SYRIA/RAQQA – It looks increasingly likely that an assault on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa will begin within weeks. U.S backed Syrian opposition forces, including the Kurds, will lead the operation. Coalition aircraft have recently been dropping leaflets on the city urging civilians to flee. IS will attempt to prevent this in order to use them as human shields.
IRAQ/JORDAN – In a sign of how much territory Islamic State has lost the Trebil border crossing between Iraq and Jordan is to reopen by the end of the month. The crossing has been closed for almost a year due to IS activity in Iraq’s Anbar province but recent Government successes have pushed the group further away.
EU/VISAS – EU countries have agreed a formula to suspend visa free travel for non EU countries in times of emergency. Citizens from several countries can currently travel in the EU without needing a visa, the new formula allows an ‘emergency brake’ on this. The agreement may persuade some EU states to accept visa travel for Turks.
TAJIKISTAN/RELIGION – People have begun voting on a law banning religion-based political parties. The law appears to be aimed at the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party. The new law also seeks to scrap the limits on the number of terms a president can serve.
COMING UP – Things only got worse last week in Venezuela and that is likely to be true of this week. The Pope is trying to mediate but will probably be rebuffed, last week he sent a letter to the Venezuelan President, the contents of which are not known. (See Diary). The Greek bailout will continue to divide Germany from the IMF and several EU states. Germany will insist that any debt relief for Greece should come after next year’s German general election. By the end of today we should know the results of the Austrian presidential runoff election. Norbert Hofer of the far right Freedom Party was ahead late last night but the postal votes had not yet been counted. If he does win it will boost the extreme rights chances of winning parliamentray elections.
May 23 – European Commission to publish opinion on the rule of law in Poland following Warsaw’s controversial constitutional and media reforms.
May 24 – Eurozone finance ministers meet in Brussels. Top of the agenda – Greece.
May 24 – Vatican’s de facto Foreign Minister in Venezuela.
May 25 – Youth wing of Zimbabwe’s ruling party holds a ‘million-man march’ to show support for President Mugabe. Good luck with that.
May 25/28 – President Obama in Japan for G7. Will also visit Hiroshima.
May 28 – President Putin in Greece.
May 28 – 10th parliament of Iran (Majlis) opens.