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Weekly News Digest for March 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

Clashes Between Police and Supporters of Former Pakistani PM Erupt Across the Nation

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, Imran Khan, accused the Pakistani government of ‘trying to get him out of the way’ in order to contest the upcoming elections in the country last week. These claims come following a two-day clash between supporters of Khan and Pakistani police forces outside of the former Prime Minister’s home in Lahore. During the rally, protesters hurled rocks and bricks while also using stolen batons to threaten officers. In turn, police forces used tear gas and water cannons to try to subdue the mob, resulting in dozens of arrests and injuries. Confrontations between Khan’s supporters and police were also reported in other major cities, including Karachi, Islamabad, the garrison city of Rawalpindi, Peshawar, and Quetta.

Following the crackdown, police paused their efforts to arrest Khan for failing to appear in court last week on graft charges, which allege that Khan purchased and sold gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries while he was in office. That same day, Khan emerged from his home to meet with supporters who had faced tear gas and police retaliation through the night. During his appearance, Khan stated that he was ready to travel to Islamabad on March 18 to face his arrest warrant but claimed that the police did not accept the offer. Legal proceedings against Khan first began after he was ousted from office in a parliamentary vote early last year. Since then, he has held multiple nationwide protest rallies, during one of which he was shot and wounded in a failed assassination attempt, demanding a snap election.

Central America and the Caribbean

Honduras Cuts Diplomatic Ties with Taiwan in Favor of China

Honduran President Xiomara Castro announced her intention to pursue diplomatic relations with China on Tuesday, a move that would sever Honduras’s ties with Taiwan. China claims that the self-ruled, democratic island of Taiwan is part of its territory and refuses to maintain or establish diplomatic ties with any country that supports an independent Taiwan. Over the last two decades, China has invested more than $130 billion in Latin America and is the region’s second-largest trading partner. As China continues to invest in the region, recognition for Taiwan has dwindled. China is currently financing a dam in Honduras and has similarly leveraged trade and investment opportunities to convince other countries to trade ties. Now only eight countries in Latin America still support Taiwan, leaving the island with formal diplomatic ties in just 13 countries.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin welcomed Honduras’ choice to support the One China policy openly, declaring that the choice is “in line with the general trend of historical development and the trend of the times.” Honduras joins 181 countries that have established diplomatic relations with China while Taiwan’s allies continue to fight for recognition on behalf of the small island state. The United States, one of Taiwan’s most committed allies, has continuously strengthened its relationship with Taiwan. Both Democratic and Republican leaders have called for tough stances against China. Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry has criticized Honduras’s decision to support China, warning that China has “no intention to sincerely promote cooperation that will benefit the well-being of the people of Honduras.”


French President Forces Through Pension Bill

French President Emmanuel Macron pushed through legislation regarding the retirement age without a full parliamentary vote on Thursday. This legislation proposes raising the retirement age to 64 from 62 but has been widely contested. The French Senate approved the bill early Thursday, and it was scheduled to be sent to the National Assembly for a vote, but its approval was not guaranteed. Macron’s Renaissance Party does not have a parliamentary majority, and the center-right Republicans, who previously supported this bill, became increasingly hesitant to offer continued support as nationwide protests against the legislation grew. Macron thus resorted to using special constitutional powers to push the plan through.

Opposition lawmakers now have 24 hours to file a no-confidence motion to prevent the passage of the bill and have given the public indication that they intend to pursue this motion. Macron’s move to push the legislation through parliament comes amid two months of major demonstrations and intermittent strikes throughout France, indicating clear public opposition. The bill is also widely unpopular among the parliament majority. If the no-confidence motion is rejected, the bill will become law. If the no-confidence motion passes, Macron’s prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, and her cabinet will be forced to resign, and the bill will be rejected. Experts fear this move may lead to an escalated action to dissolve the National Assembly, which could trigger new parliamentary elections. Macron still fiercely supports the bill and believes that this raise in retirement age is critical to France’s economic security in years to come.

Middle East and North Africa

Iran and Saudi Arabia’s Diplomatic Renewal

Following a recently brokered agreement in Beijing, Iran and Saudi Arabia have decided to reopen embassies and renew diplomatic ties between one another within the next two months. The Middle Eastern nations suspended connection with each other in late 2016, after Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shia cleric. Saudi Arabia executed the cleric for “inciting violence and disobeying the ruler.” While there have been attempts to reconcile the two countries in past years, only after negotiations in Beijing with the two nations have the countries reignited relations. After the execution, many Iranians protested outside the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and even Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, vowed to make Saudi Arabia answer for its actions. The dispute led to both nations cutting ties, leading the world to fear potential escalation between the hegemons.

For decades, both Iran and Saudi Arabia have backed opposing sides in proxy wars throughout the Middle East. However, in light of the recent diplomatic renewal, experts now believe that improved diplomatic relations could help mitigate the polarization between the two nations.All three countries gained from the agreement. Even the country brokering the deal, China, gained credibility and legitimacy in the region. From the deal, Iran gains respite from U.S. isolation, and Saudi Arabia gains a possible exit from the Yemeni Civil War. For some time, Saudi Arabia has been seeking a way to leave the war, and renewing its ties with Iran provides it with a perfect motive.

The agreement seems like a promising benefit for the entire Middle East, as when the two countries are in contention, many factions supported by outside nations may also find themselves at conflict. While many are optimistic about the results of the agreement, there is no guarantee how far the relationship will extend.

North America

New Executive Order Attempts to Decrease Gun Violence Across the U.S.

U.S. President Joe Biden visited Monterey Park, California, this week to reveal a new executive order focused on implementing gun safety procedures. There was a mass shooting in Monterey Park in January 2023, resulting in 11 deaths at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio during a Lunar New Year Celebration. Even with the bipartisan gun bill President Biden signed last summer, there have been 115 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2023 as of March 14.

Biden’s executive order does not make a new law. Instead, the executive order includes enforcement mechanisms for previous laws that have failed to prevent mass shootings. Enforcement mechanisms include ensuring that gun dealers comply with existing background check laws. The executive order also tries to improve the transparency and reporting of gun owners who have previous violations. Biden hopes this executive order will lead to more restrictions on guns and subsequently, a decrease in gun violence across the country.

Once Again, The Future of Medical Abortion Access is at Risk

Eight months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a new lawsuit is attempting to ban a commonly used medical abortion pill called mifepristone. Texas Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk is currently deliberating after hearing from lawyers from the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine anti-abortion plaintiffs and the FDA. If Judge Kacsmaryk rules in favor of the anti-abortion activists, an initial injunction will be able to at least temporarily remove mifepristone from stores.

The mifepristone pill is the first step of a two-pill procedure that the FDA has approved for over 23 years. This ruling will affect not only states where abortion is restricted, but also where it is still legal. If the court rules in favor of the anti-abortion group, every person's access to medical abortion will be affected, even in cases of rape and unviable pregnancies. The lawsuit against mifepristone discussed the negative health effects including cramping, bleeding, and extreme pain. The anti-abortion group also argued that the FDA never sufficiently tested the drug's safety. However, lawyers for the FDA argued that cramping and bleeding are normal effects of terminating a pregnancy. When Judge Kacsmaryk makes his final decision on this ruling, the future of abortion access across the country is at risk of being heavily restricted.

South America

Argentina Struggles with Soaring Inflation

According to Argentina’s statistics agency, prices rose by 6.6% in February, bringing the yearly inflation rate to a staggering 102.5%. This marks the first time in over three decades that the inflation rate has exceeded 100%, placing the inflation rate among the highest in the world. Recent figures show that despite substantial government effort, the price of many consumer goods has more than doubled since 2022. February marked the thirteenth month that Argentina reported a monthly price increase of over 4%. This unfortunate milestone comes after years of economic difficulty for an increasingly impoverished Argentine population.

Despite recent alarming metrics, Argentines have long felt the effects of rising inflation. High prices affect almost every aspect of life in Argentina—from the cost of school supplies to construction materials and food. The food and beverage sectors, for example, saw a dramatic 9.8% price increase between January and February. Local media attributed the sharp hike in food costs primarily to the rising cost of meat, which spiked by almost 20% in the same period. This sudden spike in meat prices promises wide-ranging cultural implications for a population that consistently ranks among the top five in global meat consumption.

The recent data comes at a politically volatile moment for President Alberto Fernández, who faces a difficult election in October. National polls rank rising inflation as the top concern for the country’s population. To control inflation, the government implemented a price control scheme known as Precios Justos, or “Fair Prices,” which has frozen the price of over 1,700 consumer goods until the end of this year. In addition, the nation’s central bank recently introduced a new 2,000-peso note that will help consumers keep up with price increases. However, economists remain doubtful that these measures will curb the growth of inflation anytime soon.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigerian Elections Mired by Technological Issues and Accusations of Fraud

The lead-up to Nigeria’s elections on February 25th carried high expectations, with voter-turnout expected to be high, the outsider Labor Party leading the polls, and for the first-time, no past military leaders or previous heads of state were among the candidates. These conditions led to rising concerns surrounding insecurity and the ability of voters to travel safely to polling stations. However, when polls opened on election day, hopes of a smooth process were soon dismissed as stations were mired with technological issues and under-equipped staff. Meanwhile, turnout not only disappointed its high expectations, but ended up being the lowest in Nigeria’s electoral history.

Biometric authentication, intended to facilitate the quick transmission of results from polling stations, met many delays and results were slow to be processed. Opposition parties have claimed that these delays have come as a result of falsifying the results. Additionally, several stations had yet to open before polling was supposed to end, and although the results were supposed to be available by Sunday, some stations weren’t expected to begin voting until the day after election day. It wasn’t until Wednesday, March 1, that the All People’s Congress(APC) candidate, Bola Tinubu, was declared the winner.

Labor Party candidate, Peter Obi, and his campaign team have said that they will contest the results in court. Furthermore, both opposition parties have called for the resignation of the electoral commission’s head, as well as a rerun of the election. Outside observers have also questioned the freeness and fairness of the election, but have not echoed the opposition’s claims of deliberate fraud. The opposition parties were granted a court order for access to electoral materials and have one week to submit a formal court case against the election.

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