The World This Week

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The World This Week
The Quad reinvigoration, UN General Assembly meeting, Elections in Russia and Canada, and another political turmoil in Tunisia

  GP Team

The World This Week #138, Vol. 3, No. 39

D Suba Chandran, Keerthana Nambiar, Joeana Cera Matthews, Vaishnavi Iyer and Mohamad Aseel

Quad: Expanding the areas of cooperation into regional infrastructure, emerging technologies and cyber
What happened?
On 24 September, welcoming the other three leaders of Quad, the US President Biden said: "This group meeting of democratic partners who share a world view and have a common vision for the future, coming together to take on key challenges of our age, from COVID to climate to emerging technologies…When we met six months ago, we made concrete commitments to advance our shared and positive agenda for a free and open Indo-Pacific. Today, I'm proud to say that we're making excellent progress... In sum, we are four major democracies with a long history of cooperation. We know how to get things done, and we are up to the challenge." The other three Prime Ministers echoed the same sentiment in their statements. 

On 24 September, the Quad leaders also released a joint statement. The joint statement stressed "shared security and prosperity" and "a free and open Indo-Pacific." The statement recommitted "to promoting the free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law and undaunted by coercion, to bolster security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond." It also emphasized "the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity of states."

The joint statement also stressed the need for the Quad to work with partners in Southeast Asia and Europe. It said: "We commit to work together and with a range of partners. We reaffirm our strong support for ASEAN's unity and centrality and for ASEAN's Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, and we underscore our dedication towards working with ASEAN and its member states—the heart of the Indo-Pacific region—in practical and inclusive ways. We also welcome the September 2021 EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific."

The joint statement stressed cooperation in five specific fields – COVID vaccines, climate change and clean energy, emerging technologies, regional infrastructure, and cyberspace. Besides the above five areas, the joint statement also had a special focus on the Indo-Pacific and the role planned for the Quad. Recognizing that the shared futures of the four countries "will be written in the Indo-Pacific," the joint statement has promised redoubling the efforts "to ensure that the Quad is a force for regional peace, stability, security, and prosperity." 

What is the background?
First, the Quad reemphasis and broadbasing. Ever since Biden took over as the President, there has been a push to make the Quad effective. Though the idea of Quad emerged in 2004, there was a slow push during the first phase. In recent years, there has been a new push to realize the potential of the four countries in the Quad. With Biden at the helm, there has been an effort to find specific areas that would bring the four countries closer; cooperation in emerging technologies, cyberspace and COVID vaccines – is an attempt to broaden the Quad focus.

Second, Quad as a pillar of the Indo-Pacific push. Obama referred to a US Pivot and later the Indo-Pacific; however, none transformed into an action plan with specific goals and strategies. Under Biden, there is an effort to see the Quad as not an end (in terms of cooperation between the four countries), but a means to achieve a larger objective in the Indo-Pacific.

Third, building a larger partnership along with the Quad. During the last few months, the US has attempted to revisit its Southeast Asia linkages. Vice President Kamala Harris visited Southeast Asia. The recent pact between Australia, the UK and the US (AUKUS) aims to widen the US partnership in the Indo-Pacific. The 24 September Quad statement on North Korea, ASEAN and Europe should be viewed in this backdrop.
Fourth, the China factor. Though the Quad has been careful in not bringing Beijing as a part of its focus or statements, China's absence in the statements makes it more present. All four countries have bilateral issues with China at different levels. 

What does it mean?
First, the operationalization of Quad. The recent statement provides a larger space for the Quad to cooperate; from issues of COVID vaccines to emerging technologies, cyber, and regional infrastructure, there is a new critical push. Building regional infrastructure is an essential prerequisite to make the region self-sufficient; as collateral, a regional infrastructure may also provide an alternative to the countries in the region. Currently, China has been the most significant player in the region in supporting the regional infrastructure through its BRI. 

Second, Biden taking the Quad mantle. The other three countries, though work closely at a bilateral level, may not lead, given their limited political, economic, and technological capabilities. 

Third, China factor in bringing the four countries on a common platform. With the bilateral relations with Beijing strained during recent years, India and Australia are keen to find multilateral frameworks to meet the China challenge. Did China force the Quad countries to come together is a different question; Beijing would see the four countries exploring new avenues to bring them together.

UN: The General Assembly discussions focus on multilateralism, climate change, migration and COVID vaccines
What happened?
On 21 September, General Secretary Antonio Guterres addressed the United Nations General Assembly outlining the six "Great Divides" that must be bridged. "With humanity on the edge of an abyss, and moving in the wrong direction, the world must wake up", quoted the Secretary-General. He called in for greater actions on Covid-19 and vaccine inequalities, bold steps towards gender equality, digital technology dangers, and closing the generational gap. "This is our time. A moment for transformation. An era to re-ignite multilateralism. An age of possibilities," the Secretary-General informed the world leaders and ambassadors.   

More than 100 leaders attended the meeting. The US President Joe Biden declared a "new era" of US diplomacy, as the world stands at an "inflection point in history." Chinese President, Xi Jinping expressed the need to improve global governance and practice true multilateralism, including the "need to be handled through dialogue and cooperation". The UK Prime Minister warned that it was time for humanity to "grow up". President Tayyip Erdogan said, "We plan to present the Paris climate agreement to our parliament's approval next month in line with constructive steps that will be taken."

What is the background?
First, Covid 19 and the vaccine inequalities. The UN statements and discussions focused on reversing the global failure to tackle Covid-19 and vaccinate 70 per cent of the world population by the first half of 2022. While some countries have vaccines widely available, some struggled to get supplies.

Second, the focus on multilateralism. Recently, there has been a refocus on multilateralism. With Trump gone, along with his unilateral actions whether within the UN or outside it, there has been a renewed focus on multilateral actions to deal with issues ranging from COVID vaccination to climate change. 

Third, the end of War on Terrorism. Ever since the 9/11 attacks, terrorism has remained a primary concern in the General Assembly. Afghanistan has been a significant part of the discussion. The rise of radical groups in Iraq, Syria and Africa made terrorism a primary theme for discussions at the UN. 

Fourth, the chaos of migration and climate change commitments. The regional conflicts loom over the General Assembly meeting accompanying the migration crisis. Europe-bound migrants, crisis in the US-Mexico border, violence in the Tigray crisis, and the terror in Afghanistan have been the source of migration. Thousands of people desperately trying to cross the borders for a chance at a better life. Migration has become another focus of the UN discussions. On Climate Change, the leaders have pledged concrete commitments before the COP26 and UN Climate Change Conference. 

What does this mean?
First, the UN has been trying to stimulate the idea of multilateralism for years now. Wherein, the world might be able to face the pressing issues from the pandemic to the migration crisis working together. In this meeting, the world leaders seem to be acknowledging the gravity of issues and planning for the future accordingly.

Second, the 76th UN General Assembly 2021 unlike the earlier meetings has proved to be successful and engaging with the realistic approach with a tinge of idealism. The lingering question is if the UN can deliver up to the goals and expectations, or is it just transitioning for mere survival.

Russia: General Elections 2021 underlines Putin's political hold
What happened? 
On 17 September, Russia began polling for its three-day general elections both online and offline. The parliamentary election, which ended on 19 September, elected 450 deputies to the State Duma for five years. Despite an easy win of 49.82 per cent votes, the United Russia party lost significant ground compared to their 2016 election win of 54 per cent votes. Contributions by other parties included the Communist party with 18.93 per cent of the vote, while the LDPR party and the Fair Russia party garnered 7.5 per cent individually. Overall, the elections saw an official voter turnout of 51.7 per cent. 

On 20 September, jailed critic Alexei Navalny's aide Lyubov Sobol said: "With such a colossal number of violations, the results of the State Duma elections cannot be recognized as clean, honest or legitimate." 

On 24 September, after announcing the final results, Russia's Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairperson Ella Pamfilova said: "We did everything we could, based on our understanding of honour and conscience, everything we could, and it's up to you to judge." 

What is the background? 
First, the pre-election controversies. Before the elections, Kremlin critics were barred from participation while others were implicated with legal suits or unexplained arrests. The Smart voting app promoted by jailed Alexei Navalny's supporters was banned. The subsequent crackdown on civil society, media, and other NGOs also raised concerns about attempts to silence the Opposition. During the elections, criticisms ranged from accusations of voter fraud to requests of annulling the results. Ballot box stuffing, pens with disappearing ink, and threats against observers were other alleged violations.  

Second, the Opposition's role. The opposition parties that participated in the elections provided a pretence of pluralism, as critics were carefully excluded. This lack of real electoral competition implied the results were a foregone conclusion. Over the years, this has been the case with Russian elections. Since the beginning of Putin's regime, all of his elections have been termed fraudulent, and every time, these allegations have been strategically silenced. Alexei Navalny, the prominent Kremlin-rival, had managed to garner an efficient opposition. The idea of Navalny – Opposition to the Kremlin became quite popular despite the Kremlin crackdown. Once Navalny's organization was termed 'extremist', and he was jailed, the vocality of the Opposition was lost. 

Third, fairness of the election. Russia's 'managed/guided' form of democracy was evident via this election. The 'opposition' was Kremlin-approved since critics were effortlessly silenced or taken off the arena. According to the Interior Ministry, none of the 750 complaints on voting violations received was severe enough to affect the results. For the first time since 2007, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), didn't send in election observers due to limitations set by Moscow. It seems only fair that this year's elections were dubbed 'a transition from a flawed democracy to a fully-fledged authoritarian state'. 

Fourth, the backlash. Internal criticisms included a coalition of defeated candidates claiming foul-play over the online voting system; they also asked for annulling the results. However, these claims were not taken into consideration by the Russian CEC. There was also an international backlash. From the US State Department spokesperson Ned Price to the EU Foreign Affairs spokesperson Peter Sano, the elections were termed undemocratic and staged. Other European countries also called out Moscow's growing authoritarianism.  

What does it mean? 
First, questions over democracy in Russia. The opinion polls had predicted United Russia's popularity accounting for less than 30 per cent; however, the Kremlin achieved a supermajority despite a low turnout. In light of this, questions arise regarding Moscow's larger democratic process and whether the concept of Russian democracy is a sham. It also indicates that a return to full-fledged democracy is not in the cards for Russia. 

Second, Putin's hold over Russia. Despite the widespread violations by his administration, Putin's popularity in terms of votes was unaffected. Kremlin's justification of the crackdown prosecuting those deviants of the law rather than one with political motives shows how effortlessly critics are silenced in Russia. 

Canada: Justin Trudeau wins but fails to secure a majority
What happened?
On 20 September, Trudeau's Liberal Party won the snap elections with a minority vote. The party won 158 seats as compared to the 157 seats in the 2019 elections. Despite the conservative party's extremely moderate pitch, the party won 119 seats as compared to the 121 seats in 2019. The bloc won 34 seats, and the NDP won 25 seats. Thus, the new government elected in Canada is again a minority government. 

On 21 September, in his victory speech, Trudeau said: "Our government is ready." He also noted: "You are sending us back to work with a clear mandate to get Canada through this pandemic and to the brighter days ahead, and my friends, that's exactly what we are ready to do." In his short speech, he stated that the moment Canada faces demands real and important change and that the voters have given his government clear direction. 

On 21 September, Erin O'Toole, the opposition leader spoke to his supporters on the night of the elections where the Liberals were projected to lead a minority government. He said: "I will never stop serving this great country". He emphasized that Canadian voters did not give Trudeau the majority he desired and that "A few days ago Mr. Trudeau was saying he would hold another election in 18 months if he didn't get what he wants". He called Trudeau's moves a "power grab" and insisted that Canada must heal divides and not risk the nation for selfish gains. 

What's the background?
First, the snap elections. The call for the snap elections came on 15 August 2021, just halfway into Trudeau's term. The next round of elections was scheduled for 16 October 2021; however, the Trudeau government insisted that the Parliament was slipping into "dysfunctionalism" along with "obstruction and toxicity" levels, which was of real concern. 

Second, the electoral debate. Both parties indulged in aggressive campaigning. Trudeau focused on the management of the pandemic by his government and vaccine passports. He attacked the Opposition for bolstering anti-vaxxers as O'Toole had previously opposed mandatory vaccination. He mentioned his campaign is: "at a crossroads, at a moment where we have to make a really important choice". The Opposition referred to Trudeau's call for snap elections "selfish" amidst the fourth wave of the pandemic. O'Toole said: "Now is the time for Canadians to make a choice. We can choose to settle for second-best - for a party that hardly tries and barely delivers. Or, we can choose to believe in a brighter, better, more united future." 

What does this mean?
First, the failure of Trudeau to garner majority. The motive of the snap elections was to generate a majority government. Polls in August reflected a slight rise in the popularity of the Liberal Party. Relying on the conventional wisdom of Canadian voters preferring a majority rule by the incumbent rather than a prolonged minority rule, the snap elections were expected to generate a clear majority. This was not achieved.
Second, the no-change Parliament. Trudeau will have to address the same issues of climate change, opioid abuse, debt and deficit planning in an almost similar parliamentary set-up. The electoral debates revealed the dissatisfaction of the Opposition; this may lead to a slightly more unstable parliament for Trudeau to rejoin. Moreover, the polls revealed that the opposition seats fell by two, indicating that a moderate pitch for conservatives was ineffective. 

Tunisia: President announces rule by decree
What happened?
On 22 September, Tunisian President Kais Saied declared that he will 'rule by decree' and defy the constitution's parts that challenge his executive and legislative authorities. According to the new rules that have been published in the official Gazette allows him to release 'Legislative text' upon his decree, he is also entitled to appoint a cabinet and determine its policies and direction of implementation without any interferences. The announcements raised immediate concerns among the Opposition; a senior leader of the Heart of Tunisia party rejected the presidential decisions calling it a "premeditated coup". The leaders of the Ennahda, the largest opposition party condemned it, as the declaration meant "cancelling the constitution".

On 23 September, Attayar, Al Joumhouri, Akef and Ettakatol parties released a joint statement calling for an end to Saied's intervention. These minor parties have significant influence among the non-elite sections of the country. The statement questions the President's authority and rejects his legitimacy, "He will be held responsible for all the possible repercussions of this dangerous step". A senior official of the UGTT union said, "Tunisia is heading towards absolute, individual rule."

On 24 September, the UGTT labor Union, a powerful political entity in the country said in a statement the recent developments can be a "danger to Democracy".  The union had earlier welcomed Saied's decision to dissolve the Parliament but had called for an immediate return political stability and to operate within the bounds of the constitution. The head of Amnesty International commented that the development is worrying and cautioned," the warning signs are blinking red".

What is the background?
First, the suspension of the Parliament. Kais Saied suspended the Parliament and dismissed Rached Mechichi as the Prime Minister on 25 July; he took over the legislative and executive powers. The decision came after series of nationwide protests against the misgovernance of the moderate-Islamic Ennahda party resulting in a plummeting economy. The party was accused of being instrumental in establishing a highly a corrupted administration that failed to handle the covid pandemic effectively. The legal immunity enjoyed by all Parliamentarians were withdrawn, and travel bans imposed. The Opposition condemned the suspension to be a constitutional coup. 

Second, the delayed decisions. The suspension was declared to be for 30 days, followed by the naming of a new Prime minister along with the cabinet. By 25 August, the interim administration was brought under both growing international and domestic pressure to name a new Prime minister. 

The Opposition headed by Ennahda and other minor parties called nationwide mobilization against Saied's administration and called for a swift return to the former status quo. Meanwhile, many supporters of the recent interventions have openly expressed concerns regarding the absence of clarity of Saied's roadmap to a new government.

What does it mean?
First, Kais Saeid, despite denying any aspiration to rule, can become an authoritarian ruler in the future. The new administration lacks support from the existing political parties and bureaucracy. He is criticized for lacking any prior experiences in governance; critics warn of the formation of a highly authoritarian regime that is incapable of delivering efficient governance. The security forces have remained uninvolved after the suspension, but in the light of the recent reforms, Tunisa's military and intelligence can be a critical factor in the new administration.

Second, the fragmented and divided Opposition that had created disunity and lack of collective consensus is being brought under a single banner to resist Saied's administrative reforms collectively. A strong and combined opposition that resist the new governance can possibly recreate the bloody images of the 2011 Arab Spring that swept across various countries in the region. 

Third, Tunisia was often seen as the beacon of democracy among the nations that was part of the Arab Spring. The new governmental policies can undermine the ideals and achievements of the revolution. A political tussle in Tunisia in the future can also cause regional instability in the North African Belt. 

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

East and Southeast Asia This Week 
China: Evergrande fears soothed after largest-ever debt restructuring issued; Regulators ban crypto trading and mining
On 22 September, Reuters reported that China's debt-ridden Evergrande agreed to settle interest payments on a domestic bond, soothing fears of an immediate collapse of the real estate giant. The Chinese central bank, the People's Bank of China has also injected 90 billion yuan into the banking system, in what is expected to be one of China's largest debt restructurings. Reuters had earlier quoted IMF Chief economist Gita Gopinath that Evergrande's potential default could have implications on China's financial stability as the real estate sector forms a big part of the Chinese economy. 

On 24 September, China's top regulators intensified a crackdown on cryptocurrencies with a ban on all crypto transactions and mining. Ten regulators, including the central bank, vowed to work together to root out "illegal" cryptocurrency activity.

China: Two Canadians released from detention, following the release of Huawei CFO
On 24 September, Meng Wanzhou, the Chief Financial Officer of Huawei, left from Canada to return to China after three years of detention. She was accused of providing false information to HSBC bank and enabling a grant worth USD one million to Skycom Tech, a company based in Iran, thereby violating the sanctions imposed by the US. Soon after, the US Department of Justice decided on deferred prosecution agreement, two Canadians who were arrested in China were also released from China
China: Xi Jinping's climate goals at the UN General Assembly
On 21 September, the Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a video message at the general debate of the United Nations General Assembly's 76th Session. In the video, he announced that China would stop the construction of coal-fired power plants in foreign countries and instead help to develop green and low-carbon energy. 
China: Ant Group's Huabei begins to share consumer data with China's central bank; Huawei CFO discharged in the US extradition case
On 22 September, Reuters reported that China's Ant Group, an affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, has begun sending its consumer credit data to the database run by China's central bank. Ant's virtual credit card service Huabei said in a social media post on its official Weibo account that it was being integrated into China's central bank credit reporting system. The move is critical as the Chinese regulatory grip on the company and the larger financial technology sector tightens. 

On 25 September, a Canadian court granted an order of discharge to Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, leaving her free to leave the country after the US extradition case ended. The discharge came after lawyers of the Canadian government asked the court to discharge her after Meng reached a deal with US prosecutors over the bank fraud case. The deal was immediately followed by the release of two Canadians from Chinese jails who were arrested shortly after Meng was taken into custody in December 2018.

China: Lithuania's warning against Chinese phones
On 22 September, Reuters reported that Lithuania's Defense Ministry recommended consumers avoid buying Chinese mobile phones and advised them to throw away their current Chinese phones after a government report found built-in censorship capabilities in the devices. Lithuania's state-run cybersecurity body said that phones sold in Europe by China's smartphone giant Xiaomi Corp have a built-in ability to detect and censor terms like "Free Tibet", "Long live Taiwan independence" or "democracy movement". Relations between Lithuania and China have soured after the former's decision to allow a Taiwanese Representative Office in the country. 

Taiwan: Applies to join the CPTPP
On 22 September, Reuters quoted the official Central News Agency that Taiwan has formally applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), less than a week after China submitted an application to join the pact. The original 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was seen as an important economic counterweight to China's growing influence until 2017 when then-President Donald Trump pulled the US from the pact.  

North Korea: Quad leaders urge to engage in dialogue, refrain from provocations
On 25 September, the leaders of the US, Australia, Japan and India called on North Korea to engage in dialogue and abide by UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit ballistic missile tests. The call, which came at the end of the first in-person summit of the QUAD countries, came after North Korea test-fired a new missile recently in violation of UNSC resolutions.

South Korea: Agrees to boost policy cooperation with Saudi Arabia 
On 24 September, South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-Yong and his Saudi Arabian counterpart, Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, agreed to boost cooperation between the countries' key industrial policy initiatives during bilateral talks at the UN General Assembly. The two parties have agreed to work on ways to link Korea's Green New Deal and Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030. The Green New Deal, proposed by President Moon Jae-in, aims to push for digital and green energy projects and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Vision 2030 is Riyadh's reform drive aimed to reduce its dependence on oil.

South Asia This Week 
India: Prime Minister meets Japanese and Australian leaders prior to the QUAD meeting
On 24 September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga prior to the QUAD meeting and discussed ways to boost trade and cooperation between the two countries. On 23 September, Prime Minister Modi also met with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to discuss regional and global developments and other ongoing cooperation in the field of trade, defence, clean energy and the pandemic. On 25 September, Modi also met with US President Joe Biden and discussed Pakistan's role in Afghanistan. 

Pakistan: Foreign Minister meets Antony Blinken and discusses regional engagements
On 23 September, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in New York while they were in the city for the 76th United Nations General Assembly meeting. The leaders spoke for almost an hour and majorly focused on the Afghan crisis. Qureshi pushed for a balanced relationship with the US, with the two countries participating in trade, investment, energy and regional connectivity. He also urged the US administration for greater involvement and engagement with the Taliban. 

Afghanistan: Taliban requests representation at the UNGA meeting
On 23 September, the Taliban requested permission to address the United Nations General Assembly gathering. A committee including nine member countries like the US, Russia and China are expected to vote on the request, but the Taliban using the official platform does not seem like a possible outcome. The Taliban nominated Suhail Shaheen as their UN Ambassador. However, Ghulam Isaczai, the representative of the Ghani government will take part until the committee comes to a decision which may be well after the end of the UNGA meeting. 

Afghanistan: Chinese, Russian and Pakistani envoys meet the interim government to discuss an inclusive government 
On 21 September, Pakistan's Ambassador to Afghanistan Mansoor Ahmad Khan met the Prime Minister of the interim cabinet of Afghanistan along with other Pakistani special envoys, Russian and Chinese representatives. The leaders discussed the possibility of peace and an inclusive government in Afghanistan. The envoys also met with Abdullah Abdullah and Hamid Karzai and discussed the need for an inclusive government. Shahzada Massoud, a politician from the Karzai government, said: "In the meeting, adopting a moderate domestic and foreign policy and unity among the Afghans was insisted on. And the establishment of an inclusive government was discussed in detail."

Central Asia, Middle East and Africa This Week
Kyrgyzstan: Taliban leader meets officials to discuss cooperation
On 23 September, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted regarding the meeting between the Afghan Foreign Minister of the interim government and the Deputy Chairman of Kyrgyzstan's Security Council and the head of the Foreign Policy Department of Kyrgyzstan. The objective of the meeting was to discuss bilateral relations and cooperation between Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan. The Taliban representative welcomed the Kyrgyz delegation and thanked them for their support and hoped for continued assistance and cooperation between the two countries. 

Lebanon: Najib Mikati's government wins vote of confidence
On 20 September, Lebanon's new government won a vote of confidence after the IMF granted a bailout to the country and worked on a number of reforms to change the state of the economy. Over 85 Parliamentarians voted for Prime Minister Najib Mikati while 15 voted against. The session lasted eight hours while the 100 Members of Parliament out of a total of 128, discussed and debated the new government in power. 

Israel: Palestinian President accuses Israel of destroying the two-state solution 
On 24 September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas blamed Israel for creating obstacles to the two-state solution by its actions. He said: "Israel is destroying the prospect of a political settlement based on the two-state solution through its settlements on West Bank land it captured in the 1967 Middle East war." The statements were made while he addressed the United Nations General Assembly Meeting. Israeli Ambassador to the US reacted to the speech by Abbas and called it a "speech full of lies." He said: "Those who truly support peace and negotiations do not threaten delusional ultimatums."

Mali: Protests break out in support of the interim government and Russia 
On 22 September, protests broke out in Mali in support of the transitional government. Thousands gathered in the capital city of Bamako and called for closer ties with Russia while they dismissed relations with France. The protests broke out after the diplomatic tensions between Mali and France, which is pressuring the country to hold elections in February and end relations with the Russian mercenary group Wagner. The protests were against the French presence in the country. South Sudan

South Sudan: United Nations report points out threat to human rights and the peace process
On 23 September, the United Nations released a report according to which the extreme plundering of South Sudan's public coffers posed a threat to the human rights of the people and challenged the peace process. The country has been posed with numerous challenges since its independence, such as the civil war, chronic instability, economic chaos, ethnic violence and a hunger crisis. The Commission on Human Rights Chair Yasmin Sooka said: "Corruption, embezzlement, bribery, and misappropriation of State funds by political elites are merely the tip of the iceberg. The Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, the National Revenue Authority, and a number of foreign corporations have all been complicit in this."

Europe and The Americas This Week
The EU: Rules to force USB-C chargers for all phones
On 24 September, a new rule proposed by the European Commission (EC) will force manufacturers to create a universal charging solution for phones and small electronic devices and thereby encourage consumers to re-use existing chargers. The proposal called for USB-C chargers for all smartphones sold in the EU. However, tech giant Apple has warned that such a move would harm innovation. Most Android phones come with USB micro-B charging ports or have already moved to the more modern USB-C standard.

The EU: Upsurge in gas prices affect consumers and energy firms
On 24 September, the BBC reported that a surge in gas prices has hit consumers and energy firms in the UK, with subsequent effects for the food industry and supplies of carbon dioxide. In other European countries, consumers are facing a rise in energy bills, and governments are scrambling to search for alternatives. The crisis has highlighted the difficult situation that Europe faces with respect to funding the move to renewable energy.

Switzerland: Vote on same-sex marriage in a referendum
On 22 September, Reuters reported that Swiss voters will decide on 26 September whether to allow same-sex couples to marry and adopt children. The federal government and Parliament approved opening civil marriage to same-sex couples. However, the opponents forced a referendum on the issue under Switzerland's system of direct democracy. Switzerland is one of the last Western European countries to ban gay marriage.

Russia: Prosecutor General bans Church of Scientology with 'Undesirable' Tag
On 25 September, Russia designated the Church of Scientology an "undesirable organization" and effectively banned it, putting tens of thousands of members at risk of being jailed. The Prosecutor General's Office said that they found the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises and the Church of Spiritual Technology "pose a threat to the security of the Russian Federation."

Germany: Climate activist rally ahead of federal elections
On 25 September, climate activists rallied in cities around Germany ahead of the upcoming federal elections. Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg told a gathering that, "no political party is doing enough." The activists have called for Germany to do more to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees C and to end the use of coal for power generation by 2030, instead of 2038. Climate change has been a central theme in the election campaign after the recent devastating floods in the country.

The US: Approves $1 billion for Israel's 'Iron Dome' defense system
On 24 September, the US House of Representatives voted to give $1 billion to fund Israel's Iron Dome missile-defence system, two days after objections from liberal Democrats forced leaders to remove it from a broader spending bill. The objections were due to the accusation of human rights abuses against Palestinians by Israel.

Paraguay: River hits record low levels
On 24 September, government figures showed that the Paraguay River, a crucial outlet for the country to the sea, fell to its lowest level in at least 117 years, threatening massive economic losses.

Colombia: FARC dissidents take responsibility for June bombing
On 24 September, a FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) dissident commander took responsibility for a June bomb attack on a military base in the Colombian city of Cucuta, which had wounded 44 people, including two US military advisers. The group also took responsibility for the recent shooting of a helicopter carrying President Ivan Duque. The FARC rebels, who rejected a 2016 peace deal, said that the bombing attack was focused on "the North American advisors and the leaders of the army's 30th Brigade." 

About the Authors
Joeana Cera Matthews and Keerthana Nambiar are postgraduate scholars in the Department of International Relations at the University of Mysore. Mohamad Aseel is a postgraduate scholar from the Central University of Kerala. D Suba Chandran is Professor and Dean of the School of Conflict and Peace Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Sukanya Bali, Avishka Ashok and Vaishnavi Iyer are Research Associates at NIAS. Juan Mary Joseph is a research intern at NIAS. 

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