U.S. government shutdown begins; Turkish airstrikes hit Kurdish enclave

  1. Rohingya leaders make demands before repatriation
  2. United Nations accused of sexual assault and harassment culture

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  • The U.S. government shuts down – Democrats and Republicans failed to reach a last-minute deal to fund its operations after a dispute over immigration and border security. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday night to fund government operations until February 16, and avoid a Saturday shutdown. However, that bill was voted down in the Senate. Despite last minute bipartisan meetings, the bill to fund the government until February 16 did not receive the required 60 votes.
    • Many government offices will close unless a compromise is found before a midnight deadline. If the shutdown goes ahead essential services will still run, the BBC reports. “That includes national security, post, air traffic control, inpatient medical services, emergency outpatient medicine, disaster assistance, prisons, taxation and electricity production.”
    • Democrats refused to back the bill until President Donald J. Trump reversed his decision that “Dreamers” – more than 700,000 immigrants who were born or entered the U.S. illegally as children – will lose their protected status and be deported unless they can prove their legal status. To try to get Democrats to back this budget bill, Republicans have offered a six-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program which benefits lower-income families.
    • Trump looked to blame Democrats for the failed vote. “Tonight, they put politics above our national security, military families, vulnerable children, and our country’s ability to serve all Americans,” the White House said in a statement.
  • Turkey starts assault on U.S. backed Kurds in Syria – The Turkish air force launched strikes on Kurdish militants in the Syrian region Afrin, which lies across its southern border. Turkey’s defense minister said an offensive against Kurdish-held areas in northern Syria had “de facto” begun, as the Turkish military shelled the area. The bombardment began on Thursday night and continued through to Friday morning, according to The Guardian. Following months of threats from Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to launch an assault on the region, defense minister Nurettin Canikli told the Turkish broadcaster A Haber: “All terror networks and elements in northern Syria will be eliminated. There is no other way.” (Read the WikiTribune explainer: Turkey starts shelling after U.S. backs down on Syria border force)
    • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed that the U.S. is trying to establish “alternative bodies of authority” in Syria, while speaking at a UN conference. The allegation dovetails with concerns from Turkey, Syria and Iran over the U.S.-backed Kurdish coalition.
    • Reuters reports that the Turkish defense minister is traveling to Moscow to request the Kremlin if the Turkish air force can use their airspace in Northern Syria. Though the Syrian government does not support a Turkish presence.
  • Rohingya refugees want assurances before returning – Rohingya leaders in Bangladesh compiled a set of demands they want Myanmar to meet before the repatriation of thousands of refugees that is expected to begin next week. The two-year process would gradually return some 655,500 Rohingya Muslims living in camps in Bangladesh to Myanmar. The Rohingya fled Myanmar to escape what the United Nations has described as a case of “textbook case of ethnic cleansing.” The appeal, handwritten by six Rohingya elders who claim to represent around 40 villages, includes the granting of long-denied Myanmar citizenship and the formal inclusion of Rohingya into the country’s recognized ethnic groups. (Read more WikiTribune coverage of the Rohingya crisis here.)
  • UN accused of culture of sexual abuse – Sexual harassment and assault is rife at United Nations offices around the world, current and former employees told The Guardian. They describe a culture that ignores victims and gives perpetrators license to act with impunity. The accusations range from harassment to rape.

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Picture of the day

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes a dip in icy water during Orthodox Epiphany celebrations at Lake Seliger, north of Moscow on January 19, 2018. Credit: Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters
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