Weekly Report 21 February 2020


February 21, 2020

Iranians head to the polls today to elect a new parliament, but recent tensions in the country will test what the citizens think of its leaders. Many citizens of Iran have little to no confidence in their leaders. Little has improved since the last elections four years ago, and recent embarrassments on the national scale does not help.

However, Iran’s religious government leaders hold a tight grip on who can run; disqualifying more than 7,000 candidates in favor of those loyal to the Supreme Leader. Hardline loyalists are thus expected to dominate the elections. It is likely that voter turnout will be low, despite Khamenei’s tweet that said that voting will “display our unity against the enemies.

As the number of COVID-19 cases passes 75,000, new sectors of the population are put at risk. Health care employees make up 4% of confirmed cases, with one hospital director passing away Tuesday morning. The widespread ramifications are being felt in new ways. One estimate has the virus costing the airline industry almost $30 billion. Similar declines are being felt in the automobile industry.

Also: A new report shows exactly how and why the Chinese government has placed thousands of Uighur Muslims into detention camps. A whistleblower leaked a database that has confirmed that people are placed into camps strictly based on “their religion and their family ties,” contradicting the Chinese government’s claim that these camps are meant to curb political violence and have no relation to religion.

Nine people were killed in two shootings on Wednesday night. The far-right gunman targeted neighborhoods that have a large immigrant population, leading the police to believe that the motive is related to xenophobia. The gunman was found dead in his apartment with his mother on Thursday morning. This is another example of the dissemination of xenophobia throughout the country. Just last week, German authorities arrested 12 members of a far-right terrorist organization.

As pro-Assad forces continue to barrage the province of Idlib, domestic flights between Damascus and Aleppo have resumed. A symbolic flight carrying Syrian officials was completed Wednesday, demonstrating that Assad’s government has the upper hand in the region.

A Proxy War: On Thursday, Russia bombed Turkish troops in Idlib, which in turn targeted pro-Assad forces. This is the lowest point of the agreement between Russia and Turkey. Merkel and Macron are said to be ready to meet Putin and Erdogan to defuse tensions in the area.

Despite having reached an agreement last week, tensions are continuing to rise between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Because of Hamas’ inability to prevent the launching of balloons and rockets from the Gaza Strip, Israel has decided to renege on its promise of easing restrictions.

Trade between Palestine and Israel has returned to normal on Thursday after months of tensions and boycotts. The trade conflict started after the Palestinian Prime Minister announced the nation would no longer import beef from Israel. Israeli and Palestinian ranchers and farmers were negatively impacted by the ban.

An 8-year old Palestinian Jerusalemite lost an eye after Israeli police shot him “with a rubber-coated steel bullet.” Police stated that they were controlling a riot, but surveillance footage has shown that there were no signs of a riot breaking out. Eyewitnesses said that the attack was “unprovoked” and “deliberate.”

The International Monetary Fund began talks this week on how to help Lebanon out of its worst economic crisis in 50 years. Having met with newly appointed Prime Minister Hassan Diab, the delegation is working to tackle the slow economic growth, the high unemployment rates, and the widespread corruption that sparked months of ongoing protests.

Lebanon’s current debt of $87 billion is 150% more than the country’s GDP. Many financial experts are worried that they might default on their $1.2 billion Eurobond debt that is due March 9th.

The Libyan National Army bombed Tripoli’s main port Wednesday. Renegade commander Khalifa Haftar and his LNA have wanted to gain control of the port for years; they have tried to a Turkish vessel carrying weapons.

At the UN: Peace negotiations in Geneva were temporarily halted after the bombing but resumed on Friday. Diplomats remain divided on the prospect of peace in the country. Many agree that “there can be no peace under the bombing,” while most diplomats are worried that if a peace deal is not reached soon, the violence will only continue.

On the Ground: A rare look inside the country by The New York Times revealed a worsening humanitarian crisis. “Everyone is afraid, even afraid of their fellow citizens,” one Benghazi resident said. Residents complain of corruption by local militia leaders, as well as unexplained bombings, abductions and detentions without trial.

The United States levied new sanctions against Rosneft, a major Russian oil company directly tied to the Maduro administration. Venezuela uses Rosenef for about 70 percent of its oil exports, which the US Treasury Secretary denounced as “looting of Venezuela’s oil assets.” The impacts of these sanctions are unknown, whether this will weaken Maduro’s stronghold or plunge the country into further crisis.

Long Reads: Venezuela’s ongoing struggles are leaving millions without a means to support themselves. Some are fleeing to Colombia, putting stress on a country ill-equipped to handle the sudden influx, while others are putting their children under the care of friends and family members.

North Korea
On Tuesday, North Korean refugees “launched a political party in South Korea… aiming to give a voice to the 33,500 defectors living in the South and oppose conciliation with Pyongyang.” The new South-North Unification Party is seeking to make amends between North and South Korea and will likely seek formal representation in April’s parliamentary elections. A former North Korean diplomat has already announced that he is running for a National Assembly seat but as a member of the established opposition party.

Bolivia’s electoral tribunal has officially disqualified former President Evo
Morales from running for Senate. Chairman Salvador Romero said that he did not meet the requirements for candidacy by not being a permanent resident of Bolivia. Morales was exiled to Argentina following his presidency, and he has yet to return to his home country. Morales responded via Twitter, calling the decision “a blow to democracy.”

Peace talks between rebel groups and the Sudanese government failed to wrap up by the agreed-upon date of February 15th, so the groups decided to extend the talks for another three weeks. The peace negotiations have been taking place since October, and the groups have “agreed on a cease-fire, humanitarian access, land issues and the resettlement of those displaced by the conflicts.”

Human Rights Violations: Anastasia Shevchenko, a political activist, has been living under house arrest for over a year. She has been “accused of links to a pro-democracy group Open Russia UK, which has been banned from Russia as ‘undesirable’ and a ‘threat to state security.’” If she is found guilty, Shevchenko could spend six years in prison.

Peaceful protester Konstantin Kotov has been behind bars for more than six months. He has been charged with having connections with peaceful protests in Moscow last summer “over the exclusion of opposition candidates from the city and council elections.”

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq recently released a study concerning education in Iraq and how children in ISIL-controlled areas are unable to attend school. They are unable to “move freely in and out of the camps.” The ISIL-induced crisis in Iraq has resulted in the displacement of 1.4 million people; 658,000 are children. Only half of those children have access to education.

Coronavirus: Iraq has closed its border with Iran after two Iranians died from the coronavirus on Wednesday. Iraq will continue to import goods from Iran and Iraqi citizens returning from Iran will be allowed to enter the country.

Airstrikes: A United Nations report confirmed that more than 32 Yemenis were killed in a Saudi airstrike. The airstrike is a direct defiance of international humanitarian law. The United States backed the airstrike and has provided Saudi Arabia with weapons priced at hundreds of billions of dollars.

Airstrikes that occurred on Saturday injured 18 children and claimed the lives of 19 more. Houthi rebels have stated that “Saudi-led Arab coalition aircraft targeted Al-Jawf’s Al-Masloub district with several raids, killing 35 civilians and wounding others.” The United Nations has since denounced the attack

Other: Houthi rebels have blocked half of the aid delivery systems that were implemented by the United Nations, directly affecting more than two million people. The population is on the brink of starvation. In the past, the Houthis have attempted to convince the United Nations to give them 2% of the aid budget. Last week the Houthis withdrew this demand..

Hong Kong
HSBC announced its plans to cut 35,000 jobs over the next three years following its coronavirus-instituted economic slump. The UK-based bank with strong ties to Hong Kong saw a 33% decrease in profits in 2019, prompting the largest restructuring and simplification in the bank’s history. The bank gains most of its profit from the Asian region, so until stability is reached, profits will continue to shrink.

United States
The Trump administration announced that the country’s five largest newspapers will be treated as Chinese operatives rather than objective sources. The day after this announcement was made, China announced that it will expel three journalists who are affiliated with the Wall Street Journal as media relations between the two nations continue to sour. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it was revoking their press credentials over a Wall Street Journal opinion piece titled “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia.”

Mexico City was rocked with protests this week following the murder of a seven-year-old girl. After the body of Fatima Cecilia Aldrighetti was found over the weekend, protesters took to the streets to speak out against the waves of violence against women. On Wednesday, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum announced that police arrested several suspects. Despite the fact that President López Obrador has brushed the protests to the side, Mexico’s legislature has proposed toughening the prison sentences for inmates convicted of femicide.

The humanitarian crisis in Myanmar is worsening; the government has implemented “severe humanitarian restrictions and a sweeping internet blackout.” Tens of thousands of people have been displaced as the conflict between the military and civilian armies grows more intense. Last week, more than 17 students were injured after the shelling of a school. The military has been accused of war crimes, but information regarding these crimes is limited as an effect of the internet blackout in nine townships.

On Monday, the European Union renewed its arms embargo on Zimbabwe and instituted a targeted asset freeze against Zimbabwe Defence Industries. The EU Council said that its decision is a response to “the yet to be investigated alleged role of the armed and security forces in human rights abuses.” Zimbabwe has said that the sanctions have heavily stifled its economic growth, especially because they have been in place since 2002.

Other News:

Ukraine: Violence in Eastern Ukraine has led to the death of a Ukrainian soldier and the injuring of several others. Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainians are assigning the blame to one another. This is some of the worst violence Ukraine has seen since the Paris summit in December.

Turkey: A few hours after being acquitted for his alleged role in the 2013 Gezi Park protests, Osman Kavala, Turkish businessman, prominent philanthropist, and human rights activist was detained by the police on charges of his alleged links with a failed coup d’etat in 2016.