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Conflict Weekly
Elusive Negotiations over Gaza and Complex Abortion Legislations in the US

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #226, 3 May 2024, Vol.5, No.18
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI

Shamini Velayutham and Dhriti Mukherjee 

Middle East: The Elusive Negotiations and the Pressure on Hamas 
Shamini Velayutham

In the news
On 3 May, a Hamas delegation arrived in Egypt for negotiations and said it was "determined to achieve an agreement." US Secretary of State Antony Blinken asserted that "Hamas is the only thing standing between the people of Gaza and a ceasefire and a deal should be a 'no-brainer' for the group." He stated: "We wait to see whether, in effect, they can take yes for an answer on the ceasefire and release of hostages."

On 2 May, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh spoke separately with Qatar's Foreign Minister and Prime Minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, and the head of Egypt's security services, Abbas Kamel. He has conferred with mediators from Egypt and Qatar over the most recent Israeli request for a ceasefire in Gaza and a prison swap. According to a Hamas official statement: "Haniyeh appreciated the role played by Egypt, which along with Qatar and the US is mediating the talks, and stressed the positive spirit of the movement in studying the ceasefire proposal."

On 30 April, amid uncertain cease-fire negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that his country would launch a ground offensive on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. He said: "The idea that we will stop the war before achieving all of its goals is out of the question. We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate Hamas' battalions there – with or without a deal, to achieve total victory."

On 29 April, a top Hamas delegation travelled to Egypt to prepare for the most recent round of negotiations. At discussions in Cairo facilitated by Qatar and the US, a team headed by Hamas deputy leader Khalil al-Hayya presented Hamas's response to the most recent Israeli offers. On 27 April, following up on a potential truce in Gaza proposed in early April, Hamas said it had received Israel's formal response and would review it before responding.

On 28 April, speaking at a World Economic Forum in Saudi Arabia, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken asserted that securing a truce between Israel and Hamas is the most effective approach to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. He stated: "We were hoping to see more commitment and more seriousness on both sides." He added, "We are, with the help of our international partners, hoping that we can pressure both sides to an agreement, but right now we are seeing from both sides a lot of lack of commitment to the process itself and the mediation."

On the same day, according to British Foreign Secretary David Cameron, the current offer made to Hamas calls for the release of Palestinian prisoners as well as a long-term ceasefire of 40 days. 

Issues at large
First, the pressure on Hamas. On 14 April, Hamas rejected Israel's proposal as Israel plans to continue its operations in southern Gaza. On 7 April, negotiators were in Cairo for talks. According to Egyptian authorities, some progress had been made on a three-phase agreement involving prisoners' return in exchange for a permanent truce. Still, Hamas did not concur with that assessment. In March, Israel suggested that an Arab force supervise a temporary security presence in Gaza, but the idea was turned down.

Second, Netanyahu's emphasis on military operations in Rafah. Netanyahu is determined to carry out military operations in Rafah. Approximately 1.3 million Palestinians live in the Rafah. The great majority of these people were uprooted from northern Gaza. While the rest of the world has been pressurizing Israel to give up on the idea of targeting Rafah, Netanyahu remains adamant and has threatened to carry out the military operations, irrespective of Hamas agreeing to the deal. 

Third, the demands of Israel and Hamas. Hamas wants an end to hostilities permanently, and the Israeli forces leave Gaza. Other demands include the following: displaced Palestinians must be allowed to return to their homes without hindrance; additional aid must be allowed into the region; and a reconstruction effort must begin. Israel demands the release of the hostages who have been held captive since 7 October 2023. 

Fourth, internal divide in Israel. If the ceasefire includes what they would perceive to be favourable to Hamas, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich have openly vowed to "dismantle" the government and remove Netanyahu. At the same time, a Member of the Israeli war cabinet, Benny Gantz, holds a different opinion. According to Gantz, freeing prisoners is "urgent" and should be the government's priority. Leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid, has also called for a compromise centred on the release of Israeli prisoners.

In perspective
While there is external pressure on Israel and Hamas, both sides seem to be sticking to their demands. While there is substantial pressure on Hamas to agree to the release, the latter is worried whether Israel will stop the military action against it. In between, the larger question of military operations in Rafah remains the biggest threat to civilians in Gaza. 

The US: Contradictions in the Abortion laws in Arizona and Florida
Dhriti Mukherjee 

In the news
On 2 May, Arizona's Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs signed a bill repealing the state's 1864 abortion law, which was set to take effect within weeks.

On 1 May, the Arizona Senate voted 16-14 to repeal the abortion ban after two Republican senators voted in favour of repealing the ban.

Earlier on 9 April, Arizona's Supreme Court ruled that the 160-year-old abortion law could go back into effect and ruled 4-2 in favour of making the law "enforceable" within 14 days. This ban would ban all abortions, except in cases of rape or incest, and could lead to doctors being prosecuted in the state.

Following the repeal, on 2 May, Hobbs stated: "Today, I am glad to see the Senate answered my call and voted to repeal Arizona's 1864 total abortion ban, and I look forward to quickly signing the repeal into law. This total abortion ban would have jailed doctors, threatened the lives of women across our state and stripped millions of Arizonans of their bodily autonomy."

Arizona's Attorney General Kris Mayes stated on 1 May after the Senate vote: "Rest assured, my office is exploring every option available to prevent this outrageous 160-year-old law from ever taking effect."

Separately, on 1 May, Florida's ban on most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy went into effect after the state's top court ruled 6-1 that the state's constitution did not apply to abortion access. Justices upheld Florida's existing 15-week abortion ban, which had been passed in 2022. The ban had been signed into law by Florida's Republic Governor Ron DeSantis in 2023; however, the bill was placed on hold till the 15-week ban had cleared legal challenges. In a separate ruling, Florida's Supreme Court decided 4-3 that a proposed constitutional amendment protecting access to abortion in the state could be included on ballots this November, allowing Floridians to vote 'yes' or 'no' to sealing abortion rights.

In response on 1 May, US Vice President Kamala Harris lamented that "starting this morning, women in Florida became subject to an abortion ban so extreme it applies before many women even know they are pregnant." She claimed that the ban is a result of former President Donald Trump appointing three of the six US Supreme Court judges who had voted to overturn Roe v Wade, causing "extremists" in various states to pass laws that "criminalize doctors, punish women" just for "providing reproductive care."

On the same day, Florida House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell said that women now have "fewer rights than their mothers and their grandmothers had."

Issues at large
First, an overview of the laws. In Arizona, the judgement prevented the 1864 abortion ban from coming into effect. The law, which had laid dormant in the state after the Roe v Wade ruling, ordered prosecution for "a person who provides, supplies or administers to a pregnant woman, or procures such woman to take any medicine, drugs or substance, or uses or employs any instrument or other means whatever, with intent thereby to procure the miscarriage of such woman unless it is necessary to save her life." It placed a blanket ban on all abortions except to save a woman's life and prevented individuals in Arizona from terminating a pregnancy after 15 weeks. In Florida, the abortion law bans anyone from getting an abortion after six weeks. It includes exceptions for cases of rape, incest, abnormalities, and when the mother's life is in danger. Patients must appear for two in-person appointments at least 24 hours apart. The biggest criticism of the law is that most women have no idea that they're even pregnant in the first six weeks.

Second, Roe v Wade and after. On 24 June 2022, the US Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, which had established the constitutional right to abortion, allowing states to make their abortion laws. As per the research group Guttmacher Institute, abortions in 2023 were up from 53 per cent in 2020. The overturning of Roe v Wade resulted in Florida becoming "one of the main points of access for abortion care within the formal healthcare system in the south," as per a data scientist at the Guttmacher Institute. He added that 9,000 people seeking abortion in 2023 came from other states. Thus, the implications of the new law combined with the overturning of Roe v Wade will impact women from many other states. More than 20 states began enforcing abortion laws to different degrees following the overturn. However, while the majority still believes that the overturn was the right call, there are disagreements on what abortion laws should look like.

Third, the debate over abortion- conservatives and gender rights. The position that pro-life supports and pro-choice supports has largely remained unchanged over the years. While the former holds that foetuses should be protected, the latter argues that women should have the right to make their own decisions about their bodies. Both movements have many supports, meaning the reactions in both states were mixed. In Arizona, anti-abortion advocates blamed pro-abortion advocates, saying that the "most protective pro-life law in the country is poised to fall to the appetites of pro-abortion activists." In Florida, a pro-choice woman said that she is "terrified" due to the law, asserting that her "life matters." On 1 May, anti-abortion activists lined up behind a Jacksonville abortion clinic, making beelines for cars with potential patients. A pro-life individual described the six-week ban as a "landmark for the pro-life movement and for women."

Fourth, politics in the US. The abortion debate has always been a central theme in US politics and has already become a key aspect of the elections this year. Republicans are known to be more conservative and anti-abortion, while Democrats are more liberal and pro-abortion. Four of the seven justices in Arizona who favoured the 1864 ban were Republicans, while in Florida, most of the Supreme Court justices are appointed by DeSantis, meaning they share similar views. However, while the Republican's support for anti-abortion laws has prevailed, the decision of two Republicans in Arizona to support repealing the ban indicated a shift in the stance. Republican Kari Lake, who in 2022 described the ban as a "great law," said that the ruling to reinstate it is "out of step with Arizonans." This shifting stance has become so significant that conservative voters struggle to maintain party loyalty. Arizona's Democratic Party Chair, Yolanda Bejarano, affirmed, "Republicans know that they are on the wrong side of this issue."

In Perspective
First, the upcoming elections. Both Arizona and Florida are battleground states in the forthcoming elections, which is why the rhetoric surrounding abortions is more significant in these places. Democrats have used the initial decision in Arizona and the prevailing law in Florida to convince voters, especially women, that reproductive rights under Republicans will be extremely constrained. Given the extreme nature of the law in Florida, it is possible that even moderate voters would choose to vote for Democrats. US President Joe Biden has also blamed Trump for overturning Roe v Wade and the fallouts that the decision has had on abortion laws in other states during his campaign.

Second, more constrained access to healthcare for women. The overturning of Roe v Wade, which allowed states to enforce laws banning abortions, forced women from those states to travel to other areas where they had access to abortion. In the south of the US, as per the Guttmacher Institute, one in three abortions were performed in Florida. As per the CEO of Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida, Alexandra Mandado, Florida's new law means that the "entire South now, in a month, will be a desert for abortion care." Medical practitioners have expressed concerns over how this could result in women taking matters into their own hands, resulting in an uptick in injuries and miscarriages. 

This Week in History
30 April 1971: Saigon falls to North Vietnam troops, leading to the reunification of Vietnam
Lakshmi Karlekar

On 20 April 1975, North Vietnam took control of Saigon, the then capital of South Vietnam. On 2 July 1976, Vietnam was formally reunited under communist rule as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, following the conclusion of the Vietnam War and the fall of the South Vietnamese state.

On 29 April 1975, the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the Viet Cong, led by General Van Tien Dung, launched their final assault on Saigon, heavily bombarding the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) soldiers under General Nguyen Van Toan. The PAVN and the Viet Cong had taken control of the city's key locations by the following day's afternoon, and they had flown their flag above the South Vietnamese presidential palace.

The immediate background to the fall of Saigon
During the Cold War, the United States was able to evacuate its soldiers from the Vietnam War owing to the Paris Peace Accords of January 1973. Low-intensity conflict continued while the agreement kept North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese were frivolous with their weapons spending and risked financial ruin because of the sharp increase in fuel prices. A lack of backing from the United States, obvious corruption, and high inflation all lowered army morale to the point where 24,000 soldiers deserted per month.

Resupplied and with the whiff of a potential win, the North Vietnamese were raring to go to battle. By invading Phuoc Long province, which is barely 65 kilometres from Saigon, they tested on December 1974 whether the US would start bombing again if they flagrantly broke the truce. President Gerald Ford of the U.S. requested further help for South Vietnam, but Congress rejected his requests, and the US did not respond. The quickness and simplicity of the operation demonstrated how South Vietnam's determination to resist was breaking down.

The North Vietnamese began their offensives across the Central Highlands and the northern South Vietnamese province of Quang Tri in March 1975. Large numbers of South Vietnamese soldiers deserted to save their families, making counterattacks unsuccessful. President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam gave the order for his army to evacuate southward on March 13 in anticipation of shorter supply lines. However, as soldiers and refugees choked roadways and created panic, the withdrawal quickly turned into a rout. The North Vietnamese, feeling empowered, decided to launch an all-out onslaught, to take over Saigon. There was an ultimatum to flee the oncoming North Vietnamese army. Some courageous South Vietnamese soldiers continued to fight; the 29th Division, for instance, staged a valiant final stand at Xuan Loc.

On 21 April, Thieu took on television to announce his resignation, criticizing the US for abandoning South Vietnam during its time of need. By April 27, 100,000 North Vietnamese soldiers had surrounded Saigon, but such force was barely necessary. By 29 April, North Vietnamese soldiers bombarded Tan Son Nhut Air Base, which served as the main point of escape for the 5,000 American citizens who were being evacuated from the country. Over 10,000 Vietnamese swarmed the American embassy, scrambling to secure a spot on the helicopters that took them from rooftops to a fleet of 26 American ships that were offshore, especially the USS Blue Ridge, the operational flagship and aircraft carrier stationed there. Before the city had been captured, nearly all-American military were evacuated and tens of thousands of South Vietnamese people who had been affiliated with the Republic of Vietnam regime departed from Saigon as part of Operation Frequent Wind. This operation is regarded as history's biggest helicopter evacuation.

On 30 April, little opposition was left when a hail of artillery indicated that the last assault had begun. The South Vietnamese government offered to surrender within hours of North Vietnamese troops taking control of key locations in the city, but their offer was rejected even as General Duong Van Minh, the country's president, who had taken office just two days after Thieu fled, gave the order for his soldiers to surrender.

After Saigon: Five Fallouts
More than just the conclusion of a war, the fall of Saigon represents a pivotal moment in world history. First, the triggering rivalries created tensions on either side. The 1973 Paris Peace Accords which propagated peace were unable to put an end to hostilities. In addition, as part of "Vietnamization," the United States reduced its aid and withdrew its combat forces, leaving South Vietnam vulnerable. The outcome was indirectly influenced by changes in international dynamics and support for the South Vietnamese administration brought about by the foreign geopolitical setting, particularly the détente between the United States and China and the strategy of rapprochement with the Soviet Union. In addition, the focus shifted from open combat and confrontation to arms limitation, and ultimately the fall of the Soviet Union, the vanguard of communism.

Second, the impact on the US. The "Vietnam Syndrome" seeped into American culture, increasing popular and political cynicism about participation in overseas conflicts.

Third, the refugees. Understanding the repercussions in political, economic, social, cultural, and global domains is crucial for comprehending the long-term effects on Vietnam and the world. Due to the 'boat people' problem, sizable Vietnamese groups settled across the globe, mostly in the US, Australia, and Canada, creating a lasting diaspora of refugees.

Fourth, the reeducation camps. The Communist Party of Vietnam sought to lower Saigon's population, which had grown due to wartime immigration and was now overcrowded and experiencing high unemployment. Between 200,000 and 300,000 South Vietnamese were transported to re-education camps after the war. There, many of them suffered from malnutrition, sickness, and torture in addition to being made to perform hard labor.

Fifth, the long road to recovery. Unexploded bombs, landmines, and the emotional and psychological repercussions of "War Syndrome," a type of post-traumatic stress disorder, are some of the physical and psychological remnants of Vietnam's past.

The fall of Saigon signifies not just the conclusion of the Vietnam War but also a dramatic change in the Cold War's balance of power dynamics, which will influence the trajectory of future international relations.

Issues in Peace and Conflict This Week:
Regional Roundups

Rohini Reenum, Akhil Ajith, Femy Francis, Padmashree Anandhan, Dhriti Mukherjee, Shamini Velayutham, Vetriselvi Baskaran and Shilpa Joseph.

East and Southeast Asia
China: Hosts rival Palestinian groups - Hamas and Fatah
On 1 May, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that representatives of Rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas met in China to negotiate potential reconciliation. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Li Jian said: "The two sides fully expressed their political will to achieve reconciliation through dialogue and consultation, discussed many specific issues and made positive progress," and that "China and Palestine share a traditional friendship. We support Palestinian factions in achieving reconciliation and increasing solidarity through dialogue and consultation. We will continue to work actively towards that end."

China: Georgia's Governor approves bills banning Chinese "agent" from acquiring land
On 30 May, US state's Georgia Governor Brian Kemp approved and signed a bill limiting the ability of Chinese citizens to buy land in the state. The bill SB420 bans any Chinese agent from acquiring farmland in Georgia or any land near the military base or installations. The Democrats and others criticized the legislature as discriminatory. Kemp stated: "We cannot allow foreign adversaries to control something as critical to our survival as our food supply." The critics expressed that this would harm the immigrant community; Cynthis Chois, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, said: "By signing this bill, Governor Kemp is shirking his responsibility to protect the equality, civil rights and constitutional right to due process of all Georgians and is instead engaging in anti-Asian scapegoating and anti-immigrant fearmongering."

Taiwan: Semiconductor firm KYEC to divest from China over geopolitical tensions
On 29 April, the South China Morning Post reported that King Yuan Electronics Co (KYEC) had divested from the Suzhou subsidiary in China. The board of directors of the firm decided to divest from the Jiangsu province of China amid brewing geopolitical tensions and changes in the cross-strait supply chain. KYEC Microelectronics Co. gave away its 92.16 per cent shares in the Suzhous King Long Technology firm for 4.9 billion Yuan. KYEC informed that the deal would be completed by the third quarter of 2024, and the funds raised would be used to invest in high-tech testing and other equipment. The company's decision reflects how the US tech restriction has affected the supply chain, and now, it is looking to invest in other markets. This comes after the Biden administration updated the restrictions on semiconductor-related exports to China.

South Korea: Held talks to join the AUKUS security pact, says Defence Minister Shin
On 1 May, the South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik said that the country held talks to join the AUKUS-led security pact. South Korea intends to join pillar two of the security pact, which aims to share other military technology. The AUKUS was formed in 2021 by the US, UK, and Australia as a two-stage security pact to counter China's power in the Indo-Pacific region. During a meeting, Shin said South Korea could contribute to the group with its defence, science, and technological capabilities. The talks were followed by an AUKUS announcement on Japan's participation in Pillar 2 of the group for specific defence projects. 

Australia: Qantas Airlines data breach under investigation
On 1 May, Australian Qantas Airways informed us that they were investigating a data breach where users accessed other passengers' travel details, which had impacted the frequent Flyers application. There are multiple reports to the media outlets that customers can access strangers' travel information and that users can cancel someone else's tickets. Qantas is investigating the matter and checking to see if the recent system change caused this. 

South Asia
Pakistan: President directs Sindh CM to launch special operations to curb crimes 
On 1 May, the President presided over a special meeting at the Chief Minister's house to take measures to control crimes in Sindh. After hearing the briefings given by CM Shah and senior ministers, he urged the CM to manage street crimes in Karachi by launching a particular operation and completing "the Karachi Safe City project on a war footing." He insisted on deepening the ongoing operation against the dacoits and the menace of drugs in the province. He directed the Interior Minister to provide enhanced weapons to the Sindh Police force. The President stated: "The operation in Karachi must deliver results so that confidence of the citizens could be restored" and "I have zero tolerance for the illegal occupation of lands in Kacha areas and it must be stopped, once and for all."

Pakistan: Security forces kill militants in KP 
On 29 April, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said that during an intelligence-based operation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), security forces killed four militants who had been involved in terrorist activities in the area. They then recovered "weapons and ammunition" from the terrorists. A day earlier, in a separate operation, security forces killed two terrorists in KP's Dera Ismail Khan District. Separately, on 25 April, three militants, including two ringleaders, were killed as part of an intelligence-based operation in the KP. The ISPR added that a "sanitization operation is being carried out to eliminate any other terrorist found in the area."

Pakistan: Four terrorists with alleged links to TTP arrested for Bisham suicide terror attack 
On 29 April, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) revealed that it had arrested "four key terrorists" belonging to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) who were involved in a terrorist attack that took place in Bisham last month. Referring to the arrests, the KP CTD spokesperson stated that all four - Adil Shehbaz, Muhammad Shafiq Qureshi, Zahid Qureshi and Nazeer Hussain belonged to the Mansehra district and had links to the TTP. Previously, on 26 March, the terrorists targeted a bus travelling between Islamabad and a hydroelectric dam construction site in Dasu at Bishamn in KP. In the suicide attack, five Chinese engineers and their Pakistani driver had been killed. China had demanded a probe into the incident, and Pakistan had promised to nab the "perpetrators and accomplices swiftly." 

Pakistan:  Farmers protesting wheat procurement policy arrested in Punjab
On 29 April, farmers from across the province of Punjab gathered at GPO Chowk to carry out their protest against the government's inadequate wheat procurement policy, which had reduced the "provincial procurement quota from over 4 million tonnes to 2.3 million tonnes." The protestors attempted to move towards the Punjab Assembly, where a heavy contingent of police presence intercepted them. Kissan Ittehad Pakistan General Secretary Mian Umair Masood, who was leading the demonstration, claimed that more than 250 farmers were arrested by the police in Lahore. However, according to police sources, only 46 protesters have been taken into custody. Mian Umair Masood also revealed further plans to "block highways across the province with the help of their families and livestock." The PTI and the Jammat-i-Islami have also supported the cause of the farmers. Their farmer wing, the Kisan Board, has scheduled several protests for 30 April.

Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa
Israel: Turkey and Colombia cut trade and diplomatic ties
On 3 May, due to the "worsening humanitarian tragedy" in the Palestinian Territories, Turkey suspended all trade with Israel. Ministry of Tradecin a statement said: "Turkey will strictly and decisively implement these new measures until the Israeli government allows an uninterrupted and sufficient flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza." Following the initial reports of the limitations, Israel Katz, the foreign minister of Israel, charged Turkish President Erdoğan with operating in a dictatorial manner. On 2 May, President Gustavo Petro of Colombia declared his intention to sever diplomatic ties with Israel because of the latter's Gaza war, which has drawn the alarm of human rights organizations and other experts who believe it may be equivalent to genocide.

Syria: Eight injures in Israeli airstrike
On 2 May, according to the Ministry of Defense of Syria, eight Syrian military soldiers were injured by an Israeli airstrike on the outskirts of Damascus. This incident is the most recent in the conflict in Gaza. Ministry, in a statement, said: "The Israeli strike, launched from the occupied Golan Heights towards one of the sites in the vicinity of Damascus."

Yemen: Houthi rebels target UK vessel in Red Sea
On 30 April, as part of their ongoing campaign to disrupt transportation along the vital maritime route, the Houthi rebels in Yemen damaged a ship on Monday with a missile attack. As per the British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations Center, the strike occurred near Mokha, Yemen. The UKMTO reported that while the ship crew was unharmed and en route to their next port of call, the ship sustained damage in the attack. In the area, the agency asked vessels to proceed with caution. UKMTO stated: "There was "an explosion in close proximity to a merchant vessel."

Lebanon: Hezbollah targets Israeli sites
On 25 April, in response to the death of one of its members, Hezbollah claims to have conducted drone attacks on Israeli sites north of Acre, the largest incursion into Israeli territory since the start of the Gaza War. Although the Israeli military had earlier claimed to have intercepted two "aerial targets" off Israel's northern shore, it now claimed no knowledge of any of its installations being targeted by Hezbollah.

DR Congo: M23 rebels seize key mining town
On 1 May, the spokesperson said that the town of Rubaya in Masisi district, which is important for mining coltan, a key ingredient for producing mobile phones, was seized by the M23 rebel forces after heavy fighting with government troops. It happened on the same day that French President Immanuel Macron urged Rwanda to "halt its support." 

Burkina Faso: Denies mass killing allegations of HRW reports
On 28 April, as per the BBC reports, Burkina Faso condemned the "baseless accusations" of Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports regarding the mass killing of 223 people in February. The Communications Minister Rimtalba Jean Emmanuel Ouedraogo stated: "The government of Burkina Faso strongly rejects and condemns such baseless accusations." He mentioned that the country had initiated a legal inquiry to "establish the facts" to prove the HRW "guilty." Earlier, on 25 April, the HRW investigation report said that the country's mass killings levels are at the top "among the worst army abuse" in a decade, citing the attack on 25 February in Nondin and Soro villages. The report also claimed that the military carried out this attack to retaliate when people supported jihadists. 

Burkina Faso: Suspends BBC over HRW reports
On 26 April, the country blocked the BBC reports and the US public broadcaster Voice of America following its coverage of mass killings. The report accused the Burkinabe military of carrying out at least 223 civilian massacres in February. The country's media regulator warned other media outlets not to cover the news and suspended BBC publications. However, the Voice of America's Human Rights Watch denies taking back its stance. It stated: "We stand by reporting about Burkina Faso and intend to continue to fully and fairly cover activities in the country." UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Marta Hurtado issues a statement showing concern over the suspension. It reads: "Restrictions on media freedom and civic space must stop immediately. Freedom of expression including the right of access to information is crucial in any society, and even more so in the context of the transition in Burkina Faso." 

Ethiopia: AU expresses concern over community disputes
On 26 April, the African Union (AU) showed concern about the worsening situation of "escalating tensions between local communities" in North Ethiopia. The country has been in turmoil since the war broke out between the Tigrayan administration and the federal government in 2020. The Tigrayans seized the adjacent areas like Alamata Town, Raya Alamata, Zata, and Ofla, which the Amharas also claim resulted in disputes that led more than 50,000 to flee their hometown. The AU Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat urged both sides to immediately "halt hostilities and ensure the safety of civilians to end the renewed displacement of the local population." He suggested a political dialogue to resolve the issue. 

Egypt: "Let it rot" campaign impacts fish traders
On 26 April, following President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi's words to boycott unaffordable products, fish traders are inclined to reduce the selling price to 50 per cent. The boycott came to light with the online protest weeks ago. The campaign "Let it rot," which was initiated in the major cities of Port Said and Alexandria, now has its spillover effect all over. This is due to the fall of Egyptian currency value. 

Mali: Troops kill IS Commander 
On 29 April, BBC reported that an IS Commander, Abu Huzeifa, was killed by a troop from Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Mali state TV reported that Huzeifa, known as "Higgo", was a Morrocan national and Commander of IS in the Sahel. He was killed in an operation carried out in the Indelimane in the Menaka region. He was linked to several high-profile raids in the Sahel region, including a 2017 attack where four US soldiers were killed. 

Europe and the Americas
Ukraine: Military claims attack on two oil refineries in southern Russia
On 27 April, Ukraine's defence claimed it carried out a drone strike on Russia's southern region, Krasnodar. According to the reports in Reuters and AFP, the attack hit two oil refineries along with a military airfield.  In a statement: "Ukrainian drones struck the atmospheric distillation columns of the Illsky and Slovyansky refineries. These are key technological facilities." The same was confirmed by Russia's media, the TASS on fire at the Slavyansk plant and a partial suspension. On 27 April, Russia's local governor, Veniamin Kondratyev, claimed to be countering Ukraine's wave of drone strikes on its oil refineries in Krasnodar, southern Russia. In Slavyansk, Kushevsk, and Seversky districts, he stated that Russian air defence had intercepted more than ten drones. This resulted in a fire which was extinguished. He said: "There have been nine attacks in total on the tank farm and distillation column. Thanks to the built-in protection system, the tank farm hasn't been damaged."

Belarus: President signs new conscription decree to maintain the mobilization reserve
On 29 April, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko signed a decree approving the new conscription of Reserve officers for Military Service. The decree allows for the incorporation of recruits into armed forces and border service bodies of males under 27 who are trained at military departments. The move comes as part of the annual process to increase the level of primary officer staffing in the armed and border services to "maintain the mobilization reserve."

Poland: Farmers suspend protest in the Ukraine border after talks with Agricultural Minister
On 29 April, Polish farmers who had protested for months at the Ukraine border crossing suspended the move. The reason behind the protest was due to the impact of cheaper Ukraine grain, the impact of unfair competition combined with the government's inaction. They withdrew the protests after talks with the Agriculture Minister of Poland, Czeslaw Siekierski. Although the details of the negotiation were not disclosed, the result of the suspension of protests by the farmers was hailed. 

Georgia: Foreign Influence Bill provokes widespread protests
On 28 April, close to 20,000 people gathered at Tbilisi's central Republic Square, protesting against the controversial "Foreign Influence" bill. The earlier-backed Georgian state, now a member of the EU since 2023, has adopted the Foreign Influence Bill, which is aimed at destroying the media and civil society. This month, the ruling Georgian Dream party reintroduced the bill, facing strong criticisms for a perceived democratic backsliding. According to European Council President Charles Michel, the bill is observed to be "inconsistent" with Georgia's application for EU membership. He claimed it: "…will bring Georgia closer to the EU, not further away." President of Georgia, Salome Zurabishvili, threatened to veto the bill and is at odds with the ruling party. However, Georgia has a strong majority in the legislature, which enables it to enact legislation and override a veto from the president without the backing of any opposition lawmakers.

Haiti: Transnational council announces new prime minister
On 30 April, Haiti's transnational council named Fritz Belizaire as the new prime minister of the country, tasking him with stabilizing the country as it continues to face violence caused by armed gangs. The appointment follows weeks of political deadlock and internal squabbling, ultimately resulting in four voting members supporting Belizaire's appointment. Edgard Leblanc Fils, a former senate president, was named as the president of the panel, and the appointment of a cabinet and electoral council is yet to be done. Tensions around Tuesday's selection may lead to the dissolution of the council. 

Brazil: Extreme weather leads to dam collapsing
On 3 May, BBC reported that following days of heavy rains that triggered massive flooding, a hydroelectric dam collapsed in Rio Grande do Sul state, leading to more than 30 people being killed and another 60 reported to be missing. Around 15,000 people were forced to leave their homes, and more than 500,000 could not access power or clean water. Hotter than average temperatures, high humidity, and strong winds caused the extreme weather conditions. State Governor Eduardo Leite asked for substantial assistance to "rescue hundreds of people in dozens of municipalities." Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visited the affected area and promised help from the central government. Helicopters have been deployed to search for stranded people, but severe flooding has made it difficult for them to land.

Chile: President declares national mourning after assailants kill three police officers
On 27 April, armed assailants ambushed and killed three police officers before setting their car on fire in the Canete municipality in the Arauco province. Chile's President Gabriel Boric condemned the "cowardly" attack and declared three days of national mourning to honour the officers. He stated: "Today the entire country is in mourning. There is heartbreak, sorrow, anger. But these emotions do not paralyze us, they force us, they mobilize us. We will find the whereabouts of the perpetrators of this terrible crime." He also visited the families of the deceased and affirmed that there would "be no impunity." As per authorities, the officers were responding to three false emergency calls when their vehicle was attacked with heavy-calibre weapons. While the identity of the assailants remains unknown, a conflict between the Mapuche Indigenous community and landowners and forestry companies in the area has been intensifying for a while. 

Canada: Police arrest and charge three individuals over killing of Sikh activist
On 3 May, three Indian nationals were arrested and charged over the killing of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was shot dead in June 2023 in Vancouver, Canada. His death had sparked a major diplomatic row between India and Canada after Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged India's government was involved in the killing, a claim which India denied. Superintended Mandeep Mooker said the three suspects- Karan Brar, Kamal Preet Singh, and Karan Preet Singh- were charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Investigations into their involvement and the "connections to the government of India" were ongoing. Assistant Commissioner David Teboul stated: "There are separate and distinct investigations ongoing into these matters. Certainly not limited to the involvement of the people arrested today." However, the collaboration with counterparts in India has reportedly been "rather difficult and challenging."

Newsmakers This Week
The abortion ban in the US, Protests in Georgia, Sorbonne University pro-Palestine protests and the likely ICC warrant against Netanyahu
Sayeka Ghosh, Vetriselvi Baskaran, Diya Madhavan and Sim Jain

Florida in the US: The abortion ban goes into effect
On 1 May, Florida's ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy went into effect, sharply restricting access to the procedure for women in the state

The six-week ban, lowered from the previous 15-week limit, is expected to have a far-reaching impact across the region, where 11 other states have already largely banned abortion following the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022. Florida had been a refuge for abortion-seekers from neighbouring states like Alabama and Georgia, but the new law upends that access. 

The ban's impact on Florida's political landscape remains uncertain, with national Democrats expressing optimism that the issue could put the state in play despite historically favouring Republicans. President Biden briefly addressed the ban last week, calling it "a nightmare" caused by Donald Trump's Supreme Court appointments. Traditionally a more libertarian-leaning state, Florida has a history of approving liberal ballot measures even while electing Republicans. But DeSantis has stocked his administration with "solid social conservatives," as one anti-abortion advocate noted, suggesting the new restrictions align with his conservative agenda. As the legal battles continue, patients across the South will be forced to travel long distances or face a complete lack of access, upending reproductive rights in a region already grappling with the fallout from Roe's reversal.

Protests in Georgia: Against "foreign agents" legislation
Georgia witnessed protests as the governing party, the Georgian Dream Party (GDP), initiated the debate on a bill on "foreign agents" named – "Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence." The bill was widely criticized as being inspired by Russia. More than 5,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the Parliament in the capital, Tbilisi. On 18 April, in a vote, the opposition boycotted the bill, and 83 ruling politicians backed the bill's first reading in a 150-seat parliament. On 29 April, more than 20,000 gathered to join the "March for Europe," demanding the government to scrap the bill and fear the bill would restrict Georgia from joining the European Union. On 1 May, amidst three weeks of protest, the Parliament advanced the bill by approving the second reading. Lawmakers have abandoned the bill, and the MPs tussled by throwing punches. The third and final reading of the bill is anticipated to take place around mid-May.

In 2023, the bill was initially introduced. However, the strong public reaction resulted in its revocation. The bill mandates that they register under "foreign influence" if media outlets or civil society organizations get more than 20 per cent of their financing outside the country. The Georgian Dream Party calls the draft law the "Transparency of Foreign Influence" bill, and the opposition condemns the bill, saying that it resembles a Russian voice and will weaken civil society and threaten freedom of speech.

Western countries and the European Union have expressed animosity over the draft law. Georgia has always attempted to strengthen its ties with the West. Still, there are accusations that the current ruling party is trying to reestablish ties between the former Soviet republic and Russia. It wrecked relations with the EU, which granted Georgia candidate status in December, by passing the bill. 

Sorbonne University in Paris: Pro-Palestine protests
On 29 April, police moved in to sweep off dozens of protesters who were pitching tents and protesting in a courtyard at the Sorbonne University in Paris on Monday, demanding an end to Israel's bombardment of Gaza. The demonstration occurred three days after a protest at the capital's elite Sciences Po university, which came in the wake of rallies on campuses propagating across the US against the conflict.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who, like President Emmanuel Macron, is among the prestigious university's notable alumni, stated that his government "would not tolerate the actions of dangerously acting minority trying to impose its rules and ideologies coming from North America" and called for a "rapid reaction", following the three-day blockade at the institute, inspired by Gaza solidarity encampments and on the following Monday, protesters at the Sorbonne University started setting up tents, and reiterating chants and waving the Palestinian flag proclaiming their solidarity. On Wednesday, protesters from Sciences Po occupied part of the campus after 100 students voted to pitch tents on the university compound. Hours after the demonstration commenced, Jean Basseres, the school's interim president, called for riot police officers, a crucial move since police seldom set into the universities in France. According to the statements from students and faculty, the president's decision was considered to have crossed a red line despite no arrest warrants being issued.

International Criminal Court (ICC): Likely warrant against Benjamin Netanyahu
The ICC may issue an arrest warrant against senior Israeli leaders and their Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for alleged war crimes committed during Israel's ongoing war on Gaza. PM Netanyahu responded, "Under my leadership, Israel will never accept any attempt by the ICC to undermine its inherent right of self-defence." Israel does not accept the ICC's jurisdiction, but any warrant could put Israeli officials at risk in other countries. Therefore, Israeli senior officials appear to be concerned about the warrant, as 124 countries recognize the ICC, so they would have to arrest Netanyahu if he visits their country.

The ICC, headquartered in the Hague, Netherlands, is the permanent international criminal tribunal that investigates, prosecutes, and issues arrest warrants against individuals accused of committing the most serious crimes of concern, including genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and aggression. Recently, in March 2023, the ICC issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin for crimes related to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. According to the ICC's report, twenty-one persons have been detained in the Hague, ten have been convicted of crimes, and four have been acquitted.

About the authors
Rohini Reenum is a PhD Scholar at NIAS. Padmashree Anandhan and Anu Maria Joseph are Research Associates at NIAS. Femy Francis, Dhriti Mukherjee, Shamini Velayutham, Akhil Ajith and Vetriselvi are Research Assistants at NIAS. Shila Joseph is a Research Intern at NIAS. Sayeka Ghosh, Diya Madhavan and Sim V are undergraduate students at St Joseph's University. Lakshmi Karlekar is a PhD Scholar at CHRIST (Deemed to be University). 

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