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Comedian Who Plays Ukrainian President on TV Elected as Actual President

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  • Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian with no political experience, won the Ukrainian presidential election by a landslide Sunday, beating President Petro Poroshenko.
  • Zelensky is best known for playing a teacher who unexpectedly becomes president of Ukraine in a popular TV show
  • Zelensky has promised to crack down on corruption and end the war with Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine but has not outlined any specific ways to do so
  • Many are worried he will be susceptible to Russian pressure.

Volodymyr Zelensky Wins Election

Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky won the Ukrainian presidential election by a landslide on Sunday, defeating incumbent president Petro Poroshenko with over 73 percent of the vote.

Zelensky has no political experience and is most famous for starring in a television show that translates to Servant of the People, where he plays a teacher who unintentionally becomes the president of Ukraine. He declared victory last night after the results came in.

“To all Ukrainians, no matter where you are, I promise that I will never let you down,” Zelensky said in his victory speech. “Though I’m still not president, I can say as a Ukrainian citizen to all the countries of the former Soviet Union: Look at us. Everything is possible.”

Poroshenko for his part readily conceded his post as president. “Next month, I will leave the post of the head of state,” said Poroshenko in his formal concession. “That’s how the majority of Ukrainians decided, and I accept this decision.”

Poroshenko also applauded the election process itself in a tweet where he wrote: “Ukraine has put a new high standard for the democratic electoral campaign.”

What Next?

Poroshenko’s concession seems to signal there will be a smooth transition of power when Zelensky assumes office next month.

With this historic election, many are wondering what this means for Ukraine. In many ways, Sunday’s election was a sort of referendum for how Ukrainian’s see the political establishment. Specifically, how they perceive the establishment five years after the 2014 Ukranian Revolution overthrew the government and Russia annexed Crimea, which was part of Ukraine.

Given the results of the election, it is clear that many Ukranian’s are unhappy with the current state of affairs and how the government is handling them. Zelensky is extremely popular because he is viewed as a fresh new leader who does not have ties to Ukraine’s political elite.

He campaigned on promises to crack down on corruption and uproot the political elites that have a ton of political influence. He also promised to end the war in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and Russian separatists, which has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.

However, Zelensky has not said exactly how he will achieve these goals at all.

The Russia Question

In addition to not having outlined policies and plans, many people are also worried that Zelensky is unqualified to deal with Russia. One of Poroshenko’s main criticisms during the campaign was that Zelensky would be unprepared for a confrontation with Russia.

Zelensky has said he will have open dialogues with Russia and has promised not to give away any Ukranian-owned territory in negotiations with Vladimir Putin. However, both experts and politicians are worried he will make Ukraine more susceptible to Russian influence.

Russia has reportedly been careful not to show outright support for Zelensky because if they did, they would likely tank his popularity. However, experts have said that it is fairly evident that Putin wanted Poroshenko out.

Poroshenko addressed the Russia question in a tweet Sunday night writing that the Kremlin “believe that with a new inexperienced Ukrainian President Ukraine could be quickly returned to Russia’s orbit of influence.”

Questionable Ties to Ihor Kolomoisky

Despite his promise to crack down on corruption and elites, Zelensky has been criticized for his close ties to a wealthy oligarch named Ihor Kolomoisky.

Some have even said that Zelensky is just the surrogate for Kolomoisky, who is a well-known rival of Poroshenko. Kolomoisky moved to Israel after he was involved in a multi-billion dollar banking scandal.

Kolomoisky and Zelensky have been business partners through their work on television. The television show Zelensky stars in is broadcasted on Kolomoisky’s TV channel, and Zelensky even announced his candidacy on the channel.

Both men have denied that Kolomoisky has any connections to Zelensky’s campaign. Zelensky has promised that he will not be influenced by Kolomoisky while in office.

Regardless of what happens next, Zelensky’s win represents part of the broader global trend of political outsiders using television and social media to win elections against more traditional establishment candidates.

Ukraine’s election will also likely effect Russia and other former-Soviet Union countries, many of which do not have democratic electoral systems. However, unlike other underdog leaders that have been elected recently, Zelensky has come out against populist ideas that have become more and more prominent, like hostility toward immigrants and minorities.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The Washington Post) (The Guardian)

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Canada Hires Company to Remove Its Trash After the Philippines Announced Plans to Send It Back at Its Own Expense

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  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered his government to ship tons of trash back to Canada that he says was illegally dumped in the Philippines.
  • However, shortly after this announcement, Canada said that it would hire a shipping company to remove the trash by the end of June.
  • The trash was originally sent to the Philippians between 2013 and 2014 by Chronic Plastics, Inc., a private Canadian company.

Trash War

The Philippines announced Wednesday plans to ship tons of trash that it says was illegally dumped in Manila, back to Canada after years of waiting for something to be done.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered his government to hire a private shipping company to take 69 containers of trash back. “The government of the Philippines will shoulder all expenses. And we do not mind,” said Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo.

“If Canada will not accept their trash, we will leave the same within its territorial waters or 12 nautical miles out to sea from the baseline of any of their country’s shores.”

“The president’s stance is as principled as it is uncompromising: The Philippines as an independent sovereign nation must not be treated as trash by other foreign nations. We hope this message resonates well with the other countries of the world.”

Between 2013 and 2014, the approximately 2,450 tons of trash was sent to the Philippines by Chronic Plastics Inc., a private Canadian company, under the guise of being recyclables. Once it arrived in Manila, inspectors found that the containers were filled with “non-recyclable plastics, household wastes, and adult diapers,” according to the Philippine News Agency.

Canada’s Response

After Duterte’s announcement, Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said that the government had hired Bolloré Logistics Canada to remove the trash by the end of June.

McKenna also said that all the costs associated with the preparation, transfer, shipment, and disposal of the waste will be covered by the Canadian government.

As of now it is unclear which country’s plan will be implemented.

Past Moves

Over the years Canada and the Philippines have been in multiple talks to find a solution for the trash. Last month, Duterte threatened to go to war over the trash.

We’ll declare war against them,” Duterte said, “I will advise Canada that your garbage is on the way. Prepare a grand reception. Eat it if you want to.”

Check out our past coverage on the trash war.

Earlier this month, Canada missed a May 15th deadline to repatriate the trash and the Philippines removed top diplomats from the country. This trash issue is not the only conflict the two countries have had. Last year the Philippines canceled a multimillion-dollar agreement for 16 helicopters after Canada questioned their intended use.

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (CBC) (CNN Philippines)

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Al Jazeera Suspends Journalists for Controversial Holocaust Video

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  • Al Jazeera posted a video on their youth-focused channel AJ+ that said Jewish people had intentionally misrepresented how bad the Holocaust was for them, and claimed that “Israel is the biggest winner from the Holocaust.”
  • The video, which was in Arabic, attracted widespread condemnation after a U.S.-based nonprofit called The Middle East Media Research Institute posted a translated version of it.
  • Al Jazeera removed the post and suspended two journalists involved with making the video.

AJ+ Video

Qatar-based multination publication Al Jazeera suspended two journalists who published a video that claimed Jewish people deliberately exaggerated the Holocaust so that Israel could benefit.

The video was posted on May 18 by AJ+ Arabic, Al Jazeera’s youth-focused channel that creates short video explainers designed for social media.  It was reportedly posted on the Twitter and Facebook accounts for AJ+ and received hundreds of thousands of views before it was taken down.

The video was posted in Arabic, but it started to get backlash after the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a U.S.-based nonprofit, posted an English translation of the video.

Screenshot of MEMRI’s Translation

After the video started receiving criticism, Al Jazeera tweeted that they deleted the video because it “violated the editorial standards of the Network.”

The following day, the publication said in a statement that it “has taken disciplinary action and suspended two of its journalists” over the video.

“Dr. Yaser Bishr, Executive Director of Digital Division, stated that Al Jazeera completely disowns the offensive content in question and reiterated that Al Jazeera would not tolerate such material on any of the Network’s platforms,” the statement said. “In an email to staff he also called for the mandatory bias training and awareness program.”

The statement also said that Dima Khatib, the Managing Director of AJ+ Channels, claimed that  “the video was produced without the due oversight,” and added that workflows were being reviewed.

The Video

According to MEMRI’s, the video was posted with the caption, “The Gas Chambers Killed Millions of Jews – That’s How the Story Goes. What Is the Truth behind the Holocaust and How Did the Zionist Movement Benefit from It?”

Based on MEMRI’s translations, the video starts out with the narrator saying, “The narrative that six million Jews were killed by the Nazi movement was adopted by the Zionist movement.” The narrator then goes on to explain what happened in the Holocaust, describing the persecution of Jews and other groups.

Then the narrator says that the Jews were only part of the many groups murdered by the Nazis and asks, “So why is there a focus only on them?”

“Jewish groups had financial resources, media institutions, research centers, and academic voices that managed to put a special spotlight on the Jewish victims of the Nazis,” she continued.

She then claims that the number of people who died in the Holocaust is still being debated today and asks the question: “How did Israel benefit from the Holocaust?”

The narrator goes on to discuss the 1933 Transfer Agreement, where Zionist groups negotiated with Nazis to allow thousands of German Jews to leave for Palestine, and then makes the argument that Israel greatly benefited from this.

“Israel is the biggest winner from the Holocaust, and it uses the same Nazi justifications as a launching pad for the racial cleansing and annihilation of the Palestinians,” the narrator said.

She concludes the video by asserting that the idea behind the “State of Israel” comes from concepts “that suckled from the Nazi spirit and its main notions.”

Response

Following the incident, numerous people took to Twitter to condemn Al Jazeera.

Emmanuel Nahshon, the spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry called the video “the worst kind of pernicious evil” in a tweet, and argued that it “perpetuates hatred of Israel and the Jews.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Arabic media spokesperson, Ofir Gendelman, also expressed disdain in a tweet, writing that the video was “spreading lies about it & about Israel, specifically on #Ramadan in order to incite the masses.”

Others outside of Israel also criticized Al Jazeera. Donald Trump Jr. joined in on Twitter, writing, “Al-Jazeera is now openly publishing Holocaust Denial videos on their facebook page. Will @facebook take action & ban them for this like they’ve done to conservatives for far less?

Al Jazeera English v. Al Jazeera Arabic

Others who criticized Al Jazeera on Twitter highlighted the differences between the publication’s English networks, like Al Jazeera English and AJ+ English, and their Arabic-language networks and content.

One user posted screenshots of the video posted to AJ+ Arabic next to a video about a Holocaust survivor posted on AJ+ English the same day.

“Don’t be fooled by AJ‘s polished facade for its gullible Western audience,” another user wrote on Twitter. “AJ isn’t news, it’s state-controlled propaganda.”

This discussion was also hit on in an article published by BBC. In the article, BCC notes that Al Jazeera English is known for its “varied coverage,” and shining a light on “underreported stories.”

However, that reporting “comes in stark contrast to Al Jazeera Arabic,” the article stated, continuing that Al Jazeera’s Arabic networks often include “friendly coverage of Islamist groups – particularly favouring those aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

This compare and contrast is interesting because Al Jazeera is considered a very reliable source among U.S. audiences, but at the end of the day, it is a multinational media network that is funded by the Qatari government.

If Al Jazeera’s Arabic coverage is catered so differently to its Middle Eastern audiences, it inevitably raises questions about its legitimacy and reporting in the U.S.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Haaretz) (The Guardian)

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Taiwan Becomes First in Asia to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

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  • Taiwan’s Parliament passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage on Friday, making it the first in Asia to do so.
  • The decision comes after a 2017 ruling by Taiwan’s Constitutional Court which found that disallowing same-sex marriage violated the country’s constitution, and gave the government two years to pass a law legalizing it.
  • Supporters of the bill are optimistic it will set an example for other Asian nations, while opponents say it does not support the will of the people, who overwhelmingly voted against legalization in a referendum last November.

Parliament Passes Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Taiwan became the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage after the country’s Parliament approved a bill Friday.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei, in anticipation of Friday’s vote. Gathered outside the Parliament building, supporters cheered when the decision was announced.

The Parliament’s announcement came after lawmakers considered three separate bills and ultimately decided on the most progressive of the three, which was passed with a vote of 66-27. The legislation chosen was the only one that defined a same-sex relationship as “marriage,” while the other bills used terms like “same-sex union.”

The bill will take effect after Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, signs it into law. Ing-wen campaigned on marriage equality in 2016, and praised the passage of the bill on Twitter, writing, “We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”

Once the law goes into effect, it will give same-sex couples many of the same tax, insurance, and child custody benefits that are allowed to heterosexual married couples. It will also allow limited adoption rights, though it is unclear if those rights will extend to the adoption of non-blood relatives.

Taiwan’s Progressive History

Taiwan has been applauded as a champion and leader of gay rights in the region, well before the passage of the new bill.

Its annual gay pride parade in Taipei is known for attracting tens of thousands of people from all over the continent, making it the largest pride parade in East Asia.

In 2017, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ruled that the laws that prohibited same-sex couples from marrying violated the Taiwanese constitution. The court then gave the government two years to pass a law legalizing same-sex marriage.

However, same-sex marriage remained a divisive subject in Taiwan. Following the 2017 ruling, conservative and religious opponents stalled the passage of a new law legalizing gay marriage. Opponents also pressured the government into holding a referendum on whether or not the public wanted gay marriage to be legal.

The referendum, which was held in Novemeber, showed that Taiwanese voters overwhelmingly opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage, and favored the definition of marriage as the union of a man and woman.  

Taiwan’s ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), responded to the referendum by drafting two competing bills that would align with both the Constitutional Court’s decision and the results of the referendum. Unsurprisingly, those bills were strongly opposed by the LBGTQ+ community.

Taiwan’s Parliament ultimately did not choose those two bills, instead opting for the bill supported by the LGBTQ+ community, as represented by the vote on Friday. While marriage equality advocates have criticized the limits on adoption rights for same-sex couples, they still favored the bill that was passed over the other versions.

While supporters celebrated the bill’s passage, opponents of legalizing gay marriage expressed their anger. “How can we ignore the result of the referendums, which demonstrated the will of the people?” said John Wu, a lawmaker who is part of the opposition Kuomintang party. “Can we find an appropriate compromise solution? We need more dialogue in society.”

Potential Implications for the Region

Taiwan’s decision to legalize gay marriage makes it the first to do so in a region where gay rights have fallen wayside.

With the new law, many hope that Taiwan will set an example for other countries in the region. Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, applauded Taiwan for leading the way for LGBTQ+ rights in Asia “amid growing authoritarianism and rights abuses in other countries throughout the region.”

However, it remains unclear if other Asian nations will follow suit. While countries like China and Vietnam have decriminalized homosexuality, gay marriage still remains illegal.

Other Asian nations still are slow to embrace change concerning LGBTQ+ rights.

Until last year, gay sex was considered a criminal offense in India which was punishable by up to ten years in jail. Just last month, Brunei implemented new laws that made gay sex and adultery punishable by stoning to death.

Brunei later walked back on the law after massive international protest. It now claims it will not enforce the death penalty, though gay sex will still be punished by jail time in the country.

That said, others are optimistic about strides some Asian nations are taking. Thailand has proposed a law that would recognize same-sex partnerships, and last year a Hong Kong court ruled that same-sex couples that live in the city would be allowed the same rights to visas as heterosexual couples who are married.

Same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in Hong Kong, but public opinion polls show that support for marriage equality is gaining traction.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (BBC) (The Washington Post)

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