PSR: June 1, 2018

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May 26 – June 1

This week in:

 IPSI | Africa | Americas | East Asia | Europe & Central Asia | Middle East | South Asia


This week in Sub-Saharan Africa

ETHIOPIA: Government and opposition begin talks on amending anti-terrorism law


On Wednesday, the ruling coalition party, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) began talks with opposition groups to amend controversial provisions of the country’s anti-terrorism law. State affiliated media said that 14 political parties are participating in the talks; critics of the anti-terrorism claim it criminalizes expressing dissenting opinions. Comment: The discussions began after the release of opposition leader Andargachew Tsige. He had been sentenced to death in 2009 for participating in the opposition group Ginbot 7, an organization on the government’s terrorist list.  (AfricaNews, Bloomberg, Reuters)


SOUTH SUDAN: Six new government officials on Washington’s sanctions list

  South Sudan

On Thursday, the UN Security Council voted to delay U.S.-backed sanctions against South Sudan by one month. The U.S. asked the UN Security Council on Monday to sanction six South Sudanese officials accused of fueling war and blocking humanitarian aid. The blacklisted officials include Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juk, Information Minister Michael Makuei, and government member Martin Elia Lomuro; the other three are senior military officials. Washington also called for a one-year extension of sanctions against the world’s youngest country. Mawien Makol, South Sudan’s foreign affairs spokesman responded to the U.S. request by saying, “imposing sanctions on individuals is not the solution.” Comment: South Sudan’s civil war, ignited by a disagreement between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, began shortly after independence from Sudan in 2011. (Al Jazeera, Reuters, Sudan Tribune 1, 2)


UGANDA: Government imposes tax on social media platforms


On Thursday, Uganda’s parliament passed a law to tax social media users, including those on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Viber. A USD 0.05 levy will be collected from an individual for each day he/she accesses a social media platform, though some experts are uncertain how the government will be capable of determining who actually uses social media. The tax, according to State Minister for Finance David Bahati, will help reduce Uganda’s national debt. Comment: President Museveni’s focus on passing the law began in March; however, many younger MPs are not supportive of the law, arguing that the proposed tax disproportionately affects the poor. (BBC, AfricaNews, Daily Nation)

                                                                                     Researched/Written by Edgar Peter Mutta

Symposiums - 04.24.18

This week in the Americas & Caribbean

BRAZIL: Trucker strike continues to cripple Brazilian economy


On Tuesday, a nationwide trucker strike to protest the rise of diesel fuel prices entered into its ninth day, despite Brazilian government concessions. President Michel Temer agreed to concede approximately USD 2.5 billion, a number that includes a 10 percent cut to diesel prices, USD 0.12 per liter, for 60 days, as well as “reduced tolls for empty trucks and minimum freight rates.” Although five trucker unions accepted the deal, including Abcam, comprising approximately 600,000 drivers, thousands of drivers are continuing to protest. Comment: Strikers blocked 550 roads, 13 universities canceled classes, 10 airports ran out of fuel, and medicine and food supplies are running low. (The Guardian, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg


COLOMBIA: Presidential election heads into runoff


On Sunday, none of the candidates in Colombia’s national presidential election obtained 50 percent of the vote, sending the election into a runoff. Conservative candidate Ivan Duque received the most votes with 39 percent, followed by leftist candidate Gustavo Petro with 25 percent of the vote, while Sergio Fajardo won 24 percent of the vote. Duque and Petro will compete for Colombia’s presidency in a runoff election on June 17, 2018. Important issues in the election are healthcare, unemployment, and the controversial peace deal with FARC. Comment: Candidate Duque opposes the peace deal, while Petro remains supportive of the agreement, which gives 10 congressional seats to the former FARC combatants. Critics argue that the deal fails to hold FARC combatants accountable for past abuses. (The Guardian, NPR, CNN, BBC, telesur)


PUERTO RICO: Study finds Hurricane Maria death toll 70 times higher than originally reported


On Tuesday, a Harvard study claimed that official reports underestimated the death toll of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, more than 4,600 people died as a result of the hurricane last year, instead of the official Puerto Rican government death toll of 64. The study surveyed 3,299 households in Puerto Rico and asked about “displacement, infrastructure loss, and causes of death.” Comment: The excess deaths were calculated by comparing the post Hurricane Maria mortality rate with the mortality rate from exactly a year ago. The new death estimate includes immediate deaths resulting from the hurricane and deaths as consequences of its aftermath, from issues like power shortages and road destruction. (BBC, Washington Post, Harvard University, New England Journal of Medicine)  

                                                                                             Researched/Written by Abigail Gress


This week in East Asia & Pacific

KOREA: Denuclearization remains dividing factor in U.S. – North Korea talks


On Tuesday, North Korean official Kim Yong Chol visited New York to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. This is the latest effort between the two nations to work diplomatically in the wake of the cancelled Peace Summit. The pace of denuclearization continues to be the most dividing subject as the U.S. continues to push for a much faster process than the North Korean officials prefer. In addition to the meeting between the two top officials, a team of American diplomats are holding preparatory discussions with North Korean officials at the Demilitarized Zone. Comment: American leaders said they considered lifting food and aid sanctions against North Korea if the denuclearization process moves quickly. (Reuters 1, 2, Time, WSJ)


MALAYSIA: Prime minister rescinds ICJ case against Singapore over disputed island 


On Wednesday, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir dropped the country’s lawsuit with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Singapore’s proclaimed ownership over the island Pedra Branca. The ICJ awarded Singapore ownership of the island back in 2008 and awarded the island of Middle Rock to Malaysia. In 2017, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib challenged the ruling claiming that Pedra Branca island falls within Malaysia’s territorial waters. Mahathir now says he will focus on building up the island of Middle Rocks. Comment: The dispute over Pedra Branca began in 1979 when Malaysia published a map that included the island within its territorial waters. (Channel News Asia, Reuters, SCMP)


MYANMAR: Religious leaders visit Rakhine State to endorse peaceful reconciliation


On May 27, six religious leaders from the multi-denominational delegation Religions for Peace – Myanmar visited the Rakhine state to call for the peaceful reintegration of Rohingya, Hindu, and other religious minority groups persecuted during the military’s counter insurgency that started in September 2017. The delegation suggested programming areas such as “rehabilitation, building houses, resettlement, and farming” could encourage the different religious groups to work and live together peacefully. State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed the delegation last Thursday and affirmed Myanmar’s respect for human rights. Comment: More than 670,000 Rohingya fled the country since the government started its campaign. The UN stated the persecutions amounted to ethnic cleansing and, potentially, genocide. (Herald Malaysia, Myanmar Times, Reuters, The Jakarta Post, Vatican News)

                                                                                            Researched/Written by Nida Kuruvilla


This week in Europe & Central Asia

BELGIUM: Prison inmate on leave kills three


On Tuesday, a prison inmate on temporary leave fatally shot three people and took one hostage in the Belgian city of Liège, before police shot and killed him. Belgian police are treating the incident as an act of terrorism since the prisoner shouted, “God is great!” in Arabic during the attack. Law enforcement suspects he may have had contact with radicalized individuals while in prison for drug offenses. The attack killed two police officers and one civilian, as well as injured four other police officers. Comment: The attacker, a Belgian citizen, is also believed to have killed his former criminal partner on Monday, just after the start of his 48-hour leave. The Federal Prosecutor’s Office, tasked with overseeing terrorism-related incidents, is currently investigating the attack. The self-proclaimed Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. (Flandersnews, Brussels Times, BBC, NYTimes)


ITALY: President approves populist coalition government


On Thursday, President Sergio Mattarella approved a last-ditch attempt by the populist coalition composed of the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the League to form a government. The coalition decided to present a new list of cabinet nominations after Mattarella blocked their pick for finance minister, Paolo Savona, due to his outspoken euro-skepticism. Mattarella approved the re-nomination of law professor Giuseppe Conte as prime minister and the appointment of Savona to a less important post in the European Affairs Ministry. Comment: Human rights organizations fear the new government will take a tough stance on immigration. Head of the League and newly appointed Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, already announced plans to increase detention and deportations of illegal immigrants. (ANSA, BBC, AP, NYTimes)


UKRAINE: Murder of Russian journalist in Ukraine staged 


On Wednesday, Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko appeared at a news conference in Ukraine, less than a day after police reported that he had been shot and killed in Kiev. Babchenko explained that his ”assassination” was actually a Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) sting operation meant to foil a Russian secret service plot against his life. The SBU reported that they arrested one individual in connection with the plot, a Ukrainian citizen paid by Russia; he had approached several Ukrainians with the USD 40,000 murder contract. Comment: Many organizations condemned the actions of Ukrainian authorities, including Reporters Without Borders and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The OSCE warned Ukraine against spreading “false information.” Russia’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that the stunt was “obviously yet another anti-Russia provocation.” (Unian, AP, BBC, NYTimes)

                                                                                                 Researched/Written by Abby Fram


This week in the Middle East & North Africa

IRAQ: Electoral commission cancels thousands of votes and demands recount


On Wednesday, the Independent High Electoral Commission announced the cancellation of votes from more than 1,000 polling stations during the parliamentary elections on May 12 due to allegations of voter fraud. On Monday, politicians, including many Sunnis, voted in parliament for a recount in regions particularly populated by Sunnis: Diyala, Nineveh, Anbar, and Saladin, in addition to cancelling the votes of those living abroad. The announcement comes after three Shia blocs won the most seats in parliament. If the difference of the recount surpasses 25 percent, parliament could move to recount all 11 million votes. Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi expressed concern of turmoil if recounts continue. Comment: There were a total of 53,000 polling stations on May 12; the recount affects 10 percent of the vote. (Al-Bawaba, The New Arab, Al Jazeera 1, 2)


ISRAEL / GAZA: Violence ends amidst alleged unofficial ceasefire


On Wednesday, Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups halted the hostilities that had begun on March 30 after Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinian protesters. Violence reached a climax on Tuesday night when Hamas and the Islamic Jihad launched rockets toward southern Israel; Israel’s missile interceptor system blocked the rockets with no known casualties. Israel then retaliated by destroying 55 military buildings in Gaza; Gaza did not report any casualties. Khalil al-Hayya, the Hamas deputy chief in Gaza, said confirmed a ceasfire between Gaza and Israel, but Israel denied the claims; however, Israeli intelligence minister, Yisrael Katz, acknowledged Israel’s preference to end the violence. Comment: Gaza and Israel signed an official ceasefire mediated by Egypt in 2014. The Guardian called the recent violence “the most intense flare-up of fighting since the war in 2014.” (Haaretz, JPost, Al Jazeera, The Guardian)


LIBYA: Agreement on elections takes place at Paris peace talks


On Tuesday, Libyan factions agreed verbally in Paris on a “political framework” for stability in the country with presidential and legislative elections to take place in December. UN-supported Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, Libyan National Army leader in the east Khalifa Haftar, President of the House of Representatives Aguila Saleh, and the Leader of the Council of State Khaled al-Mishri attended the talks, but Western Libyan groups chose not to join the talks. The agreement consists of eight points including the unification of the central bank, a commitment to support the creation of a national army, and an inclusive political national conference. Comment: Civil war broke out in Libya after the fall of the Gaddafi regime in 2011. (Al Jazeera, France 24, The Guardian, Reuters)

                                                                                          Researched/Written by Daniel Boerger


This week in South Asia

AFGHANISTAN: Taliban rejects U.S. claims of peace talks with Afghan officials


In a statement made Friday, the Taliban said that they “categorically reject” claims made by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan about secret dialogue taking place between Afghan officials and the insurgents.  General John Nicholson said Wednesday that senior Taliban officials are secretly negotiating a possible ceasefire with Kabul, and that unnamed international organizations and governments are also involved.  Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid called the remarks “baseless claims.”  Comment: This exchange comes amidst mounting violence in Afghanistan; Taliban fighters Wednesday launched an attack against the interior ministry in Kabul that killed one police officer.  The Pentagon reported the same day that a series of U.S. strikes in May killed more than 70 “senior Taliban leaders.”  (Afghanistan Times, AP, Reuters, BBC)


BANGLADESH: Narcotics crackdown arrests over 9000, kills over 100


On Tuesday, police and the Rapid Action Battalion killed over 100 and arrested an estimated 9,000 “drug dealers” across Bangladesh in the continuation of an anti-narcotics campaign initially launched by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on May 3. The campaign targets the trade of methamphetamine and phensedyl, among other narcotics. According to police officials, most deaths occurred in violent confrontations with drug traffickers and in self-defense. Comment: Authorities partly blame the increased use of methamphetamine on smuggling by Rohingya refugees. Human rights activists fear a Philippines-style war on drugs, involving human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings. (The Straits Times, Khaleej Times, Reuters)


PAKISTAN: General elections scheduled for July 25

On Sunday, government officials in Islamabad confirmed that Pakistan will hold its first general elections since 2013 on July 25. The National Assembly and the Senate comprise the lower chamber of Pakistan’s parliament, and members of both will face more than 100 million voters. The Election Commission says it is prepared for the elections and is finalizing a code of ethics. Comment: This will be the second peaceful transition of power in Pakistan’s 71 years, which are marked by military governments. The ruling party Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) will primarily compete against Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in these elections. (Bloomberg, Daily Pakistan, The Guardian)

                                                                                            Researched/Written by Kritika Kapoor

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