Europe
refugees in italy

Italy’s COVID-19 ‘amnesty’: hope and skepticism

The Italian government passed a measure allowing some 200,000 undocumented workers to apply for six-month residency permits, as part of the coronavirus pandemic recovery effort. But the initial atmosphere of hope has quickly faded. The amnesty only applies to workers in “essential” industries such as agriculture—a sector that relies on undocumented migrants for some 25% of its labor force. It excludes those who were stripped of humanitarian protection or legal status by the anti-migrant “security decrees” issued under former far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini. And after six months, applicants will be in the same situation as before the pandemic. (Photo: Jordi Bernabeu Farrús via Flickr)

Africa
ivorian troops

Sahel insurgency reaches Ivory Coast borderlands

In another sign of the Islamist insurgency in the Sahel reaching West Africa’s littoral states, the armed forces of Ivory Coast announced the completion of a joint operation with the military of neighboring inland Burkina Faso, to clear out a Qaedist camp that had been established on the border between the two countries. Some 1,000 Ivorian soldiers took part in the operation, in which eight militants were reported killed and 38 others detained—24 in Burkina Faso and 14 in Ivory Coast. More are thought to have escaped on motorbikes through the bush. The militants are said to be followers of the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), al-Qaeda’s West African franchise. (Photo: Ecofin Agency)

Planet Watch
warplane

Trump tears up arms control treaties

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced that the United States is formally withdrawing from the Treaty on Open Skies, a post-Cold War trust-building measure that allows the US and Russia to conduct unarmed reconnaissance flights over each others’ territories. Having last year withdrawn from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty, the White House is now threatening to similarly abandon New START, the 2010 agreement that limits the US and Russia to 1,550 deployed nuclear missiles each. (Image: Lockheed Martin)

South Asia
Amphan

‘Super Cyclone’ Amphan deepens COVID-19 crisis

Tropical Cyclone Amphan unexpectedly intensified into a rare “Super Cyclonic Storm”—becoming the northern hemisphere’s strongest tropical cyclone yet in 2020. Amphan left a trail of destruction along coastal areas both in India and Bangladesh, impacting tens of millions of people. At least 77 deaths in India and 25 in Bangladesh have been reported so far. Over three million people in both countries remain displaced from their homes, taking refuge in community shelters—obviously placing them at risk of contracting COVID-19. In India’s West Bengal state, thousands of people evacuated from their homes are crammed inside buildings that were being used as COVID-19 quarantine centers, because there is no other shelter available. (Photo via Wikipedia)

Greater Middle East
Yemen

COVID-19 concern in war-torn Yemen

With testing capacity low and the health system ravaged by five years of war, nobody really knows how many people are infected or dying of COVID-19 in Yemen, but the outlook does not seem good. Hundreds of people in Aden have reportedly died with symptoms that appear consistent with the coronavirus, while in the Houthi-controlled north there are unconfirmed but persistent rumors of a cover-up to mask a rising case count. To make matters worse, the UN—concerned it can’t protect its staff from the virus inside their compound—has pulled half of its remaining international workforce out of Sana’a. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

East Asia
Wuhan police

Another independent journalist arrested in Wuhan

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists is urging Chinese authorities to immediately release journalist Zhang Zhan, drop any charges against her, and ensure that the media can cover the coronavirus pandemic without fear of arrest. Zhang, an independent video journalist who had been posting reports from Wuhan on Twitter and YouTube since early February, went missing in the city one day after she published a video critical of the government’s countermeasures to contain the virus. The Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau issued a notice stating that Zhang had been arrested and detained for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” If convicted, she could face up to five years in prison, according to the Chinese criminal code. (Photo: China News Service via Wikimedia Common)

Africa
Sudan

SCOTUS: Sudan liable for terrorism damages

The US Supreme Court ruled in Opati v. Republic of Sudan that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act permits a punitive damages award against Sudan for the role it played in the 1998 bombings at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Plaintiffs in the case argued that Sudan had harbored al-Qaeda leaders who plotted the attacks, including Osama bin Laden. Officials in Khartoum have been seeking a settlement with the victims outside the court. Sudan is in a precarious economic situation following the ouster of long-ruling strongman Omer Hassan al-Bashir, now exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Trump administration made it clear that Sudan must settle all terrorism-related claims to get off the US list of “state sponsors of terrorism”—a precondition for Washington’s support for debt relief for the African country. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection)

Southern Cone
santiago protest

Protests erupt in Santiago, São Paulo

Protesters and riot police clashed on the outskirts of the Chilean capital Santiago, amid growing anger over food shortages during the lockdown imposed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Police deployed armored vehicles, water cannons and tear-gas to put down protests in the poor district of El Bosque. Residents blocked traffic and hurled stones at police in running clashes that lasted most of the day. Sporadic incidents were also reported in other parts of the city. Nightly pot-banging protests have been held for weeks in several neighborhoods, promoted under the hashtag #CacerolasContraElHambre—or, pot-banging against hunger. That same day, hundreds poured out of the favelas to fill the main streets of São Paulo, Brazil. In an audacious move, the favela residents marched on the state governor’s palace, demanding more support in the face of the lockdown. (Photo: Piensa Presna)

Planet Watch
Warsaw riot

Biological police state preparations advance

As rising strongmen in places like Poland and Ethiopia exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to postpone elections and grab extraordinary powers, even democratic countries are putting unprecedented police-state measure into place in the supposed interest of a return to “normality.” In the latter category is New Zealand, where a bill has been passed giving police sweeping powers to enter homes without warrants while enforcing new “Alert Level 2” rules. The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act creates a new corps of “enforcement officers” to track social contacts among the populace and conduct raids on the premises of suspected violators. (Photo of Warsaw police action via Twitter)

Iraq
iraq.pipeline

Yes, ‘peak oil’—but demand, not supply

After oil prices went negative for the first time ever last month, they are now starting to rise again as lockdowns imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic are gradually lifted. US crude is now back to nearly $30 a barrel. But this is less than half what the price was a year ago, and a third what it was a dozen years ago. Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer, is at the forefront of the cartel’s effort to squeeze supply to consumer nations, as part of its recent deal to curb output. Baghdad just announced a 30% cut of exports to Asia. But it remains to be seen if such measures will jack up prices and ease the economic pain that has led to a remobilization of anti-regime protests, despite pandemic fears. (Photo via Iraqi News Agency)

The Amazon
Amazon deaths

COVID-19: Amazon indigenous groups fear the worst

Indigenous leaders are warning that a combination of neglect, inadequate preparations, and a lack of lockdown measures is exposing remote and vulnerable communities in the Amazon to potentially devastating outbreaks of COVID-19. The major Amazon River ports of Manaus and Iquitos are among the hardest hit cities in South America, and deaths are already reported from indigenous communities deep in the rainforest, where health services are virtually non-existent. Communities already threatened by wildfires and illegal logging could be pushed to the brink in the coming months. (Photo: InfoRegión)

The Andes
ELN

US move against Cuba imperils Colombia peace

The United States government further complicated the future of peace in Colombia by adding Cuba to its list of countries that do not cooperate with counter-terrorist efforts. The State Department cited Havana’s failure to extradite leaders of the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia’s last active guerilla group. Colombia requested extradition of the ELN leaders after the group claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a Bogotá police academy last year. Havana responded that the ELN leaders had been brought to Cuba for peace talks with the Colombian government, and that it was obliged to honor terms protecting them from arrest. Colombia’s government broke off the talks after the Bogotá blast; civil society groups in Colombia have since been urging both sides to return to the table. (Photo: Colombia Reports)