- President Donald Trump said Wednesday that Turkey and Syria agreed to a ceasefire and that the U.S. would lift sanctions against Turkey as a result.
- Many criticized Trump for taking credit for the agreement, as the deal was actually struck by Russia and Turkey the day before.
- By Thursday, Kurdish forces reported Turkey was already violating the ceasefire.
President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that Turkey and Syria had agreed to a ceasefire and that the U.S. would be removing sanctions on Turkey as a result.
“This was an outcome created by us, the United States, and nobody else, no other nation,” Trump said.
“Today’s announcement validates our course of action with Turkey that only a couple of weeks ago were scorned, and now people are saying, ‘Wow. What a great outcome. Congratulations,’” he continued. “It’s too early to me to be congratulated, but we’ve done a good job. We’ve saved a lot of lives.”
Factual Errors in Announcement
However, many of the responses to Trump’s announcement were not so congratulatory.
A number of people criticized the president for taking full credit for the ceasefire because it was actually Turkey and Russia that struck the deal the day before, after agreeing that Russia and Syria will remove Kurdish forces from the region.
“The US played no role at Sochi and its ceasefire expired and Russia and Turkey signed a deal,” Seth Frantzman, the Director of the Middle East Center for Reporting tweeted. “And now the US pretends that the quiet in eastern Syria today is due to its achievement.”
Others also pointed out contradictions between some of the things Trump said in his announcement and what U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey said in a testimony before the Senate the same day.
In his speech, Trump said that very few ISIS fighters had escaped from prisons in Northern Syria, and that most of those who escaped had been recaptured.
Those escapes happened after the Kurdish forces who had been guarding the prisons were forced to deal with the Turkish invasion and were unable to properly guard the prisoners.
However, when asked by Senators, Jeffrey said that “over 100” ISIS militants had escaped and that it was unclear where they were.
Trump also applauded his own efforts to reduce the U.S. presence in the Middle East, but just a few weeks ago, the Defense Department announced that it was sending an additional 3,000 troops to Saudi Arabia— nearly triple the 1,000 that were in Syria before Trump’s recent efforts.
In that same announcement, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the U.S. has deployed 14,000 troops to the Middle East just since May of this year alone.
Trump Criticized for Lifting Sanctions
Many condemned Trump for lifting sanctions on Turkey and so quickly.
Some pointed to a part of Jeffrey’s testimony where he talked about the actions Turkey and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have taken and said, “We’ve seen several incidents which we consider war crimes.”
“Trump announces sanctions against Turkey will be lifted – so Erdogan’s war crimes will go unpunished,” CNN correspondent Sam Vinograd said in a tweet. “Guarantees he’ll just do it again.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) also echoed that sentiment.
“It’s unthinkable that Turkey would not suffer consequences for malevolent behavior which was contrary to the interests of the United States and our friends,” he wrote on Twitter.
Others said the lifting of sanctions was premature and that Erdogan could not be trusted, arguing that the U.S. should ensure Turkey follows through on the promises it made before removing them.
“Erdogan has NOT agreed to stop all military operations in #Syria” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said in a tweet.
Concerns over the effectiveness ceasefire were further justified Thursday when Kurdish forces in Syria said Turkey is already breaking the ceasefire and resuming fighting in some areas. According to Reuters, Syrian forces called on the U.S. to intervene.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (Reuters)
Police Arrest Hong Kong Man for Booing Chinese National Anthem
The man’s boos were launched during the first time the Chinese national anthem had ever been played for a Hong Kong athlete at the Olympics.
Instulting the Anthem
Hong Kong authorities announced Friday that a man was arrested for allegedly booing and “insulting” the Chinese national anthem while watching the Olympics on Monday.
The unnamed 40-year-old, who identified himself as a journalist, was allegedly watching the Olympics fencing medal ceremony for Hong Konger Edgar Cheung at a local mall. When the anthem began playing, he allegedly began booing and chanted “We are Hong Kong!” while waving a British Hong Kong Colonial flag.
The man’s actions were particularly noteworthy because it was the first time the Chinese national anthem had been played for a Hong Kong athlete in the Olympics. Hong Kongers compete at the Games under a separate committee called Hong Kong, China. The last time a Hong Konger won gold was in 1996 for windsurfing, at which time the British anthem of “God Save the Queen” was played.
Concerns for Freedom of Speech
The man is suspected of breaking the relatively new National Anthem Ordinance, which was passed in June 2020, and has a penalty of up to three years in prison and fines of $6,000 for anyone who publicly and intentionally insults the anthem. The law mirrors one in mainland China, but it has faced considerable scrutiny from increasingly persecuted pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong.
They argue that it tramples the right to free speech, which is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Hong Kong police, however, say that’s not the case and claim that his actions breach common restraints on freedom of speech. Senior Superintendent Eileen Chung said that his actions were “to stir up the hostility of those on the scene and to politicize the sport.”
Police issued a warning that it would investigate reports of others joining his chants or violating the separate National Security law passed last year.
This incident isn’t the only case of alleged politicization of the Games. Badminton player Angus Ng was accused by a pro-Beijing lawmaker of making a statement by sporting a black jersey with the territory’s emblem. The imagery was very similar to the black-and-white Hong Kong flag used by anti-government protesters.
Ng countered that he wore his own clothes to the event because he didn’t have sponsorships to provide jerseys and he wasn’t authorized to print the emblem on a jersey himself.
See what others are saying: (Inside) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)
Canadian Catholic Priest Says Residential Schools Survivors Lied About Abuse
The Roman Catholic Church is facing considerable backlash across Canada for its treatment of indigenous peoples in the residential school system, along with its subsequent efforts to downplay the problem.
Priest Sparks Outrage
Father Rheal Forest was put on forced leave Wednesday following remarks he made over a weeks-long period starting July 10 in which he doubted victims of the country’s infamous residential school system.
Residential schools were a system of schools largely for indigenous children that were mostly run by the Catholic Church with federal government funding. The schools were notoriously cruel and long faced allegations that children had been abused or went missing under their care.
To date, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at four former residential schools across Canada, a fraction of the over 130 that used to exist.
Forest, of the St. Boniface archdiocese in Winnipeg, was standing in for a couple of weeks while the main priest at his church was away. During that time, Forest told parishioners that victims of the residential schools, particularly those sexually abused, had lied.
“If [the victims] wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes — lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000,” he said.
“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie.”
In that same sermon, he also added that during his time with Inuit groups in the north of the country, most had allegedly said they appreciated the residential school system. Instead, he said they blamed any abuses on lay people working at the facilities rather than priests or nuns.
Forest’s comments drew a ton of backlash, prompting the archdiocese to place Forest on leave. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that the institution “completely disavow” Forest’s comments, adding, “We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the Residential School system.”
Overall, the archdiocese has attempted to apologize to indigenous communities for its part in the residential school system, with Archbishop Albert Legatt saying in a video that the way forward was by “acknowledging, apologizing, and acting” on terms set by indigenous groups.
Church Allegedly Kept Money From Victims
Forest’s views and subsequent dismissal aren’t the only public relations scandal the Roman Catholic Church faces in Canada.
According to documents obtained by CBC News, the Church spent over a decade avoiding paying out money to survivors per a 2005 agreement. At the time, it, alongside the protestant churches that also ran some residential schools, agreed to pay an amount to victims of the schools in the tens of millions.
Instead, according to an internal summary of 2015 court documents, the Catholic Church spent much of that money on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company, and unapproved loans. It seems that some of this was technically legal, such as a promise to give tens of millions back via “in-kind” services; however, there was no audit completed to confirm that these services actually happened or to prove the alleged value of the services. This led to doubts about whether or not they were done effectively.
The Catholic Church was unique among the signatory churches in the 2005 agreement with its efforts to avoid paying victims. All of the other denominations paid out their sums many years before without issues.
While priests such as Father Forest have supported the Church, there has been internal backlash. Father André Poilièvre, a Saskatoon priest and Order of Canada recipient, said the Church’s actions are “scandalous” and “really shameful,” adding, “It was a loophole. It might be legal, but it’s not ethical.”
With these latest revelations, widespread anger at the Church has triggered allegations that indigenous groups are behind a spree of church burnings across the country.
The entire situation is likely going to continue to smolder as a government commission set up to investigate the schools estimates there will be thousands of more unmarked graves found across Canada.
See what others are saying: (CBC News) (The Guardian) (CTV News)
Tokyo Sets Back-to-Back Records for Number of Daily COVID-19 Cases
Some positive cases were detected among people attending the Olympic Games, including a handful of athletes.
Cases Going Up
The Tokyo Olympic Games found itself in more controversy on Wednesday after Tokyo experienced a record number of daily COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row.
On Tuesday, the city recorded 2,848 new cases of the virus, passing the 2,500 daily new case threshold for the first time since the pandemic began. Then on Wednesday, it shattered the record again with 3,177 new COVID-19 cases.
At least 155 of those new cases were detected among people attending the Games, including a handful of athletes, which contrasts Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s promise that the Olympics wouldn’t be hit with the virus. The spike in new cases has largely been attributed to the delta-variant, something that many countries are dealing with around the world.
Nishimura Yasutoshi, a Japanese economic minister, told a parliamentary panel this week that COVID-19 cases are expected to continue rising for at least a few days. He also explained that many people may have delayed getting tested last week due to holidays, therefore inflating total daily new case numbers.
Governors in prefectures around Tokyo have moved to ask the government for states-of-emergency, which Tokyo is already under.
Doubts About Government Response
The prime minister said in a press conference on Tuesday that “the government has secured a new drug that reduces the risk of serious illness by 70 percent,” adding, “we have confirmed that this drug will be used thoroughly from now on.”
However, he never actually mentioned what drug he was referencing.
“In any case, under these circumstances, I would like to ask the people to avoid going out unnecessarily and to watch the Olympics and Paralympics on TV,” Suga continued.
He also stressed that canceling the Olympics amid the outbreak was completely out of the question, although there have been continued calls from the public and opposition lawmakers for just that.
Beyond refusing to cancel the Games, Suga is facing backlash for refusing to enact strict state-of-emergency protocols. Currently, the measures in Tokyo are almost all voluntary and consist of asking people to stay home, along with requesting restaurants that serve alcohol to completely close and telling all others to shut down by 8 p.m.