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Conflict Weekly
Protests in Senegal

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #214, 8 February 2024, Vol.5, No.6
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI and the India Office of the KAS

Anu Maria Joseph

Senegal: Protests amidst the postponement of elections
Anu Maria Joseph

In the news
On 4 February, violent protests erupted in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, after President Macky Sall postponed the elections which were scheduled for 25 February. Citing the postponement of a dispute between the Constitutional Court and the National Assembly over the eligibility of a few candidates, Sall, stated: “These troubled conditions could gravely hurt.” He also said that he would initiate "an open national dialogue... to create the conditions for a free, transparent and inclusive election in a peaceful and reconciled Senegal.”

On 5 February, the federal lawmakers finalised the election delay, passing a bill with 105 Members of Parliament voting in favour of the 165-seat assembly. The new bill has rescheduled the election to December 2024. Following the bill, the protests intensified, with opposition parties burning tyres and blocking roads. The riot police fired tear gas at the protesters and the opposition supporters, who gathered outside the parliament in Dakar. Several opposition leaders including former Prime Minister Aminata Toure and presidential candidate Anta Babacar were arrested. In response, Khalifa Sall, an opposition leader, described the delay as a “constitutional coup.” Thierno Alassane Sall, another opposition leader, called it “high treason.”

On 6 February, the African Union and the ECOWAS called for a dialogue. ECOWAS called on the political actors to “take steps urgently to restore the electoral calendar” according to the constitution. Besides, France, the US and the EU called for immediate elections.

Issues at large
First, a brief note on Senegal’s politics. Senegal, a West African country and a former French colony, has been for a long time referred to as a symbol of democracy in West Africa. Unlike other West African countries, Senegal never had a coup. It witnessed a peaceful transfer of power since 2000. However, since Macky Sall came to power in 2012, there has been a widespread crackdown on opposition, frequent internet shutdowns, and media restrictions.

Second, Macky Sall’s third-term ambition. Sall was first elected in 2012 for a seven-year term. Following the constitutional revision in 2016, the presidential term was reduced to five years. Sall’s supporters initially argued that he had the right to run for a third term under the revised constitution. Popular discontent over Sall’s administration and his third-term ambition intensified with its increasing authoritarian shift. In July 2023, he announced that he would not run for a third term. However, Sall has been trying to place Prime Minister Amadou Ba, as his successor. However, Amadou is unpopular and there is a fear that Sall’s party might lose elections. Sall’s term in office expires on 2 April. The postponement of elections is widely seen as an attempt by Sall to stay in power until December. 

Third, prolonged violent protests. For the past two years, protests have been increasingly frequent and violent in Senegal. In March 2023, nearly 10,000 supporters of opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko, protested in Dakar against Macky Sall’s speculated decision to run for a third term presidency. In August, another wave of protests began after the arrest of Sonko under the allegations of corrupting the youth and rape. Later, his party, the Patriots of Senegal (Pastef), was banned for inciting unrest during violent protests. In June 2022, protests erupted during the legislative elections after opposition candidates were disqualified on technical grounds. 

Fourth, the crackdown on opposition. Twenty candidates made the final list to contest elections this year. Meanwhile, several others were excluded by the Constitutional Council for not meeting the conditions. Those included major opposition leaders Ousmane Sonko and Karim Wade. While the crackdown on Ousmane Sonko, a youth icon, and his party has been ongoing since 2021, Karim Wade, son of the former president Abdoulaye Wade is accused of judicial corruption. The incident of popular opposition leaders being barred from contesting elections is not new in Senegal. Karim Wade and Khalifa Sall were jailed under corruption allegations in 2015 and 2018 respectively, and barred from contesting in 2019 elections. The opposition accuses Sall of politically motivated attempts to weaken the opposition through false allegations to exclude them from contesting.

In perspective
The postponement of elections implies uncertainty. If Sall continues to be in power after 2 April, it would be a victory for Sall’s third-term ambition and a tragedy to Senegal’s democracy. If he appoints a transitional president, the legality of the same would be questioned. However, the opposition is strong and has the capacity to mobilise, implying that tensions are likely to increase, so as violent protests. While a constitutional crisis is brewing in the country, the recent events are a larger challenge to its electoral integrity and judicial independence. Senegal’s political crisis adds to the increasing number of coups and authoritarian shifts in West Africa, implying that Senegal’s democratic credentials in West Africa are under scrutiny.

Issues in Peace and Conflict This Week:
Regional Roundups

Akriti Sharma, Alka Bala, Vetriselvi Baskaran, Akhil Ajith, Rohini Reenum, Rishika Yadav, Anu Maria Joseph, Femy Francis, Padmashree Anandhan, Dhriti Mukherjee, Shamini Velayutham and Narmatha S

East and Southeast Asia
China: Suspended death penalty to an Australian writer 
On 5 February, Al Jazeera reported that the Chinese government imposed a suspended death sentence on the Australian writer Yang Hengjun. According to the Chinese suspended death sentence, the accused is granted a two-year reprieve from being executed, after which it is automatically converted to life imprisonment. Yang was arrested in 2019 at the Guangzhou airport for “endangering national security with particularly serious harm to the country and the people.” The accused, family and friends have denied the charges. The sentencing was met with strong displeasure by Australia describing it as “unacceptable.” Yang is a known blogger and pro-democracy activist. Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong, stated: “The Australian government is appalled by this outcome” and that Australia will respond in the strongest terms by summoning the Chinese ambassador in Canberra.

China: Support to Russia in condemning the US strike on Iraq and Syria
On 5 February, Russia and China representatives in the UNSC condemned the US strike and target on Iraq and Syria. They accused the US of raising the risk of regional escalation. The Russian representative believes that the hike in strikes is owed to the upcoming presidential elections. Russia, alongside facing stringent sanctions after the Ukraine war, called for a council meeting against the US strike in Iraq and Syria. Russian envoy Koussay Aldahhak stated:  “The US purports that it does not seek to create conflicts in the Middle East or anywhere else, but in reality, it does precisely the opposite.” The Iranian ambassador Saeid Iravani expressed that the attacks are aimed at distracting from the root problem that is Israel. He stated: “It is evident to everyone that the root causes in the region are occupation, aggression and continued genocide and horrific atrocities committed by the Israeli regime, and fully supported by the US, against innocent Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.”

China: Beijing accused of cyber-attack by the Dutch defence ministry 
On 6 February, Dutch Minister of Defence, Kajsa Ollongren, accused China of a state-backed cyber malware attack on the Dutch military network. They called the attack part of the Chinese political spy efforts against the Netherlands. The Chinese embassy in the Netherlands refuted the “groundless accusations.” Kajsa stated: “It is important to ensure that espionage activities of this nature committed by China become public knowledge since this will help to increase international resilience to this type of cyber espionage.” The hackers are said to have placed malicious malware inside the military network used by 50 personnel for unclassified research. The Chinese embassy expressed: “We will not allow any country or individual using Chinese infrastructure to engage in such illegal activities.”

China: The US warning on against Papua New Guinea’s security pact with Beijing
On 5 February, the US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Verma, warned Papua New Guinea from forging a security pact with China stating that it comes with consequences. Verma stated: “We’ve seen that the Chinese commitment in defence or investment comes with a high cost. That’s what we’d say to Papua New Guinea.” Papua New Guinea Minister of Foreign Affairs, Justin Tkachenko, expressed that for decades Australia and the US exercised their sphere of influence in the region and purposely deterred Papua New Guinea from finding alternative security ties. Previously he had expressed that both the US and Australia are vital security partners but China is an important economic partner. Verma stressed that the US wants its partners to choose security arrangements with countries that play by the rules and live to international standards, adding that China is not one of them and there are other options. 

The Philippines: Manila to build a military base near Taiwan
On 6 February, according to Philippines Defence Secretary, Gilberto Teodoro Jnr, the country is planning to boost its military presence and infrastructure in the northern province of Batanes, close to Taiwan. Teodoro called for increased military presence and the development of more structures in Batanes, which he describes as “the spearhead of the Philippines.” This comes in light of increasing tensions with China in the South China Sea. Additionally, Teodoro emphasised the country’s aim to increase the cooperation between the military and the local government to protect stakeholders such as fisherfolk and other maritime-related agencies for better safety.

South Korea: Seoul to set up new command against North Korean nuclear threats
On 5 February, according to the South Korean Ministry of Defence, Seoul plans to set up a new command to counter North Korea’s nuclear threats. The plan will involve expanding the existing Joint Chiefs of Staff headquarters to respond to North Korean nuclear and weapons of mass destruction threats. The Ministry of Defence stated that the new command would oversee South Korea’s “three-axis” nuclear preparedness system comprising the Korea Air and Missile Defence, the Korea Massive Punishment Retaliation and the Kill Chain. 

Japan: Tokyo alarmed by the presence of Chinese ships near the Diaoyu Islands
On 5 February, according to an editorial in the South China Morning Post, titled “Chinese ships near Diaoyu Islands stoke Japan’s fears of Beijing vs Manila South China Sea-style clash,” by Julian Ryall, Japan is alarmed with the ongoing presence of Chinese vessels near the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. On 31 January, the Japanese Ministry of Defence stated that Chinese warships had been spotted near the boundaries of Japan’s Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ). It has deployed an airborne early warning and control system aircraft, a patrol plane and a helicopter. 

South Korea: Seoul summons Russian ambassador over their remarks on Yoon 
On 3 February, the South Korean Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chung Byung-won, summoned the Russian ambassador, Georgy Zinoviev. The South Korean ministry stated that Russia lashing out at President Yoon Suk Yeol’s remarks would impact their bilateral relations. He stated: “It was very regrettable that Russia ignored the truth and unconditionally protected North Korea while criticising the leader’s remarks in extremely rude language and emphasised that this would only worsen South Korea-Russia relations.” The contention came after Yoon criticised North Korean military activity stating that they are “going through fire and water solely for the sake of maintaining its hereditary totalitarian regime, while blatantly ignoring international law and UN Security Council resolutions by trading arms with Russia.” The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called his remarks “odious” and “blatantly biased,” influenced by the US and its ally’s policy.

Malaysia: 131 Rohingya refugees breakout from Malaysian detention centre; 41 rearrested
On 5 February, the Irrawaddy reported the rearrest of 41 Rohingya refugees after a breakout of 131 migrants from the temporary immigration centre in northern Perak state. The Malaysian police reported the arrest of 41 escaped men from the towns of Tapah and Bidor. Perak police chief, Mohamad Yusri Hassan Basri, expressed that “many more are hiding in the forest,” and currently 136 police and immigration officers are on the lookout in forests and villages. Previously in 2022, 528 Rohingyas escaped from a detention centre in northern Penang state, owing to hunger and the filthy conditions.

Thailand: Around 300 protesters gather against Myanmar junta outside UN headquarters 
On 2 February, according to the Irrawaddy, hundreds of protesters demonstrated against the junta government on the third anniversary of the Myanmar coup. The protesters voiced anti-junta slogans, clad in T-shirts displaying the jailed leader Aung San Suu Kyi. They held demonstrations to show the military’s violence against civilians and students. They raised the three-finger salute committing to “fight until the end for the revolution.”

Myanmar: Plans to extend state of emergency 
On 1 February, the Irrawaddy reported the Junta’s preparations to extend the state of emergency in Myanmar in a meeting held by the acting President Myint Swe at the National Defence and Security Council. Myanmar’s constitution allows for an emergency to be declared for one year initially and later allows it to extend for a maximum of two half-year terms. However, the Junta leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, extended the emergency rule five times. The plans for the sixth extension came on the third anniversary of the 2021 military coup.

Myanmar: Border guard police escape to Bangladesh amid fighting 
On 5 February, the Irrawaddy reported that 95 armed border guard police crossed the Myanmar border and entered Bangladesh on 4 February to escape the Arakan Army’s campaign in two border outposts in Maungdaw township. They were disarmed as “intruders” and taken into custody. The Arakan Army announced on 4 February that around 60 troops fled to Bangladesh. It added that the Taungpo Letya outpost and a large amount of ammunition were seized and are in the process of occupying another outpost. Bangladesh’s Minister of Home, Asaduzzaman Khan, stated that the border guard police had requested Bangladesh to assist in “self-defence” after one of its border outposts was captured. 

Myanmar: Members of Security Council urge Junta to cease attacks 
On 6 February, the Irrawaddy reported that nine members of the Security Council, including, the US, the UK, France, Japan, South Korea, Slovenia, Switzerland, Ecuador and Malta issued a joint statement on 5 February. They stated: “We strongly condemn the ongoing violence harming civilians in Myanmar including the military’s continued use of indiscriminate air strikes.” It added that as per the UN Security Council Resolution 2669, “we demand an immediate end to all forms of violence and urge restraint and de-escalation of tensions. We continue to urge the Myanmar military to immediately release all arbitrarily detained prisoners, including President Win Myint and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.” 

Myanmar: Arakan Army captures two more outposts in Rakhine state
On 6 October, the Irrawaddy reported that the Arakan Army announced that it had captured two battalion headquarters in the Mrauk U and Kyauktaw townships in the Rakhine state. It claimed of invaded LIB 376 headquarters in the Kyauktaw Township on 2 February. The junta has been carrying out air bombardments, while clashes continue in Rathedaung, Ponnagyun, Ramree and Ann townships. 

South Asia
Pakistan: Multiple bomb and grenade attacks in Balochistan
On 1 February, at least ten bomb and grenade attacks were reported in Balochistan resulting in one fatality and several injuries. The attacks targeted police stations, deputy commissioners’ offices, political party offices and other locations in different cities, including Quetta. A bomb exploded on the CPEC road in Quetta, killing a passerby. The Election Commission of Pakistan has sought detailed reports and the Balochistan government has heightened security across the province. 

Pakistan: Militant attacks surge
On 1 February, a Pakistani think tank, the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), reported that the country witnessed at least 93 militant attacks in January 2024. The attacks resulted in 90 deaths, 135 injuries and 15 abductions. Balochistan experienced 33 attacks, the highest number, followed by 30 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 24 in the former Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA). As the country prepares for general elections, there has been a surge in attacks against election-related activities, with 21 recorded incidents in January, leading to ten deaths and 25 injuries. Pakistani security forces successfully thwarted several attacks, eliminating 32 suspected militants. 

Pakistan: 24 terrorists killed in Balochistan
On 2 February, Dawn reported that on 29 and 30 January terrorists launched coordinated attacks in Mach and Kolpur towns in the Balochistan province. Security forces had successfully thwarted the attacks, leading to intense firefights. The Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) reported that in the past three days, 24 terrorists have been killed during clearance operations. Four members of law enforcement agencies and two civilians lost their lives during the exchange of fire. The ISPR highlighted the effective response of security forces, emphasising their commitment to fighting terrorism amid an increase in terror activities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. 

Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa
Iraq: US launch airstrikes against Iraq and Syria
On 3 February, the US launched airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. They bombed 85 targets that were linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC). The strikes were carried out in retaliation to the deadly attack on US forces near the Jordan-Syrian border during the previous week. The strikes resulted in 40 causalities. Long-range B-1 bombers were used in the airstrikes. On 4 February, Iraq condemned the attack and stated that the US bombing had “intensified the regional conflict.” Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated: “Iraq reiterated its refusal that its lands be an arena for settling scores or showing force between warring countries.”

Lebanon: Israeli strikes kill one civilian
On 7 February, a civilian was killed following Israel’s bombing on the Southern Lebanon border. On the same day, the Israeli drone attack hit the water pump in the Lebanese town of Wazzani that runs into the Hasbani River, a central river flowing between Lebanon and Israel since 2002. Meanwhile, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a raid conducted by Israeli forces in the Syrian city of Homs killed two Hezbollah members. On 6 February, the Amal Movement in Lebanon asserted that three of its fighters were killed by Israeli forces in southern Lebanon. 

Yemen: Houthi targeted US and UK ships in the Red Sea
On 6 February, according to the Houthi rebels, they successfully targeted a US and a UK ship in the Red Sea, questioning the efficacy of three waves of US-UK strikes on the group's missile installations in Yemen. Although neither of the two ships suffered significant damage, it highlights the necessity for commercial ships to either travel longer routes or pay higher insurance premiums to reduce their vulnerability to Houthi assaults. The Houthi’s military spokesperson, Brigadier General Yahya Saree, stated that the attacks on the two ships were carried out based on “self-defence” and operations against “hostile” US and UK targets.

Israel: Raid targets civilians in Nur Shams refugee camp
On 7 February, the Palestinian Red Cross Society (PRCS) stated that Israeli soldiers had killed two Palestinians in the Nur Shams refugee camp. On the same day, the Israeli forces while raiding the camp east of Tulkarem damaged and bombed a house, which resulted in the “injury of three women by shrapnel, and the injury of a man with live ammunition.”

Sudan: 38 people killed in Abyei region 
On 5 February, BBC reported that at least 38 people were killed and 18 were abducted in a recent attack in the Abyei region which is a disputed territory between Sudan and South Sudan. According to Abyei's regional administration, the majority of the victims were women and children. Additionally, the attackers raided almost 1000 cattle. The authorities accused two armed groups from the Warrap state, Twic and Ngok, of carrying out “coordinated attacks” in four villages. The previous week, the same groups looted the region and killed 53 people. Minister of Information, Culture, Youth and Sport in the Abyei Special Administration, Bulis Koch Aguar, condemned the frequent attacks.

Sudan: 12 children die of hunger in a day as war rages
On 5 February, BBC reported on the live conditions of the humanitarian crisis in war-raged Sudan. According to the UN, more than 11 million people have been displaced from their homes. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Darfur has warned about the devastating situation in the refugee camps. According to the agency, every two hours one child dies out of hunger at the Zamzam camp near the city of Fasher. The MSF has called for an increase in international humanitarian aid. The war that erupted in April 2023 has killed more than 12,000 people. The MSF stated that it has been able to deliver vital aid to only ten per cent of those in need.

Somalia: Ten people killed in blast series
On 6 February, Al Jazeera reported that at least ten people were killed and 20 were injured in the capital Mogadishu, following a series of blasts. The incident occurred near the Bakara market near the city. Although the cause behind the blasts is unclear, al-Qaeda linked al Shabab group carry out frequent attacks in the region. The authorities have announced an investigation into the attack.

Ethiopia: UK warns of devastating food crisis
On 5 February, BBC reported on the devastating food crisis in Ethiopia following the conflict and drought. The Tigray region is currently engulfed by drought; more than 350 have lost their lives to hunger. The UK Minister of Africa, Andrew Mitchell, told BBC that there is a risk of famine “if we don't now take action." He promised that Britain would donate EUR 100 million in assistance. According to the Ethiopian government, nearly 16 million people across the country are facing food shortages.

Ethiopia: President assures no ill intentions on Somalia
On 6 February, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed commented that Ethiopia "does not wish any harm" for Somalia. This comes on the sidelines of Ethiopia-Somalia tensions over a port deal signed between Ethiopia and Somaliland. Somalia sees the deal, which grants Ethiopia access to the sea, as an act of aggression and a violation of its sovereignty. Somalia has called its youth to prepare for defence and Ethiopia has blamed unnamed forces for inciting conflict.

Switzerland: Farmers stage protests in Geneva
On 3 February, the farmers’ protests entered Switzerland with around 30 Swiss farmers driving into Geneva with their tractors, demanding remuneration for their work. More than 200 people grouped around the tractors as farmers held up signs that read “major distributors, if you are not ashamed, then show the prices that farmers are paid.” Demands for transparency surrounding profit margins were raised by the French-speaking Swiss farmers’ union, Uniterre, which organised the protests. 

Spain: Farmers' protest over the EU regulations and high costs of production
On 6 February, Spanish farmers joined the farmers’ protests across the EU, demanding stricter controls on the goods of non-EU countries. They blocked the roads using tractors and convoys while waving Spanish flags and brandishing placards. Larger protests are scheduled in Madrid in late February. The protests were observed in north-eastern Catalonia, southern Andalusia, and Extremadura in the west. Similar to the farmers in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy, the Spanish farmers lamented that they had to “pay very high prices” due to regulations of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and still “sell at low prices.” They added that they had to “undergo a lot of controls, a lot of sanitary regulations which products from [non-EU countries] are not subject to.”

The Americas
Colombia: Truce with ELN rebel group extended by six months
On 6 February, the Colombian government stated that the truce with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s largest remaining active rebel group, had been extended by six months. The deal was signed by Colombian President Gustavo Petro in August 2023 and expired last week. The ELN movement began in 1964 and is known for running illegal gold mines, drug trafficking routes, kidnappings and attacks on oil infrastructure. As part of the truce, the group had agreed to “unilaterally and temporarily suspend economic detentions, a commitment that will be followed up by the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism.”

Chile: Wildfires kill 131
On 2 February, an unusual heatwave sparked wildfires in Chile's seaside Valparaíso region, killing 131 people as of 6 February. With more than 300 people missing, Chilean President Gabriel Boric described it as the “worst catastrophe to hit the country since the earthquake of 27 February 2010.” Around 15,000 homes have been damaged. Boric stated that the water bills for 9,200 affected homes would be forgiven and furniture would be donated. A state of emergency was declared on 2 February and authorities are investigating whether the fires were lit intentionally.

Haiti: Arrival of rebel leader amid widespread protests
On 6 February, former rebel leader, Guy Philippe, who was instrumental in the 2004 rebellion against the former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide arrived in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince amid protests. The protests began on 5 February, with people calling for the ouster of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who is being accused of delaying general elections to hold on to power alongside the country’s worsening security and economic situation. Philippe’s appearance caused commotion as he had released a video calling for a rebellion to oust Henry on 7 February, a date when Haitian leaders are usually sworn into office. He stated on a radio show: “The fight is just the beginning.”

Ecuador: Russia threatens to ban banana imports amid diplomatic tensions over military equipment
On 3 February, Russia’s federal agency for veterinary and phytosanitary controls stated that imports from five Ecuadorian banana companies would be banned as a disease had been discovered in previous shipments. This development came after Ecuador exchanged its old Russian military equipment to the US for USD 200 million. Ecuador, which is the world’s largest banana exporter, exports a fifth of its annual sales to Russia. The diplomatic tensions arose after Ecuador’s President, Daniel Noboa, stated that the Russian “scrap metal” was no longer usable and the new equipment that would be received from the US would be used to fight gangs. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation claimed that Ecuador could not sell equipment to any third party without Russian consent, as it violated a contract. The director of ACORBANEC, one of Ecuador’s main associations of banana exporters, Richard Salazar, was “surprised” by the “drastic” decision and expressed that it would be sorted out as the Russian market “would be difficult to replace.”

Ecuador: Investigation conducted with Spain into Albanian organised crime group
On 6 February, the Ecuadorean attorney general’s office claimed that in simultaneous operations in Ecuador and Spain, as part of an investigation into Albanian organised crime, at least 30 people were arrested by police from both countries. 57 raids were carried out in six provinces in Ecuador and four cities in Spain on allegations of money laundering and drug trafficking. A statement released by the attorney general’s office read: “The operation was carried out in collaboration with the attorney general's office in Spain (where 12 of the arrests were made and 450,000 euros were seized) with 45 prosecutors participating with their support staff.” This was part of Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa’s crackdown on gangs and resulted in USD 483,000 being seized, along with firearms, property and vehicles. The head of Ecuador's anti-narcotics police, William Villarroeal, stated that the group, led by an Albanian citizen, would transport drugs in banana containers using the information it had on foreign trade documents. He added that they had six companies in Ecuador and four in Spain “with large commercial activity which facilitated money laundering.”

Canada: Drought leads to nearly 90 active wildfires in British Columbia 
On 4 February, the Vancouver Sun reported that according to the British Columbia (BC) Wildfire Service, there were dozens of ongoing wildfires in northeast BC, stemming from last year's fire season. The city of Prince George alone accounted for 80 per cent of BC’s burnt land, with 87 active wildfires. According to a spokesperson for the Prince George Fire Centre, Sharon Nickel, these fires are “holdover” ones that remain “dormant and/or undetected for a considerable time after it starts.” The 2023 wildfire season in BC was the worst on record, leading to the death of six forest firefighters and 2.48 million hectares of land in BC being burnt. According to the BC Drought Information Portal, Prince George is experiencing Drought Level 5, the most severe. 

The US: State Department confirms Iraq was not notified before US strikes, contradicting earlier claims
On 5 February, the US State Department deputy spokesperson, Vedant Patel, stated that the US had not told the Iraqi government before launching air strikes in the country, contradicting a statement made by White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby previously. Kirby stated on 2 February that the Iraqi government had been notified in advance. Patel stated that although they “informed the Iraqis immediately after the strikes occurred,” the country would have understood that “there would be a response after the deaths” of the US soldiers. Kirby added that he was “not as specific” and while he regretted the “confusion caused,” he claimed that the US had “had made no secret – both to Iraqi officials and in public channels – that we would respond to the attacks on our troop.”
The US: “Atmospheric effect” brings record rain and mudslides in California
On 5 February, the Los Angeles Mayor, Karen Bass, instructed residents to “stay safe and off the roads” after an “atmospheric effect” led to flooding, mudslides and power outages throughout California. California’s governor declared a state of emergency in eight counties as over 130 flooding incidents were reported and three men were killed. Many residents have been forced out of their homes and have been left stranded. Winds up to 112 kilometres per hour were recorded and the National Weather Service (NWS) stated on 4 February that the rainfall in LA was the highest recorded.

Newsmakers This Week
Sebastian Pinera: Chile mourns its former President 
Navinan G

On 6 February, Chile’s former President, Sebastian Pinera, 74, who served two non-consecutive turns, died in a helicopter crash. Chilean President, Gabriel Boric, declared a national mourning until the funeral on 9 February. Despite their different political views, President Boric paid a heartfelt tribute to his predecessor. Brazil's President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, wrote condolences on X.

Pinera was a businessman and the owner of the fifth-largest fortune in Chile. He was an academician for 20 years at different universities and a consultant at the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank. He entered politics as a representative of the centre-right, which provided civilian backing for the military dictatorship. Pinera contested three times for president of Chile. He lost to leftist Michelle Bachelet in 2006, and in 2010 he defeated former President Eduardo Frei. Four years later, in 2018, he won a second four-year term. He was recognised for accelerating economic growth during his first term. However, his second tenure was marked by violent social upheaval against inequality. Pinera declared a state of emergency in 2019 stating that the country was "at war," however, later admitted to "excessive use of force." Then he dismissed his cabinet to create a new government and implement the social reforms requested by the public. He was arguably known for rescuing 33 miners buried for 69 days beneath the Atacama Desert in 2010. Gabriel Boric, a left-wing former student leader succeeded his office in 2022. He ended his term after creating an estimated one million jobs.

About the authors
Nuha Aamina and Alka Bala are Undergraduate scholars at St Joseph’s University, Bangalore.

Akriti Sharma and Rohini Reenum are PhD Scholars at NIAS.

Padmashree Anandhan and Anu Maria Joseph are Research Associates at NIAS. Femy Francis, Dhriti Mukherjee, Akhil Ajith and Shamini Velayutham are Research Assistants at NIAS.

Vetriselvi Baskaran, Navinan G and Narmatha S are Postgraduate scholars at the University of Madras. 
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of any institutions or organisations.

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