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Bolsonaro Joins Anti-Lockdown Protests as Unrest Grows Internationally

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  • Protests over coronavirus restrictions have broken out globally, and experts believe general unrest will continue to grow.
  • In Brazil, President Bolsonaro, who has long-defied his government’s social distancing recommendations, joined a group of right-wing protestors calling for a military coup.
  • Meanwhile, other countries have started to open up again.

Bolsonaro Joins Protests

Protests over coronavirus restrictions have been breaking out all around the world as economic uncertainties continue to grow.

Over the weekend, hundreds of people in major Brazilian cities held demonstrations against restrictions imposed by governors that have shut down businesses. 

One of the most notable protests was held in the capital Brasilia, in front of the army headquarters. According to reports, around 600 demonstrators gathered, many of whom did not wear masks or protective gear.

In addition to calling for an end to the restrictions, the demonstrators demanded the closure of the Supreme Court and Congress, while also calling on the military to step in and handle the pandemic.

The protestors were mostly right-wing supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro, who showed up and to give a speech supporting the movement. Like many of protestors, the president did not wear a mask or gloves. Video footage showed him coughing into his hands multiple times throughout his speech.

While Bolsonaro did not directly call for Congres to be closed or for there to be a military coup, his appearance was widely condemned. Brazil was under a military rule for over two decades from 1964 to 1985, and calls to give the military more power are highly controversial.

Former presidents, politicians, and newspaper editorial boards criticized Bolsonaro. Even top military officials reportedly told local newspapers they were upset with the move.

Bolsonaro and the Coronavirus.

However, Bolsonaro’s appearance was just one part of his continued efforts to downplay the coronavirus and actively defy his government. 

Not only has the Brazilian leader openly opposed lockdowns imposed by governors, but he has also gone against social distancing measures advised by both the World Health Organization and Brazil’s health ministry numerous times.

In recent weeks, he has stepped up his public appearances, meeting with supporters and protestors as well as business owners and others.

Despite Bolsonaro’s attempts to downplay the virus and flout health recommendations, Brazil currently has the highest number of confirmed cases in all of Latin America, with over 39,000 cases and 2,400 deaths as of Monday.

On Thursday, Bolsonaro took his standoff with the government one step further when he fired his health minister, who had urged Brazilians to socially distance and stay inside.

But that decision did not seem to have pubic support. A survey from the first week of April found that a large majority of Brazilians— abut 76%— approved of how the health minister was handling the crisis.

According to reports, a poll published this Saturday also showed that a majority of Brazilians still approve the government’s regulations, despite the impact on the economy.

Other Protests Around the World

Brazil, however, is just one of several countries facing social unrest.

Anti-lockdown riots broke out in Paris over the weekend and continued Monday morning, where rioters reportedly threw fireworks at police who responded with tear gas.

Last week, tens of thousands of migrant workers who do not have work or a way to get home held demonstrations in Mumbai, India. 

There have also reportedly been protests breaking out in Lebanon and Iraq, which is significant because both countries had been the sites of prominent, on-going protest movements that took place all over the world before the pandemic.

Leading up to the coronavirus crisis, there had been a surge of global protest movements with a common thread. People in numerous countries held weeks and months long demonstrations against government corruption, economic injustice, and demands for reforms.

When the pandemic hit, those protests largely died out. But now, many experts say these movements are likely to start up again or spread to other parts of the world for several reasons.

First is the economic downtown that the coronavirus has caused and is continuing to cause globally.

One reason for this is that numerous experts, including the UN Secretary General, have warned that the economic situation risks increased social unrest and violence. Some have said that this will disproportionately impact poorer countries that cannot afford subsidies for lost jobs or other similar social safety nets.

Another possible cause of future protests is the fact that some leaders are using the coronavirus to expand authoritarian measures. At the end of March, Hungary passed a law allowing the Prime Minister to rule by decree indefinitely, basically giving him the ability to rule the country however he wants.

Kenya also started crackdowns on people breaking curfew which have now reportedly killed more people in the country than the coronavirus.

Protests in Israel and Other Countries Open Back Up

Already, protests have broken out in Israel against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Over the weekend, more than 2,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Tel Aviv where they stood six feet apart.

The demonstrators accused Netanyahu of using the crisis to escape prosecution over corruption charges and form an emergency government with his rival, Benny Gantz.

Some reportedly held up black flags that have been featured at other recent Israeli protests, and which reportedly symbolize Netanyahu’s attacks on democratic institutions.

Earlier this year, Netanyahu was indicted on charges of fraud, breach of justice, and accepting bribes. 

On Monday, Netanyahu and Gantz announced that they had formed an emergency government. Under their agreement, Netanyahu will serve as Prime Minister until October 2021, then Gantz will take over.

The move further solidifies Netanyahu’s power after more than a year of political stalemate and three separate elections.

Meanwhile, a number of other countries have started to open back up again. On Monday, Germany, Denmark, the Czech Republic, and Norway all lifted some restrictions.

Outside of Europe, South Korea has also eased social-distancing rules. Australia and New Zealand have also said they are going to roll back some restrictions soon, despite the fact that New Zealand also said it is extending its lockdown for five more days.

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

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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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