February 7, 2020
MEPs in Brussels ratified the United Kingdoms’ official withdrawal agreement from the European Union with 621 votes in favor and 49 against.
What comes next: The UK now has to navigate tough trade agreements with the EU, turning the two former partners into rivals. Foreign ministers have also visited Australia and Japan to strike other trade deals.
Can They Do It: Boris Johnson has promised to finish these negotiations by the end of the year, but many experts say that this is much too optimistic. It seems that the first clash will occur overfishing policies, as the UK has refused so far to ensure members of the EU free access to its waters.
Related: Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon has renewed its calls for Scottish independence but has ruled out a second referendum for now.
As the count of coronavirus cases climbs to over 30,000, the entire world is feeling the effects. China’s economy is experiencing a massive slump, the worst since 2015. Their stock market reopened on Monday after being closed for the Lunar New Year.
China tried to jumpstart the economy with a decision to half additional tariffs on 1,717 products imported from the United States. This economic policy will be enacted on February 14th; it is worth $75 billion of goods. On Thursday, the market responded positively to the Chinese attempt to boost financial confidence.
A Publicity Nightmare: China has accused the United States of causing panic and fear over the coronavirus. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that the US was wrong for pulling its nationals out of the country and restricting travel. She said that they should have instead provided meaningful aid to keep the virus at bay.
Violence continues to wreak havoc in the Syrian region of Idlib, the opposition’s only remaining stronghold. An exchange of fire between Syrian and Turkish forces killed eight Turkish troops, thirteen Syrian troops, and nine civilians.
Turkey said that they notified local forces of their positions and that their envoy was there to prevent conflict between the Syrian and Russian-backed troops. But this brought Assad and its allies to a crossroad: either attack Turkey’s troops or let them advance into their territory.
Analysis: This will likely heighten tensions between Turkey and Russia. Despite backing opposite forces in this conflict, Russia and Turkey remained close allies with many common interests. The two nations even agreed to de-escalate violence in the province in 2017. However, the area has recently been subject to extreme levels of violence.
Implications: On Monday, the United Nations announced that half a million people have been displaced since December 1st due to the hostilities, around 80% of them are women and children.
Monday was the deadline for politicians to register their candidacy for the upcoming legislative and presidential elections.
Surprisingly, former President Evo Morales is running for a seat in parliament. Morales, who has been living in exile in Argentina, is banned from running for President but wants to be a legislator. However, a warrant has already been issued for his arrest in Bolivia.
Who’s Running: Bolivia’s interim President Jeanine Áñez has already expressed her candidacy to stay in office, despite her original promise to only remain in power until a new president is elected. Morales named former economy minister Luis Arce as the presidential candidate for his Movement for Socialism party. Centrist former president Carlos Mesa, who Morales beat in 2019, is also running. MAS leads recent opinion polls with 26% support.
President Barham Salih appointed a new Prime Minister: former parliament member and Minister of Communications Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi.
The former Prime Minister stepped down last November, leaving the nation without a Prime Minister until this week. In his acceptance speech, Allawi acknowledged the anti-government protesters, stating that their sacrifice and bravery are going to help change the country. However, demonstrators have deemed him “Iran’s choice,” and they have continued to protest.
Leaders from Eritrea, Somalia, and Ethiopia recently met to discuss “revamping economies for the respective nations.”
In their trilateral talks, the three nations agreed to join forces against terrorism, especially in Somalia where the al-Shabaab group still wields a considerable amount of power. Other topics that were discussed include cracking down on human trafficking, modernizing infrastructure, and mobilizing natural resources.
Background: These Horn of Africa nations have been plagued with conflict and tense relations for a long time, but in recent years they have shown signs of increased cooperation. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for brokering peace with Eritrea, but he still faces backlash over his internal human rights record.
There are no signs of protests slowing down any time soon; tens of thousands of people are continuing to participate in marches.
Demonstrators are “urging the government to form a Parliament and to appoint civilian governors.” Civilians are expressing mixed feelings towards these protests. People who support the movement believe that “the transitional period to form the government structures has dragged.” The opposition vehemently believes that the transition should not be pressured, as the current government is heavily supported because of their removal of the former president.
Related: The head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council has been working to improve his diplomatic image around the world. He met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week and set to visit the United States later this year.
A leaked audio recording shows that Iran knew immediately that it shot down a Ukraine passenger jet last month. The conversation between an Iranian pilot and an air traffic control tower in Tehran contradicts the government’s denial of the incident. The recording was played on a Ukrainian news channel Sunday night, with Ukrainian President Zalinsky saying that it “proves that the Iranian side knew from the start that our plane had been hit by a missile.”
Response: The Iranian government accused Ukraine of leaking confidential evidence into the investigation; they consequently stated that they will no longer be cooperating with Ukraine.
Two civilians involved in the anti-government protests face trial this week for “resisting security forces.” One defendant, Hassan Yassine, had marks on his body as a result of the physical abuse he received in prison. The other activist, Nour Chahine, was denied access to a lawyer and was barred from contacting his family.
Response: Human Rights Watch has stated that “military courts have no business trying civilians.” They are asking Lebanon to pass laws that remove civilians from the jurisdiction of the military court.
The Latest: The worsening Lebanese economy is causing a massive brain drain. Young adults and well-educated adults are filling out immigration forms in search of a more promising life in a country that can provide them with the opportunities they need to succeed in their respective fields.
The Arab League has completely rejected US President Donald Trump’s plan for peace in the Middle East, saying that the plan will ultimately result in anything but peace.
The regional group of states in the Middle East said that it does not “meet the minimum rights and aspirations of Palestinian people,” and that they would not be cooperating with the enforcement of the plan. An emergency session was requested by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who responded to the plan with “a thousand no’s.”
In Contrast: Oman and Saudi Arabia representatives were present at the presentation of the plan, saying how they “appreciated efforts from Trump’s administration in the Middle East.” Their positive political, military, and economic relations with Israel played a major role in their acceptance of the plan.
President Nicolás Maduro has been making small strides towards economic liberalization in an attempt to prevent Venezuela from the looming threat of an economic disaster. The socialist leader has reportedly been letting businesses operate more freely.
The reality: This has only benefited a select few; most residents continue to face massive inflation and poverty. This is a possible indication of the beginning of a shift towards a Chinese-like model of authoritarian capitalism; it can also be interpreted as an attempt by Maduro to gain support from business leaders.
Related: Opposition leader Juan Guaidó attended US President Trump’s annual State of the Union address this past Tuesday. Trump referred to him as “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela.” Guaidó received a bipartisan ovation. This was only one stop of Guaidó’s international tour meant to build support for him as the legitimate leader of Venezuela; he already has the support of nearly 60 countries.
After experiencing a 1.2% decrease in its economy in 2019, Hong Kong’s economic status is expected to deteriorate even more due to the spread of the coronavirus. Financial Secretary Pauk Chan has stated that the coronavirus “will greatly increase the risk of continued economic contraction this year.” Schools, shops, parks, and attractions are currently closed, and the nation experienced its first fatality on Tuesday.
Government response: As of midnight this Friday, Hong Kong’s new quarantine policy will be enacted. The policy requires all citizens “returning from the mainland … [face] a mandatory 14-day quarantine.” Anyone who breaks quarantine is subject to a maximum fine of HK$25,000 and up to six months in prison.
Despite protests quieting down, President Daniel Ortega is still facing large amounts of internal pressure and public calls for his removal. Bianca Jagger, a Nicaraguan social and human rights advocate, called Ortega a “murderous dictator” in a recent interview. She called upon those who led the Sandinista revolution that brought him into power now to turn against him.
Similarly, Nicaragua’s best known former political prisoner, Amaya Coppens, has called upon international organizations to investigate Ortega’s abuses. Ortega has managed to stay in power throughout the protests, but only time will tell if he can hold on for much longer.
North Korea has closed its borders with China and Russia to protect itself from the coronavirus, further isolating itself from the rest of the world.
The infamously sealed country has suspended all flights, trains, and cars from entering the country. Outsiders are worried that this will further worsen the country’s limited economy and sever the remaining economic ties that have kept the nation afloat. Without raw materials and processed goods from China, North Korea will have no new medical supplies, clothing, or flour until the ban is lifted.
Eighteen months of negotiations with Saudi Arabia finally resulted in the first flight to depart from Yemen in three years. On Monday, the United Nations flew seven extremely ill Yemenis from the nation’s rebel-controlled capital to Jordan. The patients are in dire need of kidney transplants or cancer treatment. The flight has “offered a glimmer of hope for faltering diplomatic efforts to broker an end to a grinding five-year war that pushed much of the country to the brink of starvation.”
The United Nations strongly criticized Houti’s authority for preventing humanitarian aid to be delivered to people in need in the North of the country. Houti’s authority has not replied to the critics so far.
Related: On Wednesday, the Information Minister of Yemen tweeted that eight civilians (four women and four children) died during the ballistic attack over the populated district of Rawda in Ma’rib.
Zimbabwean opposition lawmaker Job Sikhala has gone to trial to face charges of trying to overthrow the government. He entered his plea on Monday, saying that he was not guilty. The prosecutors accused Sikhala of trying to “subvert the government ‘through unconstitutional means.’” Human rights organizations have labeled the accusations as harassment.
Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) is pressuring popular technology companies to pre-install Russian apps and software onto smartphones and other personal devices that are meant to instill “traditional Russian spiritual and moral values.”
In a country already plagued with gratuitous censorship, the new law outlaws selling technology that does not have the pre-installed software. Russia is now requesting that Apple, Microsoft, and Google not only install the software but also give customers the ability to delete non-Russian built-in apps.
The United Nations envoy to Libya Ghassan Salamé has said high-ranking officials from both sides of the conflict have agreed on the need for a “permanent and lasting” ceasefire. Salamé also condemned ongoing violations of an arms embargo by both sides. Despite these talks of a ceasefire, military commander Khalifa Hatar received a large supply of weapons from the United Arab Emirates on Monday. Salamé hopes that those who are participating in the arms trade “understand that there is already more than 20 million pieces of ordnance in the country, and that is enough.”
United States: The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump concluded on its 13th day after the Senate voted to acquit Trump of charges of abusing his office and obstructing Congress’s investigations.
Ghana: Ghanaians struggling with mental health and substance abuse do not have access to any form of therapy, counseling, or medications. Instead, those patients are being chained to trees for years at a time. Only “2% of the 2.75 million Ghanaians suffering from mental disorders are receiving care at medical facilities,” according to the World Health Organization. Until Ghanaians receive proper medical treatment for these disorders, “the only thing on offer is the chain.”
Mexico: Two environmental activists have been found dead in separate incidents that are likely linked to the cartel. Homero Gómez González was found at the bottom of a well January 28th, and Raúl Hernández was found severely beaten February 2nd. Both men were involved with activist efforts to protect monarch butterflies in northern Mexico, which included anti-logging initiatives that have been upset by the nearby cartels.
El Salvador: The United States’ frequent deportations have resulted in the murder, torture, sexual assault, and abuse of more than 200 El Salvadoran immigrants seeking asylum upon their return to El Salvador. Many immigrants have fled in an attempt to “escape forcible gang recruitment,” but have faced even more violence when they arrive. The United Nations have finally begun to monitor what happens to El Salvadorans who return home after being deported from the US; so far, they have written a 117-page report.