- Nationwide protests have been raging throughout Belarus after President Alexander Lukashenko, who has served for 26 years and is widely considered Europes “last dictator,” won an election many believed was rigged.
- In addition to controlling the vote count, media, and security forces, Lukashenko also arrested many of his political opponents in the race leading up to the election, forcing the rest to flee.
- He was challenged by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the wife of one of the men he arrested, and despite overwhelming popular support for her, she only won 10% of the vote.
- When she went to contest the results, she was held in a room for several hours an then disappeared, reappearing on video the next day to announce that she had fled the country.
- Since Sunday, protests have continued all over the country. Security forces have responded violently and arrested over 6,000 people.
Protests continued in cities and towns across Belarus on Wednesday for the fourth consecutive day following the re-election of the country’s long-term leader, Alexander Lukashenko.
On Sunday, following the news that Lukashenko had won another term, demonstrations broke out nationwide in what has been described as the biggest anti-government protests the country has seen in decades.
Thousands of people took to the streets of Minsk and other cities on Sunday. According to reports and footage, security forces responded by trying to break up protests by force, beating the demonstrators and using tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets, water cannons, and other projectiles.
Also on Sunday, the country was hit with massive internet and cellular blackouts, and many social media sites were blocked. While Lukashenko denied that the government had shut down the internet and blamed the outage on a large cyberattack from abroad, experts have said there is no evidence of that.
Intermittent outages resumed throughout the week, though on Wednesday it was reported that the internet had largely been restored. The protests, however, still continued, and security forces have kept clashing violently with protesters, using force at demonstrations in multiple cities.
In one city, officials said police used live ammunition after protesters tried to attack them with steel bars. Government authorities said Wednesday that they have arrested more than 6,000 nationwide in the last three days alone.
Anti-Lukashenko Movement Grows
The unrest follows months of smaller protests leading up to the election, where Lukashenko, who has served as the president of Belarus for more than 26 years, was running for his sixth term.
He was first elected when the office was established in 1994, which, not by coincidence, was also the last election in the country that outside observers have said was free and fair.
Since taking office, Lukashenko, who has been described as Europe’s “last dictator,” has kept tight control over the elections. In addition to controlling vote counting, he also controls Belarus’ huge security system as well the state media, which always publishes news favoring him and criticizing his opponents.
Throughout his authoritarian rule, the government has continually and frequently suppressed opposition, but heading into last Sunday’s election, Lukashenko was experiencing the largest and most significant opposition to his rule since he assumed power.
Over time, his policies have become more and more unpopular as they have failed to modernize and grow Belarus’ economy. Lukashenko was also facing a lot of anger over his handling of the pandemic, which he had repeatedly downplayed, even suggesting at one point that drinking vodka could cure the coronavirus.
In the months leading up to the election, protesters took to the street to demonstrate against Lukashenko, who responded by cracking down. He claimed that the protests were part of a foreign plot and began mass arrests.
According to Viasna, a Belarussian human-rights group, there were more than 1,500 arbitrary detentions throughout the whole election campaign, which started in early May.
In addition to protesters and journalists, Lukashenko also began arresting several of his major political opponents in the upcoming election on charges widely believed to be false.
Then in July, with all his opponents either in jail or forced to flee the country to avoid being in jail, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the wife of a popular YouTuber who was one of Lukashenko’s jailed opponents, registered to run. She became the united opposition candidate and received backing from the others who were unable to run.
For weeks, she went around the country campaigning, sometimes drawing crowds estimated at over 60,000, making them some of the largest political rallies in Belarus since the fall of the Soviet Union.
But even before Election Day, the opposition expected the results would be illegitimate. On Sunday, the state-run election authority declared that Lukashenko had won with 80% of the vote and that Tikhanovskaya had only won just under 10%.
Immediately, the opposition and many other international governments dismissed the outcome as clearly rigged. Tikhanovskaya’s campaign and independent observers reportedly claimed that there was widespread ballot stuffing and falsifications.
As she had indicated before, Tikhanovskaya said she would refuse to accept the results. On Monday, she went to the Central Election Commission headquarters to formally contest the vote count.
According to a supporter who said she went with her, Tikhanovskaya was in a room for three hours with two senior security service officials. About an hour into the meeting, the supporter said she saw several people enter the room with black bags that contained what looked like video equipment.
After another two hours, she was told that Tikhanovskaya had left through another entrance. She did not see her after that.
On Tuesday, Tikhanovskaya posted a video on YouTube saying she had fled the country, and that she did so for the sake of her two children.
“I made a very hard decision, I’ve made this decision on my own,” she said. “I know that many people will understand me, many will judge me and many will hate me but god forbid you will ever have to face the choice that I had to face.”
However, the same day, another video of Tikhanovskaya was released that many speculate was clearly taken under duress, likely while at the commission headquarters.
In the video, reading from a prepared notecard, she called on the people to Belarus to stop protesting and insisted “the nation has made its choice” and Lukashenko had won.
While Tikhanovskaya did not say where she had fled to, her campaign said she was in Lithuania, a fact that was later confirmed by the country’s Foreign Minister.
See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (BBC) (The Guardian)
New Zealand Considers Banning Cigarettes For People Born After 2004
- 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)
Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion
- 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)
Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean
- 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.