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NOT THE USUAL COUP

Soldiers appear in the streets, then on television and declare the sitting leader has been ousted and the country's institutions are suspended, its borders closed.

 

That is usually how a coup d'etat takes place. Follows  the condemnation from foreign capitals and world organizations, pleading for a return to the constitutional order. But this recipe for takeover can vary, and this may be why the aftermath of presidential elections in Guatemala has not received the same attention as the coup in Gabon despite the cries by president-elect Bernardo Arevalo that one is also occurring there and he is being blocked from taking power after being declared winner with 58% of the vote.

 

The 64-year-old sociologist certainly caused an electoral surprise, first when he made the cut for the run-off and then by upsetting first round winner Sandra Torres, a former first lady, in the second round. Now Arevalo says the establishment is out to deny his victory. “There is a group of corrupt politicians and officials who refuse to accept this result and have launched a plan to break the constitutional order and violate democracy,” he said.

 

This comes after his party, Movimiento Semilla, was suspended following claims there were anomalies when it was registered. But the prosecutor and judge behind the suspension are themselves on a US list of "corrupt actors" under the microscope for election interference. While the suspension would not prevent the transfer of power from taking place it could hamstring the party and make it more difficult to govern this troubled Central American country struggling with poverty and corruption.

 

Arevalo says his commitment to fight corruption has raised alarm bells in the establishment. The road here has already been mined with challenges. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said Arevalo and his deputy Karin Herrera were “subjected to stigmatisation, harassment, hounding, public disclosure of personal details on social media, and threats including two specific plans to hurt them and even kill them.”

 

Arevalo has pledged to reduce poverty and improve health and education, providing a glimmer of hope in a violence-torn country more than a majority of people say is ruled by corrupt politicians and is heading in the wrong direction. Outgoing President Alejandro Giam-mattei has politicised the courts during his mandate and the tribunals had previously banned three anti-establishment candidates from running.

 

Now Arevalo says he is facing the same campaign determined to prevent radical changes in Guatemala. Last week he said he was suspending his participation in the transition after government agents raided electoral facilities and opened boxes of votes in a probe of the voting process observers say had no foundation. Experts called this an "unprecedented" violation of the law. For Arevalo, it's all part of a deviation of the constitution "fully towards a clear coup d'etat in progress."

GABON'S TURN

In case you missed it, Gabon's Ali Bongo was the featured leader for August in the West African calendar of deposed strongmen. While some critics were stunned yet another relatively stable country of West Africa followed the well-travelled military path there is no doubt the contagion is spreading concern among others in the region spared so far.

 

For if Gabon, where Bongo and his clan had been in power for decades, why not Cameroon to the north, where Paul Biya holds court since 1982? But not all coups are made equal. Unlike Niger, where an elected president had been deposed by the brass, Gabon ousted an unpopular despot who had gone to bed thinking his latest staged re-election was in the bag only to be placed under house arrest by the military, which declared the elderly statesman had formally entered into retirement.

 

"I am calling on you to make noise," Bongo pleaded in a desperate online video message which showed the extent of his fall and isolation. But the noise in the streets was that of jubilation after 14 years of his personal rule and an election which had not passed the smell test. The soldiers, who lifted his chosen successor in the air publicly in celebration - ironically the head of the presidential guard, Gen. Brice Oligui Nguema -, listed a litany of accusations to justify their move. They cited "irresponsible, unpredictable governance resulting in a continuing deterioration in social cohesion that risks leading the country into chaos".

 

It was the eighth coup in the region in three years, sounding new alarms in world capitals concerned about  their interests and overall instability in West Africa, a region already punished by jihadist attacks. Former French president Francois Hollande said allowing the first putsch in Mali in 2020 to take place with little opposition set the stage for others to follow aross the region, emboldening the region's militaries. Africa analyst Seidik Abba said Gabon had gathered the "usual ingredients of the coup d’État".

 

But opposition leader Albert Ondo Ossa saw things differently, calling events a "palace revolution" rather than a coup because Nguema is a cousin of Bongo's. "The Bongos found they had to remove Ali to effectively continue the Bongo system... the Bongo clan continues to wield power behind him."  He called on Paris to weigh in, saying he had warned France of such a possible outcome.

 

The old colonial power was once again scrambling, seeing its interests in the region dwindle by the day, though it was not immediately clear what the impact would be. Gabon is an oil-rich country with important French petroleum and military interests. After initially freezing all national institutions the junta said it would gradually return some of  them during a transition period of  unspecified length.

DROUGHT IN THE CANAL

This time it's not a ship running aground which is blocking a major cargo traffic waterway, leaving some to consider alternatives, but low water levels, bringing more hardship to an already challenged global goods distribution industry a few months before Christmas. And the problem is a recurring one which may keep getting worse with global warming, some fear.

 

Again this year severe droughts have caused water levels to go down in the Panama Canal system, which requires 200 million litres of freshwater for each vessel to move through its locks. Normally 40 ships would travel the 82-kilometres waterway daily, but authorities have had to reduce this number to 32 while limiting how deep ships sit in the water. Last week officials said these restrictions would go on for the next 10 months, causing a backlog of ships off the coast waiting to make the journey through Panama while some are left to consider alternate routes.

 

The most obvious one, through the Magellan strait at the tip of the continent, is quite the detour. As in 2019 when El Nino limited precipitations, it is the lack of rainfall which is making the trip more difficult, and authorities have been working to maintain water levels sufficient. They note the wet season has been shrinking in recent years while droughts have increased, leaving a canal region so critical to global shipping industries seeing consecutive years of lower than average rainfall, dropping water levels below the  comfort zone, ultimately imposing restrictions on cargo levels.

 

It is the repetition of these dry spells which is causing observers to wonder how traffic could be impacted down the road, and whether other viable options should be considered for hauling cargo across the world. "The big disadvantage that the Panama Canal has as a maritime route is that we operate with freshwater, while others use seawater," said Canal administrator Ricaurte Vasquez recently. "We have to find other solutions to remain a relevant route for international trade. If we don't adapt, we are going to die."

 

This would be another blow to trade, with around 6 per cent of all global maritime commerce relying on the canal. It would also be a blow to the country which collects billions annually from the passage of ships. The current restrictions may cut earnings by as much as $200 million in 2024 compared to this year, according to Vasquez, who fears shippers will look elsewhere for alternatives. But climate change may make this challenge a permanent one, notably by making El Nino phenomenons more frequent. "We are observing in the canal area that climatic events are becoming increas-ingly extreme," said Steve Paton of the Smithsonian tropical research institute, who notes the biggest droughts have taken place in the last few decades and recent years have been the driest in history.

 

Growing Panama City, at one end of the canal, and agriculture needs across the country, have been taxing water levels as well. And the crisis is casting some doubt on future expansion projects in the canal. Shifting water levels delayed early stages of this expansion for even larger transport vessels, and should the uncertainty continue or worsen, this could bring companies to consider other options. Panamanian officials analysing long term solutions have considered everything from stopping hydroelectric operations, which has already started, to digging a third artificial lake or piping water in from a river. 

 

“They’re going to have to do all of them,” told the Economist former environment minister Merei Heras a few years ago. When the US first considered developing a canal to cut shipping times between the two coasts, it settled on Panama, but a Nicaraguan route was also being considered at first, an alternative that may once more come under consideration. A decade ago a Chinese businessman considered a canal through Panama's northern neighbor.

 

While the project never materialized, the idea of a Central American alternative hasn't gone away. One would be "technically feasible", tells the BBC Jean-Paul Rodrigue of Hofstra University, but there would be obstacles. "The problem is the distances involved are much longer, significantly longer," he points out. Others would involve costs both monetary and environmental. Rodrigue says $40 bil. could get you started, but ecological ramifications would be daunting considering the rainforest and wetlands destructions sure to accompany it. In fact one has to wonder if the Panama Canal itself could be built today.      

TIME FOR A JAB UPDATE?

As health authorities remind people to update their covid vaccines ahead of the coming cold season amid an uptick in cases, diseases we thought had been eradicated a long time ago were making their reappearance in the West, putting health officials on alert and reminding the importance of keeping various jabs up to date. Measles, chickenpox and malaria are just some of the diseases which have reappeared on both sides of the pond, and resistance to vaccines and climate change are being blamed for the surge.

 

The latter is having an impact worldwide, increas-ing health concerns about everything from anthrax to dengue, which could reach record highs this year, with cases popping up in Sudan's capital for the first time but also in Europe. More menacingly, as temperatures rise deadly diseases such as Ebola, Lassa and monkeypox increase and threaten to cross over into North America, according to the US Centers for Disease Control. In fact an mpox outbreak is currently affecting 113 countries and territories, and the United States has the highest number of cases since January 2022, over 30,000, followed by Brazil and Spain.

 

Countries in the top 10 include Canada and Germany. While there is a vaccine for mpox, it is not always the case for many diseases, and health officials are aware they may be facing vaccination fatigue after the pandemic years. So they are warning of the threats of diseases making a comeback when uptake is slow, pointing to measles in particular, surging both the US and UK. London officials were bracing for potentially tens of thousands of cases due to low levels of vaccination. The UK Health Security Agency warned anything from 40,000 to 160,000 cases could be reported in the capital alone, viewed as less immune than the rest of the country.

 

But overall levels of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccinations in the UK were at their lowest level in a decade as people failed to keep their vaccines up to date during the pandemic. Uptake had already been declining in the early 2000s after false claims of a link between the vaccine and autism, which have been discredited since. This falsehood was still being waved around during the covid anti-vax movement however. With that movement going on strong in the US as well, it is no surprise that country has also seen an uptick in cases of measles, especially in New York City. Measles was considered wiped out there by the turn of the century but a number of outbreaks have been recorded since.

 

Other preventable diseases seeing outbreaks include mumps, with a number of cases popping up at Ohio State university this spring, largely through unvaccinated students. Other preventable diseases reappearing include whooping cough and chicken pox, which both saw outbreaks starting just over a decade ago. Cases of pertussis and mumps have also been on the rise, with vaccine refusal being fingered for the increase as well as insufficient or waning immunity.

 

Drug resistance is also contributing to some of the rises, experts pointing to tuberculosis in particular as an example as cases creep up again across the world. Such resistance could also lead to more sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea. But amid all this experts point to one factor perhaps preparing the largest resurgence of diseases yet, climate change, one not only tied to the environment but the animal kingdom as well. Intense flooding, which was recently seen in China and parts of the US, can overwhelm drains and back up sewer lines, as happened in Paris weeks ago and Ottawa more recently, triggering possible contamination of water supplies. In the worst cases this can increase the  threat of outbreaks of cholera.

 

Warmer temperatures and high levels of precipitations also develop breeding grounds of tropical mosquito populations, risking a surge in malaria, which saw surprising cases reported in the southern US including Florida. The state is an odd incubator of exotic diseases, being home to one in five leprosy cases in the U.S. Over the summer organizations warned cases of dengue fever could reach record highs through the spread of mosquitoes. Cases since 2000 have risen globally eight fold, up to 4.2 million by last year accord to the World Health Organisation.

 

Peru declared a state of emergency in most regions related to the disease as already 3 million cases were being reported in the Americas, with concerns spreading to Bolivia and Paraguay as well. Argentina, facing its worst outbreak in years, started sterilizing mosquitoes in its fight against the spread. "The American region certainly shows it is bad and we hope the Asian region may be able to control it," said Raman Velayudhan of WHO, warning "about half of the world's population is at risk of dengue."

 

The movement of animals of all sizes due to climate change is also creating new opportunities for contact with humans and the potential to spread diseases, experts warn.  Among them they mention wildlife carrying rabies venturing to new geographic areas and rises in vole populations that can spread diseases such as Alaskapox in warming areas of the north. Rising temperatures also promote the spread of disease-carrying fungi largely out of mind for many. Up north the melting permafrost is also sparking alarm it may unleash diseases both known and unknown. Experts know calls to update covid boosters will be a tough sell amid the vaccine fatigue. Officials in Canada have had to throw out 14 million doses of the vaccine as demand dried up over the year. But resurging diseases show the risks of not taking the occasional jab update.

ECUADOR GOES ON WITH VOTE

Ecuador's elections are heading for a run off in a tense environment marked by assassinations. For months the usually peaceful small South American country best known for its distinct geographic location and biodiversity had been crippled by political disruption and drug-related violence. In the lead up to Ecuador's presidential vote legislature member and anti-corruption candidate Fernan-do Villavicencio, a former journalist, said he had been threatened by a drug gang leader.

 

Then following a campaign stop in Quito 11 days before the presidential vote, the 59-year-old was gunned down, bringing political opponents together to condemn the slaying. President Guillermo Lasso, who triggered the election after resigning following two failed impeachment attemps, joined others saying he was "outraged and shocked" by the assassination, vowing "this crime will not go unpunished".

 

"Organized crime has come a long way, but the full weight of the law is going to fall on them," he said, an admission itself of the growing crime wave which has made the small country of 17 million experience the same barbary witnessed in Colombia in its heyday. But as Bogota finally reached a peace deal with the last rebel group which once waged war against the state, Ecuador lived a true nightmare as gangs vied for the precious drug routes that now snake their way through the Andean nation.

 

This was only the latest high profile death after the murder of the mayor of Manta had also triggered a state of emergency, as the nation struggled to contain gang violence which took over its prisons and spilled into its streets. Over the last two years violence in prisons across the country claimed hundreds of lives, sparked by a riot in the country's largest institution, La Litoral, killing some 120 people in September 2021.

 

Others have followed since amid turf wars between cartels fighting over the shipment of drugs through Ecuador. In a single gang attack last April a dozen people were killed including a 13-year-old girl. The violence has become a major theme of the campaign, with one candidate looking to El Salvador for inspiration, a country where hard line on gangs has brought down violence, but not without raising alarms by human rights organizations.

 

Jan Topic, a businessman from Guayaquil, a coastal city overrun by violence otherwise known as a launching pad for trips to the Galapagos islands, says that president Nayib Bukele's is a proven method against crime, despite the charges of rights violations. “Since Bukele came to power, the number of homicides per 100,000 inhabitants has dropped from 36 to zero, ” he said, adding, “he did not back down, he confronted the mafias, he confronted all the political parties, Congress, he did it without backing down.”

 

Ecuador was looking to toughen its stance, sending soldiers to the streets and moving one gang leader to a maximum security institution but refused to push back the date of the election. 

ÊTRE PRÊT POUR LA CANICULE

L'été 2003 une canicule sans précédent emportait des milliers de vies en France, souvent des personnes âgées sans accès à une climatisation salvatrice. Vingt ans plus tard, malgré ces terribles leçons, une étude du magazine Lancet est venue rappeler la vulnerabilité de la capitale française à un an des jeux olympiques et alors que fournaise et feux brûlent la Méditerranée.

 

Largement épargnée cet été, pour l'instant, Paris reste menacée par les canicules de l'avenir, qui guettent ses habitants plus qu'ailleurs selon le magazine scientifique. Il s'agit en fait de la capitale européenne la moins préparée pour une telle éventualité selon une étude passant en revue 854 villes entre 2000 et 2019. La métropole de 11 millions d'habitants arrivait en tête de liste dans la catégorie des risques liés à la chaleur dans tous les groupes d'âge, une situation qui ne va pas s'améliorer avec les changements climatiques.

 

"Isoler des facteurs spécifiques est difficile, explique à France 24 Pierre Masselot, auteur de l'étude et chercheur à l'École d'hygiène et de médecine tropicale de Londres. La taille et la densité de la ville contribuent clairement au risque accru". Et les moins bien nantis sont souvent victimes en temps de canicule. "Paris étant une grande ville, elle a aussi davantage d’habitants de milieux populaires", dit-il, vivant dans des zones souvent peu vertes ou climatisées. "Si on ajoute à cela le fait que ces populations ont davantage de problèmes de santé, on comprend vite pourquoi elles sont particu-lièrement à risque".

 

Les célèbres toits de la capitale en zinc y sont pour quelquechose, étant un métal qui absorbe la chaleur et contribue, avec le bitume et la concentration de bâtiments élevés bloquant le vent, à produite un ilot de chaleur sans merci. Sans parler de la pollution, qui aide également à stocker la chaleur. Mais le manque d'expérience des grandes chaleurs y est également pour quelquechose, "Les villes habituées aux vagues de chaleur se sont déjà adaptées.

 

À Madrid, le risque de mortalité y est légèrement plus faible qu’à Paris à température égale", ajoute Masselot. Pourtant celle-ci n'est pas épargnée non plus. L'été a été particulièrement torride dans le bassin méditerranéen, et l'Espagne et la Grèce n'y ont pas échappé. Athènes a dû d'ailleurs limiter l'accès à l'Acropole en temps de grande chaleur, et la capitale grecque ne sera pas épargnée dans l'avenir. Tout comme Paris, le béton, la forte densité et le manque d'espaces verts à Athènes en fait une capitale vulnérable, sans parler de son emplacement dans un bol formé de montagnes qui capte la pollution en place, même si celle-ci s'est passablement améliorée avec le temps.

 

"Avec le béton et l'asphalte, les villes devien-nent des îlots de chaleurs. À Athènes il y a très peu d'espaces verts permettant de faire baisser les températures, résume à l'AFP Kostas Lagouvardos de l'Institut pour la recherche environnementale et le développement durable de l'Observatoire national d’Athènes, et les forêts qui entourent la ville disparaissent à cause des incendies".

 

Ce phénomène s'est encore produit cet été aux portes de la métropole de 4 millions d'habitants. La ville est la deuxième plus dense en Europe, et ceci a été exacerbé par une construction peu ordonnée. "En Grèce on construit tout le temps et partout ! C'est le plus gros problème," estime l'urbaniste Aris Kalandides. Selon WWF la densité espace vert par habitant y est le dixième de ce que préconise l'Organisation mondiale de la santé, soit 0,96 m2 au lieu de 9 m2.

 

Les critiques dénoncent un manque de volonté politique, deux  ans après la nomination de la première responsable du climat à Athènes, qui doit mettre en place une stratégie d'adaptation des infrastruc-tures au changement climatique. Les ilots de chaleur, qui peuvent varier de quartier en quartier, ignorent la géographie. Aux Etats-Unis, la Nouvelle-Orléans, New York et Houston ont été classés parmi les plus vulnérables à cet effet. Malgré sa position septentrionnale le Canada n'a pas été épargné. Une canicule en 2010 a fait  plus de 300 victimes au Québec seulement.

SUMMER OF DISCONTENT

From Hollywood to Ottawa, London to Johannesburg, Seoul and beyond, recent weeks and months have been marked by strikes of all sorts involving everything from health care workers to longshoremen, actors, writers and truck drivers. Their geographic locations and occupations vary, but not so much their cause and plight, in particular better wages. This Summer's Hollywood strike began as Canada's longest public service strike affected tens of thousands nationwide.

 

In the meantime young doctors held their longest strike ever in England while Kenyan and Bangladeshi protesters clashed with police protesting rising costs. Indeed inflation has been a major motivation sending many to the streets  or contemplating job action, a move itself not without costs to the individuals or the economies as a whole. "I think what we are seeing is the reaction to the cost of living crisis and people taking more extreme measures and demands for pay rises," observes Jimena Blanco of Verisk Maplecroft. While this has been a constant in the developing world is it now hitting the West as well, where people haven't seen double digit inflation in decades. "Strikes are just the symptom of the economic situations families are dealing with," she tells Aj-Jazeera.

 

But that may be only part of the picture. Indeed in the West, in the US in particular, data from the Labor of Statistics show the number of people who went on strike jumped 50% last year already compared to 2021, though to be fair that earlier year was still very much lost in the unusual environment of the pandemic, where those who hadn't lost their jobs were thankful to still be working, many of them remotely.

 

Since the beginning of 2023 there is no doubt North America has seen a boost in strike action, from Vancouver where dock workers were voting on an agreement, to Starbucks, Hollywood and overseas. "It tends to be cyclical that in a stronger economy workers are more willing to walk off the job," observes Harry Holzer of Georgetown University. They are therefore in a better bargaining position since "employers need them more." In addition many came out of the pandemic feeling under-appreciated, he adds, while those who were deemed essential came out feeling burnt out. For many, this launched an evaluation of their professional lives. "I think a lot of people came out of the pandemic feeling like they didn't necessarily want to take the usual guff."

 

Penn State professor Paul Clark also notes approval of unions in the US reached over 70% "which is the highest it's been in decades," especially among younger workers. And union wins, such as what Canada's largest public service union trumpeted after hundreds of thousands walked off the job earlier this year, are closely observed by other workers. "If there are unionized workers who are going on strike and they get their demands of increased wages and certain benefits, research shows that unions have spillover effects," tells Marketplace Margaret Poydock of the Economic Policy Institute.

 

That's why this year's Canadian public service strike was so influential, being watched across the country by other both union and non union workers struggling with the new realities of high inflation and remote work. And many of these strikes have not been without success, the workers of American airline United scoring a 35% hike in wages. Of course such high increases in any industry risk upping inflation as the costs are passed on to consumers, who have been flocking back to the air in great numbers since the lifting of travel restrictions.

 

"The eyes of the world and particularly the eyes of labour are upon us," said Hollywood union president Fran Drescher, a former TV star himself, as the job actions which paralyzed studios and shooting across the world dragged on. "What's happening to us is happening across all fields of labour."  The rise in union support comes at a time some major players such as Amazon and Walmart, and U.S. food giants such as McDonald's and Starbucks, continue their fight to prevent union membership by their members, often but not always succeeding. A U.S. court in fact is looking into a tweet Elon Musk wrote threatening to withdraw stock options from employees joining unions.

 

Union members or not workers are feeling the pinch and this is all the more difficult as they are also seeing corporations raking in profits. "Large corporations have made record gains while working class households have struggled," says Simon Black of Brock university. "I think there's good evidence that the corporate profits and not workers' wages have contributed dispropor-tionately to inflation." Corporations' embrace of artificial intelligence have also increased worker concerns across the board, in all fields, leaving some feeling helpless and forcing them to protest as a last resort.

 

According to a recent PwC survey only 22% said their workload was often or usually manageable, an ongoing issue now made worse by new technologies considering "additional force of disruption emerged this year with the very rapid rise of generative artificial intelligence" embraced by many sectors. Even Hollywood,  where background actors fear they could be replaced by AI using their digital likeness. Meanwhile a string of rejected tentative agreement deals in Canada is also a sign workers are more willing to dig in their heels." Pre-pandemic, union members were content with wage increases that more or less kept pace with inflation,” said Larry Savage of Brock University. But some  expect a better deal now.

ZONE A RISQUE?

Elle n'était pas particulièrement dévastatrice la tornade au sud d'Ottawa cette semaine, ni les deux de la mi-juillet, mais c'est leur multiplication qui donne des sueurs froides aux observateurs de ces phénomènes. Certes il y eut plus de 125 habitations endommagées à Barrhaven en juillet mais aucune perte totale ou blessure grave, c'était autre chose que ces horreurs qui emportent communautés et vies dans le coeur des Etats-Unis. Mais la répétition de ce genre d'acte de la nature et de caprices connexes transforme peu à peu cette région centrale et plus peuplée du pays où siège le gouvernement.

 

En 2018 une demi-douzaine de tornades à Gatineau et Ottawa, dont une EF-3, endommagèrent plus de 300 habitations. L'année suivante une tornade à Orléans, à l'est d'Ottawa, causa des débris sur environ deux douzaines de rues. Celles de la mi-juillet sont venues s'ajouter au compte alors que les météorologues analysent cet après-midi turbulent qui a également causé au moins une autre tornade dans la région de Mirabel. Le bilan est lourd sur cinq ans dans ce corridor au point où certains analystes le baptisent à la manière américaine de "corridor des tornades".

 

Le Canada est le deuxième, et de loin, pays le plus marqué par ce genre de phénomène après les Etats-Unis, mais l'étude de ces développements est relativement récente au pays. Pourtant elle permet déjà de constater un déplacement de ce genre de phénomène des prairies de l'ouest vers le centre plus peuplé du Canada. "Il nous reste beaucoup de travail à faire pour récupérer les données et confirmer cette tendance mais cela semble être le cas, déclare à la CBC David Sills du Northern Tornadoes Project. Et ceci n'augure rien de bon si on songe aux population qui vivent entre Windsor et Québec," le corridor le plus densément peuplé au pays.

 

Si le NTP avait enregistré 70 tornades en 2017, avec le temps et les participations du public ce chiffre a grimpé dans les 120 en 2021 et l'an dernier, mais ce n'est peut-être que la pointe de l'iceberg dans le deuxième pays le plus étendu de la planête. "On constate avec le travail que l'on a fait depuis 2017 que de nombreuses tornades semblent se développer dans l'est de l'Ontario et le sud-ouest du Québec, et pas autant dans les prairies," ajoute Sills. Pourtant celles-ci n'ont pas été entièrement épargnées, et les incident ont été violents.

 

La tornade qui a frappé le nord de Calgary le jour de la fête du Canada était une EF-4, une des plus violentes jamais enregistrées au pays, et il faut croire que le phénomène va se multiplier. "Ce que l'on voit concorde avec les projections des changements climatiques," soupire Sills. Par conséquent, tout comme les habitations dans les zones séismiques, celles du corridor devraient être bâties avec des normes conséquentes selon un conseiller qui étudie la question après les tornades de Barrhaven.

 

La région de la capitale n'a pas seulement été écorchée par des tornades ces derniers temps mais plusieurs tempêtes violentes - notamment une l'an dernier qui avait arraché arbres, poteaux électriques et détruit silos à grain et clochers - et des inondations régulières qui en tout causent au moins un événement climatique destructeur par année.

 

Dans certaines zones visées par des intempéries à répétition, et ce n'est pas encore tout à fait le cas ici pour l'instant, les compagnies d'assurance ont sévi. Deux d'entre elles ont déjà décidé d'abandonner la Floride, un état plus peuplé que l'Ontario, en raison des phénomènes destructeurs qui s'acharnent sur l'état chaque année.

ANOTHER DOMINO

As the next domino falls in West Africa, is the Islamist insurgency serving as pretext for staging coups and is the region splitting into two camps? After previous military ousters in Guinea, Burkina Faso and Mali, Niger joined the list of restless nations of the region when president Mohamed Bazoum was held captive by his own republican guard after tinkering with plans to bring changes amid its ranks.

 

While it was the fifth coup to take place in the country of 25 million since independence it came as a Russia-Africa summit was being held in a country which has been seeking to extend its influence in Africa over the years. Moscow however echoed other world capitals calling for president Mohamed Bazoum to be freed at a gathering it announced six African countries would receive free cereal exports in the months ahead. Bazoum had been there before, facing an attempted coup as soon as he took power in early 2021 following the 10-year rule of Mahamadou Issoufou, but survived the botched attempt.

 

The 64-year-old was elected president in the country's first peaceful transfer of power since independence and has been one of the shrinking numbers of Western allies in the increasingly disruptive fight against Islamic insurgents in the region. Coups in other countries such as Burkina Faso took place after what military leaders called a failure to address the threats of militant Islam in this restive part of Africa.

 

The crisis is another blow to the fight against extremism as well as the strategic interests of former colonial power France, which had made Niger a key base of operations after being forced to leave Mali and Burkina Faso. "The coup has come as a great surprise because no one saw it coming," says political scientist Amad Hassan Boubacar, who adds the reasons invoked for staging it are weak. "The insecurity reasons invoked by our neighbors, notably Burkina Faso, can't justify it here" because Bazoum "made efforts to contain it."

 

While the United Nations said four million people across the country were in need of humanitarian assistance it nevertheless suspended its operations in Niger. France and the European Union announced similar freezes to aid and supports and refused to recognize the new leader. The head of the presidential guard, Gen Abdourahmane Tchiani, claimed the title, saying he took action in view of growing insecurity, economic troubles and corruption, vowing to respect international commitments.

 

But the African Union threatened "extreme sanctions" if the coup leaders do not yield. The Economic Community of West African states went a step further threatening military action while Tchad's president led diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. Burkina Faso and Mali warned Ecowas any military intervention in Niger would be viewed as an "declaration of war" and lead them to leave the organization. In the mean time they refused to impose any sanctions against the new regime while Algeria and Russia warned about any military action. A clear divide was developing on the issue across the continent, Nigeria and Senegal reiterating their support for the ousted leader.

RETOUR A LA NORMALE

De toute évidence les leçons du tourisme n'ont pas été apprises, mais les changements climatiques vont-ils changer la donne? Pourtant il y avait bien les vagues de chaleur par endroits après ces mois de manifestations bruyantes et même d’éclats avec des policiers casqués perdus dans un nuage de gaz lacrymogène, pour les décourager. Mais somme toute ces quelques moments d'anxiété au sein de l'industrie touristique furent de courte durée en France.

 

Après la fin des restrictions sanitaires, et le retour à l'ordre dans des aéroports, c'est un retour a la folie furieuse de la saison touristique, des fois même avec un surplus d'excès lié à la fin des mesures sanitaires. En France, pays le plus visité, comme ailleurs, les masses portant chapeau, lunettes de soleil et portables servant de camera ont repris les rues et les monuments d’assaut, assoiffés de ce je ne sais quoi français qui leur avait été interdit pendant la pandémie.

 

Du Mont St. Michel au pied de la tour Eiffel, toujours ces hordes qu’on s’était pourtant promis de mieux gérer un fois le retour à la normale. Si vous pouvez appeler ça la normale. Et pas juste ici évidemment. Du Panthéon au Parthénon, ces queues interminables, pas toujours si bien munies de patience; ces trottoirs débordés, ces boutiques qu'il faut se battre pour pouvoir fréquenter. A repenser le tourisme? De toute évidence la réflexion n’a pas été sérieuse en période creuse. À nouveau des cris en vain sur le besoin d’empêcher le ras de marée de s’abattre sur les résidents.

 

En France, on a préféré fuir la capitale et les zones envahies par ces dizaines de millions de touristes chaque année, tandis qu’on promet de s’attaquer au “sur-tourisme”, cette fois pour de vrai. Il y a bien eu quelques gestes, notamment la création d'un "observatoire national des sites touristiques majeurs" pour encourager "un tourisme 'quatre saisons' mieux réparti sur tous les territoires" en adoptant de meilleures "pratiques" en matière de "gestion de l'énergie, de l'eau, des déchets". Après tout il faut bien faire quelquechose un an avant l'attrait qui va encore et toujours plus gonfler, mais comment est-ce vraiment possible, ces marées humaines: les Jeux olympiques. D'ailleurs on a l'impression que les voyages vers la métropole ont été d'autant plus prononcés cette année qu'il fallait tout faire pour éviter de s'y aventurer en 2024.

 

Mêmes légères tentatives ailleurs. En Italie une nouvelle loi vise les locations à court terme et il faut dorénavant payer pour visiter le Panthéon à Rome, tandis qu'à Amsterdam le conseil de ville a interdit l'arrimage des bateaux de croisière dans centre. L'année est un peu folle en Europe, destination prisée d'Américains qui sont 55% plus nombreux à s'y déplacer cette année libre des restrictions sanitaires. Italie, Espagne et Grèce sont partis pour une année touristique record... du moins avant le début des grandes chaleurs, torrides et des feux. D'habitude ce départ canon réjouit les locaux, mais là ça fait beaucoup même pour les hôtes qui y sont habitués.

 

Même en pleine campagne au nord-est de Chartres où  elle loue une de ses propriétés à l'année longue, une famille avoue que cette année les affaires vont "un peu trop" bien, faisant remarquer les impôts qu'ils devront débourser en raison de leurs nombreux clients. "Il va falloir limiter un peu." Ailleurs des quotas de visiteurs ont été mis en place dans certaines localités, dont Brehat sur la côte d'Armor, et dans les calanques si populaires au large de Marseilles, pour ne citer que quelques endroits où les maires français sont passés à l'acte cet été. La loi climat et résilience leur permet de régulariser la fréquentation de sites protégés. Pourtant les émeutes n'ont pas été sans conséquence en France, parvenant à effrayer certains touristes trop collés au téléviseur.

 

Puis la chaleur a fait fuir certains touristes, du moins dans le sud du continent. En effet, comme pour tempérer la donne, selon la Commission européenne du voyage, les visites étaient en chute de 10% en Méditerranée pour favoriser des destinations septentrion-nales afin  d'échapper à la chaleur. "Le réchauffement climatique va rendre les destinations de moins en moins fréquentables, note François Rial de Voyageurs du Monde, toute la Méditerranée est concernée, alors qu'elle est la principale destination des voyagistes européens," de Barcelone à Tunis. Les feux sont allés jusqu'à ravager plusieurs régions du Maghreb.

Mais d'autres n'en sont pas si sûrs. "Ce n'est pas un problème qu'il fasse chaud à Antaya, estime le président de l'Association des agences de voyage turques, car les touristes européens viennent pour le soleil." Mais en attendant le manque de soleil dans certaines régions d'Europe, dont la côte atlantique française, entrainait également une chute des visites en juillet, notamment près des plages.

 

Mais de règle général, l'alerte a sonné, et dans certains cas est-ce trop tard pour limiter les dégâts du sur-tourisme? La semaine dernière l'Unesco s'alarmait de la déterioration des conditions à Venise et recommande de placer la sérénissime sur la liste du patrimoine mondial en péril. 

MOVING RIGHT

It's no secret far right parties have slipped into the mainstream in Europe, but a few recent developments have however been setting off alarm bells. Populist parties have been gaining traction in governments from Spain to Finland, not to mention gaining the seat of power in Italy. More recently a German county elected a far-right politician for the first time in the post-war era, and the aftermath has sometimes been ugly. Meanwhile French intelli-gence officials are warning about the threat of right-wing extremism. 

 

Observers say the road here has been slow but steady for the last decades. “They are all different, and the cultures and political systems they operate in are all different,” Catherine Fieschi of the Open Society Foundations Europe told The Guardian. “After every crisis, we have told ourselves that the populists and far right are waning in Europe, and the fact is they have been rising more or less steadily, with a few interruptions, since the 1980s. They are really now a part of the landscape.” The migrant crisis has been feeding into their popularity, a disagreement on immi-gration in the Netherlands recently leading to the  collapse of its government and resignation of its prime minister. 

 

But other issues have also galvanized support on the right, such as the high cost of living and the brakeout of culture wars. A far-right careful to limit some of its more inflammatory language has been able to capitalize, and score enough votes in the continent's fractured political landscape to make it an influential partner of established parties which once shunned it. Georgia Meloni's coalition with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s anti-migrant League, enabled her to become the country's most far-right prime minister in the post-war era. 

 

In Spain a coalition of Popular Party and Vox could return the far right in government for the first time since Franco. The far-right Alternative for Germany party meanwhile scored a victory in Sonneberg where candidate Robert Sesselmann ran on a campaign focused on immigration and fighting crime. This is a watershed moment for the party which entered parliament six years ago as the migrant crisis was raging. Particularly worrisome is that critics of the party, including state lawmaker Katharina König-Preuss, have been receiving threats. 

 

Another was Margret Sturm, an optometrist whose mistake was to voice her concern about the rise of the party in a TV interview. "We got hate mail, threatening phone calls, every minute," she told AP. "We were insulted by people we don't even know, who don't know us, who don't know the business." In France where police services have been watching threats from both the hard right and left, Nicolas Lerner, France's Director General of Internal Security told Le Monde there's been a rise of extreme right violence across the country this year. 

 

"Since the spring, we have witnessed a very worrying resurgence of violent actions and intimidation by the ultra-right, some of which are a clear break with the democratic framework", he said. 

 

The right has also been galvanized by the riots which followed the police killing of a 17-year-old. Opinion polls showed Marine LePen, whose party scored a record 41% in last year's presidential election, obtained the best approval ratings for her tough stance on the riots. She is suggesting tough anti-crime measures such as lowering the age offenders can be tried as adults to 16 and restricting access to public housing and welfare payments for those convicted of crimes and even minor offenses. 

The riots have become a rallying point for other European far-right leaders as well, Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban saying the troubles showed the failures of multiculturalism while Salvini called them the result of “years of laxity towards Islamic radicalization and banlieues dominated by criminality.”

MOINS NEUTRES

 

Comme pour venir rappeler que l’"opération spéciale" russe en Ukraine qui avait pour but de l’éloigner du giron européen n’a pas obtenu les résultats escomptés, un autre pays d’Europe a abandonné un peu de sa neutralité pour se retrouver dans le giron euro-Atlantique. 

 

Après la Finlande et la Suède, qui a finalement le feu vert afin d'intégrer  l'OTAN, c’est à la Suisse de choisir son camp après une longue histoire de neutralité. Alors qu’il n’est pas question de rejoindre l'Alliance atlantique, le pays helvète a signalé son intention d'adhérer au système de défense européen Sky shield. 

 

Ce mécanisme a été mis en place par l’Allemagne, autre pays qui depuis le conflit en Ukraine a changé un peu de sa timidité militaire d’après guerre. Sky shield permet aux pays participants d’acheter des systèmes de défense en bloc et de s’entraîner ensemble, un geste loin d’être purement symbolique car il n’a pas été posé sans crainte, lui qui était - tout comme l’idée de faire entrer l’Ukraine dans l’OTAN - impensable il y a peu de temps. 

 

Comme dans les pays scandinaves, l’agression russe a eu comme effet de lancer un nouveau débat sur la sécurité dans ce petit pays de 8 millions d'habitants riche mais aux moyens de défense limités. La Suisse avait, il faut le dire, déjà affiché ses couleurs en imposant des sanctions contre Moscou, coûteuses quand on connaît les capitaux qui ont élu domicile dans ce coin montagneux. Le voisin autrichien a également effectué le même écart de neutralité en rejoignant Sky shield. 

 

Mais la confédération a indiqué ses limites en refusant de fournir l’Ukraine en armes, malgré un parc de tanks Léopards fort intéressant. Kyiv poursuit son opération de charme pour la convaincre de partager ses blindés. L’extrême droite suisse craint cependant que ce serait se lancer dans les bras de l’Alliance atlantique. 

 

Côté suédois, la manifestation d'un Irakien qui a brûlé les pages d'un Coran devant la mosquée de Stockholm n'a rien fait pour gagner la faveur d'Ankara, qui bloquait alors toujours son accession à l'OTAN. Mais lors du sommet de la semaine dernière le président Recep Erdogan laissait savoir qu'il donnerait son aval afin que le pays scandinave puisse enfin devenir un membre, après multe tegiversations. 

 

Erdogan avait en premier lieu promis de donner son feu vert si l'Europe rouvrait les négociations d'adhésion à l'UE. Celles-ci sont au point mort depuis un certain temps en raison de la question chypriote et du recul démocratique turc de manière générale. Difficile cependant d'établir quelque lien entre les deux processus, fait-on remarquer. Ankara accusait généralement Stockholm de laxisme envers les militants kurdes. 

 

Récemment la Suède avait cependant adopté une nouvelle loi antiterroriste et condamné un Turc d'origine kurde pour extorsion et "tentative de financement terroriste." L'aval d'Ankara ne mettait pas fin aux divisions au sein de l'alliance cependant. En fait ce n'était que lancer le débat sur l'adhésion éventuelle de l'Ukraine, promise, mais sans échéancier clair, une hésitation "absurde" selon le président Zelensky. 

 

D'autres divisions concernaient la décision américaine de faire parvenir des bombes à fragmentation à l'Ukraine, une arme interdite dans plusieurs pays membres. Peut-on se permettre de faire de la morale en pleine guerre meurtrière?

TRISTE SUÈDE

L'été a terminé avec son lot de tragédies en Suède. A un jour de l'automne deux personnes sont mortes et deux autres ont été blessées lorsqu'un homme a fait irruption dans un pub irlandais de la région de Stockholm et ouvert le feu. Les incidents armés sont rares en Suède, du moins ils l'étaient, et plusieurs s'attristent de voir ce paisible pays scandinave progressiste et tolérant sombrer dans la violence depuis quelques années. Les tensions sont devenues telles que l'armée y trouve même son rôle, limité mais parfaitement exceptionnel.

 

Les incidents se sont multipliés avec la croissance des armes, qui atteint des sommets, phénomène lié à une guerre des gangs sans précédent se disputant le marché de la drogue et des armes. Selon la police une personne était visée dans cet attentat récent, les autres étaient au mauvais endroit au mauvais moment dans un environnement qui attriste le premier ministre Ulf Kristersson. "Voilà qui souligne la violence extrême, dit-il. C'est déjà mal que les gangs s'en prennent à eux mêmes, mais quand des personnes entièrement innocentes se retrouvent sous les feux c'est absolument horrible." Il ne s'agissait que du plus récent chapitre de cette triste saga. Plus tôt en septembre un ado de 13 ans avait été retrouvé mort dans un bois, victime de cette guerre qui n'est pas sans compter des enfants soldats. Les jeunes tombent parfois sous les balles.

 

Aux débuts de l'escalade de violence en 2020 une fille de 12 ans était morte dans une fusillade qui avait profondément choqué le pays lors d'un échange entre membres de gang à l'extérieur d'un McDonald's de la région de Stockholm. Et pourtant les armes et les incidents se sont multipliés depuis. Parfois les victimes sont atteintes à l'arme blanche, comme quatre jeunes d'une école d'Eskilstuna au printemps lors d'un autre combat entre membres de gangs. Mais c'est la multiplication des armes et l'usage d'explosifs qui alarme notamment les autorités, allant jusqu'à impliquer les services de l'armée, spécialisée en explosifs.

 

A la mi-octobre 138 éclats avaient été recensés à travers le pays, de plus en plus dans la région de la capitale, dépassant le record datant de 2019. Il y a 20 ans le pays avait le taux par habitant de violence liée aux armes le plus faible en Europe, à présent il est parmi les premiers, avec un taux 2.5 fois la moyenne du continent. On craint un nouveau record de victimes de fusillades après la soixantaine de l'an dernier. Et les jeunes ne sont pas seulement des victimes. Selon le chef de la police Anders Thornberg les gangs engagent des ados pour commettre des actes criminels, leur donnant des armes et l'adresse de victimes à liquider. Une solution facile étant donnée la réglementation pour ce groupe d'âge.

 

Selon la police la moitié des suspects ont moins de 18 ans et les trois quarts moins de 21. Les jeunes de moins de 18 ans ne font pas de prison et sont envoyés dans des institutions spéciales tandis que les plus vieux de moins de 21 ans ne sont pas jugés comme des adultes. Après une réunion de crise le ministre de la justice s'est engagé à augmenter les peines pour manipulation illégale d'explosifs. Le ministre de la sécurité civile s'est engagé de son côté à empêcher les criminels de mettre la main sur un seul bâton de dynamite. Mais ces déclarations semblent impuissantes dans le contexte actuel. En même temps les jeunes, en commettant des crimes, grimpent les échelons des gangs à une vitesse vetigineuse. A leur tête, des caïds du nom de Renard kurde et Le Grec.

 

Le chaos, qui a détruit des véhicules ainsi que des immeubles en plus de multiplier les corps, a obligé le premier ministre de faire appel aux forces armées afin de pourchasser et neutraliser les criminels. Selon le commentateur de droite Peter Imanuelsen la police admet être incapable de mettre fin aux violences liées aux gangs. "Les bombes et échanges de tirs sont devenus quotidiens, ils disent que ça n'a pas été autant dangereux depuis 1945." Selon ce dernier, l'emprise des gangs suédois s'étend même en Norvège.

ENCORE UNE MISSION MILITAIRE

Près d'un an après l'appel du premier ministre haïtien Ariel Henry les Nations Unies ont donné leur aval en vue d'une mission multi-nationale en Haïti, un pays terrorisé par les gangs depuis l'assassinat du président Jovenel Moïse. Une nouvelle intervention mili-taire se prépare ainsi sur la perle des Antilles, mais la mission s'annonce plus difficile que jamais, et celles du passé semblent avoir fait plus de tort que de bien. Dirigée par le Kenya, la mission militaire aurait comme but de mettre fin aux violences et d'appuyer une police nationale débordée afin d'ouvrir la voie à de futures élections.

 

Alors que peu de détails ont été fournis, la mission non-onusienne serait d'abord en place pour une période initiale de 12 mois qui serait évaluée au bout de neuf mois. Selon le président domi-nicain Louis Abinader, dont le pays jouerait un rôle essentiel au point de vue logistique, les premiers déploiements auraient lieu début novembre. Le ministre des affaires étrangères kenyan a été muté après avoir fait entendre que l'envoi d'effectifs aurait lieu prochainement. Nairobi a été plutôt avare de détails.

 

Approuvée par 13 membres du Conseil de sécurité, la décision a fait l'objet d'absentions de la part de la Chine et de la Russie, dont l'ambassadeur Vassily Nebenzia a eu la témérité d'affirmer que son pays n'était pas contre la mission mais qu' «il faut comprendre que l'envoi de forces armées dans un autre pays, même à la demande de ce pays, est une mesure extrême qui doit être soigneusement analysée » alors que la Russie poursuit sa campagne militaire en Ukraine.

 

Son homologue chinois a émis des réserves partagées par plusieurs pays sur le recours à la force, soulignant les « abus » du passé qui ont accompagné la mise en œuvre du chapitre 7. Les Casques bleus de la Mission des Nations unies pour la stabilisation en Haïti avaient eu le malheur d'importer le choléra au pays, déclencheant une épidémie qui a fait plus de 10 000 morts lors de cette mission qui a duré jusqu'en 2017. C'est sans parler du scandale des abus sexuels. «Sans un gouver-nement légitime, efficace et qui rend des comptes, tout soutien extérieur ne peut guère avoir des effets durables», a déclaré l'ambassadeur chinois Zhang Jun. Pékin considérait d'ailleurs toute mesure inefficace sans l'interruption de l'importation des armes en Haiti, qui proviennent notamment des Etats-Unis.

 

La résolution de l'ONU généralise un embargo sur les armes légères et munitions qui jusqu'ici était uniquement applicable à un seul chef de gang. La décision a été saluée comme «une lueur d'espoir pour le peuple qui subit depuis trop longtemps les conséquences d'une situation politique, socio-économique, sécuritaire et humanitaire difficile» par le ministre haïtien des Affaires étrangères, Jean Victor Généus.

 

Les gangs qui sèment la terreur sont notamment mieux armés que les quelque 14 000 policiers de service, dont plusieurs ont connu la mort lors des derniers mois. En tout près de 2800 meurtres ont eu lieu au pays entre octobre 2022 et juin dernier. A part le Kenya, qui compte envoyer 1000 soldats, la force compterait possiblement des troupes de Jamaïque, des Bahamas et d'Antigua-et-Barbuda.

 

Le Canada avait notamment résisté aux nombreux appels de prendre la mission en main, lui qui avait dépêché des effectifs policiers dans le passé. Ottawa a préféré faire parvenir des fonds et un appui logistique dans les airs et dans les eaux environnantes. Pour Nairobi la mission devient un certain pari diplomatique mais certains notent la réputation peu catholique des forces de sécurité au pays, reconnues pour leurs méthodes un peu sévères.

 

"Les Kényans prennent cette initiative pour Haïti parce que leur président, William Ruto, estime que le Kenya est le pays phare de l’Est africain. Son rival sur la scène diplomatique régionale, l’Éthiopie, est actuellement pris dans des problèmes internes. Il y a donc une sorte de vide que le Kenya essaie de remplir en multipliant les initiatives" note Roland Marchal, chercheur au CNRS, qui souligne le déploiement de forces dans l’est de la République démocratique du Congo, et la médiation du Kenya au Soudan.

FURY IN BELGRADE

 

 

It's been over a month since a pair of mass shootings which claimed over a dozen lives, shocking Serbia and sparking regular demonstrations against the populist government which have only intensified with calls for the president to step down. Instead Aleksandar Vucic called for early parliamentary elections after accusing the opposition of trying to use the shootings for political gains. 

 

Vucic vowed to hold the vote “by the end of this year” despite the opposition's refusal, charging the president still maintains a firm grip on power. This includes control over the country's mass media, which protesters charge have glorified violence. This weekend again, and for the seventh time since early May, thousands descended in the streets of Belgrade to condemn government inaction in one of the countries with some of the most weapons per population in the world. 

 

The May 3 shooting killed eight students and a guard at a Belgrade elementary school when a 13-year-old boy went on a rampage with his father's gun. The very next day eight more were killed when a 21-year-old used an automatic weapon to randomly shoot people in two villages outside of Belgrade, leaving a dozen more injured. 

 

Protests which at first sought the removal senior law enforcement officials and the withdrawal of broadcasting licenses from two pro-government television stations have come to target the country's leadership and what is being called a national "climate of violence". Vucic, who was re-elected with a landslide last year and has ruled the country since 2012, ignored calls to step down, slamming protesters as “abnormal lunatics, murderers and criminals” in a video made public. 

 

“I’m not betting on his downfall because leaders like Vucic have very powerful techniques for survival,” told the New York Times Vuk Vuksanovic of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy. “But there is an open wound and sharks are circling in the water.” 

 

As the protests swept the capital tensions with Kosovo have been rising after Vucic sent his security forces near northern Kosovo, where Serbs are a majority. Kosovo's prime minister Albin Kurti had recently ordered the seizure of municipal buildings in an area swept by ethnic Albanian mayors in recent elections largely boycotted by Serb voters. 

 

This led to clashes between Kosovo Serbs and NATO peacekeepers operating in a mission there since the late 1990s. Dozens of NATO soldiers were injured, prompting the Atlantic alliance to rush more troops to the tense region of the Balkan powderkeg. 

 

The border spat, which continued - despite intentions to re-run the controversial vote - with the arrest of three Kosovo policemen by Serbia this week,  has enabled Vucic to bolster his credentials as a protector of Serb interests, but this has not shielded him from the anti-government protests, which dwarfed any attempts at counter-protests by the government.

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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