Iran's Supreme Leader blames 'enemies' for protests; S.Korea offers Olympics talk with North

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  • Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blames Iran’s “enemies” for protests. In his first comments since the trouble began last Thursday, he added that he will say more “when the time is right.” The death toll is more than 20 and at least 400 people were arrested. Pro-reform protests have stretched into their fifth day, The Associated Press reported – citing Iran State TV and social media. “Some armed protesters tried to take control of some police stations and military bases but they met strong resistance from security forces,” Reuters reported. The Guardian reported that protests broke out across the country, in the capital Tehran, and numerous cities including Karaj and Tuyserkan.
    • This explainer from Reuters lays out the background of the demonstrations and what the prospect is of their future. “The demonstrations, initially focused on economic hardships and alleged corruption, turned into political rallies. Anger was soon directed at the clerical leadership in power since the 1979 revolution, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority in Iran’s cumbersome system of dual clerical and republican rule.” (Take part in WikiTribune’s coverage of this story here).
  • South Korea offered talks with rival North next Tuesday to discuss its participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in the South, opening up a potential for reconciliation. Yonhap news agency reported that South Korea’s unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, said that the two will discuss North Korea’s participation in the game as well as “other issues of mutual interest for the improvement of inter-Korean ties”.
    • North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made a surprising speech on New Year’s Day when he said he was “open to dialogue” with Seoul, and that he would only use nukes if North Korea was threatened. The last high-level talks between the two in 2015 ended without an agreement. Relations between the two worsened over North Korea’s expansion of its nuclear missile program. (Read more: our explainer on North Korea’s nuclear capacity).
  • Israel’s parliament passed a law to make it harder to give up parts of Jerusalem by raising the numbers of votes needed to do so. The new legislation raises the number of votes from 61 to 80 in the 120-seat Knesset. This move could hamper any future peace deal.
    • The status of Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive issues in the decades-old Israel-Palestine conflict. Last month, Donald Trump angered the Palestinians and world powers by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Protests broke out following the decision in the West Bank and Gaza where thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in a ‘Day of Rage.’ On December 21, the UN General Assembly voted against Trump’s recognition with 128 in favor while 35 countries abstained. (Read more: our coverage of Jerusalem here).
Chinese customs officials prepare and begin crushing illegal stockpiles of confiscated ivory in Guangzhou, China in 2014. Photo: International Fund for Animal Welfare
Chinese customs officials prepare and begin crushing illegal stockpiles of confiscated ivory in Guangzhou, China in 2014. Photo: International Fund for Animal Welfare

  • U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, the longest serving Republican in the Senate, announced he will retire in 2018. Hatch has consistently supported President Trump’s legislative agenda, and helped draft the controversial tax bill that was recently passed (Bloomberg). Trump urged Hatch to run for an eighth term, reported the New York Times. Reuters and several other media outlets (Politico) report that 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney is interested in replacing Hatch as the Senator from Utah. Romney has not publicly announced if he will run.
    • Romney has been one of the most vocal critics of President Trump in the Republican Party, especially during the 2016 election when he referred to the New York business man as a “fraud.”


  • Pakistan summoned the U.S. ambassador to explain Donald Trump’s tweeted allegations that the country harbours terrorists and offers nothing but “lies and deceit” in return for aid. Washington previously indicated that it would cut aid to Pakistan if its government does not take a firmer hand with militant groups who operate across the Afghanistan border. Pakistan’s foreign minister said on Monday that Trump’s tweets were politically motivated.
  • Hundreds of Hollywood women – including directors, film stars, TV actresses, writers and agents – have started a group aimed at fighting inequality, sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. Created in the wake of allegations against dozens of men in the entertainment industry, Time’s Up will include a legal defense fund and a lobbying effort. The group’s manifesto says “the clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it.” The campaign, which already has raised more than $13 million, has the support of a bevy of powerful women “driven by outrage.” (The New York Times).
  • More than 700 people being held by the Nigerian terror group Boko Haram have escaped captivity. Nigerian army spokesman Col Timothy Antigha told the BBC that they had fled to several islands on Lake Chad in the country’s northeast. There has been no independent verification of the army’s claim. A BBC correspondent says the escapes likely happened over time. An eight-year campaign of violence by the Islamist group has killed over 20,000 people (AFP) and forced 2.6 million from their homes.
  • China’s shutdown of one of the world’s biggest markets for ivory is being praised by international environmental groups as good for the world’s elephant population. From 2018, all trade in ivory and ivory products in China is illegal. The law was first announced in 2015 by Chinese President Xi Jinping and then U.S. President Barack Obama (National Geographic). State media said there had already been a 65 percent decline in the price of raw ivory over the past year and an 80 percent decline in seizures of ivory entering China (Xinhua).

What we’re reading

  • China’s largest shipping company, China Ocean Shipping Company, has opened a dry port (transport hub): the nearest ocean is more than 1,600 miles away. The New York Times outlines China’s and Kazakhstan’s “One Belt, One Road” plan for a new frontier of global commerce. The $1 trillion infrastructure program aims to revive the ancient Silk Road and build up other trading routes between Asia and Europe to push Chinese products to foreign markets. — Charles Anderson
  • From Hollywood’s sexual reckoning to President Donald Trump’s unpredictability, the Washington Post offers some bleak forecasts for 2018. — Charles Anderson
  • Amazon is now the world’s fifth most valuable company. But as this Economist article highlights, never before has a company been worth so much for so long while making so little money: 92 percent of its value is due to profits expected after 2020. It accounts for more than half of every new dollar spent online in America, and this year will likely spend twice as much on television production as HBO. “Its own-brand physical products include batteries, almonds, suits and speakers linked to a virtual voice-activated assistant that can control, among other things, your lamps and sprinkler.” But this throws up challenges for a company that has to deliver on so many promises. – Charles Anderson

What the WikiTribune community’s up to

  • WikiTribune is built on the principle that there’s deep knowledge in communities and that people of goodwill can cooperate to solve big problems. To succeed in an increasingly polarized media environment WikiTribune intends to adhere to the highest standards of journalistic conduct and present a neutral point of view. If you are new to the site, then this piece by launch editor Peter Bale lays out what you can expect from us and how you can become a part of it.
  • WikiTribune community member and former diplomat Jean-Jacques Subrenat continues his series of articles on the geo-political trends to watch out for in 2018. Part two looks at the continuing rise of China as an international influencer, and how this fits with other global trends.
  • Collaborate here on WikiTribune‘s coverage of the protests in Iran, the country’s most widespread unrest since the 2009 “Green Movement.”


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