PSR: August 17, 2018

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This week in Sub-Saharan Africa

BURKINA FASO: Suspected jihadist militants kill six in deadly attack

Burkina Faso

On Saturday, Islamist militants killed six people in eastern Burkina Faso, near the Ougarou and Boungou communes. A vehicle escorting miners to an extraction location drove into an explosive device, resulting in the deaths of five armed officers and one civilian. Governor of the region Ousmane Traore blamed the assault on the influx of “young men who had received extremist training in Mali” coming into Burkina Faso to carry out deadly attacks. Comment: The West African nation faces rising threats of Islamist extremism, having experienced an uptick in jihadist attacks in recent years. The country’s heavily forested northern areas are increasingly becoming safe havens for militants from neighboring Mali and Niger. (AP 1, 2, Africa News, News24)

ETHIOPIA: Somali paramilitary force kills dozens in Oromiya region


On Sunday, a regional Somali paramilitary force killed approximately 40 people in the East Hararghe district of the Oromiya province. The following day, the regional administration’s spokesman, Negeri Lencho, stated that all victims of the attack were ethnic Oromos. The controversial paramilitary group, known as the Liyu Police, has long been accused of “killings, rapes and other abuses” in Ethiopia, particularly against Oromos. Comment: Recently elected Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has attempted to bring wide-ranging peace to the region and country since coming to power, but the ongoing border conflict between the Oromos and Somalis has left thousands dead and over a million more displaced. (Addis Standard, Daily Nation, Africa News, Reuters, AP)

MALI: Incumbent claims victory in decisive second round

On Tuesday, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s camp claimed a comfortable victory in Sunday’s second round runoff, with 67 percent of the vote against opposition challenger Soumaila Cisse, despite allegations of fraud against the ruling government. Similarly to last month’s first round of voting, the runoff was marred by widespread security concerns, causing only 27 percent of the eight million registered voters to take part in the election, and preventing 500 polling stations from opening. Comment: Opposition leader Cisse stated that he does not support the outcome of the second round runoff and called on his supporters to “rise up” in protest of the results. While the opposition has repeatedly accused Keita of cheating, EU observers noted “irregularities” but no signs of fraud in both rounds of the elections. (Reuters, AP, France24, The Guardian)


Researched/Written by Matan Ayash

This week in the Americas & Caribbean

UNITED STATES: Report finds thousands of children abused by Catholic priests in Pennsylvania

United States

On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a report detailing widespread abuse by Catholic priests in six dioceses in Pennsylvania. The report finds that approximately 300 clergymen abused more than 1,000 children in the past 70 years, according to information obtained from the church’s own records in Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton. Due to alleged cover-ups by the church, the grand jury believes that “The real number, of children whose records were lost or who were afraid ever to come forward, is in the thousands.” Comment: The two-year grand jury investigation resulted in one of the largest reports of abuse by Catholic priests in the United States. This news follows a series of similar reports, most recently in Australia and Chile. On Thursday, the Vatican expressed “shame and sorrow” and called the abuse “tragic horror”. (BBC, NPR, CNN, ABC News)

VENEZUELA: President Maduro to stop fuel subsidies to combat smugglers


On Monday, President Nicolas Maduro announced that Venezuela’s fuel prices should rise to international levels in order to avoid smuggling to Colombia and the Caribbean, which will avoid “billions of dollars in annual losses.” The state will continue to provide subsidies for about two years to “Fatherland ID” holders. These IDs are state issued cards that track bonuses and social services throughout the country. Many critics of the Maduro government refuse to get IDs; they claim it is a way the government “keeps tabs on them” and see the rise of subsidy prices as a way for Maduro to target his opponents by only allowing cardholders to have subsidy prices. Comment: The Venezuelan economy is in a freefall, with the IMF predicting its hyperinflation rates to reach over one million percent this year. The raising of fuel prices would be a major change for Venezuela, as the country has subsidized prices for decades, contributing to an estimated USD 18 billion in losses to fuel smuggling annually. (BBC, Reuters, The Independent)

REGIONAL: General Mattis begins South America diplomatic tour with stop in Brazil

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis visited military students at Brazil’s war college, the Escola Superior de Guerra in Rio de Janeiro, to pitch closer U.S.-Brazil defense efforts. In addition to strengthening alliances, Mattis also highlighted the importance of combating Venezuelan instability and countering growing Chinese and Russian influence in the continent. Mattis vocalized interest “partnering with Brazil in space research” highlighting Brazil’s “impressive technological orientation,” referring to the Alcantara space center. Comment: This is the first stop on General Mattis’ South American diplomatic tour intended to strengthen military alliances with Latin American partners. Later visits will include Argentina, Chile, and Colombia. (AP News, United States Department of Defense, The Hill)

                                                                                             Researched/Written by Abigail Gress

This week in East Asia & Pacific

CHINA: Government denies UN panel’s concerns about possible Uighur internment camps

On Monday, China’s state-run English newspaper, Global Times, responded to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s allegations that one million members of the Muslim Uighur community were being held in internment camps and going through re-education meant to foster loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party.  The previous Friday, vice chairperson of the committee Gay McDougall voiced her concerns to Chinese delegates during the committee’s two-day meeting that Beijing had “turned the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp.”  The delegates present responded by stating that all citizens in Xinjiang, the region the Uighur reside in, “enjoy equal freedom and rights” and any security precaution in the region is meant to deter extremism.  Comment: Global Times asserted that the government’s policies in Xinjiang have prevented the autonomous region from turning into “China’s Syria” or “China’s Libya.”  Xinjiang is a point of national security since a deadly anti-government riot broke out in the regional capital of Urumqi in 2009, though UN human rights experts and Uighur activists say that the government is unfairly cracking down on Uighurs and Kazakh Muslims. (Al Jazeera, BBC, Global Times, Reuters)

KOREA: North and South Korea agree to have third summit of the year


On Monday, South Korea’s Blue House released a statement that North Korea and South Korea will hold a summit in North Korea’s Panmunjom village to champion peace on the Korean peninsula and in the world. This summit, which will be the third between the two countries this year, will likely be held toward the end of September, so that it does not conflict with the September 9 anniversary of North Korea’s founding or with the Asian Games in Indonesia slated to take place from August 18 to September 2. No specific topics have been decided upon, but in the past at previous summits the two countries have discussed joint economic and infrastructure projects as well as a possible peace declaration. Comment: Chairman of North Korean Committee for Peaceful Reunification Ri Son Gwon told his South Korean counterpart, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon that it is important to remove all obstacles preventing inter-Korean relations from moving forward to a possible reunification of the peninsula. In the continued spirit of sports diplomacy, North Korea and South Korea agreed to send a joint team to the Asian Games in Indonesia. (Hankyoreh, National Public Radio, Reuters, Yonhap News Agency)

PHILIPPINES: President Duterte fires 20 over medical graft purchases and price inflation


On Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman released a statement saying that the president fired 20 people, including colonels and a general, over corruption accusations regarding military medical supply fraud and personal purchases using funds meant for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Medical Center. The accusations involve 17 cases of purchased supplies, drugs and equipment re-sold at exorbitant costs – one such case involved an Ottobock brand prosthetic originally worth around USD 6,175 being sold for a little over USD 26,234 at the military medical center. Military Chief Carlito Galvez said he was angered to learn that military officials profited from the price inflations at the expense of soldiers who rely on the medical supplies. Comment: One of President Duterte’s main election promises was to crack down on government corruption. A vocal supporter of the security forces, Duterte has promised new equipment along with a boosted budget and higher salaries to help tackle crime, drugs and armed rebellions in the country. (CNN Philippines, Manila Bulletin, The Philippine Star, Reuters)

Researched/Written by Nida Kuruvilla

This week in Europe & Central Asia

ROMANIA: Anti-government corruption protests continue into their third day


Thousands of protesters gathered Sunday for the third night in a row of anti-government rallies in the capital city of Bucharest, two days after fighting between protesters and police left over 400 people injured. An estimated 10,000 people gathered outside government buildings in Bucharest to protest government corruption, and thousands more demonstrated in other cities across the country. Organized by expatriates who are unhappy with the state of the government in their home country, the demonstrators called for the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) to resign and call new elections. Comment: Since PSD won elections in 2016, Romanian citizens have become increasingly unhappy with anti-corruption laws the left-wing party has passed; many say the legislation has weakened the rule of law and made it more difficult to fight government corruption. More than 100 Romanian citizens and human rights groups filed criminal complaints against riot police after they used water cannons and sprayed tear gas into crowds of protesters Friday. (Romania Journal, BBC, NY Times 1, 2, AP)

SWEDEN: More than 100 cars torched in arson attack


On Monday night, dozens of cars were set alight by black-clad youth in the cities of Gothenberg, Trollhattan, and Falkenberg, in what police say was a coordinated gang attack. The attack began just after 9 p.m., when masked young people broke car windows and poured flammable liquids inside; they also reportedly threw rocks at police officers. By Tuesday, Swedish police arrested three men in connection with the fires, including one who had fled to Turkey and was stopped at an airport there. Comment: Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said the attacks were “very coordinated, almost like a military operation,” and a spokesperson for the Swedish police said he believes the attacks were organized through social media. Although the reasoning behind the arson is still unclear, there has been a rise in violence and gang-related activity in many Swedish cities with high unemployment and other social problems. (The Local, NY Times, Reuters, BBC)

UNITED KINGDOM: Car rams into pedestrians near parliament in suspected terror attack

On Tuesday, a British man deliberately drove his car into pedestrians and cyclists, injuring three, before ramming the vehicle into barriers outside Britain’s parliament. The man was arrested moments after crashing his car on suspicion of preparing an act of terrorism and on a charge of attempted murder. Police confirmed that the suspect was originally from Sudan and was not previously known to counterterrorism or intelligence officers. Comment: This is the second attack at the building in just under 18 months; police are considering making the area pedestrian-only. (BBC, AP, NY Times, Reuters)

Researched/Written by Abby Fram

This week in the Middle East & North Africa

SYRIA: Russian forces begin patrolling Golan Heights


On Wednesday, Russian army police patrols began in the Golan Heights demilitarized zone, prioritizing the removal of landmines left behind by militants. A Russian military official told reporters in Tal Kroum that Russian forces will work with the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) to restore its monitoring operations in the Golan Heights on the Syria-Israel border, stating that forces would leave as soon as the UN mission fully controls the area Comment: The UNDOF was deployed in 1974 to monitor the ceasefire between Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights, which has been under Israeli occupation since 1967. In 2013, UNDOF forces began to decline as contributing states such as Japan and Austria withdrew their troops, given the extreme violence of the rebel groups. The UN rejected Russia’s offer to contribute troops during that time, as the original UNDOF agreement with Syria and Israel bars permanent members from deploying peacekeepers in the area. (Washington Post, Telegraph, France24, Reuters)


Researched/Written by Kritika Kapoor 

TUNISIA: Thousands protest government-sponsored report on gender equality


On Saturday, thousands of fundamentalists took to the streets of the capital city of Tunis to demonstrate against a government report on gender equality. The Commission of Individual Liberties and Equality, established by President Beji Caid Essebsi in August 2017, recently published a report calling for the legalization of homosexuality and equal inheritance rights between sexes. Demonstrators view the report as diametrically opposed to the Quran and their Islamic values. Comment: Under the current penal code, homosexuality is punishable by up to three years in prison, and females receive half the inheritance of males. Parliament must now establish a bill in order to turn this report into law, but conservative lawmakers remain staunchly opposed to any further steps toward gender or LGBTQ equality. (Tunis Daily News, Al Jazeera, Reuters, AP)


                                                                                            Researched/Written by Matan Ayash 

YEMEN: Saudi-led coalition to head investigation into airstrike that killed 40 children

On Friday, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen announced an investigation into the airstrike that killed at least 40 children in the Saada province last week. According to French news agency AFP, coalition leadership ordered the opening of an investigation to “assess the events, clarify their circumstances and announce the results as soon as possible.” The Saudi Press Agency also reported that the coalition claimed they would sanction those responsible and provide assistance to victims. Comment: The announcement of the investigation came amidst pressure from the UN and was backed by the Houthi rebel group. Previously, the Saudi-led coalition claimed the airstrikes were part of a “legitimate military action” and were carried out in accordance with international humanitarian law. (Al Jazeera, Reuters, The Independent, CBS News)              

                                                                                          Researched/Written by Abigail Gress

This week in South Asia

AFGHANISTAN: Reinforcements arrive in Ghazni to counter Taliban offensive


On Monday, the Afghan government deployed around 1,000 additional troops to fight Taliban insurgents in the besieged city of Ghazni, after local officials urged the government to act faster. The government announced that the Taliban offensive that began Friday killed dozens of people, while the subsequent U.S.-Afghan counter-offensive trapped thousands of civilians in their homes, largely without food, water, electricity, or phone connections. While local officials claim the Taliban controls much of the city, the defense ministry announced that it has put Taliban on the defensive. Comment: Ghazni is a strategic provincial capital located on an important highway in southern Afghanistan, often serving as a passage for Taliban insurgents travelling to and from Pakistan. The fall of Ghazni would agitate the stalemate between the Taliban and the Afghan government, months before national elections. (Al Jazeera, The Hindu, The Washington Post)  

INDIA: Separatist leaders call for shutdown in Kashmir Valley on Independence Day


On Wednesday, the Kashmir Valley in Jammu and Kashmir was shut down as India celebrated its 71st year of independence. All shops and roads remained closed as the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), an alliance of separatist leaders, called on residents Saturday to reject patriotic celebrations, given the human rights violations committed by the Indian government. Indian authorities ramped up security across the valley, deploying armed forces on streets, barricading roads, and suspending phone and internet services. Comment: According to the JRL, the government has launched a spree of arrests in Kashmir Valley, targeting political opponents and youth. In his Independence Day address, Prime Minister Modi promised speedy elections in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which has been under governor’s rule since the collapse of its government in June. (Greater Kashmir, Freepost Kashmir, NDTV)

PAKISTAN:  Newly elected national assembly to vote for prime minister

On Wednesday, the chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, Imran Khan, submitted his nomination papers to the national assembly in Islamabad to become prime minister of Pakistan, while the opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) nominated Shehbaz Sharif, brother of former-PM Nawaz Sharif, for office. The lower house of the new national assembly, sworn in on Monday, will elect the prime minister on Friday. Comment: Imran Khan’s PTI party won the most seats in the July 26 election, just short of an overall majority. The party now seeks coalition partners, while opposition parties have cried foul on the election results. (The Express Tribune, The News, BBC)

                                                                                            Researched/Written by Kritika Kapoor

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