Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens during a weekly Senate Luncheon press conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens during a weekly Senate Luncheon press conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

The World This Week: September 30, 2019

The Middle East and North Africa

Egyptian pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel Fattah was rearrested this week amid a new wave of crackdowns by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Fattah was one of the leading voices in the 2011 uprisings against then-president Hosni Mubarak and spent 5 years in prison for his protest activity. This latest crackdown has resulted in the arrests of over 2,000 people in the last month. A lawyer representing Fattah, Mohamed al-Baqer, was arrested at the police station waiting for an interrogation of Fattah to begin. Lawyers, according to the source who reported the incident, are supposed to be immune to punitive legal action while representing a client, just like judges. El-Sisi has dismissed international concern over the crackdown, including a statement by the UN regarding the arrests of peaceful protesters. 

The bodyguard of Saudi King Salman was murdered by one of his friends after a “personal dispute” according to Saudi authorities. General Abdel Aziz al-Fagham reportedly got into an argument with Mamdouh bin Meshaal Al Ali, after which Ali left the house in Jeddah. He returned later with a gun and opened fire, killing Gen. al-Fagham and injuring several others. Tributes on social media call Gen. al-Fagham a “guardian angel.” Gen. al-Fagham served as a bodyguard for the current Saudi King Salman, and for King Abdullah before him. 

Houthi rebels in Yemen provided “evidence” for their claim of a great military victory over Saudi forces near the border, but so far this evidence has not been verified. A Houthi general claimed that three Saudi brigades near the Saudi town of Najran had surrendered and provided video footage as evidence. Houthi Colonel Yahiya Sarea said that Saudi forces suffered “huge losses in life and machinery” and that prisoners would be paraded on live television. The video footage released, however, only showed rebels firing at vehicles on the road followed by men in plain clothes being marched down a road. Final consensus on the legitimacy of the “evidence” provided by the Houthis remains to be seen. This follows the Houthi rebels claiming responsibility for the missile attack on a Saudi oil processing plant, although Saudi Arabia and the Trump Administration have openly blamed Iran. 

East Asia

On Saturday, a South Korean oil tanker caught fire while docked in port city Ulsan. To date, at least 18 people were injured. The fire then spread to a second oil tanker, but all crew members were evacuated safely. The South Korean Coast Guard’s investigation into how the fire was started is ongoing.

Japan is this year’s host for the 2019 Rugby World Cup (being held September 20-November 2), and they’ve already made a splash in the international sports tournament. On Saturday in a game against Ireland, ranked second in the world, Japan won 19-12. Their stunning upset marks Japan’s rising status in rugby, and will certainly make the sport even more popular in the rest of Japan.

In celebration of China’s Communist Party’s 70th anniversary, Xi Jinping has planned one of the country’s biggest military parades on October 1 in Tiananmen Square. Watching front and center will be government officials, select members of the public and attaches from 97 countries; and the Ministry of National Defense has reported about 15,000 personnel will take part, including a segment of China’s standby UN peacekeeping force.

In the lead up to National Day, Hong Kong police warned protestors against violence. Activists like Bonnie Leung see this as more propaganda and use of scare tactics—her organization, the Civil Human Rights Front, requested to hold a march on National Day, but was rejected by both police and an appeals court. Other rallies will be held, however, so we should expect to more police-protestor clashes this week with tensions so high.

South America

Rodrigo Janot, who previously served as chief public prosecutor until 2017, has been issued a restraining order by a judge in Brazil. The former attorney general in the past has led the prosecutions against the corrupt ex-presidents Michel Temer, Dilmer Rousseff, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. However, in an interview with a local newspaper, Mr. Janot admitted he entered the Federal Supreme Court Building in Brazil with the intent to kill a judge who had allegedly smeared his daughter’s reputation with a false allegation. He admitted he was going to murder the judge and then commit suicide afterwards. Since then he has been barred from being within 200 meter of any members of the bench. He as also been banned from entering any tribunal building in Brazil.

Central America

Thousands have taken to the streets in Haiti to protest President Jovenel Moïse. Fuel shortages, rising prices, and allegations of government corruption have caused an eruption of violent protests. Over the course of the past few days, four people have died. The protests on Friday were among the most violent of the recent unrest. The police station in Cité Soleil was stripped of furniture and its metal roof. Wealthier neighborhoods have seen banks, ATM machines, and shops looted. One building has been set on fire. Burning barricades have been erected from tires and other trash.Police have responded by firing tear gas and live ammunition into crowds of protestors. Mr. Moïse has rejected any calls for his resignation.

North America

            With a move towards global restructuring, Forever 21 has filed for bankruptcy. The retail giant will exit Canadian markets entirely, and close over one hundred stores in the U.S. The company is one of many which has run into trouble amidst the rise of online shopping that has cut the revenue of malls and brick-and-mortar stores. In 2019 alone, more than 8,200 stores have closed down in the U.S. Forever 21’s difficulty, and that of other fast-fashion retailers also signals a change in consumer tastes: less fast fashion, more fast delivery.

            House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry on September 25th, a reversal from her previous stance on the topic. She changed her position after faced with new allegations through a whistleblower’s report of a phone call in June between Trump and the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zolensky; Trump asked the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for “a favor” — to investigate potential 2020 rival former Vice President Joe Biden. Ms. Pelosi said the president’s conduct revealed his “betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.” Her decision to push forward with the impeachment process could further divide an already polarized nation; even if the House supports impeachment, the Republican-majority Senate requires an unlikely 2/3 vote of support. Regardless of the outcome, the situation brings to light the reality of the security concerns regarding Trump’s behavior. According to Pennsylvania Congressman Brendan Boyle, Trump’s apparent ignorance of Ukraine’s geopolitical role is a national security threat. By threatening to withhold crucial military funds, he hindered Ukraine’s ability to maintain their independence and prevent the spread of Russian influence.   

South Central Asia

Presidential elections took place in Afghanistan on Saturday, despite warnings issued from the Taliban. Both contenders, current President Ashraf Ghani and challenger Abdullah Abdullah, have claimed to be leading in the polls, despite counting of votes only just getting under way. Numbers so far show around 2.2 million people voted in the elections, as compared to 7 million in 2014. About 1/3 of voting locations were closed on Saturday due to election concerns.  

Embankments constructed by India along parts of its border with Nepal are coming under scrutiny as flash flooding has caused damages in both countries this summer. According to officials, this embarkments unilaterally built by India have caused flooding in Nepal to be two to three times worse than in the same areas in India. A Russian conservationist with Rivers without Boundaries believes that these embarkments are not sustainable and could create more difficult futures for both countries.  

Eastern Europe and the Caucasus

The Ukrainian government has declined to release its transcript of a July 25 phone call between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and US President Donald Trump that has sparked an impeachment inquiry in the United States Congress. President Trump has been dogged by allegations that he pressured Zelensky into investigating unsubstantiated allegations of corruption against former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joseph Biden, Jr. and Biden’s son. The White House released its accounting of that phone call last week, along with a whistleblower report from an unnamed intelligence officer that detailed potential misconduct on the part of the President. President Zelensky denies any impropriety in the content of that phone call, and further pushed back on the suggestion that any inquiry into the Biden’s actions would be opened on request of the White House.

The International Monetary Fund is pushing for lower fiscal targets in Greece’s recovery plan, citing signs of economic growth and a need for increased spending to meet demand for social services. The country was ravaged by a decade-long sovereign debt crisis that led to some of the most severe austerity measures seen in the global financial crisis in 2008. The government has pursued structural reforms to shore up its weak banking sector, including allowing privatization., and while the country has returned to growth, it still sees the highest government debt to economic output ratios in the Eurozone. The IMF is pushing to increase social spending to promote broader growth and increase the tax base, but the country faces an uphill battle against entrenched interests and political division. The IMF warned that unless the country is able to implement further reforms and spend revenues wisely, it is liable to fall back into crisis.

Western Europe

Sweden’s navy HQ is returning to an underground cold war fortress designed to withstand a nuclear attack, in what has been seen as a defensive move against a resurgent Russia. After a 25-year absence, the navy will once again be commanded from beneath billions of tons of granite as the country strives to build up its defenses in response to the perceived threat from Moscow. The top-secret naval base on Muskö, about 25 miles from Stockholm, is part of a widespread effort in Sweden to disperse its defense capabilities to become less vulnerable to potential attacks. Sweden’s army and air force commands are also moving out of the capital and into more fortified locations, spreading their headquarters geographically for better protection. But the navy’s relocation is the most dramatic, and emblematic of a revival of cold war sentiment in the country.

The trial of an alleged neo-Nazi cell accused of plotting a violent political uprising in Germany has begun amid fears that the far-right movement is increasingly armed and radical. Eight members of Revolution Chemnitz, aged between 21 and 32, have been charged with forming a rightwing terrorist organization. A spokeswoman for the superior regional court said the defendants were accused of “coming together to achieve their political goals, to shake the foundations of the state, with serious violent acts.” The men allegedly sought to carry out armed attacks on immigrants, political opponents, reporters and members of the economic establishment.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility of an attack launched two separate attacks on U.S. and EU forces this morning. Suicide bombers launched an attack on the airstrip at the U.S. special forces base in Baledogle. US forces successfully and swiftly countered the attack with no casualties. In Mogadishu, an Italian military convoy transporting EU military advisers was targeted by two car bombs. The first explosion struck one of the vehicles but caused no injuries. The second vehicle missed the convoy and struck nearby Somali citizens. It is believed that the convoy was coming to or from a high-level meeting at the UN headquarters in Mogadishu. These two attacks are the latest in a string of bombings claimed by the jihadist fundamentalist group.

Hundreds of men and boys – as young as five-years-old — have been rescued from a correctional facility claiming to be an Islamic school after Nigerian police received a report of suspicious activity last Thursday. The raid exposed the dehumanizing conditions that these men and boys had been subjected to. Scars and marks covering their bodies signified the sexual abuse and torture they had been subjected to at the facility.

The group had been sent to the “school” by their families in the hopes that the facility would shape them into strong and successful men. The victims are being sheltered at a camp while police work to contact and reunite the families living in Nigeria and neighboring countries. Authorities have arrested seven of the teachers and plan to inspect other Koranic schools in the country.

South America

Chile experienced a massive earthquake yesterday on the 29th. The earthquake occurred 6 miles off the western coast of the country, approximately 134 miles west of the city of Talca. The tremor registered a final magnitude of 6.8, after originally being declared a 7.2. Chilean citizens were alarmed as the tremor brought back memories of the devastating quake that occurred in 2010. Luckily, the earthquake did not cause a tsunami and damages were relatively mild.

The IMF has officially left Argentina to its devices after David Lipton, the IMF’s number two man, declared that the relationship between the country and international institution may “have to wait a while”. Citing the “extremely difficult” situation in the country, the IMF has decided to withhold this iteration of loan dispersals. This does not bold well for an Argentinean economy that has been hemorrhaging since President Mauricio Macri’s defeat in a primary election earlier in the year. This is the second time the IMF has suspended its 57-billion-dollar loan to Argentina. The first instance being when the Argentinian financial officials failed an IMF technical inspection in 2018.

The conflict between Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuelan regime and the Colombian government remains tense as troops on both sides continue to conduct military exercises on their shared border. Amid criticism from the international community, Colombia publicly defended their allegations of Maduro actively arming rebels and sending them across the shared border. President Ivan Duque announced to the United Nations General Assembly last week that he would give the organization a dossier of “conclusive proof,” including photographs, of Maduro’s support for terrorist groups. These photos turned out to be inconclusive and unusable and Colombia’s head of intelligence, General Oswaldo Pena, was subsequently removed from his post. Despite this setback, Duque and Bogota remain fixated on the notion that Maduro is actively encouraging dissent and destruction in Colombia.

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