Bangladesh on May 25 banned an Islamist militant group suspected of involvement in the murders of atheist bloggers that sparked protests in Dhaka earlier this year. The Home Ministry's move to outlaw the Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) comes after police asked the government to ban the group. Police have also charged ABT followers with the 2013 murder of blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider. ABT is the sixth Islamist militant group to be banned in the country, which has seen a rise in militant attacks in recent years. The msot recent slaying of a blogger, which took place two weeks ago in Sylhet city, was claimed on Twitter in the name of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). AQIS previously claimed responsibility for the February slaying of blogger Avijit Roy in Dhaka. An Islamist has been arrested in connection with his murder but not formally charged. (Channel NewsAsia, May 25)
Burma's President Thein Sein on May 23 signed into law a bill requiring some mothers to space the births of their children three years apart. The Population Control Health Care bill, passed by parliament last month, allows authorities the power to implement "birth-spacing" in areas with high rates of population growth. Though the bill has no punitive measures, US deputy secretary of state Anthony Blinken and rights activists worry it will be used to repress women's rights as well as religious and ethnic minority rights. Speaking on the matter, Blinken stated: "We shared the concerns that these bills can exacerbate ethnic and religious divisions and undermine the country's efforts to promote tolerance and diversity." The government claims the bill and three others like it were aimed at bringing down maternal and infant mortality rates and protecting women and minorities, but activists argue that there are better ways to accomplish this goal.
The government of Peru on May 23 declared a two-month period of martial law in the southern region of Arequipa where residents are protesting the construction of a copper mine. Martial law allows police to enter homes without search warrants, as well as to break up protests and meetings. Southern Copper Corporation plans to build a copper mine known as Tia Maria for $1.4 billion, which residents strongly feel will contaminate the water and air in the region, and will be detrimental to the local farming economy. Protests have continued for over two months and often turn violent, even after the government approved the company's environmental study last year that claimed the company could operate a clean mine. The government had already sent in over 4,000 police officers and 1,000 soldiers to the area to control the protests, which have resulted in the deaths one police officer and three protesters. José Ramos Carrera, mayor of Punta de Bombon, stated that the martial law declaration "shows is that the government wants the mine to go ahead at all costs."
After two weeks of tense stand-off, clashes broke out between militants of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) on the Iran-Iraq border May 24, with at least two KDPI fighters reported killed. Fighting was reported in the Iraqi border villages of Kelashin, Khenela and Saqar. The dispute started when a KDPI force deployed to the border on May 10 to establish a base in areas where the PKK was already entrenched. The PKK have now surrounded the KDPI forces in the area. With more than 5,000 militants spread across the area, the PKK is in virtual control of the borderlands between Iran, Iraq and Turkey. The KDPI is the Iranian wing of Iraq's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), loyal to Masoud Barzani. (Rudaw, BasNews, Doğan News Agency, May 24)
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos on May 9 called upon his National Drug Council to halt the spraying of glyphosate on suspected coca fields following its recent reclassification as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization. The decision to put an end to 20 years of the US-backed aerial spraying was applauded by leaders of the FARC guerillas. The spraying has long been opposed by the FARC as well as by Colombia's peasant communities. Santos' announcement came one week after government representatives and FARC leaders met in Havana for the 35th round of ongoing peace talks—this time to focus on justice and restitution for victims of Colombia's long civil war. (Colombia Reports, May 10; Prensa Latina, May 3)
The 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) concluded at the UN in New York on May 22 without approving a final document—due to US blocking of a provision on creating a Middle East nuclear-free zone. The US blocked the document, saying Egypt and other Arab states tried to "cynically manipulate" the process by setting a March 2016 deadline for Middle East nations to meet on the proposal—including Israel. The US was joined by the UK and Canada in blocking the document. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked US Secretary of State John Kerry for blocking. Israel of course had no vote, as a non-signatory to the NPT. (AP, Interfax, The Guardian, May 23; Xinhua, May 22)
China's Premier Li Keqiang, on a tour of South America, is plugging a transcontinental railway project that would cut through the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Last year, President Xi Jinping signed a memorandum on the project with the governments of Brazil and Peru, and Li is now pressing for an actual feasibility study. According to an interactive map on Diálogo Chino website, the "Twin Ocean Railroad" or "Transcontinental Railroad" would start at Porto do Açu in Rio de Janeiro state, and cut through the Brazilian states of Goiás, Mato Grosso and Rondônia. It would terminate at Puerto Ilo in Peru's southern Moquegua region.
A military court in Israel on May 21 ordered Palestinian lawmaker, Khalida Jarrar, be released on bail. Under the terms of her release, she is to pay a 20,000-shekel ($5,000) bond with a third-party guarantee. She is to be held three additional days pending a possible appeal. Jarrar, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), was arrested last month by the Israeli military for incitement and involvement in terrorist activities after she disobeyed an Israel-ordered restriction from movement in the West Bank. She was placed under Israeli administrative detention, a system Israel says exists to prevent attacks by militants. Under administrative detention, individuals may be held captive for up to six months without being charged. The detention may be extended under a judge's approval, and evidence regarding the arrest may be withheld if deemed necessary. Some have called Jarrar's arrest a politically-fueled act, as Jarrar was instrumental in the Palestinian Authority's bid to formally join the International Criminal Court.