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World roundup: April 27 2021
Stories from Myanmar, Chad, Albania, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
April 26, 2005: Under considerable international pressure due to its suspected involvement in the February 14 assassination of then-Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic al-Hariri, the Syrian government withdraws the last of its occupation forces from Lebanon. Syria had invaded Lebanon in May 1976 during the Lebanese Civil War, in support of Maronite and conservative Muslim factions and in opposition to the Palestine Liberation Organization and leftist militias. Tensions later emerged between the Syrians and some Maronite leaders, like current Lebanese President Michel Aoun. Initially the Syrian military presence in Lebanon was legitimized by the Arab League under the auspices of a peacekeeping force, but by the mid-1980s the Arab League had stopped renewing its mandate and the Syrian presence in Lebanon could be considered a full-fledged military occupation.
April 27, 1960: The Togolese Republic declares its independence from France. Commemorated annually as Independence Day in Togo.
April 27, 1961: The Republic of Sierra Leone gains its independence from the United Kingdom as the result of negotiations that had taken place the previous year. Commemorated annually as Independence Day in Sierra Leone.
April 27, 1978: The People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, with the support of the Soviet Union, undertakes a coup against Afghan President Mohammed Daoud Khan that is known as the “Saur Revolution.” PDPA leader Nur Muhammad Taraki assumed the presidency after Khan’s execution on April 28, and mismanaged things so badly that his own party ousted and executed him in September 1979. That incident led directly to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 and, with few and very brief exceptions, Afghanistan has been in a state of war ever since.
Worldometer’s coronavirus figures for April 27:
149,319,167 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide (+830,822 since yesterday)
3,148,145 reported fatalities (+14,821 since yesterday)
For vaccine data the New York Times has created a tracker here
In today’s global news:
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s annual report finds that global military expenditures hit $1.981 trillion in 2020, up 2.6 percent from the previous year despite a 4.4 percent decline in global GDP. That’s the spirit! The top five spenders—the United States, China, India, Russia and the United Kingdom—accounted for 62 percent of the global total. The US naturally led the way, accounting for a whopping 39 percent of the total all by its lonesome.
6220 confirmed coronavirus cases (+37)
1207 reported fatalities (+2)
AFP is reporting that the Yemeni military and allied forces have turned back a “massive” Houthi attack on a strategic high ground west of Maʾrib city in a battle that left at least 67 dead (40 rebels and 27 pro-government fighters) over the past day. The rebels have reportedly made some gains along another front in Maʾrib, however, and there are reports that pro-government forces have started digging in on the western outskirts of the city in preparation for a rebel attack. The Houthis are throwing everything they have into capturing Maʾrib city and the oil-producing parts of the province, which would leave them in more or less uncontested control of northern Yemen and put them in a strong bargaining position if/when serious peace talks finally get underway. In the meantime, though, Maʾrib province is home to an estimated two million people, many displaced from other parts of northern Yemen, who may suffer either further displacement or something much worse than that.
838,217 confirmed cases (+110) in Israel, 293,466 confirmed cases (+1414) in Palestine
6359 reported fatalities (+6) in Israel, 3201 reported fatalities (+17) in Palestine
The Israeli military says it shot down a Hezbollah drone near the Lebanese border on Tuesday. As far as I know there’s been no comment from Hezbollah and there’s no indication as to whether this was a surveillance drone or something armed.
In a new report that’s sure to raise some hackles in Israel, Human Rights Watch has accused the Israeli government of practicing “apartheid” in its treatment of Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. If this sounds vaguely familiar it might be because the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem came to a similar conclusion back in January. The HRW report concludes that Israeli authorities are “methodologically privileging Jewish Israelis while repressing Palestinians.” That repression is, unsurprisingly, most severe in the Occupied Territories, where HRW executive director Ken Roth says it “has reached a threshold and a permanence that meets the definitions of the crimes of apartheid and persecution.” The Israeli government is already responding to the report with outrage but it can rest easy in the knowledge that nothing will ever come of it.
The AP is reporting that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will announce on Thursday that he’s postponing the Palestinian parliamentary election that’s currently scheduled for next month. As we noted yesterday, he’ll cite the Israeli government’s refusal to permit Palestinians in east Jerusalem to participate in the voting, but the fact that his own Fatah Party has splintered and may be headed for a drubbing probably factors into his thinking as well. The east Jerusalem issue is a good justification, though, because it will broadly appeal to public sentiment. Even Hamas, which stands to benefit from Fatah’s internal problems, can’t criticize Abbas for postponing under these circumstances, since holding a vote without east Jerusalem means effectively acquiescing to Israel’s annexation of what Palestinians still believe is their rightful future capital. There doesn’t seem to be any sense of when the vote might take place, though there’s no rush—this election is already 11 years late, so a few more months or even years isn’t going to matter that much.
414,219 confirmed cases (+1045)
6922 reported fatalities (+9)
The Saudi military says it destroyed a boat packed with explosives near its Red Sea port at Yanbu on Tuesday, amid unconfirmed reports that an oil tanker had come under attack in that vicinity. It’s unclear whether those earlier reports were mistaken or if something did happen to a tanker while the operation to destroy the boat was being conducted. It stands to reason that the Houthis were responsible but they haven’t made any claim and the Saudis say they’re investigating.
2,438,193 confirmed cases (+20,963)
70,532 reported fatalities (+462)
The US Navy claimed on Tuesday that one of its vessels had to fire a warning shot to drive off three Iranian boats that were harassing it and another US vessel in the Persian Gulf. This report comes a day after anonymous Navy officials told the Wall Street Journal that a pair of US Coast Guard cutters came under similar harassment from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy earlier this month.
The remaining parties to the Iran nuclear deal met again in Vienna as part of their negotiations on trying to revive the agreement. A US delegation was also in the city but participated only indirectly in the session. As far as I can tell they didn’t produce anything of substance apart from a general agreement to “expedite” thing, whatever that means in this circumstance. The Iranian government called for a prisoner swap with the US on Tuesday, separate from the nuclear talks but obviously it’s part of the same effort to rebuild some diplomatic contact between Washington and Tehran. Arranging a swap shouldn’t be that big a deal—Iran and the US have engaged in such exchanges periodically for several years now.
59,370 confirmed cases (+145)
2611 reported fatalities (+13)
US Afghan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that the Biden administration is helping the Afghan government find replacements for the various US contractors it’s been employing. Those contractors, along with US military forces and other civilian personnel, are obliged to leave the country by September 11, under the terms of the agreement the Trump administration made, and the Biden administration later modified, with the Taliban. Now, lest anyone think this means the US is just going to privatize its Afghan war effort rather than truly withdrawing…well, that could actually be what it means, to be honest. I think some healthy skepticism is warranted here, though we won’t really know how much of a “withdrawal” this is actually going to be until it happens.
142,740 confirmed cases (+18)
3207 reported fatalities (+0)
The Karen National Union, one of Myanmar’s many ethnic rebel groups, reportedly overran and then destroyed a military outpost in Kayin state, near the Thai border, on Tuesday. Myanmar’s military responded with airstrikes on at least two villages in KNU-controlled territory. Details on casualties are not yet available. An estimated 24,000 people have been displaced due to fighting between KNU and government forces over the past few weeks. Several rebel groups, including the KNU, have stepped up their activities since Myanmar’s military coup in February, hoping to capitalize on the political chaos it generated. There has been some effort to knit those groups together with anti-junta protesters into a mass opposition movement, but that has yet to materialize.
13,722 confirmed cases (+64)
476 reported fatalities (+2)
A joint French-Malian military operation on Monday in southern Mali’s Ségou region reportedly killed 26 militants who had participated in an ambush in an area near the Mauritanian border over the weekend. Malian officials haven’t gone into any details about who these “militants” were or who or what they’re supposed to have attacked on Saturday
13,263 confirmed cases (+0)
156 reported fatalities (+0)
Unknown attackers reportedly swept through several villages in northern Burkina Faso’s Séno province overnight, leaving at least 15 people dead in their wake. There’s no indication who was responsible, but given the location and the civilian carnage the Islamic State’s regional affiliate was probably the culprit.
Three Europeans—two Spanish and one Irish—who were abducted in eastern Burkina Faso on Monday have since reportedly turned up dead. Burkinabé authorities haven’t yet acknowledged the deaths (UPDATE: they have now), but Spanish officials have and the Irish government has said it’s monitoring the situation. It seems fairly certain they were killed by jihadists, who also wounded two Burkinabé soldiers during the initial abduction.
164,912 confirmed cases (+156)
2063 reported fatalities (+1)
Gunmen attacked a displaced persons camp in Nigeria’s Benue state on Tuesday, killing at least seven people and wounding nine more. Authorities believe the attackers were Fulani and are attributing the attack to the ongoing hostility between farming and herding (primarily Fulani) communities over access to arable land across central Nigeria. Benue recently banned cattle grazing in the state, which has exacerbated those tensions. State officials say that some 70 people have been killed in attacks across Benue over the past two weeks.
4779 confirmed cases (+7)
170 reported fatalities (+1)
Chad’s hitherto fairly smooth transition to military rule got substantially bumpier on Tuesday, when protesters took to the streets of N’Djamena and other Chadian cities to demand the restoration of a civilian government and not all of them made it home. At least five people were killed, four in the capital and one in the southern city of Moundou. Of those four in N’Djamena it’s being reported that one was killed by the protesters and the other three presumably by security forces. An NGO called the Chadian Convention for the Defense of Human Rights is reporting nine deaths, seven in N’Djamena and two elsewhere, plus 36 people wounded and a dozen arrests.
The Chadian military seized control of the country last week in the wake of President Idriss Déby’s death, forming a transitional governing council led by Déby’s son, Mahamat. It has since appointed a civilian prime minister and promised a transition back to civilian rule via an election within 18 months. But the protesters want a fully civilian government back in place, and many of them seem like they would prefer it not be headed by the ex-president’s son given that Chad isn’t a monarchy, at least not technically. Tuesday’s violence may speed that process up, as the French government—friend to all West African autocrats and especially to the Déby family—appeared to walk back its previous support for military rule and called for a civilian transitional government to run the country through that aforementioned election.
13,915 confirmed cases (+103)
713 reported fatalities (+11)
In an effort to pull Somalia back from what’s starting to seem like the brink of civil war, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed announced in an overnight speech that he would rescind the agreement he struck with parliament earlier this month to extend his already expired term by two years, and would instead organize a new election. Anger over that extension had armed supporters of Mohamed and his political opponents clashing violently on Sunday and then cordoning off parts of Mogadishu on Monday. On Tuesday, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble denounced the extension deal and called for new elections, which may have been the last straw from Mohamed’s perspective. The problem now is that Mohamed and the opposition have already tried and failed to agree on the procedures for a new election, which is why they’re in this mess. Maybe they can finally reach an accord the second time around. Maybe.
4,779,425 confirmed cases (+8053)
108,980 reported fatalities (+392)
The Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday summoned the ambassadors of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia. It didn’t offer an explanation, but presumably it has something to do with the fact that all four of those countries have recently expelled Russian diplomatic personnel, along with what feels at this point like about half of the countries in Europe.
130,736 confirmed cases (+130)
2383 reported fatalities (+4)
It would appear that Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama will be retaining his office, as his Socialist Party has emerged victorious from Sunday’s election with just shy of 49 percent of the vote. That’s good for 74 seats in Albania’s 140 seat legislature, unchanged from the party’s performance in 2017. The main opposition Democratic Party did pretty well, winning 59 seats for a 13 seat gain over 2017, but obviously not well enough to take power.
14,446,541 confirmed cases (+76,085)
395,324 reported fatalities (+3120)
The Brazilian Congress on Tuesday opened an investigation into President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the COVID pandemic. You don’t need to be Nostradamus to predict that it’s not going to paint Bolsonaro in a good light, though the chances of any substantive penalty emerging from this process are very slim. The investigation could have a significant political impact, however, if it discredits Bolsonaro with undecided voters ahead of next year’s presidential election.
193,721 confirmed cases (+1223)
2082 reported fatalities (+7)
According to the New York Times, the ongoing US effort to immiserate the Venezuelan people is allowing paramilitary groups to take control of parts of the country that the central government can no longer reach:
They bring drinking water to residents in the arid scrublands, teach farming workshops and offer medical checkups. They mediate land disputes, fine cattle rustlers, settle divorces, investigate crimes and punish thieves.
They’re not police officers, civil servants or members of the Venezuela government, which has all but disappeared from this impoverished part of the country.
Quite the opposite: They belong to one of Latin America’s most notorious rebel groups, considered terrorists by the United States and the European Union for carrying out bombings and kidnappings over decades of violence.
Venezuela’s economic collapse has so thoroughly gutted the country that insurgents have embedded themselves across large stretches of its territory, seizing upon the nation’s undoing to establish mini-states of their own.
In this case the NYT is referring to the Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group. But there are many other groups operating in Venezuela’s hinterlands. These include the Colombian 10th Front group, made up of former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) fighters, with which Venezuelan security forces have been engaged in a weeks-long conflict in Venezuela’s Apure state. The Colombian groups get a base of operations as well as control over lucrative smuggling routes and a tax base that generates regular revenue. In return, rural Venezuelans get basic services, stability, and humanitarian assistance.
32,927,091 confirmed cases (+52,046)
587,384 reported fatalities (+885)
A group of human rights experts from around the world has produced a new report for the National Conference of Black Lawyers that argues that police violence against Black Americans could meet the standard for crimes against humanity and warrants an investigation from the International Criminal Court. Even if the ICC agrees to open an investigation it’s highly unlikely that it will lead anywhere, but the report itself should stand as a well-deserved humiliation for US authorities, in particular a federal government that constantly lectures the world—well, certain parts of the world—about human rights while failing to secure them here in its own country.
Finally, in case you missed it please check out Daniel Bessner’s latest Foreign Exchanges column, in which he discusses what repealing the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force would mean for US foreign policy—and what it wouldn’t mean:
That the AUMF must be repealed goes without saying; no American government should have ever been granted the ability to deploy force without first receiving the approval of the demos—either its representatives in Congress or “the people” themselves. It’s therefore heartening that repealing the AUMF and associated authorizations has become a major focus of the Democratic Party’s left-flank.
Nonetheless, we on the left must be careful not to focus too much of our energies or critical attention on the AUMF, or indeed any resolution related to the use of armed force, because post-World War II US history demonstrates that law has little relationship to the deployment of military power.
Most dramatically, the United States has not declared war since June 1942, when Congress voted 73-0 to initiate war against Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. In fact, the US Congress has only declared war eleven times: in addition to the aforementioned examples, the nation has declared war against the United Kingdom (1812); Mexico (1846); Spain (1898); Germany and Austria-Hungary (1917); and Germany, Italy, and Japan (1941). But, of course, the United States has fought many more wars than these declarations imply. According to Tufts University’s Military Intervention Project, since the nation’s founding in 1776, the United States has undertaken over 500 military interventions, with about half of these occurring between 1950 and 2017—a period in which the US Congress formally declared war zero times.