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Weekly News Digest for March 24th, 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

Rahul Gandhi Found Guilty of Defamation Against Narendra Modi

An Indian court in the state of Gujarat found opposition leader Rahul Gandhi of the Indian National Congress party guilty of defamation on Thursday. During an election campaign speech in 2019, Gandhi asked the crowd why ‘all thieves have the common surname Modi’, implying that the country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, was a criminal. In court, Gandhi noted that he had made the comment as a general attempt to highlight the corruption present across India and not as an attack against any one individual or community. However, government officials rebutted that the remark was also slander against all of those whose surname was Modi, which is associated with the lower rungs of India’s traditional caste hierarchy. As such, the Gujrati court sentenced Gandhi to two years in prison, which will hinder his chances of contesting in the 2024 general election. Additionally, Indian law mandates that a convicted lawmaker cannot contest elections for six years after the end of their jail sentence. In order for Gandhi to avoid disqualification, he must secure an order from a higher court suspending his conviction, an act in which representatives from the Congress party have announced that Gandhi will soon attempt.


Modi’s administration has often been the point of criticism for its attempts at censorship against all that oppose the regime. Subsequently, Congress Party leader Manish Tiwari, who is also a supreme court lawyer, argued for the country’s defamation laws to be decriminalized because they restrict free speech. Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the Aam Aadmi party (Ordinary Man’s party), has also openly disagreed with the verdict, claiming that the decision is part of a conspiracy to eliminate non-BJP leaders and parties.


Central America and the Caribbean

Crackdown on Gangs in El Salvador Raises Human Rights Concerns

Lawmakers in El Salvador renewed the state of emergency that suspends certain civil liberties for the 12th time last Wednesday as the government continued its fight against gangs. The state of emergency declaration allows for arrests without warrants, government access to private communications, and allows police to detain suspects without giving them access to a lawyer. El Salvador’s President, Nayib Bukele, began the crackdown on gangs in the country a year ago and has since has imprisoned over 65,000 people. Salvadorian news outlets have praised Bukele’s crackdown, but fear human rights and democracy are now threatened.


Intrusive police raids have become the norm for many Salvadorians. Officers can demand strip searches to check for affiliation tattoos and can search through private homes. Nearly one in six people who have been imprisoned in El Salvador are innocent, and residents are often forced to gather evidence to prove they are not gang members in order to ensure their safety from police. Human Rights Watch also reported that Salvadorian jails suffered from “severe prison overcrowding” as a result of the sharp increase in arrests. These critiques prompted Bukele to build a new “mega prisons”, intended to hold 40,000 convicted gang members. However, Bukele’s administration has silenced critics and journalists, leaving experts unsure of the conditions inside the prison. José Miguel Cruz, a Salvadoran gang expert at Florida International University, claims that the gang crackdown has been a political success for Bukele. In September Bukele announced that he would run for a second five-year term as President despite El Salvador’s constitution that bans presidents from consecutive terms. Cruz believes Bukele will use the popularity he has amassed during his crackdown to assert himself as an authoritarian leader, leading many experts to be skeptical of the democratic future of El Salvador.


Europe

Protests Continue in France as Macron Tries to Mend Relations with the Public

France experienced its first major day of protests since President Emmanuel Macron pushed through legislation increasing the retirement age without a full vote on Thursday. Last week, there was a failed no-confidence vote, and President Macron’s government remains in office.

This Thursday was the ninth day of nationwide protests, and Macron’s decision to push through the legislation has only further united the labor movement and reenergized protests. Subway lines are running at half capacity or less in Paris, and oil refineries and fuel depots across the state were either delayed or shut down completely. Nearly 12,000 police officers were deployed across France to quell the protests. Macron’s refusal to change course despite the unpopularity of the retirement law has reignited the level of disconnect that citizens feel with the state and its institutions.


Northern Ireland Trade at Standstill after Brexit Trade Compromise is Rejected

The Democratic Unionist Party has announced it would reject the Windsor Framework, a compromise agreement aimed to please the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and streamline trade between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Last month, this agreement was presented with much hope by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The Windsor Agreement suggested forgoing customs checks for goods entering Northern Ireland from the U.K. and giving the Northern Irish assembly the autonomy to ask London to veto future rules imposed by the EU.


The decision to reject the deal raises fears of political impasse in the region and of general instability. Current protests from the DUP come as the British and Irish governments mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, while the DUP was the only major political party to oppose the Good Friday Agreement all those years ago. Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for a more far-reaching rewrite of the trade protocol and has also urged Conservative lawmakers to join the DUP to oppose the deal.


Middle East and North Africa

Kuwait Reinstates Previous Parliament

Kuwait’s Constitutional Court recently released a decision voiding the results from the September 2021 parliamentary election. The Court stated that it would reinstate the previous legislative body for the time being. This decision comes at a time where Kuwait’s political tensions remain high. Since last year, the nation has struggled to maintain a stable, continuous government. Three months after the previous election, Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf al-Sabah resigned, causing the Crown Prince, Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, to take over his duties for a temporary period. Because of the new government’s inadequacies, the Crown Prince called for early elections and dissolved parliament. The fragility of the government stems from disputes over a debt relief bill in which the Kuwait government will forgive personal loans, while also increasing wages and social assistance for Kuwaiti citizens. Because the parliament couldn’t agree on a method to restructure the country’s debt and reduce its dependence on oil revenue, the Prince instead chose to dissolve the government and proceed with an election.


During the election, citizens overwhelmingly voted for an Islamist bloc, which accused the current government of fraud, misallocation of funds, and graft. Despite the success of the bloc, the recent court order prevented the elected officials from assuming their roles. The decision remains contentious as the Islamistic bloc rallies against the decision. The delays in resolving the economic issues is proving to be a growing problem for Kuwait. While the country is endowed with the world’s sixth largest oil reserves, its failure to diversify and reinvest in the economy has caused stagnation, leading Kuwait to continue to deplete its general reserve fund, while still trying to finance its current welfare and economic projects.


North America

Risk of TikTok Ban Due to Threat of National Security

With the continued discussion of TikTok being a threat to national security, there is finally a Congressional hearing being held to discuss the app which has 150 million users in the U.S. Chief Executive of TikTok, Stou Chew, is testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. This hearing will be a chance for lawmakers to ask Mr. Chew questions about his relationship with the Chinese-owned company, ByteDance.


The U.S. government has previously banned TikTok from federal devices. With the growing concern of Beijing officials having access to American users' data, the Biden Administration is demanding the Chinese owner sell the app. However, China is opposing these demands to sell TikTok, which is making the Biden Administration more inclined to ban the app. At the state level, more than two dozen U.S. states and some colleges have put bans on TikTok recently. The broader effect of this TikTok dispute is that China and the U.S. are even more divided over technology and national security.


Potential Changes to Canadian Immigration Policies

For the first time in U.S. President Joe Biden's Presidency, President Biden traveled to Canada to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss the influx of migrants at an unofficial Canadian border crossing. Roxham Road in Quebec has recently been a major source of entry for migrants who enter Canada from the U.S. This crossing is so widely used because migrants who use it are able to be processed, detained, and then taken to Montreal where they are able to work and receive benefits while awaiting the processing of their application. Canadians have seen 40,000 migrants enter their country in the past year and are now experiencing similar immigration problems that the U.S. has faced.


The 2002 Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S. allows Canada to send asylum seekers who enter at a regular crossing back to the U.S. immediately. In practice, this means migrants can cross at any unofficial crossing along the 5,517-mile border. The deal Prime Minister Trudeau is now drafting with President Biden works to change this agreement and its leniency. Many Canadians are urging Prime Minister Trudeau to close the unofficial Roxham Road crossing and have the agreement changed to send any asylum seekers back to the U.S. no matter which crossing they use. Many experts and officials have speculated that in order for the U.S. to alter this agreement with Canada, Canadian officials will likely agree to assist U.S. officials with regulating the U.S. Southern border and potentially taking some refugees back to Canada.


South America

Police Thwart Plot to Harm Brazilian Officials

On Wednesday, Brazil’s Federal Police released a statement announcing their discovery of a plot to kidnap and assassinate numerous public officials throughout five states. Across the country, the federal government dispatched 120 officers to protect targeted officials. The Brazilian government also served 24 search-and-seizure warrants and issued 11 arrest warrants to capture all of the suspects. Police believe the attackers had planned a coordinated strike meant to be executed simultaneously throughout the country.


In a separate social media post, one senator, Sergio Moro, claimed that attackers also targeted his family. Moro believes the attack was retaliation from one of Brazil’s most notorious gangs, the First Capital Command (PCC). The PCC is the most prominent criminal organization in Brazil. The PCC members are known to be involved in international drug trafficking and money laundering. Moro previously held the position of justice minister, where he led the transfer of the First Capital Command’s leader and almost two dozen gang members to federal prison. The possible attack on Moro worries the Brazilian government about the impact the assassination attempts will have on future judicial rulings.


These developments highlight a fragile Brazilian political system that faces repeated attacks and the constant threat of organized crime. It is unclear whether Lula’s government has the strength or political capital to formulate a response to the pressing issues.


Sub-Saharan Africa

Blinken Pledges Increased Aid Following Visits to Niger and Ethiopia

Two weeks after French President Emmanual Macron toured central Africa, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken followed suit, traveling to Ethiopia and Niger. These visits have expressed the West’s commitment to engaging with the African continent and countering the increasing influence of China and Russia within the region.


Blinken began his trip in Ethiopia, where he met with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, Demeke Mekonnen. During the conflict in the northern state of Tigray, the Biden administration criticized Addis Ababa for humanitarian abuses during the war, and threatened “aggressive action” in the form of harsh economic sanctions on the federal government. During Blinken’s visit, the U.S. seemed to change their tone, reinforcing their partnership with Addis Ababa, emphasizing holistic reconciliation, and pledging $331 million in aid. Following this, Blinken made a statement declaring that war crimes were committed by all parties in the conflict. Blinken also acknowledged the steps already taken toward fully implementing the peace agreement but said “there’s a lot to be done” in order for relations between the two countries to return to normal.


Niger would be the next stop for Blinken, making the first visit by a U.S. Secretary of State to the Sahelian country. Niger stands as a bastion of democracy and stability in a region racked by Islamic insurgencies and military coups. With Russia’s growing influence in the Sahel, especially through the mercenary Wagner Group’s relations with the military governments of Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger has become an important ally for the U.S. and the West. During his visit, Blinken announced $150 million in humanitarian assistance to Niger and its Sahelian neighbors.


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