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Global oil price drop rattles Saudi economy

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Saudi Arabia has raised domestic energy prices by as much as 40 per cent after the world’s leading oil producer announced a record $98bn budget deficit citing rock-bottom global petroleum prices, writes Franklin Adesegha The deficit is the highest in the history of Saudi Arabia, but was not as big as some expected. The International Monetary Fund had projected a deficit of $130bn. The kingdom has seen a sharp drop in revenues as oil prices have fallen more than 60 per cent since mid- 2014 to below $40 a barrel. Public revenues are the lowest since 2009 when oil prices dived as a result of the global financial crisis.

Features | Franklin Adesegha | 2 January 2016 | Hits: 64

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South Sudan: On the Brink of Renewed War

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A major breach of the agreement signed in Addis Ababa and Juba in August to end South Sudan’s now two-year old civil war is increasingly likely. While low-level conflict is continuing in Unity state, conflict is now escalating in the Equatorias and Western Bahr el Ghazal. Many of the disparate members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) reject the agreement, while the government shies from implementing a deal it believes is to its detriment. The heads of state of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD, the regional body that mediated the agreement), former Botswanan President Festus Moghae, head of the agreement’s Joint Monitoring and Evaluation

Features | Crisis Group | 2 January 2016 | Hits: 67

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Kenyan Muslims show the world how to disarm extremists

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On December 21, armed al-Shabab extremists halted a bus near the Kenyan town of Mandera, and asked the Muslims on board to help identify Christian passengers for execution, writes Franklin Adesegha The Muslim passengers refused, throwing a human shield around their Christian compatriots and told the attackers that they would have to kill the entire busload, Muslims and Christians alike. Muslim women took off their traditional headscarves and handed them to non-Muslims to wear for protection.

Features | Franklin Adesegha | 2 January 2016 | Hits: 66

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The End of Hegemony: What next for Venezuela?

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Venezuela’s opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition obtained a crushing victory in the 6 December parliamentary elections, putting an end to fifteen years of domination of the legislature by parties associated with former President Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro and opening up the possibility of a peaceful, negotiated solution to the crisis afflicting the country. The MUD overcame extremely adverse campaign conditions and surpassed its own most optimistic forecasts, winning 112 of the 167 seats in the National Assembly (AN).

Features | Crisis Group | 2 January 2016 | Hits: 67

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Record numbers of refugees reached Europe in 2015

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There are now more refugees and displaced people around the world than at any time since the Second World War. As the conflict in Syria forces record numbers to flee and the crisis on Europe’s borders grows, Syrian refugees face a new crackdown from the military in neighbouring countries and in Europe as temperatures plunge below zero. More than 460 people, including the seriously injured and their family members were evacuated from four towns under siege in Syria with the help of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), the United Nations and its Red Cross and Red Crescent partners following a local agreement between the fighters on the ground.

Features | Ali Bahaijoub | 2 January 2016 | Hits: 60

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Kenya’s Somali North East: Devolution and Security

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Devolved government in Kenya’s newly formed north-eastern counties, designed to address decades of political marginalisation and underdevelopment, has been undermined by dominant clans monopolising power and growing corruption. Violent clan competition and antipathy between elected county elites and the remaining national administrative structures have allowed the violently extremist Al-Shabaab movement to expand and operate with relative impunity across large areas of the North East. Its attacks exposed security-service disarray and caused a sharp reversal of already stretched state services in this vast and poor region that shares a porous 680km border with Somalia. To end the violence and capitalise on devolution’s potential,

Features | Crisis Group | 2 January 2016 | Hits: 64

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Galkayo and Somalia’s Dangerous Faultlines

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By Zakaria Yusuf & Abdul Khalif Clashes between clan militias in Somalia’s historically divided city of Galkayo that broke out on 22 November have killed at least 40 people, injured hundreds and displaced thousands. The fighting raises fears that the Galkayo dispute could escalate into a national conflict, and shows how fragile Somalia remains during its incomplete transition to a new constitutional order and peace. The Galkayo clashes symbolise the folly of the Somali Federal Government (SFG) and its international backers – an extraordinarily wide range of actors including the UN , the African Union, the European Union, the U.S., UK, Turkey, the United Arab

Features | NorthSouth | 2 January 2016 | Hits: 60

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Thailand’s lengthening roadmap to elections

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On 6 September 2015, a reform council appointed by Thailand’s military-run administration, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), rejected a constitution prepared by a drafting committee it had itself appointed. With the draft scuppered, the military regime extended its tenure by at least seven months, backtracking on the roadmap to “fully-functioning democracy” it announced after the May 2014 coup and delaying a general election until mid-2017. Passage to a general election, including a new constitution subject to a national referendum, has started over.

Features | Crisis Group | 2 January 2016 | Hits: 67

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UN approves Unity Accord to bring political stability to Libya

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The UN Security Council last month endorsed a UN-brokered agreement among Libya’s warring factions to form a national unity government, a deal Western powers hope will bring stability and help combat a growing terrorist groups presence. The agreement was sealed off in Skhirat, in Morocco, after several months of difficult negotiations. The unanimously adopted resolution, drafted by the United Kingdom, made clear that Libya’s future unity government should be the sole representative for the North African country, where competing governments have long vied for power.

Features | Ali Bahaijoub | 2 January 2016 | Hits: 60

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Despite less fighting, Eastern Ukraine still ‘highly flammable’ and death toll tops 9,000, UN

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Despite a significant reduction in hostilities in eastern Ukraine in the last few months in a conflict that has already left over 9,000 people dead and nearly 21,000 injured, serious human rights concerns persist, including killings, torture and impunity, according to the United Nations. The situation remains “highly flammable” due the inflow of ammunition, weaponry and fighters from Russia into territories controlled by armed groups, although an accord in August to strengthen a frequently violated earlier ceasefire led to the withdrawal of heavy weapons by the Ukrainian military and the armed groups, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine said in its latest report.

Features | NorthSouth | 2 January 2016 | Hits: 62

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Spain enters unknown as alliance eludes PM

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Spain’s acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy renewed his overtures to political rivals after an inconclusive election, urging them to back a government that would defend Spanish unity in the face of a Catalan independence drive. Rajoy, whose centre-right People’s Party (PP) won the most seats in the 20 December ballot but far short of a majority, also said that another general election would be undesirable. If it came to that, he would want to lead his party into it once again, he said. Rajoy did not mention his Socialist opponents or centrist Ciudadanos by name in his appeal for a “broad-based, consensus government”. But he called for parties which share its stance on issues such as Spanish unity to come together, in a nod to his rivals. Division over whether or not Catalonia, a wealthy north-eastern region, should be allowed a referendum on independence have become a stumbling block as political parties vie to form a government. The Socialist Party (PSO E) reiterated it would in no way back a government led by the PP or Rajoy.

Features | Ali Bahaijoub | 2 January 2016 | Hits: 63

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The unaccomplished mission in Afghanistan

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There are conflicting claims as to who is getting the upper hand in the Helmand province as the Taliban launches a dramatic comeback, a year after the withdrawal of the bulk of US and allied combat forces from Afghanistan, writes Franklin Adesegha. Helmand’s governor, Mirza Khan Rahimi, insisted the authorities were still in control but his own deputy, Mohammad Jan Rasulyar, said Sangin, in the Helmand province, had been overrun by the Taliban late on 20 December.

Cover Stories | Franklin Adesegha | 2 January 2016 | Hits: 66

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US onslaught

From south-western Afghanistan, the Taliban quickly extended their influence. They captured the province of Herat, bordering Iran, in September 1995. Exactly one year later, they captured the Afghan capital, Kabul, after overthrowing the regime of President Burhanuddin Rabbani and his defence minister, Ahmed Shah Masood. By 1998, they were in control of almost 90% of Afghanistan. They were accused of various human rights and cultural abuses. One notorious example was in 2001, when the Taliban went ahead with the destruction of the famous Bamiyan Buddha statues in central Afghanistan, despite international outrage. On October 7, 2001, a USled military coalition invaded Afghanistan and by the first week of December the Taliban regime had collapsed. Mullah Omar and his comrades have evaded capture despite one of the largest manhunts in the world. They are generally thought to be taking refuge in the Pakistani city of Quetta, from where they are guiding the resurgent Taliban.

Cover Stories | NorthSouth | 2 January 2016 | Hits: 68

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Who are the Taliban?

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The hardline Taliban movement has proved to be a formidable fighting force in Afghanistan and a major threat to its government. The Taliban also threatens to destabilise Pakistan, where they control areas in the north-west and have been blamed for a wave of suicide bombings and other attacks. Many observers now believe that future peace in Afghanistan can only come if the government in Kabul negotiates with the Taliban. The announcement of Taliban plans to open an office in Qatar in June 2013 was seen as a positive step in those negotiations, but mistrust on both sides remains high. Despite this, talks between the Taliban and Afghan government officials took place for the first time in July 2015.

Cover Stories | NorthSouth | 2 January 2016 | Hits: 75

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Will Afghanistan ever have peace?

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After the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama Ben Laden on 2 May 2011 by US Special forces in Pakistan, the battle for Afghanistan’s security grows more complicated as corrupt politicians formed ties with insurgent groups, creating cartel-like structures, forcing NATO allies to rethink their military strategy to bring peace and stability to the troubled country. Its justice system is in a catastrophic state of disrepair as the majority of Afghans still have little or no access to judicial institutions.

Cover Stories | Ali Bahaijoub | 2 January 2016 | Hits: 69

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Afghanistan: what next?

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There are arguments between politicians and soldiers over tactics in Afghanistan. Overtures are being made to get the Taliban to the negotiating table. All the while the 10-year-old conflict rages on, with the best guerrilla fighters in the world playing a waiting game. It all makes for a very confusing state of affairs for Western politicians, writes Guy Arnold Modern Afghanistan dates from the rule of Ahmad Shah Durrani who died in 1772. Formerly integrated into several empires over the preceding 2000 years, converts to Islam in 800, Afghanistan now found itself wedged between two imperial powers bent on expansion: Czarist Russia to the north and Britain operating from its Indian Empire base in the east. Its rulers learnt quickly how to play off one power against the other.

Cover Stories | Guy Arnold | 2 January 2016 | Hits: 71

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Pakistan-backed Afghan peace talks to restart in January

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Pakistan-brokered peace talks between Afghanistan and Taliban insurgents could restart in January after weeks of pressure from partners including the United States and China, according to officials in Islamabad and Kabul. The Pakistani and Afghan delegations were led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Ashraf Ghani respectively while Deputy Secretary State Tony Bliken was leading the US delegation in the meeting. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi represented his country in the meeting.

Cover Stories | Ali Bahaijoub | 2 January 2016 | Hits: 61

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Fighting resumes and Taliban regains confidence

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Alarmed by the Taliban advances in Helmand province, NATO allies have scrambled to help Afghan forces with more military personnel to train local forces and provide logistic support in conformity with the Resolute Support advisory mission in Helmand. Afghan commanders have repeatedly pleaded for more helicopters, and close air support and intelligence from surveillance aircrafts and drones as a necessary battlefield assets referred to in military jargon as "enablers".

Cover Stories | Ali Bahaijoub | 2 January 2016 | Hits: 64

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