The apparent killing of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour in a US drone strike May 22 actually took place in Pakistan—and without the consent of Islamabad, which has demanded a "clarification" from Washington in the hit. It was also the first US drone strike in Pakistan's restive province of Baluchistan, rather than in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where they have mostly been concentrated. The US has flown drones out of a base in Baluchistan, but never actually carried out any strikes there until now. The FATA is seen by Islamabad as something of a special case due to al-Qaeda's presence there, and the US has been given a free hand in the Tribal Areas. The insurgency in Baluchistan, in contrast, is seen strictly as Pakistan's internal war—despite the fact that the Afghan Taliban had evidently established it as their new staging area, with FATA getting too hot. This Taliban consolidation in Baluchistan was presumably permitted (if not actually overseen) by the Pakistani state. The strike on Mansour was apparently carried out from Afghan territory, and by the Pentagon rather than the CIA. And there are other ways in which the strike seems to indicate a break between Washington and Islamabad...
Voters in Tajikistan on May 20 approved changes to the country's constitution that will allow President Emomali Rahmon to rule indefinitely. Voters approved amendments to remove presidential term limits, lower the minimum age for presidential candidates from 35 to 30 and ban religiously based political parties. The first provision allows Rakhmon, 63, to extend his rule, which he has held since 1992. The second provision would allow his son, Rustam Emomali, 29, to be able to run for president in the next election in 2020. The final provision would continue to ban the main opposition Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan, which was declared a terrorist organization and banned last year. Election authorites reported that the 41 proposed amendments were approved by 94.5% of voters, with 92% turnout.
A court on the Greek island of Lesbos on May 20 ruled that Turkey is an "unsafe third country" for asylum seekers, throwing into doubt the EU-Turkey migrant deal. The panel of judges refused to reject an asylum application by a Syrian refugee and have him deported to Turkey. The decision came the same day that 51 refugees and migrants of different nationalities were forcibly returned to Turkey by Greek authorities. (Ekathimerini, May 20) Amnesty International's Giorgos Kosmopoulos hailed the decision, charging that Turkey is not complying with standards of the Refugee Convention. "Until it becomes a safe country nobody should be returned there," he said. He cited violations of the rights to work, medical care and family life, and said there have been "widespread returns of Syrians back to Syria from Turkey." On the pact with the EU, he added: "The whole deal should stop and refugees should be settled in other European countries safely and with dignity." (BBC News, May 21)
At a summit in Vienna this week, world powers agreed to supply arms to Libya to fight ISIS, and to seek an exemption from the UN arms embargo on the country. But few media accounts are emphasizing that Libya now has three rival governments (not counting ISIS and various militia-controlled enclaves), and the "recognized" one is by far the weakest. Attending the summit was Fayez al-Sarraj, prime minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). An official statement said: "The GNA is the sole legitimate recipient of international security assistance and is charged with preserving and protecting Libya's resources for the benefit of all its people." (Anadolu Agency, EuroNews) A sobering analysis in the Times of Oman, "Libyan quagmire to inevitably continue," calls the GNA "a 'Potemkin Village' lie of epic proportions," noting that it consists of a handful of men ensconced in a naval base outside Tripoli, controlling no territory and commanding no troops. The closest thing to an army it has is "an assortment of militias of varying shades of extremist" that have announced a tenuous recognition of its authority, mostly in Tripoli and Misrata.
Security forces opened fire on protesters storming Baghdad's Green Zone on May 20, killing three and wounding some 20. A journalist covering the protest was also killed. Thousands of demonstrators had gathered in the capital's Tahrir Square before several hundred tried to enter the fortified Green Zone, which houses government institutions and foreign consulates. Security forces responded to the breach by opening fire on the protesters, using tear-gas and live rounds. Protesters had reportedly entered the prime minister's office before they were forced to retreat. The incident marked the second time in recent weeks that protesters mobilized by Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr succeeded in breaching the Green Zone, demanding reform and an end to corruption. After this new breach, Sadr issued a statement to his followers, saying: "I respect your choice and your peaceful spontaneous revolt. Curse the government that kills its children in cold blood." (Rudaw, Rudaw, Rudaw, May 20)
Venezuela's Supreme Tribunal of Justice (STJ) on May 19 ruled that a state of emergency declared by President Nicolas Maduro is constitutional. The declaration, issued May 13, gives the president special reach in matters pertaining to the state of the economy for 60 days. The Venezuelan population is currently suffering from the highest inflation rate in the world. The court declared Maduro's response to the situation to be appropriate "given the extraordinary circumstances of social, economic, political, natural and ecological that seriously affect the national economy." Maduro will be able to take such measures as ordering a decrease the work week for private businesses to cut back on electricity use. He has already implemented changes allowing the Venezuelan armed forces to control food disbursal. The decision of the court upholding the decree conflicts with its rejection by congress earlier this week.
Riot police clashed with protesting laid-off workers in Bolivia's capital May 17, during a march against the government's decision to close the country's largest state-run textile company, ENATEX. Three people were hurt, including a protester who lost his hand while preparing to hurl a stick of dynamite. At least 20 were arrested after some 5,000 workers marched on the ENATEX factory in the Villa Fatima district of La Paz. Protesters took over the ENATEX offices, and police used tear-gas to prevent workers from occupying the factory itself. More than 800 people were laid off when President Evo Morales liquidated the foundering parastatal this week. Morales' administration bought the company in 2011 to save it from bankruptcy. The march was organized by COB, Bolivia's general labor federation, which threaetened solidarity actions in other sectors and cities if the arrested workers were not released. (El Deber, Santa Cruz, May 18; AP, TeleSur, May 18)
Security forces in Honduras on May 4 carried out raids on suspected narco-gang safe-houses at various locations, bringing out helicopters and heavy weaponry, and placing residential neighborhoods under siege. Code-named "Tornado," the operation coordinated troops from the National Police, Military Police, the elite Inter-institutional National Security Force (FUSINA), and the Technical Criminal Invesitgation Agency (ATIC). Locations were raided in the capital Tegucigalpa as well as the crime-stricken second city of San Pedro Sula, the Caribbean port of La Ceiba, and elsewhere. In Valle de Amarateca in the central department of Francisco Morazán, security forces seized at least two assualt rifles, fragmentation grenades, police unfiorms, and unspecified quanitities of cocaine, cannabis and cash. At least 12 people were arrested in the raids, including minors. The raids were officially called to apprehend gang members wanted for assassination and extortion. (La Prensa, May 4)