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LA GUERRE?

La guerre menace-t-elle d'éclater sur le front est? Et pourrait-elle causer un choc entre les grandes puissances? Les rumeurs sont devues folles à cet égard car la question se pose depuis des mois avec le nombre croissant de troupes massées au long de la frontière russo-ukrainienne. La semaine dernière le président urkrainien faisait part d'analyses de ses renseigne-ments selon lesquels Moscou ne préparerait rien de moins qu'un coup d'état à Kiev début décembre, un terme d'habitude associé aux pays du tiers-monde, notamment d'Afrique, qui a connu sa part de putschs en 2021.

Cette semaine il faisait appel à des pourparlers directs avec Moscou. Car il ne s'agirait selon les experts que de la plus récente provocation russe après la crise des migrants à la frontière de l'Union européenne. Voilà en effet depuis des mois que des milliers de migrants se regroupent dans le no man's land entre le Belarus et la Pologne, se trainant  dans la pluie et dans la boue entre les arbres d'une froide forêt frontalière coupée par des barbelés.

La faim et l'hypothermie les gagnaient à attendre avec presque sans espoir pendant des semaines, voir des mois dans certains cas, espérant une ouverture, une brèche, un signe d'espoir. On aurait dû parler d'hommes mais il s'agissait plutôt de miséreux devenus du mortier dans une guerre dite "hybride", différente du bouclier humain mais seulement à quelques degrés de près.

Pendant des semaines, et jusqu'au récentes déportations, des milliers y sont restés coincés entre le Belarus et la Pologne, les premiers refusant de les reprendre, les autres de les accueillir au nom de la grande Europe. Au contraire, cette Varsovie endurcie prévoit un mur plus permanent comme solution contre les migrations.

L'entêtement des deux capitales leur a valu une condamnation presque universelle, mais surtout pointée contre le dernier dictateur d'Europe, qui ne faisait rien, au contraire, pour décourager le déversement de migrants vers l'Union européenne, y voyant une méthode peu orthodoxe afin de condamner les dernières sanctions communautaires contre son régime. Pourquoi "hybride"?

Car pour Varsovie le rôle de Moscou derrière la crise migratoire était indubitable et allait jusqu'à encourager le Belarus à attirer les migrants, une action indirecte digne de la guerre froide, payée cher par les plus démunis du monde, certains venant aussi loin que d'Afghanistan. Le terme était prononcé par le président du Conseil européen, Charles Michel, déclarant: "Nous faisons face à cette attaque hybride, brutale, violente et indigne".

Une guerre sans armes lourdes, mais non sans la crainte de leur utilisation. Pourquoi pointer Poutine du doigt? Car le maitre espion devenu Tsar à vie avait déjà employé de pareilles tactiques lors de l'invasion de l'Ukraine en 2014 par des hommes armés mais sans insignes qui avaient semé la confusion dans les rangs de l'armée ukrainienne assez longtemps pour s'installer dans l'est du pays, alors qu'il s'agissait de forces spéciales russes. Une guerre par procuration mais qui cette fois au Belarus comptait femmes et enfants.

Cette instrumentalisation de migrants avait été évoquée par le général français Thierry Burkhard en été déjà, alors quel les premiers groupes encore timides se présentaient à la frontière, avant le flot de l'automne. « Les réfugiés sont effectivement devenus une arme : certains les poussent en avant ou les manipulent. Le problème se posera différemment en combat de haute intensité, même si ce n’est pas exclu, dit-il en juin lors d’une audition parlementaire. Comme il s’agit d’une arme ou d’un levier politique, la réponse devrait être avant tout politique : il faudrait des prises de position claires, de manière commune si on est en coalition, et, le cas échéant, de gros moyens d’accueil ».

L'accueil n'était pas celui auquel on aurait pu s'attendre, soit une colonne de soldats en tenue anti-émeute de l'autre côté de barbelés. Du côté des migrants venant du Belarus, une présence non moins sinon plus intimidante de soldats béliorusses ne se gênant pas de frapper femmes et enfants ôsant de trouver sur leur chemin.

Pour ce qui est du lien avec Poutine, il n'était pas en doute selon le chef de la diplomatie américaine Antony Blinken, pour qui les «actions de la Biélorussie menaçaient la sécurité régionale et détournaient l’attention des activités militaires russes à la frontière ukrainienne ». En effet alors que le rapatriement graduel des migrants baissait les tensions sur le front biélorusse, il augmentait sur le front ukrainien, Kiev cherchant à son tour à s'équipper en armement face à "l'agressivité" de son voisin russe.

La théorie du complot de Volodymyr Zelensky, démentie par Moscou, ne faisait qu'augmenter les tensions, attirant l'attention de Washington qui du coup déclara qu'en cas d'invasion toutes les options étaient disponibles. Kiev estime à 100000 le nombre de troupes massées du côté russe, appuyées par chars et autres équipement lourds.

Selon le comman-dement ukrainien Moscou serait près à provoquer une crise en utilisant notamment une autre arme non-conventionnelle, celle de la manne énergétique en plein hiver. La thèse n'est pas entièrement sotte, Moscou ayant menacé plusieurs nations, notamment la Moldavie tout récemment, de serrer la vis des gasoducs si le petit pays ne réglait pas ses dettes. Moscou nie préparer quelque invasion, parlant plutôt de réaction aux exercices militaires de l'Otan dans la mer Noire.

Le Kremlin accuse Kiev notamment d'envoyer des drones contre les séparatristes pro-russes dans l'est du pays. Selon certains analystes, l'Ukraine reste la pièce maitresse à obtenir pour que Poutine laisse en héritage, alors qu'il approche les 70 ans, une Russie dont l'étendue retrouve ses dimensions historiques, lui permettant ainsi de rendre au pays un peu de son ancienne grandeur. Mais pour d'autres, le coût d'une telle intervention serait bien trop important.

NON MERCI, MR. KADHAFI

Avec le temps des noms familiers refont surface sur l'arène politique, laissant flotter des airs dynastiques, des Fujimori au Pérou aux Marcos aux Philippines. Leurs candidatures ne sont pas toujours couronnées de succès cependant.En Libye, un personnage quadragénaire qui voulait se présenter aux présidentielles de décembre au nom plutôt familier remontait de loin.

Capturé par des rebelles l'année de la mort de son père il y a dix ans, Seif al-Islam Kadhafi, le fils cadet, est condamné à mort quatre ans plus tard mais épargné par ses ravisseurs qui refusent de le livrer aux autorités et à la Cour pénale internationale, où il est recherché pour "crimes contre l'humanité". Libéré par la suite, il disparait de l'arène publique jusqu'à l'annonce de son intention de se porter candidat à la mi-novembre.

Mais l'ONU mise sur cet exercice électoral, dans un pays bien loin de connaitre la paix, pour mettre un terme au chaos post-Kadhafi. Y parviendrait-t-elle avec un membre de sa descendance? Sûrement non. Le pays était dès le début plutôt déchiré par sa candidature.

Bien placé pour succéder à son père avant la révolte de 2011, son appui en faveur de la répression contre les manifestants a fait crouler son image. Celle de son retour 10 ans plus tard est radicalement transformée, paraissant barbu, enturbanné et vêtu de manière traditionnelle un peu comme son père, il saupoudre ses interventions de versets du Coran.

Mais cette méta- morphose le rend pas moins recherché aux yeux du CPI. “Le CPI ne fait pas de commentaire sur les affaires politiques libyennes, déclare un des porte-paroles de la cour, mais le status de Seif al-Islam Kadhafi à la cour demeure le même," soit, recherché pour crimes.

Le procureur militaire libyen a de son côté demandé à la commission électorale de retirer son nom de la liste, ce qu'elle finit par faire la semaine dernière, mettant fin à ses ambitions présidentielles, pour l'instant. L'élection ne sera pas noins intéressante, car participeront au concours d'autres notables, dont le premier ministre Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, le président de la chambre et le commandant Khalifa Haftar, qui a baissé les armes pour se lancer dans une lutte politique après des années de conflit avec le gouvernement et dont les troupes s'étaient rendues jusqu'aux portes de Tripoli.

Certains manifestants avaient  bien accouru dans les rues de Bani Walid, ancien fief de Kadhafi père, et Sirte, lieu de son exécution, à l'annonce de la candidature, éphémère, du fils. Il faut dire qu'alors que le règne de son père avait été sans pitié, la période qui a suivi a été difficile à travers le pays, aux prises avec diverses factions, parfois assistées de mercenaires, en faisant un modèle de désordre généralisé noyé dans les armes. Même sans Kadhafi bis, un des 25 candidats disqualifiés, le pays aura de la peine à se relever.

OMICRON RISES

Africa's ability to avoid the worst outbreaks and tolls of the covid-19 virus since the beginning of the pandemic has surprised medical specialists around the world, especially as the countries have been slow to launch their immunization campaigns on account of poor supplies. But the latest strain of the coronavirus, as cases have been on the rise in the West, has placed much of southern Africa under quarantine.

The Omicron variant spooked markets worldwide as countries closed their air connections to over half a dozen countries including Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa, the country with the most infections in the region, where an earlier strain of the virus had emerged.

Africa had just been coming out of its latest wave of the pandemic, but reported less infections than other continents, with some 8 million cases, roughly  a 10th of the numbers seen in Asia, and approximatively 220000 deaths.

But leaving the region vulnerable is the fact that vaccination campaigns are struggling to get off the ground, with less than 10% of the 54 countries expected to meet goals of fully vaccinating 40% of citizens. Subsaharan Africa fared particularly poorly, with only the Seychelles, Mauritius and Morocco meeting the goal set by World Health Assembly in Africa while Tunisia and Cabo Verde were close to reaching it.

A lack of syringes was notably hampering efforts on the continent. “The looming threat of a vaccine commodities crisis hangs over the continent," stated WHO's Dr Matshidiso Moeti. "Early next year COVID-19 vaccines will start pouring into Africa, but a scarcity of syringes could paralyze progress. Drastic measures must be taken to boost syringe production, fast. Countless African lives depend on it.”

The new variant only made the need for ramping up vaccination efforts more pressing as countries around the world started banning travellers from southern Africa while the effects of Omicron on current vaccines were being analyzed. Moderna boss Stephane Bancel said the current vaccines would be less effective against Omicron, and a number of months will be necessary to design a more targeted vaccine.

But Oxford university said there was no evidence of this yet. Not waiting to find out, Israel pulled all the stops, preventing all foreign travellers from visiting, but this did not prevent two cases from slipping in from Malawi. Japan  seconded that move while Australia put on hold reopening plans and Morocco banned all international flights altogether for two weeks. By then already officials in Europe confirmed the presence of the variant on the old continent while the United States was recording its first cases.

As with delta this strain could become dominant. Omicron may have been present in Europe before it was detailed by South African health officials. The World Health Organization called on countries to keep their borders open while Pretoria slammed countries who were banning South African citizens, saying it was paying the price for alerting others of the danger.

It soon became apparent the virus had spread to other countries, Canada's first cases being tied to travel from Nigeria, a country whose citizens it soon banned along with that of nine other nations. The US pesident called the variant a "cause for concern, not a cause for panic," in an attempt to reassure citizens. China's Xi Jinping meanwhile pledged to donate 1 billion doses to Africa, a continent where it has been expanding its influence.


NOT GREEN ENOUGH

As the Glasgow environmental summit took place, gathering world leaders who struggled to agree on how to pursue the fight against climate change while critics blamed them of uttering empty rhetoric, Beijing closed all its playgrounds. It wasn't because of the covid pandemic this time, making a comeback of sorts in the country where it all started, but related to China's constant pollution problem. Clearly it seemed to be an odd time for the middle kingdom to go AWOL on global warming - its leader choosing not to attend the summit - considering the thousands of lives lost there annually due to suffocating CO2 emissions.

Stopping defores-tation and fossil fuel subsidies, shifting away from coal and curbing methane emissions, these were just some of the measures considered by world leaders as they heard appeals from activists and protesters, but also greater powers such as British royalty and the Bishop of Rome, to do more and act with urgency and take climate change by the horns after another year marked by devastating wildfires, floods, droughts and severe storms.

In the end, after extending hours to reach a final deal, participants agreed to cut carbon emissions, reduce the use of coal and fossil fuels and help developing countries adapt to global warming. But the latter weren't impressed, accusing wealthy nations of being responsible for worsening conditions affecting them. The agreement "does not bring hopes to our hearts," deplored Shauna Aminath, the Maldives' environment minister.

The summit was marked by the absence of major leaders such as China's Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin, despite the fact these countries account for a third of the world's CO2 emissions. If anything China in fact has been instructing the country's coal mines to produce as much as possible to counter energy shortages ahead of the winter period.

And the US and other participants were hardly beyond reproach, Washington being no different by refusing to ditch coal, just short of embracing it as Joe Biden's predecessor once did, joined by India, citing development goals. Meanwhile some companies and multinationals the size of small countries were also being pressured to step up, among them billionaires shamed for their recent space race with so much work to be done on planet Earth.

Jeff Bezos eventually pledged $2 billion to fight climate change. But all this did nothing to prevent activists from considering the summit a failure from the very start, slamming as "green-washing" and "false solutions" many of the proposals brought forward by world leaders. They "are right to be frustrated," commented former US president Barack Obama. "My generation has  not done enough to deal with a potential cataclysmic problem that you now stand to inherit."

Still some enterprising spirits have come up with their own plans to fight climate change, from firms building giant vacuums to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere to creating CO2-capturing clouds. But to some this focus on mitigating CO2 emissions instead of preventing them to begin with was misplacing priorities.

US special presidential envoy John Kerry however refused to let the naysaying monopolize the summit. The conference "has already helped summon more ambition to face this emergency than the world has ever seen," therefore achieving success, he penned, noting countries representing nearly 65% of global domestic product stepped up to limit the rise in warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times.

But a report from Climate Action Tracker said these goals represented little more than "false hope", saying the planet was set to warm by 2.4C by 2100 under current measures. The conference notably pledged to tackle emissions of methane, "a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide," Kerry said, presenting it as "the single fastest option we have to slow warming."

Others weren't as optimistic, University of Montreal professor Michel Boyer declared the Glasgow summit a failure, like those held earlier in Paris, Katowice and Madrid "for a simple reason: pursuing the right policy with the wrong means." Essential to a solution, he penned, is the recognition that the economy and environment can go hand in hand with a fair redistribution of funds collected through carbon pricing, showing that, like freedom, using up the world's resources isn't free.

Britain even considered slapping a carbon tax on imports from countries that don't meet its obligations on climate initiatives. This environmental threat doesn't only lie in the future but is hurting people today, and a Canadian woman may be the first personification of this. A BC woman in her 70s has formally been diagnosed  as suffering from climate change after facing a number of breathing issues.

This occurred in the summer when the province was slammed by a merciless heat wave which killed 500 people there. "If we're not looking at the underlying cause, and we're just treating the symptoms, we're just gonna keep falling further and further behind," observed physician Kyle Merritt, who made the diagnosis. BC clinicians soon after formed Doctors and Nurses for Planetary Health, which aims to work "to better human health by protecting the planet."

Merritt says they have first hand evidence of the impact of global warming on people's health. "Working with patients directly we are actually starting to see the health effects of climate change now. It's not just something that is going to happen in the future." Beijing's pollution, just like New Delhi's, the Indian capital imposing a lockdown as the air became unbreathable, was a reminder of this.

Which made these countries' last minute balking about "phasing out" coal all the more surprising. Coal would instead be "phased down". But perhaps young activist Greta Thunberg has it right saying the exercise was little more than "bla ble bla." Meanwhile the urgency of taking action was being reminded, as Western North America dealt with deadly storms and floods in a region so recently blasted by heat waves.

VIVE LE SASKATCHEWAN LIBRE

La conférence mondiale sur le climat aurait-elle provoqué une bouffée d'air autonomiste de l'autre côté de l'Atlantique? Alors que l'Alberta grogne depuis belle lurette à propos du manque de soutien fédéral pour les sables bitumineux et des oléducs, faisant planer une vague menace séparatiste, c'est le premier ministre de la Saskatchewan qui vient de lever le flambeau de son état-nation d'à peine un million d'habitants au coeur de la plaine.

Scott Moe a promis d'affirmer l'"autonomie" de sa province après les engagements fédéraux à Glasgow sur l'environne-ment, qui selon lui avaient été faits sans consulter Régina et lui portent préjudice. Moe ne veut pas seulement un véritable droit de parole sur les ressources à la table fédérale mais les mêmes pouvoirs détenus par la nation québécoise dans certains secteurs comme la taxation et l'immigration, faisant allusion à sa "nation au coeur d'une nation."

"Alors que le gouvernement fédéral met en vigueur des politiques qui heurtent notre province notre gouverne-ment va continuer à défendre les intérêts des Saskatche-wanais," dit-il en entrevue radiophonique. Il ne parle pas de séparation de la province mais de prendre sa place en tant qu'"entité culturelle saska-tchewanaise au sein de la nation canadienne."

Les décisions de Trudeau sur le plafond des émissions de gaz à effet de serre constitueraient "une attaque en règle contre l'industrie énergétique de la Saskatchewan" touchant 30000 de ses citoyens, dit-il, et grignotant 15% du PIB de cette province riche en ressources énergétiques.

Il lorgne par conséquent vers la belle province, notant ses accords particuliers, plus récemment "son entente sur les garderies - l'entente du Québec est très différente de celle des autres provinces au Canada et c'est ce que nous voulons," dit-il. Certains commentateurs ne se sont pas gênés de se moquer des similitudes avancées avec la nation québécoise.

Il ne s'agit peut-être pas d'un peuple fondateur ou parlant une autre langue, mais la fidélité des résidents de la province au curling et aux Riders suffisent pour en faire un société distincte, rigole un auteur dans le Globe & Mail. Les critiques du premier ministre provincial trouvent ça moins drôle et y voient plutôt un spectacle médiatisé cherchant à mettre à l'ombre ses tracas politiques.

Alors que son parti a réaffirmé son appui envers lui lors d'une convention où il obtenu 80% des soutiens, des opposants manifestaient contre sa gestion de la pandémie et la perte de milliers d'emplois au début de l'automne.

"Des milliers de personnes attendent pour se faire opérer et les enfants n'ont pas accès à leurs thérapies, lui reprochait un manifestant. De plus nous avons la pire fiche sur l'emploi au pays et Scott Moe dit avoir trouvé un juste équilibre."

La province venait de fixer son niveau de production de pétrole à la hausse, soit de 450000 à 600000 barils par jour, Moe préconisant "de rendre l’éner-gie canadienne disponible à travers le monde en remplaçant l’énergie produite dans ces autres pays" qui ont des politiques environnemen-tales moins vertes.

NOT GOING AWAY

Many were vaccinated, but that didn't keep personalities such as Bryan Adams, Sidney Crosby and Joe Biden's press secretary from catching covid-19, showing the virus is here to stay, sometimes under more virulent strains, but less dangerous to the vaccinated.

The high profile cases served as a reminder of the need to protect those who aren't inoculated, as children five and over become eligible for the vaccines, and as more vulnerable citizens gradually get access to a booster shot. More than 2 million children aged 5 to 11 had contracted the virus in the US, which sent 8,300 of them to hospitals and felled over 170 of them.

Nearly two years later, the coronavirus the world is starting to learn living with is still causing shut downs, from Russia, which is registering a surge in cases and mortality amid a population vaccinated with a domestic brand of medicine, to Tonga, the isolated Pacific archipelago which registered its first case.

China meanwhile, the source of the global outbreak, was telling citizens to stock up for the winter in case of new outbreaks and supply shortages. Much of the world is not fully vaccinated, though up to half of the globe may have received at least one dose. This brought G20 leaders at a recent summit to agree to step up global inoculation efforts, releasing millions more doses for less fortunate countries.

But now that the need for boosters is increasingly being recognized this will be sure to keep pressure on the global supply of vaccines. “Despite the decisions of the G20, not all countries in need can have access to anti-COVID vaccines,” Russian leader Vladimir Putin said in a video message to counterparts. “This happens mainly because of dishonest competition, protectionism and because some states, especially those of the G20, are not ready for mutual recognition of vaccines and vaccination certificates.”

Russia's Sputnik V vaccine has been distributed in a number of  countries around the world, usually poorer ones struggling and desperate to get any brands, but isn't recognized in many countries, especially in the West. Does the rise in cases in that country reflect doubts about the homegrown vaccine or rather the fact no more than a third of Russians are inoculated?

Authorities ordered a week-long paid holiday to keep people at home and try to limit the number of new cases. But further West a feared rise of cases, as the cold season sends people indoors, is also being reported in the UK and Germany, despite high vacci-nation rates. Austria even introduced lockdowns for the non-vaccinated, sure to cause some outrage.

Improved conditions in North America allowed the longest undefended border in the world to reopen, so long as those crossing were inoculated. Conditions for entry in Canada however made some travellers balk Ottawa was also requiring a negative covid test to enter the great white north, a measure officials said they could reconsider. Cases counts there slowly increased in recent weeks however.

But we may be getting new ammunition in  the war against the virus in the form of antiviral covid pills, Pfizer saying its trials showed a dramatic drop in hospitalization and death rates following their use. Pills would add another tool to injections and IVs in the arsenal of weapons against the virus. And this right on time as parts of the West were starting to face a new wave of the pandemic with the return of the cold season.


TRADE WOES

The blocked megavessel in the Suez Canal earlier this year may have been a harbinger of things to come. Months later the backlog of deliveries is ongoing, not only associated to that disruptive incident but  across global commerce, as shipping containers, the vessels of trade, become a precious commodity them-selves in a world furiously rebooting after a pandemic slowdown, boosting consumer prices on practically everything and giving the just in time economy a run for its money.

Half a world away from Suez, the bottleneck of container ships off Los Angeles is the latest manifestation of the global backlog, putting the strains on longshoremen, truck drivers, shippers and others in the industry in a way front-line medical workers would relate. Indeed the transport industry may be the new frontline of the pandemic, especially as the holiday season approaches.

If higher food, vehicle and fuel prices weren't enough to contend with, the prospect of a shortage of toys in the lead up to Christmas was enough to send panicked parents across the world into a frenzy of early shopping, adding to the shipping glut, one which had been created by quarantined consumers eager for something from the outside.

Any disruptions would prove problematic to say the least, so when a storm swept the West Coast of North America, sending over 100 containers into the drink while others caught fire in the waters near British Columbia, it added further supply chain setbacks. The causes of the trade crunch are multiple, but demand is driving much of it, and skyrocketing prices are driven by a double whammy of shortages of everything including computer chips from Taiwan, declining inventories and higher fuel prices as the world economy recovers from months of pandemic-related slowdown.

Not to mention that the hunger for energy from all that ramping up, on the eve of the cold season, is sending demand skyrocketing for fossile fuels at a time the world needs to curb CO2 emissions. Ever starved for coal, China stressed it wouldn't let its environmental commitments stand in the way of progress, making its president a no show at the environmental summit. It's enough to make some rethink capitalism.

Certainly some employees in the transport industry have been doing some rethinking of their own, abandoning jobs which made them vulnerable to infection, resulting in worker shortages not unusual in the services industry. While the moment may come to pass and the strains ease in time, that time isn't now, on the eve of the holiday and cold season in the West, marked by jacked up energy and consumer products demand. In the old continent energy prices were seeing near historic pressures, climbing in some cases by 500% over the last year as nations competed for Russia's vital natural gas exports.

This could result in blackouts over the winter season affecting everything from homes to industries. There was some relief however after Putin asked Gazprom to boost gas supplies. China faces the same pressures, encountering natural gas as well as coal shortages to keep its home warm and plants humming. Any disruption would boost prices, and according to a former Obama adviser, inflation overall will be here to stay.

Prices “will go higher, and the Fed has misread the inflation dynamics in a big way,” according to former Global Development Council Chairman Mohamed El Erian, critical of the U.S. Federal Reserve's practice of "injecting $120 billion every month” to encourage spending and borrowing, stressing it was pushing up prices. In Canada the central bank meanwhile projected consumer prices would remain higher than usual through late 2022.

As a result, the days of low interest rates are creeping to an end. "The main forces pushing up prices - higher energy prices and pandemic-related supply bottlenecks - now appear to be stronger and more persistent than expected," the bank noted. It won't raise the rates right away, but gave plenty of indication this could be expected down the pikes. A TD Bank analyst said it expected the main rate to rise three times next year, after the last gasps of the stimulus.

This would help bring down inflation, but in the mean time the price hikes in the food sector have sent many to the food banks in Canada, leading the CEO of Food Bank Canada to suggest the nation review a "broken safety net." Shipping container giant Maersk said meanwhile this week it expected supply chain issues to last well into the new year.

The crisis has certainly been a boon to its business, recording its best quarter in 117 years of existence. As anything pandemic-related, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from this crisis, including on the supply issue, and that is for industry to reconsider hedging its bets on factories halfway around the world.

Just as the personal protection equipment industry looked to rely less on Chinese imports and more on manufacturers closer to home, businesses the world over are rethinking the wisdom of relying on faraway overseas suppliers and considering a more diverse approach based closer to home.

According to Thomas Insights, 83% of North American manufactu-rers are in fact looking closer to home for their supply needs, the higher costs of local business increasingly being matched by the growing shipping price tag after years of chasing cheaper labour overseas. The crisis has also made many reconsider the logic of just in time shipping, seeing some justification in stocking up on inventory for times of supply side shortages. 

Because, as hard as it may be to believe, things could also be much worse. "The supply chain challenges that are happening now, we believe are just the tip of the iceberg, that is going to be a continuing trend, particularly as the geopolitical situation deterio-rates and the U.S. seeks to decouple some of its supply chain from China," former Canadian minister Tony Clement told CBC.

AFRICA'S LATEST COUP

While anti-government protests are commonplace in most corners of the world  they rarely call for a military government to take over. When they do it makes them a tad suspicious to say the least.

But two years after the removal of strongman Omar Bashir in Sudan, protesters were doing just that and calling for the end of the coalition combining civilians and military, citing growing hunger in the drought-stricken land and lack of justice and equality.

Days later the military obliged, removing key leaders and claiming it was putting in place "competent" ones, ending the transition which for months had combined civilian and military leadership.

A member of that joint council, Gen. Abdel Burhan, blamed political infighting, a concept which lacks no examples in the democratic world but which was perhaps a novelty to him, and imposed a state of emergency.

This sparked new protests, against the military this time, by those anxious to try to reclaim some of their ephemeral liberties, which were often met by force. "We are ready to give our lives for the democratic transition in Sudan," one participant told AFP as some erected barricades.

Abdallah Hamdok, the civilian prime minister who took over in 2019, was among those arrested days after he conceded the country was facing its "worst and most dangerous" crisis. Gen. Burhan said incitement to violence during the political quarrelling forced him to take action, but critics say this and the staged protests were just pretexts to restore military rule in one of Africa's poorest countries with a history of coups.

Bashir had himself come to power in 1989 following a putsch and was facing charges for those actions. His removal had ended a 30-year hardline rule of the country marked by atrocities in Darfur still reverberating today. A rise in attacks in that region of Western Sudan has added to malnutrition woes after a number of poor farming seasons.

In Darfur's five states nearly three million people currently suffer from malnutrition.  The coup now threatens the much needed  foreign aid and support which had started trickling in after the 2019 ouster. Tensions had been rising since a failed coup in September which was attributed to forces still loyal to Bashir.

There have been repeat attempts to grab power by force since the country's independence in 1956. Political infighting has been rife in a country with anything between 80 and 100 political parties, leaving plenty of ground for dissent, a fracture making it nearly impossible to form a proper government.

A rift so widespread even the military seemed divided. Among the brass are rather sinister characters, including a leader of Janjaweed militias responsible for the atrocities in Darfur. Mohamed Dagolo leads the Rapid Support Forces and said the military cares more deeply than any politician about the future of the country, adding the army could respond to civilian protests with its "own street".

Questions about what this meant were quickly answered with the October coup, the fourth to rock the continent this year, not including two failed coups in Madagascar and the Central African Republic.

DIRE STRAITS

Hong Kong has fallen as a democratic outpost follow-ing the implementation of its security law. Could Taiwan follow? Not according to president Tsai Ing-wen, who is determined not to bow to the mainland's incessant pressure on the island China considers a breakaway province rather than a separate country.

The two must and will reunify, Chinese leader Xi Jinping insisted this month, adding this could happen in a "peaceful manner". But this was being said days after Beijing sent a record number of military war planes into Taiwan's air space, raising tensions in ways unseen in decades just days ahead of the island's national day.

In August, while the US was distracted by the rushed evacuation of Kabul, China conducted its most intense simulation of an invasion of Taiwan yet, sending rockets south of the island. Such actions had once provoked an  intimidating response by the Pentagon, which sent two aircraft carriers in the region in 1996. Beijing backed down at the time, a move still the source of embarrassment today.

But no more. In the quarter century since China has launched a massive development of its military, pouring in over $250 billion last year alone, boosting its capabilities in its near abroad despite America's military support of Taipei.

In Taiwan however Beijing's show of force is only boosting support for Ing-wen, a leader re-elected by landslide in 2020 who over the years has worked to secure support from some nations not easily intimidated by China on the world stage. But none of these countries matter as much as the United States, which according to the Wall St Journal has been sending marines and special forces to train Taiwan's military, a move sure to enrage Beijing and threaten the state of affairs in the region.

Taiwanese officials are increasingly wary a Chinese invasion may be just a few years away, a notion hard to dispell with reminders like these from the Chinese leader: “Nobody should underestimate the staunch determination, firm will and powerful ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Beijing may also be emboldened by America's exit from Afghanistan, seeing a decreasing appetite for overseas intervention.

Would the US be ready to go to war for Taiwan, at a time it is bringing troops home? Meanwhile Taiwan said it is bolstering its defences "to ensure that nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us," one the president insisted was "neither a free and democratic way of life for Taiwan nor sovereignty" for what she considers "democracy's first line of defence."

Beijing insists the flurry of recent military exercises are a "just" move to maintain peace and stability and ward off external forces, but Taipei has found the moves a provocation, and warned the mainland not to get too close to its territory. "The DPP (ruling party in Taiwan) authorities' hyping of the so-called 'military threat' of the mainland is to completely invert right and wrong, and a bogus accusation," said a spokesman for China's Taiwan affairs office.

"If the DPP authorities obstinately persist in going about things the wrong way and do not know how to draw back from the edge it will only push Taiwan into a more dangerous situation." Washington's shift out of Afghanistan and into a pact with the UK and Australia no doubt prompted China to be more aggressive in its annual exercises in the lead up to Taiwan's national day, opined Owen Greene and Christoph Bluth of Bradford university, but that doesn't mean an invasion is imminent.

"The consensus among military experts is that China is not (yet) ready for a military campaign to occupy Taiwan," they write in The Conversation. "China could easily strike targets on the island with airstrikes and missiles, as the recent air incursions suggest. But there remain two sources of uncertainty. The first is that China may not yet be ready to launch out an all-out amphibious assault on the island. Such an operation is likely to stretch China’s capabilities and result in substantial casualties on both sides. The other uncertainty for China is the response of the US. While military planners in Beijing may feel that China’s forces have now some degree of local superiority, it is unclear to what level the US would be willing to escalate a conflict if it comes to Taiwan’s aid."

And the costs to Beijing's wider economic and foreign policy objectives could be too devastating to bear, at least for now. In the meantime failure to get Taiwan to comply is leaving China rather frustrated, thus the massive show of force, according to Bonnie Glaser of the German Marshall Fund. "They want to intimidate Taiwan," she says. But Taiwan's allies are serving notice they will not be intimidated either, Canada and the US sending warships in the strait last week to demonstrate their commitment to "a free and open Indo-Pacific."

LES DO$$IERS

Après les dossiers de Panama voici ceux de Pandore, exposant l'utilisation de paradis fiscaux par les plus fortunés - souvent des personnalités politiques - et alors que les noms cachés dans ces 12 millions de documents peuvent changer avec le temps, l'habitude des mieux nantis de vouloir éviter de payer des taxes et l'immobilisme des gouver-nements, qui pourtant promettaient de s'en prendre à eux, ne changent pas du jour au lendemain.

Cette fois la mine d'or de fichiers mettait sur la sellette la famille du président kenyan, l'ancien premier ministre britannique Tony Blair et le roi jordanien. Voilà de quoi intéresser les pays qui procurent tant d'aide internationale au royaume, sans doute pas indifférents aux agissements du souverain.

Selon les documents le roi Abdallah II aurait créé au moins une trentaine de sociétés extraterritoriales et acheté par leur entremise 14 propriétés de luxe au Royaume-Uni et aux Etats-Unis pour environ 106 millions de dollars. Selon le Palais royal les "informations de presse sont inexactes, déformées et exagérées" et constituent une "menace pour la sécurité du monarque et celle de sa famille".

La nouvelle selon laquelle le premier ministre tchèque Andrej Babis aurait placé 22 millions de dollars dans des sociétés-écrans pour financer l'achat d'un château en France est plutôt mal tombée à quelques jours des élections. Il a alors dénoncé une tentative "de me dénigrer et d'influencer les élections législatives tchèques".

Quelques jours plus tard il perdait son poste. Le président équatorien, Guillermo Lasso, celui du Congo Denis Sassou Nguesso et le premier ministre ivoirien Patrick Achi figuraient aussi dans les documents, tous niant toute illégalité.

D'autres comme le président Uhuru Kenyatta, dont les avoirs ont également révélé un réseau de compagnies développé pendant des décennies, avaient même déclaré la guerre à la corruption, déplorant, lors de son discours à la nation l'an dernier, que trop de Kenyans vivent dans la pauvreté et que trop de dirigeants politiques se servent dans les coffres de l'Etat. Autant mentionner que la mention du premier ministre libanais Najib Mikati dans ces documents faisait particuliè-rement mal paraitre la gestion d'un pays du Cèdre croûlant dans la crise.

Certains dirigeants ont décidé de prendre les choses en main, le premier ministre pakistanais Imran Khan lançant une cellule d'enquête de haut niveau après les révélations de liens entre plusieurs de ses ministres et des sociétés extraterritoriales. Les hommes politiques ne sont pas les seuls à avoir été exposés, les personalités sportives comme Jacques Villeneuve et artistes dont Shakira ayant également pris des initiatives fiscales plutôt avantageuses. Certains prétendent que la décision avait été prise à leur insu par des avocats ou des comptables.

Quoiqu'il en soit l'enquête par un consortium de 600 journalistes du monde entier fournit une "preuve claire que l'industrie offshore fait le jeu de la corruption et de la criminalité financière, tout en faisant obstruction à la justice". Mais cinq ans après la fuite de la firme Mossack Fonseca de Panama, ne devait-on s'en être pris à ce genre de pratique?

Plusieurs gouverne-ments s'y étaient engagés, et pourtant la pratique parait plus populaire que jamais, surtout à une époque où la pandémie a sauvagement atteint les recettes de l'état. Même avant les documents de Panama, il y a huit ans, plusieurs gouvernements avaient promis une action coordonnée pour mettre fin à cette pratique, et pourtant certains sont à ce demander si le résultat n'a pas encore aggravé la situation.

Selon Bloomberg, la raison des échecs réside peut-être dans le fait que les personnalités qui ont le devoir de rédiger les lois et les traités régissant le flot mondial des capitaux sont plutôt à l'aise avec le système actuel, assistés de conseillés profitant de ce genre de pratique qui deviennent sur le coup des champions de l'esquive fiscale. Mais les efforts antérieurs ont tout de même parfois porté fruit.

Un ancien chef de cabinet à Malte a notamment été épinglé pour blanchiment d'argent et fraude suite à l'enquête de Panama.  Aux Etats-Unis ces dossiers ont été à l'origine de plusieurs projets de loi, même si le président antérieur a notamment fait la manchette pour avoir évité de payer des impôts pendant plusieurs années. Trump appellait ça être 'intelligent' mais plusieurs observateurs regrettent que, dans le cas de personnes ayant utilisé des comptes extraterritoriaux, ils aient souvent agi sans enfreindre la loi.

La semaine dernière un accord annoncé cet été a été conclu avec 136 pays sur la taxation des multinationales avec un taux minimum de 15%, et parmi eux les paradis fiscaux des Iles vierges britanniques et Caymans. Mais la décision ne faisait pas l'unanimité, les Barbades et quelques autres pays réfractaires résistant encore. Ceci dit c'est 90% du PIB mondial qui était englobé dans l'entente qui doit être mise en vigueur à compter de 2023. Evidemment, quelques malins pourraient trouver de nouvelles astuces d'ici là.

CODE RED

The middle of a pandemic would seem to be an odd moment to remove people on the front lines of the worst health emergency of out time. Their need has often required public authorities to call on those who had retired from the profession and move up for duty a younger generation in the midst of its education and early training.

If some front-line workers, exhausted from months of overwork not always fairly compensated, considered leaving their jobs before, would they not jump at the opportunity of doing so under new pressures?

Yet thousands of workers in North America, and more across the pond in Europe, have either been suspended from doing their jobs or discharged altogether as governments bring down the hammer on vaccine mandates, putting front line workers at the top of the list of those who should be fully protected against covid.

But if not those dealing with the sickest and most vulnerable, officials reason, who then? While the mandates have sent thousands who were previously hesitant to get their shots to the vaccination lines, the removal of others is no doubt putting new added pressures on a health industry crumbling under its patient load, sending some patients out of their jurisdiction to find the necessary beds and resources.

In New York tens of thousands of health care workers were thought of being left out when vaccine mandates went into effect, squeezing a sector already struggling with shortages. “It is their choice to not get vaccinated, but the other choice is that they won’t be able to work in health care,” said Thomas J. Quatroche of the Erie County Medical Center Corp., adding “I don’t think anybody predicted these numbers would be so high.”

US regions such as Rhode Island, Maine and Washington had similar mandates, while others such as California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland gave workers the option to get tested if they felt strongly against vaccinations. Across the border in Canada and across the waters in France thousands of others were also finding themselves ousted of an industry desperately in need of workers.

In Ontario vaccine mandates also required long-term care workers to be vaccinated by mid-November, adding to the woes of an industry savagely hit by the first wave of the pandemic, one in need of reform not close to being implemented. Quebec's health minister justified the vaccine mandate for health care workers in the province by stressing "we will not accept that those who are not vaccinated prevent those who are from having a certain normality."

Last week, sensing the urgency of the situation, Quebec extended its mandate deadline for a month.That province as well as others was also stressed by shortages and exits from burnouts striking the industry as others of the like across the world. In France similar mandates were sparking concerns of shortages both in hospitals and long term care homes. "If 5 or 10% of hospital personnel leave it's a health carastrophe," worried union leader Philippe Martinez. Holdouts have been more common than anticipated in the health field.

One medical expert in Ontario who only got her first vaccine after being told she needed it to keep her job said she wasn't an anti-vaxxer but believed, with her medical knowledge, too little was known about the long-term effects of the vaccine. "I only hope I'm not part of a class action lawsuit years from now," she said.

APRÈS DUTERTE

L'homme fort des Philippines Rodrigo Duterte a annoncé qu'il se retirerait de la vie politique au bout de son mandat de six ans l'an prochain, le seul que lui permet la Constitution, mais sa fille pourrait-elle lui succéder, et ainsi le protéger face aux poursuites pénales?

Pas encore candidate, Sara Duterte-Carpio, maire de la ville de Davao comme son père plus tôt, connait de forts succès dans les sondages. Son père ayant renoncé à l'idée de briguer le poste de vice-président en 2022, la voie serait dorénavant libre pour lancer sa candidature dans une course qui a déjà suscité une certaine attention depuis l'annonce de la participation du boxeur étoile Manny Pacquiao.

Est venu s'ajouter à cette liste de candidats Ferdinand Marcos, fils de l'ancien dictateur. Mais certains voient dans l'éventuelle candidature de Sara non seulement un moyen de prolonger le règne de la famille mais de protéger Rodrigo contre des poursuites pénales suite à sa campagne violente et sans merci contre la drogue qui a fait des milliers de morts depuis 2016 et attiré l'attention de la Cour pénale internationale.

En septembre la CPI annonçait  l'ouverture d'une enquête sur cette guerre antidrogue, estimant qu'elle "ne peut pas être considérée comme une opération légitime de maintien de l'ordre, et les meurtres ne peuvent pas être considérés ni comme légitimes ni comme de simples excès dans le cadre d'une opération par ailleurs légitime."

Manille s'est retirée de la CPI en 2019 lors de l'ouverture d'un examen préliminaire sur les violences qui n'ont épargné ni femmes ni enfants et auraient selon Amnistie fait 7000 victimes. Les juges trouvaient même qu'une "attaque généralisée et systématique contre la population civile a été lancée en application ou dans la poursuite de la politique d'un État".

Récemment la journaliste Maria Ressa recevait le Prix Nobel de la Paix pour sa "lutte courageuse pour la liberté d'expression" et son travail notamment sur "la campagne antidrogue contro-versée et meurtrière du régime Duterte".  Selon ce dernier le poste de vice président lui aurait possiblement procuré une certaine immunité contre ce genre de poursuite - une déclaration pas entièrement vérifiée - mais l'opinion publique lui a vite fait changer d'avis.

"Le sentiment dominant... chez les Philippins, est que je ne suis pas qualifié et que ce serait enfreindre la Constitution," dit-il le jour où il devait enregistrer sa candidature, proposant plutôt celle d'un autre. Malgré le choc de ses méthodes et de ses propos - causant parfois la consternation à l'étranger - durant son mandat de chef d'état, Duterte reste plutôt populaire. C'est à penser que l'objectif justifie parfois les moyens.

Il y a quelques années un rapport de l'ONU faisait état de brutalités policières, falsification des preuves et impunité des forces de l'ordre dans cette guerre à la drogue dans laquelle Duterte ne se gênait pas de parler de liquidation pure et simple des suspects.

Une présidente Duterte aurait-elle des airs de famille? Comme son père Sara est passée par le Barreau avant de se lancer en politique et est plutôt franc parler. Mais d'autres redoutent plutôt une autre candidature, celle de l'ancien chef de police Ronald dela Rosa, ce qui donnerait un autre élan à la campagne antidrogue.


NOW TO GOVERN

After sixteen years of being denied power, Germany's Social Democrats have claimed a slim win (25%) in parliamentary elections, the closest in recent memory, and right away started the always laborious work of trying to form the next government. 

The SPD would need the support of other parties to govern, as has usually been the case when Europe's economic powerhouse has gone to the polls. But it seemed the vote was as much about bidding outgoing Angela Merkel farewell as it was ushering in a new leader. In a way the duel for the top spot involved two candidates who competed to remind Germans of their departing political giant.

While Merkel backed her center-right CDU party's candidate Armin Laschet to succeed her, he fell short (24%), trailing center-left rival and former finance minister Olaf Scholz, who is well liked in part for reminding voters of Merkel's calm demeanour. Laschet's first words upon speaking on election night were directed toward Merkel, thanking her for her leadership. "In a way voters continued to vote for Merkel even if she was no longer on the ballot," observed analyst Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff. "Because they largely opted for a man - Olaf Scholz - who campai-gned and presented himself as the chancellor's natural political heir apparent." Both rivals, analysts noted, in any case represented a vote largely favoring centrist politics.

A return of the SPD, which by many accounts had just been resurrected from the dead, would continue the tradition of switching governing parties after long personal spells of power, starting with Helmut Schmidt's 8-year rule in the 1970s and including 16 years under Helmut Kohl, Merkel's mentor. The winner has big shoes to fill after the reign of a person at times called the most powerful woman in the world, who outlasted four US and French presidents and five British prime ministers.

Throughout her 16-year career as chancellor, this century's European Iron Lady, Germany's first female chancellor, maintained strong popularity and support despite encountering various crises throughout, from the 2008 financial crisis to the migrant influx of 2015, and most recently the covid pandemic, unwavering facing everything from the extreme right wing rioters to anti-vaxxer rallies.

A scientist, Merkel entered politics as the revolutions swept Europe in 1989, eventually toppling the Berlin wall and reuniting Europe's great central power. Scholz has his work cut out for him as he tries to bring together a coalition, and as many as three parties may be necessary to form government. “Long and arduous negotiations lie ahead before a coalition government can emerge. That’s likely to mean an extended period of uncertainty for financial markets as well as economic and fiscal policy,”  says Björn van Roye of Bloomberg.  Merkel stays at the helm in the interim.

 “When a new government is eventually formed it is almost certain to involve the Greens, implying a greater focus on climate change policies,” stressed Steven Bell, chief economist at BMO. “The feasible coalitions would involve compromise on all sides and imply no major policy shift.” In polls 59% of Germans said they favoured a coalition of SPD, Greens and Freedom Democratic Party to form government.

RETOUR DIFFICILE

Le retour en classe à l'automne avait un triste air de familiarité, la première réunion virtuelle avec les parents dans une école d'Ottawa révélant déjà la présence de cas de contagion. Un courriel de la santé publique confirmant le cas de covid-19 dans une classe de 8e et c'était un retour aux centres de dépistage dès la première semaine, malgré le haut taux de vaccinations chez les jeunes qui y ont accès. Par contre l'isolement n'était plus obligatoire chez les élèves doublement vaccinés, même en attendant leur résultat, qui d'ordinaire était disponible en 24 heures.

Pour la jeune mère d'un enfant d'un an et demie cependant, la réglementation rendait diffi-cile le retour au travail, sa garderie exigeant quatre tests en moins d'un mois en raison des divers symptômes inoffensifs de son bambin, à une période où le gouver-nement provincial redéfinissait les symptômes exigeant un test. A l'entrée d'un stade de baseball converti en centre de dépistage, une employée avouait s'y perdre un peu à propos de la réglementation changeante.

Quelques améliorations depuis l'automne 2020 certes, mais un rappel que les nouveaux variants restent bien présents pour hanter les corridors scolaires. Près de 200 cas d'étudiants exposés en Ontario après une semaine seulement (800 écoles rapportaient des cas quelques semaines plus tard, soit 17% des établissements ontariens), alors que quelques cas de contamination aux Iles du Prince Edouard semaient la zizanie, fermant plusieurs écoles pendant quelques jours.

A Montréal c'est une seule enseignante qui a causé la fermeture d'une école après avoir retiré son masque en classe. La rentrée annonçait une autre année scolaire bien autre qu'ordinaire malgré les campagnes de vaccination, en attendant que les plus jeunes y aient finalement droit, possiblement plus tard cet l'automne.

En Alberta ces plus jeunes de moins de 12 ans représentent le groupe le plus touché par les nouvelles éclosions. En attendant, sur fond de manifestations contre les mesures en bordure des hôpitaux, les provinces mettaient graduellement en vigueur leur réglementation sanitaire, suivant l'exemple du Québec qui impose la preuve de vaccination pour les activités non essentielles comme la visite d'un bar ou d'un restaurant.

L'Ontario et la Colombie britannique emboiaient le pas par la suite en dévoilant leurs propres "passeports vaccinaux", sous forme électronique notamment, en retard sur plusieurs pays européens. D'autres, comme la Grande Bretagne, revoyaient leurs objectifs cependant, en reportant l'utilisation de pass sanitaires pour événements de masse.

De l'autre côté de la Manche le chiffre était à la baisse, mais c'est tout de même 1700 classes qui étaient annulées pour cause de covid la semaine dernière. Autant noter que les mesures sanitaires variaient de pays en pays pour les voyageurs qui depuis l'été ont repris les vols. En France une reprise des manifestations régulières, gilets jaunes version 2021, cette fois contre les mesures sanitaires.

Mais pour celles qui débordaient un peu, comme les démonstrations près des écoles ou des hôpitaux au Québec, les autorités passaient à l'action législative, les interdisant, un geste pas accueilli avec enthousiasme par ceux qui y voient une entrave au droit d'expression. La députée conservatrice Claire Samson parlait plutôt de méthode "bulldozer" de faire régner l'ordre.

A DIVISIVE PACT?

It was an agreement between like-minded powers to unify against a common threat from the middle kingdom, but ended up dividing allies, creating a division between the Five Eyes and infuriating France.

The Aukus defence pact between Washington, London and Canberra also miffed its main Chinese target, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian claiming it "seriously undermined regional peace and stability, exacerbated the arms race and undermined international nuclear non-proliferation efforts" by sharing sensitive restricted technology with Australia.

Days after recalling its ambassadors France still seethed from the loss of a major $50 bil. submarine contract, Australia ultimately choosing nuclear powered American submarines over the conventional ones originally planned with France's naval yards. Paris also postponed defense talks planned with Britain, though it did not recall its ambassador there.

Another blow to one of the world's top military exporters came days later when Switzerland also passed on a French option to equip itself with Rafale fighters, choosing the American F-35 instead, the next generation jet model the U.S. is pushing its NATO allies to equip itself with. Just simple business? Paris took the matters rather personally.

Days later US president Joe Biden sought to reassure not only Paris but Beijing as well, about the nature of the pact. He called Emmanuel Macron after addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations where he stated the United States did not want to launch a new Cold War with China and vowed to begin an era of "relentless diplomacy."

"We’ll stand up for our allies and our friends and oppose attempts by stronger countries to dominate weaker ones, whether through changes to territory by force, economic coercion, technological exploitation, or disinfor-mation," he told the UN. "But we are not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs. The United States is ready to work with any nation that steps up and pursues peaceful resolution to shared challenges."

But Biden may have upset some of his other Five Eyes partners stating his country "has no closer or more reliable ally than Australia" to prime minister Scott Morrison. The Five Eyes include New Zealand and Canada, close intelligence partners and neighbours left out of the pact.

The EU threw its support behind Paris, European Council president Charles Michel calling the pact "a lack of loyalty", requesting "clarifica-tions" from Washington. The pact involves a number of technological and diplomatic exchanges on everything from artifical intelligence to cybercrimininality. But it especially adds a new player to the exclusive nuclear submarine club which is limited to the US, France, Britain, China, Russia and India.

Australia claims its reversal was justified in view of major delays, cost overruns and lack of opportunities for its own naval industry in the French deal. "The politics are messy, but the reasons why countries want to be in the nuclear-powered submarine club are crystal clear," according to Andrew S. Erickson, author of Chinese Naval Shipbuilding: An Ambitious and Uncertain Course.

"Power and endurance, both for propulsion and the need to supply electrical power for onboard systems, are critical to any navy—and nuclear power is simply the best option. Even the French deal was done on the premise that the submarines could eventually be converted to nuclear propulsion."

Additio-nally, mastering naval nuclear power is a key part of Beijing’s global ambitions at sea, Erickson adds, suggesting possible assistance from Russia on this front could have been a catalyst for Australia's jump to nuclear technology.

Among the other Five Eyes Canada had once considered the opportunity of acquiring nuclear subs, the only type allowing thorough capabilities under its Polar ice caps, but opted to go diesel instead, buying cheaper used British submarines which remain a stain to its naval fleet.

Speaking to soften relations with France, UK PM Boris Johnson called the Channel relationship "indestructible" and said the pact was not made to exclude close allies. "Of course we'll be talking to all our friends about how to make the Aukus pact work so that it's not exclusionary, it's not divisive - and it really doesn't have to be that way," he said at the UN. "This is just a way of the UK, the US and Australia sharing certain technologies because that is the sensible thing to do in the world in which we find ourselves. But that does not in any way mean that we wish to be adversarial to anybody else, or exclusive, or crowding anybody else out."

If it seemed frictions warranted a little "relentless diplomacy", something like that achieved bringing down tensions between Paris and Washington when Macron and Biden talked on the phone and agreed "open consultation" should have taken place in order to prevent such misunderstandings between allies and should be commonplace in the future.

A welcome outcome after French officials had said the deal had been akin to "treason" and "stabbed" France in the back. Perhaps they were making a bit of a show about it to Macron's advantage, some analysts pointing out standing firm to Washington could work in his favor as he heads to the polls next year.

TRUDEAU COMES SHORT

Justin Trudeau's hopes of gaining a dozen seats to secure a new majority showed early signs of trouble from the get go in this year's snap election as Canada's Atlantic provinces delivered more seats to the Conservatives and fewer to the Liberals.

The election was eventually called in favor of the incumbent, who claimed his third victory in a row, as Conservatives failed to break through in Ontario or Quebec, but with roughly the same amount a seats (158) as two years ago Trudeau failed to regain his 2015 majority, leaving some observers to wonder whether Canadians would be back at the polls in the near future.

In the last days of the campaign the front runners had appealed to those lured by third parties not to support them, saying it would give their opponent the victory. Both Conservative Erin O'Toole and Trudeau had upped the attacks on the stump and in advertisement in the final days of the campaign. Election night ended an acrimonious campaign which not only involved the usual attack ads as opposition members ganged up against the prime minister, but sometimes violent demonstrators who protested against covid-19 measures, some going as far as throwing small pellets at Trudeau during one of his public events.

The disruptions were criticized by other party leaders but kept dogging Trudeau throughout the campaign. One leader who stayed silent on the issue and whose supporters attended the troublesome rally was right-wing leader Maxime Bernier of the People's Party of Canada, who eventually lost his seat but considered his movement alive and well across Canada nevertheless. Other candidates deplored threats made online and saw their campaign signs defaced by Swastikas.

A number of PPC supporters were seen at the event involving the gravel pellets and a PPC riding association president even-tually faced criminal charges. Bernier did not make the cut of minimal support to be part of the leaders' debates but saw his popularity grow as disaffected Conservatives not happy with O'Toole's leadership, and more centrist positions, switched their vote over to him instead.

Trudeau called the election as favorable ratings showed he had a chance to secure a majority, but these figures started slipping soon after, even putting the Conservatives slightly ahead in party voting intentions, as they were on election night in October 2019. Vote distribution however prevented them from taking power this year as it did two years ago.

Conservative numbers notably dropped after the three televised debates however, leading O'Toole to multiply attacks in the last week of campaigning, accusing Trudeau of creating a national unity crisis. O'Toole notably stumbled on gun control during the campaign, tweaking his platform vow to repeal gun control legislation in mid stream, saying he would keep a ban on assault weapons.

This wasn't well received in more Conservative circles who saw a more progressive leader than they wanted. O'Toole also said he wouldn't necessarily scrap carbon pricing, despite the fact his platform said he would "scrap the carbon tax backstop." Unlike Trudeau who attended a number of live in person events, O'Toole opted for more of a virtual campaign, choosing to make many announcements in front of cameras from an Ottawa hotel. Events held outside were usually limited to supporters and the media.

In the first debate Trudeau made himself no favors hinting he could call another election within 18 months if he failed to obtain a majority. In this and other debates the reoccurring question of why Trudeau chose to launch an election with two years left in his mandate dogged him. While two years is the average length of a minority government, the Liberals had been operating with the support of other parties and could have continued this, many agree, until their full mandate was up. 

This third party support may not come easy this time around. Trudeau said he wanted to call an election to engage a debate on the way forward in view of the differing opinions on the pandemic but was criticized over and over again for not only calling an "unnecessary" or "selfish" election to try to gain a majority, but doing so in the middle of a pandemic. In addition the election call was made on the day Kabul airport was closed to commercial traffic, triggering the Afghan crisis. The government's response to the emergency, which stranded Canadians and their helpers half a world away, was also panned by other party members. These weren't the only blows to Trudeau.

Despite closely collaborating with Quebec during the pandemic Trudeau did not get Quebec premier Francois Legault's vote, the latter telling a news conference voting Liberal, NDP or Green would be bad for Quebec, accusing these parties of wanting to centralize powers in Ottawa.

But O'Toole faced a similar blow after fellow Tory provincial leader Jason Kenney, the premier of Alberta whose management of the pandemic he had praised, admitted he had been wrong in handing the health crisis as the province declared a new health emergency. The Tories saw a double digit drop of support in the province on election night.

During debates Trudeau was criticized for his record, accused of not delivering on promises after six years in power, from climate change targets to reconciliation, some even questioning his feminist credentials. "Mr. Trudeau promises things and doesn't deliver," O'Toole said. "Mr. Trudeau may care. I think he cares. But the reality is that he's often done a lot of things for show and he hasn't backed them up with real action," said NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.

One thing the party leaders did agree on during the campaign was to open the purse strings, the Liberals promising $78 bil. in new spending, while the Conservatives promised more than $50 bil., leaving analysts worried about the cost of all that accumulated debt as interest rates rise.  

LES COLONELS

Après le Mali plus tôt cette année, c’est au tour du voisin guinéen de vivre son plus récent coup d’état, comme si une contagion gagnait ce coin de l’Afrique de l’Ouest à présent dirigé par des colonels. La dernière victime, un président élu il y a 11 ans lors de la première élection démocratique depuis l’indé-pendance mais qui avait depuis semé la grogne en cherchant à prolonger sa présidence, le réflexe des hommes au pouvoir dans plusieurs coins d’Afrique.

L’arrestation de L’octogé-naire Alpha Condé a été annoncée par les militaires du groupement des forces spéciales qui ont dissous le parlement et la constitution, en promettant de faire respecter des principes démocratiques selon eux bafoués par le dirigeant sortant. Acclamé par la rue, le geste des militaires n’est pas accueilli avec autant d’enthousiasme par la communauté internationale, qui fait appel au rétablissement de l’ordre, ou de plusieurs observateurs.

“C’est une déception, un sentiment d’échec, regrette Mamady Kaba de la ligue pour les droits et la démocratie en Afrique. Nous espérons qu’il y aura un nouveau départ, et une réforme des institutions.” Quelques jours plus tard la junte annonçait la mise en oeuvre d'un "gouvernement d'union nationale" pour assurer la transition politique, et ce sans "chasse aux sorcières".

Les ministres proches de Condé étaient cependant invités à s'abstenir. L’expérience démo-cratique est-elle donc  terminée en Guinée ou avait-elle déjà disparu depuis quelque temps?

Fin 2019 déjà Amnistie internationale dénonçait la “violations des droits humains qui se multiplient, notamment les homicides de manifestants, les interdictions de rassem-blements pacifiques et la répression des voix dissidentes” responsables de douzaines de morts.

Les militaires, avec en tête le lieut.-colonel Mamady Doumbouya, disent avoir agi pour mettre fin à "la gabegie financière, la pauvreté et la corruption endémique" ainsi que "l'instrumentalisation de la justice (et) le piétinement des droits des citoyens". Mais le parcours semble plutôt familier.

Le coup d’état précédent en Guinée remontait à 2008 à peine, suite au décès de Lansana Conté, qui avait lui-même pris le pouvoir par la force des armes. Le putsch suit celui du voisin malien au printemps, son deuxième en moins d’un an, plongeant la région dans l’incertitude.

Au Mali certains réclament le prolongement de la période de transition qui prévoit un référendum constitutionnel et des élections présidentielles, car ces échéanciers semblaient hors de portée. Conakry tentait de rassurer les investisseurs étrangers, la Guinée étant un important producteur de bauxite, se disant promettre de respecter "toutes ses obligations liées aux conventions minières" tout en rappelant son "engagement à favoriser les investissements étrangers."

Le pays reste pour l'heure sous un couvre feu qui rend le travail des petits commerçants difficiles. Le régime a cependant procédé aux premières libérations des prisoniers d'opinion du régime précédent, un geste encourageant mais pas sûr d'entièrement rassurer les critiques nationales et internationales de la junte.

Rien pour convaincre l'Union africaine, qui comme la Cédéao, a choisi de suspendre la Guinée. En attendant on annonçait l'ouverture d'une série de rencontres entre divers membres de la société guinéenne pour préparer la formation du gouvernement.

EL SALVADOR'S STRONGMAN?

Wracked by years of gang violence, El Savador has seen a drop of the kind of activities that have made it one of the most murderous countries on earth under the popular presidency of Nayib Bukele. But critics say the violence shaking the nation of 6.5 million now targets its democratic institutions after the 40 year old president stacked the country's Supreme Court with loyalists who then cleared a path for him to seek re-election in three years despite a constitutional ban on consecutive presidential terms.

Barely two years at the helm, the high court ruled the ball cap wearing president could stand for office in 2024. The ruling was made by judges appointed by a national assembly dominated by Bukele’s party following the removal of the attorney general and magistrates.

Party members also passed a law to remove one-third of the nation's judges and prosecutors, heeding Bukele's calls for a "purge" of the judiciary. El Salvador also announced recently it was adopting Bitcoin as national currency, a controversial move critics say was meant to eclipse the Supreme Court's decision.

Critics both at home and abroad panned the election decision.  “The dictatorship is consummated,” opined Óscar Ortiz of the Farabundo Martī Front for National Liberation,  a former vice president. US official Jean Manes said the move was “clearly contrary to the Salvadoran constitution” and compared the popular president's path to that of Hugo Chavez.

"For a moment, many Venezuelans believed that they were living in a democracy ... but little by little Chávez undermined the independence of Venezuela's democratic institutions. We know where this path leads, and we do not want it for El Salvador."

Bukele has in fact criticized the 30 year old peace agreement which ended El Salvador's bloody civil war and ushered in democracy as a "farce", claiming "democracy was a pantomime. When the changes aren’t cosmetic, you have to cut the problems at their root."

The decision to adopt Bitcoin was controversial on its own, leading many to fear adopting it as national currency is an unprecedented monetary experiment that could end up costing the country's fragile economy dearly.

The risks became apparent as Bukele announced the purchase of hundreds of Bitcoins before the rate took a 10% drop. Salvadorans would be able to download an application called the "Chivo Wallet," providing them $30 worth of Bitcoin in order to  promote the use of the cryptocurrency.

Supporters say the currency allows new possibilities for people who don't own bank accounts but the day Bitcoin launched demon-strations took place against the currency, some organizers fearing the country could become a narco-state as Bitcoins could be used for money laundering.

Two third of the population says it would rather stick with the much used US dollar. Criticized at home and abroad, Bukele did manage to reign in gang violence in the country, but an investigation by El Salvador’s former attorney general leaked to the media revealed his administration had negotiated with the country's main gangs to bring violence down. It suggested gang leaders could have agreed to lower violent attacks to obtain better prison conditions including more communica-tions with gang members on the outside
                     
NOW, TERROR?

Mission accomplished? The US administration having considered "completed" the original mission of ousting Al Qaida stood by its deadline of Aug 31 to remove its last soldiers from Afghan soil, ending activities which had killed thousands of American troops.

But this was after last week's devastating terror attacks at besieged Kabul airport which killed over 170, including a dozen US soldiers, hardly leaving the country safe from a return to terrorism potentially harm-ing the West in the future.

The Islamic State, a common enemy of both departing troops and incoming Taleban, claimed responsi-bility for the attacks, which had been largely anticipated by Western intelligence.

The US troops still on the ground, former US defense secretary Leon Panetta was already predicting their eventual return to deal with the threat which has emerged and already spilled the blood of both soldiers and civilians. “We’re going to have to go back in to get ISIS,” Panetta told CNN.

Others such as David Petraeus, former commander of US and allied forces, said it would now take longer for US troops to return to the country if needed, Washington having  committed to finding and hunting down those responsible for the recent attack, the most serious against the US in a decade, and that America's future intelligence capabilities in the country and region were seriously hampered just as their need reached new urgency.

Petraeus told the US Naval Institute of the equipment and resources needed for an eventual return to the region. “It’s going to take a fleet of aerial tankers to get [aircraft] there and stay there” to monitor terror groups, adding it would also take hours for military drones to reach Afghanistan from other US bases.

“We had this all set up” he said of pursuing counterterrorism efforts in the region, keeping some 2,500 to 3,500 U.S. forces there “would have been the way” to have eyes on the ground, but all this is lost now with the withdrawal. Both he and Panetta agreed Taleban promises to keep terrorists at bay were hardly worth the paper they were printed on. “They gave safe haven to Al Qaida before, they’ll probably do it again,” predicted the director of the CIA who oversaw the US operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

After all the Taleban had released a number of insurgents by opening up the prisons as they took over the country and were themselves “terrorists, and certainly supporters of terrorists, operating checkpoints for terrorists.” In the mean time at least Panetta was confident the US had “pretty good intelligence on the leadership of ISIS,” terrorist group who took responsibility for the blasts.

Indeed within days of the attack the US claimed it had killed planners behind the blasts and prevented another attack by sending a drone to take out a vehicle. But this was followed by IS rocket fire against the airport on the eve of final withdrawal. While some questioned the irony that America had been relying on the Taleban to secure the outer perimeter of the Kabul airport, Washington went as far as to give them lists of people they were seeking to evacuate so they could get through their checkpoints, leading some US officials to say the group taking over the country had in fact helped prevent attacks.

But new efforts will have to ensure the US retains intelligence capabilities in the sensitive region. “I understand that we’re trying to get our troops out of there, but the bottom line is, we can leave a battlefield, but we can’t leave the war on terrorism, which still is a threat to our security,” Panetta said. In addition to IS-Khorasan and other groups active in Afghanistan, it is feared the attacks could have a galvanizing effect on jihadists around the world from nearby Pakistan to Yemen, Syria and all the way to Nigeria and Mozambique.

All possibly heeding the propaganda the US and its allies were successfully flushed from the country. A knife attack by an ISIS sympathizer in New Zealand this week was already one incident which raised concerns of copycat attacks.

QUARELLING NEIGHBORS

Algeria and Morocco have had strained relations in the best of times, and in view of recent massive wildfires causing death and destruction in the North African region, these haven't been the best of times.

In fact Algeria is accusing its neighbor of supporting a "terror group" seeking the independence of the affected Kabylie region, which it said is behind the blazes which killed dozens. The claim is among a number of wedge issues which ruptured relations between the two countries who share a border which has been closed since 1994.

The two have long standing tensions on everything from the border to the sensitive southern region of Western Sahara, home to an independence Polisario Front backed by Algeria. Algiers also accuses Morocco of spying on its officials by using the controversial Pegasus spyware and said it failed to meet bilateral obligations, some of them notably involving Western Sahara.

"The Moroccan kingdom has never stopped its hostile actions against Algeria," said Algerian foreign minister Ramdane Lamamra, who also cited Morocco’s support for Israel to be awarded observer status at the African Union.

Rabat had joined other countries such as United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Bahrain seeking normaliza-tion with the Jewish state, an issue which has deeply divided the Arab world. Both countries would maintain consular services during this diplomatic break  which has brought tense relations to their lowest point in decades.

Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid had recently visited the kingdom and said at the time Algeria was developing ties with Iran while opposing Israel's decisions to join the African Union as observer.

Under King Mohammed VI Morocco had been seeking better relations with its eastern neighbor and sought to reopen the border between the two countries, but Algiers has rejected this for security reasons. Rabat had however stoked tensions earlier when one of its diplomats in New York called for self-determination for the Kabylie people, causing Algiers to recall its ambassador.

The Western Sahara, which Morocco considers its own,  has been a continuous point of contention since decoloniza-tion and the issue flared up again last year when the Polisario Front said it was resuming its armed struggle.

The United States recognised Moroccan sovereignty over the territory last year after Rabat improved its relations with Israel. Lamamra said his government's position was unwavering. "Algeria will remain firm in its positions on the issue of Western Sahara," he said.

Morocco has denied spying on Algerian officials, saying it did not the possess the Pegasus spyware, an Israeli designed spying software used around the world. Cybersecurity group Citizen Lab says the software was most recently used against Bahrain activists by that kingdom's officials.

L'ABANDON

Le retour de troupes multinationales en Afghanis-tan aurait dû être accueilli avec enthousiasme et espoir en raison des gains effectués par les Talibans à travers le pays, capturant une douzaine de capitales régionales en quelques jours, dont la stratégique et symbolique Kandahar.

Or cette dernière mission militaire ne faisait que confirmer l'abandon du pays aux mains des islamistes, Etats-Unis, Grande-Bretagne, Canada et autres parachutant leurs unités spéciales avec le seul but de rapatrier le personnel d'ambassades bientôt assiégées.

Avant même l'arrivée de la totalité de leurs effectifs les Talibans avaient pris la capitale, tandis que le président afghan prenait la fuite. Les citoyens d'un pays longtemps à l'origine des plus importantes migrations de réfugiés à travers le monde étaient livrés à leur sort avec la déroute des troupes gouvernementales. Celle-ci était d'autant plus décourageante que des années et des milliards avaient été investis pour former les troupes, dont certaines unités ont fui dès les premiers combats, et même parfois pour les éviter.

Avec la chute de Kandahar, ancienne base canado-américaine et centre névralgi-que régional important, des milliers se précipitaient vers la capitale Kaboul, un dernier bastion gouvernemental qui n'a tenu que quelques heures de plus et n'a opposé aucune résistance. Alors qu'en conférence de presse les Talibans promettaient qu'il n'y aurait pas de représailles et que les femmes seraient respectées, les réalités sur le terrain étaient un rappel de la bonne vieille ligne dure infligeant des sanctions sévères contre ceux et celles qui n'obéissent pas aux règles religieuses strictes, sans parler de ceux qui avaient servi ONGs, le gouvernement ou  les troupes étrangères.

 La suite s'annonçait catastrophique pour ceux qui avaient vu leur conditions s'améliorer au courant des années, notamment les femmes et les jeunes filles. Ces dernières forment la majorité du quart de million de réfugiés qui ont pris la route lors des offensives, des éclats qui ont déjà tué plus de 1000 civils.

Précipitée par le départ des troupes américaines, pourtant annoncé et retardé depuis des lunes mais en fin de compte chaotique, l'écroulement du pouvoir avait lieu sur fond "d'impuissance de la commu-nauté internationale", selon l'analyste Bruno Daroux, et malgré les derniers efforts à l'ONU de mettre fin à l'offensive talibane. Alors que la société civile a pu faire quelques pas pour rétablir certaines libertés lors des dernières années, la faiblesse des institutions nationales et l'emprise des Talibans dans les régions éloignées du pays ont précipité la débandade, les troupes étrangères une fois sur le chemin du retour.

Le secrétaire de la défense britannique Ben Wallace s'avouait préoccupé par l'avenir du pays: "Les états ratés génèrent la pauvreté et les problèmes de sécurité, à l'interne mais aussi à l'international." C'était bien sous le même régime qu'Al-Qaida avait préparé ses attentats aux Etats-Unis il y a 20 ans. Le secrétaire général de l'ONU Antonio Guterres insistait qu'il était impératif que le pays ne serve plus de base au terrorisme.

"Vous ne serez pas ciblés depuis l'Afghanistan," promirent les Talibans. Mais les critiques du retrait des troupes, notamment américaines, ne se gênent plus de parler d'"humiliation" et de "défaite" de ces forces armées, une réalité dure à avaler par les familles des soldats perdus, et encore plus par les Afghans qui se sentent "trahis" par le départ des alliés. "Il s'agit d'une tragédie incroyable pour ce peuple qui souffre depuis longtemps," résume Guterres.

Pour Nader Hashemi de l'université de Denver, il ne s'agit pas moins d'une "défaite colossale des Etats-Unis et leurs alliés." Etant donnée la déroute des forces afghanes, qui a armé les Talibans, "les déclarations des commandants de l'Otan on grossièrement exagéré la compétence du gouvernment et des forces afghanes," dit-il. Des forces qui selon plusieurs experts n'ont opposé qu'une très faible résistance aux Talibans malgré des années de formation.

Et pour certains, notamment un président Biden attristé par la déroute mais sans regrets, ceci justifie le retrait américain, un retrait, selon lui, qui ne pouvait pas avoir lieu sans anicroches. Mais d'autres parlent plutôt du premier fiasco de son administration. "Le retour des Talibans va hanter l'occident pendant longtemps," se désole Hashemi.

COVID AGAIN

After a summer of so much promise many students are heading back to school with the option to continue the virtual learning of this spring or head to class while being kept in limited groups all the while wearing masks, even if they are vaccinated. Elsewhere infections are going back up as hospital wards welcome younger patients. What happened to the hope of a return to normal? Or is this what it looks like? The delta variant for one has reintroduced a higher level of infection requiring continuing work on the vaccine front, and forcing vaccination campaigns to go into overdrive.

Booster shots, vaccine passes or passports and masks, these are the tools of the endemic which covid outbreaks have become. And some say a new generation of vaccines may be necessary to truly keep the virus at bay. In the mean time not everyone is keen on all of these measures at this point in time, and this includes members of the scientific community, let alone the growing protest movements against health measures.

As some countries push third doses while others struggle to cobble the first, the World Health Organiza-tion wants to spread the growing vaccine wealth around before recommending third doses or booster shots. “I think we’re closer to the beginning than we are to the end [of the pandemic], and that’s not because the variant that we’re looking at right now is going to last that long,” said epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, who worked closely with WHO.

“Unless we vaccinate everyone in 200 plus countries, there will still be new variants.” This means covid-19 could become a “forever virus” like influenza, requiring regular vaccines updated for the latest strain. WHO had earlier sought to slow vaccination campaigns for children in order to protect the most vulnerable around the world.

That category is however changing to incorporate anyone not fully vaccinated, not just those with health issues. And among the unvaccinated are not only those unable to obtain doses or skeptics, but children under 12 still not eligible to receive a shot, making the need to protect them all the more urgent as they return to school and children's hospitals fill up in some countries such as the United States.

 The US hopes to speed trials for children 5 to 12 to perhaps make a vaccine available before the year is over. This certainly clashes with WHO's call to maximize immunizations among those already eligible as most of the world's adults are not protected. Countries with low levels of vaccination have after all brought us the more contagious strains of a highly evolving virus, India, in the case of the delta variant, while Colombia saw the emergence of another variant experts say may become to next one to watch.

But even in countries with higher levels of vaccination, such as the United States, officials are growing concerned the vaccinated can spread the virus as well, even if it is less likely to send them to the emergency ward or morgue. The Centers for Disease Control have hence walked back suggestions to abandon masks indoors, among the reversals angering some citizens. But the situation there is once more dire as the country is averaging 10 times the daily infections it saw in June.

This is making some in Canada concerned as the world's longest undefended border once more reopened to road traffic, to limit the economic damage of another lost travel season. Meanwhile the United States, home of the worst global outbreak, after the failures of the previous administration, is going to ask visitors, military members and federal employees to be fully vaccinated.

 This as in the South the country's emergency wards are once again filling up as some states call out for help and ventilators, while some patients are being evacuated to medical centres with room remaining. As new variants emerge, boosted by regions worldwide where most remain unvaccinated, experts say a new generation of vaccines will be necessary, not just to prevent severe illness, but stop transmitting the disease, which the vaccinated currently can still do, threatening others.

Until then the fight against the virus will continue, and US expert Anthony Fauci says the public has been lucky the delta variant has been contained by the current vaccines so far. "Quite frankly, we’re very lucky that the vaccines that we have now do very well against the variants — particularly against severe illness," he said. “If another one comes along that has an equally high capability of transmitting but also is much more severe, then we could really be in trouble.”

Meanwhile vaccine passes are increasingly being embraced as a way to avoid future lockdowns. In France and Italy they became mandatory to enter restaurants and bars, with regional governments in North America also following suit in New York and Quebec, though not without controversy. This once more left divided a national capital with one set of rules on one side of the Ottawa River and a second set on the other. Canada later mandated that public servants, rail and air passengers also be vaccinated while saying it would work on a vaccine passport for travellers.

And while all vaccines are not created equal, with Chinese-made vaccines not recognized in the United States, the same can be said of vaccination regimens. Some are not recognizing doubly vaccinated individuals because they received different first and second doses of the vaccines. In addition concern is growing about the effectiveness of current vaccines dealing with the variants at hand in the long run.

According to one Mayo Clinic study the effectiveness of the much touted Pfizer vaccine was said of dropping to 42% in July, while Moderna's effectiveness still hovered around 76%. Another aspect of the ongoing race against a virus which has already seen many mutations to torment humanity.

AND THEY'RE OFF

By calling for a much anticipated snap election in September Justin Trudeau is gambling Canadians will appreciate his efforts fighting the pandemic and restore the parliamentary majority he lost two years ago, but there is no guarantee he will get one.

He faces a relatively under appreciated Tory leader in the short 36-day campaign, but polls once suggesting a majority may again be within the grasp of the Liberal party have tightened, with third parties playing potential spoilers.

And much can happen even in a short run to the polls. While Canada was less effective launching its vaccination campaign at first it quickly became one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, but the election campaign gets underway as a new wave of infections emerges, threatening more shut downs of the economy.

 Conservative leader Erin O'Toole has faced internal opposition ever since he was selected in the party leadership campaign, many in his own party finding him too centrist in a divided political landscape. He pledged to put the country on the path of economic recovery after what he called a bungled response to the pandemic which cost tens of thousands of jobs, in part by "unleashing innovation."

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who announced his campaign platform days before the official suspension of parliament, promised universal pharmacare, dental and mental health support if elected. He and O'Toole condemned Trudeau for launching what they deemed an unnecessary election, but agree on little else.

"The only reason for an election is because Trudeau wants a majority" chimes a Conservative TV ad. One Tory ad however was deemed so bad and amateurish it was panned by Tory MPs themselves, hardly the start O'Toole wanted.

The party's platform promised billions in new pandemic aid and to "take inequality seriously", a centrist swing perhaps not endearing to all Conserva-tives. The split of the vote among the five parties, including the Quebec-only Bloc Quebecois and Greens, threatened to leave parliament the way it was coming out of the Sept. 20 vote.

Singh's poll-topping personal likability could be a factor chipping away at the Liberals' hopes of a majority. The election call had been preceded by a wave of electoral announcements by the Liberals, from plans to develop a vaccine passport to health care decisions hoping to chip away at the support of the NDP.

In Ontario alone that party is sitting third at 26% but has gained 9 points since 2019 in the popular vote, while the poll-topping Liberals (34%) lost 7 points and the Tories slipped two point (to 30%), according to a Leger poll. "I think they need millennials certainly to win a majority," opined David Coletto of Abacus Data, pointing out these young adults have started looking to the NDP rather than Liberals in recent years, hurting their chances to add the necessary new seats.

GETTING OUT

America has had enough of global interventions, endless wars and massive troops deployments, at least for now, and is bringing troops home, but this isn't just true in Afghanistan, where locals fear the Taleban resurgence which has led the group to retake half the country, but elsewhere as well. With less fanfare the US announced it was also ending its more or less symbolic military presence in Iraq, all the while resisting calls to intervene elsewhere, such as Haiti, as the country reeled from the assassination of its president, and even passing up the chance to meddle in the affairs of Cuba, two countries of its near abroad where interactions have been complex to say the least.

This is certainly not Washington's foreign policy of the 20th century, and it is leaving some with mixed feelings about the world's battered but persistent global superpower. Only about 2,500 US troops remain of what was once a massive invading force which ousted Saddam Hussein from power after decades of dictatorship. Iraq is now increasingly able to handle its own affairs, but lives in a volatile region anything but stable.

The US is transitioning to an advisory role there as president Joe Biden seeks to end America's "forever wars". The transition is already well underway, with GIs no longer accompanying Iraqi troops on patrol for at least a year, according to Politico. There as in nearby Syria, where some 900 mostly special forces will remain, the mission will be focused on supporting local troops, in Syria's case democratic forces, to fight the Islamic State.

Less officially, the American role will also be to check Iranian and Russian influence in the region, leading to the occasional clashes. Sometime that Iranian influence can be found in governments, as is the case in Baghdad, making the departure of US troops there a delicate matter with ramifications stretching to nearby Syria. “There is no clean, safe, uncontroversial way to leave, and Biden seems to have made clear he doesn’t want to have to handle unnecessary crises in Syria when he has bigger things on his plate,” says Aron Lund of the Century Foundation.

“Syria is one reason — of many — for why actually leaving Iraq and ending the presence there is seen as problematic.” The decision to leave Afghanistan was greeted with cheers from the Taleban who according to a new report have increased attacks by a third since signing a February 2020 peace agreement with the US, 13242 by the end of 2020. 

The Taleban resurgence is a threat to the country's hard won freedoms, notably girls' education, and leaves fearing for their lives thousands of Afghans who had supported Western troops in the country. Countries such as the United States and Canada have since increased efforts to allow some of these former staff, including interpreters, to immigrate as the last foreign troops leave the country.

There is leaving and there is not intervening in the first place, and in a region charged with a history of intervention such as the Caribbean, the decision not to respond to Haiti's plea for military assistance in the post-assassination turmoil, and to avoid meddling in Cuba, so recently marked by important protests, this is no small matter.

The region is increasingly being eyed by China with interest as it develops its belt and road global infrastructure network. But not everyone is convinced America should necessarily sit the Caribbean crises out. "When U.S. President Joe Biden pledged to return America to the global stage after four years of isolationism under Donald Trump, the Caribbean was admittedly not a priority," notes Elise Labott of American University. "The Caribbean had other ideas" however considering the power vacuum in Haiti after the assassination of president Jovenel Moise and the economic crisis in Cuba.

But Washington shouldn't squander an opportunity amidst these upheavals. "On so many issues from Afghanistan to trade, Biden’s policies are effectively a continuation of Trump’s," she writes in Foreign Policy. "Supporting calls for freedom in Cuba dovetail nicely with Biden’s democracy agenda, in which he has divided the world into an existential battle between democracies and authoritarian regimes... But the more vocal the administration becomes, the higher the cost of inaction will become in turn."

But the young administration is still fine tuning its policies, especially on the delicate matter of an island country so important in a state Biden lost during the recent election. “We're going to be taking a close look at what has and has not worked in the past," said State Department spokesman Ned Price. "And unfortunately in the case of Cuba, there may be more that has not worked than what has worked.”

In the mean time Washington says it will not be welcoming those fleeing the two countries with open arms. Haitians and Cubans have started desperate and dangerous sea odysseys to try to reach American shores. In fact the US has seen an 11-fold jump in Cuban emigres braving hurricane season and sharks to try to complete the passage, a number expected to grow since protests over rising prices and blackouts were met with crackdowns. Strategist Dan Restrepo, who served under Obama, says uncle Sam will not be resorting to its old interventionist ways and it will be for people both in Cuba and Haiti to settle their crises.

But this "requires time as the ability of those populations to set their respective paths forward is hampered, in the case of Haiti, by the legacy of a predatory state followed by an absent one and, in Cuba's case, by the repression of a long dictatorship," he says. "There is no big-bang action from the United States that will remove either of those impediments." America's international partners, especially Canada and Europe, will also be key to unravelling the crisis.

DIX ANS PLUS TARD

La Tunisie a beau avoir mieux qu'ailleurs réussi son printemps arabe il y a dix ans, la transition démocratique n'y a pas été simple et a pu même paraitre quelque peu incomplète, laissant en place des institutions fragiles.

Cet état des choses a été rappelé en juillet lorsque le président Kais Saied a limogé le premier ministre, à la tête du dixième gouvernement en autant d'années, et suspendu les activités du parlement pendant 30 jours citant le besoin de combattre la corruption et mettre fin aux querelles politiques intermi-nables, un geste condamné à titre de coup d'état par l'opposition.

Certains y voient même le genre de dérive qui a détourné le vent de la révolution de printemps 2011 en Egypte pour y instaurer la ligne dure des militaires, accusant Saied d'incarner un Sisi tunisien, en référence à l'homme fort du Caire. "La situation a atteint un stade inacceptable dans toutes les institutions  de l'État", déclare quant à lui Saied, qui a également limogé le ministre de la défense entre autres mais se défend de changer le pays cap. "Je rassure les Tunisiens que l'État est là, et il n'est pas question de porter atteinte aux droits et libertés".

L'intervention des militaires pour barrer l'accés à la législature, l'interdiction des rassemblements et l'interven-tion policière dans les bureaux de la chaine de nouvelles Al-Djazira à Tunis font cependant craindre une dérive autoritaire dix ans après le départ du dictateur Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. "On est dans l'inconnu, avec un risque de dérives y compris sanglantes, craint Michael Ayari, analyste de l'International Crisis Group, il y a un objectif de restaurer l'efficience de l'État, mais il faudra s'assurer d'impliquer un large nombre d'acteurs".

Parmi eux, Saied semble avoir rassuré l'influente Union générale des travailleurs tunisiens, pour qui les gestes du président n'étaient pas si incompatibles avec la constitution. L'union a joué un rôle clé dans les années qui ont suivi le printemps arabe, et faisait partie des groupes rencontrés par Saied afin de lancer une concertation publique pour calmer la crise. 

Le coup d'éclat de Saied mettait fin à des mois de bras de fer entre lui et le dirigeant du parti islamiste modéré Ennahda Rached Ghannouchi, qui n'a pu intégrer ses bureaux malgré des heures passé devant l'entrée. "Je suis contre le rassemblement de tous les pouvoirs dans les mains d'une seule personne," déclara Ghannouchi une fois devant les grilles fermées du parlement tunisien. Son parti entre temps appelait l'armée à "se placer du côté du peuple et à remplir leur rôle de protection de la Constitution". 

Des affronte-ments ont eu lieu entre partisans du président et de l'Ennahda après une série de manifestations contre la gestion de la crise sanitaire au pays. Celui-ci traverse une nouvelle période trouble avec des pics de 9000 cas d'infection de covid-19 en une seule journée en juillet. Saied a annoncé la création d'une cellule de crise pour affronter la pandémie, plaçant l'armée en première ligne des efforts contre l'envahisseur viral.

Les problèmes sanitaires aggravent une situation économique, laissant un chôma-ge élevé. Plusieurs capitales, de Paris à Washington, ont appelé au calme en et encouragé les partis de régler leurs différends de manière pacifique et fort heureusement certains ont choisi de baisser le ton.

Le premier ministre Hichem Mechichi s'est d'une part dit prêt à céder le pouvoir pour éviter une aggravation de la crise et permettre une transition pacifique vers un successeur qui doit être désigné par Saied, qui a également le rôle de chef des armées et qui s'est octroyé le pouvoir exécutif.

Quelques heures plus tard Ennahda tentait également de calmer le jeu en faisant son propre appel au dialogue "pour le bien de la vie démocratique".  Le parti islamiste se disait également prêt "à la tenue d'élections législatives et présidentielles anticipées simultanées."

Mais l'arrestation d'un député qui avait dénoncé un "coup d'état"  soulève des craintes. Selon Déborah Perez de Science Po: "Les Tunisiens ont maintenant dix ans d'expérimentation démocratique derrière eux, c'est un acquis qui fait que la peur a changé de camp et que les gens n'hésitent plus à descendre dans la rue."

WHAT WOULD ALFRED NOBEL SAY

From within his political bubble, Ethiopia's prime minister Abiy Ahmed can easily forget the opposition he faces on the outside despite a landslide win in last month's parliamentary elections.

By winning 410 of 435 contested seats he will be surrounded by supporters internally, but faces an even greater opposition every-where else, as the country drags on with a war in its northern Tigray region.

The opposition largely boycotted the vote and criticism has greeted his election from well beyond his country's borders, where the election was deemed flawed and Abiy stands accused of committing atrocities during the conflict with the breakaway region.

This is a far cry from three years ago when he led a coalition in power on a promise of social and economic reforms, at first privatizing major companies and freeing political prisoners. The launch of the war against Tigray marked a turning point for the Nobel Peace laureate however, as Abiy's forces are accused of burning crops and block-ading roads in what the Unoted Nations says amounts to "starving Tigrayans" during the conflict.

The European Union announced travel sanctions for Ethiopian officials, joining the United States in accusing Addis Ababa of "ethnic cleansing" during the conflict. While the government called for a ceasefire, Tigray's forces said one would not take place without conditions, and proceeded to continue military actions, taking their offensive to the country's Afar region.

This marked an expansion of the eight-month conflict, hardly a lessening of tensions. A ceasefire had previously been declared earlier this year after major government gains in the Tigray region, but the rebels soon regained this territory, continuing hostilities which have claimed thousands of lives and displaced about 2 million people, with millions more relying on emergency food aid.

The Tigray region tops the list of some 23 global hunger hotspots facing "catastrophic" emer-gencies according to the United Nations, which expects "acute food insecurity is likely to deteriorate." The number of people facing starvation and death there could rise to 401,000 without immediate humani-tarian assistance, the highest figure since the 2011 famine in Somalia. 

The Tigray People's Liberation Front had been dominating Ethiopian politics until Abiy's ascent to power, the first of the Oromo majority to do so. 

"Sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest country by population and most impressive recent economic success story is now at serious risk, at a time when COVID-19 further comp-ounds the dangers associated with large camps for displaced persons and weakened public health care systems that could result from warfare," writes Michael E. O’Hanlon of the Brookings institution, which suggested the "deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping mission if and when that could be useful in helping to monitor, and cement in place, some kind of future power-sharing accord for the northern region of the country."

INTO THE FIRE

As the world tries to claw itself out of a pandemic it wasn't ready to face, a more familiar global health emergency reminds us of its urgency, requiring societies to adapt or face disaster in the times ahead.

Scientists termed "once a millennia" the heatwave that broiled the usually cool and damp northwest coast of North America this summer, but we are getting used to setting extreme weather phenomena in this early 21st century, no longer surprised by "once a century" events such as floods that would usually give pause.

Climate researchers concluded it was "virtually impossible" for such a heat dome to hit the region of Canada and the U.S. better known for wet months and cool but rarely frigid winters, without climate change. As British Columbia fights raging forest fires that have lit over the parched province, burning communi-ties such as Lytton to the ground, one Canadian institute notes a searing climate is no longer something for the future but very much a part of current reality, forcing communities to adapt not just here but around the world.

The consequences of not doing so were made brutally clear in the recent heat wave nearing 50 degrees Celsius which killed hundreds, many in sudden heat-related deaths, in BC and nearby states. "We conclude that a one-in-1000-year event would have been at least 150 times rarer in the past," said study lead author Sjoukje Philip, of the Royal Netherlands Meteo-rological Institute.

And climate change is expected to make such extreme events much more common. In fact researchers said if the world warms by 2 degrees Celsius the chances of seeing a similar devastating event drop from around once millennia to roughly once every five to 10 years. This is leading some experts to suspects the climate may have crossed a "threshold," promising nothing but hardship in the decades ahead.

And this makes adapting to what is becoming a more alarming environment all the more important. "What's important is what are our societies resilient to and what can we adapt to. And in most societies, it's really a very, very stable climate, and that even a small change makes a huge difference," said co-author Dr. Friederike Otto of the University of Oxford. "And what we see here is not a small change, it's a big change. I think that is really, really the important message here."

And the heat wave alone was enough to give pause. While palm trees can be found in Vancouver and the Pacific northwest, air conditioners aren't as common as in other parts of the continent. That may be better for the environment but may send people investing in one, worsening emissions and putting new pressures on power grids struggling to keep up with high demand.

North America isn't alone, regions of Finland and Sweden having also registered their warmest June on record, with peeks reaching 35 Celsius in the northern parts of Europe, and other countries  such as Russia and India reaching even hotter temperatures. Heeding the warning signs, some officials have already asked the public to make some sacrifices and change their habits.

Further south in warmer California the governor was asking citizens to match their mobilization fighting covid-19 with solidarity by cutting water use as the most populous US state faced severe droughts. This is coming not only as days record warmer temperatures leaving fields in the Prairies facing new historic droughts, but nights get warmer as well.

While North America recorded its warmest June on record, nights are warming up faster than days according to a 2018 study, threatening the health of millions of people who no longer can count on sun down to cool off and recover from the day's oppressive heat. This is another product of climate change. “What’s making the news is the highs, but nighttime minimums have an impact on mortality,” Lara Cushing of the U.C.L.A. Fielding School of Public Health told the New York Times.

A Canadian institute has also been warning about the need to adapt. "Climate change is an escalating public health emergency, and we need to start treating it that way," wrote Ian Culbert of the Canadian Public Health Association in a recent report. The authors stressed the need to counter events increasingly reoccurring in the spring and summer months, the risk of floods and forest fires, and address their effects on the overall health of Canadians. 

This means learning from the lessons of the pandemic, an event that may repeat itself with climate change, and government investment, with the consequences of global warming potentially costing billions in social and health care costs. The Canadian study suggested mitigating measures such as retrofitting buildings. "If shading technologies were installed on 25 per cent of homes in Canada by the 2050s, there would be an average of 21 fewer deaths per year," the report says. "If 50 per cent of all residential, commercial, and institutional buildings had green roofs installed by the 2050s, an average of 46 deaths would be avoided annually."

The heat wave hasn't just affected  humans, killing hundreds of millions of marine animals. “It’s a reminder that, yes, there are very important human tolls to climate change," said Chris Harley of the University of British Columbia. "But the whole system around us is changing too, and we don’t know what all of the consequences of those changes are going to be." Poorer nations are even more at risk and will need help.

G20 ministers, under pressure to do more to bolster their own climate commitments, were reminded of their vow to provide $100 billion annually to poorer nations to support their efforts, an impressive figure the UN's secretary general called the "bare minimum" in the growing fight against global warming. And emergencies in these countries are more and more common. Madagascar's devas-tating drought has left the impoverished country facing a humanitarian catastrophe, devastating crops and pushing 400,000 toward starvation. And some key tools are failing to help in the climate fight.

According to a new report the Amazon in no longer helping mitigate global warming, but helping cause it instead. Realizing the urgency of the situation the EU announced bold new steps to cut emissions 55% below 1990 levels by less than a decade, encouraging the world to follow suit. Needs made all the more urgent considering the season's deadly floods, which experts agree are made worse by climate change.

RÉVOLTE DES SWAZI

Lorsque le royaume du Swaziland a changé de nom en 2018 certains se sont moqués du geste et déploré que les priorités du pays pauvre et enclavé étaient déplacées. Trois ans plus tard le pays de 1,3 million d'habitants traverse une révolte populaire faisant appel à une transformation démocratique sur fond de pandémie et de rumeurs sur le sort d'Mswati III, le dernier monarque absolu du continent.

Le gouvernement a nié la sévérité des éclats récents et les rumeurs sur le souverain d'Eswatini, affir-mant qu'il demeure "dans le pays et continue à gouverner", mais d'autres le plaçaient en Afrique du sud, loin de la grogne qui s'aggrave depuis les images sur les médias sociaux montrant des forces de l'ordre appliquant "une tolérance zéro" en s'en prenant violemment à des mani-festants.

C'est la mort d'un étudiant en droit aux mains des policiers qui aurait été à l'origine des premières manifestations en mai, devenues des appel à la réforme démocratique. Le gouvernement a depuis rendu l'accès à internet plus difficile et instauré le couvre-feu, selon lui pour lutter contre la pandémie.

Alors que celle-ci a relativement épargné l'Eswatini par rapport à l'Afrique du sud, le plus important foyer de covid du continent, à peine plus de 3% de la population a été vaccinée. En décembre le premier ministre Ambrose Dlamini est décédé alors qu'il était lui-même hospitalisé par le virus.

Cette semaine Mswati nommait un successeur lors de sa première apparition publique depuis les éclats. Les opposants du régime prétendent que les autorités se servent de la pandémie pour justifier les restrictions au rassemblement et cherchent à faire passer la révolte sous silence. "Le système judiciaire est corrompu et des lois répressives ont été utilisées pour viser les organisations indépendantes et harceler les militants de la société civile, estime l'ONG Human Rights Watch. Au fil des années, il n’y a eu aucun progrès démocratique ni réforme des droits humains."

La situation sanitaire, déjà alarmante, ne se résume pas au seul covid car le pays connait une des espérances de vie les plus faibles au monde,  notamment en raison du taux élevé de prévalence du VIH chez les adultes. Un monde de différence sépare le monarque opulent, dont le goût pour les voitures et montres de luxe est bien connu, du peuple appauvri. Mswati III a été accusé de systématiquement vider les caisses du pays, ce qui a donné lieu à une importante grève des fonctionnaires en 2019.

Alarmé par la crise de son voisin, l'Afrique du sud a fait appel au calme, ses dirigeants se disant "préoc-cupés par les informations faisant état de pertes de vies humaines et de destruction de biens." La Communauté de développement de l'Afrique australe y a envoyé une mission pour faire état de la situation au pays, mais le groupe d'opposants Swaziland Solidarity Network Forum estime que le gouvernement fait tout pour peindre un portrait frauduleux de la situation au pays.

Des observateurs font état de plus de 50 personnes tuées par balles policières. Selon l'opposant Mlungisi Makhan-ya les manifestants ont dû agir lorsque leurs lettres à l'Union Africaine, l'UE et l'ONU pour les alerter de la crise "sont demeurées sans réponse", obligeant l'opposition de "se confronter à ce régime surarmé." Le gouvernement quant à lui accuse les opposants de s'en prendre à la propriété publique et privée.

HAITI IN TURMOIL

Five months after an alleged  failed coup left Haiti's leader fearing for his life the assassination of the contested president has further thrown into turmoil the impove-rished country wracked by political instability and gang violence, causing its neighbor to close its land border as world leaders appealed for calm after condemning the killing.

Adding to the instability the acting prime minister, who was due to be replaced, said he was maintaining his post despite the nomination of his successor, Ariel Henry. Both have claimed  the right to lead the country, and they aren't the only ones. Jovenel Moïse, 53, was re-elected president in 2016 for a five-year presidential term but the contested results delayed the start of his latest term by a year, which he insisted meant he was to remain in power until 2022.

The opposition rejected this and named the Supreme Court justice interim president in February, a move Moïse considered a coup before having opponents arrested. After the initial shock of the assassination, consternation swept Haiti as police pursued the lead figures after killing and arresting members of what they said was a 28-person armed team of mostly Colombian former military mercenaries and US interpreters responsible for the attack in the middle of the night, killing Moïse and injuring his wife.

By some accounts the objective had not been to kill but arrest the president. Officials said Moïse was targeted because of his fight against corruption. The military took over the country's streets after a state of siege was declared.

But despite initial reassurances about the country's security, the president's assassination and failure by law enforcement to previously quell growing gang violence sparked concerns incidents would only grow in the aftermath of the killing.

Haitian officials said they requested help from the US to send soldiers to defend the airport, port and other infrastructures, but Washing-ton has declined, reluctant to start a new military intervention as it is ending one in Afghanistan.

The tragedy is striking as the country deals with a resurgence in covid infection numbers and as constitutional changes were in the works. Moïse wanted to hold a referendum later this year to reinforce the presidency, but opponents accused him of trying to subvert democracy to cling to office.

Activists also accused the former businessman of having ties to the street gangs terrorizing the country in recent years, further victimizing a population which never fully recovered from the devastating 2010 earthquake that left hundreds and thousands homeless. With the legislature currently suspended, the U.S. encouraged Haiti to maintain plans for fall elections.

But some are calling this folly. "For me this is ridiculous," told the Washington Post policy expert Ralph Chevry. "There are four warring factions of the police. There is no security. There are 100 gangs with guns. There is no way we can have elections. The people are too scared to vote." Officials hope an international investigation will shed light on those responsible and arrested a doctor considered a "key suspect."

A DIFFERENT DAY

Last year it was the pandemic, this year something else put a damper on Canada Day celebrations. After more than a year of dealing with covid-19 and with infections  diving after a successful ramp up of vaccination drives, Canada should have been in a celebratory mode.

But an act of terror, a rise in racist and hatred incidents and especially the discovery of graves near residential schools have all darkened the mood to the point some localities from coast to coast cancelled Canada Day celebrations altogether after calls from indigenous groups to do just that.

"The recent discovery at Kamloops residential school has reminded us that Canada remains a country that has built its foundation on the erasure and genocide of Indigenous nations, including children," argued protest group Idle no More. "We refuse to sit idle while Canada’s violent history is celebrated."

Some local officials wasted no time following suit, the city of Victoria becoming the first in the country to cancel its planned Canada Day event. Mayor Lisa Helps said the BC city would instead explore “what it means to be Canadian, in light of recent events,” with a virtual event later in the year involving Indigenous peoples.

While not many imitated the gesture at first, officials admitted this year would be one of reflection rather than outright celebration, leading government institutions to rethink how events, virtual for the most part again this year, would be marked. Victoria's initiative met mixed reactions in British Columbia alone, where premier Horgan  advised against cancellations outright. “The intent, I can understand,” he said, pointing out June 21, National Indigenous Peoples’ Day, was "a more appropriate time for us to collectively focus on how we can redress the wrongs of the past, and build a brighter future together.”

But the idea soon spread well beyond BC, a town near Kitchener, Ontario also choosing to cancel the annual event, councillor Angie Hallman saying the decision was out of respect for the Indigenous community's grief. Public art experiences took place instead. Symbols related to Canada's residential schools have also come under renewed fire, including statues of John A. Macdonald, architect of the Canadian residential school system.

Maritime cities were soon joining the movement, New Brunswick's major towns announcing they would also cancel Canada Day events, as others were being scrapped from Halifax to Yellowknife. One statue of the former prime minister was removed from its usual location in downtown Charlottetown near province house, the birthplace of Confederation. Opinions varied as #cancelCanadaDay trended across the country, some regretting such cancellations were not the right way to go about it.

"People are complex. So are societies," opined Daniel Schloss. "My fear of  #CancelCanadaDay is that it further erodes any common bond that our citizens have with our country and society. That might not seem like something important. But it is. People need to feel rooted to where they come from."

Residential school survivor Gunargie O'Sullivan had another suggestion, holding an event but inviting "a First Nations person from your community" asking them "if they will come and welcome you into their territory." And feeling welcome is not something departing Inuit MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq said she felt when she was working in the House of Commons.

The 27 year old stated she would not seek re-election with a blistering statement deploring the racism and racial profiling she experienced while working as a lawmaker in Canada's Parliament, leaving her feeling she "didn't belong here." Parting words of resonance as the country struggles to come to terms with its past, and engage with the present. Days later the country was shocked to learn of the discovery of over 700 unmarked graves near another residential school, in Saskatchewan, prompting another wave of horror.

Since then churches based on reserves have been suspiciously burnt down, their charred remains leaving behind traces of accelerant. The prime minister said such acts were not how to right the wrongs of the past. The grisly Canadian discoveries have sparked investigations in the US as well, which provided the blue print for institutionalizing Indige-nous peoples. But these have not been the only incidents to deliver a blow to plans for the only day of the year Canadians usually drape themselves in the Maple Leaf.

The racially-motivated car attack of a Muslim family in London, killing 4, further troubled Canadians, a third of whom said they thought they lived in a racist country. At around the same time the country's Indigenous minister apologized to an Indigenous MP who had accused her of racism in an exchange of texted communications. But Conservative leader Erin O'Toole said the movement to ban Canada Day wasn't the way to go about addressing such issues. "I can't stay silent when people want to cancel Canada Day," he said. "We are not a perfect country. No country is... But there is a difference between acknowledging where we've fallen short and always tearing the country down."

He speculated he was probably the only party leader running for election that was "proud" to be Canadian, but conceded the country had to recognize "where we've fallen short" and "we all need to pledge ourselves... to make Canada better." On Canada Day, a day after another 182 unmarked graves were found in BC, protesters wearing orange colours honouring the memory of the victims of residential schools marched to Parliament Hill, where the flag was flying at half mast, with one message: "Shame on Canada" for its treatment of Indigenous peoples. In Manitoba meanwhile a statue of Queen Victoria was being toppled in front of the legislature. "When we say Cancel Canada Day what we actually mean is: if your neighbours are going to a funeral, you don't throw a party," said prof Crystal Fraser of the University of Alberta. 

VARIANTS DE MISÈRE

Des stades à pleine capacité aux Etats-Unis, un vent d'ouverture de frontière au Canada et un retour aux tables de restaurants en France, l'été est bien arrivé et les chiffres de nouvelles infections s'est nettement amélioré avec l'explosion des campagnes de vaccination. A Toronto l'aréna des Maple Leafs a battu un record continental en vaccinant plus de 26,000 personnes en une seule journée. Mais la planête ne tourne pas au même rythme.

Des localités épargnées pendant de longues périodes vivent de nouvelles frousses et resserrent leurs mesures, comme Taiwan, l'ile modèle qui vit de nouvelles restrictions suite aux éclosions sans précédent du printemps. Faut-il s'en étonner, l'ile n'a vacciné que 7% de sa population, croyant sous doute avoir évité le pire... avant l'arrivée de variants plus agressifs.

Même chamboulement en Australie, où une correspondante nous faisait parvenir des images d'un autre monde depuis des mois: des fêtes, stades et concerts remplis, avant l'imposition de nouvelles mesures qui ont récemment réduit Sydney au silence et créé de longue queues devant les supermarchés. Le taux de vaccination n'y étant que de 23%, mieux que Taiwan mais moins bien qu'en Amérique ou dans plusieurs pays européens. Pourtant les champions de la vaccination n'ont pas été entièrement épargnés.

Aux Emirats arabes unis, où le taux de vaccination a vite dépassé les 50%, même resserrement, alors qu'on vise une possible troisième dose pour protéger les citoyens.  A-t-on eu tort de rester ouvert au tourisme tout ce temps? On note que les vaccins chinois y ont été fortement distribués, est-ce la raison de ce contre temps? Sont-ils aussi efficaces contre le variant Delta que les autres vaccins? Selon de récentes études les vaccins de Pfizer et Moderna pourraient être efficaces pendant des années.

En Grande-Bretagne, pourtant fortement vaccinée au AstraZeneca, une halte aux nouvelles levées de restrictions, en attendant que se calme le paysage sanitaire. Le pays a été durement frappé par le variant Delta, faisant de ses ressortissants des persona non grata dans plusieurs pays. Au Portugal, où plusieurs Britanniques sont allés passer des vacances, une remontée des cas et un resserrement des mesures sanitaires également, même avec 52% de vaccinés.

Même le pays champion en la matière, Israel, a dû prévoir un retour au port du masque, enregistrant de nouveaux cas notamment chez les enfants, toujours non vaccinés. Sur le vieux continent l'Euro semble avoir provoqué à quelques éclosions, notamment chez des partisans ayant séjourné en Russie, pays aux prises avec de nouvelles flambées de cas de covid qui administre à présent de nouvelles doses de vaccin.

Des partisans finlandais ont notamment ramené chez eux des cas de contamination après un séjour au pays du vaccin Spoutnik. Des partisans du Danemark et d'Ecosse ont également enregistré des cas de contagion lors de rencontres sportives. L'OMS craint à présent une éventuelle nouvelle vague en Europe.

Mais sont notamment concernés les pays plus pauvres où la vaccination tarde encore à démarrer, car alors que des cas de contagion existent chez des personnes même doublement vaccinées, ils résultent rarement en cas graves. Or plusieurs pays d'Afrique amorcent à peine une campagne de vaccination, l'Ouganda imposant le couvre feu après une explosion de cas.

Même couvre-feu en Afrique du sud, où la vaccination atteint à peine 4,5%. Notre correspon-dant Tom Cohen s'estimait chanceux d'avoir pu obtenir sa première dose récemment. Pour la suivante, il faudra attendre. "Il faut prendre son mal en patience ici," dit-il. Mais le manque de dose hante plusieurs pays d'Afrique, notamment le Congo, dont les propos anti-vaccin du président Tshisekedi ne rassurent personne.

NOT JUST ABOUT BUILDING CODES

While the partial collapse of a residential building in Surfside, Florida killing two dozen but leaving over 120 unaccounted for was rare and the worst incident of its kind in recent years, it comes on the heels of a number of structural failures in Southern Florida over the years, and other incidents across the continent, where building codes should prevent such tragedies.

Building codes are of course just one part of the equation, maintenance being another one. Just months earlier the collapse of a Mexico City metro overpass claimed 26 lives and injured 79. Miami alone had seen a number of incidents over the years, from the collapse of the relatively new but poorly designed pedestrian bridge at Florida International University in 2018, killing 6, to that of a Miami Dade College parking garage in 2012, claiming four lives.

That year the parking of Elliott Lake, Ontario's Algo Centre Mall experienced structural failure sending concrete crashing into the mall below killing 2 and injuring around 20 people. Like the Miami condominium that building also had a history of structural problems and leaks in the community hit hard by mine closures in the 1990s.

While these incidents are often thought of being more common in poorer countries with more lax regulations, they have not spared richer ones, the largest loss of life from structural failure prior to the Florida incident having been the collapse of Genoa's Ponte Morandi in 2018, killing 43. Engineers had warned about the fixes needed to the Surfside building in 2018, estimating the cost of fixing structural damage at $9 million.

The repairs were never fully completed, and besides the scope of the human tragedy the financial ramifications will be considerable. Consider that for the parking collapse alone in 2012 $33 million were awarded to the college in a settlement with the contractors and subcontractors.

The families had settled with the contractors separately. Maintenance wasn't the only culprit in Surfside, engineers cited "failed waterproofing" below the condo's poll deck for causing the structural damage, and failure to fix that only leading to more deterioration of the concrete below.

The incident occurred as the US is planning for a much needed major infrastructure overhaul after decades of neglect nationwide on everything from transport structures to water pipes. Over $1 trillion would go to repairing everything from aging roads and bridges to rebuilding schools and hospitals.

More commonly the source of structural collapse in the US and Canada over the last decades have been concert stages, wind turbines and television station towers, causing few injuries. Repairs had gradually taken place on the Florida building but more were long due, and some of the repair works failed, the tragedy leaving other condo owners in the area concerned their building could be next.

CATCHING UP

After the storm they gathered. G-7 leaders meeting as the pandemic eased in their countries and after a tumultuous US presidency sought to reassert their leadership turning their attention to global issues, from climate change to the inequity of vaccine distri-bution threatening health efforts everywhere.

But critics slammed the summit as a relic of a bygone era  where a few elite nations claimed to speak for all, or at very least accused them of playing catch up on everything from vaccine distribution to infrastructure aid.

The G-7 leaders, who included newcomer Joe Biden and outgoing dean Angela Merkel, were coming under pressure to share their wealth of vaccines, some of their stocks involving doses soon reaching the end of their shelf life, with less fortunate countries desperate to get any immunization campaign underway. After months of Chinese and Russian vaccine diplomacy, and with more than half its population vaccinated but a pace of immunization slowing down, the United States promised half a billion doses of vaccines to nearly 100 less fortunate countries by next year, a major boost to global immunization efforts. About 2% of Africans have received one dose of the vaccine.

New variants are adding new urgencies to vaccination campaigns, and countries with successful immunization drives have come to find out it doesn't necessary mean the end of their troubles. With over 70% of its population vaccinated at least once, the Seychelles still had to deal with a surge in cases in the last months, while parts of Chile, home to South America's most successful vaccination drive, came under lockdown as cases also multiplied. Even the UK delayed its reopening plans out of caution.

Perhaps mindful of these concerns Canada has been cautious reopening its border with the United States despite pressure from northern states. It announced it would let fully vaccinated travellers come into the country without the need to quarantine but they would still have to provide a negative test. Contrast with the southern neighbor could not be more obvious than during the third round of the Stanley Cup finals as Montreal hosted in front of sparse crowds of a few thousand spectators while Las Vegas allowed a full house to attend the games.

After a slow start Canada has become one of the most successful countries to vaccinate its population, surpassing the US and even gold medal standard Israel in the proportion of people vaccinated with a first dose. While it has no domestic supply of the vaccines, imports are surging with deliveries of millions of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines every week. As a result the country and other G-7 members faced global pressures to share the precious doses.

Ottawa eventually pledged to provide poorer countries 100 million doses months after it took delivery of some doses from COVAX, an initiative meant to assist less fortunate countries. In all the G-7 committed to share 1 billion doses over the next year. Vaccine diplomacy is how other countries vying to present alternate leadership to G-7 nations have attempted to do so, countries such as China, Russia and India seeking to limit the West's influence.

The latter have however struggled to contain the virus at home where vaccination campaigns were slow to start. Before a NATO summit critics said was also a throw back to the Cold War era, the White House stressed G-7 leaders would set "a high-standard, climate-friendly, transparent and rules-based alternative to what China is offering," a recognition in itself of Beijing's growing influence and the West's waning role.

"The world is waiting to see whether the G-7 can lead the world out of this crisis in a way that's productive," Leslie Vinjamuri of London think tank Chatham House told NBC. "Will the West stand up and lead and, quite frankly, get shots in the arms of all those people across the rest of the world who desperately need it? If they don't get it from the United States and from Europe, they're going to look to China and they're going to look to Russia."

The G-7 countries agreed to work on a mechanism to expedite response and vaccine development in future pandemics, the Carbis Bay Declaration describing a “historic statement setting out a series of concrete commitments to prevent any repeat of the human and economic devastation wreaked by coronavirus.” Of course the world has economically evolved since the G-7 was first held in 1975, it now represents just 39% of the world's GDP and under 10% of its population.

While the approach on vaccines was consensual views on China differed, Anglo-Saxon coun-tries charting a more aggressive approach toward Beijing, while other participants urged caution. There was agreement however on a need to respond to China's global belt and road initiative by funding infrastructure projects across the world, a promise of billions spent over the years to support less fortunate countries. This, the European Commission president vowed, would come with "no strings attached," unlike the deals with China which  have left many countries heavily indebted.

Oddly the much richer United States is in need of serious infrastructure work itself, something the current administration has committed to initiate. China lashed back the summit has lost its purpose. "The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone," a spokesman said. Beijing said it was slandered at a summit where it had in part been criticized for human rights violations.

The G-7 was not without its own divisions, sideline talks on post-Brexit arrangements leading to greater tensions between the EU and Britain. But NATO leaders days later reiterated a need to keep the in check China's "assertive behaviour", which has created "systemic challenges". A mission change somewhat, for an alliance created to check Russian expansion after WWII. But there again Merkel pointed to the need to "find the right balance" in responding to the threat.

DEFENDRE LE SAHEL

Voilà depuis des années que le Burkina Faso est la proie de violences islamistes, faisant des centaines de victimes et déplaçant plus d'un million de personnes, mais l'attaque du début du mois atteignait de nouveaux plateaux d'horreur, alors que certains groupes multiplient leurs offensives dans la région du Sahel et du Golfe de la Guinée.

Plus de 130 personnes ont connu la mort lors de l'attaque de la communauté de Solhan, au nord-est du pays et au croisement des frontières du Mali et du Niger, pays également ciblés par les djihadistes présumés liés à Al-Qaida et à l’organisation Etat islamique lors d'attaques rarement revendiquées.

Les offensives sont multiples et répandues, d'autres ayant eu lieu plus tard près de la frontière occidentale avec la Côte d'Ivoire, faisant plusieurs victimes militaires, deux mois après une attaque similaire dans cette zone. Les forces armées ont lancé une opération d’envergure dans les régions du Nord et du Sahel mais il ne s'agit pas de la première et  les succès sont plutôt limités.

Alors que les dirigeants s'efforcent à dire que les attaques ne resteront pas impunies le pays a le malheur de se retrouver " dans l'oeil du cyclone  djihadiste" estime Mohamed Maïga du cabinet Aliber Conseil. D'autres regrettent "la nature de l'approche de règlement de la crise qui reste essentiellement militaire et souvent néglige les dimensions de développement et humanitaire".

Selon Rodrigue Kone de l'Institute for Security Studies "cette stratégie s'avère inefficace en termes de sécurisation des populations ainsi que de prise en charge des victimes de cette crise".

Ces efforts ne sont pas sans participation de l'armée française, membre du G5 comptant Tchad et Mauritanie en plus des membres des trois frontières. Le dernier coup d'état au Mali a cependant provoqué un changement de cap à Paris, qui regrette la régression démocratique de ce pays où de nombreux groupes armés islamistes ont infiltré le nord en 2012 pour par la suite étendre leur influence dans la région.

La France a suspendu ses opérations conjointes avec le Mali "dans l'attente de garanties" sur un retour des civils au pouvoir. Mais ce n'était qu'un avant goût de l'annonce des importantes transforma-tions prévues des opérations françaises au Sahel, prévoyant la fermeture de bases pour mieux prioriser la lutte contre les djihadistes. "La France n'a pas la vocation à rester éternellement au Sahel par sa force," a par ailleurs précisé le ministre des affaires étrangères Jean-Yves Le Drian.

La période que traverse le Burkina Faso ressemble sensiblement à celle qu'a connu le Mali dans le passé, note Emmanuel Dupuy de l'Institut Prospective et Sécurité en Europe: « Le Burkina Faso fait face à une offensive des groupes armés terroristes qui gagnent du terrain comme c'était le cas avant l'opération «Serval » au Mali à la fin de l'année de 2012 et au début de 2013.

Le grand danger est que le scénario de 2013 au Mali se reproduise au Burkina Faso; c'est-à-dire que les groupes armés se dirigent vers Ouagadougou comme en janvier 2013 lorsque la capitale malienne était devenue la cible des terroristes».



TROUBLING PIRACY

If the ruse looked like it could have been cooked up in a Cold War spy caper it came as no surprise that it involved the KGB. And it now leaves dissidents across the world fearing more than ever the reach of regimes they have been fleeing. Having notified a Ryanair flight in its air space of a "potential security threat on board" Belarus authorities sent a fighter jet to escort the low-cost civilian airliner to Minsk, where police arrested a journalist covering the country's opposition from exile.

"This was a case of state-sponsored hijacking... state-sponsored piracy," slammed Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary. "It appears the intent of the authorities was to remove a journalist and his travelling companion... we believe there were some KGB agents offloaded at the airport as well." The incident, days before European countries were to consider sanctions against the totalitarian regime, horrified capitals around the world as well as NATO, whose secretary general called the forced landing "a serious and dangerous incident which requires international investigation."

Raman Pratasevich, the former news editor of one of the most popular news programs in Belarus now fears for his life in custody in his native country where the opposition has been the subject of a crackdown after protests accompanied last year's elections, sending opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya abroad. Both she and Pratasevich, who live in exile in Lithuania but travelled separately, had been attending an economic conference in Athens before the incident.

As a result Europe was looking at new sanctions to further isolate the country often referred to as being the home of Europe's last dictator, Alexander Lukashen-ko, including banning ground links and preventing planes from entering its air space. A number of Belarus politicians are already banned from visiting a number of Western countries. Though the country has sought to play Russia against Europe to obtain favours over the years it depends on Moscow to keep its economy afloat, a dependence sure to deepen now.

The incident further raised concerns about the crackdown on the opposition in Belarus as well as the state of press freedoms worldwide after a year major news organizations have been undermined by autocratic leaders crying out against "fake news", usually referring to information likely to disparage them. This latest affront to press freedom came days after the destruction of the building housing Al Jazeera and the Associated Press by the Israeli air force in Gaza, which was widely condemned. Tenants had been warned about an imminent strike and were able to evacuate shortly before it was demolished.

The plane incident also showed to what length some regimes will go to in order to stifle dissent no matter where it may be. Other hard line regimes from North Korea and Russia to Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been known to intimidate and sometimes kidnap and even kill dissenters. Lukashenko went particularly out of his way this time, and considering who he was trying to silence, it showed how insecure he feels about his dictatorship, argues Nigel Gould-Davies of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"He went to enormous trouble in order to get a single online journalist. That is how unconfident he is in his domestic support," he told Euronews. "He's also sending the message that no one is safe from Belarussian oppression, even if they leave the country." At the same time, with the backing of his next door big brother, Gould-Davies says the Belarus president is indicating "he doesn't care what the international community thinks."

But the leader proud of the country's independence from Russia may have sold much of his soul to retain power. “I think if anyone doubted whether Lukashenko was ‘all in’ with Putin, in his power vertical/sovereign democratic model, and indeed of Belarus’s deeper integration into Russia, then I think this sends a resounding answer," told CNBC Timothy Ash of Bluebay Asset Management. "There are no bridges left standing back to the West, and he is willing to surrender Belarus’ sovereignty to save his own skin.”

In fact Lukashenko already fell deeper into Putin's debt last fall during the protests, where Moscow's support provided a $1.5 billion loan and boosted trade. May's crisis hence left Putin bolstering his near abroad, a region from the Baltics to Ukraine he is particularly sensitive to. “President Vladimir Putin is likely to welcome the incident as a further issue driving a wedge between Belarus and the West,” said Emre Peker of Eurasia Group. “Allegations of Russian involvement, mean-while, will further complicate the EU’s ability to effectively respond to Belarus. Moscow accused the EU and its members of double standards, and will defend Minsk’s handling of the incident.”

But Europe, and Germany in particular, heavily dependent on Russian gas, are relunctant to push Russia too hard on the issue. Of concern, adds Gould-Davies is the “international dimension of the threat that this regime presents to the countries around it,” especially if the Belarus KGB was indeed involved. “We have seen recent examples of the Russia and Belarussian security services cooperating with one another so we need to look at that angle too ... It’s imperative that the EU, and I hope with American support too, will take a much stronger and more concerted stand now.”

The EU has however dangled the carrot of possible financial support should Minsk look to democratize. The incident meanwhile earned Lukashenko praise from the boss of Russia's propaganda RT media, declaring she “Never thought I would be jealous of Belarus. But now I am jealous. The old man has done it beautifully.” And this has left dissidents around the world fearful similar tactics may be used against them while abroad, and Belarus residents feeling trapped at home after new sanctions stopping flights.

CES JEUNES VICTIMES

Quelques années après la crise humanitaire en Europe marquée par le décès du petit garçon syrien Alan Kurdi dont le corps a été retrouvé sur une plage méditerranéenne, une jeune fille était retrouvée sans vie aux abords du Rio Grande, près de la frontière mexicano-américaine.

Les jeunes enfants sont souvent les victimes les plus vulnérables de ces mouvements humanitaires, à la merci des traversées désespérées de leurs parents. Alors que la saison des migrations vers l'Europe reprend sur les rives de l'Afrique du nord, les jeunes sont à nouveau au coeur de la tragédie, parfois à titre d' "enfants perdus".

Après la prise d'assaut des enclaves espagnoles au Maroc le mois dernier, notamment la localité de 80000 âmes de Ceuta, le renvoi de milliers de migrants tentant le passage vers l'Europe s'est soldé par la présence de plusieurs centaines d'enfants de bas âge aux parents manquants, errant dans la ville sans ressources ni le moyen de communiquer dans la langue d'usage.

Les autorités ont avoué leur débordement face à cette masse vulnérable inattendue et font appel à l'aide internationale. "On n'y arrive pas, il y a trop d'enfants, s'était désolé un représentant local, Carlos Rontomé Romero. Nous sommes la frontière, nous sommes la digue, mais nos capacités sont limitées. Nous sommes une petite ville de 19 km", qui parvient mal "absorber toutes ces personnes".

Si bien que quelques centaines de jeunes non accompagnés ont déjà trouvé le chemin de l'Espagne pour faire place aux nouveaux arrivants. Séparés de leurs parents, ces jeunes veulent pour la plupart retrouver le chemin de la maison mais la tâche s'annonce difficile puisque plusieurs disent ne pas avoir le téléphone à la maison, ce qui a porté le gouvernment à mettre en place une ligne d'urgence dans l'espoir de les réunir avec leurs familles.

Mais toute réunion devra passer par l'engrenage de la bureaucratie ibérienne. Etant sur un territoire espagnol, leur retour chez eux ne peut se faire, selon la loi, qu'après une évaluation stricte de leurs cas et des conditions qu'ils pourront retrouver chez eux, ce qui prendra du temps. D'autres ne veulent en aucun cas revenir, et le désespoir en pousse certains à faire des gestes extrêmes.

Parmi eux un jeune migrant qui a tenté de se pendre avec un câble métallique en pleine ville, réanimé de justesse par la police. Plus loin au long de la côte méditerranéenne, les enfants de Gaza sont également grâvement touchés par la crise humanitaire aggravée  lors des plus récents éclats. La crise a ajouté des milliers de sans abris, parmi eux de nombreux jeunes dans cette enclave où la moitié des deux millions d'habitants a moins de 18 ans.

Certains pleurent la perte d'amis ou de membres de la famille sous les bombardements. Pour d'autres le traumatisme de poten-tiellement perdre un être cher et les bombardements incessants ont suffit à ébranler leur santé mentale. Au coeur des éclats, Zaina Dabous laisse ces mots sous l'oreiller de sa mère: "Maman chérie, J'ai très peur. Si on doit tous mourir, je veux qu'on soit tous enterrés dans la même tombe et je veux rester dans tes bras."

Des mots déchirants de la part d'un enfant de 10 ans. Il ne s'agit pas du seul cas. "Les enfants font des crises de terreur, résume à l'AFP une ONG opérant dans la bande, ils souffrent du manque de sommeil, montrent des signes psychiques inquiétants, comme des tremblements, et se mettent à faire pipi au lit."

TROUBLE STIRS IN COLOMBIA

A few decades ago words of troops being sent into Cali would have taken place in the context of a country at war against guerilla groups and drug cartels. The cartel which once based its $7 billion business there has since been dismantled and Colombia is on the path to pacification with its guerilla groups, some of them turning their focus on politics.

But social unrest brews in the midst of the pandemic, a crescendo of violence claiming a dozen lives last week, prompting the UN to call for an investigation and causing the deployment of military forces into this city with a history of violence near the Pacific coast. The hub of 2 million has become the epicenter of the protest sweeping the South American country for the last month, which president Ivan Duque says has become infiltrated by armed groups.

The military deployment will provide "assistance in nerve centers where we have seen acts of vandalism, violence and low-intensity urban terrorism," the president said. Nationwide dozens have been killed and thousands injured in the worst violence in decades as protest against a now abandoned wide-ranging tax increase degenerated as rallies morphed into outcries against growing poverty and inequality.

The economy has greatly suffered from the lingering pandemic which has affected more than 3 million and caused over 87,000 deaths. Amid the health crisis armed gangs have also imposed their own sanitary measures, sometimes going so far as to kill those who failed to isolate at home.

Talks between civic groups and the government broke down in the lead up to the latest crisis, protesters demanding the government ensure the right to social protests. But Bogota is cracking down, erecting blockades which have caused widespread shortages, doing the only thing critics say it can effectively do, bring in the army.

"We are facing a scenario that I do not think will be resolved soon, because the only thing the government can control with any level of effectiveness are state forces and therefore it continues to try to resolve the situation with a heavy hand," said analyst Sandra Borda. "When the state forces are excessive there is more indignation, more anger and more fuel is added to the fire of the demonstrations."

Rights groups have denounced the government's heavy handed approach to the crisis. The United Nations human rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet called the events concerning given “progress that had been made to resolve, through dialogue, the social unrest that erupted a month ago following the start of a nation-wide strike against several social and economic policies of the government”.

She further added: “It is essential that all those who are reportedly involved in causing injury or death, including State officials, are subject to prompt, effective, independent, impartial, and transparent investigations and that those responsible are held accountable.” This week as protesters returned to the streets authorities were investigating 10 police officers, accused of standing by and allowing civilians to shoot at protesters in earlier clashes.

LA TRAGÉDIE DES PENSIONNATS

En se rendant sur la colline parlementaire pour participer aux dernières semaines du calendrier législatif, les membres de la chambre des communes passent non loin de la flamme éternelle, une présence rassurante depuis 1967, mais qui soudainement devient troublante. Ces derniers jours celle-ci est entourée de douzaines de petits souliers et mocassins gardés par une armée d'ours en peluche.

Le lieu est devenu un des nombreux sites de commémoration des élèves des pensionnats autochtones qui ont vu le jour d'un océan à l'autre à la lumière du déterrement atroce d'une fausse commune regroupant 215 ossements. Pour certains parlementaires l'émotion est trop forte. Devant les micros au moment de commenter sur la nouvelle de l'heure, le chef néo-démocrate Jagmeet Singh baisse les yeux et passe de longues seconde dans le silence à combattre les larmes.

"Je suis désolé," dit-il entre ces sanglots imperceptibles. "On va lutter pour que vous obteniez justice." Alors que le pays entame le mois de l'histoire autochtone, l'émotion est à son comble. La macabre découverte sur le site d'un ancien pensionnat de Kamloops en Colombie-britannique ne serait selon les chefs autochtones que la pointe de l'iceberg.

Selon le vice-ministre des affaires autochtones Daniel Quan-Watson les enfants disparus de ces institutions destinées à évangéliser et assimiler les enfants autochtones arrachés à leurs familles se comptent par milliers. Leur séjour a rarement eu lieu sans violence ou abus. Il doit par conséquent y avoir de nombreuses autres fosses communes du genre au pays.

Des charniers, le genre de découverte que l'on fait dans d'autres pays, lointains, après un génocide, mais présentes ici. Puis, ajoute Quan-Watson, il ne s'agit pas de découverte à vrai dire, puisque les communautés ont depuis des années signalé ces absences, ces disparus, "on a simplement arrêté de les ignorer." Ceci n'est plus possible.

Les dirigeants autochtones font ainsi appel à la fouille de ce genre de site à travers le pays. "Il ne s'agit pas d'un incident isolé," s'accorde à dire Linc Kesler de l'Université de la Colombie britannique. Les partis d'opposition réclament des gestes concrèts au gouvernment six ans après les appels à l'action de la Commission de vérité et réconciliation du Canada portant entre autres sur les enfants des pensionnats.

Des millions ont notamment été mis de côté pour développer un registre national des décès des jeunes victimes et financer les fouilles. L'opposition a  également fait appel à l'abandon des poursuites en cour contre les survivants des pensionnats ainsi qu'à l'abolition de la Loi sur les Indiens, selon elle à la source de tous les maux de cette communauté affligée.

Chargé de la Commission, Murray Sinclair regrette que leur mandat n'ait pas été élargi pour tenir compte des témoignages troublant reçus lors de leurs audiences. "Les récits les plus courants de la part des survivants parlaient d'enfants qui avaient péri dans les écoles, ce dont ils avaient été les témoins, dit-il. Les survivants parlaient d'enfants qui avaient disparu dans des fosses communes."

La Commission ne put obtenir l'autorisation du gouvernement d'enquêter en profondeur. Quand l'abus n'était pas physique il était psychologique, se souvient Rose Miller, une octagénaire passée par le pensionnat de Kamloops en 1949. "Ils nous disaient que si on ne priait pas nous allions brûler en enfer et les Romains allaient nous violer et nous arracher les yeux ou nous brûler les pieds et les mains, dit-elle en entrevue à APTN. C'est assez horrifiant, quand on y pense, comment la religion avait une emprise sur nous." Les chefs autochtones demandent d'ailleurs le pardon de l'Eglise catholique, tandis que l'ONU a exigé une enquête sur les décès.

MIDEAST TURMOIL

World leaders pleaded for a ceasefire as the victims of renewed Israeli-Palestinian clashes climbed over 200, but by then the rage had spilled well over the region's borders, as protests spread all over the world, the violence even dividing the Jewish state internally.

The looming eviction of an Arab family in a neighborhood of Jerusalem to give way to a Jewish one had initially sparked riots in the holy city which descended into chaos, tear gas canisters flying through the air amid a hail of stones. Significantly the holy month of Ramadan saw clashes erupt at the al-Aqsa mosque, packed with worshippers, one of Islam's holiest sites.

Before long the confrontations spread to the occupied West Bank and the Gaza strip along the coast, where militants fired hundreds of rockets into the air killing at least a dozen Israelis. But the barrage was met with much more devastating retaliatory air strikes by the Israeli forces, resulting in the death of dozens of residents of the tightly packed enclave, some missiles targeting buildings near a refugee camp, claiming young victims.

After a few years of relative calm despite rising tensions surrounding Israel's expan-ding settlements, the troubled Middle East had once more returned to its usual cycle of violence. At the UN the Israeli ambassador accused Palesti-nians of "premeditated" war while the latter accused the Jewish state of war crimes, something Amnesty said it was looking into. The crisis is said to have displaced another 50,000 citizens of Gaza. Hamas militants said one rocket attack was in response to a raid on a house near Gaza City threatening: "If Israel continues to attack we will turn Ashkelon into hell."

That nearby Israeli community has been continuously targeted over the years because of its proximity to the strip, disrupting the lives of its inhabitants and claiming more victims there in the recent salvoes. But some rockets reached as far as Tel Aviv. Israel's Iron Dome missile system managed to shoot down many of the crudely constructed Palestinian rockets, dozens of them failing to reach Israel only to crash down into the Gaza strip's own communities.

But the sheer number of rockets fired at times overwhelmed the shield system. Israel accused Gaza's militants, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, of purposely planting some of their military assets near mosques and schools, resulting in civilian casualties. Western govern-ments made repeated appeals for calm and neighboring Arab countries worked to ease tensions but with limited success as both sides intensified their actions.

By the time Israel sent ground troops near Gaza rockets were being fired from other fronts, Lebanon and Syria. Israeli air strikes meanwhile targeted a number of underground tunnels it said Hamas is using to hide and smuggle in weapons. Internally the crisis has also pitted Jewish Israelis against Arab Israelis, leading to lynch mobs and clashes in towns all over Israel where tensions had been simmering over the last few months.

Critics accused prime minister Netanyahu of using the crisis to extend his time in power, coalition work looking to form a new government after recent inconclusive elections coming to a halt in the midst of the most serious crisis since the 2014 war. "They were just about to call the president and say we have reached a deal," notes Hebrew university professor Gayil Talshir. "The riot came just in time to prevent the change of government." At least for now.

CA DÉPASSE LES BORNES

Bien que les mesures sanitaires aient rapporté une certaine rigueur à la frontière, il est d'habitude anodin de passer du territoire français au territoire belge depuis l'ouverture de l'espace Schengen, mais certains y sont peut-être allé un peu trop librement somme toute.

Selon une première version de faits plutôt cocasses, un fermier ennuyé par une borne de démarcation qui gênait la circulation de son tracteur aurait tout simplement jugé bon de la déplacer de quelques mètres pour se frayer un chemin.

C'était évidemment sans avertir les autorités qui ont été informées du geste peu diplomatique au passage d'un historien sur les lieux. Celui-ci aurait rapporté le déplacement de la borne de pierre datant de 1819, soit après la défaite de Waterloo, qui redéfinissait la frontière. La nouvelle a initialement été accueillie à la légère et sans soulever de crise diplomatique à Paris ou Bruxelles.

"J'étais plutôt heureux, mon village était plus grand, rigola David Lavaux, maire de la communauté belge d'Erquelinnes. Mais le maire de Bousignies-sur-Roc (avoisin-nante) n'était pas du même avis. (Le coupable) a aggrandi la Belgique et réduit la France, ce n'est peut-être pas une bonne idée."

Les dirigeants ne sont cependant pas en veille d'en venir au coups si on se fie à la réaction des voisins gaullois. "Nous devrions être capables d'éviter une guerre frontalière," s'amusa à son tour le maire Aurélie Welonek. Mais comme on peut l'imaginer l'affaire n'a pas évolué sans complication et révision de la première version des faits avancée.

En fait assez vite "l'affaire a pris tellement d'ampleur" que les ministères des affaires étrangères des deux pays ont contacté sa localité, poursuit Lavaux, et on devra réactiver une commission spéciale sur la frontière qui n'a pas siégé depuis... l'entre deux des guerres! L'affaire aurait pu passer inaperçue mais "ce à quoi on ne s’attendait pas, c’est que cette borne avait été géolocalisée avec beaucoup de précision en 2019. Il a donc été facile de prouver qu’elle avait bougé ».

Faut-il en vouloir au  coupable s'il ignorait que déplacer une simple borne pourrait causer tant de consternation? Celle-ci démar-que après tout une frontière qui n'existe plus, un de ses côtés signalant le territoire français et l'autre... les Pays-Bas puisque la Belgique n'a vu le jour qu'en 1830.

Puis avec l'accord Schengen les frontières sont devenues presque imaginaires... jusqu'à plus récemment avec les restrictions sanitaires qui ont parfois installé de nouveaux barrages. Puis la Belgique a si souvent fonctionné sans gouvernement que parfois c'est à se demander si ce genre de chose n'est pas sans conséquence. Certains n'ont pas hésité à y voir un remake du film de 2011 "Rien à déclarer" où un douanier déplace un panneau marquant la frontière française, inspiré par les déboires frontaliers du cinéaste Danny Boon.

Grand écran à part le mystère reste entier puisque selon une autre version des faits le fermier en question n'aurait rien à voir avec l'affaire. Quoi qu'il en soit "tout va se faire très  officiellement, ajoute Lavaux, pour être bien sûr que la borne est au bon endroit et que tout sera fixé pour les 200 prochaines années encore." Ce sera alors le problème d'un autre maire faut-il le croire.

BLEAK AFGHAN OUTLOOK

Soiled, charred and sometimes bloodied, the items were amassed in little bundles outside the gates in a macabre display so the families could recognize and claim them. But the distraught parents were either at the local hospital or morgue in the aftermath of the bloodiest attack of a school in Kabul in years, and many feared this was just a sign of things to come.

The moment the new U.S. administration signalled the removal of the remaining American troops in Afghanistan, nearly twenty years after the war against the Taleban began, violence raged anew amid cries of victory by the group which had been targeted after the attacks in New York and Washington.

Despite the resilience of the current leadership the fundamen-talist Taleban would not once more take hold of the country civil society groups were fearing they would lose the painful gains of recent years, notably those which have allowed women and girls to enroll in education.

Their numbers behind school desks had risen immensely in the last years, many no doubt inspired by the likes of Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, a global advocate for female education who had herself been shot for promoting schooling. NATO warned about abandoning the country, carrying a heavy burden after so many military and civilian losses since 2001.

Besides the United States, which had lost over 2,300 troops in its longest war in history, allies such as Britain (over 450) and Canada (over 150) were among the dozens of nations that lost troops trying to bring under control a country many times invaded but never truly pacified. In all over 3,500 foreign troops had been killed, and the skeleton crews remaining were coming under intense fire as the emboldened Taleban launched new offensives, capturing the north of the country as US military planes started ferrying troops back home.

Sensing the situation changing on the ground, Taleban negotiators had earlier declined to attend an Afghan peace meeting in Turkey until all foreign troops had left. US troops are only expected to complete their pullout by September, the month that will mark the anniversary of the attack on America.

Violence on the ground in Afghanistan had slowed the pace of meetings between the Taleban and Afghan government since they started in Doha last year. The recent uptick in clashes left them less likely to succeed despite their importance to the country's future, now lost in uncertainty. Last week the attack of a girls' school in Kabul, a familiar target of fundamentalists who had sought to prevent Afghans, especially girls, from getting an education, left at least 68 dead, most of them students.

The attack followed a suicide blast against an education center in the same area in October, killing at least 24, and capped a week of insurgent actions both in the north and south of the country, including a car bomb which killed 20 just south of Kabul. But if the attack on the school was meant to be a message of intimidation, it didn't seem to shake the resolve of some of the young victims who, lying in their hospital bed, stubbornly vowed to continue their education and pursue their own war against barbary, emboldened by others.

The inspiration of many, Malala called out: "World leaders must unite to safeguard school-children," decrying "the escalation of terrorism is alarming for peace and democracy in Afghanistan." Pope Francis deplored what he can an "inhuman act." As the Taleban announced a short-lived ceasefire last week a bus struck a road side mine killing 11, a reminder of the risks posed by old ordnance regardless of the security situation.

Having no choice but to withdraw their troops along with the Americans due to logistics, EU leaders pondered last week how to continue supporting the regime in Kabul despite the withdrawal.  “After the terrible attacks of recent days, it is all the more important for the EU to make very clear that Afghanistan and the Afghan government can continue to count on Europe’s support,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. “We will continue to make available sufficient funding for civilian reconstruction, and we will do everything we can so that the ongoing peace negotiations reach a conclusion.”

Though this would likely not include military support on the ground. Regardless, a defiant Afghan president told PBS "as far as the state of war is concerned, we're ready. We have been readyfor months."

NEW EPICENTRE

It was one tragedy amid a litany of others in the savagely-stricken land, but it was telling. Bollywood mourned when composer Shravan Rathod lost his life to covid at the age of 66. While it wasn't entirely certain where he had contracted the virus now devastating the country with over 400,000 new cases in a single day, it was known he had attended the annual mass gathering of Kumbh Mela, along with millions of others.

That the months-long religious event was allowed to take place was one of many reasons why India is now dealing with an unprecedented outbreak, its health system collapsing as patients lose their lives due to oxygen, bed and other shortages, their bodies hastily burned in courtyards, parking lots and public parks.

The funeral pyres were no longer an observance of Hindu rite but a desperate attempts to handle the torrent of covid-related mortality. In a way, a virus which started in Asia and ravaged Europe and then the Americas has gone full circle. A major global vaccine manufacturer, India has now had to cut back on its previous exports to serve its own as the Serum Institute which had been producing doses sent across the world was marshalled to serve the home front.

"After successfully tackling the first wave, the nation's morale was high, it was confident," prime minister Narendra Modi said addressing the crisis for the first time after a prolonged silence. "But this storm has shaken the nation." For awhile India was able to keep cases proportionally low as Europe and the Americas were rocked with the covid outbreak, but critics now say its lax regulations and complacency allowed the coronavirus to strike back with a vengeance, in particular the most virulent strain of the virus yet, now causing other countries to close their doors to Indian flights.

In other words India has become the new epicenter of the virus which has been roaming the planet for over a year, while Western countries start to improve their lot. It's become just the latest cautionary tale of a global pandemic which has spared no one and punished heavily those who just momentarily relaxed their guard as the infection plotted its latest manifestation.

It is also becoming an illustration of the gap between the leading industrial economies and developing world, struggling to gain access to the precious vaccine, even in this case, in a vaccine producing country. Ironically India has been painfully slow vaccinating its own, albeit massive, population, just over 11% having received a single dose of the vaccine. While vaccines were being made available to more age groups a number of regions reported shortages.

Other countries are faring no better including another vaccine producer, Russia, both countries paying the price for helping others as they shipped their doses around the world. The recipients of course were bound to be quite thankful, and often, even less fortunate. Namibia for instance had inoculated just over 120 people with two doses as of late April.

This global inequity, at a time world health officials are warning about the dangers of leaving large areas of the planet without vaccines, has no doubt created much resentment, as some countries reopened their economies and even held massively attended concerts and sports events, while others seethed under new lockdowns.

While travel remains discouraged in much of the world, fully vaccinated Americans were told they would be welcomed to visit Europe this summer. "Since the beginning of the pandemic, the WHO has fought day and night to end it," stresses Dr. Peter Singer, a WHO adviser. "And the defining issue, really, for 2021 is vaccine equity."

But  83% of vaccines distributed have been to high or upper middle income countries. "No one is going to get out of this until everyone gets of out it," he added. Recognising this, the US, Britain, Germany and other countries rushed supplies to India including ventilators and personal protective equip-ment, but America's ban on exporting raw material critical for vaccine production met criticism as facilities across the world, including the Serum Institute, faced shortages.

"If we are to truly unite in beating this virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the US, I humbly request you to lift the embargo," wrote Adar Poolawalla of the Serum Institute. Washington soon after partly lifted the ban for India, but still faced criticism for sitting on unused doses of AstraZeneca vaccines not yet approved in the US.

"We and other countries have to exert what I think is a moral responsibility to help the rest of the world get this under control," agreed NIA director Dr. Anthony Fauci. Days later the US said it would start sharing some of the 60 million doses of that vaccine with the rest of the world. In a gesture of solidarity even arch-rival Pakistan also announced it would provide "relief support" to its neighbor as it was dealing with its own outbreaks.

Yes there's been gouging and hoarding essentials during this pandemic, which provoked much panic, but also sharing. India is in a way just getting back what it sowed after being one of the first countries to come to China's aid a year ago. China in turn later sent doctors to assist in the European outbreak which followed.

And India is going to need plenty of help, fearing the million new official cases every three days is only the tip of an iceberg in this outbreak which has killed over 200,000 people there. Critics say Modi's government shares much of the blame due to lack of planning and because it allowed large Hindu gatherings and elections to go ahead. Five states were holding them this week alone, and the results were not kind to the prime minister.

ADIOS CASTROS

Cuba sans les Castro? La question était restée sans réponse pendant plusieurs années mais restait suspendue dans l'air comme une bannière révolutionnaire des quartiers populaires du centre de la Havane. En 2011 Fidel tirait sa révérence après des années de maladie, mais son frère Raul poursuivait sans trop de peine la ligne de son frère ainé.

Choisissant à son tour de quitter la présidence sept ans plus tard, Raul restait néanmoins plutôt influent, en tant que premier secrétaire du parti. Puis au mois d'avril de la 62e année de la révolution, l'octagénaire entamne à son tour son départ, mais non sans tenter de mettre fin aux tensions de plus d'un demi-siècle avec le géant américain: «Je confirme, à ce congrès du parti, la volonté de nouer un dialogue respec-tueux, une nouvelle forme de relations avec les États-Unis sans prétendre que pour y arriver, Cuba renonce aux principes de la révolution et du socialisme », déclare-t-il lors d'un discours d'adieu qui trace le parcours à suivre sur l'île des Caraïbes.

Il faut dire que celle-ci a d'autant plus souffert ces dernières années que la pandémie est venue achever le travail des nouvelles sanctions de l'embargo renouvelé sous Donald Trump. Résultat, une économie en chute libre après les espoirs éphémères de l'ouverture sous la présidence d'Obama.

Au terme de ce «congrès de la continuité » le président sexagénaire Miguel Diaz-Canel devenait le premier civil à prendre la tête du parti. Mais plusieurs espéraient autre chose que "continuité" dans les affaires économiques du pays suite au congrès. Une rare grogne sociale s'échappe de la population alors que pénuries et inflation empirent.

Certains ne se gênent plus de partager leur colère sur les réseaux sociaux, qui ont pris de l'ampleur à Cuba depuis la relative libéralisation d'internet. «La sortie du paysage politique actif de Raul Castro est logiquement un tournant historique, plus ou moins visible dans l’immédiat, notait l'auteur Leonardo Padura sur site Nueva Sociedad. Mais les gens ont besoin de plus. Pas seulement pour parler, mais pour mieux vivre. Je crois qu’après tant de sacrifices, les Cubains le méritent ».

Cette sortie au sein du parti a cependant été accompagnée par des cas d'harcèlement, selon les opposants du régime, comme pour rappeler la répression qui sévit à l'insu des visiteurs, qui se font rares depuis la pandémie. Si celle-ci a relativement épargné le peuple à l'origine, la Havane ayant même développé son propre vaccin, les dernières semaines ont donné lieu à des éclosions inquiétantes, et le virus a dès ses débuts frappé de plein fouet le tourisme, qui alimente l'économie de l'ombre autant qu'officielle.

Alors que la disparition des Castro ne change rien au fonctionnement de l'état, il s'agit d'une symbolique qui élimine un certain lien d'affection entre plusieurs Cubains et le pouvoir, laissant ce dernier plus susceptible à la colère de ses sujets en temps de crise. Ceci dit la disparition des Castro n'est pas totale puisque Raul reste un membre du politburo.

"Je pense qu'il conservera un rôle important", note Lillian Guerra de l'université de la Floride. Puis il reste d'autres Castro, comme son fils Alejandro, actif aux affaires étrangères et impliqué lors des discussions d'ouverture avec l'administration Obama. Mais une seule personne ne cumulera plus les postes comme le faisaient les Castro pendant toutes ces décennies.

THE MARSHALL FALLS

Peace and security is what "the gendarme of the Sahel", one of Africa's longest serving leaders, promised to voters who re-elected him in April, but those are words not easily associated with Chad, one of the world's poorest and least developed nations where large parts of the country are beyond the government's control.

When President Idriss Déby returned to the front lines of a rebel insurgency in the north of Chad as it awaited the results of the latest presidential elections it was however for the last time after three decades at the helm of the nation of  15 million.

Visiting troops following the latest skirmish against rebels of the Front for Change and Concord in Chad, the 68-year-old "Marshall" of the nation was felled, breathing "his last defending the sovereign nation on the battlefield" according to a statement read on state television. The rebel group, founded by dissident military officers five years ago, had reportedly crossed the border from Libya to conduct attacks and was heading towards the capital N'Djamena.

Its members, like many rights observers and opposition politicians, accused Déby of  corruption and repression in his long decades in power, especially in recent elections which presented little  opposition worthy of mention.

 Voters re-elected Déby to a sixth term with 79% of the vote. His closest opponent, former prime minister Albert Padacké, barely mustered 10%. A number of opposition leaders had pulled out of the election, calling for a boycott.

Chad has been a Western ally against Islamic jihadism in East Africa and should remain one under the stewardship of Déby's son, 37-year old Mahamat, himself a four-star general, who will lead the military council which will govern for the next 18 months following the dissolution of parliament. He promised elections next year.

The country has been marked by decades of political turmoil, Déby having seized power in a 1990 French-backed coup. Paris deplored losing "a courageous friend" in Déby, vowed to support Chad and wished for a "peaceful transition", but this didn't seem immediately likely as Maha-mat's succession looked to defy the order of proper Chadian constitutional transition.

Opposition mem-bers organized protests and decried a coup had taken place while an AU mission arrived to address security and constitutional issues. But for some Mahamat could allay some concerns. “The swift announcement of the establishment of a military council and naming his son Mahamat as head of state … indicates regime continuity,” said author Nathaniel Powell.

 “This probably aims to counter any coup-making efforts from within the security establishment and to reassure Chad’s international partners that they can still count on the country for its continued contributions to international counter-terrorist efforts in the Sahel.” But some precisely fear, now that the strongman is dead, a wave of instability not only in Chad but the whole region of the Sahel.

After initial signs the rebels were ready to observe a ceasefire and discuss a political settlement, the two sides were trading gunfire again this week, causing hundreds of deaths. Meanwhile the junta's choice of Padacké as prime minister failed to initially quell ongoing protests, which added to the government's pressures.


DARKEST BEFORE DAWN

Nicole wipes her eyes after hanging up with her mother. Nothing tragic had occurred, quite the opposite. She was doing well, and had just received her first covid-19 shot. Tears of relief, and joy. But across town independent shop keepers were shedding different tears, tears laced with anger and frustration as the province of Ontario announced a new sweeping lockdown, its third since the pandemic, and those who had survived the business blows of the previous restrictions were convinced this third strike would toss them out of the game.

More than a year on these contradicting emotions abounded as the vaccine delivered on a promise to end the pandemic, eventually, but a rise in cases of aggressive variants of the virus caused more shut downs in the mean time that only brought more of the  same. One last final push to the finish, authorities promised, sensing their electorates losing patience and questioning their initiatives throughout. Of course these officials were likely acting on the recommendations of health experts who had for months adjusted their tune, on everything from the risks of contagion from surface contact to mask  wearing, which some now recommended be medical grade and worn outdoors.

Global cases of the virus increased. While the finish line seemed closer, new waves of infection in countries like Canada, Brazil, India and France saw new spikes at times topping any previous waves. This as the season was warming in the hard hit northern hemisphere, a time we were brought to believe would be harder for the virus to thrive.

The young, once considered relatively safe from the virus, were now contracting it in greater numbers, sometimes sending them to emergency wards sooner as the new variants became the dominant ones. Vaccine trials for the young were progressing, with preliminary results showing success in protecting them. A good thing considering no age group seemed spared.

In Canada the new rise in cases was highlighted by the spread of the virus in the Northern division of the NHL, which is only limiting play between its seven Canadian teams. Among them the Vancouver Canucks recorded over two dozen cases of infection among players and staff, all involving new variants. And these new variants are raising questions as to how life will truly resume when people are fully vaccinated.

Canadian authorities cautioned it is too early to make firm conclusions. "Even if you get one or two doses, it's not a sort of free-for-all in  terms of you can do what you want, because there's still that possibility that you aren't protected individually, and at a population level you can transmit it or get infected yourself," cautioned deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo. The US has recorded a number of cases of  infection of fully inoculated individuals, a reminder vaccines are never 100% effective.

"One of our biggest questions is how well our new vaccines protect against there new variants," said Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Himshaw, adding that's why health measures were being kept in place even for people with vaccines, as some opposition politicians sought to create exemptions for vaccinated Canadians.

An Israeli study hinted the South African variant was perhaps "breaking through" the Pfizer vaccine after it analyzed 150 Israelis who contracted the virus despite having received the jabs. "We can say it's less effective, but more research is needed to establish exactly how much," said Prof. Adi Stern, who headed the study. They are hardly the only researchers suggesting vaccines were not a silver bullet.

"New 'variants of concern' have emerged and spread worldwide, putting current pandemic control efforts, including vaccination, at risk of being derailed," penned members of the Lancet COVID-19 Commission Taskforce on Public Health. "Put simply, the game has changed, and a successful global rollout of current vaccines by itself is no longer a guarantee of victory." That's why they stressed the need to "maintain strong public health measures to reduce the risk from these variants" all the while accelerating inoculations not only in rich countries, which have been criticized for hoarding them, but "in all countries in an equitable way.  Together, these strategies will deliver 'maximum suppression' of the virus."

Experts have used Swiss cheeze as an analogy, saying measures being used, whether vaccines, masks or sanitizing, weren't 100% effective on their own but together helped build effectiveness, like stacking slices of Swiss cheeze so the holes don't line up to let anything through. And then some measures, while helpful, had possible side effects. Last week the CDC suggested halting the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after reports of blood clots similar to AstraZeneca's, raising questions about those vaccines not developed using  messenger RNA to instruct the body to fight the virus. Though to put things in perspective, experts have noted the odds of getting a blood clot were many times higher if one contracted the virus the vaccine is developed to defend against.

While some weapons against covid were being questioned in some age groups, a Canadian company looked to procure another tool in the kit against the virus. Vancouver-based company SanOtize said its nasal spray was found to reduce 95% of covid levels in the fist 24 hours and sought emergency approval.  “It will be another tool in your toolbox. Just like you have your hand sanitizer and your mask, you will have your nasal spray. The idea is that it’s not instead of the vaccine, it’s to augment the vaccine,” said co-founder Dr. Gilly Regev. And those vaccines will in all likelihood have to be periodically readministered. According to Pfizer a booster will be necessary within 12 months of receiving the initial two doses.

LES MUR DES TROPIQUES

A quelques kilomètres du poste frontalier séparant Jimani et Malpasse, la transformation commence. La verdure qui entourait l'autoroute 48 disparait à peu près en même temps que le bitume. La poussière qui s'échappe de ce qui est devenu une route de pierres enveloppe l'autobus alors qu'il avale les dernières bornes de la république dominicaine.

Bientôt le chemin parcourt un trajet sinueux entre l'eau stagnante du lac Azuel et quelques sommets couverts de végétation basse. Quelques habitations abandonnées par l'homme mais gagnées par les eaux, puis apparait enfin le poste frontalier avec Haïti, à travers un nuage de poussière blanche soulevé dans le ciel immaculé.

Un véritable no man's land pour séparer les deux mondes. Il s'agit d'un des quatre postes du genre où passe le trafic routier, mais le trafic pédestre a lieu presque partout ailleurs. Chaque jour des milliers d'Haïtiens traversent clandestinement pour aller travailler dans l'état voisin hispanophone et plus prospère de l'ile bicéphale.

C'est ce genre de va et vien non contrôlé que cherche à freiner Saint Domingue en projetant d'ériger un mur au long des 380 kilomètres de frontière. Et selon les dires de ses dirigeants, pas un mur comme les autres, mais une véritable merveille technologique avec caméras d'identification.

Les travaux doivent commencer plus tard cette année, et les coûts sont justifiés selon le président Luis Abinader, en raison de l'étendue des problèmes d'immigration illégale et de trafic des marchandises. Mais pour plusieurs ces dépenses mériteraient d'être faites ailleurs alors que les recettes de l'état chutent, et pour certains, le geste ne fait que poursuivre une véritable "persécution" des Haïtiens, qu'ils fassent partie des 700000 résidents de la république dominicaine ou non.

"Le coût estimé est de 100 millions de dollars, fait noter Danny Shaw de l'université City de New York. Alors que nous vivons une pandémie qui a sérieusement réduit les recettes du tourisme et de la construction il est difficile de croire qu'il s'agit là d'une priorité économique pour le gouver-nement."

Shaw a provoqué un certain tollé en suggérant que le mur était "anti-Haïtien" et entretenait "l'inégalité coloniale." Mais le projet a ses partisans même hors de l'arène politique. "Avec la construction du mur frontalier nous contrôlons le trafic de la drogue et des clandestins, le vol des armes et des véhicules", écrit Rafael Gil sur les médias sociaux. Jorge Calderon argumente à son tour que "le mur est une solution au chaos, au trafic de la drogue, des armes et à la traite humaine".

Autrement dit un remède miracle face aux maux dont le bouc émissaire ne laisse plus de doute. Saint Domingue resserre la vis migratoire depuis quelque temps. L'organisation Human rights watch a critiqué la précarité du statut des immigrants et résidents haïtiens en République dominicaine après la dérégularisation d'environ 150000 travailleurs haïtiens durant la pandémie.

L'an dernier plus de 20000 migrants illégaux ont été déportés, dont 90% des ressortissants haïtiens. Mais selon Juan Miguel Pérez, sociologue de l'Université autónoma de Santo Domingo, les Haïtiens sont devenus "les bouc émissaires de l'élite dominicaine", notamment une classe politique de droite en quête de soutien.

Cette semaine la classe politique haïtienne était en transition suite à la démission du gouvernement qui a accom-pagné la crise sécuritaire au pays. Raison de plus, pour certains Dominicains, de resserrer la frontière.

THE INUIT SAY NO

For an island of its considerable size, it certainly doesn't command the attention or respect that it should. But for a little while this changed as countries around the world considered with interest this year's elections in Greenland.

Of course the territory isn't an independent country and is sparsely populated, counting barely 50,000 souls. But global warming and mineral finds have sparked new interest about the Danish-ruled land east of Canada. Interest and concern.

The effects of climate change have plainly been felt on this land mass, and some feared mining plans in the south of Greenland would add to environmental woes. The mining in question involved a much-needed commodity, not coal or diamonds, but rare earths used for a number of new technologies, and thirst for them knows few limits.

It is division about the prospect of opening the region to mining by foreign companies which led to the collapse of the three-party governing coalition in the 31-seat autonomous parliament.

While proponents saw such projects as crucial for job creation in a territory which offers little options beyond fishing, the Inuit majority feared the environmental impact of such industry on an immense island of over 2 million sq. kilometres which is already too familiar with the dramatic changes caused by global warming.

In the end victory by Greenland's opposition Inuit Ataqatigiit,  with claimed 12 seats, meant it could start forming a coalition to push the project aside. "The people have spoken," leader Mute Egede declared. "It won't happen."

The vote reflected growing opposition to the longstanding project when it emerged uranium would be a byproduct of operations, sparking fears of contami-nation in surrounding areas. Greenland's native population bears the painful memory of past contamination incidents after the crash of a B-52 bomber near Thule in the 1960s, a US base which forced the displacement of hundreds of natives during the Cold War.

But interest in the resource will surely linger as the world competes for access to rare earths, most originating in China. Chinese interests were behind Greenland Minerals, the Australian-based company seeking to launch operations in the Kjanefjed project.

Importance of the North is growing as climate change opens the Arctic to increased human activity. Thule, which hosts the Space warning squadron and the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System, also tracks satellites and is the northernmost US installation of its kind in an era of renewed strategic interest in the Arctic.

Satellite imagery has shown Polar rival Russia is amassing  weapons like never before in the far North, building up military bases and testing new strategic weapons such as hypersonic cruise missiles of concern to Nato, of which Denmark is a member.


THE CLASH

America is back, declared the US president, but this won't necessarily sit well with everyone. And what is it back to isn't quite the same world it once knew. No sooner had the Biden White House signalled a change of tone following four years of Trump administration that Russia recalled its ambassador after the US president agreed with the depiction of Vladimir Putin as a killer.

Meanwhile Chinese and US officials were trading jabs in their most recent high level meeting. Ominous starts to new relationships between the great powers of the planet. Within days China, Russia and Iran were targeted by new US sanctions for trying to influence the US elections, though Moscow was largely singled out for its influence campaign to "denigrate" Joe Biden and support his rival while seeking to undermine "public confidence in the electoral process and exacerbate sociopolitical divisions in the US."

"Through proxies, Russia ran a successful intelligence operation that penetrated the former president's inner circle," said House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff. Washington had by then already marked a change of tone by breaking its silence over the arrest of opposition politician Alexei Navalny, but Biden's remark on the Russian president in an interview was the most direct attack against the Putin in years.

The latter in quipped: "it takes one to know one" in response to the "killer" reference, a tit for tat not promising for the months ahead but which should not make for an unworkable relationship according to spokesperson Jen Psaki. "President Biden has known President Putin for a long time, they've both been on the global stage for a long time, worked through many iterations of a relationship between the United States and Russia. And he believes we can continue to do that."

There was no shying away from criticizing China's stance on human right either, especially on the treatment of its Uyghur minority as well as its growing assertiveness abroad, in the first high level meeting between the State Department Secretary and his counterpart, which involved the warmth of the host state of Alaska in the winter. “Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability,” Sec. Antony Blinken said of China’s actions in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and of cyber attacks. “That’s why they’re not merely internal matters, and why we feel an obligation to raise these issues here today.”

Chinese officials wasted no time accusing the US of hypocrisy considering its own interventions abroad and troubles at home. "The United States [should] change its own image and stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world," said Chinese foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi. "Many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States."

This had been a less drastic change in tone overall since the previous admini-stration had criticized Beijing for its handling of the cononavirus outbreak.  Days before the meeting Washington had already slapped a first set of sanctions over China's crackdown in Hong Kong. Electors in the former British colony will now directly elect fewer legislators and all candidates will have to be vetted for "patriotism." Most opposition politicians are already facing draconian security laws, when not in prison.

But China is battling any attempt to become isolated on this or other issues, its foreign minister meeting with its Russian counterpart in a move China's Global Times said "is of great significance as the close China-Russia coordination will offset the impact of the US' troublemaking after it's just concluded dialogues with its allies Japan and South Korea."

Clear lines in the sand for the coming mandate as according to the New York Times it heralded a "new era of bitter superpower competition, marked by perhaps the worst relationship Washington has had with Russia since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and with China since it opened diplomatic relations with the United States." An astounding statement considering the two powers are top trade partners. While both countries would like to isolate the US, and while US allies have grown wary of the superpower during the last years, Washington hardly stands alone.

Days later the EU imposed sanctions on four officials representing what is its second trade partner. It was no small gesture if you consider the last time this happened was before the group of European countries was called the EU, in 1989, after the Tiananmen massacre. The arms embargo European countries imposed then still stands.

The EU accused the Chinese leadership of “arbitrary detentions and degrading treatment inflicted upon Uyghurs and people from other Muslim ethnic minorities, as well as systematic violations of their freedom of religion or belief”. Canada also sanctioned Chinese officials over the plight of the Uyghurs, a gutsy move considering two of its citizens were facing trial in a case Ottawa considers politically motivated, and also sanctioned Russia over its treatment of Navalny.

France similarly directed criticism at Beijing after it lashed out at reporters and diplomats. China soon struck back against all these countries with sanctions of its own and signed a strategic agreement with Iran. But far from severing communication channels, even as Nato interceptions of Russian military planes hit a new high, the US still sought to engage with its rivals, inviting their leaders to a climate change summit later this month.

"This is not about ganging up on China,' insisted Blinken. "It is about standing up together for the interests and values that we share." Global engagement should, if anything, open more doors than shut them. And this at least seemed the way forward with Tehran, with which Washington sought to relaunch efforts to save the nuclear deal scuttled by Trump, bringing together officials from both China and Russia as well as other signatories of the deal in talks scheduled for this week. "We believe this is a healthy step forward," a State Department official said. And this would be true for China and Russia as well.

ALERTE A ZANZIBAR

Des eaux turquoises au bout d'une plage de sable fin. Au large des clients s'adonnent aux joies du kiteboarding par une journée ensoleillée balayés de vents vigoureux. Ces images de Zanzibar de notre correspondant rappellent les bons vieux jours d'innocence pré-pandémique. Sauf qu'elles sont récentes, et personne dans la foule semble trop préoccupé par le manque de distanciation ou de masque lorsqu'un homme se dresse en équilibre, les mains posées sur le dos d'un autre.

Lorsqu'on fait remarquer que le public ne semble pas trop préoccupé par la pandémie, il ne peut s'empêcher de rigoler: "pas trop non, ha ha." Ces scènes de plaisir insouciant sont devenues presque une marque de commerce tanzanienne lors de la dernière année, ses dirigeants ayant minimisé l'étendue du virus, ignoré les précautions sanitaires à l'entrée et proposé des recettes maison peu orthodoxes pour éviter la contagion.

C'était avant la mort du président John Magufuli en mi-mars, après des semaines d'absence alors que les rumeurs battaient leur plein sur l'état de santé du dirigeant de 61 ans. Mort de problèmes cardiaques, un diagnostic covid n'a jamais officiellement été confirmé dans son cas, mais l'opposition en est convaincue.

Son successeur Samia Suluhu Hassan, elle même de l'archipel semi-autonome et hautement touristique de Zanzibar, prévoit-elle un changement de cap dans ce pays qui ne rapporte plus de mise à jour à l'OMS sur la progression de la pandémie? A première vue non, le pays semble vouloir continuer le jeu risqué de l'autruche alors que les variants plus contagieux s'emparent de ce continent comme des autres.

Les derniers chiffres officiels parlent d'un peu plus de 500 cas et 21 décès, mais voilà presque un an que la Tanzanie n'a pas transmise de nouvelles données. Hassan doit terminer le mandat de son prédecesseur, prévu jusqu'en 2025, après une ré-élection l'automne dernier contestée par l'opposition.

Première prési-dente du pays, elle avait été ministre du tourisme entre autre avant de devenir la première vice présidente du pays. Entre temps la Tanzanie est de plus aux prises avec des groupes islamistes actifs au Mozambique voisin mais qui ne se gênent pas de cibler des villages de son coté de la frontière près des installations pétrolières du pays.

Cette région de l'Afrique de l'est est la proie de ce genre d'attaque depuis plusieurs années. Evidemment l'Afrique entière mène le combat contre le covid-19 dont certains variant régionaux sont plus agressifs. Magufuli serait évidemment loin d'être le premier chef d'état à contracter le virus, mais il n'avait sans doute pas accès aux remèdes "miracles" en développement de ses collègues de pays mieux nantis.

Rien qu'en Afrique le premier ministre d'Eswatini Ambroze Dlamini a également livré un combat contre le virus, et plus récemment un candidat de l'opposition aux élections de Congo-Brazzaville perdait la vie le jour même de l'ouverture des bureaux de vote. Alors que le continent semble avoir de manière générale jusqu'à maintenant été relativement épargné par le virus, il semble compter plusieurs victimes aux plus hauts échelons de l'état.

De son propre aveu Hassan admet ne pas "avoir été prête" à assumer son nouveau rôle, après avoir été choisie comme candidate du compromis. Pourtant celle-ci s'est mise à la tâche assez vite en proposant le poste de numéro deux au ministre des finances. Elle devra cependant se poser des questions sur le ministre de la santé, qui semblait peu convaincue par la nécessité des vaccins. C'est le désir de membres de l'opposition qui attendent un changement de cap. "Un changement de parcours (sur le covid) serait bienvenu," selon Tundu Lissu.

HOLD UP IN THE CANAL

After a year of trade flows diminished by the pandemic the last thing commerce needed was the arterial blockage of the Suez Canal provoked by the running aground of a massive Japanese-owned container ship.

It wouldn't be the first incident to disrupt operations, the zone having seen everything from war to modern day piracy in over a century of existence, but this was certainly the most significant of its kind recently.

As the backlog of ships awaiting to pass reached the hundreds, costing $400 million in global trade daily, new thoughts were being given to old and emerging ideas about diverting commercial lanes between Asia and Europe. Russia was quick to cheekily tout its Northeast passage through Siberian waters, an alternative growing more alluring as global warming extends the ice-free season.

While this period remains relatively short, navigation through the route could trim sailing days by two weeks by some accounts. Meanwhile a number of companies soon diverted their  ships to the alternate longer passage around Africa through the Cape of Good Hope, one which had gradually grown more attractive in recent years due to higher Suez Canal passage fees and lower fuel prices.

Others however  considered dry-land alternatives such as the growing network of rail routes increasingly linking China to European markets. Container xChange co-chief executive Johannes Schlingmeier told the Wall Street Journal shipping companies were touting this alternative as it became clear the 400-metre long 200,000 tonne MV Ever Given, among the largest in the world,  would be stuck in the Suez for days, continuing to block traffic.

It was eventually freed earlier this week after five days of intense efforts. By then academics had meanwhile unearthed an old declassified US memorandum which had once suggested a regional alternative to the canal shortly after the Suez crisis.

The 1963 Livermore National US Laboratory report considered the feasibility of digging a new canal east of the Suez, through Israel, using hundreds of nuclear weapons in largely deserted areas. "Such a canal would be a strategically valuable alternative to the present Suez Canal and would probably contribute greatly to economic development," it argued.

"Political feasibility" however presented another problem, the report said, "as it is likely that the Arab countries surrounding Israel would object strongly to the construction of such a canal." To this "modest proposal for fixing the Suez Canal situation", historian Alex Wellerstein added another simpler alternative. "We could just use one nuke on the boat, I guess." Jokes aside the week long incident was serious enough to impact ports and businesses around the world and displayed the weak links of international commerce.

UNE AUTRE DOSE DE BIBI?

Pour un dirigeant dont la campagne de vaccination a été aussi retentissante, Benjamin Netanyahou a bien de la misère à conserver son poste, mais évidemment au courant de toutes ces années de règne les controverses ont souvent été au rendez-vous.

Avec 30 sièges son parti est bien terminé premier dans les intentions de vote lors des élections récentes, mais comme à l'habitude le système électoral israélien rend difficile toute création de gouvernement sans dur travail de coalition, et celui-ci s'annonçait encore une fois bien intensif.

Quelques jours avant la quatrième election en deux ans les foules étaient à nouveau rassemblées à Tel Aviv pour faire appel au départ de celui dont on a trop souvent précipité les obsèques politiques. Inculpé pour corruption et conspué en raison des emplois perdus pendant la pandémie, Netanyahou livrait un nouveau combat pour son avenir et son héritage politique un quart de siècle après avoir été élu premier ministre une première fois.

Evidemment les multes fractures et divisions politiques sont parvenues à éviter son rejet immédiat. D'ailleurs Netanyahou n'a pas connu que des ratés, loin de là. Le pays a tout de même réussi à confronter le coronavirus, parvenant à vacciner plus de 60% de sa population et laissant un parfum de quasi normalité flotter des marchés arabes de la vieille Jérusalem aux plages hédonistes de Tel Aviv.

Mais les électeurs voient déjà plus loin, ou alors trop en arrière, revenant aux querelles éternelles. En même temps il faut dire que l'étoile du rival Benny Gantz, l'ancien chef de l'armée, a déjà perdu un peu de son éclat, ne recueillant que 7 sièges au Knesset. Le centriste Yaïr Lapid a fait mieux avec environ 14% des voix, mais le morcellement de l'échiquier électoral fait en sorte que la construction d'une coalition ne fait que commencer.

L'alliance de droite n'a pas récolté assez de voix pour permettre à Bibi de former un gouvernement pour la septième fois, lui qui a déjà pulvérisé les records de longévité. Malgré la confection et les chutes des gouvernements, ce personnage presque éternel de la politique israélienne assure une certaine continuité nécessaire dans une région où l'incertitude aux plus hautes strates du pouvoir serait catastrophique.

Certes il y a un brin de fatigue électorale, le taux de participation n'ayant pas dépassé les 67%, et Bibi a cette fois récolté moins de soutien que la précédente, mais il reste un candidat que plusieurs électeurs sont résignés à élire et ré-élire, ne voyant pas de véritable alternative se poindre à l'horizon.

Ainsi Israël pourrait se diriger vers une autre dose de Bibi aux effets, secondaires pas encore certains. Mais son procès risque de laisser un goût amer. Entre temps l'opposition anti-Netanyahou presse le pas lors des négociations post-électorales qui font de la liste arabe de Mansour Abbas un parti clé afin de former une majorité capable de déloger Bibi. Mais l'opposition reste fracturée, certains de ses dirigeants critiquant notamment Lapid pour avoir tenu des pourparlers avec Abbas en pleine période la Pâque juive.


LEADERS TESTED

Some were re-elected, others turfed, a number of them struggled down the stretch facing a critical public but others saw a path to re-election. They are the leaders who took center stage as the pandemic hit a year ago, and months on covid-19 in some cases slowly ebbed away at their support figures.

One obvious victim of pandemic mismanagement was the U.S. president, turfed in the Fall election but still popular with a base of staunch supporters who would like to see him run again in three years. His successor's handling of the virus in the country the most afflicted by covid-19 has kept the honeymoon going strong at the White House.

This month Joe Biden said the US would have enough vaccines for its entire population by May, a huge feat if indeed accomplished. Praised for her handling of the crisis, New Zealand's Lucinda Ardern was re-elected with a landslide last Fall. The pandemic there as elsewhere is far from over but the country has been largely spared and this is due to her continuing tough stand against the virus, imposing new lockdowns following recent small outbreaks this Winter. Though there have been some protests, they have been limited. Other leaders praised a year ago have heard the music since as the pandemic and its lockdowns dragged on.

In Canada the slow pace of vaccination due to a lack of domestic manufacturing was a drag on the minority Liberals at first but this is turning around as vaccines start to enter the country, which has approved four of them so far. This turn around is opening the door for a possible spring election by some accounts, as Trudeau sets his sights on a return to majority government. Strong vaccine rollouts have boosted the polling numbers of Britain's Boris Johnson, who struggled early in the pandemic before turning things around by taking firmer action to combat the virus.

The lockdowns have caused some protests but poll numbers show the country's successful vaccination ramp up has boosted his fortunes giving his Tories a 7% lead over Labour. Across the Channel Macron has been boosted by his response to the crisis despite some recent lockdowns, seeing favorable ratings of 50%, especially among French youth, one year ahead of presidential elections.

This is hardly a barometer of next year's vote however, as poll numbers have been rising and dropping during the pandemic. Like many EU countries France has been struggling to inoculate citizens owing to the failure of domestic vaccination initiatives and lack of manufacturing.

A number of regional leaders have seen their popularities fluctuate during the year-long crisis, from Ontario, which is relieved to finally see larger vaccines shipments arrive, to Quebec, which has maintained a curfew over parts of its territory despite improving numbers. Despite the tough medicine François Legault is tied for most popular premier in Canada along with BC's Horgan, who was re-elected last Fall. In nearby New York state however, a leader once praised for leading efforts against the pandemic in light of ineffective federal initiatives has come down hard, only partly due to the pandemic.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has been facing calls to resign or impeachment not because of a poor vaccination campaign but in part because of charges he underreported covid-related deaths in elder care homes, and mostly because of a growing list of accusations of sexual harrassment. One leader who downplayed the pandemic and at first seemed to thrive from his approach has come crashing down to earth.

Brazil's Bolsonaro was enjoying pandemic-defying popularity last Fall before the worsening situation in Manaus and other cities, which face a collapse of their health system, brought his numbers down. Also to blame, he lashed back, are worsening economic numbers due to health restrictions, but on this regional leaders are taking their own intiatives to ensure tighter health measures due to what they perceive as a lack of federal initiatives.

Brazil is ranked third worldwide in terms of infections and second only to the US in terms of deaths. The country's leader is among more than a dozen world leaders to have contracted the disease, often a reflection of how seriously, or not, they have taken the pandemic. Sadly few personified this more than Tanzanian president John Magufuli, who downplayed the pandemic until the very end when he died of heart complications. It was thought he had contracted the virus though this was not confirmed.

TOURMENTE A DAKAR

Le calme est revenu dans les rues des Dakar, mais pour combien de temps encore? Longtemps un oasis de paix et de stabilité relative en Afrique de l'ouest, le Sénégal vit des heures de tourmente suite à l'arrestation de celui qui devait être le principal opposant politique du président Macky Sall dans la présidentielle de 2024.

Ousmane Sonko a été arrêté pour trouble à l’ordre public alors qu’il se rendait en cortège au tribunal où il était convoqué pour répondre à des accusations de viol. Ressorti sans inculpation, il fut placé en garde à vue pour trouble à l'ordre public, des accusations qui selon ses supporters s'inscrivent dans la logique de la persécution des opposants politiques destinée à les décourager de se présenter en 2024.

Sonko ferait ainsi selon son avocat Abdoulaye Tall l’objet d’une « tentative de liquidation aux fins d’élimination d’un adversaire politique». Ces accusations contre le pouvoir ne datent pas d'hier et remontent aux élections de 2019, condamnées par des observateurs internationaux en raison de l'exclusion d'opposants accusés de corruption, accusations douteuses elles aussi puisqu'ils furent par la suite pardonnés par la présidence.

Ce vote avait entaché l'image du pays, qui perdit sa cote de "pays libre" pour le devenir "partiellement" selon l'organisation Freedom House. La détention récente de Sonko n'a que multiplié les tensions déjà liées à la multiplication des cas de covid-19 et au ralentissement de l'économie, causant une croissance du chômage. Résultat, des éclats parfois meurtriers avec les forces de l'ordre pourtant rares dans la patrie de Senghor. "L'inculpation d'opposants pour motifs politiques et les changements à la loi électorale ont entravé la compétitivite de l'opposition ces dernières années, notait Freedom House.

Ce pays connu pour ses libertés de la presse et d'expression restreint ces libertés par l'entremise de lois de diffamation." Lors de la crise actuelle le pouvoir bloquait notamment le signal de deux télévisions privées pour avoir passé des images de violences "en boucle" alors que l'accès à internet était perturbé.

«Les autorités sénégalaises doivent immédiatement cesser les arrestations arbitraires d’opposants et d’activistes, respecter la liberté de réunion pacifique et la liberté d’expression, et faire la lumière sur la présence d’hommes armés de gourdins aux côtés des forces de sécurité», déclarait pour sa part Amnistie inter-nationale. Sonko fut relâché par la suite mais reste en garde à vue.

Suite aux appels à la pacification de leurs chefs spirituels musulmans et chrétiens, les manifestants se sont entendus pour calmer le jeu mais non sans dresser aussitôt une liste de revendications en raison de la multiplication des reven-dications. En plus de la "libération immédiate" des "prisonniers politiques", les revendications exigent la fin du "complot" contre Sonko et la reconnaissance par Sall de "l'impossibilité constitutionelle et morale" et briguer un troisième mandat.

Depuis 2019 c'est en fait toute cette région de l'Afrique entière qui éprouve des difficultés, le Bénin traversant également une période de tensions suite à une élection contestée par la rue. Alors que de pareils dérangements avaient lieu en Guinée seul le Ghana gardait sa cote de pays "libre" dans la région selon la classification de Freedom House. Pourtant cette liberté connait aussi des limites car l'homosexualité y reste illégale.

Egalement marquée par des violences lors de sa dernière présidentielle, faisant 87 morts l'automne dernier, la Côte d'Ivoire semble avoir montré qu'il était cependant possible de tourner la page, ses législatives de la semaine dernière s'étant déroulées dans la paix et comptant pour la première fois depuis 10 ans l'ensemble de ses acteurs politiques après une rare alliance entre partis rivaux.

MANIFS ET PANDÉMIE

Plus d'un mois après le coup d'état de la junte en Birmanie les manifestations poursuivent leur cours dans les rues du pays, avec des conséquences souvent tragiques face à des militaires responsables d'un génocide des minorités musulmanes qui n'hésitent pas à passer aux balles. Cette campagne est-elle vouée à l'échec?

Pandémie ou pas, à travers le monde des manifestations ont lors des derniers mois tenté de faire plier le pouvoir, ou du moins faire entendre leur voix, avec des résultats souvent limités. Les manifestations en Biélorussie et en Russie ont été matées par la répression, Moscou cherchant même à éliminer leur mémoire en menaçant Twitter de ralentir sa vitesse si le géant des médias sociaux n'éliminait pas les appels à la manifestation du mois de janvier.

Cette fin de semaine la police russe embarquait des opposants réunis lors d'une conférence pour avoir participé à un événement mis en place par une organisation "indésirable." Avec moins de rudesse le gouvernement de Delhi résiste encore aux manifestations des paysans du nord de l'Inde qui paralysent une partie de la capitale.

Ces mesures ainsi que d'autres ne placent pas ce régime, plus sévère depuis l'arrivée des nationalistes hindous au pouvoir, dans la même catégorie que Minsk et Moscou, mais ont tout de même eu un impact. Ce mois-ci Freedom House a baissé la cote de la soi-disant "plus grande démocratie au monde" en la réduisant à titre de "demi-démocratie" vues les mesures du gouvernement Modi contre les journalistes, internet et la liberté d'expression.

Ces mouvements populaires ne sont pas sans espoir et certains ont même obtenu les résultats escomptés. Les mobilisations de l'automne dernier entourant les mesures sanitaires au Pérou ont fini par causer la chute du gouvernement. Ciblant des régimes moins sanguinaires, les manifestations d'Amérique latine ont souvent obtenu des résultats, du départ d'Evo Morales en Bolivie aux concessions au Chili et en Equateur, où le président s'est, pour cause d'impopularité, retenu de se présenter aux élections de janvier.

La pandémie n'a de toute évidence pas ralenti les ardeurs démocratiques, la plèbe prenant les rues d'assaut de Dakar à Port au Prince. D'ailleurs les mesures sanitaires et les confinements étaient plutôt à la source de plusieurs mouvements de dissatisfaction dans les pays industrialisés, même au coeur de cette Hollande d'ordinaire si pacifique.

Ce qui n'a pas empêché la ré-élection de son premier ministre. En veille de printemps l'Algérie voyait le retour des mouvements de démocratisation du Hirak lancés en 2019 qui avaient été interrompus en raison de la pandémie. Les manifestations birmanes restent cependant les plus sanglantes, faisant quelques douzaines de victimes cette fin de semaine seulement alors que l'état d'urgence s'installe sur l'ensemble du territoire.

Il y a vingt ans les manifestations du printemps arabe changeaient plusieurs visages à la tête de ces pays d'Egypte au Yémen, mais la nature des régimes n'a que sensiblement changé depuis le départ des despotes. La Libye demeure ingouvernable et déchirée par ses factions rivales, l'Egypte reste sous l'emprise des militaires et même la Tunisie reste proie à la grogre populaire. C'est sans parler des crises qui persistent au Yémen, au bord de la catastrophe alimentaire, et en Syrie, où la guerre se poursuit et les rebelles fêtaient cette semaine le 10e anniversaire du soulèvement dans le nord.

YEAR TWO

As the world enters year two of the pandemic, hopes of a return to normal with the launch of vaccination campaigns are being tempered by the threat of new more aggressive variants of covid-19.

A race is well underway to ensure enough are quickly vaccinated to prevent these variants from doing more damage as they become a growing trend. This is disheartening as the signs had been encouraging as of late, with global numbers suggesting a reduction of new daily infections, hospitaliza-tions and deaths since the highs of mid-January.

To be certain, over 115 million cases and 2.5 million deaths worldwide are staggering numbers, and concerns of new waves of infection due to the new variants are very real.

Following the identification of variants from South Africa and the U.K., the latter by some accounts possibly more lethal, the developments of new U.S.-born variants in California and New York, the most heavily affected American states.

In Europe meanwhile officials were pushing lockdowns as a measure to prevent a third wave of infections brought about by the new variants. Still the vaccination campaigns underway are promising in terms of eventually getting a grip on the crisis. The U.S. says it is on course to have enough vaccines for all its citizens by May.

It hasn't been easy and the learning curve has been steep along the way. Travel was long permitted before it was eventually shut down altogether. Wearing masks was at first suggested before it became mandatory, and later encouraged with multiple layers. With time some companies worked to squeeze additional doses out of their vials, while the soundness of delaying second doses and transporting some vaccines under less stringent freezing conditions was being explored.

And much needs to be determined about the extent of immunity the world is buying by vaccinating its front-line workers and most vulnerable, as well as the possibility those vaccinated may still be able to transmit the virus.  Immunity doesn't come cheap, its cost in lives has been a constant of historic pandemics. And then there are pandemics that become endemic, as this one is looking to become. A constant in future lives.

And with the multiplication of vaccination campaigns, in some cases just reaching some Third World nations now, the development of vaccine passports is seen by some as a way to integrate the fight of covid into future lives. Such practices have made a return to normal-ish lives possible in some countries, but also sparked privacy concerns in general. Iceland was among the first countries to provide vaccine certificates, allowing their immunized recipients to travel without quarantine.

It is  hardly the only nation, as Greece followed suit for people who had received two doses, and so are a number of other European countries seeing it as a way to save the year's tourism industry, especially critical in the South of the continent. Spain, Portugal and Cyprus but also Denmark and Poland considered a similar approach as Brussels looked to propose a draft law on this in the coming weeks.

The world's most vaccinated country, Israel, has allowed members of the public to enter gyms or attend open air venues for concerts with proof of vaccination, which over 60% of residents have received already. But experts caution the use of such passes or passport raise the risk of discrimination and exclusion, especially since vaccines are not yet approved for children and pregnant women.

 “Arguably [vaccine passports] could preserve the freedoms of those who do not have the disease or have been vaccinated,” said Ana Beduschi, an associate law professor from the UK’s University of Exeter. “However if some people cannot access or afford Covid-19 tests or vaccines,  they will not be able to prove their health status, and thus their freedoms will be de facto restricted.”

The UK was certainly mindful of this debate as prime minister Boris Johnson said his government considered “the many concerns surrounding exclusion, discrimination and privacy,” while some suggested immunized citizens be allowed to visit pubs and theatres. The UK however has drastically ramped up its vaccination campaign, becoming a champion among large countries of 10 million or more, with 22% of people vaccinated.

And this extends to its territories as well. In fact Gibraltar has delivered a world leading 109 doses per 100 people, the only territory over 100. Other British possessions such as Guernsey, the Isle of Man and the Falklands are all seeing over 20% of people with at least one dose, much better than the EU average of 7%.

Reflecting a lack of EU consensus overall on the issue of passports, the debate has been fierce in France, more likely to balk at the idea as fewer of its citizens have been vaccinated. The topic will spark a global debate argues a Toronto bioethicist. “Really what we’re talking about here is allowing people with passports rights and privileges that won’t be available to people who don’t have a vaccine passport,” Alison Thompson told CBC.  “And given that there are huge inequities in access to vaccines globally ... you know, this raises all kinds of concerns about whether this is going to be fair – not just whether it'll be confidential information."

L'ARMÉNIE DANS LA RUE

Alors que le printemps se pointe, l'Arménie retrouve la rue. Cet accueil du printemps a souvent une saveur politique. Il y a trois ans la plèbe rejetait la tentative du premier ministre d'aller clamer un nouveau mandat. A la tête de ce mouvement, un chef de l'opposition faisant appel à "une révolution pacifique de velours" pour mettre un terme au règne du chef du gouvernement, l'ancien militaire Sarkissian.

Trois ans plus tard cet opposant, Nikol Pachinian, est lui-même premier ministre, et rassemble les foules à nouveau après avoir dénoncé une tentative de coup d'état dans ce petit pays rarement en paix.

D'ailleurs le prix de celle-ci semble avoir creusé les divisions alors que Erevan lèche ses plaies après avoir subi l'humiliation de l'annexion d'une partie de son territoire après les derniers éclats avec le voisin azerbaïdjanais. Les militaires ne sont pas les seuls à réclamer son départ, il s'agit d'un cri de plus en plus populaire qui retentit depuis le retrait des troupes arméniennes après l'échec de l'automne dernier, qui selon certains place le pays au bord de la guerre civile.

Rien de plus encourageant pour le voisin rival, qui avait eu gain de cause dans les conditions de cessez-leu feu de Moscou, un cessez le feu que l'armée arménienne avait d'ailleurs demandé au gouvernment d'accepter, craignant la déroute.

Faisant écho de l'appel de l'état major à la démission du premier ministre, l'opposition souligne les enjeux de la situation: "Nous appelons Nikol Pachinian à ne pas mener le pays vers la guerre civile et une effusion de sang. Pachinian a une dernière chance de partir sans qu'il n'y ait de troubles", déclare le parti Arménie Prospère.

Résultat, manifestations et contre manifestations rassemblant des milliers dans la capitale, faisant craindre la possibilité de choc. "La situation est tendue mais tout le monde est d'accord qu'il ne doit pas y avoir d'affrontements (...)  la situation est gérable", juge Pachinian. Même préoccu-pation du voisin russe, allié d'Erevan. "Nous suivons la situation en Arménie avec préoccupation (...) et bien entendu nous appelons tout le monde au calme", déclare le porte-parole de la présidence russe.

Pourtant les tensions restent importantes, d'autant plus que l'Azerbaïdjan marquait le 26 février le 29e anniversaire du massacre de plus de 600 civils, dont femmes et enfants, à Khodjaly dans cette même région contestée du Haut-Karabakh. Bakou tente depuis des années de faire reconnaitre l'événement à titre de génocide, ce que se retient bien de faire l'ONU. Entre temps le bras de fer interne se poursuit, le président Sarkissian refusant les appels au limogeage du chef de l'armée. Une solution à la crise peut-être, la proposition de vote anticipé.


TOURMENTE A HAITI

Hispaniola est à nouveau dans la tourmente, et encore une fois les racines de ce désordre remontent plusieurs années en arrière. Le premier tour de l'élection prési-dentielle haïtienne de 2015 avait provoqué une telle contestation que le second tour avait été repoussé à l'année suivante.

Début 2016 cependant, le Conseil électoral provisoire choisit d'organiser un tout nouveau scrutin fin 2016, qui sera par la suite repoussé par le passage de l'ouragan Matthew. Lorsque celui-ci a finalement lieu, faisant élire le protégé du président sortant Martelly, Jovenel Moïse, un entrepreneur agricole de 48 ans, ce sera loin de mettre fin à l'instabilité politique.

Car cinq ans plus tard la question du véritable début du mandat de Moïse divise les camps à la fois au pays et à l'étranger, où l'Organisation des Etats d'Amérique appuie  Washington qui fixe la fin du mandat en 2022.

Or l'opposition, appuyée par la justice haïtienne, clame haut et fort que le quinquennat est arrivé à terme le 7 février. Le jour même les autorités annoncent avoir déjoué un putsch, arrêtant une vingtaine de personnes dont un juge de la Cour de cassation et une inspectrice de la police nationale. Moïse estime avoir échappé à une tentative d'assassinat.

Le lendemain, autre coup de théâtre, les partis de l'opposition qui réclament le départ de Moïse - qui est pourtant persuadé d'avoir un an avant la fin de son mandat -, nomment un dirigeant de transition, accusant le président de vouloir prolonger son mandat de manière anticonstitutionnelle.

Ce président par intérim est un juge dont on aurait retrouvé le discours qu'il comptait prononcer lors de son entrée en fonction. La crise survient alors que la grogne se poursuit sur l'ile, qui n'a plus de parlement en fonction depuis plus d'un an et dont le président gouverne par décrets. L'opposition accuse d'ailleurs le président d'avoir volontairement repoussé l'organisation des parlemen-taires.

Dur coup pour ce qui fut le premier pays des Antilles à déclarer son indépendance. Alors que l'influent Département d'état américain fixe la fin du mandat en 2022 il fait également appel à l'organisation d'élections parlementaires, tandis que des congressistes américains appuient ouvertement l'opposition haïtienne dans une lettre où ils "condamnent l'action non démocratique du président Moïse et appuient la mise en place d'un gouvernement de transition." Une division de plus pour déchirer l'île bicéphale.

En attendant l'opposition accuse le pouvoir de faire régner une atmosphère de répression, notant l'augmentation de descentes policières chez les critiques du président. Cette semaine de nouveaux éclats ont eu lieu dans les rues du pays, déjà troublées par la multiplication de gangs faisant régner l'insécurité. Pour l'opposition, il ne s'agit là en fait que d'une partie de l'arsenal de la répression de l'état.

L'an dernier les Etats-Unis ont d'ailleurs annoncé des sanctions contre des alliés de Moïse accusés de protéger et d'approvisionner les gangs en armes. Dans le pays le plus pauvre de l'hémisphère l'opposition redoute également les projets de plebiscite sur la constitution du président, Moïse pouvant y voir une occasion de briguer un nouveau mandat. Mais l'opposition reste faible car divisée malgré les appels à l'unité pour mettre fin au règne de Moïse.

Entre temps ce dernier se défend bien d'être un tyran, son ministre des affaires extérieures répétant à son tour que "le président n'est pas un dictateur" en réponse aux appels à sa démission dans les rues de ce pays, qui selon la presse locale est divisé entre "deux présidents". Niant d'avoir initié quelque coup d'état qu'il soit, l'opposition accuse à son tour le président d'orchestrer son propre contre coup en cherchant à faire plier ses opposants.


VACCINE CLASH

Together we will beat this. But a year,  over 100 million infections and many closed borders later, as new variants of the coronavirus emerge and countries fiercely compete for vaccines bogged by production issues, this unity is being tested. Amid slipping goodwill some are anxious to look into alternatives to immunize their citizens against the coronavirus.

A number of countries have even turned to vaccines considered unpro-ven in the West due to incomplete trial data. Until recently this was the case of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, approved for use in Iran with shipments sent to Argentina and Algeria, among others. Turkey approved the use of China's Sinovac vaccine, despite the fact it was reported as only 50% effective in Brazil.

Other countries from the Gulf states to Morocco have for their part embraced Chinese drug maker Sinopharm's vaccine for their immunization needs, especially considering how difficult it has been to secure other brands. Among them the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have among the highest per capita vaccination levels of any country after Israel, a feat helped no doubt by their relatively small populations and considerable wealth.

Morocco had also secured doses with the Chinese drug maker, participating in its clinical trials, but had smartly also partnered with British supplier AstraZeneca, which ended up providing the country its first doses. Only recently approved by the EU, this vaccine faced regulatory delays as some questioned its testing processes and noted it was not approved for people over 65.

Still AstraZeneca's first Moroccan delivery allowed that country to become the first on the continent to start a national immunization campaign. But Morocco is the exception, a fact the World Health Organization found concerning as it watched the world's wealthiest nations scoop up vaccine orders from the major Western manufacturers.

Leaving poorer regions behind in the race for immunization would prove a “catastrophic moral failure” according to Director-General Tedros Ghe-breyesus, especially consi-dering Africa is the source of one of the more contagious variants of covid-19. AstraZeneca's vaccine, like Sinopharm's, can be transported under less stringent conditions than other currently available Western vaccines, which makes it more easy to distribute in poorer regions.

This week AstraZeneca was supplying South Africa with much needed shipments. In the mean time competition was growing fierce in the West as the EU said it would enforce export controls to stop vaccines produced on the continent from leaving.

All the while trying to keep up with global demand, vaccine makers pursued efforts to ensure their products would be effective fighting off the new variants of covid-19. Manufacturers Pfizer, which caused delays by retooling production lines to meet strong demand, and Moderna were working on a booster for their vaccine, which were reportedly less effective against the South African variant.

Despite these hangups the IMF says vaccines should boost the world economy by as much as 5.5% this year. While US markets shuddered amid concerns over shortages a number of new vaccines were expected to be approved soon.

AFTER STORMING PARLIAMENT

From prison to the presidency. At first sight the transition in the Central Asian Republic of Kyrgyzstan seems inspira-tional, perhaps suggesting an air of Mandela rising amid the steppes. Not quite.

The winner of the country's presidential election, Sadyr Japarov, had indeed been freed by supporters after fury erupted following a show trial, and Kyrgyzstan does distinguish itself by being relatively more free than its neighboring other former Soviet republics.

But many observers point out the former opposition figure turned prime minister after his breakout, which itself suggested violence as a solution, would seek to make the country more authoritarian, and opponents claim he had an unfair advantage in the contest. His closest opponent came in second with just under 7%.

 Indeed some fear plans to strengthen the presidency and extend limits beyond a single term could send the country down the path of past strongmen. Examples of this are plentiful in the region.

Right next door Kazakhstan re-elected its ruling leader with little surprise, belonging more fully to the club of Stans firmly carrying out  the tradition of one-party dictatorships. But for political scientist Ana-Maria Anghelescu, who is wary of the cliché Kyrgyzstan is so much "freer" that other central Asian republics, in fact the Kyrgyz vote confirmed the fears of a return to an all-powerful executive: "In the elections, less than 40 percent of registered voters cast ballots and 79 percent chose Japarov," she writes. "More than 80 percent supported his proposal of amending the constitution to allow for a return to presidentialism."

This prefer-rence for centralization points to the country's failure to develop an adequate parliamentary system, she argues, "as the parliament was too weak and political guidance has always been provided by the president." Besides the low turnout, the vote was also marked by irregularities, opponents argued.

Of course the simultaneous reporting of Kazakhstan's election results, conducted with little competition, again makes Kyrgyzstan appear the less questionable of the two. Curiously that vote saw the Nar Otan ruling party take 71% of the vote in a contest where true opposition did not participate, leaving the OSCE to lament that voters “had no genuine political alternatives to choose from” since “all political parties contesting the elections supported the policies of the ruling party.”

The country' president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who came to power after longtime ruler Nazarbayev’s resignation in March 2019, has admitted Kazakhstan needs political reforms and vowed there would be "political competition", but his track record is rather silent on this.

Still despite Kyrgyzstan's relative improvements, "democracy in Bishkek has never fully complied with Western standards, and after the January 10 elections, Western-style democracy in Kyrgyzstan is even more under threat," Anghelescu warns. But then again, why compare with the immediate neighbors?

When supporters stormed parliament and freed Japarov last year, they did so without firing a single shot. The attack on the US Capitol, in January which led to America's new impeachment trial of former president Trump left five dead and shook the foundations of that country to its core.

THE FARMERS MARCH

The future of India lies not in its cities but in its villages, the Mahatma once famously said, and for months that rural mass has been revolting against the central govern-ment, bringing protest to its capital and paralyzing large portions of it.

The movement against new laws farmers say will benefit large corpo-rations and leave small farmers destitute began in the fall, at one point growing so sweeping it enlisted 250 million in a national strike. But violent clashes on India republic day, marked by the storming of historic Red Fort in Delhi, have brought the parties to realize this winter the urgency of bringing down tensions, all the while major highways to the capital remain blocked by protest camps.

The self-sustaining areas, little urban extensions of their villages, are said to enable protesters to carry on for months, paralyzing the seat of power. To attempt to dampen the movement the government has clamped down on cell and internet access, a method it has used in other disputes including that of highly volatile Kashmir, with mixed results.

Perhaps the irony of cutting farmers their internet to attempt to slow their march is only now dawning on the famous opulent Indian bureaucracy. Not to mention the practice, which by some accounts has been widespread here more than anywhere else in the world - costing billions in lost revenue - is enough to give the world's largest democracy - as signs into Punjab from Pakistan triumphantly trumpet - quite the black eye.

“Time and again government authorities use times of political unrest to monopolize their control over information,” Allie Funk an analyst at Freedom House told Forbes. “That the world’s largest democracy can carry out such sweeping abrogations with little or no push back from other countries has just allowed the curbs to be normalized.”

In the mean time the impasse remains, farmers trading their spots on the protest lines with rotating shifts and digging in their heels after rejecting an offer by Modi’s government to halt the reforms for 18 months or enter into mediation. The movement has been buoyed by international support, including that of US entertainment personalities and Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

The crisis comes as the country struggles with the second highest caseload of covid infections, over 10 million and counting, dragging down an economy on the brink of recession after years of explosive growth. Fearing events may discourage investments, Delhi has been particularly keen to ensure good relations by disseminating its home grown covid vaccine doses in various parts of the world, as its own population sees limited campaigns of inoculation.

While the country has jabbed 7 million citizens in record time, that's a fraction of its huge population, leaving some to fear the round of "vaccine diplomacy" - competing with Russia and China - is yet another policy that will carry a high cost. “Indians are dying. Indians are still getting the disease,” said Manoj Joshi of think tank the Observer Research Foundation. “I could understand if our needs had been fulfilled and then you had given away the stuff. But I think there is a false moral superiority that you are trying to put across where you say we are giving away our stuff even before we use it ourselves.”

LE MARTYR

Quel culot. Il avait quitté son pays en catastrophe après que son gouvernement ait très probablement tenté de l'empoisonner une nouvelle fois. Une fois rétabli, l'opposant Alexei Navalny reprenait néanmoins quel-ques mois plus tard le chemin de Moscou pour poursuivre son combat sans relâche contre un Kremlin déterminé à le réduire au silence.

Son avion une fois détourné d'un aéroport où il était attendu par des partisans ne craignant pas d'être arrêtés pour le soutenir, il fut accueilli par les forces de l'ordre et interpellé dès son arrivée au poste frontalier. "Voilà qui ignore toutes les lois" déclare alors le grand martyr national, qu'Amnistie internationale qualifie de prisonnier de conscience.

Le groupe des droits de l'homme n'est pas le seul à être alarmé par ce dernier geste de Vladimir Poutine. En quelques heures l'Union européenne et la Maison blanche entrante condamnaient son arrestation et exigeaient que les auteurs de son empoisonnement soient trainés en justice.

Un communiqué  publié suite aux manifestations récentes se lisait comme une tentative de se rattraper après des années de silence à Washington: "Avant les événements d'aujourd'hui le gouvernement russe a tenté de supprimer le droit de manifester dans la paix et de s'exprimer librement en pourchassant les organisateurs, menaçant les médias sociaux et arrêtant les participants de manière préventive," lit-on.

 L'affaire Navalny a même été abordée au Conseil de sécurité. Mais pour le Kremlin, qui y détient un véto, la question de l'enquête sur l'empoisonnement de Navalny est déjà close, choisissant plutôt de trainer Navalny devant les tribunaux pour avoir, dit-on, ignoré les exigences de sa libération conditionnelle après une supposée affaire de détournement de fonds qui a d'ailleurs été rejetée par la Cour européenne des droits de l'homme.

Une fois dans sa cellule Navalny déclare: "J'en ai vu des atteintes à la justice mais cette fois (Poutine), au fond de son bunker, a tellement peur qu'il a réduit en lambeaux le code criminel russe." Le tsar pris en photo le torse nu sur un cheval aurait-il possiblement peur de quelquechose?

C'est ce que suggérait également le déploiement massif des forces de l'ordre dans les rues du pays lors des manifestations exigeant la libération de Navalny. Plus de 10 000 arrestations ont eu lieu suite à ces mouvements, souvent avec violence, dont celle de l'épouse de Navalny, qui reprenait le flambeau après l'appel de son mari aux partisans, lui qui avait déclaré: ne manifestez pas pour moi mais pous vous-même et votre avenir.

Appel reçu aux quatre coins du pays et même au fin fond d'une Sibérie qui portait bien son nom, même si les -50 degrés à Yakutsk n'ont pas découragé les quelques manifestants courageusement rassemblés. Pour chauffer l'atmosphère l'équipe de Navalny venait de diffuser une vidéo accusant Poutine d'avoir gaspillé plus d'un milliard de
dollars pour faire construire un palais de luxe au bord de la mer Noire. Le Kremlin nie cette version des faits et un oligarque près du pouvoir est par la suite venu se présenter comme le propriétaire, mais pour les proches de Navalny voilà qui ne changeait pas grand chose. La  vidéo avait déjà été vue plus de 100 millions de fois.

Elle décrit un Poutine ivre de richesse et souligne que "Navalny lutte pour nos droits depuis des années. C'est dorénavant notre tour de le faire." Dans l'attente du procès qui condamna Navalny à plus deux ans de prison ferme, l'opposant figurait parmi les finalistes du prix Nobel de la paix.

"Je l'ai profondément offensé simplement en survivant à l'attentat qu'il avait commandé, dit-il au sujet de Poutine. Le but est de faire peur à un maximum de gens. Vous ne pouvez pas incarcérer le pays tout entier." Mais pendant ce temps la police s'en prenait à coeur joie à ses proches, effectuant des perquisitions tout en arrêtant d'autres membres de son organization.

Est-ce la fin pour cette opposition trop souvent divisée en veille d'élections parlementaires qui ont mobilisé tous les grands moyens de l'Etat? Ou est-ce plutôt la goutte qui fait déborder le vase puisque 40% des manifestants protestaient pour la première fois alors que la liste des plaintes sa rallonge. "Nous avons un vrais problème de corruption dans une premier temps, puis il y a la pauvreté, résume une protestataire sibérienne de 28 ans. Les gens ont peur et ne voient pas de véritable avenir devant eux."


BACK TO THE OLD WAYS

It wasn't a very convincing type of pseudo democracy Myanmar had been experiencing with for the last few years, but it was perhaps the closest to the real thing the country had reached since the last coup d'état nearly 60 years ago.

In that time a Nobel-prize winning activist had been freed, elected, recognized as the de facto leader but then criticized and stripped of much of her aura for failing to stand up to the military after the genocide of Muslim Rohingyas forced to flee the country. But the military had of course never relinquished the true reins of power and had as of late grown concerned as election results from last fall showed Aung San Suu Kyi's party gaining in strength, perhaps fearing the experience of reforms was letting the country gradually slip from its grasp.

On Monday the men in brass were back to their old less subtle ways, sending armored vehicles and soldiers to the streets and imprisoning Suu Kyi and members of her party once more. They had accused her party of fraud in recent elections and she in turn urged supporters, now bolder than ever, to "not accept this" and "protest against the coup" in a return to a more familiar Burmese political landscape.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won well over the 322 seats needed to form government last November, which prompted the military to cry foul and demand a re-run of the vote. In a move to perhaps make amends for past mistakes, the NLD at the time had invited ethnic minorities to work with the new government.

While Burma's Union Election Commission stated the election was "done fairly and free" and could not have been "more transparent", adding military claims offered no evidence to justify a re-run, observers cast some doubts on the validity of the vote because it had disenfranchised millions of Rohingya and other ethnic groups.

The coup now throws a wrench into Rohingya repatriation efforts, some organizations questioning the safety of such a return even before the latest military coup. Conditions are difficult for the million-plus Rohingya refugees in neighboring Bangladesh, where authorities have been moving some of them from the sprawling camp of Kutupalong, the largest in the world, to an island in the Bay of Bengal despite the protests of humanitarian organizations who say the masses were being moved against their will.

Capitals from around the world condemned Myanmar's actions, noting just days before the coup its commander in chief had stated the brass would respect the constitution and the rule of law. Military officials had previously not ruled out a coup if their claims of fraud in the elections were not addressed.

The United Nations security council held an emergency meeting on the crisis Tuesday but was divided in its response owing to veto-holding China's usual support for the military junta in Myanmar. Some Burmese citizens dared respond to Suu Kyi's call by banging pots and pans despite the risks associated with supporting her, risks they had grown used to owing to her years of previous incarceration.

Suu Kyi was charged with possessing illegally imported walkie talkies, as officials sought legal reasons for sidelining her and other supporters. According to Freedom House democratic reforms had stalled under the NLD in recent years and the military retained significant political influence as well as some key cabinet posts.


IT ENDS BADLY

After a chaotic four years, the final moments of the Trump Show did not disappoint, leading to a crescendo of constitutional obscenities that fit the character of the man who had descended an escalator to announce his candidacy while ranting against "rapist" Mexican immigrants.

The streets of Washington were flooded with members of the National Guard as new articles of impeachment were being voted on after diehard supporters left a  Trump rally with his blessing to go smash windows and storm the nearby Capitol. Lawmakers were certifying the US election at the time. All this, while extraordinary, was sadly not unexpected.

 It all matched the absurdity of the last bitter weeks since the November poll date, after building on four years of hate-filled speeches bending the truth in every paragraph, the fuse most recently lit with the bitterness of the loss of two key Senate races in January. "This isn't dissent it's disorder, it's chaos," president-elect Joe Biden said of the Capitol attack. "It borders on sedition."

The night before, in a final defiant gesture to turn the soiled page of the Trump years, voters in largely conservative Georgia had handed two Senate seats to Democratic candidates, voting out their Republican incumbents and helping lessen possible congressional blockages to the incoming Biden administration.  

The result did not fail to provoke a final flurry of invectives and protests by the outgoing president and his supporters, who rallied in the streets of the capital in a final show of defiance after a string of failed court and other appeals to try to overturn the result of the presidential election. Just days before the Georgia election the US president had been recorded calling for the state's top elections official to "find votes" that he needed to overcome his deficit in November, a call which may represent the latest act to possibly land him in hot water as he leaves the presidency and loses precious immunity.  

This latest attempt to undermine the democratic process did not fail to elicit criticism from some Republicans themselves who found it had a negative impact on the Senate race, eventually lost by a greater margin than in November when it was determined a run-off would be needed to settle two crucial seats holding Congress, and American politics, in the balance.

By the same token the acts perpetrated against the Capitol led a number of Republicans to drop their final appeals on the election.  Some but not all, incredibly. Trump's undignified exit at the DC rally included his latest claims that the election "had been stolen from us", later telling the rioters "we love you" before urging them to return home as the National Guard was being dispatched.

By then four people had been killed in what Biden described as an insurrection, while lawmakers sheltered in place, their offices ransacked by the intruders. A policeman later also died. "We know that we are in difficult times but little could we have imagined the assault that was made on our democracy today," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as lawmakers returned to finish counting the electoral votes.

"They tried to disrupt our democracy," said outgoing Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. "They failed." But disrupt was actually putting it lightly, troubling allies and leaving despots from across the world celebrating the demise of the republic. Nothing quite like this had happened to the Capitol since British forces avenged the burning of Upper Canada's parliament in York during the war of 1812 by laying to waste both Capitol and White House.

What would the remaining days of the administration look like? Few wanted to know as  Pelosi called on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. January 20th could no longer come soon enough. Pence had himself condemned the rioters and sought to distance himself from their shameful conduct as well as the president, but it was too late after four years of cheerleading or staying silent.

He did not invoke the 25th Amendment, leaving Demo-crats, they argued, no choice but to introduce a new article of impeachment, for "inciting violence against the government," making it the first time the House of Representatives voted to impeach a president twice (this time with quite a few supporting GOP votes). In the dying days of the troubled presidency, even those who had vowed to stay with Trump to the bitter end thought wise to take their leave, close and senior advisors finding him to be mentally unreachable.

Social media giants abandoned him as well, cancelling his accounts after months of running his most recent posts with disclaimers. This, some observers noted, about a man with the nuclear launch codes. It was easy to forget a pandemic was still running loose, killing as many people in the US alone as had died on 9-11, daily.

Amidst all the drama, a threat by Iranian agents to attack the Capitol on the dark day of insurrection, the anniversary their commander was killed in Iraq, was lost in the noise of America's own internal chaos. Tehran looked on, mocking the "fragile" and vulnerable state of Western democracy, while allies remained perplexed, thinking they had seen it all after years of drama in Washington.

More surprising, after so much focus on outside influence on the electoral process and overseas threats to the homeland, these were found firmly entrenched within the borders of the nation itself. One struggling to remain the land of the free. As the inauguration of Biden takes place under heavy guard Americans are fearful the nightmare of home grown terrorism will strike again.

CHAMPION DU VACCIN, MAIS...

Un premier ministre devant les tribunaux pour corruption, un pays dans l’incertitude pré-électorale, pourtant rien n’a empêché Israël de battre tous les records en matière de campagne de vaccination. Rien de neuf, selon les dirigeants du pays hébreu, puisque celui ci est toujours en état d’alerte constante et est un habitué de la mobilisation de masse.

Evidemment le pays est également un habitué de l'exercice électoral, le branle-bas sanitaire et judiciaire ayant lieu à deux mois de la quatrième élection en deux ans, les deux dernières, peu concluantes, ayant donné lieu à un rare gouvernement d'unité national, éphémère. Habitué de Bibi également, dont on a trop souvent fait la nécrologie politique à tort, puisqu'il tentera de se faire élire pour une sixième fois. S'il peut éviter la prison évidemment, la pandé-mie lui permettant de repousser les dates de parution en cour en attendant.

Pourtant la lutte contre le coronavirus va bon train, le pays visant une immunité généralisée dans les prochains mois alors que plus du quart des habitants de l'état hébreu étaient déjà vaccinés. Enfin certain d'entre eux, car ces voisins Palestiniens, à la fois si proches mais si étrangers, semblent plutôt oubliés.

Ceci dit une diplomatie du vaccin pourrait-elle sauver les meubles des efforts de paix? Car Israël a plutôt creusé les divisions avec les Palestiniens, ces derniers ayant été exclus des efforts de paix tandis qu'une approche plus agressive était épousée sur les territoires occupés.

L'écart s'est également creusé même au sein des populations israéliennes au sujet de la vaccination, 75% des citoyens Juifs de Jérusalem ayant reçu une dose contre 20% des résidents arabes de Jérusalem-Est, mais pas tout le monde y voit une approche discriminatoire. Des médecins de la ville millénaire parlent plutôt d'une certaine méfiance au sein de la population arabe, espérant qu'elle se dissipe avec le temps.

"Je m'attendais à se qu'il y ait de l'hésitation de la part des résidents de Jérusalem Est, mais pas à ce niveau, confie au Times of Israel le directeur de la clinique du quartier arabe de Beit Safafa. Pas au point où une vaste majorité des gens ne se ferait pas vacciner." Ces cliniques pourtant dotées des précieuses doses sont plutôt vides ces derniers temps. Mais qu'en est-il des obligations vis à vis les résidents des territoires occupés?

Le pays hébreu prétend n'avoir aucune obligation envers les citoyens de la Cisjordanie et de Gaza en vertu de l'accord de 1993, mais certains observateurs disent le contraire en raison du contrôle exercé par Israël sur ces territoires, limitant leur accès notamment. D'où l'appel d'une dizaine d'organisations des droits de l'homme en décembre, suppliant Israël de rendre des doses du vaccin de Pfizer disponibles dans les territoires.

"Il y va de son devoir et de sa responsabilité morale d'assister les autorités sanitaires palestiniennes et les Palestiniens de Gaza et de Cisjordanie." Plusieurs estiment que, même sans obligation selon la loi, le devoir est plutôt d'ordre moral. Car il n'est pas, selon Dana Moss de Physicians for Human Rights, possible de justifier qu'un "jeune colon de 22 ans puisse être vacciné et non un vieux diabétique de Gaza de 80 ans."

En début d'année un groupe des droits de l'homme israélien déclarait même haut et fort que le pays hébreu avait tout simplement cessé d'être une démocratie, étant plutôt devenu un "régime d'apartheid" dévoué à la suprématie des Juifs sur les Palestiniens.

VOTING IN TIMES OF WAR

Holding elections during a pandemic is one thing, holding one during a civil war where two thirds of the country are controlled by rebel forces is either sheer madness or a stroke of genius.

The chaos in the Central African Republic was plain to see on the eve of the country's elections when three United Nations blue helmets were killed. The troops were brought in to attempt to secure the election in which President Faustin Archange Touadéra, who ultimately won in the first round, was seeking re-election.

He has accused predecessor Fran-çois Bozizé of preparing a coup with rebel groups. An alliance of the most powerful of these groups, the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), accused him of election rigging and called off a ceasefire after accusing government troops of ignoring it.

According to the United Nations some 55,000 people fled their homes due to the rising violence, which has included attacks on humanitarian groups heroi-cally operating in the country. Violence has been spreading across the republic and in time reached new provinces despite a 2017 peace agreement forged with thirteen of the fourteen main armed factions.

The agreement was trying to end five years of violence triggered when Seleka fighters representing a largely Muslim coalition launched attacks against the government in December 2012, seizing the capital Bangui and staging a coup. The violence of their actions triggered a coalition of largely Christian fighters to push back, bringing the clashes to new heights and dragging the UN into play with a peace mission starting in 2014.

Hopes Touadéra's presidency could change realities on the ground were dealt a blow when most belligerents rejected calls for disarmament. The vote, which took place shortly after Christmas, was relatively peaceful in the capital but less so in the regions. New clashes occurred soon after the confirmation of Touadéra's win.

The opposition has decried a number of irregularities, without immediately docu-menting them. The pandemic has added another dimension to the conflict and while the country - and indeed the continent - have fared much better against the virus than other parts - reporting a total of deaths lower than the US count just in recent weeks - new outbreaks and the appearance of more contageous new strains in South Africa and Nigeria are leaving health officials fearful things may get much worse, with over half a dozen African countries recording their worst caseload all year.

As South Africa topped one million cases all on its own, some feared the long spared continent would end up facing a dire covid prognosis. Another country holding elections during this pandemic however offered a more promising prospect, as Niger looked to hold its first peaceful presidential transition since independence 60 years ago.

An encouraging outlook for a country which by some accounts had become the poster child of coup-friendly nations on the continent and is struggling with the Islamist jihadists of Boko Haram. But these insurgents showed their teeths yet again after the country confirmed it would hold a second round, killing 100 in an attack on villages.



PAS RENDU AU BOUT DE NOS PEINES

Avec l'annulation des grands rassemblements et le départ en congé des élèves avec du matériel informatique en prévision de l'interruption de leurs cours cet hiver, les vacances des fêtes prenaient un tout autre ton après une année de 2020 de misère. Le début de la campagne de vaccination avait lieu alors que les cas de nouvelles infections atteignaient des records au Canada et aux Etats-Unis, tandis que de nouvelles souches plus contagieuse frappaient une Europe déjà confinée, puis éventuellement d'autres régions.

C'est un rappel que les prochaines semaines ne changeront pas les habitudes des derniers mois de l'année qui vient de toucher à sa fin, et laissent même présager la possibilité d'aggravations de la pandémie avant que se fassent éventuellement sentir les bienfaits de la campagne de vaccination. Parmi les pays concernés, une Suède qui avait préféré une approche plus laissez faire, voie qui, de l'aveu du roi lui-même, avait été une erreur.

Le pays scandinave connait une aggravation des cas en ce début d'année, imposant pour la première fois des mesures sanitaires plus sévères, après avoir constaté l'écart qui s'est creusé entre sa situation et celle de ses voisins finlandais et norvégiens, qui dès les premiers mois de la pandémie étaient passé en mode confinement.

Résultat, plus de 8700 Suédois ont péri lors de la pandémie, soit quatre fois plus que tous les autres pays nordiques réunis. Pourtant les mesures du royaume restaient mois sévères qu'ailleurs sur le continent, et ne prévoyaient toujours pas d'amende en cas de désobéissance.

L'apparition de nouvelles souches particulièrement contagieuses de covid-19, dont une première en Grande Bretagne, a aussitôt causé de nouvelles fermetures dans le sud-est de ce pays durement frappé et mis le reste du continent en état d'alerte, plusieurs pays ne tardant pas à couper les liens, si ce n'est que brièvement.

Une double isolation pour l'ile qui parvenait enfin à s'entendre avec l'Europe sur le Brexit, un chapitre important réduit au statut de parenthèse en l'occurrence. Le scénario était donc peu joyeux somme toute et replongeait quasiment la planête dans l'environnement du
printemps dernier, malgré les pénibles leçons des derniers mois.

Le besoin des vaccins se faisait de plus en plus pressant des deux côtés de l'Atlantique, et jusqu'en Asie, où cette Corée du sud qui avait plutôt bien géré son éclosion au printemps se voyait à nouveau frappée par ce virus qui ne permet aucunement de lever le pied au niveau des mesures sanitaires.

Fin 2020 le dernier continent jusqu'alors épargné par le virus, l'Antarctique, enregistrait son premier cas, alors que ces nouvelles souches plus agressives atteignaient une Afrique jusqu'ici relativement épargnée. Une d'entre elles voyaient d'ailleurs le jour au Nigeria, pays doublement aux prises avec une crise sécuritaire dans le nord du pays.

A HACK FOR THE AGES

Vladimir Putin had something in store for the incoming president of the United States as he called to congratulate him over a month after election night. And it wasn't the sort of house warming gift Joe Biden was hoping for. The computer networks of America's Energy Department and National Nuclear Security Adminis-tration, responsible for the country's nuclear weapons stockpile, were among that of at least 250 federal agencies and businesses targeted by a sweeping spy operation whose impact is still not immediately clear but could be traced back to Moscow according to experts.

While some officials were confident the most secure and secretive capabilities were not affected, others weren't so sure the extent of the hack, which by some accounts had being going on for months, was fully known. But it was becoming clear the malware hack went beyond the United States, involving close allies such as Britain and Canada, which share extensive intelligence relationships with Washington.

Microsoft said over 40 of its customers impacted had been notified. "While roughly 80 percent of these customers are located in the United States, this work so far has also identified victims in seven additional countries," Microsoft president Brad Smith said in a blog post, adding the number of victims, which also initially included Belgium, home to NATO, Israel, Mexico and Spain, would likely keep growing in what is being described as the most substantive attack of its kind.

 It is suspected hackers targeted a number of pathways, including Microsoft resellers, to claim their victims. The impact to the US alone seemed so sweeping, a lead agency managing federal response to the hacking, the Cybersecurity and Infra-structure Security Agency, might not have the resources to respond to it, according to a report by Politico, which noted a number of its top officials were in transition, many after fallouts with the outgoing admini-stration.

 CISA, the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said they were still working to “understand the full extent of this campaign," adding "we know this compromise has affected networks within the federal government.” But early on Smith acknowledged the hack "represents an act of recklessness that created a serious technological vulnera-bility for the United States and the world," adding "This is not 'espionage as usual,' even in the digital age. Instead, it represents an act of recklessness that created a serious technological vulnerability for the United States and the world."

This was leaving countries  scrambling to limit the damage. "Everyone is in damage assessment now because it's so big," said John Dickson of the security firm Denim Group. "It's a severe body blow to confidence both in government and critical infrastructure." Another gate-way in the attack involved Texas-based company Solar Winds, responsible for IT management products sold to government and private-sector clients.

While the US felt the brunt of the impact, in part at state and local governments,  the Canadian government reported no damage to its agencies so far and Britain said only a few non-public organizations had been affected. But the Canadian Center for Cyber Security said it believed a number of government agencies and organizations in Canada and abroad "may be affected." NATO meanwhile said it was also scanning its systems, but reported no immediate disruption.

Managing this crisis, and Russian relations in general, is going to be one of the tasks of an incoming administration that will have to undo the mess left behind by the outgoing White House, which includes upsetting foreign relations with allies and mishandling the covid crisis and race relations at home.

Awaiting his inauguration Joe Biden said there would be "costs" imposed on Russia for the hack, vowing it would not go unanswered, while the outgoing president remained silent, as he has after a number of Russian transgressions. There is some question as to whether intelligence focus on protecting the electoral process turned away resources from other areas, and concern government agencies specialized in the field failed to detect the hack, which was reported by a private cybersecurity company.

"Russia's goal may be to put themselves in a position to have leverage over the new administration," told the New York Times Obama era Homeland official Suzanne Spaulding. Besides govern-ments 2020 also saw everyday internet users targeted like never before, the year having recorded a surge in phishing attacks as more employees teleworked from home, and people generally spent more time online, during the pandemic.

ÉCOLIERS CIBLÉS ENCORE

Boko Haram, le groupe islamiste du nord du Nigeria porte bien son nom: "Refus de l'éducation". Plus précisément l'éducation à l'occidentale. Depuis une dizaine d'années il poursuit une campagne de terreur ciblant notamment les écoles, aboutissant à la boucherie de 59 jeunes garçons en février 2014, quelques mois avant le coup de maitre - sous la bannière de la lâcheté tout de même - qui fit sa réputation lors du rapt de 270 jeunes étudiantes.

En décembre un gang agissant en son nom procédait à l'enlèvement de plus de 300 étudiants d'un lycée public du nord du pays, rappelant l'influence du groupe après des années d'offensives militaires, parfois assistées de mercenaires, sans succès apparent. Mais les liens avec le groupe ne sont pas tout à fait clairs.

Le geste était accompagné d'une demande de rançon, ce qui n'est pas dans les habitudes du groupe islamiste. La voix au bout de cet appel déchirant était celle d'un jeune Nigerian, visiblement traumatisé par l'expérience et agissant sous les ordres de ses agresseurs. Un autre étudiant de 17 ans saisi par les membres du gang raconte à son tour avoir vu des jeunes se faire frapper, et même abattre, lors de leurs déplacements forcés.

Les agresseurs comptaient même des jeunes de leur âge, sinon plus jeunes, armés. L'ado, interviewé par AP, est tout de même parvenu à s'enfuir afin de rentrer chez lui. L'incident a temporairement obtenu le résultat espéré par Boko Haram, qui a revendiqué le rapt, soit de fermer plusieurs écoles de la région.

Les gouvernements avoisinnants en ont profité pour condamner le manque de progrès d'Abuja dans la lutte contre les islamistes, malgré la mort de leur chef spirituel lors d'une opération il y a quelques années. Mais le périple, tout comme celui de l'adolescent, connut une conclusion plutôt agréable, environ 344 élèves retrouvant leur liberté à quelques jours de Noël. Peut-être que même pour les gangs les plus aguerris le temps des fêtes avait quelquechose pour réchauffer les coeurs.

Selon le gouvernement il s'agissait plutôt du fruit de négociations intenses, ayant accepté une revendication des kidnappeurs, soit celle de régler certains différends sur le traitement du bétail, une question à la source de plusieurs conflits à travers le continent. Le groupe islamiste était-il véritablement derrière l'enlèvement? Pas sûr, mais il conserve son influence et une certaine force de frappe après des années de cette nouvelle présidence qui avait promis de le rayer de la carte.

Un incident qui a vite suivi laissait plutôt croire à l'acte de briguands ayant d'autres motivations. Les lycéens une fois libérés, une dizaine d'autres étaient aussitôt enlevés par des hommes armés dans la même région du pays, avant d'être à leur tour libérés par un groupe d'auto-défense local dont la mobilisation en disait long sur le manque d'efficacité de l'armée.

Ce nouvel incident a presque déclenché des tensions communautaires lorsqu'il s'est avéré que les kidnappeurs n'en étaient pas à leur premier délit et étaient membres d'une population d'éleveurs peuls. La milice a aussitôt fait savoir que ceci pourrait avoir des conséquences contre les Peuls de la région, un triste rappel des tensions sectaires qui remontent bien avant l'arrivée de l'islamisme militant. Boko Haram n'est pourtant pas pour autant rayé de la carte, lançant une opération meutrière la veille de Noël contre un village chrétien qui a fait 11 victimes dans le nord-est du pays.


DURE ANNÉE

Après une année 2019 passée dans la rue pour manifester contre l'immobilisme sur le climat, l'autoritarisme à Hong Kong ou la corruption, une triste année 2020 marquée par, en premier lieu, des rues et places publiques vides, des transports urbains abandonnés et un silence plutôt étrange.

Le monde a bien connu des pandémies lors des dernières décennies, mais rien n'avait causé un tel immobilisme depuis un siècle.

Puis progressivement après le grand confinement, des signes de vie en forme de lignes, des queues de clients masqués et espacés devant des commerces aux heures limitées, à la signalisation parfois complexe, faite
de nombreux panneaux et de flèches.

Mesures temporaires? Certaines avaient des allures de permanence, du monde de travail aux habitudes de consommation. En cette fin d'année la planête attendait avec anticipation la distribution du vaccin qui pourrait lui donner espoir de retrouver certaines de ses vieilles habitudes.

Mais quelles habitudes? Sortirait- elle, quand en viendrait le moment, de cette pandémie après avoir lancé une nouvelle réflexion sur nombre de sujets, de l'environnement à la consommation de masse?

De la place réservée aux aînés à l'assistance aux travailleurs, et surtout, aux démunis de plus en plus nombreux? Ou 2020 reviendrait-on à la case départ en prétendant avoir appris d'impor- tantes leçons d'humanité?

Entre temps les apprentissages continuent à l'école exténuante du covid-19, qui a à nouveau vidé les rues de plusieurs villes lors d'une seconde vague de la pandémie parfois plus foudroyante que la première. Après les libertés de la belle saison, avec l'automne et l'hiver, le retour à la réalité de cette terrible année de maladie, de peine et de perte. Simple changement de date?

Avec cette distribution du vaccin rarement a-t-on avec autant de soulagement accueilli une nouvelle année comme celle qui commence. Même si elle ne sera pas de tout repos.

THE RAGE IN IRAN

The assassination of a top scientist working on Tehran's nuclear programme would have been suspicious in normal times, considering the region's, especially Israel's, anxiety about the country's nuclear ambitions. The fact it came soon after UN revelations Iran was increasing its nuclear stockpile and fired up advanced uranium centrifu-ges at one of its facilities all the while the outgoing administration in Washing-ton hinted about military action soon after Israeli air strikes on Iranian targets in Syria sounded alarm bells across the Middle East. l
The region is once again back on high alert, as it was earlier this year when a US drone killed Qassem Soleimani, a major general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps visiting Iraq, rising tensions with both Baghdad and Iran.

This time Israel is largely fingered as being behind the killing, having targeted Iran's scientists in the past and prime minster Netanyahu having particularly singled out Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi by name in a presentation two years ago. The brazen daytime killing near Tehran prompted Iranian officials to accuse Israel of seeking to "create a full blown war" ahead of this January's transition in Washington.

 Israel and Saudi Arabia are both greeting the change of power at the White House with regret, concerned the incoming Biden administration would seek to reopen communication channels with Tehran, shuttered under his predecessor, or even restart the nuclear deal with the Islamic republic. The 2015 nuclear deal reached under president Obama limited Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for a softening of sanctions, but Tehran has been ignoring the restrictions since Washington abandoned the deal.

Fakhrizadeh was once referred to as the father of the Iranian bomb, and Iranian officials wasted no time pinning the blame on the Jewish state, which they accuse of killing four other nuclear scientists between 2010 and 2012. "This cowardice - with serious indications of Israeli role - shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators," said the country's foreign minister. As Tehran vowed to avenge the killing - as it threatened this January after Soleimani's assassination - observers feared an escalation of tensions in the region.

"This was a criminal act and highly reckless," wrote former CIA director John Brennan on social media. "It risks lethal retaliation and a new round of regional conflict." He urged Iranian leaders to "be wise to wait for the return of responsible American leader-ship on the global stage and to resist the urge to respond against perceived culprits" but said he wasn't sure whether a foreign government authorized or carried out the murder.

"Such an act of state-sponsored terrorism would be a flagrant violation of international law and encourage more governments to carry out lethal attacks against foreign officials," he said. The United Nations made the same observation, calling for cooler heads to prevail to defuse tensions. "We urge restraint and the need to avoid any actions that could lead to an escalation of tensions in the region,” said the spokesman for the Secretary General.

Israel, which hasn't commented on the killing, tightened security at its missions across the world, fearing retaliatory attacks, one Iranian newspaper urging Tehran to strike Haifa to cause massive civilian casualties if the Jewish state was found to be responsible. A US official confided this week Israel was behind the attack.

Israel has maintained Fakhrizadeh was still active working on Iran's nuclear activities despite the fact the programme his oversaw was disbanded years ago. Iran said this week it would boost spending for its programme, which it insists is only being developed for energy purposes. The US administration meanwhile says it intends to pursue its policy of "maximum pressure" against Iran until the end of its mandate, looking at possible new sanctions to levy against the regime.

American intelligence officials cite Jan. 3 as a possible retaliation date by Iran, as this was when Soleimani was assassinated, but this would be close to the US presidential transition, making a thawing of relations difficult if US interests are targeted. Meanwhile Iranian lawmakers approved a bill to boost uranium enrichment and keep inspectors out, in anticipation of new sanctions.

CHAISE MUSICALE AU PÉROU

Comme si les centaines de milliers de cas de covid-19 ne suffisaient pas, il fallait que ce pays des Amériques compose en plus avec une crise politique semant la zizanie à la présidence après une procédure de destitution.

Il ne s'agit pas des Etats-Unis mais bien du Pérou, où la destitution de Martín Vizcarra pour "incapacité morale" - une affaire d'allégation de pots-de-vin qui n'a en fait jamais été prouvée - a provoqué deux changements de chef de l'état en moins d'une semaine, faisant grimper le compte à cinq présidents lors de la dernière décennie.

Et il reviendra à un sixième dirigeant de mettre de l'ordre dans les choses du pays après l'appel aux urnes de la nouvelle année. C'est que le remplacement de Vizcarra, par le président du Congrès Manuel Merino, un opposant politique, a provoqué des accusations de coup  d'état parlementaire, provoquant les pires manifestations depuis des décennies dans cette nation andine.

La répression des manifestations, qui a fait deux morts et plusieurs blessés, a également précipité le départ de Merino avant même qu'il ait défait sa valise. Ramené à la case de départ, le Congrès désigna cette fois, après un mandat de quelques jours, le candidat du compromis, Francisco Sagas-ti, qui aura la tâche de redorer le blazon des institutions politiques en attendant les élections du 11 avril prochain.

Et la confiance n'est pas au rendez-vous en cette période où ce pays de 10 millions est le 14e le plus infecté et approche de la barre du million de cas. La pandémie aurait fait chuter le PIB de 14%. Puis la véritable victime des dernières semaines serait la lutte contre la corruption, qui figurait à l'agenda de Vizcarra.

En effet ce dernier aurait eu dans sa mire des douzaines d'élus du Congrès, qui font face à diverses enquêtes criminelles, ce dernier faisant ainsi les frais en fin de compte d'une «coalition de corrompus» selon Jo-Marie Burt de l’Université George Mason: «Il semble que ce type de coup d’état parlementaire devient une sorte de tendance dans la région.

Ce n’est pas unique au Pérou,» dit-elle, retrouvant un scénario similaire à la destitution de Dilma Rousseff au Brésil quelques années plus tôt. Quatre présidents relative-ment récents ont été impliqués pour corruption.

Puis le populiste Alberto Fujimori servait une peine de 25 ans lorsqu'il a été libéré avant de retrouver la taule après l'annulation de son pardon. Depuis son règne dans les années 90, le Pérou vogue de crise en crise. "Ce n'est pas le moment de faire la fête, déclara Sagasti, nous avons trop de problèmes et de tragédies. C'est le moment de se demander, où est-ce qu'on a perdu notre chemin."

POUSSÉE ISLAMISTE EN AFRIQUE

C'est sous une menace islamiste que le Burkina Faso et le Nigeria se rendaient aux urnes fin novembre, une réalité qui a notamment frappé le nord de ces pays, faisant plus de 100 victimes dans le second et fermant plusieurs bureaux de vote suite à des menaces dans le premier.

Ce genre d'intimination n'était pas si inattendue puisque voilà depuis des années que cette région d'Afrique de l'ouest, du Nigeria au Mali, est bouleversée par des attaques terroristes, notamment dans leurs parties septentrionnales. Au Burkina Faso plus d'un million de personnes ont été déplacées par ces violences, ajoutant un aspect humanitaire à la crise sécuritaire.

Il ne s'agit pas de la seule région du continent touchée, loin de  là. Alors que la région de la Corne est au bord de la guerre civile et vit sous la menace des Shebabs, dans le sud-est du continent, en Mozambique, un groupe du même nom et tout récemment associé à l'Etat islamique, augmente son emprise du nord de ce pays de 30 millions d'habitants, forçant également le déplacement de centaines de milliers de résidents terrorisés par les attaques sanglantes.

Le groupe compte notamment de nouvelles recrues venues d'aussi loin que l'Afghanistan et la Syrie. Dans la province côtière de Cabo Delgado une cinquantaine de personnes ont été décapitées dans plusieurs villages de cette région notamment chrétienne lors des dernières semaines, poursuivant une campagne de terreur lancée en 2017.

Depuis le groupe a obtenu des renforts, notamment de l'extérieur, poussant ses opérations dans le centre du pays. "Cette menace terroriste démontre l'implication d'étrangers qui recrutent et équipent des jeunes parce que nous ne savons pas comment ils obtiennent cet équipement," faisait remarquer le président Filipe Nyusi.

Alors que cet armement était dans le passé surtout constitué de machettes, la Kalashnikov semble de plus en plus omniprésente dans cet arsenal, dans un pays où elle est représentée dans la bannière nationale. Le rôle de L'Etat islamique, qui considère ces Shebabs comme leurs alliés dans cette région, ne laisse plus aucun doute aux yeux du commandement américain.

Le commandant des opérations spéciales en Afrique, le Maj.-Gén. Dagvin Anderson, témoignait au Département d'Etat en août que l'EI "formait, éduquait et approvisionnait" les insurgés locaux. Et cet appui, moral et technique à la fois, semble avoir donné une vision plus vaste des opérations des Shebabs mozambiquains, étendant leurs opérations dans le sud de la Tanzanie cet automne, un geste qui ne manque pas de déclencher l'alarme en rappelant la nature trans-frontalière de la lutte au terrorisme dans l'ouest du continent, où elle s'étend au Cameroun autant qu'au Togo.

Cette incursion avait lieu alors que le groupe signait une offensive particulièrement alarmante en capturant la ville portuaire de Mocimboa da Praia, se rapprochant des opérations pétrolières qui font la richesse de cette région. Ces attaques mettent à l'évidence le manque de ressources du gouvernement, qui a d'ailleurs recruté des mercenaires pour lutter contre les insurgés.

D'où la tenue d'une réunion spéciale en novembre, encourageant le partenariat de plusieurs pays dont l'Afrique du Sud et la Tanzanie, mais aussi les Etats-Unis, pour combattre cet ennemi commun alors qu'il étend son emprise, une collaboration en premier lieu approuvée par le Zimbabwe, voisin concerné qui mobilise des soldats en conséquent. Au Mali cependant, cet autre front, on préconise une autre approche, puisque selon son premier ministre le peuple malien se dit prérérer le dialogue avec les terroristes.


NATIVE COMMUNITIES ON ALERT

The alarm bells were sounded the instant the pandemic hit: suffering from over-crowding, lack of sanitation and proper health facilities, Canada's indigenous com-munities could be devastated by the global covid-19 outbreak. But for months they held their ground, shutting themselves from the outside world.

They largely succeeded, reporting few cases, and by early Fall Nunavut, the country's newest territory, was the only area of North America still without a single case of the novel coronavirus. But then the second wave hit, and this proved overwhelming despite the safety procedures in place there and elsewhere.

A few cases soon lit the territory of 38,000 like a match, bringing dozens of cases in small communities such as Arviat and Rankin Inlet, with cramped living conditions and without proper health facilities. Starting with a single case on Nov. 6 the territory had over 150 within a few weeks.

The second wave of the pandemic did not spare even the most isolated regions in the world. And even areas which had so successfully staved off infections with severe travel restrictions, such as Canada's Atlantic bubble - limiting travel between relatively spared regions of the country, had to rethink their  strategy. By the end of November Prince Edward Island and  Newfoundland, both unat-tached to the mainland, said they were bowing out of the bubble after reporting a rising number of cases.

The provinces said they would no longer permit non essential travel among themselves and New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for the next weeks soon after a regional bubble between a relatively spared region of eastern Quebec and New Brunswick was also removed. Meanwhile other parts of the country came under stricter restrictions, notably hot spot Toronto and vicinity, but also parts of Saskatchewan and Alberta, with tougher measures targeting restaurants and social activities. Quebec also cancelled plans allowing families to meet over the holidays.

While the promise of a vaccine seemed encouraging, the road there remained bumpy, and by some accounts, long. The Canadian government faced growing criticism that while it had secured contracts to vaccinate Canadians many times over, actual distribution of the vaccine would have to wait as the country lacked domestic production capacity despite being home to a world class national microbiology labora-tory which had played a major part developing key vaccines, such as one for ebola.

Ottawa announced it was launching a national operations centre to coordinate the logistics of the distribution across the country, giving the military - a former NATO commander heading the effort - a lead role assisting in the rollout, in particular owing to its ability to reach remote communities. Among them, those of the North were facing a crisis in part due to pandemic fatigue - following this year's earlier success -, in part due to their tragic histories of devastating infections and other crises.

"Because of the history of prolonged trauma that people have experienced, which includes having anxiety, having hyper vigilant reactions, depression  and hopelessness," said Dr James Makokis of Kehewin Fist Nation. "Now they're living under the same circumstances that many people faced under the Indian Act when there were Indian agents on reserve that limited traffic in and out, especially for the elders who are in long term care homes who can't see their loved ones anymore."

The pandemic was only compounding crises which include food insecurities, Arviat alone receiving some $500,000 of emergency food aid to deal with shortages. And while the government was announcing millions more to improve safe water access on reserves, essential for sanitation, it admitted communities would still face boil water advisories. The military meanwhile was being sent to some Manitoba and Saskatchewan Native communities to deal with alarming outbreaks of covid-19.


A RAY OF HOPE?

Amid the gloom of a worsening pandemic as the season chills, a glimmer of hope, a possible light at the end of the tunnel: vaccines rich with promise of seeing the plague of our times finally come under control, eventually, in the new year. An idea to sustain us as we enter new lockdowns with the world topping over 600,000 cases a day, an upward curve that is everything we dreaded, the US alone seeing over 160,000 new cases in a single day.

As parts of Europe saw a return to lockdowns, from Paris to London, previously spared parts were also being strained, including Greece. In fact this fall's wave comes back with a vengeance not sparing even the most isolated places on Earth, until now untouched: Nunavut, now seeing an outbreak, and Vanuatu, at opposite ends of the planet, but enough to remind us of the reach of this pandemic.

Amid this barrage of negative news, the breakthrough of vaccines that look to be 95% effective, beyond the dreams, so soon, of even veteran health experts such as America's Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said 70% would have been plenty enough for him to be hopeful. But there also, some reasons for concern despite these speedy developments.

The vaccine touted by Pfizer, soon to be available in millions of dozes, would need extraordinary care and logistics to be distributed, since it requires to be stored at a temperature of -70C. Moderna's vaccine on the other hand could be kept at slightly warmer temperatures.

Recipients would also need two dozes of the vaccine a few weeks apart, and enough people would need to get it to render immunization effective. This may be attained late next year, leaving the economy struggling in the meantime. Such mass immu-nization would also be occurring at a time anti-vax campaigns are gaining ground, spreading misinformation. Also, while protecting its recipient, it still isn't entirely clear if a vaccine would help prevent that person from spreading the virus to others.

Separately China is also working on a vaccine while Russia says it is confident its own Sputnik V vaccine can be as effective, if not more, though it is less trusted in the West. Antibody treatments mean-while are also showing signs of promise, but can only be used in some specific cases and are not able to be used widely.

Some countries meanwhile are already seeing challenges in the distribution of the seasonal flu vaccine, experiencing wides-pread shortages in a year covid-19 and influenza are constituting a double health threat. On the other hand health officials hope the measures encouraged to prevent covid-19, such as frequent had washing, masks and social distancing, will reduce the likelihood of catching the flu.

Cases are down in some parts so far. But the pandemic has meanwhile prompted countries from Europe to Israel to order more dozes of the flu vaccine than usual, causing shortages. “All the Western countries tried to buy more flu shots [than usual] and I wonder if we will get them – and mainly, if we will get them in time,” told The Media Line Prof. Amnon Lahad of the Clalit Health Services in Jerusalem.

From Ontario to Ohio local health officials are reporting shortages of the high doze flu vaccines specifically tailored for the elderly, who would also be the early recipients of the covid vaccine, along with healthcare workers, as they become available. Overall scientists are still trying to come to grips with how covid-19 is being transmitted, America's CDC only recently coming to recognize masks could protect those wearing them in addition to others near them, while health authorities in Canada recently urged people to wear masks with multiple layers to avoid dispersing droplets into the air and potentially infecting others.

Both Europe and North America have seen higher daily case loads in the second wave of the pandemic than earlier this year, even in Italy, which had been a major source of outbreak as the virus reached the continent this spring.

The United States has seen wave after wave reach higher levels of infection, leaving the incoming Biden administration to set up its pandemic task force days after the former vice president's victory. Sadly, those scenes of jubilation in the streets had shown plenty of masks but little social distancing, after a Democratic campaign careful to avoid large crowds.

Authorities were concerned about the progression of what was a third US wave as Thanksgiving loomed, only too aware of the outbreaks recently created by Halloween parties. Not helping the health efforts, an outgoing administration less than willing to cooperate in the transition in the middle of a global health crisis.

L'UNITE DE L'HORREUR

La variété des crimes s'est allongée avec les années. Vol, invasion de domiciles, torture, ce n'était que le début d'une longue liste qui a avec le temps trempé dans le trafic d'organes, les viols et même les exécutions extrajudi-ciaires. N'importe où dans le monde un tel gang aurait été au sommet d'un fichier de menaces à l'ordre public et à l'Etat lui-même. Mais au Nigéria il s'agissait de l'Etat lui-même, non pas d'un gang du crime organisé.

Créée en 1992 l'Unité spéciale contre le vol devait mettre fin au désordre qui régnait sur le territoire de la nation la plus peuplée du continent, avant de dégénérer en accumulant les rapports d'infraction d'Amnistie internationale accusant le SARS, qui n'a pourtant rien à voir avec l'aussi offensif virus du SRAS, de violations de droits de l'homme. Cet automne Amnistie s'en prenait cette fois aux agents de l'ordre ordinaires à la suite d'éclats parfois mortels avec des manifestants venus au bout des excès de cette unité de toutes les horreurs.

"Ces manifestants ont été accueillis avec force excessive," signale Amnistie, qui note l'utilisation de canons à eau, de gaz lacrymogène et même de balles de fusil lorsque les forces de l'ordre ne battaient pas les manifestants à coups de bâton. "Les manifestants qui ont pris la rue en ont assez des activités illégales de SARS et ont droit à de véritables réformes qui vont protéger les droits de l'homme."

Ce n'est pas la première fois que cet appel retentit et le gouvernement n'est est pas à sa première promesse de réforme mais, débordé, Abuja signait enfin l'arrêt de mort de l'unité cet octobre, sans pourtant mettre fin aux éclats. De nouvelles violences eurent lieu par la suite alors que les forces de l'ordre dirigèrent leurs armes contre des manifestants réunis... pour protester la brutalité policière et faire appel à la libération de leurs confrères arrêtés.

Lors des éclats de nombreux édifices furent la proie des flammes suite à l'utilisation de cocktails molotov, exigeant la mise en place d'un couvre feu. Le tout sur fond de lutte contre la pandémie, moins agressive ici mais infectant tout de même 65000 personnes à travers le pays et faisant 1100 victimes. 

Evidemment ce n'est pas l'Afrique du sud et ses 20000 morts, premier cas en Afrique et 16e dans le monde, mais la crise sanitaire compte déjà plus de 55 millions de touchés  de Harare à la Havane. Le mouvement de contestation se poursuivait à travers le pays, car si le motif est bien celui de la brutalité policière il n'empêche que les jeunes en profitent pour revendiquer des améliorations dans d'autres domaines, notamment celui de l'emploi, dans un pays où le chômage frappe 14 millions de jeunes, et les iniquités.

Mais alors qu'il promet des réformes, le gouvernement a également fait geler les comptes bancaires des figures du mouvement protestataire, geste accueilli comme une "déclaration de guerre" des autorités.

CHANGE COMES TO THE GULF

While the outgoing US president's foreign policy legacy may have left many scratching their heads, especially among allies, the push for Middle East peace has yielded pleasant results, transforming the Gulf region in ways few thought it could be so soon.

Even as ballots were still being counted in the race for the White House which ultimately toppled the one-term Republican presi-dent, one heavily supported by Israel, the United Arab Emirates' latest reforms showed the strides made in the conservative region since the announcement of a U.S.-brokered deal to normalize relations between the Israel and two Gulf states.

The Abraham peace deal reached in September opened diplomatic relations between the UAE, Bahrain, and the Jewish state, even softening Saudi Arabia's stance by allowing the overflight of Israeli commercial airliners over its territory. Largely sidelined by the furious and chaotic race for the White House, the deal gradually led the Emirates down the path of internal reforms, the country of 10 million announcing in early November immediate plans to relax Islamic laws as it pursues its ambitions to become a global hub for business and travel.

Among the changes were the criminalization of honor killings and a loosening of restrictions on alcohol consumption and the cohabitation of unmarried couples, still existent elsewhere in Gulf states undergoing their own gradual reforms. The development comes after a long succession of at times controversial new US policies in the region, including the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move which was not imitated by other Western nations. 

The Emirates' announcement, billed in part as a boost to protect women's right, was welcomed by a number of observers. "For Islam that is pretty progressive. The religion is very restrictive regarding it’s roles with women," wrote Marie Papachatzis in social media posts.
"The fact that the UAE is moving towards allowing women more autonomy is huge." In a country where foreigners outnumber locals 10 to one, the reforms, which took effect immediately, promised to attract other Arab expats as well. "This is one of the things that was a thorn in my throat whenever I though about living in UAE," wrote Elias Moutaz on Twitter. "I am so glad they finally fixed it to modern 21st century standards."

But the measures stayed silent on other sensitive issues such as the public display of affection and gay rights, widely condemned still in this and other Gulf countries. Still more conservative observers regretted Abu Dhabi's bold move. "I don’t even consider UAE an Islamic state anymore," wrote Khallfu Adam on Twitter.

In addition to the UAE and Bahrain, the US has also brokened peace between Israel and Sudan, months after the toppling of strongman Omar Bashir, all three going on to normalize relations with Israel. The first normalizing of relations between Arab nations and Israel in a quarter century, Washington hoped others such as Saudi Arabia would follow suit. The change at the White House was not particularly welcomed by the kingdom and Israel, which were strong supporters of the outgoing president.

And this will not improve much if the incoming Biden administration reaches out to a key player of any Israeli-Arab peace deals neglected by the Trump regime, Palestine, which recently lost its chief negotiator Saeb Erekat to the pandemic. But despite such promising outlook the last few weeks of the current US administration, which chose to send its secretary of state to a Jewish settlement recently, have unfortunately seen new tensions arise in the restive Mideast region, as Israel jets hit Iranian targets in Syria, the Jewish state perhaps sensing the incoming occupant of the White House would be more willing to dialogue with Tehran, to the dismay of Riyadh as well.

AU BORD DE LA GUERRE CIVILE?

Pour un Prix Nobel de la paix la décision n'a pas dû être bien facile, même dans un pays à l'histoire martiale bien etoffée. Mais après l'attaque de bases militaires éthiopiennes dans la région du Tigré début novembre le premier ministre Abiy Ahmed s'est vu obligé de lancer une intervention militaire contre cette région du nord du pays de la Corne d'Afrique.

L'élection d'Ahmed il y a quelques années avait soulevé des espoirs de paix dans ce pays de 100 millions au lourd passé à la fois politique et alimentaire, permettant pour une première fois à un membre de la majorité Oromo de tenir les rênes du pouvoir. Mais ce changement n'a pas plu aux habitués du pouvoir.

A l'origine des éclats dans le nord du pays, les dirigeants du Front de libération des Peuples du Tigré, parti qui avait perdu son monopole avec l'ascension d'Ahmed il y a deux ans et accusé la nouvelle administration de marginaliser la minorité tigréenne. Les tensions étaient déjà montées d'un cran en septembre avec l'organisation d'élections régionales non sanctionnées par le pouvoir central.

La crise est d'autant plus aigüe que les combats se développent dans la région frontalière avec l'Erythrée, pays rival anciennement sous le joug d'Addis Abeba. Les développements font ainsi craindre un embrasement du conflit dans une région déjà empoisonnée par multes crises. L'International Crisis Group estime en effet que "si elle n'est pas rapidement arrêtée, l'actuelle confrontation armée... sera dévastatrice non seulement pour l'Ethiopie mais pour la Corne d'Afrique entière."

Le groupe note l'importante force paramilitaire (environ 250000 hommes) au service de la région du Tigré ainsi que le conflit potentiel posé par l'origine tigréenne de nombreux officiers de l'armée nationale, menaçant du coup la "mosaïque ethnique" du pays, et faisant craindre la descente vers la guerre civile dans une région ressuscitant des rêves de sécession.

Ayant l'intention de reprendre les choses en main, le parlement éthiopien a voté la révocation du parlement tigréen et de l'exécutif de la région pour avoir "violé la constitution", qualifiant l'assemblée tigréenne d'"illégale" et prévoyant la mise en place d'une "administration par intérim" en attendant une élection "constitution-nellement acceptable".

Quelques jours après l'intensification des combats Ahmed annonçait qu'il remplaçait le chef de l'armée alors qu'Amnistie internationale parlait de massacres de civils de la minorité Amhara, possiblement par les rebelles du Tigré, lors des éclats dans la région. Ahmed avait notamment reçu le Prix Nobel pour avoir mis fin à l'état de guerre avec l'Erythrée, en place depuis son accession à l'indépendance en 1993.

Avant cette déchirure de la partie nord du pays, Erythréens et Tigréens avaient coordonné leurs offensives pour affaiblir le pouvoir central. Mais c'est avec Addis Abeba que les Tigréens accusent dorénavant l'Erythrée de faire équipe, puisque cette dernière aurait hébergé des avions militaires responsables des bombardements dans la région du Tigré.

Résultat, cette dernière revendiquait  cette fin de semaine des tirs de roquette contre Asmara, capitale du pays voisin, une  escalade importante du conflit qui embrase la région de la Corne.

THE WINNER WAITS

Joe Biden, but it wasn't easy. After a tumultuous four years, it would perhaps have been anticlimactic for the 2020 election to be smooth sailing and settled easily. Both candidates gave election night speeches unclear about the winner as key battleground states such as Michigan, Georgia, Pennsyl-vania and North Carolina hung in the balance, potentially crowning one or the other.

But there was one certainty, polls giving Biden an easy path to victory had fallen short, leaving America as divided as ever, and very much on the edge. In the days preceding election day, at a time some 100 million had already cast their ballots early, walls had been erected around the White House and businesses in major US cities boarded up in anticipation of election day troubles.

There were some demonstrations scattered across the country but nothing like the feared doomsday riots despite all the lingering uncertainty. To his credit the sitting president's multi-state 11th hour blitz seemed to have boosted his fortunes somewhat, relying on election day turnout rather than a more Democratic leaning early voting.

Early signs had been encouraging for the incumbent when exit polls showed the economy was the top issue for voters, followed by racial inequality and the coronavirus. Trump was the preferred candidate when it came to handling the economy, which had been humming along before the virus hit. But a slim majority of those polled said the US had done a poor job at handling the pandemic and that this should be a president's top priority.

On election night Trump scored important victories holding on to Ohio, Florida and Texas, the electoral map remaining largely unchanged. Similarly while the House looked to retain its Democratic majority Republi-cans sought to hold on to the Senate. As counting dragged into the following days, turning the tide in favor of the contender as mail-in voting was tabulated, the Trump campaign launched a legal offensive in states where his leads were shrinking while considering a recount in Wisconsin, which eventually landed in the Biden column.

In addition the president's rhetoric reached new levels when in an overnight speech Trump accused his opponents of fraud and trying to "steal the election" by allowing mailed in votes to be counted after election night, a regular occurrence in any election, vowing to take matters to the Supreme Court. Then, in a final desperate move, he went further: "We have claimed, for Electoral Vote purposes, the Commonwealth of Pennsyl-vania, the State of Georgia, and the State of North Carolina, each one of which has a BIG Trump lead," the incumbent later Tweeted from a parallel universe.

Biden in contrast stated he could see a clear path to the presidency, one still available to both at that point, but refrained from declaring victory, urging the country to come together all the while promising all votes would be counted. By then he was speaking with the authority of the person who had gathered the most presidential votes, over 72 million, in US history. "Nobody is going to take our democracy away from us," he said.

The Biden team, already readying its transition, said it had been anticipating lack of cooperation from the Trump camp, a sad turn of affairs four years after the outgoing Obama administration had made a point of ensuring a proper transition. But this could take some time if recounts are ordered in the handful of remaining battleground states. No matter the winner, he would inherit a divided country slammed by the covid-19 pandemic which has ravaged the economy.

In the midst of the political noise the US hit a new grim milestone: over 120,000 new covid-19 cases in a single day, as officials feared the consequences of electoral gatherings during weeks of campaigning. Failure by Democrats to capture the Senate would also impede a Biden presidency, one which would not have the strong congressional support it hoped for in the late stages of the campaign.

As he was waiting for the final stages to be played out, Biden took on a more presidential tone, bringing attention to the pandemic, and urging calm while the ballots were being counted. But observers outside the US may be more troubled than calm that Trump managed to collect 70 million votes, showing his firebrand type of populist politics wasn't about to go away and could make a comeback.

Biden was eventually declared a winner four days after the election, and faces an uphill battle uniting a country with divisions ranging from race relations rifts to rural-city cleavages.

UN GESTE DE BIENVENUE

Qui suis-je pour juger? Cette phrase du pape François sur les homosexuels en début de règne en avait surpris plus d'un et signalé le début d'un pontificat au libéralisme sûr de troubler les conservateurs du Vatican, dont un prédécesseur encore bien en vie. Depuis le pontife a multiplié les déclarations hors norme pour l'église, allant jusqu'à flirter avec la fin du célibat chez les prêtres.

Encore loin de préconiser le mariage gai, puisque cette union doit selon lui toujours se faire entre un homme et une femme, le pape affirmait que les homosexuels devaient être accueillis au sein de l'église catholique dans un documentaire présenté récemment lors d'un festival romain. « Les personnes homo- sexuelles ont le droit d’être en famille. Ce sont des enfants de Dieu, elles ont le droit à une famille, dit-il. Ce qu’il faut c’est une loi d’union civile, elles ont le droit à être couvertes légalement. J’ai défendu cela ».

Cette position suffit cependant pour l'opposer ouvertement au pape Benoit, qui deux ans avant son propre pontificat avait signé un document officiel de la Congrégation pour la doctrine de la foi s’opposant clairement à: « une reconnaissance jurdique des unions homosexuelles » car: « Reconnaître légalement les unions homosexuelles ou les assimiler au mariage, signifierait non seulement approuver un comportement déviant, et par conséquent en faire un modèle dans la société actuelle, mais aussi masquer des valeurs fondamentales qui appartiennent au patrimoine commun de l’humanité », avait soutenu ce dernier.

Ces positions divergentes rappellent que nous sommes toujours en territoire extraordinaire au sein de l'Eglise, qui en somme compte deux papes, alors que ces derniers abandonnent ordinairement le trône de St. Pierre à leur mort. Alors que les divisions persistent au sein de l'Eglise sur cette question ainsi que d'autres, le Pape François a en ses sept ans effectué plusieurs démarches qui pourraient avec le temps assurer la pérénnité de sa manière de voir le monde.

Ses nominations ont fait en sorte qu'il a sélectionné environ la moitié des membres qui forment le Collège des cardinaux, où une majorité de deux-tiers des membres de moins de 80 ans suffit pour élire un nouveau pontife. "Plus ça dure, plus il y aura de cardinaux partageant la vision du Pape François," expliquait au New York Times l'archévêque Jean-Claude Hollerich l'automne dernier alors qu'il devenait lui-même cardinal.

Autant dire qu'à l'âge de 84 ans le pontife argentin est en train de construire une église à son image, une église non seulement progressiste mais, pour rejoindre les brebis perdues, moderne, lui qui avant la pandémie ne se gênait pas de participer à des selfies, et qui depuis ses appartements envoie toujours des Tweets dans plusieurs langue du monde, y compris le Latin, quotidiennement. Il y signait récemment une phrase qui résume bien son approche au sein des différentes communautés du monde: "Qui adore Dieu aime ses enfants. Qui respecte Dieu, respecte les êtres humains."

TURNING THE PAGE

With the spread of the coronavirus a number of the protests rocking govern-ments around the world came to a halt this spring. While covid-19 has yet to disappear, some of these movements have slowly crept back into the spotlight, sometimes causing clashes and even shaking the foundations of some nations.

After Lebanon, Chile has now come to face its day of reckoning, as street clashes gave way to a constitutional referendum heralding the most sweeping changes in the country's history since the dark Pinochet regime. In fact the new constitution, which Chileans have agreed to start working on but now have to decide how to craft, will look to change the text introduced by the late dictator some forty years ago.

Few thought at first small protests against rising bus fares a year ago would bring citizens of the South American country down this path. Along the way other grievances were voiced, on everything from public services to inequality writ large, in a country which had become a darling of global investors but not without its social disparities. The referendum was approved by 78% of Chileans but the months ahead will not be entirely free of divisions.

“The next phase will consist of a struggle over the content of a new constitution,” political analyst Claudio Fuentes told Bloomberg, noting the government was far from being supportive of such an undertaking at first but now finds itself having to support the process. Street protests had for weeks rocked the country, causing massive transit and other disruptions in the nation of 18 million stretched out along the Pacific.

The pandemic has hardly been less tragic here, causing half a million cases and 14,000 deaths (much higher than Canada's 220,000 cases and 10,000 victims for a country with roughly half its population) stretching health services the public was already complaining about. Push back against lingering health restrictions due to the pandemic also galvanized new streets protests.

Eventually overwhelmed after initially sending troops to quell demonstrations before cho-osing to raise pensions and the minimum wage, President Sebastian Pinera eventually backed down and agreed to hold a plebiscite. “We all can democratically choose the ways to change or perfect our constitution, and also confront the challenges and oppor-tunities of the future,” he said.

The strong result sent thousands to the streets in celebrations this time, ending clashes that have damaged infrastructutres to the cost of billions of dollars. “This triumph belongs to the people, it’s thanks to everyone’s efforts that we are at this moment of celebration,” Daniel, 37, told Reuters. “What makes me happiest is the participation of the youth, young people wanting to make changes.”

The country has a history of critical referen-dums, one eventually ousting Pinochet. The vote galvanized Chileans, bringing 7.5 million to the polls in a country of 18 million. Change will come but not right away. Chileans said they wanted  a specially elected body of citizens to draft a charter, and a first version would not be ready before 2022.

Issues expected to be addressed vary from health care, education and pensions to recognising Chile’s Mapuche Indigenous population. “Until now, the constitution has divided us. Starting today, we must all work together so that the new constitution is the great framework of unity, stability and future,” Pinera said.

UNE TERREUR SANS TREVE

En pleine pandémie, le terrorisme ne connait pas de trêve. Alors que la France et l'Autriche se reconfinaient, elles furent la proie d'actes de terrorisme ciblant notamment des lieux de culte. Quelques jours après les dernières manifestations mondiales en hommage à un professeur parisien assassiné après avoir osé présenter les caricatures de Charlie Hebdo en classe, des attentats secouaient Nice, ville encore ébranlée par la tuerie du 14 juillet 2016. 

Presque en même temps un homme était arrêté alors qu'il essayait de s'en prendre au consulat français de Jedda. Certes la France est ciblée, elle qui a été mise en état d'alerte alors même qu'elle se reconfinait contre le virus, double menace, mais la solidarité des pays Occidentaux ne laisse aucun doute.

Voilà qui semblait mettre l'Occident en crise avec un monde musulman outré par le geste d'un simple enseignant, défendu par les grands dirigeants de ce monde. Alors que l'Occident pleurait Samuel Paty au nom de ses valeurs, de la laïcité et de la liberté d'expression, le monde musulman criait au scandale, des rassemblements importants faisant appel au boycott de produits français à travers le monde musulman du Bengladesh en Iran. 

La France se cognait déjà à un géant du monde musulman, une Turquie officiellement laïque mais devenue championne de l'islam sous l'actuelle présidence. Les causes de ces tensions sont diverses, des éclats au Haut Karabakh à la Libye en passant par la défense française de la position grecque dans la Méditerranée, où les voisins de la mer Egée en venaient presque aux coups à propos de l'exploitation des eaux de la Méditerranée orientale.

N'aidant pas à baisser les tensions, un Charlie Hebdo encore provocateur, mettant le président Erdogan à la une d'une façon sûre de lui déplaire, source d'une autre plainte officielle d'Ankara.

La crapuleuse attaque de la basilique Notre Dame à Nice avait laissé une de ses trois victimes pratiquement décapi-tée, la méthode également utilisée contre Paty quelques semaines plus tôt, un acte selon le premier ministre Jean Castex « aussi lâche que barbare qui endeuille le pays tout entier » qui engage une réflexion à travers l'Occident.

Le jour de l'attaque, les militants islamistes célébraient en ligne la "liberté d'action" du coupable et d'un autre individu ayant brandi une arme à Avignon, alors qu'un autre incident avait lieu à Lyon.   "Nous ne cèderons pas," sur les valeurs françaises, déclare le président Emmanuel Macron le jour des drames, dénonçant une attaque contre les catholiques. Pourtant quelques jours plus tard c'était à un prêtre orthodoxe d'être blessé par balle à la fermeture de son église.

A quelques jours de la Toussaint, les lieux de culte se voyaient tristement protégés par du personnel armé, par crainte de nouveaux attentats. Mais d'autres lieux de culte furent ciblés ailleurs, à Vienne cette fois, où quatre personnes furent tuées lors de l'attaque près d'une synagogue par des islamistes.

VOTING ROLLS IN

As Americans took to the polls, lining up for hours in early voting which has already seen some 30 million enter their choices, about 20% of the total 2016 turnout, Democratic challenger Joe Biden hung on to his lead in opinion polls as the incum-bent struggled to restart his campaign after contracting covid-19.

But while odds increasingly stacked up against Donald Trump following his administra-tion's failure to tackle the virus, which as of late has made the White House itself an epicenter of the outbreak, a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety loomed over this year's election.

It could be seen in the lines stretched around the block for advance voting in major urban centres, and felt in the tone of Americans talking about the days ahead, and beyond November 3rd. For one thing, polling had been, if anything, deceitful four years ago when they suggested America would be seeing its first female president take the oath of office.

And, barely out of Walter Reed hospital, Trump was jetting from event to event touting his recovery from the virus as a sign he was right to downplay its impact. In addition his suggestion supporters should  monitor voting stations the night of the election to prevent fraud also sent chills of possible intimidation at the polls. Most of all, some feared what would happen after the results finally rolled in. And when would that be?

While mail-in voting expected to reach record levels and the US postal service worried about its ability to handle it all, observers feared a questioning of results should they be delayed or suggest a change of presidency, possibly setting the stage for a protracted battle for the White House that, like the campaign itself, would reach new levels of toxicity. Perhaps there was reason to fear anything short of an outright and massive victory would usher further uncertainty in the already much battered republic.

Other nations, who had traditionally looked to America for leadership, feared as much, the northern neighbor not denying it may face uncertain days ahead itself if the giant next door struggled with the outcome of the vote.  “We’re certainly all hoping for a smooth transition or a clear result from the election, like many people are around the world. If it is less clear, there may be some disruptions and we need to be ready for any outcomes,” Trudeau said, as he made sure Canada streered away from weighing on the election next door.

But America's allies were certainly not hesitant to show they colours, at least unofficially. In global polls leading to the vote residents of European and Asian countries generally questioned the current leadership in the White House after months of troubles with the virus and years of friction on everything from NATO to trade ties.

One poll even suggested leaders Vladmir Putin and Xi Jinping - criticized himself for his handling of the coronavirus, treatment of minorities at home and heigthening of tensions in the South China Sea - were more trustworthy than Trump. Truly the US experiment of choosing such a disrupter to lead the most powerful nation on earth had taken its toll, and the American people could be forgiven if they didn't repeat their mistake.

Not only was the president spreading fears related to election night and its aftermath but on the coronavirus front as well, urging supporters not to fear the virus which had killed over a million worldwide and attending rallies shortly after his infection. Over three dozen  people tied to the White House had also tested positive, as did the chiefs of staff, spreading worries to the military leadership.

These clusters at the very top only reaffirmed concerns the country was failing in its battle against covid-19, a failure of leadership at a time the nation was being asked to decide on the occupants of the White House for the next four years. As a result, the US witnessed an unprecedented early surge of voting in an election which could draw the most electors. “It’s crazy,” said University of Florida political scientist Michael McDonald.

"This will be a high-turnout election.” But while some at home looked at these long early lines with teary eyes as a sign of democracy on the march, others abroad questioned why it was taking so long for voters to perform their electoral duty, especially in areas with large minorities.

ANOTHER OUSTER

Protest has rocked another former Soviet republic and this time the demonstrators didn't stop on the steps of the legislature. It was a reminder that, although they are easily confused, not all of the Stans are alike. Among the former Central Asian republics south west of the former Russian homeland, Kyrgyzstan has always fared a bit better, a bit freer, a bit less oppressive and allowing some rather heated political discourse.

But this discourse became outright chaotic when protesters condemning recent legisla-tive elections stormed parliament and freed, without firing a single shot, a former president imprisoned for corruption. They weren't just trying to emulate Belarus, which since recent presidential elections has seen thousands in the streets calling for the removal of Europe's so-called last dictator, but are in fact continuing a long domestic tradition of sometimes virulent street opposition.

Similar incidents occurred in 2012 when thousands marched the streets and tried to storm parliament over a venture at the Kumtor mine operated by Canada's Centerra Gold Inc, angering nationalists. Previous pro-tests in 2005 and 2010 turned violent and even toppled sitting presidents.

Nationalists have been angered by what they consider a sell-off of Kyrgyzstan to foreigners. This time one person was killed and hundreds hurt in clashes with authorities after what President Sooronbai Jeenbekov called "political forces" he said were trying to illegally seize power after storming the legislature, calling for new elections.

They were protesting results showing just four political parties out of 16 in contention would get seats, three of them with close ties to Jeenbekov. No seats would go to the opposition in a vote observers agreed involved irregularities and voter intimidation.

The country's Central Election Commission later "invalidated the election results", adding the poll would be rerun. Opposition politician Sadyr Japarov, who was freed and named prime minister, said he would propose a constitutional reform before holding presidential and parliamentary elections in a few months.

The opposition, which is often sympathetic to Russia - which has a large base in the country - seized control of the government. At first the president appealed for calm and, unlike Lukashenko, told security forces not to fire on protesters. But after weeks of growing tensions and with no sign protesters would back down Jeenbekov stepped down, saying he wanted to prevent bloodshed.

With three presidents ousted by such mass rallies, Kyrgyzstan is no Belarus and nothing like any of its much more undemocratic neighbors. Hardly a beacon of democracy, it is still considered to have "a dynamic political landscape" according to Human Rights Watch, which however adds  "shortcomings in judicial independence and law enforcement accountability erode Kyrgyzstan’s democra-tic progress."

Jeenbekov early in his mandate "appeared to seek more constructive engagement with civil society" the group added, and the country "strengthened its law against domestic violence, but impunity for this abuse persists." Previous popular movements led Kyrgyzstan to adopt a parliamentary form of government, but Freedom House points out "governing coalitions have proven unstable... and corruption remains pervasive."

The Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan consolidated power "using the justice system to suppress political opponents and civil society critics," the groups adds. Japarov has now been handed the role of interim president ahead of elections he will not be allowed to run in. Paying close attention will be a Kremlin quite aware of support for Moscow in the country.

ENFIN UN GOUVERNEMENT

Avec ces dépenses presque illimitées et ces conférences de presse régulières pour faire l'état de la pandémie, peut-on imaginer un pays sans gouvernement, organe central pour distribuer fonds et prêts spéciaux pour aider les plus touchés? Pour mettre en oeuvre mesures d'urgence et politiques sanitaires annoncées en présence de spécialistes de la santé?

Pourtant le royaume belge vient tout juste de se doter d'un gouvernement après une absence remontant non au début de la pandémie mais au début de l'année 2019, l'année de l'innocence dominée par les manifestations sur le climat et le prognostic des diables rouges lors de l'Euro.

Evidemment on n'en était pas à la première expérience du genre, mais ce vide politique de plus de 500 jours ne battait pas seulement tous les records mais avait lieu en pleine urgence sanitaire mondiale. Puis fin septembre sept partis, pas un de moins, se rassemblaient enfin pour former une majorité gouvernante, comptant des libéraux, des écologistes, des socialistes et des chrétiens-démocrates, prêtant serment en compagnie du premier ministre libéral flamand Alexander De Croo, évitant un retour aux urnes.

Pour éviter un nouveau scrutin De Croo proposait davantage de coopération.  "Je ne pense pas que l’opposition soit si éloignée de nos objectifs. Je lance un appel : n’alimentons pas le conflit artificiellement, dit-il. La situation est déjà assez difficile et, ces dernières années, on a connu assez de conflits, je ne vois pas pourquoi il faudrait en ajouter. Ce que nous avons connu ces dernières années était vraiment excessif, tentons plutôt la coopération."

Le petit pays de 11 millions a enregistré plus de 200000 cas dont 10000 morts (soit plus qu'au Canada, qui a presque quatre fois sa population). En Belgique comme ailleurs on a constaté une recrudescence des cas, atteignant 3000 cas par jour (contre 2000 au Canada), soit plus élevé que plus tôt dans l'année.

Les premiers débats parlementaires cependant semblaient plus axés sur la fraude fiscale et l'âge de la retraite sur fond d'accusations d'enfantillage de politiciens presque soulagés de pouvoir enfin se défouler verbalement. Les parlementaires ne sont cependant pas allés jusqu'à faire couler un vote de confiance, qui est passé avec 87 voix pour, 54 contre et 7 abstentions. Ouf. 

«Nous vous accordons aujourd’hui notre confiance pour nourrir l’espoir », a déclaré le nouveau chef de groupe écolo Gilles Vanden Burre. Mais il n'y avait de toute évidence pas que des heureux: « Les partis qui ne veulent pas de ce gouvernement nous ont offert un spectacle lamentable d’obstruction parlementaire », s’est exclamée une parlementaire. Il faudra que cela suffise pour l'instant.

Mais on comprend mieux comment on a pu traverser le désert politique des 500 derniers jours. Reste à voir si on tiendra le coup d'ici les prochaines élections fédérales en 2024, une date qui, notamment en raison de la pandémie, semble bien lointaine. Cette dernière obligait les Belges à se reconfiner, avec couvre-feu et fermeture des restaurants  cet automne, alors que plus de 2000 personnes étaient hospitalisées par le virus.

L'OPPRESSION

Pendant que le monde a la tête ailleurs, la Chine tente-t-elle de s'en prendre à une autre minorité musulmane? A 12000 kilomètres du Xinjiang de la minorité opprimée des Ouighours, un vent nettement moins tolérant semble souffler entre les minarets.

La minorité musulmane des Utsuls de l'ile de Hainan semble plutôt inoffensive, elle qui dépasse à peine les 10000 membres. Pourtant depuis quelques temps Pékin resserre la vis, notamment en imposant des restrictions vestimentaires.

Le voile est désormais interdit au sein de cette minorité religieuse, ainsi que le port de tenues traditionnelles dans les bâtiments publics. Selon le journal hong kongais South China Morning Post, lui-même hautement surveillé dans une région de plus en plus sous l'emprise de la Chine continentale, des documents officiels permettent de croire à la mise en place progressive de mesures qui "rappellent celles déployées au début dans la province du Xinjiang" de la minorité Ouighoure, où des camps de "ré-éducation" enferment des milliers de musulmans dans des conditions difficiles.

Parmi ces mesures, la réduction de la taille de mosquées en phase de rénovation et l'interdiction de mots "arabisants" dans les commerces de la commu-nauté. Pourtant ces mesures ne semblent pas s'adresser à une autre communauté musul-mane de l'ile, bien plus importante, celle des Hui, la plus importante communauté musulmane en Chine.

Par ailleurs les Utsuls n'ont pas été soulevés par le vent de militantisme du Xinjiang qui selon Pékin justifie la ligne dure contre les Ouighours. Selon Katja Drinhausen de l'institut des études chinoises de Mercator, Pékin ne fait qu'étendre à cette commu-nauté la "politique du parti communiste chinois à l'égard des minorités sous Xi Jinping," une politique similaire "à celle déployée au niveau national envers toutes les minorités religieuses, comme en Mongolie intérieure ou dans la province de Gansu au Tibet, où vivent un grand nombre de musulmans."

Un retour en quelque sorte aux interdictions religieuses qui avaient détruite églises et autres lieux de cultes dans un pays au régime officiellement laïc, afin d'assurer l'unité nationale. Mais ceci comporte le risque de "radicaliser des communautés qui auront l'impression de ne plus avoir leur place dans la société chinoise, entrainant un risque accru de tensions sociales à plus long terme," explique Drinhausen à France24. Puis ces mesures ne sont pas sans risque pour les relations avec les pays musulmans de la région, de la Malaysie de l'Indonésie.


BACK TO THE STREETS

With a Fall coronavirus surge translating into a second global wave, there's been plenty to keep nations on edge these days. But even amid the doom and gloom of a return to pandemic related restrictions it's been hard to ignore the burning, stinging and choking reminder of the continuing challenge that is climate change.

Activists were back in the streets of world cities again this week to remind governments that the issue wasn't going away amid the pandemic. If anything, it is making global health worse. While the argument global warming will only make these sort of virus outbreaks more common has not managed to convince some, this year's weather phenomena have been hard to ignore, from wildfires in Australia to California, not to mention alarmingly warm temperatures in the Arctic.

Experts announced that as a result Arctic sea ice shrank to its second-lowest level on record. “It's been a crazy year up north, with sea ice at a near-record low, 100-degree (F) heat waves in Siberia and massive forest fires,” said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. “The year 2020 will stand as an exclamation  point on the downward trend in Arctic sea ice extent... We are headed toward a seasonally ice-free Arctic Ocean, and this year is another nail in the coffin.”

This could change the Arctic forever, allowing year-long use of the sea lanes up the Northwest Passage and tormenting a wildlife relying on the ice shelf. Heralding the worst year after 2012 in terms of summer ice was the Siberian heat wave this spring, leading to Arctic temperatures 14F to 18F higher than average.

These alarming reports, as California fires were blanketing West Coast cities from Los Angeles to Vancouver in heavy smoke, sent climate change protesters back to the streets of major capitals, concerned the heavy focus on covid-19 would push back prior environmental commitments. While governments in Europe and Canada tried to reassure the public they would continue focusing on the environment, there is no doubt the late summer surge of new infections has taken precedence as governments announced their fall agendas.

Still European Union president Still Ursula von der Leyen devoted a fair amount of time to climate change in this year's state of the union speech, setting a target to reduce emissions by at least 55% from 1990 levels by 2030, higher than the previous 40%. "There is no more urgent need for acceleration than when it comes to the future of our fragile planet," she said. "While much of the world's activity froze during lockdowns and shutdowns, the planet continued to get dangerously hotter," she added. "The 2030 target is ambitious, achievable, and beneficial."

In early September the European Environ-ment Agency reported that air pollution and heat waves worsened by climate change contribute to around 13% of all deaths in Europe. For the study year 2012 this translates into 630,000 deaths in the EU’s countries plus Britain attributable to environmental factors.

“These deaths are preventable and can be significantly reduced through efforts to improve environ-mental quality,” stated the agency. At the virtual United Nations General Assembly this year, Chinese leader Xi Jinping not only renewed his support for the Paris climate accord but vowed China would go carbon neutral by 2060, quite a feat, if accomplished, by the world's largest greenhouse gas polluter, accounting for a quarter of the planet's emissions.

Canada aimed at becoming carbon neutral in 2050, with plans to exceed 2030 goals. Prime Minister Trudeau warned of a "climate reckoning" if countries did not come together to act on the environment. But critics point out Canada's climate goals have seldom been achieved. Among leaders a growing con-cern that if covid didn't finish the job the climate would. Making matters worse was the fact that, upon reflection, observers found the shut downs of earlier this year had limited positive effects on the environment overall.

DES MANIFS DIFFÉRENTES

En matière de manifestation la Thailande avait vu plus grand que les manifs des dernières semaines, rassemblant quelques dizaines de milliers dans les rues pour faire appel à la démission du premier ministre et davantage de droits démocratiques.

Les mouvements massifs de chemises jaunes ou rouges ont à travers les années souvent envahi Bangkok, dégénérant parfois en émeute. Les marches des dernières semaines étaient plutôt paisibles à titre de comparaison, rassemblant surtout des jeunes munis de banderolles et de masques défilant sans fracas dans les rues de la métropole thaï.

Mais certains pouvaient y voir là pourtant une violence inouïe et inimaginable, contraire aux bonnes habitudes du pays des sourires. Souriaient-ils derrière leurs masques? Sans doute non, mais ce que leurs bouches pouvaient prononcer avait de quoi faire frémir l'importante strate de la population fidèle à la monarchie.

Car en fait tout le monde est fidèle, ou devrait l'être, à la royauté dans un pays où la vénérer et lui obéir, et surtout ne pas l'insulter de quelque façon, est enseigné religieusement à un jeune âge. Grandir autrement relèverait du sacrilège, punissable même, sévèrement, vues les lois toujours en vigueur sur le lèse majesté.

Le culte du monarque sautait aux yeux lors de la manifestation lorsque les participants traversaient une des nombreuses rues de la capitale ornées d'immenses portraits de sa majesté Maha Vajiralongkorn.

A la tête de cette fronde jadis impensable, la jeune Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul et ses appels osés et plutôt courageux, non à l'abandon, mais à la réforme; une mise à jour plutôt nécessaire de la monarchie, selon son manifeste: "pour la moderniser, pour l'adapter a notre société", cette dernière qui devait pourtant avancer au pas et au talon de son roi.

Les manifestants couraient donc un risque plutôt important en déversant ainsi sur la voie publique un sujet tabou. Evidemment Panusaya et ses plus proches collaborateurs risquent la prison, d'où la campagne internet #savePanusaya tentant de la protéger.

Les libertés en Thailande croulent sous l'oppression, signe Panusaya sur les médias sociaux, où elle fait appel à "la lutte pour notre avenir." Cette campagne divise davantage un pays déchiré depuis des années entre fidèles à la monarchie et supporters de l'ancien premier ministre Shinawatra.

La manifestation fin septembre rassemblait les plus importantes foules depuis la coup d'état qui installa la junte au pouvoir en 2014. Militaire devenu chef de gouvernement, Prayut Chan-O-Cha fut par la suite élu lors d'un scrutin hautement contesté. Les manifestants en ont profité pour faire poser une plaque déclarant: "Ce pays appartient au peuple." Ces mouvements gagneront-ils de l'ampleur?

"Arriveront-ils à rallier les classes populaires? Cette manifestation est un test", estime Christine Cabasset, chercheuse pour l'Institut de recherche sur l'Asie du Sud-Est contemporaine. L'accent sur la royauté pourrait faire réflechir, le mouvement exigeant non seulement la non ingérence du roi sur la scène politique mais l'abrogation de la loi sur le lèse majesté ainsi que la redistribution des biens de la couronne.

Le souverain actuel est, depuis avoir grimpé sur le trône suite à la mort de son pére adulé Bhumibol en 2016, allé dans le sens inverse, renforcant davantage les déjà considérables pouvoirs de la monarchie. Des excès qui ont sans doute inspiré les manifestations actuelles.

NOT AMUSED

L'année n'a pas été de tout repos pour Sa Majesté. Après une déchirure familiale au sein de la monarchie britannique, envoyant le prince Harry et sa femme en Amérique du nord, une possible fissuration géogra-phique cette fois, la Barbade annonçant son intention d'abandonner la reine comme chef d'état.

Il ne s'agit pas de la première fois. Il y a cinq ans de pareils projets avaient été annoncés par le premier ministre, sans succès. Cette fois il faudra au chef de gouvernement Mia Mottley réunir une nette majorité représentant au moins deux tiers des sièges au parlement pour mener à bien un tel changement constitutionnel.

Mais autant noter que son parti travailliste contrôle les deux chambres du parlement. Voilà une décision qui pourrait en inspirer d'autres dans la région. Car la couronne compte bien plus d'une demi douzaine d'iles dans les Antilles, des Bermudes aux Iles Caïmans, en passant par une Jamaïque qui avait déjà affiché ses couleurs républicaines.

Cet été un sondage révélait que plus de la moitié de la population n'aurait aucune difficulté à mettre fin au règne d'Elizabeth II sur l'île du reggae. Il y a quatre ans le gouverneur général Patrick Allen avait même eu la témérité de proposer une modification à la constitution, à la manière de la Barbade, qui mettrait fin à son propre poste en l'occurrence.

Pendant les années 70 déjà l'idée de la république faisait des vagues sur cette île au sud de Cuba de près de 3 millions, soit dix fois plus importante que la Barbade. Cette dernière n'entendait pas faire perdurer les cérémonies, fixant son objectif républicain pour le mois de novembre 2021, à temps pour le 55e anniversaire de son indépendance.

Et tout comme en Jamaïque, c'est le représentant de la reine au pays, rien de moins, qui annonçait le changement prochain, lors du discours du trône ironiquement. "Ayant obtenu son indépen-dance il y a plus d'un demi-siècle, notre pays ne peut nourrir aucun doute sur ses capacités à s'autogérer,  affirmait Sandra Mason en septembre. L'heure est venue de faire un véritable adieu à notre passé colonial. Les Barbadiens veulent un chef d'état barbadien".

Abandonner la monarchie ou non? Cette question a été posée de l'Australie au Canada en passant par l'ile Maurice, le dernier pays à abandonner la couronne britannique, en 1992.

Alors que le débat ne fait pas rage dans ces pays occidentaux il faut dire que les gestes des deux derniers gouverneur généraux ont créé un certains remous à Rideau Hall qui a de quoi faire sourire les républicains du grand nord. Même en Angleterre certains se demandent si la monarchie survivra à la fin du régne actuel. d'Elizabeth II.

ALL FEAR, FALL IS HERE

The boys of Summer haven't come out to play this year in Ottawa. Instead, as a troubled year moved into September, a drive-thru covid testing tent was raised in the parking lot of the capital's quiet baseball stadium, as health authorities gathered their weapons to continue waging war against the pandemic.

As Summer gave way to Fall, the resurgence of covid-19 cases across the world has raised the spectre of a dreaded second wave coinciding with the beginning of the flu season. Israel returned under lockdown, Britain limited gatherings to six people and British Columbia, Ontario and other Canadian provinces rolled back some reopening measures while introducing penalty fines.

And the prospect of an imminent vaccine dimmed as the World Health Organi-zation stated one should not be expected before next summer while one drug company temporarily halted its trials after a patient became ill. Nothing to lay to rest parental fears as millions of school children returned to in person studies, resulting in new cases of infection across North America. In some areas 25% of parents, when given the choice, preferred keeping their children at home for virtual courses this Fall.

In Canada, a third of working mothers said they even considered quitting their jobs to assist their kids with virtual learning, which wasn't taking place without technical issues. Further south, sparking concerns of new outbreaks, a US going back to school and in the throes of a bitter electoral campaign which has gathered crowds has seen a new uptick in cases. The restart of NFL football even allowed up to 17,000 fans to pack into some stadiums. 

Businesses mean-while dreaded the return of the cold season, seeking to extend patio season as long as they could knowing the limited capacity they would have indoors as the weather cooled. Stores and restaurants near still largely empty office towers in some downtown areas were already suffering from diminished visits, many smaller businesses left unable to avoid closing for good.

The Canadian prime minister encouraged citizens to keep implementing health and safety measures to keep the pandemic under control and allow the economy to pick up again. A quarter million jobs were created in the month of August, but employment is still over a million jobs lower than it was in March. "The last thing that anyone wants is to have to once again shut down the economy and suspend our lives," Trudeau said amid concerns of rising cases across the country, including in smaller provinces where no new cases had been reported for weeks.

Meanwhile authorities were clamping down on the increasing amount of protests by citizens wary of covid regulations, drawing thousands at one German rally. Quebec said it would now impose fines on people not wearing masks indoors, where they are mandatory, in order to target the minority not respecting rules amid a surge of cases in the province. Airlines have also been cracking down, WestJet fining two passengers $1000 for not wearing a mask and cancelling one flight altogether after parents refused requests to ensure their child wore a mask onboard. Are the numbers really that bad?

By some accounts, they are up in part as a result of higher testing capacities across the world. The Ottawa drive thru clinic, by appointment only, lowers on site wait times down to 15 minutes. But another reality can be seen a few kilometres away, where lines of parents accompanied by children fill a soccer pitch, some waiting 5 hours for a test. While infection numbers are rising again this isn't necessary translating into the devastating mortality rate seen earlier this year, as in many cases younger age groups are recording most new cases, and not so much elders in care homes. But this isn't reassuring many as Winter draws near.

LE RETOUR DES MANIFS

Loin des manifs historiques en Biélorussie, ou encore de celles de l'est russe qui narguent Vladimir Poutine et font la manchette, des foules réunies dans la capitale bulgare non seulement depuis des mois mais en fait des années.

Encore et toujours, une condamnation du régime qui a hérité des pires traditions de l'ancien bloc soviétique, corruption et abus de pouvoir, mais dont les plus récentes incarnations ont donné lieu à des heurts avec les forces de l'ordre.

Début septembre une vingtaine sont blessés lors d'éclats à Sofia sur fond d'appels à la démission du premier ministre Boïko Borissov, dont certains reprochent les pratiques plus ou moins mafieuses.

Le gouvernement refuse alors de poursuivre les négociations sur son éventuelle démission, dénon-çant des actes "de criminels" dans la rue. Ces mouvements de foules relancés suite à l'allègement des restrictions propres à la pandémie n'ont que poursuivi les condamna-tions d'un régime de longue date.

Car si la ré-élection de Borissov avait été accueillie avec un certain soulagement à l'Ouest il y a trois ans c'était notamment parce qu'elle empêchait un candidat de gauche pro-russe de pencher la balance davantage en faveur de Moscou, dont l'influence redevenait néfaste dans la région.

En revanche le statu quo électoral ne faisait que reporter jusqu'à plus tard les plaintes éternelles contre la corruption aux plus hautes instances, tradition fâcheuses de l'ancien bloc soviétique ironiquement.

Ce genre de manifestation anti-corruption avait effectivement évincé Borrisov une première fois en 2013, lui qui était au pouvoir en tant que chef du gouvernement presque conti-nuellement depuis 2009. Tentant de calmer le jeu face aux plus récentes manifes-tations, Borissov a proposé un projet de nouvelle consti-tution, initiative qui ne parvient pas à faire dérougir la rue.

Il faut dire que Borrissov, dont on a fait circuler une photo dormant dans sa chambre entouré de barres en or, des liasses d'euros et d'une arme, avait déjà tenté le coup en mars, avant que n'éclate la pandémie.

"Jusqu'à présent le premier ministre n'a répondu à aucune des questions posées par les manifestants, qu'il s'agisse de l'influence des oligarques, de savoir qui dirige réellement ce gouvernement, et jusqu'à ce qu'on réponde à ces questions, les manifes-tations ne s'arrêteront pas", prédit Hristo Panchugov, professeur en sciences politiques.

Entre temps l'opposition multiplie ses appels à la tenue d'élections anticipées et aux réformes du système judiciaire.

POISONED AGAIN

By now you have probably heard about Novichok. Perhaps you shouldn't have. Nerve agents shouldn’t be household names, especially military-grade agents banned under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. Novi-chok practically became one two years ago when a former Russian military officer living in the U.K. and his daughter barely survived exposure to the agent.

Another young woman wasn't so lucky and later died after brief exposure to the agent in what officials believe was a perfume bottle. Now Novichok has been identified by European officials investigating the sudden illness of often targeted Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, giving an international dimension to the incident and confirming what many knew about the dark Kremlin practices under the leader-ship of a former KGB agent. 

Just last year Navalny had been poisoned under suspicious circumstances when he was, not for the first time, placed under custody. He barely survived the incident. A year later this latest brush with death by a nerve agent five to ten times as deadly as the dreaded sarin and VX has sparked international condemnation, and for the Kremlin conveniently removed from the country a person who has grown to become Putin's staunchest opponent.

He will survive the encounter, German medical profes-sionals confirmed, but with probable long term effects to his health, both physical and mental. "These chemicals were developed and investigated by the former Soviet Union, and from what we know in the public domain...Russia seems to have had more interest in this than anyone else," toxicology professor Alastair Hay told Euronews.

"Novichoks, like any nerve agents, can be administered by a variety of routes. You can swallow it, you can breathe it in, it can enter through your eyeballs, or through your skin, and they're toxic by any means of administration." While two years ago Russian agents may have hoped to get away with the attack on the Skripals owing to the difficulty detecting Novichok, by now the nerve agent is much better known.

"You need pretty sophisticated equipment to detect them because they're potent in very small concentrations, so this means their concentration in the blood is very low. So the ability of most laboratories to find these is limited," Hay added, suspecting the doses used against both the Skripals and Navalny were meant to kill, since a tiny dose is usually necessary to cause death.

Years later, the Skripals haven't entirely recovered from their brief and nearly fatal encounter with the agent. But Russia is hardly alone targeting enemies of the regime with such means. A year before the attack against the Skripals North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's brother in law Kim Jong-Nam was killed after a VX attack at an airport in Malaysia.

The same year another opposition leader, Vladimir Kara-Murza, a vocal critic of Putin's campaign to silence dissidents, fell into a coma after becoming ill from poisoning, the second time he has suffered this way. Doctors could find no other explanation than poisoning, a method used before, often with deadly effect, against opponents of Putin's regime.

 One of the most notorious cases of poisoning also took place on British soil when former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko died after being exposed to another deadly agent, Polonium traced to the Russian regime. World capitals condemned Navalny's poisoning. After the Skripal attack the U.K. had responded  by expelling 23 Russian diplomats.

As countries weighed how to react this time, among them a Germany torn after years of seeking a balanced approach with Moscow, the UN called for a formal investigation on Navalny's incident, as he was slowly recovering from the exposure. Navalny has been urging Russian electors to vote for candidates best placed to defeat ruling party candidates in this week's local election, considered a dry run for next year's parliamentary vote.

"The federal centre isn't eager to see an appearance of cracks in the top down power mechanism," stated think tank Europe Elects, noting the vote would not be free of fraud.


SOS ALLIANCE

Autant dire que de toute évidence ce n'est pas toujours la Pax Atlantica qui règne au sein de l'OTAN. Depuis ses débuts, puis avec son agrandissement, des membres de l'alliance se sont parfois accrochés sur des dossiers qui les tiennent à coeur.

L'organisation tente ainsi, ironiquement, d'assurer la paix au sein de son giron, les deux pays en question n'en étant pas à leur première bisbille. Ankara et Athènes, qui se séparent l'ile divisée de Chypre, se sont souvent échangés des mots peu cordiaux à propos des eaux méditerranéennes.

Depuis la division de Chypre on a plusieurs fois frôlé la guerre, notamment en 1987 lorsque des bâtiments militaires furent mobilisés alors qu'une dispute battait son plein à propos de l'exploitation de la mer Egée par une compagnie canadienne. Une autre crise retentit dans la même région dix ans plus tard.

Depuis quelques semaines, ce sont les eaux de zones riches en gaz naturel entre Chypre et la Crète qui font grimper les tensions entre les voisins européens alors que la Turquie annonçait le prolongement de ses exercices militaires dans la région.

L’état-major de l’armée grecque est déjà sur les nerfs après la collision d'un bâtiment turc avec un de ses navires, accusant par ailleurs des avions de chasse turcs de "provocation" après s'être approchés d’Athènes alors que des appareils hellènes accompagnaient un bombardier américain dans le cadre d’un exercice, les trois pays étant pourtant membres de l'organisation Atlantique nord.

L'intervention d'un autre membre de l'alliance, la France, qui a dépêché en août deux navires en soutien à la Grèce, n'a rien fait pour baisser le ton à Ankara, qui rêve d’établir une souveraineté turque dans cette partie de la Méditerranée. Certains experts craignent même un véritable éclatement de l'OTAN si les deux rivaux en viennent aux coups, accidentellement ou non, chose qui serait sûr de plaire aux ennemis russes de l'alliance.

Depuis un certain temps  les rapports entre ces voisins sont déjà mis à l'épreuve par le dossier des migrants, au nombre de plusieurs millions dans les camps de Turquie, qui voient la Grèce comme une porte d'entrée à l'Union européenne. Accusant Ankara de menacer les frontières de l'Europe, la Grèce se dit prête à déployer l'ensemble de son arsenal politique et diplomatique, mais non sans gonfler ses rangs militaires.

"L'heure est venue de renforcer nos forces armées, déclara le premier ministre Kyriakos Mitsotakis récemment en annonçant l'achat de 18 chasseurs Rafale français ainsi que quatre frégates, il s'agit d'un programme important qui formera un bouclier national." Le président turc Recep Erdogan entre temps lance aux pays qui se sont rangés aux côtés de la Grèce, notamment la France: "ne cherchez pas de querelle au peuple turc."

Paris et une demi douzaine d'autres capitales menacent Ankara de sanctions si elle ne baisse pas le ton. A l'origine de la crise, la parution il y a un an d'une carte illustrant les ambitions territoriales turques en mer Egée et à l'est de la Crète, une création qui a aussitôt alarmé l'Attique. Suivit le voyage d'un navire d'exploration turc qui n'a qu'aggravé l'environnement, Athènes dénonçant d'«illégales» ces recherches d’hydrocarbures dans ses eaux.

Ankara poursuit-elle ainsi sur les vagues le genre de politique interventionniste qu'elle étend de Syrie en Libye sur la terre ferme? Le retour du navire turc a quelque peu calmé les tensions cette fin de semaine, mais les ambitions d'Ankara restent intactes, même si Erdogan se dit ouvert au dialogue "constructif".

NET STRAINS

Sure it may have occasionally slowed and raised your heart rate at times, but overall the internet hasn't crashed and burned as people turned online since the beginning of the pandemic.

There were a few temporary network outages for companies here and there but the network of all things generally managed to keep humming along despite fears of major strains.

Amazon became a trillion dollar company and Canada's Shopify skyrocketed, giving the US behemoth a good run for its money. Imagine if the internet hadn't done so well. After all usage is way up, Verizon reporting 41% of video usage on its network, VPN usage up 65% and a tenfold increase in collaboration tool usage one month into the pandemic, before the realization covid would be here to stay for awhile, thus prompting those who had been waiting in the wings to order the tech gizmos they needed to keep in touch, and if they had them, order more.

According to some figures there was a 105% spike in online activity at home between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. by the end of March compared to earlier in the year. Internet providers have had to scramble but generally managed the adjustments to keep outages at a minimum.

Besides there may have been a Seinfeldian level of readiness by the major players: The ability to deal with the heightened traffic of Mother's Day, now the mother of all gold standards in readiness according to former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler.

"In the days of analog telephone service, the network was designed with enough capacity to handle the surge in calls that happened on Mother’s Day and other holidays. If the capacity wasn’t there during times of peak demand, the call wouldn’t go through," he writes. "The result was to build capacity in excess of normal demand. Between such special events that capacity sat idle. For residential internet service, the equivalent of Mother’s Day has been Netflix and other online video services."

Sure there have been some visible strains, by April a  number of cities had seen internet speeds decline, but the networks still managed it all relatively well. Imagine if they hadn't and the internet had broken down. No online movies, shopping or tele-working, banking or video-conferencing with your doctor, at least depending who your provider is.

But people may have seen a glimpse of what could happen when popular videoconferencing service Zoom went down for hours as schools restarted in the United States. This could be a sign of things to come says Wheeler. "As more people come to rely on the internet, and as more devices come online — the strength of the blended fabric that makes the internet will be stress tested."

Besides, he notes, there have already been some failings. Too many people are still not on the internet, a utility which has become essential, if it wasn't already before, with the pandemic, moving a number of services, including those of governments, online. How else are you receiving your covid test results?

And not only is the internet essential, broadband service is as well, which he adds will have to be "recognized for what it is: a critical two-way connection that can no longer be considered a luxury." A massive investment in broadband is therefore required, experts agree, and in the mean time, the gap grows between the online have and have nots, the latter notably being in rural and Native communities.

"One in 10 Canadian households still have no internet at home, relying on mobile, work, school and libraries for basic connectivity. Which raises the question: who's being left out of the new online normal?" asks OpenMedia digital rights campaigner Erin Knight. "Unsurprisingly, it's disproportionately people living in rural and remote areas, low income families, and Indigenous people."

And for those among them who have it, it's slow. Not the best condition for videoconferencing, some-thing increasingly encouraged when dealing with a doctor during this pandemic. As schools restart with a number of parents choosing to keep kids at home this fall, this is becoming a major issue.

"A large majority of teachers polled in a recent Canadian Federation of Teachers' report were concerned that the move to online schooling was worsening educational inequality during the pandemic, with 74 per cent seeing negative outcomes for Indigenous students and nearly 88.8 per cent seeing negative outcomes for students living in poverty," Knight adds. "If a national crisis can't convince the government to kickstart action to meet its promises on national broadband, it's unclear what can."


PAS CONVENTIONNEL

Pas de rassemblements monstres et colorés ou de pluie de ballons cette année aux conventions américai-nes, à deux mois du rendez-vous présidentiel aux urnes. Encore faut-il définir le terme urne en ces jours de pandémie puisque de nombreux Américains pourraient avoir recours au système postal pour exercer leur droit de vote, et ce dernier est au coeur d'un débat plutôt féroce entre les partis engagés.

La maison blanche a rejeté un projet de loi de financement d'urgence pour soutenir les services postaux, estimant qu'il irait notamment à faciliter un vote par courrier qu'elle juge facile à falsifier, alors que pour plusieurs observateurs non seulement cette méthode est-elle plutôt sûre mais elle sera dans plusieurs cas la manière préférable d'apposer son "A voté" si le pays est aux prises avec une seconde vague de covid foudroyante dans le pays où le virus a causé le plus d'infections.

Evidemment l'expérience de l'élection du nouveau chef conservateur au Canada, où les résultats se sont fait attendre en raison de problèmes techniques, et celle de la primaire new yorkaise plus tôt, donnaient matière à réflexion.

Certains experts craignent que le système postal ne soit pas en mesure de traiter la forte demande cette année aux Etats-Unis, aboutissant à des votes perdus, retardés, et un résultat matière à contestation; un appel en justice peut-être même comme celui de 2000 mais à la grandeur du pays. Le premier jour de la convention républicaine, Trump prédisait déjà une élection contestée devant les tribunaux tout en condamnant le vote par courrier, affirmant que plusieurs électeurs avaient reçu les formulaires sans en faire la demande et accusant ses rivaux de préparer "une arnaque postale".

Ne mâchant plus ses mots, son prédécesseur proposa une solution: le vote anticipé. Obama et sa femme Michelle furent parmi les orateurs lors de la convention démocrate, cette dernière déclarant haut et fort: "Donald Trump est le mauvais président pour notre pays. Il est clairement dépassé (par le covid) et n'est pas à la hauteur."

Le covid a d'ailleurs été plutôt ignoré par la convention rivale, malgré les 6 millions de victimes américaines dont plus de 185000 morts. Trump a accusé son rival Joe Binden et les siens de "se servir du covid pour voler l'élection" et a été plutôt flou sur la question de reconnaitre le vote en cas de défaite.

Figuraient aussi parmi les orateurs de la convention démocrate quelques républi-cains désillusionnés, rejoi-gnant le camp opposé au sprint final de cette longue course qui franchira les haies des débats présidentiels cet automne. Trump n'a pas pu s'empêcher de suggérer que le vote pourrait être reporté en raison de la pandémie, idée rejetée d'un côté comme de l'autre qu'il n'a d'ailleurs pas le pouvoir de concrétiser.

Il a ensuite proposé à ses électeurs de voter une fois par la poste une autre en personne, pour tester le système... Entre temps Biden et son colistier Kamala Harris jouissent d'une nette avance dans les sondages (NDLR incorrects en 2016) alors que 75% des Américains estiment que leur pays vogue dans la mauvaise direction.

Mais certains experts redoutent un drôle de phénomène le soir du vote: une victoire Trump... en attendant que soient enregistrés plusieurs votes par courrier - qui auraient plutôt tendance à venir des rangs démocrates - le tout aboutissant quelques jours plus tard à un renversement des résultats; un scénario sûr d'être contesté.

A FENCE BETWEEN US

On Sept. 11 and in the following tense-filled days, there was renewed scrutiny at the US-Canadian border, with national guardsmen posted on the U.S. side checking people leaving their country, but the border remained open. During this pandemic there have been new restrictions, but essential workers still have the ability to come and go across the 49th parallel.

Through the worst of times the North American neighbors have managed to keep the traffic flowing both ways, slowed to a trickle now, but never entirely shut down. Needless is it to say that along the world's longest undefended border there is no wall, which makes the erection of a fence along a small section of the 8,800km stretch quite the oddity.

A few kilometres from the Peace Arch of the Washington-British Columbia border inscribed with the words "may these gates never be closed" US border agents are erecting a two and half kilometre fence between Abbostford B.C. and the Pacific ocean. “This project addresses binational safety concerns related to a vulnerable section of the border located between Boundary Road in the U.S. and Zero Avenue in Canada,” stated the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“This barrier is designed to prevent vehicles from either accidentally, or purposefully, crossing the boundary and endangering citizens in both countries.” Erected on the U.S. side of the border, in part to deter smuggling, it seemed like a natural extension of the fear of the outside under the current US administration. "If anyone should be putting up a wall it is the Canadian government," observed one US immigration lawyer.

Indeed the fence may as well have come with the silent blessing of the Canadian side. Since the covid outbreak Canadians have rather enthusiastically embraced restrictions at the border, which would normally see 300,000 movements a day. Six months into the pandemic polls in Canada overwhelmingly favour the current shut down to non-essential travel, largely owing to the relatively uncontrolled spread of the virus in the United States.

While Canada has seen a recent rise in cases owing to eased restrictions, it remains a fraction of America's 40,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths every day. This has even created rather unCanadian incidents of shaming drivers travelling north with U.S. plates. Even when the suspected 'American' is Canadian.

A Huntsville, Ont. man filed a complaint after two people told him to "go home" at a gas station after spotting the Florida plates on his car. A number of Americans have however been fined for attempting to vacation in Canada, not considered an essential activity in these pandemic times. Not only are the largely symbiotic neighbors divided for the foreseeable future, a number of regions of Canada remain inaccessible to Canadians themselves.

The Atlantic provinces have created a bubble amongst themselves to permit travel between New Brunswick, Newfoundland, PEI and Nova Scotia, without the need for quarantine, but this was still necessary for residents coming from outside the bubble. When they were allowed in at all.

There have been some reports of tensions involving locals and people with out of province plates there as well as in British Columbia, where at one point Premier Horgan suggested visitors travel by bus or bike. BC has also been a transit point for Alaskans connecting from the lower 48 states, though some visitors have used this as a loophole to enter Canada for tourism.

Let's be clear, said deputy PM Chrystia Freeland, we welcome our southern neighbors, in ordinary times. "But now is not the time to visit." For now Ottawa has yet again extended the border's closure, until the end of the month at least.

HANGING ON

There's good reason why Alexander Lukashenko is widely regarded as Europe's last dictator. When protesters took to the streets to condemn the outcome of this month's dubious elections, he sent his police force to crush the movement, killing at least one in the process.

In the days leading to the presidential vote, which returned him to power for a fifth time and was widely condemned as rigged, the state apparatus rounded up opposition figures or drove them away, leaving little to stand between the 65 year old and continuing rule.

Undeterred, opposition sup-porters rallied behind Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a school teacher and wife of a critic and blogger who had been among those incar-cerated.

As reports of the crackdown came in, along with electoral results giving Lukashenko 80% of the vote, figures unverified by international observers, she broke down, shocked by the degree of violence employed by government forces.

This level of violence however suggests Tikhanovskaya's vow to hold free and fair elections had galvanized the citizens of this country of 9.5 million on the fringes of Europe. But her fighting will have to be done from abroad as Tikhanovskaya soon after fled Belarus for nearby Lithuania "for the sake of her children."

She said she made the difficult decision after being detained for registering a complaint about the election, which she claims, and many others agree, was rigged. To some the move only bolstered Lukashenko's claim opposition suppor-ters are "sheep" controlled from abroad. But there were plenty of anti-government supporters, a growing and energized number, still willing to defy authorities no matter the risks in Belarus.

Scores of electors had lined up to vote on election day after a large number had turned up in anticipatory polls, and in the rare polling stations of Minsk which had been monitored by observers the 37-year-old scored over 70% of the vote. Belarus' neighbors reacted quite differently to the published results, Russia's Putin, who has not always been on good terms with Lukashenko, congratu-lating him while Poland called for an emergency meeting of the Eurpean Union to deal with the crisis on its Eastern border.

The EU soon warned it would impose sanctions to condemn the post-electoral violence by security forces. For his part Putin has a right to be concerned by popular protests nearby as they seem to have gripped his own country as well. In the far East of the massive land demonstrators have also been gathered for weeks to support a popular local governor arrested on suspicion of murder and jailed in Moscow.

Protesters not only in his region six thousands kilometres away from the capital but across the country rallied to support him, claiming the charges are fabricated, leading to a number of arrests nationwide. They demanded he be tried locally and condemned the selection of an outsider for taking his place, saying it showed Moscow paid little heed to regional will. This has represented the strongest challenge to Putin's rule in recent months.

It was no surprise therefore that Luka-shenko turned to him, despite recent efforts to keep his distances from Moscow, for support as protests grew in the days following the election. Demonstrators were no longer scared to call for new elections and the end of the regime which succeeded the Soviet one, largely mimicking it. Workers, who launched disruptive strikes, and even some security troops soon joined the protests as did a soccer star who refused to play under the current regime.

Tikhanovskaya said she was willing to take over as calls grew for new elections, despite her lack of political experience. As a first sign of concession in the face of growing dissent, Lukashenko hinted he may hold a new vote and accept its result, but only  after constitutional reforms, a suggestion panned by critics holding their ground and maintaining the standoff.

For now, the strongman was willing to dig in, taunting workers they would have to kill him to remove him, and face the music. By the end of the week authorities had opened criminal probes on opposition members in light of the protests.

PRÈS DE CHEZ VOUS

En cette saison estivale un peu partout ces mêmes scènes plutôt étonnantes, des terrasses vides de Mykonos à Venise malgré les timides reprises du tourisme. Apeurés par l’étranger ou bloqués par les restrictions sanitaires, les vacanciers ont référé rester près de chez eux. Et c’est là qu’on a souvent retrouvé les foules.

Sur la route de campagne qui mène à la plage ontarienne de Sandbanks entre Montréal et Toronto, des queues interminables pour retrouver un peu de sable fin. Sur la route centrale de Percé, un embouteillage digne d'une grande ville dans la rue autant que sur le trottoir. Il y a du bon comme du mauvais. La Gaspésie s’attend en fin de saison à connaître une année record, dépassant largement les 800000 visites annuelles de la grosse saison. Mais avec cet afflux, notamment pendant les vacances de la construction, des scènes  désolantes de détritus près de tentes de "camping sauvage" sur les nombreuses plages de la région.

Les élus locaux ont fait appel à la province dans ce bout de fin du monde où trop peu de patrouilleurs circulent dans un vaste territoire. Les vacances de la construction une fois terminées les commerces n'étaient pas moins bondés, de longues lignes accueillant les clients à l'extérieur des restaurants et des cafés à l'heure de manger.

Au moins l'économie aura reçu une petite dose de santé en attendant le vaccin. Même au centre de cette région relativement affairée, certaines zones ordinairement oubliées ont vécu un certain rebond des affaires. Au cœur des montagnes au centre de la Gaspésie le tourisme représente l’espoir d’une reprise et de la survie de zones abandonnées par l'industrie minière.

À Murdochville, à moins d’une heure de Gaspé, le silence reste celui qui est en place depuis la fermeture de la mine de cuivre il y a vingt ans et des usines connexes. La région tente de se recycler en destination de plein air, avec ses pistes de ski au bout de la 5e rue et de la pêche au saumon au long de la route 198 reliant la côte nord de la Gaspésie à Gaspé.

Abandonnée par l'industrie qui fut sa raison d'être, cette communauté qui abritait dans le passé 5000 personnes - notamment à l'époque des grèves auxquelles participait un certain Michel Chartrand - mais qui n'en compte à peine 800 de nos jours, a refusé les appels au démantèlement et tenté de survivre avec son centre d'appel de l'assurance automobile et l'industrie reliée à la couronne d'éoliennes qui surplombe les montagnes environnantes couvertes de sapins.

Au centre d'inter-prétation de la mine, l'industrie du passé, un immense camion minier, est representée à côté de celle du futur, une immense lame d'éolienne, dans la région du pays qui compte la plus haute éole au monde. Rien ne se fait a moitié. Mais malgré les apparences de ville fantôme, la dernière succursale bancaire ayant plié bagage l'an dernier et la plupart des immeubles commerciaux de la rue principale ayant les fenêtres couvertes par des photos d’époque, la communauté n'a pas été oubliée par ce regain du tourisme.

Au coin de la rue Wilfrid Doucet et la 3ème, Réjean accueille les clients dans le salon de son duplex, transformé en petit café musée de la mine, avec ses photos au mur et quelques objets reliés à l'industrie disparue. L'année a été particulièrement bonne en raison des restrictions dit-il: "Les gens ne peuvent pas aller au Nouveau-Brunswick ou aux Etats-Unis, alors ils viennent ici (en Gaspésie)".

Quelques rues plus loin un homme installe sa roulotte chez un ami. Cela fait quelques années qu'il passe l'été ici et il cherche dorénavant un lopin de terre à acheter. Ca il y en a à vendre, note Réjean, mais alors que terrains et maisons sont bon marché attention aux taxes, chères en raison de la chute de la population. Un potentiel tout de même, même dans cette petite communauté qu'on avait voté d'abandonner dans le passé.

FAMILIAR EVENTS

After months of growing combined political and security crises soldiers in Mali took a page from a dog eared instruction manual  and arrested both the president and prime minister in the latest coup to shake the Western African country. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, who soon after resigned, and Prime Minister Boubou Cissé were arrested shortly after gunfire was reported at a military installation near the capital, Bamako.

The Kati camp at the source of the outburst had also been the site of a mutiny eight years ago by soldiers angry at the inability of top commanders to stop jihadists and Tuareg rebels taking control of northern Mali. Ironically, filling the security void, the coup at the time enabled insurgents to capture large sections of northern Mali.

Experts fear the current instability will only further embodlen the insurgency. The country has welcomed multinational troops for years to try to rein in large swathes of its territory preyed upon by Islamic fighters. Last month another French soldier was killed in these security operations, which have drawn soldiers from across Africa but also Europe and North America.

As the latest coup took place demonstrators who had been seeking a shake up at the top cheered in the streets, setting a government building on fire. Protesters had called on Keïta, who was re-elected two years go, to resign amid accusations of corruption and continuing jihadist and communal violence.  The confluence of a security and governance crisis inevitably led to the coup, said political expert Niagale Bagayoko.

"There was a movement which for the last few weeks allowed for the intervention of the army in the already complicated Malian political game," she said. It is a reminder of the 2012 coup which led to a clash between green and red berets, she tells France 24, but the situation is different today due to the presence of French and other foreign troops on the ground to fight insurgents but also support domestic troops.

Tensions had notably been growing between a president eager for results in the fight against jihadists and the military brass. Jihadists have challenged governments across Africa, and not only in the West of the continent, in the busy Sahel region or northern Nigeria, where hundreds were taken hostage by insurgents this week in the troubled region of Lake Chad.

Jihadists also recently seized the port city of Mocimboa da Praia in Mozambique further East, where the government has criticised neighboring Tanzania for closing its eyes on recruitment on its soil. Soldiers who ousted the president in Mali promised new elections, saying they planned to set up a transitional civilian government in the meantime.

Calling themselves the Committee for the Salvation of the People, the soldiers said they did not want to remain in power, acted to prevent chaos in the country and sought to forge strong institutions. World leaders have however condemned the coup and the opposition is skeptical. Mali is hardly in a good position to hold elections in part due to the security situation in the north.

CONVERGING ON LIBYA

Nearly a decade after the crisis which brought down the government and reign of Moammar Gadhafi, the world is once again converging on disjointed Libya, a country which has remained torn since the fall of the long ruling despot.

The reasons the divisions are drawing international attention and participation are familiar, oil, but this seems to be a questionable motivation at a time the value of the black gold has collapsed and its future needs are in question.

Egypt is the latest country to hint it may join others in the battle for Tripoli which never really ended when the dust settled after the collapse of the Gadhafi regime. Cairo is siding with Russia and the United Arab Emirates to support renegade comman-der Gen. Khalifa Haftar against the Turkish-backed United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli, a government long threatened but still standing in the chaos that is post-Gadhafi Libya.

This is hardly a complete list of participants, with mercenaries from Russia to Syria joining the fray in the oil-rich country. Key to the crisis has been the battle over the wealth in  energy resources, with major petroleum fields found in the East of the country, where the battle which ultimately toppled Gadhafi began, and where opposition to the current government later marshalled its forces.

Turkey's intervention, after Tripoli had asked without success for stronger support from former colonial power Italy, changed the until then relatively one-sided aspect of the clashes, bringing a halt to the offensive and pushing back Haftar's troops after they had registered a series of successes near the capital.

Ankara's battlefield successes, supported by Syrian mercenaries, have been so overwhelming that ceasefire talks have once again restarted amid rumors Haftar may be replaced. But the heavy flow of weapons in the country is sparking concerns of an escalation of the conflict in the region.

Libya has been a source of disruption elsewhere, it was after all there that a number of arms caches were used to bolster insurgent forces across the region after the fall of the Gadhafi regime. Now the United Nations is warning the growing list of participating countries, an "alphabet soup" of them violating a  international arms embargo, is increasing the risk of triggering a direct clash between some of the major actors.

“There has been no effort to stop the influx of mercenaries or weapons, so what’s clear is that there’s complete international impunity, which is matched by impunity on the ground,” acting UN envoy Stephanie Williams told the Financial Times. “The risk of this turning into a pure proxy war is very serious indeed.

The overall picture is one of continuing foreign interven-tion.” Some of the weapons have changed since Gadhafi's days, an increasing number of participants using Turkish and Chinese-made drones that are increasingly cheap to build  to back ground and air strikes. According to Defense-news.com, this has turned the country into an air warfare laboratory.

The US has however resisted calls to join the fray, its president torn by the sparring over the country between Turkey and Russia. Human rights organizations are concerned about the fate of migrants, who continue their journey to  Europe from North Africa, Libya in particular, calling for European countries to not send those migrants back because of the deteriorating situation on the ground in the North African country which has become an unsafe transit point for migrants.

The UN Refugee Agency called for an investigation after the interception of a boat of migrants by the Libya Coast Guard left three dead following a shooting. “This incident underlines starkly that Libya is not a safe port for disembarkation,” said the UNHCR’s Vincent Cochetel. “There is a need for increased search and rescue capacity on the Mediterranean, including NGO vessels, in order to increase the likelihood of rescue operations leading to disembarkations in safe ports outside of Libya. There is also a need for more solidarity between Mediterranean coastal states.”

VIOLENCE IN SUDAN, STILL

While deposed Sudanese dicator Omar Bashir faces his days in court for the 1989 coup that placed him in power there was a sad reminder of continuing violence in Darfur, a region best known for the atrocities committed under his decades old rule.

A few days before court proceedings began against him a joint United Nations and African Union mission in Darfur deplored recent violence that left nine dead and 20 injured in the North Darfur province, including an attack on a camp for people displaced by the long lasting conflict.

"It is regrettable that these incidents have taken place while the transitional government of Sudan and the armed movements are close to concluding negotiations expected to bring peace and stability ... to the Darfur region and the whole of Sudan," the mission said.

Attacks by unidentified gunmen on protesters emboldened by the movement that ousted Bashir and calling for better security and a civilian government have also increased recently.  Regional governors remain military officials as the transition following Bashir's fall continues. Officials say one attack took place  soon after a meeting between authorities and protesters to discuss their demands.

Police also came under attack by armed groups, leading officials to declare a state of emergency in the restive region, sending more troops to be deployed. In the 17 years the Darfur conflict dragged on an estimated 300,000 people were killed, with much of the blame placed on government forces repressing revolt with the help of various militias.

While widely condemned internationally for the atrocities, Bashir was meanwhile facing justice, along with over two dozen civilian and military leaders, for staging a "coup against the constitutional system" over three decades ago. Bashir is already in prison serving a two year sentence for corruption and illegal possession of foreign currency.

The International Criminal Court has separately accused him of war crimes and crimes against humanity over his military campaign in Darfur in the course of his three decade rule. In a in a single week the recent attacks left "dozens dead and injured" according to the UN as well as "villages and homes burned down and damaged markets and stores." Partly to blame are tribal clashes between nomadic Arabs and African farm workers.

This rise in attacks particularly threatens an already poor farming season, which usually coincides with the rainy season. In Darfur's five states nearly three million people currently suffer from malnutrition.  The Sudanese government and a coalition of rebel troops were meanwhile entering into the final phase of peace talks.

The talks, which started in South Sudan last Fall, seek to bring an end to conflicts in three regions including Darfur, where rebels have accused the government of marginalization under Bashir. The transitional government has made reaching a deal a priority, including talk of power sharing and more autonomy for certain regions. But in the mean time the conflict endures.

"At the end of the day the main aim of the security arrangements is to have what we call one unified Sudan army," said Alhadi Yayha of the Sudan Revolutionary Front. "As we speak now we have several armies ... and it is not an ideal situation in one country to have more than an army."


LE CHOC AU LIBAN

Une explosion parmi les plus catastrophiques jamais enregistrées, sans doute évitable, il ne manquait plus que ça dans cette ville trop souvent sinistrée. Après des mois de souffrances économiques à n'en plus finir aggravées par la pandémie et une éternité de rivalités régionales et internes, le Liban a dû vivre une catastrophe digne d'un film apocalyptique. Et le petit pays du cèdre dispose déjà de moins en moins de ressources pour s'en remettre.

L'explosion d'un stock de nitrate d'ammonium dans le port de la capitale a fait plus de 150 morts, quarante fois plus de blessés et plus de 200000 sans abris, rasant des quartiers entiers après une onde de choc qui a semé des éclats à travers la ville.

Avec ces scènes de guerre trop familières c'est comme si un tremblement de terre avait anéanti une importante section de cette perle de la région, le choc ayant été ressenti jusqu'à Chypre.

Un gouvernement déjà sous pression promettait de trainer les responsables en justice, effectuant quelques premières arrestations, mais le peuple en colère a vite fait de se rassembler, les débris à peine dégagés, pour faire appel à la chute du cabinet, alors que le premier ministre Hassan Diab promettait des élections anticipées.

Volant au secours de son ancienne colonie la France organisait une conférence de donateurs pour relever cette cité qui connaissait déjà de nom-breuses coupures de courant en raison de la crise économique. L'anéantis-sement du port prive Beyrouth de son commerce centennaire tout en laissant planer une menace écologique à long terme.

La destruction des silos de céréales laisse craindre "un problème de disponibilité de farine" dans ce pays où plusieurs denrées sont difficiles à se procurer en raison de la chute de la livre. Un ministre rendait sa démission alors que Diab promettait d'écrouer les responsables pour "rendre des comptes", la cargaison explosive ayant été entreposée "sans mesures de précaution".

Le président français y a fait un rare déplacement international depuis la pandémie, un rappel de celui de son prédécesseur 37 ans plus tôt après un attentat qui avait tué 58 soldats français en pleine guerre civile. Cette semaine la scène n'était pas si différente après toutes ces années de reconstruction alors que l'UE envoyait une centaine de pompiers spécialisés pour cette délicate opération en temps de pandémie.

Alors que la diaspora internationale rassemble des fonds pour venir en aide aux sinistrés, ces derniers craignent qu'ils ne parviennent dans les poches des hommes au pouvoir . «La destruction est trop grande et il faut aider ceux qui en ont besoin car l’état est absent, regrette Dana. Ce pays n’a pas connu une minute de répit depuis des années. J’espère que les politiciens ne vont pas s’attribuer les mérites de l’aide que la société civile est en train d’offrir».

L'aide française vient d'ailleurs sous condition: que le gouvernement effectue les réformes tant attendues. En attendant, de nouveaux éclats de foules en colère.

REPRISE DES TENSIONS

Non la trêve covid n’aura en fait jamais eu lieu. Du moins si certains conflits ont brièvement cessé pendant cette période c’était éphémère. Parmi les éclats qui ont repris, celui qui divise depuis des lunes l'Arménie à l’Azerbaïdjan dans la région montagneuse contestée du Haut Karabagh.

Le voisin russe se dit notamment préoccupé par la reprise des hostilités si près de sa frontière sud qui pourrait embraser la région déjà tendue du sud du Caucase. Pourtant c’est dans une région frontalière au nord du Haut Karabagh qu’ont eu lieu les éclats les plus meurtriers depuis ces dernières années, faisant plus d’une douzaine de victimes.

Le ministre des affaires extérieures arménien accuse ses voisins d’incursion et de tirs de missiles, faisant notamment des victimes civiles. “C’est une démonstration de haine très intense au cours des derniers mois, dit-il à France24, l’Azerbaïdjan tente de mettre à l’épreuve la détermination et les capacités de l’Arménie loin du Haut Karabagh. Il s’agit d’une évolution très dangereuse.”

Erevan, qui se dit avoir abattu plusieurs drones azerbaïdjanais, prétend avoir quelque peu apaisé la situation depuis avec l’aide de l’OSCE et notamment de la Russie. Cette dernière est plutôt préoccupée par la reprise des hostilités à proximité de sa frontière sud, près d’une région russe elle même plutôt volatile.

“C’est une situation encore instable” poursuit le ministre arménien malgré la reprise du cessez le feu, et l'Arménie s'engage à prendre des "mesures supplémentaires" en raison de la nouvelle donne alarmante dans la région. Bakou accuse cependant son rival d’avoir lancé les hostilités, limogeant par la suite son propre ministre des affaires étrangères pour “négociations inutiles” avec l’Arménie, démontrant un durcissement des tons.

Les instances internationales craignent une reprise des hostilités notamment en raison de la position stratégique de la région, un corridor important de gazoducs et d’oléoducs partant de la mer Caspienne. Une intensification du conflit pourrait entrainer la participation des voisins russes et turques, deux puissances déjà aux prises en Libye, mais les pires scénarios pourraient être évités si la région du Haut Karabagh continue d’être évitée, selon plusieurs experts.

Les Arméniens de cette région y ont déclaré l’indépendance dans les ruines de l’empire soviétique en 1991, lançant un conflit interrompu lors d’un cessez le feu trois ans plus tard qui tient de peine et de misère. Selon le président Poutine "il s'agit d'une situation très célicate à la frontière en l'Azerbaidjan et l'Arménie." Rendant les choses plus dangereuses encore, la menace de Bakou de frapper une centrale nucléaire en Arménie.

Les tensions dans la région se sont répandues dans les diasporas correspondantes, des manifestants des deux camps s'opposant dans plusieurs villes d'Europe et en Amérique du nord.

AFTER COVID

No it's not going away any time soon and the warm weather hasn't helped, and that's sometimes come at the cost of our mental health. As the world creeps over 14 million cases and well over half a million deaths from covid-19, the summer is a bad time to suffer from covid exhaustion.

Populations eager to return outdoors and find some measure of normality often discovered crowds there, and a higher risk of transmission. Never was this truer than in the United States which remains the epicenter of the pandemic.

The possibility of more months of restrictions and in some cases a return to lockdowns was taking its toll on the public, sparking fears on the long term mental health impact of the crisis.

Already there are a few anecdotal indications the virus may have pushed some over the edge. Canada's worst mass shooting is increasingly being looked at through the lense of the pandemic following reports Gabriel Wortman stockpiled cash, food and fuel due to an obsession about covid-19 before setting off on a rampage which killed 22 people.

The pandemic also may have taken its toll on the armed Canadian Forces member arrested at Rideau Hall, who in social media posts made before ramming his vehicle into the gates of the complex, transporting a number of weapons, had mentioned the stress he had experienced because of the pandemic and the impact to his food business in his home province of Manitoba.

While not solely responsible for these alarming incidents the pandemic was perhaps an aggravating factor, sparking fears about the long term implications of the virus on mental health, its toll growing beyond the immediate reports of infection, deaths and recoveries. Health experts have already documented the particularly vicious attacks of covid-19 on the human body's internal organs, especially the heart, leaving ailment long after recovery.

The mental health impact is another reason to be concerned about the long term implications of the virus even after a vaccine is eventually developed. Through-out the outbreak health experts have been concerned about this impact of the pandemic on children, stressing a balance was needed between the need for public health and maintaining developmental health among youngsters.

“Heightened anxiety, lack of social supports, loss of routines, social isolation: these are just a few of the indirect adverse effects of covid-19 impacting the mental, developmental and physical health of children and youth,” stressed Dr. Ronald Cohn of SickKids in Toronto.

Even following the pandemic many fear a lack of resources to deal with demand for mental health support, not only among kids but adults who were severely affected by the isolation requested by health authorities. Not to mention overworked front line workers from emergency wards to long term care homes across the country.

Some experts were concerned to see, if anything, a drop in requests for mental health support during the pandemic, fearing a post-covid surge in a field already stressed before the pandemic. In addition experts have yet to fully understand the possible long term neurological effects that come with even mild covid infections.

While severe infections were known to put patients at risk of neurological complications, research by University College London suggests serious problems can occur even in individuals with mild cases of the virus, making brain complications including delirium, nerve damage and stroke more common than thought.

"Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage covid-19 can cause," said Ross Paterson.  "Doctors need to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes." All the more as a number of experts fear covid-19 may be here to stay, concerned whether an eventual vaccine manages to provide long lasting immunity to a volatile and complex virus.    

GUERRE INFERNALE

Cinq ans après le début de l'offensive saoudienne qui devait mettre fin à l'emprise houthiste soutenue par Téhéran au Yémen, le pays du Golfe le moins nanti se retrouve presque 30 ans en arrière, à l'époque où il était encore scindé en deux.

Creusant les divisions actuelles de cette guerre infernale, la prise par les séparatistes d'une ile mieux connue pour une rare biodiversité qui l'a inscrite sur la liste du patrimoine mondial de l'Unesco.

Mais Socotra n'est pas seulement prisée en raison de sa richesse naturelle, comptant 700 espèces uniques au monde sur ses 3500 kilomètres carrés, mais sa position stratégique où Golfe d'Aden et mer Rouge se rencontrent.

Selon l'ancien premier ministre du Yémen Ahmed ben Dagher la prise de cette ile de 42000 habitants par les séparatistes du Conseil de Transition du sud signale la poursuite d' "une politique de division du Yémen”, ce dernier accusant l'Arabie saoudite de prôner la déchirure de ce pays qui fut scindé politiquement entre 1967 et 1990 avant sa réunification.

"Je pensais que vous n’aviez qu’un seul objectif, à savoir combattre les houthistes  et l’emprise iranienne sur le nord du pays, écrit-il sur un site d'information. Or aujourd’hui, ce n’est plus un secret pour personne que la lutte contre les houthistes n’est qu’un prétexte pour brouiller les cartes et faire passer le projet de la division du pays.” 

Le gouverneur de l'archipel en question accuse notamment les forces saoudiennes en présence sur l'ile de s'être retirées pour permettre aux séparatistes de saisir l'ile. La guerre au Yémen a selon certains estimés fait environ 100000 victimes et est à l'origine d'une crise humanitaire aggravée par l'éclosion du coronavirus.

Selon l'ONU le pays est au bord de la famine, et les agences ordinairement mobilisées pour lutter contre les carences alimentaires souffrent d'un manque de ressources attribuable à la pandémie, qui a notamment fait plusieurs victimes dans les pays donateurs. Dorénavant plus de deux tiers de la population au Yémen dépend de l'aide humanitaire.

Viennent s'ajouter à ces tragédies les désastres naturels du printemps, notamment sous forme d'inondations, faisant fuir des milliers de résidents côtiers tout en nourissant des éclosions de choléra, dengue et autres maladies.

La décla-ration de souveraineté du sud du pays en avril a également compliqué les efforts de l'ONU de faire durer un cessez-le-feu au Yémen, pays qui a connu un point tournant lors du renversement d'un gouvernement appuyé par l'Arabie saoudite. Les autres pays du Golfe sont accusés de miser sur la position stratégique de l'ile principale, notamment les Emirats arabes unis, soupçonnés de vouloir y installer un base militaire.

C'est l'accusation d'un proche du gouvernment du Yémen qui accuse les Emirats de vouloir mettre la main sur les ressources des iles, accusant Abou Dabi de soutenir le Conseil de Transition. Les Houthis quant à eux affirment avoir une liste de cibles de leurs opposants, non seulement en Arabie saoudite et aux Emirats mais en Israel, ce qui pourrait changer la nature du conflit.

Alors que le coronavirus atteint plus de victimes au Yémen les résidents accusent les migrants venus d'Afrique d'être responsables de sa propagation. Ces derniers sont par conséquent davantage arrêtés et maltraités par les autorités.

LE CÈDRE EN PLEURS

Partageant une frontière avec une Syrie chaotique et un état d'Israel toujours en ébullition, le Liban connait déjà une existence difficile en raison de la géopolitique régionale. Mais si les citoyens de cet ancien oasis de paix connaissent tant de douleur en ce moment c'est notamment pour des raisons internes et économiques.

La baisse du pouvoir d'achat et le désemploi ont poussé plusieurs Libanais au bord du désespoir depuis quelques temps, les rassemblement se multipliant non plus seulement pour protester contre le gouvernement mais se souvenir de ceux qui, accablés par la crise, se sont tragiquement enlevés la vie.

Les manifestations qui avaient été interrompues par la crise du covid, ont repris de plus belle car la crise sanitaire mondiale n'a qu'aggravé la situation financière et économique au pays, pôle commercial traditionnellement riche de la région réduit au silence suite à la fermeture massive des commerces et des licenciements.

"C'est un choc énorme, bien pire que la Grèce, que vit le Liban," note l'économiste Charbel Nahas. Voyant l'impact sur les fidèles, les chefs religieux se sont joint aux critiques du pouvoir, pourtant partagé entre les communautés religieuses, et fait appel à l'intervention du président. "Il semble que les politiciens veulent nier leur responsabilité après avoir vidé les caisses de l'état et ne veulent pas faire passer de réforme," sermonna le patriarche maronite Bechara Boutros Al-Rai.

Prisonnier de l'échiquier politique complexe de ce petit pays d'à peine 7 million d'habitants influencé par ses puissants voisins, le gouvernement n'a pu s'entendre sur un plan de sauvetage du FMI, chaque communauté religieuse craignant d'y perdre son influence.

A l'origine de la crise une corruption et un gaspillage de la classe politique, lourd héritage d'une guerre civile pourtant officiellement terminée depuis 30 ans. "O dirigeants respectés, déclara de son côté l'archévêque Grec orthodoxe Elias Audi, je m'adresse à ce qui peut vous rester de conscience. Dormez-vous paisiblement chaque nuit alors que ceux dont vous avez la charge crèvent de faim et meurent de soif ou se suicident?"

Ancien pays colonisateur, la France implore "de nour laisser vous aider" mais l'éternel équilibre politique interne demeure bien trop important selon certains observateurs. "Pour s'assurer à ce qu'ils ne perdent pas leur influence, (les diverses factions internes) préfèrent rester au bout du précipice plutôt que d'engager de sérieuses réformes," fait noter l'analyste Nasser Yassin.

De telles réformes "leur enlèveraient les outils dont elles ont besoin afin d'imposer leur autorité et leur contrôle sur l'état, l'économie et la société," un contrôle qui a étouffé l'économie à coup de corruption et pousse la société au désespoir, la laissant dans le noir. Les pannes d'électricité sont en effet tellement courantes que certains comptent les heures avec courant avec les doigts d'une seule main.

"Je m'asseois dans les escaliers pour avoir de la lumière, explique à Reuters Samira Hanna, résidente d'un bloc appartement. J'attends que l'électricité revienne pour pouvoir laver le linge. Dans le frigo, croyez-moi, il n'y a rien."