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Weekly News Digest for October 13th, 2023

Compiled by Sara Anis Ali, Grey Cohen, Alex Hsu, Meagan McColloch, Hayes Orr, Quinn Phillips, Zoe Shepherd

Edited by Sara Anis Ali, Hayes Orr, Quinn Phillips, Zoe Shepherd, Niamh Dempsey

Asia and the Pacific

Japan Moves to Dissolve Unification Church

On Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that the government will dissolve the Unification Church after a yearlong probe into the religious group. The Unification Church is a religious organization in Japan and South Korea which had extensive ties to former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Since the murder of the former prime minister, the religious group has gotten a lot of attention. The man who murdered the former prime minister, Tetsuya Yamagami, had cited Abe’s involvement with the Church as his primary motive for the assassination. Yamagami blamed the Church for brainwashing his mother into bankrupting his family. He alleged that the Church coerced his mother into giving them around 100 million yen ($720,000), a parcel of land, and the house where she and her family lived, resulting in her declaring bankruptcy shortly after. Yamagami believed that Abe supported the Church using his position in the government and assassinated him for it.

Yamagami’s motives and story generated a large amount of sympathy online, and after the assassination, public opinion turned against the Unification Church. Since then, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has launched an internal investigation into connections between its members and the Church.

They discovered that 180 lawmakers had interactions with the Church. The investigation also uncovered the Church engaging in financially damaging donation solicitation, and past lawsuits forced the Church to pay up to 20 billion yen ($134 million) in compensation to around 1,550 victims. Culture Minister, Masahito Moriyama, states that the Unification Church violated civil law by “deviating from the intended purpose of a religious corporation.” Under Japanese law, the government can dissolve a religious group if the government can prove repeated malicious and illegal acts at the organizational level.

The new revelations about ties between LDP lawmakers and the Unification Church have damaged the government's reputation. Following the announcement on Thursday, Prime Minister Kishida has promised that LDP members have thoroughly cut ties with the Church. The now-notorious Church seems to be headed for dissolution after losing backing from its biggest political supporters.


EU Divided Over Support and Funding for Israel and Palestine

Since fighting began on Saturday, multiple European leaders have expressed their support for Israel in the wake of Hamas’ deadly attack in southern Israel. United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has offered to provide diplomatic, intelligence, or security support to Israel upon request, while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, “Germany stands steadfastly by Israel’s side.” Similarly, in France, President Emmanuel Macron condemned the attacks and claimed to have held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Following a surge of support for Israel from multiple European countries, the European Union’s executive arm announced the suspension of aid to all Palestinian territories on Monday. Oliver Várhelyi, the European Union commissioner for enlargement, stated a total of €691 million was under review to be withheld from Palestine. Following this announcement, Várhelyi shared his support for Israel in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, claiming, “The scale of terror and brutality against #Israel and its people is a turning point. There can be no business as usual.” The commissioner’s announcement has received pushback from several ministers, including Spain’s Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares, and Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn who both expressed reservations and questioned the legal basis ofVárhelyi’s decision.

However, on Tuesday, the EU contradicted Várhelyi’s statement, stating that the payments had not been suspended but were instead under review. Officials emphasized that the review only applies to development funding and not to humanitarian aid. However, EU states still have the ability to provide their own funds to Palestine. For instance, Germany announced that it would be suspending its aid to the Palestinians, while countries like Luxembourg and Spain are continuing to distribute aid amidst the conflict.

Middle East and North Africa

Civilians Caught In Crossfire Following Hamas Attack

On Saturday, Hamas launched a deadly attack on Israel, killing more than 1,000 people and taking at least 100 hostages. The assault marks a level of violence against Israel unseen for decades. In response to Hamas’s assault, the Israeli military has begun airstrikes on Gaza, so far killing more than 1,500 Palestinians. Israel has further implemented a blockade on the city to prevent Hamas members from escaping. Because of the current blockade and airstrikes, many Palestinian civilians living in Gaza have been cut off from electricity, water, and other necessities.

In a bid to amplify the intensity of attacks on Hamas and target any of its operations, Israel has ordered residents to leave so the military can conduct a ground invasion. Israel has given residents 24 hours to leave the area, but given the current blockades and large population in Gaza, evacuating has proven difficult for Palestinian civilians.

The militant group responsible for the attacks, Hamas, was founded in 1987, as a retaliation against Israel’s control over Palestinian lands. As time progressed, Hamas gained popularity politically, but also sized parts of the Gaza Strip. The terrorist organization’s underlying message was to liberate Palestinian lands, and it is willing to use violence to achieve this goal. Hamas stated that the recent attack was roused by Israel’s construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank, and by “the desecration of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem” which referred to Israeli forces storming al-Aqsa mosque twice during the month of Ramadan. Regardless of the justification for the recent attack, the future seems to only hold more violence, against both Palestinian and Israeli citizens.

North America

U.S. President Biden’s Response to the Conflict in Israel

The current Israeli conflict has seen the United States taking an unwavering stance in support of Israel. President Biden, in a statement from the White House, emphasized that "we stand with Israel," signaling a clear message of solidarity. This was reinforced by the U.S. government's condemnation of Hamas's actions as terrorism. President Biden, along with Vice President Kamala Harris, held discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, assuring him that the U.S. response to the ongoing events would be swift and overwhelming. This commitment underscores the deep and longstanding U.S.-Israel alliance. To bolster Israel's defense capabilities, President Biden announced additional military assistance, including ammunition and missiles to replenish the Iron Dome. Simultaneously, the Department of Defense has taken strategic measures by deploying the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the eastern Mediterranean and increasing the presence of fighter aircraft in the region.

The urgency of the global crisis has prompted a push within the Republican party to quickly elect a new Speaker, enabling Congress to pass vital legislation, including emergency funding for Israel which includes support for the Iron Dome missile defense system. The situation in Congress has been complicated due to the lack of power given to interim Speaker Patrick McHenry. As of now, the GOP-selected Representative Steve Scalise has withdrawn from consideration for the speakership, due to his inability to unite his party. The Republican party remains in chaos with no clear choice for the new speaker and many looming decisions to be made.

The conflict in Israel has also brought to light the complexities of the situation, with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan disclosing that U.S. citizens are among the hostages taken by Hamas. In response, the U.S. government is actively working with its Israeli counterparts to share intelligence and deploy experts to advise and coordinate efforts for hostage recovery. Additionally, Sullivan pointed out that Iran is "complicit in this attack, in a broad sense," highlighting Iran's long history of funding, training, and supplying Hamas.

The tragic conflict has taken a toll on American citizens, with at least 27 reported dead and 14 remaining missing after being kidnapped by Hamas. The United States faces the difficult task of navigating this international crisis while safeguarding its own citizens and upholding its commitments to its allies in the region.

South America

Colombians Suspected of Assinating Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate Murdered in Jail

Last weekend, Ecuadorian authorities confirmed that six Colombian inmates, all suspects in the murder of the country’s anticorruption presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio earlier this year, were killed in a prison in Ecuador. The six men were being held inside Litoral Penitentiary, Ecuador’s largest prison and also one of its most dangerous. Ecuador’s government condemned the prison killings and in a message on social media, President Guillermo Lasso promised that there would be “neither complicity nor cover-up” in determining who killed the men.

The presidential candidate, Fernando Villavicencio, a prominent journalist-turned-politician was assassinated on August 9, 2023, as he was leaving a campaign rally in the nation’s capital, Quito. Though he was not considered a front-runner, his assassination sent shockwaves across the small nation and reminded its people of the surge in crime afflicting Ecuador. Violence in Ecuador, a historically calm country relative to its troubled neighbors, has surged in the past year as foreign drug traffickers have converged on what they see as an open market for their products, resulting in a concerning uptick in drug trafficking and violent killings. Since the six men suspected in the assassination were the only ones killed, the attack was likely targeted. As of now, Ecuador’s prison authority has reported that "an event occurred inside" the prison without offering any further details. The subsequent investigation will be a major test of the country’s judiciary and the government’s ability to protect national sovereignty in the wake of potential interference from international criminal organizations.

Central America and the Caribbean

UN Sanctioned Kenya Peacekeeping in Haiti

The United Nations voted last week to approve the deployment of a Kenyan security team to Haiti in an effort to stabilize the country’s rampant gang activity. One year ago, Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry asked for the international community’s support in combating gang violence. Haiti’s escalating gang activity has prevented many children from attending school and has incapacitated the government’s ability to hold elections since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021. The UN Security Council voted in favor of the resolution drafted by the United States and Ecuador, with stipulations that the security response will last one year and undergo a review in nine months. Kenya volunteered 1,000 trained security officers who will be supported by troops from Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Antigua and Barbuda, and the U.S. vowed to invest over $200 million.

However, the security response mission has faced pushback. Kenyan lawmakers demanded the troop deployment must be voted on by the Kenyan Parliament, where experts believe it will face opposition from politicians. Haiti is also cautious of the troops after Amnesty International voiced its concern over the Kenyan police’s history of excessive use of force. Moreover, Haiti has historically been subject to mishandled peacekeeping in their country. The UN’s 2004-2017 mission to stabilize Haiti reintroduced Cholera to the island. The U.S. has also intervened politically in the country at various points in the 20th century. Furthermore, the resolution was not supported by China or the Russian Federation, who abstained from the vote stating it was rushed and would be ultimately ineffective. Despite these concerns, Haitian officials are hopeful that the Kenyan support will restore some sort of stability to their political institutions and the country at large.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Liberian Sleepy Joe Contests Soccer Superstar in Liberian Elections

On October 10, Liberians headed to election sites to cast their votes in Liberia’s first presidential election since the departure of United Nations peacekeeping forces in 2018. The incumbent, George Weah, once again finds the biggest threat to his position in office in Joseph Boakai (nicknamed “Sleepy Joe”), the former Liberian Vice President who lost to Weah once before in 2017. Boakai’s campaign focused on Weah’s underperformance as head of state, referencing stalled economic growth and the failure to combat corruption. Weah appealed to Liberians to give him more time to address these issues.

George Weah got his start in Liberian politics in 2014 when he was elected to Liberia’s Senate. George Weah may be known to many for different reasons though; in the 1990s Weah was an international soccer star, stacking up awards and recognition while playing with teams such as Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City. While Weah’s life had become international, his focus remained domestic, and the memory of his childhood in war-torn Liberia led him to first contest the presidency in 2005. Although unsuccessful, Weah stayed in politics and eventually received the opportunity to lead his country in 2017. His term had some successes, such as the establishment of free education and the construction of hospitals. Still, those successes remain in the shadow of his disappointments.

Joseph Boakai has had a 40-year career in Liberia’s politics. He served in Former President Samuel Doe’s regime as Agriculture Minister before a 15-year-long hiatus that ended when he served as Vice President to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Boakai served alongside Sirleaf to lead Liberia through 12 sustained years of peace following years of brutal civil war. He ran for president following the conclusion of Sirleaf’s 12 years in power but lost to George Weah in 2017. Now, he hopes to return to the executive branch, but he has been criticized for his political ties with warlord Prince Yormie Johnson, a political alliance that the warlord also formerly shared with Weah.

Liberia’s democracy has endured since the end of its civil war in 2003 and while the campaign season has seen peace, spurts of violence near the election have claimed two lives. Results for the election have yet to be released, but analysts believe the election will end in a run-off, as neither candidate is expected to receive the 50 percent plus one vote minimum required to secure the office. Although election watchdogs have reported orderly elections, Boakai has claimed that any attempts at manipulating the election would lead to the “end of the country,” a grim promise given the troubled history of Liberia.


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