April 9, 2021
CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers Nicaragua’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Dererk Chauvin’s trial in the United States, and the state of emergency in Sudan.
In Britain on Saturday thousands protested a crime and policing bill as the debate over law enforcement tactics continue. Also in the UK, almost a week of violence and rioting by the Unionists or Loyalist community in Northern Ireland has led to the injury of 55 police officers and 10 arrests.
In Nigeria, more than 1,800 prisoners escaped after an armed group attacked a prison and a police facility. A new police inspector-general was appointed a day after the attack as concerns over various armed groups increase.
Russia has recently increased its military presence on Ukraine eastern border, leading the US to consider sending warships to the Black Sea to demonstrate support for Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny was moved to a prison infirmary after he demonstrated signs of illness while nearly a week into a hunger strike.
In Sudan, a state of emergency was declared after 40 people were left dead and thousands were displaced as the result of violence between Arab groups and the non-Arab Massalit community.
In Jordan, high-profile figures, including a member of the royal family and a chief of the royal court are still in detention according to their relatives, despite claims by the royal court of resolution.
Jihadists in Mozambique accused of having links to the Islamic State fought the army for control of an area known for offshore gas projects. Dozens were killed and thousands of survivors fled to the capital by boat.
The UN-backed vaccine initiative, COVAX, reached the milestone of giving vaccines to over 100 countries as countries in regions around the world face a third wave.
The WHO has announced that the AstraZeneca vaccine could cause rare blood clots but that further studies are needed. More countries have since halted the use of what is now the world’s most widely used vaccine and France suggested that those under 55 who got a first dose of AstraZeneca should get another vaccine for their second shot. Also in vaccine news, a human error at a subcontracted plant for Johnson & Johnson led to the contamination of enough drug substance for 15 million doses. Johnson & Johnson’s US deliveries are set to drop 85% next week.
Security forces in Myanmar again cracked down on protesters across the country. Online reports indicate that four people were killed in Bago, a city about sixty miles northeast of Yangon. The assault there was perpetrated by government troops and local police and continued from before dawn and sporadically until night fell. On Wednesday, attacks were launched against opponents of the military’s rule in the towns of Kalay and Taze in Myanmar’s north. Security forces accused of using heavy weaponry, such as rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, killed an estimated 11 people there. While most protests have remained nonviolent, some protesters, especially those in Kalay, have called themselves a “civil army” and have used homemade weapons and rudimentary hunting rifles against security forces.
Ousted Myanmar lawmakers urged the United Nations Security Council Friday to take action against the military junta and warned that the country was on the brink of collapse. “Our people are ready to pay any cost to get back their rights and freedom,” said Zin Mar Aung, who has been appointed acting foreign minister for a group of ousted lawmakers, known as the CRPH, trying to reestablish the civilian government. The United States, which has imposed sanctions on the junta’s economic interests, added a state-owned gem enterprise to the list of blacklisted companies Thursday, Myanma Gems Enterprise. Myanmar is the world’s main source of jade, and a major source of rubies and other rare gems.
Myanmar’s ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) could play a key role in the country’s long-term stability. Myanmar’s various ethnic minority groups have long been excluding from the levers of power by the Bamar Buddhist-dominated government and power structures. Ethnic minority groups, which comprise approximately a third of Myanmar’s total population, have been sidelined, resulting in roughly 20 EAOs that have waged sporadic insurgencies. Located largely in the country’s rugged, ethnic minority-dominated frontier states, some EAOs rule over de facto autonomous zones without interference from the central government and are predominantly funded by drug trafficking. In 2015, the government and several EAOs, most notably the powerful Karen National Union (KNU), signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, and engaged in a peace process, albeit with little progress. Other groups, such as the United Wa State Army, remained outside the NCA, receiving funding from outside actors, especially China.
The coup has disrupted the status quo between the central government and EAOs. Signs of renewed fighting between EAOs and the government are emerging, such as the Karen National Union’s decisions to offer asylum to fleeing NLD politicians and initiate military operations against the military junta. Some protesters are now openly courting EAOs to join forces and forge an anti-junta coalition. A shift in Chinese support away from the military junta and towards EAOs which protect the interests of ethnic Chinese living in Myanmar, such as the United Wa State Army, could push the country into civil war.
On Friday, the White House unveiled the annual budget, which under the Biden administration is set to cost $1.5 trillion, amounting to a 16% increase over current funding for domestic programs. The budget, which still needs to be approved by Congress, includes $753 billion for national defense with a 1.7% increase in military spending; as well as $8.7 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other budget highlights include a $20 billion increase for the Title I program for low-income schools and $14 billion towards climate change efforts. With the proposed funding bump for the Pentagon, progressives such as Senator Bernie Sanders are calling for a 10% cut in Pentagon spending.
The second week of ex-police officer Derek Chauvins trial for the death of George Floyd has continued to dominate headlines. This week medical examiners have testified that Floyd died as a result of Chauvin holding his knee on his chest for 9 minutes, disproving the claims of Chauvin’s prosecutors.
Chinese drones were spotted on Wednesday, April 7, circling the Taipei-controlled Pratas Islands in the South China Sea. The Ocean Affairs Council head, Lee Chung-wei stated that while the drones have never entered restricted waters and airspace, they have been flying around them at a certain distances. China does not recognize Taiwan’s claims of sovereignty and continues to stay just outside Taiwan’s restricted zone. Lee Chung-wei states that should drones enter the restricted area, they will be handling it under the rules. He says, “if we need to open fire, we open fire.” On Thursday, it was reported that China has drilled deep in the South China Sea despite tensions over disputed waters with Taiwan and the Philippines. Tensions continue to escalate as a U.S. Navy strike group entered the South China Sea on Sunday
Hong Kong’s government this week condemned “countries who harbor criminals” after the United Kingdom granted political asylum to exiled former pro-democracy activist Nathan Law. Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chineseforeign ministry, said Thursday that “the U.K. is clearly a platform for Hong Kong independence agitators, and provides so-called shelter for wanted criminals.” Law, the exiled activist, said that it was the fact that he was wanted under Hong Kong’s new national security law, imposed by the Chinese Communist Party last July, that led to him being considered at risk by the British government. Law also called on the U.K. Home Office to consider accepting a broader range of evidence for Hong Kong applications. The move by Great Britain comes at a time when tensions when the United Kingdom and China have been escalating, recently driven by London’s continued acceptance of the British National Overseas Passport, held by many Hong Kong residents.
While Hong Kong’s leaders have orchestrated a crackdown on political freedoms in the city state, they have simultaneously granted more rights to corporations and other business entities which operate in the city. Top Chineseand Hong Kong officials are preparing a new tax break, along with other economic incentives, to portray Hong Kong as the principal place in Asia for business. So far, it seems that the moves are working. Investment managers have set up over a hundred new companies in recent months. The Wall Street banks Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley are all increasing their Hong Kong staffing.
In other news, Hong Kong leaders have asked the drug giant AstraZeneca to delay the delivery of 7.5 million Covid-19 vaccine doses manufactured by the company as the city looks for new, second-generation vaccines which are better equipped to protect against new variants of the Coronavirus. The first batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine doses were supposed to ship in the second half of this year, but the revelation that the AstraZeneca jab may cause blood clots in rare cases, local experts called on the government to reconsider their deal with the company, and search for other options.
Teachers in Zimbabwe rejected the government’s 70-75% salary increase and plan to hold a three-day workweek from April 6, Tuesday. Teachers have described the offer as insufficient, putting them at a deadlock despite negotiations with teacher unions. Currently, they have been earning around R3,000 a month, which is roughly $200. In other news, Makomborero Haruzivishe was found guilty of inciting violence with a 14-month sentence in jail. Zimbabwe’s main opposition party states that the government has been adamant about cracking down on critics as a means to intimidate protesters who have been demanding more financial support for the poor. Haruzivishe’s lawyer claimed that only circumstantial evidence was used to convict him, noting that they hope to take it up on appeal.
This week the first stage of the phase III trial for the Cuban made Cuban Soberna 02 Covid-19 vaccine concluded. A principal researcher in the study said that so far the results are promising both in terms of the immune response and the safety of the jab. This comes as the national director of Epidemiology of the Cuban Ministry of Public Health stated that despite the warnings and regulations that have been put in place, there has been an average of over a thousand cases a day in April. Experts say that Cuba going through one of its worst outbreaks since the beginning of the virus could be due to ‘pandemic exhaustion’ as many are ready for the end of the pandemic and its regulations. Hopefully, though the multiple vaccines being created and tested on the islands will lessen the number of positive cases in a day on the island.
Iraq and the United States have agreed on the withdrawal of all remaining U.S. and coalition combat troops deployed to fight ISIS in the country, but did not provide a timeline and said that foreign forces would continue to provide training to the Iraqi army. Announced in a communique issued Wednesday following virtual talks between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein, Iraq and the United States agreed to embark on technical talks aimed at establishing a timeline for U.S. combat troops to leavethe country. In a tweet published late Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi described the talks with Washington as a “gateway to restore the normal situation in Iraq” and said the Iraqi people deserve to live without fear of conflict.
About 2,500 U.S. service members are in Iraq to help counter ISIS, according to the U.S. Department of Defence. It’s not clear how many of them could be considered combat troops. Calls for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq grew louder after the killing of General Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Iraq by an American attack in January 2020.
In other news, Iraq’s health ministry has warned of “dire consequences” because citizens are not following Covid-19 prevention measures as the country reported a new high in daily infection rates. The warning was issued after the health ministry said the severe spike in case numbers was attributable to laxity among Iraqis who flout preventative measures. The statement said public commitment towards heeding virus prevention measures was “almost non-existent in most regions of Iraq” where citizens rarely wear face coverings and continue to hold large gatherings.
Four people drowned in the Enguri River on Wednesday while attempting to enter Tbilisi-controlled territory from the Russian-occupied Abkhazia region. Russia is responsible according to Prime Minister Garibashvili who said that the ‘occupation regime will definitely be held accountable for all its illegal actions in Georgia.’ Also in Georgia, Facebook suspended 23 Facebook accounts, 24 Pages, 12 Groups, and 11 Instagram accounts associated with the ultranationalist Georgian March party for coordinated inauthentic behavior.
Last week, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made a late-night appearance on the mobile app, Clubhouse, making headlines as he discussed a variety of issues from Iran’s 25-year cooperation accord with China to his bedtime routine. Journalists, civilians, and other government officials watched his stream, totalling the maximum number of participants allowed, which was 8,000. Civilians appear to be split on their feelings towards the mobile application and its implications on Iran’s press freedom and democracy, given that most social media applications are blocked in the country. On the one hand, Iranians have been using the platform to openly discuss a variety of topics such as music, technology, and even politics. On the other hand, others have expressed their concerns on the potential for the government to create processes that would automatically identify and monitor users.
The recent report by Amnesty International showed that the human rights situation in Indonesia has deteriorated in 2020. One of the direct reasons for this is the failure of the government to put an end to the unlawful killings in the Papua region. There were 19 recorded cases in the past year, with a total of 30 people killed by security forces in the West Papua and Papua regions. Amnesty’s report demonstrated that similar incidents continued this year, and at least six people have died. The report emphasized the rarity of investigations into the reports of unlawful killings by the security forces, noting that less than 10% of the reported cases were brought to military or civilian courts. Moreover, the shrinking space for digital platform was also in question, with the increasing number of people who were imprisoned under the Electronic Information and Transactions Law. Reports show that there were at least 132 cases of violations under freedom of speech, 157 arrests, with 15 being activists and four journalists. The numbers are the highest of annual reported cases in the past six years in Indonesia.
The United Nation’s Special Envoy for Myanmar is set to meet with the Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai in hopes to explore possible solutions for the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. Since the coup in February, nearly 600 civilians have been killed by the military. Thailand’s Foreign Minister continues to express that the country is deeply concerned about the situation in Myanmar and is committed to cooperating with the international community.
Nicaragua has begun their coronavirus vaccine rollout with doses of Russian Sputnik V treatment at Managua’s Blue Cross Hospital. While President Ortega has promised “vaccines for all”, concrete plans about the rollout have not been clear. The independent Nicaraguan Medical Association has noted that there is no clear timetable provided for the vaccination campaign and they are “moving very slowly and there is not enough information”.
In other news, research and policy expert of Transparency International, Jorge Valladares, concludes that “autocracy and appropriation of the state powers” have increased in Nicaragua. The Ortega regime has been condemned for misuse of state funds, human rights abuses, and promotion of a culture of impunity. Valladares notes that the impact of structural corruption then converts public services into out-of-reach luxury goods, further legalizing the injustice of the government.
The increasingly divided nature of the Belarusian opposition became clear this week when Pavel Latushko, a former diplomat and minister now in exile, announced the formation of a new political party. The new party is unnamed, as of now, but is a sign that the broad front established by opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is divided after months of fruitless protests that have failed to remove autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko from power. Latushko’s announcement comes a week after another opposition figure, Viktor Barbariko, currently imprisoned in Belarus, announced the formation of another opposition party. Although both Latusko and Tsikhanouskaya sit on the seven-member Presidium of the Coordination Council for Belarus, a non-government body which aims to facilitate a democratic transfer of power, sources close to the Presidium have said that contact between the two have dwindled.
In other news, Ukraine announced that it would not return to peace talks in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, because, according to Ukranian officials, Belarus is now seen as being too firmly under Russian influence to serve as a suitably neutral venue for ongoing negotiations with Moscow. The Belarusian capital has been the site of peace talks between Ukraine and Russia since the summer of 2014. Meetings there in 2014 between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany represented the first major attempt to end the hostilities in Easter Ukraine; these meetings were followed by a summit later that year which produced the Minsk Agreements, which set out a series of steps towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict. In exchange for Russian backing of the Lukashenko regime, Moscow has greatly expanded its military footprint in Belarus, with a record number of joint military exercises in 2021 creating a near-permanent Russian military presence in the country.
Talks this past weekend between Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt did not go as hoped. The countries left Kinshasa without making any progress on the fate of the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Nile River. Egypt and Sudan continue to claim that the dam will drastically affect their water supply and Ethiopia says that the dam is crucial to their development. Both sides are unsatisfied with the results of the talks and the way that the other countries handled the situation, with Ethiopia’s foreign minister saying that Sudan and Egypt had a “rigid stance” going into the talks and Sudan accusing Ethiopia of “intransigence”. The talks are hoped to begin again in the third week of April with the presence of the African Union, however, Ethiopia has denied the request made by both Sudan and Egypt to have the UN, EU, and the US attend as a negotiation team.
Because of the failed talks this weekend, Sudan’s foreign minister has requested that the United Nations replace the Ethiopian peacekeepers in Abyei with those from other nations. This region, on the border of South Sudan and Sudan, has special administrative status by the UN, but the foreign minister said that after the “unacceptable intransigence” that was displayed at the talks over GERD this weekend, it is unfathomable to have masses of Ethiopian peacekeepers within their borders. She also said that Sudan would be reviewing its foreign policy with Ethiopia but stressed that immigrants and refugees would not be affected
Two nurses have been jailed after being accused of stealing 500 covid-19 vaccine doses from a small town on the border with Brazil. The boxes were stolen on Thursday and despite being returned will be unusable now because they were not refrigerated after they were taken. A prosecutor requested two months’ detention for the women after a small hearing this week. In other news, a Florida state prosecutor has ruled that former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (2002-2003) and former Minister of Defense Carlos Sánchez Berazaín will still have to pay reparations to the victims of uncontrolled state repression at the amount of 10 million dollars. There were over 300 victims after the events that took place in 2003 and the decision was made based on the 1992 Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA) after the trial that lasted over 3 weeks and heard testimonies from 40 witnesses.
Uganda and Egypt have signed a military intelligence sharing agreement, Uganda announced Wednesday. The move comes as tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia continue to escalate over a hydropower dam on a tributary of the Nile river. According to a statement made by the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), the agreement was signed between UPDF’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence and the Egyptian Intelligence Department. Both Egypt and Sudan are concerned with Ethiopia’s construction of the Grand Ethopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, which could imperil fresh water supplies downstream.
The likely decision by French energy giant, Total SE, to proceed with a $5.1 billion Ugandan oil project will extend the company’s dominance as the biggest spender in sub-Saharan Africa. The final investment decision on a key pipeline, expected Sunday, will see Total tap more than a billion barrels of crude oil from Uganda and ship it across East African to the coast of the Indian ocean. Uganda plans to begin pumping crude oil in 2024.
In other news, the Ugandan government granted one square mile to American hip-hop singer and rapper Akon to build his planned futuristic city. The city is expected to be complete by 2036 and will reportedly rely on a crypto-currency–based economy.
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