Weekly Briefing: May 16, 2016

Weekly Briefing: May 16, 2016

A diplomatic flurry in Vienna, Indian state elections test the BJP and Turkey gets a new PM.

May 16:

Top foreign ministers hold talks on Libyan security.

The Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan meet to discuss a cease-fire.

May 17:

Members of the International Syria Support Group meet.

Construction starts on the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline.

May 18:

State election results are announced in India.

May 19:

China and Thailand begin three weeks of military exercises.

Russia hosts a two-day ASEAN summit in Sochi.

May 20:

The new president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, is inaugurated.

May 21:

President Obama leaves for Vietnam and Japan.

May 22:

The AK Party nominates the next Turkish PM.

A Presidential run-off vote is held in Austria.

Parliamentary elections are held in Cyprus.


VIENNA TALKS ON LIBYAN SECURITY

BEN JAWAT, LIBYA - MARCH 05: Rebel militiamen ride atop pickups with mounted weapons known as "technicals" while moving towards the frontline March 25 2011 in Ben Jawat, Libya. Opposition forces pushed government troops further west as they took more territory towards the Gaddafi stronghold of Surt. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

On Monday, May 16, regional foreign ministers will meet in Vienna to discuss the security situation in Libya. The talks are expected to focus on stabilising the country and coordinating international support for the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

Despite the arrival of the GNA in Tripoli two months ago the country is still divided among a handful of armed militias. One of these groups is the Libyan National Army which is supported by Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Combatting the increased presence of ISIS in central Libya will also be on the agenda. Last week the US indicated it may loosen a Libyan arms embargo in order to support the GNA in its fight against the extremist group.

 

NAGORNO-KARABAKH CEASE-FIRE TALKS

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On the sidelines of the Libya summit, the foreign ministers of Russia, the US and France will meet with the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to discuss the maintenance of a cease-fire in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The disputed territory was the scene of clashes in April that left more than 100 dead, the worst outbreak of violence in more than 20 years.

Nagorno-Karabakh is considered Azerbaijani territory by the international community but declared its own independence in 1991 and has been administered by ethnic Armenians ever since. No country recognises the sovereignty of the disputed territory, although Armenia says it is preparing to pass legislation to do just this. Such a move would not bode well for lasting peace.

The recent tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan mean it is unlikely this meeting will result in a diplomatic breakthrough. Rather, discussions will focus on how to prevent outbreaks of violence in the future.

 

SYRIA GROUP MEET TO FIND PATH FORWARD

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On Tuesday, May 17, the foreign ministers of China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UK, US and others – known collectively as the International Syria Support Group – will meet in Vienna. Discussions will focus on shoring up a teetering cease-fire agreement and restarting political negotiations to end the Syrian conflict.

Last month peace talks between the Syrian regime and elements of the ‘moderate opposition’ collapsed after opposition groups accused the regime of committing gross violations of the cease-fire.

Since the breakdown of negotiations fighting in northern Syria has intensified, particularly in and around the strategic northern city of Aleppo. In response, the US and Russia held an emergency meeting last week with senior Syrian opposition figures to restore a nationwide cease-fire. This has been met with limited success.

 

STATE ELECTIONS IN INDIA TEST MODI’S BJP

An Indian supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Prime Ministerial candidate for India's forthcoming general election and Chief Minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat Narendra Modi and Indian yoga guru Baba Ramdev waves the national flag during the 'Yoga Mahotsav' event run by Ramdev and attended by Modi in New Delhi on March 23, 2014. Ramdev is launching a 'Yoga Mahotsav' across India with millions of people scheduled to take part in yoga sessions including Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Prime Ministerial candidate for India's forthcoming general election and Chief Minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat Narendra Modi. India, the world's biggest democracy, announced the start of national elections on April 7 that are expected to bring Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi to power on a platform of economic revival. AFP PHOTO /SAJJAD HUSSAIN (Photo credit should read SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, May 19, the results of elections in five of India’s 29 State Legislative Assemblies –
Assam, Puducherry, Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu – will be announced.

The votes are seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first two years in office. The results will also have a direct impact on Mr Modi’s influence; state legislators nominate 238 of the 250 members in India’s upper house. Currently, the ruling BJP only holds 64 of these seats.

Opinion polls indicate that the BJP may snatch Assam from its main rival, the Indian National Congress. Assam – a Hindu majority state with a sizeable Muslim population – has a history of sectarian strife, a factor the Hindu nationalist BJP will look to exploit for political ends.

 

CHINA AND THAILAND HOLD JOINT EXERCISES

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On Wednesday, May 19, China and Thailand will begin three weeks of joint land and sea military exercises codenamed “Blue Strike”.

Since the military seized power in a May 2014 coup, Thailand has sought to strengthen ties with China in an effort to counterbalance its historically close relationship with the US.

The US, along with other Western countries, has objected to the rule of the military junta and has downgraded its military cooperation with Thailand pending elections. The military government maintains elections will be held in 2017.

Last year, Thailand announced it was considering buying three Chinese submarines for $1bn, however the deal appears to be on hold.

Sino-Thai military cooperation comes amid tensions between China and its neighbours over maritime disputes in the South China Sea. Thailand is not involved in the disputes.

 

AK PARTY CHOOSE NEXT TURKISH PM

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On Sunday, May 22, Turkey’s ruling AK Party will hold an extraordinary congress to choose the country’s next prime minister after Ahmet Davutoglu announced he would step down from the post. Davutoglu is reported to have fallen out with powerful President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is seeking to alter the Turkish constitution and introduce an executive presidency.

The extraordinary congress will result in the nomination of a new party chairman who will serve as Turkey’s next prime minister. Reports indicate Transport Minister Binali Yildirim and Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag are are the two leading candidates. Both ministers have close connections with President Erdogan.

 

PRESIDENTIAL RUN-OFF IN AUSTRIA

Election campaign posters of presidential candidate Norbert Hofer from the Freedom Party are seen in Vienna, Austria, April 8, 2016. Austria is holding Presidential elections on April 24, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Also on Sunday, Austrians will head to the polls in a second round presidential run-off vote. The two competing candidates are Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party and the Social Democratic Party’s Alexander Van der Bellen.

The vote comes a week after Chancellor Werner Faymann stepped down, succumbing to pressure from within his own Social Democratic Party. Mr Faymann was blamed for the electoral success of the far-right in April’s first round election.

While the Austrian constitution technically entrusts the president with substantial powers, in practice it is mostly a ceremonial position, with the Chancellor wielding the most power.

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