Tag Archives: Australia

Latin American Consequences of the US Presidential Elections

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The US presidential elections are already swinging the pendulum for Latin America in significant ways. The fear that the US will now revert to protectionism lead to a major sell off across different asset classes. The Mexican Peso tumbled to 20-years lows and has hardly recovered as of yet, pulling down the entire region. After an initial quick fall the Dollar bounced hard and is currently trading at multi-month highs. This has exacerbated the devaluation of Latin American currencies, which are traded against the Dollar.

Apart from the financial fallout, geopolitical consequences of Trump’s future policies have appeared as well. Now that Trump has confirmed he will not support the Trans-Pacific Partnership, potential members like Chili, Peru, Mexico and Colombia will likely beef up their bilateral economic relations in order to compensate for TPP. Peru already stated to foresee bilateral negotiations with Australia and New Zealand. Argentina, very open to free trade, will receive $4.1 billion in investments from Canada. This is about half the amount expected from US companies through 2019. A more protectionist approach by Trump could bring that amount down and leave the door open for Canadian companies to fill the gap. Withdrawal from NAFTA could exacerbate this and will constitute extra incentive for Latin American countries to strengthen bilateral relations with other geopolitical powers. Peru, which has strong historic ties with China, already trades more with China than with the US, a development that could potentially spill over to increased security and military cooperation. President Kuczynski’s pull to China is very clear: “We hope to tap into new markets in China, especially for agriculture. We are also interested in cooperation on science and technology. Furthermore, cultural exchanges and cooperation in archaeology and climate change are also very important for us.” It remains the question whether the US will look on from the sidelines if Russia and China increase their influence in Latin America.

Interregional relations are likely to strengthen as well, given Trump’s veiled threats to Central American countries on the topic of immigration. Whether the US will build a wall or will significantly increase deportations of immigrants, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have said to form a bloc with Mexico to deal with the US under Trump leadership. However, with regards to Mexico, it is likely that organized-crime competition will increase, as a result of traffic restrictions and stricter border controls. In this scenario, conflict over control over the remaining open crossings would lead to increased violence. Violence in border cities like Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana is already on the rise. The second security consequence for Mexico stems from the influx of deportees, who would have few employment opportunities in Mexico. They could provide a ready pool of labour for criminal organizations. Central American cooperation is said to increase collaboration on jobs, investments and migration.

It remains to be seen as to which direction the pendulum will eventually swing, however, for the moment significant financial, economic and security consequences are already visible in Latin America.

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MH370 Search: New Debris Located in Madagascar

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Officials this month confirmed that five new pieces of debris that could belong to the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have been found in Madagascar.

The findings were made by debris hunger Blaine Gibson, who has previously found other parts of the plane. Mr Gibson, a laywer from Seattle, has funded his own search for debris in eastern Africa. According to officials, two fragments appear to show burn marks, which if confirmed would be the first time that such marks have been found. Mr Gibson has disclosed that the two alleged burnt pieces were recovered near Sainte Luce, in southeastern Madagascar. It is unclear, however, if the apparent burn marks were caused by fire prior to the crash or as a result of burning afterwards. Another small piece was found in the same area while the two other pieces were located in the northeastern beaches of Antsiraka and Riake, where debris had already been found. All of the five fragments located this month have the “honeycomb” material that was found in other MH370 debris. The new discovered have been sent to investigators at the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).

A number of other pieces of debris, some confirmed to have come from MH370, have been found in countries near Madagascar. They include a section of the wing called a flaperon, which was found on Reunion Island, and a horizontal stabilizer from the tail section and a stabilizer panel with a “No Step” stencil that were discovered in Mozambique.

MH370, which was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, had 239 people on board when it vanished on March 2014. The flight is presumed to have crashed into the southern Indian Ocean after veering off course. Australia has been leading the search for the missing aircraft, using underwater drones and sonar equipment deployed from specialist ships. The search, which also involves China and Malaysia, has led to more than 105,000 sq km (65,000 sq miles) of the 120,000 sq km search zone being searched so far. Countries have agreed that in the absence of “credible new information” the search is expected to end later this year.

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Police Seize Dozens of Kilos of Drugs in Australia

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Federal authorities have seized 73 kilograms of drugs and arrested three Malaysian nationals trying to smuggle their illicit cargo through Melbourne Airport. After arriving yesterday at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport on a flight from Kuala Lumpur, the three men attempted to pass through customs but were intercepted by members of the Australian Border Force (ABF). Their luggage was examined and a total of 55 kilograms of methamphetamine and 18 kilograms of heroin were found. According to ABF Acting Commissioner Michael Outram, the haul was one of the largest that had ever been seized at an Australian airport. “This seizure represents one of the largest seizures in Australian history through an Australian international airport, which proves law enforcement agencies are working harder than ever to keep drugs out of our community,” he said.

So far, two of the men have been charged with the importation of a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs and attempting to possess a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs. The third member of the group will be charged at a later date.

In recent years, there has been an observable tendency on the part of Australian drug users to favour amphetamine type substances (ATS) over alternative narcotics. While a large proportion of these illicit substances were once manufactured domestically, in large part because of the ready availability of precursor chemicals, the tightening of relevant law enforcement mechanisms has reduced this practice. Now, criminal groups are increasingly obliged to source precursor chemicals and drugs offshore. As a result of this, there are noticeably more narcotic and precursor chemical seizures at the border. In the 2013-14 reporting period alone, the number of ATS detections at the border increased to 2 367, the highest number on record. Interestingly, international mail accounted for the majority of ATS detections in Australia during this period while sea cargo accounted for the greatest proportion of detections by weight.

According to a recent report published by the Australian Crime Commission, China is the primary embarkation point for ATS (excluding MDMA), followed by Mexico, Hong Kong and the United States. Serious and organised criminal groups are believed at the centre of this thriving drug market.

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Malcolm Turnbull replaces ousted Tony Abbott as Australian PM

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After emerging victorious from last night’s leadership spill, Malcolm Turnbull has been sworn in as Australia’s 29th Prime Minister, barely two years after his predecessor Tony Abbott led the Liberal Party to victory in September 2013.

Despite increasingly ominous rumblings from the back bench and overt expressions of discontent from his cabinet, the former prime minister had dismissed as gossip the possibility that a second challenge to his leadership would emerge so soon after the abortive February coup. However, Monday morning saw gossip merge into uncomfortable reality as Federal Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull handed in his resignation and demanded that Abbott call a leadership ballot.

Moments after walking away from his ministerial portfolio, Turnbull issued an excoriating critique of the Abbott government, focusing primarily on its inability to provide sound economic leadership and its continued poor performance in the polls. It had been, he said, a difficult decision to make, but one which was vital if the Labor Party was to be prevented from winning the next federal election. “We need advocacy, not slogans.” He said, alluding to Abbott’s highly divisive rhetorical style. “And we need a different style of leadership. We need a style of leadership that…explains the challenges and how to seize the opportunities, a style of leadership that respects the people’s intelligence.”

While insiders claim that Abbott was taken aback by Turnbull’s decision, the embattled leader was nevertheless quick to respond. “We are not the Labor Party.” He said, invoking the spectre of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd leadership crisis that had all-but crippled the last Labor government. “This country needs strong and stable government and that means avoiding at all costs Labor’s revolving-door prime ministership.”

Despite these grim prognostications, Abbott was unable to rally enough support from within the party to secure his position as its leader, loosing the leadership spill to Malcolm Turnbull last night by a ten point margin.

Shortly after noon today, Abbott – who had not yet spoken publicly about his defeat – addressed the nation for the last time as its Prime Minister. Angry and defiant, his concession speech paid no tribute – however grudging – to his successor and ignored the role he himself had played in losing the confidence of his party and much of the electorate. Instead, he focused on his achievements – the free trade agreements, the refugee policy – and on those who had weakened his administration, particularly the media whose “poll driven panic” and “sour, bitter character assassinations” had made his position untenable.

As the new Turnbull administration readies itself for the upcoming election, the question remains: what will Abbott do next? Will he take up his position on the backbench and see out the rest of his term in quiet contemplation of his lot? Or will he, like Kevin Rudd, use his best endeavours to undermine the party and the individuals responsible for his downfall? In the context of what Abbott undoubtedly sees as a personal betrayal, of what value are his assurances that there will be no white-anting of the Turnbull government? Another possibility is that he may leave public office altogether, causing a by-election in Warringah, the electorate he has served as a Federal Member of Parliament since 1994. Whatever he decides to do, the reality which Turnbull now has to face is a party riven by disunity and factionalism, a situation which is unlikely to improve with next week’s
cabinet reshuffle.

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Sixteen Hour Siege in Sydney Australia

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A sixteen hour siege in the centre of Sydney has ended with the deaths of two hostages and their captor. The siege began at 9.44AM (GMT+11) on Monday 15 December when a man armed with a shotgun took 17 people hostage in the Lindt Chocolat Cafe on Martin Place. After taking control of the cafe, the hostage-taker, Man Haron Monis, forced hostages to display a black flag bearing Arabic script in a window. As the crisis unfolded, police responded by placing snipers on the roofs of surrounding buildings and positioning tactical response group officers on and around Martin Place. On the orders of police, nearby buildings were evacuated, including the Channel Seven building, the State Library, the New South Wales Supreme Court and the New South Wales Parliament’s executive offices. After almost six hours, three hostages emerged from the building, followed ninety minutes later by two more. At approximately 2AM on Tuesday 16, in the final moments of the standoff between police and Monis, the cafe’s manager Tori Johnson, 34, and barrister Katrina Dawson, 38, were shot dead. Ballistic tests are still being conducted to determine whether they were killed by Monis or in the crossfire which erupted when police stormed the building. However, sources have said that Johnson may have been attempting to wrestle Monis’s weapon away from him when he was killed. After the firefight, seven of the hostages, including two pregnant women, were taken to hospital to be examined. Among those who had been injured in the exchange was a male police officer who suffered a minor injury to the face and was discharged shortly thereafter.

There is, as yet, insufficient evidence to confirm or deny whether Monis was a “lone wolf” or if the attack was planned and executed by an established terror network. It is, however, likely that Monis was operating on his own accord. Although he claimed to have been a member of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) there is no indication that he received training or support from the terrorist group. Furthermore, given the nature of his attack, there is no reason to believe he would have needed the kind of operational support a terror network could have provided. To shut down the centre of Sydney all Monis needed was a shotgun, a flag and a crowded cafe. The simplicity and devastating impact of this kind of attack is precisely why ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has encouraged western sympathisers to launch independent attacks on non-Muslims. As far as such groups are concerned, attacks that are not centrally coordinated are appealing for two reasons: first, an individual conspiring on his own is less likely to draw the attention of the authorities than a network; and second, it creates the impression that the terrorist group’s operational capability stretches far beyond the Middle East.

The demands which Monis made during the siege further support the theory that he was a “lone wolf”. Not only did Monis ask to speak to the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, he also requested that an ISIL flag be delivered to him. Although early reports described the flag which was held up by hostages in the cafe window as an ISIL flag, it’s message was in fact an expression of faith in Islam which translates as: “There is no God but Allah: Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” If the attack had been centrally organised from Iraq or Syria, it is unlikely that this flag, rather than an ISIL standard, would have been used.

Finally, there have been questions raised in the media about the nature of Monis’s motivation. Monis, a self-described Muslim cleric, was born in Iran and granted political asylum in Australia in 2001. In 2010 he achieved notoriety for sending offensive letters to the families of deceased soldiers. After being convicted for this offence, Monis was placed on a two year good behaviour bond and was required to perform 300 hours of court mandated community service. He had recently lost a High Court appeal to have this conviction overturned, a defeat which has prompted speculation that the attack was motivated by a desire for revenge rather than out of sympathy for the idealogical aims of ISIL. Because Monis’s motives remain unclear, it is too early to describe the attack in Sydney as an act of terrorism. By definition, terrorism must be politically motivated; in the case of Monis, he may simply have been using the theatre of terrorism to promote a personal cause the nature of which we are unable to understand or explain.




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