Vietnam Communist Party elects new leader

Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party re-elected Nguyen Phu Trong for a second term as party chief on January 27, unnamed officials have said. Trong, 71, was elected to the country’s 19-member Politburo, receiving a second exemption from mandatory retirement, and was subsequently chosen as general-secretary, effectively the most powerful position in Vietnam. Earlier the same week, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Trong’s powerful rival, ended his bid for the top party spot and is expected to retire from politics. In a compromise with Dung’s supporters, Trong is expected to only serve part of his five-year term.

Dung is expected to be replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who was also elected to the Politburo. Minister of Public Security Tran Dai Quang is expected to become president. The race for the top party post has been depicted as a pro-China conservative versus a pro-US reformer, but the outcome will not significantly alter Vietnam’s strategic and economic orientation.


Iran: first post-sanctions crude shipments set sail

Iran’s first shipments of crude oil since the lifting of sanctions on January 17 this year departed from the country’s main oil terminal for Japan and China on January 27, an unnamed Iranian Oil Ministry official said. Each of the tankers is carrying around 2 million barrels of crude, which is worth about $66 million, according to a source in the ministry.

Meanwhile, the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, is expected to rubber stamp deals worth billions of dollars across Europe after embarking on a five-day tour of the continent aimed at seeking to boost economic ties. It is the first state visit to Europe by an Iranian leader for 16 years.


French justice minister quits over ‘terrorist citizenship’ measure

French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira has resigned her post, apparently in protest at government efforts to strip convicted French-born terrorists of their citizenship if they have a second nationality.

Taubira, popular among the ruling Socialists of President François Hollande but a target of criticism from right-wing politicians, tweeted: ‘Sometimes to resist means staying, sometimes resisting means leaving.’

The outspoken 63-year-old, who is from French Guyana, became France’s most senior black politician when she was named to the justice ministry post in 2012. She has often been at the centre of controversy, whether as the victim of racial slurs or as she forged the country’s same-sex marriage bill despite fierce opposition from conservatives in the country.

Her latest battle saw her unable to see eye-to-eye with members of her own party over the controversial ‘loss of nationality’ measure.


North Korea is global threat, says Kerry

Nuclear-armed North Korea poses an ‘overt threat, a declared threat to the world’, US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Beijing recently, following Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test in January this year.

Washington is pushing for a strong UN response to the North’s latest atomic blast—which Pyongyang said was a miniaturised hydrogen bomb, a claim largely dismissed by experts— with enhanced sanctions.

But China, North Korea’s chief diplomatic protector and economic benefactor, is reluctant, despite the pair’s ties becoming strained in recent years as Beijing’s patience wears thin with its neighbour’s ambitions for nuclear weapons.

The two powers—both permanent members of the UN Security Council—had agreed to mount an ‘accelerated effort’ to try to resolve their differences on a new resolution, Kerry told a joint press conference with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. But he acknowledged that they had not agreed on the ‘parameters of exactly what it would do or say’.

‘The United States will do what is necessary to protect the people of our country and our friends and allies in the world,’ Kerry added.

Wang said that China also backed a new Security Council motion, but added that it ‘should not provoke new tension in the situation’.


Top IS leaders in India told to concentrate on Delhi & Mumbai

The top two leaders of the Ansar-ut Tawhid fi Bilal al-Hind, the Indian wing of the Islamic State (IS), were instructed by their foreign handlers to scout for potential targets for terrorist strikes in Delhi and Mumbai, sources in security agencies say.

As most of the IS suspects arrested as part of a nationwide crackdown ahead of India’s Republic Day celebrations did not have Indian passports, the instruction from their handlers was to lure as many fresh local recruits as possible with a view to carrying out terrorist attacks whenever possible, investigators have found.

Mudabbir Mushtaq Sheikh, 33, from Mumbra, the amir (chief) of IS India, is currently being held by the National Investigation Agency, while Khalid Ahmed Ali alias Rizwan, 20, the second-in-command of the organisation arrested from UP, is in the custody of the Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad (ATS).

Maharashtra ATS sleuths have recovered what they suspect is a bomb-making circuit from the residence of one of the arrested accused. “The arrests were made in Maharashtra and other places when the suspects were in preparatory mode to carry out a strike,” a senior IPS official said, requesting anonymity. Sources said the role given to Mudabbir and Khalid was to incite youngsters to carry out terrorist strikes.


Clinton: support for Israel, close eye on Iran

US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has vowed to stand with Israel, including by making sure Iran abides by its promise not to build nuclear bombs.

‘The alliance between the United States and Israel is more important than ever in this time of terrorism and turmoil,’ Clinton said at the  headquarters of the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines. ‘That has to be understood to be in our national interest—to have an Israel that remains a bastion of stability and a core ally in a region in chaos. An Israel strong enough to deter its enemies and take steps in pursuit of peace.’

Clinton stressed her experience as Secretary of State and as a US senator. She didn’t mention her main Democratic rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, but alluded to herself as a more broadly experienced candidate. ‘We need a president who understands and can do all parts of the job,’ she said.

She spoke at length about the recent agreement with Iran, under which sanctions are being lifted in return for that country’s pledge to reverse its moves toward building nuclear bombs. Clinton helped start the negotiations, and she supports the agreement, which has been criticised by some Israeli and Jewish leaders as too weak.