PSR: August 10, 2018


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This week in Sub-Saharan Africa

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: Kabila won’t seek re-election in December


On Wednesday, Lambert Mende, spokesperson of the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), announced that longtime leader Joseph Kabila will not seek another term in the upcoming December election, agreeing to obey the two-term limit that was slated to end in 2016. This decision ends years of speculation regarding Kabila’s future plans. In his stead, former interior minister and Kabila-loyalist Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary will represent the PPRD in the December election. Comment: Despite the selection of a successor, Kabila will remain at the helm of PPRD, suggesting that he will continue to be involved in Congolese politics. Should Ramazani emerge victorious in December, a carry-over of Kabila’s policies is expected. Ramazani is currently under sanctions from the EU for alleged human rights abuses. (Reuters, BBC, Bloomberg)

SOUTH SUDAN: President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar sign peace deal

South Sudan

On Sunday, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed a ceasefire and power-sharing deal, formally ending the years-long civil war between the two sides that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people. Per the agreement, Machar will be reinstated to his former position of first vice president, out of five total vice presidents. Additionally, ministerial positions will be split among the parties in the impending transitional government, with Kiir’s party accounting for 20 ministers and Machar’s accounting for nine. Comment: Numerous ceasefires were signed and subsequently violated in recent years, but the rival leaders are optimistic that the latest agreement will stick. Kiir stated that the agreement “should be the end of the war and the conflict in our country.” (Reuters, France24, AP)

ZIMBABWE: Wave of violence continues following election

On Sunday, unidentified men carried out a series of attacks – including beatings, rapes, and abductions – targeting opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters in northeastern and center Zimbabwe. In a related show of power, the army marched through the capital of Harare last Friday, similarly targeting opposition advocates with force. MDC supporters took to the streets last week to protest the results of the recent national election, the first since longtime leader Robert Mugabe was ousted from power last November. Comment: Mnangagwa urged unity between the parties after his narrow election victory last week, which he claims was won in a wholly free and fair election. Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa maintains that the polls were “fraudulent and illegitimate,” and is seeking to challenge the outcome of the historic elections. (The Herald, Reuters, The Guardian)


Researched/Written by Matan Ayash

This week in the Americas & Caribbean

BRAZIL: Closure of border to Venezuelans overturned hours after passing


On Tuesday, appeals court Judge Kassio Marques overturned the closure of the northern border in the Brazilian state of Roraima that barred Venezuelan refugees from entering the country. The closure came only 48 hours earlier, to allegedly create more “humanitarian conditions” in Brazil to host the Venezuelan refugees. In his ruling, Marques claimed the closure would not foster improved humanitarian conditions; a Foreign Ministry official supported the decision, claiming the closure would violate Brazil’s commitment to human rights as well as an immigration law that requires borders be open to all refugees. Comment: Over the last three years, it is estimated that tens of thousands of people have fled Venezuela to seek refuge in Roraima, according to Reuters, as part of a “growing regional migration crisis” in Latin America. (Reuters, The Guardian, Washington Post, Bloomberg Law)

NICARAGUA: Human rights group closes offices amid anti-government protests


On Saturday, the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) closed its offices in Managua amid threats to staff. According to the ANPDH, the office closure is a temporary measure to ensure the safety of its staff members. Incidents include death threats by phone and “plans to accuse staff of fabricated crimes.” ANPDH executive secretary Álvaro Leiva and other staff members have left the country. Comment: The ANPDH plays a key role in documenting and reporting the human rights abuses occurring during the anti-government protests.   The Ortega government criticized the group of inflating numbers of deaths and failing to “properly verify” reports of human rights abuses, according to the BBC. (BBC, Nicaragua Today, Washington Post)    

VENEZUELA: Six arrested in alleged assassination attempt of President Maduro

On Saturday, security forces diverted two armed drones carrying explosives during a military parade in Caracas during an alleged assassination attempt of President Nicolas Maduro. According to Interior Minister Néstor Reverol, the two drones were each carrying one kilogram of C-4 explosive. The first drone flew over the presidential stage, but authorities were able to divert it outside the parade area where it detonated. The second lost control and hit an apartment building. Comment: Six people have been arrested in connection to the attack. Maduro claimed the attack was “a right-wing plot” to kill him by Colombia and by Venezuelans living in the United States, a claim which Colombia called “baseless.” (CNN, Reuters, BBC)


Researched/Written by Abigail Gress

This week in East Asia & Pacific

CAMBODIA: Prime minister interested in speaking to United Nations General Assembly

On Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said he will give a speech to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) if his new government can be formed by this month. Sen told a gathering in the capital of Phnom Penh that he wants to prove to the assembly that Cambodia is a sovereign nation with elections that do “not need stamps of approval from anyone.” He also stated that he is not deterred by protests that may greet him when he visits the United States and EU member states in October. Comment: Hun Sen’s victory sparked outcry from opposition politicians and protestors like Cambodian National Rescue Party’s Sam Rainsy, who called the alleged 82 percent election turnout a rigged number. Rainsy went into self-imposed exile when his party was dissolved by Hun Sen’s government on charges of plotting a revolution against the ruling party. (Reuters, SCMP, Khmer Times, Xinhua News Agency, The Phnom Penh Post)

CHINA: Financial district locked down in preparation for protests


On Monday, China ordered a lockdown in Beijing’s financial district and increased police presence to prevent individuals from protesting against the peer-to-peer (P2P) financial crisis, in which Chinese citizens lent money to P2P investors with the promise of exponential financial rewards then never received money back. One of China’s biggest P2P lending platforms folded in 2016 when it was revealed to be a Ponzi scheme worth USD 8.7 billion, with more than 900,000 investors. Protestors gathered outside state agencies like the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission to push for a formal investigation into the fund withdrawal suspensions that one protestor said lost him RMB 860,000. Comment: The P2P lending industry is valued at USD 191 billion and is credited with being a thriving hub for large scale borrowing and lending, contributing to the country’s rapid economic and commerce development. When the government began cracking down on these platforms, the majority of those affected were small businesses, pensioners, and households who gave up their life savings for the promise of getting rich. (Reuters, PYMNTS, SCMP)

MALAYSIA: Former prime minister pleads not guilty to money laundering charges


On Wednesday, former Prime Minister Najib Razak pleaded not guilty to money laundering and criminal break of trust charges for unlawful activities he allegedly committed during his time as prime minister. At the center of the corruption scandal is a USD 250 million yacht that may have been purchased with money stolen from the state fund 1MBD. The yacht was seized as per the United States’ request earlier this year, but was sent back to Malaysia following a visit from current Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad. At least six countries, including the United States, are involved in an international investigation into the money missing from the state fund. Comment: Investigations begun when Najib lost the general election earlier this year. These criminal proceedings are the most recent development in what has become the largest corruption scandal in the country’s history in terms of cumulative monetary value of items seized. (Al Jazeera, BBC, Free Malaysia Today, New Strait Times, Reuters)

Researched/Written by Nida Kuruvilla

This week in Europe & Central Asia

BELARUS: Police detain journalists in raids on independent media offices


Beginning Tuesday, authorities detained at least 18 journalists on charges of illegally obtaining information from a state-run news agency, BelTA, in what appears to be a crackdown on independent media in the country. Along with police officers, officials from the Belarusian Investigative Committee searched the offices of three independent news outlets on Tuesday and Wednesday as well as the homes of at least five journalists, seizing documents, computers, hard drives, and more. The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) said that six of the detained journalists were released after questioning. Comment: The news organizations targeted by authorities include, Belarus’ leading independent news website, the Belarusian Private News Agency and, a real estate publication; the agencies deny the charges. Reporters Without Borders criticized the government’s “attempts to intimidate leading independent media outlets at a time of growing harassment of critical journalists.” (NY Times, AP, Reuters, Radio Free Europe)

GERMANY / SPAIN: Germany reaches deal with Spain to return refugees

Germany - Spain

On Monday, the German government reached a deal with Madrid in which it can send migrants back to Spain who have already applied for asylum there. The deal, which will take effect Saturday, is the first of its kind, and the German government intends to make similar deals with other EU countries. Under the terms of the agreement, anyone entering Germany who is determined to have already registered as a refugee in Spain can be sent back within 48 hours – until now, it has only been possible to reject migrants at the border if they enter Germany without necessary documents and do not wish to apply for asylum there. Comment: The agreement comes after a row over immigration policy threatened to bring down Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government in June. Merkel, who is pro-immigration, agreed to the deal after Interior Minister Horst Seehofer threatened to establish a hard border between Germany and Austria to restrict the influx of migrants. (Deutsche Welle, NY Times, Financial Times, Reuters)

ITALY: Farm workers protest treatment after 16 migrants die in road accidents

On Wednesday, hundreds of African migrant farm workers went on strike, walking off tomato farms to protest their poor working conditions after 16 workers were killed in two separate road accidents in less than 48 hours. The crop pickers, organized by labor union activists, marched from the shantytown of San Severo to the city of Foggia, carrying tools and shouting, “We are not slaves.” In both accidents, trucks carrying tomatoes collided with vans bringing laborers home from work; four workers died in a crash in the Puglia region Saturday, and 12 more were killed north of the city of Foggia on Monday. Comment: The farm workers say that recruiters who may be linked to organized crime drive them from farm to farm in overcrowded vans; police are investigating whether the vans were safe. The workers also say that the shantytowns they live in lack running water and electricity and that they are paid below legal wage. (ANSA, BBC, NY Times, AP)

Researched/Written by Abby Fram

This week in the Middle East & North Africa

ISRAEL / PALESTINE: Deputy Hamas chief says talks in advanced stages


On Wednesday, the deputy Hamas chief in Gaza told Al Jazeera television that the UN and Egyptian-mediated talks on a deal to alleviate tensions between Israel and the Gaza strip “are in advanced stages” and that Hamas is hoping for positive results. While both Hamas and Israel are against renewing conflict, the release of prisoners on both sides remains a major obstacle to securing a truce. Hamas wants all Palestinian prisoners to be freed, a request Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right coalition are reluctant to meet. Israeli officials have offered to reopen a major commercial border terminal and expand the Palestinian fishing zone if Israeli prisoners are freed. Comment: A majority of the two million Palestinians living in Gaza live in perpetual unemployment with failing public utilities, an issue that both the UN and Egypt wish to see addressed through a long-term agreement between Israel and Hamas; however, Israeli Environmental Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin said that Egypt is equally as responsible for the Gaza residents’ severe situation as Israel, as both countries put blockades on the Gaza strip after Hamas came into power in 2007.  (Reuters, The Palestine Chronicle, Times of Israel, Yeni Safak)


Researched/Written by Nida Kuruvilla

REGIONAL: Report finds that Saudi-led coalition cut deals with a-Qaeda in Yemen


On Monday, a news report released by the Associated Press said that a U.S.-backed military alliance led by Saudi Arabia that has been battling Houthi rebels in Yemen secured secret deals with al-Qaeda and recruited its fighters. Although the coalition has long claimed that it won many decisive victories against al-Qaeda fighters that drove the militants from their strongholds, the AP investigation found that it had been cutting deals with the fighters; paying them to leave key cities, recruiting some, and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment, and money. The investigation also found that the U.S., a key backer of the coalition, was aware of the deals and held off on drone strikes against the armed group in Yemen. Comment: The United States is allied with Gulf states such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to eliminate al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP); this report attests that the U.S. is both allied with and fighting the terrorist group. Michael Horten, a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, an American analysis group that tracks terrorism, says, “Elements of the U.S. military are clearly aware that much of what the U.S. is doing in Yemen is aiding AQAP and there is much angst about that. However, supporting the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against what the U.S. views as Iranian expansionism takes priority over battling AQAP and even stabilizing Yemen.” (The New Arab, Al Jazeera, AP)


                                                                          Researched/Written by Abby Fram

SYRIA: Head government scientist killed in car bombing

On Saturday, director of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) Aziz Asber died after his car exploded in the city of Masyaf, according to SANA, Syria’s official news agency. Asber was a top rocket scientist for the Syrian government, and the SSRC is one of Syria’s key military research facilities. An ISIS-affiliated opposition group known as Abu Amara claimed responsibility for the attack. Comment: Western intelligence agencies link the Syrian Scientific Research Centre to Syria’s chemical weapon program. Both the Syrian government and Hezbollah claimed Israel’s spy agency Mossad is responsible for the attack, according to the New York Times. (New York Times, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, BBC)              


                                                                      Researched/Written by Abigail Gress

This week in South Asia

AFGHANISTAN: Taliban suicide attack kills three NATO soldiers


On Sunday, a suicide bomber attacked troops conducting a foot patrol near Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan, in Parwan Province. The explosion killed three Czech NATO service members and wounded one American and two Afghan service members. Soon after, the Taliban issued a statement claiming responsibility. Comment: In 2014, NATO ended its combat mission in Afghanistan; 16,000 residual troops remained to train local forces. While in the past year the self-proclaimed Islamic State targeted primarily Shiites and other minorities, the Taliban continues to target national and international security forces. On Tuesday, a government official in Kabul announced the death of at least 12 people in less than a week due to a series of Taliban attacks. (The Telegraph, Al Jazeera, ABC News)

BANGLADESH: Cabinet increases jail time for negligent driving in the face of student protests


On Monday, Bangladesh’s law minister told reporters in Dhaka that the cabinet approved raising maximum imprisonment for rash driving from three years to five. Meanwhile, student protests against poor road safety conditions continued for a ninth day, bringing the capital city to a standstill. Since July 29, demonstrators – predominantly university and high school students – have demanded punishment for a bus driver who killed two students and injured 12 others when he crashed into a bus stop. Comment: On Monday, protesters threw bricks at the police, stopped vehicles, and interrogated drivers. The police, in turn, attempted to dispel demonstrations with tear gas, beatings, and arrests. The U.S. ambassador and Amnesty International criticized the government’s crackdown. (Reuters, New York Times, The Indian Express)

INDIA:  Supreme court considers  repeal of Kashmir’s special status law, spurring protests

On Sunday, protests began across Kashmir Valley against a legal challenge to Article 35-A at the supreme court. The current law allows the state’s legislature to define “permanent residents” and give those citizens special rights, and to bar citizens from other states of India from government jobs, property, or scholarships in Kashmir. The court will hear a public interest litigation on August 27 challenging the constitutionality of Article 35-A, in a petition filed by an NGO called We the Citizens in 2014. The decision to hear the case triggered outrage and a subsequent state shutdown, with one state official equating the abrogation of Kashmir’s special status to a “divorce” from India. Comment: The Kashmir Valley, part of the Jammu and Kashmir state, is home to an ongoing separatist movement. Separatist leaders fear that the removal of exclusive citizenship rights, in place since 1927, will change the demography of the Muslim-majority state. (India Today, Economic Times, Al Jazeera)


Researched/Written by Kritika Kapoor

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