At least 32 Azeri activists were arrested in the lead-up to an annual July protest at the historic Babak Fort in Iran's East Azerbaijan province against discrimination targeting the ethnic minority. The arrests took place in several citiese, including Tabriz and Ahar in East Azerbaijan and Meshgin Shahr in neighboring Ardabil province, usually following home raids. Security officials contacted a large number of local activists and warned them to not attend the annual ceremony. Dozens more were summoned and threatened with arrest if they attended the ceremony. Babak Fort, also known as the Immortal Castle or Republic Castle, is a mountaintop citadel said to have been the stronghold of Babak Khorramdin, the leader of the Khurramite rebellion who fought the Abbassid caliphate in the ninth century CE. Babak is revered as a national hero by ethnic Azeris and Iranians alike. Azeris, also known as Azarbaijani Turks, have for several years gathered at the citadel on the first weekend in July for the annual ceremony. (Iran Human Rights Monitor via UNPO)
Three weeks into the Assad regime's offensive on Daraa governorate in Syria's south, the Free Syrian Army's Southern Front have entered into a surrender deal brokered by Russia, which calls for their phased withdrawal of towns they still hold over the coming days. The Russian military plans to evacuate up to 1,000 people via a "humanitarian corridor" to Idlib in the north, the last significant pocket of rebel control. But the fate of many thousands more remains uncertain, even as the UN hopes for the return of the over 250,000 displaced from Daraa over the past weeks. Meanwhile, refuge in Idlib will be precarious at best, as the regime and its Russian backers are preparing a final offensive there. UN Secretary General António Guterres is calling for an investigation into deadly Russian air-strikes last week on the Idlib town of Zardana, in which at least 47 civilians were reported killed. (Enab Baladi, MEE, TRT World, BBC News)
In Episode 13 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg deconstructs Trump's executive order ostensibly ending the policy of family separation on the southern border, and demonstrates how it actually lays the groundwork for indefinite detention of migrants on military bases. The Central American peasantry, expropriated of its lands by state terror, CAFTA and narco-violence, is forced to flee north—now into the arms of Trump's new gulag. The judiciary may yet pose an obstacle to enforcement of Trump's order, but this brings us to the Supreme Court's upholding of Trump's Muslim travel ban and the grim implications of Justices Anthony Kennedy's imminent resignation. With Congressional calls mounting for putting off confirmation of Kennedy's replacement while Trump remains under investigation over the 2016 electoral irregularities, a constitutional crisis is imminent.
In what the New York Times somewhat hyperbolically calls a "clash," US Border Patrol vessels have over the past two weeks stopped at least 10 Canadian fishing boats near Machias Seal Island between Maine and New Brunswick. Canada has responded by beefing up its Coast Guard patrols in what is being termed a "disputed gray zone" between the two countries' territories. "There is no illegal immigration going on there," a bewildered Canadian fisherman told the Times. "It seems silly." Most observers see it as related to the current bitter trade dispute between Washington and Ottawa. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation says the US Border Patrol has stopped over 20 Canadian vessels so far this year in "contested waters" in the Bay of Fundy, and "has no intention of stopping." The so-called Grey Zone consists of some 700 square kilometers of lucrative lobster waters where the Bay of Fundy meets the Gulf of Maine, although few actually live in it. Machias Seal Island is a migratory bird sanctuary maintained by the government of Canada, but is otherwise uninhabited.
Colombia has taken significant steps back in a hardline pro-Washington direction since the election of the right-wing Iván Duque as the country's new president last month. Shortly after Duque's victory, the government announced that it will resume aerial spraying of glyphosate on coca crops—this time using drones rather than planes, to supposedly target the planted areas with greater precision. The move comes in response to a new report from the White House finding that Colombian coca cultivation has reached a new record. Data for 2017 indicates coca cultivation rose 11% to 209,000 hectares (516,450 acres), a level not seen in more than two decades of record-keeping. Estimated cocaine production increased 19 percent to 921 metric tons. "President Trump's message to Colombia is clear: The record growth in cocaine production must be reversed," said Jim Carroll, acting director for the US Office of National Drug Control Policy. (El Colombiano, June 26; AP, June 25)
Oil prices rose above $75 a barrel on July 3 for the first time since November 2014, as Libya's National Oil Corporation declared force majeure at its principal oil ports, which continue to be battled over by rival armed factions. Prices for West Texas Intermediate crude rose to $75.27 a barrel before dropping back down to $72.73. After years of depressed global oil prices, analysts are again talking of a possible new "oil shock." Growing tensions between the US and Iran, and other factors, were also cited. Libya's Union of Oil and Gas Workers meanwhile issued a statement saying that the country's oil is the collective property of all Libyans, and should be removed from all political, regional and tribal disputes. (CNBC, Libya Observer)
At least 270,000 people—about a third of the population—have been displaced by the Assad regime offensive on Daraa governorate in southern Syria since June 19. UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesman Mohammad Hawari confirmed the figure July 2, saying it "exceeded our expectations of 200,000." The agency expects the number to rise, with civilians fleeing to the borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights—but with both countries refusing to allow entry. The UNHCR said about 164,000 displaced are now in camps and villages in the neighboring small opposition-held governorate of Quneitra, close to the Golan border. (See map.) The Assad offensive to regain Daraa governorate, where the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, has been backed by Russian air-strikes, violating a "de-escalation zone" Moscow had declared with the US last July. UNHCR noted reports that "suggest indiscriminate attacks on health facilities, schools, civil defense centers, and offices of local NGOs."
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador—known by his initials AMLO—will be Mexico's next president, following his victory in the July 1 election. By any measure, this is historic—it is the first time a candidate of the left has had his victory honored, after three tries. In 1988, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) almost certainly had his victory stolen by fraud. Then, in 2006, AMLO himself, then running with the PRD, claimed his victory was similalry stolen. His supporters launched a protest occupation of Mexico City's central plaza, the Zocalo, and there was talk of forming a "parallel government." Now AMLO, running with his new vehicle, the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), has made it. There is a sense of a real break with Mexico's traditional political parties, The once-hegemonic Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is again discredited, as narco-violence only escalated under the incumbent President Enrique Peña Nieto. AMLO's old vehicle the PRD meanwhile formed an unlikely coalition with the right-wing National Action Party (PAN).