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The World This Week: February 25, 2019

Asia and the Pacific

The United States has extended the tariff deadline that was set to go in place March 1st. President Donald Trump announced the extension via Twitter, but did not give details about how long the extension would last. Trump cited “substantial progress” in the ongoing trade negotiations being held in Washington, DC as the reason behind the extension. Asian stocks were sharply up after the tweet, and the Dow has rallied over 150 points at the time of press. The tariff jump was expected to increase the standard tariff on Chinese imports from 10% to 25%, likely leading to a sharp increase in prices for American consumers and decreased consumption of Chinese products.

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has vowed the United States will no longer adhere to what he described as an Obama-era policy of “praying” and “cowering” before North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The comments came during an interview on Fox News ahead of the heads of state meeting between the US and North Korea in Hanoi this week. Trump has taken a softer approach to North Korea, which is considered a rogue states by most countries due to its aggressive posturing and unauthorized nuclear weapons program. President Trump drew controversy over comments eight months ago after the first historic summit between the two leaders after he declared North Korea was “no longer a nuclear weapons threat,” contradicting the assessments of his own intelligence community and the international community. Trump has indicated a willingness to withdraw from the Korean peninsula as part of a potential agreement between the United States and North Korea regarding nuclear weapons development and other long-standing issues between the two. The move is considered by many observers and by South Korea to be playing directly into the long-term plans of North Korea, which has long sought reunification with the south.

Europe and Central Asia

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported ‘pressure on public employees’ and ‘misuse of state resources’ after monitors have condemned indications of vote-buying in Moddova’s general poll this past Sunday. This former Soviet republic lies between the EU and Ukraine. Politics include both pro-Russia and pro-EU parties which frequently clash with one another. The controversy comes after reports that voters in the Trans-Dniester region were bussed to other areas to cast votes. Parties have accused one another of bribing voters from region. With almost all votes counted, the country’s electoral committee said the pro-Russia Socialist Party, allied to Modovan President Igor Dodon, received 31% of the vote. However, the Acum received 26% and the Democratic parties received 24%. These parties will now enter negotiations to form a government. 

All data entering Tajikistan is said to pass through a government-controlled spigot called the Unified Electronic Communications Switching Center. This system operations under the aegis of the communications service, which is run by Beg Sabur, a relative of the president by marriage. An hour before Muhiddin Kabiri held his latest lie YouTube broadcast, which is dedicated to the developing situation with the Netherlands-based activist Sharofiddin Gadoyev, who was allegedly abducted and spirited away to Tajikistan earlier this month, clients of mobile service provider, Tcell, were unable to get online. Another provider, Intercom, blocked access to series like WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and even Gmail. For many people, the quality of the internet signal only returned more or less to normal in the early morning following Kabiri’s broadcast. Access was restored to the most popular social media websites were unblocked at the end of February 23rd. Although, many news sites were still blocked. Internet providers insist that these collapses of service occur because of factors outside their control. Restricting access to the internet is a method regularly deployed in Tajikistan to prevent the dissemination of what the government deems politically sensitive information or commentary. 

Latin America & the Caribbean

This weekend Maduro’s forces clashed with aid workers, civilians, and the Brazilian military at Venezuela’s borders. Maduro continues to refuse humanitarian aid shipments and expanded border closures. Blockades now exist at the Colombian & Brazilian borders, and maritime traffic from Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao is shutdown to the state of Falcon. Maduro cut diplomatic ties with Colombia on Saturday over aid disputes. Vice President Mike Pence will address Guaido and the Lima Group Monday this week to discuss breaking these blockades. 

Cuban citizens rushed to the polls Sunday to accept or deny a draft constitution. The referendum, if passed, would grant individual property rights, recognize a presumption of innocence, and ban discrimination based on sexual preferences and gender-identity. The new constitution would also establish presidential term limits but preserves the one party government. Poll results will be announced Monday.

Middle East and North Africa

The UK on Monday announced they are banning all members of Hezbollah and are labeling the group as a terrorist organization. While the country already assigned terrorist designations to their external security group in 2001 and their military in 2009, they are now adding Hezbollah’s political wing to the list. The ban will come into effect on Friday pending parliamentary approval.

Iran’s revolutionary guards have accused some of their “enemies” of trying to disrupt their missile launches. The Guards’ aerospace commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh stated that although it was foiled, someone tried to sabotage Iran’s missiles so that they would explode in midair. The commander did not name any specific suspects in his accusation, only stating that they were “enemies” of Iran.

Saudi Arabia appointed their first female ambassador, Princess Reema bint Bandar, as ambassador to the United States.  Reema is a former business executive and philanthropist that lived in the United States for more than 20 years. She will be replacing Khalid bin Salman as ambassador to Washington. Khalid, who has been accused of helping to cover up Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, will take over as deputy defense minister.

North America

This year, Canada switched their system of sponsoring immigrant family members from a lottery to first-come-first-serve. Applicants prepared to submit their requests at the moment the website opened to try to get one of the 20,000 approvals for their family members. According to reports of people using the website, it shut down almost immediately. The window of opportunity for immigrants in Canada to bring their family members over to them closed in less than 11 minutes. Canada has used a lottery system for the past two years. Officials maintain that there was no malfunction with the website, expressing their sympathy for those who are frustrated that they couldn’t bring their family members over this year. Others criticize the fairness of the system, saying “…it should be a more open system. It shouldn’t depend on your internet connectivity.” Perhaps frustration with this first-come-first-serve system will make Canadian immigration official reconsider how they handle family immigrations.

In the US, a federal judge in Texas ruled that an all-male military draft is unconstitutional. The ruling is a declaratory judgment, not an injunction, so the judge did not demand that the government change the Selective Service process in a specific way. This follows the Supreme Court’s ruling against the ban on gay marriage and the Pentagon’s decision to open all military roles to women in 2015. US District Judge Gray Miller says that men are not necessarily more physically fit for all roles in the military, that any restrictions based on gender “must substantially serve an important governmental interest today.”

In Mexico, authorities stop a migrant caravan from entering Tapachula, Chiapas. Officials cited security concerns over denying 1,000 Central American migrants entry to the town. They were also turned away from nearby Huixtla by municipal police. Federal authorities attempted to detain the migrants when they crossed into Mexico illegally over the Rodolfo Robles International Bridge, but were prevented from making any arrests when some of the migrants began throwing rocks. Federal authorities detained twenty migrants on the Tapachula-Huixtla highway after the group tried to defend themselves from police with makeshift weapons. This denial of entry by towns that have previously served as rest stops for migrant caravans signals a shift in attitude by Mexican citizens towards migrants, becoming more hostile as some blame the migrants for the increase in crime in these territories.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Sudan’s President Omar Al Bashir swore in a new prime minister on Sunday amidst renewed calls for him to resign, two days after announcing a year-long national state of emergency. The new appointment of Mohamad Tahir Ela follows an intense government crackdown on continuing protests against the leader’s three-decade rule. President Al Bashir dissolved the cabinet and provincial governments and pledged to bring in technocrats to help end the economic crisis, the main motivator for the demonstrations. Ela, who is the former governor of the agricultural state of Jazeera was sworn in alongside Defense Minister General Awad Ibnouf, the new vice president.

Cabinet ministers in Botswana have proposed lifting the four-year ban on big game hunting in order to kill and can elephants for pet food. Botswana is home to nearly 130,000 elephants and has one of the most popular tourist destinations for wildlife enthusiasts. However, tension over the elephant population has grown due to crop damage and other local destruction. Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who took office last year, had asked the committee to re-examine the hunting ban, which was introduced in 2014. There is not a current timeline on the potential for reconsideration of the ban.

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