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World roundup: May 11 2021
Stories from Israel-Palestine, Sudan, Bulgaria, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
May 10, 1857: A unit of sepoys in the town of Meerut mutinies against their commanders in the British East India Company, marking the start of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. This was more a widespread series of local uprisings than a unified revolt, and its causes and aims varied from place to place, but overall it proved to be too great a challenge for the EIC to manage. Although British forces did eventually suppress the movement, finally declaring an end to hostilities in July 1859, the result was the end of the EIC’s control of India and the advent of direct crown rule, also known as the British Raj. This had the additional effect of formally ending the Mughal Empire, though Mughal emperors hadn’t held real power in over a century.
May 10, 1869: The First Transcontinental Railroad, a track linking the eastern US rail network to California, opens when Central Pacific Railroad boss Leland Stanford ceremonially drives in the “Golden Spike” at Promontory, in the Utah Territory. The CPRR track, which began at Sacramento, linked up with a section of rail built by the Union Pacific Railroad Company that ran from Omaha to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where it linked up with the eastern network. By November the line had been extended to the Pacific Coast at the Oakland Long Wharf.
May 11, 868: A woodblock printed copy of a Chinese translation of the Diamond Sutra, a Mahayana Buddhist text, is completed. Why is this noteworthy? Because this particular copy, included among a trove of documents discovered in a cave in Duhuang, China, in 1900, is—at least as far as the British Library is concerned—“the world’s earliest dated, printed book.” Thanks to the intact dedication, scholars know when, by whom, and for whom the document was produced—it reads “Reverently made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 15th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong.” That apparently corresponds to May 11, 868.
Worldometer’s coronavirus figures for May 11:
160,319,983 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide (+710,122 since yesterday)
3,330,879 reported fatalities (+13,444 since yesterday)
For vaccine data the New York Times has created a tracker here
23,490 confirmed coronavirus cases (+51)
1670 reported fatalities (+6)
A Turkish convoy came under rocket fire in Idlib province on Tuesday, leaving at least one Turkish soldier dead and four more wounded. It’s unclear who fired the rockets. An attack on a Turkish military unit in any other part of northern Syria would strongly imply Kurdish culpability, but given the location it’s more likely that it was either the Syrian military or a friendly militia.
1,122,914 confirmed cases (+5287)
15,834 reported fatalities (+34)
Repeated rocket attacks on Iraq’s Balad airbase, presumably by Iran-aligned militias, have forced Lockheed Martin to withdraw its personnel from that facility. The contractors were stationed at Balad under the company’s contract to maintain Iraq’s fleet of F-16 aircraft. According to Musings on Iraq’s Joel Wing the Iraqi military rarely flies its F-16s anyway due in large part to a lack of training on the aircraft and the fact that it’s really overpowered for the kinds of missions the Iraqi military generally needs to fly. But this pullout is contributing to an overall degradation of Iraqi air assets that could begin to impact anti-Islamic State operations, for example.
533,685 confirmed cases (+544)
7527 reported fatalities (+20)
The Biden administration on Tuesday blacklisted seven Lebanese nationals with alleged ties to Hezbollah’s financial network, including its (alleged) chief financier, Ibrahim Ali Daher. The move bars them from interacting with any US individuals or entities, including banks.
839,000 confirmed cases (+43) in Israel, 302,777 confirmed cases (+528) in Palestine
6378 reported fatalities (+0) in Israel, 3393 reported fatalities (+15) in Palestine
The confirmed death toll after two days of Gazan rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes now stands at 30 (UPDATE: it’s now 38 and probably still counting), and it should not surprise you to learn that almost all of those killed were in Gaza. At least 35 people have been killed in the enclave (at least ten of them children), most undoubtedly by the Israeli military though it is possible that a few were killed by errant rockets. Israeli officials say they’ve killed at least 15 “operatives,” including a senior Hamas commander whom they killed by bombing the apartment complex in which he lived. You know, to minimize civilian casualties. At least two senior Islamic Jihad leaders are believed to have been killed by Israeli strikes, and the Israelis have also destroyed a Gazan office tower said to house several Hamas offices, though the building may have been cleared of people beforehand.
Two Israelis were reportedly killed by rocket fire in the southern city of Ashkelon on Tuesday and another was killed Tuesday evening near Tel Aviv. Dozens more have been treated for injuries caused by the hundreds of rockets that have been fired out of Gaza. It would appear that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have decided to get around Israel’s “Iron Dome” air defense system by overwhelming it with large numbers of projectiles. Gazan officials say that at least 152 Palestinians have been wounded. There are reports of violent confrontations between Jewish and Arab Israeli civilians, including one in the Israeli city of Lod in which at least one Arab was killed by a Jewish gunman (or gunmen). The Israeli government has declared a state of emergency in Lod, blaming Arab residents (of course) for stoking the violence.
The Israeli military has deployed ground units to the Gaza perimeter, Hamas and/or Islamic Jihad are now targeting Tel Aviv, and it’s probably safe to say that this is as close as Israel and Hamas have come to a full-blown war since their last go-round in 2014. Periodic escalations since then have been stopped short of war and it’s possible this one still may be as well, though the extent of the violence already may have taken the situation past the point of no return. Moreover, there may be a perverse political incentive for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to want a war, insofar as a war might prevent opposition leader Yair Lapid from gaining the Arab support needed to form a government that would oust Netanyahu from his post. The conflict may already be having that effect, in fact.
239,740 confirmed cases (+1180)
14,033 reported fatalities (+61)
The head of the Suez Canal Authority, Osama Rabie, said in an interview on Tuesday that the Egyptian government is planning to deepen and widen the southern part of the canal, where the massive cargo vessel Ever Given ran aground back in March. In a recent piece on the Ever Given situation, the Arab Center’s Khalil al-Anani suggests that the incident is a blow to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s public image as an ostensibly competent dictator. Of course, the good news for Sisi is that since he’s virtually eliminated any semblance of a free press in Egypt, very few people likely heard an unfiltered version of the story.
2,691,352 confirmed cases (+18,133)
75,568 reported fatalities (+307)
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ personnel killed seven “militants” on Tuesday in a confrontation in West Azerbaijan province, according to Iranian state media. Two IRGC soldiers were killed by the unspecified militants, who reportedly crossed into Iran from Turkey. Given the location these could have been Kurdish separatists or Islamic State fighters, or both I guess—the reporting doesn’t offer any clues about their affiliation.
Candidates for Iran’s June 18 presidential election have begun registering their candidacies, and perhaps the most surprising potential entrant into the race so far is Iranian Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi. As chief justice, Raisi already occupies a position that is arguably more powerful than the presidency, so if he were to declare his candidacy and win he’d be making a lateral move at best. That said, for someone who undoubtedly (and rightly) views himself as a candidate to succeed Ali Khamenei as Iran’s Supreme Leader when the time comes, Raisi may want to do something to erase (or even somewhat obscure) the drubbing he received at the hands of incumbent Hassan Rouhani in the 2017 election.
This election was expected in many quarters to be the IRGC’s big political coming out party, and several current or former senior IRGC officers have suggested they’re interested in running. It’s unclear how many would actually run if Raisi does in fact declare his candidacy. At least one IRGC candidate, Saeed Mohammad, has already said he would withdraw in favor of Raisi. This is hypothetical though, as from what I can tell the scuttlebutt about Raisi entering the race is based on some sketchily-sourced reports in Iranian state media. Whether those reports emanate from Raisi himself or from someone else—perhaps somebody trying to prod Raisi to enter the race—is unclear.
62,718 confirmed cases (+315)
2713 reported fatalities (+3)
Taliban fighters reportedly captured a district headquarters in Afghanistan’s Maidan Wardak province on Tuesday. The district in question, Nirkh, lies along a strategically important highway that links Kabul to Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan, so this is a significant Taliban gain if it holds. Afghan forces are presumably planning a counterattack.
413,111 confirmed cases (+9317)
4084 reported fatalities (+225)
Nepalese Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli lost a confidence vote in parliament on Monday, 93-124 with 15 members abstaining. That put him a mere, uh, 43 votes shy of the 136 he needed to win the vote. The outcome, made possible after the Maoist Center branch of Nepal’s Communist Party withdrew its support of Oli’s government, opens the door for any party or coalition to claim control of the government, subject to another confidence vote. If that doesn’t happen, Oli could retain the office under the principle that his Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) is the largest single party in the legislature, but he would still have to win a confidence vote to secure his position. Nepal is scheduled to hold a parliamentary vote next year, but there is a not insignificant chance that this process could end with a snap election sooner than that.
142,974 confirmed cases (+11)
3210 reported fatalities (+0)
Protesters turned out across Myanmar on Tuesday to mark 100 days since the military coup in February that overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government. The demonstrations seem to have gone relatively smoothly, though we’ll see if that holds up overnight, but there are reports of an attack late Monday that killed at least two Myanmar soldiers in the Sagaing region. A group called the “Sagaing People’s Defense Force,” which may be new I’m not sure, claimed responsibility and said it killed three people, not two.
90,783 confirmed cases (+14) on the mainland, 11,813 confirmed cases (+1) in Hong Kong
4636 reported fatalities (+0) on the mainland, 210 reported fatalities (+0) in Hong Kong
The results of China’s latest census have arrived, and they reinforce a trend that’s been going on for some time now—a decline in birth rates is slowing population growth and raising questions about whether the Chinese economy will be able to withstand a substantial shift toward an older population. The number of Chinese newborns in 2020 declined by some 18 percent over 2019, while the percentage of China’s population considered “working age” has declined over the past decade from 70.1 percent to 63.3 percent. The Chinese government has taken steps to boost population growth—loosening the “one child policy,” for example, but the trend seems to be locked in regardless.
645,817 confirmed cases (+4938)
10,941 reported fatalities (+65)
Joe Biden has apparently decided that Rahm Emanuel is the right choice to be his ambassador to Japan. I suppose it’s better than making him transportation secretary, but why anyone would conclude that Rahm Emanuel is both deserving and temperamentally capable of serving in an ambassadorial capacity is beyond me. I guess Joe wanted to do something nice for a pal, but if the Japanese government suddenly decides to scrap its alliance with the United States we won’t have to spend a lot of time wondering why.
34,272 confirmed cases (+0)
2446 reported fatalities (+0)
At least two people were killed Tuesday amid hundreds of people gathered in Khartoum to mark the two year anniversary (according to the Islamic calendar) of the Sudanese armed forces’ massacre of dozens of anti-government protesters during the movement that eventually led to the removal of then-President Omar al-Bashir. At least 20 more were wounded after security forces responded with a mix of tear gas and live ammunition. The protesters are still demanding justice for those responsible for the massacre. But seeing as how several of them were part of the junta that removed Bashir and are now serving in the interim government that replaced him, the chances they’ll ever see the inside of a courtroom, let alone a cell, are remote.
165,515 confirmed cases (+47)
2065 reported fatalities (+0)
The Nigerian military says its forces “repelled” an attempted Boko Haram attack on the city of Maiduguri on Tuesday evening. There’s no word as to damage or casualties as far as I’m aware.
10,641 confirmed cases (+0)
115 reported fatalities (+0)
The United Nations Security Council voted on Tuesday to extend its peacekeeping mission in the disputed Sudanese-South Sudanese border region of Abyei through at least November 15. The two countries have yet to find agreement on who actually controls that oil-rich area, an issue they failed to resolve before South Sudan gained its independence in 2011.
263,672 confirmed cases (+552)
3911 reported fatalities (+14)
The deputy leader of the Tigray region’s interim government, Abebe Gebrehiwot, said in an interview aired Monday that Ethiopian security forces are engaged in an “anti-farming” policy in the war torn region. According to Abebe, Ethiopian forces are telling Tigrayans that they’re not allowed to farm and are blocking farming supplies from reaching much of the region. Despite repeated claims from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed that things are returning to normal in Tigray and that his government is allowing humanitarian relief efforts full access to the region, the only possible explanation for trying to prevent farming in the region is that somebody is trying to starve the Tigrayan people.
4,896,842 confirmed cases (+8115)
113,976 reported fatalities (+329)
The Russian government on Tuesday expelled one Romanian diplomat from the country, which is a relief because we’d gone at least three or four hours since the last diplomatic expulsion and I was starting to worry. This expulsion was in retaliation for the Romanian government’s expulsion last month of the deputy military attache at the Russian embassy in Bucharest, over spying allegations.
412,157 confirmed cases (+877)
17,104 reported fatalities (+59)
Bulgarian President Rumen Radev on Tuesday set July 11 as the date for Bulgaria’s snap election and appointed his national security adviser, Stefan Yanev, to serve as interim prime minister until the formation of a new government following the vote. Normally a caretaker PM is only responsible for organizing and holding the next election, but under the circumstances Yanev is also going to have to manage the ongoing response to COVID and potentially Bulgaria’s application for European Union relief funds. Or really, given how close he is to the president, it’s more likely that Radev himself will be overseeing those things. The Bulgarian presidency is a fairly weak office but it can be empowered when the government is in upheaval as it is now.
15,285,048 confirmed cases (+71,018)
425,711 reported fatalities (+2275)
Rio’s favelas have suffered countless horrors since the drug conflict began to intensify in the mid-1980s and cocaine and war-grade weapons began flooding communities such as Jacarezinho, a longtime stronghold for the Red Command drug faction. Since then thousands of people – the majority young black men – have lost their lives to the relentless, corruption-fuelled skirmishes between police, drug traffickers and, increasingly, paramilitary gangs with ties to the state.
But never before have so many lives been lost in a single operation and the carnage in Jacarezinho – as well as suspicions that several victims were extrajudicially executed– has sparked a wave of protest and a political storm over the hardline tack Brazil has taken since Jair Bolsonaro became president in 2019.
Hundreds of demonstrators packed Jacarezinho’s main drag on Friday night to demand justice and heap scorn on the Brazilian president and his rightwing ally, the Rio governor, Cláudio Castro, on whose watch there has been an upsurge in deadly police incursions into the favelas despite a supreme court order to halt such operations during the Covid pandemic.
“The way I see things, this kind of operation only happens in these territories because they are majority black – and you can do whatever you want to a black body in this country,” said Joel Luiz Costa, a local lawyer and civil rights activist who helped organize the march.
210,116 confirmed cases (+954)
2320 reported fatalities (+16)
The Colombian 10th Front militia has reportedly sent a letter to the International Committee of the Red Cross advising that it’s captured eight Venezuelan soldiers and intends to release them to a humanitarian organization. The group, made up of former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia fighters, has been engaged in a weeks-long battle against Venezuelan security forces in that country’s Apure state, where they had previously been left relatively alone. At least 16 soldiers and nine militia fighters are believed to have been killed and thousands of Apure state residents displaced since the fighting began in earnest in March.
3,031,726 confirmed cases (+16,425)
78,771 reported fatalities (+429)
Colombian authorities now say that 42 people, all but one of them civilians, have been killed amid ongoing protests against President Iván Duque’s government. That may still represent an under-count—human rights organizations say they’ve counted 47 deaths, 39 of them confirmed to have been killed by police. The authorities have apparently stopped tracking the number of civilians wounded, though they have kept counting the number of police wounded during the protests, which is now at 849.
33,550,115 confirmed cases (+34,904)
596,946 reported fatalities (+743)
Finally, TomDispatch’s William Astore offers some thoughts about why the United States is and has for some time been perpetually at war:
Over those years, I’ve come to learn that, in my country, war always seems to find a way, even when it goes badly — very badly, in fact, as it did in Vietnam and, in these years, in Afghanistan and Iraq, indeed across much of the Greater Middle East and significant parts of Africa. Not coincidentally, those disastrous conflicts haven’t actually been waged in our name. No longer does Congress even bother with formal declarations of war. The last one came in 1941 after Pearl Harbor. During World War II, Americans united to fight for something like national security and a just cause. Today, however, perpetual American-style war simply is. Congress postures, but does nothing decisive to stop it. In computer-speak, endless war is a feature of our national programming, not a bug.
Two pro-war parties, Republicans and Democrats, have cooperated in these decades to ensure that such wars persist… and persist and persist. Still, they’re not the chief reason why America’s wars are so difficult to end. Let me list some of those reasons for you. First, such wars are beyond profitable, notably to weapons makers and related military contractors. Second, such wars are the Pentagon’s reason for being. Let’s not forget that, once upon a time, the present ill-named Department of Defense was so much more accurately and honestly called the Department of War. Third, if profit and power aren’t incentive enough, wars provide purpose and meaning even as they strengthen authoritarian structures in society and erode democratic ones. Sum it all up and war is what America now does, even if the reasons may be indefensible and the results so regularly abysmal.