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Weekly News Digest for November 5, 2021

Compiled by Alex Barrett, Trinity Gates, Dinah Gorayeb, Austin Myhre, and Charlotte Smith

North America

The U.S. Blacklists Israeli Spyware NSO Group

On Wednesday, the Biden administration blacklisted NSO Group, asserting that the company is complicit in selling spyware used by foreign governments to “maliciously target” the phones of dissidents, world leaders, human rights activists, journalists, and others. The Israeli company sells a system known as Pegasus, which can be implanted in smartphones and used for surveillance. According to the Department of Commerce, the NSO Group’s actions harm U.S. national security or foreign policy interests. The ban prohibits American firms from supplying or selling technology to the company and its subsidiaries. The decision marks a rare breach with Israel, one of the United States’ closest allies.

Asia and the Pacific

Myanmar Excluded From ASEAN Summit; U.S. Announces Investment

On Tuesday, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) began its 2021 summit. The summit will feature discussions within the Indo-Pacific bloc, which consists of 10 countries—Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. ASEAN will also invite foreign partners, including Russia, South Korea, and the United States. Notably, ASEAN excluded Myanmar from the summit, after its ruling military junta disregarded ASEAN’s once-agreed-upon roadmap to peace. On the first day of meetings, many leaders critiqued the current political situation in Myanmar.

The first foreign partner to address the bloc, U.S. President Joe Biden announced an investment of roughly $102 million in initiatives. That investment package designates $40 million for developing more robust health systems, $20 million for tackling climate goals, and a remaining $40 million for pandemic recovery and education-related loans. Although these investment efforts further the former U.S. President Donald Trump’s focus on China, President Biden seeks to counter China's economic and military influence by strengthening relationships between the U.S. and Indo-Pacific nations. President Biden’s appearance at the summit contrasts former President Trump, who only participated once during his four-year term.

Climate Fund Announce Climate Investments in Coal-Dependent Countries

On Thursday, the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) announced that India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and South Africa will receive the first investments of a larger multibillion-dollar pilot program, the Accelerating Coal Transition (ACT) program. Currently, these four countries account for 15% of coal-based emissions, but each nation emphasized respective goals for combating climate change.

The CIF's subsidiary ACT program will attempt to 'accelerate' developing nations' transition from coal to clean energy. To accomplish this goal, ACT will bolster countries' ability to manage energy transitions and repurpose or decommission coal assets independently. In addition, it will invest in creating economic opportunities for coal-dependent communities. The ACT program has been endorsed by the Group of Seven (G7) and is supported by financial pledges from Britain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, and the United States. Moreover, six multilateral development banks will offer these transitioning countries a comprehensive financial framework, including low-income loans and technical assistance.


Sudan Prime Minister Detained in Coup

Shortly after Sudan’s top general gained control of the state earlier this week, security forces detained Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in Lt. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s residence. This detention was framed in concern for Hamdok’s security, but General al-Burhan also cited that the coup was necessary for the nation's stability. The prime minister has since been moved and placed under house arrest in his own home. At least four people were killed, and 80 were injured in protests outside army headquarters following the coup. Pro-democracy groups have protested every day this week and have demanded a return to civilian rule. The military takeover was condemned internationally as the U.S. froze financial assistance to the government, and the U.N. Security Council called on the military to restore the civilian-led transitional government.

Anti-Government Coalition Forms Amid Fears of Ethiopian Civil War

On Friday, Ethiopian factions formed an alliance called the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces to topple Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and form a transitional government. The alliance builds on existing agreements between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), making up nine armed groups. The announcement follows Prime Minister Ahmed declaring a state of emergency after the TPLF seized towns central to Ethiopia’s main trade route to the Port of Djibouti. If the TPLF can gain control over the trade route, it could allow aid to reach the 400,000 people facing famine in Tigray.


Marine Le Pen Meets with Hungarian Prime Minister Ahead of French Elections

Last Tuesday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán welcomed right-wing French politician Marine Le Pen in Budapest. In his greeting, he remarked that “sovereignists” like the two of them are an “unavoidable force,” given their mutual anti-immigration stance and skepticism of the European Union. Ahead of the French presidential election, Le Pen faces low polling. Recently, she sought to garner support from like-minded European leaders such as Orbán and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

Last year, 16 right-wing populist parties signed an anti-EU declaration, claiming it a “tool of radical forces” in its supposed attempt to create a superstate. To build upon this sentiment and create a larger Eurosceptic community in the European Parliament, Le Pen’s National Rally party seeks further connections with Orbán’s Fidesz party, the Polish Law and Justice Party, and the Identity and Democracy group in the European Parliament. Recently, Le Pen’s advisor stated that the National Rally wants to form a new Eurosceptic coalition by the end of 2021 so that the faction gains attention in time for a 2022 ballot.

EU Court Fines Poland Over Judicial Disciplinary Reform

Last Wednesday, the court of the European Union announced that Poland faces a €1 million fine for the country’s recent judiciary reforms. Known as the “muzzle law,” the 2019 judicial disciplinary bill legislated by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) penalizes judges who question the legitimacy of the state’s judiciary system or the way judges are appointed. According to the EU court, Poland did not follow an order requiring the country to suspend its judicial disciplinary resolution until judges deemed it legal. After years of tension between Poland and the European Commission regarding the rule of law, this move is another attempt to apply financial pressure on Poland and coerce the country to negate its contentious judicial reforms. If Poland refuses to obey the order, the EU court will necessitate further judgment.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Indigenous People lead Ecuador Protests

In the early hours of October 26th, Indigenous communities started the most recent “paro nacional,” or national shutdown, bringing main transit routes to a halt in the countryside to mark the beginning of a day of protest against a hike in fuel prices. The protestors wanted to enter the presidential palace peacefully, but metal fences and police cars blocked the streets leading to the building.

Under pressure from Indigenous communities and legislators, President Lasso announced last week he was freezing the monthly increases of fuel prices, but fixed new prices slightly higher than expected would go into effect in October with petrol a fixed $2.55 a gallon and diesel $1.90 a gallon. Indigenous communities and other social collectives have been demanding conservative President Guillermo Lasso reverse the spike in fuel costs announced last week.

On Friday, President Lasso said in a message, “we have listened to you, the people, and also to political and social sectors to reach an agreement which brings us stability, in which the economy can grow and create jobs.” However, the Indigenous communities rejected the president’s announcement and said protests would go as planned.

Haitian Gang Leader Demands Prime Minister Resignation

Amid harsh fuel shortages, one of the most powerful gangster leaders has demanded Prime Minister Ariel Henry resign. The petrol shortages and blockages came following a devastating earthquake, the assassination of the president, and a wave of gang kidnappings, including the abduction of a group of Canadian and U.S. missionaries last week. The leader of the “G9” coalition of gangs in the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherisher, said in a radio interview that he would ensure the safe passage of fuel trucks if the Prime Minister resigned. A spokesperson for Henry’s office did not respond to requests for comment from news agencies.

Brazil Pledges to Cut Its Emissions by 50% By 2030

At the start of the COP26 in Glasgow, Brazil pledged to raise its climate commitments, vowing to cut 50% of its CO2 emissions by 2030. According to a study released last week, Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions rose 9.5% in 2020, and deforestation is the biggest source of the country’s emissions. The country’s Environment Minister Joaquim Leite stated, “the country would cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030,” and that Brazil would formalize a commitment to become “climate neutral by 2050,” a promise first made by President Bolsonaro in April of this year.

Middle East

OPEC and Russia Ignore Biden’s Push to Increase Oil Output

Authorities from OPEC and Russia ignored the Biden Administration’s push to increase oil production. On Thursday, OPEC and Russia decided to stick to their original plan to produce 400,000 barrels a day next month. This plan is in contradiction to many world leaders, who are dealing with the highest oil prices in seven years brought on by the collapse during the pandemic. Biden blames the surging prices on OPEC’s refusal to increase production; however, the group has refuted this, stating they carefully match output to meet demand. Forecasters expect the demand for oil to increase in the coming months as the international economy continues to recover. Yet, many are unsure if current production levels will be able to meet it.



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