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Violent Protests Erupt in Chile Over Social Inequality

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  • Massive protests have broken out all over Chile, leaving at least 11 dead and 1,500 arrested.
  • The protests started over a transit fare hike, but have evolved to address broader economic issues such as rising costs for the poor and middle class.
  • The Chilean president declared a state of emergency and deployed the military, marking the first time anyone has done so since the dictatorship ended in 1990.

Protests Break Out

Large protests all over Chile rocked the country over the weekend, prompting President Sebastián Piñera to declare a state of emergency in numerous cities.

The protests started last Monday when hundreds of students swarmed several subway stations in the capital Santiago to hop turnstiles in protest of a transit fare hike.

The hike, which went into effect Oct. 6, followed other fare increases earlier this year.

While the protests started over fares, they quickly became about broader economic issues in the country.

Chile has become one of the wealthiest countries in South America, but it is also one of the most unequal economically. For poor and middle-class families, the cost of living has been rising while wages have remained the same.

Protestors are also blaming rising costs in part on widespread privatization policies. Healthcare, education, and many utilities have seen rising costs. Meanwhile, low wages have caused pension payouts to remain low because of poor contributions.

High prices for gas and electricity have also caused transportation costs to rise, which is significant because one of the highest costs for middle and low-income individuals is transportation.

According to The New York Times, for a person making an average monthly salary, about a fifth of that is spent on transportation costs.

Meanwhile, Piñera has an estimated net worth of $2.8 billion according to Forbes.

Protests Escalate

By Friday, the protests had escalated, with students damaging turnstiles, smashing glass, and vandalizing stations.

Videos also showed them throwing large objects like sheet metal onto subway tracks, and it was also reported that they set fires and barricades at metro station entrances. Subway services were canceled entirely all across Santiago.

The protests began to shift to the streets, with demonstrators setting fires and looting stores. Riot police reportedly responded by using tear gas and hitting protestors with batons, while armored military vehicles used water cannons to push demonstrators back.

Piñera addressed the violence late Friday by imposing a curfew and a state of emergency in Santiago, placing the military in charge of security in the city.

That declaration marked the first time that the military had been deployed to the streets for nearly 30 years, since the end of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1990.

During the nearly 17-year-long regime, a military junta patrolled the streets and committed mass human rights abuses, arresting, kidnapping, torturing, and murdering dissidents and others, many of whom were labeled “disappeared” by the government.

Piñera’s declaration prompted many to draw comparisons to military rule under Pinochet. However, the demonstrations still continued Saturday, with the protests spreading to several other cities across the country.

On Saturday night, Piñera announced that he was suspending the fare increase.

“I have listened with humility and with great attention to the voice of my compatriots,” he said in a televised statement.

Sunday Protests

That did not stop the protestors, who continued Sunday.

Some protests remained peaceful, with demonstrators banging on pots and pans and waving pictures of people who had been disappeared during the dictatorship.

Others, however, engaged in more violent tactics, continuing to set fires and loot stores. Police also continued to respond by firing tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets at protestors.

Shops and offices were forced to close, and flights were canceled or delayed at Santiago international airport. 

As of Sunday night, 11 people had been killed in the violence. According to reports three people were killed on Saturday, while eight people were killed in fires on Sunday. Many more civilians and police have been injured.

The government has also claimed that 1,500 people have been arrested, which is significant because Piñera has said he will invoke the State Security Law to prosecute people involved in the attacks on the subways. That law carries prison sentences of three to five years.

On Sunday night, the state of emergency was extended to five other cities, and Piñera said he would extend it to more on Monday.

While speaking during a televised address Piñera said, “We are at war against a powerful enemy, who is willing to use violence without any limits.”

Those words angered many Chileans for two main reasons. First, they echoed a similar declaration made by Pinochet. Second, labeling protestors as criminals shows them that he does not actually care about their concerns, which go way beyond the fare hike.

Now, many are speculating his words will just further feed the flames.

With Santiago still in a state of emergency, a lot of the city still remained shut down with schools closed on Monday.

Also on Monday, Chilean authorities attempted to clear the wreckage and re-open public transportation. Protesters, meanwhile, have called for a general strike to take place.

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

International

U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.

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The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.


New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle

A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.

Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.

In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.

The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.

Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.

However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”

The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased. 

In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.

High Court Ruling

The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.” 

“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”

Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”

The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.

If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.

Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.

U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe

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The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.


More Information About Omicron

Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.

One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.

Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa —  where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.

Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.

In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.

Studies on Vaccine Efficacy 

Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.

On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.

According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses. 

By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.

Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.

Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)

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40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox

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The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.


Camels Booted From Beauty Contest

More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.

The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.

However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”

Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.

An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.

“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”

While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.

In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (The Guardian) (ABC News)

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