Briefing :- 15/05/17

Here is CurrentHow’s Briefing™ for the 15th of May, 2017 :-

1. Macron takes office as President of France :-

Emmanuel Macron became France’s youngest ever president on Sunday, taking over from Socialist Francois Hollande in a solemn ceremony.

Macron, a 39-year-old centrist, arrived at the Elysee Palace in central Paris in a motorcade and walked down the red carpet under light rain to be greeted by Hollande for his inauguration.

The new president’s wife Brigitte, a 64-year-old who was his high school drama teacher, arrived separately for the ceremony wearing a light blue Louis Vuitton outfit.

A week after his victory over far-right leader Marine Le Pen in a tumultuous election, Macron will have a private meeting with Hollande at which he will be given the codes to launch France’s nuclear weapons.

He will then attend a ceremony in front of hundreds of politicians and invited guests at which the official election results will be read out.

At the end of the formalities, a 21-gun salute is to ring out from the Invalides military hospital on the other side of the River Seine.

Macron will then be driven to the Arc de Triomphe to lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier.

The new president faces a host of daunting challenges including tackling stubbornly high unemployment, fighting Islamist-inspired violence and uniting a deeply divided country.

Socialist Hollande’s five years in power were plagued by a sluggish economy and bloody terror attacks that killed more than 230 people and he leaves office after a single term.

The 64-year-old launched Macron’s political career, plucking him from the world of investment banking to be an advisor and then his economy minister.

“I am not handing over power to a political opponent, it’s far simpler,” Hollande said on Thursday.

Security was tight with around 1,500 police officers deployed near the presidential palace and the nearby Champs Elysees avenue and surrounding roads were blocked off.

After a formal lunch, Macron will visit Paris’s town hall, a traditional stop for any new French president in his “host” city.

Macron’s first week will be busy. On Monday, he is expected to reveal the closely-guarded name of his prime minister, before flying to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

It is virtually a rite of passage for French leaders to make their first European trip to meet the leader of the other half of the so-called “motor” of the EU.

Pro-EU Macron wants to push for closer cooperation to help the bloc overcome the imminent departure of Britain, another of its most powerful members.

He intends to press for the creation of a parliament and budget for the eurozone.

2. UN Security Council to meet Tuesday over North Korea missile launch :-

The United Nations Security Council is due to meet on Tuesday to discuss North Korea’s latest missile launch, diplomats said on Sunday.

North Korea fired a ballistic missile that landed in the sea near Russia on Sunday.

It was the North’s second missile firing in two weeks, and came amid mounting international concern over Pyongyang’s progress in developing nuclear weapons that could be carried by long-range missiles.

The latest projectile, launched from a military base in Kusong near the country’s northwest coast, traveled some 435 miles (700 kilometers) before landing in the Sea of Japan.

“There are no excuses that justify N. Korea’s actions,” Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, tweeted. “This was close to home for Russia. China cant expect dialogue. This threat is real.”

In Brussels, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu called Pyongyang’s move “a new flagrant breach of a series of United Nations Security Council Resolutions,” constituting “a threat to international peace and security.”

And EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic denounced the launch as “a threat to international peace and security (that could) further aggravate tensions in the region at a time when de-escalation is instead needed.”

For weeks, the Trump administration has been demanding a tightening of sanctions against the North and urging a tougher stance by Beijing, Pyongyang’s principal ally.

3. China: Cyber attack hits government, schools, but spread slows :-

Chinese local authorities from traffic police to industry regulators were hobbled on Monday by a massive global ransomware attack, but the spread of the WannaCry worm in the country appeared less aggressive than initially feared.

Dozens of local Chinese authorities said they had suspended some of their services due to the attack that has disrupted operations at car factories, hospitals, shops and schools around the world.

However, officials and security firms said the spread was starting to slow in the country, which has the world’s largest number of Internet users.

“The growth rate of infected institutions on Monday has slowed significantly compared to the previous two days,” said Chinese Internet security company Qihoo 360.

“Previous concerns of a wide-scale infection of domestic institutions did not eventuate.”

Qihoo has previously said the attack had infected close to 30,000 organizations by Saturday evening. Of that, over 4,000 were educational institutions.

An official from Cybersecurity Administration China (CAC) told local media on Monday that while the ransomware was still spreading and had affected industry and government computer systems, the spread was slowing.

China remained a major source of attack from infected computers, at least during the Asian day, said Michael Gazeley, managing director of Network Box, a Hong Kong-based cybersecurity firm.

At about noon (0400 GMT), nearly 47 per cent of attacks on Network Box’s clients came from China. This would change, Gazeley said, as Europe and US computers are turned on, but it indicated the scale of the problem there.

Chinese government bodies from transport, social security, industry watchdogs and immigration said they had suspended services ranging from processing applications to traffic crime enforcement.

It’s not clear whether the services were suspended due to attacks or for emergency patching to prevent infection. Even then, adding a patch was no simple task, experts said.

“If a system supports some kind critical processes those systems typically are very hard to patch… We don’t have a precedent from something of this scale (in China),” said Marin Ivezic, a cybersecurity expert at PwC in Hong Kong.

Affected bodies included a social security department in the city of Changsha, the exit-entry bureau in Dalian, a housing fund in Zhuhai and an industry watchdog in Xuzhou.

The ransomware, which has locked up over 200,000 computers in more than 150 countries, has been mainly spread by e-mail, and in China has hit schools and colleges, energy giant PetroChina’s  payment systems and local government.

Security experts say most infected computers appear to be systems running out-of-date operating systems, or machines that are hard to patch without affecting crucial operations in areas like healthcare or manufacturing.

Beijing has said previously it is a victim of hacking, although the United States has accused it of cyber attacks on US government computer systems.

China is also set to implement a tougher new cyber security law from June 1, designed to strengthen critical infrastructure, even as many global tech firms and lobbies say that its cyber rules skew the playing field against foreign firms.

4. Cholera epidemic kills 115 in war-torn Yemen :-

In war-torn Yemen, a new wave of cholera has killed 115 people in the last two weeks. Hospitals are short of space and medicine is in short supply as people struggle to cope with the bacterial disease.

Cholera is normally contracted by consumption of water and food contaminated by human feces. It leads to massive dehydrating diarrhoea attacks along with vomiting and cramps which if not quickly healed can kill a person in a few days.

Dominik Stillhart, director of operations at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), defined the situation in Yemen as “catastrophic”. During a press conference held in the country’s capital city of Sanaa, he told reporters, “There are people in the gardens, and some even in their cars with the IV drip (intravenous infusions) hanging from the window. There are up to four cholera patients in one single bed.”

The disease is spreading nationwide and Mr. Stillhart informed that since April 27 hospitals reported more than 8,500 suspected cases, 2,300 of which in the last week alone.

Hygiene is fundamental in combating the epidemy and a recent garbage crisis in the capital city is not helping. Mr. Stillart reported that piles of garbage lie on Sanaa’s street, contributing to make the environment more prone to any bacterial disease.

On top of all this Yemen is facing a severe food shortage, to the point that the United Nations repeatedly warned that 17 million Yemeni citizens are on the brink of famine and the country is suffering from one of the world’s worst hunger crisis. Children are suffering the most; according to UNICEF there are currently “462,000 children are currently suffering from severe acute malnutrition – a nearly 200 per cent increase since 2014.”

“What is happening today exceeds the capabilities of any healthy health system, so how can we (cope) when we are in these difficult and complicated conditions,” Yemen’s news agency Saba quoted the Houthi-run administration’s health minister Mohammed Salem bin Hafeedh as saying.

Cholera was perhaps the last thing Yemen needed. The country, the poorest in the Arab world, faces its third year of a war which split the nation between the Shiite Houthi rebels, reportedly supported by Iran, and President’s Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi government, strongly supported by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition. The United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrein, Quatar and to a minor extent Pakistan and Somalia are all part of the coalition.

Recent reports say that a new faction, led by Aidaroos Al Zubaidi, has announced its intention to make the southern part of Yemen independent, where the majority of the oil resources lie, adding more chaos to an already fragmented situation.

Since the beginning of the Arab’s spring in Yemen in 2011, Al Qaida in the Arabic Peninsula (AQAP) has been able to seize the opportunity and establish their control over swathes of land. And, where there is al Qaida, the US army goes. Yemen has become the most recent chapter of America’s war on terror. The US have no presence on the ground and mainly conduct raids and drone attacks alongside Saudi Arabia.

Houthi forces are mainly in control of the northeastern part of the country – where the capital Sanaa is located – and of the crucial Red Sea port of Hodeida.

Despite being less armed and less in numbers they have been capable of inflicting continuous losses to Saudi troops.

This does not seem to worry Saudi’s deputy crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, who said in a recent interview that his country could end the war in a few days by sending the ground force in, but they prefer to wait in order to avoid too many civilian casualties.

According to the UN, nearly 10,000 have already died in Yemen’s war, a conflict which is once again the result of a hegemony struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran in order to establish their primacy over West Asia.

In the meanwhile the Saudi-led coalition is imposing a full-scale blockade against the Houthi-held areas which, given the country’s location, has practically grounded its economy.

The country’s main port of al Hodeidahis under Houthi’s control and its functioning – once crucial in providing all kind of goods to 80 percent of the country – is way below normal with the immediate result of a hike in basic goods prices.

A possible Saudi-led military operation to retake control of the port is on the table, but it could result tremendosuly costly in terms of civilians deaths. The UN has warned of an imminent tragedy in case of fighting involving the port ant the adjacent city where 400,000 people live.

“The Houthis will do whatever they can in order to defend the al Hudaydah port,” says Luca Nevola, research associate at the Yemen College of Middle Eastern Studies. “They know that the port is the only source of whatever goods they need in order to survive, without al Hodeidahthe Houthis will be in great difficulty.”
Saudis have recently renewed their intention to attack the port in order to prevent smuggled weapons to reach the Houthis. The coalition stated that they will open alternative routes, through the ports they control in the south.

Even if the US are fighting alongside Saudi Arabia, they are not expected to take part in an eventual operation to attack the port.

Yemen will most likely be on the table during the discussions that US President Donald Trump will have with the Saudi government during his visit, scheduled for May 19.

‘Weapons’ will also play a role in Trump’s visit; A senior White House official told Reuters that the two countries are rushing to close a series of arm deals worth $100 billion.

Despite disagreement over the al Hodeidah port eventual attack, it does not seem that US support for Saudi Arabia’s role in Yemen’s war is not in doubt.

5. Austria heads for snap elections :-

Austria’s new centre-right leader Sebastian Kurz called on Sunday for snap elections, heralding the imminent collapse of the ruling coalition after months of in-fighting.

Setting up another nail-biting vote in Europe, that could see the populist far-right win power. Kurz said his party’s coalition with the centre-left could not continue.

“The major decisions on the direction that this country takes must be taken by voters,” Kurz told reporters in Vienna after being appointed head of his People’s Party (OeVP).

He said that he would meet on Monday with Chancellor Christian Kern and the president to propose a joint parliamentary motion for elections to be held “after the summer”.

Austria’s unhappy “grand coalition” between Kern’s centre-left Social Democrats (SPOe) and the centre-right OeVP is meant to govern until late 2018.

But after months of failing to agree much in the way of reforms to boost Austria’s lagging economy, the head of the OeVP, Reinhold Mitterlehner, resigned last Wednesday.

Two days later Kurz, who is only 30 and who is seen as the rising star of Austrian politics, called for the coalition to pull the plug.

Earlier on Sunday Kern, 51, who has been chancellor for just a year, had said he was resigned to Austrians going to the polls in the autumn.

The OeVP “made it quite clear that they don’t want (to be in coalition) any more,” Kern said on public TV.

If the vote happens it will set up another tense election in Europe in 2017 following those in the Netherlands and France and the ones scheduled for Britain in June and Germany in September.

It could see Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), currently riding high in opinion polls, enter or even lead a new coalition with the SPOe or the OeVP.

Last year the FPOe’s Norbert Hofer came close to being elected as Europe’s first far-right head of state after losing to pro-EU moderate and former Greens chief Alexander Van der Bellen.

Candidates from the SPOe and the OeVP, which have dominated Austrian politics for decades, failed to make it into the second round for the first time since 1945.

The FPOe’s rise has mirrored that of other populist groupings in Europe on the back of concerns about immigration and terrorism and more established parties failing to connect with voters.

Emmanuel Macron’s victory this month in the French presidential election came after he and Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front knocked out centrist candidates in the first round.

But while the post of Austria’s president is largely ceremonial, with the prospect of early elections the FPOe under leader Heinz-Christian Strache is scenting real power.

The FPOe’s poll ratings have softened in recent months, in part due to the government, and in particular Kurz’s OeVP, lurching more to the right with tough talk on immigration.

But the FPOe is still running neck-and-neck with the SPOe — whose score has risen since Kern took over — on around 30 percent each.

The OeVP is lagging behind in the low 20s. However surveys suggest that Kurz, who is highly popular, could revive his party’s fortunes and even make it the most popular force.

The last time the FPOe entered government was in 2000 when it came joint second with the OeVP in elections under flamboyant former chief Joerg Haider, who died in 2008.

This prompted an outcry in Israel and Europe — with even temporary EU sanctions — that someone who could praise Hitler’s “orderly” employment policies could enter government.

However the reaction is likely to be more muted this time because the party has toned down its rhetoric and because populists have gained ground Europe-wide.

So far neither of Austria’s main parties has openly excluded the possibility of governing alongside the FPOe.


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