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This Week in the World

This Week in the World | 5.2.18

  • North Korea

Jung Yeon-je AFP/Getty Images via NPR

By: Alex Voisine

South Korea President Moon Jae-In and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met last Friday at a historic summit in Panmunjom, South Korea, marking the first time a North Korean leader had set foot in South Korea. The purpose of the summit was to discuss denuclearization and the brokering of a peace deal on the Korean Peninsula that would eventually involve the United States. The terms discussed during the summit indicate a sharp break with North Korea’s previous approach to international relations. For one, North Korea agreed to shut down their nuclear testing sites, and even offered to allow journalists and experts to monitor the shut down. North Korea also agreed to organize talks with the United States, to officially end the Korean War, which is technically still an “active” war since a peace treaty was never signed.

In return, North Korea asked that the South help convince the United States to agree to end the Korean War and to sign a pledge to not attack the North. Though talks with the United States are not officially scheduled, the North and South have already started holding up their end of the bargain; the North has suspended its nuclear program temporarily and the South has begun dismantling loudspeakers along the border with the North which it has used to blast anti-North Korea propaganda, world news, and k-pop songs into hearing distance in the North.

In exchange for denuclearization, the North also wants the United States to remove the over 20,000 troops that are stationed in South Korea, and to dismantle its nuclear “umbrella commitment” to South Korea and Japan.

  • Kenya

By: Alex Voisine

Last week, the new film Rafiki was officially banned in Kenya due to its pro-LGBT+ subject matter. The film’s director, Kenyan Wanuri Kahiu, sought to relay the story of a lesbian romance, and Rafiki is set to debut at the Cannes Film Festival. But, Kenyans won’t be able to access the film; the Kenya Film Classification Board not only banned the film but warned that anyone found in possession of the film would be in breach of Kenya’s anti-homosexuality law, which punishes same-sex sexual relations with 14 years in prison. In an interview with the BBC, Kahiu said: “I really had hoped that the classification board would classify it as an 18. I feel like the banning of the film does not allow the Kenyan audience to have a conversation about the film, and doesn’t allow the Kenyan audience to even watch it and as adults decide what they think.”

In other Kenyan news, according to the Kenyan Red Cross, over 41,000 households have been displaced by severe flooding in various parts of the country. The floods were caused by weeks of heavy rain and landslides following months of drought, and the Kenyan Red Cross has reported 100 deaths as of Tuesday, May 1. The Kenyan Red Cross has reported that one of its primary concerns is preventing outbreaks of cholera and other waterborne illnesses, that will be exacerbated by the floods and subsequent displacement.  

  • Cuba

Alejandro Ernest AFP/Getty Images

By Alice Hakvaag

April 19th marked a historic political turn for Cuba, with Miguel Diaz-Canel being sworn in as Cuba’s next president, the first time since 1959 that a member of the Castro family has not been at the head of the country. Despite this large change, analysts say that there will not be any major changes in Cuba’s political agenda. Diaz-Canel served as Vice President under Raul Castro for the past five years, and has been a strong ally of his for even longer.

The Cuban government was aware that the change was a large one, though, so they worked hard to put forward an image of political unity during the ceremony. Diaz-Canel himself said at his inauguration that he wanted “to ensure the continuity of the Cuban revolution,” and that foreign policy would be “unaltered.” With Raul Castro in the room, a portion of his speech was dedicated to honoring the former president, and all National Assembly members rose to give him a standing ovation.

  • Syria

CPL L Matthews/AFP/Getty Images

By Alice Hakvaag

Last Saturday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons got their team into Douza to investigate for traces of a chemical attack in Douma. The Syrian government allegedly used chemical arms against rebel forces, which triggered a drone attack from the United States. Syria denies that they used illegal chemical attacks. The team from the OPCW had to wait over a week to get clearance into the town, which has led to concerns that evidence of chemical use has been tampered with. They were supposed to go into Douma last Wednesday, but were delayed when a UN risk assessment team were fired upon the day before.

Douma had been under control of Jaish al-Islam rebels until shortly after the attack on April 7th, when they made a deal with Russian military to leave the city. US, France, and UK intelligence reported that during April 7th attacks on the rebels by the Syrian and Russian governments, chlorine and a kind of nerve agent were used. Both Syria and Russia denies these claims, though the Syrian government has a record of using chemical warfare in their fight against domestic rebels. Last year they used a nerve agent chemical in an attack on a rebel-controlled town and 80 people are reported to have died.

According to the official press release, the OPCW team said they sent multiple samples to the official OPCW lab in Rijswijk, as well as several other designated labs. Despite fears of tampering, toxic chemicals would still be present in the remains of the victims, says Alastair Hay, a professor of environmental toxicology. “Autopsy samples … will provide invaluable evidence.”

  • Nicaragua

Reuters/Oswaldo Rivas

By Rachel Elliott

Across Nicaragua, violent protests have erupted in response to social security reforms. The new laws raise employer and employee contributions and place a 5% tax on the income for elderly. In the past, these types of reforms were used by corrupt Nicaraguan officials to pocket money. Since protests began, over 40 people have been killed, allegedly by police attempting to suppress demonstrations. Nicaragua’s human rights commission raised the number to 63 dead. Peaceful protests have overtaken the country even after President Daniel Ortega had abandoned the reforms. The “Peace and Justice” demonstration, led by the Catholic Church, happened Saturday. Participants issued an ultimatum to President Ortega: meet their demands by the end of the month, or step down.

Once a political firebrand, instrumental in the overthrowing of the Somoza regime in the 70s, Ortega has been accused of trying to create a dynasty in government. He has been re-elected 3 times consecutively and made his wife vice president. Both of these actions are prohibited in the Nicaraguan constitution, but, in 2014, he convinced lawmakers to eliminate term limits.

Both the United States and the United Nations have condemned the violence against protesters.

  • Armenia

By Rachel Elliott

Protesters in support of protest leader Nikol Pashinyan took to the streets Wednesday and blocked roads and government buildings. The protests come after Tuesday’s 55-45 vote in Armenian parliament against making Mr. Pashinyan the new prime minister. He would have needed 53 total votes in favor to take power, but was not able to persuade the ruling Republican party representatives, who had said in the past they would not stand in the way of his campaign. They had chosen not to even put a candidate up for the position as a show of cooperation. However, they additionally accused him of using chaos of protest to gain power and questioned his abilities.

The political unrest began last month when President Serzh Sargsyan stepped down as president after ten years and then was voted in as prime minister. The move was seen as an attempt to hold on to his political reign since a 2015 referendum shifted political power from the president to parliament. Protesters emerged immediately afterwards. Pashinyan and Sargsyan met for talks which deteriorated after the protest leader called for the former president’s resignation. Pashinyan and 200 protesters were arrested. Sargsyan resigned shortly after Pashinyan was released. A new vote for prime minister will take place May 8. If it fails, parliament will be dissolved and elections would occur in the following month.

  • Iran

Amir Cohen/Reuters

By Rachel Elliott

Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a presentation exposing intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program. He accused Iran of lying to the world about their nuclear intentions in the past, saying that they had secretly been pursuing weapons rather than nuclear energy under a program called “Project Amad.” The evidence, he said, is from years before the 2015 Iran Deal, but asserted that the intelligence proved the deal itself was “based on lies.” A senior Israeli official said the prime minister had communicated this intelligence to President Trump earlier this year. In response, Iran denied the allegations, calling the presentation “propaganda” to bury the Iran Deal. The Israeli prime minister reasserted Tuesday that they did not wish for war with Iran, but felt the deal needed to end.

The presentation comes at a tense time in the world because President Trump will be deciding by May 12 whether or not to pull out of the deal. The president had previously called on the United Kingdom, France, and Germany to fix the flaws, in his opinion, in the deal by the 12th. The United Kingdom and France have advocated for the deal heavily. French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to Congress last week about the Iran Deal: “It is true to say that this agreement may not address all concerns and very important concerns. But we should not abandon it without having something more substantial instead.” Both France and the UK asserted that the evidence in Netanyahu’s presentation confirmed the necessity for the deal to ensure proper oversight into Iran’s nuclear program.

  • Brazil

By Alice Hakvaag

A large building collapsed in Sao Paulo on Tuesday after a fire broke out in the building. The cause of the fire is thought to be gas-related, though the investigation is ongoing. Standing at 26 stories tall the building was formerly used by city police, but had been home to dozens of squatters after police left the building a few years ago. The fire started in the lower levels of the building, quickly moving up as well as to an adjacent building. Makeshift walls of wood that separated living spaces are thought to have helped spread the blaze.

Only one person is thought to have been killed, though firefighters are still combing through rubble for survivors. The one victim, Ricardo Oliveira Galvão Pinheiro, reportedly had gone back into the building to alert people on the upper floors that there was a fire. Gerivaldo Araújo, a resident of the tower, said that “Many women lived alone and had children and he came back to help rescue those families.” Firefighters were able to locate Pinheiro and throw a rope to help him escape the fire after getting stuck on the 15th floor, but his part of the building collapsed soon afterwards. Rescue teams still haven’t found him.

Governor Marcio Franca said that the building “was an accident waiting to happen.” Elevators had been taken out of the shafts, creating chimneys for heat to travel up, and combustible material had been brought in by the residents. Rescue teams are still looking for 44 regular tenants of the building, while the remaining 250 have been moved to homeless shelters. A local hotel had also been evacuated.