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Conflict Weekly
Sweden in NATO, Farmers' Protest in Poland, and the anti-LGBTQ bill in Ghana

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #217, 1 March 2024, Vol.5, No.9
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI

Padmashree Anandhan, Manoranjan Kumar and Anu Maria Joseph


NATO 32: Leaving neutrality, Sweden to join after Hungary's approval
Padmashree Anandhan

In the news
On 26 February, Hungary's parliament voted (188 in favour and only six against) favouring Sweden to join NATO. Hungary is the last NATO member to approve Sweden becoming the 32nd member of NATO. During the press conference, Sweden's Prime Minister, Ulf Kristersson, said: "…Nato membership means that we are coming home to a large number of democracies working together for peace and freedom." NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: "Sweden's membership will make us all stronger and safer."

Following the vote, Sweden and Hungary signed a military agreement to sell Sweden's four JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets. 

On 26 February, Hungary's Prime Minister Victor Orban blamed the EU and NATO allies for forcing his administration to vote for Sweden. The pressure increased after Turkey approved Sweden's accession on 23 January. Hungary's vote follows Kristersson's visit to Budapest on 20 February to forge cooperation. On approval, Orban said: "Being members of NATO means that we are prepared to die for each other. It is based on mutual respect."

Issues at large
First, the Hungary roadblock and the shift. Orban's tagging with Turkey in blocking Finland and Sweden's entry into NATO was mainly due to his close relations with Turkey and Russia. Budapest's major criticisms against Sweden were over the latter's accusations against Hungary of democratic backsliding and lack of mutual relations. To overturn Orban's objections, a military agreement was needed to win the opposition vote;  the fighter jet agreement with Sweden has made it possible, which also means a long-standing military boost. Hungary is also at odds at the regional level, isolated by the EU and NATO due to blocking EU's decisions against Russia and on Ukraine aid. It does not hold well amongst far-right leaders from France and Italy, as there is no interest in holding formal ties with Hungary. With no investment inflow from Russia, China and Central Asia, Hungary is left with no regional influence, leading to a block in the decision to get few favours. The shift in Hungary's decision to vote in favour of Sweden was possible for many reasons. Change in the government to right-leaning has withdrawn Sweden's criticism of Hungary for democratic backsliding and disregarding minority rights. Hungary's air force's demand for Sweden's Gripen fighter jets and condition to release EU-blocked funds being fulfilled by Sweden and the EU helped ease the decision. 

Second, beyond Hungary's opposition. It was not only Hungary that had opposed Sweden's NATO entry. Earlier, Turkey also had issues in getting Sweden on board. Turkey held its decision against Sweden for close to two years under a negotiation to lift the arms embargo and mainly to act against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The group is considered a terrorist by Turkey after a coup attempt in 2016. Another key condition linked to the decision is unblocking the US supply of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. 

Third, the divide within the NATO on Russia. Turkey's opposition and Hungary's delay in voting on Sweden's membership highlights the crack within the NATO alliance. It shows how a few NATO members do not see Russia as the primary security threat. Meanwhile, Finland and Sweden's domestic issues have been macroscopical, and several members view it as an opportunity to negotiate their domestic and military concessions rather than perceiving Russia's invasion as a prime threat.

Fourth, Russia's NATO expansion conundrum. Sweden and Finland joining NATO creates a direct threat to Russia at the land and sea borders. Given the neutral stance of the two Nordic countries until now and the years of relations with Russia, the leaders have indicated the membership only as a deterrence. Meanwhile, Russia has clearly expressed its intention not to launch a strike into Finland unless there is an attack. It has showcased its interest to be limited to Ukraine.  

In perspective
First, NATO's new ring of defence. The renewed borders of NATO and the Nordic countries' high-end technology and advanced military systems will be a boon to NATO's draining stockpile. Finland's border with Russia would act as a new defence zone for early alerts and detection to defend western and northern Europe.

Second, the challenge to two principal NATO adversaries – the US and Russia. Former US President Donald Trump's criticism of European members' support of NATO and the republican stand against sending aid to Ukraine underline a negative position within the US on Europe's threat perceptions. The US would have to re-think its approach towards NATO, considering the military advancement and geopolitical access that the Nordic brings. Regardless of the leadership, the US' access to the Baltic and Arctic would be an advantage to counter future geopolitical challenges.

For Russia, its key agenda to keep NATO away stands defeated. Finland and Sweden's membership has brought NATO closer. One of the primary objectives of Russia in Ukraine was to keep NATO away. Following the membership of the former neutral Nordic countries, Russia faces a geopolitical quest to balance or showcase its symbolic power against NATO.


Poland: The Farmers' protest on Ukraine grain and EU regulations
Manoranjan Kumar

In the news
On 28 February, Reuters reported that thousands of Polish farmers flooded the streets of Warsaw, displaying the national flag and sounding handheld horns, intensifying their protest against Ukrainian food imports and EU environmental regulations. They demand the government to withdraw from the EU's Green Deal and halt imports of agricultural products.

On the same day, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk stated that he could not rule out widening a national ban on Ukrainian grains to other products if the EU does not act to protect the bloc's markets. He stated: "We want to help Ukraine, but it cannot be done through actions that are lethal to whole areas of the economy."

On 26 February, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov stated that Kyiv sent a note to Warsaw demanding the Polish authorities find and punish the guilty. The statement came after, on 21 February, protestors blocked the border and opened railway carriages, letting 160 tonnes of grains spill out.

On 22 February, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated: "The commission remains committed to delivering solutions to ease the pressure currently felt by our hard-working farming women and men. We are easing the administrative burden on our farmers to help them guarantee food security for European citizens. Simplification of our agriculture policies is a constant priority, at both EU and national level. With this range of actions, we are delivering on the pledge we made to our farmers to accelerate this discussion. I look forward to hearing the views of our Member States." 

Issues at large
First, the farmers' protests across the EU. Farmers across the EU, including Germany, France, Poland, Spain, Greece, and Portugal, face various challenges. Their major concerns are the following: falling selling prices; rising energy, fertilizer, and transportation costs; heavy regulations or red-tapism; debt, cheap imports, and climate change; and new EU green regulations based on the EU agricultural system. Several concerns are country-specific; however, the majority of them are continent-wide. They started protests across Europe last year and intensified by the first week of February. However, national governments have taken steps to meet farmers' demands, with Berlin abandoning its plan to cut diesel subsidies and Paris scrapping a diesel tax increment. 

Second, cheap imports from Ukraine. In June 2022, the EU waived taxes, quotas, and trade defence measures on Ukrainian food imports following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This step resulted in the Polish markets being flooded with imported grains and other food products from Ukraine, which created competition between local producers. The Polish farmers called it "unfair competition" as their income decreased by nearly ten per cent. The farmers are concerned about the future of the agricultural sector in Poland and their livelihood. The ongoing farmers' protest across Poland has pressurized the government. Meanwhile, the government banned the import of several products in 2023 and is finding new ways to protect the interests of farmers. 

Third, the EU's Green Deal. The farmers are against the EU Green Deal, which aims to make the EU's food and agriculture systems sustainable. The policies include reduced use of fertilizers and pesticides, focus on organic farming, and rewilding lands to increase biodiversity. These regulations increased farming costs, adversely affecting the farmers who needed to receive appropriate prices for their products. Farmers claim it is impossible to compete with importing countries outside the EU, including Ukraine, as they are not bound to follow the EU's Green Deal regulations. 

Fourth, extreme weather conditions. Climate change has severely affected European farmers. They are suffering from increasing heat, drought, and flooding. The production of the main crops, including olive, wheat, rice, and fruits, has reduced due to worsened weather conditions. The first month of 2024 has been recorded as the world's hottest January, which destroyed winter crops.

In perspective
With growing discontent among farmers across the EU, Brussels withdrew from several rules of the EU's Green Deal. It includes reducing the use of pesticides by 50 per cent by 2030, delaying the target to leave some lands to improve biodiversity, and scrapping a goal to cut farming emissions from its 2040 climate roadmap. The EU will conduct an online survey to learn about the farmers' concerns during the first week of March. The timely response from the EU regarding farmers' interests may slow the protests. It would firm their faith in Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). However, the commitment of the EU to stand with Ukraine would likely remain the same.    

As the Polish farmers have blocked nearly all borders with Ukraine, which disrupted the supply of Ukrainian grain to the EU countries, the Ukrainian government delegation visited the border to discuss the protests and a solution as the blockade hit both countries' trade and economy. Although Poland has supported Ukraine in the war and helped socially, economically and militarily, the farmers' protest has created a dilemma for the Polish government regarding its support to Ukraine. 


Ghana: The anti-LGBTQ bill threatens a liberal democracy in West Africa
Anu Maria Joseph

In the news
On 28 February, Ghana's parliament passed an anti-LGBTQ bill. The new bill imposes a three-year sentence for those who identify as LGBTQ, a five-year sentence for forming or funding LGBTQ groups and a ten-year sentence for anyone involved in LGBTQ campaigns aimed at children. The bill received majority support from lawmakers. It would come into effect once President Nana Akufo-Addo signs it.

Big18, a human rights coalition in Ghana, condemned the bill. A member of the coalition, Takyiwaa Manuh, stated: "You cannot criminalize a person's identity and that's what the bill is doing and it's absolutely wrong; We want to impress on the president not to assent to the bill, it totally violates the human rights of the LGBT community." 

The bill was sponsored by Christian, Muslim and traditional leaders (leaders of pre-colonial communities who continue to enjoy political power and influence on identity, language, customs and beliefs) with the support of several lawmakers. Opposition lawmaker Sam George, who supports the bill, stated: "There is nothing that deals with LGBTQ better than this bill that has been passed by parliament. We expect the president to walk his talk and be a man of his words."

In response, the United Nations human rights chief Volker Türk described the bill as "profoundly disturbing" and called the government not to sign it into law. He stated: "The bill broadens the scope of criminal sanctions against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transexual and queer people – simply for being who they are – and threatens criminal penalties against perceived allies of LGBTQ+ people."

On 29 February, the US stated that it is "deeply troubled" by the anti-LGBTQ+ bill, which threatens constitutional freedoms. The US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller stated: "The bill would also undermine Ghana's valuable public health, media and civic spaces, and economy." 

Issues at large
First, the growing shift in Ghana from a liberal democracy. After 2000, Ghana emerged as a leading example of liberal democracy in West Africa, where political instability and coups are familiar. However, since 2021, the country has taken several illiberal shifts, one of them being the anti-LGBTQ stance. In 2018, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the queer community in the country "suffer widespread discrimination and abuse both in public and family settings." The anti-LGBTQ bill was drafted in 2021 against the opening of Ghana's first LGBTQ community centre, which sparked protests. 

Second, the role of the government, church and the society. All three actors play a significant role in the anti-LGBTQ bill. The ruling government and the opposition support the anti-LGBTQ stance without debates. They openly reject same-sex marriage, citing the cultural values of the country. Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo recently stated that same-sex marriage will "never" be legalized during his term in office. Besides, the church has a significant say in Ghanaian society. The Christian Council of Ghana describes homosexuality as an "affront to human dignity" and "not a human right." The Christian Council of Ghana and the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council narrate being LGBTQ+ as "alien to the Ghanaian culture and family value system and, as such, the citizens of this nation cannot accept it." The government has gained popularity for its anti-LGBTQ stance as the majority of the population, which is highly religious, supports the anti-LGBTQ narrative.

Third, the LGBTQ debate in Africa. Ghana is not the only country that recently adopted an extreme LGBTQ stance. Uganda and Kenya, two other African democracies, have joined Ghana recently. In March 2023, Uganda passed its Anti-LGBTQ Act, imposing severe punishments, including the death penalty for identifying as LGBTQ. The Ugandan anti-LGBTQ act is regarded as one of the most brutal in the world.
Meanwhile, Kenyan lawmakers are campaigning for anti-LGBTQ laws. According to Amnesty International, nearly 30 African countries have currently banned same-sex relations. Additionally, homophobic attitudes, behaviours and rhetoric have surged in the continent in recent years.

In perspective
The bill comes ahead of Ghana's presidential elections scheduled this year. While the human rights of the LGBTQ+ community are being compromised, Akufo-Addo's government has gained widespread popularity ahead of the election. This marks an illiberal democratic shift in the country with popular support. If the bill becomes a law, it would imply a likely increase in violence against the queer community under a supposedly democratic leadership infiltrated by unjust religious and traditional rationale.

The bill adds to the latest wave of anti-LGBTQ+ narratives in Africa. It would likely encourage other African countries to adopt a similar stance. Additionally, regional organizations, including the AU and ECOWAS, have opted not to respond to the development, implying probable ignorance or support for the issue.


Conflict Weekly Special Alert
The War in Gaza: Week #21
Gananthula Uma Maheshwari, Rishita Verma, Nuha Aamina and Rosemary Kurian

War on the ground
On 29 February, health authorities in Gaza stated that Israeli troops opened fire on a large crowd of Palestinians who were trying to get aid from a convoy in Gaza City. The firing killed 104 Palestinians, wounded 280, and pushed the death toll of the war above 30,000.

On 29 February, the Wafa news agency reported that at least 25 people were killed in Israeli airstrikes overnight in the central Gazan camps of Nuseirat and Bureij.

On 28 February, Al Jazeera reported that Gaza's Ministry of Health stated that 96 people had died and 172 had been injured in the last 24 hours.

On 27 February, the Wafa news agency reported that three Palestinian males were shot and killed by the Israeli military during operations on the occupied West Bank's Tubas city and the adjacent al-Far'a camp. 

On 25 February, ten Palestinians were killed after the Israeli military opened fire on crowds of civilians who were waiting for food relief trucks to arrive in Gaza City, according to the Wafa news agency.

Regional responses
On 29 February, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia condemned Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians in Northern Gaza.

On 28 February, the Jerusalem Post reported that Iran gave Lebanon's Hezbollah group the green signal to increase its attacks along the northern border of Israel. 

On 28 February, Arab News reported that the Parliament of Arabs based in Cairo condemned the construction of a watch tower and installing surveillance cameras on the western wall of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

On 27 February, in light of the Israeli government's limitations on aid entering the region by road, the Royal Jordanian Air Force conducted the largest airdrop operation off the coast of the Gaza Strip, delivering much-needed aid to millions of Palestinians.

On 27 February, Reuters reported that Lebanon's Hezbollah group stated that it would stop attacks against Israel once Hamas approved the new truce deal.

On 25 February, a floating hospital anchored in Al-Arish, Egypt, began operations to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians. The hospital was provided by the UAE under its "Gallant Kind 3' initiative for humanitarian support.

On 25 February, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) proceedings on the legality of Israel's occupation of Palestine came to an end.

Global responses
On 29 February, Joe Biden, the US President, stated that the Israeli firing on people in food lines in Gaza would complicate the truce talks. He said they were checking "two competing versions of what happened," adding that he was still hopeful of a ceasefire, even if it is delayed beyond 4 March.

On 29 February, Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of Russia, called upon the representatives of Hamas and Fatah to unite the Palestinian civilians.

On 28 February, five explosive-laden drones launched in the Red Sea by the Houthi rebels were shot down by a US warplane and a coalition cruiser. The attack came after the Houthis announced "aggression" by the US and the UK on the western province of Hodeidah.

On 26 October, Joe Biden, the US President, expressed hope for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza by 4 March. After intensive talks in Qatar negotiating a six-week pause to hostilities to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, the deal has gathered pace.

On 26 February, the US military's Central Command (CENTCOM) announced that it had struck three unmanned surface vessels and two anti-ship cruise missiles in the Houthi-controlled regions of Yemen.

On 26 February, the Greek government approved the country's participation in the EU naval mission, nicknamed Eunavfor Aspides, to protect merchant ships from attacks against the Houthis in the Red Sea.

On 26 February, Antonio Guterres, the UN General Secretary, stated that the UN Security Council's (UNSC) authority was "perhaps fatally undermined" by the deadlock in the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza, pointing at the division among permanent members.

On 25 February, an active member of the US Air Force, Aaron Bushnell, set himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, yelling "Free Palestine."


Issues in Peace and Conflict This Week:
Regional Roundups

Akriti Sharma, Vetriselvi Baskaran, Akhil Ajith, Rohini Reenum, Anu Maria Joseph, Femy Francis, Padmashree Anandhan, Dhriti Mukherjee, Shamini Velayutham, Narmatha S, Navinan GV and Gopi Keshav N

East and Southeast Asia
Taiwan: Chinese Coast Guard ships are no threat if not close to land forces, says Taiwanese Defence Minister
On 27 February, Taiwanese Minister of Defence Chiu Kuo-cheng stated that the military would not consider the presence of Chinese Coast Guard ships to be a threat as long as they were away from the Taiwanese land forces. Chiu's statement came after the recent dispatch of Chinese ships around the Taiwan-controlled defence outpost of Quemoy, also known as Kinmen. He highlighted the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to handle such cases and mentioned that the military would not directly intervene and increase its forces on the islands near mainland China. 

China: The US warns Pacific island countries against receiving Chinese security assistance
On 26 February, the US cautioned Pacific Island countries not to accept any security assistance from China amidst the reports of Chinese police presence in Kiribati. The US State Department spokesperson stated that the US won't tolerate "transnational repression efforts" to establish police stations around the world. Kiribati's acting police commissioner, Eeri Aritiera, noted that the Chinese officers worked with the local police for community policing and a crime database program. Kiribati is strategically located near Hawaii and has one of the world's largest Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), covering more than 3.5 million square kilometres of the Pacific. The US is concerned about China's plans to rebuild a World War Two-era US military airstrip on Kiribati's Kanton Island. To counter China, the US has pledged to upgrade the wharf on Kanton Island and open an embassy in Kiribati.

China: The Coast Guard conducts patrols near Taiwan's Kinmen Islands
On 25 February, the Chinese Coast Guard held law enforcement patrols near the Taiwanese islands. The development came after two Chinese fishermen were killed while being chased away by the Taiwanese Coast Guard for illegal trespassing on 14 February. The Chinese Coast Guard said they conducted measures to safeguard the fishermen's lives and property. 

China: The US and the West criticized for imposing sanctions on Chinese companies
On 23 February, China's UN representative Zhang Jun opposed the sanctions imposed on Chinese companies by the US and the West. He described the sanctions as "indiscriminate", adding that the situation plaguing NATO and Europe is due to the former's expansionary behaviour. Zhang iterated that China wants to play a constructive role in settling the issue. He stated: "We encourage NATO to do some soul-searching, come out of the cage of Cold War mentality, and refrain from acting as an agent of trouble instigating bloc confrontation." Zhang added that China has no role in the Ukraine war and that it is not a party to the crisis. The statements came after NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg claimed that China is closely watching the conflict and is planning to draw parallels with Taiwan.

The Philippines: China accused of blocking logistical supplies to the Scarborough Shoal
On 25 February, the Philippines accused the Chinese Coast Guard of attempting to block the BRP Datu Sanday, a government vessel transporting supplies to the disputed Scarborough Shoal. The vessel was blocked by a Chinese Coast Guard ship and three other Chinese vessels. Three of the four vessels conducted dangerous manoeuvres near the boat by shadowing and jamming vessel transponder activities. The previous week, another Philippine vessel, BRP Datu Tambloty, faced similar challenges while delivering supplies to the shoal. 

South Korea: The doctors' protest 
On 27 February, South Korean Minister of Health Cho Kyoo-hong announced a program to legally protect nurses from conducting medical procedures that are to be performed by doctors. The nurses complained about workloads and legal risks amidst the doctors' protest against the government's plan to boost medical school admissions by 2,000 students per year. The protests have led to the absence of two-thirds of the doctors, leading to service disruptions at several hospitals. Cho warned 9,000 protesting doctors to return to work by 29 February to avoid license suspension, possible prosecution and arrest. The doctors demand better pay and working conditions before increasing admission to medical schools. 

South Korea: Joint military drills with the US
On 27 February, Reuters reported that South Korea and the US would conduct the annual joint military drills from 4 March to 14. The Freedom Shield Exercise would be the first after North Korea ended the 2018 inter-Korean military pact in November 2023. South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesperson Colonel Lee Sung-jun stated that the drills would be based on the recent tensions and include air assault and air strikes with twice the number of troops compared to 2023. Lee added that the exercise aims to neutralize North Korea's nuclear threats. 

South Asia
Pakistan: PTI to launch protests against "massive poll theft"
On 28 February, Dawn reported that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) called for protests against the election rigging, urging all democratic forces to join hands to "strengthen democracy" in the country. PTI member Afzal Khan Marwat stated that if Pakistan does not speak up against the "mega polls theft," democracy will never flourish in the country. Meanwhile, another PTI member, Ali Mohammad Khan, alleged that people's rights "were breached through large-scale rigging" across Pakistan, particularly in the Balochistan province. PTI member Saler Khan Kakar alleged that in Balochistan, seats were sold to "contractors, smugglers and apolitical figures." He added that this was not a "personal fight" of PTI but a "matter of people's mandate" and an attempt to "save democracy in Pakistan." Mohammad Khan requested the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Qazi Faez Isa, to "launch a probe into the allegations of the Rawalpindi commissioner regarding the massive poll theft."

Pakistan: Six terrorists killed in intelligence operation
On 28 February, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) stated that six terrorists were killed and one soldier was injured during an intelligence-based operation in the North Waziristan district. The ISPR claimed that "weapons, ammunition and explosives" were recovered from the terrorists who "remained actively involved in numerous terrorist activities including target killing as well as extortion and abduction of innocent civilians." 

Bangladesh: Reopening of schools after an ease in Myanmar border tensions
On 27 February, the Dhaka Tribune reported that five government primary schools and a madrasa near the border of Bandarban with Myanmar closed for a month due to security concerns, were reopened. The Bandarban Deputy Commissioner announced that teaching would resume in these schools. The closure of the schools was prompted by the unstable situation in the region, with continuous firing and mortar shelling by the Arakan Army and junta forces. However, as the situation improved and no further incidents of violence were reported since 6 February, the district administration decided to reopen the schools.

Bangladesh: Deteriorating air quality in Dhaka
On 27 February, the Dhaka Tribune reported that Dhaka has been ranked second among cities with the poorest atmospheric conditions. The Air Quality Index (AQI) registered a high score of 181, classifying the city's air as "unhealthy." The rating places Dhaka behind India's Mumbai, which holds the top rank with an AQI of 183, followed by Kolkata and Delhi occupying positions three and four with respective scores of 178 and 171. According to the AQI scale, if the value for particle pollution lies within the range of 101 to 150, it is deemed "unhealthy for sensitive groups." Meanwhile, values between 150 and 200 are categorized as "unhealthy" for everyone. The "very unhealthy" threshold falls between 201 and 300, and any readings above 301 are labelled as "hazardous." In Bangladesh, the AQI takes into account five primary pollutants: particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur dioxide (SO2), and ozone. 

India: Protesting farmers observe 'Quit WTO' day
On 26 February, hundreds of protesting farmers conducted tractor marches on state and national highways and staged demonstrations in Punjab and Haryana. On 26 February, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) held the 'Quit WTO Day,' claiming that the central government is repressing Punjab's farmers to gain mileage for the upcoming elections. The SKM and Kisan Mazdoor Morcha called for removing the agricultural sector from the WTO agreement. Since 13 February, the Shambhu-Ambala and Khanauri-Jind regions at the Haryana-Punjab border have been occupied by protesting farmers barred from entering Haryana. 

India: People retaliate in Sandeshkhali against TMC leaders
On 25 February, a Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader faced the ire of a mob in Sandeshkhali village of the West Bengal state. He sought refuge in a villager's house after he was chased by a group of women who accused him of land grabs and torture. On 5 January, the leader's supporters attacked officials of the Enforcement Directorate. The Calcutta High Court placed a stay order on a Special Investigation Team concerning the case. Meanwhile, TMC's General Secretary defended the party, stating they were not protecting the accused. He added that the arrest was delayed due to the High Court's stay order on the investigations. Sandeshkhali has seen several TMC leaders being accused of land grabs and sexual harassment recently. The previous week, two other local TMC leaders were arrested on charges of sexual assault. 

India: Manipur High Court removes earlier direction to consider inclusion of Meiteis in Scheduled Tribe list
On 21 February, the Manipur High Court cancelled paragraph 17(iii), which had instructed the Manipur government to consider including Meiteis in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) directed on 27 March 2023. This has been a significant development in the ongoing ethnic clashes between the Meteis and the Kuki-zo communities in the Manipur state. The Kuki ethnic people filed the appeal, which is still pending before a bench headed by Chief Justice Siddharth Mridual. The court decided to delete the paragraph after the Meitei petitioners called for a change in the language. 

Central Asia and the Middle East 
Israel: Raid in Qalandiya refugee camp
On 29 February, the Israeli military raided the Qalandiya refugee camp in the West Bank. The military arrested two men allegedly connected to an attack on the Israeli settlement in Eli. On the same day, the Israeli military stated that due to the shortage of space in the prison, it released "administrative detainees" to make room for detainees of "higher threat level."

Palestine: IDF opens fire against aid seekers in Gaza
On 29 February, the Israel Defence Force (IDF) opened fire against the civilians. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, more than 100 people were killed in the attack. The Palestinian ambassador to the UK, Husam Zomlot, called the International Criminal Court (ICC) to take action against the attack. He stated: "This is Israel's barbarism and savagery. Every state that enables this or stays silent is complicit."

Meanwhile, Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on the international community to protect Palestinians. The ministry stated: "Qatar condemns in the strongest terms the heinous massacre committed by the Israeli occupation, against defenseless civilians who were waiting for humanitarian aid to arrive in Gaza, resulting in the death and injury of dozens of people." The Foreign Ministry of Oman asserted that the attack on Palestinians was part of "systematic criminal acts by the occupation forces." The ministry stated that the incident was a clear breach of international law. It added: "It was nothing but a continuation of the policy of extermination pursued by the Israeli occupation forces." Separately, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), al-Quds Brigades, stated that it targeted an Israeli military bulldozer and attacked an infantry force in the city of Khan Younis. The confrontation resulted in four causalities. The group added that it fired mortar shells at Israeli troops in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza. 

Syria: Israel launches air strikes from Golan Heights
On 29 February, according to the Syrian Ministry of Defence, Israel launched air strikes from the Golan Heights targeting Damascus. The ministry stated: "Our air defences confronted the missiles of the attack and downed most of them." The ministry added that the raids caused infrastructural damage.

Lebanon: Hezbollah and Hamas target Israeli forces
On 28 February, the Hamas asserted that it fired a volley of rockets from southern Lebanon towards northern Israel. The Hamas' armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, stated that it attacked two Israeli military sites with "two barrages of Grad rockets." The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was alarmed about the recent fire exchanges and "an expansion and intensification of strikes." The UNIFIL stated: "Recent events have the potential to put at risk a political solution to this conflict." It added that the parties involved should "halt hostilities and leave space for a political and diplomatic solution." On the same day, Hezbollah targeted the Meron air control base in response to the Israeli strike in the city of Baalbek. 

Yemen: US conducts self-defence strikes against Houthi cruise missiles
On 29 February, the US military's Central Command (CENTCOM) stated that it carried out two self-defence strikes against six Houthi mobile anti-ship cruise missiles in Yemen, which were "prepared to launch towards the Red Sea." The US forces claimed that it shot down a Houthi unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) over the southern Red Sea in self-defence. CENTCOM stated: "CENTCOM forces determined that the missiles and UAV presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and the US Navy ships in the region."

Africa
Sudan: UN releases report on human rights violations by warring factions
On 23 February, the UN's Human Rights Office released the report, "Sudan: Horrific violations and abuses as fighting spreads." It reports the human rights atrocities committed by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) during the past eight months. According to the report, thousands of people have been killed in ethnically motivated attacks in the Darfur region. It alleges that hundreds of women and children were raped and sexually assaulted, and both forces publicly beheaded several students. Besides, the report cited satellite images revealing the use of heavy explosives in densely populated areas.

Kenya: The US carries out joint military exercises
On 26 February, the US began its military exercise, Justified Accord, in Kenya. Nearly 20 countries took part in the 11-day exercise. The exercise aims to achieve countries' readiness for peacekeeping missions, crisis response, and humanitarian assistance. The US military stated: "Justified Accord, the largest exercise in East Africa, showcases the desire of the US and partner nations to increase readiness and interoperability for regional security and crisis response." 

West Africa: ECOWAS lift sanctions against Guinea and Niger
On 26 February, ECOWAS lifted sanctions imposed on Guinea, followed by Niger. ECOWAS stated: "The authority instructs the president of the commission to invite all four Ecowas member states in transition to technical and consultative meetings of Ecowas as well as to all security-related meetings." The bloc imposed sanctions on Niger, Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso following the coups. The bloc's President Omar Alieu Touray stated that the decision is purely on a "humanitarian basis." In January, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso left the bloc forming the Alliance of Sahel States. Nigerian President Bola Tinubu urged three countries to reconsider their withdrawal decision.

Burkina Faso: Attacks on mosque and church
On 26 February, BBC reported that gunmen attacked a mosque in the town of Natiaboani on 25 February. The same day, the northern village of Essakane witnessed another attack on a Catholic church. At least 12 people were killed during the attack. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. According to a report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, the number of people killed by armed groups has nearly tripled compared to the previous 18 months. Attacks on religious buildings have increased recently. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda in the Sahel region asserted that it only captured army barracks in Natiaboani and denied the attack on the mosque. Insurgents currently control a large area of the country. 

Chad: Attack in the capital 
On 28 February, the BBC reported on the attacks in Chad's capital, N'Djamena, and the National Security Agency's (ANSE) headquarters. Gunfire killed many people and injured several others. The government blamed the opposition Socialist Party Without Borders (PSF) for the attack. However, its leader, Yaya Dillo, denied the allegations. The attack came after the government announced the presidential election on 6 May. The upcoming election will end the transitional government under military leader Mahamt Deby. 

Nigeria: Mass demonstration against government as inflation hikes
On 27 February, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), a trade union, began its two-day protests against the government to "end hunger and insecurity" across the country. The primary demands of the protesters are to "open all food storage silos and ensure equitable distribution across the country," and abandon the World Bank and International Monetary Fund policies. Meanwhile, Nigeria's Central Bank has raised interest rates to curb inflation. Inflation has reached nearly 30 per cent and millions are struggling for basic needs and food. 

Europe
Ukraine: Russian Defence Ministry claims to capture Lastochkyne village near Avdiivka
On 27 February, the Ukrainian Armed Forces confirmed that it withdrew from the villages of Sievierne and Stepove near the town Avdiivka, which Russia captured. Russian President Vladimir Putin regarded the capture as an "absolute success." The Ukrainian withdrawal was observed as a proactive step to form defence over the Orlivka-Tonenke-Berdychi axis and deter Russia from advancing in the west direction. Ukraine's loss of Avdiivka came amid a shortage of artillery rounds and supplies due to an aid package from the US being held up in Congress by the Republicans.

France: Macon's statement on the possibility of stationing troops in Ukraine triggers rejection among European leaders
On 27 February, during a conference of 20 European leaders held in Paris to gather aid for Ukraine and send a message of resolve to Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron stated that there was "no consensus at this stage ... to send troops on the ground." Macron asserted that they would "do whatever it takes to ensure that Russia cannot win this war." German Chancellor Olaf Scholz rejected the notion of deploying troops in Ukraine. Slovakia's Prime Minister, Robert Fico, emphasized the disunited stance among the European leaders. Leaders from Sweden, Spain, Poland and the Czech Republic expressed their differences. In response to Macron's statement, the Press Secretary of the President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Peskov, called for talks to avoid direct conflict rather than discussing the possibilities. 

France: Farmers protest for increased commitment from the government
On 23 February, Rural Coordination, a farmer's union in western Paris, protested by driving tractors into a neighbourhood carrying the union's flags. The protests came after the government offered over USD 433 million to farmers, prompting them to lift roadblocks across the country. The farmer's protests in France are against the EU's agricultural policies (EU Green Deal), bureaucracy, and business conditions. Outside western France, other protestors have demanded a commitment from the government to bring the pledged measures into practice. 

The Americas
Haiti: Caribbean leaders underscore the need for urgent action to restore peace in Haiti
On 28 February, while a four-day regional summit in Guyana ended, members of the Caricom regional trade bloc stated that Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry agreed to hold general elections by mid-2025. Haiti has no elected officials in power. Besides, due to spiralling gang violence, the international community has been calling for a foreign armed force to tackle the unrest. The bloc stated: "Caricom heads underlined the critical and immediate need for a clear political path forward which should be participatory and inclusive." On the same day, the UN humanitarian coordinator, Ulrika Richardson, lamented the "inhuman" violence in Port-au-Prince, noting the 50 per cent increase in sexual violence from 2022 to 2023. The UN launched a humanitarian appeal, seeking USD 674 million for this cause. On 26 February, the US government expressed its willingness to supply money, equipment, and logistical support to a multinational force to restore peace in the country. The US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, attended the summit in Guyana and reiterated support for a UN-backed Kenyan police force to "restore peace and security." She asserted that the Haitians "need certainty."

Meanwhile, the Bahamian Prime Minister, Philip Davis, stated that "Haiti is haemorrhaging" due to a "truly terrible" security situation. The Brazilian President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, commented that the world needs to "act quickly to alleviate the suffering" of the Haitians. Additionally, on 26 February, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, claimed that Henry had "committed to serve as an honest broker and to share power." Henry was supposed to hold elections on 7 February 2024 but remained in power, leading to violent protests demanding his resignation.

Ecuador: Assassination of Villavicencio was planned, claims prosecutors
On 27 February, Ecuadorian prosecutor Ana Hidalgo commented during a court hearing that the murder of Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was planned from jail. Villavicencio, who denounced the influence of gangs, was shot days before the election in August 2023. Prosecutors claimed that seven hired gunmen attacked Villavicencio following an order from an Ecuadorian jail. Messages sent to one of the gunmen were traced to an inmate in Latacunga jail, who is suspected to be part of the Los Lobos criminal gang. 

Mexico: Two mayoral candidates shot dead 
On 26 February, two mayoral candidates were shot dead in the Mexican city of Maravatío. The incident came ahead of the 2 June national elections, which are expected to be the most violent due to the widening of drug cartels. The Mayor of Maravatío, Jaime Hinojosa Campa, stated that he was unaware of threats against the candidates and that "everything points toward" organized crime. One of the candidates, Armando Pérez Luna, was a member of the conservative National Action Party. The party's leader, Marko Cortés, stated that the murders illustrated an "extremely serious level of violence and lack of safety that prevails ahead of the most important elections in Mexican history." The other candidate, Miguel Ángel Zavala, belonged to the ruling Morena party. The party condemned the killing as a "cowardly and reprehensible act."

Brazil: Rally in favour of Bolsonaro amid coup investigation
On 25 February, tens of thousands gathered in support of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro amid an investigation into allegations of a coup attempt following his election loss in 2022. Bolsonaro disputed the coup claims as there were no "tanks in the streets, weapons, conspiracy." He asserted they could not "accept that an authority can eliminate whoever it may be from the political scene unless it is for a fair reason" while criticizing an election prohibition that banned him from running for office for eight years. Federal police in Brazil seized his passport after accusing him of editing a decree draft to change the electoral results in 2022. Bolsonaro claimed that he was being "persecuted" and that his draft decree was based on the constitution. 

The US: Multiple wildfires rage in Texas
On 28 February, wildfires that started on 26 February began spreading through the Panhandle region of Texas amid hot and dry weather. The Smokehouse Creek fire began on 26 February in the Panhandle region, spread to Oklahoma on 27 February, and Amarillo on 28 February. The Windy Dece fire spread across 1,42,000 acres of land, the Grape Vine Creek fire spread across 30,000 acres, the Magenta fire spread across 2,500 acres, and the 687 Reamer fire spread across 2,000 acres. The fires killed two people and grew to become the second-largest fire on record in the state. On 27 February, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties and instructed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to dispatch more than 95 firefighters. 

The US: Biden hopeful for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas
On 26 February, US President Joe Biden remarked that by 4 March, a ceasefire is expected between Israel and Hamas after negotiations mediated by Egypt, Qatar, and the US gained traction. A six-week-long pause in the war has been proposed, which would allow the exchange of hostages and Palestinian prisoners between Hamas and Israel and aid to Gaza. For questions on when the truce would come into effect, Biden stated that as per his national security adviser, they were "close" but "not done yet." He added that on account of Ramadan, "there's been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities" from 10 March to 9 April, during which "all the hostages" could be taken out.

The US: New Israeli settlements in West Bank "weakens" Israel's security, says Blinken
On 23 February, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, stated that the Israeli announcement to expand more than 3,300 Israeli settlements in the West Bank was "disappointing." He emphasized that Democratic and Republican administrations hold that the "new settlements are counterproductive to achieving enduring peace" and are "inconsistent with international law." However, Blinken maintained that the "settlement expansion" would weaken Israel's security. The majority of the international community holds that the settlements are illegal. 

The US: New sanctions on over 500 Russian-linked targets following Navalny's death
On 23 February, US President Joe Biden imposed sanctions on more than 500 Russia-linked targets and export restrictions on roughly 100 entities for providing support to Russia following the death of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny. The entities and sectors targeted include Russia's Mir payment system, financial institutions and military industrial base, future energy production, and officials suspected of involvement in Navalny's death. Biden stated that the measures, which are the largest single tranche of penalties since Russia invaded Ukraine, will "ensure Putin pays an even steeper price for his aggression abroad and repression at home." On the same day, the EU unveiled its 13th package of penalties against Russia, banning over 200 more entities and individuals accused of involvement in the two-year Ukraine war. 


About the authors
Manoranjan Kumar is a PhD Scholar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

Akriti Sharma is a PhD Scholar 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, Narmatha S, Navinan GV and Gopi Keshav N are Postgraduate Scholars at the University of Madras. Gananthula Uma Maheshwari and Rishita Verma are Postgraduate Scholars at Pondicherry University. Nuha Aamina and Rosemary Kurian are Undergraduate Scholars from St Joseph's University, Bangalore.

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