The World This Week

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The World This Week
Iran's 60 per cent nuclear enrichment, US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan, India's second COVID wave, US-China Climate dialogue,  Sanctions on Russia, and US-Japan Dialogue

  GP Team

The World This Week #115, Vol. 3, No. 16

Lokendra Sharma, Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Akriti Sharma, Mallika Devi, Chetna Vinay Bhora and Avishka Ashok

Iran: Tehran begins producing 60 per cent enriched uranium 
What happened?
On 16 April, Iran announced producing 60 per cent enriched uranium at its Natanz nuclear facility, two days after the IAEA said that Iran "had almost completed preparations to start producing UF6 enriched up to 60 per cent U-235".

On 15 April, talks resumed in Vienna between Iran, the US and European partners to salvage the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

On 14 April, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said that 60 per cent enrichment was a response to the alleged Israeli attack on the Natanz plant. France, Germany and the UK called it a "serious development" in a joint statement. The US called the move "provocative" while Saudi Arabia asked Iran to "avoid escalation" and "engage seriously in the current negotiations" in reference to talks happening in Vienna.

Earlier, on 11 April, Iran's Natanz enrichment facility suffered a power blackout, damaging the underground centrifuges. The "sabotage" was widely attributed to Israel, including by Iran's Foreign Minister, who called it an act of "nuclear terrorism".

What is the background?
First, Iran's position on enrichment. Iran has an ambiguous position on enrichment and nuclear weapons. While its official narrative claims that enrichment is not for weapons purposes, its actions say otherwise. Iran had a clandestine nuclear programme in the 1990s and early 2000s (suspended in 2003) despite being an NPT signatory. Post-2003, it has used the rate, quantity and percentage of enrichment both as a symbol of defiance and also as a bargaining chip, especially in the run-up to the JCPOA. Its current production of 60 per cent enriched uranium only takes it closer to the weapons-grade level and, contrary to its claims, is not for civilian purposes.

Second, Iran's nuclear capability. Iran primarily uses first-generation centrifuges (IR-1) at its Natanz enrichment site, even as it has also introduced new-generation centrifuges (IR-5 and IR-6). On 14 April, the IAEA said that Iran would be installing "six additional cascades of IR-1 centrifuges" at Natanz "comprising a total of 1,024 centrifuges". Iran is also developing advanced IR-9 centrifuges, which will be 50 times quicker than IR-1. Even though Iran is currently producing small quantities of 60 per cent enriched uranium, it can ramp it up.

Third, JCPOA and the contentious issue of enrichment. The JCPOA mandated that uranium could only be enriched up to 3.67 per cent and allowed this only at the Natanz enrichment facility with strict IAEA inspections. This was a significant takeaway for the US and the European partners of the JCPOA as this low enriched uranium cannot be used for strategic purposes. However, after former US President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions (despite IAEA certified compliance), Iran responded by gradually breaching the nuclear deal. This includes surpassing the 300 kg limit on enriched uranium in May 2019 and enriching uranium up to 20 per cent in January 2021. Enriching uranium up to 60 per cent is the most significant breach of the deal so far. The question of enrichment is also central to the negotiations happening in Vienna currently. 

What does it mean?
First, Iran's move to enrich uranium up to 60 per cent is not a surprising one; it has gradually breached the nuclear deal since Trump's withdrawal in 2018. However, the sabotage at the Natanz facility has speeded up the jump from 20 per cent enrichment announced in January 2021 to 60 per cent now.

Second, 60 per cent enrichment has also brought Iran very close to the weapons-grade requirement of 90 per cent and will provide an upper hand to the country in the talks at Vienna. It has to be seen how Israel and Saudi Arabia, Iran's regional foes, respond to this. The possibility of another "sabotage" cannot be discounted at this stage.
Third, irrespective of the developments of the past one week, the talks at Vienna will continue. Instead, there will be more onus on the negotiators in Vienna now to find a peaceful way out of the nuclear quagmire.

Afghanistan: The US and NATO decides to withdraw; Ghani accepts it 
What happened?
On 14 April, President Joe Biden announced: "It is time to end the forever war." He also added that he would withdraw the remaining US troops from Afghanistan by 11 September 20201, as it has accomplished its primary mission of denying terrorists a haven in Afghanistan. He said: "So, in keeping with that agreement and with our national interests, the United States will begin final withdrawal – begin it on 1 May of this year." He stated that the withdrawal would be made responsibly and in full coordination with the US allies, assuring that their diplomatic and humanitarian work continues. In response, President Ashraf Ghani, after holding a telephone call with Biden, said he respect the US decision to withdraw forces from Afghanistan.

On 15 April, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the Afghan leaders in Kabul to discuss the troop withdrawal. He said: "We never intended to have a permanent military presence here. Threat from Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is significantly degraded." He added: "The United States will honor its commitments to the government and people of Afghanistan." In response, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah said: "Thank have been with us-in the past 20 years especially-you have made tremendous contributions and sacrifices alongside our own people and we are grateful and thank you for your support of peace."

After Biden's announcement, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Chief Jens Stoltenberg stated, the alliance has agreed to withdraw its nearly 7,000 troops from Afghanistan to match the US president's decision of withdrawal. 

What is the background?
First, the US debate over withdrawal. Over the past few years, successive administrations have contemplated and worked towards withdrawing the forces from Afghanistan. Finally, the US-Taliban Agreement in 2020 set conditions aimed at withdrawing troops by 1 May 2021. Within the US, the decision to withdraw is divided; some favour the decision. Others argue it would create further instability as the withdrawal plan rejects the "conditions-based" approach that previous administrations had taken. 

Second, a complete withdrawal of all foreign troops. It is not just the US that will withdraw its troops; NATO had also announced its withdrawal. They went into Afghanistan together and will now leave also together.

Third, the defeat of al-Qaeda. An assessment that the Biden administration considered pivotal while deciding to pull out forces is their belief that al Qaeda or other terrorist groups do not pose an immediate threat to strike the US from Afghanistan.

Fourth, the upcoming Turkey conference. To revive the negotiations, the Biden administration has pushed for a new round of talks in Turkey.  It is tentatively scheduled for 24 April. However, the Taliban has maintained that they would not take part in any summit until the foreign forces leave Afghanistan. 

What does it mean?
First, the withdrawal is too early. With the negotiations being in the nascent stage, there is much at stake; the complete withdrawal of all troops will only create a big vacuum. Although the threat from international terrorist groups operating from Afghanistan has reduced, it may not stay the same. With an already weak Afghan government facing pressure from the Taliban, al Qaeda to resurface. 

Second, the impact of the withdrawal on the negotiations. The only positive side of the withdrawal might be the Taliban's change of mind in participating proactively in the negotiations. 

India: Acute shortage of vaccines amidst a raging second wave
What happened?
On 17 April, Coronavirus Resource Center, John Hopkins University, reported 14,291,917 confirmed COVID-19 cases in India. It has successfully administered 117,223,509 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. As of 17 April, India had fully vaccinated 14,847,254 people.

On 16 April, according to the data from an independent data aggregator of daily COVID-19 figures, India recorded 2,33,728 cases and 1,338 deaths marking the highest single-day spike so far.

What is the background?
First, rise in cases in India. The country ranks second after the US, which accounts for most of the confirmed cases globally. As of 17 April, Brazil reported 13,832,455 confirmed cases, becoming the third country with the most COVID-19 caseload, followed by France and Russia. India being a densely populated country, has performed relatively better than most of the developed countries.

Second, the inoculation drive. In terms of vaccination, India remains at the top. According to the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India is administering 40,556,055 doses on an average per day. However, due to the huge population, the percentage of people fully vaccinated remains low. India is slowly ramping up the production of the vaccines by allowing the production of other vaccines such as the Sputnik V. On 15 April, the Indian government allowed Haffkine Bio-Pharmaceutical Corporation Limited to produce COVAX on a technology transfer basis for one year.

Third, the internal and external crisis due to the second wave. The states and Union Territories have reported a sudden spike in the cases. Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Delhi account for most of the total cases. This has resulted in high demands for COVID-19 vaccines and health equipment such as oxygen cylinders, ventilators, hospital beds, and scarcity of burial space. The domestic crisis has resulted in a larger global impact. The increase in the COVID-19 cases domestically has adversely affected India's vaccine diplomacy. The country has drastically reduced the export of COVAX and Covishield as it is internally grappled with the second wave of COVID-19. 

Fourth, the uncertainty around the double mutant Indian variant of the virus. On 25 March, The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics discovered an Indian variant with two mutations in the same virus. However, it is uncertain that the Indian variant is responsible for a sudden spike in the cases. 

What does it mean?
First, the unpreparedness for the second wave. Although India performs relatively better than most developed countries, it was not entirely prepared for a virulent second wave. The ongoing domestic and external health crisis reflects India's inability to foresee the emergence of the second wave. 

Second, the urgent need to ramp up vaccine production. Keeping in mind the huge population, the Indian government needs to involve more pharmaceutical companies to produce COVID-19 vaccines on a technology transfer basis. The country also needs to import vaccines to curb the shortage, if required. India needs to increase the number of doses administered per day. This will help in curbing the shortage domestically and internationally. 

Third, increased healthcare investment. Taking lessons from the pandemic, India must increase the investment in the healthcare sector. It needs to rethink its inadequate investment in the healthcare sector.

US: Climate envoy John Kerry visits China
What happened?
On 15 April, US climate envoy John Kerry and other delegates reached Shanghai and Taipei ahead of the first virtual climate summit. President Biden has invited 40 leaders of the world for the summit, which shall be organized on 22-23 April. Kerry is in China to formally invite President Xi Jinping for the summit. President Xi Jinping is yet to confirm his presence at the meeting. The objective of the virtual summit is to convince leaders of the world to raise their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to achieve the goals set in the Paris Climate Agreement ahead of COP26.

What is the background?
First, the US return to climate change. Within hours of being sworn in as the President of America, President Joe Biden rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, from which former President Trump had withdrawn in 2017. Climate crises have been re-accorded high priority-second only behind the Covid pandemic. This is further reflected in the appointment of John Kerry as a special presidential envoy for climate change who had played a key role in negotiating the Paris Agreement while serving as secretary of state under Obama. President Biden also proposed to give USD 1.2 billion to the UN-backed Green Climate Fund.

Second, the importance of China in the climate agreement. Being the largest emitter of carbon dioxide globally, China plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, but that seems impossible by the modest short-term goals. China, in its 14th Five-Year plans, has not significantly raised its NDCs. Besides, China's signature project of the century, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), aims to build coal plants in other countries. If China plans to export coal emissions through BRI, it becomes problematic. One of the coal projects in Bangladesh got cancelled because of pollution concerns. Despite holding the status as the world's largest coal consumer and largest renewable-energy producer, China's investment in renewable energy (solar, wind, hydropower) accounted for the majority of its overseas energy investment for the first time in 2020.

Third, the importance of US-China negotiations on climate change. On 7 March, state councillor Wang Yi said: "China would be willing to discuss and deepen cooperation with the US with open mind" on crucial issues like climate change while taking a hard stance on Taiwan. US-China climate negotiations are taking place as the Alaska talks continue. US-China bilateral relations are mired by issues of human rights violation in Xinjiang, imposing curbs on democracy in Hong Kong, and trade deficit. The attempt is to keep climate change as a stand-alone issue and endeavour to forge cooperation on the issue.

What does it mean?
First, talks on climate change open up room for negotiations for both countries to keep communicating their differences and agreements. Climate change can, therefore, act as the foundation for negotiations on other issues. US-China bilateral relations may be at their nadir during the Trump years, but climate change offers an opportunity to build back trust.

Second, Climate change is again back as an agenda on the international stage with President Biden, which had lost steam under the former President. The US is going to push countries across the world to meet their NDCs and adopt greener and cleaner energy resources.

The US: Sanctions imposed on Russia for involvement in 2020 elections
What happened?
On 16 April, Russia imposed sanctions on eight senior US administration officers, including FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National intelligence Avril Haines. Russia is also set to expel 10 US diplomats and establish new limits on the diplomats and their outposts, curbing the US non-profit groups' activities in the region and rethinking 'agonizing' measures against US businesses in vengeance for the vindictive actions by the US administration. These developments came after the US announced the sanctions on Russia. The Kremlin has directed the US ambassador to Russia to return to Washington in order to hold "serious" and "detailed" consultation. 

On 15 April, US President Joe Biden issued sanctions inimical to Moscow with regards to the intrusion of 2020 presidential elections and a cyber-attack among a plethora of transgressions. The sanctions focused on eliminating 16 entities and 16 individuals who attempted to influence the presidential elections, five individuals and three entities connected to the Crimean annexation, and 10 Russian diplomats were expelled from the US. Washington has also sanctioned the newly issued Russian sovereign debt, which has caused a slight ripple in the Russian Ruble and sovereign bonds market. 

What is the background?
First, the meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections. According to the 2017 US intelligence report, the Russian government had used the state-funded media channels to disable Hilary Clinton's presidential campaign. Russia had also used its hacking prowess in flooding social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to influence the Americans in their electoral systems and vilify Clinton. Between 2015 to 2017, Facebook connected nearly 80,000 publications to the Russian company, Internet Research Agency. Over 470 accounts and 50,258 Twitter accounts were associated with Russian bots and fake accounts programmed to disseminate false information during the 2016 election. These bots were accountable for nearly 3.8 million tweets; approximately 19 per cent of the total tweets were associated with the 2016 US presidential election. The attacks were linked to the 2011 intervention of Clinton in supporting the protests and interfering in the electoral process of Russia. 

Second, the cybersecurity attacks. Orion, a network management offshoot of the SolarWinds company hosting over 300,000 customers worldwide, was hacked by the Russian intelligence known as the SVR. Slipping in through Orion's back door, updates compromising data and networks of the civilians were accessed in an attempt to embezzle national security, defence and related information. Researchers have named the hack as 'Sunburn' and claimed that it would take several years to comprehend the attack fully. For nearly three decades, hackers connected to Moscow are believed to have tried to steal US secrets online.

Third, the change of power in the US and its stand. In Biden's first speech in February 2021, he assured to stand up to Russia. He has openly criticized Russia's offensive actions in Ukraine, unlike his predecessor. In 2014, the Obama-Biden administration was accused of standing by Russia while Crimea was annexed. 

What does it mean?
The US is looking to impose costs for a plethora of misconduct from Moscow and deter its future acts. The US actions indicate that it will pursue a stronger frontier than the Trump era and strive for a stable relationship with Russia. The response they have is "resolute but proportionate." The US intelligence has published numerous reports about the cybersecurity attacks and Russian intelligence ventures into US companies. The sanctions imposed by the US may pose obstacles for Russia but considering past experiences, it is unlikely that these sanctions would deter the Kremlin.

The exchange of diplomatic expulsions is an indicator of the fact that the sanctions do not dissuade Moscow. The tensions that have risen after the flaring exchanges could amount to another cold war like situation. 

Japan: The US fortifies alliance in the Indo-Pacific
What happened?
On 16 April, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and American President Joe Biden met for the first time in Washington, where the two leaders discussed their bilateral issues and matters of mutual interest. China topped the meeting agenda as the two leaders explored policy options and a suitable course of action to handle the challenges created by China's aggressiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. Human rights abuse in Hong Kong and Xinjiang and aggression in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Taiwan were the main focus of the meeting. President Biden said: "We committed to working together to take on the challenges from China and on issues like the East China Sea, the South China Sea, as well as North Korea, to ensure a future of a free and open Indo Pacific."

What is the background?
First, the Taiwan issue. The meeting between Suga and Biden comes soon after 25 Chinese aircrafts, including fighter jets and nuclear-capable bombers, trespassed into Taiwan's air defence identification zone (AIDZ) on 12 April. This incursion is the largest in 2021 and occurred a day after US Secretary of State expressed concerns regarding China's aggression towards Taiwan. In 2021, China entered Taiwan's seas and air space multiple times, pushing the country and other foreign powers to condemn its actions strongly. China has also been intermittently patrolling the water around the Senkaku islands, which Japan, China and Taiwan claim. China's increased interference in Taiwan is also partly due to Taipei's fast approach towards a formal declaration of independence from China. 

Second, counter-balancing China. In the past decade, Japan has witnessed an increasing presence of China in the Indo-Pacific region. Other than its claim of the nine-dash-line, China has invested heavily in the countries in the region. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) also played an essential role in establishing China as a dependable superpower in the region. Thus, in the past few years, Japan's foreign policy has focused on countering China's unprecedented rise. Japan has conducted multiple meetings with European and Western countries such as Germany, France, UK, and the US, aiming to strengthen its relationship with its allies to present a fortified defence against China and ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific. 

Third, the significance of the Indo-Pacific in the US foreign policy. The meeting also took place a month after Biden convened a meeting with the Quad members where the main agenda was countering China's unparalleled rise. The first cabinet-level foreign visit of the US also took place in Japan and South Korea. In the 100 days after taking office, there is a visible shift in the US foreign policy from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific. 

What does this mean?
China does not welcome a heightened interest of the US in the Indo-Pacific. However, the US has a duty towards Japan in protecting it from foreign aggression. It is also in US interests to slow down China's progress in the global economy to ensure America's status as a superpower. However, the interference of the US may instigate China to further antagonize its neighbours by showcasing its military prowess. The probability of China fastening its hold over Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan remains high in the coming years. 

Also, in the news …
By Sukanya Bali and Avishka Ashok

East and Southeast Asia This Week 
Hong Kong: Celebrates its first National Security Education Day 
On 15 April, Hong Kong, for the first time, celebrated National Security Education Day to promote the national security law that Beijing imposed, last year. At the ceremony, officials vowed to remain cautious about fending off national security risks. Carrie Lam, HKSAR Chief Executive said: "The national security law for Hong Kong established robust legal and enforcement mechanisms, and as national and political security are inseparable, electoral reform, aims to achieve genuine national security, meaning that governance must be firmly held in the hands of patriots." 

Japan: Two-plus-two dialogue with Germany
On 14 April, the Foreign and Defense Miniters of Japan and Germany held the first security dialogue via videoconference. The discussion focused on the challenges posed by growing Beijing maritime claims in the Indo-Pacific region and raised "serious concerns" on the Uighur issue. Japan also proposed Self-Defense Forces joint drills with the German military (timed with Germany's planned dispatch of a frigate in the region) and suggested joint surveillance on North Korean ship-to-ship transfers of goods. 

Japan: Regional and international discontent over the release of water from Fukushima nuclear plant into sea
On 13 April, Japan announced to release more than one million tons of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea. The first release will take place in about two years. The Hindu reported, the government said: "On the premise of strict compliance with regulatory standards that have been established we select oceanic release." Fishing community and neighbors such as China, Taiwan, South Korea, and North Korea has shown discontentment with the decision. 

Myanmar: Three journalists detained by the military government
On 14 April, three reporters from a local newspaper were detained by the military and brought for interrogation in the Kachin State. The journalists work in local independent weekly, Myitkyina Journal. Seng Mai, the editor-in-chief of the Myitkyina Journal, said: "Since their arrests by the regime, they have been at the military interrogation center. It has been four days. They are not allowed to meet family members. I am worried they are being tortured by the military and must be facing a life-threatening situation in the detention center." According to the UN, since 1 February more than 71 journalists have been arrested in which 23 journalists have been sued under Article 505(a).

Thailand: Upsurge in COVID-19 cases
On 15 April, Thailand reported 1,543 new COVID-19 cases in a day and the fourth record rise this week. The total infection reached 37,453 with 97 deaths. The new epicentre being Bangkok alone, reported 409 cases. Health officials said: "Measures were being formulated based on case numbers in each area, and new lockdown would be proposed to the coronavirus task force."

South Asia This Week
India: UAE diplomat claims to mediate between India and Pakistan
On 15 April, Reuters reported, "UAE envoy to Washington confirmed the Gulf state is mediating between India and Pakistan to help the nuclear-armed rivals reach a "healthy and functional" relationship." UAE Amb Yousef Al Otaiba said: "Top intelligence officers from India and Pakistan held secret talks in Dubai in January in a new effort to calm military tension over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir." He also said: "Pakistan should play a helpful role in Afghanistan, where the United States plans to start withdrawing US troops on 1 May to end America's longest war."

Pakistan: Foreign Minister visits Berlin and UAE 
On 12 April, Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi arrived in Berlin on a two-day official visit. The meeting with his German counterpart focused on areas like regional security in South Asia, growing economic and trade ties in alternative energy and information technology. The Express Tribune reported, Foreign Office official said: "The visit has been extremely successful." FM Qureshi also announced the opening of a new consulate in Munich. On 17 April, FM left for a three-day visit to UAE. The meet will focus on bilateral cooperation in trade and investment, job opportunities for the Pakistani workforce, and regional issues.

Pakistan: France advises citizen to leave Islamabad temporarily
On 15 April, the French embassy said: "French nationals to leave the country and companies to shut down activities temporarily." The embassy also said: the move is "precautionary." This came soon after TLP leader Saad Rizvi was detained, and his party was banned by the government. As per the Associated Press, the arrest further intensified the protest in Karachi and Rawalpindi. 

Central Asia, Middle East and Africa This Week
Kyrgyzstan: Referendum backing Presidential rule passed 
On 11 April, President Sadyr Japarov won the voters' support, who responded positively to a referendum submitting greater power to him. The referendum will allow Japarov to pass his policies without much opposition and stabilize the country's politics, preventing violent revolts within the system. However, the voter turnout was barely above the 30 per cent mark required to validate the referendum.

United Arab Emirates: the US continues arms sale after temporary pause 
On 14 April, the US State Department announced that it would continue a USD 23 billion arms deal with the UAE that was put on hold in January 2021. The department spokesperson revealed that "the US will proceed with the sale even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials." The arms deal, which was a contributing factor to the war in Yemen, was on hold as Congress aimed to stop all offensive operations in Yemen. 

Egypt: Suez Canal Authority demands compensation for blockage 
On 14 April, the owner of the Japanese container ship that blocked the Suez Canal said that the Egyptian authorities are demanding compensation worth USD 900 million. The amount will include the cost to refloat the ship and the losses suffered by the blockage. The ship, which is insured, will be held hostage until the amount is paid to the Egyptian authorities. The insurance company and the Japanese owner are negotiating the hefty price while attempting to deliver the cargo onboard the ship. 

Iran: Russia denounces EU sanctions on Iranian security officials
On 13 April, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Tehran and expressed Russia's expectations towards salvaging the Iranian nuclear deal, while condemning the sanctions placed on Iran by the EU. Referring to the readiness showcased by Iranian officials, he said: "We expect that it will be possible to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)." On 12 April, the EU placed sanctions on eight Iranian security officials. Lavrov expressed concern over the derailment of the Vienna talks as a result of the sanctions. 

Somalia: Resolution extending President's term rejected by NSF
On 14 April, the Somalia National Salvation Forum (NSF) rejected the Lower House resolution that sought to approve an extension on President Mohamed Abdullah Farmaajo's term in office by two years. Farmaajo's term expired on 8 February 2021. The NSF, which is a coalition of political organizations, leaders of the Puntland and Jubbaland and other opposition leaders, revealed that: "The resolution poses a threat to the stability, peace, and unity of Somalia and the Somali people."

Europe and The Americas This Week
Denmark: AstraZeneca Vaccines permanently suspended
On 15 April, Denmark permanently suspended the use of AstraZeneca vaccines after a few individuals lost their lives due to the blood clots being formed after being vaccinated. Norway and Iceland have also followed Denmark in suspending the use of the vaccines. In contrast, Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg have rejected vaccines that caused blood clots in the individuals. 

Cuba: Raul Castro steps down as head of Communist Party of Cuba
On 16 April, the head of the Communist Party of Cuba Raul Castro announced that he would step down from power and hand over his responsibilities to the younger generation. However, analysts believe that he will continue to play an important role in the country's politics as his statement read: "I believe fervently in the strength and exemplary nature and comprehension of my compatriots, and as long as I live, I will be ready with my foot in the stirrups to defend the fatherland, the revolution and socialism." Castro is yet to announce his successor. 

Venezuela: Maduro politicizes inoculation drive
On 14 April, Bloomberg reported that the Venezuelan government provided vaccination to those citizens with a state loyalty card; thereby excluding numerous citizens opposing the government. The state will select recipients of the vaccine based on a registry maintained by Nicholas Maduro's government. The vaccinations will be provided based on the Carnet de la Patrie (state loyalty card) and not the national ID.

Mexico: Legislation requiring biometric data passed in Senate
On 14 April, activists and opposition leaders in Mexico raised the alarm against the passing of legislation in the Senate that required cellphone companies to acquire customer identification and biometric data. The bill received the President's support, who said that it was necessary to deal with crimes such as extortion and kidnapping. The passed legislation requires cellphone companies to submit data such as fingerprints and eye scans within the next two years. The opposition has objected to the legislation to expose the customer's data and would not help fight crime. 

The US: Inspector General confirms police involvement in 6 January coup
On 15 April, the Capitol police Inspector General released a 104-page document which revealed that the attack of 6 January received the support of the police department. The report depicted that the police were forbidden by their leadership from using their most effective crowd-control strategies despite intelligence agencies predicting an attack. 

About the authors
Abigail Miriam Fernandes and Sukanya Bali are Research Associates, Lokendra Sharma and Akriti Sharma are PhD scholars and Avishka Ashok is a Research Assistant in the School of Conflict and Security at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Mallika Devi is a PhD candidate at the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi. Chetna Vinay Bhora is an independent scholar from Madras University. 

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