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Weekly News Digest for April 16, 2021

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


 

Breaking News:


Middle East: American Troops to Leave Afghanistan by September 11th

President Biden formally announced on Wednesday, April 14th, his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and “end America’s longest war.” The President said the troops will leave the country before September 11th, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon that started the war. President Biden continued on that “no amount of time of money could solve the problems his three predecessors had tried and failed to fix.” Officials said that after two decades of war, President Biden decided that neither time nor money would fix the problems, even as senior military and national security advisers cautioned against a full withdrawal.


Troops will begin to leave Afghanistan on May 1st, in line with an agreement between former President Trump and the Taliban, and some U.S. troops will remain to protect American officials although the official number is not yet known. The President stated that American diplomatic and humanitarian efforts would continue in Afghanistan and the United States will support peace efforts between the Afghan government and the Taliban.


Read more about the situation in Afghanistan in our Country Report here.


Sub-Saharan Africa: At Least 34 Migrants Dead of the Coast of Djibouti

On Monday, April 12, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), stated that at least 34 migrants are dead following a boat capsizing off the coast of Djibouti. The boat was being operated by smugglers that were carrying 60 migrants to Djibouti after escaping conflict in Yemen. The IOM has expressed serious concern over the tens of thousands of young African migrants that are making the dangerous journey from the Horn of Africa to the Gulf States in search of safety and work. It is believed that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many migrants to return to their conflict-ridden home countries because many African nations have closed their borders to curve the spread of the virus. The IOM stated that thousands of people are trapped in Yemen, many living in “dangerous conditions” and being forced to pay smugglers to get back home. Last month, at least 20 migrants died after smugglers pushed over 80 people off their ship as they were passing the coast of Djibouti. This practice is becoming similar to the migrant crisis that happened off the coast of Greece.


South America: Chile Deals with Spike in Cases Despite Vaccine Rollout

The Chilean Health Minister Enrique Paris noted that the number of daily cases reached a new record high last Friday, going over 9,000 for the first time since the pandemic began and considerably higher than the previous peak of just under 7,000 cases in mid-June. Intensive care units are again overwhelmed, the country has for a second time closed its borders to everyone who is not a resident and most of its 18 million inhabitants are back in lockdown. However, Chile had reached one of the highest vaccination rates in the world at the beginning of the year with nearly 40% of the country vaccinated. Sources with the Health Ministry cite relaxing restrictions around the holidays and the scrutinized effectiveness of the Sinovac vaccine to be the top causes for the issue at hand. Chilean citizens experienced eased travel restrictions around the holidays that came ahead of the vaccine rollout. Likewise, the protection rates of existing vaccines throughout the country are not high according to a study by the Brazillian health institute Buntan, causing Chile to be a ‘perfect storm’ in which cases were able to multiply.


 

North America


The Biden Administration Puts The Formation of Another Police Commission on Hold

Although President Joe Biden’s campaign promised the establishment of a national police oversight commission within his first 100 days, this prospect has been put on hold. According to Susan Rice, the director of the Domestic Policy Council, the Biden administration has determined that a police commission would not be the most effective way of addressing the administration’s top priority: to sign into law the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. After consultations with civil rights organizations and police unions, the administration understood that such a commission would be both unnecessary and redundant in the effort to bring about police reform.


When Joe Biden announced his plan to set up a police oversight commission last June, shortly after Goerge Floyd was killed and mass protests against police brutality and discrimination against black people, he also called for reforms for policing that would include a national database of police misconduct and a ban on the use of chokeholds. However, he had not endorsed demands from the Black Lives Matter movement on issues such as police liability. Moreover, leaders of the movement conveyed skepticism of the good another police commission would actually do to help the issue. This development, along with meetings with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund expressing the lack of help another commission would provide informed the administration’s decision on the matter.


The United States Imposes Sanctions on Russia for Hacking and Election Interference

President Biden has legislated a series of sanctions through an executive to deter Russia’s recent interference in the United States elections. This executive order intends to send a signal to Russia through economic costs if the government continues its damaging actions in foreign nations and means to prevent any more efforts to weaken the conduct of democratic elections and institutions within the United States and its allies. Moreover, the executive order and sanctions also seek to stop hostile cyber activities, the fostering of international corruption for the purpose of influencing foreign governments, as well as the weakening of security and principles of international law. The United States Treasury also placed sanctions on an additional 32 groups and individuals taking orders from the Russian government in attempts to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election and for contributing to disinformation. The sanctions from the Treasury intend to obstruct coordination between Russian officials and intelligence agencies, and the U.S. government will continue to track those engaging in these disruptive activities.


 

Asia and the Pacific


East Asia: Chinese Planes Enter Taiwan’s Airspace

On Monday, China’s People Liberation Army flew 25 warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), which is a line that separates China and Taiwan in the Taiwan Strait. The incursion came one day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned China against invading the island. This is China’s largest incursion since PLA aircrafts flew into the ADIZ last year. According to the Liberty Times, this marks the 86th incursion of 2021, with daily incursions in the month of April. In 2020, China made a record 380 incursions.


Southeast Asia: Ramadan Social Distancing Enforced in Indonesia

On April 12 Ramadan, a holy month of prayer and fasting for Muslims, began. Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, is enforcing social distancing guidelines during Ramadan prayers at mosques around the country. Although the country is experiencing a spike in Covid-19 cases, the government is beginning to loosen some restrictions due to the administration of vaccine doses. Despite the restrictions that are still in place, worshippers are still experiencing more freedom than they did during last year’s Ramadan. Mosques were closed to the public during the holy month, forcing many worshipers to stay home to pray.


 

Africa


North Africa: Mali: Top Ex-Rebel Leader Sidi Sidati Shot Dead at Bamako Residence

On Tuesday, April 13th, Sidi Sidati was shot dead outside of his residence in Bamako, Mali, by unidentified individuals. Sidi was the former acting president of the group known as Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA). CMA is an alliance of former Tuareg independence and Arab nationalists armed groups that fought against Malian forces in the northern region of the nation from 2012 until 2015. The armed resistance was ended following the signing of the Algiers Peace Agreement. More information was released on Wednesday morning by Attaye Ag Mohammed, head of legal issues within the CMA, stating that Sidati was outside his residence, repairing his electric generator, when he was shot between 6 and 7 am by two assailants in a car. As of Wednesday afternoon, an official investigation is now underway.


 

Europe


AstraZeneca Vaccine Officially Left Behind in Denmark

Denmark paused the distribution of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine early last month over vaccine safety concerns. The latest move and cancelation in the latest bookings distributing the AstraZeneca vaccine, however, has not been over safety concerns according to the Danish Health Authority, but rather because the vaccine was not needed as the country had reached such an advanced point in their vaccine rollout. The Danish Health Authority issued statements clarifying why they have halted the distribution of AstraZeneca and issued statements baking the European Medicine Agency’s assessment regarding the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Denmark is the first country to officially discontinue the use of the vaccine while other countries like the U.S. and Switzerland have yet to approve the vaccine for distribution in their countries. Other health officials noted that Denmark’s cancelation is likely rooted in safety concerns regardless of issued statements, and fear that Denmark could fall behind in vaccine distribution while cases rise across Europe.


EU-U.K. Trade Deal Pushed to the Forefront

With Brexit in full effect, one of the last things to solidify is the EU-U.K. Trade and Co-operation Agreement, and the deadline for the MEPs to vote on a deal is the end of this month. In March, they suspended voting after protests and controversy surrounding trade in Northern Ireland and terms set out in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. So far, among the parliament's trade and foreign affairs committees there were 108 in favor, one against, and four absentations. There is a remaining fear that this plan will not be ratified, although European governments have approved the plan still needs to pass with the MEPs. Without a deal, both the EU and the U.K. are likely to face challenges in the coming months including disputes over “grace periods”, political and economic tension at the Northern Ireland border, and a ton of bureaucratic and legal red-tape that will make passing a revised deal even more difficult.


Rising Tension Between Russia and the U.S. Over New Sanctions

Earlier this week, the U.S. issued sanctions on Russia over cyber attacks and other harmful acts, following through on President Biden’s promise on a tougher stance with Russia. A statement from the White House detailed the large ‘SolarWinds’ cyber attack and interference during the 2020 presidential election as the basis of the sanctions, and Russia denied all allegations. These sanctions will target 32 entities and officials linked to the 2020 election interference, as well as the expulsion of ten diplomats, and the prohibition of U.S. financial institutions from buying Russian bonds from Russia’s central bank, Financial Ministry, or national wealth fund. This is the latest in tension between Russia and other western countries following the imprisonment of Alexi Navalny and Russian troop buildup at the Ukrania border. Russia is expected to reciprocate and issue similar sanctions against the U.S. within the coming days.


 

Latin America and the Caribbean


Castro Steps Down as Head of Cuba’s Communist Party

Raul Castro announced earlier on Thursday that he is stepping down as head of the state’s Communist Party, one of the most powerful positions held in the country. Though Cubans do not expect significant change, the move is historic and unprecedented. Castro and his late brother Fidel have been in power since leading a revolution in 1959, and many believe that despite a change in leadership he will continue to be the most influential figure on the island up until his death. The Communist Party’s eighth congress will begin Friday when it will certify President Miguel Díaz-Canel as the next party secretary-general and set policy guidelines. Castro’s retirement comes as Cuba, one of the last communist run-countries in the world, is facing multiple challenges. Its economy shrank 11 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic, and it's been grappling with tightened U.S. sanctions and a decline in aid from its allies. Many believe that Castro’s turnover of power to Diaz-Canel will speed economic reform, seeing him as the next generation of leaders for Cuba.

Runoffs Could Mean Stability in Ecuador and Peru

The two states in the northern part of the continent are facing political divides that could trouble the region. Voters in Ecuador favored Guillermo Lasso, a conservative businessman, in Sunday’s presidential runoff election, rebuffing a leftist movement that has held the presidency for over a decade marked by an economic boom and then a yearslong recession. Likewise, Peru is conducting a primary election of 18 candidates that is all but certain to enter into a runoff. Preliminary election results indicate that voters favored candidates on the far ends of the political spectrum in a time where cohesion is seen as the most needed element for stability. Both elections are marked by candidates charged with corruption including the former first lady of Peru, Keiko Fujimori, and Ecuadorian leftist Andrés Arauz backed by former president Rafael Correa. The plurality of these elections could signal political gridlock during a time in which vaccine rollouts and economic recessions are a top priority.


 

Middle East

Egyptian Architects Win UNESCO Competition

UNESCO announced on Thursday, April 15th, the winner of its architectural design competition to rebuild the historic Al-Nouri mosque complex destroyed by Daesh in Mosul, Iraq. The winning team is composed of eight Egyptian architects, led by Salah El-Din Samir Hareedy, and beat more than 120 other entries with their “Courtyards Dialogue” design. The mosque was mostly destroyed by Daesh in 2017 as Iraqi forces fought to recapture the city. The reconstruction of the mosque is a part of UNESCO’s “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” project, which was heavily damaged in the recent conflict. The UNESCO director-general announced that the reconstruction will be a landmark in the process of “advancing the war-torn city’s reconciliation and social cohesion.” The winning group of architects has also worked on other heritage-rehabilitation projects, as well as urban planning and climate-based architecture.

Middle Eastern Countries Restrict Ramadan Activities

Due to the surge of COVID-19 infections in several countries in the Middle East, governments plan to shorten festivities during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan instituted a partial lockdown for the first half of Ramadan and extended 7:00 PM curfews until May 17th, as Turkey has the fourth-highest rate of COVID-19 cases worldwide. In Syria, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, known as Rojava, put in place a curfew in place controlled by Kurdish forces. In Iraq, after COVID-19 daily cases peaked last week, the government declared a partial lockdown throughout Ramadan during workdays and a complete lockdown on the weekends. Kuwait’s cabinet also limited the duration of the Tarawih evening prayer at mosques to 15 minutes, which is traditionally performed during Ramadan in addition to the nightly Isha prayer.

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