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Weekly News Digest for April 3, 2021

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


Breaking News:

Eastern Europe: Russia Shows off the First COVID-19 Vaccine for Animals

Russia has reportedly registered the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine for animals, named Carnivak-Cov. Initial trials of the vaccine were used on dogs, cats, foxes and other animals, the vaccine is expected to be mass-produced starting in April. Russia noted that already some companies from the U.S., Canada, and Singapore have expressed interest. This follows a new report from the World Health Organization that said that COVID-19 could probably spread to people through an animal and after a previous scare in Denmark where they culled 17 million minks over concerns that they were spreading a mutated form of the virus.

Africa: Niger: Attack on Presidential Palace an ‘Attempted Coup’

In the early hours of Wednesday, March 31, gunfire erupted outside of the presidential palace just two days prior to the swearing-in of the new Niger president. The attack was carried out by an unaffiliated military unit. A government spokesman stated that several people were arrested and others are currently being sought out. Abdourahamane Zakaria stated, “The government condemns this cowardly and retrogressive act that aims to endanger democracy and the rule of law to which our country is resolutely committed.” According to sources, the militant assailants fled after the presidential guard met the attack with heavy shelling and gunfire. The Niger government now believes that the situation is under control.

The United States: President Biden Calls on Congress to Reform Georgia’s Recent Voting Restrictions

In the wake of Georgia’s new voting restrictions, President Joe Biden has called on Congress to reform the voting bill, referring to it as “Jim Crow in the 21st Century.” These new election laws include the requirement of an ID for voters wanting to vote via absentee ballot, shorten the length of runoff elections, and also turn the election board over to the legislature. Additionally, the bill limits drop boxes and prevents people from giving food or beverages to those in line to vote.

In a statement regarding the voting restrictions, last Friday Biden urged Congress to pass H.R. 1, also known as “For the People Act.” This bill would allow for greater ballot access and reform campaign finance and would require states to offer same-day registration and two weeks of early voting. Although the House passed this bill earlier in March, the Senate has yet to fully implement it given Republican criticism. Furthermore, Biden called on Congress to bring back the Voting Rights Act protections in a piece of legislation called the “John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act” that had been previously removed by the Supreme Court.


North America

President Biden Announces his Diverse First Judicial Nominations

President Biden has announced his first judicial nominations, and according to a statement made by the White House on Tuesday, these nominees are attorneys who have superior legal experience as jurists, public defenders, and prosecutors, among other positions. In total, nine of the nominees are women, and nine others are people of color. Specifically, Biden has nominated three African American women to fill Circuit Court vacancies, Muslim Americans who could be the first of their demographic to be a U.S. federal judge, the first AAPI women to serve on the U.S. District Court, as well as the first woman of color to serve as a federal judge for the District of Maryland. Moreover, many of these nominees have varied legal experience, and have worked as defense and prosecution lawyers and practice both criminal and civil law.

In contrast to previous administrations, like those of Obama and Clinton, Biden has been quick to fill judicial seats, which allows him and his staff to largely avoid GOP opposition and eventual control of the Senate. Biden has made nominating members of the judiciary one of his top priorities. Furthermore, on December 22 before Biden was officially inaugurated into the Presidency, the then-White House counsel-designate, on behalf of Biden sent a letter to senators to propose District Court judges that have legal experiences that have been “historically underrepresented on the federal branch.” These such individuals would ideally include those who have been public defenders or civil rights and legal aid attorneys who “represent Americans in every walk of life.”

What to Know About the Trial of Derek Chauvin and the Death of Georga Floyd

Last May, the death of George Floyd stirred up intense attention and outrage after his death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck on a street corner for over nine minutes until his death. Now, the case is being contested in court, and Chauvin is facing charges of manslaughter as well as second and third-degree murder.

The jury for this trial has 12 members, consisting of two white men, four white women, three black men, one black woman as well as two individuals of mixed race. Because of the visible racial nature of Floyd’s death, which was captured on video, protests regarding police brutality and racial equality arose, and thus the racial makeup of the jury was carefully considered. Although many were worried of the apparent impossibility of having an impartial jury, prospective jurors were given an extensive questionnaire about their viewpoints, and those who expressed opinions ensured that they could set them aside to be objective at the trial.

Shortly following Chauvin’s arrest last year, he pled guilty to the charge of third-degree murder, but the then U.S. Attorney General rejected this charge and also assured that Chauvin would not receive federal civil rights charges. Judge Cahill later dismissed that charge but upheld the charge of second-degree murder, which would result in longer jail time for Chauvin. Nevertheless, last week the Minnesota Court of Appeals demanded that Cahill reconsider adding third-degree murder to Chauvin’s trial and also broadened the scope of the law to allow for this charge to be used in cases where only a single individual was in danger. Furthermore, even after Cahill stated that he was not bound by this interpretation. The appeals court subsequently disagreed with this interpretation and Cahill conceded to add the charge last Thursday after hearing arguments from Chauvin’s lawyer.

Currently, Nelson’s plan to defend Chauvin involves arguing about Floyd's history of drug use and potential death by drug overdose or an underlying health condition. However, Hennepin County medical examiner Dr. Andre Baker has ruled Floyd’s death a homicide, with Chauvin’s actions along with the drug and health factors being contributing factors to Floyd’s death. Additionally, although there was fentanyl in Floyd's system at the time of his death, Baker said that he cannot truly determine whether Floyd would have died of this if Chauvin had not been kneeling on his neck.


Asia and the Pacific

East Asia: 14 Countries Raise Concern Over WHO’s COVID-19 Report

On March 30th, the World Health Organization (WHO) released its long-awaited report regarding the agency’s COVID-19 fact-finding investigation in Wuhan, China. The investigation took four weeks and saw both Chinese scientists and international experts investigating the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak. The report concluded that it was extremely unlikely COVID-19 leaked from a lab. While the Trump administration first floated this possibility, China continually rejects these allegations. The report emphasized the great likelihood that animals transmitted the virus to humans via an intermediate host. Later on March 30th, however, a group of 14 countries, including the U.S., Australia, Canada, Denmark, Japan, Israel, Norway, and South Korea, released a joint statement, seemingly questioning the validity of these findings. Their concerns cited timeline delays and a lack of full access to data. The WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also stated that this study was not comprehensive enough, emphasizing the need for further investigation. Again, China denies all allegations of improper or irresponsible behavior. These events raise already heightened tensions between American allies and China, a trend beginning under Trump’s presidency and so far defining Biden’s presidency.



Sub-Saharan Africa: “Children Among Victims” of Ethiopia Village Attack

On Tuesday, March 30, an attack was carried out by the Oromia Liberation Army (OLA) rebel group in Ethiopia’s Oromia region left 28 people dead and even more wounded. Survivors met with BBC reporters the giver gruesome details of the account. A father of seven started that he and his family fled to the bush when they heard heavy shooting as the gunmen stormed the village. The father described how they hid in the bush throughout the night, only to return to the village the next morning to find bodies scattered throughout the village. BBC reported that 18 were critically wounded and are currently being treated in a local hospital. Other survivors claimed that those that were attacked or killed were all ethnic Amharas that were pulled from their house by OLA. Ethiopian’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has publicly condemned the attack and promised to hunt down all those involved. OLA fighters have been accused of similar attacks from the previous month in which more than 22 villagers were killed. In November of 2020, more than 34 ethnic Amharas were gunned down after being summoned into a meeting in a school compound.



Italy Expels Russian Diplomats

Italy has recently expelled two Russian officials in connection with an espionage case following the arrest of an Italian navy captain and the detention of a Russian military officer who is stationed in Rome with identical espionage charges. The arrests occurred after the Italian captain gave classified information to the Russian military officer in an exchange for money. While not much information has been released, the U.K. Foreign Secretary issued a statement in solidarity with Italy. This is the latest in a series of incidents involving suspected Russian espionage across Europe, a similar situation occurred in Bulgaria in early March and follows a buildup of tensions following the jailing of Alexi Navalny.


Latin America and the Caribbean

Cabinet Shakeup Overshadows Brazil’s COVID-19 Response

Widespread concerns of a military shakeup swept Brazil on Tuesday after leaders from all three branches of Brazil’s armed forces jointly resigned following Jair Bolsanro’s replacement of defense minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva. This is an unprecedented resignation by the defense ministries that have not been seen since the end of militaristic rule over 30 years ago. Silva was replaced swiftly with Walter Souza Braga Netto who in his first statement on the new job showed he is aligned with Bolsonaro’s views for the armed forces and even celebrated the 1964-1985 era that saw thousands of Brazillians die at the hands of a military dictatorship. Bolsonaro on Monday carried out a shake-up of top Cabinet positions that was initially seen as a response to demands for a course correction by lawmakers, diplomats, and economists, particularly over his handling of the pandemic that has caused more than 300,000 deaths in Brazil.

Police Brutality under Fire in Mexico

Women’s rights groups both nationally and internationally are up in arms following the death of a Salvadorean woman in police custody in the Mexican resort municipality of Tulum. The woman, 36-year-old Victoria Esperanza Salazar, died from a broken neck after being pinned to the ground by a female officer in an instance that is being paralleled very similarly to the injustice and police brutality faced by George Floyd in the United States early last summer. The incident comes amid growing protests against femicides in Mexico. The incident has been widely condemned both in Mexico and in Salazar's native El Salvador. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that Salazar had been "brutally treated and murdered".


Middle East

Suez Canal is Open After Containment Ship is Stuck

The container ship that blocked the Suez Canal was finally freed after six days and billions of dollars lost. The critical waterway opened on Monday, February 29th, taking advantage of an unusually high tide. Tugboats helped pull the vessel out from the side of the canal where it had been stuck, and once stabilized, it was towed toward an anchor point at a lake further up the canal system, enabling other ships to travel. However, shipping firms, shipowners, and management companies are still girding for delays that go beyond European and Asian ports.

Yemen Receives First Doses of Vaccine

A plane carrying 360,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in India arrived in Aden, the government’s temporary capital. The government stated that vaccines will be distributed across the country and that another shipment is supposed to arrive next month. The government has only reported 4,100 and 864 deaths, but experts say they don’t yet know the full scale of the country’s COVID-19 outbreak due to a shortage of testing, poor access to medical care, and lack of official testing.

China and Iran Sign a Partnership Deal

Although details have not been published yet, American experts believe China will buy Iranian oil, and, in turn, invest some of its wealth in Iran. This is the latest expansion to China’s vast infrastructure project, the Belt and Road initiative, creating the connections Beijing needs to continue its expansion as a global power. Now that Iran has signed a strategic accord with China, which is a part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that former President Trump pulled the United States out of, it will be hoping for more than simply increased oil sales, which have been affected by sanctions.


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