Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi wins DR Congo presidency, says commission; Felix Tshisekedi has won Congo’s presidential election, the election commission has announced. Tensions were high ahead of the delayed results from the long-anticipated vote to replace President Joseph Kabila. The election to replace the Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Joseph Kabila became a race between his chosen successor Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a former interior minister, and main opposition candidates Martin Fayulu, a former Exxon Mobil manager, and Felix Tshisekedi, the son of late opposition figure Etienne Tshisekedi. Early Thursday, the electoral commission announced that Tshisekedi had won. He received more than 7 million of the 18 million votes cast (38 percent), the commission said.
Italy’s Matteo Salvini woos Poland’s populists; A “new European Spring” to replace the “French-German axis” has been coined by Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini while visiting Polish populists. His foray precedes the EU’s parliamentary election in May. Euroskeptic Salvini vowed Wednesday to create a “new equilibrium,” with Italy and Poland as the “protagonists” of a “new European Spring” based on “true Christian values” via a 10-point program that had still not been fully defined. Salvini’s “spring” terminology was reminiscent of 2010, when the Arab Spring began in Tunisia and spread during 2011 to Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, often ending in repressive regimes and brutal warfare.
EU Medicines Agency makes Brexit move to Amsterdam; The agency will move into temporary offices while its new headquarters are being built. It is the second EU agency to leave Britain as a result of the UK’s pending divorce from the bloc.The Netherlands rolled out the orange carpet for European Medicines Agency Executive Director Guido Rasi on Wednesday, presenting him with a pair of clogs to mark his agency’s relocation from London to Amsterdam. The EMA’S new €300 million ($346 million) headquarters is currently under construction, so its 900 employees will first work out of temporary offices near the city’s main train station until November. The EMA, which is the EU’s regulatory agency for the quality and safety of medicine, was forced to move as a result of Brexit. Amsterdam beat out Milan in a tiebreak vote to host the agency in November 2017. The EMA is the second EU agency to make such a move. The European Banking Authority has relocated to Paris as a result of Brexit as well.
Australia: Man arrested over suspicious parcels sent to embassies; Police have arrested a man after suspicious packages were received by numerous foreign embassies and consulates across Australia. Affected countries included Germany, the US and UK. he 48-year-old suspect was arrested at his home in Shepparton, in the southern state of Victoria, federal and state police said in a joint statement on Thursday. Numerous diplomatic missions in the Australian cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra received suspicious packages this week, with several consulates and embassies temporarily evacuated or put on lock-down on Wednesday.
Russian activist Oyub Titiev: One year behind bars in Chechnya; Oyub Titiev of the Russian human rights organization Memorial was arrested in January 2018 on drug charges. Still imprisoned one year later, his colleagues say the allegations are entirely fabricated. Oyub Titiev became head of Memorial’s Grozny office in 2009, succeeding Natalia Estemirova, who was kidnapped and murdered. As a leading human rights activist, Titiev urged that kidnappings, acts of torture and killings reportedly perpetrated by Chechen security agencies be thoroughly investigated. He also called for inquiries into war crimes perpetrated during both Chechen wars. Moreover, Titiev was engaged in humanitarian work, including rebuilding schools in the mountainous regions of Chechnya.
Brexit endgame: May suffers fresh defeat in parliament; British Prime Minister Theresa May has suffered another setback in parliament. UK lawmakers voted to force her government to come up with an alternative plan for leaving the European Union if, as expected, her current Brexit deal is rejected.
Atheism grows in Turkey as Recep Tayyip Erdogan urges Islam; More and more Turks are turning to atheism. That could very well have to do with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly theocratic politics, observers say. According to a recent survey by the pollster Konda, a growing number of Turks identify as atheists. Konda reports that the number of nonbelievers tripled in the past 10 years. It also found that the share of Turks who say there adhere to Islam dropped from 55 percent to 51 percent. “There is religious coercion in Turkey,” said 36-year-old computer scientist Ahmet Balyemez, who has been an atheist for over 10 years. “People ask themselves: Is this the true Islam?” he added. “When we look at the politics of our decision-makers, we can see they are trying to emulate the first era of Islam. So, what we are seeing right now is primordial Islam.” Balyemez said he grew up in a very religious family. “Fasting and praying were the most normal things for me,” he said. But then, at some point, he decided to become an atheist.
Syrian Kurds capture German, seven other foreign ‘Islamic State’ fighters; The group of eight fighters included a German and a 16-year-old American. The US-backed Kurds are battling a last pocket of Islamist militants in eastern Syria. Representatives from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is part of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) battling “Islamic State” (IS) in Syria, announced Wednesday that they had captured eight foreign nationals fighting among IS’s ranks. SDF official Redur Xelil said: “The group was preparing to carry out terrorist attacks against the SDF. Also, we believe that the group was behind some of the attacks carried out against the SDF in recent days.” Among those captured were a 31-year-old German , reportedly from Dortmund, and a 16-year-old American. Other fighters captured were Russian, Ukrainian, Kazakh, Tajik and Uzbek nationals. German prosecutors reportedly knew of the Geman, identified as Lukas G. in line with German privacy laws, as having been radicalized in Dortmund. Der Spiegel news magazine reported that security agencies lost track of him and that he traveled to Syria in 2014, according to information provided to the Federal Criminal Police (BKA). Prosecutors started an investigation into G. in October 2016, suspecting him of being a member of a foreign terrorist organization. Officials at the time had no indication G. had a high position within IS.
Spain’s far-right Vox to back conservative bid to govern in Andalusia; The conservative Popular Party (PP) and centre-right Ciudadanos, which together have 47 seats in the 109-seat regional parliament in Andalusia following a December 2 election, needed the support of Vox to form a coalition government which would oust the Socialists from power in the region after 36 years. The vote in the regional parliament on the formation of a new government could take place on January 16. “Vox and the Popular Party agree to support during the first vote in parliament the candidate (for the head of the government of Andalusia) proposed by the Popular Party,” the two parties said in a statement.
China factory gate inflation dives as trade war rumbles on; The cost of producing goods in China’s factories slowed sharply in December, a sign demand remains weak as the US trade war drags on, while consumer inflation also flagged, official data showed Thursday. The producer price index (PPI) — an important barometer of the industrial sector that measures the cost of goods at the factory gate — rose 0.9 percent on-year in December, compared with a 2.7 percent rise the previous month. The reading marks the lowest growth since September 2016, and fell short of forecasts in a Bloomberg News survey. A slowdown in factory gate inflation reflects sluggish demand, while a turn to deflation could dent corporate profits. It “may enter negative territory very soon given the negative sequential growth it already recorded”, Goldman Sachs economists forecast. “This disinflation is reflected already in the industrial profit data, which entered negative territory,” they wrote in a research note. The consumer price index (CPI) — a key measure of retail inflation — rose 1.9 percent, compared with 2.2 percent in November. “Both readings fell short of market forecasts,” said Nomura economist Lu Ting. “Rapidly falling inflation, especially factory-gate PPI inflation, is further evidence that China?s economy is slowing at a worrying pace. Slumping PPI inflation suggests corporate earnings will almost surely continue to fall in coming months.” Lu said the PPI was expected to turn negative, which would put “further downward pressure on China’s growth”.
Moon looks to resume inter-Korean projects; South Korean President Moon Jae-in has expressed willingness to resume inter-Korean economic projects. Moon addressed the public on Thursday ahead of his New Year’s press conference. He stressed that the dramatic improvement in inter-Korean relations was achieved by his administration. Moon said the South Korean people opened up the path of peace last year. He said they became the main players in the issues on the Korean Peninsula and took control of their own fate. The South Korean president expressed hope that the second US-North Korea summit will be held soon. Moon also referred to a comment that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made in his New Year address. Kim said he is ready to reopen the Kaesong industrial complex and Mount Kumgang tours without conditions. Moon said problems have been resolved between the two Koreas towards resuming these projects and he suggested pushing for the lifting of international sanctions. He said South Korea will cooperate with the international community, including the United States, to quickly resolve the remaining issue of sanctions. His remarks underscore the difference in South Korea’s position from the United States and Japan, which say they will keep sanctions in place unless North Korea takes concrete steps for denuclearization.
Xinhua: Kim eager for 2nd summit with Trump; China’s state-run Xinhua news agency says North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to work toward a good result at a second summit with US President Donald Trump. Kim was visiting China through Thursday. He held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday and Wednesday in Beijing. In an initial report on the content of meetings, Xinhua said Xi told Kim he supports a second US-North Korea summit. The Chinese leader reportedly indicated his hope that Pyongyang and Washington would meet each other halfway and resolve their concerns through dialogue. Kim was quoted as saying Pyongyang will continue to seek denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and try to resolve outstanding issues through dialogue and negotiation. Kim reportedly called on other countries to respect any reasonable concerns his country has, and to address them proactively so a comprehensive resolution to issues concerning the Korean Peninsula can be reached. Kim’s trip to China was his fourth as North Korea’s top leader. Observers say Kim wanted to bolster ties with China, his country’s main supporter, as preparations take shape for a second summit with Trump. They say China wanted to show off its close ties with the North, and to highlight its own profile. State-run China Central Television aired footage on Wednesday showing Kim visiting a pharmaceutical company in Beijing to see the production of traditional Chinese medicine. Kim was seen with a product in hand, listening to the explanations of employees.
Iran says it has detained US citizen; Iran’s Foreign Ministry says the country has arrested an American citizen, named Michael White, in the eastern city of Mashhad. Foreign ministry spokesperson Bahram Qassemi made the announcement on Wednesday. He said the case is under investigation. But he didn’t reveal details, such as when and on what charges White was detained. The New York Times reports that his mother says the man is a US Navy veteran and has not returned to the US after visiting his Iranian girlfriend. She said White should have boarded a flight in July last year to leave Iran. The US State Department says in a statement that it is aware of the reports of White’s alleged detention, but would not comment further due to privacy concerns. The incident comes amid rising tensions between the two countries. President Donald Trump’s administration is increasing pressure by imposing sanctions on Iran. Observers say the detention of the US citizen could escalate the confrontation.
US group: N.Korea may be enriching uranium; A US research group says North Korea may be operating its uranium enrichment facility at the Nyongbyon nuclear site. The 38 North group on Wednesday released its analysis of satellite images of Nyongbyon. In a photo taken on December 19th, there is no snow on the roof of a building that’s believed to house centrifuges. The group says this indicates the building is emitting heat, suggesting the uranium enrichment facility is in operation. Previous analyses show repair work for a reactor cooling system at the site. The latest images confirm the work is ongoing. North Korea said at the inter-Korean summit in September last year that it is ready to shut down the Nyongbyon nuclear site if the US takes reciprocal steps. Observers say the North aims to maintain its nuclear development capability while keeping a close eye on the US.