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Russian Firm Ran Extensive Disinformation Campaign in Sudan

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  • A Russian company linked to an oligarch close to Vladimir Putin launched an extensive campaign to spread misinformation and encourage violence against anti-government protestors in Sudan.
  • Russia has economic and military interests in Sudan, which is a key foothold for them in Africa.
  • The Kremlin also had close ties to former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who was overthrown by a military coup on April 11.

Sudan Protest Timeline

A Russian company connected to an oligarch with ties to the Kremlin developed a strategy to stop anti-government protests in Sudan through disseminating disinformation and advocating for violence, according to documents reviewed by CNN.

In December, anti-government protests broke out all across Sudan over steep price hikes and shortages. The demonstrators initially called for economic reforms, but quickly shifted to calls for the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who had been in power for 30 years, to step down.

The protests continued over the next few months. In response, security forces launched a violent crackdown that killed dozens of people and led to thousands of arrests.

Then, towards the end of February, al-Bashir escalated these efforts. He declared a state of emergency and banned all unauthorized gathering. He also dissolved the federal and provincial governments to install security forces, essentially giving them a blank check to end the protests at all costs. After the state of emergency was declared, the protests slowed, but they did not stop.

However, the protests gained momentum again in April after the Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who had held power for 20 years, resigned following similar demonstrations in his country. The Sudanese protests reached a tipping point on April 6, when demonstrators staged a huge multi-day protest outside the military’s headquarters, which is near the presidential residence in the capital city Khartoum.

Again, these protestors were met with violence and arrests from security forces, but the sit-in at military headquarters worked.

On April 11, al-Bashir was removed from power by a military coup and arrested. A military council was installed to oversee a transition of power that the military says will last at most two years. Demonstrators have demanded that the military ruler hand over power to a civilian-led government immediately.

The Russian Campaign

The documents reviewed by CNN shed light on the extent of Russian involvement in al-Bashir’s violent crackdown.

CNN reported that they received the documents from a London-based firm called the Dossier Center and that they included several thousand letters and internal company communications. The documents originate from a Russian-based company called M-Invest that has an office in Khartoum.

According to those documents, M-Invest drew up plans to “discredit and suppress” the protests in Sudan as part of an effort to keep al-Bashir in power. This effort included: “spreading misinformation on social media, blaming Israel for fomenting the unrest, and even carrying out public executions to make an example of ‘looters,’” according to CNN.

CNN stated that the documents were credible and consistent with witnesses who have said they saw Russian “observers” at recent protests. They also said that multiple government and military sources in Khartoum have confirmed to CNN that al-Bashir’s government had received the plans and began to act on them before he was ousted.

One document from January suggested creating fake evidence “of arson by protesters against mosques, hospitals and nurseries, [and] stealing grain from the public store.”  It also proposed portraying the demonstrators as “enemies of Islam and traditional values”— which is the majority religion in Sundan– by planting LGBT flags around them.

Source: CNN

Other recommendations from M-Invest found in the documents included arresting protest leaders the day before demonstrations were set to occur, creating social media teams and accounts to attack the protests, and spreading disinformation saying that demonstrators were being paid to protest.

M-Invest even went as far as advocating for “public executions of looters and other spectacular events to distract the protest-minded audience.”

Ties to Putin & The Russian Government

The documents did not find that Russian security agencies were directly involved in the campaign, but the implicit connections between M-Invest and the Russian government are significant.

The Russian oligarch tied to M-Invest, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is known as “Putin’s Chef” because he held catering contracts with the Krelim. It is unclear exactly how Prigozhin is tied to M-Invest, with some reports saying he is the founder, while others have said the company represents his interests.

What is clear is his involvement in the campaign against the protests. CNN specifically referenced two letters from Prigozhin regarding the protests. The first letter, from March 17, stated that the Sudanese government’s “inaction” to stop the protests had “provoked the intensification of the crisis.”

Source: CNN

In the second letter, from April 6, praised Prigozhin praised al-Bashir as a “wise and far-sighted leader.”

Additionally, M-Invest’s relationship with Sudan goes back farther than just the protests. According to CNN, a letter from June 2018 written by M-Invest on behalf of Sudan’s Military Industrial Corporation to push closer military links with Russia was sent to the chief of the Russian armed forces.

Source: CNN

CNN also saw a contract between M-Invest and the Russian Defense Ministry for the use of transport aircraft. One of those planes was known to have been used by al-Bashir.

In addition to his ties to Sudan, Prigozhin was one of 13 Russians charged in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference. Prigozhin has been accused of financing and directing efforts by the Russian firm Internet Research Agency, which was one of the main Russian firms that used fake social media accounts to spread disinformation in an attempt to influence the 2016 election. He has denied any involvement in the election or any connection to the Internet Research Agency.

Why Did Russia Do It?

Russia’s keen interest in Sudan stems from its geographic location. Sudan is a key place for Russia to spread its influence in Africa. Russia currently has a mix of private and state interests in Sudan that benefit both oligarchs and the Russian government. These interests give Russia a strategic foothold in the region.

Additionally, Russia has been considering developing a naval base at Port Sudan in order to counter recent efforts by both the United States and China to establish a military presence in the region– another fact that was confirmed in the Dossier documents.

Over the years, al-Bashir pursued a close relationship with the Kremlin. He first visited Moscow in 2017, and Russia also supplied fighter jets to Sudan right before that meeting.

Russia has placed a big bet on al-Bashir, which meant they had a vested interest in keeping him installed as the president. When anti-regime protests started gaining momentum, Russia’s foothold and interests in the country, and thus in the region as a whole, were threatened.

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

International

Bolivia’s President Resigns After Report Finds “Clear Manipulation” of Votes

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  • Bolivian President Evo Morales resigned Sunday after the Organization of American States released an audit saying it had found “clear manipulation” of election results that secured him a fourth term.
  • Morales has called the situation in Bolivia a “coup” orchestrated by his rival, Carlos Mesa.
  • A slew of Morales’ senior officials also resigned, with Second Vice President of the Senate Jeanine Añez saying she will assume the role as transitional president while new elections are held.

Morales Resigns

Bolivian President Evo Morales resigned Sunday following the release of an audit by the Organization of American States, which said it had found evidence of the “clear manipulation” of electoral votes.

Morales had faced strong opposition since he was elected for his fourth term on Oct. 20. That opposition came to a blistering head on Sunday after the OAS’s report led to the national police and heads of Bolivia’s armed forces calling on Morales to step down.

In the report, auditors said the voting transmission system had not been “100% monitored” and that at one point, information was redirected. Because of this, auditors couldn’t have certainty over the results. 

Auditors also said that “good practices” were not used when conducting the official vote count because the voting system allowed someone to take control of parts of the process that were intended to be secure. Auditors even said that at one point, the system was frozen and fixed in a way that violated “essential principles of security.” 

The OAS then concluded that 78 of the total 333 evaluated vote counts from polling stations showed irregularities, noting that the last 5% of votes were especially odd because they showed an increase for Morales while his opponent, Carlos Mesa, dropped significantly.

Still, prior to the report’s publication, Morales had promised to stand by it and hold new elections if it found evidence of fraud.

In his resignation, Morales claimed he was leaving to ease the violence that has plagued Bolivia since the election last month. 

“We resign because I don’t want to see any more families attacked by instruction of Mesa and [opposition leader Luis Fernando] Camacho,” he said Sunday. “This is not a betrayal to social movements. The fight continues. We are the people, and thanks to this political union, we have freed Bolivia. We leave this homeland freed.”

“Mesa and Camacho have achieved their objective,” he added. “Now stop burning the houses of my brothers and sisters.”

On Twitter, Morales also threw a shot at a police officer who he said was attempting to “illegally” arrest him; however, the head of the national police denied that any warrants had been issued for Morales. 

“The coup mongers are destroying the rule of law,” Morales also said on Twitter.

Mesa, on the other hand, celebrated the news of the audit and Morales’ resignation. 

“To Bolivia, its people, the young, the women, to the heroism of peaceful resistance. I will never forget this unique day. The end of tyranny. I’m grateful to the Bolivian people for this historic lesson. Long live Bolivia!”

“We shall not permit the ex-president to use the excuse of a coup,” Mesa told reporters. “This was not a coup.”

Protesters Ransack Government Officials’ Homes

While some media outlets in Bolivia reported celebrations in certain areas, there were also widespread reports of violence against senior members of Morales’ Movement for Socialism party.

According to Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, the Mexican embassy in the city of La Paz sheltered 20 of Morales’ senior officials on Sunday as protesters ransacked and burned their homes.

Video posted to Twitter also shows people walking through Morales’ home after it had been ransacked. Mexico has now offered him political asylum.

Some protesters even went so far as to reportedly kidnap the brother of Victor Borda, the President of the Chamber of Deputies.

In the city streets, police withdrew from La Paz following Morales’ resignation. While some people celebrated by chanting “Yes, we could!” and by setting off fireworks, others looted stores. Other people started what appeared to be politically-motivated fires.

Other Countries React

Morales’ resignation has ignited a firestorm of reactions from other countries.

In addition to offering Morales political asylum, the Mexican president called the situation regrettable, while Foreign Secretary Ebrard echoed Morales’ calls of a “coup.”

Like Mexico, Nicaragua came to Morales’ defense, with President Daniel Ortega saying, “The government of Nicaragua … denounces and strongly condemns the coup d’etat that was realised today.” 

Similarly, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro took to Twitter to call the situation a “coup,” also saying that rallies would be held to defend “the life of the Bolivian native people, victims of racism.”

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom, described Morales as the leader of a powerful movement and said that he “has brought so much social progress.”

I condemn this coup against the Bolivian people and stand with them for democracy, social justice and independence,” Corbyn said.

In the U.S., the reaction has been mixed. 

Along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) denounced the situation as a coup.

We must unequivocally oppose political violence in Bolivia. Bolivians deserve free and fair elections,” Omar said.

On the other hand, President Donald Trump celebrated Morales’ resignation, calling it a “significant moment for democracy.”

“After nearly 14 years and his recent attempt to override the Bolivian constitution and the will of the people, Morales’s departure preserves democracy and paves the way for the Bolivian people to have their voices heard,” Trump said in a statement.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also commended the OAS in supporting a new election.

Additionally, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro lent his support to holding new elections. 

Who Will Lead Bolivia?

Following Morales’ resignation, his vice president, the Senate president, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, and the first vice president of the Senate also resigned. Respectively, those resignations eliminate the first through the fourth people in line to succeed Morales. 

In terms of succession, the next in line is Second Vice President of the Senate Jeanine Añez, who said she would step up as a transitional president, but she also needs quorum from the national assembly. Currently, the Movement for Socialism Party controls both houses and Añez has been described as strongly anti-Morales.

As for a new election, under the Bolivian constitution, elections must be held within 90 days of a constitutional crisis. Should she get transfer of power, Añez has said she’ll work to hold that election.

At the same time, Morales is reportedly hiding out, but that has not stopped him from reaching out to his supporters on social media and urging to resist forming a transitional government

“You never abandoned me and I will never abandon you,” he said Monday morning. 

See what others are saying: (Axios) (Reuters) (Aljazeera)

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Japanese Women Fight for the Right to Wear Glasses at Work

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  • Japanese women are speaking out against common workplace policies that restrict them from wearing glasses on the job. 
  • Domestic airlines argued their ban is for safety issues and beauty industries said glasses prevent people from clearly seeing a worker’s makeup. Meanwhile, shop assistants were told glasses give off a “cold impression” and traditional restaurants argued they don’t go well with traditional Japanese dress. 
  • The rule has reignited outrage over strict beauty standards for women just months after widespread anger over commonplace high heel requirements. 

Glasses Restriction for Female Employees 

Women in Japan are speaking out against companies who restrict them from wearing glasses to work, the latest demand that has sparked outrage over strict beauty standards for female employees.  

The hashtag “glasses are forbidden” began trending on social media this week after Japan’s Nippon TV aired a story about employers who require their female workers to wear contact lenses instead of glasses. The program followed a similar report published by Business Insider Japan late last month. 

Source: Twitter @yuki_09260613

The TV program listed a number of reasons companies gave for not wanting women to wear glasses while on the job.  According to Quartz, Domestic airlines explained that the policy is for safety reasons, meanwhile, companies in the beauty industry stated that it was hard to see an employee’s make-up behind glasses. 

Other major retail chains said their female shop assistants give off a “cold impression” when wearing glasses while traditional Japanese restaurants argued that glasses do not go well with traditional Japanese dress. 

Japanese women on social media confirmed those claims with similar experiences of their own. One Twitter user said she was told by an employer that glasses did not appeal to customers. Another painfully remembered being forced to wear contact lenses while recovering from an eye infection, according to translations reported by Fortune.  

Push Back Against Beauty Norms 

The restriction on glasses is the latest demand that has sparked outrage over outdated female beauty standards in the country. In March of this year, women rallied against the common requirement that women wear high heels to work.

The dress code policy sparked the hashtag KuToo, a phrased inspired by the #MeToo movement as well as a play on the Japanese words Kutsu (shoes) and Kutsuu (pain). 

“If wearing glasses is a real problem at work it should be banned for everyone — men and women,” said Yumi Ishikawa, the actor and writer credited with starting the movement against the high heel policy. In a statement to Fortune, she added, “This problem with glasses is the exact same as high heels. It’s only a rule for female workers.”

There are concerns that companies and officials will not condemn the glasses ban, especially after the response to the dress code complaints.

A group submitted a petition to the government in June calling on them to ban the high heel shoe requirement. However, activists were aggravated by the fact that Health, Labor, and Welfare Minister Takumi Nemoto defended the mandate. 

“It’s generally accepted by society that (wearing high heels) is necessary and reasonable in workplaces,” Nemoto said at a Diet committee session, according to a report by Kyodo News. As of now, there has been no changes to the rules governing dress codes. 

The criticism over the glasses ban has also drawn comparisons to similar beauty standards questioned in South Korea last year. A female news anchor challenged beauty norms by wearing glasses on her early morning show, making her the first female presenter for a major TV network to do so. 

South Korean Lim Hyeon-ju in full makeup and contact lenses, and in her glasses. MBC News/YouTube/Business Insider

Viewers were shocked and impressed to see a woman wearing glasses while delivering the news, a move that prompted a local airline to change its own policy and allow female cabin crew to wear glasses. 

See what others are saying: (Fortune) (BBC) (Quartz)

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Toxic Smog Forces Emergency Measures in New Delhi

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  • A poisonous smog in New Delhi, India has caused the government to declare a public health emergency, shutting down schools and halting construction projects.
  • As the city’s 20 million people battle respiratory problems, headaches, and burning eyes, the government has implemented vehicle restrictions that require people to alternate between days they can drive based on their license plate number.
  • The pollution, which has become a reoccurring problem for New Delhi this time of year, is caused by a combination of farmers burning crops mixed with vehicle emissions and pollution from firework displays celebrating the Hindu holiday Diwali.
  • As a result, many have criticized the government for not doing enough to deal with the pollution and argued that their proposals are only short-term fixes to a long-term problem.

Toxic Smog

Record levels of toxic smog have engulfed the Indian capital of New Delhi as government officials scramble to control the situation.

The poisonous smog, which the Delhi Chief Minister described as “unbearable pollution,” has taken over the city of more than 20 million people since late last week. 

It is not currently clear how high the pollution levels are.

Over the weekend, it was reported that the levels were literally off the charts, with some people reporting that most areas in the city showed an air quality index of 999 because the meters can not record above that.

That number is three times higher than the “hazardous” level on the global air quality index.

According to other sources, the levels of dangerous particulates were more than 20 times higher than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended safe daily maximum, which is the equivalent of smoking more than two packs of cigarettes a day.

Government Response

The Indian government responded on Friday by declaring a public health emergency, shutting down all primary schools, and halting construction projects for several days. 

The government also said it would distribute masks to five million children in the city.

People have been encouraged to stay inside as much as they can as reports of respiratory problems, headaches, and burning eyes continue.

On Sunday, flights were delayed and diverted due to the fact that pilots could not see through the smog. The smog has also caused traffic and car accidents.

Officials in New Delhi on Monday started restricting the use of private vehicles to try to help lift the pollution. 

Under those restrictions, people can only use their cars on alternating days: Cars with odd-number license plates can drive on odd dates and cars with even-numbered plates can drive on even-numbered dates. Anyone found violating the restrictions will face a fine.

According to reports, the restrictions will not apply on Sunday. Additionally, the seven million motorbikes and scooters registered in the city are exempt from the restrictions, as are those taking public transportation and cars carrying only women.

Yearly Occurrence

While the dangerous smog in New Delhi is certainly significant, it is not something new.

In fact, this kind of air pollution is something that has been happening in New Delhi annually in recent years around this time. It is caused by a combination of a few things that all come together in especially bad timing.

One of the main causes of pollution is crop fires. Every winter, farmers in the surrounding areas of New Delhi in northern India burn old crops to make room to grow new crops.

The smoke and fumes from that process then drift to the suburbs and city, where they mix with construction dust and car emissions.

To make matters worse, that already toxic combination then mixes with smoke from fireworks displays during the Hindu holiday Diwali, which also happens at this time of the year.

However, because so much of the pollution comes from the crop burning, many have criticized the vehicle alternation restrictions, arguing that it will ultimately not do much.

Leaders in New Delhi⁠— which in the past has been labeled the most polluted city in the world⁠— have said any efforts they have made to clear up pollution have been undone by farmers burning crops in nearby states, and largely blamed the farmers.

But others have noted that New Delhi frequently does not meet air quality guidelines even when it is not crop-burning and firework season, arguing that the capital has a major issue with traffic pollution.

According to scientists at India’s state-run weather monitor SAFAR, crop burning in nearby states only contributes to just over 40% of Delhi’s pollution.

Taking that data into account, it appears that not just the farmers are responsible, prompting accusations that the politicians are just trying to scapegoat them.

In fact, back in September, even before the recent pollution crisis, government officials had already announced that they would implement the alternating odd-even car rule in early November.

Those restrictions have also been applied before, most recently in 2016. 

Broader Problem

While the pollution crisis in Delhi right now is extreme, it is part of a much bigger problem for India as a whole.

In May 2018, a study by the World Health Organization found that out of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world, nine of them were in India.

As a result, many have called on the government to take more accountability and actually do something, arguing that short-term band-aid solutions are not going to change anything.

On Saturday, people in New Delhi protested the lack of government action outside Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence.

On Monday, India’s Supreme Court criticized both national and state governments for not doing anything to curb the pollution.

“This can’t go on,” the high court said in a report. “People aren’t safe even inside their houses and rooms.”

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (Al Jazeera)

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