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Weekly News Digest


Compiled by Sara Anis Ali, Grey Cohen, Alex Hsu, Hayes Orr, Quinn Phillips, Ryan Simons, and Tobyn Smith

Edited by Sara Anis Ali, Hayes Orr, Quinn Phillips, Meagan McColloch, Niamh Dempsey


Asia and the Pacific 

TikTok Ban Passes Through U.S. House

The United States House of Representatives passed a bill forcing TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to sell the app or face a ban. The bill passed by a vote of 352-65. Ultimately, if the legislative process is successful for the bill, it will reach President Joe Biden, who has already stated that he would sign the bill into law. The passage of this bill has had significant movement for quite some time as TikTok, the popular video-sharing app owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, has faced severe scrutiny because of allegations regarding threats to national security. 


Politicians on both sides of the political arena have voiced concerns regarding TikTok’s access to the private information of U.S. citizens. They view the app as an extension of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—America’s largest geopolitical competitor— and they see TikTok as a threat to the United States. In response, TikTok has tried to mobilize its approximately 170 million American users to unite their voices to defend TikTok’s current status, arguing that a ban would violate their First Amendment rights. Beijing has also condemned the legislation, rejecting the notion that TikTok is a danger to the United States.


While there is a credible threat to the fate of the app, it is difficult to discern if the Senate will pass the bill. Lawmakers in the chamber indicated that it would undergo a thorough review, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stating that he would have to consult multiple committees to be able to render a decision on the bill. As it sits in the Senate, TikTok users and legislators will continue to wait to see the fate of the social media app.



Europe

European Union Approves Media Reform Act

The European Parliament approved the Media Freedom Act this Wednesday. This unique, groundbreaking regulation will enshrine better protection for Europe’s newsrooms from political interference and tampering. Whilst this is a considerable step towards journalist protection, the next big hurdle is the implementation of the legislation, says Reporters without Borders. The Act was initially proposed in 2022 in response to the increase in the use of spyware by governments, such as Israel’s Pegasus, and incidences of EU countries like Hungry and Poland impeding journalistic independence. The creation of the European Board for Media Services will help aid this. The Vice President of the European Commission, Věra Jourová, has stated how this will be a significant warning to member states to ensure that there will be more sanctions put on those who are found with corrupted media. 


A few of the critical points of this deal include protection from authorities, editorial independence, funding transparency, and security to curtail Artificial Intelligence (AI) disinformation. European leaders' eagerness to protect journalists against big tech came after Elon Musk acquired X (formally known as Twitter). Musk’s particular moderation policies led to the banning of accounts belonging to specific journalists and resulted in European officials stating that X was the most significant source of disinformation. This new Act will help protect the integrity of journalists across Europe from this and future threats. The European Union hopes this acts as a catalyst for reforming the media ecosystem damaged by distrust in the media and corrupt politicians. 



Middle East and North Africa

UAE Suspends Gas Deal in Israel

On March 13th, the UAE and energy company BP announced they would “suspend discussions” on a deal to buy a 50% stake in NewMed Energy, an Israeli natural gas company. The decision comes after the UAE, BP, and NewMed Energy agreed that the investment was “risky” during Israel’s war on Gaza. The decision also comes at a time when the UAE faces continued backlash for its ties with Israel. 


The normalization of Israeli and Emirati relations began in 2020 when the nations signed the Abraham Accords. The agreement established cooperative relationships between the two nations, allowing for direct flights, full diplomatic ties, business relations, and investments. At the time the UAE said the agreement was contingent upon Israel rejecting its plans to annex the West Bank. Some Gulf Arab nations stated that the UAE’s normalization ties could help advance peace throughout the region. However, now five months into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the UAE faces increasing backlash for its inaction against Israel, and its allowance of foreign exports to pass through a land bridge toward Israel. While the suspension of the natural gas deal was costly, it does not indicate a change in the UAE’s existing stance toward Israel, as the UAE stated they may even return to the deal in the future. 


Through negotiations with Lebanon, Cyprus, and other regions in the Levant, Israel gained access to islands on its coastline and began natural gas drilling in those areas. Despite now having access to large quantities of natural gas, Israel needs investors to expand drilling operations further and increase its exports. The deal with UAE and BP would have allowed Israel to increase profits during the continuing energy crisis in Europe. As Israel’s war in Gaza and the West Bank continues, the nation will continue to face economic implications and risks potentially jeopardizing its limited alliances within the Middle East. 


North America

U.S. Plans to Build Humanitarian Aid Port off Coast of Gaza

During his fourth State of the Union Address, United States President Joe Biden announced plans to build a temporary floating pier off the coast of Gaza to transport humanitarian aid into the territory. This operation will not require American boots on the ground, a condition stated explicitly in his address. The floating pier will consist of a 1,800-foot two-lane causeway that allows trucks from the shore to access aid boats carrying food and supplies. The pier operation will be coordinated with the European Union’s larger maritime corridor plan which uses ports in Cyprus to manage and deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. However, even with 1,000 troops attending the U.S. pier operation, it will still take 60 days to construct, a time period many experts fear is too long to meet the current needs of Gaza’s civilian population.


Five months after the October 7th attack, humanitarian conditions in Gaza are at all-time lows. The United Nations has said at least 576,000 people in the Gaza Strip are facing catastrophic levels of food insecurity, with many more living in near-famine conditions. Current aid delivery is slow, with only approximately 99 trucks entering daily – a fifth of what is needed. Aid convoys are also still facing violent attacks. The U.S. and Jordan delivered aid via airdrop, however, one U.S. parachute malfunctioned and killed people on the ground, exacerbating tensions around the small amounts of supplies getting in. The Egyptian Port of El Arish has been used for supply arrivals, but the process of vetting the goods and transporting them to Gaza takes a significant amount of time. Israel has a deep-water port north of Gaza but refuses to open its northern border checkpoint to aid deliveries. 


As humanitarian conditions worsen and cease-fire talks continue to fall through, the U.S. faces intense pressure to alter its Gaza policy. The U.S. has toughened its rhetoric against Israel for its disregard of humanitarian conditions, with Biden saying during the State of the Union that, “Humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip…Protecting and saving innocent lives has to be a priority.” However, the U.S. continues to send Israel billions of dollars of military aid and weapons to Israel, with many being directly implicated in Gaza’s enormous civilian death toll. Experts continue to warn about escalating famine and sanitation risks throughout the territory and many are urging the international community to do more to help.


South America

Peruvian Police Conduct Nationwide Crackdown on Arms Trafficking 

As of Wednesday, Peruvian police have raided numerous properties as part of a nationwide crackdown on illegal arms trafficking. At least 700 officers were involved in the operation which took place in the capital of Lima and the Tumbes, Cajamarca, and Piura regions located along Peru's border with Ecuador. The operation resulted in the arrest of 18 people and was conducted as part of a larger investigation into the 2023 murder of anti-corruption Ecuadorian presidential candidate, Fernando Villavicencio.


According to the head of Peru’s prosecutor's office against organized crime, the operation focused on businesses accused of importing firearms, primarily from the U.S. and Turkey, and subsequently paying low-income individuals to obtain licenses and buy the weapons. Criminal gangs, like the one responsible for the murder of Fernando Villavicencio, would then acquire illegal weapons from these illicit businesses. During Wednesday’s operation, police seized handguns, hunting weapons, long-range rifles, computers, cell phones, and documents from private residences and corporate offices. 


Much like its South American neighbors, Peru has faced challenges in curbing the operations of the various international drug cartels operating within its borders. Their activities have led to an increase in crime, corruption, and violence throughout the country. The influence of these groups has also spread to traditionally peaceful countries like Ecuador, which was once considered to be an island of relative calm amid a region heavily affected by the violence and crime associated with the international drug trade. 


Brazil Promotes Public Vaccination Campaign to Combat the Dengue Fever Crisis

The number of dengue fever cases in Brazil has surged in 2024, serving as a warning to other countries in the region. The explosion in the number of cases has led states across the country to declare a state of emergency. Brazil registered over a million cases of the virus within the first two months of 2024 alone. The virus itself is transmitted through mosquitoes and is common in tropical and subtropical areas. However, scientists speculate that the disease has been more prolific in recent times due to rising temperatures brought on by climate change which has extended the territorial range of mosquitos.

 

Other nations in the region have been impacted by the devastating effects of the disease as well. Paraguay registered 100,000 cases in the year's first two months, marking a 500% increase in the typically expected rate. Peru has followed suit in declaring a state of emergency over concerns that a widespread outbreak is ‘imminent’. A marked increase in cases has also been recorded by Argentinian health officials.

 

So far 214 people have died this year due to the disease. To combat its spread Brazil has become the first country in the region to promote a public vaccination campaign. 

Regional efforts to get more people vaccinated have seen success, yet some researchers say that vaccination alone is too modest to solve the crisis. Critics have voiced that very few people in rural areas are being vaccinated and that basic sanitation problems should also be addressed. Thus, many cities have been seeking alternative ways to combat the disease alongside the vaccine. Such as the city of Niteroi, which has been seeding mosquitoes with bacteria that makes it less likely they will transmit the disease. Another small town in Brazil has also marked a 97% reduction in dengue cases from 2020 to 2022 by sterilizing male mosquitos. Health workers and scientists have expressed concern as dengue fever is finding its way into places it has never been before. Scientists also suggest that many cases are likely going unreported, as it is easily mistaken for other infections, further complicating vaccine rollout initiatives. 



Sub-Saharan Africa

Senegal Frees Political Prisoners

Cheers swept the West African country of Senegal this week when opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and his right-hand man, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, were released from prison. Sonko is predicted to be the primary candidate running against the ruling party in this year’s elections, but he has faced numerous legal challenges to his bid for the presidency. He was sentenced to two years in prison in 2023 on the charge of “corrupting the youth” and was barred from participating in the election campaigns because of a defamation charge. Currently, it is unclear how his release from prison will affect his eligibility to stand in the 2024 election, but Faye is expected to run if Sonko remains ineligible.


This presidential election season in Senegal has been marred by antidemocratic moves by sitting President Macky Sall and the ruling party. While Sall ultimately decided not to run, he insisted that he was constitutionally allowed to, despite the sitting president already serving the full two terms to which the constitution limits the office of the president. Additional disruptions to the democratic process have also occurred, including the ruling party’s decision to postpone elections initially set for February 25th.



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