What Happened Over the Holidays?
A tsunami hit Indonesia’s Sunda Strait, caused by a volcanic eruption and subsequent underwater landslide, killing at least 281 people, injuring hundreds more, and many still missing.
U.S. Government shutdown, the new Congress was sworn in, and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) became House Speaker.
Pope Francis sent a letter to U.S. bishops criticizing their handling of sex abuse scandals, ahead of trials this week.
Over 5.5 million women protested in southern India after two women in their forties entered a Hindu temple that honours a celibate god, which has banned women aged ten to fifty from entering, arguing it makes the temple impure.
Yellow Vests protests continue in France.
French Catholic Cardinals go on trial in sexual abuse scandal
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, and five others from his diocese will stand trial Monday, charged with failing to act on historical allegations of sexual abuse of boy scouts by a priest in the diocese. Cardinal Barbarin is accused of failing to report allegations of sexual abuse in the 1980s and early 1990s by Father Bernard Preynat, a priest who has admitted sexual abuse, according to his lawyer, and is due to go on trial later this year. Cardinal Barbarin told French newspaper Le Monde in August 2017 that he had never concealed allegations against Father Preynat but acknowledged shortcomings in his handling of them. The charges carry a potential three-year prison sentence and fines of up to about USD $50,000.
Pope Francis met with Cardinal Barbarin in early 2016, and later told the French Catholic newspaper La Croix that it would make no sense for the Cardinal to resign before any eventual trial. “According to the information at my disposal, Cardinal Barbarin took the appropriate measures, he took things in hand. He is brave, creative, a missionary,” the Pope is quoted as saying.
Pope Francis will host a meeting of senior bishops from around the world in Rome next month to discuss the protection of minors. The Pope has been criticized for the Church’s handling of the spreading sexual abuse revelations. In September 2018, researchers said they had found indications of sexual abuse in Germany by 1,670 Catholic clerics over the course of seven decades. On Friday, the Vatican said an Argentine bishop working in a top Vatican financial department was under preliminary investigation for sexual abuse.
Germany’s coalition SDP demand answers over personal data breach
On Friday, the German government admitted the personal data and documents from hundreds of German politicians and public figures, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, had been published online, in what appears to be one of Germany’s biggest data breaches.
The German government’s coalition partners the Social Democrats (SPD) demanded that Interior Minister Horst Seehofer immediately determine what the country’s security agencies knew about the data breach and how it was handled. This follows an argument late last year over the fate of the head of Germany’s intelligence agency, Hans-Georg Maassen, which threatened Chancellor Merkel’s ‘grand coalition’ with the SDP. Despite SPD resistance, Minister Seehofer rescued Mr. Massen from dismissal in September when the domestic spy chief questioned the authenticity of videos showing far-right nationalists chasing immigrants in the eastern city of Chemnitz. Mr. Maassen was subsequently fired in November over a speech given behind closed doors condemning “naive and leftist” government policies.
SPD’s Secretary General Lars Klingbeil said the government must quickly shed light on “which agencies knew what exactly when, and how that was dealt with. This should be a priority for (Interior Minister) Horst Seehofer. It’s about protecting our democracy.”
Minister Seehofer told the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung he only became aware of the breach on Friday morning and would share everything he finds out with the public and intended to do so by the middle of this week at the latest.
The opposition called for the President of the BSI cyber defense agency, Arne Schoenbohm, to explain himself urgently in an extraordinary parliamentary committee meeting. On Saturday, the BSI defended its role in responding to the data breach, saying it could not have connected individual cases it was aware of last year until the entire data release became public last week.
China defends its de-radicalization education camps for Muslims
The Chinese government has faced accusations from activists, scholars, foreign governments, and United Nations (U.N.) rights experts over what they call mass detentions and strict surveillance of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups in Xinjiang, China. In August 2018, a U.N. human rights panel said it had received credible reports that a million or more Uighurs and other minorities in the far western region are being held in what resembles a “massive internment camp.” However, senior officials, including Shohrat Zakir, Xinjiang’s Governor and the region’s most senior Uighur, dismissed what they called “slanderous lies” about the facilities.
In response, Chinese government officials organized a visit for foreign reporters last week to three of these facilities, which it calls vocational education training centers, and a similar visit for diplomats from 12 non-Western countries, including Russia, Indonesia, India, Thailand, and Kazakhstan. China believes its de-radicalization program in Xinjiang is highly successful but acknowledged fewer people will be sent through going forward. The reason for this is unclear, and it is unknown if the Muslim population is a stagnant figure, which perhaps explains the decrease in future numbers.
Speaking in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, Mr. Zakir said the centers had been “extremely effective” in reducing extremism by teaching residents about the law and helping them learn Mandarin. “As time goes by, the people in the education training mechanism will be fewer and fewer,” he said, adding, “One million people, this number is rather frightening. One million people in the education mechanism - that’s not realistic. That’s purely a rumor.” He stressed these are temporary educational facilities. Residents can “graduate” when they are judged to have reached a certain level with their Mandarin, de-radicalisation, and legal knowledge.
The government says its goal is for Uighurs to become part of mainstream Chinese society. Mr. Zakir said in parts of southern Xinjiang people couldn’t even say hello in Mandarin, and government officials point to a lack of violence in the past two years as evidence of program’s success. “Only with a deeper understanding of the past can you understand the measures we have taken today,” Shi Lei, Xinjiang’s Communist Party committee deputy propaganda chief, told reporters. One member of the Chinese armed forces, who has served in Kashgar, said the security situation had improved dramatically. “You can’t imagine what it was like there in 2014 and 2015. There were attacks all the time, bombings, stabbings. It was chaos,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Kashgar deputy party chief Zark Zurdun, a Uighur from Ghulja in northern Xinjiang, where many ethnic Kazakhs live, told reporters that “stability is the best human right” and “The West should learn from us” on how to beat extremism, dismissing concerns Uighur culture was under attack. “Did Kazakh vanish in the USSR when they all had to learn Russian? No. So Uighur won’t vanish here,” he added.
Malaysia's King abdicates after two years on throne following his wedding
Malaysia’s 49-year-old King Muhammad V abdicated on Sunday after two years on the throne, the National Palace said in a statement, with the resignation taking effect immediately. This marks the first time in Malaysian history that a monarch has stood down since the country gained independence from Great Britain in 1957, and no reason was given. Following two months of medical leave, the King had resumed his duties for less than a week before his resignation.
Images seemingly show the King getting married in Russia to a former Russian beauty queen, 24-year-old Oksana Voevodina, in photos that appeared on social media in December 2018. The palace did not respond to requests for comment on the photos or reports of a marriage. Photographs show a smiling Ms. Voevodina sitting next to King Muhammad in a white wedding dress, while he is clad in national robes. She is said to have converted to Islam in April of last year and has told friends: "I think that the man must be the head of the family and of course shall not earn less than a woman."
The New Straits Times reported there had been tensions between the palace and the government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who led the opposition to an election win in May. PM Mahathir, known for challenging royalty during his past 22-year tenure, said in a blog post last week that everyone “from the Rulers to the Prime Minister and Ministers, to the civil servants and ordinary citizens” are subject to the law but did not elaborate.
Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy and the king assumes a largely ceremonial role, including as the custodian of Islam in the Muslim-majority country. However, the king’s assent is needed before the appointment of a prime minister or senior public officials. Malaysia has nine royal households, who typically take turns to sit on the throne, and the selection of the next king is decided by a vote in the Council of Rulers, made up of all nine royal households.
The palace did not indicate when the Islamic rulers would meet to pick the next king; during the King’s leave of absence, the ruler of western Perak state had been carrying out his duties. Portraits of the King and Queen adorn government buildings throughout the country. The King is also the symbolic head of Islam in the nation, as well as chief of the military.
White House is considering compromise, but the government shutdown could continue
On Sunday, the White House alluded that talks to reopen the federal government could produce a deal in which President Donald Trump compromises on his demand that a proposed barrier along the southern border be a concrete wall, with the possible concession being a steel barrier. A top government official, however, warned that the shutdown, now in its third week, could “drag on a lot longer.” President Trump reiterated to reporters outside the White House Sunday that if he is unhappy with negotiations in a few days, he could declare a national emergency and use the military to construct a wall, circumventing Congress.
Democrats have signaled they could accept a deal that precluded a concrete wall but provided funding for a steel barrier. Acting White House Chief of Staff (COS), as well as head of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney said in an interview on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ program “that should help us move in the right direction.” He said negotiations between his staff and congressional Democrats were bogged down in technical requests after the two sides met on Saturday morning, saying “I think this is going to drag on a lot longer. I think that’s by intention. We’re asking for $5.6 billion. They’re offering us zero.”
On December 22, many branches of the federal government were shut down after lawmakers and the President hit an impasse over a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, which means approximately 800,000 government workers are either furloughed or working without pay. President Trump is demanding that any funding to keep the federal government operational also include USD $5.6 billion to begin building a USD $23 billion wall.
Last week, the new Congress was sworn in and the Democrats, who took control of the House of Representatives, passed a bill to reopen the government without providing additional funding for the wall. They insist that reopening the government should not be contingent upon wall construction funds. House Democrats plan to pass a series of bills this week to reopen government, breaking up the legislation they have already approved in a bid to get Republicans to agree to reopen parts of the government, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on ‘Meet the Press’.