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INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS - May 2019

May 2019

May 31, 2019

Israel Faces Fresh Poll

  •  Israeli lawmakers voted to dissolve parliament, paving the way for a new election after veteran Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government before a midnight deadline.
  • Netanyahu preferred a new ballot, set for September 17, to the alternative, under which Israeli President Reuven Rivlin could have asked another politician to try and form a ruling coalition.
  • The election, Israel's second this year after an April 9 poll in which Netanyahu claimed victory, means unprecedented upheaval even for a country used to political infighting.

Ship named after McCain kept out of Trump's sight

  •  The White House requested a Navy ship bearing the name of US President Trump's late rival senator John McCain be kept "out of sight" during a recent presidential trip to Japan. 
  • The request came from an official who said he had been briefed on requirements for the visit by the White House Military Office and the Seventh Fleet, which is stationed in Japan. 
  • The order apparently posed a conundrum because the ship was undergoing repairs and would have been difficult to move before Trump arrived to deliver a speech on a neighboring ship.
  • In response, a tarpaulin was hung over the ship's name, which also refers to McCain's father and grandfather.
  • The tarpaulin was removed before Trump arrived, but a barge was moved closer to the ship, blocking the view of its name.

Ramaphosa Announces Gender-balanced Cabinet

  •  South African President Cyril Ramaphosa cut the number of Cabinet Ministers from 36 to 28, in a move that would tackle the country's bloated government.
  • Half the new ministers are women, making South Africa one of the world's few gender-balanced governments.

NZ Unveils 'Well-Being Budget'

  •  New Zealand's government announced that it will spend billions of dollars on mental health services and fighting poverty as part of a new approach to its finances.
  • The government unveiled the country's first so-called "well-being budget". It aims to measure social outcomes like health and the environment alongside traditional metrics such as economic growth.
  • The new approach has been lauded by some internationally but criticised by the conservative opposition as meaningless window-dressing.
  • The budget was the first since a gunman killed 51 people at two Christchurch mosques in March, and it included money for a gun buyback scheme after the government introduced new laws banning the types of semi-automatic weapons often used in mass shootings.
  • The budget also increased funding for the nation's intelligence agencies, which didn't identify the man accused of the slaughter as a potential threat.
  • Overall, new spending was up significantly on previous forecasts.
  • But while government borrowing was predicted to rise, the country's net debt was expected to stay at about 20% of GDP as the size of the economy also expanded.

JMB Joins Hands with LeT

  •  The Narendra Modi government designated Jamaatul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) as a terrorist group in May after intelligence inputs suggested that its leaders in Dhaka have joined hands with the Pakistan-based Lashkar-eTayebba (LeT) to expand the group's activities in India. JMB's chief Salaudin Salehin, through its official media "Al-Ehsar" has already announced the terror group's India chapter JMH for expansion of its jihadist activities in India.
  • According to senior home ministry officials, the JMB had plans to make permanent bases within 10 km of the India-Bangladesh border (on the Indian side) in the districts of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura.
  • The terror group, which espouses the ultra-hardline ideologies of the Islamic State, has also been spreading its network in South India with the overarching motive of establishing a Caliphate in the Indian sub-continent.
  • This was revealed during the interrogation of Jahidul Islam, who along with his 12-member action team was arrested in connection with the 2018 Bodhgaya blast.
  • According to Islam, who hails from Bangladesh, Gaya and other iconic Buddhist centres in India were the intended targets of the JMB as a part of their revenge for the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and to express solidarity with Rohingya Muslims.
  •  JMB cadres have increasingly been using madrasas in Burdwan and Murshidabad districts of West Bengal for training of their militant cadres.
  • Their training programmes include sessions on fabrication of shaped improvised explosive devices (IEDs), religious indoctrination, and physical exercises including target practice.
  • According to a home ministry report, the JMB has spread rapidly in Assam with the terrorist group organizing capsule courses under the cover of Tablighi Jamaat, a proselytising group, to train local Muslim youth and radicalize them.
  • The report confirms three-day courses at Larkuchi under Mukalmuwa police station, at Jogipara in Darrang district, at Barpeta district, and one-day courses at Borigoan mosque and at Panpara in Barpeta district. The JMB was proscribed by Bangladesh on February 23, 2005 while India banned it on May 23.
  • The report says that in mid2016 JMB chief Salaudin directed some of his cadres to impart bomb training to Samim of Assam and Maulana Yusuf of Bardhaman at Dhubri in Assam. The JMB group assembled for training in Dhubri but were prevented from doing so by local Muslim house owners. Five cases were registered in Assam against the JMB.
  • The JMB's network is especially active in all Muslim majority districts of Assam and in West Bengal as these areas are close to their strongholds in northern and north-western Bangladesh. Activities of JMB have also been noticed in Jharkhand, especially Sahebganj and Pakur district. The group uses cross-border matrimonial alliances as a way to establish bases in India.

May 30, 2019

Pakistan Extends Airspace Ban on Indian Flights

  • Pakistani authorities decided to extend a ban on commercial flights to and from India using its airspace until June 15. The ban was originally set to last until the end of May.
  • Losing heavily on overflying charges, Pakistani officials say they are keen to remove airspace restriction for airlines flying to and from India, provided New Delhi decreases army build-up on the border between the two neighbouring countries.
  • In February, the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority announced the closure of the country's airspace for commercial flights.

Maldives Ex-president Elected Speaker

  • The Maldives's Parliament overwhelmingly voted Mohamed Nasheed as the Speaker of the house. He received 67 votes from among 87 members. The Speaker in Maldives also has a role in the Judicial Services Commission that regulates the Supreme Court.

May 29, 2019

Sri Lanka, Japan and India to Develop Container Terminal

  •  Sri Lanka, Japan and India signed an agreement to jointly develop the East Container Terminal at the Colombo Port.
  • The joint initiative is estimated to cost between $500 million and $700 million.
  • As per the agreement signed, the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) retains 100% ownership of the East Container Terminal (ECT), while the Terminal Operations Company is jointly owned.
  • Sri Lanka will hold a 51% stake in the project and the joint venture partners will retain 49%. The ECT is located some three km away from the China-backed international financial city, known popularly as "Port City".

Iran Says No Mediation

  •  As Iran played down the chances of a military clash with Washington, Iran's Foreign Ministry insisted it did not currently see the need for mediation with the U.S.
  • Iran is locked in a standoff with the U.S. which has beefed up its military presence in the West Asia over alleged threats from the Islamic republic.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump had said that U.S. would like to talk if Iran was ready.

NIA Team in Lanka

  •  A two-member team of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), led by inspector general Alok Mittal, reached Colombo to discuss with Sri Lankan authorities the Indian links of radical Muslims who carried out the Easter Sunday attacks in the island nation.
  • The purpose of the visit is not to probe the coordinated bombings on April 21 that left 258 people dead, but to exchange information on suspects and about people based in Tamil Nadu and Kerala who likely have links with the National Towheed Jamaath (NTJ), which is suspected to have masterminded the attacks.

May 28, 2019

Sebastian Kurz Loses No-confidence Vote

  •  Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz lost a no-confidence vote in Parliament, removing him and his Cabinet from office over a corruption scandal that brought has down his coalition government.
  • The move comes in the wake of the so-called 'Ibiza-gate' scandal, which saw Freedom Party leader and Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache resign from both posts after he was caught appearing to offer public contracts in return for campaign help from a fake Russian backer.

May 27, 2019

Challenges for Britain's Next PM

  •  The ruling Conservative Party began the process of choosing a new Prime Minister (PM) for Britain following Theresa May's announcement that she will resign on June 7. 
  • The next PM will face the same political minefield that Ms May was unable to navigate. 
  • There will be three main sources of danger. One is bridging the gaps within the Conservatives about what sort of Brexit will Britain carry out. This division, and the seeming impossible task of finding a middle path between hardline "no deal Brexiteers" and those who want some sort of soft economic union, has been the primary reason the May prime ministership failed. Two is ensuring that any such resolution will not drive large numbers of voters into the hands of the new right-wing Brexit party or towards the liberal left opposition. Finally, to then sell any Brexit deal to the European Union and, preferably, find means to smoothen the sharper economic consequences of a clean break.
  • The problem is Britain is no closer to a viable Brexit plan than before. The Conservatives now seem set to choose a hardline Brexiteer as the next PM. 
  • If so, this will bring Britain the closest it has been so far to a full break with the EU, without any sort of economic union. 
  • This will deliver a sharp economic cost to Britain, driving its economy into recession and making it far less attractive as an investment site for Indian and other foreign investors.
  •  Since it is assumed this will not be palatable to any PM, a new round of intra-party squabbling can be expected.
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