Weekly Reports — CANVAS

27444297-5ad0-4904-af8f-6d9a17f11fd2

CANVAS produces a weekly report on several countries where nonviolent resistance can play an important role in confronting challenges to democracy, including Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mexico, Syria, the United States, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

Receive our weekly updates of global news directly to your inbox, by signing up for our newsletter – here!

Weekly Report: 25 May 2018

Photo: Venezuelan citizens wait to check in at a “Red Spot” to verify they cast their votes during the presidential election. Reuters.

Cambodia

Cambodia’s National Ministry of Interior has threatened officials of the CNRP, the dissolved opposition party, with seizure of assets if they continue calling for a boycott of the election. This has alarmed observers, who say there is no legal precedent for such a move: the ministry spokesperson has argued that as the CNRP officials are no longer residents of the country, the seizure is permissible. Several CNRP officials and activists have fled the country and are living in self-exile following the dissolution of the party last year. However, Sok Sam Oeun, lead attorney at the Amrin Law and Consultations Group, says he has “no idea” what legal provision the government could use, as calling for a boycott of an election is not illegal in Cambodia. Furthermore, a senior election observer at COMFREL, one of the two observers who declined to send representatives, says the call is an expression of free speech, not an “obstruction” of the election. The former deputy president of the CNRP has compared the threat of seizure to Khmer Rouge tactics, where the regime would evacuate citizens from their homes and towns, only to take all their belongings. A CPP spokesperson has stated that average citizens who may choose to boycott the election will not face any repercussions.

As of Thursday, the National Election Committee has approved all 20 of the political parties that registered for the election. Only two of these currently hold parliamentary seats, the ruling CPP and the Funcinpec party, which only gained seats when the CNRP was dissolved, and not through an election. The remaining parties are all considered to be government allies or too small to gain significant votes.

The country’s second lese majeste case resulted after a barber allegedly shared a post on Facebook that insulted the king.

Venezuela

Maduro won the controversial election this weekend, amid low voter turnout. He has secured himself another six years of rule but his main rivals have claimed the election was fraudulent, and are joined in this assessment by many other countries. Falcon, who had run against him, said “The process undoubtedly lacks legitimacy and as such we do not recognize it.” Maduro won with just under 68 percent of the vote, beating Falcon by nearly 40 percent; Bertucci trailed behind at 11 percent. Many of the voters paused by pro-government stands called “red spots,” set up near polling stations, where they would scan their “fatherland” cards in the hopes of winning a prize promised by Maduro during his campaign.

The US is still deliberating placing sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector: a move considered to be a “game-changer.” The economy already in crisis and with the price of crude plunging in the country, the oil-dependent state is expected to be devastated by oil sanctions.

Myanmar

A report by Amnesty International details atrocities committed by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army where the group massacred nearly 100 Hindus. In it, Amnesty warns both sides who have murdered civilians that their actions are unacceptable, prompting other media sites to wonder which side Amnesty is on. It is these attacks, and ones like them, that prompted the brutal retaliation of the Myanmar army leading to the mass exodus of around 700,000 Rohingya.

Canada and Members of Parliament in the UK support referring the Rohingya case to the International Criminal Court for a full independent investigation.

Two antiwar activists were sentenced on Tuesday, May 22, to two months in jail for unlawful assembly. They had failed to gain permission from the proper authorities before demonstrating against the conflict between the Kachin Independence Army and the Myanmar state military. The two insist they were arrested unfairly and that the country’s Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, used as legal basis for their arrests, was unjust. As well, they state the court, and the entire judicial system, is unfree and entirely too influenced by the administration. Their lawyer will file for appeal.

The trial for the two Reuters reporters accused of violating the Official Secrets Acts continues. This week, the prosecution has asked to introduce the reporters’ phones into evidence. This is a shift from previously, when the case rested only on the documents the police claimed the reporters were holding in their hands when they were arrested in a cafe late last year. The prosecution has not explained how the phones will pertain to the case, but the judge nonetheless will allow printed versions of the phone’s contents to be submitted. The defense lawyer says he is concerned about tampering with the evidence, as there is no proof the evidence has been properly extracted and the phones have been in the police’s possession for some time. As well, some documents may have been sent to the reporters without their knowledge in the meantime: the reporters would never have seen those files. The next hearings are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, May 28 and 29.

Myanmar and Bangladesh tensions continue near the border. Refugees on the Bangladeshi side are erecting makeshift homes for themselves in the no-construction zone. The Myanmar border guard has been using loudspeakers to make announcements demanding the Rohingya leave the are, which Bangladesh authorities say are disrupting life and instilling fear into the people on their side of the border. Myanmar remains resolute that the growing population near No Man’s Land is unacceptable: repatriation efforts remain at a near stand-still.

Planning and Finance Minister U Kyaw Win has resigned from his post as reports reveal that he may be investigated for corruption.

Nicaragua

Peace talks between Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega, the opposition, and civil groups, agreed to only one week ago, already came to an impasse on Wednesday and are now suspended indefinitely. The negotiations came to a halt when the opposition demanded the resignation of the president, elections, and   constituent assembly to reform the constitution. The government, and some observers, decried these demands as far outside the reaches of peace talks. Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said the opposition was using the dialogues to push “toward a soft coup.”

Since the collapse of these talks, two more have died in clashes. More than 75 people have died, and over 850 have been wounded.

The Organization of American States’ Secretary General Almagro has called for early elections in Nicaragua, and on Monday the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned Nicaragua’s response to weeks of protests against President Daniel Ortega, criticizing a crackdown that resulted in rights abuses including torture and possibly even murder.

North & South Korea

The summit between North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump has been called off. Trump canceled the meeting, which had been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, citing “tremendous anger and open hostility” as a main factor that drove his decision. Trump followed up this announcement with a broad threat, that the US military would be ready to act if North Korea were to try anything “foolish” in retaliation for the called off talks. So far, however, North Korea has responded rather with the statement that it is ready to talk “at any time in any form” with the US delegation.

Zimbabwe

Deputy Minister of Finance Terence Mukupe made headlines this week when he publicly stated that the army would not allow an opposition leader to take charge of the country, even if democratically elected. This echoes Mugabe-era threats by the military, also warning the opposition of intervention if there were to be an attempted power transition. The government has attempted to distance itself from Mukupe over his comments, but they regardless reflect the lingering fears and feelings of many in Zimbabwe.

The country has now applied to rejoin the Commonwealth. Zimbabwe had been part of this bloc of former British colonies until 2003, when Mugabe withdrew after the nation’s membership was suspended over disputed elections. Many in the UK have expressed great enthusiasm for this move, but with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stipulating that “Zimbabwe must now show commitment to Commonwealth values of democracy and human rights.”

Finally, Former President Robert Mugabe was notably absent from a parliamentary hearing this week regarding the nation’s $15 billion loss in diamond revenue. Mugabe had initially presented this problem in 2016, blaming corruption and foreign involvement for the nation’s losses. Consequently, this session of parliament had been called for lawmakers to hear Mugabe’s evidence, making his absence a red flag for many. The former president himself has in fact walked back on his initial claim since making it, dismissing the losses rather as an “urban legend”. The parliament has summoned him again for a new session on May 28.

Other news:

Syria – State news network SANAA has reported that a military base in Homs has come under fire, but neglected to give further details. Homs was recently taken back into Syrian control, after the last remaining terrorists were evacuated and the Syrian flag was raised. This story is still developing. – Wichita Eagle

Mexico The second presidential debate, which took place on Sunday, again featured attacks against frontrunner Lopez Obrador and a focus on how the candidates will handle Trump and his agenda. NAFTA negotiations continue with Trump calling Mexico and Canada “spoiled.” – Reuters | Reuters

USA – President Trump is known for his use of Twitter. He has also been known to block those users who criticize him. This week, however, a federal judge ruled this practice to be unconstitutional, calling it a restriction on free speech. This case addressing how social media interacts with the constitution is a novel one, and will likely have impact far beyond just the president’s twitter. – NY Times

Weekly Report: 18 May 2018

Photo: The families of victims of the ongoing protests in Nicaragua demand justice. Reuters.

Venezuela

Presidential elections are only two days away, and the National Electoral Council says that the country is prepared, with all materials having been distributed both domestically and internationally. As of Wednesday, Bertucci still will not step down to clear the way for Falcon.

A poll conducted by International Consulting Services shows 67.5 percent of the surveyed population saying they are “absolutely certain” they will participate in the May 20 elections. Around four percent said they are certain they will not participate, and 1.3 percent remain unsure. As such, nearly 14 million Venezuelans are expected to vote.

The opposition coalition, Broad Front, is calling for abstention from the elections. On Wednesday, it called for supporters to demonstrate on the streets. Protests, however, are feeling ever more futile to the average Venezuelan. While several hundred people turned up this week to protest the “farcical election,” the crowd pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands seen in past demonstrations. But the violent repression and absolute lack of change has disenfranchised much of the opposition. Furthermore, with the countrying emptying out as citizens flee food shortages and soaring inflation, turnout is expected to be sharply reduced.

Canada has banned Venezuelan expats residing in several of the its provinces from casting their votes in the presidential election. Venezuelan embassies and consulates located in Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver will not be permitted to set up polling stations for their constituents. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza took to Twitter to criticize the move, saying the Canadian government is violating the voting rights of more than 5,000 Venezuelan immigrants and instructing embassies to ignore Canada’s direction.

Prison inmates have taken over a jail in Caracas and released videos that show prisoners roaming the notorious prison freely, breaking locks and demanding their release. They also make claims of torture and human rights violations. Many of the inmates are jailed opponents of Maduro and have been held without trial. Both those inmates and American political prisoner Joshua Holt have also posted videos saying that they fear for their lives if the government retaliates with a “brutal crackdown from authorities.” The Venezuelan government had tried earlier to claim that it had regained control over the prison, but then changed its statement to having “normalized” the situation after the inmates refuted its claim. In response, an ad hoc committee was set up by Venezuela’s Public Prosecution to investigate the takeover. Attorney General Tarek William Saab has also agreed to relocate over 70 of the prisoners to other facilities.

In March, nine military officers were arrested under suspicion of plotting a coup against Maduro. This week, the families of the officers are demanding their immediate release. They argue that the evidence against the officers is circumstantial, due process was violated, and that the accused are in fact innocent.

Myanmar

A recent UN report warns that violence against ethnic minorities is increasing, perpetrated directly by the government. The report details the dangers being faced not just by the Rohingya, who have been the biggest focus of media attention, but also by the Karen, Kachin, and other peoples who are suffering under the rule of the Myanmar State.

The conflict in Kachin State saw a brutal week. On Monday, Myanmar launched three air attacks on the area around a brigade of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). That made it the third straight day of attacks on this group and one of many against the people’s independence movement overall. Although the conflict has been ongoing for approximately 60 years, 2018 has seen a massive spike in violence. Just since January, 20,000 people have been displaced due to the conflict.

Activists have taken to protest the violence and atrocities in the capital Yangon this month, calling for an end to the conflict and for aid to be provided to the displaced civilians from Karen. This week, however, the government charged 42 of these activists with violating the country’s peaceful assembly law. The government states that the activists did not obtain official permission for the demonstrations from local authorities. The peaceful protesters, along with many human rights groups and legal aides, see this crackdown on nonviolent demonstration as a threat to the freedom of expression and assembly in Myanmar.

Mexico

Independent candidate Margarita Zavala has dropped out of the race for the presidency, giving a possible boost to Lopez Obrador’s rivals. The peso jumped in response, as investors had been wary of Lopez Obrador’s leftist leanings.

Thieves managed to steal more than 300 million pesos (15.4 milllion USD) in a cyber attack targeting five major companies and banks across the country. They transferred the money to different accounts, many which then promptly withdrew cash from ATMs. The money that was not withdrawn is expected to be recovered. Mexico’s central bank said on Tuesday that it will create a new unit to create and publish guidelines on information security for the country’s banks.

Journalist Juan Carlos Huerta was executed by gunmen this week, making him the fourth journalist to be assassinated in the country this year. The news radio host had been targeted and trapped by his attackers, according to police who were catch the fleeing perpetrators. Many have noted also that this killing came exactly one year after that of acclaimed crime reporter and writer Javier Valdez, an esteemed journalist known well beyond Mexico.

North & South Korea

After a relatively positive and hopeful progression of events between North Korea, South Korea, and the US, tensions have once again begun to emerge. A statement by a North Korean official this week kicked off the shift, telling the world that Kim Jong-un would not be interested in talking part in talks where the only result would be unilateral nuclear disarmament. Rather, there is a hope and expectation for concessions on both sides. US President Trump replied with the promise of ‘protections’ in return for the removal of all nuclear weapons, but as the true negotiations have not yet begun, this is a relatively vague offer.

South Korea has downplayed the North’s threats to pull out of the upcoming talks, after it did cancel a high-level Korean meeting on Wednesday, citing the progress and promise of last months talks between Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. In this meeting, they had both stated a commitment to complete denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula, leading the nation to expect Kim’s concessions to come from other areas of policy. Analysts believe that this recent threat is an attempt to build leverage in advance of that negotiation. An advisor to Moon has suggested, however, that it could be time for an end to the partnership between the US and South Korea, to create a more “natural” political environment.

Despite the flurry of ongoing diplomacy, it was found this week that North Korea is continuing to use cyberattacks against defectors. Through malware on Google Play and phishing attempts through Facebook, North Korean hackers have been seeking to infiltrate the personal devices of defectors, in order to take control of these devices and steal all the data, photos, and information they contain. According to McAfee, the software company that discovered the malware, only about 100 instances of infection have been found, although the hackers have been targeting tens of thousands of defectors.

USA

The Trump administration has announced a rule that will strip government funding from any women’s health organizations that perform abortions in the US. The rule takes specific aim at Planned Parenthood, which serves 41 percent of women who receive federally funded family planning services. Executive Vice President of this organization called the new rule “outrageous” and “dangerous” for women across the country. The restrictiveness of the bill could force many clinics to shut down, resulting in a lack of any healthcare at all for women in need, especially in places where Planned Parenthood offers the only clinics within a reasonable distance to those it serves. It will likely also raise the national rates of unintended pregnancies and lead to an increase in mortality rates.

In other news from Washington, yesterday marked one year since the beginning of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Trump called out the probe as a “witch hunt” and again denied all accounts of collusion or obstruction. Many outside the president’s close team, however, feel that the investigation is a serious threat to the Trump presidency and the legitimacy of the election results. In any case, it will no doubt continue to be of paramount focus as its second year moves forward.

Another state has felt the empowerment of teachers who deserve more pay and better funding for their classrooms. North Carolina has become the latest state to see its educators come together and make their voices heard. Here, the central issue is funding, with teachers calling it an afterthought of the budget. Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, expressed their grievances. “We have not had a textbook adoption in 15 years. We have school districts deciding whether or not to pay the light bill or buy toilet paper. We have classrooms … that are 35 students and higher in some instances. This is not normal. This is not the North Carolina way.”

Syria

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has confirmed the use of chlorine gas in an attack on a rebel-held town in early February. This news comes in the middle of the investigation into the presumed use of chemical weapons in Douma last month. The same organization is conducting that investigation as well, and parallels between conditions may now provide additional insight into the examination.

In another kind of study on human conditions, a UN official made a statement this week regarding the effects of international policy on the Syrian people. “Civilians bear brunt of unilateral sanctions, exacerbating unparalleled suffering and destruction,” asserted Idriss Jazairy, UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights. Since the outbreak of the conflict, the Syrian GDP has fallen by two-thirds, the cost of food is eight times higher than it had been, humanitarian aid is being denied to civilians because of unintended bureaucratic consequences, and international sanctions have targeted the mechanisms and rights of average people to a critical degree. “The Syrian people should not have to suffer for what has become an international conflict of unbelievable complexity. All those seeking to meet basic human rights require our help, not our red tape.”

Regarding the conflict itself, a major development this week saw government forces take control of the Homs province- the largest province in Syria. Rebel fighters and many civilians are now evacuating the last rebel-held enclave in the region, as Syrian flags are raised throughout the area. This victory is especially significant for the Assad regime, as Homs had been one of the first places to break away from government control at the start of the conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was happy to congratulate Assad on this and other recent military achievements by the Syrian army. The two leaders met this week for joined talks and a bit of self-congratulatory discourse ahead of Putin’s meetings next week with many European leaders pursuing alternate strategies for the Syrian conflict. Observers have called the meeting a way for Putin to grant more significance to Assad and to delegitimize the others’ calls for an ouster to take over in Syria.

Nicaragua

President Daniel Ortega met this week with opposition leaders and protesters in an attempt to end the weeks of unrest that have led to the deaths of at least 60 demonstrators. In these talks, Ortega said that the Nicaraguans killed in these protests were criminals, to which the opposition called him a “murderer” and read out the names of the dead. “We have come to demand you order the immediate halt of the attacks. You’re the boss of the paramilitaries, of the troops, of the mobs backing the government,” said Lester Aleman, a leader of the student coalition present. The opposition is calling for more than the end of the attacks, though. At the core of this riff is the oppression, mismanagement, cut pensions, and dictatorial disposition of Ortega and his government. The calls for democratization are therefore much more than the subject at this particular negotiating table. They are a reflection of the need for genuine concessions, that if not met, could boil over.

Outside the discussion room, the streets are still rife with protest. Thousands of people this week have gone out to call for Ortega to step down from the presidency, felling yet another of the costly Chayo trees installed by the first lady. Additionally, at least two demonstrators have been killed since the start of the week. With the ongoing talks proving less productive than the opposition had hoped, the clashes could continue to be fatal for the foreseeable future.

Zimbabwe

The High Court of Zimbabwe has banned the nation’s traditional leaders from participation in politics. Local chiefs, head persons, and village heads are no longer permitted to make political statements or to formally support any political parties. The court ruled that to do otherwise is a violation of the constitutional right to a free and fair election. One Chief has been further ordered to formally retract his publicly stated support of the Zanu-PF ruling party.

Public workers have rejected an offer from the government for a salary increase, arguing that the proposed 15% raise is not enough. This offer was already an improvement from the 10% suggested last week, but with this more recent increase still leaving recipients below the poverty line, workers are continuing to push for a better livelihood. Although the government of Zimbabwe already spends more than 90% of its national budget on salaries and pensions, the workers are confident that Mnangagwa will be trying hard to please them nevertheless, in light of the upcoming elections.

Other news:

DRC – The Ebola outbreak in the DRC has now reached a city in the northwest of the country, raising serious concerns that its spread will be much more difficult to control. The World Health Organization is treating the outbreak very seriously, deploying personnel and resources to contain the disease as well as possible. So far, 44 cases of the hemorrhagic fever have been reported in the DRC, with 23 cases having resulted in death. – CNN

Israel – Violence at the border with Gaza has left at least 60 dead and injured hundreds of others. Although Isreal has defended this use of lethal force as a necessary defense measure, human rights advocates including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and numerous UN officials, have gravely condemned it. – NYTimes

Cambodia – The garment workers’ protest continues as workers await the severance and back pay they are owed. Separately, two prominent election observers have declined to send representatives to this years elections. – Phnom Penh Post | Fresh News Asia

Thailand – An editor-in-chief at the Bangkok Post was forced to step down over his critical coverage of the military government. He had refused to “tone down” the coverage by the board of directors, many of whom have ties to the government. – South China Morning Post

Weekly Report: 14 May 2018

Photo: Protesters in Thailand, demanding the junta stop rescheduling elections. Bangkok Post.

United States

The scandal embroiling the legal team of President Trump heated up further this week. Michael Cohen, a Trump lawyer, was exposed for exploiting his closeness to the president as a way of signing on to lucrative consulting contracts with major American companies. AT&T, an American telecommunications giant, and Novartis, a major pharmaceutical company, both hired Cohen for his promised insight into Trump’s thoughts and policies. Having come to view the contracts as a scam, both of these companies have called the deals a mistake. Regardless, the surfacing of this information presents a grave concern for the fairness of information and policy. If Cohen had delivered on his proposals, he would have given insider information to only those companies that paid him specifically for it. The reveal also raises suspicion and alarm over whether President Trump himself knew about the deals. If so, a corruption or otherwise tremendously serious scandal could ensue. Another member of the legal team, the newly recruited Rudy Giuliani, has also furthered the chaos surrounding the White House this week. In keeping with his media trend of last week, the lawyer has again revealed information about agreements andpayments with a Russian company that could be detrimental to both the president and the ongoing investigation into the 2016 election.

In the international realm, the new US embassy in Jerusalem is sparking turmoil. Saudi Arabia has warned that the move will increase instability in the Middle East, a leader of Al-Qaida hascalled for jihad, and protests in Gaza have turned deadly. Haaretz reports that Israeli gunfire there has killed at least 37 Palestinians and left more than 1600 injured so far. The US had been fully aware that this would be a deeply troubling and divisive move, but its true magnitude is as of yet still unfolding.

Syria

A strike by Israel on Iranian targets in Syria has left at least 42 dead this week. The attack was reported by the Israeli military to have hit nearly all of Iran’s military installations in the country, specifically weapon storage locations, logistics sites, and intelligence centers. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group from the UK, has added that many of these sites were posts for Iranian-backed Syrian militias near Damascus. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a statement regarding the strike directly to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, telling him that this was an attempt to send a clear message. “We are in the midst of a protracted battle and our policy is clear: We will not allow Iran to entrench itself militarily in Syria.”

In other developments on the Syrian War, the ninth round of peace talks have begun. Sponsored by Iran, Russia, and Turkey, the assemblage is this time notably missing the United States. Regarding the absence, Russian presidential envoy Aleksandr Lavrentyev stated, “We are hoping that common sense will prevail and they [the United States] will take part in our session.” Although Russia and Iran support the reinstatement of President Assad, it is likely that Turkey – the other major involved country supporting the control of rebel groups – would also appreciate the return of the US to the talks.

Despite international deliberation for other solutions, the Syrian government has continued this week to reclaim territory and restore a higher degree of order in the country. Military forces madeadvances into an area of southern Damascus, with terrorists there suffering heavy combative losses. In Babila, a city further outside of Damascus, the Syrian flag was raised for the first time after years of persistent terrorist activity.

Nicaragua

Yesterday, the government finally agreed to permit the Inter American Human Rights Commissions and UN to investigate the killings and police violence that has taken place during the last few weeks protests. President Ortega has been under pressure by the Catholic Church and the country’s bishops to agree to an independent enquiry. On Wednesday, May 9th, tens of thousands took part in one of the largest protests so far. Monica Baltodano, who was part of the Sandinista movement that overthrew the US-backed Somoza dictatorship in 1979, commented on the miscalculations of Ortega, saying “He should know that the more people you kill, the more people join the struggle to overthrow a dictator”.

North / South Korea

With the international summit approaching, and the date now set for June 12, preparations and negotiations are well underway. Making international headlines was the recent release of three US citizen prisoners from North Korean prisons. This is a hugely symbolic advance for the nations. Additionally, North Korea has submitted a request to open new international air routeswith the International Civil Aviation Organisation, in an apparent move forward toward global integration.

Zimbabwe

Nelson Chamisa, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC),  will be meeting senior UK government officials including the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson during his weeklong visit to the country. During a meeting earlier this week, he expressed concerns and wishes for Britain and the EU to support free and fair elections, ‘Because for a long time, the British government has been emphasising norms, values – let those norms and values of free and fair elections be respected. That is all we want – we’re not asking for money. We’re asking for the solidarity of a global coalition for free and fair elections’. Chamisa also spoke at a campaign rally in Buhera on Saturday, saying he was confident of running over Zanu PF presidential candidate, Emmerson Mnangagwa in elections expected in the next few months, and urging the military to support the people’s choice.

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan will meet with legislators in Victoria Falls this weekend, a retreat for all political parties represented in Parliament, jointly organized by the Zimbabwe Institute and the Kofi Annan Foundation, with the purpose of debating amendments to the country’s electoral laws.

A splinter faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) officially launched the party’s election campaign and manifesto‚ with the theme “Building an Economy to Support Transformation”. Their key issues are much the same as the once targeted by Zanu-PF, but MDC-T is focusing on workers right to organise, full respect of labour rights and their place in the economy.

In other news, Josphat Mungwariri Ushewokunze, founder and President of the Zimbabwe Democratic Change (ZDC), an aspiring presidential candidate in the forthcoming general election has reportedly died in a car crash on the eve of the launch of his political party.

DRC

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it is preparing for “the worst case scenario” with regards to the recent outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in the country. A total of 32 suspected, probable and confirmed cases of Ebola have been registered in Congo since early April. 18 people are suspected to have died as a result of the virus during the past few weeks. The average Ebola fatality rate is about 50 percent, and reportedly, WHO will be start sending vaccines as soon as possible. This is the ninth time Ebola has been recorded in Congo, and the last reported outbreak was in May 2017.

In addition, UNICEF has warned that up to 400,000 children are at risk of starving to death in DRC unless humanitarian aid efforts are ramped up. The agency is calling for $88m to address the crisis. Their report released on Friday says the unstable situation and clashes between regional militia and government forces is severely affecting the most vulnerable children in the region.

South Africa

On Sunday, a suspected explosive device was discovered in Imam Hussain Mosque on the outskirts of Durban, where a deadly knife attack also had occurred on Thursday. Reportedly, three men had stormed the building shorty after afternoon prayers, killing one man and critically injuring two others. The Democratic Alliance, Christians of South Africa (Cosa) and others have condemned the violent act, and the attack on South Africans’ rights to religious practices. A Muslim leader said the mosque had received previous threats and was targeted because it was a Shia place of worship, exposing deep tension between the Shia and Sunni population.

This week, the national government has taken over direct administration of the North West province, where violent protests took place last month, as the population is demanding jobs, housing and an end to corruption. There have also been calls for the regional premier Supra Mahumapelo – a political ally of former president Jacob Zuma – to resign due to accusations of corruption and the misuse of state funds. He has refused, but reportedly he has now gone on leave. It is the first time in South African history that the national government has taken control of an entire provincial administration. The decision to intervene was taken by president Cyril Ramaphosa, as he has made the fight against corruption a priority.

Vietnam

Vietnam requested that China withdraw its military equipment of anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems from South China Sea outposts, saying its presence seriously violates sovereignty, increases tension and destabilizes the region.

On Thursday, chief accountant of the state-run Vietnam Oil and Gas Group Binh Son Refining and Petrochemical Co. Ltd. was arrested on suspicion of embezzlement and “abusing power to appropriate property”. According to the penal code, if found guilty, he may face life in prison. The arrest is part the government’s crackdown on corruption.

People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City convicted 56-year-old Bui Hieu Vo on Wednesday to 4-1/2 years for carrying out anti-state propaganda. He was jailed for Facebook posts that “distorted” the political situation in the Southeast Asian country. Police in the northern city of Thanh Hoa also said they had arrested 37-year-old Nguyen Duy Son over Facebook activity attempting “to defame party, state and provincial leaders”.

Thailand

On Saturday May 5, another protest took place at Thammasat University where the group gave the military government until May 22 to meet their three demands: an election by November of this year, the junta to step down, and the soldiers to return to their barracks. 600 police, more than the protesters themselves, were deployed in the interest of “security.” The demonstrators also urged the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to step down from power. General Wanlop said security officers are assessing the situation, but he does not expect it to “spiral out of control.” He did, however, warn the protesters to avoid violence. P-Move, the organizing group, has planned a large pro-democracy gathering from May 19 to May 22. In the meantime, the group will end its demonstrations until then as long as the ruling junta keeps the promises it made.

On Sunday April 30 1,250 people gathered in protest of a proposed luxury housing development in the forested land at the foothills of a sacred mountain. They gave the government seven days to change the development plans or face more mass gatherings. On Sunday May 6, meeting this deadline, the government held talks with the environmental activists, eventually agreeing not to develop on the land and the activists declared this a victory. In the intervening days green ribbons decorated various object in public places to symbolize the environmental movement. One of the movement’s leaders says he hopes this success will empower other groups to take action to remind the government it must consider the opinions of the locals.

Cambodia

The Phnom Penh Post, often seen as the last bastion of free press in the country, has been sold to a PR firm with links to the prime minister. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, has called this a “staggering blow to press freedom in Cambodia” and the takeover was followed by several firings of editors and reporters. Still others resigned in protest. Rights advocates and journalists suspect this sale may be related to the upcoming elections, which incumbent prime Minister Hun Sen hopes to win.

Cambodia has made its first arrest under the new lese majeste law, which prohibits speech critical of the monarchy. A teacher was arrested for allegedly insulting the king in a Facebook post.

The registration period for political parties began on Monday and will end on May 14. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party, Hun Sen’s party, was among the first to register as well as the little-known pro-government Cambodian Youth Party and the Cambodian Nationality Party. A spokesperson for the NEC said that over 15 parties have collected forms to fill in and, originally, expected all to send in their applications. The estimate has been revised to around 10 parties. However, as of Monday, the final day to apply, only four parties had been registered. In response, the NEC has extended the deadline for those parties currently in the process. Some parties, like Candlelight Party and Human Rights Party, which both have ties to the dissolved CNRP, have refused to participate in the process.

Separately, a court denied bail to Kem Sokha yet again. His lawyers say his health is failing after months of detention, and still no court date has been set.

Myanmar

Last week, an envoy from the UN Security Council arrived in Myanmar for the first high-level diplomatic mission to the country since last year. On Wednesday May 9 the Security Council released a statement exhorting Myanmar to hold accountable those responsible for the atrocities committed against the Rohingya. The Council has scheduled an open briefing on the trip for May 14, where members will discuss how to work with Bangladesh and Myanmar and the new U.N. special envoy “to resolve the crisis and create the conditions” so the Rohingya can return home. Four human rights groups at an earlier news conference at the UN headquarters in New York recommended the council immediately ask the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation for crimes against humanity in Myanmar. The Wednesday statement did not address this request.

Foreign ministers and diplomats of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) set up a campaign committee during two days of talks in the Bangladesh capital. The Muslim nations intend to pressure the international community and Myanmar to take action against those allowed and performing atrocities targeting the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

This week more than 400 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) arrived in a small town to take shelter in the churches there from the ongoing conflict between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army. While the hostilities have not ceased, both sides have agreed to allow the civilians to leave the villages caught in the crossfire. Meanwhile, three antiwar activists were charged on Wednesday May 9 with violating Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law, which insists demonstrations may only be held with the permission of local authorities.

Venezuela

While the main opposition coalition continues to urge citizens to boycott the “sham” elections, Henri Falcon faces yet another challenge: a rival candidate, Bertucci. Bertucci has been lagging in the polls and has barely been considered a challenger to President Maduro, but recently begun to climb in the polls. This is dividing what little support Falcon may get from opposition supporters who decide to vote.

Maduro announced he will hold another peace talk with “every political and social force in the Latin American country” — once he’s elected. Late last year, peace talks between Maduro and the opposition ended when the opposition declined to sign an agreement, and were still unsatisfied when the electoral board pushed the election back to May 20. He also says, if re-elected, he will win the “economic war” being waged against his country by the “oligarchs” who have plunged the country into economic crisis. He went on to say his critics will “get their comeuppance” and accused businesses of colluding to raise prices in order to sow discontent among voters.

The US has imposed yet more sanctions on Venezuela, now targeting three individuals tied to Maduro and 20 companies owned or controlled by those three. The sanctions are not expected to impact the economic lives of average Venezuelans; none of the sanctions will target the oil sector, although the idea is still under consideration, according to an anonymous administration official. US Vice President Pence has called on the Organization of American States to suspend Venezuela’s membership and the individual states to cut off the nation’s leaders from financial systems and restrict their travel visas. He also demanded Venezuela suspend the May 20 election, expecting voter intimidation and manipulation of data: the country promptly rejected the demand.

Mexico

Three election candidates across Mexico have been murdered in the past two weeks. The most recent was a Morena (leftist party of presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador) candidate for mayor in the state of Guanajuato. Just three days earlier, a state assembly candidate for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party in Mexico’s western Guerrero state was killed. On May 4, another Morena mayoral candidate was killed. Unfortunately, these killings are not out of the ordinary: since campaigning for the July elections began in September 2017 more than a hundred candidates have been killed.

poll by GEA-ISA showed on Thursday that López Obrador is losing his strong lead in the polls as Anaya narrows the lead. The polls shows López Obrador at 29 percent, up one percentage point, and only five percentage points ahead of Anaya, compared to six points before the first presidential debate. Ruling party PRI candidate Jose Meade is holding steady at 20 percent. The poll did not remove undecided voters from the results, as some polls do.

A journalist was fired from his job at Mexico’s largest media company, Televisa, for a tweet which was seen as inciting violence against the presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

López Obrador recently said he would consider decriminalizing many drugs in  in an effort to get a handle on the drug-related violence in Mexico. He is keeping a similar tone as he has in the past: previously, he suggested amnesty deals with the “narcos” leaders, which earned him some harsh criticism.

In other news, the last round of NAFTA talks concluded on Friday, with Mexico clashing with the US on many issues including content rules and dispute-resolution

Other news:

Maldives – Maldives chief justice Abdulla Saeed has been sentenced to nearly five months in prison on charges of obstructing government administration and justice. – South China Morning Post

Guatemala – Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales has asked Sweden and Venezuela to remove their ambassadors, accusing the diplomats of “interfering in domestic politics” and falsely calling the entire country corrupt. – Reuters

Indonesia – Prominent Muslim scholars from Indonesia, Afghanistan and Pakistan met at the Ulema Conference in Jakarta on Friday, where they issued a declaration on the war and peace in Afghanistan, condemning the Taliban’s war against the Afghan government as illegitimate, and saying that all sides agreed to work together with regional and global Islamic scholars to bring about peace and stability in the country. –  Tolo News

Hungary – The government has recently announced its plan to further tighten the NGO bill. This will further restrict the rights and operations of organizations receiving foreign funding, plus give the government further authority to intervene or shut down any  such NGOs that it deems a “national security risk.” – US News & World Report