MS Risk Blog

US Administration Imposes New Travel Restriction

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On Sunday 24 September, United States President Donald Trump imposed new travel restrictions on citizens from North Korea, Venezuela and Chad, effectively expanding to eight the list of countries covered by his original travel bans that have been decried by critics and challenged in court.

The current ban, which was imposed in March, was due to expire on Sunday evening. The new restrictions are slated to take effect on 18 October and resulted from a review after President Trump’s original travel bans sparked international outrage and legal challenges. Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia were left on the list of affected countries in a new proclamation that was issued by the president, while restrictions on citizens from Sudan were lifted. Iraq citizens will not be subject to travel prohibitions however they will face enhanced scrutiny on vetting. The addition of North Korea and Venezuela to the list broadens the restrictions from the original, mostly Muslim-majority list. While tensions between the US and North Korea and Venezuela have been on the rise in recent months – with President Trump threatening to “destroy” North Korea if it attacks the US or its allies and also criticizing Venezuela, once hinting at a potential military option to deal with Caracas – officials have described the addition of the two countries on the list of travel restrictions as the result of a purely objective review. In the case of North Korea, where the suspension was sweeping and applied to both immigrants and non-immigrants, officials disclosed that it was hard for the US to validate the identify of someone coming from North Korea or to find out if that person was a threat. One official disclosed “North Korea, quite bluntly, does not cooperate whatsoever.” Meanwhile the restrictions on Venezuela focused on Socialist government officials that the Trump administration blamed for the country’s slide into economic disarray, including officials from the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service and their immediate families.

The latest measures help fulfil a campaign promise that Mr Trump made to tighten US immigration procedures and align with his “American First” foreign policy vision. Unlike the president’s original bans, which had time limits, this one is open-ended. The White House has portrayed the restrictions as consequences for countries that did not meet new requirements for vetting of immigrants and issuing of visas. The White House has stated that those requirements were shared in July with foreign governments, which had fifty days in order to make improvements if needed. A number of countries made improvements by enhancing the security of travel documents or the reporting of passports that were lost or stolen. However others did not, which has sparked the restrictions.

The latest announcement of travel restrictions comes as the US Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments on 10 October over the legality of President Trump’s previous travel ban, including whether it discriminated against Muslims.

Japan Calls Snap Elections

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On Monday 25 September, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called an election a year early, stating that he will dissolve parliament on Thursday. It appears that the Prime Minister has called the early election as he seeks to take advantage of high opinion ratings amidst the ongoing North Korean crisis.

The Japanese Prime Minister’s announcement comes as his approval ratings have rebounded from a record low over the summer and with the opposition largely in disarray. His support has surged with rising tensions with North Korea overshadowing criticism for alleged cronyism. Analysts see the early vote as the prime minister’s way to seize the resurgent support and exploit th current weakness of the opposition.

For months, the Japanese Prime Minister’s popular support was badly affected by a string of scandals and unpopular polices. In July, his ratings had dropped to less than 30%. This however recovered to above 50% in September. He has denied allegations of cronyism and on Monday stated that dissolving the lower house was not an attempt at avoiding those allegations. Mr Abe is also trying to push through a widely unpopular shift in Japan’s post-war pacifist defense police, calling for formal recognition of the military in the constitution.

Mr Abe also announced a 2tn yen (US $1.7 billion) stimulus package on education, debt reduction and social spending. During a press conference on Monday evening, Me Abe disclosed that the fresh stimulus was needed for education and social programmes to prepare Japan for the future. He also stated that he would continue on his path of fiscal reform and would use the revenue from the recently introduced sales tax to balance the budget and reduce debt.

German Election: Merkel Wins Fourth Term

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been re-elected for a fourth term while nationalists have made a historic surge in federal elections.

While Merkel has won the election, her conservative CDU/CSU bloc has seen its worst result in almost seventy years. The alliance, between the Christian Democrat (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU), saw the worst election result since 1949, when national elections were held in Germany for the first time after World War Two. The CDU-CSU garnered 33% of the vote, the SPD won 20.5%; AfD attained 12.6%; the FDP got 10.7%, the Left won 9.2% while the Greens attained 8.9%. The CDU-CSU will remain the largest party in parliament. Its current coalition partner, the social democratic SPD, says that it will go into opposition after historic losses. Meanwhile the nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) has won its first seats and is set to be the third party, a result that sparked some protests. On Sunday night, dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the right-wing, anti-Islam party’s headquarters in Berlin, with some holding placards saying “Refugees are welcome.” Protests were also held in several other cities, including Cologne and Frankfurt.

Addressing supporters, Mrs Merkel, who has been in the job of Chancellor for twelve years, disclosed that she had hoped for a “better result,” adding that she would listen to the “concerns, worries and anxieties” of voters of the AfD in order to win them back. She also stated that her government would have to deal with economic and security issues as well as addressing the root causes of migration – one of the main reasons behind the AfD’s result.

Russia Controversy Continues to Impact White House

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While United States President Donald Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia, the special prosecutor is intensifying his investigation as it is increasingly becoming evident that the Russia controversy could be years before it concludes.

President Trump has consistently denied any collusion with the Kremlin, however special prosecutor Robert Mueller has stated that he is expanding his probe. Reports have now emerged that the FBI carried out a pre-dawn raid on Paul Manafort’s home, former Chairman of the Trump campaign. Mr Manafort had already handed over documents to congressional committees, which is likely to raise question of whether Mr Mueller simply did not trust him to supply everything that he needed. Some of the documents are reportedly related to a meeting that he attended on 9 July 2016 at Trump Tower. It provided an explosive element to an already bubbling inquiry. While some have seen it as the closest thing to a smoking gun, it has produced no conclusive evidence that the Kremlin was behind it. The Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskya, who allegedly offered to provide negative information on Hillary Clinton, has denied that she did so, also denying that she is connected to the Russian government.

Catalonia Parliament to Vote on 1 October on Split from Spain

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Spanish police have detained fourteen Catalan officials and raided regional government ministries involved in organizing an independence vote declared illegal by Spain’s government.

Earlier this month, Catalonia’s parliament voted to hold an independence referendum on 1 October, effectively setting up a clash with the Spanish government, which has vowed to stop what it says would be an illegal vote. After twelve hours of often chaotic debate in the Barcelona parliament, a majority voted for the referendum and the legal framework to set up a new state, under which the assembly would declare independence within 48 hours of a “yes” vote. Lawmakers who opposed independence abandoned the chamber before the vote, with some leaving Catalan flags in theie empty seats.

While polls in the northeastern region show support for self-rule waning as Spain’s economy improves, the majority of Catalans do not want the opportunity to vote on whether to split from Spain. The government has asked the Spanish constitutional court to declare the referendum law void as soon as it is approved by the regional parliament. The Spanish constitution states that the country is indivisible.

Tensions in recent weeks have continued to rise, with the arrest of Josep Maria Jove, number two in the Catalan vice presidency, and others held. Thousands of Catalans have now taken to the streets in protest, with the region’s president complaining of a power grab. Last week, an operation targeted over forty ministries and offices as well as three private companies – the move being a dramatic intensification of Spain’s attempt to stop the vote taking place. Reports have indicated that an estimated 10 million ballot papers were found in a warehouse located outside Barcelona.

While Spain did not stop an earlier vote taking place in November 2014, this time the Catalan leadership is planning a declaration of independence within 48 hours of a Yes vote.