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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)

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New Zealand Considers Banning Cigarettes For People Born After 2004

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  • New Zealand announced a series of proposals that aim to outlaw smoking for the next generation with the hopes of being smoke-free by 2025.
  • Among the proposed provisions are plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and possibly prohibit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to anyone born after 2004; effectively banning smoking for that generation.
  • Beyond that, the level of nicotine in products will likely be significantly reduced, setting a minimum price for tobacco and heavily restricting where it can be sold.
  • The proposals have proven to be popular as one in four New Zealand cancer deaths are tobacco-related, but some have criticized them as government overreach and worry a ban could lead to a bigger and more robust black market.

Smoke Free 2025

New Zealand announced sweeping new proposals on Thursday that would effectively phase out the use of tobacco products, a move that is in line with its hopes to become a smoke-free country by 2025.

Among a number of provisions, the proposals include plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and bar anyone born after 2004 from buying tobacco products. Such a ban would effectively end tobacco sales after a few decades. The government is also considering significantly reducing the level of nicotine allowed in tobacco products, prohibiting filters, restricting locations where tobacco products can be purchased, and setting a steep minimum price for tobacco.

“We need a new approach.” Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verral said when announcing the changes on Thursday. 

“About 4,500 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco, and we need to make accelerated progress to be able to reach [a Smoke Free 2025]. Business-as-usual without a tobacco control program won’t get us there.”

The proposals received a large welcome from public health organizations and local groups. Shane Kawenata Bradbrook, an advocate for smoke-free Maori communities, told The Guardian that the plan “will begin the final demise of tobacco products in this country.” 

The Cancer Society pointed out that these proposals would help combat health inequities in the nation, as tobacco stores were four times more likely to be in low-income neighborhoods, where smoking rates are highest.

Not Without Flaws

The proposals weren’t completely without controversy. There are concerns that a complete ban could bankrupt “dairy” store owners (the equivalent to a U.S. convenience store) who rely on tobacco sales to stay afloat. 

There are also concerns that prohibition largely doesn’t work, as has been seen in other nations with goods such as alcohol or marijuana. Many believe a  blanket ban on tobacco will increase the incentive to smuggle and sell the products on the black market. The government even acknowledged the issue in a document outlining Thursday’s proposals. 

“Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling,” the document said.

Some are also concerned about how much the government is intervening in people’s lives.

“There’s a philosophical principle about adults being able to make decisions for themselves, within reason,” journalist Alex Braae wrote. 

The opposition ACT party also added that lowering nicotine content in tobacco products could lead to smokers smoking more, a particular concern as one-in-four cancer cases in New Zealand are tobacco-related.

See what others are saying: (Stuff) (Independent) (The Guardian)

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Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
  • The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
  • The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.

Ever Given Still in Egypt

An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.

The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.

Pushing Back Against The Claim

While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”

“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”

It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.

See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
  • The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
  • Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Radioactive or Bad Publicity?

After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”

While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.

According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.

Something Had To Eventually Be Done

Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.

The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.

The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.

“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.

To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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