Politics this week

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Three people were shot and killed by the army in Zimbabwe just hours after the electoral commission announced that the ruling Zanu-PF had won a majority in parliament in the first elections since a coup removed Robert Mugabe last year. The supposedly neutral commission is taking time to release the results of the presidential election. See article.

Three Russian journalists were killed in the Central African Republic, apparently while investigating the activities of a Russian private military company, Wagner, that has deployed troops in the country and is helping to train its armed forces.

Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former warlord, returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo to contest presidential elections later this year. He was freed from prison in The Hague after the International Criminal Court overturned his conviction for war crimes.

Iran’s economy continued to struggle, as the value of the rial sunk to a new low against the dollar. Nevertheless, Iranian officials rejected Donald Trump’s offer of talks without preconditions. In May Mr Trump pulled America out of a deal that curbs Iran’s nuclear-weapons programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.

Nothing to be proud of

The number of murders in Mexico increased by 27% last year to a record 31,174, according to the country’s statistics institute. It had earlier said there were a little over 25,000 homicides in 2017. The murder rate of 25 per 100,000 people is also the highest on record.

Venezuela’s ruling United Socialist Party re-elected the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro, as its leader in a conference that took place during a blackout. Mr Maduro, who normally blames the country’s economic woes on “imperialism”, accepted responsibility for the distress. “Enough with whining,” he said.

Going out to bat

Imran Khan began talking to smaller parties about forming a governing coalition in Pakistan after his Tehreek-e-Insaf party won the most seats in the National Assembly. The losing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Peoples Party backed away from pressing their claim that the election had been rigged by security officials. Meanwhile, Pakistan was reported to be preparing to ask the IMF for a bail-out, but America said it would oppose such a deal if it was used to pay off Chinese loans. See article. 

In Cambodia Hun Sen won another term as prime minister, an unsurprising result given that the main opposition party was barred from running in the election. Hun Sen has been in power since 1985. The vote was widely condemned.

Lu Wei, once China’s top internet regulator, was charged with taking bribes. Prosecutors said that he abused his position and accepted a “huge amount of money and property”. Mr Lu had risen to great heights under Xi Jinping, gaining deferential treatment from Silicon Valley chieftains such as Mark Zuckerberg. This year the Communist Party expelled him, saying he had been “tyrannical” and “shameless”.

Google was reportedly developing a censored version of its search engine for China. It was said to have been working in secret on a censored-search app since last year, and to have demonstrated it to Chinese officials. Google left China in 2010 to uphold its old motto, “Don’t be evil”.

Australia’s Labor Party won four of five by-elections held on the same day. The fifth was won by an independent candidate. The results leave the ruling Liberal-National coalition headed by Malcolm Turnbull with a one-seat majority in Parliament. A general election must be held before November 2019.

Abu Sayyaf, an Islamist group, was thought to be behind a van bomb that killed ten people at a military checkpoint on the southern Philippine island of Basilan. The attack happened a few days after Rodrigo Duterte, the president, signed a law granting autonomy to Muslims in the south. See article.

Data from the University of Maryland showed that the number of terrorist attacks dropped by a fifth in 2017. Deaths related to terror attacks fell by 25%. The worst affected countries were Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and the Philippines. Their share of attacks increased from 50% in 2015 to 57% last year. Islamic State and the Taliban were to blame for a fifth of all attacks and nearly half of all deaths, a total of 12,045 people.

A game of chicken

Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, issued a lukewarm response to the British government’s latest proposals on customs and the Irish border. British ministers stepped up their warnings that European intransigence could see Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal when it leaves in March.

A war of words erupted between Turkey and the United States over Andrew Brunson, an evangelical pastor who has been detained in Izmir since 2016 on questionable charges. Mr Brunson was released from prison but placed under house arrest. America imposed financial sanctions on two Turkish ministers in response. See article.

On their way home

North Korea handed over the remains of 55 American servicemen killed during the Korean war to American authorities. Donald Trump thanked the regime for returning the remains, a concession that was agreed to at a summit between Mr Trump and Kim Jong Un, the North’s dictator, in June. The remains will be examined by a forensics team in Hawaii for identification. In 1990 the remains of what were thought to be five American soldiers returned by North Korea turned out to be seven.

Paul Manafort, Mr Trump’s former campaign manager, went on trial for fraud. He is accused of laundering money from his work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine and then avoiding tax. It is the first trial examining alleged links between Trump aides and Russian interests to stem from the investigation led by Robert Mueller, the special counsel. See article.

The start of Mr Manafort’s trial seemed to rattle Mr Trump. He publicly called on Jeff Sessions, the attorney-general, to end the Mueller investigation (something that Republicans have repeatedly warned him not to do), despite Mr Sessions having recused himself from the inquiry.

Mr Trump also threatened to shut down the government unless Congress fully funds his border wall with Mexico.

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