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Weekly News Digest for April 7th, 2023


Compiled by Aalia Garrett, Niamh Dempsey, Trinity Gates, Sara Anis Ali, Zoe Shepherd, Hayes Orr, and Quinn Phillips

Edited by Aalia Garrett, Niamh Dempsey, Sara Anis Ali, and Riley Mied


Asia and the Pacific

Himalayan Avalanche Kills 7 Tourists in Northern India

An avalanche swept away a group of tourists in the Himalayas in the northeastern Indian state of Sikkim on Tuesday, killing at least seven and injuring 11. Rescue efforts were forced to a halt Tuesday evening due to increased snowfall. Final checks for victims proceeded on Wednesday, as teams uncovered 20 more survivors from the snow surrounding the road to the Nathu La pass, which is located between Gangtok, Sikkim, and the Chinese region of Tibet. Over the course of the rescue mission, an additional 350 tourists and 80 vehicles were recovered after roads were cleared of snow. Nathu La serves as a common route to both Kanchenjunga, the third-highest mountain in the world, and Mount Kailash in China, which is considered to be one of the holiest pilgrimages for practitioners of Hinduism. As a result, the region is heavily dependent on tourism, with the industry employing nearly 75% of the local population, though it has only just begun to recover from pandemic travel restrictions.


While the cause of Tuesday’s disaster is not inherently clear, a study conducted by the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that in 2018 climate change had significantly increased avalanche risks in the Himalayas. Furthermore, senior police official Tenzing Loden Lepcha noted that avalanches were unusual at this time of year and subsequently blamed unseasonal rain and snow in the area. Over the past two years, Himalayan avalanches have resulted in the deaths of at least 120 people and the endangerment of a great many more. Just last month, at least 10,000 tourists were rescued in Sikkim after being stranded due to heavy rain, snow, and landslides. Meanwhile, in the previous year, 27 trainee mountaineers were killed in an avalanche in the northern Uttarakhand region.


Central America and the Caribbean

Migrant Center Fire Sparks Outrage Across Latin America

At least 38 migrants from Central and South America died in a fire at a migrant detention center in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez last week. The National Immigration Institute, a unit of the Mexican government that supervises migration in the country, confirmed that the victims were almost all from Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, and El Salvador. The fire began after migrants lit their mattresses on fire and set them against the bars of their detention cells in protest after learning they would be deported. In leaked surveillance videos, guards are seen walking away from the cells, allowing the migrants to become consumed by the fire as smoke filled the room.


El Salvador’s government condemned the actions of the detention center staff and demanded an investigation of the night’s events. "We demand that the relevant authorities thoroughly investigate what happened and bring those responsible to justice,” the Salvadoran government said last Wednesday. Mariella Portal Salazar, El Salvador’s Vice Minister for Migrant Affairs, visited Ciudad Juarez on Monday. Salazar said she is not satisfied with the six arrest orders issued for those involved in the deadly fire. “We demand prison time for the guilty,” she said on Tuesday, “not just who acted during the emergency, but also those responsible for migration policy.” Despite the decline in homicides and violent crime in El Salvador, the number of migrants leaving the country has increased each year as El Salvador continues to be impacted by a lack of sustainable living conditions. In the aftermath of the fire, migrant advocates have continued to urge policy makers to revise immigration policies and rectify the inhumane conditions present in many migrant centers.


Europe

Meeting with Chinese Ambassador Brings Hope Among Europe to End Russia’s War in Ukraine

Chinese Ambassador Fu Cong spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission earlier this week. China has increasingly played the role of a mediator in the Russian war on Ukraine and continues to do so as Europe strengthens its support and aid to Ukraine. Europe is also struggling to balance its trade ties with China as the United States toughens its policies against China and continues to encourage its allies to do the same. Mr. Fu publicly announced that China has not provided military assistance to Russia or recognized Russia’s efforts to annex Ukrainian territories. He did acknowledge, however, that Beijing has failed to condemn the invasion. Fu said China refused to condemn Russia because they were aware of Russia’s calls for a defensive war against NATO encroachment. Ms. von der Leyen has publicly noted that the European Union-China relationship has become more strained as China has positioned itself to be a more assertive global player. In talks this week, Mr. Fu hinted that China was open to a deal with Europe regarding sanctions and investment as both parties attempt to navigate trade in the middle of the Russia-Ukraine war.


Middle East and North Africa

Backlash Following Israeli Police Attacks

On Tuesday night, Israeli police raided Al Aqsa Mosque, firing sound grenades and detaining 300 Palestinians. The raid came after Israeli officials stated that they were responding to riots in which an officer had been injured. The Israeli police released a statement saying that they were forced to enter the mosque after the protestors had locked themselves within it. The police further posited that according to a prior agreement with the Al Aqsa Compound authorities, no one would be allowed to remain within the mosque during the month of Ramadan.


Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Mohhamad Shtayyed argued that “prayer in Al-Aqsa Mosque is not with the permission of the Israeli Occupation… It is our right.” Furthermore, the international community has pointed out that raids are an “annual flashpoint” during the holy month of Ramadan, as last year Israeli officers arrested over 300 Palestinians and injured 170 more. The Al Aqsa Mosque has religious significance for both Muslims and Jews, as Jewish people claim it as their holiest site, while Muslims claim it as their third holiest. The area surrounding the mosque has been in contention since Israel expanded its occupation of the West Bank. Now the recent series of attacks have further sparked tension as Palestinians see the move as an encroachment on their existing territories.


North America

Tennessee House of Representatives Expel Two Representatives

Following the death of six people in the Nashville Covenant school shooting, three Democratic Tennessee lawmakers protested from the floor of the House chamber for stricter gun control. Representatives Justin Jones, Justin Pearson, and Gloria Johnson chanted “no action, no peace” during legislative proceedings. As a result of their protest, the representatives were faced with an expulsion hearing. On Thursday, April 6, the House voted on the expulsion of these three lawmakers, which requires a two-thirds vote. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, the young black representatives, were expelled. Republican lawmakers failed to expel Representative Gloria Johnson by one vote.


Speaker of the House, Republican Member Cameron Sexton, compared these lawmakers' actions to the rioters who stormed the Capital on January 6, 2021. He called the lawmakers actions unacceptable and to be breaking House rules. The Tennessee Republicans, who control the House in a 75 to 24 majority, have rejected the demand for stricter gun laws and have instead focused their efforts on tightening school security. These three lawmakers were protesting the new bills implemented to tighten school security as they considered this action as not addressing the true cause of gun violence. The lawmakers represent Tennessee’s largest cities of Nashville, Knoxville, and Memphis, so gun violence is a prominent and pressing issue for them. In the past, expulsions of lawmakers from state legislatures were extremely rare and, in most cases, due to criminal charges or accusations of sexual misconduct. These expulsions will only further divide Tennessee and its lawmakers.

Trump’s Arraignment Leads to Uncertainty

On Tuesday, April 4, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. announced that former U.S. President Donald Trump would be charged with 34 counts for his part in paying hush money to a porn star. Prosecutors are accusing Trump of participating in the plot to pay porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in the last days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump is the first former or current president to be charged with a crime. This arraignment has come after a five-year investigation by the Manhattan district attorney's office. Trump has pleaded not guilty.


Members from both political parties are disappointed in the scope of charges against Trump. Many expected more severe charges to be brought against Trump, such as charges connected to the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. As of now, the district attorney's office has to give the defense most of its evidence within 65 days of Trump's first appearance in court. Prior to Tuesday, one of Trump's lawyers claimed he intends to file a motion to dismiss the case and a motion to have the case moved to another court. The motion to relocate is because of Trump's belief that he will not receive a fair trial in New York. The next hearing is scheduled for December 4, 2023, where the justice will rule on all motions.


South America

Venezuelan Authorities Arrest Multiple Officials in Major Corruption Probe

On Sunday, Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced the arrest of “44 subjects linked to various corruption schemes that have sought to embezzle… from the national economy.” The crackdown targeted the ​​state-run oil company, PDVSA, and other related government corporations and agencies. So far, authorities have arrested officials such as Pedro Maldonado, president of state-owned mining company Corporacion Venezolana de Guayana, and charged them with appropriating public funds, money laundering, influence peddling, and treason.


Venezuelan authorities have not disclosed the amount of money believed to be embezzled. However, various reports place the number anywhere between $3-20 billion. Corruption, especially in the oil and gas sector, has long plagued Venezuela. Despite controlling the world’s largest reserve of oil at over 300 billion barrels, the profits fail to reach the civilian population. The majority of Venezuelans live on less than $1.90 a day. This unfortunate statistic is closely associated with the country’s extraordinarily high level of corruption. According to data compiled by Transparency International, among the 180 countries listed, Venezuela is ranked the fourth most corrupt country. As such, arresting government officials for corrupt practices is a rare occurrence.


To outside observers, the recent round of arrests may seem like a show of good faith by the country’s judicial system. However, many Venezuelans see the arrests as nothing more than the result of a power struggle among leaders in the ruling socialist party rather than an impartial display of justice in a country where most institutions lack independence. Due to the entrenched culture of corruption and alarming levels of economic stagnation, the Venezuelan state remains fragile. This most recent round of arrests is the latest of many signals warning of an uncertain future for the South American nation and its millions of inhabitants.


Sub-Saharan Africa

Protests in Kenya Canceled as Administration Plans Talks With Opposition

After two weeks of unruly protests, Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga halted the call for future demonstrations. This announcement came as a result of President William Ruto’s request for the opposition to engage in negotiations in Parliament rather than protests on the streets. Protesters organized these demonstrations in response to the high cost of living and the still-questioned legitimacy of the presidential election.


Now that there are negotiation plans between Ruto’s administration and the opposition, Odinga has set a list of demands centering around the cost of living, the make-up of Kenya’s electoral commission, and the release of opposition lawmakers arrested following the recent protests. Specifically, Odinga has appealed for the reinstitution of subsidies that Ruto removed early on in his presidency, the immediate establishment of a bipartisan committee tasked with designing a new Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission (IEBC), and the release of IEBC server data regarding the results of 2022’s elections.


Along with his request for dialogue with the opposition, Ruto indicated that IEBC positions would be filled with a bipartisan effort, although he refrained from agreeing to release the IEBC server data. Ruto did not mention subsidies. However, he previously stated that the subsidies on maize, oil, and other commodities will not return. Ruto’s administration also dropped the charges on Azimio lawmakers.


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