Jacinda Ardern will be the next prime minister of New Zealand. Ardern, who has led the Labour Party for less than three months, spoke at a press conference Thursday at Parliament in Wellington after a coalition government was formed.

Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images

Jacinda Ardern will be the next prime minister of New Zealand. Ardern, who has led the Labour Party for less than three months, spoke at a press conference Thursday at Parliament in Wellington after a coalition government was formed.

Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images

Canada has Justin Trudeau. France has Emmanuel Macron. But in terms of youth and charisma, New Zealand’s next prime minister may have them beat.

Meet 37-year-old Jacinda Ardern. She’ll be the country’s youngest leader in 150 years, and she’s the youngest-ever head of the Labour Party.

“It is an absolute honor and a privilege to have the ability to form a government for all New Zealanders,” she said Thursday. “Labour has always believed that government should be a partner in ensuring an economy that works and delivers for all New Zealanders. We also believe in a government that looks after its environment and ultimately looks after its people. And I believe that Labour has found true allies in Parliament to deliver on that.”

She was elected the leader of her party less than three months ago. Immediately, her party’s poor polling numbers began to climb so rapidly it was dubbed “Jacindamania.”

Ardern is seen as friendly and direct, as she ran a campaign she said would be defined by “relentless positivity.” A former Mormon, she deejays in her spare time, has been known to eat cheese and crackers when there’s no time for dinner, and enjoys single-malt whisky.

“Labour’s policy platform was essentially the same, focused on addressing issues including the housing crisis, child poverty and mental health,” one writer opines in The Guardian. “But here was an exemplar of the function of leadership: almost palpably, people began to listen.”

Among the planks of Ardern’s platform: three years of free post-secondary education, free community-based mental health services, and banning of foreign speculators from buying existing homes in New Zealand.

Ardern’s panache came to international attention when just hours into the job as party leader, she deftly handled questions about whether she plans to have children. She said she was fine answering such queries, since she had previously spoken publically about the topic.

“But,” she said, “it is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that women should have to answer that question in the workplace. … It is a woman’s decision about when they choose to have children. It should not predetermine whether or not they are given a job, or have job opportunities.”

When New Zealand held its election on Sept. 23, the National Party won the most seats — 56 — but not the 61 it needed for a parliamentary majority. The country’s leadership hung in the balance until yesterday, when a populist party called New Zealand First decided to join the left bloc with Labour and the Green Party.

That put New Zealand First’s leader, Winston Peters, in the kingmaker role. The New York Times calls him “famously truculent,” while the Guardian goes with “grumpy and magnetic septuagenarian.” Peters has been offered the deputy prime minister role in the coalition government.

It wasn’t at all obvious that Peters would go in with Labour. His party’s slogan was “Had enough?” – not a perfect stylistic fit with Labour‘s “Let’s do this.”

But in the end, Peters said his choice was between “a modified status quo, or for change.”

The National Party had held power for nine years, and outgoing Prime Minister Bill English said he was disappointed at the outcome. But even he acknowledged Ardern’s quick ascent.

“That’s a fairly remarkable performance given that just 10 or 12 weeks ago she was the deputy leader of a failing opposition,” he said, according to The Associated Press.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/10/19/558824862/meet-jacinda-ardern-37-new-zealands-next-prime-minister?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

An Afghan National Army soldier searches a vehicle at a checkpoint in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Thursday on the way to the Maiwand army base, the site of the Taliban attack late Wednesday.

Massoud Hossaini/AP


hide caption

toggle caption

Massoud Hossaini/AP

An Afghan National Army soldier searches a vehicle at a checkpoint in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Thursday on the way to the Maiwand army base, the site of the Taliban attack late Wednesday.

Massoud Hossaini/AP

Taliban militants wiped out almost an entire Afghan Army base in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, leaving just two Afghan soldiers there uninjured. This brings the week’s toll to more than 120 people killed by the militant group.

The attack, which started late Wednesday, killed at least 43 Afghan soldiers and wounded nine, reporter Jennifer Glasse in Kabul tells our Newscast unit.

“The Taliban attacked … Afghan Army base in Maiwand, Kandahar province in the middle of the night while many of the 60 Afghan soldiers there slept,” Glasse reported. “A suicide bomber blew up what the Taliban describe as an armored vehicle, and then fighters went in.”

Some 10 Taliban fighters were also killed, Glasse adds. Six Afghan army soldiers from the base are also reportedly missing.

And the base itself sustained major damage. “Unfortunately there is nothing left inside the camp,” defence ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri told the BBC. “They have burned down everything they found inside.”

Two other attacks on security forces Wednesday claimed lives – as The Washington Post reported, “Taliban fighters killed nine police officers late Wednesday in the western Farah province during attacks on police posts there and killed six policeman in an ambush in the northern Balkh province.”

And a series of other attacks earlier this week were even more deadly, Glasse reported: “On Tuesday in Paktia,two Humvees exploded killing 60 and wounded 300. On the same day in Ghazni an attack on District Headquarters left 20 dead — 15 of them police.”

The Post reports that the Taliban are increasingly using U.S.-made Humvees in their suicide attacks. “The bulky off-road vehicles, taken from Afghan army bases in previous attacks, create more shrapnel when they explode and make it harder for Afghan guards to tell whether an approaching suicide bomber is with the Taliban,” the newspaper wrote, quoting government security officials.

The attacks come after the White House has given Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, “more authority to attack the Taliban, more warplanes and drones to mount punishing airstrikes — and a few thousand more American troops to advise the Afghans,” as NPR’s Tom Bowman reported earlier this month.

Still, Nicholson continued to describe the fight in Afghanistan, America’s longest-running war, as a stalemate. As Tom reported, the Taliban “either control or exert influence in about 40 percent of Afghanistan, an area that is home to about a third of the population — 11 million people.”

Both the U.S. and Afghanistan are putting pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the militant group, Glass reported. The group is known to have safe havens within Pakistan.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/10/19/558803854/taliban-attack-nearly-wipes-out-afghan-army-base?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

A woman wears a mask and filter as she walks to work during heavy pollution in Beijing, China.

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

A woman wears a mask and filter as she walks to work during heavy pollution in Beijing, China.

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Exposure to polluted air, water and soil caused nine million premature deaths in 2015, according to a report published Thursday in The Lancet.

The causes of death vary — cancer, lung disease, heart disease. The report links them to pollution, drawing upon previous studies that show how pollution is tied to a wider range of diseases than previously thought.

Those studies observed populations exposed to pollutants and compared them to people not exposed. The studies have shown that pollution can be an important cause of diseases — many of them potentially fatal — including asthma, cancer, neurodevelopmental disorders, birth defects in children, heart disease, stroke and lung disease.

Loading…

The nine million figure adds up to 16 percent of all deaths worldwide, killing three times more people than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Pollution is responsible for 15 times more deaths than wars and all other forms of violence.

“No country is unaffected,” the report notes. But 92 percent of those deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries.

“Pollution in rapidly developing countries is just getting worse and worse and worse. And it isn’t getting the attention it deserves. It needed to be rigorously studied,” says Dr. Philip Landrigan, pediatrician and professor of environmental medicine and global health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He is the lead author of the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health along with Richard Fuller, president of Pure Earth, which works to clean up pollution in poor countries.

We talked with Landrigan about the commission’s findings.

Why do this study now?

The issue has come of age. Richard Fuller and I have worked in environmental health for a long time. Richard works with USAID and counterparts to clean up hazardous waste. I’m a pediatrician studying effects of pollution on health. We have deep roots in this area. We wanted to rigorously study the problem and marshal the evidence. We brought in these authors with a range of expertise to work on a report to try to translate science into policy. We wanted to look at disease, but also the intersection of pollution with economics and social injustice.

The report says that “the health-related costs of pollution are hidden in hospital budgets.” What do mean by hidden costs?

Say a person comes into the hospital with cardiac arythmia. Nobody makes the connection that it happened on a day when air pollution was extremely high. Rates of heart disease and stroke are kicked up by air pollution. [Inhaled nanoparticles of pollution can play a role in rupturing plaque build-up in arteries, causing a heart attack or stroke, according to the American Heart Association.]

Arsenic in the water increases rates of some cancers, but the connection isn’t immediate. When debates arise about controlling pollution, industry almost always says it’s too expensive to make changes. Industries can make that statement because they can calculate how much it costs, say, to put filters on smokestacks. The health costs to people over many years of exposure to pollution is less obvious.

Why does pollution disproportionately affect poor countries?

Many of those countries are rapidly industrializing. But they have weak environmental agencies. They’re galloping ahead with industrialization without paying attention to the consequences.

You talk about environmental injustice. Explain the injustice of pollution.

One blatant example is asbestos. About two million tons of new asbestos is produced every year. [Asbestos is outlawed in most of the developed world because of the high risk of lung cancer.] Virtually all of that goes to the world’s poorest countries that have poor or no regulations against it. [According to reports it is used in the production of building materials, among other products.] It’s going to continue to cause epidemics of cancer in poor counties. Another example is pesticides. About 20 percent of U.S. pesticide production is of pesticides not allowed in this country because of known health risks. So we export it to poor countries.

Then there is the international transfer of materials like old computers, cell phones, TVs, refrigerators from rich countries to the developing world. People break them up and try to extract valuable things like gold or copper, and pollutants get into the soil. Or lead batteries end up in developing countries and contaminate communities.

Are there low- or middle-income countries that are making positive changes regarding pollution?

China is doing a very good job in controlling their pollution. They still have a long way to go but they have a national plan for attacking air, water and soil pollution and they’re becoming a world leader in the adoption of renewable energy — wind and solar.

What are the next steps?

We suggest creating a Global Pollution Observatory to track progress toward tackling pollution and periodically publishing updates in The Lancet. Also, experts in developed countries can provide technical assistance to poor countries to develop and implement health and pollution action plans like reporting statistics on premature deaths by pollution risk factor. In fact, that work has already started in Madagascar, Thailand and Kenya. And we’ve launched an interactive websitea step toward tracking progress on global pollution.

It seems like an enormous problem. Do you see much hope for reducing pollution-related disease and deaths in poor countries?

One of the things we hope will happen is that pollution will become more important on the global policy agenda. When you look at the time in the U.S. since 1970, the year of the passage of the Clean Air Act, air pollution in the U.S. has come down by 70 percent. At the same time, GDP has increased by 250 percent. That puts the lie to what we hear that controlling pollution is going to kill jobs. That’s untrue. The laws, the engineering solutions, are ready to be exported. This is a winnable battle. We say that because the rich countries have done it. In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland was so polluted, it caught fire. Today, people kayak down that river.

Susan Brink is a freelance writer who covers health and medicine. She is the author of The Fourth Trimester, and co-author of A Change of Heart.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2017/10/19/558821792/report-pollution-kills-3-times-more-than-aids-tb-and-malaria-combined?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Chinese President Xi Jinping has cracked down on corruption — and dissent.

Lintao Zhang/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping has cracked down on corruption — and dissent.

Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in September, Liang Xiaojun received a knock on the door. “There were 15 of them: national security police, regular police, justice bureau folks,” he remembers.

Liang is a human rights lawyer in Beijing, an endangered species since 2015, when China’s government questioned or detained more than 200 of his colleagues. Now he wonders if they’re coming for him.

“They told me this was just a preliminary check. Next week, they’ll send more police. It’s possible they’ll arrest me, but I mustn’t live in fear.”

Liang has made a career of defending people charged with subverting the state. His first case was defending a Uighur Christian accused of leaking state secrets, and his latest is representing a Tibetan charged with separatism after being interviewed by the New York Times. In between, he’s defended many of his own friends: fellow lawyers imprisoned for doing their jobs.

As Communist Party delegates gather in Beijing this week for a once-every-five-years Party Congress, President Xi Jinping will be applauded for his ability to maintain control over a society of 1.3 billion people. One way he’s done this is through an unprecedented crackdown on lawyers, activists and organizations advocating for civil rights — a campaign aimed at quelling any hint of dissent against Communist Party rule.

“They came for me at night, marched me out of my home, took me to a police station and detained me for 37 days,” says 27-year-old Zheng Churan, who was held in 2015 as she was organizing a protest against sexual harassment on public buses.

She was one of five women detained the day before International Women’s Day that year for organizing rallies advocating gender equality. Foreign media in China dubbed them “the feminist five.”

“After I was released, national police continued to check on me,” says Zheng from her home in the southern city of Guangzhou. “I barely responded, because all their warnings lacked logic and legal justification. All they talked about was maintaining social stability.”

China’s Communist Party has become increasingly obsessed with maintaining social stability in recent years. When asked why, both Zheng and Liang offer a quick, unequivocal response: China’s economy.

“It’s suffered in recent years,” notes Liang. “Suppressing whistleblowers and lawyers is their way to maintain stability at a time when the economy is unstable.”

A billboard in Shanghai reads “Welcome the 19th Party Congress, concentrated together to build the China Dream.” Since Xi Jinping became president five years ago, posters promoting the “China Dream” — Xi’s guiding principle of rejuvenating the country — have appeared across China.

Andy Wong/AP


hide caption

toggle caption

Andy Wong/AP

A billboard in Shanghai reads “Welcome the 19th Party Congress, concentrated together to build the China Dream.” Since Xi Jinping became president five years ago, posters promoting the “China Dream” — Xi’s guiding principle of rejuvenating the country — have appeared across China.

Andy Wong/AP

China’s unstable economy has its beginnings not in China but on Wall Street in 2008, when Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, setting off the worst economic crisis in living memory.

“In the year after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, the value of Chinese exports fell by about 20 percent, which is a very big deal,” says Arthur Kroeber, a founding partner of Gavekal Dragonomics and author of China’s Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know.

In 2008, exports were the beating heart of China’s economy, employing hundreds of millions of migrant workers who were working their way up China’s social ladder to make up the world’s largest consumer class.

“The estimates at the time were that somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million workers in export-related industries along the coasts lost their jobs and had to return home,” says Kroeber. “It was a pretty major shock to China.”

How would a country accustomed to double-digit economic growth cope with tens of millions of workers suddenly out of work? China’s leaders didn’t wait to find out. Within weeks, they passed a historic stimulus package, injecting nearly $600 billion into the economy, an amount worth 15 percent of China’s entire economy.

“It was by far the largest fiscal stimulus, in absolute terms or relative to GDP, of any economy in the world at that time,” says Kroeber.

It worked a little too well.

Millions of Chinese went back to work on infrastructure projects like the world’s most extensive high-speed rail network, highways and subway systems. By 2010, China was back into double-digit growth territory again.

But all this new money flowing through local governments exposed deep-seated vulnerabilities in China’s political system — namely corruption, says Kroeber.

“Corruption throughout the economy, it kind of got out of control,” he says. “It was pretty bad before the financial crisis. The stimulus, I think, just poured gasoline on the fire of corruption.”

By 2013, when Xi was president, corruption within the Communist Party was spiraling out of control. Economic growth was steady, but underneath the numbers, debt was rising and so was wasteful spending. The party, it seemed, had lost control over its highest officials and China’s economy.

In a speech shortly before coming to power, Xi vowed to clean up the Communist Party through an anti-corruption campaign that would net hundreds of thousands of officials from the village level all the way to the highest members of China’s ruling elite.

But he didn’t stop there.

Xi understood that economic growth – once a pillar of legitimacy for the party – was under threat, says Willy Wo-Lop Lam, author of Chinese Politics in the Era of Xi Jinping.

Lam says Xi Jinping was forced to look elsewhere to legitimize the party, turning instead to two sources of inspiration: convincing China’s population that only the Communist Party could restore the country to global greatness, and suppressing anybody who threatened the party’s control over China.

“So that’s why we see an unprecedented amount of members of civil society, liberal college professors, human rights lawyers, leaders of the underground Christian churches, all under threat,” says Lam. “All of them do not have any intent to overthrow the Communist Party. But from the party’s point of view, these are destabilizing forces.”

Soon after Xi came to power five years ago, posters began to appear along streets, highways — everywhere, really — promoting the “China Dream,” Xi Jinping’s guiding principle of rejuvenating the country. Today these posters advertise 24 words that make up China’s socialist core values, including “justice,” “equality,” “freedom” and “democracy.”

“Authorities ask government workers and school children to recite these 24 words,” says Liang Xiaojun, the Beijing lawyer. “They’re all bright, positive ideas, but they don’t exist in China. I think they’re there to craft a dream for the people.”

Judging by current trends, he says, that dream won’t likely come true. Liang says he hopes he’s wrong.

Yuhan Xu contributed research to this story.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2017/10/18/558523037/for-clues-to-chinas-crackdown-on-public-expression-look-to-its-economy?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly speaks with Ali Soufan, former FBI terrorism investigator, and author of the book Anatomy of Terror. They discuss reports that Al-Qaida is actively recruiting ISIS fighters.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/2017/10/18/558614292/how-other-terrorist-organizations-could-benefit-from-isis-loss-of-raqqa?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Kenya’s electoral confusion threatens to become a constitutional crisis. This comes as a senior electoral official resigned and fled to the U.S., saying the planned rerun of the presidential election in eight days is not guaranteed a fair process.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/2017/10/18/558614399/kenyan-officials-say-they-cant-guarantee-fair-process-in-presidential-election?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces walks on a building near Raqqa’s stadium Monday, as they cleared the last positions on the front line in the fight against ISIS.

Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces walks on a building near Raqqa’s stadium Monday, as they cleared the last positions on the front line in the fight against ISIS.

Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 11:40 a.m. ET

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are in the process of kicking ISIS out of Raqqa, the extremist group’s self-declared capital where it has terrorized civilians and plotted attacks against targets linked to the U.S. and its allies. Now ISIS fighters are reportedly bottled up in a stadium complex in the Syrian city.

As of Tuesday afternoon local time, the SDF controlled “more than 90 percent” of Raqqa, according to U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve.

The gains have left ISIS “on the verge of a devastating defeat,” Dillon said in an update shortly before noon ET. In the past few days, he said, “about 350 fighters” have surrendered.

Celebrations began to break out among the SDF in Raqqa on Tuesday, as the end of a four-month offensive seemed near. But Dillon tells NPR’s Ruth Sherlock that fighting could continue as ISIS fighters hold out in booby-trapped buildings.

Rigged explosives present a peril of their own. The commander of the Raqqa Internal Security Forces — who was to help secure the city after ISIS was defeated there — died Monday, Dillon said, “when he was walking through Raqqa and triggered an IED, and he had two of his colleagues that were with him.”

The near-total takeover of Raqqa is being marked three years after the Operation Inherent Resolve task force was officially established by the Department of Defense.

The task force says it has liberated “over 6.6 million Iraqi and Syrian from Daesh control” and taken back nearly 94,000 square kilometers of land — nearly 90 percent of the territory seized by the extremist group in 2014.

As for how many fighters ISIS currently has at its disposal, the task force said its estimates range from 3,000 to 7,000 who are continuing to fight in Iraq and Syria. The group also says it has degraded ISIS’ ability to fund its operations, by shutting down 90 percent of its oil revenues.

The Raqqa landmarks that have been wrested from ISIS’ control, Dillon notes, include the Al-Naim traffic circle, once used by the militants to carry out executions and acts of depraved violence.

The precise number of ISIS fighters who remain at large in the city isn’t known. Over the weekend, word emerged that at least 100 ISIS fighters had surrendered. From Monday into Tuesday, the militants were isolated in two areas: a hospital and at the municipal stadium, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The stadium had been used as a prison.

After fighters at the hospital reportedly surrendered, that left the stadium — and the Observatory says that when negotiations for more surrenders became drawn out, the SDF launched an assault Tuesday backed by U.S. special forces.

Made up of Arab and Kurdish fighters, the SDF began a push to take Raqqa in early June. They were backed by airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition — strikes targeting ISIS that have been blamed for causing civilian deaths.

From Beirut, Ruth reports:

“Raqqa is where ISIS first imposed the strict laws that it hoped would one day govern a caliphate that took land across Iraq and Syria. After they took the city in 2014, women were not allowed out in public alone. Young men — even children — were trained to fight. Non-Muslims were persecuted. Those who broke laws were executed publicly. …

“But the imminent victory comes at a huge costs. The fight on the ground, and airstrikes by the U.S. and Russia have left Raqqa all but destroyed. Many civilians have been killed. Most of the population fled, and now they don’t know if they’ll have a home when they return.”

What could be the final push to rid Raqqa of ISIS fighters comes days after a convoy of vehicles left the city under a deal that set up by the Raqqa Civil Council and local Arab tribal elders. The exodus prompted concern that ISIS fighters might slip through the front lines, and the U.S. Operation Inherent Resolve said that anyone leaving Raqqa under the arrangement would be subject to search and screening by Syrian Democratic Forces.

“We do not condone any arrangement that allows Daesh terrorists to escape Raqqa without facing justice, only to resurface somewhere else,” said Brig. Gen. Jonathan Braga, the coalition director of operations. “Daesh terrorists have been hiding behind women and children for three years, and we are against any arrangement that lets them continue to do so.”

In Raqqa, the U.S. and its allies are liberating a city that will require years to recover from the violence and destruction. And once it is secured, the fight against ISIS moves elsewhere.

Here is how NPR’s Tom Bowman described what could be a lengthy military process when the offensive began this summer:

“Even after Raqqa falls, U.S. officials say they have to clear an area south of Raqqa along the Iraq border. It’s some 150 miles. And the trouble is, you have Syrian regime forces there, as well. So the question is, how does the U.S. deal with the Syrians. You know, the answer they’re saying is to work with the Russians to what they call de-conflict military operations with the Russian ally Syria.”

On another front in the war against ISIS, the U.S. carried out a strike on two training camps in Yemen, which the U.S. Central Command said will disrupt the extremist group’s ability to train new fighters.

The strike hit the relatively remote Al Bayda governorate, an arid inland region where Centcom says that “ISIS used the camps to train militants to conduct terror attacks using AK-47s, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and endurance training.”

The Centcom added that U.S. forces have been working “in coordination with the government of Yemen” to carry out counterterrorism operations there.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/10/17/558271646/isis-makes-last-stand-at-a-stadium-in-raqqa-its-doomed-capital?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

A poster in Beijing features Chinese President Xi Jinping and a slogan reading “Chinese Dream, People’s Dream.” Xi is preparing to embark on a second five-year term this week.

Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

A poster in Beijing features Chinese President Xi Jinping and a slogan reading “Chinese Dream, People’s Dream.” Xi is preparing to embark on a second five-year term this week.

Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

Preparations for a major shakeup of China’s Communist Party leadership are all but complete, ahead of a national congress that begins in Beijing on Wednesday. President Xi Jinping, the party boss, is expected to cement his already considerable power and embark on a second five-year term.

Last Saturday, in an auditorium bedecked with red flags and hammer-and-sickle emblems, the party’s outgoing central committee members raised their hands in unison to approve the congress’s final preparations.

Beijing’s streets are lined with security personnel, and police have hustled dissidents out of town on enforced “vacations” ahead of the country’s most important political event.

Held every five years, the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party is a piece of political theater that University of Victoria political scientist Wu Guoguang describes as being at once “holy” and “hollow.”

When it comes to understanding exactly how the leader of the world’s most populous nation is chosen, “In fact, nobody knows,” Wu says. “It’s jungle politics,” he adds. “The party does not play the game by its own rules.”

According to the Communist Party’s charter, China’s nearly 90 million party members select nearly 2,300 delegates, who in turn vote for a roughly 200-member central committee. That committee then elects a 25-odd-member Politburo, a standing committee having between five and nine members and the party’s general secretary or top leader.

But in fact, “The election is a formality,” Wu says. “The positions are decided in advance of the congress.” Then they’re given to the delegates to rubber-stamp.

The actual selection of the party leadership, Wu adds, is done “in a black box” behind closed doors.

In other words, while power appears to flow from the bottom up, it actually goes from the top down.

Experts’ best guess, Wu says, is that around 20 people, including serving and retired members of the Politburo standing committee, bargain in secret to decide the next leader several months before the congress.

In theory, the national congress is the party’s highest organ of power. But Wu, the author of China’s Party Congress: Power, Legitimacy, and Institutional Manipulation, who helped draft political reforms for the late Chinese Premier and Communist Party boss Zhao Ziyang, says that the leadership has many ways to manipulate the institution to make sure nobody it dislikes is ever nominated — much less elected.

One such device is a sort of straw poll or dry run ahead of the congress, so that leaders can sniff out and neutralize opposition to their preferred candidates.

The selection process is full of uncertainty, says Wu. This uncertainty may be behind the event’s massive security operations, to which “every blade of grass, every tree looks like an enemy soldier,” as the old Chinese saying goes.

Part of the problem is that so many successions under communist rule have ended in failure. Three of Mao Zedong’s anointed heirs, Liu Shaoqi, Lin Biao and Hua Guofeng, were purged or sidelined.

Liu was purged and persecuted during the Cultural Revolution and died in 1969. Lin died in a 1971 plane crash, after an alleged failed coup attempt. Hua served as party chairman for five years until Deng Xiaoping pushed him aside in 1981.

During the 1980s, supreme leader Deng sacked two of his appointed successors in a row, ostensibly because they were soft on dissent.

Experts point out that China has neither a hereditary dynasty nor competitive elections. To restore a semblance of order to the leadership selection process in the years following the June 4, 1989, massacre near Tiananmen Square, the party established some unwritten rules or norms to govern it.

The most important of these is an informal rule that Politburo standing committee members must retire at age 68.

But experts believe that Xi is not satisfied with the informal rules and intends to bend, break or scrap them altogether.

And if there is any unwritten rule experts say Xi cannot tolerate, it is one that could hinder his ability to designate his own successor. In Chinese politics, this is a guarantee of a retired leader’s survival and continuing behind-the-scenes influence.

Years ago, supreme leader Deng is believed to have anointed two of Xi’s predecessors. They in turn apparently designated two men, Sun Zhengcai and Hu Chunhua, as Xi’s possible successors.

But in July, Sun was sacked for corruption and violating party discipline as party boss of southwest China’s Chongqing city, and Xi signaled that he would not accept anyone else’s choice as his heir. Hu remains in place, at least for now.

Mao, Deng and many Chinese emperors centuries before them essentially ruled until they died. China’s Constitution mandates a two-term limit for its presidents, but there are no term limits for party leaders, who are above the president.

Xi serves as president, party leader and head of the military. During his first term, he outdid his predecessors with tough crackdowns on both dissent and official corruption at home along with a muscular military posture to back up China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and the China-India border. Experts expect more of the same from a second Xi term.

Xi is not the first to challenge the party’s informal leadership succession rules. Bo Xilai, a flamboyant politician who also served as Chongqing party boss, questioned personnel arrangements for the 18th party congress in 2012, as he sought to enter the leadership’s top ranks. He challenged the leadership lineup — which included Xi — that was decided by Xi’s predecessors. The following year, Bo was sentenced to life in prison on corruption charges.

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology professor Ding Xueliang argues that Xi has wanted to overhaul the succession process for years, especially since Bo’s challenge.

“Even now,” Ding says, “Xi still talks about the ‘residual toxic influence’ of Bo Xilai in Chongqing,” presumably a reference to the fact that some of Bo’s allies or subordinates remain in positions of power.

Indeed, Xi has spent much of his first term getting rid of the masses of bureaucrats installed by, and still loyal to, his predecessors, lest they rebel or obstruct the implementation of his policies.

This reflects the fact, Ding observes, that personal ties remain paramount in Chinese politics and bureaucrats tend to “obey those who appointed them.”

Communist personnel policies, Ding notes, make it hard to sack bureaucrats before they retire, and the bureaucrats are not subject to much independent oversight.

Ding argues that Xi has used his mass anti-corruption campaign as a tool to knock out not just rival politicians and obstinate bureaucrats but also party congress delegates. He notes that Chairman Mao did the same during the 1966-1975 Cultural Revolution.

At the 19th party congress, experts will be looking at several key details. Here are some of the questions they are asking:

  • Will Xi show any indication that he might seek a third term as president, beginning in 2022? Or will he retire from his party and government posts but hang on as military chief, as some of his predecessors have done?
  • Will Wang Qishan, Xi’s 69-year-old right-hand man and anti-corruption czar, retain his job? He is already past the age after which no party leaders are supposed to be appointed to new positions, according to an informal rule.
  • Will Xi change his job title from general secretary of the Communist Party to chairman, the title Mao used?
  • Will Xi name a successor during the party congress?
  • Will Xi’s ideas be written into the party charter as “Xi Thought” or “Xi Theory,” as were the ideas of Mao and Deng? Or will his ideas be written into the charter without Xi’s name, as was the case with Xi’s two less powerful immediate predecessors?

If Xi breaks the informal rules, observes Ding, the Hong Kong professor, it’s not clear what new ones he might replace them with.

And maybe it doesn’t matter. Neither formal nor informal rules have done much to constrain China’s leaders. Deng famously remained paramount leader in retirement with no higher official title than honorary chairman of the China Bridge Association.

Political arrangements in China are rarely explicit, Ding muses. “After thousands of years of Chinese politics, rulers have developed innumerable methods to get what they want,” he says. “It’s never so simple.”

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2017/10/17/558078791/how-will-china-select-its-new-leaders-at-its-communist-party-congress?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (on stage in brown) raises a clenched fist as he declares Marawi “liberated” during a ceremony in the Bangolo district of Marawi on Tuesday.

Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (on stage in brown) raises a clenched fist as he declares Marawi “liberated” during a ceremony in the Bangolo district of Marawi on Tuesday.

Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images

Six months into a protracted battle with militants besieged in the southern city of Marawi, the Philippine military appears to be on the cusp of victory.

In a speech to soldiers in the city on Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte was decisive: “Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby declare Marawi City liberated from the terrorist influence.”

There are still clashes in Marawi, located on the southern island of Mindanao. As reporter Michael Sullivan told NPR’s Newscast unit, “Duterte was in Marawi for the announcement, which seemed a bit premature given that gunfire and explosions could be heard as soldiers attempted to clear what the government claims is the last pocket of resistance in the city, less than a mile away from where Duterte delivered his speech.”

The president spoke alongside photos of two militant leaders, Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute, who the government says were killed in battle on Monday.

The fighting has raged since May, NPR’s Colin Dwyer reported:

“Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city in a majority-Christian country, has been roiled by bloodshed since jihadi fighters seized parts of the urban center. … An alliance of ISIS-aligned militant groups, including the Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups, seized the opportunity presented by a botched attempt to capture extremist leader Isnilon Hapilon on May 23, occupying positions throughout the city.”

The military says the fighting has killed more than a thousand people, most of them militants, Sullivan reported. He added: “Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled the city, much of which is now in ruins.”

Philippine soldiers walk past destroyed buildings in Marawi’s Bangolo district on Tuesday.

Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images

Military spokesman Restituto Padilla told The Associated Press that up to 30 militants remain entrenched in a pocket of the city, holding some 20 hostages, and that the fighters still hold some 5 acres in Marawi.

Military chief Gen. Eduardo Ano told the AP that the militants are “leaderless and they have no more organization,” adding that “there are still skirmishes.”

As the fighting nears its end, there are big questions about the city that civilians will return to. “The heart of the city of 200,000 has been levelled by air strikes,” Reuters reports. It adds that Duterte said of the destruction that “we had to do it … there was no alternative.”

The AP spoke with Seima Munting, a mother of four who fled the fighting in Marawi. “My brother told me that finally we can return home, but when? When can we finally return home?” she asked. “What will we return to? Do we still have a house? Do we have jobs?”

The fighting in Marawi also has raised concerns about Islamist militancy in Southeast Asia. The number and preparedness of the fighters appeared to take the Philippine military by surprise.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/10/17/558286747/philippine-president-duterte-declares-besieged-city-liberated?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Iraqi forces use heavy equipment to damage a poster of Iraqi Kurdish president Massud Barzani on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk, as Baghdad seeks to take control of the city back from Kurds.

Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

Iraqi forces use heavy equipment to damage a poster of Iraqi Kurdish president Massud Barzani on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk, as Baghdad seeks to take control of the city back from Kurds.

Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

Saying Iraq is in danger of “partition,” Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has sent troops to take control of Kirkuk — the city that Kurdish fighters took from ISIS three years ago after the Iraqi military refused to fight. In addition to Iraq’s stability, rich oil revenues are also at stake.

Kurdish media outlets quote the Peshmerga General Command calling the attack “a flagrant declaration of war against the nation of Kurdistan.”

Civilians have been fleeing the area, seeking safety in an increasingly perilous situation in northern Iraq. Many of them were heading to the Kurdish capital of Erbil, about 60 miles to the north, according to reporter Jenan Moussa of Al Aan TV.

Early targets for Iraq’s military included the Kirkuk military airport and several oil fields, according to multiple media reports.

Iraq’s military move comes three weeks after Kurds held a controversial independence referendum, in which more than 90 percent of the Kurdish region’s residents voted to split from Iraq. The U.S. had urged Kurdish leaders not to hold the vote.

From Beirut, NPR’s Ruth Sherlock reports for our Newscast unit:

“This oil rich province fell under Kurdish control in 2014, after Iraqi troops fled in the face of an offensive there by the extremist group ISIS. Now, the Iraqi government wants the territory back.

“Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said troops were under instructions to ‘protect all citizens’ as they advanced into the area, and Iraqi forces are said to have been told to avoid violence. But some residents reported hearing gunfire and explosions in the early hours of the morning.

“The hostilities mark a real challenge for the United States, which has armed and trained both Iraqi troops and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.”

“We are very concerned by reports of violence in Kirkuk and deplore any loss of life,” the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said on Monday. Calling on all parties to cease hostilities, the embassy added in an official statement, “ISIS remains the true enemy of Iraq, and we urge all parties to remain focused on finishing the liberation of their country from this menace.”

Iraqi forces flash victory signs as they advance toward Kirkuk. Iraqi forces clashed with Kurdish fighters near the disputed city, seizing a key military base and other territory in a major operation sparked by a controversial independence referendum.

Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

Iraqi forces flash victory signs as they advance toward Kirkuk. Iraqi forces clashed with Kurdish fighters near the disputed city, seizing a key military base and other territory in a major operation sparked by a controversial independence referendum.

Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

The Kurdish Regional Security Council says the operation began just before midnight and involved both Iraqi forces and Iran-backed militia fighters, “using U.S. military equipment, including Abrams tanks and Humvees.” The council said that the Kurdish Peshmerga “destroyed at least five U.S. Humvees used by PMF.”

Of the new clash, Abadi said on Monday that he’s trying to protect Iraq’s constitution, repeatedly citing the independence referendum in a Facebook post about the military action. Kurd’s leaders, he said, had failed to heed warnings against “the division of Iraq and the establishment of a state on an ethnic and racial basis.”

Abadi wrote:

“We assure our people in Kurdistan and in Kirkuk in particular that we are keen on their safety and best interest. We have only acted to fulfill our constitutional duty to extend the federal authority and impose security and protect the national wealth in this city, which we want to remain a city of peaceful coexistence for all Iraqis.”

Article source: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/10/16/558006584/iraq-sends-troops-to-take-areas-south-of-kirkuk-back-from-kurds?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world