Protests spark promises of Tunisian reform, panic in Hawaii after false missile alert

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  • The Tunisian government announced a raft of social reforms, after days of demonstrations by anti-austerity protesters put pressure on officials to act. There were fresh protests on Sunday, the seventh anniversary of the ousting of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. The government will increase aid for poor families and those in need by US$70 million, Mohamed Trabelsi, minister of social affairs, told reporters. Emergency government meetings were held in response to the protests, which have seen more than 800 arrests. The protests were sparked by rising taxes, high unemployment, and increased food prices. The origin point of the Arab Spring, Tunisia is widely perceived as the only democratic success story from the 2011 wave of uprisings (Eurasia Group/Time). High levels of external debt and a tourism industry hampered by terrorist threats have seen the country’s economy stagnate, however.

  • The alert of an incoming ballistic missile to Hawaii was the result of a mistake by an emergency system worker at Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency. The worker “pushed the wrong button” during procedures that occur during a shift handover, according to officials. Mobile phone users received the message at 08.07 (18:07 GMT) on Saturday: “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” The alert was corrected by email 18 minutes later but there was no follow-up mobile text for 38 minutes, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports.
An electronic sign reads “There is no threat” in Oahu, Hawaii, U.S., after a false emergency alert that said a ballistic missile was headed for Hawaii (via REUTERS)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that a program that protects illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children from being deported was “probably dead.”  His Twitter comments on Sunday came as Republicans and Democrats worked on a compromise immigration policy deal.
  • “DACA is probably dead because the Democrats don’t really want it, they just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our military,” Trump said on Twitter. Trump has said he would this year end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, which former President Barack Obama enacted to keep the undocumented immigrants, known as dreamers, from being deported. A U.S. judge ruled last Tuesday that DACA should remain in effect until legal challenges brought in multiple courts are resolved.
  • Iran’s foreign ministry says it will retaliate against U.S. sanctions on the head of its judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli-Larijani. The ministry said the U.S had “crossed a red line” by imposing the new sanctions, which also impact 13 other individuals and entities over alleged human rights abuses.  U.S. President Donald Trump, who is critical of a 2015 deal to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities, said he would extend sanctions relief one last time, to give its signatories time to deal with the deal’s “terrible flaws.” Reuters reports that the ultimatum puts pressure on Europeans, key backers of the 2015 nuclear deal, to satisfy Trump, who wants the pact strengthened with a separate agreement within 120 days.

  • Czech President Milos Zeman failed to win re-election during the first round of a presidential election Saturday and will face a runoff in two weeks against the former head of the country’s Academy of Sciences, Jiri Drahos. The election advanced to a second round of voting because none of the nine candidates seeking the Czech Republic’s presidency received a majority of votes. The vote is seen as a referendum on Zeman, 73, who failed to win a majority initial presidential election has led the country since 2013. He has criticized immigration from Muslim countries and Germany’s decision to accept many migrants. He has also become one of the EU’s most outspoken opponents of sanctions against Moscow. The BBC has both the candidates’ backgrounds.
  • President Donald Trump’s lawyer allegedly arranged a payment of $130,000 to a former adult-film actress a month before the 2016 election to ensure she did not speak about a sexual encounter with the president. The story, first reported by the Wall Street Journaloutlines allegations that Trump had an affair with Stephanie Clifford — whose stage name is “Stormy Daniels” — in 2006, while Trump’s wife was pregnant with Barron Trump. Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, said that President Trump “vehemently denies” the encounter, but did not address the alleged payment in a statement to CNN.


  • Following global outrage, President Donald J. Trump has denied describing Haiti and nations in Africa as “shithole countries,” though he admitted using “tough” language in an immigration meeting. (See WikiTribune‘s coverage of the apparent slur that has been gathering criticism since it was reported on Thursday.)
    • Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who was present for the meeting in question, claims that the president used the word “shithole” multiple times during the bipartisan discussion.
  • President Trump canceled his February visit to London’s new U.S. embassy, criticizing the new location of the building while condemning the Obama Administration for selling the old embassy for “peanuts.” The embassy move was initiated by President George W. Bush in 2008. However, some in Britain suggested that Trump canceled due to his unpopularity and the possibility of protests. More than 1.8 million people signed a petition calling for the withdrawal of his state visit invitation. London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted: “Many Londoners have made it clear that Donald Trump is not welcome here while he is pursuing such a divisive agenda. It seems he’s finally got that message.”
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU union and the Social Democrats (SPD) party have had a breakthrough in government coalition negotiations after all-night talks. A 28-page blueprint, which party members will vote on to approve a “grand coalition,” was created after 24 hours of discussion.
    • With no party winning a majority in Germany’s 2017 September election, Merkel is trying to form a coalition with the SPD, which was initially reluctant after experiencing its worst election result since the Second World War. Some attributed this to their previous partnership with Merkel’s conservatives.

What we’re reading

  • In the U.S., any serious illness comes with a financial shock. The average cost of hospital stays for cancer patients in 2015 was $31,390, according to government figures – about half that year’s median household income. The most common form of childhood cancer costs on average $292,000 to treat. So perhaps it’s no surprise that online donation sites are booming as patients with little or no health insurance turn to strangers to help pay medical costs. This piece in the Financial Times (may be behind paywall) looks into why so many Americans are crowdfunding their health care. – Charles Anderson

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