June 4, 2021
CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers the suspension of Mali’s membership in the African Union, Iran’s suspension of UN General Assembly voting rights, and the protest against the construction of a Chinese university in Budapest.
Mali’s membership in the African Union was suspended this week and has been threatened with sanctions after the country suffered its second coup d’état in nine months. The African Union called on the military to “urgently and unconditionally return to the barracks, and to refrain from further interference in the political processes in Mali.” The move follows a similar suspension from ECOWAS which came last Sunday. Colonel Assimi Goaita overthrew Mali’s civilian government last August, but agreed to appoint civilians as interim president and prime minister. The current coup came after soldiers detained these civilian leaders last week.
Fires sank Iran’s largest warship and damaged an oil refinery outside Tehran hours apart on Wednesday, seemingly unconnected events which raised suspicions that Islamic Republic had again been targeted by Israeli saboteurs. The blaze on the naval vessel, the Kharg, broke out as the ship was engaged in training exercises in the Gulf of Oman. Fire crews battled the flames for twenty hours before the ship sank near the city of Jask. There were no casualties. A few hours later, a fire ravaged a large state-owned petrochemical refinery south of the capital.
Sri Lanka faces an environmental disaster after a Singapore-flagged cargo vessel caught fire and partially sank in the country’s waters. The ship was carrying 350 tonnes of bunker fuel, along with plastic pellets, nitric acid, epoxy resins, ethanol, caustic soda, and polyethylene, among other hazardous substances. The government has banned fishing along 50 miles of the country’s western coastline.
Malaysia this week accused China of violating its airspace after 16 Chinese military aircraft came within 60 kilometers of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, located on the island of Borneo. Malaysia scrambled fighter jets from the Labuan Air Base to carry out “visual identification.” Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the planes had entered Malaysia’s maritime zone and that a complaint would be lodged with Beijing. The Chinese embassy in Kuala Lumpur downplayed the incident, saying Chinese military aircraft had “the freedom of overflight in the relevant airspace.”
Efforts to combat the Covid-19 Pandemic in the world’s lower income countries gained a $2.4 billion windfall on Wednesday after the leaders of wealthier countries, foundations, and private companies pledged to donate funds to the COVAX initiative, as well as through bilateral agreements. Belgium, Denmark, Japan, Spain, and Sweden announced plans to share a total of 54 million doses from their domestic supplies to countries in need. To date, only 0.4% of all Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in low-income countries, according to the World Health Organization.
The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) published a study this week which reveals that the number of hospitalizations related to Covid-19 among adolescents in the United States was about three times greater than hospitalizations linked to influenza in the previous three flu seasons. Children have a much lower risk overall of both becoming infected by the virus and dying from it compared to adults, but their chances of infection and severe illness are thought to increase with age.
The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) warned on Thursday that a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in many parts of Africa could amount to a third wave for the continent. The W.H.O. said test positivity rates in 14 African countries rose over the past week, with eight nations reporting a surge of over 30% in new cases. Meanwhile, the Democratic Republic of Congo announced that 32 of its MPs had died of Covid-19, fueling speculation that there is a massive undercounting of cases and deaths there. The W.H.O. attributed the increase in cases to lax attitudes towards preventive measures, such as mask wearing and social distancing, as well as increased travel in southern Africa in time with the arrival of the winter season. Only about 31 million out of a continental population of 1.3 billion have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Croatia, and Poland made a digital Covid-19 certificate system available to their citizens this week in a bid to ease travel across the European Union. The document, known as a digital green certificate, became available in these countries ahead of schedule and is expected to be rolled out across the rest of the European Union by July 1. The certificate records whether an individual has been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, recovered from the virus, or has tested negative within a 72 hour window.
Talks between diplomats from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (A.S.E.A.N.) and the junta government in Myanmar are set to begin this week as Myanmar enters its fifth month of unrest since the military coup on February 1. Erywan Pehin Yusof, Brunei’s second minister for foreign affairs and A.S.E.A.N. Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi arrived in the capital Naypyidaw on Thursday and met with Min Aung Hlaing Friday morning. However, many analysts say A.S.E.A.N. diplomacy is dead on arrival because the group operates on the basis of non-interference in each others’ affairs and only acts on consensus. Meanwhile, Myanmar’s National Unity Government (N.U.G.) announced this week that it would abolish a 1982 citizenship law which denies citizenship to the country’s Rohingya minority and has urged the ethnic group to join them in the fight against the junta government. Tom Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said the announcement was “an important and notable step forwards.”
Last Saturday, the National Unity Government signed an agreement with the rebel Chin National Front, which represents the mainly Christian Chin minority in Myanmar’s west, to “demolish the dictatorship and implement a federal democratic system,” in Myanmar, the N.U.G. said in a statement. This comes as the junta military continues its assault on western Myanmar, specifically the town of Mindat, with artillery, automatic guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and air support. Thousands of civilians have fled to the surrounding jungle where they lack access to food, water, and medical supplies. At the same time, an outbreak of Covid-19 in western Myanmar is continuing to grow, with fears that the virus variant first detected in neighboring India is beginning to spread in Myanmar. Testing for the novel coronavirus collapsed after the military coup in February, with the country now only completing about 1,400 tests a day, compared to an average of 17,000 per day in the week before the coup.
Facebook recently announced that former President Donald Trump will remain banned from both Facebook and Instagram for at least two years. It was implemented last January 7th, which would mean it will last until at least January 7, 2023. In a blog post, the VP of Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, said that during this time, Facebook will be consulting experts and evaluating external factors, “ including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest”. This ban will prevent Trump from using Facebook and Instagram to post anything until after the upcoming 2022 midterm elections. Clegg stated that should a serious risk to public safety be determined after two years, the restriction then will be extended until the risk has been mitigated.
In other news, as Pride Month begins, individuals and groups have started organizing to commemorate this month-long protest. Most events will still take place virtually, however, there are now a number of in-person events planned to happen. Boston Pride will be hosting a series of virtual events throughout the month, including the annual raising of the rainbow pride flag and the Quincy Pride event. While the usual Pride Parade will not be held in-person in LA, they will be hosting an in-person event at the Dodgers game and then at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Other cities hosting events include San Francisco, Chicago, and Seattle.
On June 2, 2021, Beijing-based human rights lawyer Tang Jitian was blocked from boarding a flight to Japan. The border control authorities at the Fuzhou airport imposed an exit ban on the activist with the reason that his travel “may endanger national security”. Tang Jitian is a human rights lawyer who was worked on a plethora of cases, from land rights, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, to freedom of association. In 2010, his license to practice law was revoked, but he continued his human rights work to help others. When he tried to enter Hong Kong to seek medical treatment in 2017, the border control authorities stopped him for the same reason they used last week. Tang Jitian was about to board a flight to Japan to visit his daughter who has fell ill with tuberculosis and has been hospitalized in an intensive care unit. He has sought to lift the ban but authorities failed to give him a definitive answer on his questions and concerns.
In other news, protests against the plans to build a Chinese university in Budapest continue. The mayor of the Hungarian capital recently announced that four streets will be renamed in protest, including “Free Hong Kong Road” and “Dalai Lama Street”. The Budapest campus of Fudan University is expected to be finished by 2024. This has been met with a lot of criticism, given the alleged human rights abuses committed by China. The streets aim to focus on just that to commemorate the Hong Kong democracy movement. The other streets will be renamed “Uyghur Martyrs’ Road” and “Bishop Xie Shiguang Road”. All new street names reference the alleged human rights abuses such as the Muslim ethnic group that has been the victim of genocide in Xinjiang and the persecuted Catholic priest.
Hong Kong police arrested one of the remaining activists not already in jail, shut down Victoria Park to the public, and deployed 7,000 police officers around the city on Friday in a bid to prevent residents from marking the anniversary of the 1989 killing of pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Authorities in Hong Kong are attempting to put an end to the annual vigil, which often attracts thousands of people, for good. Police cited the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic as the reason for this year’s cancellation, even though the city has not recorded a local coronavirus case in more than two weeks and other large gatherings have been permitted. Police warned that anyone who attempted to attend the vigil could face five years in prison. Early Friday, police arrested Chow Hang Tung, the vice chairwoman of the Hong Kong Alliance which organizes the annual commemoration.
Meanwhile, vaccination rates in mainland China have continued to accelerate while Hong Kong struggles to inoculate its population against the novel coronavirus. This, however, is not due to a lack of available doses. Hong Kong has acquired enough doses to fully vaccinate its population of about 7.5 million, and residents have the option of receiving either the Pfizer BioNTech or Sinovac jabs at no cost. However, as of Thursday, only 19% of the city’s population had received at least one dose of either vaccine and only 14% had been fully vaccinated. The government and private companies have offered incentives such as new apartments, paid leave, and free flights to those who choose to get the shot, but to little avail so far. Nonetheless, a recent survey of 1,200 people by the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that of those who have not yet been vaccinated, only about 25% planned on getting vaccinated within the next six months.
Hundreds of people protested Wednesday in the capital, Harare, over a shortage of Covid-19 vaccines as the country waits for more doses from China to arrive. The government has stated that it plans to vaccinate at least 60% of the population by the end of the year, but has struggled to acquire the necessary shots. On Tuesday, junior health minister Dr. John Mangwiro told state-controlled media that the government would redistribute Covid-19 vaccines from areas with lower demand to areas where uptake of the vaccine has been high, such as in Harare and Bulawayo, in order to avert shortages. Dr. Mangwiro added that Zimbabwe still had more than 400,000 doses from the 1.7 million it acquired from Russia, China, and India since February. Zimbabwe has so far avoided vaccines produced in Western countries, instead opting for doses produced by Sinopharm, Sinovac, and Covaxin.
In other news, the prices of goods in Zimbabwe are once again rapidly increasing after authorities last week forced businesses to stop quoting prices in U.S. dollars in a bid to encourage use of the country’s faltering currency. Despite the re-introduction of the Zimbabwe dollar in 2019, most businesses have continued to use U.S. dollars instead, with customers having an option to pay using local money at rates higher than the official exchange rate. The government issued new rules on Friday which make it mandatory for businesses to quote prices in the local currency, with payment in dollars offered at the official exchange rate. As a result, the price of nearly all goods has increased, threatening to increase the inflation rate, which fell to 162% in May after hitting a high of 838% last July. The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries called for an immediate halt to the new regulations, which include jail time and fines for businesses which do not comply.
Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, the Cuban artist who was admitted to the hospital after his hunger strike, has been released. Luis Manuel is the leader of the San Isidro protest movement and was on a hunger strike in April-early May in order to protest authorities seizing his artwork. His group works to push for greater freedom of expression in artists and intellectuals. In other news, the Cuban rapper who criticized the communist regime, Maykel Osorbo, has been jailed over two weeks. The government is now receiving criticism about this decision from the US embassy among others. This is due to the fact that they feel it is an “ill fated attempt to silence free thought and debate”.
It has been more than a week since the arrest of paramilitary leader Qasim Muslih after being accused of crimes under Iraq’s anti-terrorism law and of being involved in the killings of activists, including Ihab al-Wazni, whose murder sparked violent protests. When the news of Muslih’s arrest broke on May 26, many experts believed that he would be released within hours as members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.) paraded around Baghdad’s Green Zone in a show of force. According to the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office, Muslih remains in the custody of Iraq’s Joint Operations Command and is under investigation. However, Muslih’s whereabouts remain unknown and local media last week cited security officials who said that he had already walked free. This is the first time that Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi had moved to arrest such a prominent figure within the P.M.F. and one with ties to Kataib Hezbollah, a Shia militia group backed by Iran which is also a part of the P.M.F. Al-Kadhimi has claimed that he will not run in upcoming elections in October, but many political observers and opponents in the country see the arrest of Qasim Muslih as a political move designed to improve al-Kadhimi’s standing with the protest movement.
In other news, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan warned Iraq this week that Turkey would “clean up” the Makhour camp, a refugee camp which Turkey believes is harboring Kurdish militants. Turkish forces have increased their assault on bases of the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (P.K.K.) in northern Iraq over the last year, but have thus far narrowed their firepower on a strip of territory up to thirty kilometers inside Iraq. An attack on the Makhour refugee camp, 180 kilometers inside Iraq, would represent a significant escalation in Turkey’s incursions into Iraq to combat the P.K.K., with whom Turkey has battled since the organization’s formation in 1984.
This week, the second opposition parliamentary faction was established. The group is formed as a part of the EU brokered April 19 agreement and chaired by Khatuna Samnidze of the Republican Party. It has been said that fulfilling the entirety of the agreement will allow the lawmakers to work more efficiently and effectively together. The ongoing hunger strike of the Shukruti village residents outside of the US embassy building has made the US Embassy work towards a meeting with the residents. The US Embassy is hopeful that a conversation can allow them to hear more of the concerns of the people, which include mining activities. The US hopes they can have a “connecting” role in the dispute rather than any direct role.
On Thursday, Iran expressed its “strong dismay” on the United Nations’ decision to suspend their voting rights at the General Assembly. The voting rights have been suspended due to the country’s failure to pay its dues as “ “fundamentally flawed, entirely unacceptable and completely unjustified”. The country has raised their concern that the money it owes the UN is a result of the sanctions imposed by the United States during Trump’s administration. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sent a letter to the UN chief Antonio Guterres on Thursday. He noted that Iran rejected the suspension of its voting privileges given that its incapacity to contribute financially has been “entirely beyond its control”.
On Friday, a boat with dozens of Rohingya passengers landed on an island off the Aceh coast. After their 113-day voyage, the group, with mostly women and children, got off the boat and came ashore. While the UNHCR has confirmed the landing, they have not released further details. One of the residents who saw the boat early morning said that they have been stranded as one of the boat engines was broken.
In other news, Indonesians have expressed their solidarity and support on social media to amplify the voices of Palestinians. Several have used social media to condemn the bombing of Gaza and the violence committed by Israeli forces among Muslims. Indonesia’s support for Palestine goes all the way back to the era of founding President Sukarno, which has encouraged citizens to support Palestinian independence.
A pro-PM Prayut public relations campaign was recently launched by the Prime Minister Operations Center in hopes of minimizing criticism towards the monarchy. The campaign is called “Uncle Tu, 7 years. So, what’s wrong?”. The plan was to showcase how Thailand has changed for the better under his seven years of leadership. Among the accomplishments they have noted include the expansion of electric rail services and development of regional airports. This has drawn a lot of criticism from opposition, especially given the fact he has chosen to retain the power for the past seven years.
In other news, the Center for Economic Situation Administration has approved the Phuket Sandbox Plan. This would require tourists to stay for a minimum of two weeks before travelling to other parts of Thailand. International travellers must also be vaccinated for at least two weeks prior to entering the country. This is one of the initiatives that aims to bring back tourism in Thailand while taking into account Covid-19 safety standards.
The opposition presidential candidate Cristiana Chamorro was placed under house arrest this week and will likely be disqualified from running for political office after police raided her home Wednesday. According to a statement from the Nicaraguan Public Ministry, Ms. Chamorro has been charged with money laundering and mismanagement of the Violeta Barrios Foundation, a non-profit which she chairs. Ms. Chamorro has denied the charges. A journalist and the daughter of former president Violeta Barrios, Chamorro was likely the only opposition candidate to challenge long-time incumbent Daniel Ortega, who is seeking a fourth term in elections this November. On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the arrest of Ms. Chamorro, saying that “arbitrarily banning” her from running “reflects Ortega’s fear of free and fair elections.” In the wake of Ms. Chamorro’s arrest, a group representing Nicaraguan political prisoners and the mothers of those killed protesting against Daniel Ortega’s government called for a national strike.
Roman Protasevich, the Belarusian journalist who was arrested last week after his Ryanair flight to Lithuania was forcibly diverted to Minsk, appeared in an interview on Belarusian state TV this week. In his appearance on TV on Thursday, his third since being detained, Mr. Protasevich praised Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and admitted to attempting to overthrow the government. Mr. Protasevich said in the interview that he was speaking to the media by choice, but human rights and opposition campaigners say that it is likely that he has been tortured. During the interview, Mr. Protasevich was asked about the possibility of him being extradited to the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, which is occupied by Russian-backed separatists who have opened a criminal case against him over his alleged participation in hostilities there.
Simultaneously, Alexander Lukashenko has continued his crackdown on the Belarusian populace. On Monday, Belarus’s border security agency banned most citizens from leaving the country, including many foreign residency permit holders. Only those with permanent residency in foreign countries, not temporary, are now allowed to leave the country, according to the State Border Committee. The Committee blamed the measures on the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic. The new travel restrictions also apply to citizens of foreign countries in Belarus; they will only be allowed to leave after a 10-day self-isolation period. The move is likely designed to make it more difficult for skilled workers, such as doctors and I.T. experts, to flee the country
Negotiations regarding the Russian naval base deal have begun according to General Mohammed Othman al-Hussein, Sudan’s military chief. The deal was first discussed over 30 years ago under Sudan’s leadership of Omar al-Bashir and it allows a Russian base in Sudan with 300 soldiers. Violence in Darfur is worse than last year and continues to displace people from their homes. It is reported that 5 times as many people have been displaced so far this year compared to all of 2020. Militanmen have been storming villages and burning homes, leaving many with nowhere to live. Hundreds have also been killed in the violence.
Eduardo Del Castillo, a Bolivian Government Minister, has announced that the Bolivian government has hired an American law firm to monitor the hearing of former Minister Arturo Murillo. The firm remains unnamed but they will be attending the June 7th court date for the trail of money laundering and the purchase of tear gas. Subpoenas have been issued for four ministers in the Anez government. The Minister of Justice has summoned them to discuss the teargas case against the former president. The start of the winter holidays in Bolivia have also been moved up in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Katumba Wamala, Uganda’s minister of works and transport, was wounded and his daughter and driver killed on Tuesday in a drive-by shooting outside the capital, Kampala. Four attackers riding on two motorcycles with the license plates concealed followed Wamala’s vehicle for about four kilometers before opening fire shortly before 9:00 AM on Tuesday, according to a police statement. The identity of the killers and the motivation for the attack is unknown. Yoweri Musevini, Uganda’s President, slammed the attack in a tweet on Tuesday, calling the killers “pigs who do not value life.” The shooting this week was the latest in a series of attacks that have targeted high-profile individuals in Uganda’s capital over the past few years. In June 2018, Ibrahim Abiriga, a leading politician from Musevini’s National Resistance Movement Party, was killed under similar circumstances, as was police spokesman Andrew Kaweesi in March 2017.
In other news, Uganda recorded the most Covid-19 cases in a single day since the beginning of the Pandemic on Tuesday, with the Ugandan Ministry of Health reporting 1,083 new cases. Uganda is in the midst of a new wave of the coronavirus pandemic, recording 5,163 cases in the last week. Nearly seven out of every ten cases have been recorded in the capital, Kampala. Last week, President Yoweri Musevini urged citizens in northern Uganda to avoid traveling to Kampala and Wakiso districts, where case numbers continue to accelerate. Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics found that the Covid-19 Pandemic has forced at least 300,000 Ugandans into poverty. The survey showed that the number of poor Ugandans increased from 8 million to 8.3 million during the 2019-2020 financial year.
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