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Curated top stories
- Syrian rebels take down Russian plane – Syrian rebels they shot down a Russian warplane in northern Syria’s Idlib province. Residents told Reuters that Russian air strikes had forced thousands of people flee to the Syrian side of the Turkish border. Russia says it only targets hardline Islamist militants in Syria. The country’s civil war its eighth year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes.
- North Korea’s banned exports earn $200m – North Korea earned nearly US$200 million from its banned exports, according to a United Nations report. The exports violate UN commodity sanctions, which includes bans on exporting coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products. The report said Pyongyang shipped coal to ports, including in Russia, China, South Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam, using false paperwork. The 15-member council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006.
- Meanwhile, CNN reports on North Korean fishing boats that have allegedly been found in a small village in Mozambique. The broadcaster says that small fleet represents a violation of sanctions and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s efforts to gain money to develop his nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
- Trump declassified Republican memo – A classified memo was publicly released today, claiming that the FBI based their Russian-probe on the “Steele Dossier.” It also says that the FBI failed to disclose that the dossier was the impetus of the investigation when seeking a federal court order to surveil the Trump campaign. Authored by Republican congressman Devin Nunes, the memo alleges that the FBI unethically pursued Donald J. Trump, and lied to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court in order to spy on Carter Page, a Trump campaign aide. (Follow WikiTribune’s coverage of the “memo.”)
- Iran detains 29 headscarf protesters – Iranian police arrested 29 women (Al Jazeera) in the capital of Tehran for demonstrating against – and violating – the country’s compulsory headscarf decree. This was just one in a wave of protests across the country against Iran’s Islamic law that obliges women to cover their hair with a scarf, known as a hijab, and wear loose, body-covering clothes. Under the law, implemented after the 1979 revolution, violators are publicly reprimanded, fined, or arrested.
- Women are symbolically rejecting the “interference of religion” in their lives, Masih Alinejad, an exiled activist who hosts a website where women in Iran post photos of themselves without hijabs, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We are fighting against the most visible symbol of oppression,” Alinejad said.
- May’s Beijing deal and human rights silence – British Prime Minister Theresa May ended a three-day trade mission to China with a £9.3 billion deal. The British government, which is trying to establish the country as a global trading nation after the 2016 vote to leave the European Union, says the deal will create over 2,500 jobs across the UK. May’s visit to China was commended by Beijing’s state-run newspaper, The Global Times, as “pragmatic” due to her silence over unrest in Hong Kong and human rights issues. In a Guardian editorial on Wednesday, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong urged May to keep Britain’s promise to defend the island’s semi-autonomy from China. (Read more WikiTribune coverage on Hong Kong here.)
- Syria’s possible new threat – The Syrian government may be developing new types of chemical weapons despite a 2014 deal when Damascus was meant to have handed over all such weapons for destruction. According to senior U.S. officials, spoken to by Reuters, President Bashar al-Assad is believed to have kept some of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. “We reserve the right to use military force to prevent or deter the use of chemical weapons,” one official told Reuters. Last month, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Russia was “complicit” in Assad’s alleged use of “despicable weapons of war.” (CNN)
- ‘Weasels and liars never hold the field’ – Former FBI Director James Comey defended the agency on Twitter over its controversial investigation into potential ties between Russia and U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s 2016 campaign. “American history shows that, in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field, so long as good people stand up,” Comey wrote. Trump is expected to soon allow publication of a classified memo that Republicans say shows improper use of surveillance by the FBI. (Read WikiTribune’s interview with an academic putting the most recent conflict between the bureau and the White House into historical context.)
- Moscow tells Russians to think twice about taking a trip – Russia’s Foreign Ministry has warned its citizens that they should think carefully about traveling abroad, saying that the United States was “hunting” for Russians to arrest. “Despite our calls to improve cooperation between the relevant U.S. and Russian authorities … U.S. special services have effectively continued ‘hunting’ for Russians around the world,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. U.S. authorities recently published a list of Russian business leaders under sanctions, risking sharp escalation from Moscow.
What we’re reading
- Controversial tech billionaire Peter Thiel became a New Zealand citizen in 2011 after spending only 12 days in the country. The decision raised eyebrows as Thiel did not meet any of the criteria needed to receive a Kiwi passport, which is seen as a precious commodity around the world. In the lead-up to his lobbying of the government, he touted the South Pacific nation as a “utopia” (Business Insider) and swore that he would contribute to the country’s “life, history, and culture.” Since then, however, he has gone quiet. In this investigation, the New Zealand Herald’s Matt Nippert exhaustively documents the decisions that were made to allow the creation of “Citizen Thiel.” – Charles Anderson
- “Few modern wars have raged this long, this destructively and with this much outside intervention. If there is an obvious way out, history does not provide it.” After 16 years of war in Afghanistan, writes The New York Times’ Max Fischer, analysts are starting to acknowledge that victory is no longer possible for the United States. Rather, they now argue about what the different defeat scenarios might look like for the world’s strongest superpower and for devastated Afghanistan. – George Engels
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