CANVAS Weekly Update – May 14th, 2021


May 14, 2021

Dear Friends,

CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers the conflict between Palestine and Israel, continued violence in Myanmar, and the loosening of Covid-19 restrictions in the United States.

Conflict Update:

Israel launched an intense air and ground attack on the Gaza Strip early Friday, the single largest operation in the newest iteration of the conflict which began this week. The recent rapid escalation of aggression by Israel comes after a raid by Israeli police at the al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem left hundreds of Palestinians wounded. Hamas militants in Gaza retaliated by firing a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem, drawing Israeli airstrikes in return. The confrontation over the eviction of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem has erupted into the largest conflict between Palestine and Israel since the 2014 Gaza War. At least 122 in Gaza and eight in Israel have been killed since the conflict began on Monday. 42% of those killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza have been women and children. Hamas, the group which governs the Gaza Strip, is supported by Iran and it appears that Hamas has taken cues from Tehran’s Houthi clients in Yemen in this most recent conflict. While threats and missile attacks by Hamas in other recent conflicts have been largely symbolic in nature, this time Hamas has targeted Israel’s Iron Dome facilities, which are designed to shoot down rockets from Gaza, along with Israeli air bases in southern Israel. Israel has massed troops along its border with the Gaza Strip and called up 9,000 reservists A shooting at a school in the Rusian city of Kazan this week killed seven students and two school employees. Witnesses and officials blamed a teenager for the rare mass shooting in the country. Within hours, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he had ordered Russia’s already strict firearm laws to be tightened further. While China has been searching for ways to boost its birth rate after decades of the One Child Policy wreaked havoc on the country’s demographic pyramid, China has ordered women in the mostly Muslim region of Xinjiang to be fitted with contraceptive devices. While Chinese authorities have said that the birth control procedures are voluntary, data depicts a coercive attempt to curb the region’s population’s reproductive rights by the Communist Party. Over the last decade, the Communist Party, with Xi Jinping at its head, has aggressively repressed Uyghurs and other Central Asian minorities in Xinjiang, putting hundreds of thousands into internment camps and prisons. In the United Kingdom, the Scottish National Party’s bid for an independent Scotland faltered this week after the party failed to win an outright majority in elections to the Scottish Parliament. Together with the seats held by the Green Party, who are also pro-independence, there is a majority for a referendum in Parliament, but public polling has swung against holding another vote.

Coronavirus Update:

In a report published Tuesday, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) said that a Covid-19 variant spreading rapidly in India might be more contagious than other forms of the coronavirus. The W.H.O. emphasized that it is unclear whether or not the B.1.617 variant has contributed to India’s Covid-19 nightmare because, like many other countries, India is only sequencing a small fraction of positive samples. The Organization speculated that the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the United Kingdom and now dominant in the United States, could be driving the global increase in cases. Dozens of bodies of suspected Covid-19 patients have washed up on the banks of the Ganges River in northern India as the coronavirus spreads from India’s metropolises to rural areas. Ashok Kumar, a local official, said that about forty dead bodies washed up in Buxar district near the border between Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, two of India’s poorest states. Some media reports said the corpses could number one hundred or more. As a new wave of infections continues to pummel Nepal, India’s neighbor to the north, relief groups are asking mountain climbers to donate used oxygen canisters so that they can be refilled for Covid-19 patients. The virus has even found its way to Mount Everest base camp, where approximately 1,500 climbers and porters have gathered for the annual climbing season. Nepal has not confirmed the number of positive cases at the base camp, but mountaineers have reported helicopters evacuating people with Covid-19 symptoms off the mountain.  



One hundred days after the coup d’état, Myanmar’s military government only maintains the pretense of control in the country. Although streets in major cities are kept clear of mass protests by the threat of lethal force on the part of the police and military apparatus, discontent continues to simmer. The widespread opposition to military rule has brought together people of classes, ages, and, most importantly, different religious and ethnic backgrounds. Reports indicate that the Myanmar military used artillery to shell civilian militias in the northwest town of Mindat in Chin state on Thursday and Friday after the ruling junta declared martial law there in an attempt to quell the rebellion there. The military junta said martial law was imposed after “armed terrorists” attacked a police station and a bank. The newly-formed Chinland Defense Forces on Friday said it was behind the fighting in Mindat. It ambushed a convoy of military reinforcements Friday, according to one fighter and a local legislator. An anonymous lawmaker said the Chin forces numbered between 400 and 500 with 30-40 assault rifles along with traditional hunting rifles. In other news, a cash shortage in the country is quickly turning into an economic crisis after the banking system was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, the military coup d’état, and striking bank workers. Myanmar’s central bank, now run by a junta appointee, has not returned some of the reserves it holds for private banks, without giving any reason, leaving banks short of cash. The banks themselves have only opened intermittently since the coup, citing staff strikes in protest of the military take over and internet outages that make online transfers difficult and international transactions nearly impossible. The Burmese kyat has lost approximately 20% of its value since the coup. Experts say the cash crisis is the most immediate sign of much deeper economic problems facing Myanmar, with one financial research firm forecasting that Myanmar’s gross domestic product could shrink by 20% in 2021. An analysis published by the United Nations World Food Program found that millions could go hungry in the coming months.


The United States:

The US is celebrating a turning point in the pandemic as the CDC announced relaxation in advice for those who are fully vaccinated, and President Biden hails it as a “great day for America”.  In other Covid-19 news, the Republican Governor for Florida, Gov. DeSantis, has announced that Floridians who were charged for violating Covid-19 restrictions will be pardoned as “they’ve been treated poorly”; in the interview with Fox News, DeSantis claimed the mask mandate was an “overreach”. Updates for ongoing stories include: Following Chauvin’s conviction last month for the murder of George Floyd, the trials of 3 other ex-police officers, charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter, have been postponed due to alleged media leaks. Arizona is continuing its audit of the 2020 elections which has been criticised for its partisan and conspiracy theorist influences. A Washington Post journalist revealed that Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican representative for Georgia, harrassed the office of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), the Democratic representative for New York, on Wednesday. The taunts included calling AOC a baby and crazy eyes and repeatedly mispronouncing her name.  



Debris from a Chinese rocket re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over the Indian Ocean this week, Chinese officials say, narrowly missing the Maldives. The China Manned Space Engineering Office said the Long March-5B rocket made the re-entry at 10:24am Beijing time on Sunday. Most of the components of the rocket’s wreckage were burned off and destroyed during re-entry, easing global anxieties that pieces would fall on densely populated areas. The rocket was sent into orbit to carry a core component of China’s new space station, the Tianhe module, on April 29. While there was only a minuscule change of the debris hitting a populated area, the episode has raised the issue of responsible space behavior and drew the criticism of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (N.A.S.A.) leader Bill Nelson, who said “It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.” China will look to the skies again this coming week as the country’s space agency will attempt to land a Chinese spacecraft on the surface of Mars, a feat that has only been accomplished by the Soviet Union and the United States. Having been in orbit around the planet since February, the Chinese craft, named Tianwen-1, is expected to send a landing vehicle to the Martian surface possibly as soon as Saturday. In other news, one person died and more than sixty were injured after a series of tornadoes struck the Chinese cities of Wuhan and Suzhou on Friday. The winds also damaged electrical facilities and toppled several factory buildings in Shengze town, according to the Suzhou city fire brigade.

Hong Kong:

This week, Hong Kong’s national security police have frozen almost HK$500 million (US$ 64.3 million) in assets belonging to media tycoon Jimmy Lai, the first use of such powers granted under Hong Kong’s new national security law. The freeze includes all of Lai’s shares in company Next Digital, which publishes the tabloid Apple Daily. Other assets targeted included the local bank accounts of three other companies owned by Mr. Lai. Lai was sentenced to 14 months in prison for taking part in unauthorized assemblies during pro-democracy protests in 2019. In a bid to bring the Covid-19 Pandemic in Hong Kong to an end, the city’s Covid-19 vaccination teams will begin administering the shots to employees at their own workplaces next week. The Civil Service Bureau, which is in charge of Hong Kong’s Covid-19 vaccination program, said the outreach service would be offered to different sectors and businesses as a convenient way for people to receive the vaccine. The move comes as health authorities tighten the quarantine requirement for travellers arriving from Taiwan, imposing a 14 day quarantine at an approved hotel instead of travellers being allowed to isolate themselves at home. In other news, rising Covid-19 cases in Singapore could derail hopes for a Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble. The bubble, originally set to open on May 26, has a “high chance” of being postponed, a Hong Kong official said Friday. This would be the second time the plan to allow trips between the two cities has been called off. Singapore’s health ministry reported 24 locally transmitted Covid-19 cases on Thursday, the highest number since mid-September 2020.  



The government has proposed a Patriotic Bill, meaning, “conniving with hostile foreign governments and nationals to inflict harm on the country and its citizens will be criminalised”; the proponents of the bill claim it will not stifle criticism within Zimbabwe. Moreover, the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs permanent secretary promises “stiff penaltlies” for offences. Activists are concerned the Patriotic Bill, supported by the ZANU-PF, the majority party, will be used to repress the population and inhibit civil rights, especially in light of the dozens of arrests of journalists and activists in the past years. In other news, following the recent Constitutional Amendments which centralised power in Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa extended the tenure of Chief Justice Luke Malaba by 5 years. According to the opposition, this decision, which wasn’t subject to public interviews, was a “violation of the country’s charter”.  



The leader of the San Isidro movement, Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, went on hunger strike in order to protest the government’s seizure of his art. After a week on strike, he was hospitalized but officials say that he was now in stable condition. Nations, such as the US, are fearful for him and his condition as well as the lack of response by the Cuban government. The activists are demanding free speech and greater liberties, many are concerned about the actual state of his health after he went 8 days on strike. This public unrest and protesting is a continuation of protests from the fall and in previous years as young artists and activists hope to gain more creative freedoms.  



Iraq is facing a wave of assassinations and assassination attempts targeting activists and journalists who make up the remnants of a protest movement which has demanded the dissolution of Iraq’s U.S.-created political system and the usually Iran-aligned groups which have propped it up. After mass street protests last year were crushed with deadly force, activists seeking to run in elections along with prominent members of the movement have been picked off one by one by assassins. Early Sunday, one of Iraq’s best known activists, Ehab al-Wazni, was shot by gunmen on a motorbike in front of his home in Karbala. Within hours of al-Wazni’s killing, hundreds of demonstrators attempted to storm the Iranian consulate there and lit fire to a guard room in the complex. The attacks, officials and human rights monitors say, underscore the reach of Iraq’s militia network. Known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), Iraq’s militia network has a presence throughout the country and includes groups linked to Iran and loyalists of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. In other news, the remaining F-16 fighter jets in Iraq’s fleet are expected to be grounded after U.S. weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin said it was withdrawing its maintenance teams from Balad air base because of security concerns. The departure of Lockheed Martin underscores the failure of Iraq’s government to rein in the militias, who are the likely culprits behind the continued attacks on U.S. interests in the country. The grounding of the F-16s has cast further doubt on Iraq’s ability to fight ISIS militants without substantial American support, at a time when the government is facing pressure to negotiate a withdrawal of all U.S. forces.  



Nika Melia, the chair of the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party, was released from jail on Monday after the EU posted his bail. His release from pretrial detention is a step towards the complete fulfillment of the EU-brokered April 19th agreement that was designed to end Georgia’s political crisis.  Many members of the UNM have declined to sign the agreement, which EU and U.S. leaders hope will change after Melia’s release. The sole UNM signatory of the deal, Salome Samadashvili, left the party this week. In other news, the World Bank has approved 85 million Euros of support for Georgian businesses impacted by the pandemic.



According to a senior U.S. State Department official, the United States and Iran could each come back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal within weeks. Significant hurdles remain, but the comments were an optimistic signal from the Biden administration that an American return to the deal could be within reach. The senior official described the likelihood of an agreement before Iranians go to the polls in June as both possible and doable. He did not rule out that the agreement could come in the round of talks that began in Vienna on Friday. Still, the two sides remain at odds over to what extent each needed to comply with the details of the original 2015 agreement, namely the removal of American sanctions in exchange for Tehran scaling back its nuclear program. While prospects in Vienna seem rosy, tensions between Washington and Tehran in the Persian Gulf escalated this week after U.S. Coast Guard ships fired warning shots at 13 Iranian speedboats which came too close in the Strait of Hormuz. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard rejected the U.S. Navy’s claim that the fast-approaching Iranian speedboats sparked the tense encounter. The potential revival of the 2015 nuclear deal with the United States and other countries comes at the same time as Iran is seeking a detente with its regional archrival, Saudi Arabia. Iraqi officials familiar with the ongoing talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Baghdad say that Iran has asked Saudi Arabia to help sell its oil and circumvent U.S. sanctions in exchange for limiting Houthi attacks on the Kingdom’s oil facilities. Sources say the war in Yemen remains the most discussed topic in talks. In other news, Iran’s former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad registered this week to again run for Iran’s highest civilian office. While serving two terms in office between 2005 and 2013, Ahmadinejad became a caricature of Western perceptions of the Islamic Republic’s worst attributes, such as questioning the Holocaust, insiting Iran had no gay or lesbian citizens, and hinting that Iran could build a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so.


Indonesian security forces this week killed a separatist commander in a shootout in the easternmost province of Papua, police said, amid a crackdown after the killing of a senior intelligence official. The commander, Lesman Waker, was killed near one of his group’s hideouts in the resource-rich province which has been roiled by separatist demands for decades. Police accuse members of Waker’s group of the April killing of intelligence agency officer Brigadier General Putu Dani, who headed operations in the region. In Sulawesi province, hundreds of Christians attended a mass funeral to mourn four people killed by militants linked to ISIS. Indoesian police say that five militants attacked coffee farmers during harvest on Tuesday and killed four of them in Kalemago village in Poso regency. A spokesperson for the Central Sulawesi Regional Police said “these five people, one of whom is recognized by the witness, are in the Wanted List [for their membership] in the East Indonesian Mujahedeen.” Also known as Mujahedeen Indonesia Timur (M.I.T.), the group has been active in mountainous Poso district since 2010; the United Nations, Indonesia, and the United States label the group a terrorist organization. In other news, a study of Indonesian healthcare workers found that China’s Sinovac Biotech vaccine performed well in protecting workers from Covid-19. Indonesia tracked 25,374 healthcare workers in the capital city of Jakarta for 28 days after they received their second dose of the Sinovac vaccine and found that the shot protected 100% of them from death and 96% from hospitalization as soon as seven days after, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said in an interview Tuesday.



Thailand reported its largest one-day rise in Covid-19 infections on Thursday, with more than half coming from two prisons in the capital, Bangkok, where prominent democracy activists are being detained. The country is currently battling a third wave of the virus that has forced the government to impose restrictions on movement, mask mandates, and close public spaces. On Thursday, Thailand reported more than 4,800 infections, including approximately 2,800 cases at two Bangkok prisons. The alarm was first raised when an activist at the forefront of Thailand’s democracy movement announced she had tested positive for Covid-19 five days after being released on bail from a Bangkok jail. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha promised this week to vaccinate Thailand’s entire population, insisting “herd immunity” through inoculation was the only way through the pandemic. However, Thai health authorities say that just 640,000 people out of a population of nearly 70 million have been fully vaccinated. Authorities are insisting on an October re-opening date to vaccinated tourists, but the new wave has cast that into doubt. In other news, Thai police detained three senior reporters who had fled into the country from Myanmar during a random police search in Chiang Mai on Sunday. The three journalists, who work for the independent Myanmar news agency Democratic Voice of Burma (D.V.B.), “face certain arrest and prosecution” if they are deported, journalist groups say. As well as being charged for illegally entering the country, Thailand Police Captain Duangrit Wannarit, who filed the charges, said the “prosecutor will consider if they have also breached the communicable disease act.”  



Luis Almagro, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (O.A.S.), said Wednesday that Nicaragua is heading for “the worst possible election” due to the lack of guarantees to hold a free, fair, and transparent process. It is likely that elections in November of this year will deliver another victory to Nicaragua’s long-time president Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista Party in his quest for a fourth term in office after the country’s two main opposition groups, Citizens for Freedom and the National Coalition, failed to make a Wednesday deadline imposed by Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council to register political alliances. Political analysts say there is a chance that one of the opposition parties could collapse between November’s elections and endorse the other, but a lack of united opposition gives Ortega the best chance at victory. In recent years, Ortega has continued to consolidate his control and have forced protest leaders into exile or hiding. Ortega called 2018 protests an attempted coup with international backing. In October 2020, the Organization of American States approved a resolution demanding electoral reforms in Nicaragua, but Secretary General Luis Almagro has conceded that “none of this has happened.” Instead, changes enacted by the National Assembly and Supreme Electoral Council “clearly give the official party an absolute advantage in controlling election administration and justice, eliminating the necessary guarantees and minimal institutional credibility for the development of a free and fair electoral process in November 2021,” the O.A.S. said last week.  



Even though large public protests against the Lukashenko regime have largely subsided, Belarus has continued its crackdown on any form of dissent. This week, the Belarus Supreme Court found 29-year-old Captain Dzyanis Urad guilty of high treason after he was accused of leaking a government document about the use of troops to crackdown on peaceful protests; he was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Urad was arrested in March after he reportedly sent a photo of a letter from the Interior Ministry to the Defense Ministry requesting troops to a Telegram channel in Poland. His trial was held behind closed doors. One day prior to the sentencing of Captain Urad, Belarus officially accused opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova of conspiring to overthrow the government, fostering movements to threaten national security, and leading a violent extremist group. Kolesnikova could face up to 12 years in prison. Kolesnikova decided to run in the 2020 Belarusian presidential election after the arrest of Victor Babariko, the presidential candidate for whom she was working. In other news, the European Union is preparing to levy a fourth round of sanctions against senior officials in Belarus in response to last year’s contested presidential election and could target as many as fifty people, according to E.U. diplomats. Along with the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, the European Union has already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on almost 90 officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, following an August election which opponents and the West say was rigged.  



Protestors took to the streets this week in Sudan outside the army headquarters to demand justice for violence that took place two years ago. At least two people have been killed among the dozens who have been wounded in these peaceful protests. The Prime Minister was reportedly “shocked” over the killings, saying that this type of violence should not be used in a peaceful protest. In other news, it is reported that the violence that has taken place between Palestinians and Israelis this week may put a halt on any possible deals to be made between Sudan and Israel. The beginning of these possible talks began when former US president, Donald Trump, was in office and was a part of negotiations that he started between Israel and many other Middle Eastern countries.  



As Covid-19 continues to spread in Bolivia, the mayor of La Paz has recommended a curfew in order to stop the spread. From 20.00hr to 5.00hr all activities will be stopped so that everyone can make a conscious effort to stop the spread. The recommendation also calls for the halting of activities from 15.00hr to 5.00hr on weekend days. The decision will be made after the mayor meets with the Municipal Emergency Operations Committee. In other news, the Minister of Foreign Affairs asked this week at a forum in La Paz with 15 other nations for more countries to consider signing on to the campaign for the release of Covid-19 vaccination patents. This comes as many countries struggle, alongside Bolivia, to acquire and pay for enough vaccinations to vaccinate their populations when larger countries, like the US are already vaccinating most of their eligible persons.