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  • OSINTSUM: Thursday 19 October 2023

OSINTSUM: Thursday 19 October 2023

Kosovan prime minister requests more NATO peacekeepers, Guatemalan interior minister resigns over protests, and World Food Programme appeals for $19m to provide emergency aid to Afghanistan

Thursday, 19 October 2023

Headlines

Africa

Chad: Warnings of "catastrophic" food insecurity amid refugee influx
South Africa: Officials hope power station recovery will see an end to blackouts
Uganda: President assures tourists' safety after fatal IS attack

Asia/Oceania

Afghanistan: World Food Program appeals for $19m to provide emergency food aid
Australia: "No" vote in Voice referendum sets back plans for becoming republic
Pakistan: Former PM Sharif seeks protection from arrest ahead of return

China

China: Country Garden misses final deadline on bond payments
UK: MI5 head warns of "epic scale" of Chinese espionage
US/China: Beijing unhappy at latest chip restrictions

Europe

Belgium/Sweden: Tougher border controls and deportation legislation called for
Europe: Musk considers removing X from European market
France: Justice minister vows to crack down on perpetrators of bomb hoaxes
Italy: Border with Slovenia suspended over increased terror threat
Kosovo: Prime minister requests more NATO-led peacekeepers along Serbian border
Norway: Navy shadows Chinese ship investigated over pipe damage
Poland: Opposition parties begin talks on forming ruling coalition

Latin America/Caribbean

Guatemala: Interior minister resigns over pro-democracy protests
Trinidad and Tobago: Prime minister asks Canada for assistance over increasing regional violence
Venezuela: Oil to be diverted from China if US eases sanctions
Venezuela: Ban on opposition presidential candidates must be lifted by November

Middle East

Iraq: US forces targeted by drone attacks
Israel: Evidence shows Hamas used North Korean weapons in cross-border attack
Israel: US vetoes Security Council action on Gaza

Africa

Chad: Warnings of "catastrophic" food insecurity amid refugee influx

Chadian officials have called for the international community for assistance in feeding its population and an increasing refugee population which includes 460,000 people fleeing conflict in Sudan.

5.7 million people are facing food insecurity in Chad according to the World Food Program, meaning they have difficulty guaranteeing one meal a day. Additionally, 1.7 million children under five are suffering from acute malnutrition there.

Chad's economic prosperity and international partnerships minister, Madeline Alingue, called for a wider pool of donors beyond traditional partners in the US and the EU to step forward and help the world's third least developed country.

 

South Africa: Officials hope power station recovery will see an end to blackouts

South African officials are hoping the gradual recovery of one of the country's largest coal-fired power stations will see an end to its frequent rolling blackouts (known locally as "loadshedding").

Two units at the Kuslie power station have been restored over the past three weeks, adding 1,600 megawatts to the national grid. This has reduced the frequency of rolling blackouts, which can last up to 12 hours a day.

One of the main drivers behind the blackouts was the break down of two of the power station's units in October last year. These have now been restored two months ahead of schedule, and another two units are due to be back online before the end of the year.

Analyst Comment: South Africa has committed to transition from its heavy reliance on coal for electricity generation to more renewable sources such as solar and wind, and has secured $8.5bn of funding pledges from western nations to do so.

 

Uganda: President assures tourists' safety after fatal IS-aligned attack

Uganda's president has assured tourists of their safety following an attack on a tourist vehicle in the Queen Elizabeth National Park which left two tourists and their guide dead.

President Yoweri Museveni said attackers took advantage of the fact that while they are guarded by the army while in the park, the tourists enter and leave the park unaccompanied. He added that this is something that would be rectified.

The attack was carried out by Islamist insurgents known as the Allied Democratic Forces, who pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS) in 2016. The group posed a picture of the tourist's burning Jeep on social media following the attack.

Analyst Comment: Tuesday's (17 October's) attack was the first to occur in any of Uganda's 10 national parks for years.

 

Asia/Oceania

Afghanistan: World Food Program appeals for $19m to provide emergency food aid

The UN World Food Program (WFP) has appealed for $19m to provide emergency aid to thousands of people affected by recent earthquakes in Afghanistan's Herat province.

WFP director Ana Maria Salhuana said survivors were already being helped but doing so meant aid was being diverted from other areas of an already underfunded program.

The WFP is currently providing aid to 100,000 people in the affected region, many of whom were already struggling to feed themselves prior to the earthquakes.

Analyst Comment: A series of four magnitude-6.3 earthquakes has killed almost 3,000 people in Herat province since 7 October, 90% of whom were women and children, and destroyed almost 25,000 buildings.

The WFP has already had to reduce the amount of food families receive and cut ten million people in Afghanistan from life-saving assistance due to a massive funding shortfall earlier this year. It urgently needs $400m to prepare supplies for winter on top of the funding required for the earthquake survivors.

 

Australia: "No" vote in Voice referendum sets back plans for becoming republic

The emphatic No vote in Australia's referendum on the Indigenous Voice has set back the government's plans to cut the nation's constitutional ties to the UK's monarchy.

Assistant Minister for the Republic Matt Thistlethwaite said the loss made the chances of holding another referendum to determine whether the country should have an Australian head of state instead of a UK monarch much smaller.

The referendum result has also seen state-level commitments to indigenous rights in Queensland and South Australia, which saw the two highest levels of No voters, rolled back.

Analyst Comment: Australians rejected changing the country to a republic the last referendum before The Voice in 1999. No referendum in Australia has succeeded since 1977, when electors approved an amendment to the Australian constitution to allow electors in the Australian territories to vote at referendums.

 

Pakistan: Former PM Sharif seeks protection from arrest ahead of return

Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has sought protection from arrest from an Islamabad court ahead of a planned return from four years of self-imposed exile in London.

Sharif, who is wanted for corruption, flew from London to Saudi Arabia last week, and is due to fly to Dubai in preparation for his return to Pakistan, scheduled for Saturday (21 October).

He is expected to be greeted by tens of thousands of people at Lahore airport when he arrives according to his Pakistan Muslim League party.

If he does not get protection, he will be detained on his return. But, if he is granted bail he will address a rally in the city before appearing back at court to surrender.

Analyst Comment: Sharif stepped down as PM in 2017 after being accused of corruption. Accused of further charges in 2019, he complained of chest pains and flew to London for medical treatment, and has remained there until his recent flight to Saudi Arabia.

 

China

China: Country Garden misses final deadline on bond payments

Chinese property giant Country Garden has missed a final deadline to pay interest on a dollar bond, which could lead to a wave of cross-defaults on its other international debt.

The company, which was once China's biggest developer by sales, failed to pay a $15.4m interest payment at midnight on Tuesday (17 October) on a $500m bond which matures in September 2025.

A spokesman for the company announced the following day that it "will not be able to meet all of its overseas debt repayment obligations" - putting creditors to whom it owes $11bn of international debts and $200bn in total liabilities on alert.

Analyst Comment: Country Garden was the largest developer in China between 2017 and 2021, but the country's property slowdown, which accelerated following the 2021 defaults by fellow developer Evergrande, have seen its shares lose 70% of their value this year.

The struggles of major developers such as Evergrande and Country Garden is likely to impact China's GDP, as property is responsible up to 30% of it.

 

UK: MI5 head warns of "epic scale" of Chinese espionage

The head of MI5 has warned over 20,000 people have now been approached covertly by Chinese spies, putting tens of thousands of UK businesses at risk of having their intellectual property stolen.

Ken McCallum was speaking at the first joint public appearance of all five heads of internal security from the Five Eyes alliance in California, which was conducted in response to the increasing threat of Chinese espionage.

The venue, at Stanford University, was chosen as it lies in the heart of technology mecca Silicon Valley, and saw all five security chiefs warn that cutting-edge research was being stolen by China.

Analyst Comment: The Five-Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance is made up of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US.

 

US/China: Beijing unhappy at latest chip restrictions

China has criticised new restrictions imposed by the US on the exports of advanced semiconductor chips and chip-making equipment, saying it "violates the principles of market economy and fair competition".

The latest curbs are being seen as an attempt to close loopholes that emerged after the initial set of restrictions was imposed in October last year aimed at preventing China from strengthening its military, particularly in the field of artificial intelligence.

The Biden administration has denied it is attempting to hurt China economically, while the Semiconductor Industry Association said the measures were "overly broad" and "risk harming the US semiconductor ecosystem".

Analyst Comment: Two months ago China retaliated to the initial restrictions by restricting exports of two materials vital to the semiconductor industry, gallium and germanium, of which it produces 80% and 60% of the world's supply respectively.

 

Europe

Belgium/Sweden: Tougher border controls and deportation legislation called for

Belgium and Sweden's prime ministers called for better border controls and more coordinated powers to expel irregular migrants following the 17 October attack in Brussels which saw two Swedes murdered.

Belgian PM Alexander De Croos and Swedish counterpart Ulf Kristersson made the comments after paying tribute to the two Swedes at a press conference in front of the building where the attack occurred.

They were joined by EU head Ursula von der Leyen, who said it was currently up to member states whether they want to forcibly repatriate failed asylum seekers and irregular migrants, but that the bloc wants to make it mandatory.

Analyst Comment: The EU's 27 member states make approximately 400,000 decisions per year on deportations, and have carried out approximately 65,000 returns this year.

 

Europe: Musk considers removing X from European market

Elon Musk, owner of social media platform X, is considering removing the service from Europe in response to new internet regulations in the region.

He is grown "increasingly frustrated" with having to comply with the Digital Services Act (DSA), which sets out rules aimed at preventing the spread of harmful content, banning certain user-targeting practices, and restricting data-sharing.

Musk is considering pulling the platform from the bloc all together to avoid breaching it and facing a potential fine of up to 6% of the company's revenue.

Analyst Comment: The news comes days after the European Commission announced it is "officially investigating" X's compliance with the DSA over content on the platform relating to the Israel-Gaza conflict.

 

France: Justice minister vows to crack down on perpetrators of bomb hoaxes

France's justice minister has vowed to crack down on those responsible for a series of fake bomb threats which caused chaos at French airports and tourist sites earlier this week.

Lille, Lyon, Nantes, Nice, Toulouse, and Beauvais airports were all evacuated yesterday after being sent bomb threats by email, causing hours of delays. Normal operations had resumed by early evening.

The Palace of Versailles, a major tourist site just outside Paris, was also evacuated for the third time since Saturday to allow bomb disposal units to search the area.

Analyst Comment: France is on high alert following the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel and the recent fatal stabbing of a teacher in the northern city of Arras by a man aligned with the Islamic State terror group.

The murdered teacher's school and the Louvre museum have also been forced to evacuate in recent days due to bomb threats.

 

Italy: Border with Slovenia suspended over increased terror threat

Italy has suspended an open-border agreement with neighbouring Slovenia for at least ten days from 21 October, citing the increased terror threat in Europe due to violence in the Middle East.

Premier Giorgia Meloni's government said authorities in the northeastern border region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia had identified 16,000 people attempting to enter the country illegally via the Slovenian border so far this year.

It added that the Interior Ministry's anti-terror committee was looking into the situation, which "confirms the necessity of" reinforcing Italy's border.

Analyst Comment: Italy and Slovenia are among the 27 countries which belong to the Schengen zone, the world's largest free travel area. The border between them is the last stop on the Balkan route that some migrants take to reach western Europe.

 

Kosovo: Prime minister requests more NATO-led peacekeepers along Serbian border

Kosovo's prime minister has requested an increased NATO-led peacekeeping presence along his country's northern border with Serbia to combat an influx of illegal weapons and to improve stability.

Albin Kurti also told Major General Ozgan Ulutas, the new commander of the Kosovo Force peacekeeping mission, or KFOR, that Kosovan police are not equipped to fully guard the 350 km border with Serbia.

Kurti was making the comments following an incursion by around 30 Serbian gunmen into the country on 24 September which saw them shoot dead a Kosovan policeman and eventually lose an hours-long gun battle with Kosovan police.

Analyst Comment: NATO has already reinforced KFOR, which is usually made up of 4,500 troops, with 200 extra troops from the UK and another 100 from Romania along with heavier armaments.

The force is made up of peacekeepers from 27 nations and has been in Kosovo since 1999 following the end of the country's war with Serbia.

 

Norway: Navy shadows Chinese ship investigated over pipe damage

The Norwegian Navy shadowed a Chinese container ship being investigated over damage to a gas pipeline in the Gulf of Finland for 15 hours as it sailed along Norway's west coast on Monday (16 October).

Finnish investigators are looking into the Chinese NewNew Polar Bear, the Russian-flagged Sevmorput, and other vessels present in the area when a Baltic Sea gas pipeline was damaged by potentially deliberate activity on 8 October.

The NewNew Polar Bear is transporting containers between Europe and China via the Northern Sea Route in the Arctic, and entered the North Sea from the Baltic Sea on Monday, where it was tailed until it was 70km northwest of Bergen according to marine traffic data.

Analyst Comment: Norway deployed its navy to protect energy infrastructure in the region, which contains most of its gas export pipelines and some of its key oil and gas platforms, following the Nord Stream sabotage on 22 September 2022.

 

Poland: Opposition parties begin talks on forming ruling coalition

Three Polish opposition parties, who received a combined 54% of the vote in the country's recent general election, have begun negotiations over forming a new government.

The co-leader of one of the parties, The Third Way, urged President Andrzej Duda to move quickly in giving the bloc, also consisting of former European Council President Donald Tusk's Civic Coalition and The New Left parties, an opportunity to govern.

Duda is an ally of the incumbent right-wing Law and Justice Party, which won the most votes but lost its majority. Traditionally, the president gives the party with the most votes the opportunity to form a government, but this is practically impossible given the new make-up of Poland's parliament.

Analyst Comment: One of the opposition bloc's main objectives if and when it gets into power is to reverse policies implemented by Law and Justice that the EU deemed undemocratic and led it to freeze billions of euros of funding intended for Poland.

 

Latin America/Caribbean

Guatemala: Interior minister resigns over pro-democracy protests

Guatemala's interior minister has resigned amid the country's ongoing protests which are demanding the government allow a smooth transition of President-elect Bernardo Arevalo to power.

The country has seen nationwide protests and blockades for over two weeks, resulting in a fatality and 11 arrests, with organisers calling for the resignation of the attorney general who they accuse of sedition for her attempts to prevent Arevalo coming to power in spite of the election result.

The Public Ministry, which has also been accused of impeding Arevalo's transition to power, had previously called for the resignation of David Barrientos Giron for failing to maintain public order in relation to the protests.

Analyst Comment: Arevalo won a landslide victory in August, but so far the Public Ministry and attorney general have been attempting to prevent him coming to power by starting spurious investigations and banning his Seed Movement party from parliament. He is due to take office in January.

 

Trinidad and Tobago: Prime minister asks Canada for assistance over increasing regional violence

Trinidad and Tobago's prime minister has requested Canada help Caribbean countries improve their security by assisting with coastal patrols and police training in the face of increasing regional gun violence.

Keith Rowley made the request at a summit in Ottawa where Canadian and Caribbean Community (Caricom) bloc leaders were discussing climate change, economic development, migration, security, and the humanitarian crisis in Haiti.

He said there had been an "explosion" in the use of illegal firearms, the majority of which are US-made, which was seeing around 50 people a day violently killed across the region.

 

Venezuela: Oil to be diverted from China if US eases sanctions

An easing of sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports should result in a diversion of oil currently going to China instead of seeing a surge in production according to Rice University's Baker Institute.

The US is clearing the way for more exports to the US, Europe, and the Caribbean in return for the Venezuelan government signing an agreement with its opposition over guarantees for next year's election.

The same day the agreement was signed, the US authorised a license amendment allowing Trinidad and Tobago to undertake a joint gas project with Venezuela.

Analyst Comment: Venezuelan oil exports to China have already fallen to 437,000 barrels per day (bpd) so far this year from 477,000 bpd in 2022 according to maritime monitoring data.

 

Venezuela: Ban on opposition presidential candidates must be lifted by November

The US has told Venezuela's government that bans on opposition presidential candidates must be lifted by the end of November in exchange for planned sanction relief to go ahead.

The US is due to provide "limited sanction relief" to Venezuela after President Nicolas Maduro's government signed an agreement with its opposition which will see them provide certain guarantees for next year's presidential election.

However, despite this agreement some opposition candidates remain banned from taking office even if they were to defeat Maduro's ruling socialists and win the election.

Analyst Comment: The sanction relief will primarily relate to Venezuela's oil and gas sector, but will not affect the ongoing judicial proces focused on Citgo Petroleum or other Venezuelan assets currently frozen in the US or other jurisdictions.

 

Middle East

Iraq: US forces targeted by drone attacks

US forces in Iraq were targeted by two drone attacks yesterday (19 October), with one causing minor injuries to a small number of troops despite it being intercepted.

The attacks struck the.al-Asad air base midway between Baghdad and the Syrian border and al-Harir air base 50km northeast of Erbil in the country's northeast.

The US has not accused any group of carrying out the attacks as yet, but a little known group called Tashkil al-Waritheen, or "the Inheritor", has claimed responsibility for the al-Harir attack.

Analyst Comment: Last week, Iranian-backed militia groups in Iraq threatened to target US interests with missiles and drones if Washington intervened in support of Israel against Hamas in Gaza.

 

Israel: Evidence shows Hamas used North Korean weapons in cross-border attack

Weapons seized by Israel and a video of Hamas militants indicates the terrorist group likely used North Korean arms in their 7 October attack on Israeli's.

Pyongyang has denied that it sells arms to Hamas, but analysis of captured weapons and the video indicate the use of the F-7 rocket-propelled grenade, a shoulder-launched projectile which is typically used against armoured vehicles.

A weapons expert who works for consultancy Armament Research Services, said North Korea had long supplied Palestinian militant groups, and that North Korean arms had previously been found among interdicted supplies.

Analyst Comment: The presence of the F-7 has been documented in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and the Gaza strip. It is valuable for guerrilla forces conducting running skirmishes with heavy vehicles as it can be quickly reloaded and used again.

 

Israel: US vetoes Security Council action on Gaza

The US has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution which would have called for humanitarian pauses in the conflict between Israel and Hamas to allow humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip.

The US ambassador to the UN told the 15-member council after the vote that the US was "on the ground doing the hard work of diplomacy", and that it needed that diplomacy to play out.

The UK and Russia abstained from the vote, while the other 12 members voted in favour of the draft text.

Analyst Comment: The US traditionally uses its veto to protect Israel from any UN Security Council action.

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