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Weekly News Digest for April 11, 2021

Compiled by Kelly Dobso, Trinity Gates, Stephanie Cannon, Michael Banks, Jessie Bowers, Dinah Gorayeb, Austin Myhre, and Charlotte Smith


Breaking News:

Iran and the U.S. Agree on Nuclear Deal

The United States and Iran agreed on Tuesday, April 6th, to establish two working groups in order to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The first working group specifically focuses on how to get the United States back to the deal by lifting the harsh economic sanctions imposed after former President Trump pulled out of the accord in May of 2018. The second working group will focus on how to get Iran back into compliance with the accord’s limitations on nuclear enrichment and stockpiles of enriched uranium. President Biden vowed during his campaign to return to the deal, which involves removing the 1,600 sanctions imposed on Iran over the course of many years. Iranian officials have stated that they can comply “fairly quickly” with the imposition on nuclear enrichment but insist on the United States lifting the sanctions first. In Vienna, where the meetings were held, Iran also met with other members of the accord, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia, but refused to meet directly with the United States, preferring to work separately in a nearby hotel.

New Tension in Northern Ireland

New unrest broke out last week over new tensions relating to Brexit and unionist dismay over a new decision by police not to prosecute leaders of the Irish nationalist party who had broken coronavirus restrictions to attend the funeral of a former IRA leader. Violent confrontations with police from unionists and nationalists occurred in Belfast on the peace line when a bus was set on fire and petrol bombs were used. Nearly 55 police officers were injured in these confrontations while protestors threw stones and officers used dogs and water cannons to attempt to disperse the crowds. Leaders including those from the U.S., Northern Ireland, Ireland, and British have issued statements condemning violence and protests that have disrupted border peace and injured police officers. This is the latest on a string of violence and tension, and the first major incident since the 1988 Good Friday Agreement that halted decades of violence along the Ireland and Northern Ireland border.

President Biden Restores Aid to Palestine

U.S. President Joe Biden announced on Thursday, April 8th, his plans to restore part of the assistance to Palestine cut by Donald Trump. Two-thirds will go to the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, Unrwa, which has suffered a financial crisis since former President Trump cut $360m of U.S. funding in 2018. President Biden states he wants to “restore credible engagement” in peace talks between Palestine and Israel. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said $75m will go to economic and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza, $10m for peacebuilding programs through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAid), and $150m in humanitarian assistance to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (Unrwa).

The U.S. will also resume security assistance programs with Palestinians, in addition to the $15m to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and food insecurity in the West Bank and Gaza that the U.S. announced last month. Unrwa Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini stated the agency could not “be more pleased” to once again partner with the United States to help refugees in the Middle East, however, Israel’s foreign minister said that Unrwa “perpetuates the conflict and does not contribute to its resolution.” The news was very well received by Palestinians, whose economy is mainly propped up by international donors and was left reeling by the dramatic cuts during the Trump administration.


North America

Biden’s Plan to Improve Infrastructure and the Economy Targets Inequality

President Biden has a $2 trillion plan to improve America’s infrastructure and economy and overall productivity by focusing on regions in the country that suffer from infrastructural inequality. Biden plans to improve these neglected areas by directing capital where people are, for instance, impacted by sub-par public transportation as well as lack of internet access. In his announcement of this plan last week, Biden noted that “we all will do better when we all do well” illustrating that his proposal is meant to combat racial and socioeconomic inequality.

Minneapolis Police Chief States that Derek Chauvin Violated Use-of-Force Policies

In the second week of the Derek Chauvin trial, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arrandondo is testifying for the prosecution of former officer Derek Chauvin, who is facing murder charges over the death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020. Arrando has stated that he believes that Chauvin’s behavior against Floyd violated Minneapolis police department’s policies on de-escalation, use of force, as well as rendering aid. Arrando added that even after it was clear that Floyd was no longer offering resistance and was not being responsive, Chauvin continued to apply force to Floyd’s neck using his knee, which is not a part of any police training.

The defense attorney for Chauvin, Eric Nelson, showed one officer’s body cam footage that appeared to reveal that Chauvin’s knee was placed more on Chauvin’s shoulder as opposed to his neck. Given a review of the full bodycam footage, Arrando remarked that Chauvin’s knee was indeed on Floyd’s neck up until the moment the paramedics arrived, which is a maneuver that is not permitted by the Minneapolis Police Department. Moreover, Arrando said that the video did not indicate aggression or resistance on behalf of Floyd. Given the police department’s use-of-force policy, which states that "Sanctity of life and the protection of the public shall be the cornerstone of the MPD's use-of-force policy," Chauvin’s actions were in violation of said policy and were not indicative of an attempt at de-escalation.


Asia and the Pacific

East Asia: Kim Jung-un Addresses North Korea’s Looming Economic Crisis

Today, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un rallied the ruling Workers' Party to discuss the looming economic crisis. He argued that the country must wage a new "Arduous March" to survive its economic troubles. The “Arduous March” refers to a period of famine and resulting starvation in the 1990s when the country lost the support of the former Soviet Union and reeled from multiple natural disasters.

Over the past year, North Korea’s economy suffered from Coronavirus-related border closures, severe flooding, and economic sanctions. Now, North Korea’s economy sees its worst decline since famine killed millions in the 1990s. While very little accurate information leaves the country, groups that closely follow the country purport sharp price increases for essential goods like food. For example, University of Vienna research found that corn, a staple good and tracker of price activity, is at record prices. While it is unlikely that North Korea will suffer worse than the 1990s famine, the coming years will bring significant suffering if Kim Jung-un and the ruling party cannot engineer solutions to their current challenges.

Southeast Asia: U.S. Issues Sanctions Against Myanmar

Since the February 1 military coup in Myanmar, the U.S. and the U.K. have imposed sanctions on the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and the Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (MEHL), impacting a wide range of industries. On April 8, the Biden administration imposed new sanctions on Myanmar Gems Enterprise, a state-owned gem company. These sanctions will prevent American citizens from conducting business with the firm, increasing pressure on the military government.



North Africa: Moroccan Government Imposes Ramadan Curfew

The Moroccan government has announced that it will adopt a nighttime curfew that will begin at 8 pm and end at 6 am during the month of Ramadan. Although the religious holiday is not expected to start until April 14, based on astronomical calculations, the country has seen a recent rise in COVID-10 cases, including the new variant of the virus. Many citizens protested the decision via social networks, citing the economic impact the curfew will have on businesses who normally see more business during the holy month of Ramadan.



Death of Prince Phillip Shakes Up the British Monarchy

The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip passed away at age 99. Earlier this year he had been hospitalized following an infection after heart surgery. Leaders from around the globe have been offering their condolences to the Royal Family and the British people following his passing. His influence spanned the British Commonwealth, which consists of 54 nations and nearly 2.4 billion people. While Prince Philip retired from royal duties in 2017, he was still an influential figure in the British monarchy, especially after the exit of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle who conceded their royal duties early last year.

Russia Suggests Military Intervention in Ukraine

A Russian official has released statements claiming that Moscow will intervene and provide support if Russian-speaking residents in Ukraine launch an assault on separatists. This conflict originates from 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea, a region in Ukraine. Tensions among Russia and Ukraine have been rising in recent years, but have appeared to have escalated in recent months. The Ukrainian military has reported that at the end of March nearly 20,000 Russian troops have moved towards the border, the Ukraine has also reported that nearly 25 troops have been killed in the conflict zone this year already and 50 troops were killed last year. Because of the increase in Russian forces near the border, Ukraine has started to deploy more of its own military forces as well. The U.S. and Germany have made it clear that they stand with Ukraine, Chancellor Merkel asked Putin to pull back forces earlier this week during a phone call.


Latin America and the Caribbean

Caribbean Island Faces Evacuation Following Volcanic Activity

Thousands on the island of St. Vincent have been forced to evacuate their homes following the eruption of the La Soufrière volcano twice earlier this week. The volcano, which last erupted in 1979, has since spewed dark ash plumes 6 km (3.7 miles) into the air over the course of two eruptions in the past days with ash covering as far as 20km on the island. Aid has been sent to the island in the form of cots, tents, and respirator masks as more than 16,000 Vincentians are being forces to relocate, according to the state’s National Emergency Management Organization. Though the island has been hit less hard by the COVID-19 pandemic due to travel restrictions, the spike in volcanic activity that is expected to hit many islands in the lower Antilles chain will be detrimental to agriculture and wildlife.

Brazil Continues to Set Record Highs in Mortality Rates per Diem

Brazil’s Health Ministry registered 4,195 deaths on Tuesday, becoming the third country to go above that threshold, and with a total death toll that is now almost 337,000, second only to the United States. Jair Bolsonaro’s political opponents are demanding stricter measures to slow down the spread of the virus after the leader resisted the idea of national lockdowns and defended the use of so-called early treatment protocols, which include the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. Intensive care units in most Brazilian states have an occupation rate above 90%, though figures have been stable since the past week. However, this is not to say their condition is alleviating. To date, Brazil has recorded more than 13 million cases of coronavirus, according to the health ministry. Some 66,570 people died with Covid-19 in March, more than double the previous monthly record.

Peru Prepares for Presidential Race

Peru will vote for a new president on Sunday after a year of political turmoil with a focus on the coronavirus pandemic, economic revival, corruption, and mining policy in the world’s no. 2 copper producer. Despite 18 people on the ballot, Peruvian voters are unenthusiastic and even the leading contenders have been struggling to muster support among a populace worn out by the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. Since a candidate needs to win more than 50% of the total votes to win outright in the first round, it looks highly likely that the contest will go into a run-off on June 6. Peru is a peculiar state in that its highly fragmented politically, and the new head of state will likely be coming into office with over 10 parties in its Congress. This instability between the executive and legislature branches came to a head in November 2020 when Peru was led by three presidents within a week.


Middle East

Royal Rift in Jordan

Last Saturday on April 3rd, Prince Hamzah released two videos to the BBC channel announcing he had been placed under house arrest and was not allowed to communicate with others due to criticism of Jordan’s government and king. On Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi announced the prince was communicating with foreign governments to “clan leaders against the government.” The Deputy Prime Minister also arrested at least 16 others, including a former adviser to King Abdullah and another member of the royal family over the plot. On the same day, Jordan’s opposition released a recording in which Prince Hamzah announced he would not obey orders from the government, but on Monday the prince signed a letter confirming his allegiance to King Abdullah.

Jordan’s King Abdullah has expressed his “shock, plain, and anger” over plot to destabilize the kingdom, and states that “the challenge of these last days was not the most dangerous for the stability of the country, but it was the most painful for me.” This was his first commend on the alleged conspiracy against the state and follows the claims by Prince Hamzah that he was put under de facto house arrest by the government. On Wednesday, April 7th, the King announced through a broadcast to Jordanians that the “crisis was now over.” He also said that Prince Hamzah has pledged to “remain loyal,” and is now with his “family in his palace under my care.” The day before the announcement Jordan’s government issued a ban on reporting about the plot on social media networks, although Prosecutor General Hassan al-Abdallat said the media ban affected “matters related to the investigation,” and “excludes matters related to freedom of speech and expression.”


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