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Subtitle

LA GUERRE?

L
a 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 es
poir 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.