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Weekly News Digest for February 20, 2021

Compiled by Kelly Dobso, Trinity Gates, Stephanie Cannon, Michael Banks, and Jessie Bowers

Breaking News:

Kurdistan Worker’s Party Executes 13 Turkish Hostages

Last week, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) executed 13 Turkish soldiers and police officers held captive in northern Iraq. The PKK took the Turkish citizens hostage five or six years ago after peace negotiations between the two had failed. The PKK is a designated terrorist group by the United States, European Union, and Turkey. However, in a televised address, President Erdogan blamed the United States and our alliance with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish group that assisted in fighting ISIS in Syria, for the 13 deaths. Since then, Secretary of State Antony Blinken asserted the PKK is responsible for the deaths and reaffirmed the United States’ alliance with Turkey.

The African Union Selects a Female Economist to Lead its Reform for the First Time

Following the 34th summit of the African Union (AU), the organization made two historical decisions to propel the AU into the future. Leaders gathered to elect six commissioners to the AU secretariat, a vital part of the organization. The new commissioners’ election signaled two things: how serious the AU is about putting together a strong team to drive institutional reforms and its strong commitment to implementing gender parity.

Members of the organization appointed Rwanda’s Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa to the deputy chair responsible for the implementation and management of reform at the organization. The appointment piqued international interest because of African leaders’ commitment to push for gender equality and parity. One significant gap that Dr. Nsanzabaganwa will be focusing on is the creation of a safe working environment for women to combat work-based sex and gender-based discrimination.

Canada to Unroll Massive Gun Reform Bill

A sweeping gun reform bill introduced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will pass. It includes a ban on over 1,500 assault-style firearms and municipalities’ option to ban handguns. The bill will also prevent handguns from being transported outside of the municipality’s borders. Another proposed change is creating “red flag” and “yellow flag” laws to promote community engagement where people can petition courts to remove a firearm or suspend their license. Trudeau also asserted that the country would implement a buy-back gun program in the following months.

North America

U.S. Life Expectancy Declined by a Year Due to Pandemic

Within the first six months of 2020, life expectancy in the United States declined by a whole year and now lands at 77.8 years. It is the worst decline in life expectancy since World War II. There is also a striking racial disparity: the Black and Latinx population’s life expectancy dropped by 2.7 and 1.9 years, respectively. As vaccinations progress, the death rate will lower and slowly fix the gap caused by the pandemic.

Asia and the Pacific

First Fatality in Myanmar’s Protests

The 20-year-old woman who police officers shot in the head during protests last week has died after receiving treatment in a hospital. She is the first casualty since protests began last month. Police utilized tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition to combat demonstrations, with protests refusing to end.

China Unveiled Death of Four Soldiers in Border Clash with India

Chinese authorities revealed that four of its soldiers died in the Himalayan border dispute against Indian troops last June. Twenty Indian soldiers died, making it the deadliest encounter between the two states in forty years. The two countries continue to blame the other side for the dispute occurring.


Angola: Security Forces Kill Protesters in Lunda Norte Province

Human Rights Watch has reported that Angolan security forces indiscriminately fired at protesters who had peacefully gathered to demand better public services such as water and electricity supply in the diamond-rich town of Cafunfu. The Angolan police reported that six people died, more than twenty sustained injuries, and sixteen detained after officers foiled what they called an armed rebellion organization by the Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement. The security forces provided no basis for this assessment or details of the circumstances that led officers to fire live rounds. As of now, Angolan police chief, Paulo de Almeida, has continued to reject calls for an independent investigation into the alleged excessive use of force against protesters who he has claimed to have been a secessionist group that tried to break into the police station in Cafunfu.


A Bill to Reinforce French Secularism Moves Forward to Senate

The French National Assembly moved forward on a bill to halt Islamic terrorism while upholding and focusing on “Republican” and French national values and will head to the Senate for a final vote. The bill consisted of 51 articles and more than 300 adopted amendments that worked to stop a rise in Islamic extremism. This bill’s changes will include limiting religious establishments from accepting foreign funds and banning ‘virginity certificates.’

Increased Fears Across Europe Over Virus Variants

An increased amount of the South African and Brazilian variants recorded along the German border has encouraged some European countries to alter their vaccine rollout plan and COVID-19 response. In France, they have increased vaccine distribution among front-line workers, increased vaccine rollouts in regions where possible, and a 6 pm curfew to curb any further spread of the variants. Other countries like Germany have considered harsher approaches and have imposed border checks and a mandated quarantine period for those entering the Czech Republic and Austria. Vaccine shortages and delays in vaccine rollout and deliveries have caused upset in most governments and concerns on whether or not hospitals will be able to handle the rise in variant virus cases.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Disputes over Presidential Term Limits Trigger Unrest in Haiti

Thousands have taken to the streets of major cities across Haiti demanding the resignation of sitting President Jovenel Moïse since Wednesday of this week. Moise, who insists his term as head of state began in February 2017, is being asked to step down under the premise that he has served the five-year term limit that came into effect upon his predecessor Michel Martell’s resignation in February of 2016. Allegations of electoral fraud cause the year-long delay, which eventually caused the annulling of the 2015 election, which Moïse won. Since entering office, Moïse has seen waves of corruption accusations and violent anti-government protests made no better because his administration failed to hold an election in October 2019. His failure to comply with his opposing party members is prolonged Haiti's long-running political turmoil.

Delayed Results Lead to Rising Tension in Ecuador

A close race for second and third place in Ecuador’s presidential election is causing unrest on Quito’s streets after the Ecuadorian Electoral Council has halted a requested recount to determine who will be on the ballot for the head of state in April. Banker Guiellermo Lasso and indigenous activist Yaku Perez place second and third respectively in the first round of elections to determine who will be on the ballot against Rafael Correa on April 11. All candidates focused on how to kick-start the economy and help workers and the hundreds of thousands who have lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. Supporters of Perez have undertaken a cross-country march protesting the paused election results.

Brazil to Vaccinate the Entire Adult Population in a City Against COVID-19

Brazil’s Butantan Institute selected the city of Serrana in the southeastern state of Sao Paolo in a study that will test the effect of COVID-19 infection rates. Brazil has been hard-hit by the pandemic since it began and is nearing a total of 10 million COVID-19 cases. The country currently has the most coronavirus-related deaths in the world after the US -- 242,090 according to Johns Hopkins University -- and ranks third in the world for cases. The campaign estimates to vaccinate 30,000 people-approximately ⅔ of the city’s population- in just three months.

Middle East

Dubai Princess Claims Father is Holding Her Hostage

Princess Latifa argued in a secret video to the BBC that her father, the ruler of Dubai, has held her hostage since she attempted to flee the city in 2018. In her video, she describes her living situation and says all of her doors are barred shut, and seven police officers guard the house at all times. It has received attention from the U.K., and the United Nations has announced an ongoing investigation.

Biden Ends Trump Administrations Designation of Houthis as Terrorist Organization

In the latest rebuke of the Trump administration’s policies, Biden has ended the designation of Houthis as a terrorist organization. The policy was one of Trump’s last moves as president and caused controversy regarding possible aid blockage to the extremely food insecure and vulnerable population in Yemen. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated the reversal is “a recognition of the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen,” and the UN declared the policy change would “provide profound relief to millions of Yemenis.”


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