The end of uncertainty? How the 2019 federal election might bring stability at last to Australian politics



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With the Coalition and Labor presenting several policy differences, this can be seen as a very ideological election.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

This is part of a major series called Advancing Australia, in which leading academics examine the key issues facing Australia in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election and beyond. Read the other pieces in the series here.


For the second federal election out of three, a change of government is in prospect a long time out from voting day.

Labor has been consistently ahead in the polls, despite its leader, Bill Shorten, remaining unpopular. It’s a repeat of 2013, when the Coalition had polled strongly through the government’s term while opposition leader Tony Abbott’s ratings were low.

But campaigns can count, and upsets can come, as happened dramatically in 1993. Right up to the Saturday of that poll, the Keating Labor government had appeared doomed. But it snatched “the sweetest victory of them all”, thanks to a scare offensive against the Coalition’s radical reform program and a faltering performance by opposition leader John Hewson.

A key point about this next election is that, whichever side wins in May, the incoming government will inherit a bitter, sceptical, exhausted electorate.

Australians are over their politicians. All the stridency, the bad behaviour, the lying, the relentless campaigning, the judgment by opinion poll, and the media shrillness have taken their toll on the tolerance of the average voter.

The election will be fought in this climate of unprecedented public distrust of politics and cynicism about its practitioners.

This disillusionment has been turbo-charged by the bipartisan cannibalism that’s toppled multiple prime ministers in a remarkably short period.

If Labor wins, polling analyst John Stirton says:

… it will be the second change of government in a row that will be a negative change rather than a positive change. Negative in the sense that voters may once again elect an unpopular opposition leader, with their desire to get rid of a poorly performing incumbent government outweighing any concerns they may have about the opposition that will replace it.

The public sullenness will make the task of the next government harder, whether Labor or Coalition.

Contrast the mood in 1983, when Labor’s Bob Hawke was given power by voters who had not only wanted to embrace him personally, but felt more trust towards leaders generally than today. Though it wasn’t smooth sailing, this helped the Hawke government undertake major, difficult reforms. He was even afforded a degree of tolerance when he broke some promises.

In 2007, Australians were also in a relatively positive frame of mind when they turned to Kevin Rudd. Since then, the national mood has gone downhill.

Labor went through self-imposed hell between 2010 and 2013, set off by the ill-judged 2010 dumping of Rudd. But out of office it recovered remarkably quickly.

Labor’s bold ‘big target’ approach

As the opposition shaped up over the past two terms, it has made relatively few major mistakes (Shorten’s boast that his MPs had no problems under Section 44 of the Constitution was one).

Of course, that assumes being bold and taking big risks with policy doesn’t turn out to be the ultimate mistake.

Labor has eschewed the “small target” approach favoured by John Howard in 1996 and indeed Rudd in 2007.

Its proposed crackdowns on negative gearing and cash refunds for franking credits are designed to maximise its pot of spending money as well as fix flaws in the tax system.

Monash University’s Paul Strangio, an expert on prime ministers, suggests this “policy adventurism” may also have been motivated by Labor’s determination to obtain a positive mandate for government. After all, the rot began for the Abbott government when measures in its 2014 budget were not just harsh but unflagged in
opposition.

But Labor’s controversial policies leave it exposed to scare campaigns. Each measure has a significant number of losers, and retirees, especially, are highly sensitive to anything that hits their cash flow.

Border security is one area where Labor has tried to stay as close as possible to the government. But it had little choice but to back the crossbench-initiated legislation facilitating medical transfers from Manus Island and Nauru. Despite Shorten securing “middle ground” amendments, this opened another front for Coalition scare tactics.




Read more:
View from the Hill: Shorten’s victory will bring dangerous counter strikes from a desperate government


Shorten has kept an impressive degree of unity and discipline in his party, despite the obvious ambitions of his rival Anthony Albanese, whose gloved hand was ready to strike if the opposition leader did badly in the July 2018 Super Saturday byelections.

But many questions remain about Shorten. Strangio raises an important one:

While he has been an effective manager of a team in opposition, how will this translate into government – for example, what degree of licence will he give to senior ministers like Chris Bowen?

Coalition its own worst enemy

In contrast to Labor, the Coalition has squandered this parliamentary term – and, for that matter, the one before. Its follies have given the opposition repeated advantages.

After a bad campaign, Malcolm Turnbull had the closest of calls in 2016, being returned with a one-seat majority and a bitterly fractured Liberal Party. A vengeful Abbott led the dissent, determined to inflict revenge for the 2015 coup that had ousted him.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: 2018, the year of governing badly


The Liberals have presented to the public as warring tribes who can’t agree on policy or personnel. Infighting over ideology – especially on energy policy – and leadership climaxed last August with Turnbull’s overthrow and the installation of Scott Morrison, beneficiary of a putsch instigated by Peter Dutton.

The Coalition’s leadership chaos resulted in Malcolm Turnbull being overthrown in favour of Scott Morrison.
AAP/Sam Mooy

The rise of an aggressive right within the Liberals, and voters’ growing antipathy towards the main parties, have encouraged the popularity of “community” independents.

Those of particular interest in this election are pitching to progressive, right-of-centre voters in heartland conservative seats. Several are backed by strong local citizen movements and are attracting significant funding.

Eyes will focus on whether Zali Steggall can dislodge Abbott in Warringah, and Kerryn Phelps can retain Wentworth, which she won at the byelection following Turnbull’s departure. Julia Banks, the member for the Victorian seat of Chisholm who defected from the Liberals to the crossbench, is making a bid in Flinders against Health Minister Greg Hunt.

In a separate category is former independent MP Rob Oakeshott, part of the balance of power in the Gillard years, who is a threat to the Nationals in the New South Wales seat of Cowper.

While the highly visible push from independent candidates is a feature of this election, and voter angst puts wind in their sails, the House of Representatives’ electoral system will limit their success.

A clear choice of ideologies

This can be seen as a very ideological election. Labor, focusing on “fairness” and “inequality”, is proposing higher taxes. And while careful to keep its program fiscally responsible, it is fanning workers’ discontents and talking up the need to reverse cuts in penalty rates and stimulate wages growth.

The Liberals have struggled, largely because of their internal rifts, to craft a narrative about what they stand for. Nowhere has this been more evident than in energy policy. Rejecting a carbon tax was a successful political battering ram in 2013, but carbon mitigation has turned into a nightmare issue for the Coalition ever since.

An approach that plans to subsidise new power projects and threatens errant energy companies with draconian actions, even divestiture, is an extraordinary landing place for a Liberal government.

The government has doubled down on its “direct action” policy by announcing $2 billion for emission reduction projects over the coming decade from January 2020.

Instead of being accepted as a practical challenge that needs substantial bipartisanship to underpin investment, the Coalition has made energy policy and climate change perhaps the most divisive ideological battleground of contemporary Australian politics.

Business watches with despair: in the past three years, it has been willing to get behind various policies (most recently the National Energy Guarantee) only to see them fall victim to infighting. It is an open question whether the next term will bring any long-term resolution in this most crucial policy area.

We can group the dominant issues in this election under the rubric “economic”.

These range from the government’s boast about economic management and its claim the economy would weaken under Labor, through to stagnant wages growth and Bowen’s assertion that “under the Liberals, the economy is not working for working people”.

The economic umbrella also covers competing income tax cuts and the broader battle over taxation, with the government homing in on Labor’s proposed imposts.

A contest of voter interests

Ian McAllister, director of Australian National University’s long-running Australian Election Study, observes that “the new battleground on tax is people’s assets not their income” – that’s housing (owner plus investment), shares, superannuation. And this is in the context that “Australia has more money in personal assets than any other country of a similar or larger size”.

McAllister also sees this as “almost a generational election”. The millennials in particular “have a lot of pressures on them – they are having difficulties breaking into the housing market, they feel they are not economically prosperous. It affects their level of trust in the political system, in politicians and in democracy.”

Notable, and complicating the campaigning challenges for government and opposition, is the geographical divide, epitomised by Victoria versus Queensland, and requiring varied messages. One insider quips it is “doctors’ wives [progressive Liberal voters who are deserting] versus rednecks”.

After Super Saturday, all the talk in the Coalition was about Queensland, which is loaded with marginal seats. The government’s failure to wrest Longman from Labor fed into the subsequent Dutton assault on Turnbull.

But then came the November 2018 Victorian state election rout of the Liberals. Suddenly the government was looking south, fearing big losses in that state.

In Queensland, the Coalition grapples with fragmentation on the right, with the Hansonites, the Katterites and Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party chipping away at its vote. The Liberals and Nationals are joined in one party in that state; if the Nationals were still separate they might be better placed to contain the problem.

The election matrix is complex. Government and opposition have their national messages, but they must also tailor their appeals to different parts of the country, as well as to each electorate. It’s not quite true that “all politics is local”, but it’s half true and may be becoming more so.

Beyond that, whether in the old-fashioned way (door-knocking) or by using modern data collection and individually tailored, targeted online communications tools, the parties pursue the individual voter.

Normally, a government behind in the polls will have some fat to absorb the first brunt of a swing. Not so this time. “The government has to win seats to survive,” says ABC election analyst Antony Green. Taking into account the redistribution, the government will go into the election with a notional 73 seats, with Labor on 72.

This election is special for the upper house, because the voting changes made by the Turnbull government will operate for the first time in a half-Senate poll. With the seats of 13 crossbenchers (including Greens) in play, Green says they’ll be lucky if half get back.

He predicts a Labor government should have a significantly easier time with the Senate than the current government has had. Indeed, so should a returned Coalition government, “because the crossbench must shrink”.

In search of stability

One of the most important imponderables about the election is this: will it produce more stability?

Remember that apart from the coups, since 2010 we’ve had two hung parliaments, the second resulting from the loss of Wentworth.

On the leadership front, things should be better. Both major parties have responded to the prime ministerial turnover with rule changes that essentially provide that the next PM, whether Shorten or Morrison, will not face an internal challenge during the term (albeit no rule is immutable).

If there is a Coalition victory, it surely could not be anything but a very close result, even a hung parliament. After the first flush of surprised exultation, the fight for the soul of the Liberal Party would likely resume.

If Labor wins with a solid majority, that probably would restore some more general stability – although the tyranny of the opinion polls suggests caution about such a prediction.

Strangio asks:

Will the mantle of office finally secure for Shorten some belated goodwill from the electorate? If not, and voters remain grudging to him and polls precipitously head south for his administration, we may be condemned to yet another period of instability and poor, reactive government.

Some electoral goodwill is necessary for effective, and certainly for reformist, government over the longer term.

But if voter disillusionment and distrust have become so heavily ingrained in the electorate’s psyche, it is hard to either prescribe or expect a cure.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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What needs to be done to make Africa politically stable



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Africa needs average economic growth of over 7% for several decades if it’s to reduce poverty and increase income levels.
Shutterstock

Jakkie Cilliers, University of Pretoria

Levels of armed conflict flux and wane. In 2017, levels of high fatality violence in Africa were significantly lower than during the immediate post-Cold War period. This trend has occurred in spite of the recent increases in terrorist associated fatalities in key countries such as Nigeria and Somalia. Even terrorist fatalities have declined since 2015.

But the continent is still witnessing an increase in social turbulence, unrest and protest. This is being driven by development, urbanisation and modernisation, all of which are inevitably disruptive. Development has been driven by the fact that, since 1994, Africa has experienced the longest sustained period of growth since decolonialisation in the sixties.

The other major factor driving unrest is the fact that democracy is expanding on the continent. Pressure is mounting on autocracies. We therefore shouldn’t be surprised by widespread violence in countries ranging from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to Burundi and Uganda. And in countries run by small elites or a family – such as Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.

In the long term only rapid, inclusive economic growth combined with good governance can make Africa less volatile.

But how can it achieve this? What’s needed is a combination of sound economic policies, an attack on corruption and theft by ruling elites, a deepening of democracy and a rethink of the approach taken to the threat of terrorism.

The economics

At current population growth Africa needs average economic growth rates in excess of 7% per year for several decades if it’s to reduce poverty and increase average levels of income. This is unlikely. Current forecasts estimate average rates of growth of around half of that.

Perhaps more importantly, Africa needs to find ways of reaping its demographic dividend – that is decreasing the number of dependants, mostly children, compared to persons of working age (15 to 65 years of age). Traditionally this is best achieved through improvements in female education, but the provision of water, sanitation and access to contraceptives can play a huge role. This is reflected in a recent study we did on the future of Ethiopia that has seen more rapid reductions in fertility rates than other countries at similar levels of development.

Africa also needs to place employment in formal sector at the centre of government policy. This, in turn, requires diversification of African economies as well as much higher levels of foreign investment and engagement.

When it comes to investment and development aid the Institute for Security Studies found that middle income countries are making progress in attracting foreign direct investment, but poor countries remain aid dependent.

Although aid is going out of fashion in favour of measures to involve the private sector, it will remain important for low income countries. It allows governments to deliver services such as water, sanitation and education more than they would otherwise be able to do. These investments in human capital development will deliver large benefits and will have long term positive effects.

Another area of focus should be on supporting the rule of law and the delivery of effective taxation systems. Basics such as national identity systems, effective border control and a functioning criminal justice systems are often absent.

Democracy, extremism and security responses

Many people across a wide range of countries on the continent are stepping up their demands for more democracy. Despite many setbacks, democratisation continues to advance year on year.

Doing these two things simultaneously – building government capacity and responding to demands for democracy – is difficult. Marginalisation, a lack of voice, a lack of accountability often lies at the heart of instability in a continent that has experienced autocracy and bad governance for decades.

Regional organisations (such as the Southern African Development Community and the Central African Economic Monetary Community need to take accountable governance seriously.

Unless this happens, there’s a real danger that the draw of extremist groups will escalate.

Accountable governance should also extend to the security sector where reform is perhaps the single most important component in countering violent extremism. the continent’s military, policy, gendarme and intelligence systems are generally not held to account, they act with impunity and are often the source of many problems. Instead of protecting and serving they kill, loot and rape.

Both the ISS and the UNDP have concluded that action by security forces – such as the killing or arrest of a family member – often serves as the tipping point that triggers the final decision to join an extremist group.

In addition, Africa seems to have bought into the US war on terror approach which is to rely on the military. In fact, terrorism requires an intelligence, prosecution, and rule of law approach. African countries would be well advised to revert to an intelligence and policing response rather than a military response to terrorism.

Radicalisation is also fuelled by corruption, theft by ruling elites and tax havens. Africa needs to work with the rest of the world to end tax havens, tax avoidance and money laundering.

Fight for a rules-based world

African countries need to intensify their efforts towards a rules based world, including reform of the UN Security Council, which sits at the apex of global security governance.

But the continent needs to stop hiding behind the Ezulwini consensus – this is the common position taken by African countries on UN reform that advocates for two permanent seats with veto rights and five non-permanent seats for Africa – and start thinking outside the box.

The ConversationReal reform is possible, but it would require a different approach, including ending the system of veto and permanent seats.

Jakkie Cilliers, Chair of the Board of Trustees and Head of African Futures & Innovation at the Institute for Security Studies. Extraordinary Professor in the Centre of Human Rights, University of Pretoria

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump’s tour of Asia-Pacific is vital for the stability of the region



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From an Australian perspective, Donald’s Trump Asian tour could hardly be more important.
Reuters/Yuri Gripas

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Not for several presidential cycles, and perhaps not since Richard Nixon’s visit to China to initial the Shanghai Communique in 1972, has a visit to Asia assumed such significance – and one that is potentially fraught.

US President Donald Trump leaves Washington late this week for a 13-day tour of Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam for APEC, and the Philippines before returning home via Hawaii.

In these two weeks, Trump will be exposed to an Asia-Pacific – or Indo-Pacific – that is undergoing a wrenching transformation against a background of risks to a “long peace”. It is one that has survived more or less intact since the end of Korean War, leaving aside Vietnam.

From an Australian perspective, the Trump Asian tour could hardly be more important, given Canberra’s challenge of balancing its security and economic interests.

An American wrecking ball in the region is the last thing Australia needs, especially one that risks mishandling a North Korean nuclear threat to regional security.

In this regard, Trump’s every utterance, including his contributions to social media, will be scrutinised over the next two weeks by a nervous region.

What is striking about this latest period is the velocity of a geoeconomic shift that is challenging long-held assumptions about US authority in the regional power balance.

Seemingly, the Asia-Pacific region can no longer take for granted a US stabilising role.

As China’s power rises, so does US leverage ebb. This is not a zero-sum game.

The question is how pieces of a kaleidoscope will settle, if indeed they do.

Trump’s Asia tour will enable an assessment of the extent to which the US will remain a reliable regional security partner and a participant in various regional forums.

Former president Barack Obama talked about a “Pacific Century”, involving as it did a US “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific. Trump has not used such terminology.

Indeed, one of his first executive acts was to undo work that had been put into US participation in a region-wide trade initiative – the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) – aimed partly at countering China’s geoeconomic dominance.

This was a hasty, ill-considered decision that sent all the wrong signals about US commitment to building an Asia-Pacific trading and security architecture.

The other 11 TPP signatories, including Australia, are pressing on with attempts to finalise the trade liberalising protocol, but US absence significantly lessens its weight.

It may be unrealistic – given Trump’s bellicose “America First” pronouncements on trade – but Washington would do its regional credibility no harm if it reversed itself on TPP.

On a visit to Australia last month to launch the first volume of his memoir – Not For The Faint-Hearted – former prime minister Kevin Rudd warned of the risks of the end of a period of relative stability.

His warnings were based on a paper produced by the Asia Society Policy Institute – Preserving the Long Peace in Asia – of which he is president.

In a contribution to the East Asia Forum, Rudd asked the question: how can we save Asia’s “long peace” in light of North Korea’s attempts to develop a ballistic missile nuclear capability?

This has been a crisis long in the making, beginning with the Soviet training of North Korean nuclear scientists and engineers after the second world war, the north’s expulsion of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in 2002, and the subsequent series of ballistic and nuclear weapons tests.

The uncomfortable truth is that for the last quarter of a century, the international community has simply been kicking the can down the road. And now, at one minute to midnight, everyone is scrambling on what to do about it.

In Rudd’s view, the Asia-Pacific needs to develop a security understanding – like the Helsinki Accords in Europe – to deal with security challenges, including North Korea and, more broadly, territorial disputes that threaten regional stability.

His preferred option is to bolster the East Asia Summit (EAS) as a regional forum to promote peace and stability. He makes the valid point the EAS has, potentially, the regional heft to undertake such a stabilising role.

Disappointingly, Trump is not planning to stay in the Philippines an extra day for this year’s EAS gathering. It might have been time well spent.

Membership, including the ten nations of the Association of South East Asian Nations, plus China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and the US, means all the main Indo-Pacific players are participants.

This is how Rudd puts it:

The EAS has the mandate to expand its activities in the security domain. The Kuala Lumpur Declaration of 2005 is clear about this. Furthermore, members of the EAS have all signed the Treaty of Amity and Co-operation, which commits partners to peaceful dispute resolution. Moreover, the EAS uniquely has all necessary players around the table.

What is required in all of this is American leadership, but as things stand there is little sign of Washington possessing an overarching vision of where it might take the region in the next stage as China continues to expand its power and influence.

In this regard it is hard to disagree with a Lowy Institute paper – East Asia Policy under Trump. It identified a serious case of drift in American engagement with the region under a president whose knowledge of – and interest in – the Asia-Pacific appears limited at best.

US policy on East Asia is thus on autopilot, which presents two distinct risks. First that of a crisis, whether created by the president or events.

The US faces challenges to its economic leadership from Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, a program of massive infrastructure investment that will enmesh the economies of China and its Asian neighbours, challenges from Chinese attempts to shape regional institutions to its advantage, and to shape a narrative of the region’s future that puts Beijing at its centre.

It also faces challenges from an increasingly capable Chinese military. All this in a region that is becoming increasingly illiberal – and doubtful of US staying power.

This is a fairly bleak assessment of a US ability to engage the Asia-Pacific constructively in this latest period. In fairness to Trump, he remains on a steep learning curve. How all this will play out is anyone’s guess.

What is the case is there is no more important stop of Trump’s itinerary than his visit this coming week to China to engage the newly reinforced ruler Xi Jinping.

The China talks, in the lead-up to APEC in Vietnam, are the linchpin of Trump’s Asian foray. The two leaders exchanged a visit in April this year when Xi visited Trump in Mar-a-Lago.

On that occasion, a novice American president was feeling out his main rival for global leadership. This was a getting-to-know-you opportunity.

However, on this occasion more will be expected of a Trump-Xi encounter on issues like North Korea, concerns over China’s mercantilist behaviour, and its assertiveness in the South China and East China Seas.

While it would be unrealistic to expect a “grand bargain” to emerge between the leaders of a new bipolar world, what is needed is some clear guidance about US priorities amid the confusion that has accompanied Trump’s nine months in the White House.

Laying out some sort of vision for US engagement in the region should be a minimum requirement at a time of considerable uncertainty.

Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations put it this way in a CFR blogpost:

The president can allay regional fears that the United States is commitment-phobic, by reinforcing at each step Washington’s allies and partners are the cornerstone of US engagement in the region. Reiterating the US commitment to freedom of navigation, free trade, and political freedoms will also reassure regional actors that it still makes sense to buy into a regional order underpinned by a US alliance system. Of course, this trip is only the first step in putting the United States on firmer ground in Asia, after many months of confusing signaling and disruptive initiatives.

The ConversationExpectations for Trump’s engagement with the region may be low, but the same could not be said for the stakes at a time of considerable uncertainty and risk.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

China-India border dispute a grim sign for stability in Asia


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The standoff on the Doklam Plateau makes it difficult for either Narendra Modi or Xi Jinping to back down.
Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

Nick Bisley, La Trobe University

Conflict was almost baked into Asia’s post-1945 international order. Taiwan’s contested status following the communist victory in China’s civil war, and the division of the Korean Peninsula are only the most obvious and volatile of Asia’s military hotspots.

Yet one of the region’s most striking features was the way in which, from the 1970s, it was able to foster a remarkably stable international environment in spite of the visible flashpoints in almost all corners of the region. The growth and prosperity enjoyed by so many people would not have been possible had the countries of the region not worked out how to manage their often vast differences.

That period of stability is coming to an end. Asia’s great powers are increasingly jostling with one another for influence, and as they do the region’s old wounds open up again.

The high altitude military stand-off between India and China at the Doklam Plateau, near the tri-border of Bhutan, India and China, is an acute example of how these old problems have been reinvigorated by Asia’s geopolitical flux.

India and China share a border in excess of 3,000 kilometres in length, much of which is disputed by the two behemoths. This has long been a source of friction, including a short and nasty war in 1962 that India lost in humiliating fashion. Most of these have occurred in India’s north on the Chinese side of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Doklam stand-off is notable because it is in the north-east of the country. It started on June 16 when Chinese PLA engineers began work to extend a road that is within territory that is disputed between Bhutan and China, but in which Beijing has been operating freely since at least 2005. The work appeared to be an effort to extend the road closer to India’s border.

In response, Indian military forces crossed the border on June 18 into what it regards as Bhutan – a country with whom Delhi has an agreement to guide its foreign policy – and prevented the road from being constructed.

Beijing’s response to the deployment of Indian forces has been incandescent rage. This is in stark contrast to previous cross-border tensions and standoffs, when China has generally approached the matter with a degree of caution and calm, in public at any rate.

The fulmination is the result of China’s belief that the PLA is operating on sovereign Chinese territory and that India has intervened in its affairs for strategic advantage. This is a particularly neuralgic issue for the PRC.

Since then, both sides have mobilised their forces with at least 100 soldiers on either side eyeballing one another, while India has moved thousands more into close supporting positions.

The public rhetoric on either side is hardening. China has carried out military drills and declared that it is easier “to move a mountain than to shake the PLA”. Foreign Minister Wang Yi bluntly stated that the standoff was entirely India’s fault, and that the troops had to get out of China.

India in turn has accused China of reneging on its agreement not to change the status quo and has rallied international support by using the standoff as another example of China acting as a disruptive force.

Neither disputes the basic facts – China was building a road towards India’s border, while India does not deny contesting PLA forces beyond its own borders – so what motivated their risk-taking?

Delhi’s reasoning is slightly easier to discern. India is at a military disadvantage in most of the border disputes with China. This area is one in which Delhi has the upper hand. It believes China was taking preparatory steps to negate that advantage.

India is also acutely aware that the tri-border area is very close to the Siliguri Corridor, the narrow strip of land that physically connects India to its eastern states that lie between Bangladesh, China and Burma. Defending the corridor is a first order priority for India.

China’s claims that it was merely road building in its own land are disingenuous. It knows that the territory is in dispute with Bhutan and is acutely aware of Indian sensitivities. This was not just a bit of civil engineering, nor was it a case of a rogue PLA unit operating without central clearance.

Many think that China’s move is punishing India for its tilt to Washington and its criticism of the Belt and Road Initiative. The timing was unmistakably intended to embarrass Modi.

It was not by accident that the incident was timed so that it would cast a shadow over the prime minister’s participation in the G20 summit and a meeting with Xi Jinping. It also signalled that, contrary to his strong-man persona, Modi is not able to control the country’s borders and core interests.

Some also see the effort as an attempt to wedge Bhutan. Beijing has been courting Thimpu in the way it has successfully cultivated other South Asian countries such as Sri Lanka. This appears to be a fairly Machiavellian means of pushing another of India’s close partners into the China column.

MIT’s Taylor Fravel, an expert on China’s border disputes, has argued that while China probably did intend to push some strategic agenda, it probably miscalculated the strength of India’s response.

There has been far too much hyperbole about the prospects of this leading to a nuclear war – that is extremely unlikely – but it is also unlikely that this will end in a quickly negotiated diplomatic settlement of the kind that has resolved previous border stand-offs.

Both have positioned themselves in ways that will make backing down quickly very difficult. This crucial bilateral relationship is now at a low ebb, and as the standoff is likely to drag on for a long time, a frosty Sino-India relationship looks set to remain in place.

When we think of difficult great power relationships in Asia, US-China and Japan-China ties tend to predominate. But the crisis in the difficult terrain of the Doklam Plateau reminds us not only that India is an Asian great power, but that the tenor of its relations with China is of crucial strategic significance.

Equally, the tension is a sign of Asia’s new contested and complex geopolitics. This is a world in which American influence is marginal – not just because US Asia policy is on autopilot – and one in which old and long running animosities have been revived by the combustible blend of ambition and wealth.

The ConversationHow Doklam is resolved will tell us a good deal about the extent to which Asia’s great powers can accommodate one another’s interests and recreate the stability of the past. The prospects do not look good.

Nick Bisley, Executive Director of La Trobe Asia and Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Lessons Australia could learn from other countries to strengthen peace and stability



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The war in Syria has been responsible for many of the high number of deaths in wars in recent years.
Reuters/Abdalrhman Ismail

John Langmore, University of Melbourne

There has been an alarming upward trend in the number of deaths in war around the world since 2012.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute concludes that in the first decade of the 21st century, the total number of deaths from organised violence worldwide stabilised at around 35,000. But, by 2014, it had multiplied to 130,000. The small decline to 118,000 in 2015 didn’t reduce the severe global anxiety about armed conflict.

Half of this shocking increase was due to the war in Syria, and much of the rest to the spread of Islamic State (IS). In 2015 the number of state-based conflicts increased steeply to 50, up from 41 in 2014. This is the second highest number since 1945, due almost entirely to IS’s expansion.

However, the Syrian and IS wars are not the causes of the violent conflicts in the 23 other countries. In 2015, war was causing more than 25 battle deaths a year in these countries. They included Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Colombia, Congo, India, Kenya, Mali, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Somalia, South Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and Yemen.

Nor is IS the cause of conflicts in many areas where major violence has not yet erupted, but where it occurs spasmodically or is threatened. These include Burundi, Georgia, Israel and Palestine, Nigeria, Sudan, Western Sahara, and places where terrorists are active.

Neither do these include those situations where participants and observers consider there is a serious possibility of conflict erupting, and where efforts to ease conflict could be of great value. These include Bougainville, the East China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, Myanmar, the Solomon Islands, the South China Sea, and West Papua.

Violent conflict is causing explosive growth in numbers of forcibly displaced people worldwide, numbering 65.3 million in 2015. This is the largest number on record. Of these, 21 million are refugees, more than half of whom are under 18.

The SIPRI Yearbook 2016 argues:

… peace is not being well served by national governments or the array of international institutions, forces and instruments that are currently devoted to enhancing security and international stability.

This disastrous situation led the new UN secretary-general, António Guterres, in his first address to the UN Security Council in January this year to say:

… the priority of everything we do together [must be] preventing conflict and sustaining peace.

He continued:

… we spend far more time and resources responding to crises rather than preventing them.

And:

It has proved very difficult to persuade decision-makers at national and international level that prevention must be their priority.

Therefore, strengthening and professionalising capacity for peacemaking is vital.

In September 2015, Australia joined with every other member country in the UN General Assembly in adopting the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal Sixteen is that all UN members accepted responsibility for promoting “peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development” and for providing “access to justice for all”. The first of the targets under this goal is to:

… significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere.

Australia therefore shares in the global commitment to implement more effective means of peaceful conflict resolution. The question is: how could Australia do that most effectively?

For the last year, the University of Melbourne’s Australian International Conflict Resolution Project has been studying how seven other countries prevent conflict and build peace. The countries studied have been Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the UK and the US; the most detailed attention was given to Canada, Norway and the UK, because they focus substantial attention onto peace processes.

The conclusions focus on possible lessons and recommendations for Australia in how best to respond to conflicts and support peace processes.

Every conflict is different and requires carefully considered action. This might include:

  • preventive diplomacy;

  • the appointment of an expert committee of inquiry;

  • a political mission;

  • use of the good offices of the secretary-general;

  • reference to regional peacemaking agencies or to the UN Security Council;

  • negotiation;

  • conciliation;

  • mediation;

  • arbitration; or

  • reference to an international judicial tribunal.

More training in the range of conflict resolution skills such as mediation would be highly valuable.

Action to resolve or prevent conflict at an early stage is far more cost-effective than attempts to resolve, restore or repair once violent conflict has erupted.

To maximise the long-term effectiveness of Australia’s foreign policies, there would be great value in strengthening Australia’s conflict prevention and resolution capabilities.

The ConversationAiming to strengthen security is a fundamental goal for the process of development. Australia cannot be secure unless the countries in our region also feel secure. It is essential for Australian security that we seek and support additional ways of contributing to the peace and justice in the region and globally.

John Langmore, Professorial Fellow, Melbourne School of Government, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Article: Greece poll – Commonsense in Europe Finally


The link below is to an article reporting on the Greek Poll, which has basically resulted in a commonsense win for Greece. The Euro bailout is really the only answer for Greece on the table. Bring on some stability.

For more visit:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18482415

New Threats, Old Enmity Pummel Nepal’s Christians


Armed group that forced over 1,500 government officials to quit now threatens pastors.

KATHMANDU, Nepal, September 16 (CDN) — A year after police busted an underground militant Hindu organization that had bombed a church and two mosques, Nepal’s Christians are facing new threats.

An underground group that speaks with bombs and has coerced hundreds of government officials into quitting their jobs is threatening Christian clergy with violence if they do not give in to extortion demands, Christian leader said.

The Nepal Christian Society (NCS), an umbrella group of denominations, churches and organizations, met in the Kathmandu Valley yesterday (Sept. 15) to discuss dangers amid reports of pastors receiving phone calls and letters from the Unified National Liberation Front (Samyukta Jatiya Mukti Morcha), an armed group demanding money and making threats. The group has threatened Christian leaders in eastern and western Nepal, as well as in the Kathmandu Valley.

“The pastors who received the extortion calls do not want to go public for fear of retaliation,” said Lok Mani Dhakal, general secretary of the NCS. “We decided to wait and watch a little longer before approaching police.”

The Front is among nearly three dozen armed groups that mushroomed after the fall of the military-backed government of the former king of Nepal, Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah, in 2006. It became a household name in July after 34 senior government officials – designated secretaries of village development committees – resigned en masse, pleading lack of security following threats by the Front.

Ironically, the resignations occurred in Rolpa, a district in western Nepal regarded as the cradle of the communist uprising in 1996 that led to Nepal becoming a secular federal republic after 10 years of civil war.

Nearly 1,500 government officials from 27 districts have resigned after receiving threats from the Front. Despite its apparent clout, it remains a shadowy body with little public knowledge about its leaders and objectives. Though initially active in southern Nepal, the group struck in the capital city of Kathmandu on Saturday (Sept. 11), bombing a carpet factory.

The emergence of the new underground threat comes a year after police arrested Ram Prasad Mainali, whose Nepal Defense Army had planted a bomb in a church in Kathmandu, killing three women during a Roman Catholic mass.

Christians’ relief at Mainali’s arrest was short-lived. Besides facing threats from a new group, the community has endured longstanding animosity from the years when Nepal was a Hindu state; the anti-Christian sentiment refuses to die four years after Parliament declared the nation secular.

When conversions were a punishable offense in Nepal 13 years ago, Ishwor Pudasaini had to leave his home in Giling village, Nuwakot district, because he became a Christian. Pudasaini, now a pastor in a Protestant church, said he still cannot return to his village because of persecution that has increased with time.

“We are mentally tortured,” the 32-year-old pastor told Compass. “My mother is old and refuses to leave the village, so I have to visit her from time to time to see if she is all right. Also, we have some arable land, and during monsoon season it is imperative that I farm it. But I go in dread.”

Pudasaini, who pastors Assembly of God Church, said that when he runs into his neighbors, they revile him and make threatening gestures. His family is not allowed to enter any public place, and he is afraid to spend nights in his old home for fear of being attacked. A new attack occurred in a recent monsoon, when villagers disconnected the family’s water pipes.

“Things reached such a head this time that I was forced to go to the media and make my plight public,” he says.

Pudasaini, his wife Laxmi and their two children have been living in the district headquarters, Bidur town. His brother Ram Prasad, 29, was thrown out of a local village’s reforms committee for becoming a Christian. Another relative in the same village, Bharat Pudasaini, lost his job and was forced to migrate to a different district.

“Bharat Pudasaini was a worker at Mulpani Primary School,” says Pudasaini. “The school sacked him for embracing Christianity, and the villagers forced his family to leave the village. Even four years after Nepal became officially secular, he is not allowed to return to his village and sell his house and land, which he wants to, desperately. He has four children to look after, and the displacement is virtually driving the family to starvation.”

Since Bidur, where the administrative machinery is concentrated, is safe from attacks, Pudasani said it is becoming a center for displaced Christians.

“There are dozens of persecuted Christians seeking shelter here,” he said.

One such displaced person was Kamla Kunwar, a woman in her 30s whose faith prompted her husband to severely beat her and throw her out of their home in Dhading district in central Nepal. She would eventually move in with relatives in Nuwakot.

Pudasaini said he chose not to complain of his mistreatment, either to the district administration or to police, because he does not want to encourage enmity in the village.

“My religion teaches me to turn the other cheek and love my enemies,” he said. “I would like to make the village come to Christ. For that I have to be patient.”

Dozens of villages scattered throughout Nepal remain inimical to Christians. In May, five Christians, including two women, were brutally attacked in Chanauta, a remote village in Kapilavastu district where the majority are ethnic Tharus.

Once an affluent people, the Tharus were displaced by migrating hordes from the hills of Nepal, as well as from India across the border, and forced into slavery. Today, they are considered to be “untouchables” despite an official ban on that customary practice of abuse and discrimination. In the villages, Tharus are not allowed to enter temples or draw water from the sources used by other villagers.

Tharus, like other disadvantaged communities, have been turning to Christianity. Recently five Tharu Christians, including a pastor and two evangelists, were asked to help construct a Hindu temple. Though they did, the five refused to eat the meat of a goat that villagers sacrificed before idols at the new temple.

Because of their refusal, the temple crowd beat them. Two women – Prema Chaudhary, 34, and Mahima Chaudhary, 22 – were as badly thrashed as Pastor Simon Chaudhari, 30, and two evangelists, Samuel Chaudhari, 19, and Prem Chaudhari, 22.

In June, a mob attacked Sher Bahadur Pun, a 68-year-old Nepali who had served with the Indian Army, and his son, Akka Bahadur, at their church service in Myagdi district in western Nepal. Pun suffered two fractured ribs.

The attack occurred after the Hindu-majority village decided to build a temple. All villagers were ordered to donate 7,000 rupees (US$93), a princely sum in Nepal’s villages, and the Christians were not spared. While the Puns paid up, they refused to worship in the temple. Retaliation was swift.

The vulnerability of Christians has escalated following an administrative vacuum that has seen violence and crime soar. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who had been instrumental in the church bombers’ arrest, resigned in June due to pressure by the opposition Maoist party. Since then, though there have been seven rounds of elections in Parliament to choose a new premier, none of the two contenders has been able to win the minimum votes required thanks to bitter infighting between the major parties.

An eighth round of elections is scheduled for Sept. 26, and if that too fails, Nepal will have lost four of the 12 months given to the 601-member Parliament to write a new constitution.

“It is shameful,” said Believers Church Bishop Narayan Sharma. “It shows that Nepal is on the way to becoming a failed state. There is acute pessimism that the warring parties will not be able to draft a new constitution [that would consolidate secularism] by May 2011.”

Sharma said there is also concern about a reshuffle in the largest ruling party, the Nepali Congress (NC), set to elect new officers at its general convention starting Friday (Sept. 17). Some former NC ministers and members of Parliament have been lobbying for the restoration of a Hindu state in Nepal; their election would be a setback for secularism.

“We have been holding prayers for the country,” Sharma said. “It is a grim scene today. There is an economic crisis, and Nepal’s youths are fleeing abroad. Women job-seekers abroad are increasingly being molested and tortured. Even the Maoists, who fought for secularism, are now considering creating a cultural king. We are praying that the political deadlock will be resolved, and that peace and stability return to Nepal.”

Report from Compass Direct News

Christians in Ethiopian Town Hit by Unexpected Attack


Orthodox church members strike two evangelical worship buildings, beat evangelist unconscious.

NAIROBI, Kenya, April 15 (CDN) — Evangelical Christians in an area of Ethiopia unaccustomed to anti-Christian hostility have come under attack from Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) members threatened by their existence, Christian leaders said.

In Olenkomi, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, two church buildings were attacked by an EOC mob in Olenkomi town, Oromia Region, on Jan. 27 – leaving one evangelist unconscious and other Christians fearful of Orthodox hostility. Area Christians fear the assailants will not face justice due to the EOC’s powerful presence and impending elections.

A Mekane Yesus Church building was destroyed in the assault, while a Brethren Church structure suffered damages.

Attacks against evangelicals in the area are rare, but recently Christians have come under immense pressure as they face isolation and verbal threats, church leaders said. Located in the West Shoa Zone of Oromia Region, Olenkomi is a small town where most people there and in surrounding areas belong to the EOC. All officials in government are EOC members, and evangelical Christians encounter difficulties obtaining land for church buildings, church leaders said.

The attack followed an accidental fire from liturgical candles that burned an EOC building. EOC members blamed evangelicals, and in the ensuing assault evangelist Abera Ongeremu was so badly beaten the mob left him for dead. Another three Christians also sustained minor injuries.

Ongeremu was visiting from Neqemite, 260 kilometers (161 miles) away. After the mob stoned the Brethren Church, they next targeted Mekane Yesus Church, where Ongeremu was staying in guest quarters. A member of the mob took a Bible from his guest room and told him to burn it.

“How can I burn the book that showed me life?” the shocked Ongeremu asked.

He said that he told the mob that they could do anything they wanted, but he was not going to burn the Holy Bible. The attackers tied his hands and legs together and threw him back into the room, sprinkling diesel on the walls and roof and locking him in before setting it on fire, he said.

“I thought it was my last,” Ongeremu said. “I now understand nothing will happen to you without the will of God. That was not the day God allowed for me to die.”

Some of the assailants argued that Ongeremu should not die by burning, but by beating. Two of them dragged him out of the room and continuously beat him, covering his face in blood. He sustained wounds on his skull and right arm.

“After repeated beatings I lost consciousness,” he said. “I didn’t know how and when they left me. I only recall they argued about how to kill me.”

Premeditated?

Federal police were summoned from Ambo – the nearest town some 50 kilometers (31 miles) away – to disperse the mob, but too late to avert the injuries and damages after their rugged journey of nearly three hours.

Prior to the attacks, according to church leaders, there was no substantial build-up of tension between the two groups, though EOC priests had expressed anger about the expansion of evangelical churches and had questioned why teachers from evangelical backgrounds were prevalent in the high school in Olenkomi.

Most of the teachers at Olenkomi Secondary High School are evangelical Christians, according to church leaders, who said this circumstance was solely coincidental. Although teachers of evangelical faith are prevalent in the school, they are forbidden by law to promote their faith in class.

The EOC members had been constructing a building for a church in Olenkomi, but because of funding shortfalls they revised the plan and built a temporary structure. Evangelical church leaders said EOC priests had seized the land without formal process, but sources said the EOC’s strong presence in the area kept evangelical church officials from protesting brazen construction efforts.

The EOC’s small structure was being used for liturgical purposes.

“The shelter-like house has faced fire disaster in various incidents,” said a church leader in Olenkomi. “The materials used to build it, and the curtains they hung on walls exposed the shelter to several fire incidents. The [candle and lantern] lights the priests used for liturgy were causing problems. We heard that a number of times the fire had lit curtains, and the priests stopped before it spread.”

Such a fire broke out on the day of the attack, this time out-pacing the frantic efforts of the priests. The fire consumed curtains inside the house and spread to roofs and walls. To douse it the priests went to a nearby government-owned water tank operated by an evangelical woman. She granted them water, and the structure did not burn entirely.

When they later returned to wash, however, they put their hands inside the tank and sullied the public water source. When the operator objected, the EOC members  spoke derogatorily of her as a “Pente” and began to spread the rumor that she was responsible for the burnt structure, church leaders said.

EOC members quickly formed into groups of various sizes, sources said, and rolled into town chanting, “This is the day to destroy Pentecostals and their churches!” They first went to the Brethren Church, located by the side of a highway that stretches through Olenkomi to western Ethiopia.

“When we first heard stones falling on the roof, we thought the wind was tearing up iron sheets,” said one evangelist. “We also heard a loud noise from outside. It was around 12:30 p.m. I opened the main door to check what was happening. The whole compound was filled by men and women who carried stones and sticks. It was a very scary sight.”

They were stoning the church building, forcing the praying believers to escape through a back door. The assailants continued breaking doors and windows, thinking worshippers were trapped inside.

Local police arrived, the evangelist said, but they failed to disperse the violent mob.

“Despite firing into the air, the officers didn’t do anything serious to stop the mob,” he said. “They later said it is beyond their capacity and would call Federal Police from Ambo town. The anti-riot police arrived two and half hours later, practically after the mob effectively carried out all the destruction.”

Of the attack on Mekane Yesus Church, one church leader said the mob broke in and set fire on everything they found.

“They gathered benches, office chairs and tables, documents, musical instruments, public address system, choir uniforms and other materials and set them on fire,” he said. “They also lit fire to the church building, which reduced it to ashes.”

The mob was not finished. They proceeded to the high school, where they attacked Christian teachers as students rushed to defend them. Church leaders said the targeting of the school was evidence that the attack had been planned before with well-considered aims.

With Ethiopia scheduled to hold parliamentary elections on May 23, government officials don’t want to upset voters by punishing those behind the attacks, church leaders said. It is likely that officials would pressure church leaders from both camps to settle for the sake of stability, but Christians fear that in doing so their complaints will be overlooked.

Some suspects have been identified, but church leaders don’t expect they will be punished.

“It is like hitting a fire ball,” said a church leader from Brethren Church. “When you hit the fire, it would round back to you. It can even burn you. You may also distribute the fire to new places.”

In spite of the violence, evangelical Christians have engaged in “fervent witnessing ministry and prayer,” he said.

“It awakens us to think, pray and unite,” he said. “There is no good in persecution. But God turned it around for the good of us. The persecution was intended to destroy our commitment, but it rather built our faith.”

As election day draws closer, said the leader, EOC priests could easily motivate followers to attack.

“That would be bad times for believers,” he said. “Let’s pray for people in Olenkomi to know the will of God and repent from evil from which they assume to serve God.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

MAURITANIA: ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS KILL U.S. AID WORKER


At least two gunmen repeatedly shoot teacher for Christian activities.

LOS ANGELES, June 29 (Compass Direct News) – Funeral services will be held tomorrow for a U.S. teacher in Mauritania who was shot dead last week by Islamic extremists for spreading Christianity.

Christopher Leggett, 39, was killed Tuesday morning (June 23) in front of the language and computer school he operated in Nouakchott, the capital city.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, North African unit of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, claimed responsibility for the murder on an Internet site, accusing Leggett of “missionary activities.” A North African al-Qaeda spokesman aired a statement on an Arab TV station saying the group killed Leggett because he was allegedly trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

Advocacy organization Middle East Concern reported that Leggett “resisted what appeared to be an attempt to kidnap him and was then shot in the head several times by his two assailants.”

His family issued a statement today saying they forgave the murderers but asked that they be caught and prosecuted.

“In a spirit of love, we express our forgiveness for those who took away the life of our remarkable son,” the family said in the statement, distributed in English, French and Arabic. “Chris had a deep love for Mauritania and its people, a love that we share. Despite this terrible event, we harbor no ill will for the Mauritanian people. On a spiritual level, we forgive those responsible, asking only that justice be applied against those who killed our son.”

Mauritania’s minister of justice reportedly said that Leggett’s death “was a great loss to Mauritania.” Leggett, his wife and four children lived for seven years in Mauritania, where he directed an aid agency that provided training in computer skills, sewing and literacy, and he also ran a micro-finance program, according to the Cleveland Daily Banner.

Mauritania’s National Foundation for the Defence of Democracy (FNDD) called for the killers to be brought to justice.

“This hateful crime, which was committed in broad daylight close to the market in El Ksar, one of the busiest in Nouakchott, once again raises the issue of instability and terrorism, which is often used by the military authorities to justify all sorts of unnatural situations,” the FNDD the statement read.

The Associated Press reported that Mauritania’s Interior Ministry said it was investigating the murder and that security forces were searching for the killers.

The AP reported that Leggett, who grew up in Cleveland, Tenn., taught at a center specializing in computer science and languages in El Kasr, a lower-class neighborhood in Nouakchott. The Rev. Jim Gibson, co-pastor of First Baptist Church of Cleveland, told the news service that Leggett visited the congregation when he traveled back to the United States but worked independently in Mauritania.

The Cleveland Daily Banner reported that Leggett was a 1987 graduate of Cleveland High School, attended Cleveland State Community College and graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 1990 with a degree in Business Administration. He was a member of First Baptist Church of Cleveland for many years and most recently was a member of Michigan Avenue Baptist Church of Cleveland.

His funeral is scheduled for Tuesday 2009 at the First Baptist Church of Cleveland at 2 p.m.

Memorials to the family can be made at http://www.clevelandfbc.com, or sent to Jackie B. Leggett at 1112 Glenmore Drive, Cleveland, TN 37312 or through First Baptist Church of Cleveland, 340 Church Street, Cleveland, TN 37311 and designated to the J. Mack Hall Fund. Messages of condolence may be given at http://www.ralphbuckner.com.

The last known activity of al-Qaeda in Mauritania occurred in December 2007, when gunmen believed to be linked to al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch killed four French tourists picnicking near Aleg, east of Nouakchott.

Report from Compass Direct News