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Weekly News Digest for March 5, 2021

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

Breaking News:

Protests in Myanmar Reach Deadliest Day

Following the early February military coup in Myanmar, citizens around the country have been protesting the new government administration. On March 3, at least 38 people died during clashes between protestors and government police, bringing the death toll to over 50 people killed since February 1. Despite the protests remaining largely peaceful, police have used tear gas, rubber bullets, and live rounds to disperse crowds in cities throughout the country.

In a show of military force, Myanmar’s government flew fighter jets over the city of Mandalay in the early hours of March 4. As the military continues to use excessive force against protestors, the demonstrations will likely continue to grow in size and danger. As countries around the world continue to condemn the military takeover, there has still been little official action by any government to intervene.

Retaliatory Strikes in Syria

On Thursday night, February 25th, the United States ordered airstrikes in eastern Syria against Iran-backed militias in response to the continuing threats to Americans and other personnel there, according to John F. Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary. The attack killed a Filipino contractor and wounded six others, including a Louisiana National Guard Soldier and four American contractors. American officials stated that President Joe Biden specifically chose the area to avoid too many casualties and any diplomatic blowback to the Iraqi government; however, it destroyed multiple Iranian-backed facilities located at the border. The airstrike responded to the attack on the Erbil airport on February 15th, which a group called Awliya al Dam, or Guardian of the Blood, claimed responsibility for and were also responsible for two bombings against U.S. contractors convoys in August.

Brazillian Hospitals Reach Breaking Point while Bolsanaro under Fire

Hospital ICUs are reaching their limits across Brazil, as health experts and state officials beg the government to impose stricter lockdown measures to reduce coronavirus transmission. Eighteen of Brazil's 26 states and one federal district have ICU's at over 80% capacity, federal and state data show. Nine of those are at the edge of collapse at around 90% capacity. Vaccine rollout has also been slow throughout the country. The Brazillian health ministry reports that just 3% of the country's population have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and only 1% have received two doses.

The Bolsanaro administration is under fire for its comments regarding restrictions to stop the curb. His comments come only a day after Brazil saw a record rise in deaths over 24 hours. As a result of the lack of federal restrictions in the wake of increasing health system crises throughout the country, some cities and states have imposed their restrictions. The explosion of cases has been attributed to the spread of a highly contagious variant of the virus thought to have originated in the Amazon city of Manaus.

North America

U.S. Sanctions Russia for Poisoning Alexei Navalny

On Tuesday, the Biden administration placed sanctions on seven Russian officials and 14 government groups for the poison and imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Sanctions originated from Treasury, State, and Commerce departments and included visa restrictions and dual-use exports. The move follows the European Union’s issuance of sanctions in a bilateral effort to hold Moscow accountable.

Texas and Mississippi Lift Mask Mandates, COVID-19 Restrictions

Texas Governor Greg Abbott rescinded his prior executive orders for COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday. He announced that all businesses would open 100% starting March 10, and mask mandates will no longer be in effect. Gov. Abbott cited missed employment opportunities and citizens facing financial hardship for reasons to lift restrictions despite warnings from health officials. Shortly afterward, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves announced the same changes to public health policy starting March 3.

Asia and the Pacific

China Seeks to Interfere with Hong Kong Elections

On March 3, the Chinese government introduced plans for laws that would make it difficult for any politician who opposes Beijing’s policies to be elected to office in Hong Kong, prohibiting candidates who are not loyal to the Communist Party from holding positions in the government. The laws are expected to be during the “Two Sessions” that will begin on March 4 and continue through the weekend.

These planned laws continue China’s policies to keep Beijing critics from having voices in Hong Kong. In Summer 2020, the Chinese government issued a national security law that granted authorities more responsibility to arrest proponents of democracy. These arrests sparked protests throughout Hong Kong and led to scores of Hong Kong residents fleeing to Taiwan.


COVID-19 and its Effect on FGM/C

After decades of international and domestic progress on reducing the number of young girls and women subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM/C), Amref Health Africa’s research has shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the usage of FGM/C. The actual scope of the pandemic’s overall effect and how much it has set back the movement against FGM/C is not certain; however, in the early months of the pandemic, the UNFPA estimated that an additional two million more cases of FGM/C could occur over the next decade. This figure is on top of the three million young girls and women that are already at risk of undergoing the practices of FGM/C annually throughout Africa.

In Kenya, respondents from the three counties with the highest rates of FGM/C said that the pandemic led to an increase in these practices due to school closure. With the closure of about 50% of the nation's schools, people stay home for longer. Another primary reason for the increase in FGM/C in correlation with COVID-19 is the loss of livelihoods associated with job losses and business closures, thereby increasing girls’ and women’s vulnerabilities to violence. Similarly, civil society organizations have a nationwide inability to provide services and respond to urgent cases because of the pandemic, leading to a worsened situation for women, girls, and the survivors during the pandemic.

$4B in Conflict Gold Hits International Markets

In a press release on February 22, 2021, The Sentry published a warning as international gold prices are soaring to new heights, more than $4 billion in conflict-affected or high-risk gold from certain countries in Central or East Africa as it continues to flow into international markets. As detailed in the report, conflict gold is primarily smuggled to neighboring countries such as Uganda, Rwanda, Cameroon, Kenya, Chad, and Burundi and then exported to Dubai before transported into global markets.

Refiners and traders who deal with conflict gold have faced few if any, financial or legal implications for contributing to armed conflict of pillaging, despite the United States, United Nations, European Union sanction regimes, industry auditing programs laws that directly address these issues. Secondly, policies in conflict regions hinder or completely preclude miners’ ability to register legally, secure property rights, or have protection, thus creating major obstacles to developing the responsible artisanal mining sector. Government corruption only further exacerbates these challenges. Finally, there is a complete lack of financing. Financing for responsible, conflict-free mining in East and Central Africa is severely lacking, making mining cooperatives vulnerable to illicit actors who provide pre-financing.


Italy Blocks AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine Export to Australia

In collaboration with Italian officials, the European Union has blocked the export of AstraZeneca vaccines set to go to Australia after continued frustration and delayed vaccine rollout in Europe. According to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this decision affects 250,700 doses and is based on the sentiment that Australia is a “non-vulnerable country” to Covid-19 under EU regulations. Australia’s good grasp of COVID-19 and the U.K.’s exceedingly fast vaccine rollout and decrease in related hospitalizations has increased pressure on the E.U. after a very slow vaccine distribution.

Alternative For Germany Put Under Government Surveillance

Earlier this week, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a far-right party, was put under government surveillance after suspicion of trying to undermine the democratic constitution. This action follows the BfVs (Germany’s domestic intelligence system) two-year investigation into AfD’s political platform after racial rhetoric, including anti-semitic and anti-Islam sentiments, was received harshly by the public and members of the government. This decision to follow AfD more closely is only Germany’s latest action to stay in line with the government’s tough stance against the neo-Nazi ideology and far-right groups.

Latin America and the Caribbean

El-Salvador Governing Party to Maintain Power

Preliminary results in the El Salvadorian election indicate that the Nuevas Ideas (New Ideas) party, and its coalition partner, Gana, look on course to win 56 out of 84 seats in ParliamentParliament. With 80% of the votes counted, the results are a blow to the left-wing FMLN party and the right-wing Arena parties, which have dominated Salvadorean politics for decades. It is the first time Nuevas Ideas, which was only registered as a party in 2018, has contested a legislative election and could lead to promising things for Salvadorean president Nayib Bukele in confirming new Supreme Court justices and an attorney general. Bukele’s success and high approval ratings in his brief term as president are attributed in part to Nuevas Ideas’ success in the 2021 election. However, some are concerned this will give the executive branch too much control.

Thousands Cross U.S.-Mexico Border

Asylum seekers who have been waiting to enter the US for over a year have begun crossing the border earlier this week. The Biden Administration had announced it would suspend Migration Protection Protocols program, known as MPP, and while it has suspended new enrollments, problems remain. Biden and his administration continue to expel asylum seekers arriving at the border on misleading public health grounds and have made no provision for the 30,000 whose asylum cases were unfairly terminated after sending them to Mexico. Likewise, asylum seekers still report experiencing violence and extortion by Mexican police, immigration agents, and criminal groups near the border.

Middle East

Pope Francis Visits Iraq

Pope Francis will make a four-day trip to Iraq in order to reassure Iraq’s Christian community and foster inter-religious dialogue. The Pope plans to meet Iraq’s more revered Shia Muslim cleric, say a prayer in Mosul, and celebrate Mass at a stadium. Despite the pandemic, Pope Francis affirms Iraqi Christians could not be “let down for a second time” after a rocket attack on a base hosting U.S. troops on Wednesday, February 3rd. The Pope hopes to achieve peace with political and religious leaders and states he is “coming as a pilgrim, as a penitent pilgrim, to implore from the Lord forgiveness and reconciliation…”. The Pope will first meet Iraq’s prime minister and president and continue his journey to meet bishops and other clergies in the capital called Our Lady of Salvation.

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Responsible for Operation to Kill Jamal Khashoggi

According to a U.S. intelligence report released on Friday, February 26th, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince approved the operation that killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Since 2017, the Saudi Arabia crown prince controlled the kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, although the Saudi Arabia Embassy in the United States denied the findings. Jamal Khashoggi was a Saudi Arabia citizen who lived in Northern Virginia and worked for The Washington Post, often criticizing the Saudi Arabia monarchy. In 2018, Saudi Arabia blamed his death on “rogue” security officials without the crown prince’s knowledge.

Although President Biden initially promised retaliation against the Saudi Arabia government, the administration announced that it would forgo sanctions and any major penalty against the Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday afternoon. However, many within the Democratic and Republic parties are disappointed with the decision, and the Biden administration has received intense criticism from its response.



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