This week, once again, Mother Nature dominated the headlines, as she will in the coming days.
Hurricane Irma barrelled its way across the Caribbean, en-route to Florida, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Among the places affected – The Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Barbuda – on the latter it is estimated 95% of buildings have been damaged. Many lives have been lost and millions of people have been caught in Irma’s path. It moved onto Florida where residents were told to either find a safe place to shelter – or get out of town and head north. Garages ran out of fuel, roads were jammed, supermarkets emptied. And following on behind is Hurricane Jose which will make the humanitarian effort now underway all the more difficult.
The extent of the crisis involving Myanmar’s minority Rohingya people became apparent, not because the authorities allowed anyone in to see what’s happening, but because thousands of fleeing Rohingya Muslims made it across to Bangladesh to tell their stories. They spoke of mass killings by the Myanmar military and Buddhist mobs, of rapes, and of villages being burnt,Many survivors took to boats to escape bringing with them little except their misery. Not everyone made it – there are numerous reports of people drowning during the journey.Myanmar’s military denies any wrongdoing and says it is only targeting Rohingya militants who attacked police posts. At least 250,000 refugees have now fled their homes in the past few weeks.
The country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi says the outside world does not understand the complexities of the situation. But this week she continued to face international criticism for failing to condemn the violence. Two Nobel laureates pleaded with their fellow Nobel prize winner. Malala Yousafzai, said the world was waiting to help the Rohingya, Archbishop Desmond Tutu went further. In an open letter, he said he was breaking his vow of silence on public affairs. Tutu wrote that he keeps a photo of Suu Kyi on his desk to remind him of a woman who symbolized “righteousness” in the world. “But” he added “If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep,” .
In Syria Government forces finally made it to the ISIL held city of Deir el-Zour and linked up with the Brigade 137 which had been surrounded by ISIL for almost three years. This coming week they will try to push the remaining hundreds of ISIL fighters there completely out of the city
and into the desert. Some roads are now open allowing in supplies for the tens of thousands of residents previously trapped there. Since early 2016 they had been surviving on high-altitude air drops by the World Food Programme.
In China there was a story which didn’t really make headlines, and the details are not confirmed, but it appears President Xi Jinping’s ongoing drive to ensure the loyalty of the People’s Liberation Army to him continued. He’s conducting a purge of the High Command and on Tuesday it was reported that the Chief of the Joint Staff Department of the military had been detained on corruption charges. That’s the equivalent of the American Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff being arrested…. Xi is clearing a path to total power ahead of the Party Congress next month.
On Wednesday, the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, compared what he felt were anti-Turkey statements by German politicians to ‘Nazism’. This followed Chancellor Merkel’s announcement that she will seek to end talk on Turkey joining the EU if she is re-elected later this month. Relations between the two politicians, and their countries are, to put it mildly, strained, and have been since last year’s coup attempt after which 50,000 people were arrested, among them German citizens. This week Germany’s Foreign Ministry warned its citizens that if they travelled to Turkey, even to tourist areas, they risked arbitrary detention.
Mrs Merkel, and many ordinary Germans, are particularly angry at Erdogan’s call to the 3+ million ethnic Turks in Germany ‘not to give your votes to Turkey’s enemies’ which was seen as interfering in the German election.
Finally, to Spain where the Constitutional court suspended a law passed by the Catalan parliament which gave the go ahead to a vote on independence next month. Despite this Catalan leaders say the vote will be held as planned. Prime Minister Rajoy said he’d gone to court because the referendum would be “illegal’ and ‘intolerable’ and will not be allowed to happen. The Catalan authorities announced plans on how they intend to draw up a new constitution in the event that the referendum (if held) results in a vote for independence. Spain’s Chief Prosecutor said he was asking the security forces to investigate this – and was considering criminal charges against members of the Catalan parliament who had voted in favour of holding a referendum vote.
This is heading towards a physical showdown as election day October 1st – draws closer.
That was the Week that Was.