Sunday news round-up: September 14th-20th

Top Story: Fights break out in Japanese Parliament at military bill vote: A bill which would “reinterpret” sections of Japan’s postwar pacifist Constitution was approved by the upper chamber of Japan’s Parliament this week, amidst ongoing protests from student groups and members of the opposition government. The bill, which removes Constitutional constraints on the use of force and aggression abroad, would allow Japan to have fully functioning offensive armed forces and grant them the ability to be deployed around the world, provisions that have not been legal for seventy years. Japan currently only maintains defensive forces for national security matters and other internal matters, and is not currently allowed to join military coalitions such as the one designed for the Iraq War. At the debate in the upper house, opponents of the bill staged a shut-down which delayed the surprise vote organized by the government. Despite recognizing the almost unanimous criticism of his bill, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he is determined to push it through, and this week’s bill is a good indication that he will be able to do so.

Anti-austerity march grinds Finland to a halt: Over 30,000 Finns took part in a national strike against proposed government cuts this week, blocking major traffic routes and even holding air traffic to a partial standstill. The strikes come ahead of planned budgetary cuts by the agrarian and right-wing Centre Party-led government, whose obsession with a competitive economy has harmed working Finns and led to intensified inequality. Proposed austerity measures include an eight day reduction in holiday days for state employees and a reduced pay rate for holiday time, which the government claims will make Finland more attractive to foreign investment. Finland’s three largest trade unions all called for their members to join the strikes, making the largest mobilization of protesters in the Scandinavian country since 1917 when it won independence from Russia. The effectiveness of the strikes has yet to be determined, but the Centre Party faces fluctuating polling numbers that could harm their credibility.

Israeli police storm Al-Aqsa Mosque armed with grenades: Dozens of Israeli military police stormed the courtyard of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem this week, armed to the teeth with concussion grenades and other deadly instruments. The police claim that their heavy-handed approach was due to rumours that protesters were planning to disrupt Jewish people from accessing the compound, which holds great religious value for both Muslims and Jews. The police also claim that protesters had barricaded themselves inside the compound once they arrived, throwing rocks and firecrackers at arresting officers, but no word has been issued against the officers for causing widespread damage to windows and carpets at the holy site. The compound has been a point of contention among Israelis and Palestinians since it was brutally occupied in 1967, intermittently remaining under strict Israeli military supervision and often denying access to non-white visitors. The Jordanian government, which administers some control over the sight, urged the Israeli government to stop its “provocative acts”.

Western powers accused of deliberately prolonging Syrian crisis: Revelations by a senior negotiator in the Syrian civil war allege that the West has been deliberately prolonging the Syrian civil war by refusing to accept Bashar Al-Assad’s right to remain in office for a temporary period. Martti Ahtisaari, a former President of Finland involved in holding talks with UN Security Council members, insists that a three-point plan proposed in 2012 would have allowed Assad to remain in office for an undisclosed time before stepping down, but was resoundingly refused by the U.S., Britain and France. Vitaly Churkin, who tabled the proposals, says that Western powers ignored the provision that would keep Assad in power for a time because they were so sure that he was about to be ousted. Although the diplomatic tide against Assad seems to be turning back to his favour, questions still remain as to how international parties can back a man who has killed more civilians in Syria than the Free Syrian Army rebels and ISIS combined. In fact, the Assad regime has killed more civilians than the FSA or ISIS each month for at least the past year.

Tony Abbott forced out of office by his own party: The far-right Prime Minister of Australia has been thrown out of office by members of his own party in a snap leadership ballot. Members of the Liberal Party, a misnomer, ousted the extremely unpopular Prime Minister amidst ongoing opposition to his stance on asylum seekers, same-sex marriage, environmental protections, and treatment of Aboriginal peoples. Abbott has caused a storm with human rights groups since coming to power, having referred to centuries of Aboriginal culture as a “lifestyle” that the taxpayer is forced to subsidize, and for calling for military measures against boat people from Papua New Guinea fleeing devastation and hardship. Abbott is also a well-known climate change denier who implemented a series of destructive policies during the first half of his reign. He will be replaced by Malcolm Turnbull, the former Communications Minister.

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