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Weekly News Digest for September 3, 2021

Compiled by Kelly Dobso, Trinity Gates, Dinah Gorayeb, Austin Myhre, and Charlotte Smith

North America

Biden Administration COVID-19 Booster Plan Ignites Frustration in FDA Officials

The Food and Drug Administration faces internal tumult over the Biden administration’s decisions on when to administer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots. The organization struggles to collect and analyze data that will indicate the benefits of the booster before the September 20 deadline set by the administration. On Tuesday, two of the top FDA vaccine regulators resigned with one of them stating their concern over its lack of agency in the planning of the booster rollout plan. These resignations indicate disagreement among FDA’s staff and outside vaccine advisors who believe that they are not being included in the decision to offer booster shots to all adults, a decision several in the organization think to be unnecessary and premature.

Asia and the Pacific

U.S. and China Climate Envoys Meet Amid Tensions

Earlier this week, United States climate envoy John Kerry held talks with Japanese officials on climate change. Now, Kerry is in Tianjin, China, speaking with his counterpart, China climate envoy Xie Zhenhua. Kerry will urge China to move its peak emissions target earlier than 2030 commitments. However, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi publicly stated that poor U.S.-China relations could hinder cooperation on climate change. Furthermore, Yi emphasized that broader U.S. actions that treat China as a “threat and an adversary” put such cooperation at risk. At the same time, the Biden administration leaves former President Donald Trump’s tariffs on China in place and recently sanctioned Chinese officials.

Japanese Leader to End His Tenure After One Year in Office

After only one year in office, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced that he will withdraw from an upcoming leadership election for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and end his tenure. Suga’s announcement is not unprecedented, though; before former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s seven-year tenure, there were six prime ministers in six years. A longtime aide for his predecessor, Abe, Prime Minister Suga began his term with high approval ratings. However, public dissatisfaction with Suga’s handling of the pandemic, especially his decision to proceed with hosting the Olympics, tanked his approval ratings to roughly 30 percent. Along with the upcoming internal party election, Japanese voters will also vote on a new lower house of congress, an election that the LDP is widely expected to win.


Conflict Between Ethiopia and Tigray Fighters Reach New Heights

After nearly ten months of fighting between the Ethiopian federal army and Tigray rebel forces, the U.N. warns officials of the imminent famine threat, the worst famine situation experienced by the region in decades. USAID estimated that nearly 900,000 people are currently living in famine conditions, but an estimated 5.2 million people are at risk. All indications show that the situation will worsen. Many aid agencies already reported running out of supplies. In some regions, checkpoints and blockades led to delayed aid distribution. Earlier this week, USAID reported that Tigrayan rebels had looted an aid warehouse in the Amhara region. In addition, after the initial conflict between the government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), thousands are reported to have been killed and millions forced to flee to Sudan, adding to tension in the region.


The UK Allows Afghans Who Worked for the Government to Stay Permanently

On Wednesday, the Home Office of the United Kingdom announced that Afghan refugees who worked for its military and government could indefinitely stay in the country. Originally, the UK’s Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy -- where the government guaranteed 12 million pounds for education, 3 million pounds for healthcare, and 5 million pounds for housing -- accounted for five years’ residency of 8,000 eligible Afghan citizens out of the 14,000 evacuated. As part of the government’s “Operation Warm Welcome,” those citizens can permanently remain in the UK. Moreover, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins stated that the UK “will use every lever at our disposal” to make certain that the Taliban maintains its promise to uphold its commitments to eligible Afghans who were not able to leave the country.

Poland’s Court Tribunal Postpones Ruling on the EU Law Constitutionality

On Tuesday, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal postponed a ruling on whether EU law supersedes the Polish constitution and law until September 22, making this the fourth time the tribunal postponed the ruling. This decision continues to worsen the relationship between Warsaw and the European Union. In March, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki filed the case, which conflicts with rules set by the European Commission that state the precedence of EU law over national constitutions. However, the current government of Poland demands further confirmation from the tribunal about whether the EU has the right to dictate certain national governmental processes, such as how judges are appointed. The tribunal president Julia Przyłębska stated that she adjourned the meeting due to a procedural motion filed for the Polish ombudsman Marcin Wiącek, who requested that one of the judges be dismissed from the hearing. Beyond the external conflict between the EU and Poland’s government autonomy, the Law and Justice (PiS) party control the tribunal, thus leading to questions of whether tribunal judges have been appointed fairly.

Latin America and the Caribbean

​​Paraná River Hits its Lowest Water Levels Since 1944

The Paraná River, the second-longest river in South America after the Amazon River, provides 40 million people with drinking water and is key to commercial shipping and fishing in the country. The Paraná River flows from southeast Brazil through Paraguay and Argentina and merges with the Paraguay and Uruguay rivers to form the Río de la Plata Basin. However, environmentalists fear that the drought has been recently made worse by deforestation and climate change, which has, consequently, been causing problems for energy production and endangering the livelihood of fishers in the region. On Wednesday, Brazil’s Vice-President Hamilton Mourão warned that “the drought could also lead to energy rationing” in Brazil, besides hampering the transport of goods between South American countries. The low water level is due to a record drought in Brazil, where the river begins, specifically in the midwestern and southern regions. As a result, water reservoirs, including the giant Itaipu dam, are at their lowest levels in many years. Brazilian authorities have issued an emergency for five states: Minas Gerais, Goiás, Mato Grosso do Sul, São Paulo, and Paraná.

Corruption Proceedings Against Peruvian Politician Start

On Tuesday, August 31st, corruption proceedings against opposition politician Keiko Fujimori started with a preliminary court hearing, weeks after conceding defeat in her third unsuccessful presidential run. Election victory in the 2021 race against Pedro Castillo would have meant freedom from prosecution for the duration of her term on charges that arise from a sprawling corruption case involving the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. Fujimori is accused of taking illicit money from Odebrecht to fund her failed presidential bids in 2011 and 2016; however, she continues to deny all allegations. Nevertheless. prosecutors have announced they would “seek a jail term of 30 years and ten months for Fujimori” on charges of money laundering, organized crime, obstruction of justice, and making false declarations. Keiko Fujimori has previously served pre-trial detention twice, totaling 16 months behind bars until her release last year. The accused also include Fujimori’s husband, American Mark Vito Villanella, and other members of the Popular Force Party, the previously dominant party in Peru’s parliament. Under conditions for Fujimori’s release from pre-trial detention, she is not allowed to leave Lima or contact witnesses in the case.

Venezuelan Opposition Parties Ends Election Boycott

On Tuesday, August 31st, Venezuelan opposition parties announced that they would participate in the regional and municipal elections in November, reversing ground from their boycotts in recent years. The announcement came only a few days before the opposition, and the government of current President Nicolás Maduro is expected to meet in Mexico City to continue negotiation out of Venezuela’s political standoff. The opposition parties grouped in the “Union Platform” and led by Juan Guaidó boycotted previous elections, including Maduro’s presidential election of 2018, arguing that Venezuela lacks the conditions for free and just contests.

Middle East

Palestinian Protest in Gaza Met with Violence from Israel

Hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza staged nightly protests along the Israeli fence to protest this week against Jerusalem’s 14-year blockade on the territory. On September 2, Israeli forces responded to the protests with riot dispersal tools and live fire, killing one Palestinian and wounding 15 others including a child. The Israeli military claimed protesters were setting tires on fire and throwing explosives.


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