Russia has effectively used the Syrian war to perfect weaponry, Moscow's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Sept. 22. Russia intervened in support of the Bashar Assad regime in 2015 and has since been held responsible for some of the most devastating aerial bombings experienced by civilians since the onset of the conflict more than eight years ago. Shoigu has previously said the intervention has given Moscow a testing ground for new weaponry, including long-range missiles fired from ships, submarines and warplanes. The defense minister now told Moskovsky Komsomolets around 300 weapons had been "fine-tuned" through the Syria intervention. Among them was the Kalibr cruise missile, generally launched from Russia's war fleet off the Syrian coast. Previous to use in Syria, Shoigu said, technical difficulties meant the Kalibr missile often missed targets, but that is no longer the case.
Lifelong Taiwanese independence activist Su Beng died in Taipei Sept. 20, just a few weeks away from his 101st birthday. A resistance fighter against the Japanese during World War II, he subsequently became an underground militant who plotted against the dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek. After being forced into exile in Tokyo, he wrote his history of Taiwan, an openly partisan work with an anti-imperialist perspective, and became a vocal advocate for democracy in his island home, and its formal independence from China. He returned to Taiwan with the democratic transition of the 1990s, where he continued to agitate for independence, eventually becoming a respected advisor to current President Tsai Ing-wen.
A traditional shaman of Siberia's indigenous Yakut people, who had been walking cross-country for months toward Moscow "to drive [Russian President Vladimir] Putin out of the Kremlin," was arrested in Russia's far eastern republic of Buryatia. The region's Interior Ministry said Sept. 19 that Aleksandr Gabyshev was detained overnight on a highway near Lake Baikal. "Gabyshev is wanted in Yakutia on suspicion of committing a crime," the ministry said without specifying what crime the shaman is suspected of having committed. It added that he will be transferred to his native Yakutia.
Anti-government protests broke out across Egypt Sept. 20, with thousands joining demonstrations calling for the ouster of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi—a rare show of defiance since he established his dictatorship four years ago. Demonstrators filled Cairo's Tahrir Square, center of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Protesters also gathered in Alexandria, Suez and Gharbiya. Videos posted on social media showed demonstrators chanting "Rise up, fear not, Sisi must go" and, reviving the slogan of the 2011 Arab Revolution, "the people demand the downfall of the regime." Hundreds of protesters were finally dispersed from Tahrir Square by the riot police.
Environmental activist Diana Isabel Hernández was slain Sept. 14 in an attack by armed men on a religious procession in her community of Monte Gloria, Santo Domingo municipality, in the Guatemalan department of Suchitepéquez. Hernández was a leader of the Mujeres Madre Tierra Association, a group linked to the local Catholic church that worked to protect forests and promote organic agriculture. The Alianza por la Solidaridad human rights network denounced the slaying as a "cowardly murder that adds to the many cases of attacks on leaders who work for the common good." The network counts 16 social leaders assassinated in Guatemala last year—compared to three in 2017.
Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov was among 70 detainees from Russia and Ukraine released in a long-awaited prisoner swap—35 from each side. Among those Sentsov was exchanged for is a suspect in thw downing of Flight MH-17 that killed 298 people in 2014.. Last year, Sentsov spent 145 days on a hunger strike, demanding the release of all Ukrainians held in Russia and Russian-annexed Crimea on politically motivated charges. In October 2018, he won the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament's award for freedom of thought. (HRW, CNN) Human Rights in Ukraine decried the fact that, despite the swap, at least 87 Ukrainian political prisoners remain imprisoned in Russia or occupied Crimea, in addition to at least 225 hostages held by Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region. In light of this reality, the group said the "upbeat noises" in Western media about a "normalization" in Ukrainian-Russian relations "seem at very least premature."
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro failed to attend the summit of leaders of seven South American countries with Amazon Basin territory to address the devastating fires now consuming the rainforest. Duque claimed a medical emergency, and was represented by his foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, at the meeting in Colombia's Amazonian city of Leticia on Sept. 6. The presidents of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia as well as Araujo, the natural resouces minister of Guyana and vice president of Suriname agreed to form an "Amazonian cooperation network" to track deforestation across borders. Venezuela, despite having a large swath of Amazonian territory, was not invited, as Colombia does not recognize the presidency of Nicolas Maduro. Brazil has the largest share of the Amazon by far, and Bolsonaro's failure to attend was assailed by environmentalists worldwide.