Russia banned from Winter Olympics; Gulf council summit ends abruptly

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Houthi fighters react after Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed, in Sanaa, Yemen December 4, 2017.
Houthi fighters react after Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed, in Sanaa, Yemen December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
  • Russia’s Winter Olympic team is banned from next year’s games in Pyeongchang, South Korea after an investigation into allegations of state-sponsored doping. (New York Times) However, Russian athletes who can prove they are clean would be allowed to compete in South Korea under a neutral flag, with a neutral uniform. The punishment from the International Olympic Committee follows allegations of state-sponsored doping at the 2014 Winter Games hosted by Russia in Sochi. (Sports Illustrated) “This should draw a line under this damaging episode,” the IOC president Thomas Bach said on Tuesday. Russia has said there are no plans to boycott the IOC if punishments were put in place.
  • The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Kuwait has been cut a day short following a diplomatic rift, reports Al Jazeera. In a move that could undermine the council, the United Arab Emirates announced that it had formed a new economic and military pact with Saudi Arabia separate from the GCC. The GCC is a political and economic alliance of six countries in the Arabian Peninsula and is key to cooperation between the countries. This year’s summit was held six months after three member states cut ties with Qatar. Read WikiTribune’s preview of the summit here.
  • A German bank that holds much of President Donald J. Trump’s personal debt on December 5 started turning over records to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, The Guardian reports. The bank was subpoenaed several weeks ago by the team investigating possible Russian interference in the 2016 election, Reuters reported. The news service, citing but not naming a U.S. official knowledgeable of Mueller’s investigation, also said the special counsel is trying to determine whether the bank sold any Trump debt to Russia. Such a situation could make him vulnerable to Russian pressure. Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump, denied the reports, telling Reuters: “No subpoena has been issued or received. We have confirmed this with the bank and other sources.” The Financial Times said the demand for Trump’s personal information takes the investigation a step further, beyond possible Russian contacts that Trump’s overall campaign or transition may have had.
  • The Arab League, which represents 22 North African and Arabian members, said the death of Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, on December 4, threatened to cause an “explosion” for Yemen’s security, according to Egypt’s MENA state news agency, reported by Reuters. The Arab League’s general secretariat also condemned the Houthi movement, members of which shot Saleh, as a “terrorist organisation.”
    • Saleh’s death comes only two days after he switched sides in Yemen’s civil war — from aligning with the Iran-backed Houthis, to announcing he was ready for a “new page” with the Saudi-led coalition. Saleh’s change of allegiance was thought to signal an end to three years of civil war in Yemen, Reuters reported.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that the U.S. embassy in Israel will move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This comes after Trump missed the deadline for moving the embassy after his intention to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital drew warnings from world leaders, including French president Emmanuel Macron. Several Arab and Muslim nations (New York Times) also criticized the change.
    • Haaretz reported that an Israeli official responded to Turkey’s threat that it could sever ties with Israel if the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as its capital. “Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for 3,000 years and the capital of Israel for 70 years, whether [Turkish president] Erdogan recognizes it as such or not,” the official said. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim the city as their capital. A cross-border Muslim organization earlier stated any such U.S. recognition would constitute “naked aggression.” Wikipedia has this entry on the various positions of Israeli and Arab states and Palestinians on the status of Jerusalem.
  • Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya has “elements of genocide” according to Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Until now, the UN has not used the term “genocide” to describe the Myanmar military’s campaign against the Muslim minority that sparked over 600,000 refugees to flee into neighboring Bangladesh. Zeid also recommended Rohingya refugees not be repatriated until the Myanmar government lifted restrictions on UN officials reaching Rohingya villages in Northern Rakhine State.
  • Rahul Gandhi will take over India’s opposition Congress Party leadership from his mother, Sonia Gandhi, who headed the party for the past 19 years. Gandhi, a  member of India’s Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, was the only candidate who submitted nomination papers by the deadline, so is likely to be declared leader without a vote, a party spokesman said.
  • Russia declared nine U.S. media outlets foreign agents, including Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, in retaliation for the U.S. ordering Russian channels RT and Sputnik to register as foreign agents in America. This means the media outlets have to declare their source of funding. U.S. intelligence officials accused the Kremlin of using media organisations it funds to influence U.S. voters in last year’s presidential election.

What we’re reading

  • The tortuous process of negotiations over Brexit, the UK’s departure from the European Union, hit yet another snag when the minority party propping up Theresa May’s government in London refused to agree a compromise with the Irish government over the Northern Ireland border. This report from The Irish Times summarises a surprising day in Brussels. Like much Irish politics, it’s complicated. – Angela Long
  • National Geographic, the U.S. magazine with the stated mission to inspire people to care about the planet, is examining the impact of President Donald Trump’s announcement that he will significantly reduce the size of two national monuments in the Western state of Utah. The reductions follow commitments by the administration to ease drilling protections, and create new opportunities for mineral, oil and gas leasing. The magazine says the moves will face legal attacks from environmentalists and conservationists who will likely point out that there is no language in the Antiquities Act that grants presidents the power to rescind or cut historic landmarks designated by previous administrations. – Jodie DeJonge
  • In the spring, summer and autumn of 2016 Sergei Kislyak — Moscow’s long-time envoy to the United States — was a ubiquitous figure. He met with Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, Carter Page and Jeff Sessions — all key members of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. “All of whom subsequently struggled to remember these encounters, as if they had happened in a magical fog,” writes correspondent Luke Harding. Harding is a senior journalist for The Guardian, who was the newspaper’s correspondent in Moscow for several years. In this extract from Harding’s new book, published in The Huffington Post, he outlines the curious relationships Kislyak has fostered on American soil. — Charles Anderson

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