Politics this week

A third Saturday of anti-fuel-tax demonstrations, infiltrated by violent provocateurs from the hard left and the extreme right, saw windows smashed, cars ablaze and monuments defiled in Paris. In response, the French government cancelled a second planned fuel-tax rise, but protesters said this was not enough. See article.

An hour proved to be a long time in British politics, as Theresa May’s government suffered three rapid defeats in the House of Commons over Brexit. The government was held in contempt of Parliament, a first in modern times, for not publishing the full legal advice from the attorney-general concerning the withdrawal agreement. MPs also voted to have a direct say in what comes next if the prime minister’s proposed deal is voted down on December 11th. In his advice to the prime minister, the attorney-general stated that the Northern Ireland “backstop” would “endure indefinitely” if no new arrangement was agreed. See article.

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An advocate general of the European Court of Justice advised, at the request of some Scottish MPs, that Britain could unilaterally revoke the Article 50 notification to leave the European Union. While not a final ruling by the ECJ, it could provide an avenue of escape if Mrs May’s deal fails to win over Parliament.

A small anti-immigrant party, Vox, did well in elections in Andalusia in Spain, entering the regional parliament there. It is the first time that a far-right party has taken seats in a Spanish parliament for more than 30 years. See article.

The state’s verdict

China’s ministry of science described the creation of the world’s first gene-edited babies, a feat claimed by a Chinese scientist, He Jiankui, as “shocking” and illegal. Mr He’s whereabouts are unclear.

A Buddhist, Xuecheng, resigned from an advisory body to China’s parliament, in which he had held senior positions. The monk stepped down as chairman of the official Buddhist Association in August following accusations of sexual harassment.

Gunmen in Indonesia’s Papua province killed some 30 construction workers from outside the region who were building a road. Separatist guerrillas claimed responsibility.

An Indian mining firm decided to dig up less of a big coal deposit in Australia than originally planned. Greens have campaigned against the project, calling it a spur to global warming and a threat to the Great Barrier Reef.

Authorities in Pakistan charged Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the leader of an Islamist protest movement, with sedition. Mr Rizvi had led demonstrations demanding that Asia Bibi, a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy, be hanged anyway. His supporters also urged the army to mutiny.

Sore losers

The Republican legislature in Wisconsin passed a bill that would limit the powers of the new Democratic governor when he takes office in January. Scott Walker, the incumbent Republican governor, who was narrowly defeated in last month’s election, has indicated that he might sign it. See article.

George H.W. Bush died at the age of 94. America’s 41st president received a state funeral. His long career included being shot down over the Pacific during the second world war, sitting in Congress, running the CIA and serving as Ronald Reagan’s vice-president. As president, he oversaw the end of the cold war, encouraged the reunification of Germany, expelled Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and was unfailingly polite and understated. See obituary.

Lawyers working on Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in American elections recommended that Michael Flynn be spared a prison sentence for having helped with their inquiries. Mr Flynn, Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. The investigation gained a new witness in Michael Cohen.Mr Trump’s former personal lawyer pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the extent of his Russian contacts. See article.

A chink of light in a dark war

The Saudi-led coalition backing the Yemeni government allowed the Houthi rebels to evacuate wounded members to Oman. The Houthis and the government also agreed to exchange hundreds of prisoners. Those moves paved the way for peace talks in Geneva.

After a briefing by the head of the CIA, senators in America said they were certain that Muhammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist, in a consulate in Istanbul in October. A Turkish court approved arrest warrants for two former aides to the prince over the killing.

Qatar announced that it would withdraw from OPEC. It was another reminder of the oil cartel’s disunity. Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s most important member, has been trying to strangle Qatar with a trade embargo. See article.

Police in Israel recommended that Binyamin Netanyahu be indicted for bribery and fraud. The prime minister and his associates have been the subjects of several criminal probes. Police have recommended indictments in three. See article.

America reopened its embassy in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. Fighting between rebels and the government forced America to close the embassy and airlift out its ambassador in 1991. The move reflects Somalia’s progress, said the State Department.

Lawmakers in Sudan expressed support for a constitutional amendment that would allow President Omar al-Bashir to run for a third term in 2020, despite a two-term limit introduced in 2005.

South Africa’s parliament approved a report endorsing a constitutional amendment that would allow the expropriation of land without compensation. It can now start the process of making the change. Land grabs in neighbouring Zimbabwe caused an economic collapse.

Turning left

Andrés Manuel López Obrador was sworn in as president of Mexico. He used his inaugural address to criticise the liberal orthodoxy to which Mexican governments have intermittently adhered for three decades. He vowed to “end the corruption and impunity that impede Mexico’s rebirth”. He later suspended the auction of oil contracts for three years.

Cuba announced that people would be allowed to buy internet subscriptions on their mobile phones. Cubans have so far been restricted to using public hotspots or cybercafés to get online. The state-owned mobile-network operator will offer data packages up to 4GB for $30, about the same as the average monthly state wage.

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