- After talks ran long at a European Union summit, EU leaders agreed to a massive $859 billion stimulus plan which will address economic impacts from the coronavirus.
- The plan will provide a mix of grants and loans over the next four years to help businesses recover, roll out new measures to reform economies, and invest in protecting against “future crises.”
- The original plan would have provided more grant money to struggling countries, but richer nations rejected that idea and only agreed to the current plan after an additional series of concessions.
- Those concessions include cuts made to projects covering health, refugees, and the climate.
What’s in the Deal?
The European Union agreed to a massive $859 million stimulus package on Monday meant to address the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The package is part of a $2.1 trillion budget the EU approved for 2021-2027. While $1.3 trillion of that goes directly to the EU’s budget and is part of its normal negotiations every seven years, the portion provided for coronavirus relief is quite extraordinary.
In fact, this package is so important that it’s expected to help Europe avoid what could be its worst economic blow since World War 2.
According to the final agreement, the package will largely be spent over the next four years and will include both loans and grants that will be sent to member nations. It will also focus on providing funding in three main ways: helping businesses recover, rolling out new measures to reform economies, and investing in a goal to protect against “future crises.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she had “no regrets” on the concessions given to reach an agreement, saying, “We think we’ve acted responsibility in agreeing to these compromises,”
Others, however, were less pleased, and one anonymous official described the agreement as a “bittersweet victory” because, in order to reach a compromise, cuts were made to projects covering healthcare and refugees. The finished deal also doesn’t include expenditure on many research and climate projects.
Long Road to Reaching This Deal
While EU leaders have lauded the passage of the deal, the process of reaching an agreement was tedious at best.
For one, talks ran long. The summit to discuss the package began on Friday and was only scheduled to last through the weekend, but it ended up stretching into Monday.
That’s because a number of rich, northern countries known as the “Frugal Four” slowed down those talks after opposing the EU’s original plan. The “Frugal Four” include the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, and Sweden. Over the weekend, Finland also allied with their opposition to the original plan.
That plan would have allocated €500 billion in grant money, meaning the “Frugal Four” would have had to pay in more as net contributors to the EU.
Their main objection was over how much should be given to countries like Italy and Spain—countries that have been hit inordinately hard by the coronavirus. They also questioned how much control those countries should have over how the funds distributed to them will be spent.
During the summit, Dutch leaders argued that Italy and Spain were to blame for struggling to recover because they had other economic difficulties prior to the pandemic. The Dutch then added that they did not want to send money to those countries without guarantee that such a move would provide economic reform to the EU in the long run.
Much of the specifics of the debate boiled down to two questions: How much should be given in grants, and how much should be given in loans?
More grant money, for example, would mean less debt for countries receiving aid as they wouldn’t have to repay the money given to them. On the other hand, countries would be expected to repay loans.
After denouncing the original plan, the “Frugal Four” returned with a counter-offer that proposed only handing out €375 billion in grants.
The situation in itself was already quite unique. Typically, in times of crisis, the EU has only offered loans. Still, Spain argued that the EU couldn’t afford to give out less than €400 billion in grants for this specific emergency.
As a basis for that argument, it said that any failure to reach an agreement would result in a “two-speed” economic recovery, with richer countries bouncing back faster than struggling countries. In turn, Spain stressed that such a failure would place further strain on the EU as a whole.
From there, European Council President Charles Michel proposed a compromise of €390 billion in grant money ($446 billion USD).
The rest of that overall $859 billion would then go to low-interest loans.
Notably, the compromise also included billions in rebates to the “Frugal Four” for their contribution and with that, the four agreed to the deal.
EU Leaders Praise the Deal
Michel described the agreement, which was the single-biggest joint borrowing plan ever agreed to by the EU, as the first time that EU member countries were “jointly enforcing our economies against the crisis.”
“We did it! We have reached a deal on the recovery package and the European budget,” he said. “This is a strong deal. And most importantly, the right deal for Europe right now.”
French president Emmanuel Macron describing the deal as a “historic day for Europe.”
Hard hit countries like Spain, Italy, and even Portugal also appeared to be content with the final grant figure.
“While it’s true that it could have had a slightly bigger dimension, the recovery plan is robust enough to respond to the current estimates of the coronavirus crisis,” Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa said.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN Business) (BBC)
At least 38 Dead, Including Many Children, in Thai Daycare Shooting
The motive for the attack is still unclear, but a recent arrest for drug possession may point to some answers.
The Deadliest Mass Shooting in Thai History
Thailand spent Thursday afternoon grieving after a gunman massacred dozens of people, including kids as young as two years old, in a childcare center.
The tragedy happened in the northeastern rural Nong Bua Lamphu province, one of the poorest in the country.
At around 1:00 p.m., while the children were in naptime, a 34-year-old former police officer armed with a nine-millimeter handgun and a knife barged into the center and began shooting and stabbing those inside. He left in a white pickup truck, reportedly shooting at people from the car and running others over.
Police issued a “most wanted” notice for the gunman, but before they could apprehend him he barricaded himself in his home, where he shot himself, his wife, and their four-year-old child.
At least 38 people were left dead, including the shooter. At least 24 of those people were children.
Ten others were also wounded, six of them critically.
It was the deadliest mass shooting by a single perpetrator in the history of Thailand.
Survivors Search for Answers
Among the dead at the childcare center was a teacher who was eight months pregnant. Her husband wept on local television.
“My wife is due next month,” he said. “I never got to see my wife and child.”
The prime ministers of Britain and Australia, as well as the U.S. embassy in Bangkok and leaders from a host of other nations, sent their condolences to the victims’ families.
“We stand with the people of Thailand and offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their families,” the embassy said in a statement.
The shooter’s motive is still unclear, but authorities said he had been fired from the police force in June after getting arrested for possession of methamphetamine. National Police Chief Damrongsak Kittiprapat told reporters he believed the gunman was on drugs during the shooting, though he provided no evidence for the claim.
He added that the gunman was due to appear in court Friday on drug-related charges.
Regional police spokesman Paisal Lauesomboon offered a different explanation of the attack, saying that the shooter had been in court earlier Thursday to attend a hearing and subsequently drove to the childcare center where his own son was enrolled. When he could not locate his son, this account claims, he began the massacre.
A teacher who survived the attack contradicted that story, however, telling reporters the gunman began shooting as soon as he approached the center.
She said he struck a group of teachers eating lunch outside, but she managed to escape alive because he ran out of ammunition.
Thailand has some of the highest gun ownership and gun homicide rates in Asia, partially owing to the immense underground traffic of firearms through the black market.
A mass shooting of similar scale scarred the country in 2020, when a soldier used an assault rifle to slaughter at least 29 people at a shopping mall.
We make it a point to not include the names and pictures of those who may have been seeking attention or infamy and will not link out to websites that might contain such information.
Students Across Iran Lead Anti-Regime Protests
The supreme leader finally broke his silence on the unrest to blame the “riots” and “chaos” on a plan by the United States, the “Zionist regime and their followers.”
The Hijabs Come off
As the new academic year began this week, students across Iran turned their classrooms into stages for anti-regime demonstrations.
Videos posted to social media show female students removing their hijabs and chanting “Death to the dictator!” as they stomped on pictures of “their rulers,” as one post put it.
In one viral video, girls who had shed their headscarves at a school in Karaj, just outside Tehran, surrounded their principal and screamed at him while throwing objects.
The principal, whom the post describes as “pro-regime,” fled the scene as they yelled that he is “without honor.”
“Typically, when protests occur in Iran, they usually are restricted to streets or university campuses or they are led by workers or teachers,” Vahid Yücesoy, a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Montreal who shared the video, told Newsweek. “The fact that they have now arrived at high schools is a very unprecedented development.”
It’s been roughly three weeks since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman who was arrested by morality police for violating Iran’s dress code and ended up comatose in a hospital.
Multiple reports claimed that officers beat her head with batons, though authorities countered that her death was rather due to a “sudden heart failure.”
The death toll from clashes between law enforcement and protesters may be as low as 41, according to Iranian state media last week, or as high as 133, according to the Norway-based group Iran Human Rights. Amnesty International has put the number at 52, and it said on Friday that hundreds of people had been injured and thousands arrested.
Campus Becomes a Bloody Warzone
Security forces trapped hundreds of students from Tehran’s elite Sharif University in a campus parking lot, assailed them with tear gas, and shot at them with less lethal rounds Sunday, according to reports and videos posted to social media.
“They had guns, they had paintball guns, they had batons,” Farid, whose name was changed for his safety, told CNN. “They were using gases… [that are] banned internationally… it was a war zone… there was blood everywhere.”
A video reviewed by the outlet shows security forces detaining students and carrying them on motorbikes.
The event took place on the first day of school after many students chose to protest the regime instead of attending classes. Farid said a group of protesters was confronted on campus by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, which was called in by campus security.
“They told them that ‘if you go near the subway station, we will start shooting, go back to the university,’” He added. “And then after half of the students got back into the university, they let the others into the parking lot. And after that, they started shooting them with paintballs and taking them into custody in a very, very savage way.”
The university’s Students Islamic Association urged in a Monday statement that all “professors and students at Sharif University not to attend classes until all arrested students are released.”
Iranian state news agency IRNA said Monday that 30 of the 37 students arrested during the protests had been released, citing a source at the university.
On Monday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei finally broke his silence regarding the protest movement, saying he was dismayed at Amini’s death during a graduation ceremony for military cadets at the Imam Hassan Training Center.
“Yes, this was a bitter incident. My heart was also pained,” he said.
But he also condemned the protest movement as “not natural” and “planned” by the United States, the “Zionist regime and their followers,” using his term for the state of Israel.
Police Cause Stampede Killing 125 at Indonesian Soccer Stadium
The sports game turned bloodbath was among the deadliest in the sport’s history.
Trampled by the Crowd
At least 125 people died after police fired tear gas, sparking a chaotic stampede toward the exits at a soccer match in Indonesia, according to local officials.
The game between Arema, the home team in East Java’s Malang city, and Persebaya Surabaya took place Saturday night at the Kanjuruhan Stadium.
The event organizer had prohibited Persebaya fans from attending the game in an effort to prevent rivalrous brawling, but that only ensured the stadium would be exclusively packed with riled-up Arema fans.
When Arema lost 3-2, hundreds of spectators poured onto the field and some reportedly threw bottles and other objects at the players and managers. Several cop cars were also toppled outside the stadium and set ablaze.
Eyewitness accounts claim that riot police beat people with shields and batons, then fired tear gas canisters directly into the crowd and even into the stands.
Hordes of people, many of them dizzy and blinded by the chemical, clambered desperately for the exits.
The ensuing stampede quickly left 34 people dead, both from being trampled and suffocated, including two police officers and possibly some children, according to some reports. Many more were badly hurt and rushed to hospitals, but as dozens of them succumbed to their injuries, the death toll climbed to at least 125.
An official estimate initially put the number at 174, but it was later revised down due to some deaths being counted twice.
As many as 300 other individuals may have sustained injuries during the incident.
Who is to Blame?
Some human rights groups pointed fingers at the police for provoking the mayhem by improperly deploying tear gas.
“The excessive use of force through the use of tear gas and inappropriate crowd control was the cause of the large number of fatalities,” Indonesia’s Legal Aid Foundation said in a statement.
The Foundation also blamed the local soccer committee, which sold 42,000 tickets in a stadium only meant to seat 38,000 people, for filling the venue over capacity.
Typically, tear gas is meant to put distance between the rioters and police, dispersing the crowd in an intended direction, not to be used indiscriminately in a secure location like a sports stadium.
Moreover, the global soccer governing body FIFA prohibits the use of tear gas.
“I regret that this tragedy occurred,” President Joko Widodo said in a televised address. “And I hope this is the last football tragedy in the country.”
He said he had asked National Police Chief Listyo Sigit to investigate the incident and ordered an evaluation of security at soccer matches.
East Java’s police chief Nico Afinta defended the use of tear gas in a news conference on Sunday.
“We have already done a preventive action before finally firing the tear gas as (fans) began to attack the police, acting anarchically and burning vehicles,” he said.
Indonesia’s soccer association, known as PSSI, suspended the premier soccer league Liga 1 indefinitely in light of the tragedy and banned Arema from hosting soccer matches for the remainder of the season.
Dozens of Indonesians have died in soccer-related violence since the 1990s, but Saturday’s tragedy is among the deadliest in soccer history.