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World roundup: July 25 2023
Stories from China, Ethiopia, Spain, and elsewhere
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TODAY IN HISTORY
July 25, 1139: An army under the future Afonso I, then Count Afonso of Portugal, defeats the Almoravids at the Battle of Ourique. Details of this battle are sketchy, but it was apparently such a glorious victory that in its aftermath Afonso declared Portugal’s independence from the Kingdom of León and thereby gave himself a promotion from count to king. Later legends had Afonso being visited on the eve of the battle by, variously, Saint James the Greater (whose tomb is held to lie in Santiago de Compostela), Saint George, or even Jesus Himself, guaranteeing victory.
July 25, 1799: The Battle of Abukir
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
You may be interested to know that climate change has been the “absolutely overwhelming” factor behind the heat waves that are currently broiling much of the Northern Hemisphere, according to a new report from the organization World Weather Attribution. This probably doesn’t come as a huge surprise to most of you but I’m sure that, now armed with the knowledge that the current situation would be “virtually impossible without the effects of climate change” according to report co-author Izidine Pinto, our leaders in the political and business communities will do whatever it takes to finally get this problem under control. Or, you know, not.
A Russian military jet reportedly damaged a US MQ-9 Reaper drone with flares in Syrian airspace over the weekend. The US military on Tuesday accused the Russian pilot of “dangerously close” to the inanimate object and “harassing” it, which may pave the way for the drone to sue the pilot in court though I’m not a lawyer and I can’t speak to the particular laws governing this type of situation. US officials noted that, “fortunately,” the drone’s crew was able to “safely recover” the device and went on to decry the Russian military’s “reckless, unprovoked, and unprofessional behavior” toward an object that is, to reiterate, not human or any other type of living creature.
To be fair, Russian pilots in Syria have reportedly flown recklessly around manned US aircraft in the past as well, so there is a pattern of behavior here that could actually threaten lives. But when US officials talk this way about a drone I can’t help but wonder how soon it will be until the Pentagon decides to kill people in retaliation for losing one of its gizmos (something that nearly happened with respect to Iran during the Trump administration). And of course there’s the larger issue that US drones, manned aircraft, and other military personnel have no legal justification for being in Syria or in Syrian airspace, but I digress.
Eight people were killed in a house in Yemen’s Maʾrib province on Tuesday when one of the residents, allegedly an arms dealer, reportedly tried to dismantle a piece of unexploded ordinance stemming from the Yemen war. Elsewhere, at least four Yemeni soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck an explosive device believed to have been planted by Houthi rebel fighters near the city of Taiz and another three soldiers were killed by an explosive device planted in Abyan province, possibly by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operatives. AQAP and government-aligned security forces have apparently been battling on and off in Abyan for several weeks now.
The United Nations-led operation to salvage some 1.1 million barrels of oil from the decaying FSO Safer, stranded off of Yemen’s Red Sea coast since 2015, is finally underway and is expected to take a bit less than three weeks to complete barring any complications. Getting the oil aboard a functioning tanker will eliminate the most serious environmental risk the Safer poses, but there will still be work to do to recover the vessel itself and dispose of it properly.
Israeli forces killed three Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank city of Nablus on Tuesday after those gunmen reportedly opened fire on a group of soldiers. The militants were Hamas members, according to a statement from that group. Palestinian gunmen also fired on a bus carrying Israeli settlers near the town of Huwara on Monday evening but there were no reports of casualties.
The fallout from Monday’s judicial overhaul vote continued Tuesday with a mass walkout by members of the country’s largest doctors union, the Israeli Medical Association. Four Israeli newspapers also showed opposition to the overhaul by featuring black front pages on Tuesday, and the large public sector Histadrut union is planning a general strike if the overhaul project continues. Other than that things are going great. Oh, except for the fact that Morgan Stanley lowered Israel’s sovereign credit rating and Moody’s signaled that it might take similar action due to the political turmoil.
The Iranian government has earned the dubious distinction of being the global leader in internet restrictions so far this year. The cybersecurity firm Surfshark says it’s counted 14 internet restrictions imposed by Tehran through June, compared with a paltry nine in India and three in Pakistan. Those governments will have their work cut out for them if they aim to take the top prize at the end of the year. High levels of unrest linked with the Mahsa Amini protests and with a number of violent incidents in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan province prompted those restrictions.
A suicide bomber killed at least one police officer on Tuesday in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The bomber initially fled from police before detonating his explosive device near what the AP is calling a “roadside mosque.” The mosque was apparently destroyed but it’s unclear whether anyone was inside. The bomber was most likely a member of the Pakistani Taliban.
The Thai parliament postponed another government confirmation vote on Tuesday over procedural issues. Specifically, the legislature is apparently waiting for the Thai Constitutional Court to determine whether or not it was legal to deny Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat a second PM confirmation vote last week. The court’s eventual ruling is probably immaterial as Pita doesn’t have the votes to become PM anyway, but I would imagine there are statutory reasons why it would be inappropriate to (and I am once again forced to apologize for what I’m about to type) move forward with the confirmation process amid a pending legal case.
In an apparently hastily scheduled meeting of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress on Tuesday, AWOL Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang was abruptly sacked and replaced by his predecessor, Wang Yi. That may be temporary but at this point it’s unclear. No explanation was given for the switch, nor has one been offered to explain Qin’s complete absence from public life for the past month (needless to say he didn’t break that streak on Tuesday). Qin had only been on the job for about seven months so obviously his unexplained dismissal is causing a good deal of speculation. Chinese officials previously cited unexplained health issues as the reason for his disappearance but that seems a bit perfunctory. Qin was thought to be close to Chinese President Xi Jinping but it is certainly possible there was some sort of falling out between them.
Sudanese army shelling killed at least 18 civilians and wounded dozens more across several neighborhoods in the city of Omdurman on Tuesday. The extensive bombardment apparently displaced a number of city residents, adding to the estimated 3.3 million people already displaced by the conflict between the military and the Rapid Support Forces.
An apparent bandit attack in Nigeria’s Zamfara state left at least 34 people dead on Monday. The attackers killed at least 27 civilians in their initial raid and subsequently ambushed a military unit sent out in response, killing at least seven soldiers.
Inkstick’s Raimy Khalife-Hamdan reports that the US-UN decision last month to halt food aid to Ethiopia, ostensibly because some portion of that aid was being diverted away from its intended recipients, has had devastating consequences:
In early June 2023, the US government baffled the international community by announcing a deeply consequential suspension of food aid to Ethiopia, the world’s largest recipient of US food aid. This followed a US decision just a month prior to halt food aid to Tigray, Ethiopia’s northern region, where several million people are severely food insecure and are resorting to “extreme coping strategies to survive.” The UN promptly followed the United States, temporarily suspending food assistance to the entire country.
To justify halting food aid to the entirety of Ethiopia, Samantha Power, head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), claimed that “food aid intended for the people of Tigray suffering under famine-like conditions was being diverted and sold on the local market.” USAID also leaned into an internal report that cited large-scale aid diversions to military and ex-combatants, in addition to markets, to further support its decision to end food assistance to Tigray in May 2023.
While conditioning the resumption of assistance on reforms against aid diversion, the United States has disregarded the very real harms — including hundreds of starvation-related deaths — caused by the suspension. Instead, it minimized its responsibility by employing bandaid language like: “We are horrified by the ongoing suffering experienced by the people of Ethiopia.” As people in Ethiopia bear the costs of their authorities’ actions and aid agencies’ responses, it is clear that instrumentalizing food aid to pressure reforms against aid diversion is an unnecessarily extreme and cruel strategy.
Kenyan President William Ruto on Tuesday offered to meet with opposition leader Raila Odinga in an effort to address the grievances that have fueled several months of intensifying protests by Odinga supporters and Kenyans displeased with Ruto’s governance. One of those grievances involves what Odinga has called the “unprecedented police brutality” that has been unleashed against protesters. Opposition figures claim that police have killed more than 50 protesters since March, though the government’s official tally is only 20. The opposition says it is collecting evidence of police brutality with an eye toward filing charges against Ruto’s government with the International Criminal Court.
The International Atomic Energy Agency claimed on Tuesday that it’s discovered anti-personnel landmines on the grounds of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, presumably planted by the Russian military since it controls that facility. Needless to say landmines are not on the IAEA’s approved list of things it’s safe to have in or around nuclear reactors, and they’re particularly inadvisable on the grounds of a plant in the middle of a war zone, where IAEA personnel have been working to make sure sure the site’s large quantity of nuclear material doesn’t, say, melt down. These mines don’t, according to IAEA boss Rafael Grossi, appear to pose an acute threat to either the plant or its personnel, but nevertheless it would be better if they weren’t there.
A group of far-right Danish protesters continued that country’s Quran-burning spree on Tuesday by setting alight copies of the Islamic holy book in front of the Egyptian and Turkish embassies in Copenhagen. That’ll show ‘em, I guess, though I’m unclear on what “that” is and who “they” are apart from “Muslims.” These same folks burned copies of the Quran twice over the past week outside the Iraqi embassy in the Danish capital. They seem nice.
Although it finished first in Sunday’s Spanish parliamentary election, it seems the conservative People’s Party’s alliance with the far right Vox Party is preventing it from amassing enough parliamentary support to form Spain’s next government. At present, People’s Party boss Alberto Núñez Feijóo appears to control 167 seats in the Congress of Deputies, nine shy of a majority. Two small conservative parties reportedly told him to get bent on Tuesday when he approached them about an alliance, both saying that they could not join or support a coalition that included Vox. Feijóo will have first crack at forming a government, because of his party’s first place finish, but it’s difficult to see how he’ll be able to maneuver his way into majority support under the circumstances. Incumbent Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will get second crack should Feijóo fail and he’s probably in a stronger position all things considered.
The Argentine government contacted the Bolivian embassy in Buenos Aires on Monday to request “information about the scope of the discussions and possible agreements reached during the official visit of Minister Edmundo Novillo to the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Novillo, who is Bolivia’s defense minister, spent part of last week in Tehran, where among other things he and Iranian Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani signed some sort of security memorandum. Novillo on Tuesday acknowledged the agreement and said his interest was in acquiring Iranian drones for both national security and law enforcement purposes. He accused an Argentine politician “who, I understand, has Israeli origins” of having exaggerated the nature of the agreement, so I’m sure that will put everybody’s minds at ease.
Argentina and Iran have a fraught relationship in part due to the 1994 terrorist bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in which 85 people were killed. Argentine authorities blame Hezbollah, with Iranian support, for having carried out that attack. It’s unsurprising that Novillo’s trip raised some red flags in Argentina given that context.
Al Jazeera reports on the the destructive expansion of coca cultivation into Peruvian Indigenous territories:
Along the untamed edge of Peru’s Ucayali department, the cultivation of coca — the raw ingredient in cocaine — is surging. A metastasised drug trade, once concentrated within the folds of the Andes, has descended into this lowland jungle region, threatening the reserves of some of the world’s most isolated tribespeople.
Narcotics experts and Indigenous communities blame an anemic state security apparatus, whose absence along its borders has created “an open door” for the accelerating drug trade.
The Amahuaca are no strangers to state abandonment. They have enjoyed few resources in their efforts to survive disease, poverty and territorial conflict, as missionaries and industries like rubber and logging pushed into their home territory.
Today, as the drug trade rips through this isolated frontier, the Amahuaca — along with thousands of other remote Indigenous people — are once again in the throes of invasion.
Finally, at The Nation Eli Clifton and Amir Handjani argue that Washington needs to reevaluate the “rules” governing its supposedly precious “rules-based order”:
Over the past decade, the geopolitical landscape shifted beneath the feet of the United States. The end of the Cold War, the unipolar moment in which the US was the unquestioned hegemon of the world, is over. Thirty years later, that moment is a distant memory, as the dollar steadily declines as a share of global currency reserves, traditional US allies forge trade agreements with US adversaries, and a rising Global South seeks new rules for trade, development, and security.
To be sure, the bipartisan US political establishment aided and abetted the demise of the unipolar moment with reckless policies such as launching an unwinnable war in Afghanistan and an endless war in Iraq and engaging in irresponsible fiscal policies that have raised the US national debt by 520 percent since 2000, culminating with the 2008 financial crises. It is no wonder that now, as the US is intensely involved in fending off Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine alongside allies in Europe, middle powerssuch as Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, and Egypt collectively shrug.
Meanwhile, despite a US-led sanctions regime, countries like India and China continue to do business with Russia and refrain from reprimanding Moscow. Unfortunately, although not unexpectedly, many countries in the Global South believe it is the height of hypocrisy for the United States to criticize Russia for launching a reckless invasion when Washington has recently engaged in similar military adventurism.
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