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Weekly News Digest for February 17th, 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

Cyclone Gabrielle Causes Devastation Across New Zealand

The New Zealand government declared a national state of emergency on Tuesday after Cyclone Gabrielle brought widespread flooding, landslides, and power outages to the northern region of the country. New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins described the cyclone as “the most significant weather event New Zealand has seen this century.” This is only the third time in New Zealand’s history that a national state of emergency has been put in place. The state of emergency declaration has allowed the government to provide direct support to the affected regions and provide additional resources to the communities within them.

The country was first hit with intense rainfall that forced the mass evacuations of nearly 2,500 people. The storm continued to develop, causing widespread flooding and road closures that left communities isolated and without telecommunications. As the cyclone made its way down the east coast of the North Island, entire towns were cut off. Farms, bridges, and livestock were washed away; and homes were inundated, leaving many stranded on rooftops, unable to be reached by rescue helicopters. According to the National Emergency Management Agency, the storm primarily hit the North Island, which includes New Zealand’s most populous city, Auckland. Military officials also reported that at least 200 members of the Royal New Zealand Navy, Army, and Air Force were involved in the response, though they found difficulty in navigating the storm. While the full impact of Gabrielle remains unclear, Prime Minister Hipkins noted that, “what we do know is the impact is significant and it is widespread.” Reports indicate that at least four individuals have been confirmed dead in the aftermath of the cyclone, and thousands more remain displaced.

Central America and the Caribbean

Nicaraguan Political Prisoners Freed and Sent to U.S.

Authorities released 222 political prisoners from a Nicaraguan prison and sent them to the United States last Friday. The freed prisoners were all critics and opponents of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who has been in power without interruption since 2007. Since the 2018 Nicaraguan protests against Ortega, he has systematically imprisoned his political opponents, whom he labels “traitors,” in his ongoing push to silence any political dissent. The U.S. State Department welcomed the freed prisoners and the decision to deport them to the United States., saying the decision had been made “unilaterally” by the Nicaraguan government.

However, experts are unsure whether Nicaragua’s move to release the prisoners is a sign of potential political change in Nicaragua or a sign that Ortega is tightening his control in the country. Before deporting the prisoners, Nicaragua’s Congress unanimously voted in favor of a constitutional change that allows “traitors” to be stripped of their nationality. Nicaraguan judges also sentenced five Catholic priests to prison this week on charges of conspiracy and spreading false information, including Bishop Rolando Alvarez. Alvarez is one of the priests who mediated peace talks and negotiations between the government and the opposition in 2018. This persecution of Catholic priests is just the latest attack on the Catholic Church under Ortega’s command. Alvarez was sentenced to a 26-year prison term after he refused to board the plane to the United States with the other prisoners. Alvarez claimed he declined to board the plane because if he did so, it would be equivalent to admitting to a crime he never committed. Ivan Briscoe of the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit research group focused on resolving conflicts around the world, said of Ortega’s latest actions, “I think the message is very clear: On my land, there will be no opposition.”


Nicola Sturgeon Announces Resignation as Scotland’s First Minister

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who led the Scottish government for more than eight years, announced her resignation on Tuesday. Sturgeon claimed this decision was necessary not only for the preservation of her home life but also for the future of her party. Sturgeon led the nation through the Covid-19 pandemic and has been a key leader in the push for Scottish independence, which cemented her influence on the makeup of politics in the United Kingdom.

Sturgeon will remain in office until the Scottish National Party, which controls Parliament, chooses a successor at the party conference next month. Many experts speculated that she resigned due to the renewed controversy regarding transgender legislation that allows anyone over 16 to change gender designation without the need for a medical diagnosis. Despite the controversial reform dominating the headlines of Scottish politics in recent weeks, Sturgeon firmly denied that the legislation and any other short-term political setbacks were a factor in her decision to step down. Kate Forbes, a former finance secretary, has been eyed as a potential successor in the days following Sturgeon’s announcement.

Middle East and North Africa

Assad’s Attempt to Rejoin the Global Stage

Following the aftermath of the horrific earthquake that struck northern Syria, many civilians are in desperate need of aid materials. However, because President Bashar al-Assad used chemical warfare against civilians, much of the globe had placed sanctions on Syria, preventing aid from easily reaching the nation. Many of these sanctions were hard-hitting. In 2019, the United States implemented one of the harshest sanctions on Assad’s regime, which prevented all American individuals and companies from engaging in economic activities that could aid in Assad’s war efforts. Even the Arab League suspended Syria's membership, while many Middle Eastern countries also limited trade with the nation.

While the world supported the decision to punish the regime, the current humanitarian crisis has pushed many countries and organizations to reconsider. Initially, the Security Council only permitted the United Nations to provide aid through a singular border crossing in northwest Syria, but the recent crisis forced the UN to work with Assad to open more border crossings. However, Assad would only allow for the opening of more border crossings if the UN agreed to move all aid through Syria’s capital, Damascus. Human rights advocates protested the move, arguing that sending various forms of support through the capital would legitimize Assad’s power in the country and help his administration gain more control internationally. Furthermore, they posited that sending the aid through the capital would allow the regime to restrict access to aid. Activists also pointed to the fact that many Middle Eastern nations that had shunned Syria at the beginning of its civil war were now working with Assad to coordinate aid relief since facilitating negotiations with the Syrian president allowed them to reenter the international stage. Professor Daher, a Swiss-Syrian researcher from the European University Institute spoke on how the reliance on Assad has allowed his administration to “reaffirm its sovereignty, its centrality, and to instrumentalize this tragedy for its political purposes.”

While some human rights activists vehemently oppose the UN’s decision to coordinate with Assad, some argue it's necessary. Often it's difficult to send money to countries that the United States and other larger nations sanction. Because people cannot readily transfer money and supplies, many Syrians suffering from the impacts of the earthquake cannot receive help in a timely manner. Having to work with Assad’s regime does mean other countries will have to make temporary concessions on its sanction policies, but it is unclear whether or not the world will once again isolate Syria after the humanitarian crisis subsides.

North America

The Michigan State University Shooting Raises Questions on Campus Security

A gunman killed three students this week at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. Students and faculty sheltered in place for several hours until the gunman killed himself. Five students were also severely injured. All victims were students at the university. In the years following the Columbine High School shooting, elementary, middle, and high schools have implemented several security precautions, including metal detectors, new security systems, increased screening for visitors, and installation of locks on classroom doors. However, these precautions have not been implemented in universities, leaving them relatively vulnerable.

Law enforcement discovered the Michigan State University gunman was a 43-year-old man with no connection to the university. Students recalled feeling safe hiding from the shooter in their dorm rooms where a student ID is required to enter each floor of the dorm. However, many places on campus, such as the student union and classrooms do not require a student ID for entry. Card-access systems on campus are generally an agreed upon safety practice but some people worry that limiting access on campus will take away the openness of universities.

On Wednesday, dozens of students, state lawmakers, and other residents gathered in front of the Michigan State Capitol to call for gun control. During the demonstration, a student of Michigan State named Maya Manuel instructed the students to sit in front of the capitol building in straight lines with their legs crossed. Manuel explains that she wanted this peaceful demonstration to show that she and her fellow classmates have practiced these lockdown drills since they were children. The investigation into this shooting will likely take the FBI weeks. In the meantime, U.S. President Joe Biden has implored Congress to act.

Trump May Face Charges For Interference with the 2020 Election in Georgia

The United States House Select Committee on the January 6th attack reported fresh evidence that former President Trump was at the center of efforts to overturn election results in Georgia. Evidence has emerged that just weeks after losing the 2020 election, President Trump called the head of the Republican National Committee with a plan to keep himself in office. The plan called for Trump supporters in states that the president had lost to act as if they were official Electoral College delegates. Over the last two years, a team of Atlanta prosecutors have conducted criminal investigations to determine whether Trump’s team interfered with elections in Georgia. With this part of the case against Trump now entering the indictment phase, the new question is whether or not Mr. Trump will face charges. According to legal analysts, Trump is vulnerable to considerable risk in two areas of the case. The first is the calls he made to state officials saying he needed to find 11,780 votes. The second area, which emerged recently, is his direct involvement in recruiting a slate of fake presidential electors in the weeks after the 2020 election. The district attorney of Fulton County, Fani T. Willis, is expected to attempt to charge multiple other defendants, including Mr. Trump, with conspiracy.

South America

Bolsonaro Will Return to Lead Political Opposition in Brazil

After weeks of speculation from the media, former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced plans to return to Brazil as early as next month to help lead the opposition against current President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The announcement came just over a month after a mob of Bolsonaro’s supporters stormed government buildings in Brasilia following his defeat in the 2022 presidential election.

In his first interview since leaving Brazil for Florida in December of last year, Bolsonaro expressed his desire to unite the opposition against Lula’s leftist government. The former president laid out a list of objectives and policies that he hopes will resonate with the Brazilian public. Bolsonaro said he would work with his backers in Brazil’s National Congress to push “pro-business” programs. His proposed agenda also included fighting abortion, gun control, and other policies he says run counter to family values.

This week, Bolsonaro remains in the United States on a diplomatic visa. While staying in the home of a close friend near Kissimmee, Florida, Bolsonaro shocked curious locals who were surprised to see him perusing the aisles at a local Publix supermarket and enjoying a meal at KFC. Despite his relaxed attitude, Bolsonaro faces an uncertain future and multiple government investigations. The country’s supreme court has named him in a criminal probe as responsible for the destructive riots that followed his defeat. In addition to the January 8 probe, the media and courts bombarded Bolsonaro with allegations of misconduct that took place during his tenure in office. In response, the former president maintained his innocence and denied wrongdoing. Given his controversial past, Bolsonaro’s return to Brazil has the potential to exacerbate an already volatile political situation.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Sahelian Military Government Plans Partnership in Face of Growing Insecurity and Isolation

The military governments of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea have planned a partnership to help combat the increasingly prominent position of Islamic insurgent groups in the region. They also plan to discuss a promotion of trade and cooperation amongst themselves. The three countries, suspended from and sanctioned by the regional intra-governmental organization the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), have turned to each other for economic and military support. The partnership also hopes to serve as a unified front that pushes for the removal of sanctions from ECOWAS and the re-entry into the regional economic bloc.

The leadership of all three countries acceded power via coup, spurred by disappointment in the previous governments’ ability to control the increasing insecurity within the countries. The military leaders who seized power promised to swiftly end the insurgent threats and to return to civilian rule, but they have had trouble delivering on this promise. The number of violent deaths linked to Islamic militant groups has almost doubled since the beginning of a string of coups in the region. Similarly, after Burkina Faso’s first of two coups in the past three years, fatalities involving the insurgent groups increased by 69%. The violence is spreading throughout the region, extending into peripheral countries, including Benin and Niger.


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