China / India Skirmish
It sounds like yesterday’s battle between Chinese and Indian troops in the Himalayas was worse than initially reported: I’m now reading that at least 20 Indian soldiers died, as did an unknown number of Chinese ones (probably fewer, given that Chinese troops reportedly outnumbered Indian ones in the area 300 to 55).
Apparently no shots were fired—they fought with bats and sticks, some of which were wrapped in barbed wire. Hawks at Fox News are calling for the U.S. to back India, but it sounds like the two sides are already involved in talks to deescalate.
Subsequent reports called the liaison office North Korea blew up its “de facto embassy in South Korea,” which makes the destruction sound like a bigger signal of North Korea’s frustration with its neighbor. This time South Korea vowed a serious response if the North continued to escalate.
An AFRICOM spokeswoman estimated there to be around 2,000 Russian mercenaries supporting the LNA in Libya. That corroborates Turkish president Erdogan’s estimate from January, which placed the number at “over 2,000.”
The EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, called on member states to increase their naval and air support for Operation Irini, which is supposed to enforce a weak weapons embargo on Libya.
A new Amnesty International report found that Congolese security forces “brutally and systematically cracked down on protesters” when they were demonstrating against Pres. Kabila’s attempts to stay in power from 2015 to 2018.
Taliban attacks killed at least 12 ANSF in Jawzjan, and another five in Kunduz.
Tensions are still simmering between Afghanistan and Iran over Iran’s killing of Afghan migrants in two separate incidents over the last month. Afghans are protesting outside the Iranian Embassy in Kabul, and one protest leader explained: “The Iranian regime is not only burning and drowning our youth but committing so many inhumane acts against Afghan asylum seekers. They even send our youth to fight their wars in Iraq and Syria. This is why we had to raise our voice against these injustices.”
Protesters are demonstrating against Pres. AMLO in Mexico City, citing a wide array of grievances from AMLO’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic to general dissatisfaction with his economic policies. AMLO seems to be brushing them off, though.
Pres. Maduro stole control of two opposition political parties—First Justice and Democratic Action—and replaced their leaders with his own allies. The WSJ says Maduro’s aim is to redraw the electoral map to win this year’s legislative elections. Article pasted below.
Italy’s ruling Five Star Movement denied bizarre accusations that it received $3.9 million in secret financing from Venezuela’s government (specifically its intelligence) back in 2010.
The head of Guyana’s Elections Commission thinks the March 2nd vote was so flawed that it should be thrown out altogether, but the Organization of American States accused him of “partisan behavior” and thinks nullifying the whole vote would amount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Pres. Granger’s supporters are still clinging to the belief they won, even though a recount overturned his victory.
Pres. Trump issued an executive order on police reform that didn’t really satisfy his critics or his supporters. It banned chokeholds unless an officer’s life is at risk, but otherwise only offered vague plans for reform while expressing strong support for police.
Trump also confirmed plans to withdraw around half the U.S. troops in Germany. Critics of the plan from both parties say it’ll cede influence in the EU to Russia.
Venezuela’s Maduro Takes Over Rival Political Parties (WSJ)
Move tightens leader’s grip on power, ending hopes for electoral solution to political crisis
Longtime leader of the Democratic Action party Henry Ramos Allup, shown in the National Assembly in Caracas on Jan. 5, was replaced by a Maduro ally.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Tuesday stripped the license of one of the country’s largest political parties and handed control to a pro-government ally, the latest in a string of measures to further weaken the opposition.
The move against the party, First Justice, came days after Mr. Maduro’s regime took away control of Democratic Action, one of South America’s oldest and largest political parties, and named a new electoral board stacked with government allies. The board is supposed to oversee parliamentary elections that Mr. Maduro has said he wants to hold before the end of the year.
“What’s clear is that Maduro, with these actions, is doing away with whatever image we had remaining of Venezuela as a democracy, even as it was during the 20 years of Chavismo,” said Dimitris Pantoulas, a Caracas-based consultant and analyst, referring to the leftist movement that Mr. Maduro inherited from his predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez.
By handpicking the leaders of opposition political parties and appointing a new electoral monitor, Mr. Maduro is redrawing the country’s electoral map ahead of congressional elections to give himself leverage and ensure victory.
Control of First Justice was given to José Brito, while longtime Democratic Action chair Henry Ramos Allup was replaced by José Bernabé Gutiérrez. Both Messrs. Brito and Gutiérrez had abandoned the opposition and joined the regime.
“They can rob us of the symbols and color of First Justice, but never the desire for freedom and justice,” said lawmaker Angel Alvarado, a First Justice member.
The U.S. and dozens of its allies have deemed Mr. Maduro’s rule illegitimate since a 2018 presidential election marred by fraud allegations. Since January 2019, the White House and nearly 60 governments have considered opposition leader Juan Guaidó to be Venezuela’s legitimate president, and not Mr. Maduro. But despite sanctions designed to destabilize the regime, Mr. Maduro remains firmly in power, controlling every institution and now moving against political parties.
Though country is mired in a punishing economic crisis marked by malnutrition and runaway inflation, Mr. Maduro has insisted that he intends to hold parliamentary elections before the end of the year, as stipulated by the constitution. No date has yet been set for the vote.
Mr. Pantoulas said the rush to hold elections is part of a strategy to outflank the National Assembly, which is controlled by the opposition and headed by Mr. Guaidó. But while the assembly’s five-year term ends at the end of 2020, much of the Guaidó-led opposition movement has rejected the idea of elections, citing past fraud allegations.
Free elections, they say, can’t take place until Mr. Maduro loosens his grip on the armed forces and the courts, which have helped him cling to power despite the international and financial pressures.
The Guaidó camp, meanwhile, has been at odds over how best to challenge Mr. Maduro. While polls show most Venezuelans support a peaceful solution to the country’s political crisis, the government’s move to eliminate opposition parties could give momentum to regime detractors who want to remove Mr. Maduro by force.
While Mr. Maduro’s ruling Socialist Party might easily win any coming election he orchestrates, the strongman will have little to celebrate given the economic and health crisis his countrymen face, said Jesús Torrealba, a former head of the opposition coalition.
“If this is a victory for Maduro, it will be a Pyrrhic victory because Maduro’s adversary isn’t the political parties. It’s the hyperinflation, the collapse in public services and coronavirus,” Mr. Torrealba said.