Abducted Chibok schoolgirl escapes Boko Haram

A group of 82 girls, abducted in 2014 by Boko Haram insurgents from their Chibok, Nigeria, school, were returned to the capital, Abuja, on May 7. One more girl escaped and is traveling to Abuja, the Nigerian government announced Thursday. Photo courtesy the Nigerian government/EPA

May 18 (UPI) — A girl abducted in 2014 by the Boko Haram insurgent group has escaped, a Nigerian government official confirmed.

Femi Adesina, spokesman for acting President Yemi Osinbajo, said Wednesday that Osinbajo made the announcement during a Federal Executive Council meeting, adding that the unidentified girl is traveling to the capital, Abuja. She will be reunited with 82 others, of a group of about 276 kidnapped from a Chibok school on April 14, 2014, who were freed 12 days ago, he said.

President Muhammadu Buhari, 74, returned to Nigeria from a medical stay in London to meet the girls on May 5, before returning to London.

Adesina also said Nigerian military forces were capable of defeating Boko Haram, a terrorist group involved in an eight-year campaign for an Islamist caliphate in Nigeria that has cost thousands of lives and displaced millions. Addressing concerns that the depleted Boko Haram is regrouping in Nigeria’s Sambisa forest, Adesina commented, “One thing you can be sure of is that this government has the capacity to confront any security challenge that arises. So, if they are regrouping they will be flushed out again. I believe that we have seen the worst of that insurgency. We are in a mopping-up process and I believe the mop-up would be completed.”

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Russia steps up North Korea support to constrain US

In spite of international sanctions on North Korea’s communist regime, Russia has been increasing fuel exports to Pyongyang and filling in the supply gap created by China halting trade. Julian Ryall reports.

Russland Militärparade in Moskau (Reuters/S. Karpukhin)

Despite efforts by the United Nations to impose isolating sanctions on North Korea in response to the country’s continued development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, trade between Russia and North Korea soared more than 85 percent in the first four months of the year.

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Citing Russian customs data, the Voice of America broadcaster has reported that bilateral trade climbed to $31.83 million (29 million euros) in the January-March quarter, with the vast majority being energy products going over the border into the North.

This included $22 million worth of coal, lignite with a value of around $4.7 million, and oil estimated at $1.2 million. In return, North Korean exports to Russia were estimated to be worth $420,000. The most significant exports were chemicals and – curiously – wind instruments.

China trade falls

In contrast, North Korea’s trade with China, traditionally its most important economic partner, has plummeted. Pyongyang’s exports of coal to China in March came to 6,342 tons, a fraction of the 1.44 million tons sent to China in January, with an estimated value of $126.39 million. Similarly, Beijing has stopped supplying critically-needed fuel oil to the North, a clear demonstration of China’s displeasure at North Korea’s ongoing weapons tests.

The release of the figures detailing Russia’s increased trade with North Korea coincide with President Vladimir Putin’s statement on Monday that Pyongyang’s latest missile launch was “dangerous” – but, he added, “We must stop intimidating North Korea and find a peaceful solution to this problem.”

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James Brown, an associate professor of international relations at Tokyo campus of Temple University, believes some of the cross-border trade may be “economic opportunism” but the motivation for the vast majority of it is geopolitical.

“Russia is very worried about the isolation of North Korea and believes that makes the situation dangerous as the US is taking a confrontational approach,” he told DW.

“Moscow’s position is that pressure on the North has not worked and has in fact caused Pyongyang to react because it feels threatened,” he said. “So instead of isolation, which is not working, Russia is proposing engagement.”

Nordkorea Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) Raketentest (Reuters/KCNA)The UN condemned North Korea’s missile test and vowed new sanctions

New ferry route

The most recent example of this support for Pyongyang is the plan to open a ferry route between North Korea and the Russian Far East port of Vladivostok, although the proposal has been delayed by strong protests from Japan.

Read more: North Korea builds closer ties with fellow outcast Russia

In 2014, Russia announced that it was canceling $10 billion of North Korea’s $11 billion in Soviet-era debt and that the remaining $1 billion would be invested back into the country. Russian investors also agreed to sink $25 billion into the North’s dilapidated railway system, while more would go into basic infrastructure. The two governments also announced that Russia would rebuild the North’s power grid, while the two countries would develop the ice-free port of Rason for exports of Russian coal.

In total, Russia planned to increase bilateral trade almost ten-fold to $1 billion by 2020, and that does not appear to have been hampered by more recent UN sanctions.

But Putin is also motivated by security concerns in Russia’s Far East, Brown said.

“Moscow has always been worried that the defensive missile systems that the US is deploying in the region – the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea and now Japan is discussing having Aegis Ashore – are more directed at its interests than North Korea,” he said.

Daniel Pinkston, a professor of international relations at the Seoul campus of Troy University, believes that Putin – who is at odds with the international community over the Ukraine conflict and has been accused of meddling in a number of elections, including those in the US and France – may be forging closer ties with Pyongyang to sow further disarray among his perceived enemies.

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‘Slash-and-burn approach’

“Putin seems to have adopted a slash-and-burn approach to the liberal international order, so anything that serves to undermine institutions such as NATO, the European Union or democracy in general is fair game,” Pinkston said. “He is intent on creating instability in a way that serves Russian interests and this sort of multi-front, hybrid war serves to undermine the US and its allies.”

“North Korea fits neatly into that agenda because it causes problems for Washington, keeps the US tied down, drains its resources and causes friction with allies in the region.”

Pinkston points out that playing neighboring nations off one other for their respective favors is not a new North Korean tactic. It has manipulated China and Russia for its own ends in the past.

“That sort of back-and-forth was easier to pull off in the Cold War, but they seem to be trying to capitalize on their relations with Russia now that China has become more distant,” the expert underlined. “And I think it is clear that North Korea will take whatever it can get in terms of political, diplomatic or military support, as well as resources.”

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$35bn hit: Zuckerberg, Gates among those to suffer massive losses amid Trump-Russia claims

Billionaires and millionaires the world over have become poorer to the tune of $35 billion, following the media scandal surrounding allegations of highly classified data being leaked by US President Donald Trump to Russia.

Stock markets suffered a meltdown on Wednesday after the alleged revelations, resulting in huge losses for almost every one of world’s 500 richest people, according to Bloomberg.

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg took the biggest hit, estimated at more than $2 billion. Shares in the social media giant fell 3.3 percent, but Zuckerberg still holds fifth position on the global rich list with around $62.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg index.

The richest person on the planet, Bill Gates, lost around $1 billion amid the carnage, as Microsoft’s shares suffered the most significant drop in almost a year – 2.8 percent. Still, Gates’ net worth is $86.8 billion, according to Bloomberg.

Gates was fourth on the list in terms of the amount of reduced capital. Jeff Bezos, the co-founder of Amazon.com, the world’s largest online retailer, is second after Zuckerberg based on the size of losses incurred amid the political uproar.

Before the stock market dive, Bezos was second behind Gates in terms of overall wealth. The turmoil saw Amazon shares recede 2.2 percent, however, and he now stands third with a $81.9 billion – a loss of more than $1.7 billion.

Bezos was overtaken on the list by Amancio Ortega, a Spanish business tycoon and chairman of Inditex, the world’s largest clothing company, best known for its Zara chain. Ortega lost $355 million, five times less than Zuckerberg’s loss, and is now the second wealthiest person on the planet with $83.2 billion.

Wednesday’s market drop followed US media reports on alleged state secret leaks during the meeting between US President Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week.

The revelations were dismissed by Russia, with President Vladimir Putin calling them “political schizophrenia.” Earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry also dismissed the media claims, saying that reading US newspapers can “not only be harmful, but dangerous.”

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France: ‘Unemployment is our biggest economic problem’

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has unveiled his new cabinet. It inherits a difficult legacy, in particular a sluggish economy dogged by years of high unemployment. DW’s Doris Pundy reports from Paris.

Paris Wochenblatt Marianne Macron Cover (DW/D. Pundy)“The hardest part is yet to come” reads this French weekly’s headline

It is a quiet scene on Tuesday near the monument commemorating the French Revolution on Paris’s Square of the Republic. Traditionally, the statue is the starting point for protests taking place in the French capital. All traces of the most recent large demonstration on May 1 have disappeared. In a tiny alley less than 300 meters from here is the office shared by Claire Pauchet and Bernard Aznar. They’re fighting for the rights of the unemployed and those who only have unstable work. They know the Square of the Republic very well. Both were there when rallies against former president Francois Hollande’s labor market reforms went on for weeks.

Hollande’s poor results

“Even if we try to be objective – we can certainly not say that Hollande made a strong commitment the rights of the weak,” says Aznar, leader of the National Movement of Unemployed and Precarious Workers (MNCP).

The walls of the small office are plastered with photos taken during demonstrations. Hollande, he adds, was a very business-friendly president, with his former deputy secretary general, Emmanuel Macron, leaving his mark in this respect. The activists fear that there will be more business-friendly reforms in the future, and they want the new government to take the concerns of out-of-work people seriously and offer them alternatives..

Paris Politikaktivisten Bernard Aznar Claire Pauchet (DW/D. Pundy)Aznar and Pauchet fight for the rights of the unemployed

“Macron wants to facilitate business creation, but you have to bear in mind what he really means,” says Claire Pauchet. “That means that everyone is to become self-employed, like those young people riding on bicycles who deliver food to people’s doors. All of them are not employed, they don’t have social security, they have nothing!”

“Unemployment is our biggest economic problem, along with the trade deficit and the high public debt,” explains Paris-based economist Philippe Crevel. “In France, it is higher than the European average. We are as badly affected by it as Italy, Spain, or Greece.”

Almost 10 percent of all French adults don’t have a job. For those who are under 25, that figure rises to almost 25 percent.

Loss of time

“For the last 15 years, there have been attempts at improving the labor market situation. However, one president follows in the footsteps of another, ” says Crevel, adding nothing ever changed. Labor costs continued to be too high, working hours too inflexible, and France’s workers were not sufficiently qualified to cope shift to the digital age.

“Emmanuel Macron faces enormous responsibilities. Now, action must really be taken,” Crevel says. In order to reduce France’s unemployment sustainably, the economist has proposed a series of reforms: lower social security contributions, better education, more investment and more expertise.

Paris Vincent Godebout SNC (DW/D. Pundy)Volunteer Patrick Vignaux (r), pictured here with SNC president Vincent Godebout

Crevel believes that Macron’s chances are good: “He is young, energetic and does not belong to any of France’s traditional political parties.” Macron and his new party “La Republique en Marche” will be competing in parliamentary elections in June. “The party is facing a huge challenge,” says Crevel. “It currently does not have a single seat, but it needs an an absolute majority.”

“Macron’s five-year spell as president won’t be sufficient to change everything for the better in France,” says Patrick Vignaux. “However, the fact that we will now finally have some movement is what counts.”

For more than 10 years, Vignaux has been volunteering to help the unemployed. Initially, he worked with the “New Solidarity in the Face of Unemployment” (SNC) association for only a few hours per week. A few months ago, he asked his employer to allow him a year off to be able to commit himself full-time.

Opposition to reforms

“Francois Hollande did try to improve the labor market situation,” says Vignaux, “but he wasn’t successful.” During Hollande’s tenure, unemployment was reduced by a mere 0.1 percent. At one point, it even reached a record high of nearly 11 percent. “We need extensive economic reforms,” says Vignaux, who also calls for better job training.

Frankreich Protest gegen Arbeitsreformgesetz in Paris (picture-alliance/dpa/I. Langsdon)Paris’s Place de la Republique was the meeting point for those who protested Hollande’s economic reforms in 2016

In 2016, thousands protested in Paris and other French cities against the labor market reforms planned by Hollande’s government. The former president intended to revise labor agreements and loosen overtime regulations, in addition to reducing employment protection. After months of demonstrations and strikes, Hollande passed the labor market law by presidential decree, in order to bypass a vote in parliament.

“The labor unions are already bracing themselves for the follow-up battle,” says the economist Crevel. “I’m convinced we’ll hear a lot from them during the next couple of months.”

Emmanuel Macron has said he will attempt to pass initial economic reforms as early as this summer, also by presidential decree. And indeed, this doesn’t go down well with the activists: “If it turns out to be necessary during Macron’s tenure, we will take to the streets again,” says Claire Pauchet.

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