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ISIS MAKING A COMEBACK?

After years of describing its attack in Ukraine as a "special operation", terms possibly meant for something that involved a quick victory, the Kremlin was finally ready to admit Russia was in a state of war. Hours after this change in semantics this would prove truer in more ways but one.

 

The attack of a concert venue in the outskirts of Moscow which killed over 130 people was the most important attack in the country in over 20 years, but Ukraine would have little to do with it. The shooting of innocent civilians gathered to listen to a music concert had all the hallmarks of an ISIS attack and came weeks after Western embassies, acting on intelligence chatter, had advised their citizens to avoid large gatherings in Russia.

 

As suspected the Kremlin immediately pointed to Ukraine, even if an ISIS statement soon after claimed responsibility. The old foe had some capabilities left it would seem, including being able to strike at the heart of a major power. It took hours for the Kremlin to officially react to the attack, which by then had resulted in the arrest of four people police claimed were directly involved.

But Moscow wasn't ready to drop chances of linking the bloodshed to Ukraine however, President Putin in his first appearance, claiming the people arrested - who were later described as Tadjik Muslim extremists - were seeking to flee to Ukraine after the attack, alleging a window had been prepared along that border, something Kyiv said was "absurd", pointing out the border was the front line in the war and denying any responsibility in the shooting.

 

Of course by now there is no free press left across Russia to question how its intelligence services, the country being run by a recently re-elected former agent, could have missed chatter on such a devastating attack. Or why it didn't take more seriously warnings from the West something was in the air. Putin had dismissed such warnings as an attempt to destabilize the country. This was just the latest major intelligence failure Russia experienced in recent years, having first failed to see Ukraine would resist the first push into its territory, then unprepared for Prigozhin's short-lived mutiny. In any case how could there have been so little security around such a large venue considering the tense national environment, or so delayed a response time? Russia later did cancel all major venues across the country soon after the attack.

 

The shooting harkened back to the 2002 takeover of a Moscow theater by Chechens. Russia's response to that hostage taking had however hardly been a lesson in negotiations, resorting to a brutal security operation which killed 130 people. The Beslan school siege by Chechens 20 years ago had resulted in over 300 dead, many of them children. ISIS said it had carried out its latest attack against "Christians" describing it as part of a wider war between itself and countries "fighting Islam."

 

The Islamic state has been critical of Russian actions in Chechnya but also abroad, such as in Syria. Russia is of course hardly the only country IS has a beef against and the organization has been rebuilding, as feared, in failed states such as Afghanistan, where it has been taking on the ruling Taleban. Could we be on the verge of a new series of global terror attacks? “I think their ideology inspires them in terms of selecting targets," told Al-Jazeera Murat Aslan, a military analyst and former Turkish army colonel.

 

"First of all, Russia is in Syria and fighting against Daesh like the United States. That means they see such countries as hostile. They are now in Moscow. Previously they were in Iran, and we will see much more attacks, maybe in other capitals.” They have been responsible for a number of attacks, in Kabul notably, including a 2021 attack which killed 175 civilians, and orchestrated a separate attack of the Russian embassy there. Iran has also been a target more recently, Tehran blaming them for attacks in Shiraz killing 14 last year.

 

“ISIS in its original regions of operations, Syria and Iraq, also sees [an] uptick in operational capabilities,” notes Kabir Taneja, a fellow at the Strategic Studies programme of the Observer Research Foundation, adding it remains “ideologically powerful even if not politically, tactically or strategically … that powerful any more”. And it struck at a time the world's powers are preoccupied with a number of major conflicts “How to combat this is the big question at a time when big power competition and global geopolitical churn has put counterterrorism on the back burner.”

 

Just a day before the attack, U.S. Central Command chief General Michael Kurilla warned American lawmakers "ISIS-Khorasan retains the capability and the will to attack U.S. and Western interests abroad in as little as six months with little to no warning." And ISIS' list of foes is a long one, lashing out in its publications at targets including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, Chinese President Xi Jinping, as well as leaders of Hamas not to mention Putin and the Taleban. France, which raised its terror level after the attack and ahead of the Olympics, said it had foiled a dozen terror plots in recent years.

 

Other EU countries such as Italy also upped their readiness.  Djihadists are also making gains in Africa, a continent where some countries have ironically turned to Russia to fight extremism, with limited success. The group "has grown more ambitious and aggressive in its efforts to gain notoriety and relevance," notes author Amira Jadoon. "It has effectively fused a wide range of regional grievances into its global jihadist agenda." Russia remains a particularly attractive target, as it is preoccupied with Ukraine and is home to potential jihadists.

LA GROGNE A CUBA

Marqué par des interruptions de courant fréquentes et des carences alimentaires importantes, le territoire serait au bord de l'effondrement. Gaza? Haïti? En fait c'est de Cuba dont il serait question alors que la grogne monte sur fond de faiblesse économique et de sanctions américaines. Au point même où le gouvernement aurait, au même titre que ces deux autres territoires, fait appel à l'aide des Nations unies.

 

Ce n'est pas l'avenir qu'entrevoyaient les habitants de l'ile de Caraïbes avec la montée au pouvoir de Miguel Díaz-Canel, mettant fin à la période Castro. Celui-ci n'inspire pas le respect que certains pouvaient ressentir envers la grande famille de la révolution, et s'est empressé d'accuser les Etats-Unis, ces démons de toujours, d'"interventionnisme" alors que la rue cubaine se fait de moins en moins timide face au pouvoir.

 

Les Etats-Unis nient toute implication, mais le chef d'état cubain estime que 65 années de sanctions constituent un blocus "criminel" de l'ile des Caraïbes. Les manifestations se multiplient depuis la mi-mars et ce même à Santiago, berceau de la révolution et lieu de repos du Comandante, où des manifestants faisaient appel à plus de nourriture et d'électricité.

 

Le manque de médicaments, sur une ile dont le système de santé gratuit est symbole de fierté, et l'inflation sont également à l'origine des manifestations, dans un pays où elles ont rarement été tolérées et où plusieurs opposants du régime croupissent en prison. Le régime a dû imposer des mesures d'austérité et des hausses de coûts impopulaires, le prix du carburant alimentant les vieilles américaines des années 50 ayant grimpé d'environ 500%.

 

La dernière fois qu'une telle contestation s'était emparée de l'ile, en 2021, le régime avait eu recours à la force. Mais cette fois la Havane, en plus des arrestations coutimières, a dû faire de rares appels au calme et à l'aide internationale, et même au Programme alimentaire mondial, en raison du manque de nourriture qui menace une population déjà soumise à l'imposition d'un carnet de rationnement sévère.

 

En 2023 le pays admettait déjà avoir de la difficulté à importer de l'alimentation en raison du manque de devises. La production agricole nationale, pendant ce temps, dégringolait. Cuba a vu 5% de sa population prendre la mer entre 2021 et 2023, notamment de jeunes Cubains instruits cherchant à échapper à la faim et à la répression du régime, selon l'auteur Juan Pablo Spinetto. "La situation représente un test important pour la région - et une occasion, dit-il.

 

Mais malgré tout le scénario le plus probable est celui de l'incertitude et du chaos." Pour le chercheur Arturo Lopez-Levy «le modèle est en crise». «Ce qui se cache derrière les protestations, ce sont fondamentalement les pénuries et la rupture du pacte social». Même le tourisme, manne économique principale du pays, est en chute depuis le retour des restrictions américaines qui avaient été levées avec l'arrivée d'Obama, au point même où certains Cubains ont été attirés par les campagnes de recrutement de l'armée rouge pour fournir les rangs de la guerre en Ukraine, chose qui n'a pas manqué de faire scandale à La Havane.

A STRONGMAN IN JAKARTA?

In an age authoritarianism is making global gains the results of Indonesia's presidential election will do little to allay fears democracy is on the decline. In March a former special forces general with ties to the country's notorious past dictatorship who has been accused of human rights violations was confirmed as the winner of the recent elections over two candidates who vowed to dispute the results.

 

Prabowo Subianto, 72, was backed by the outgoing leader Joko Widodo, whose son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, is slated to become vice president despite being 37. This normally would have precluded him from holding office until the constitutional court made an exception to the rule candidates had to be at least 40. Widodo's brother-in-law, who was the court's chief justice at the time, was later removed for failing to recuse himself.

 

This is but one of the irregularities noted by Subianto's opponents, who vow to pursue their cause before the courts. But Subianto alone has been under much scrutiny as questions abound about alleged ties to torture, disappearances and other human rights abuses going back to the final years of the notorious Suharto, whose daughter he was once married to. Subianto was expelled from the army over accusations of involvement in kidnappings and torture of activists and some fear his response to protest and criticism may come in the form of crackdown in the struggling democracy that is the world's largest Muslim nation.

 

Subianto, who had previously lost twice to him, vowed to preserve Widodo's legacy and its so-called Jokowinomics. Forced out by the country's two-term limit, Widodo leaves the helm as "one of the most well-liked leaders in the world, with approval ratings around 80 percent", notes Foreign Policy, owing to a certain personality cult built up thanks to social media, such as TikTok. The numbers speak for themselves however with the GDP rising by 43% under his tenure, and his promise to spread development, notably by boosting infrastructure projects and moving the capital to Borneo by 2045, no small infrastructure feat, though the decision has not been without controversy.

 

Yet “the human rights situation took a turn for the worse,” notes Human Rights Watch, pointing to challenges to freedoms of speech and assembly and to protections for minorities, such as the LGBTQ+ community. “Under his tenure, free elections have been threatened, civil liberties have declined, corruption fighters and legislative checks weakened, and the armed forces’ role in civilian affairs has grown,” charged two authors in the Journal of Democracy in 2021.

 

In other words, everything to prepare Subianto's rise to power, while at the same time, with the exception enabling Raka's candidacy, setting the stage for the country's latest dynasty. "The President's not-so-behind-the-scenes maneu-vering in the 2024 race" was plain for all to see, noted the Jakarta Post's Endy Bayuni, "To many voters, a Prabowo presidency is really Jokowi 3.0". The first foreign trip after his election, before he formally  ascends to the presidency in October, was to China, to reaffirm ties with the regional power.

 

But it was quickly followed by a trip to Japan, showing the country intends to keep a middle road approach to super power relations. China became Indonesia's greatest trading partner under Widodo and Jakarta has taken a neutral stance on the territorial dispute opposing Manila and Beijing over the South China Sea, which caused more incidents  in recent weeks.

UN PAYS EN GUERRE

Les pétards du nouvel n'avaient rien de festif en Equateur. Le lendemain de la déclaration de l'état d'urgence, des éclats retentissaient dans ce pays troublé par une guerre de gangs se disputant les artères de circulation de la drogue. Violences, explosions, kidnappings de membres de forces de l'ordre; les incidents se multiplient dans cet ancien havre de paix sud-américain devenu cauchemar quotidien.

 

Des téléspectateurs ont été choqués de voir un gang armé et cagoulé prendre d'assaut un poste de télévision en direct et ses présentateurs en otage, armes à la main. Le jeune et nouveau président du pays Daniel Noboa venait de décréter l'état d'urgence à travers le pays après l’évasion de l’ennemi public numéro un, Adolfo Macias, alias «Fito ». Après l'attaque du poste de télévision il fit une autre déclaration: Le pays était proie à un conflit armé interne et donc en état de guerre.                      

 

L'Equateur, ce pays de biodiversité à la géographie notoire, est depuis quelques temps proie à la violence et notamment à des soulèvements dans les prisons controlées par les gangs. A peine arrivé au pouvoir le président a été critiqué par l'opposition et la presse pour avoir recours à l'état d'urgence afin de tenter de calmer la crise, en raison des insuccès de cette méthode dans le passé. Selon le président de la Commission de justice du Parlement Vicente Taiano «par le passé, plus de dix ans d’état d’exception n’ont servi absolument à rien ».

 

Certains kidnappings ont d'ailleurs eu lieu dans les zones désignées par l'état d'exception. Le pays sombre dans la violence depuis plus d'un an, période marquée par l'assassinat du candidat anti-corruption Fernando Villavicencio lors de la campagne électorale de l'automne, tué quelques jours après avoir été menacé par un des gangs de la drogue. Le prédécesseur de Noboa s'était déjà engagé à sévèrement punir les membres du crime organisé avec tous les pouvoirs à sa disposition, ce qui semble n'avoir que provoqué une réaction encore plus virulente de la part des narcocriminels qui contrôlent de nombreux pénitenciers à travers ce pays de 17 millions d'habitants témoins de scènes plutôt colombiennes ces derniers temps.

 

L'Equateur souffre d'une situation géographique qui le situe, entre le Pérou et la Colombie, au coeur de la route de la drogue qui remonte d'Amérique du sud aux grands marchés nord-américain et européen. Les cartels mexicains auraient même un rôle important dans le financement de ce conflit sanglant. Le maire de la communauté de Manta avait également péri sous les tirs dans cette recrudescence de la violence.

 

Face au "cauchemar" généralisé que traverse le pays, une certaine unité se forge malgré tout dans la classe politique, l'ancien président Rafael Correa, qui avait pourtant appuyé l'opposant de Noboa lors de l'élection, déclarant depuis l'étranger: "Président Daniel Noboa vous avez notre soutien total et sans réserve, s'il vous plait ne cédez pas, dit-il, le crime organisé a déclaré la guerre à l'Etat et l'Etat doit l'emporter."

 

Une lourde tâche pour ce jeune dirigeant de 36 ans, à ses premiers mois à la tête d'un pays traversant une tourmente sans précédent. Les risques sont considérables. Cette semaine on apprenait déjà le décès du procureur enquêtant sur l'occupation du poste télévisé. "Nous combattons tous les jours pour ne pas devenir un narco-état, déclara Noboa à la BBC. Je crois que nous pouvons gagner et je ne vais jamais cesser de me battre jusqu'à ce qu'on gagne."

RETOUR DU TERRORISME?

La sécurité était resserrée en Europe et ailleurs pendant les fêtes alors que la menace d'attaques planait sur l'Occident. Le terrorisme effectue-t-il un retour alors que perdure la guerre au Moyen-orient? L'attaque d'un touriste allemand, causant sa mort et blessant d'autres touristes à Paris en novembre annonçait possi-blement un retour en force de cet ancien mal.

 

Quelques jours plus tard les autorités danoises, allemandes et hollandaises arrêtaient des suspects radicalisés sympa-thisants du Hamas qui préparaient dit-on des attaques en Europe alors que le Mossad sonnait l'alarme sur le vieux continent. De l'autre côté de l'Atlantique, ce même redressement des mesures alors que le FBI mettait en garde à propos de la possibilité d'actes en lien avec la cause palestinienne.

 

Un accident spectaculaire sur un pont reliant le Canada aux Etats-Unis cet automne avait semé des craintes pendant quelques heures avant que tout lien au terrorisme soit écarté. Il suivait une mise à jour du Foreign Office britannique avertissant ses citoyens que le Canada pourrait être visé par un attentat. En plein Hannoukah la police ottavienne quant à elle annonçait avoir arrêté un jeune qui mijotait dit-on un complot terroriste contre la communauté juive dans la capitale. On n'en était pas à la première menace contre cette population au Canada, mais la première qui aurait pu impliquer des explosifs.

 

La menace du groupe terroriste envers la communauté juive s'étend bien au-delà de la région immédiate du Moyen-orient, inspirant des actes d'antisémitisme partout dans le monde. Le niveau d'alerte terroriste au Danemark était à 4, soit le second plus élevé, alors que les Pays-bas faisaient grimper le leur à "substantiel". Les Etats-Unis auraient cependant déjà détourné le regard de leurs services de renseignement du terrorisme à la menace chinoise, un geste qui selon le Wall St Journal aurait peu de succès.

 

Entre temps un ancien ennemi semblait refaire surface. En Turquie les autorités déclaraient à quelques jours du nouvel an avoir arrêté une trentaine de membres de l'Etat islamique prêts à passer à l'acte contre des églises et des synagogues. La Turquie avait procédé à l'arrestation de non moins de 300 militants du groupe lors d'interventions à travers le pays la semaine précédente. Le groupe y a été actif ces dernières années, faisant près de 40 victimes lors de l'attaque d'une boite de nuit en 2017.

 

Fort heureusement les célébration du nouvel an semblent s'être déroulées sans incident majeur, d'importants effectifs ayant été déployés dans certains pays, notamment en France. Mais au moins un incident, dans l'état de New York, a causé la consternation, un véhicule impliqué dans un incident explosant en raison de sa cargaison de conteneurs d'essence. Visait-il un concert près du site de l'incident?

 

Quelques jours plus tard EI se disait responsable d'un attentat sanglant en Iran. Après avoir perdu son caliphat en Irak le groupe s'est dispersé, notamment en Afghanistan et au Pakistan, mais garde une emprise sur une partie de l'Afrique selon le rensei-gnement américain, où il pourrait répandre son influence et ses attaques.

THE PERILS OF SHIPPING

A little over a decade after piracy off the horn of Africa made sailing dangerous in that region of the world shipping companies are steering clear of another body of water as the Hamas-Israeli conflict enters another month. And the war may be extending the danger zone to waters much further away.

 

US, British and French navy vessels in the Red Sea have made a habit of shooting down rockets and drones originating in Yemen, leaving companies to make the difficult decision to choose a longer and more expensive route around the Cape of Good Hope. This isn't the first time the region has been troubled.

 

A few years ago a ship ran aground in the Suez Canal forcing a similar rerouting, adding to the shipping woes which followed the restart of business after the pandemic. Shippers are increasingly sidestepping minefields as they navigate global waters, both literally and figura-tively. At the other end of the continent the sort of piracy that was making the Horn of Africa's risky waters at the turn of the century has impacted ships off the West Coast of the continent. Further North Black Sea shipping has become a challenge due to mines dropped during that other war, one vessel heading to Ukraine recently hitting one of them. The China Sea meanwhile remains contested waters as tensions rise over Taiwan.

 

Halfway across the globe shipping is further disrupted by low water levels in the Panama Canal, forcing companies to use another longer route around, though some of the months-long restrictions were being lifted in December. In addition, according to the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre, piracy and hot spots for shippers include the Singapore Strait, for its armed robberies, as well as some waters off South America, particularly off Peru.

 

The Red Sea crisis therefore only added to an already tense environment for global shippers in many parts of the planet, impacting commerce and trade. And while the industry is used to being challenged, the rocket firing and drone attacks represent a whole new level of threat. Concerned by this the US launched a task force with allied nations to make the area safer, a global policing role some fear will be reviewed should there be a change of administration in the While House following this fall's elections.

 

In the mean time Iran, which had previously threatened ships in the Red Sea, warned such a task force would face “extraordinary problems” for challenging its perceived authority there, and dispatched a warship to the waters. “Nobody can make a move in a region where we have predominance,” defied Iran’s Defence Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani. The naval task force, numbering a dozen nations, quickly went to work taking down Houthi vessels and could possibly even target the source of the rockets and drones in Yemen, where the Iran-backed group operates.

 

The latter have attacked ships there for years, including Saudi vessels which were forced to withdraw from the waters, but are doing so increasingly now. The stakes have been particularly high since the capture of the Galaxy Leader cargo ship in late November, a ship believed to be Israel-owned. In December BP paused transit through the Red Sea after shipping giants MSC, Hapag-Lloyd, CMA CGM and Maersk had done so earlier.

 

Encouraged by the launch of the task force, Maersk initially resumed passages, before an attack on one of its ships caused it to pause traffic there once more. 18 companies have chosen the long way around so far. In addition last month a tanker also believed to be Israeli-owned was targeted in the Indian Ocean much further away, an incident the US blamed on Iran. Combined all these incidents in the Red Sea and elsewhere will have a global impact, "add to the price of energy, it's going to add to inflation, it's going to create wider military and international tensions," said Radhika Desai of the University of Manitoba.

 

And while avoiding the Suez Canal saves from having to pay pretty hefty fees, the rerouting isn't an easy option as shippers face African ports often ill equipped to welcome them. "Even the state that Durban is in now, it is still the most advanced and largest port in Africa, so ships rerouting around the continent have very limited choices for berthing for replenishment," logistics and supply chain consultant Alessio Lencioni told Reuters. The strike on a ship off India added to the area of the perceived threat, and prompted Delhi to send three warships in the area, as the troubled seas require extra policing well beyond the Middle East region.

LES DÉFIS DE KYIV

Le nouvel an n'avait rien de trop réjouissant pour Volodymyr Zelensky. Revenu quasiment bredouille de Washington cet automne alors que les Républicains bloquent le passage du financement de la guerre, eux qui pourraient l'emporter aux élections de 2024, il connaissait un blocage semblable en Europe malgré le gain d'un allié à Varsovie après la défaite du parti populiste.

 

Au Canada la politique a également empêché la modernisation du traité de libre-échange avec l'Ukraine, un geste qui ne change en rien l'appui d'Ottawa dans la guerre contre la Russie mais qui résume la période difficile que traverse le pays est-européen à la veille du deuxième anniversaire du début de l'invasion. Par ailleurs le front semble inchangé malgré la poussée ukrainienne de 2023 et le ravitaillement militaire fait défaut. Les appuis se poursuivent pourtant mais on exige d'en savoir plus sur la stratégie de Kyiv à court et plus long terme.

 

Pendant ce temps l'éternel premier ministre hongrois posait son veto au financement provenant de l'Union européenne. Entre août et octobre l'aide des alliés auraient diminué de 90% par rapport à l'année précédente. Moscou ne pouvait que se réjouir de ces embûches en plus des frappes continues sur le territoire ukrainien. Zelensky n'a-t-il pas d'ailleurs souffert de la perte de ses habitants, pas juste au front mais avec ces nombreux expatriés de moins en moins enclins à retourner chez eux? Entre temps la démocratie est en suspens au sein de ce pays qui se dit combattre la dictature aux portes de l'UE en son nom.

 

Zelensky affirme pouvoir organiser des élections malgré la guerre, mais estime que son peuple ne le souhaite pas. Pourtant un certain nettoyage a été jugé nécessaire. Zelensky a dû renvoyer des membres de son entourage trouvés coupables de corruption, ce virus qui ronge le régime de l'intérieur depuis des années. C'est un sujet qui préoccupe notamment les Etats-Unis, son aide se chiffrant en milliards de dollars.

 

Un rapport confidentiel obtenu par Politico met en garde que la “perception de la corruption aux échelons supérieurs pourrait saper la confiance du public ukrainien et des dirigeants étrangers envers le gouvernement de guerre”, et jouer dans les mains de Vladimir Poutine, qui n'a pas de pareils comptes à rendre. La question précède l'invasion russe et mettre un terme à la corruption pourrait devenir une condition du versement de l'aide du futur. Il est notamment question pour Washington de "déoligarchiser" une partie de l'industrie nationale, cette ancienne habitude communiste qui a laissé l'économie entre les mains de quelques grands acteurs, notamment dans le secteur énergétique.

 

En fin d'année le ministère de la défense mettait la lumière sur une tentative de magouille entourant l'achat d'obus, que certains auraient prévu d'acheter à des prix artificiellement élevés, alors même que le nouveau ministre s'engageait à mettre fin à la corruption. Il s'agit précisément du genre de combine qui alarme les alliés de Kyiv. De manière générale la grogne s'installe en Ukraine après deux ans de guerre, les recruteurs de l'armée se montrant plus agressifs face au manque de soldats au front.

 

Ils auraient besoin d'un demi million de combatants pour poursuivre la lutte, puis la contre-offensive de 2023 n'a pas porté fruit, mais la Russie n'a pas fait d'importants gains l'an dernier non plus, rappelle Zelensky en conférence de fin d'année. Geste encourageant, une première depuis des décennies, le Japon s'engage à livrer des armes, et les Pays-bas des F-16. En fait les premiers chasseurs auraient été livrés.

 

Pendant ce temps la Grande Bretagne annonçait l'envoi de 200 missiles anti-aériens et Washington songeait à puiser dans les 300 milliards en actifs russes gelés pour soutenir Kyiv, même si la légalité du geste n'est pas entièrement garantie. L'ironie cependant est assurée. Puis il faut bien puiser l'espoir là où on le peut.

ROCKET SCIENCE

Nobody said rocket science would be easy. Fifty years later, amid a barrage of space launches led by the private sector, it's still proving quite the challenge to return to the moon. The failure of January's US mission to send an unmanned lander to Earth's satellite was followed by NASA's decision to delay plans to return there, including the Artemis II mission that was to involve a Canadian astronaut as early as this fall, now pushed back to 2025.

 

Landing on the moon will have to wait the following year. Space has been the subject of renewed interest as both new countries and private companies launched recent missions, some successful, others not. During the Cold war the main power rivals succeeded launching a number of successful moon landings in the 1960s and 70s. It was decades before others joined the feat, adding them to their big power ambitions as China joined the elite club in 2013 and India last August.

 

That didn't prevent Delhi from suffering a more recent setback, while private missions by newcomers Israel and Japan, as well as veteran player Russia met the same fate. Until this week. Japan's successful unmanned moon landing this week made it just the fifth country to join the exclusive space club. Perhaps space gazers have something to look forward to after all this year. Days before a SpaceX ship took off with four astronauts heading to the International space station.

 

The private sector has had mixed results as it multiplied launches. In November SpaceX's uncrewed spacecraft Starship, developed to eventually carry astronauts, exploded in space after a successful launch. Even that failure was painted as a learning experiment however. Astrobotic Technology's January peregrine moon lander mission however, after initially getting off the ground, became a dud when the vehicle started leaking fuel six hours into the flight. What would have been the first US spacecraft to attempt a soft landing on the moon in more than half a century experienced a "critical loss of propellant" that ultimately doomed the mission.

 

But the number of space launches overall has, with the involvement of the private sector and dominant SpaceX in particular, skyrocketed not to say exploded over time. In January alone the US-based company had half a dozen scheduled launches, usually to send Starlink internet satellites into orbit but also to supply the International Space Station. Last year it sent 80 missions into orbit, a number that will nearly double this year.

 

But other players are joining the action. Later this year, while Canada will not yet see one of its astronauts fired into space as first scheduled, it will be the scene of the first commercial launch from Canso, Nova Scotia, home of Canada's first commercial spaceport. While satellite launches will be in its future, Maritime Launch Services is getting off the ground planning its first commercial sub-orbital research flights in 2024. Delays to the much trumpeted Artemis II mission however show the remaining challenges tied to more complex matters such as lunar exploration.

 

“Safety is our top priority, and to give Artemis teams more time to work through the challenges with first-time development, operations and integration, we’re going to give more time on Artemis II and III,” explained NASA administrator Bill Nelson. NASA’s Inspector General had previously cited challenges for the mission to address. One involved the ground structure used to build, transport and launch the program’s Space Launch System rocket, which “sustained more damage than expected” after Artemis I.

 

He also cited the heat shield on the Orion spacecraft, which “eroded in an unexpected way” during the Artemis I mission after it was exposed to high temperatures during reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. We're a long way from a permanent moon base, let alone Mars, but interest in space matters has never been so widespread. And now a new flag has been planted on our favorite satellite.

A WIDER WAR?

Four months later the Middle East isn't seeing one but a number of conflicts metastasize. As feared, what started as a clash between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza after the Oct. 7 attacks has morphed into a wider crisis stretching much further away than the West Bank or even Lebanon. Houthi attacks against ships sailing in the Red Sea prompted a series of retaliatory strikes by Britain and the United States against the Iran-backed regime in Yemen, one which has for years fired rockets at neighbors including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

THE HORROR

 

It's a horror story with multiple harrowing chapters unlike anything seen anywhere else outside a war zone, and it is getting worse. It is in part built on fear and anger, emotions acted on with lethal weapons that are too readily available, with deadly consequences. Fear of a cheerleader who opened the wrong car door, of a teen who knocked on the wrong door or a man who turned into the wrong driveway. And anger, the irrational reaction of a homeowner who reacted to a basketball landing on his property with a handgun, grazing a six-year-old girl and injuring her parents. Another, told to stop shooting outside his home, killing 5. 

 

All this happened in the U.S. recently, often hitting youngsters. The gun epidemic in America has reached new levels of absurdity. And in a nation which has embraced gun culture to the point of marketing some weapons to youngsters, the perpetrators themselves can be as young as six. That was the age of a young student who shot his teacher in her Virginia classroom. She survived. But... Six. Too young to be charged. Apparently not too young to use or have access to a gun. This is the madness the U.S. is seeing, and the story is a recurring one after a pandemic which for a while had limited gun play, now once more taking place with a vengeance. 

 

"We have  to know that this isn't the way to live," told AP John Feinblatt of Everytown for Gun Safety. "We don't have to live this way. And we cannot live in a country with an agenda of guns everywhere, every place, every time," By mid-April some 88 people had been felled in 17 mass killings in the U.S., all of them involving firearms. Among them a shooting in March of six people in Tennessee was already the 16th K-12 school shooting in 2023 in the United States, a jump from single digit numbers since the pandemic. 

 

The US had by then recorded 130 mass shootings this year, double what was seen before 2020 by this time of year, and no amount of prayers or slight gun law tweaks have been able to slow the death toll which has steadily crept since the infamous Columbine shooting over three decades ago. 

 

Of course these types of shooting occur everywhere (one in Serbia killed 9 this week) , not only in schools, and not only in the US, but school or college related shootings targeting those barely beginning their lives have killed 175 people in America since Columbine, according to a database compiled by The AP, USA Today and Northeastern University, that's just the tip of the iceberg.  

 

Over 2,800 people in the U.S. have died in mass killings since 2006. And mass killings are happening on average once a week this year, a dizzying pace. The culprit in Tennessee, a former school staffer in her 20s, had no less than half a dozen weapons registered to her name and used a semi-automatic weapon to cause that recent chapter of American carnage. Less than a year before an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two adults. 

 

The series of incidents have caused some concerned nations to warn their citizens about travelling to the U.S., not for political reasons, but out of fear. Fear to visit a country where politicians have seen the barrel of a weapon in an increasingly divided country girding for an election. 

 

In Washington president Biden, who just announced his re-election bid, did sign a milestone gun violence bill last year, but sometimes admits he is exhausting attempts to bring in tougher gun laws, facing stiff resistance in Congress. There has been some movement at the state level in some cases, but not always. The assembly in Nashville was flooded with protesters demanding stiffer gun laws days after the K-12 shooting. Lawmakers there were actually debating expanding access to firearms when the shooting occurred. 

 

Laws had already been softened in recent years, making it easier to acquire firearms and no longer requiring a licence to carry a concealed weapon. In Michigan recently the governor signed a new law making criminal background checks mandatory to buy shotguns and rifles, while a ban on a number of types of semi-automatic rifles was signed into law in Washington state. But elsewhere it has been two steps back. The lessons either never seem to register, or aren't the ones  one would expect to draw from such madness.

CHEMIN DE FOI

 

 

Les vendeurs de rameaux font de bonnes affaires à l'extérieur de l'église de St Augustin, un des bâtiments les plus anciens du quartier intramuros de Manille remontant à la présence espagnole. Plus au nord de la ville, les fidèles s'arrachent les cierges ficelés comme des bouquets de cire à l'extérieur de la basilique du Nazarène noir, où les sièges sont remplis même un lundi, des contrôles tentant de gérer les entrées en cette période d'effervescence catholique. 

 

Les rues menant au sanctuaire grouillent de vendeurs qui proposent des objets religieux de tout genre dont des T-shirts de Jésus Christ. La semaine sainte fait grimper la fièvre de la ferveur catholique aux Philippines, et l'expression de cette foi peut prendre une nature plutôt extrême. 

 

A l'extérieur de la cathédrale de Manille dans la vieille partie emmurée de la ville, une cérémonie plutôt violente crée un attroupement de petits et vieux, touristes et locaux. Des hommes au visage couvert et au torse nu se flagellent avec des fouets de lames qui en peu de temps percent la chair. Pour ceux dont l'épiderme tient bon sous l'assaut d'un cliquetis infernal, un bourreau tatoué passe et de toute ses forces frappe le fidèle d'un coup de fouet qui le fait gémir. 

 

Alors que le rouge écarlate gicle sous le soleil de plomb des membres de la troupe passent pour verser un produit qui empêchera les infections. "Ils font ça un peu plus au nord mais je pense que c'est la première fois que ça a lieu à Manille, note un spectateur jeune qui montre ses propres clichés sur téléphone portable de cérémonies antérieures où un groupe similaire de martyrs avait produit un spectacle alors qu'ils étaient casqués. 

 

C'est un peu hard core la semaine sainte." Plus près des marches du lieu de culte un homme se prosterne sur une croix gigantesque. Il portera lui aussi bientôt la signature du fouet. Les guides notent que la saison est bonne pour éviter les typhons, mais cette semaine est à éviter en raison des visiteurs religieux qui envahissent la ville comme nombre de horde avant eux, des Espagnols aux Américains en passant par les Japonais, qui y ont laissé un souvenir plutôt pénible. 

 

Plusieurs hotels affichent complet même si c'est l'été austral et de nombreuses personnes et étudiants sont en vacance. Le pays est le seul qui soit chrétien, à 90%, en Asie, dont 80% catholique, autre héritage espagnol. Comme dans d'autres pays modestes convertis au christianisme comme Haiti, la religion y trouve une place démesurée pour le 21e siècle, à y voir les noms donnés aux autobus Jeepneys qui sillonnent la capitale, souvent couverts d'objets religieux, tandis que les traversiers aiment commencer leur voyage par une prière. 

 

Comme s'il fallait une autre raison pour empirer la circulation dans cette mégalopole grouillante d'autos, des processions religieuses forment souvent des embouteillages. N'aidant pas, les autorités ferment le réseau de train léger lors des jours précédant Pâques, en cette année où les foules sont nombreuses car enfin libérées des restrictions de la pandémie. 

 

Le président Marcos lui-même prend des jours de congé pour méditer, encourageant les fidèles à "diriger nos pensées et nos actions davantage vers la résurrection du Christ et la victoire que ceci nous apporte tous les jours," un discours qu'on peinerait à retrouver en occident. 

 

Pourtant même ici le déclin de la religion est palpable et toutes ces cérémonies pourraient disparaitre, certaines le font déjà, écrit Rigoberto Tiglao dans le Manila Times. Les églises se vident, la semaine sainte n'est plus ce qu'elle était, certains commerces restant ouverts entre le vendredi saint et Pâques. "Nous sommes entrés dans un monde laïc, conclut Tiglao, est il n'y a pas le moyen de retourner en arrière." Pourtant les rues sont vides en ce vendredi saint, sauf dans la vieille ville où des centaines suivent le chemin de la croix sur l'avenue du General Luna entre l'église de St Augustin et la cathédrale. 

 

 

HO HUM THE KING

 

Six months after the passing of Queen Elizabeth and as the new monarch is about to formally take the throne, the king's subjects seem little amused by the upcoming coronation, polls suggest, and some have used the royal transition to justify taking their distances from the British crown. 

 

In Quebec members of the National Assembly are no longer required to swear allegiance to the sovereign in order to take their seats. In December the province, where the royals are arguably the least popular, tabled a bill that made it optional to pledge the oath of allegiance, to the great satisfaction of sovereigntists which considered the act an abomination . 

 

“This is a fine moment for democracy,” said PQ leader Paul St Pierre Plamondon at the time. But the move left law experts scratching their heads. “Quebec is basically acting…  as if it is a sovereign government and is claiming it can do whatever it wants regardless of what’s in the Canadian constitution,” told CBC law professor Errol Mendes. But Quebec has not been alone. 

 

In nearby Ontario a motion to scrap the oath in a small town was brought forward, though it was not seconded, quickly putting an end to the issue before it started a formal debate. This saved the province a huge legislative head ache considering the implication it would have had to its municipal act, but the debate is nonetheless ongoing not only in Canada but in much of the Commonwealth. 

 

“I think there are those that are fully in favor of the royalty and colonialism and then there are those that are not,” said Prescott mayor Gauri Shankar, where the Ontario motion was briefly introduced. And this could speak for all Canadians. 

 

In a recent poll only 13% of people said they felt a connection to the monarchy, compared to 81% who did not. Few seemed interested to follow the upcoming coronation of Charles III. In fact 56% thought it was time to reconsider the country’s ties to the monarchy. 

 

While not every country is thinking to go the way of Barbados and abandon the crown, quite a few are, according to royal expert Richard Fitzwilliams, who told the Express, as Commonwealth Day was marked, that independence "may very well happen" to a number of countries among the 14 that have Charles III as head of state, from Antigua to the Bahamas and New Zealand. 

 

While moving away from the crown wasn't a priority, former prime minister Jacinda Ardern said it seemed to be inevitable down the road, eventually in that country. Fitzwilliams noted that in some cases doing so would be more difficult than in others. "Sometimes it's a simple vote," he noted, but added "in Barbados they didn't even have a vote. In New Zealand you need a referendum. In Canada and Australia it's more complicated" with a certain number of provinces needing to agree to it. The transition is taking place when some, even and perhaps especially in the UK itself, think the money for the coronation would best be spent elsewhere at a time of raging inflation.

 

 

 

LE CRI DES FILLES

 

A l'avant-centre des plus importantes manifestations en Iran depuis des années, femmes et filles sont-elles victimes de représailles pour leur geste? L'empoisonne-ment soupçonné de nombre de jeunes étudiantes ces derniers mois dans plus de 200 établissements du pays fait scandale autant au coeur de la république islamique qu'à l'international, où plusieurs ont fait appel à une enquête sur les incidents. 

 

Les auteurs de ces actes restent inconnus, laissant place à une multiplication de théories et à une augmentation des tensions dans une rue pas encore toute à fait remise des manifestations de l'automne. 

 

Les écoles pour filles sont majoritairement ciblées par ces cas suspects, qui ont été rapportés pour la première fois dans la ville sainte de Qom en novembre, alors que le mouvement protestataire battait encore son plein suite à la mort de Mahsa Amini. 

 

Alors que la république islamique ne s'est jamais opposée à l'éducation des jeunes filles, celles-ci sont souvent ciblées par des éléments fondamentalistes du monde islamique, de l'Afghanistan à certaines régions d'Afrique. Téhéran avait notamment fait appel à la réouverture des écoles en Afghanistan, où elles ont été fermées par le régime taliban. Des gestes de soutien de femmes afghanes ont également été notés pendant les manifestations iraniennes de l'automne. 

 

Mais ce genre d'attaque n'a pas épargné l'Iran non plus, notamment à Isfahan en 2014 lorsque des extrémistes ont attaqué des femmes armés d'acide pour condamner leur tenue vestimentaire. Les incidents à Qom ont l'objectif de cibler l'instruction des filles, déplorait lui-même le vice ministre de la santé Younes Panahi. "Certaines personnes veulent que toutes les écoles, spécialement celles des filles, soient fermées," dit-il. 

 

Mais le régime d'ordre général ne se gêne pas de pointer du doigt des acteurs "externes", ces anciens bouc émissaires. Ce n'est qu'après le tollé suscité à l'international que le procureur général en Iran a fait appel à une enquête sur les incidents. Le ministre de l'intérieur Ahmad Vahidi avait d'ailleurs suggéré que la multiplication des incidents se devait au stress et à l'inquiétude générés par les premiers cas d'empoisonnement au gaz, qui ont touché des milliers d'étudiantes depuis l'automne. 

 

Quoiqu'il en soit, le dirigeant suprême Ali Khamenei a lui-même qualifié ces incidents d'"impardonnables" ajoutant qu'il n'y aurait aucune pitié envers les coupables, alors que de nouvelles manifestations étaient prévues, notamment par des parents de moins en moins enclins à laisser leurs filles se rendre à l'école. Le gouvernement a ces derniers temps tenté de calmer le jeu quelque peu, procédant à plusieurs arrestations et remettant en liberté des milliers d'individus, surtout des femmes, incarcérés lors des manifestations, un geste pas sûr de suffire cependant. 

 

Des militants ont dénoncé ce genre d'amnistie présidentielle à titre de tentative de redorer l'image du régime, rappelant que de nombreux activistes demeurent derrière les barreaux. Plusieurs manifes-tants sont de l'avis que seul un groupe avec l'appui du régime serait capable de tels actes. A l'occasion des célébration du nouvel an persan, certains groupes ont profité des rassemblements publics pour manifester contre le pouvoir, des femmes étant montrées dans certaines vidéos brûlant leur voile au sein de marches faisant appel à la "liberté" dans plusieurs villes du pays.

 

 

DEMOCRACY ALERT

 

 

The multilingual white and blue sign at the border crossing of Wagah between Pakistan and India is formal: "The largest democracy in the world welcomes you." But some observers are increasingly worried about recent developments in one institution serving as a building block of any blooming democracy: its press. Concerns over declining media freedoms under the current government have been growing over the years but have been especially highlighted after the tax inspection raid of the BBC offices in February. 

 

Bureaus in the capital Delhi and financial hub Mumbai were visited by dozens of tax officials who asked staff to step away from their computers and hand over their phones after what officials said were failures by the British media giant to respond to requests to clarify its fiscal affairs. The BBC said it was cooperating in what officials are calling a  "survey" and would meantime continue to report "without fear or favour". 

 

This is hardly the first raid of this kind to hit media based in India, something observers say serves as a form of intimidation tactic against outlets which have criticized the current government. And this the BBC certainly did when it recently aired a two-part documentary looking into prime minister Narendra Modi's role in sectarian riots in his home state of Gujarat twenty years ago, at the time he served as chief state minister. 

 

The documentary didn't even air in India but was accused by officials of being "biased" and "politics by other means." With elections looming in India next year Modi can still count of high approval ratings but the documentary touched a nerve to the point it was banned from social media and from being played in India, an attempt to do so resulting in the detention of a number of students. Students aren't the only ones being detained. 

 

The Committee to Project Journalists reported seven journalists imprisoned in its latest annual India census. It charged: “Indian authorities have used tax investigations as a pretext to target critical news outlets before, and must cease harassing BBC employees immediately, in line with the values of freedom that should be espoused in the world’s largest democracy.” The Indian government had ordered YouTube and Twitter to take down links sharing the first episode. 

 

Reporters Sans Frontieres said the raids had "all the hallmarks of a reprisal for the release of a documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi". But while the BBC was accused of violating “transfer pricing rules” and accused of “diversion of profits" a spokesman of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party stated rather bluntly: “India is a country which gives an opportunity to every organisation... as long as you don't spew venom.” RSF says the raid is sadly a sign of the times, coming "when independent media are being hounded more and more, and when pluralism is shrinking in India due to increased media concentration." 

 

It cited other cases of raids targeting various outlets, but also human rights groups critical of the government, actions often ending without charges. Two years ago a massive raid of Dainik Bhaskar newspaper followed a report which questioned the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

 

The authorities also raided Newslaundry and Newsclick in 2021 following critical coverage of the government. And critics say that when the government isn't using tax inspectors to send a message, it is cutting some of its advertising spending, which some organizations rely on to keep operating. Officials point out however the government isn't in the business of funding the media. The Editors Guild of India said the BBC raids were just another case of "government agencies being used to intimidate and harass news organizations" citing four trumped up tax inspections in 2021 alone. 

 

And the overall media landscape in India has been slipping, the country's ranking in the Press Freedom Index dropping to 150th place last year from 140th when Modi took over as prime minister. Not much higher in the list is neighbor and longtime rival Pakistan, ranked 157th, and embroiled in controversy  over its bans to the airing of speeches by former PM and possibly leader in waiting Imran Khan. The country's media regulator has accused him of attacking the state’s institutions and promoting hatred, while supporters and observers see an attack by the government on democracy. 

 

The move by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority means the country is “fast descending into darkness,” told Al-Jazeera Hammad Azhar, who belongs to Khan’s Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf party. “This [ban on Khan’s speeches] is not only unconstitutional as it goes against freedom of expression … There cannot be a blanket ban on speeches of politicians. O

 

Other than questions of legality, it is also extremely anti-democratic in nature." Press groups were also calling for a full investigation after Pakistan's first transgender anchor was shot outside her home recently. There's a role for another major institution, the judiciary, argues lawyer Apar Gupta in the Hindu newspaper. "The Supreme Court needs to revive and apply the doctrine of “effect and consequence” to consider a broader canvas of executive actions that will shape the practices of our criminal courts," he writes. "For instance, in the BBC case, a relevant fact for a court to determine is not limited to allegations of tax evasion but whether the scrutiny is prompted by a documentary that is critical of the Prime Minister. Today, for a free and fair press, not only journalists but even our courts need to act without fear or favour."

 

 

THE ODD COUPLES

 

They spy on them, seek to influence their elections, sometimes refuse to pick up the phone when they call... and are major trading partners. The relationship between North America and China is an odd one to say the least, tensions rising as the middle power seeks to exert more global influence, reaching into Canada's ballot box. This according to intelligence leaked to the media which revealed a campaign by Beijing to prevent both a Conservative win in 2021, the party having a number of candidates viewed as hostile to China, and a Liberal majority, seeking to keep the country divided and led by a weaker government. 

 

A parliamen-tary committee already looking into Chinese meddling in the 2019 election expanded hearings to look into 2021 as well amid calls for an inquiry. The report was leaked as US and Canadian militaries turned their eyes to the skies after downing a Chinese spy balloon, leading to the downing of three other non identified objects over North American skies in the days following, though none were said of being related to the balloon. 

 

China severed some lines of commu-nication, protesting the destruction of what it claimed was a weather balloon but the US insisted was an airship with spying capabilities. Relations between the North American capitals and Beijing have been tested over the years, over issues such as the treatment of Uyghurs, the house arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and following the recent visit of US officials to Taiwan, prompting a new round of tensions between the island nation and the mainland. 

 

But trade has been more affected by supply chain issues linked to the pandemic than politics. The pandemic had already prompted some North American companies to repatriate some production home, notably after the PPE shortages. While heightened geopolitical ten-sions - especially around support to Russia and threats to Taiwan - could spell more trouble ahead, there was an encouraging sign of détente when US Sec. of state Antony Blinken met with China's top diplomat, Wang Yi, in a first face to face engagement since the balloon incident, held on the sidelines of the Munich security conference. That incident had cancelled plans for a Blinken visit to China. He expressed disappointment the Chinese military had refused to take calls from US counterparts after the balloon was brought down. 

 

In Munich the US made it clear it "will not stand for any violation of our sovereignty," terms China uses itself with regards to Taiwan. Washington says the incident exposed a Chinese program which "intruded into the airspace of over 40 countries across 5 continents," according to spokesman Ned Price. The conference mostly focused on Ukraine and China's position weighed heavily as allies were concerned Beijing could be on the verge of assisting Russia with lethal weapons, something which would in the eyes of the alliance bring serious "consequences." 

 

In Washington meanwhile a bipartisan select committee was looking into everything from the balloon incident to data collection using popular social media app Tiktok, now banned from government phones. While trade has gone on, U.S. and European multinational firms have become more cautious about their capital investments in China due to geopolitical concerns, according to a risk consultancy IMA Asia. This at a time the Joe Biden White House is reviewing penalties imposed under former President Donald Trump, who levied tariffs on Chinese goods to bolster U.S.-made goods, a trade war which has also made relations edgier. 

 

While China's growth has slowed to around 3% more recently and trade tensions continue, IMA's Richard Martin said investors would be foolish to shun the market altogether, especially as it reopens after dropping its zero-covid policy. “Yes, some companies will diversify, but they don’t want to diversify away from the biggest growth market in the world,” he said. “Even at 3% or 4% growth, China will add more dollar value in the next five years than the United States. You can’t walk away from that.” 

 

Soon after the latest report of Chinese interference in Canadian elections, Canadian officials said Chinese buoys had also been located in the Arctic, which they said were probably monitoring sea traffic. But Beijing stresses that, while "misunderstandings" exist between Canada and China, "extensive common interests, and common grounds are far greater than disagreements," according to Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen. "The economic and trade cooperation between China and Canada has a solid foundation." 

 

In fact trade between China and Canada reached a record $100 billion in 2022, up by 16%. Canada's average trade growth with other countries was only 8.9%, but reached 10% with China, according to Wang. "Never-theless, we do not deny that there are still some areas of mutual incomprehension or even dissatisfaction between our two countries," Wang noted. Canada's poultry exports were impacted by China's bird flu fears while Ottawa excluded Huawei from its telecom market. 

 

Concerns about Huawei equipment and social media favorite Tiktok spying on unsuspecting users has shown the complexity of the relationship between the middle kingdom and its major Western trading partners, top Chinese companies being closely associated with the regime. This issue was raised in Munich as US officials accused Chinese state companies of providing assistance to Russia in recent weeks, an assistance Washington fears may only grow as the war drags on. 

 

It may take a while to align current political tensions with trade, according to Anastasia Ufimtseva of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, but "potentially, in the future, we might observe the changes in trade." But for now it's apparently full steam ahead.

 

CAP SUR L'AFRIQUE

 

Inexistante au sein de la crise ukrainienne, la diplomatie russe est en pleine action sur le continent africain, où  Moscou tente d'étendre son influence dans le sillage du départ français. D'ailleurs peu après le passage du chef de la diplomatie russe Serguei Lavrov sur le continent le mois dernier, le Burkina Faso annonçait la fin des opérations militaires fran-çaises, précisant cependant qu'il n'était pas question de rompre les relations avec Paris. 

 

Il s'agissait de la deuxième visite de Lavrov sur le continent en autant de semaines, lui qui a également fait une tournée importante l'an dernier. Lors de son plus récent passage, la Russie se disait garantir une aide aux pays hôtes en matière de lutte au jihadisme, le groupe Wagner ayant dans plusieurs coins remplacé les soldats de l'armée française sur ce front. 

 

En visite au Mali, où un vent anti-francais vogue depuis quelques années et où Paris a retiré ses soldats, Lavrov a affirmé que "nous allons apporter notre assistance pour surmonter ces difficultés. Cela concerne la Guinée, le Burkina Faso et le Tchad, et en général la région sahélo-sahélienne et même les pays du Golfe de Guinée." 

 

Une longue liste pour un pays dépassé dans la seule campagne ukrainienne qu'il pensait remporter en quelques jours et qui marque son premier anniversaire. Le besoin en Afrique est d'autant plus criant qu'une nouvelle attaque contre une patrouille militaire "en mouvement" faisait plus de 50 victimes en une seule journée en février au Burkina Faso, près de la frontière malienne. 

 

Même suggestion de soutien russe en Mauritanie, un pays qui a cependant réussi à éviter les attaques jihadistes ces dernières années et qui s'est opposé à la guerre en Ukraine ainsi qu'à l'annexion des parties orientales par Moscou. Moscou se veut un contre poids à dans ordre mondial soi-disant bâti sur des "approches néocoloniales". 

 

A Bamako l'homologue et hôte malien a repoussé les critiques de ce virage russe. "Nous ne justifierons plus notre choix de partenaire, dit-il lors de la visite. La Russie est là à la demande du Mali et répond efficacement à nos besoins stratégiques". Pourtant certains observateurs notent que le pays ne réussit pas mieux sa lutte contre le jihadisme depuis l'apport de Moscou, qui y a transféré des avions militaires et des hélicoptères de combat ces dernières années. 

 

Des analyses estiment d'ailleurs que les pertes civiles ont été plus importantes en 2022 dans la lutte contre le jihadisme. Pourtant, fin février Ouaga affirmait à son tour vouloir "diversifier ses partenaires" contre le jihadisme, quelque mois après la visite du premier ministre à Moscou. Alors qu'Emmanuel Macron  entamait lui-même un voyage en Afrique et que Paris prévoyait redéployer ses effectifs au Niger, le secrétaire général des Nations unies Antonio Guterres soldait l'expérience du G5 pour assurer la sécurité comme un échec, prônant plutôt des opérations d'imposition de la paix et de lutte antiterroriste avec "un mandat du Conseil de sécurité". 

 

"L'Afrique a besoin de paix, dit-il devant l'assemblée de l'Union africaine, nous devons continuer de lutter pour la paix. Néanmoins pour parler sans détour les mécanismes de paix vacillent." Le G5 faisait selon lui figure de modèle de contributions volontaires qui "ont prouvé qu'elles ne sont pas capables de l'efficacité de ces forces". 

 

Entre temps la nouvelle orientation de la politique française sur le continent annonce la fin de la "nostalgie pour la Françafrique" et de la notion de "pré-carré" se disant considérer ces pays comme partenaires à part entière de l'hexagone et ne prévoyant plus que des bases militaires cogérées avec les pays hôtes. Paris prévoit une "diminution visible" des effectifs militaires mais un "effort accru" de formation et d'équipement.


LOW TURNOUT IN NIGERIA

 

Say what you will about Nigeria's chaos and many woes, about its violence-wracked regions and out of control corruption, about its pre-electoral and electoral violence, when the time came at the end of his second term, Muhammadu Buhari relinquished his presidential throne to give Africa's most populous country a chance to make its choice of new leader for the coming years. 

 

Not all of the continent's heads of state have resisted the temptation to extend their stay. It was all the more remarkable considering the former general had himself seized power in a coup decades ago before turning to politics. Perhaps his own removal following another coup was a good reason to steer the country away from military dictatorship and on the path of democracy. 

 

But not everyone is happy with the results and there is much to say about the state of the country following the last 8 years, and the lack of law and order in many parts of Nigeria remains daunting despite some efforts to push back against Boko Haram. These days violence and kidnappings remains commonplace in areas troubled by banditry, while corruption and unemployment will challenge his successor all over the map.   

 

With 37% of the vote, ruling party leader candidate Bola Tinubu, 70, bettered Atiku Abubakar of the People's Democratic Party and  Peter Obi from the lesser known Labour party, among the 18 candidates on the ballot. While the latter, powered by younger voters, failed to end the dominance of traditional parties since the end of the dictatorship, he did secure the vote in Lagos, where Tinubu was governor. 

 

The latter called on opponents to "team up together" after a troubled elections, and this they did but by calling for a rerun after issues experienced by new electoral machines used for the first time. 

 

The opposition claimed the vote was "heavily doctored and manipulated." While there were delays and some violence at a number of polling stations observers say it was poor planning and communication by the electoral commission that mostly hampered the vote. "The election fell well short of Nigerian citizens' expec-tations," stated a joint observer mission. But the commission insisted the vote was "free, fair and credible", ignoring calls for a new election. 

 

87 million people registered for the vote yet turnout was only 27%, the lowest since the end of military rule. On his fifth attempt to win the presidency and as one of the architects of the 1999 transition, Tenubu always felt it was "my turn" to take over the reins, a slogan used in a campaign where he touted his success developing Nigeria's largest city. 

 

"This is a shining moment in the life of any man and affirmation of our democratic existence," he said after being declared the winner. "I represent a promise and with your support, I know that promise will be fulfilled."  But some observers say Nigerians are left wondering if their vote can truly make a difference. 

 

"That is bad news for any democracy and reduces pressure on elected officials to deliver," political analyst Remi Adekoya told CNN. "The shambolic conduct of these elections in many places will not help that situation. Many Nigerians are even less likely to believe in the democratic process now."

 

 

ONE YEAR ON

 

One year after tanks rolled past abandoned border posts into Ukraine for what the Kremlin said was to be a short "special operation", both sides of the conflict are licking their wounds and gearing up for a new round of hostilities, Russia amassing thousands of hastily trained conscripts as Ukraine obtained a commitment for dozens of tanks but not the hoped for fighter jets. At least not yet. 

 

Both would require a rush training regimen, alarming as according to estimates nearly 300,000 troops have been killed or wounded so far. The two sides can count on outside support in a conflict that has left few countries untouched. While Ukraine has been able to rely on support from NATO, Russia has been receiving military aid from Iran, China and even North Korea. 

 

But will this lead to a wider war? This was the concern of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres days after former Russian president Dmitry Medmedev warned the latest supply of advanced military aid to Ukraine will only trigger more retaliatory strikes from Russia, not ruling out nuclear weapons if necessary. 

 

"We don't set ourselves any limits and, depending on the nature of the threats, we're ready to use all types of weapons, in accordance with our doctrinal documents, including the fundamentals of nuclear deterrence," he warned. 

 

A widening war was certainly the fear when Russian missiles targeting Ukraine flew over Moldova as the country faced a political crisis which saw its PM step down and government collapse. Days before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Moscow would seek to destabilize the country which includes a separatist pro-Russian enclave. 

 

Outgoing Western PM Natalia Gavrilita  said Moldova was struggling with multiple crises caused by the war next door. Was this going to create cracks in an alliance already tested by Turkiye's reluctance to allow Sweden into NATO? While the US was providing another $2.1 bil. in financial aid, NATO countries struggled to provide their ally with enough ammunition as both sides were readying for a new Russian offensive some say has already begun. 

 

In  a snap visit to the UK Zelensky urged MPs to provide jet fighters, calling them "wings for freedom," terms to drive in the message his country was waging the fight of the free world against Russian aggression. "I trust this symbol will help us for our next coalition," he said in London. "A coalition of the planes." 

 

In Brussels he said he had obtained assurances some countries would provide fighter jets. But critics fear this may draw other countries and NATO further into the war. Russia warned sending Ukraine fighter jets would generate "a response." 

 

Any peace overture seemed a long way off. For the Kremlin peace talks start with Ukraine's recognition of the "new territorial reality" of annexed areas, a non starter for Kyiv. Last weekend the owner of private military group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, opined it could take up to two years for Russia to secure control of its eastern conquests, more if it decided to push further. 

 

Former diplomat Gérard Araud says it may amount to a Korean-like outcome, with no peace agreement but a ceasefire, eventually, and lasting tensions between the neighbors. In the meantime, supporters this weekend were calling for long-term support to Ukraine, including more weapons, the UK in particular vowing to "double down" its assistance.

 

AIDER HAITI

 

Quatre mois après l'appel du premier ministre haïtien en faveur de l'intervention d'une force internationale afin de stabiliser son pays et de combattre de fléau des gangs de rue, celle-ci tarde encore à se matérialiser malgré des déclarations de soutien de certains pays, dont la Jamaïque, qui se dit prête à participer à une telle mission. 

 

D'autres pays avec plus de moyens sont plus réticents, dont le Canada, qui estime que ce genre d'intervention a eu des conséquences plutôt fâcheuses dans le passé. Selon l'ambassadeur du Canada aux Nations unies, Bob Rae: "Il faut en faire plus (pour soutenir Haïti), cela est clair. Mais nous devons aussi faire les choses différemment que dans le passé, dit-il au Conseil de sécurité. Nous devons tirer les enseignements des impor-tantes interventions militaires du passé, parce qu'elles n'ont en fait pas réussi à apporter une stabilité à long terme aux Haïtiens." 

 

La solution doit être interne et haïtienne, dit-il, mais en ce moment le paysage interne est celui du déchirement sanglant de gangs de rue qui font la loin dans leur fief, et tentent d'étendre leur présence dans celui de leurs rivaux, plongeant la population dans la terreur. 

 

Ottawa opte pour l'instant d'intervenir en imposant des sanctions contre des personnalités accusées de soutenir les gangs, tout en apportant un soutien logistique à la force policière. 

 

Cette dernière vit sous le même règne de terreur, ayant perdu non moins de 78 agents depuis le début du mandat du premier ministre Ariel Henry, une douzaine le mois dernier, le plus meurtrier jusqu'à maintenant. 

 

Ce soutien matériel a notamment pris la forme du survol temporaire d'un avion Aurora CP-140, ordinairement en patrouille au-dessus de la mer des Caraïbes mais plus récemment déployé dans le ciel de Port-au-Prince pour suivre les activitiés des gangs qui ne contrôlent plus seulement les zones historiquement difficiles de la capitale, comme Cité Soleil, mais qui ont étendu leur empire aux portes de quartiers jadis épargnés et mieux nantis, comme Pétionville. 

 

C'est là d'ailleurs où a eu lieu une des plus violentes attaques contre la police, causant la mort de quatre agents lors d'une ambuscade. Un journaliste écrira: "Ce drame met à nu la situation inquiétante qui prévaut dans un pays gangréné par les gangs." 

 

L'aéronef canadien avait pour objectif the fournir "une capacité de renseignement, de surveillance et de reconnaissance pour renforcer les efforts visant à établir et à maintenir la paix et la sécurité pour le peuple haïtien," selon le gouvernment canadien, qui allait analyser ses images pour voir quelle assistance supplémentaire il allait pouvoir apporter. 

 

Un appui au sol est également nécessaire afin de venir en aide à ces forces policières moins bien armées et franchement démoralisées par leurs pertes récentes, non seulement à Port-au-Prince, mais ailleurs au pays, où de nombreuses zones échappent au contrôle gouvernemental. Selon ce même gouvernement canadien, qui décourage tout déplacement vers ce pays où de nombreux actes de violence et d'enlèvements ont eu lieu et proie à de sévères pénuries de produits de première nécessité tels que le carburant, l'eau potable et la nourriture, les policiers ne sont pas toujours en mesure d'intervenir dans plusieurs quartiers. 

 

Tel est le sort de la perle des Antilles deux ans après l'assassinat de son président, dont le successeur n'a pas obtenu l'appui de la population, laissant en place un vide politique qui a eu les conséquences désastreuses que l'on connait. Cette semaine  Ottawa promettait $12 millions en aide humanitaire ainsi qu'un navire pour patrouiller la côte.


OTHER ENERGY CRISES

 

While Europe has been lucky enough to avoid an energy crisis this winter despite Russia's squeeze, in part thanks to milder temperatures, other parts of the world haven't been so lucky, and some, far from the European battle front, even blame the Ukrainian conflict for their woes. Pakistan's crisis is months old after a year the country reduced its work week to conserve energy. 

 

It kicked off 2023 with a new energy conservation plan ordering all markets to close by 8:30 pm and restaurants by 10 pm. Federal departments were also ordered to reduce their energy consumption by 30%. The crisis has caused blackouts nationwide and is due to the country's heavy dependence on fuel imports at a time of high (28%) inflation leaving its currency in free fall. Squabbling with the International Monetary Fund has also delayed a much-needed $1.1 bil. bailout adding pressure as the country's parties remain locked in a fierce political battle. 

 

What some are calling the worst economic crisis in the country since partition has left millions lining up for gas and food handouts and the nation itself on the brink of bankruptcy. Halfway around the world South Africa's energy crisis prompted Pretoria to declare a national state of disaster to tackle crippling blackouts. But critics say this will only open the door to a spending free for all. 

 

The crisis there is even older, going back to 2008 when the country instituted rolling power outages to protect the grid as state utility company Eskom remained unable to create enough energy to meet the country's growing demand. The crisis has electoral implications ahead of next year's presidential elections. It is estimated the country's growth will be trimmed by 2% this year because of the failure to provide enough juice nationally. 

 

In addition to South Africa other nations of the continent have been struck by energy shortages, from Libya to Kenya and Zimbabwe. In fact the African Development bank stated that more than 640 million of the continent’s 1.4 billion people don’t have electricity despite efforts in countries such as Zimbabwe and Egypt and researchers warned “fewer than 40% of African countries will reach universal access to electricity by 2050”.  

 

Shortages have not spared the Americas, Haiti in particular, where recently Electricite de Haiti justified its drastic rationing of electricity and total blackout in certain areas of the country due to "the drop in the level of Lake Péligre due to the dry season, the fuel crisis aggravated by the control of strategic areas by armed gangs and technical problems of a structural nature requiring major invest-ments..." 

 

The country has been thrown into chaos following the assassination of its president in 2021, leaving large sections of the capital under the control of gangs waging bloody warfare. But the blackouts precede the assassination and have been around for many years in this other country dependent on fuel imports and unable to pay for them. Natural disasters in time only weakened an already inefficient and fragile national power grid. 

 

Only about a quarter of the population had power before the latest crisis, and not always for an entire day, access clearly distinguishing the haves from the have nots. Years ago Jovenel Moise, the president who was assassinated, optimistically pledged to bring “24 hours around the clock” electrical service to his citizens. 

 

Instead the blackouts became a symbol of a dysfunctional government. Not only that, "for many Haitians, blackouts do not just signal a political crisis — they also symbolize feelings of their loss of political power," argued Greg Beckett, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Western University. "In that sense, blackouts are not just the result of a weak government. They are a symptom of a deeper crisis of sovereignty as the Haitian people continue to struggle, still, for democracy, autonomy and self-determination." 

 

In the internet age, blackouts leave millions without power and unempow-ered. Another country with enduring power woes, Egypt has been struggling for years, president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi calling his country's crisis nearly a decade ago a "battle for our existence." A struggle which has not spared a country which is notoriously oil-rich: Nigeria, which the World Bank said a few years ago was losing about $28 billion, or 2% of its GDP, due to power outages.  

 

A recent report by the International Energy Agency says Nigeria’s access to electricity is affected by  a lack of power generation and transmission capacity and hampered by frequent grid collapses.  “Nigeria’s power grid collapsed seven times from January through to September 2022," the report said. "This is higher than in 2020 and 2021 when there were four grid collapses each year according to the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC)." 

 

Still that represented "some improvement" compared to previous years, where the total "averaged 13 collapses per year (with a peak of 28 in 2016)." Lack of generation and higher demand are causing  the crisis, and the latter will keep climbing after the slowdown of the pandemic, not only in Nigeria but across the continent. 

 

According to the IEA electricity demand growth on the continent is expected to rebound in 2023 to over 3%, followed by an average of 4.5% regional growth for 2024 and 2025, and natural gas will be the top source of energy. But will there be enough of it? In Europe, a bit of decent weather and a little sacrifice can avert a major energy crisis, not so in so many countries around the world dealing with much deeper issues.

 

 

SO FAR SO GOOD

 

As the war dragged on and the winter neared, Europe dreaded the scramble for electricity across the energy squeezed continent and feared long cold nights in the dark. 

 

To avoid such chilling fate public buildings cut their lighting and people changed their habits, but helping tremendously was also a weather remaining on the mild side, leaving ski hill operators furious but communities able to manage curtailing their use of power and avoiding the feared apocalypse, at least so far.  This may have averted a true energy crisis until now, but for how long can we expect mother nature to cooperate? 

 

Indeed Europe has been able to count its blessings as a warm fall led to a mild start to the cold season, weather stations across the continent registering record high temperatures that have kept energy use low and even trimmed prices. As a result, according to data from smart thermometer company Tado, Europeans waited later into the fall to turn up the heat, mostly doing so at the end of November rather than the beginning, when they usually do. German public  authorities also kept office temperatures lower, at some 19 degrees C. 

 

Such efforts across the board left a nation once paralyzed by the fear of freezing this winter confident it could see through the remaining months. "With savings, gas inflows, good storage levels, we are very, very optimistic that we will no longer have to worry about a gas shortage this winter," said German network regulator Klaus Mueller. 

 

Not bad on a continent that imports 80% of its gas. Even countries notoriously dependent on Russian gas, such as Moldova, managed little energetic exploits. A  short-term energy deal enabled the nation of 2.6 million to cut, not just its consumption but its reliance on Russian imports, by buying 100 million cubic metres of gas from a domestic supplier. "Since last year, we have promised to make reserves and find an alternative to stop being dependent on a single source. I managed to do it," boasted Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spinu in December. 

 

This combination of consumption cuts, alternative solutions and higher temperatures drove down demand and, ultimately, the price, of natural gas, to about 113$ per megawatt hour, the lowest level since the beginning of the war. The lower demand also enabled nations to stock up and fill their storage facilities, enabling them to look at next winter. "We have to start thinking about 2023/24," tweeted German network regulator Klaus Mueller. "We have to keep saving gas, being more energy efficient, build out renewables and fill storage." 

 

This is removing a key weapon Russia was counting on in its arsenal. Certainly prices remain high, and Europe may still lack the reserves it will need in case of a bad winter next year, but meanwhile observers say the continent's fortunes may be changing to the point of being able to void a recession in 2023 as the feared energy crisis gives way to more optimistic scenarios. “The stressors that caused the energy crisis of 2022 are all relaxing at the same time,” Lion Hirth of the Hertie School told the Economist. 

 

But the winter is not over, and Finnish leader Sanna Marin reminded participants at a Davos World Economic Forum session of her neighbor's ongoing threats. "The war affects Europe in very concrete ways. We are not only in the war in Ukraine but also in an energy war in Europe," she said. "Russia is using energy as a tool, as a weapon against Europe and it tries to diminish our support for Ukraine." By many early accounts, Russia has failed. "The speed with which Europe was able to find alternative sources of energy and succeed in weaning itself off Russian imports has surprised many, most of all Russian leaders," argued Ariel Cohen, a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. "It is unlikely that European leaders will not repeat the mistake of relying on Russia; as inflation decreases in the West and Europe readjusts its energy policy, the sanctions imposed on Russia will only become more severe and more damaging." 

 

Russia has been able to find partners to support it, but China and India have been able to obtain price discounts that won't do Moscow's bottom line much favors, he notes. "By December 2022, Russia witnessed revenue from fossil fuel exports slump to its lowest level since the invasion in February." 

 

Still Moscow has managed to mitigate its trade losses with the West and may be planning a new major offensive for the spring. Meanwhile the US became a larger gas supplier than Russia in Europe, leaving Washington to deepen cooperation with the old continent both militarily and energetically. Others concur Europe's switch to alternative resources have made Putin's attempt to use energy as a weapon and blackmailing Europe result in failures. 

 

"Now, as we approach the one-year anniversary of Putin’s invasion, it is apparent that Russia has permanently forfeited its erstwhile economic might in the global marketplace," argued Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, of the Yale School of Management, and  Steven Tian of the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute. "Thanks to an unseasonably warm winter in Europe, Putin’s moment of maximum leverage has passed uneventfully. The biggest victim of Putin’s gas gambit was Russia itself. Putin’s natural gas leverage is now nonexistent, as the world—and, most importantly, Europe—no longer needs Russian gas." 

 

But it needs tanks to ward off future offensives in Ukraine, as the latest military debates in the alliance have shown, and the Kremlin is more determined than ever to throw everything it can to hang on to the areas of Ukraine it controls, possibly looking ahead to next winter.

 

UN RETRAIT DANS LA DIGNITÉ

 

Il y a des dirigeants qui s'accrochent au pouvoir à tout prix, et ceux qui l'abandonnent le moment venu. Rares sont ceux qui quittent leur poste volontairement avant le temps, mais à l'âge de 42 ans, Jacinda Ardern estimait que son heure était venue après six années difficiles au poste de première ministre de Nouvelle-Zélande, marquées par des hauts, la naissance de sa fille, et des bas, de la pandémie aux tragédies qui ont ébranlé ses concitoyens. 

 

"Je suis humain. Les politiciens sont humains, dit-elle. On donne tout ce qu'on peut aussi longtemps qu'on le peut, et puis c'est le temps (de quitter). Et pour moi, le temps est venu." Les ravages de la pandémie avaient été évités, mais à quel prix, le pays fermant frontière et commerces pendant de longs mois, lui attirant la fougue d'opposants, tandis que l'inflation minait ses objectifs de combattre la pauvreté et de bâtir des logements abordables. 

 

Résultat, celle qui avait été ré-élue avec 49% des intentions de vote en 2020, le taux le plus important en 50 ans, tirait de l'arrière dans les sondages, un défi qui devient celui de son successeur alors que le pays se dirige vers de nouvelles urnes en octobre. L'architecte de la lutte contre la pandémie, Chris Hipkins, portera l'étendard du parti travailliste contre les conservateurs du National. 

 

Certains voient dans ce départ le triste sort de dirigeants à tous les niveaux, mais surtout des femmes, de plus en plus dans la ligne de tir. "Elle méritait tellement mieux", se désolait l'acteur Sam Neill, condamnant les attaques de misogynes et de brutes à l'égard d'un "grand dirigeant" à une époque où les politiciens peuvent se retrouver agressés physiquement ou au travers des médias sociaux. 

 

C'est notamment le cas de jeunes politiciens, souvent des femmes, qui font face à des actes d'agression sur internet. Le gouvernement de cette autre jeune femme d'état, la filandaise Sanna Marin, 37 ans, a notamment été visé sans relâche par "un niveau élevé de messages abusifs" selon le centre de communication de l'Otan. Selon un rapport de 2021 les femmes qui étaient à la tête de divers ministères étaient visées par "des abus misogynes qui attaquaient leurs valeurs, ridiculisaient leurs prises de décisions et remettaient en question leur aptitude à diriger".  

 

Marin, est devenue première ministre à l'âge de 34 ans, la plus jeune à obtenir un tel poste. Selon des études ce genre d'attaque décourage souvent les femmes à participer à la politique. Est-ce qui a finalement fait déborder le vase à Wellington après l'attaque de la mosquée de Christchurch et l'explosion volcanique de White Island? 

 

"Il y a eu beaucoup de misogynie à son égard... des commentaires sur son sexe, son âge et des commentaires sur son partenaire," résume Lara Greaves de l'université de Auckland. Hipkins a immédiatement déploré ce genre d'attaque. "Il y a eu une escalade de vitriol, dit-il, et certains politiciens en ont fait l'objet plutôt que d'autres... (Ardern) a été la cible de comportements absolument intolérables et inacceptables."   


THIRTY YEARS ON

 

Nearly thirty years after the signature of the Oslo accord which promised peace in the Middle East, the region remains as troubled by clashes and violence as ever  as Israel pursues an anti-terrorism campaign meant to end militant attacks, while  a hard line government takes over in the Holy land. 

 

Before the end of January some three dozen Palestintians had been felled by Israeli forces in the West Bank, a fifth of last year's total, as Israeli forces conducted repeated raids to prevent attacks against civilians, often meeting the fire of militants. This produced as many deaths on both sides as the incoming administration vowed a harder line and Palestinians promised to respond in kind. In a single raid 10 people were killed in Jenin, the most violent episode in years, causing concern among observers wary of witnessing another major flare-up in the Middle East.

 

 The following day, Holocaust remembrance day, seven were killed in an attack on an East Jerusalem synagogue. Hours after that, two were hurt in another Jerusalem shooting involving a 13 year old boy. "I am deeply alarmed and saddened by the continuing cycle of violence in the occuped West Bank," deplored UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland. "Since the beginning of the year we are continuing to witness high levels of violence and other negative trends that characterized 2022. It is crucial to reduce tensions immediately and prevent more loss of life." 

 

The Palestinian presidency accused Israel of perpetrating a "massacre" in Jenin, which Israel says was carried out to arrest Jihadi militants "heavily involved in planning and executing multiple major terrorist attacks on Israel civilians and soldiers." President Mahmoud Abbas delared three days of mourning after a "massacre" he said which took place "amid international silence."

 

Palestinian officials usually work with Israel to prevent militant attacks but announced they were suspending this cooperation in the aftermath of the raid. United Nations and Arab mediators said they were engaged with Israeli officials to calm the flare-up as the US secretary of state visited the region, urging both sides to "restore calm." IDF troops in the West Bank and near the Gaza Strip were put on heightened alert. 

 

While the anti-terror Operation Breakwater has been going on for months, the violence has increased as a new hard line right-wing govern-ment takes over in Jerusalem, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, who announced punitive measures including plans to "strengthen" controversial and divisive Jewish settlements, cancel social security benefits for the families of attackers and make guns easier to get for Israelis. 

 

The anti-terror operation has resulted in the highest death toll in the West Bank since the Second intifada which ended in 2005. For many there has been little sign of change since then, let alone the days going back to the 1993 agreement. "It is the same story again and again," told the Telegraph 22-year old student Nour. "The occupation does not stop killing us, so we will not stop resisting." Polls suggest support for the peace process is at an all time low on both sides of the longstanding conflict. 

 

The incoming hard line administration will not help make anything better, eyeing more Jewish settlements in contested areas, inflaming tensions further. Netanyahu told CNN people can't get "hung up" on peace negotiations. "When effectively the Arab Israeli conflict (comes) to an end, I think we'll circle back to the Palestinians and get a workable peace," he said, adding he had over time reached many peace agreements.

 

 

ALERTE ROUGE

 

De nouvelles exigences de test de dépistage, des vérifications à la frontière, le tout sur fond de nouveaux variants, c'est du déjà vu, et c'est l'évolution du covid début 2023. Pour l'heure les restrictions frappent les voyageurs chinois notamment après un relâchement plutôt soudain et extraordinaire des restric-tions de l'an passé qui s'est vite traduit par une explosion des nouveaux cas et de décès; une propagation rapide de la pandémie qui risque, selon des experts, de mener à de nouveaux variants. 

 

Le plus récent est d'ailleurs en pleine expansion, un XBB.1.5 qui a déjà rejoint nos côtes et serait plus transmissible, sans être plus agressif. C'est un peu merci à la vaccination de masse en Amérique du nord et en Europe... qui n'a pas été aussi répandue dans le pays d'origine de la pandémie. 

 

Les conséquences en Chine ont été mirobolantes après l'abandon éclair de ce qui étaient jusqu'à tout récemment les mesures les plus restrictives au monde. La semaine dernière on faisait état de 60000 morts lors du dernier mois, mettant fin à des semaines d'opacité malgré les appels à la transparence de l'OMS. Le chiffre est dix fois celui qui avait été rapporté pour la Chine... depuis le début de la pandémie. 

 

La mort de certaines personnalités aurait mis la puce à l'oreille ainsi que les attroupements près des salons funéraires et des sites crématoires. Parmi les victimes de renom Tang Weiguo, fondateur sexagé-naire de Shanghai Kehua Bio-Engineering, ainsi que la chanteuse d'opéra de 39 ans Chu Lanlan et le danseur  et politicien Zhao Qing, mort à 87 ans. Conséquence, plus d'une douzaine de pays imposent des tests à l'entrée aux visiteurs chinois, une mesure jugée discriminatoire selon Pékin, malgré son propre et soudain retournement de veste récent. 

 

Mais plusieurs spécialistes doutent de l'efficacité de cette exigence, alors des Chinois vont se déplacer en grand nombre à l'occasion du nouvel an lunaire, y voyant plutôt un acte politique. Etats-Unis, Canada et plusieurs pays européens ont imposé cette exigence, qui de l'avis de Kerry Bowman de l'Université de Toronto constitute "absolument un geste politique qui n'est pas fondé sur la science à ce stade". Il ajoute: "Nous n'en sommes plus aux premiers jours de la pandémie alors je pense que c'est largement politique." 

 

D'autres experts estiment que tester tous les passagers serait impopulaire mais beaucoup plus efficace pour détecter les nouveaux variants, tout en tenant compte de l'analyse des égoûts. On en apprend toujours du nouveau sur ce virus qui a subi de nombreuses mutations depuis le début de la pandémie. L'autopsie de 44 victimes du covid aurait révélé que le virus se répand non seulement dans le système respiratoire mais à travers le corps, du cerveau aux autres organes dont le coeur, y survivant parfois pendant des mois. 

 

En Amérique du nord c'est New York qui enregistre le plus de cas du nouveau variant, et la métropole poursuit ses efforts afin de freiner la progression du virus, encourageant les citoyens lors de bombreuses campagnes à "faire leur part" en gardant leurs vaccins à jour et conservant des tentes de dépistage du covid sur plusieurs trottoirs de Manhattan, notamment en face du fameux Empire State Building sur la 34ème rue. 

 

Mais aux Etats-Unis également, le taux de vaccination n'est pas au niveau espéré par les autorités saintaires. Fatigue vaccinale, certes, mais le manquement est aussi dû aux fausses informations sans cesse véhiculées sur les réseaux sociaux. A titre d'exemple, les fausses rumeurs qui ont vu le jour après l'effondrement hautement médiatisé d'un joueur de football des Bills de Buffalo au premier quart d'un match récent, après avoir reçu un choc à la poitrine. 

 

Ces rumeurs voulaient que ceci ait un lien avec le vaccin contre le covid plutôt que le coup encaissé par le joueur lors du match. En Chine les médias sociaux ont été aussi conséquents à propos de la ligne dure de Pékin, la circulation d'images de manifestations parfois violentes en décembre mettant un terme aux restrictions. 

 

Parfois les fausses infos viennent de sources plutôt officielles à première vue, dont certains membres extrémistes du congrès américain. Récemment un membre du parlement britannique, Andrew Bridgen, faisait l'objet d'une suspension pour avoir fait circuler de fausses infos sur le vaccin. A présent la propagation du virus atteint de nouveaux sommets en Chine, contaminant possiblement 90% des habitants de la province de Henan, la troisième la plus peuplée. La politique zéro covid donne-t-elle dorénavant lieu au 100% covid? Et ce avant même les grands départs des vacances du nouvel an lunaire, les premières sans restrictions depuis le début de la pandémie? 

 

Résultat, non seulement certains pays referment la porte aux ressortissants chinois, ils recommandent à leurs citoyens d'éviter les déplacements non essentiels en Chine, pays à nouveau paria, qui pourtant au plus fort de la crise occidentale avait lui-même allégé ses politiques. Pour combien de temps encore ce monde à deux vitesses? Même les virus divergent, celui de BF.7, plus transmissible aussi, se limitant pour l’instant encore à la Chine. 

 

Mais l'explosion de cas en Chine pourrait avoir des conséquence pour la planête si elle chambarde le secteur manufacturier. Ceci dit, à l'instar de la Chine, d'autres pays devraient également voir la réalité d'en face, notamment en Europe. Un expert anciennement de l'OMS, Daniel Acuna, accuse le continent de voir la vie en rose.

 

UPHEAVAL IN THE AMERICAS

 

Between the chaos unleashed after the arrest of a drug lord's son in the host country and tensions in Brazil after protesters stormed public institutions, there was much to discuss as the three amigos met for their latest summit in Mexico. 

 

US president Joe Biden, Justin Trudeau and host Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador condemned the attacks against Brazil's legislature, presidential palace and supreme court, nearly two years to the day after the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol in Washington. 

 

In both countries protesters supporting a populist's failed re-election bid had gathered in great numbers to dispute the vote, causing chaos and destruction, as their neighbors looked on in disbelief. Like Donald Trump, ousted right wing populist Jair Bolsonaro had cast doubts about the result of recent presidential elections, narrowly lost to leftist Lula da Silva, a message of rejection which was echoed loudly on some social media platforms, accused of inflaming tensions in the deeply divided South American country. 

 

Security forces were sent to calm the situation in the capital Brasilia, arresting hundreds. This turn to violence over politics isn't new to the continent. The events in fact closely followed a  similar outburst by supporters of ousted Peruvian president Pedro Castillo, impeached and jailed last month. Supporters demanding his release set up roadblocks which caused major disruptions that lasted for weeks. 

 

As the three leaders, gathered to discuss migration and other issues they have been struggling with, mulled over the ramifications of the Brazilian riot, the host country was struggling to contain the violent aftermath of the arrest of the son of jailed drug lord Joaquin "el Chapo" Guzman, sparking violent attacks by drug gangs in a number of areas of the country, causing nations, including Canada and the US, to issue travel advisories targeting this very popular winter travel destination. 

 

Ovidio Guzman's extradition to the US was put on hold in the aftermath of his arrest, an operation which resulted in the death of 29 people. The US accuses him of being “a senior member of the Sinaloa cartel.” He had previously been arrested in 2019 but released soon after by the current president, who feared further bloodshed. The year certainly began on an alarming note in the Americas, but some see a silver lining despite the clashes. 

 

Timed right before the three amigos meeting, the arrest in Mexico may have been a way for Obrador to show his visitors that he is “in control of the armed forces and Mexico’s security situation,” according to Gladys McCormick, a Mexico-US relations specialist at Syracuse University. The violence abated soon afterwards. Brazil's security forces also quickly regained control of the situation in the capital, in a crackdown which arrested some 1,500 and resulted in injuries but no deaths, a notable outcome in a country marked by the excesses of military dictatorship. 

 

 Encouragingly, pro-democracy protests later condemned the riots but some suspect the military was supportive of the Bolsonaro camp. The amigos were also following another troubled spot, Haiti, still  mired in gang-related violence.


GRANDS RETOURS

 

Depuis quelques années le mouvement de restitution des oeuvres d'antiquité aux pays d'origine prend de l'ampleur, mais la pièce manquante, et de résistance, reste les marbres du Parthénon, encore logés au British museum, loin des côtes del la mer Egée, mais pour combien de temps encore. 

 

Récemment le prestigieux musée londonien confirmait que des "discussions constructives" étaient en cours avec les autorités grecques à propos des pièces inestimables dont la création précède la naissance du Christ. Les appels au retour ne datent pas d'hier et ont été nombreux depuis leur exportation par le Lord Elgin au XIXe siècle, mais la frise pourrait faire l'objet de la plus spectaculaire restitution du genre depuis le début de la campagne internationale des dernières années. 

 

En 2011 le musée californien Paul Getty retournait à l'Italie la statue de la déesse Morgantina, une pièce acquise par le musée en 1988 qui s'était avérée pillée et exportée illégalement par des intermédiaires pas toujours transparents. La statue est désormais au musée archéologique d'Aidone en Sicile, ayant, comme plusieurs autres pièces à travers le monde retrouvé sa patrie d'origine. 

 

En 2012 le musée Yale Peabody renvoyait au Pérou des milliers de pièces déterrées au Machu Picchu dont bijoux, céramiques et autres objets désormais retrouvés à Cuzco, cité névralgique pour tout visiteur du grand site péruvien faisant partie du patrimoine de l'UNESCO. Les deux partis étaient fiers que ce retour ait eu lieu après des tractations diplomatiques plutôt que sous une obligation judicière, ce qui n'a pas toujours été le cas dans ce genre d'affaire. 

 

Le musée d'art métropolitain de New York a notamment en 2006, et après de longues années de contentieux, dû retourner un vase grec ainsi que plusieurs autres oeuvres en Italie. Mais le retour du Yale Peabody a un peu ouvert les vannes, permettant au Pérou de se lancer à la conquête d'autres objets éparpillés à travers le monde, notamment des textiles retrouvés en Suède. 

 

Plus récemment, en 2021, c'était à plusieurs musées européens de renvoyer des pièces d'art dans leur pays d'origine, en Afrique notamment, butin d'un colonialisme à present condamné. Le retour de bronzes du Bénin du Quai Branly à Paris ont notamment fait la manchette, tout comme le retour d'une statue de bronze du Bénin, rapatriée au Nigéria. Mais ce n'est qu'un début. 

 

En 2018 une analyse du gouvernement français estimait à 90% la part de l'héritage culturel africain retrouvé dans divers musées occidentaux. Et pas tout le monde était près à envisager un renvoi des pièces les plus populaires. A cette époque, le maire de Londres Boris Johnson, devenu premier ministre par la suite, insistait notamment sur le fait que la frise de 75 mètres du Parthénon avaient été acquise "dans la légalité... selon les lois appropriées à l'époque." 

 

Les rumeurs actuelles laissent plutôt entendre la possibilité d'un prêt à long terme entre le British museum et Athènes dans le cadre d'un “échange culturel” qui éviterait au musée de démanteler sa collection, sans enfreindre la loi qui l'interdit de céder une partie de sa collection. 

 

Mais la Grèce n'y voit qu'une entente temporaire, estimant que les objets ont été effectivement pillés à une époque où la Grèce était sous occupation ottomane. Mais certains experts regrettent la perpective d'un tel transfert, même en Grèce. L'ancien directeur de musée d'Athènes Dimitris Michalopoulos estime que la frise serait bien mieux entretenue si elle demeurait en Grande-Bretagne.

 

 

DEFIANT STILL

 

As the new year began and with it the prospect of more months of bloodshed in Ukraine, there was no sign of despair in the battered country. If anything, its determination to prevail was stronger than ever, president Volodymyr Zelensky, in a holiday message, calling for "patience and faith" as the cold of winter gripped the country wracked by power failures. 

 

"In this battle, we have another powerful and effective weapon," he said, speaking with the steely determination that has become the war-time trade-mark of the former comedian. "The hammer and sword of our spirit and consciousness. The wisdom of God. Courage and bravery. Virtues that incline us to do good and overcome evil." 

 

After over 300 days of attacks such words never seemed to get old. The call for sacrifice, as poignant as ever, even as new rocket fire targeted Kherson, killing a dozen people on Christmas eve. The follow-ing day Ukraine replied, hitting a Russian bomber base using drones. 

 

Kyiv was no longer giving much thought to Vladimir Putin's half-hearted call for negotiations, almost plead-ing: "We are ready to negotiate with everyone involved about acceptable solutions, but that is up to them - we are not the ones refusing to negotiate, they are," Putin told Rossiya 1 state television, shortly after finally describing the conflict with Ukraine as war for the first time. 

 

But Ukraine has lost too much to back down now. "Russia single-handedly attacked Ukraine and is killing citizens," a Zelensky adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted. "Russia doesn't want negotiations, but tries to avoid responsibility."  The US agreed Moscow was just posturing, days after having received Zelensky in a rare foreign visit. His message to Congress has been just as poignant and defiant. 

 

"Against all odds and doom-and-gloom scenarios, Ukraine didn’t fall. Ukraine is alive and kicking," he said to U.S. lawmakers. "It gives me good reason to share with you our first joint victory: We defeated Russia in the battle for minds of the world. We have no fear, nor should anyone in the world have it. Ukrainians gained this victory, and it gives us courage which inspires the entire world." 

 

Ukraine wasn't alone, in fact had never been, receiving billions in military and other support from Western countries determined still to ensure Russia's failure, making increasingly daring military deliveries to their ally, including Patriot missile defenses. "If your Patriots stop the Russian terror against our cities, it will let Ukrainian patriots work to the full to defend our freedom," Zelensky told Congress. 

 

Putin said he was "100% sure" his military could "weed out" the weapon system, which he described as "fairly outdated", but then again he had been quite sure about a quick victory in Ukraine. The US announced $1.85 billion in new security assistance, and this support was money well spent, Zelensky stressed, an investment into a democracy being challenged across the world. "Your money is not charity. It’s an investment in the global security and democracy," he said. 

 

But Ukraine still "lacks the long-range strike capability and other offensive equipment it needs to maintain its momentum," argued a RANE intelligence analysis, some-thing it wasn't sure to acquire despite Zelensky's pleas in Washington amid thunderous applause in the legislature. But the targeting of the Engels air base in southern Russia, nearly 900km from Ukraine's border, showed Kyiv's growing reach using unmanned drones. It followed two other attacks in the region earlier in December. 

 

This sparked a call for tightened security measures in Russia that, if carried out, did not appear to prevent further attacks, leaving the governor or nearby Saratov to try to reassure citizens there was "absolutely no threat to residents." The war has however reached well into Russia by now, sparking cries from families of soldiers sent to the front. In his address to Congress Zelensky said another battle for freedom had to be waged, one by Russians against their own regime. 

 

"The Russians will stand a chance to be free only when they defeat the Kremlin in their minds," he said. "Yet, the battle continues, and we have to defeat the Kremlin on the battlefield." Of course there was only defiance from the Kremlin, Putin making his longest and most aggressive new year's message as the country's easternmost of its 11 time zones ushered in the new year, calling 2022 "a year of hard, necessary decisions." 

 

Russian officials sometimes even went as far as describing Russia's attacks as heroic efforts to "defend their fatherland." But as a new barrage of missiles landed in Ukrainian cities, including the capital, Ukraine lashed back with its usual defiance, Kyiv governor Oleksiy Kuleba saying "the terrorist state once again shows its cynicism. Even on New Year's Eve it continued to launch massive missile strikes," adding Russia did this "because it knows that for us it is the New Year, and for them it is the last." 

 

Addressing Russians, Zelensky, in his own year-end address, said Putin's attack was "burning "your country and your future." The new year attacks were preceded by the most important barrage of Russian strikes since the invasion, a sign Putin was not willing back down on his offensive despite making previous offers for negotiations. But Ukraine has been striking back with perhaps its most terrifying salvo, hitting barracks with its US-acquired HIMARS rockets in occupied Donetsk and reportedly killing hundreds of Russian soldiers in what would be among the deadliest days of the war. 

 

While the Kremlin is facing internal criticism for the mounting losses, military analysts in the West point out Ukraine's successes may only prolong the conflict by boosting support for Russian troops at a time of flagging morale. Recently Moscow said it would send clowns and other performers to boost troop morale, an effort not certain to succeed.

 

ELECTION VIDE

 

Douze ans après le printemps arabe on a depuis longtemps dépassé le seuil de la désillusion en Tunisie et crevé les rêves de démocratie qui pouvaient accompagner la disparition du despote qui régnait alors. 

 

À peine 11% des électeurs ont voté lors du premier tour d'un scrutin parlementaire largement boycotté par la plupart des partis politiques en décembre, un parlement, il faut l'avouer, sans véritable pouvoir un peu plus d'un an après le coup d'état constitutionnel du président Kaïs Saïed. 

 

La coalition d'opposition Front de salut national estime d'ailleurs que ce dernier a perdu toute légitimité en raison du faible taux de participation, en partie expliqué par la réforme électorale interdisant toute affiliation politique pour les candidats, qui d'ailleurs étaient peu connus. 

 

« C’est un grand désaveu populaire pour le processus enclenché en juillet 2021 quand Saïed a gelé la législature et limogé son premier ministre, s’arrogeant tous les pouvoirs, déclarait après le scrutin Ahmed Néjib Chebbi, le chef de la principale coalition d’opposants en Tunisie, appelant le président à «quitter ses fonctions immédiatement » et exigeant de nouvelles élections présidentielles. 

 

Le taux de participation a été bien plus faible que les prognostics les plus pessimistes le prédisaient, selon le politologue Hamadi Redissi: « C’est un désaveu personnel pour M. Saïed qui a décidé tout, tout seul », dit-il en entrevue à l'AFP. Mais alors que «sa légitimité est en cause» il note qu'«il n’existe aucun mécanisme juridique pour destituer le président ». 

 

L'appel à la mobilisation et aux manifestations se bute lui-même à la division de l'opposition. Le parlement, comme l'opposition, est également affaibli depuis l'adoption d'une constitution en été qui a réduit les prérogatives de la législature. 

 

"Il y a un vide politique qui s'est créé en Tunisie aussi bien du côté de l'opposition que dans le camp présidentiel, qui n'a ni parti ni mouvement pour relayer ses messages au sein de l'opinion publique", estime le chercheur Vincent Geisser. 

 

C'est le pays de manière générale qui est affaibli, à la fois par l'important taux de chômage, qui était déjà d'actualité il y a plus de 10 ans, et l'inflation galopante accompagnée des pénuries de produits essentiels comme le lait, de sucre, de riz, sans parler de leurs effets d'apauvris-sement. 

 

Le report par le Fonds monétaire international à la nouvelle année d’un accord définitif sur un nouveau prêt de 2 milliards de dollars a également été perçu comme un rejet du gouvernement en place. "Ces élections ont renforcé les préoccupations occidentales sur le cap choisi par le président Saïed, aussi bien sur le plan politique et démocratique que sur le plan économique, ajoute Geisser. 

 

Les partenaires occidentaux ont l'impression qu'il gouverne par la rhétorique en désignant des responsables de la situation socio-économique mais sans avoir de réel programme." En attendant le ministre de l'économie admet que "l'année 2023 sera difficile". 


THE FAILED COUPS

 

They were brief affairs of a few hours in small nations that ultimately met with failure but enough to inspire broader questions about Africa's struggle with democracy. Months after Sao Tome lived through a failed coup attempt, the small nation of Gambia said in December it had avoided the fate of so many countries across the continent in recent years. Some more than once. 

 

Half a dozen soldiers were arrested and others sought for their attempt to topple the government, an act condemned by the president of neighboring Senegal, who also heads the African Union: "The UA vigorouly rejects any attempt to take power by military means and is in solidarity with the Gambian government." 

 

President Adama Barrow was re-elected in 2021 after intially taking power in 2017, ending decades of dictatorship. Some see former strongman Yahya Jammeh behind the recent attempt, citing a meeting during which he said, days before the arrests, he would return to the country from exile in Guinea to reclaim his post. 

 

"What's happening to the African continent?" enquired Burkina Faso online site Wakatsera. "Between failed coup attempts and successful coups democracy is looking for itself." It was no small irony the site was based in Ouagadougou, which saw not one but two coups take place last year alone, joining other countries where the military has taken over. 

 

But while attempts failed in Guinea Bissau and Mali this year (one had been successful there both in 2021 and 2020), the ones in Burkina Faso, in January and September, prolonged the continent's history of assaults on democracy and constitutional order. Though these days soldiers tend to topple other soldiers. 

 

Barrow was in the midst of a reform of his security services when the latest coup attempt took place. He had already faced one shortly after he initially took power. A regional force mostly made of Senegalese soldiers ensures his security since Barrow's rise to power. This choice of foreign troops irritates some members of the brass in the small nation of 2.5 million surrounded by Senegal. 

 

Troops from Ghana and Nigeria also protect key transport infrastructures. A former minister has also separately been arrested for producing a video suggesting Barrow would be toppled in this year's local elections. 

 

An investigative commission has been launched into the coup attempt, the government claiming it has already uncovered wider internal and external, as well as civilian, support for the coup. Plotters were said of targeting electrical installations as well as radio stations and the airport, while going after high-placed government officials. 

 

The outlook hardly looks encouraging for the months ahead. Right before Christmas Burkina Faso expelled a UN coordinator for warning that country faced "chaos" in the coming months, as a UN mission gets underwa to assess the country's situation.

 

CALME APRÈS LA TEMPÊTE

 

Après des semaines de tensions parfois violentes, la crise semblait de dissiper en début d'année au Pérou, théâtre de manifestations et blocages depuis la destitution du président Pedro Castillo en décembre, mais le calme durera-t-il jusqu'à la tenue des prochaines élections? 

 

L'actuelle présidente Dina Boluarte avait rejeté les appels à la démission et demandé au congrès de convoquer des élections générales anticipées alors que le compte de morts augmentait lors de cette crise qui paralysait plusieurs axes routiers et transports à travers le Pérou. 

 

Le tout avait dégénéré début décembre lorsque Castillo a tenté d'organiser un auto-coup d'État avec pour but de fermer le parlement et de gouverner par décret. Il fut promptement arrêté alors qu'il tentait de rejoindre l'ambassade du Mexique pour demander l'asile après avoir été destitué par le congrès. 

 

Il fait actuellement l'objet d'accusations de rébellion et de complot, des accusations qu'il rejette, se considérant toujours un chef d'état en fonction. Ses supporters avaient pris le contrôle de plusieurs axes routiers lors d'une crise qui a isolé plusieurs régions et quelque temps pris en otage des centaines de touristes étrangers, notamment venus visiter le site archéologique de Macchu Picchu. 

 

"Ce n'est que par le calme, la cordialité et un dialogue sincère et ouvert que nous pourrons travailler (...) Comment pouvons-nous nous battre entre Péruviens, gâcher nos institutions, bloquer les routes?" déclarait la première présidente de la nation andine, déplorant la mort de douzaines d'individus, certains mineurs, lors des affrontements. 

 

Les manifestants exigaient la libération de Castillo, un radical de gauche issu de classe modeste, la démission de Boluarte - pourtant membre du même parti - la fermeture du parlement et des élections générales immédiates. Là-dessus les deux camps s'entendaient, mais il revenait au congrès d'avancer le scrutin prévu pour 2026, ce qu'il fit, mais pour 2024 seulement. 

 

Entre temps les tensions restent vives et la présidente est impopulaire dans une bonne partie de la population. Cette dernière a dû procéder à plusieurs changements minis-tériels, le ministre de l'éducation ayant notamment rendu sa démission, déplorant une "mort de compatriotes sans justification" durant le plus fort de la crise, ajoutant que "la violence de l'état ne pouvait pas être disproportionnée et causer la mort." 

 

 

Les violences sont notamment symboliques dans le sud quechua du pays, lieu des victoires de Simon Bolivar contre l'occupation espagnole, une région pauvre qui a connu de sombres jours durant la dictature du siècle dernier. 

 

Une dizaine de personnes sont notamment mortes dans la capitale régionale d'Ayacucho  lors des affrontements de décembre. Alors que de nombreux barrages ont été démantelés, certains tardaient à l'être, provocant des appels au calme. 

 

Les tensions restent vives entre le Pérou et le Mexique également, qui a offert l'asile à la famille de Castillo et a été accusé d'ingérence pour  avoir soutenu l'ancien président, causant le départ des ambassadeurs dans les deux pays sans cependant rompre les relations entre les capitales. C'est en fait la gauche latino- américaine qui s'était rangée derrière Castillo début décembre.

 

 

HEALTH ALERTS

 

With schools closed, soccer games played in front of empty stands and city-wide lockdowns, it seems like a  flashback to the fall of 2020, but this is China right now, a reminder the covid pandemic hasn't lessened its grip on the world as that regime is still choosing to apply a severe zero-covid strategy. 

 

The contrast is stark with the West, where much of this belongs to the past but health measures are still being encouraged as the flu season takes a severe grip on hospitals in conjunction with climbing  RSV cases among children, clogging  ICUs and making authorities rethink their policies on mask wearing. 

 

While Ontario and Quebec, where hospitals have been inundaded with sick children amid a Canada-wide child medicine shor-tage, have encouraged their citizens to wear masks again in public when distancing is not possible, they have come short of mandating masks, an issue which is still provoking protests. A school board meeting was cut short in Ottawa on a night trustees were supposed to vote on mask measures in school after participants were shouted down. 

 

But provincial health officials are struggling as the province deals with a new health crisis, mostly affecting the young. One Ontario two year old was nearly translferred to New York state because of the lack of ICU beds, but there as well  emergencies have been flooded with sick children, making access to ICU beds more difficult. In both countries staffing shortages and nursing home issues are making matters worse, and experts warn we have yet to hit the peak of the flu season. 

 

“This is not just an issue. This is a crisis,” told the Washington Post Anne Klibanski, president and CEO of Mass General Brigham in Boston, in an echo of cries heard throughout the pandemic. “We are caring for patients in the hallways of our emergency departments. There is a huge capacity crisis, and it’s becoming more and more impossible to take care of patients correctly and provide the best care that we all need to be providing." 

 

The staffing shortages come after two intense relentless years which have drained health staff, leaving some burned out and no longer willing to work in the profession. In the US more than half a million people quit their health-care and social services positions in  September alone, while according to the American Medical Association 1 in 5 doctors plan on leaving the field within two years. 

 

There has been little reprieve in this field despite the improved covid numbers, but thousands still die from the illness every month across the world. China, ground zero of the outbreak, has done remarkably well cutting fatalities, but this is at the cost of prolonged restrictions. Last week the country of 1.4 billion reported its first covid deaths in six months, bringing the country's official death toll to just over 5,200. 

 

While the achievement is remarkable, it has not come without protest in view of draconian covid fighting measures, the latest shutting schools and businesses as the capital came to a grinding halt, keeping three million people in a section of the city at home. Travelling to Beijing requires another measure that belongs to the past elsewhere, testing and quarantining during these tests. And these covid measures have sparked rare protests, including recently after a baby died after her medical care was delayed by covid restrictions. 

 

Protest has also gripped the world's largest iPhone producing plant, bringing production to a halt. In North America the flu, not covid, is responsible for most ICU visits, while France activated a national emergency response plan to deal with soaring bronchiolitis infections among children. This will free additional resources as the country deals with the  highest number of bronchiolitis-related hospitalizations in more than 10 years, children there and elsewhere being exposed to bugs for the first time as pandemic measures are lifted. In a single week 7,000 children had to be admitted in ICUs across France. 

 

While Spain has not seen the same level of outbreaks health care workers have also complained about staff shortages, coming out in massive protests while doctors staged a one day strike, decrying what they consider to be a dismantling of the public health system in favor of more private approaches. The conservative government however says it is politically motivated action by leftist unions, but there as elsewhere the aftermath of the pandemic is being felt in the industry. 

 

A number of European countries were witnessing the same shortage of  medicines seen in North America due to distribution and other issues. Top of the list, amoxicillin, a major antibiotic prescribed to children on both sides of the pond from Oregon state to France. That country's public health agency said shortages could continue well into the new year, even until March. 

 

Canada meanwhile, which has been facing child medication shortages for weeks, said a special shipment of over a million units was coming to relieve shortages, as Canadians crossed the border into the U.S., often overwhelming border pharma-cies there too. A shortage of doctors in Canada is also making the fall's health crisis more acute, leaving parents in a blind panic. Doctor shortages were also a problem in the UK, and according to one study, only made worse by Brexit on top of everything else. But all this is far removed from the Chinese reality. 

 

Like everyone else the Chinese have been watching the World Cup but wondering if it is happening on another planet with its full stadiums and unmasked fans. This contrast and a deadly fire in the West of the country where delayed rescue efforts were blamed on covid measures sparked nationwide protests the likes of which have been unseen since 1989. While crackdowns ensued, Beijing did ease some of the restrictions following the unprecedented unrest, but stuck to the overall goal of its "zero covid" strategy.

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