World roundup: June 27 2023
Stories from Thailand, Mali, Russia, and elsewhere
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Eid Mubarak to those who are celebrating!
TODAY IN HISTORY
June 27, 1658: An invading Spanish army is defeated by a slightly larger English force in the Battle of Rio Nuevo, the largest battle ever to take place on Jamaica. This was the second Spanish attempt to reclaim the island, which had been captured by English forces commanded by Sir William Penn in 1655. The battle began on June 25 and the English spent two days bombarding a makeshift Spanish fortress before its occupants attempted a breakout in desperation. Of around 560 Spanish personnel at the start of the battle, some 300 were killed or wounded and another 150 taken prisoner. Spain finally gave up its claim on Jamaica in the 1670 Treaty of Madrid.
June 27, 1869: The remaining forces still loyal to the Tokugawa Shogunate are defeated by Meiji forces at the Battle of Hakodate, in southern Hokkaidō. After suffering a series of defeats that included the loss of Edo (renamed Tokyo), the Tokugawa remnants had fashioned themselves into a statelet called the “Republic of Ezo” (Ezo being another name for Hokkaidō) in late 1868 and, aided by several French military officers, focused their defensive preparations on the island’s southern Hakodate peninsula. Meiji forces landed on the island in April and were eventually able to force the rebels to surrender. The battle effectively ended the 1868-1869 Boshin War with the imperial/Meiji faction victorious.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
According to local medical personnel and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Russian airstrike in northwestern Syria’s Idlib province on Tuesday killed at least six and possibly eight Hayat Tahrir al-Sham fighters. There were other casualties emerging from the strike but the reporting is unclear as to whether they were all HTS members or if there were any civilians involved.
The Biden administration has advised federal agencies to stop funding scientific research at Israeli institutions located in the occupied West Bank. This is a restoration of a policy that had been reversed by the Trump administration as part of its push to recognize de facto Israeli annexation of the West Bank and brings the US back into line with international law and consensus. It has nevertheless drawn criticism from ethnic cleansing enthusiasts in the US, who are conflating the new policy with the “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” movement even though BDS calls for boycotting Israel proper and this is obviously not that.
With the Hajj transitioning into Eid al-Adha celebrations on Tuesday, Saudi officials say this year’s pilgrimage was actually a fair bit smaller than expected. Authorities had predicted a crowd of over 2.5 million pilgrims, which would have been a record, after three years of strictly capped attendance due to COVID. But according to government figures around 1.85 million people made the pilgrimage this year, still well short of pre-pandemic levels. Those earlier predictions were probably based on the assumption that many people who’d been unable to make the Hajj over the past three years would do so this year, but there are any number of reasons why that may not have been possible for a large number of them.
The Pakistani National Assembly on Tuesday passed a new law limiting court-ordered suspensions from political activities to a maximum of five years. Long story short, this standard opens the door for former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, brother of current PM Shahbaz Sharif, to return to electoral politics. The ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) apparently would like to use Nawaz Sharif in its general election campaign later this year, though that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll actually run for office. Nawaz Sharif was removed from office in 2017 on corruption charges and the Pakistani Supreme Court banned him from politics for life in addition to sentencing him to prison. He’s been in the UK on medical furlough since 2019 and could still be facing prison time if he were to return to Pakistan, though I’m sure the party has thought about that as it attempts to rehabilitate him.
Presumptive Thai Prime Minister Pita Limjaroenrat claimed on Tuesday that he’d amassed enough support in the military-appointed Thai Senate to win a parliamentary confirmation vote. Pita’s Move Forward Party emerged as the big winner of Thailand’s parliamentary election back in May, and he’s since unveiled an eight party, 312 seat coalition that will hold a sizable majority in the 500 seat House of Representatives. But because Thai political institutions are designed to give the military substantial input into governance regardless of election results, his path toward assuming power has remained murky. Any prospective PM needs a majority of votes in the combined legislature, which also includes the 250 seat Senate. Which means Pita must have found at least 64 senators willing to support him, assuming that his claim holds up.
During an interview with Thai journalists on Tuesday, US ambassador to Thailand Robert Godec denied that the US had interfered in May’s election. This conspiracy theory is apparently popular in pro-military circles in Thailand. While a Pita-led government is likely to be friendlier to the US than the country’s current military-led government, it’s hard to give much credence to claims that the US or any other foreign interest somehow stole the election from military-aligned parties. Pre-election polling indicated a strong public preference for the civilian opposition, which is how the election ultimately shook out.
The Japanese government on Tuesday announced that it will restore South Korea to its “fast-track” trade status effective July 21. This reverses a trade spat the two countries began back in 2019, primarily over lingering issues related to reparations for Imperial Japan’s occupation of Korea and a World Trade Organization case. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has in recent months dropped the WTO complaint and offered to let Tokyo off the hook for the reparations, in order to smooth out the rough patches in the bilateral relationship in the face of perceived threats from North Korea and China. South Korea restored Japan’s favored trade status back in April.
There’s little indication that the Eid “truce” announced by Rapid Support Forces commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo has actually materialized. AFP is reporting heavy fighting in Khartoum on Tuesday, with the RSF attacking a number of Sudanese security facilities across the city. The paramilitaries seem to be having success in the capital and it’s conceivable they could control most of it unless the Sudanese military can find some way to overcome its deficiencies and stop the RSF advance.
Sierra Leonean election officials announced on Tuesday that incumbent Julius Maada Bio has won the country’s presidential election with 56.17 percent of the vote to runner up Samura Kamara’s 41.16 percent. Kamara’s All People’s Congress party has already challenged the results, focusing mostly on what it’s said was a lack of transparency from those same election officials. It’s unclear whether the party intends to make a formal challenge.
According to Reuters, the United Nations Security Council is preparing to close out its Malian peacekeeping mission, with a resolution circulating that would terminate operations as of June 30 and give peacekeepers six months to withdraw. Mali’s ruling junta asked the UN to kindly vacate the country earlier this month, roughly one decade after the mission (MINUSMA) began amid a Tuareg uprising in northern Mali. MINUSMA has been the UN’s deadliest peacekeeping operation since then, without making much positive impact in terms of preventing jihadist violence. Even so, there are concerns that the peacekeepers’ withdrawal could leave a number of northern Malian cities vulnerable and degrade Malian security forces’ capacity to respond to that aforementioned violence.
Unspecified but presumably jihadist attackers struck a “supply convoy” in Burkina Faso’s Central-North region on Monday, killing at least 31 soldiers and three members of the Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland paramilitary group. Burkinabé authorities are claiming that more than 40 of the attackers were killed in the engagement.
Officials in Ethiopia’s Tigray region are claiming that 728 people have died of hunger there since USAID and the UN suspended food aid to the region back in March. Tigray has been plagued by food shortages since the Ethiopian government (and friends) and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front went to war with one another in November 2020. The agencies cut off relief because of evidence that the food was being diverted away from those in need. They subsequently, and for the same reason, cut off food aid to Ethiopia altogether earlier this month.
The Biden administration on Tuesday blacklisted one person and four entities with ties to the Wagner Group, which I put here under “Russia” even though it would appear Wagner is no longer a “Russian” company, strictly speaking. All four entities are firms that appear to be linked to Wagner’s mining activities in the Central African Republic, while the individual is a Wagner official active in Mali.
I say that Wagner is no longer strictly “Russian” because, according to no less an authority than Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, owner Yevgeny Prigozhin has relocated to Belarus under the terms of the deal that ended his brief weekend mutiny. Wagner units that have been operating in Ukraine are reportedly turning their heavy weaponry over to the Russian military, and it sounds like those who want to join Prigozhin in exile will be permitted to do so—at least for the time being. It’s unclear how free a rein Wagner fighters will have in Belarus, but needless to say their arrival probably isn’t going to do much to boost local property values. There’s some indication that Russian authorities are about to open up an investigation into Prigozhin’s finances, which technically wouldn’t violate the aforementioned deal because they only agreed to drop any charges related to the mutiny itself. Meanwhile, NATO member states in Eastern Europe are raising alarms about Wagner’s presence in Belarus, apparently angling for the deployment of additional NATO assets.
A Russian missile reportedly struck a restaurant in the city of Kramatorsk on Tuesday, killing at least four people and wounding another 42. Kramatorsk, located just west of Bakhmut in Donetsk oblast, is a likely target for the Russian military if/when it tries to resume offensive operations in eastern Ukraine. While we’re on the subject of war crimes, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine says it’s documented the arbitrary Russian detention of 864 people in Ukraine during the invasion, with 77 of them having been executed. Former detainees describe being tortured and, in some cases, subjected to sexual violence.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry summoned the Ukrainian ambassador on Tuesday for “clarification” regarding a statement the Ukrainian embassy made over the weekend. It seems someone in that facility decided to publicly lament the “path of close cooperation with the Russian Federation” that “the current Israeli government” has apparently chosen. Weirdly it seems said government didn’t appreciate that. Israel has provided a limited supply of non-lethal aid to Ukraine but has indeed tried to toe a very neutral line in the conflict.
New data shows how bad a year 2022 was for rainforest protection:
An area the size of Switzerland was cleared from Earth’s most pristine rainforests in 2022, despite promises by world leaders to halt their destruction, new figures show.
From the Bolivian Amazon to Ghana, the equivalent of 11 football pitches of primary rainforest were destroyed every minute last year as the planet’s most carbon-dense and biodiverse ecosystems were cleared for cattle ranching, agriculture and mining, with Indigenous forest communities forced from their land by extractive industries in some countries.
The tropics lost 4.1m hectares of primary rainforest in 2022, an increase of around 10% from 2021, according to figures compiled by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the University of Maryland. The report’s authors warn that humans are destroying one of the most effective tools for mitigating global heating and halting biodiversity loss.
The largest losses in absolute terms occurred in Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Bolivia.
Colombian soldiers have killed at least six National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels in a recent operation (which may be ongoing) in Colombia’s Arauca state. This operation could be a test of the ceasefire agreement the government and ELN struck earlier this month. That deal doesn’t go into effect until August 3, so it can’t be violated yet, but ELN leaders have expressed skepticism that the government will stick to the ceasefire and this isn’t going to allay that skepticism.
Jacobin’s Owen Schalk looks at the joint US-Canadian effort to force Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to abandon his resource nationalization agenda:
The Biden administration has been spearheading the challenge to AMLO’s oil and gas reforms, with Canada at its side. In July 2022, US trade representative Katherine Tai accused AMLO of violating the CUSMA and stated that Washington had “repeatedly expressed serious concerns about a series of changes in Mexico’s energy policies.” Ng joined Tai in expressing alarm, releasing a statement the next day that criticized “Mexico’s change in energy policy [that is] inconsistent with Mexico’s CUSMA obligations.” Meanwhile, the website of the Canadian trade commissioner claimed with extreme condescension that AMLO’s energy policies are “not necessarily based on economic or market principles, but on ideological assumptions, as well as a nationalistic approach that restrict[s] private participation in the Mexican energy market.”
While Canada’s investments in the energy sector are not as significant as in mining, Canadian companies are deeply embedded in Mexican energy, with investments totaling $13 billion (compared to $27 billion in mining). Export Development Canada labels Mexico a “priority market” and notes oil and gas as among the “key industries” for Canadian investment in the country.
Canada is also promoting agribusiness attempts to stop AMLO from establishing a more sovereign agricultural sector. In March 2023, the Biden administration expressed “grave concerns” with AMLO’s anti-GMO policies, as well as his plans to phase out glyphosate herbicides, and requested trade consultations on Mexico’s agriculture policies. Once again, Ottawa sided with Washington.
Finally, and this isn’t strictly about the United States, but I’m sure many/all of you have been struck by the disparity in the responses this month to a) the deaths of five people aboard a deep submersible, and b) the deaths of hundreds of people on a rickety boat crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to Greece. The former received wall-to-wall media coverage of the massive effort made to rescue them, while the latter were mostly ignored and there was little to no rescue effort. This is because the former were extravagantly wealthy and the latter were destitute asylum seekers. In the past few days, however, outrage over that disparity has at least moved media outlets to shine some light on the asylum disaster, for example in this Washington Post account:
The trawler left from the Libyan port city of Tobruk on June 8. Just 104 survivors have reached the Greek mainland. Eighty-two bodies have been recovered, and hundreds more have been swallowed by the sea.
As the Mediterranean became a stage for tragedy on June 14, a billionaire and several businessmen were preparing for their own voyage in the North Atlantic. The disappearance of their submersible as it dove toward the wreckage of the Titanic sparked a no-expenses-spared search-and-rescue mission and rolling headlines. The ship packed with refugees and migrants did not.
About half the passengers are believed to have been from Pakistan. The country’s interior minister said Friday that an estimated 350 Pakistanis were on board, and that many may have died. Of the survivors from the boat, 47 are Syrian, 43 Egyptian, 12 Pakistani and two Palestinian.
Some of the people on the trawler were escaping war. Many were family breadwinners, putting their own lives on the line to help others back home. Some were children. A list of the missing from two towns in the Nile Delta carries 43 names. Almost half of them are under 18 years old.
As many as 750 people were aboard the vessel when it left Libya. Their lives shouldn’t matter any less than the lives of those who were lost on the submersible. That our society treats them that way is abominable.
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