International News Roundup July 2019

International News Roundup July 2019

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Tblisi, Georgia

Protests continue to rage in the Georgian capital after crowds gathered for weeks demand the resignation of top officials and call for an early parliamentary election. The initial protests began as the result of Russian MP Sergei Gavrilov giving a speech in Russian from the speaker’s seat in parliament. He addressed delegates as part of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, a body set up by the Greek parliament in 1993 to foster relationships between Christian Orthodox lawmakers. This angered Georgian politicians from both the opposition parties and the ruling party, the Georgian Dream coalition. After Gavrilov addressed the assembly, opposition MPs rushed to the speaker’s seat during a break and said they would not let Gavrilov return.
Relations between Russia and Georgia have been mired for over a decade now following the Russo-Georgian War in 2008. The war began when Russia established direct relations with internationally unrecognized separatist movements in the Abkhazian and South Ossetian regions of Georgia. Immediate military action resulted when the Russian-backed separatists began shelling villages, breaking a 1992 ceasefire agreement. After a 5-day conflict another ceasefire was negotiated, however Russia still occupies both breakaway regions to this day. Russo-Georgian relations continue to be strained ever since with anti-occupation being a strong focus of both the people and the government, including Georgia’s President Salome Zurabashivili.
Protestors have cited Gavrilov’s previous votes for the independence of the occupied regions in Georgia as reason for their discontent, his actions in parliament clearly striking a nerve with the people and reviving tensions. When protestors tried to enter parliament on the night of June 20th more than 240 people were injured as rubber bullets and water cannons were used to repel them. Politicians and protesters called for the resignation of Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze, who stepped down to meet demands on June 21.  Now Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia is being called to resign, accused of using excessive force to break up the demonstrations. Organizers for the movement such as protest leader Giga Makarishvili report shifting to more “guerilla tactics” to maintain the momentum of the protests going forward, indicating no plans for de-escalation in the foreseeable future.

Hargeisa, Somalia

On 27 June 2019, the Twitter account of the Foreign Affairs Office of Kenya referred to talks between Kenya and self-declared state of Somaliland as a discussion between “two countries.” While this tweet may seem innocuous, it potentially has massive geopolitical implications, as it is the first time the self-declared state on the southern shore of the Gulf Aden has been recognized by a foreign country as an independent country.
On 1 July 1960, the former colonial holdings of Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland unified into the Somali Republic, what is commonly referred to today as Somalia. This republic maintained relative control within its borders until the 1980s, when the country’s government, led by Siad Barre, grew increasingly authoritarian and Ethiopian-encouraged resistance movements ran rampant throughout the nation. This hostility culminated in the Somali Civil War beginning in 1986 and ending in the overthrow of Barre’s government in 1991 by a loose coalition of armed rebel groups. As the rest of the nation plunged into anarchy and violence within the power vacuum following Barre’s ouster, the Somali National Movement convened with the elders of Somalia’s northern clans in May and declared what was once British Somaliland, ‘The Republic of Somaliland’, a self-declared state separate from Somalia.
Somalia remains in a state of chaos to this day, as the Human Rights Watch notes “fighting, insecurity and lack of state protection, and recurring humanitarian crises” as factors leading to the brutal living conditions within the state. 2.7 million people live internally displaced, and the Islamist armed group Al-Shabaab operates regularly in the East African nation. Contrasting the sordid state of affairs in the rest of Somalia, Somaliland has escaped much of the national chaos. The self-declared state of 3.5 million people has its own government, led by President and retired air force pilot Muse Bihi Abdi. Somaliland also has a standing police force, a government-run radio broadcast, and even its own currency, the Somaliland shilling.
By all accounts, the government of Somaliland is more stable than that of the rest of Somalia; however, Somaliland has struggled to garner international recognition. Prior to Kenya’s tweet, Somaliland has never been recognized as independent from Somalia, despite engaging in diplomatic talks in the UN and African Union and between states such as the UK and US. The international community has been loath to recognize Somaliland’s sovereignty because of a fear that doing so would result in the complete disintegration of Somalia. According to the African Union, recognizing Somaliland without the permission of the national government of Somalia would give rise to numerous other separatist movements in other regions of the country that could not be denied, reshaping the entire geopolitical landscape of the region.
For those in favour of Somaliland’s independence, Kenya’s recognition is extremely encouraging. Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see if Kenya takes back its recognition of Somaliland or fully embraces their new position. If Kenya becomes the trailblazer in a movement to grant Somaliland its independence, the interesting scenario will likely play out in the African Union’s 33rd AU Summit; its annual meeting to be held in early 2020. While the efforts of self-recognized states such as Taiwan and Kosovo to gain international recognition appear irreparably stalled, the debate surrounding Somaliland may just be beginning.

Amazon Rainforest, Brazil

Deforestation in Brazil rose more than 88% in June compared to a year ago. Although the figure is preliminary, it was based on a 12-month satellite imaging and measuring performed by Brazil’s space agency. Deforestation in the first 11 months affected 4,565 square kilometers, a 15% increase in the same period as during the previous year. To put that into perspective the area is now larger than the US state of Rhode Island or French Polynesia.
The deforestation comes after Brazil’s right-wing president Jain Bolsonaro criticized the country’s environmental enforcement agency Ibama for handing out too many fines. While Bolsonaro is pro-development in the rainforest, a deal made between the EU and the South American trading bloc called Mercosur could be in jeopardy.
French President Emmanuel Macron warned before making the agreement last week that he would not sign off on it if Brazil pulled out of the Paris Accord on climate change; a condition of the deal which was outlined by the EU and also fights deforestation. The deal between the multinational organizations came after 20 years of talks and allows the entry of Mercosur country agricultural products into the country in a ‘controlled quota’ to avoid flooding the market and keep European farmers in business. Mercosur will also cancel the import tariffs on 91% of EU export products, with the EU annulling 92% percent of products from Mercosur. The mutual trade deal amounts to about £110 billion.
Greenpeace forest strategist Paulo Adario said “all indications” were that deforestation will worsen under Bolsonaro, but he hoped news of a large increase would put pressure on the government to take action. With the 60% of the Amazon in Brazil, and being the world’s largest tropical rainforest, the fate of such a crucial area for the human ecosystem finds itself in a position of political jeopardy.

 

By Conor Knapp & Arman Aboutorabi

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