Johnson’s apology and Djokovic vs Australia
Plus, Kazakh president claims last week’s unrest was a coup attempt
Hello! I hope you have a fantastic weekend ahead. A lot of things we’re talking about this week are updates of developments that happened last week. There’s been a twist in the story of the unrest in Kazakhstan, a country described by some as the perfect example of kleptocracy, where the president is claiming that it was a coup attempt amid a power struggle. The visa row between Australia and Tennis star Novak Djokovic’s has become messier.
Meanwhile, United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s political future is at a cliff after he apologised for a party that happened at his official residence in 2020, at a time when strict lockdown restrictions were in place.
Let’s get started.
This day that year
2011: Following mass protests against inflation, poverty and political oppression termed the Jasmine Revolution, Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was forced to resign. This is now seen as the trigger for the wider Arab Spring protests. After holding power for more than 23 years, Ben Ali and his family fled the country. A Tunisian court sentenced Ben Ali in absentia to 35 years in prison. He died in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2019.
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Asking again: Is Johnson’s party over?
Nearly a month after we asked if UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s party is over, his political future now at a cliff. On January 12, Johnson apologised in Parliament for attending a party at his official residence 10, Downing Street in May 2020 during the first COVID-triggered the lockdown. This incident is different to the alleged Christmas party held at his residence later that year, which we had discussed earlier.
“I want to apologise. I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months. I know the anguish that they have been through, unable to mourn their relatives and unable to live their lives as they want or to do the things they love,” Johnson told the House of Commons (Lower House) during a session allocated for members to ask questions to the prime minister. “I know the rage they feel with me and with the Government I lead when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules.”
Johnson’s comment and the ensuing exchange with members of parliament, including Opposition leader Keir Starmer, can be read here.
“The party is over, prime minister. The only question is: will the British public kick him out, will his party kick him out, or he will he do the decent thing and resign? (sic)” Starmer said.
While Cabinet members including Deputy PM Dominic Raab have supported Johnson, the prime minister is also being urged by senior members of his own Conservative Party to step down.
BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg suggests that Johnson’s apology is likely to buy him some time until a formal inquiry into the party is published. But, Kuenssberg suggests, Johnson has lost the benefit of the doubt.
Is Johnson’s resignation inevitable? If yes, who will take over? The list of potential candidates is long and includes Jeremy Hunt, Liz Truss, Priti Patel, Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid. But the person will have a challenging task ahead. YouGov’s dynamic opinion polling shows around 57 percent of respondents disapproved of the Johnson government’s performance. The ‘Tories’, as they are called, have been in power for nearly 12 years. About 71 percent feel Johnson is doing ‘badly’ as the leader, according to another YouGov poll. The YouGov-Times voting intention survey published on January 13 shows the opposition Labour Party leading the incumbent Conservatives by 10 percentage points. In simple words, if a general election is to happen now, the Tories will find it very difficult to retain power.
There’s more: On January 13, The Telegraph reported that another party had taken place at Downing Street on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021 when COVID-19 restrictions were still in place. Downing Street’s staff reportedly gathered at two farewell parties – comprising dancing and drinking – there when rules didn’t allow people to socialise indoors except with members of their own households. One of these parties happened in the basement. Johnson himself didn't attend this party, according to The Telegraph report.
Pin it on the map
Time for some head scratching: This picture and the satellite image show what is called the ‘Door to Hell’, ‘Gates of Hell’ or ‘Shining of the Karakum’, but there’s nothing sinister about it. It’s a natural gas field in Turkmenistan which collapsed into a crater measuring roughly 70 meters wide and 30 meters deep. This was in the news in recent days. What place is this?
The correct answer is at the bottom.
Kazakhstan crisis a coup?
In last week’s edition, titled ‘Old man, out!’, we discussed in detail about what was happening in Kazakhstan. With the ‘old man’, referring to 81-year-old former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, not out yet, a lot more has happened in the recent days.
Troops of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), who had entered the country after the Kazakh president’s invitation to help restore law and order, have started their withdrawal. That may suggest that the situation within the Central Asian nation has stabilised to a great degree.
In a plot twist of sorts, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev claimed that last week’s unrest that led to more than 160 deaths, was an attempted coup d’etat. He didn’t hint at who he thinks may have orchestrated it, but told CSTO leaders that it had been co-ordinated by a “single centre”. Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Kazakhstan had been targeted by international terrorism. Both leaders didn’t provide evidence to back their claims.
Some say that the violence was linked to a possible power struggle within the country’s ruling elite, a suggestion compounded by the fact that one of Nazarbayev’s close aides has reportedly been arrested. Tom Burgis of The Financial Times has explained this power struggle in detail.
Dialogue over Ukraine
Russia has said that its talks with the West were on, but suggested that they are hitting a dead end. Moscow wants to ensure that Ukraine doesn’t join the United States-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and that the military alliance doesn’t expand elsewhere in northern or eastern Europe — which it considers as its own sphere of influence. Washington D.C. is unlikely to accept these conditions.
Russia has continued its sabre-rattling, with its representatives at the dialogue suggesting that there could be “catastrophic consequences”, as quoted by Reuters, if the red line drawn by Moscow was not agreed to by the West.
Yet, Russia said it will continue to pursue diplomacy even though it rejected the West’s demands of the country withdrawing the massive number of soldiers and military hardware lined-up along the Ukrainian border. The US and European nations fear that Russia could invade Ukraine. We are likely to hear more on this as the talks continue.
Australia revokes Djokovic’s visa
Australia has revoked Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic’s visa for the second time in about a week. This is again, over his right to remain in the country unvaccinated. The 34-year-old was scheduled to play in the Australian Open which will start on January 17.
There is a possibility that Australian authorities could deport the Serbian player. A three-year visa ban is also a possibility. But Djokovic can still challenge this visa revocation legally to remain in the country and participate in the Australian Open. He’s looking to win a record 21st Grand Slam.
Last week, Djokovic’s visa had been revoked on arrival at Melbourne. The Australian immigration department said he had “failed to provide appropriate evidence” needed to get a vaccine exemption. He remained in detention for a few days before a court later let him enter the country, allowing him to participate in the Australian Open. Some background of this messy case is in last week’s edition.
“A discrete period of sickness — if the odds are in my favour and I don’t get long Covid — seems easier to endure than a protracted and probably futile struggle to evade sickness,” writes Michelle Goldberg for The New York Times. “The desire to get Omicron over with is a desire to exert a measure of control in an uncontrollable situation.”
Read the full opinion piece here: Waiting for Omicron
The Washington Post's Kareem Fahim and Zeynep Karatas piece together what it takes to navigate large ships through Turkey's Bosphorus Strait.
Read the full article here — A devil’s current, a hairpin turn: Aboard a tanker in the risky Bosporus strait
‘Pin it on the map’ answer: The Darvaza gas crater, Turkmenistan. There’s no consensus on how or why the crater was first ignited, but one of the explanations is that Soviet geologists set it on fire in 1971 to prevent the spread of methane. The fire was never extinguished, until now. Citing health concerns of people living close to what has become a tourist attraction, Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has asked officials to “find a solution to extinguish” it. Berdymukhamedov also said that the country was “losing valuable natural resources for which we could get significant profits”.
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