A Sudanese Spring? Popular discontent with the 30-year rule of authoritarian President Omar al-Bashir swelled over the weekend. Protesters demonstrating in the capital of Khartoum reportedly numbered in the tens of thousands. There were reports on social media that protesters stormed the presidential residence on Saturday – which the government denied. On Sunday, Sudan Radio reported that the country’s National Defense and Security Council was prepared to listen to the demands of the demonstrators – but privately owned Baj News reported that the government was preparing to break up the protests. Last night, as thousands of protesters participated in a sit-in, security forces attacked demonstrators, and according to the BBC, the Sudanese military intervened to protect the protesters and chase the security forces away. If it isn’t already obvious, there is a great deal of uncertainty on the ground right now. Since protests started in December 2018, the administration has proved resilient, but it may be facing its biggest test yet.
Italy to raise budget deficit. The Italian government will reportedly increase its 2020 deficit target to 2.1 percent of gross domestic product – up from the 1.8 percent target set in December – according to Reuters, which cited government sources. That may seem insignificant, but in reality, those are fighting words. The current target of 1.8 percent was approved by the European Union after difficult negotiations between Italian and EU officials. Under EU rules, member states’ budget deficits cannot exceed 3 percent of GDP, so Italy is still within the threshold, but EU officials have taken a hard line on Italy because of its high levels of debt (133 percent of GDP at the latest reading) and dismal GDP growth performance.
China-EU relations. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang traveled to Europe today, where he will remain until Friday for a series of meetings with high-level EU officials over EU-China relations. China’s ambassador to the European Union said the meeting would precipitate a “warm spring” of relations between the EU and China. Someone forgot to tell the EU, where it seems more likely that winter is coming. In an interview with the Financial Times, the EU’s trade commissioner expressed “exasperation” with Chinese trade practices and frustration with delays over an EU-China investment treaty. Germany, the economic engine of the EU, is especially skeptical of Beijing right now as, in the long term, it sees China as a potential threat to German exports. China won’t encounter a trade war in the EU on the scale of the one it’s embroiled in with the U.S., but it won’t find a pliant bureaucracy either.
Libya is still volatile. We noted in our memo on Friday that the situation in Libya was unstable. As Libyan National Army forces led by Khalifa Haftar continue to move on the capital, thousands of Libyans are fleeing Tripoli. The head of Libya’s United Nations-backed government called the LNA attack a “coup,” and the U.S. called for an end to fighting yesterday, to little avail. Meanwhile, both Algeria and Tunisia are nervous about potential spillover across their borders. Algeria, which is going through a major political transition of its own right now, dismissed the heads of its internal and external security services over the weekend as the army consolidates control over the state; the last thing the government needs is a Libyan refugee crisis.
Slow going on Afghan peace. On their Voice of Jihad website, the Taliban published a statement saying that an upcoming round of “intra-Afghan dialogue” is not an official negotiation or summit but rather an airing of personal views by Afghan government officials attending in “a personal capacity.” It’s a small but important step for the Taliban, who haven’t been interested in so much as being in the same room with Afghan government officials. Progress on talks has been slow – and that’s hardly surprising, considering the Taliban has been so successful on the ground in Afghanistan lately – but slow progress is still progress.
Ukraine and NATO. Ukraine’s potential entry into the security alliance is becoming a talking point just ahead of the presidential election runoff, scheduled to take place April 21. Incumbent Petro Poroshenko has said that if he is if re-elected he will ask NATO for a membership action plan in December 2019. His opponent, front-runner Volodymyr Zelensky, said membership should be put to a national referendum. There’s just one catch: It’s unclear whether NATO would have Ukraine in the first place.
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin today to discuss a potential Turkish military operation in Syria.
- IRNA, Iran’s state-run news agency, said Tehran would respond to the U.S. move to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist group by naming the U.S. Army a terrorist organization.
- Singapore and Malaysia announced a resolution to their airspace dispute that started in December.
- Chinese riot police were called into Dongguan to clear protesters that reportedly numbered in the thousands against a peer-to-peer lending platform.
- Russia and Angola signed six cooperation deals on Sunday and promised to strengthen their relationship.
- South Korea and Indonesia agreed to strengthen defense cooperation.
- Iran’s oil minister said Iran and Iraq have reached an agreement to develop two oil fields on their shared border.
- Bangladesh deployed border guards with heavy weapons to St. Martin’s Island in the Bay of Bengal, reportedly to combat smuggling and ensure security.
- Uzbekistan and China are in talks to simplify visa requirements for travel between the two countries.
- The International Monetary Fund is re-establishing relations with the Democratic Republic of Congo after a seven-year hiatus.