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This Week in the World

This Week In The World 03.28.18

The Editors April 3, 2018

Catalonia

By: Alex Voisine

Photo Credit: AP/O. Matthys via DW

Carles Puidgemont, the former president of Catalonia and the foremost leader in the movement towards secession from Spain, was arrested by German authorities on Sunday as he was crossing the border into Denmark. Puidgemont, who had been living in self-exile in Brussels since October, faces a number of charges in Spain for his role in orchestrating an illegal independence referendum last October, including sedition and rebellion. If found guilty, those charges could land him 30+ years in prison.

Soon after self-exiling and leaving Spain, Puidgemont filed a lawsuit against the Spanish government claiming that his rights had been violated by being ordered arrested for organizing and advocating for the October referendum. On Monday, the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations accepted the lawsuit and will hear arguments in the days and weeks to come. Puidgemont will remain in detention in Germany while the UN reviews the case.

Puidgemont’s arrest was followed by a revitalized effort on the part of the Spanish government to effectively incriminate Puidgemont for the October referendum; two days before his arrest, the Spanish government issued an international arrest warrant, obliging other countries to arrest or detain Puidgemont in the event that he enters or is found in their country. A number of Puidgemont’s allies and cabinet members were also mentioned in the international arrest warrant.

As it stands, though the government of Puidgemont declared Catalonian independence last October, the relatively wealthy and semi-autonomous region in northeast Spain remains under Spain’s jurisdiction, after the government invoked Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, allowing Spain to take full control of Catalonia. Despite a clear and concerted effort on the part of the Spanish government to quell the independence movement in Catalonia, Spanish president Mariano Rajoy yielded to pressure in Catalonia and organized a snap election in December, in which secessionists won a slight majority in Catalonia’s parliament. However, parliamentarians have been unable to select a new leader of the pro-secession majority, stalling their efforts to continue fighting for independence.

In Germany, the arrest of Puidgemont may carry with it a wide range of unanticipated political repercussions: “Legally, the arrest of Mr. Puigdemont is not objectionable, but politically it creates great problems,”  said German Parliamentarian Alexander Graf Lambsdorff on Sunday, to the German newspaper Augsburger Allgemeinen Zeitung.

China

By: Alex Voisine

Photo Credit: Nicolas Asfouri via Time Magazine

An unexpected announcement by the United States last week to impose tariffs on $60 billion worth of Chinese imports has been met with alarm in Beijing. The new tariffs are a nod to U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign promises to cut the U.S. trade deficit with China, as well as a response to the results of a U.S. inquiry which found China guilty of intellectual property theft and “unfair trade.” On Thursday, Beijing responded with a warning that imposing such stiff tariffs would result in a global trade war, and would certainly deepen already longstanding trade disputes between the United States and China.

China has warned that it is considering targeting a range of U.S. industries, such as agriculture and aircraft, both of which comprise a significant portion of China’s imports from the United States. As of Thursday, China is considering retaliatory tariffs but has not yet made any specific changes to its trade policy.

Peru

By: Alex Voisine

Martin Vizcarra, Peru’s new President. | Photo Credit : Mariano Bazo via Reuters

On March 21st, after only two years in office, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned, following the release of a video that revealed key allies of Kuczynski appearing to buy off opposition leaders by promising monetary awards for votes supporting Kuczynski. In a televised statement announcing his resignation, Kuczynski played down the incriminating videos, saying that they were biased and edited, but nevertheless announced he would resign in order to maintain stability in Peru: “I don’t want to be an obstacle for our nation as it finds the path to unity and harmony that it needs so much.” In Latin America, Kuczynski’s resignation was met with alarm, as Peru was one of the few relatively stable countries in the region and enjoyed a degree of economic growth and stability that may be in peril with Kuczynski’s resignation.

Some members of Peru’s Congress expressed frustration over Kuczynski’s unwillingness to fault himself for being complicit in what many saw as a clear abuse of power. Marco Arana, a leader of the opposition party, said in a statement following Kuczynski’s resignation “we hoped that this resignation letter would at least have some self-criticism of the mistakes and crimes committed.”

This most recent scandal is not the first in Kuczynski’s political career; last year Kuczynski controversially pardoned former president Alberto Fujimori, who had been accused of both bribery and human rights violations. The pardoning of Fujimori, who had been sentenced to 25 years in prison, was seen by many as an unjust use of power for political gain. Vice President Martin Vizcarra has taken Kuczynski’s place as president of Peru. Vizcarra, though of the same party as Kuczynski, has vowed to replace Kuczynski’s entire cabinet in an effort to assuage public unrest over corruption.

United States

By Alice Hakvaag

For the first time since 1950, the US Census will include a question asking if the recipient is a citizen. It was added after the Justice Department requested it. The census, taken every ten years, is used to draw district maps for local elections and determine how funding is distributed. It’s for these reasons, officials say, that the question was added, as well as helping the federal government enforce the Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act was put in place to monitor diversity levels in communities so if there was minority voter suppression, the federal government would know about it. Citizenship questions have appeared on more frequent surveys, but not the 10-year one, in the past.

Critics of the addition say that it’s unconstitutional to ask for citizenship status, and that those without citizenship would be less inclined to fill out the census, thus giving an inaccurate count that could affect how funds are spread out. The president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Kristen Clarke, said the move was “xenophobic,” and Democratic representative Carolyn Malone called it “politically motivated.” Donald Trump had made multiple claims that millions of illegal voters had participated in the 2016 election. In response, a number of states have sued the Justice Department, fearing that an inaccurate census could negatively impact funding allocated to their state. As of Wednesday, at least 12 states had filed lawsuits against the Justice Department, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.

Russia

By Alice Hakvaag

Photo Credit: Danil Alkin-Tass/Getty Images via CNN

Protests erupted in Kemerovo after a fire in a mall last Sunday took the lives of over 60 people, more than half of whom were children. The mall, which had a movie theater, bowling alley, children’s ice rink, a petting zoo, and a children’s entertainment center was experiencing a seasonal rush, since it was the start of a school holiday. After the blaze started, fire extinguishers did not work, there was no evacuation plan, and fire exits were locked shut to keep people without tickets from entering the areas. A criminal investigation has been launched. A national TV broadcaster has said that an electrical fault is most likely the cause of the fire. The fire alarm of the mall is reported to have been out of service since the 19th of March.

On Tuesday a protest that lasted several hours formed in front of local government buildings. There were demands for local officials to resign, and demonstrators were quoted as saying they didn’t believe the death toll was accurate. The authorities have said 38 people are still missing, while relatives say the number is closer to 67. At the protest, Regional Deputy Governor Sergei Tsivilev appeared personally and begged the crowd’s forgiveness, which earned him applause. President Putin, while he did not attend, spoke harshly against authorities involved. “Losing so many people because of what? Because of criminal negligence, sloppiness.” He declared Wednesday a day of mourning.

Egypt

By Alice Hakvaag

Photo Credit: Mohamed Abd el Ghany/Reuters

After three days of voting, the Egyptian presidential election has come to a close. Current president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been declared the winner, though there are concerns about the legitimacy of his win. Low voter turnout was a big concern leading up to the election, with national TV programs encouraging Egyptians to vote, and voters say they were incentivized with food and other gifts to go to the polls. The Egyptian government reminded voters that there is a law on the books that fines eligible citizens $28 if they fail to show up to vote, though this law has not been widely enforced in the past.

One of the main reasons for the interest in voter turnout is that this election mainly serves to re-affirm Sisi as president. His only opponent, Moussa Mustafa Moussa, was a member of his own party who endorsed him in the past. There were other opponents running against him earlier in the year, but they all eventually dropped out after his main challenger was jailed, which was taken as intimidation.

Voters were completely aware of this, and it showed. Multiple voters called the election “useless” saying that “we all know he is winning anyway.” One woman said that she’d rather pay the fine than waste her time going to the polls. His supporters, however, were celebrating at the end of the day. Despite concerns that Sisi has had trouble defeating ISIS-related groups in the Sinai Peninsula, one supporter said, “we should continue the journey with him and be patient.”

 

Myanmar

By Rachel Elliott

 

After the sudden resignation of the president last week due to health issues, Myanmar has elected Win Myint as the next president. The 66-year-old is a well-known aide to Aung San Suu Kyi and has been involved in Burmese politics since before the revolt against the former dictator in the 80s. However, his role is largely ceremonial. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi will actually continue to lead in her position as foreign minister and state counsellor. This title is the result of the constitution banning anyone with foreign-born children from taking the presidency. This law is largely seen as targeted towards the Nobel Peace Prize winner. Her control, too, is undermined by the military, which has maintained control for decades.

Myanmar has recently been criticized in the international community for its poor response to the Rohingya refugee crisis. Specifically, Aung San Suu Kyi’s inaction to resolve the problem have resulted in calls to revoke her Nobel prize. But her control is constantly at odds with the military. Earlier this week, the military held a ceremony for Armed Forces Day where the commander-in-chief reasserted the military’s role in Burmese society. The election of Win Myint, though it points to a general loyalty to Suu Kyi, likely will not affect much change within the country.

North Korea

By Rachel Elliott

Photo Credit: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images via Vox

In his first international visit as leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un arrived in China on Wednesday to meet with President Xi Jinping. Chinese media reported that the two leaders discussed North Korean denuclearization, but with conditions. These conditions were mostly vague, however, with Kim saying that he would be committed to denuclearization if South Korea and the U.S. committed to “[creating] an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realisation of peace.” North Korea also said that they would require the U.S. to remove their guarantee to South Korea of nuclear weapons.

The trip seemed sudden to the rest of the world, but not surprising. It was expected that Kim would visit his closest ally ahead of talks with South Korea in April and the U.S. in May. The Trump administration, taking to Twitter, commended the North Korean effort to engage diplomatically, but reaffirmed the need for sanctions until any resolution comes to fruition. While the North Korean leader pushed the idea of denuclearization on the unofficial trip to China, evidence from within his country suggests otherwise. The New York Times reported that satellite images of North Korea showed a new nuclear weapon, ready to fire.