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Weekly News Digest for December 2nd, 2022


Compiled by Aalia Garrett, Niamh Dempsey, Trinity Gates, Sara Anis Ali, Zoe Shepherd, Riley Mied, Shekina Shindano

Edited by Stephanie Cannon and Austin Myhre


Asia and the Pacific

Zero-COVID Policies Incite Protests Across China

Protests erupted across China this past weekend in response to growing unrest over strict COVID-19 restrictions. Tens of thousands of people participated in such demonstrations in at least ten different cities across China in order to protest these stringent lockdowns. Protestors, including dozens of university students, took to the streets in an unprecedented show of civil disobedience that has been unseen since Chinese President Xi Jinping assumed office nearly a decade ago. Objection to the regime is both difficult and risky for Chinese citizens. Under his tenure, Jinping has launched draconian forms of addressing dissent including an expansion of a high-tech social surveillance system. Because of this, many used the demonstrations as an opportunity to take a public stance on denouncing the country’s limitations on freedom of speech, with some even calling for the president to step down. The catalyst for these protests came Friday evening when a fire in a Uyghur-majority neighborhood within Ürümqi, the capital of Xinjiang, resulted in the death of at least ten people. Speculation points to lockdown measures being the fault for the difficulty faced in enacting proper rescue and escape of those inside the building. Reports say, apartment doors were locked as a consequence of the restrictions, leaving many trapped within their homes, unable to break out. The ongoing genocidal campaign against Uyghurs and other minority groups have left them particularly vulnerable to stringent “zero-COVID” policing. However, backlash against these COVID-19 regulations has been widespread.

In an effort to quell dissent, Chinese police began patrolling the sites where the demonstrations occurred across Beijing and Shanghai. Reports have further stated that police have begun to stop and search individuals, checking cell phones for virtual private networks (VPNs) and the Telegram app, which was believed to have been used by protesters over the weekend. VPNs are illegal for most Chinese residents and the Telegram app is blocked from China’s internet. While China’s “zero-Covid” policy has kept their death toll low in comparison to other nations, its strict rules have led to the confinement of millions of residents across the country, bringing about substantial economic disruption and emotional distress.


Central America and the Caribbean

Wildlife Convention in Panama Enacts Species Protections

After a week of debating protections for plant and animal species, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) ended in Panama last Friday. Over 2,500 representatives from 183 countries were in attendance, including senior officials from the United Nations Environmental Programme. Delegates enacted new protections for over 500 species, including sharks, lizards, and frogs, whose populations have dramatically declined due to the unregulated, and often illegal, trade of these animals.

Panama has been taking its own steps to prevent the illegal sale and trade of exotic and endangered animals within the country. This year the Panamanian government issued a catalog of photos to help security and border officials identify the most commonly trafficked animals. Panama also has strict laws that limit the possession of endangered wildlife and only issues breeding permits to zoos or centers that have been approved by the Panamanian Environment Ministry. Biologist Samuel Sucre, who runs Natural Tanks, a government-approved reptile breeding store in Panama City, said, “The problem with the illegal trade in countries like mine, developing countries, is people don’t understand the value of that resource.” Instead Sucre advocates for more education about maintaining natural resources, so those who sell wild or endangered animals can make a living in a sustainable way.


Europe

Series of Letter Bombs Prompt Increased Security in Spain

Authorities discovered a series of bombs across Spain this week, prompting increased security measures and concerns across the state. The only bomb to explode was one found at the Ukrainian embassy in Madrid earlier this week. However, bombs were also found at an arms manufacturer and an Air Force base alongside several embassies in the state. Authorities also flagged letter bombs addressed to the Prime Minister and Defense Minister, but the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister’s offices have maintained that there is no reason to panic and there is no terror threat currently. Spain’s National Court, which investigates terrorism, has been looking into the incidents The Interior Ministry has increased security at consulates and embassies across the country in response.



Middle East and North Africa

Islamic State Leader Killed

Nearly a month after his death, the Islamic State announced the death of their leader, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. The Islamic State leader died after Syrian rebels attacked a village hideout, although at the time they simply believed they had killed a militant. The announcement of the leader’s death came abruptly from the weakening Islamic State. Despite the terrorist organization’s continued sporadic attacks and extensive sleeper cells, the Islamic State continues to decline. At the organization’s peak, the nation had nearly half of Iraq and a third of Syria, but after the death of their prominent leader, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, the terrorist organization faced a continued downward decline.


While no one knows the history of the recent leader, Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi, many officials believe the hesitancy to reveal the death of the leader indicates internal struggles and a strong decline of the organization.


Turkey’s Increased Involvement in Syria

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has announced that the nation will begin air operations in northern Syria, against the YPG, a Kurdish militia supported by the US and European nations. Turkey states that the attacks are necessary to defend its southern border and to even maintain the territories of both Iraq and Syria. Turkey further asserts that the YPG is the Syrian branch of the PKK, a Kurdish militant group based primarily within Turkey’s southern mountainous region. Turkey vows to even expand its efforts outside of air operations if they deem necessary.


The military expansion of Turkey into neighboring countries is alarming organizations such as the UN. The UN believes the increased warfare in northern Syria will create further tension in the nation, upsetting the fragile peace that exists in the area. Furthermore, the Kurdish people see this as again as the world failing to protect them from Erdogan’s abuses. After US troops left Syria, they abandoned many of the Kurdish soldiers that worked alongside them, leaving them at the mercy of Turkey. Once again this neglect angers the Kurdish people who feel they deserve protection for fighting against ISIS and the Syrian rebels, yet the international community has yet to take action about the issue.


North America

Senate Passes Bill Protecting Same-Sex and Interracial Marriage

The Senate has passed legislation to preserve same-sex marriage protections in federal law. Now, it will go to the House where it is expected to be passed, and finally to President Joe Biden’s desk. The approval of this legislation shows a drastic and positive change in the U.S. towards the LGBT community. This decision repealed the Defense of Marriage Act and guaranteed protections for same-sex and interracial married couples if the Supreme Court ever decided to reverse its decision to protect them. The Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as between a man and a woman and was passed by the Senate in an overwhelming majority in 1996 and is extremely outdated.


A bipartisan group of five senators led by Senator Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay U.S. senator, spent 12 months working so Republicans would approve the proposed legislation. This effort began following the decision by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. This decision raised fears of the court overturning same-sex marriage next. After only 12 Republicans voted with Democrats in support of the bill, the group of senators added language to the bill related to religious liberty to appease the necessary 10 Republican Senator votes to avoid the bill being blocked. The bill protects same-sex and interracial marriage at the federal level if a couple ever moved to a state that doesn’t recognize the marriage.


Although the Supreme Court guaranteed the right to same-sex marriage in 2015, supporters of the bill argue the legislation provides more certainty to same-sex and interracial couples. Opposers of the bill argue it’s unnecessary as there are no challengers to the 2015 ruling. Others argue the religious protections in the bill don’t go far enough. Still, the legislation is on to the House and expected to be a quick process as the previous version was approved by 50 House Republicans and all House Democrats.

Canadian Government Reveals New Indo-Pacific Strategy to Confront China

The strategy announced this week by the Trudeau administration commits to a larger Canadian military presence in the Indo-Pacific region. This long-awaited strategy describes China as a progressively disruptive international power. China is proving to be a social and economic force that is increasingly focused on breaking international rules to accommodate its own needs. The Canadian government is promising to spend half a billion dollars over the span of five years to improve military and intelligence cooperation within the region. Cooperation is necessary to address crises facing our world like climate change, global health, and nuclear proliferation. Canada’s foreign policy strategy appears to be similar to approaches taken by its allies. Canada closely mirrors the United States in particular, which released its own vision for involvement in the region in February.


The two strategies differ in that Canada’s document includes text that states it will above all else protect the interests of its nation. Canada’s strategy document reflects lessons from international disputes that have driven the two countries apart in recent years. The investments the strategy discusses include strengthening Canadian infrastructure, democracy, and Canadian citizens against foreign interference. Canada’s allies in the Indo-Pacific region, Japan and South Korea, have anticipated this document as they have been campaigning for increased cooperation.


When the liberal government first came into office in 2015, it promised to develop a new approach to relations with China after years of tense relations under the former conservative government. Canada has struggled to find a solution to cooperation with the increasingly forceful China and its supreme leader Xi, who has rejected approaches taken by Western governments, specifically the government’s separation of powers. These defense and security promises included in the agreement are being made at a time when the Canadian military is short 10,000 members and is struggling with recruiting new ones. China’s embassy in Canada released a response to Canada’s new strategy accusing them of undermining peace and stability in the region.


South America

An Estimated 30 People Missing After Deadly Landslide in Brazil

After heavy rain, a landslide occurred alongside the BR-376 highway in the Brazilian city of Guaratuba. 54 members of a search and rescue team are working to help an estimated 30 victims. Although it is difficult to estimate how many potential victims there are since investigators do not know how many people were traveling in the 21 cars and trucks impacted by the landslide. Since Monday, two people have been found dead and six people have been rescued alive.


Some of the rescued victims have been identified and spoken to the media about the terror they experienced. Among the rescued victims was the Mayor of Guaratuba, Roberto Justus. Amidst continuing poor weather, the search and rescue teams have used search dogs and drones with thermal technology to find more victims. The situation for the firefighters and specialist rescue teams is precarious since the highway risks giving way due to the heavy debris. Moreover, a forecast of heavy rain in the next few days increases the risk of future landslides in the area. In nearby cities, heavy rain has caused flooding. Landslides in Brazil occur often and result in high casualties. This year alone, a landslide in the town of Petrópolis killed 200 people.


Sub-Saharan Africa

Unknown Aircraft with Explosives Drops Near Central African Republic Military Base

On Tuesday, authorities in the Central African Republic (CAR) began investigations after a low-flying fighter jet dropped explosives near a military base where Russian mercenaries work with the CAR military. The unknown aircraft dropped explosives early Monday morning near the Cotenaf Base in Bossangoa, which is approximately 200 miles north of the capital city, Bangui. Russian mercenaries responded by firing shots into the air. Information Minister Serge Ghislain, reported that the incident only caused material damage. It is still unclear where this fighter jet came from and who is responsible for this attack, but the investigation is still ongoing.

These Russian mercenaries work for a Kremlin-linked private military contractor called the Wagner Group. The Wagner Group has been working with the CAR government to combat rebel groups. Recently, the mercenary group has faced criticism from the United Nations for committing human rights violations, but Russian mercenaries continue to operate in Mali, Mozambique, and Libya.


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