Politics this week

The squabble over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union intensified in Parliament. MPs in the House of Commons defied the government by passing a bill that seeks a delay to Brexit until January 31st if a deal has not been passed in the chamber by October 19th. Boris Johnson purged the 21 MPs who rebelled against him from the Conservative Party, leaving the prime minister in charge of a government 43 short of a working majority. Mr Johnson now wants to hold an election. He has a lead in the polls—but so did Theresa May before a setback at an election in 2017. See here and here.

In what many considered to be a pre-election giveaway, the government outlined plans to increase spending, which for the first time in 11 years would enlarge the size of the British state relative to GDP. Sajid Javid, the chancellor of the exchequer, said that Britain could “afford to turn the page on austerity”.

HS2, Britain’s controversial high-speed rail project, faced more delays and an estimate for the final bill soared to £90bn ($110bn), or £260m per mile. The project was planned in two phases and originally costed at £30bn in 2010. The escalating price means HS2 is in danger of being derailed.

Members of the Five Star Movement in Italy voted to accept a new government in coalition with their former enemies, the Democrats, to be headed by the incumbent prime minister, Giuseppe Conte. This means that the plan by the hard-right leader of the Northern League, Matteo Salvini, to force an election has failed, for now.

In Germany, the Christian Democrats in Saxony and the Social Democrats in Brandenburg saw off challenges from the hard-right Alternative for Germany in state elections, which means that at the national level, the grand coalition between the CDU and the SPD is likely to continue. See article.

The ringleaders

A military judge set January 11th 2021 as the start date for the trial of the five men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks. The trial, to be held at Guantánamo Bay, may not happen if it is found that the defendants’ statements were extracted under torture. If it does occur Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others will face a court, 20 years after the atrocities.

Thirty-four people died when a fire broke out on a boat chartered for a scuba-diving excursion off the coast of Los Angeles. It was the worst loss of life on a vessel in American waters in four decades.

A bit of a climbdown

Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, said she would formally withdraw the legislation that triggered the past three months of protests in the territory. The bill would have allowed the extradition of criminal suspects to courts on the Chinese mainland. In a leaked off-the-record speech, Mrs Lam said China had no plans to send in the army to control the unrest. See article.

The Chinese Communist Party said its Central Committee would meet on an unspecified date in October. The committee, comprising more than 300 of the country’s most powerful officials, has not met since early last year—the longest gap in decades. It is due to discuss ways of “perfecting” the country’s socialist system.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the diplomat conducting talks with the insurgents of the Taliban regarding an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, declared that the two sides had reached a preliminary deal. The plan is for a quick withdrawal of 5,400 of the 14,000 American troops in the country, followed by the staggered departure of the remainder, provided the Taliban meet certain conditions.

The government of Bangladesh ordered mobile-phone operators to end service in the camps housing Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar, and to stop selling mobile access to residents of the camps. The UN said the move would further isolate the 750,000 Rohingyas, who fled a pogrom backed by the Burmese army in 2017.

Kazakhstan’s president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, promised to ease laws restricting public protests. Police have suppressed sporadic demonstrations against his stage-managed succession to the presidency earlier this year, after the abrupt resignation of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the strongman of 30 years. Mr Tokayev also affirmed Mr Nazarbayev’s daughter Dariga as head of the senate and thus next in line to the presidency.

Seeking shelter

Politics this week 1

Hurricane Dorian, thought to be equal in strength to the most powerful ever recorded in the Atlantic to make landfall, devastated the Bahamas. With sustained winds of up to 185mph (300kph) the storm hit the Abaco islands, which have 17,000 inhabitants, before moving on to Grand Bahama, which has 52,000. It caused the sea to rise nearly eight metres (26 feet) above normal. At least 20 people died.

Iván Márquez, a former second-in-command of the FARC, a guerrilla group that ended its 52-year war against the Colombian state in 2016, announced that he would lead fighters back into battle, accusing Colombia’s government of “shredding” the peace agreement. Most leaders of the FARC, now a political party with seats in congress, condemned Mr Márquez’s return to war. See article.

Police in Guatemala arrested Sandra Torres, the runner-up in the presidential election in August, on charges of violating campaign-finance laws. She claimed that she was being politically persecuted.

No end in sight

The international Red Cross said that as many as 100 people were killed when an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition that is fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen hit a detention centre under rebel control. The Saudis said the centre had been used to store drones. A UN report listed possible war crimes that have been committed in the five-year conflict, which include the use of indiscriminate air strikes.

Israel exchanged fire with Hizbullah, the Lebanese militia-cum-party backed by Iran, in their most serious border clash in years. Israel was responding to a missile attack from Hizbullah, which the militia said was in retaliation for an Israeli drone attack in the suburbs of Beirut.

Police in South Africa arrested 300 people after riots directed at migrants from other parts of Africa broke out in Johannesburg and Pretoria, killing at least five people. Violence against workers from other areas of the continent is relatively common in South Africa, which has an official unemployment rate of 29%.

Pope Francis started a week-long visit to Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius, his second trip to sub-Saharan Africa. See article.

This article appeared in the The world this week section of the print edition under the headline “Politics this week”

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