Following a bitter campaign dominated by "fake news" generated from China and punctuated by sexist personal attacks on President Tsai Ing-wen, the incumbent was re-elected in the Jan. 11 race, overwhelmingly defeating her main challenger, Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT). Tsai, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), received 8.17 million votes, or some 57% of the total, to Han's 5.52 million votes, or 39%. A third candidate, James Soong of the People First Party (PFP), garnered 608,590 votes, or 4.26%. Tsai's total was the highest ever recorded for any candidate in a presidential election in Taiwan.
Missiles launched from Iran struck various targets in Iraq Jan. 7—primarily al-Asad air-base west of Baghdad, which hosts US forces. A site near the Kurdish city of Irbil appears to have been a secondary target. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps quickly took credit for the strikes, and the Pentagon said it believed Iran fired with the "intent to kill." But the facts suggest otherwise. Media reports indicate Tehran gave Baghdad advance warning of the strikes, and the Baghdad regime in turn informed the US, which moved its forces out of harm's way. In spite of all the predictable misinformation and disinformation that quickly proliferated on the internet, there were apparently no casualties in strikes. (Reuters, CNN, ABC) Anonymous US and European sources even told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the Iranians were thought to have intentionally targeted the attacks to miss US forces.
Donald Trump and the man he executed in a targeted assassination on Jan. 3, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, mirror each other as war criminals who treat the people of Iraq and the greater region as pawns in their power game. And, in fact, they were long de facto allies—Soleimani had been overseeing a "dirty war" in Iraq against Sunni militants and suspected ISIS sympathizers. His allied paramilitary forces have serially massacred anti-government protesters in Baghdad over the past months. In less explicit alignment with Washington, Soleimani also provided similar services on a far greater scale to the Bashar Assad dictatorship in Syria. As overall commander of Iranian forces in Syria backing up Assad's genocidal counter-insurgency campaign (and by no means just against ISIS and jihadists, but the secular opposition as well) Soleimani is probably responsible for the loss of hundreds of thousands of Syrian lives.
In response to the recent escalation in Iraq, President Trump has ordered thousands more US troops to neighboring Kuwait. "At the direction of the Commander in Chief, I have authorized the deployment of an infantry battalion from the Immediate Response Force (IRF) of the 82nd Airborne Division to the US Central Command area of operations in response to recent events in Iraq," Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in a written statement Dec. 31. "Approximately 750 soldiers will deploy to the region immediately, and additional forces from the IRF are prepared to deploy over the next several days," Central Command also said that a detachment from the Kuwait-based Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force will be deployed to the US embassy in Baghdad to reinforce security. (Military Times)
The Dec. 24 death of 92-year-old Noor-Ali Tabandeh, also known as Majzoub Ali Shah, leader of Iran's Gonabadi Sufi order, apparently prompted the regime to take pre-emptive measures against a fresh outbreak of protests. Radio Farda (linked to the US State Department) noted than a local activist reported on Twitter after the passing of the Sufi leader, that "riot police in armor who are equipped with batons, firearms and tear-gas have completely taken over all the streets leading to Zartosht Street," where the hospital he was held is located. Tabandeh was a harsh critic of Velayat-e Faqih (Guardianship of Islamic Jurists), the system by which Iran's orthodox Shi'ite religious establishment has final say over all laws. He had been under effective house arrest since February 2018, when a wave of protests by Gonabadi dervishes against persecution of their Order (including blocking of its websites) led to hundreds of arrests. Since Tabandeh's death, his followers on social media have been speculating that he was poisoned by the authorities.
The new Bolivian regime's Government Minister Arturo Murillo is threatening a military invasion of the eastern lowland region of Chapare, heartland of support for ousted president Evo Morales, which has become a de facto autonomous zone outside the control of La Paz. Murillo implied to reporters earlier this month that planned new elections for Bolivia will not be able to proceed until control over Chapare has been re-established. "We cannot permit a part of Bolivian territory without presence of the state, without presence of police... If there is no respect for the rule of law, this complicates the question of elections." He warned the region's residents: "Be careful of being too tough, or there won't be elections." (Cuidado que por ponerse duros no tengan elecciones.) He said that "narco-terrorists" are among the cocalero syndicates that have effectively seized power in the region, and that Chapare had become a "lawless territory." (Los Tiempos de Cochabamba, Dec. 11)
More than 235,000 people have fled from their homes in Syria's rebel-held Idlib province over the past days, as the Assad regime and Russia escalate their campaign of aerial bombardment. A report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) states that Ma'arrat An Nu'man and other towns in the province are now "almost empty," while internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in the extreme northwest of the province are rapidly swelling. "Displacement during winter is further exacerbating the vulnerability of those affected," the report states. Perversely, the renewed offensive comes days after Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended cross-border aid convoys into Idlib from Turkey for another year—essentially condemning many of those not directly killed by the bombs to death by starvation and exposure. (BBC News, Al Jazeera, The New Humanitarian, France24)
Nearly half a million demonstrators gathered in Madrid as the UN Climate Change Conference (officially COP25) opened in the Spanish city more than two weeks ago, with young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg the star of the show at a Dec. 6 mass rally. But despite being the longest climate summit yet, ending Dec. 15 after being extended two days, the affair ultimately amounted to little. Nearly 27,000 delegates came together with the supposed aim of finalizing the "rulebook" of the Paris Agreement, which is to officially take effect in 2020—settling rules for carbon markets and other mechanisms for international cooperation under Article 6 of the deal. But, unable to agree on terms for Article 6, delegates finally invoked "Rule 16" of the UN climate process—allowing them to put off the critical decisions for another year. This means there will have been no progress when COP26 is convened in Glasgow in November 2020. UN Secretary General António Guterres tweeted that he was "disappointed" with the results of COP25, and that "the international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation & finance to tackle the climate crisis." (CarbonBrief, BBC News, BBC News)