International Current Affairs
February 2nd week 2015 current affairs
Category : International Current Affairs
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1) Egypt joins anti-IS battle

  • The Islamic State released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya, drawing swift retaliation from Egypt which launched air strikes in the neighbouring country, in an escalation of Egypt`s battle against growing militancy.
  • For the first time, Egypt publicly acknowledged taking military action in Libya as war plans targetted training camps and arms depots of the dreaded outfit. The attack came as "retribution" to a gruesome five- minute video released by the IS hours earlier that showed handcuffed hostages dressed in orange jumpsuits being murdered by black-clad masked terrorists at a beach near Libyan capital Tripoli. Terming the beheading of the Christians as `vicious`, Sisi said a new series of terrorism is spreading across the world and demanded that all people come together to fight it.
  • Civilians, including three children and two women, were killed in the strikes, reports said, citing two Libyan security officials who were not named.
  • Egypt is battling a burgeoning Islamist insurgency centred in the Sinai Peninsula, where militants recently declared their allegiance to the IS. They rely heavily on arms smuggled across the porous border between Libya and Egypt. Meanwhile, Sunni Islam`s top body, Al-Azhar has condemned the "barbaric" beheading of the Christian labourers.
  • As many as 21 such Egyptians were kidnapped from the coastal city of Sirte in December and January. However, it was not clear from the video whether all 21 hostages were killed. The killings raise the possibility that the Islamic militant group has established a direct affiliate close to the southern Italy.
2) China’s ‘Silk Road Fund’ becomes operational
  • China has taken a firm step to implement its vision of the Silk Road Economic Belt — an initiative to integrate the economies of Asia and Europe along the Eurasian corridor — by putting into operation its $40 billion infrastructure fund for this purpose.
  • The fund, flagged in November last by Chinese President Xi Jinping, has started functioning on the lines of Private Equity (PE) venture. With China as the fulcrum, it is meant to finance development of roads, rail tracks, fibre optic highways, and much more, that would connect South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Europe along an integrated land corridor.
  • Funds can also be allocated for the Maritime Silk Road (MSR), which envisions development of ports and facilities, mainly in the Indian Ocean. These ports will be connected to the hinterland by a string of land arteries, which will eventually hook up with the main Silk Road Economic Belt at specific junctions. The $40 billion fund was in addition to the decision to establish a $50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is also meant to help finance construction in the region.
3) World cereal production at an all-time high
  • World cereal production reached a new all-time record of nearly 2,534 million tonnes (MT) in 2014, beating the previous record of the 2013 by over 13 MT, according to latest estimates put out by the UN affiliated Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In one decade, global cereal production has gone up by almost 25%, setting all-time high records in five years out of 10.
  1. There are over 805 million hungry people in the world according to FAO estimates for 2012-14. That is down about 100 million in a decade — the same decade that saw just cereal production go up by nearly 500 MT and world population grow by about 700 million.
  2. Indian cereal production was 245.5 MT in 2013-14, also a record, registering an uptick of nearly 33% over a decade, according to agriculture ministry estimates.
  3. Both wheat (96 MT) and rice (106.5 MT) were produced at record breaking levels.
  4. According to  the FAO, global food demand is expected to rise 60% by 2050

4) UN finds 22 percent rise in Afghan civilian casualties

  • The number of civilians killed or wounded in fighting in Afghanistan climbed by 22 percent in 2014 to reach the highest level in five years as foreign troops concluded their combat mission, the U.N. said in an annual report released on 18th February
  • The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documented 10,548 civilian casualties in 2014, the highest number in a single year since 2009. They include 3,699 civilian deaths, up 25 percent from 2013.
  • According to the U.N. the Taliban and other insurgents were responsible for 72 percent of all civilian casualties, with government forces and foreign troops responsible for just 14 percent. 
  • U.S. and NATO troops pulled back from volatile areas last year, handing security responsibility over to Afghan forces and officially concluding their combat mission at the end of the year. At least 2,213 U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan since the invasion to topple the Taliban following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to an Associated Press count.
  • The U.N. report attributed the rise in casualties to intensified ground fighting, in which weapons like mortars, rockets and grenades are used in populated areas, sometimes indiscriminately.
  • For the first time since 2009, more Afghan civilians were killed and injured by ground fighting than by any other tactic, including roadside bombs.
  • The report found that civilian deaths and injuries resulting from ground operations surged by 54 percent, making them the biggest killers of Afghan women and children in 2014.
5) UN rights body condemned violence in Tanzania
  • The UN human rights chief condemned on 19th February the murder and mutilation of an albino toddler in Tanzania, demanding authorities protect albinos, whose body parts are used for witchcraft in the country. The one-year old boy was seized by men with machetes from his home in northern Tanzania`s Chato district, and his mother was badly injured in the attack. Police found his body, with his arms and legs hacked off
  • Zeid said attacks on people with albinism, which are often motivated by the use of body parts for witchcraft rituals, had claimed the lives of at least 75 people since 2000.
  • The UN repeated its fears that the uptick in attacks against albinos could be linked to looming general and presidential elections in October 2015, as political campaigners may be turning to influential sorcerers to improve their odds. Albino body parts sell for around $600 in Tanzania, with an entire corpse fetching $75,000, according to the UN.
  • Albinism is a hereditary genetic condition which causes a total absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes. It affects one Tanzanian in 1,400, often as a result of inbreeding, experts say. In the West, it affects just one person in 20,000.


6) EU agreed to help Greece

  • Euro zone finance ministers agreed in principle on 20th February to extend Greece`s financial rescue by four months, averting a potential cash crunch in March that could have forced the country out of the currency area.
  • The deal, to be ratified once Greece`s creditors are satisfied with a list of reforms it will submit next week, ends weeks of uncertainty since the election of a leftist-led government in Athens which pledged to reverse austerity.
  • The agreement, clinched after the third ministerial meeting in two weeks of acrimonious public exchanges, offers a breathing space for the new Greek government to try to negotiate longer-term debt relief with its official creditors.
  • But it also forced radical young Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras into a major climbdown since he had vowed to scrap the bailout, end cooperation with the "troika" of international lenders and roll back austerity.
  • The accord requires Greece to submit by 23rd February a letter to the Eurogroup listing all the policy measures it plans to take during the remainder of the bailout period.
7) Thailand bans surrogacy for foreigners
  • Thailand has passed a law banning foreign couples from using Thai women as surrogates after a series of high-profile scandals tainting the image of the unregulated industry. The legislation was unanimously approved by Thailand`s junta-picked parliament on Thursday in a bill spurred by the case of an Australian couple accused of abandoning a baby with Down`s syndrome while taking his healthy twin sister borne by a Thai surrogate.
  • Under the new law, likely to be enforced by June, only Thai couples or those where at least one partner comes from Thailand will be eligible to use surrogates in the kingdom. They will have to prove that they are unable to bear children and have no relatives to act as surrogates on their behalf.
8) Iran mooted for nuclear deal
  • The Nuclear talks were held at Munich between Iran and P6 powers from February 6th to 8th. The United States and its five negotiating partners, the other members of the UN Security Council and Germany, hope to clinch a deal setting long-term limits on Tehran`s enrichment of uranium and other activity that could produce material for use in nuclear weapons. 
  • Both sides are under increasing pressure ahead of two deadlines to agree on main points by late March and to reach a comprehensive deal by June 30.
  • Iran says its programme is solely for energy production and medical research purposes. It has agreed to some restrictions in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from US economic sanctions.
  • US negotiators had previously presented Iran negotiators with a few different ways an acceptable enrichment capacity could be achieved in a final deal that would meet Washington’s requirements for a minimum one year “breakout”—the amount of time it would hypothetically take Iran to produce enough fissile material for a weapon, Al Monitor previously
  • The US also assesses that Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s February 8 remarks that he would be willing to accept a good deal to be mostly positive, experts briefed by U.S. administration officials the week of February 12 said.
  • They also see as a good sign that top US and Iran leaders have publicly asserted the shared conviction that another extension is not an option, and if they are to get a deal, they need to get it done in the current timeframe. The Munich “meeting itself coincided with the decision in both the US and Iran that they needed to get this deal, and could get this deal, and that an extension is not an option