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Curated top stories
- Trump says Russia helping North Korea – U.S. President Donald Trump said Russia is violating international sanctions by helping North Korea get supplies. In an interview with Reuters, Trump also said that Pyongyang was getting closer to being able to deliver a long-range missile to the United States. See more on sanctions below.
- Saudi Arabia helps out Yemen – King Salman of Saudi Arabia ordered the transfer of $2 billion to Yemen’s central bank to stave off hunger and save its ailing currency. The cash came after desperate pleas from Yemen’s Saudi-backed prime minister. Yemen has been torn apart by a civil war backed by a Saudi-led coalition on one side, and Iran-backed Houthi rebels on the other. The United Nations describes the situation in Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. (Read WikiTribune‘s explainer: The crisis in Yemen: how did we get here?)
- Turkey threatens to assault U.S. backed Kurds in Syria – Turkish troops and tanks are poised on the border of two Kurdish-held areas in northern Syria, after months of threats from Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to launch an assault on the region. The cities of Afrin and Manbij are controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a terrorist group. Erdoğan also said Syrian rebels would back Turkish forces in clearing what he called these “terror nests.” On January 14, the United States announced support for plans to create a 30,000-strong “border force” to protect territory controlled by U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led fighters in Syria. Erdoğan reacted on Monday, saying: “A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders … Our mission is to strangle it before it’s even born.”
- Stronger sanctions for N.Korea considered – Twenty nations agreed to consider tougher sanctions for North Korea, and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson repeated warnings to Pyongyang that if it did not choose diplomacy military force was an option. Japan’s foreign minister, Taro Kono, also said at the Vancouver talks that the world should not be blinded by North Korea’s recent “charm offensive.” While nations expressed support for continuing North-South Korean talks, Tillerson said “We have to recognize that the threat is growing and if North Korea does not chose the pathway of engagement, discussion, negotiation, then they themselves will trigger an option.”
North and South Korea will march together under a single “unified Korea” flag at next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The two countries also agreed to field a joint women’s ice hockey team. The high-level talks at the truce village of Panmunjomare are the first between the two Koreas in more than two years. The Games will take place between 9 and 25 February.
- “Umbrella Movement” leader and fellow activists jailed – Joshua Wong, the leader of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, was jailed for a second time with a three-month sentence. Nineteen other activists were found guilty of contempt of court for refusing to leave a protest zone during the “Umbrella Movement” protests in the Chinese special administrative region in November 2014. Another demonstrator Raphael Wong, was also put behind bars, while the other protesters received suspended sentences.
- The “Umbrella Movement” was a set of protests against Beijing’s decision on proposed reforms to Hong Kong’s electoral system which activists saw as a pre-screening of candidates for Hong Kong’s leader. Joshua Wong had begun serving his six months community jail sentence for unlawful assembly in August 2017 and was granted bail, but the Hong Kong government appealed against this decision, arguing it was too lenient.
- U.S. tries to avoid government shutdown with temporary budget. The White House supports what is known as a “stopgap” budget that will fully fund the federal government until February 16. The bill does not address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, leaving immigrants known as “Dreamers” vulnerable to deportation. Democrats have been focused on immigration and extending the Children’s Health Insurance Program in budget negotiations. The Trump administration says it may compromise on DACA if the Democrats vote for the temporary budget.
- In an interview with Reuters, Trump criticized the bipartisan immigration deal, and said he “lost all trust” in Democratic Senator Dick Durbin’s leadership on the issue. The comments came after the Democratic lawmaker told reporters the president referred to African nations as “shithole” countries.
- Former CIA agent suspected of leaking U.S. agents names to China – Former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee was charged for unlawful retention of national defense information after being held at New York’s JFK airport on Monday, the U.S. justice department said, as reported by the BBC. Lee is suspected of leaking the names of U.S. agents to Chinese authorities. Between 2010 and 2012, some 20 informants were killed or imprisoned. However, the CIA does not know whether the names had been leaked by a data hack or double agent.
- U.S. revokes Haitian immigrants access to low-skill work visas. The Trump administration decided that Haitian nationals, displaced by the 2010 earthquake, are no longer eligible for H-2A and H-2B visas, which are typically used by agricultural workers. Less than 200 Haitians entered the U.S. on these low-skill visas over the past two years. But the White House said that Haitians overstay these temporary stays by a rate of 40 percent.
- U.S. withholds aid to Palestine – The United States is holding back $65 million’s worth of aid out of a total $125m tranche for the UN relief agency for Palestinians (UNRWA). U.S state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said this was due to a desire for UNRWA reform and was “not aimed at punishing [anyone].” Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General Jan Egeland said: “The move will have devastating consequences for vulnerable Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, including hundreds of thousands of refugee children in the West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria who depend on the agency for their education.” The United States is the largest donor to the UNRWA, with its second-largest donor, the EU, giving less than half as much in 2016, according to the BBC.
- Trump and Netanyahu disagree on embassy move date. Israeli Prime Minister told reporters during a diplomatic trip to India that the U.S. embassy would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of the year, according to Axios. President Donald Trump denied that the controversial move would happen that quickly, telling a Reuters reporter that the schedule has always been three years.
- Two Americans and two Canadians were kidnapped in Nigeria. Their abductors killed two police officers in the process. Kidnapping in Nigeria is common as the government struggle to combat terrorism and organized crime. Four British citizens were kidnapped in 2017.
What we’re reading
- While the rest of the world ponders the semantic difference between “shithole” and “shithouse,” it is apostrophes that exercise linguistic thought in Kazakhstan. As reported in this piece by community member Joaquín Soria Montealegre, the central Asian country is switching from the Cyrillic to Latin alphabet. Kazakhstan’s all-powerful president Nursultan Nazarbayev has decreed that any Kazakh language sounds that do not translate smoothly shall be signified by apostrophes. The New York Times explains this has caused controversy with academics and linguists. It quotes Aidos Sarym, a political analyst and member of a language reform commission: “This is the basic problem of our country: If the president says something or just writes something on a napkin, everybody has to applaud.” – Angela Long. [See also: our attempt to explain shithole vs. shithouse.]
- “It seems I am a ‘Bad Feminist,'” is how Canadian author and feminist icon Margaret Atwood opens this op-ed in which she explores the reasons why she was strongly criticized by her peers for signing an open letter – a defense of due process for those accused of sexual misconduct – about the University of British Columbia’s handling of a sexual harassment case. She then ponders the significance of the #MeToo movement, but also warns of what she perceives as its excesses. – George Engels
What the WikiTribune community is up to
- Community member Jean-Jacques Subrenat writes on the future of the European Union, nationalism, and the need for its reform.