As nations across the globe remain under lockdown, more sweeping powers are being assumed by governments in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing demands for relief from poor barrios running out of resources under his lockdown orders, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to shoot protesters in the streets. Police have opened fire on lockdown violators in Nigeria, Ghana and Peru. In Tunisia, remote-controlled wheeled robots have been deployed to accost lockdown violators. States of emergency, including broad powers to restrict movements and control the media, have been declared from the Philippines to Serbia. Amnesty International warns that the restrictive measures could become a “new normal.” (Photo: Pulse, Ghana)
The European Court of Justice ruled that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic failed to uphold their obligations regarding refugee quotas as required by law. The countries could face financial penalties for their actions. In 2015 EU leaders established a refugee relocation program in response to the large numbers of asylum-seekers from war-torn Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. EU countries were supposed to apportion a share of asylum-seekers among those that arrived in Greece and Italy. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, according to the ECJ, “failed to fulfill their obligations under European Union law” by not accepting the number of refugees they had promised. (Photo: UNHCR/H.Holland)
With whole nations under lockdown, sweeping powers are being assumed by governments across the world in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Hungary’s parliament voted to allow Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree. The Russian parliament has approved an “anti-virus” package that includes up to seven years imprisonment for serious violations of quarantine rules. Israel has joined South Korea in authorizing use of personal cellphone data to track the virus. Chilean President Sebastian Piñera has declared a “state of catastrophe,” sending the military to public squares recently occupied by protesters. Military patrols are also enforcing the lockdown in Peru, Italy, Romania and South Africa. “We could have a parallel epidemic of authoritarian and repressive measures following close on the heels of a health epidemic,” said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights. (Photo: Peruvian army demonstration video, via YouTube)
Moscow hosted the first direct meeting in years between the intelligence chiefs of Turkey and Syria’s Assad regime, supposedly deadly rivals. The head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization Hakan Fidan met with Ali Mamlouk, head of the Syrian National Security Bureau, a sure sign of a Russian-brokered rapprochement between the burgeoning dictatorship of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the entrenched dictatorship of Bashar Assad. Sources said the discussions included “the possibility of working together against YPG, the terrorist organization PKK’s Syrian component.” This is a reference to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish militia in northern Syria, which is ideologically aligned with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the banned Kurdish revolutionary organization in Turkish territory. The YPG made a separate peace with the Assad regime to resist the Turkish invasion of Kurdish territory last year. It should come as little surprise that Assad is now considering their betrayal in exchange for some kind of peace with Turkey. (Map: Energy Consulting Group)
The secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee, Saeb Erekat, issued a statement rejecting the US-led conference in Warsaw, ostensibly aimed at brokering Middle East peace. Said Erekat: “Today we face a reality whereby the US Trump administration, in cooperation with the Polish government, is pushing yet a new initiative to annihilate the Palestinian national project.” Poland has been making some efforts to resist turning the conference into a propagandistic anti-Iran meeting dominated by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The notable absentees from the summit are meanwhile convening their own meeting in the Russian resort of Sochi. The rival summit is bringing together Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani. (Photo: Ma’an)
In the biggest demonstrations since the fall of communism, thousands have repeatedly taken to the streets in Hungary to oppose Prime Minister Viktor Orba''s controversial "slave law." The square outside the parliament building in Budapest was massively occupied Dec. 12 as the law was approved. It was subsequently signed by President Janos Ader. Orban said the law scraps "silly rules," and will help those who want to earn more by working more. In fact, the law will allow employers to demand workers put in up to 400 extra hours per year of overtime, compared with the current limit of 250. Meanwhile, payment for this overtime may be delayed by up to three years. Local media in Hungary report that Orban pushed through the law in a bid to lure German auto-maker BMW to invest a billion euros in a new plant in Debrecen, Hungary's second city, situated in the poorest region of the country, the northeast. The move is portrayed as intended to undercut labor costs in Slovakia, where BMW was initially considering investment. (Photo: KaosEnLaRed)
A Moscow district court rejected a lawsuit by relatives of Raoul Wallenberg, seeking to access uncensored documents concerning his death in Soviet captivity. Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who rescued thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II. Soviet forces detained Wallenberg in 1945, supposedly for espionage. He was reported to have died two years later in Moscow's notorious Lubyanka Prison.
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Low voter turnout invalidated the referendum in which Hungarians voted to oppose any EU mandatory placement of refugees—but President Viktor Orbán remains intransigent.