Planet Watch
Oilsands

Negative oil prices slow tar sands production

Despite a new agreement by Saudi Arabia and Russia to end their price war, the oil market remains in free-fall amid the virtual shut-down of the world economy by the COVID-19 pandemic. The price of the main US and Canadian oil benchmarks have now fallen below zero—the first time oil prices have ever turned negative. Canada, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, has already started slashing oil sands output. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $2.5 billion in aid to the industry, and Trump is now also pledging a bail-out. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Greater Middle East
Yemen

Ceasefire confusion as COVID-19 arrives in Yemen

Yemeni government officials reported the country’s first case of COVID-19, shortly after the Saudi Arabia-led coalition announced that it would be observing a two-week unilateral ceasefire, in part to help confront the pandemic. The move was welcomed by the UN, and the office of Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths said he was working with the warring parties on a “comprehensive initiative” to end the five-year war. But a Houthi rebel spokesperson said coalition air-strikes have continued after the truce’s onset, and dismissed the initiative as a “political and media manoeuvre.” The past weeks have seen an increase in violence, including Saudi air-strikes on the Houthi-controlled capital city of Sana’a, and the shelling of a prison in the province of Taiz that killed at least five women and one child. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

Planet Watch
Aleppo ruins

UN calls for ‘global ceasefire’ in response to COVID-19

UN Secretary-General AntĂłnio Guterres is calling for warring parties across the world to lay down arms in support of the battle against COVID-19. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said. “That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives… Silence the guns, stop the artillery, end the air-strikes. It is crucial to help create corridors for life-saving aid, to bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.” (Photo of Aleppo ruins from UNHCR)

Planet Watch
refinery

Will COVID-19 mean oil industry bailout?

Already depressed oil prices are now plummeting in response to COVID-19 pandemic. Global oil consumption is said to be in “free-fall,” now predicted to lead to the largest “annual contraction in history.” Canada’s federal government is preparing a bailout package for the oil and gas sector, with a possible value of $15 billion. Among the proposals is a share buyout along the lines of the US Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) for banks and automotive companies during the 2008 financial crisis. (Photo: kris krĂĽg)

Palestine
Gaza march

Palestinians reject ‘Swindle of the Century’

Trump’s Israel-Palestine “peace” plan (sic), unveiled at the White House in a joint press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, has been anointed with the very Trumpian epithet “Deal of the Century.” It is actually a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum to the Palestinians to accept the status quo of bantustans, surrender much territory to actual Israeli annexation, give up their long-standing demand for justice for refugees—and call it “peace.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas predictably responded with “a thousand no’s.” And Palestinians immediately mobilized in outrage, in both the West Bank and Gaza. (Photo: Maan News)

Greater Middle East
Jamal Khashoggi

Death sentences in murder of Jamal Khashoggi

Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor announced that five people have been sentenced to death and three sentenced to prison terms in connection with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year. The verdict revealed that charges had been dismissed for the remaining three of the 11 that had been on trial. The trial did not find that the killing was premeditated. Among those not indicted were two top Saudi officials, who were exonerated due to lack of evidence. Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and columnist for the Washington Post, entered the consulate to obtain marriage documents in October 2018, only to be killed there, his body dismembered and later taken from the consulate. The remains have yet to be found. (Photo: Committee to Protect Journalists)

Greater Middle East

Egyptian revolution rebooted

Anti-government protests broke out across Egypt, 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. (Photo via Twitter)

Iran
Iran

Oil shock, wider war after Saudi refinery attack?

With some some 5% of the daily global supply wiped out by the drone attack on Saudi facilities, a new oil shock now appears imminent—putting paid to the conventional wisdom that such spikes are a thing of the past due to increased US domestic production. The Persian Gulf reserves remain determinant in global political power. How realistic is the fear of a new shock—or Western military confrontation with Iran? (Map: myket)

Greater Middle East

Yemen: now a three-way war —or four?

Over the past weeks, the two biggest members of the international coalition supporting the official government of Yemen against the Houthi rebels have fallen out, with Saudi Arabia continuing to back President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the United Arab Emirates switching its support to southern separatists. UAE-backed forces of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) seized control of the port city of Aden after days of fighting with Saudi-backed forces of the official government. Hadi’s government had been based in Aden since Iran-backed Houthi rebels sezied the capital Sanaa in 2014. Aden had been the capital of South Yemen before it united with North Yemen in 1990. In addition to Hadi’s government, the STC and the Houthis, militants of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) continue to wage an insurgency in the south. (Map via  Perry-Castañeda Library)

Central Asia
Uighurs

Uighurs as pawns in the Great Game

In a perverse spectacle, the Trump administration, which is establishing its own incipient concentration camp system for undocumented immigrants, makes a great show of feigning concern with the mass detention of the Uighurs in China’s “re-education camps.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called China’s treatment of the Uighurs the “stain of the century,” and accused Beijing of pressuring countries not to attend a US-hosted conference on religious freedom then opening in Washington. At the conference, Donald Trump actually met at the Oval Office with Jewher Ilham, daughter of the imprisoned Uighur scholar Ilham Tothi. It is hard to fault the Ughurs for being heartened by this international attention, but it is clear that they are being exploited for propaganda purposes. (Photo: Mvslim.com)

Iran

Iran war fever: real or charade?

Trump retreats from military action against Iran after a US surveillance drone is shot down in the Strait of Hormuz. Was the man who destroyed Raqqa and Mosul suddenly concerned with a possible 150 human casualties, as he claimed in his tweet explaining the balk? Or do Washington and Tehran have too much invested in pursuing their common wars against ISIS and other Sunni militants in Syria and Iraq to want the encumbrance of war with each other? (Photo of Global Hawk drone via Wikipedia)

Africa

Russia blocks UN statement against Sudan massacre

Russia, joined by China, blocked a bid at the UN Security Council to condemn the killing of civilians in Sudan and to issue a pressing call for an immediate halt to the violence. According to the latest update by the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors, over 100 people were killed by militiamen of the Rapid Support Forces who stormed the sit-in site in Khartoum and opened fire on the protesters. (Photo: Radio Tamazuj)