1 October 2014

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News summary

MEXICO - Protests planned on anniversary of student massacre in Mexico City
AFGHANISTAN - Casualties due to two car bombings in Kabul
THAILAND - Crime incidents involving foreign nationals in Pattaya and Koh Samet
FRANCE - Flooding results in road and rail disruptions in Montpellier
SPAIN - Pro-independence rallies in Catalonia, including Barcelona
IRAQ - Car bombings and mortar attacks in Baghdad result in casualties
SAUDI ARABIA - (Update) Disruptions likely to persist during Hajj
SYRIA - (Update) Seventy Kurdish citizens kidnapped by IS forces released unharmed
SYRIA / IRAQ - IS-related conflict persists in numerous areas
TUNISIA - (Update) Flight disruptions amid general strike in Djerba
YEMEN - (Update) Houthi forces maintain positions in Sanaa
NIGERIA - Independence Day commemorations to take place countrywide
SOUTH AFRICA - Severe weather warnings issued for several provinces



MEXICO (Country risk rating: High); 2 October; Protests planned on anniversary of student massacre in Mexico City

Teachers and students of the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) have called for protest marches in central areas of Mexico's capital, Mexico City, on 2 October to commemorate the 1968 student movement in the city. The event will mark the anniversary of a student massacre, known as 'The Night of Tlatelolco'; it is estimated that scores of students were killed during the unrest, and over 1,600 others arrested during the protest campaign. Although exact details pertaining to the demonstrations remain unclear, events are likely to centre on Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlatelolco area of the city. Aside from commemorating a historical event, the gatherings have been planned to denounce government-initiated education reforms at IPN. It should be noted that a large turnout is expected; as such, travel disruptions are likely in central areas of the capital. In addition, previous protests over education policy concerns in Mexico have resulted in civil disorder and low-level unrest. Consequently, the possibility of minor skirmishes between protesters and police cannot be discounted during the upcoming events. Persons in Mexico City are advised to monitor local media for updates regarding the planned protests. Clients should make allowances for associated travel disruptions in the above-mentioned areas. All large gatherings should be avoided as a precaution against civil unrest.

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Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN (Country risk rating: Extreme); 1 October; Casualties due to two car bombings in Kabul

Two car bombings were reported in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, in the early hours of 1 October. At least seven people are believed to have been killed and 18 others wounded. The bombings reportedly targeted Afghan National Army (ANA) convoys in the Karte-e-Char and Deh Sabz areas of the city. The Taleban claimed responsibility for the attack. There is an extreme risk of terrorism in Afghanistan, including in Kabul. The threat stems from several Islamist organisations, including the Taleban and the Haqqani network. Security forces are frequently targeted. Further casualties are likely to be reported in the coming hours as further information becomes available. Heightened security measures are anticipated in the vicinity of the blast, including checkpoints and cordons. Due to various security concerns, all travel to Afghanistan, including the capital, is advised against. Clients in the capital are advised to avoid the affected area, as well as all concentrations of security forces, at this time. Persons in the country are advised to implement robust security measures at all times.

THAILAND (Country risk rating: Medium); 27 September; Crime incidents involving foreign nationals in Pattaya and Koh Samet

There have been reports of alleged incidents of violent crime affecting foreign nationals in Thailand in recent days. According to local media, a Danish national was sexually assaulted near the resort city of Pattaya on 27 September, after the victim had accepted a ride on the assailant's motorcycle. There has also been a report of a Russian national that was sexually assaulted in similar circumstances in Pattaya in recent days. On Koh Samet, the bodies of two unidentified foreign nationals were reportedly discovered after having been washed ashore. The state of the bodies (one of them was found with bound hands) has prompted authorities to suspect murder as a motive in their deaths. Violent crimes, such as sexual assault, are not considered a significant concern in Thailand, and foreign nationals face a low risk when compared to other destinations. Within Thailand, the crime risk is largely limited to incidents of petty, non-confrontational crime, and is considered most prevalent in Bangkok. Violent crime does take place on occasion, as evidenced by these recent incidents and the high-profile murder of two British nationals on Koh Tao in mid-September. Although the circumstances leading up to each incident of violent crime may differ, it has been found that drink-spiking and the acceptance of both solicited and unsolicited motorcycle rides from strangers have been characteristic features of a disproportionate number of cases. Clients in Thailand or those with intentions to travel to the country should adopt basic security precautions and seek local information about areas of potentially elevated crime in their destinations. In addition, persons in the country should not accept food or drinks from strangers, refrain from making use of any illegitimate transport service and avoid any confrontation if possible.

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Europe and Russia

FRANCE (Country risk rating: Medium); 30 September; Flooding results in road and rail disruptions in Montpellier

Road and rail travel disruptions were reported in south eastern France's Languedoc-Roussillon region, including in the regional centre, Montpellier, as a result of flooding following heavy rainfall overnight on 29/30 September. A number of rail services in the region have been disrupted, with several routes suspended, including services between Narbonne and Nimes, as well as TGV high-speed rail services between Nice and Bordeaux. Rail services remain disrupted throughout coastal areas of the region. Local authorities have declared a state of emergency in over 60 coastal towns and villages. In Montpellier, rail services have been suspended; a replacement bus service is running in places. A number of roads in the city centre are closed, including avenue d'Assas, Rond Point and several other roads located alongside or near the Lez river, which has burst its banks. Weather conditions are expected to improve on 1 October; however, disruptions to road and rail travel resulting from flooding may persist. Localised travel disruptions should be expected and travellers should plan accordingly; clients are advised to confirm the status of their travel arrangements with their respective service providers.

SPAIN (Country risk rating: Medium); 30 September; Pro-independence rallies in Catalonia, including Barcelona

Pro-independence rallies took place in Barcelona and locations elsewhere in Spain's autonomous region of Catalonia on 30 September. Some traffic disruptions were reported at the largest event, which took place in Placa de Sant Jaume in the regional capital, Barcelona. The events were called by pro-independence group, Assemblea Nacional Catalana, and followed the 29 September decision by Spain's Constitutional Court to suspend a non-binding referendum on the status of the region pending a review of its constitutionality. Catalonia's leader, Artur Mas, decreed on 27 September that the referendum would take place on 9 November following approval by the regional Parliament. It is currently unclear if regional authorities will comply with the Constitutional Court decision or whether the referendum is going to proceed regardless. Persons in Catalonia are advised to avoid further politically motivated gatherings as a precaution. Clients should also monitor local media for developments and announcements of related protests and demonstrations.

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Middle East and North Africa

IRAQ (Country risk rating: High); 30 September; Car bombings and mortar attacks in Baghdad result in casualties

At least 35 people were killed as a result of multiple bomb and mortar attacks targeting predominantly Shiite Muslim areas of Iraq's capital, Baghdad, on 30 September. Two car bombs were detonated in the al-Horreyya district and one in the Al-Zafaraniyah district, which cumulatively left at least 27 people dead and up to 50 others injured. Mortar attacks were reported in the Sab al-Bour and al-Shula areas of the city, resulting in the deaths of eight people and dozens of injuries. The bombings, which fall within the baseline risk in the country, underscore the high-risk operating environment in Iraq. The country has experienced an increase in bombings and small-scale terrorist assaults in recent weeks. The incidents have been linked to the Sunni Muslim extremist group, the Islamic State (IS), which is currently battling the Iraqi regime, Kurdish armed forces and Shiite militias. The group has launched a series of coordinated car bombings since 2012; further incursions should be expected. Government, Shiite Muslim and Kurd interests are considered the group's primary targets. Clients are advised against all travel to a number of Iraqi governorates, including Baghdad, due to the elevated threat of terrorism. Persons operating in Iraq are advised to implement robust personal, travel and residential security measures to mitigate the prevailing risks in the country. For further guidance, please contact your security provider.

SAUDI ARABIA (Country risk rating: High); 26 September to 8 October; (Update) Disruptions likely to persist during Hajj

Approximately 2 million Muslim pilgrims are currently in Saudi Arabia ahead of the start of the Hajj on 2 October. The pilgrimage will peak on 3 October, when tens of thousands of pilgrims will move to Arafat, located south east of Mecca. Eid al-Adha, a major Muslim holiday, will be celebrated from 4 October. The Eid holiday in Saudi Arabia began on 26 September and will end on 8 October. Persons in Saudi Arabia, particularly in the vicinity of Mecca and Medina, should anticipate increased demand for public transportation, as well as disruptions to government office working hours, until 8 October due to the movement and departure of pilgrims from the country and public holidays. Clients are reminded that all Muslim visitors intending to travel to Jeddah or Medina over the current period are required to hold a Hajj visa. Non-Muslim travellers are not allowed to enter parts of Mecca or Medina. Security in the country is currently elevated as a precaution. There have been no major security incidents to date. The increased security is generally in response to safety concerns regarding the movement of large crowds. Clients travelling in Saudi Arabia during the current Hajj and Eid al-Adha period are advised to contact their travel provider prior to departure to confirm the status of flight(s). Persons operating in western Saudi Arabia should take note of local legal requirements for travel to parts of the country. Furthermore, the directives of the local authorities should be closely adhered to in this region of the country.

SYRIA (Country risk rating: Extreme); 30 September; (Update) Seventy Kurdish citizens kidnapped by IS forces released unharmed

According to latest reports, Islamic State (IS) forces have released 70 Kurdish civilians unharmed, all of whom are believed to be young students, on 30 September. The students were abducted along with approximately 153 other Kurdish citizens in the village of Qabasin, located in Syria's northern Aleppo governorate, on 29 May following an attack in the area by militants. No information on the whereabouts of the other kidnapping victims has been made available at this time. The threat from kidnapping in Syria is considered extreme. There are numerous groups operating in the country that have conducted or have the ability to orchestrate kidnappings, the most prominent of which is the IS. Motivations for the group and others vary and include financial gain, as well as political concession and sectarian issues. The kidnap and release of the latest victims underscore the overall threat of kidnapping in the country, which is considered elevated outside of the capital, Damascus, particularly in unrest- and conflict-affected areas. Clients are advised against all travel to Syria due to the ongoing conflict in the country and the elevated threats of terrorism and kidnapping. Persons remaining in the country are advised to make use of the services of a security escort and should coordinate travel with the relevant authorities.

SYRIA / IRAQ; 1 October; IS-related conflict persists in numerous areas

Conflict in north eastern Syria and in central and northern Iraq between Islamic State (IS)-aligned groups continues. In Syria, IS is currently besieging the Kurd-controlled city of Kobane (Ayn al-Arab), in Aleppo governorate; reports indicate that the group is within 5km of the town. Turkish military forces have deployed near the town in Turkish territory. In Iraq, IS militants have been seeking to capture the city of Amiriyat al-Fallujah, located west of the capital, Baghdad; attacks have been repelled thus far. IS forces are also reportedly besieging an Iraqi Security Force (ISF) base near Ramadi. The siege follows a recent IS victory over ISF forces in Saqlawiyah, near Fallujah, which resulted in hundreds of ISF casualties. Fighting also continues between various armed groups in Ninewa, Anbar, Salah ad-Din, Babil, Diyala and Kirkuk governorates. IS offensives in Syria and Iraq continue despite recent intervention of US-led coalition air strikes. In recent days, there has been mounting concern of increased IS activity in and around Baghdad, particularly on its western and northern approaches. The IS strategy appears to be to cut supplies between the capital and the ISF positions in Salah ad-Din and Anbar, and the capture of territory in Baghdad governorate. Prolonged IS control of areas in Baghdad is unlikely over the near-term. Nonetheless, heightened levels of violence, including ground offensives and bombings, are expected to persist. Finally, the US-led air strikes have not yet degraded IS ability to launch ground assaults against key ISF targets. Clients are advised against all travel to Syria and against all travel to a number of central and northern Iraqi governorates. Persons intending to operate in these regions are advised to consult with their security provider prior to travel. For more information on red24's Iraq advisory, please click here.

TUNISIA (Country risk rating: Medium); 30 September to 1 October; (Update) Flight disruptions amid general strike in Djerba

Flights were disrupted at Djerba-Zarzis International Airport due to a 12-hour general strike on the island of Djerba, located in Tunisia's Medenine governorate, on 30 September. The industrial action, which was called for by the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) was supported by the Tunisian Union for Industry Commerce and Handicrafts (UTICA). The action is part of efforts to highlight poor service delivery, particularly waste removal, and it follows a number of recent general strikes by UTICA. Further such labour action remains possible in the short-term. Additionally, further disruptions, including on 1 October, at the Djerba-Zarzis International Airport are possible as a result of backlogged flights. Persons intending to transit through the above-mentioned airport on 1 October are advised to contact their travel provider to confirm the status of their flight(s).

YEMEN (Country risk rating: Extreme); 21 to 30 September; (Update) Houthi forces maintain positions in Sanaa

Shiite (Zaydi) Houthi gunmen continue to ignore the provisions of a negotiated 21 September settlement (Peace and National Partnership Agreement) to withdraw from Yemen's capital, Sanaa. Additionally, a large-scale anti-Houthi protest was held on 30 September, calling for the withdrawal of the group. Media reports indicate Houthi gunmen have persisted with the looting of state weapons stores, extorted local officials, and continue to execute raids on the offices of state officials and political groupings they are opposed to. Increased Houthi activity has led to local business closures. UN Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, stated publicly that the Houthis are in complete control of the capital, including primary state buildings and the Sanaa International Airport. Despite this, major conflict, which occurred periodically between 7 and 21 September, has largely ceased. Nonetheless, the potential for further violence is considered elevated. Groups opposed to the Houthis, including forces loyal to Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the Islah Party and others, maintain the capability to confront the Houthis. This risk increases the longer the Houthis hold positions in the capital. In addition, the Sunni extremist al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has escalated armed attacks against the Houthis recently. At least two car bombings (Marib and Saada governorates) and several shootings (Sanaa and Al Bayda) have been reported since 21 September. AQAP is likely attempting to further stoke political tensions in the country; further attacks by the group are likely. Due to these threats, the security risk to foreigners remains elevated in Sanaa. In addition, persons operating in the capital should expect to encounter numerous road checkpoints. Clients are advised against all travel to Yemen, excluding the Socotra archipelago. Persons currently in or intending to travel to Sanaa are strongly advised to contact their security provider for an update on the current situation and for travel recommendations and advice.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

NIGERIA (Country risk rating: High); 1 October; Independence Day commemorations to take place countrywide

Heightened security measures have been implemented in all major urban centres in Nigeria, including in the capital, Abuja, for Independence Day celebrations on 1 October. The country's main celebration will take place at the Presidential Villa at Aso Rock, near Abuja, and is expected to be a low-key event. Official events will also take place in most of Nigeria's state capitals. Security incidents have affected Independence Day celebrations in Nigeria in the past. In 2010, at least 12 people were killed when militants aligned with the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) detonated separate explosive devices during Independence Day celebrations in Abuja's central Eagle Square. Subsequently, security was increased significantly ahead of the 2011 celebrations following threats issued by both MEND and the Boko Haram Islamist insurgent group; official celebrations were moved to Aso Rock in 2012, as security at the locations is deemed superior. Although no explicit threats are believed to have been made, the likelihood of similar attacks during the upcoming events cannot be discounted. Boko Haram, in particular, is regarded as having the operational capacity to orchestrate large-scale terrorist attacks throughout the country; the group has been blamed for a number of recent bombings and shootings, predominantly in Nigeria's northern states of Yobe, Kano, Adamawa, Borno and Kaduna. The threat of Independence Day violence in these states is also regarded as heightened, as illustrated by an attack on the town of Shaffa, in Borno State, on 25 September; at least 18 people were killed during the incident. Due to various security concerns, all non-essential travel to Nigeria is advised against. Clients travelling to the country despite this advisory should implement robust personal and residential security precautions at all times; these should include coordinating all movements within the presence of a security escort.

SOUTH AFRICA (Country risk rating: High); 30 September to 1 October; Severe weather warnings issued for several provinces

The South African Weather Service (SAWS) issued heavy rain, severe thunderstorm and flood warnings for South Africa's coastal Eastern Cape and northern Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces for 30 September and 1 October. Severe thunderstorm warnings were put in place for the south eastern regions of the Limpopo province, particularly affecting the urban centre of Phalaborwa; the warnings remained in place until late on 30 September. Similarly, severe thunderstorm warnings were also instituted for northern areas of the Mpumalanga province, particularly affecting the towns of Bushbuckridge, Skukuza, Mbombela and Barberton. Finally, heavy rain and flood warnings are currently in place along the Eastern Cape coastline; affected areas include the major urban centres of Port Elizabeth and East London. Heavy rains are also expected in the northern Maclear area of the province. The inclement weather is forecast to affect the above-mentioned areas until at least midday on 1 October. Local authorities have placed emergency response teams on alert in all of the above-mentioned regions over the coming 48 hours, as the adverse weather conditions carry the potential to cause widespread disruption to inter- and intra-city travel across the affected areas. Furthermore, disruptions to public utilities, such as electricity provision, also remain a possibility. Clients in or intending to travel to the aforementioned areas are advised to exercise caution and monitor local media for updates and advisories from authorities. Furthermore, persons currently in the heavy rain and flood warning-affected areas are advised to avoid low-lying, flood-prone areas, such as rivers and low bridges. Clients are further advised to make allowances for travel delays as a result of the adverse weather and/or power outages within the affected areas.

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