack on a bus station in Abuja that killed 75 people and wounded 141. The attack was considered one of the worst that the armed group had ever carried out in the Nigerian capital. In this context, an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria concluded that the security forces were responsible for killing eight civilians during an offensive in Abuja against alleged BH members. Amnesty International also reported that satellite images suggest the presence of mass graves in Maiduguri, in the northeast of the country, which would indicate the execution of many prisoners in a military gaol after a failed escape attempt by BH militia members. Body counts published in the press state that the conflict between BH and the Nigerian security forces have claimed the lives of 1,500 so far this year. (BBC, 29, 30/04/14; The Guardian and AP, 19/04/14; New York Times, 01, 15/04/14)
SOMALIA: Parliament plans to pass a censure motion against the President amidst the ongoing clashes in the country
Various MPs of the Hawiye clan held a private meeting with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in which they warned of the decision of a group of MPs that have the support of players in the international community to promote a censure motion against him due to his scanty results in fighting against the insurgency and his domestic policies. Around 40 MPs could be involved in the decision and some of the President's allies have suggested measures to him so he might avoid the censure motion. Alongside these political disputes, there were different military offensives in the centre and south of the country, causing dozens of fatalities. In Beledweyne (capital of the region of Hiraan, in the centre of the country), federal government troops prevented the armed group al-Shabaab from assaulting a police station. The Somali Armed Forces and AMISOM expelled the insurgency from the region of Cayn, north of Bulo Barde, where al-Shabaab put up little resistance. In the southwestern region of Bakool, the Somali Army carried out an attack against Kulan-jareer, an al-Shabaab stronghold in the area. Furthermore, fierce fighting took place in the region of Middle Shabelle between members of the Somali Army and police officers. Finally, the former warlord and Colonel Barre Adan Shire (also known as Barre Hiraale) refused to surrender his weapons in his struggle against the government of Jubaland, despite the efforts of some former clan leaders promoted by the regional government and the federal government to get him to participate in the peace process in Jubaland and renounce violence. (Garowe Online, 18, 23, 27, and 28/04/14)
UKRAINE: Tension rises in the interim government and groups of federalist activists in the eastern part of the country
The crisis worsened in areas of eastern Ukraine, where a significant proportion of the population speaks Russian, prolonging instability in the country since the anti-government protests in November, the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich in February and the annexation of the region of Crimea to Russia. In April, protests were staged in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian, federalist and separatist activists, who occupied public buildings in cities like Donetsk, Lugansk and Kharkov. In Donetsk, a self-proclaimed People's Republic of Donetsk was formed. Supported by the West and recognised as legitimate by only one third of the populace of the southeast, according to Ukrainian press reports, the interim Ukrainian government launched an anti-terrorist operation in mid-April to dismantle the activists' checkpoints and end their occupation of government buildings. Amidst serious tension between the West and Russia regarding Ukraine, the United States, the EU, Russia and the interim Ukrainian government reached an agreement on 17 April that planned to disarm all illegal groups, evacuate occupied buildings and squares and draft a new Constitution with greater powers and responsibilities for the regions, with implementation supervised by the OSCE. Despite the agreement and a truce announced by the government, tensions rose in the following days and weeks. Pro-Russian activists did not recognise the legitimacy of the Kiev government and said that the still-armed pro-Maidan groups would have to lay down their weapons before they would, while Kiev interim Government gave preference to the antiterrorist operation against the activists. Three pro-Russians were shot to death during an attack on a pro-Russian activist position near Sloviansk (Donetsk region), a bastion of the protests, which was followed by a massive funeral. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government reported that two people had been tortured and killed in the Donetsk region, one of whom was a local politician affiliated with Yulia Tymoshenko's Fatherland party, and ordered a resumption of anti-terrorist operations. Around 40 people, including seven Western military personnel, were still being held by pro-Russian activists in late April, while the whereabouts of another five Ukrainian soldiers that had also been detained were unknown. The international press largely described the seven Westerners as OSCE military observers. According to the OSCE, this is a mission led by the German Army upon the invitation of the interim Ukrainian government. In new incidents, the mayor of Kharkov (a former follower of Yanukovich and supporter of a united Ukraine) was seriously wounded after being shot and various people were injured in clashes between Ukrainian football fans and pro-Russian activists in the same area. The United States and the EU declared new sanctions against Russia in late April. Analysts warned of the risks that the conflict could escalate even further. Local polls show little support from the population of the southeast for the interim government, but it must be added that only a minority backs the activists that lead the occupation of buildings. (BBC, El País, New York Times, Reuters, 1-28/04/14)
YEMEN: At least 68 people die in drone strikes as part of an operation against alleged members of al-Qaeda in the south of the country
During two days, a series of drone strikes caused the death of at least 68 people in Yemen as part of an operation against suspected members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The offensive began on 19 April in the southern province of al-Bayda, killing 10 alleged members of the armed group and three civilians on that day. The next day the operation intensified, claiming the lives of 55 more people. The Yemeni Minister of the Interior described the operation as "unprecedented" and said it had been conducted jointly with the United States and targeted an AQAP training camp located in a mountainous area between the provinces of al-Bayda, Abyan and Shabwa. Washington declined to comment and referred questions about the incident to the authorities in Sana'a. The strike sparked new demonstrations in Yemen against the use of drones, including a protest outside the Parliament building staged by the recently created National Organisation for Drone Victims (NOVD). Other acts of violence caused the death of around thirty people in April, confirming the volatile situation in Yemen. Notable incidents included a suicide attack on the main Yemeni Army base in the south of the country, in Aden, which led to the death of six soldiers, three civilians and three assailants; battles between soldiers and members of AQAP that claimed four lives in the western province of al-Hadida; an offensive by armed men against a road checkpoint in the southern province of Hadramawt, in which five soldiers were killed; and the killing of security officials and a Shia political leader. (BBC, 02, 08, 22/04/14; al-Jazeera, 02, 19, 21/04/14; Yemen Times, 28/04/14)
AFGHANISTAN: The first results of the presidential elections point to a second round
The Independent Electoral Commission announced the partial results of the presidential elections held on 5 April that gave candidate Abdullah Abdullah first place with 44.94% of the votes and Ashraf Ghani second place, with 31.5%. Since neither candidate won the 50% necessary for a direct victory, a second round will have to be held. Voter turnout was close to seven million, with 64% men and 36% women, which amounts to approximately 58% of the electorate. The electoral commission only rejected 3.4% of the votes, despite the many allegations of fraud, especially ballot boxes with votes previously inserted and other irregularities. Remarkably, few acts of violence occurred on election day, although in the days leading up to it various people were killed, including a female foreign journalist. Moreover, the main Ministry of Interior building was attacked, killing six police officers. (Afghanistan Analysts Network, 28/04/14; The New York Times, 24/04/14; The Guardian, 02 and 05/04/14)
BOLIVIA: Hundreds of soldiers are discharged after denouncing situations of discrimination in the Bolivian Armed Forces
Accused of mutiny, sedition and political acts that compromise the honour of military institutions, 702 low-ranking soldiers were discharged from the Bolivian Armed Forces. More than one thousand people, over half of them soldiers wearing camouflage, had participated in demonstrations to demand equal treatment in the military and to protest situations of discrimination and intimidation that mainly affect indigenous people. The soldiers' demands included greater opportunities to study and attain higher-ranking posts, as well as an end to discrimination regarding salaries, housing and access to healthcare. The soldiers marched through the streets of La Paz in late April accompanied by indigenous Aymara leaders that supported their demands with slogans that called for the "decolonisation of the military" in a protest that was described as unprecedented by the media. President Evo Morales, also of Aymara origin, called for discipline within the Armed Forces. The chief of the military, Víctor Valdivieso, denied the claims of discrimination and said he thought it was an excuse for acts of sedition and to orchestrate a coup d'état. The Minister of Defence admitted that inequalities do exist, but said that work was underway to allow for better conditions starting in 2015. A spokesman for the discharged soldiers demanded their reinstatement and announced new demonstrations. (BBC, Washington Post and AP, 25/04/14; Infolatam, 28/04/14)
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Fighting continues in different parts of the country while the Muslim minority flees to neighbouring states
Seven people were killed in clashes that took place during a search for arms carried out as part of France's Operation Sangaris in the Cameroonian district of Bangui, PK5. The search came in response to a demonstration of people who gathered during the operation to express their rejection of the French presence. At the end of the month, the UN mission in the country (MISCA) announced the death of 22 people, including three employees of the humanitarian organisation MSF during an attack on a hospital north of Bangui. In the PK12 neighbourhood, where many Muslims also live, at least 18 people have died since December and many more have been wounded, according to the Muslim population. This neighbourhood has produced the strongest criticism of the French operation. Meanwhile, thousands of people belonging to the country's Muslim minority, which amounted to 15% of the population before the escalation of violence, fled from the Central African Republic to neighbouring countries, especially Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal. In many parts of the west and the south, images have been repeated of Muslim national and foreign civilians leaving their places of origin. According to International Organization for Migration (IOM), in late March the number of refugees rose to more than 100,000 people. In addition to the ethnic cleansing being promoted by the anti-balaka militias, the flight of the Muslim minority would be an economic catastrophe, according to the director of the French institute CERI, Roland Marchal, since this minority ran the country's small shops and livestock activities. Meanwhile, the President of the country, Catherine Samba-Panza, held a series of meetings with representatives of the former umbrella group Séléka, anti-balaka groups, political parties and civil society activists to carry out deep government reforms due to its inability to manage the situation. (Jeune Afrique, 28, 29/04/14)
CÔTE D’IVOIRE: The UN Security Council lifts the diamond embargo on the country despite the persistence of illegal trafficking and violations of the arms embargo
The UN Security Council decided to end the embargo on rough diamonds originating from Côte d’Ivoire. Resolution 2153 of 29 April put an end to the measures imposed in 2005 that banned the importation by any country of diamonds coming from Côte d’Ivoire, in view of the progress made in implementing the international standards governing the trade of the precious stones. However, the Security Council extended for a year the request for all states to take measures to block the supply, sale or transfer of weapons to the country, directly or indirectly, except for double-use weapons and material intended for the security forces, the UN mission in the country (UNOCI) and the French forces backing it. The resolution keeps restrictions on travel and the freezing of assets imposed previously on various individuals in the country for another year and also decided to extend for 13 months the mandate of the Group of Experts, which evaluates the transition process in the African country and compliance with the sanctions. Côte d’Ivoire had requested the Kimberley Process to be able to start exporting diamonds again, and in November 2013 it received the Process' approval for the UN to consider lifting the embargo. The UN's decision came days after the publication of the Group of Experts' report, which had denounced the persistent illegal trafficking of rough diamonds and the violation of the arms embargo in force since 2004. In its report, the Group of Experts stated that the former members of the New Forces, known as the comzones (zone commanders), which helped Alassane Ouattara to seize power in 2011, have used their new responsibilities in the government to extend their political and economic influence to the areas under their control. One of them, Issiaka Ouattara, known as Wattao, stands accused of being one of the people responsible for illegal trafficking in the central-western area of Séguéla, under his command. The Group of Experts emphasised the existence of criminal networks created within the government that carry out smuggling operations and of a parallel taxation system that not only affects diamonds, but also gold, cacao, cotton and hardwood and amounts to losses of hundreds of millions of USD per year. (Jeune Afrique, UN, 29/04/14)
DR CONGO (EAST): The Congolese Armed Forces launch various offensives in the east of the country
The Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) launched several military offensives in an attempt to neutralise some of the armed groups active in the eastern part of the country. First, they began an assault supported by the MONUSCO Intervention Brigade on several towns (Adari, Sadji, Kigo, Nyame) in the region of Ituri (in the province of Orientale, in the east of the country) controlled by the armed opposition group FRPI. Second, the FARDC and MONUSCO launched an operation against the Rwandan Hutu armed group FDLR in various parts of the province of North Kivu, although various analysts said that this offensive, announced months ago, led to no battles or arrests, meaning that there could still be some kind of collusion between the group and elements of the FARDC. Third, the FARDC announced that they had expelled the armed group ADF from their base in North Kivu, and although some claimed that it could be the end of the group, the MONUSCO said it was too early to say. Meanwhile, in implementing the amnesty law passed in February, various rebel groups and members began to surrender and there were discussions with representatives of the M23 about which players and leaders of the group could be eligible for amnesty and which must face trial on charges of crimes against humanity. In this vein, a major controversy was sparked by the death of Paul Sadala, also known as Morgan, the leader of the Mai Mai Simba militia (of the Ituri region) after he turned himself in to the FARDC after expressing his desire to avail of the amnesty along with 42 fellow combatants. The MONUSCO, which received his corpse from the FARDC, began an investigation and the Congolese Minister of Communication, Lambert Mende, said that the government intends to pardon or try the rebel leaders, but not to kill them. Finally, the UN Security Council renewed the mandate of the mission in the country and asked the UN Secretary-General to present recommendations for a gradual exit strategy for the mission. Meanwhile, due to the resolution and despite the existence of dozens of armed groups still active in the country, the MONUSCO stated that it has begun preparations to gradually withdraw from the country. (La Référence Plus, 02/04/14; AFP, 04/04/14; Newsnow.co, 08/04/14; ACP, 09/04/14; RFI, 14/04/14; Le Potentiel, 15 and 21/04/14)
ISRAEL – PALESTINE: A reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah leads to a breakdown in negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority
The announcement of a new reconciliation agreement between the Palestinian organisations Hamas and Fatah leads Israel to suspend US-promoted negotiations with the Palestinians. In late April, the Palestinian factions agreed to form a unity government composed of technocrats within five weeks and to hold the postponed elections within six months. The announcement was met with scepticism because similar agreements between both groups (Cairo in 2011 and Doha in 2012) were never implemented. However, some analysts highlighted the impact of changes on the political scene, particularly the impact of the ousted Islamist Egyptian government in the case of Hamas, as well as the need for the leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Abbas, to improve his levels of popularity among the Palestinian population, which has made recurrent calls for reconciliation. Other analysts thought that the reconciliation agreement was a strategy for Abbas to pressure Israel to make concessions in its negotiations with Palestinians. However, the Israeli government reacted by declaring it was suspending the talks, saying that it would not negotiate with any government that enjoyed the backing of Hamas, considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States and the EU. The Israeli Prime Minister stressed that Fatah could make peace with Hamas or with Israel, but not both, and announced sanctions against the Palestinians. The meetings between the representatives of the PA and Israel had been bumpy and were blocked since early April. Given Israel's refusal to honour the commitment to release Palestinian prisoners and its continued policy of settlement building, the PA began the process to join 15 international conventions and treaties as a way to defy the Israeli government and move forward on the recognition of Palestine. The collapse of the negotiations came after months of intense diplomatic efforts by the US government, and particularly US Secretary of State John Kerry, and only a few days before the deadline for concluding them, which had been set for 29 April. (New York Times, 3, 23, 24/04/14; BBC, 24/04/14)
NORTH KOREA – SOUTH KOREA: High tension in the peninsula amidst signs of increasing activity in North Korean nuclear installations
On the eve of US President Barack Obama's visit to South Korea, the Seoul government warned of increasing activity in the North Korean nuclear installations at Punggye. The satellite image-based evidence was considered a sign that Pyongyang is planning a new nuclear test, which would be the fourth after those conducted in 2006, 2009 and 2013. The test conducted in February 2013 led to months of severe tension with South Korea and the imposition of sanctions on North Korea. The South Korean military implemented a special plan to monitor the situation. During his visit to Seoul, Obama warned that the United States, South Korea and other allied countries may issue new sanctions against North Korea if it followed up on its threats to conduct a fourth nuclear test. This tense atmosphere was preceded by a day of exchange of artillery fire by both countries along the disputed maritime border in early April. This latest episode was described by some in the press as the worst exchange of fire on the border 2010. Days later, South Korea conducted a test of missiles capable of reaching its northern neighbour. In this context of tension, North Korea also levelled harsh and groundless verbal attacks against the South Korean President, the first woman to hold the post. (BBC, 22, 28, 29/04/14; New York Times, 01, 03, 26/04/14)
PAKISTAN: The Taliban insurgency partially extends the ceasefire and then suspends it
The armed Taliban opposition group TTP extended the ceasefire declared in March until 10 April and then decided to suspend it, alluding to the Pakistani government's lack of response to Taliban demands to establish a demilitarised zone of peace and to release non-combatants. At first the TTP announced that it was extending the ceasefire in response to the government's release of 19 Taliban non-combatants, though it later questioned whether the released individuals were included in the lists it had drawn up. The leader of Jamaat-e-Islami and negotiator for the TTP, Professor Ibrahim, said that the armed group's facilitators would continue their work regardless of the circumstances and that they would try to convince the Taliban insurgency to extend the ceasefire. (Dawn, 04 and 17/04/14)
SOUTH SUDAN: The opposing sides resume peace talks amidst ongoing violence
Peace talks between representatives of the government of Salva Kiir and of former Vice President Riek Machar resumed in Addis Ababa. Thus, the third session in the peace process in South Sudan continued, which focused on promoting a political dialogue that may lead to a process of national reconciliation. The regional organisation IGAD had postponed the peace talks until 7 April to allow for further consultations to be held. Together with other special envoys, the chief IGAD mediator for the South Sudan peace talks, Seyoum Mesfin, held conversations with both parties and visited the regional capitals to talk with leaders of the member countries of the IGAD, the African Union, the United Nations and other partners to mobilise support for the peace process. The discussions also dealt with the operations of the IGAD's Monitoring and Verification Mechanism and the deployment of a regional protection force that has been on the ground since early April in Bor and Bentiu. However, different human rights defence groups and humanitarian organisations have expressed their concern about the crisis gripping the country and particularly by the recent atrocities committed in Bentiu (capital of the state of Unity), where at least 200 people died and another 400 were seriously wounded as the result of an attack perpetrated by the faction opposing the government. The United Nations mission in the country (UNMISS) reported that the insurgents carried out the massacre based on criteria of ethnicity and nationality, killing civilians that had taken refuge in a mosque, in a Catholic church and in a WFP complex. This serious assault joins a previous one on a UN base in the town of Bor that killed 48 people. The United States, the EU and the UN Security Council condemned the incidents and threatened to impose sanctions on the South Sudanese linked to these atrocities. Meanwhile, rebel groups claimed to have executed 510 government soldiers, including a general in the South Sudanese Army, in battles for control of Bentiu, the capital of the state of Unity. This town is strategic because it is close to the oil fields that the rebels want to control, according to sources in the South Sudanese military. Moreover, President Salva Kiir forced the resignation of the Chief of Staff, General James Hoth Mai, due to his inability to control the situation. Finally, it is worth noting that Sudan denied the government of South Sudan's accusations that it had trained the South Sudanese rebels. (Sudan Tribune, 17, 19, 24, 28/04/14; El País, 21/04/14)
THAILAND: Thousands of government supporters demonstrate in Bangkok
Elections were announced for July after the Constitutional Court annulled those held in February, which were boycotted by the opposition. Approved by the electoral commission and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the announcement came days after tens of thousands of government supporters, members of the red shirt movement, demonstrated in Bangkok for three days to protest the judicial proceedings that could lead to the Prime Minister's dismissal in May. The red shirt movement also warned of the risk of civil war if there is a coup d'état, claiming that the legal institutions are trying to seize power without elections. The pro-government demonstration was the first one called by the red shirts since violence returned to the country in November 2013. The government opposition also held public demonstrations. (BBC, 05 and 30/04/14; Reuters, 05/04/14)
TURKEY: The Kurdish movement calls for an autonomous regional government and a legal framework for negotiations
Uncertainty and fragility continued in the talks between the Turkish government and the leader of the armed Kurdish group PKK, Abdullah Öcalan. The first meeting between Öcalan and the delegation of MPs from the pro-Kurdish parties BDP and HDP (Pervin Buldan, Idris Baluken and Süreyya Önder) since the local elections in March took place. It was also the 17th meeting of the dialogue process. According to Kurdish representatives, during the meeting Öcalan indicated that the process was swinging between the chance for a solution and the risk of new violence. Moreover, Öcalan proposed that the government pass legislation that could open the door to regional autonomy. Meanwhile, the Kurdish movement upheld its request for a legal framework for the negotiations and the Turkish Parliament approved (and the President signed) a law expanding the powers and immunity of the intelligence service (MIT). Various media outlets interpreted the law as a measure to lay down the legal basis for negotiations with the PKK, which take form of talks between the MIT and Öcalan. However, the KCK (structure that unites armed, political and social organisations) criticised the law on the grounds that the interlocutors in the process must be democratic powers. They also noted that the expansion of the MIT's powers could mean more repression. Moreover, the government ruled out the possibility of moving Öcalan to a situation of house arrest, as requested by the PKK leader, according to his sister after a family visit authorised by the government. There were some incidents during the month of April, such as the abduction of two Turkish soldiers. According to pro-Kurdish media, the PKK said that it would not release them until the government halted the construction of a military post near Lice. Protests against this military post went on for days and led to violent clashes. Nine soldiers were wounded by a grenade thrown at the protests. (AFP, Firat, Hürriyet, 1-28/04/14)
VENEZUELA: The government and opposition continue talks
The government and the opposition, represented by the Democratic Unity Table, continued talks to put an end to the political crisis gripping the country and agreed to establish various working groups to tackle issues like a truth commission and the situation of Venezuelans linked to political activities with legal proceedings open against them, as well as other subjects like insecurity and the economy. The truth commission would be in charge of investigating what happened in the protests that started in February. So far, 41 people have died and 700 have been wounded during these protests, according to official sources. The government has indicated that the economic issues will be one of the main items in the talks with the opposition and has expressed reluctance to release the people detained for political reasons, as the opposition claims. (Infolatam, 29/04/14)
MADAGASCAR: The Prime Minister of the country is appointed as part of the process to end the political crisis of recent years
According to government sources, on 16 April President Hery Rajaonarimampianina appointed Roger Kolo the new Prime Minister of Madagascar as part of the political transition that has been taking place over the course of the last year in order to put an end to the crisis in the country in recent years. Meanwhile, the formation of a new government began. Different countries welcomed the move, which will end the democratic process that started with the legislative and presidential elections held in late 2013. The organisation that groups together the countries of Southern Africa, the SADC, also hailed the decision and in late March the International Organisation of La Francophonie decided to readmit Madagascar to the organisation after suspending its membership for the last five years. (Jeune Afrique, 28/03/14; Reuters, 11/04/14; allAfrica, 25/04/14)
SRI LANKA: The United Nations will investigate war crimes committed during the last stage of the armed conflict
The United Nations Human Rights Council will conduct an investigation into possible war crimes committed by the parties to the armed conflict that pitted the Sri Lankan government against the Tamil guerrilla group LTTE for nearly three decades and ended in 2009. The government of Sri Lanka flatly rejected the investigation and said that it would not cooperate with the United Nations. The resolution that called for the investigation to start passed with 23 of the 47 members of the Security Council voting in favour and had the support of countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, attributed the Sri Lankan government's lack of political willingness to the fact that it has still not conducted any reliable investigation regarding what happened during the final stage of the armed conflict, when tens of thousands of civilians were killed. (Press Trust of India, 02/04/14; IB Times, 08/04/14; The New York Times, 28/03/14)
SUDAN (South Kordofan and Blue Nile): The SPLM-N and the Sudanese government announce the resumption of peace talks
In late April, the armed group SPLM-N declared that it had agreed to negotiate a framework agreement with the Sudanese government, although the authorities in Khartoum played down the importance of the agreement. Both parties resumed peace talks on 22 April at the request of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) in order to put an end to the conflict afflicting the regions of South Kordofan and Blue Nile for more than three years. Previously, the AU mediation team headed by former South African President Thabo Mbeki suspended the process after the SPLM-N rejected a draft framework agreement, returning to the prior agreement reached on 28 June 2011, which was never implemented but could serve as a reference document for a new framework agreement. The mediation team had proposed the establishment of four panels to negotiate security agreements, humanitarian access, the political problems affecting both regions and the process of national dialogue. The spokesman of the SPLM-N delegation, Mubarak Ardol, announced that both parties agreed on the need to reach a new framework agreement on the foundations of the AU Peace and Security Council's Resolution 423 and the UN Security Council's Resolution 2046, adding that the 2011 agreement would be used as a reference document. (Sudan Tribune, 13 and 28/04/14)
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