World News

Guinean Government Deploys Army to Quell Post-Election Protests

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Guinea’s government ordered the army to end violent protests over election results that show incumbent President Alpha Conde is set to win a third term.

Territorial Administration Minister Bourema Conde “requisitioned the national army to maintain order in the country,” state-owned broadcaster Radio Television Guineenne reported, citing a government statement.

At least nine people have died in demonstrations that erupted as the electoral commission releases tallies from Sunday’s presidential election. Conde, in power since 2010, has won 24 of the nation’s 38 districts, while opposition leader and former Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo garnered 13, the commission said Thursday.

Conde and Diallo were the two frontrunners going into the election. Conde had the advantages of incumbency, a well-funded campaign and backing from Russia, whose companies have invested heavily in mines to extract the nation’s abundant iron-ore and bauxite reserves. Diallo was the runner-up in the 2010 and 2015 elections.

Diallo claimed on Oct. 19 that he’d won the vote, based on his campaign’s tally of results from polling stations. His announcement set off celebrations by his supporters that were suppressed by security forces, the Associated Press reported. Conde’s supporters have also taken to the streets to protest Diallo’s claim of victory, it said.

Guinea will hold a second round of voting on Nov. 24 if no candidate secures more than 50% of the ballot.

Read More
  • Guinea President Widens Vote Lead, Winning 10 New Districts
  • Economist Shakes Up Guinea’s Male-Dominated Leadership Race

— With assistance by Katarina Hoije

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World News

Nigeria Protests Unwavering Even as Government Meets Demand

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Protests against police brutality continued in major cities across Nigeria, with demands evolving beyond ending police excesses to calls for good governance across the board.

Vigils were held in major cities overnight, as regional strains emerged, with youth protesters in several northern Nigerian towns demanding urgent steps to end insecurity and an insurgency that has plagued the region for the past decade.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters in Lagos, the commercial capital, and in Abuja, the capital, held candlelight processions to honor those killed since protests erupted on Oct. 5 and for thousands who have died at the hands of the police Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS, over the years. The protests have claimed at least 13 lives so far.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo late Friday apologized to protesters in a series of tweets, reaffirming government’s pledge to act swiftly and reform the police.

“It’s people revolting against bad governance, but using the symbolism of police brutality,” said Idayat Hassan, executive director of the Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development. “It goes deeper.”

Nigeria’s military expressed support for President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday, saying it was prepared to quell the continuing protests across Africa’s most populous nation of more than 200 million people.

The statement signaled a potential escalation in the standoff between protesters and authorities of Africa’s top oil producing nation. It also marks a change of stance from an earlier government directive that prohibited the use of force against marchers after Buhari disbanded the infamous SARS unit.

While previous protests in Nigeria have been quashed by security forces, this time round the nature of the demonstrations, without any clear leadership structure and being run via social media, makes it difficult for the government, according to Hassan. The government’s earlier conciliatory approach may been prompted by the scale of the protest, the largest in about a decade.

The protests erupted after a video was shared on social media that purportedly showed the killing of a civilian by the anti-robbery squad. Demonstrations have since taken place in more than a dozen cities including the oil hub of Port Harcourt, the central city of Jos and Enugu in the southeast.

READ: Twitter, Goggle Back Nigerians Protesting Police Brutality

The hashtag #ENDSARS has trended on social media, with Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey highlighting the protests in a tweet on Wednesday. Google LLC added its voice with a tweet Thursday condemning police oppression in the country.

Many young people complain about being unfairly targeted by police on suspicion of being criminals, especially if they have tattoos or dreadlocks or carry laptops. Among protesters are people who have had personal experience of the impunity for which the SARS unit became known, according Aisha Yesufu, a leader of the demonstrations in Abuja.

“They’ve been extorted, their family members have been killed, or missing or taken away by anyone,” Yesufu said. “One of the protesters has a family member that has been missing for eight years; they were taken away and they don’t know whether they’re still alive.”

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World News

Thai Leaders Have No Easy Options to End Anti-Monarchy Protests

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Over the past few decades in Thailand, a crackdown or coup would eventually bring an end to street protests and life would more or less go back to normal until the next round of demonstrations.

But this time the Thai establishment has a bigger problem: The student-led protest movement doesn’t want power for itself — it wants to fundamentally change a political system that has seen about 20 military coups since 1932. And they also aren’t afraid to criticize the monarchy, the lynchpin that holds the system in place.

Discussing the monarchy openly has long been taboo in Thailand, where insulting senior members of the royal family is punishable by as many as 15 years in prison. The new space where some feel comfortable criticizing King Maha Vajiralongkorn started on social media before spreading to the streets, and the royalist establishment led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha is now struggling to shut it down.

His government this week imposed an emergency decree banning large gatherings, arrested key protest leaders and took action to stop the “disrespect” of the royal institution. Prayuth, a former army chief who led a 2014 coup, said on Thursday the “majority will have to listen to the minority, and the minority will have to respect different opinions too.”

Hong Kong Style

Protesters turned up in large numbers in defiance of police on Thursday night, and have vowed to continue demonstrations. In a letter from jail after his arrest this week, Parit Chiwarak called for continued pop-up protests throughout the country. Parit, a prominent leader of the movement, said demonstrators should remain flexible and avoid staying overnight at one place — mirroring tactics used recently in Hong Kong and other parts of the world.

To stop them now the government may need to take more aggressive steps, raising fears of another deadly military crackdown similar to what Thailand saw in 1973, 1976 and 2010 — particularly as groups of royalists organize to confront the pro-democracy demonstrators. Even if they stop the movement on the streets, authorities would still need to find some ways to quash the discussion on social media and address grievances over perceived inequality, corruption and abuse of power that have fueled support for the demonstrations.

“Because this movement started on social media, the momentum of the movement remains there,” said Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the political science faculty at Ubon Ratchathani University in northeastern Thailand, adding that new leaders would emerge as others are arrested. “The government’s strategy could backfire and end up bringing out more people to join the movement.”

Sluggish Economy

The protests are underpinned by years of sluggish growth now exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has put the Thai economy on course for its worst performance ever by derailing the two main drivers: tourism and trade. The benchmark SET Index of stocks has lost 21% this year.

Those economic woes have put a bigger spotlight on the divide between rich and poor. The World Bank said in March that the number of Thais living in poverty had climbed in recent years, while a study released last year by the Bank of Thailand’s research institute found that about 36% of corporate equity is concentrated in the hands of just 500 people.

Vajiralongkorn’s wealth in particular has become a source of resentment, with protesters demanding more control over royal assets that include extensive landholdings in downtown Bangkok and sizable stakes in two of Thailand’s biggest listed companies: Siam Commercial Bank Pcl and Siam Cement Pcl. They have also increased scrutiny of public funds used to finance the king’s lifestyle, this week shouting “my taxes” when giving the three-finger salute — a symbol of the demonstrations — to a passing motorcade carrying Queen Suthida Bajrasudhabimalalakshana.

‘Genuine Grievances’

Many young people in particular are joining the protests because they don’t see a viable economic future and they have “genuine grievances” over how the country has been run under a Cold War-era political system that gives more power to the military, monarchy and judiciary than elected politicians, according to Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

“If you ask who is backing them, well, their grievances are backing them,” he said. “Putting an end to these grievances requires some accommodation and some concessions and some change and reform. And we’re not seeing that — we’re only seeing the contrary.”

Although the protesters aren’t backed by any specific political group, the pro-democracy camp in parliament has condemned moves to silence them. Pheu Thai, the largest opposition party, said in a statement Thursday that the government should immediately lift the state of emergency and release the arrested protest leaders. The political group linked to Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a banned opposition leader who has been among the most vocal critics of the monarchy, planned to help bail protesters out of jail.

Charter Changes

Those parties have also spearheaded attempts to rewrite the constitution, one of the main protest demands along with the resignation of Prayuth and a host of changes to the monarchy designed to make it more accountable to Thailand’s 69 million people. The government has said it’s open to some unspecified changes in some areas of the charter, which was drafted by a military-appointed panel and helped Prayuth remain in power after last year’s election.

But the majority coalition that backs Prayuth has delayed that process. The establishment has a long history of undermining attempts to introduce reforms that would give real power to elected officials, and analysts are skeptical it’s anything more than a way to delay action until the current wave of anger subsides.

“The government will probably use the promise of charter amendments and referendum — a timely affair — as a token way to bide its time and outlast the demonstrators, while in fact it makes little, if any, changes,” said Paul Chambers of Naresuan University’s Center of Asean Community Studies, who writes frequently about Thailand’s military.

No Concessions

Prayuth himself has shown no sign of resigning and has avoided directly addressing demands related to the monarchy, which include prohibiting the king from endorsing any coups and revoking restrictive lese majeste laws. Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, a secretary to the minister attached to the prime minister’s office, said “Thai people couldn’t put up with” the actions of the protesters, calling them “disrespectful of the monarchy.”

“The monarchy is loved and respected by Thai people,” he said in a statement Thursday. “The government has to stop those actions.”

Prayuth’s administration hasn’t shown any willingness to compromise and clashes are possible going forward, according to Kevin Hewison, an expert in Thai politics and an emeritus professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“The government probably thinks that if they arrest a few people, keep them in jail and crack a few heads that’d be enough,” he said. “But that’s probably not the case with this group. Watching 15-year-old girls in school uniforms climbing out of the barricade to stand in front of the police — that’s something I haven’t seen before in Thailand.”

— With assistance by Philip Heijmans

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World News

Brazil Says Privatizations Will Help Save the Environment

Brazil is framing its slow-moving privatization program as a way to protect forests and rivers following international investors’ mounting criticism of President Jair Bolsonaro’s environmental policies.

Martha Seillier, special secretary of the Investments Partnerships Program, said infrastructure building via concessions and privatizations not only represents good business opportunities but is also an environment-friendly strategy as the country battles a reputation damaged by surging deforestation rates and rampant forest fires.

“It’s not true that the Brazilian government doesn’t care about the environment,” Seillier said in a video interview. “The question is how we obtain the resources and solutions we need to preserve the environment.”

Recently-appproved legislation backed by the government to facilitate the privatization of water and sewage treatment will reduce river pollution and improve hygiene standards, and railways concessions will cut down on car dependence, she said, adding that wind and hydroelectric facilities are also opening to concessionaires.

Read more: Brazil Unlocks Billions of Dollars in Sanitation Investment

“As big funds are increasingly seeking ESG portfolios, we have very significant green investment proposals,” she said of environmental, social and governance opportunities.

Brazil’s allure to investors was initially boosted by Bolsonaro’s pro-business agenda, but big European funds and businesses have recently started to express dismay over his environmental policies, which included minimizing forest fires raging across the country and defunding enforcement agencies. As their pressure mounted, the government switched strategies and is now calling on the private sector to help protect the Amazon.

Slow Process

Bolsonaro has yet to deliver on his ambitious privatization promises as plans to sell large state-controlled entities aren’t ready yet.

“Considering the four-year presidential term, the main decisions were taken during the first year while the second one has been used for shaping the privatization models,” Seillier said. “If all goes well, next year is when auctions will actually take place.”

She cited asset managers Emgea and ABGF, food storage companies Ceagesp and CeasaMinas, and port manager Codesa as companies whose sales are likely to move faster next year. Postal service Correios and utility Eletrobras may also be privatized in 2021, pending congress approval, she said.

Read more: Brazil Seeks $2.7 Billion With Postal Service Privatization

But currency volatility has kept investors wary. The Brazilian real has been one of the worst-performing currencies among emerging-market economies, largely due to investor concerns that Bolsonaro may break a constitutional spending cap to finance a new cash-transfer social program aimed at mitigating the effects of the pandemic.

Seillier said Bolsonaro’s pro-business agenda is not at risk and that the government will create a currency hedge for investors. “There will be a separate account to compensate currency fluctuations that may affect investment.”

— With assistance by Martha Viotti Beck

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World News

U.K.’s Johnson Says He Won’t Be ‘Blown Off Course’ by Pandemic

Boris Johnson pledged to “unleash Britain’s potential” next year as he tries to regain momentum and calm unrest in the Conservative Party over his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.K. prime minister ordered his cabinet to bring forward fresh ideas for a Queen’s Speech marking the beginning of the next session of Parliament, expected in the spring. The agenda will include plans to spend money on schools and hospitals, crack down on serious violence, and bring in tougher sentences for animal cruelty, Johnson’s office said in a statement.

“We were elected to get Brexit done and unleash Britain’s potential,” a spokesman for Johnson said in the statement. “The prime minister has been clear that we will not be blown off course in our plans to build back better and that’s just what our next Queen’s Speech will do.”

The government’s announcement Sunday is timed to coincide with the second day of the annual Tory conference, which is taking place online this year because of Covid-19 — robbing ministers of face-to-face meetings with members and the chance to quell dissent. The premier has faced criticism over lockdown measures and problems in the virus testing system, while some polls show his party trailing to Labour for the first time in several months.

Read more: Johnson Averts Tory Revolt With Deal on U.K. Pandemic Powers

Tensions were further inflamed last week when Johnson apologized for getting his own Covid-19 rules wrong. The government has been trying to strike a balance between trying to contain the pandemic and keeping as much of the economy running as possible.

Resurgent Virus

But coronavirus cases have surged in recent weeks and Johnson’s chief scientific officer has warned the pandemic is not under control. The U.K. reported 12,872 new cases in the latest daily data on Saturday — almost double the number from Friday — though the Department of Health said due to a technical error, cases not counted in previous days were added to the total.

On Saturday at the Tory conference, ministers tried to shift the focus onto the government’s plans for Britain’s economic recovery. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab promised the U.K. would “bounce back stronger” but an overnight report in the Sunday Times suggested several hurdles remain — Cineworld is drawing up plans to close all its sites in the U.K., a move that would put as many as 5,500 jobs at risk.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said new trade agreements will give companies suffering from “depressed domestic demand” a “bigger slice of the international pie.”

Truss also said the government must prevent “predatory” company takeover bids from abroad “that don’t necessarily have Britain’s best interests at heart,” especially at a time when firms are undervalued during the pandemic — though she declined to give an example.

Airport Swabs

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay said the government would not return to austerity as the country recovers from the pandemic, and said he expected an announcement in the coming days on Covid-19 testing at airports — a key demand from the travel industry to try to boost flagging demand.

House of Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has written to cabinet ministers asking for “bold and ambitious bills.” The government must “make the most of the opportunities which will arise” when Britain leaves the European Union fully at the end of the year, he said in the government’s statement.

Johnson’s office also confirmed the next Queen’s Speech will include a bill to repeal the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, which would hand the power to choose the date of the next general election back to prime ministers, rather than Parliament. Johnson blames the act for the Brexit paralysis of 2019.

Read more: Patel Vows Overhaul of ‘Fundamentally Broken’ U.K. Asylum System

On Sunday, Home Secretary Priti Patel will announce an overhaul of what she’ll call the country’s “fundamentally broken” asylum system.

Patel will use a speech at the Tory conference to set out a “firm and fair” immigration approach, according to her office, after it emerged last week that ministers are examining whether to process asylum seekers in offshore holding centers.

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