Thai Coup, Aleppo Prison Siege Ends, Coldplay's Magic

British PM David Cameron and his wife Samantha vote in the 2014 European Parliament elections.
British PM David Cameron and his wife Samantha vote in the 2014 European Parliament elections.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Overnight attacks from pro-Russian gunmen on a Ukrainian military checkpoint in the Donetsk region and against a military convoy in the Luhansk region have left at least nine Ukrainian soldiers dead and several injured, AFP reports. But the total number of casualties is likely higher, with AP journalists saying they had seen 11 bodies scattered near the checkpoint, while Russian media Life News spoke of 15 dead. There is, however, no information about the number of victims among pro-Russian fighters, which were described by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry as “terrorists.” The leader of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic this morning declared martial law in the region “in connection with the start of unilateral military action by the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” The Kyiv Post reports.

“The entire country united to condemn his death and the murderous ideology his killers espoused,” UK Home Secretary Theresa May said today, which marks a year since the brutal killing of off-duty British soldier Lee Rigby in the Woolwich area of London. “They were swiftly brought to justice, and we are committed to doing everything we can to challenge those whose beliefs and behaviour threaten our way of life.”

Thai Army General Prayut Chan-O-Cha announced in a TV address that armed forces had taken over the government after roundtable talks failed, effectively staging a military coup that he described as “necessary” to restore order and “protect the life of the people.” The military had previously insisted that declaring martial law two days ago was not a coup. Read more from The Nation.

Attackers in Urumqi, the capital of the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, have killed at least 31 people and injured 94 at a market after running over shoppers with two SUVs before throwing explosives, Xinhua reports. The attack, which was described by authorities as “terrorist violence,” comes after a series of similar violence in the region that is home to the Muslim Uighur minority, which have been blamed in the past for violence.

Voters in Britain and the Netherlands go to the polls today to elect European Parliament members, in what marks the beginning of a four-day election marathon. Some observers believe they will result in the rise of far-right and anti-EU parties, Reuters explains. The election results will be disclosed Sunday night.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha leave the Methodist Hall in London Thursday morning after voting in the 2014 European Parliament elections.

Syrian troops have broken up a year-long siege of Aleppo central prison by the al-Nusra front and other Islamist groups engaged in the fight against President Bashar al-Assad, the BBC reports. According to the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the recapture of the facility and its surroundings "cut a path for essential supplies to rebel fighters between areas they control and the Turkish border," and comes after some 60,000 people in Aleppo received food aid for the first time in months.

Shazam, the mobile music identification application that recognizes and identifies songs, has released a list of the 10 most-searched-for rock and indie tunes of 2014. British band Coldplay's song "Magic," taken from their sixth album Ghost Stories, led the list, having been "Shazamed" 1,319,829 times. Find the full list here.

As op-ed contributor He Jun writes for Caixin, Vietnam will pay a high price for last week’s anti-Chinese violence throughout the country. “These incidents will have a significantly negative impact on Sino-Vietnam relations, on the Vietnamese economy, and on Vietnam's relations with neighboring countries,” He writes. “More specifically, they will represent a serious setback for Vietnam's investment environment because the vandalized foreign enterprises include companies from China, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Japan, many of which are already considering retreating from Vietnam.”
Read the full article, Vietnam Will Pay A Price For Its Anti-Chinese Violence.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye named a former Supreme Court judge as her new prime minister, in an attempt to regain public confidence and to “push for national rebuilding” after the ferry disaster that killed over 300 people, Yonhap news agency reports. Park also announced she had accepted the resignations of the country’s spy chief and national security adviser. The reshuffle comes as campaigning for the June 4 local elections opened today, which her party is expected to lose. Read more from AFP.



A Texas teenager has become an Internet sensation after posting a video of himself catching his own 40-yard pass.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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